Today I was pleased to help launch a collection of new histories now published and available in the Dictionary of Sydney. Funded by the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme, these new entries are laced with fascinating information about the days following the arrival of the First Fleet, the fate of the returning ships, and events on the voyage out.
I was honoured to be working among such a distinguished group of authors: Professor Gary Sturgess, Penny Edwell, Michaela Ann Cameron and David Morgan, a fellow volunteer for the Dictionary. The only existing ship entry, HMS Sirius, was contributed back in 2010 by historian and Dictionary volunteer, Garry Wotherspoon.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the contributors and the dedicated staff at the Dictionary, there are now 12 entries documenting this historic convoy. I worked on three of these, which was quite a challenge! How to tell the story of an eight-month voyage in 500-800 words?! But here they all are:
- In a new essay, Professor Gary Sturgess explores the challenges faced by Arthur Phillip after the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove. Having successfully managed both the fleet and the convicts on a voyage ‘to the extremity of the globe’, Phillip struggled to keep the men and women, convicts and alcohol – in short, the camp and fleet – apart.
- The Alexander was the largest and most notorious of the transport ships in the First Fleet carrying ‘ye worst of land-lubbers.’
- The Scarborough, carrying male convicts, was the only ship of the First Fleet whose convicts plotted a mutiny. Also on board were James Ruse and Nathaniel Lucas who became two of the colony’s most successful farmers.
- HMS Supply was the smallest and fastest ship in the First Fleet. A naval vessel, she carried 16 marines and accompanied the flagship HMS Sirius on the voyage to Sydney Cove. Over the next three years she made 11 journeys, the last causing her so much damage that she was ordered back to England.
- The Lady Penrhyn was the slowest ship of the First Fleet with the largest number of female convicts. She entered Port Jackson on 26 January and didn’t unload until 6 February – the convict women spent a total of 13 months on board.
- The Borrowdale was one of three storeships, carrying two years’ worth of provisions and stores for the new colony –including ‘forges, hoes, corn mills and pit saws’.
- Fishburn was the largest of the three store ships. Among her cargo were ducks, goats, leather, women’s shoes and hats, camp kettles and garden seed. After her return to England, she was lost in a storm off Gun Fleet Sand in October 1789.
- Golden Grove made the fastest return journey of any of the First Fleet ships. Among her cargo were anvils, axes, tents, flour, chickens and Reverend Johnson’s cats!
- The Charlotte, one of six transports, left Sydney Cove bound for Canton on 8 May 1788, arriving back in England in June 1789.
- The transport, Friendship, was scuttled and sunk on her return voyage after becoming stuck on sandbanks off the coast of Borneo.
- The Prince of Wales was the last ship to join the First Fleet and remained at Sydney Cove for five months while its stores were unloaded, returning to Falmouth on 25 March 1789,many of the crew having suffered from scurvy on the voyage home.
The First Fleet content places these ships within the wider picture of Sydney’s past. Both familiar and unexpected, they enrich our understanding of Sydney as both a place and a community. Importantly, I hope that as readers discover these entries, and with increased access to collections online and further rigorous historical research, these stories will be furnished with more detail. Perhaps, in the future, new evidence may come to light and we can add more details about the lives of those men, women and children who made the long journey to the unknown. And as this narrative develops in this world we call ‘digital’, I hope to see the Dictionary continue to inspire readers to learn, engage, contest and ultimately join us, as supporters of this rich resource and lovers of this city’s history.