The voyage of the First Fleet hardly has its equal in seafaring history. The idea of founding a colony on the other side of the world, of sailing a fleet of ships in uncharted waters below the 44th parallel to a destination 15,000 miles away, on the other side of the world, was thought preposterous in 1787. It would never work. It would turn into a farce and a disaster. But it did work. In chapter 13 of my book PRISON HULK TO REDEMPTION, I provide some highlights of that astounding voyage of which two of my ancestors were a part.
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Prison Hulk to Redemption
The Scarborough’s steward
Jonathan King, a descendant of Philip Gidley King, the third governor of the Australian Colony (1800-1806), opened the introduction to his book, The First Fleet: The Convict Voyage that Founded Australia 1787-1788, with this claim:
The founding of the Australia nation by the first fleet is one of the greatest stories of mankind. Thirteen hundred and fifty people, crammed into eleven tiny ships, sailed halfway round the world to transplant European civilisation and on a voyage that took eight months and one week they lost only forty-eight people, most of whom were sick or dying even before they left.
It was an epic achievement of navigation, use of the wind, ocean currents, and organisation—yet it is a story little known within, or outside, Australia.
No sober judgement of the facts could be at odds with this assessment. Despite the magnitude of the achievement, most Australians would have no idea that ‘the journals and diaries of at least eleven scribes have survived from the First Fleet along with reports and logbooks of others’. Those journals included that of author King’s ancestor Second Lieutenant Philip Gidley King RN on the fleet’s flagship HMS Sirius. Australians of all ancestries have at their disposal firsthand reports of that incredible sea voyage that against the odds, with never a navigational falter, led eleven ships into Botany Bay between the 18th and 20th of January 1788, after 15,000 miles and 252 days.
Those many Australians who today walk along the great avenues of Australia’s modern cities without a thought of where it all came from should rescue themselves from their ignorance. They should read with pride about the sea voyage from the civilised world that laid the foundations of their rich, vibrant, free nation. The eleven ships of the fleet consisted of two naval ships, the armed brig HMS Supply and the warship HMS Sirius; six convict transports, Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales, and Scarborough; and three food and supply transports, Golden Grove, Fishburn, and Borrowdale. Alexander and Scarborough took only male convicts. The Scarborough was loaded with the most vicious and incorrigible of criminals.
As incredible as it may seem, I have two ancestors on the First Fleet, Frederick Meredith on the Scarborough and convict Eleanor Fraser on the Prince of Wales, though it is probable Eleanor was transferred later to the Charlotte. Frederick Meredith was steward to John Marshall, the master of Scarborough. Eleanor Fraser and Frederick Meredith were my ancestors through the line of Frederick’s first child, Frederick Jr (who married Eleanor’s daughter Sarah) and Frederick Jr’s daughter Ann. That line led to my mother via her father.
We can assume Frederick Meredith could read and write and possessed the manners and education required to serve the master of a ship in an expedition of the greatest moment. There are, regrettably, no journals or letters from his hand existing to give us a firsthand account of his feelings during the long voyage. We have the second-best, though. John Easty, private in the Marines on the Scarborough, was assiduous in keeping his journal up to date, even if in the most deplorable spelling. With much feeling, he describes his experiences throughout the voyage, persevering in the most atrocious weather when the fierce storms and gales rolled and battered the fleet’s ships around like corks. King points out that Easty was the only writer in a position to give an account of life below decks. No journal written by a convict survives.
Frederick Meredith was born in Denham, Buckinghamshire, on 10 May 1763. Other than the date of birth and the conclusion that he had a reasonable education, we know nothing of his life up to his signing on the First Fleet. A later colonial document lists his occupation as baker. For a time, he ran a bakery in what is now Castlereagh Street in Sydney. I will come back to Frederick’s life in the Colony. When he began his service on Scarborough is not clear. It is not clear because of the problems Captain Phillip had to endure in getting the fleet ready to sail after the decision had been made and the commission officially announced on 19 August 1786. The authorities thought it would take two months to prepare the fleet, but a bureaucracy that refused to get off its backside and respond to Phillip’s requests to correct the many faults and inadequacies of the plan caused delay after delay.
In contrast with the bureaucracy’s sloth, there was a quick response to advertisements calling for ships to take part in the voyage. Signing up the ships, however, was just the start. The eight commissioned transports in the Thames had to be radically modified to take the stores and the convicts. The task was to make use of every available space to store food for the voyage and the settlement in Botany Bay. Phillip insisted the convicts were housed as much for their health as for the fleet’s security. Despite his continual requests for adequate clothing, particularly for the female convicts, nothing arrived. The flagship Sirius was commissioned in October but was found to need extensive repairs. The delays pushed back the deadline for sailing into the winter months, which only heightened his concern and frustration.
Phillip established two divisions for the loading of convicts. The first division was to take on convicts at Woolwich on the Thames. The second division would embark others at Portsmouth, the assemblage point for departure, and the rest at Plymouth in the south-west, near Lands End. By 15 December, the transports were at last ready to move from the Thames to their allotted point of embarkation. Scarborough outmanoeuvred the changeable weather and was the first to arrive at Portsmouth. Frederick Meredith might have joined the Scarborough before departure from Woolwich, but it does not seem likely. The master of the Scarborough was sailing a nearly empty ship and needed only his sailors to arrive at Portsmouth where the convicts and the marines would come on board. The Admiralty would not have wanted to pay a steward to sit around until needed. In January 1787, the transports at Portsmouth and Plymouth began loading the first of the convicts. Captain Marshall’s steward joined him in his honoured position. Eleanor Fraser was delivered to the Prince of Wales on 9 April 1787. Frederick’s duties in Portsmouth might not have been onerous before the fleet weighed anchor. Not so for Phillip. He still had to battle the bureaucracy over the lack of suitable winter clothing for the convicts, some of whom were diseased. Bad weather then caused more delays. The delays were now so frequent that Phillip gave up setting a date of departure. With the convicts and crews on board, more problems arose.
Female convicts and sailors lounging around without having to shinny up the masts at a moment’s notice were a dangerous combination. One can imagine a fair number of the crew exercised their ingenuity to work out a way of getting among the female convicts, many of whom were more than willing to be got among. Led by the second mate, five crew members on the Lady Penrhyn succeeded in breaking through the tight security, and the bulkheads thought to be impenetrable. Their success—and passion—caused them to abandon all care. They rushed their willing female booty to their bunks where they were sprung. The women returned to their cells where they spent a period in irons, an extreme punishment for the female convicts. Extra security and patrolling marines were put into place. Some of the women would display the consequence of their adventure several months later, which seems to suggest they were unlucky, or there had been a period of sharing the seaman’s bunks.
Cold and disease took their toll among the convicts. The fleet’s Chief Surgeon John White had the Alexander cleaned of its filth but warned that the lack of a healthy diet and exercise were the principal cause of sickness and would remain so unless the Navy Board acted. Phillip lost all patience and attacked the bureaucracy for their culpable negligence. He told Sir Evan Nepean, Under Secretary of the Home Office, and the government official responsible for organising the fleet, that the fleet would not move out of Portsmouth before he received proper clothing and a healthy diet (meat and wine) for the convicts. Added to the issues of inadequate supplies and faulty equipment, the long delay in keeping the convicts confined caused unrest. Convicts worked at freeing their bonds. A cunning plan of escape was thwarted in time. Accidents involving convicts and crew sometimes occurred, resulting in severe injury. Convicts and marines were guilty of indiscipline, sometimes requiring a flogging. When it came to punishment, there was no distinction between convict and marine. Both were flogged with equal vigour. John Easty noted the flogging of one marine for ‘unsoldierlike behaviour’, a misdemeanour that arose irregularly during the voyage.
Just when all preparations seemed to be coming to an end, the marines, led by their commander Major Robert Ross, went on strike demanding a more generous allowance of ‘spirituous liquor’ and wine. On 7 May, the marines on Scarborough drew up an ultimatum saying they were ‘sorely aggrieved’ that the authorities were not forthcoming about their most reasonable request. Phillip, showing characteristic sympathy, went in to bat for them. The Home Office gave in. But the strikes were not yet finished. Crew on the Fishburn, frustrated they had not received their pay in months, declared they would not unmoor the ship unless they saw some coin. Gidley King, Phillip’s good friend and go-to for troublesome people situations, had hurried negotiations with the unhappy seamen. He concluded the talks with a less than satisfactory arrangement. Fed-up, Phillip removed the most intransigent crew. Up to the last moment, he had to fight to have the freshwater, food, clothing, and medical supplies he was tired of requesting. Despite not receiving all that he wanted, he decided the fleet must get underway. He must have been relieved to see his ships leaving the Motherbank and Spithead on 13 May 1787 while he occasionally glanced back at Portsmouth retreating into the distance. Their first port of call would be Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
At the start, the weather was fine. Sailors trailed fishing lines, hoping to catch mackerel—and anything else that would bite. Captain Tench on Charlotte, always with his eye on the convicts under his charge, observed that most of them were happy to be gone. Some exhibited fear about the future and what their lives would be like in the ‘distant and barbarous country’ they were sailing towards. Tench, who wrote perhaps the most readable and interesting account of the voyage, showed sympathy for the convicts, and praised them if they behaved, but was ready to apply severe punishment if they did not. He had warned that any attempt to usurp the legal authority on the ships would meet ‘instant death’.
Tench reflected the general attitude of the leadership and the officers towards the convicts. They, particularly Captain Phillip, were concerned about their health and well-being but did not hesitate to apply the standard punishment for transgressions or to take whatever measures necessary to keep order on the ships. The officer class (with a few exceptions) showed a high sense of duty and fairness. They applied the same standards to convicts, crew and marines, with the difference that the transgressions of the marines required a formal court-martial. Phillip displayed his concern for the convicts by releasing them from their irons after a few days’ sailing. Captain Hunter, master of the Sirius and second in command, wrote they were freed from their irons so ‘that they might have it more in their power to strip their cloathes off at night when they went to rest, be also at their ease during the day, and have the further advantage of being able to wash and keep themselves clean’. If Hunter was worried about the risks, Tench was unhesitating in his approval:
I had the great pleasure in being able to extend this humane order to the whole of those under my charge without a single exception. It is hardly necessary for me to say that the precaution of ironing the convicts at any time reached to the men only.
As it turned out, Hunter’s reservations were warranted. Some of the most hardened criminals on the Scarborough conceived a plan to take over the ship and make their escape. At the last moment, an informer thwarted their audacious action. The ringleaders were conveyed to the Sirius and severely punished. Although Hunter blamed the measure of relieving the convicts of their irons for the planned mutiny, Phillip persisted, saying that the good health of the convicts was worth the moderate risks. He seemed to have a point. It is hard to understand, as Hunter admitted, how an escape would succeed in the circumstances. The further the fleet sailed, the more doomed any attempt would be.
The convicts were not the only ones to prove a headache for the leadership. The seamen on the Friendship, keenly conscious of being an indispensable part of the expedition, went on strike, demanding a greater allowance of provisions. The agent for the fleet, Lieutenant John Shortland, came on board to negotiate with them. He told them he could not spare an increase but promised if the officers received an increase in allowance they would, too. Lieutenant Ralph Clark, who devoted much space in his journal to youthful lamentations over the absence of his dearly beloved wife, was disgusted. He interrupted his embarrassing effusions over his ‘dear Betsey’ to write:
I never met with a parcel of more discontent fellows in my life, they only want more Provisions to give it to the damned whores, the convict women of whom they are very fond since they broke through the bulkhead and had connections with them—I never could have thought there were so many abandoned wreches in England, they are ten thousand times worse than the men Convicts, and I am afraid that we will have a great dele more trouble with them.
If he seems a little severe, he was not far off the mark about a core group of five punchy women who fearlessly gave lip to the officers, fought with each other, and abused all and sundry, particularly the officers, in language that would have impressed the foulest mouths on Sydney’s building sites. They were repeat offenders in and out of Newgate for larceny, violence, prostitution, and entrapment of silly unwary males. Their names would continually crop up in Clark’s journal: Elizabeth Barber, Elizabeth Dudgeon, Elizabeth Thackeray, Elizabeth Pully and Sarah McCormick. They were among the females sharing the bunks of the seamen.
The fleet sailed into heavy seas, further troubling those with seasickness. Onboard, the officers were kept busy with a variety of accidents, illnesses, births, and floggings. Marine Captain James Meredith (no relation) on the Friendship requested permission to punish two sergeants for ‘unsoldierlike behaviour’. When Major Ross came on board to learn about the circumstances, he refused permission, no doubt taking Meredith’s merciless reputation in mind. The Charlotte and Lady Penrhyn showed early that they were going to be a drag on the other ships. Phillip had to take care the fleet remained together. Schools of porpoises joined the ships and frolicked around the bows. Some sailors were lucky enough to hook fish on their lines. On 1 June, King sighted Tenerife. The following day, Major Ross rowed from Sirius to Scarborough to give the worst of the convicts a dire warning before letting them out of their irons.
On the fourth, having anchored the day before in the roads of Santa Cruz, Phillip sent King, his aide-de-camp, to announce their arrival and to satisfy the required etiquette before the island’s Spanish governor. Marquis Branciforte received Phillip, Ross, Hunter, White, King and other officers with ‘great politeness and cordiality’. He cooperated in supplying whatever they needed—to the extent he could. In return, Phillip wanted to leave a good impression. He warned the convicts not to play up. He visited Scarborough with its troublesome convicts to impress on them what he expected. They needed to spend time out of irons for health reasons and were not to do anything to frustrate his wishes.
During the lay-off time, the officers enjoyed themselves in visiting Santa Cruz and observing the people and their customs. On 7 June, the people of Tenerife prepared to celebrate the solemn Festival of Corpus Christi. First Lieutenant William Bradley on the Sirius wrote that the English were requested not to come ashore for fear of committing ‘the indiscretions which English seamen are apt to commit in foreign parts’. Despite the request, Chief Surgeon John White and ‘several officers’ did go ashore to have a sticky beak at the papist customs, magnanimously resolving not to give ‘offence even to the most zealous devotee’. They did not wholly succeed, for they knelt on one knee when the Host was carried by them in procession. The disrespect drew a fierce scowl from one of the ‘holy fathers’ causing them to hastily drop the other knee, which did not entirely appease the priest who ‘exhibited strong marks of ill-nature and resentment in his countenance’. What did they expect? Did they think they were going incognito with their white Protestant English faces among dark Spanish people who had politely requested them to stay away—and they would not be detected?
The fleet stayed longer than Phillip wished because of the difficulty in acquiring and loading the supplies. They completed the loading on 8 June. At the same time, marine Thomas Knight appeared before a court-martial and was rewarded with 300 lashes for laying his sticky fingers on someone else’s property. Convict John Powers was helping with the loading on the Alexander when he spied a small boat close by. With a deft move, he inserted himself into the boat and rowed away without anyone noticing. He tried to hitch a ride with a Dutch Indiaman sailing by, but they spurned him. He drifted to a small island not far away, where he was discovered the next morning. Marines unceremoniously dragged him back to his ship where Phillip had him thrown into irons. He stared at the bulkheads for a term appropriate to the outrage of his disappearing act until, as Chief Surgeon White recounted, ‘by an artful petition he got written for him, he so wrought on the governor’s humanity as to procure a release from his confinement’.
With the loading finished and Power dealt with, all that Phillip had to do was complete his dispatches for London. In his reports, he wrote about his ‘distress’ over the failure of securing women’s clothing and his worry that the lack of fresh vegetables would end in outbreaks of scurvy. On the 10th, the fleet glided out of Santa Cruz harbour and headed for Rio de Janeiro on the coast of South America. The reason for the circuitous route was the frequent calms along the African coast that would hold up the fleet more so than the route via South America.
The temperature rose, and light breezes slowed the fleet’s progress. The sailors on the Lady Penrhyn thought they would take advantage of the warm weather and the light breezes to take a dip in the inviting blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The sighting of a huge shark on the other side of the ship had them scrambling on board again. On 15 June, the fleet crossed the Tropic of Cancer. No doubt the boredom induced by the slow progress and the heat resulted in a ceremony more vigorous than usual for those crossing that latitude for the first time. Easty notes with some enthusiasm that the ceremony comprised ‘Ducking Lathering With tar Grase and being shaved’. The Marines were forbidden to take part, which was just as well, as Chief Surgeon John White wrote in his journal. The Charlotte and Lady Penrhyn nearly collided because her sailors ‘were not attending to her steerage, being deeply engaged in sluicing and ducking all those on board who had never crossed the line’.
The near-miss would have added to Phillip’s irritation in having to issue instructions that the ships stay together. The Charlotte and Lady Penrhyn continually fell behind, requiring the other ships to shorten their sails while the slow coaches caught up. Phillip had to reprimand the master of the Alexander for launching a boat to cross to the Prince of Wales. Such a manoeuvre in the open sea was extremely dangerous and must not be attempted without permission. Phillip had enough to do with punishing the transgressions among the convicts, crew, and marines without having to discipline his officers.
On 22 June, a seaman on the Scarborough was ferried to the Sirius for disobedience. Two days later, two marines followed for insolence and disobedience. One was acquitted, and the other sentenced to 300 lashes. After 175 lashes, he collapsed and was cut down. He received the balance when he recovered. Chief Surgeon John White not only ensured that the floggings did not do permanent harm, but he was also scrupulous in attending to the general health of the fleet.
He made sure the living quarters were kept dry and clean and the water rations in accordance with the temperatures and circumstances. The water supply was a matter of grave concern. Wherever possible, they harvested water from the sails and awnings during the heavy storms. The food supply was augmented in the same way by collecting the flying fish that landed on the deck and hooking shark and other species of fish.
By the end of June, the temperature had risen so much that some female convicts fainted. According to White, the heat caused other regrettable problems. It not only overheated the body, but it also overheated the passions. As soon as the female cells were opened for relief, he wrote, ‘promiscuous intercourse immediately took place’ between the women and the marines and seamen. White attributed—unconvincingly—the cause of the wild sexual licence to the convict women.
In some of the other ships, the desire of the women to be with the men was so uncontrollable, that neither shame (but indeed of this they had long lost sight) nor the fear of punishment, could deter them from making their way through the bulk heads to the apartments assigned to the seamen.
I imagine the sailors and marines on the Scarborough and the Alexander, the ships with only male convicts, would not have minded having a turn at such harassment. The ‘fighting five’ were in the thick of it. On 3 July, Clark had to punish four of the five (Elizabeth Dudgeon, Elizabeth Thackeray, Elizabeth Pully and Sarah McCormick). On 6 July, marine Captain Meredith took a rope to Elizabeth Dudgeon, one of the most troublesome, for giving him cheek. Lieutenant Clark, all sickly syrup when it came to his wife, was ‘glad to see’ the captain laying into her without mercy. She had it coming, he wrote in his journal. He approved of his captain’s severity in dealing with the convicts, which only goes to show that military men like Meredith and Clark made it necessary to have men like Phillip to lead the expedition. The cruel beatings did not douse the spirits of the female fighters. The story of fearless resistance continued.
Clark wrote that Elizabeth Barber, drunk on rum, ‘abused the doctor in a most terrible manner and Said he Wonted to (blank) her and called him all the names she could think of’. She gave Captain Meredith his share of lip by calling ‘him every thing but a Gentle man and Said She was no more a Whore than his wife… she disired Meredith to come and kiss her C… for he was nothing but a Lousy Rascall as we Wair all’. For this colourful address, the marine captain had her clapped in irons, hands tied behind her back and gagged, measures Clark strongly approved of.
Clark further noted, ‘I wish to god She Was out of the Ship. I would reather have a hundred more men than to have a Single Woman. I hope in the Ships that I ever may goe in herafter there may not be a Single Woman’. Margaret Hall, sick with dysentery, was in more trouble on 22 July. Clark wrote: ‘Capt Meridith put Margt. Hall one of the woman in irons for Sh…between decks, he handcuft her with Elizh. Barbar that abandoned wretch and took her leg irons off—I thought as I have Said once before that Margett Hall would Not be long out of these ornimonts, that I put on her at Teneriff, for her bad behaviour ther. She was one of the Woman that went thru the Holl to the Seamen at Mother Bank’.
Clark was not the only one tormented by the sexual abandon. White on the Charlotte wrote: ‘At night, three men made their way, through the hole cut for the admission of a windsail, into the apartment of the female convicts, against an express order issued for that purpose… [they] were apprehended and put in confinement for trial’. A couple of days later Clark had to unchain Elizabeth Barber to free Margaret Hall. Hall was not doing well. He rearranged the irons and cuffs on Elizabeth Barber, Elizabeth Thackeray, Elizabeth Pully and Mrs McNamara who had been ‘very impertinent to the cook’. Thackeray and Barber were cuffed together, and Pully with McNamara. Excepting McNamara, the others were those that had slaked their sexual desires at Portsmouth.
On 1 August, Clark softened towards the four Elizabeths and rearranged their irons and handcuffs. Barber was locked to Thackeray, and Pully to Dudgeon. He showed leniency to Sarah McCormick and Margaret Hall, who were still suffering from Captain Meredith’s earlier brutality. ‘The damned whores’, he wrote, ‘the moment that they got below fel a fighting amonst one a nother and Captain Meridith said not to part them but to let them fight it out—which I think is very wrong’. To his credit, Clark saw limits to brutalising the women, something to which Captain Meredith appeared blind. Meredith obviously thought the whole world a military compound where military discipline should prevail. It would be a problem in the Colony where the humanity of leaders like Phillip and Macquarie would keep the brutal inclinations among his officers and men in check.
The weather was variable. During the calm periods, the seamen were ordered to attend to the maintenance of their vessels. One of the first tasks was to scrape off the barnacles that slowed the ships’ progress. The calm seas gave way to huge swells causing damage to some ships—serious damage to the Sirius. The ships’ crews had to carry out running repairs as best they could. At one stage, Surgeon Smyth wrote that ‘the ship often lyes down so much we can scarcely keep our seats at table’. A convict fell overboard from the Alexander. The Supply doubled back in search. The Alexander launched their boat, but they sought in vain. The seas were too high and rough for them to have any chance of finding the convict and for him to survive long.
Phillip had to keep watch the fleet remained in formation. He was impatient with the Scarborough for falling too far out of line and for being heedless of the whales they encountered. One, nearly as long as the Lady Penrhyn, rose unexpectedly in front of her, causing cries of fear. The leading ships continued to shorten their sails at different times, so the slowest caught up. The Lady Penrhyn was the worst culprit. The common misdemeanours of disobedience and drunkenness were dealt with in the usual way. One of marines’ wives became drunk and abusive so often that her ration of rum was stopped. The few births and deaths were recorded. The drunken marine’s wife was one of those to give birth—a boy. The newborn was swaddled, and the dead dropped overboard as per the prescribed ceremony.
At last, on 2 August, the fleet came into sight of Rio de Janeiro’s harbour. On the third, Clark noted that Sarah McCormick was very sick and doubted that she would survive. ‘She is eating up with the Pox’, he wrote. ‘She is one of them that went thru the Bulk head to the seamen, and I hope she has given them something to remember her’. It was a spiteful aside about the seamen whom he clearly held in contempt. ‘If the convicts had any thought to make their escape’, he wrote, ‘the seamen would assist them’. He returned to covering the picture of his ‘dear Betsey’ with kisses. By the fifth, the fleet was anchored in Rio de Janeiro harbour, and Captain Phillip received with elaborate ceremony and hospitality. The Portuguese held Phillip in high esteem, aware of his service as a captain in the Portuguese Navy and of his stationing in Rio de Janeiro area. The Viceroy knew him from this time and was all cordiality. He welcomed Phillip and his officers with the highest ceremonial favour.
At this time, the battle with the uncontrollable women came to a head. Elizabeth Barber, a big woman with an impressive turn of phrase and not afraid of the devil himself, wrote a fiery letter about the Friendship’s doctor, Surgeon Arndell, that could not be ignored. She described Arndell as ‘a poxy blood-letter who seduced innocent girls while treating them for the fever, using his surgery as a floating whore-house’. The letter hit its mark, drawing the Commodore into discussions to resolve the problems with the women. On the sixth, Captain Meredith went on board the Sirius to discuss Barber’s letter with Phillip. On the ninth, Arndell was invited to dine with Phillip, after which he returned to the Friendship with Major Ross. Ross made inquiries and most likely interviewed Barber.
Ross returned to the Sirius to write a report for Phillip. Meredith seems at this point to be cut off from the proceedings. The next day, Meredith accompanied the doctor ashore. Captain Hunter and Major Ross then came on board the Friendship to dictate measures for dealing with Barber and the rebellious women. The instructions were given to Clark, who was to pass them on to Meredith.
The first step was to reward the well-behaved women on the Friendship by transferring them to the Charlotte. An equal number of badly behaved on the Charlotte would be dumped on the Friendship, a decision the disgruntled Clark deplored: ‘Susanah Gought, Hannah Green, Francis Hart, Eliz Harvey, Mary Watkings and Ann Baighly’ were, he said, ‘the six very best women we have in the ship—I don’t know what I shall do now, as well as the rest of us, for they are the only women that can wash amongst them’. On the 13th, Phillip accompanied by Ross came on board the Friendship. Clark continues:
The Commodore and Major Ross came on board and gave orders to Captain Meredith that since the convict women thought putting them in irons was no particular punishment, and since their behavior was getting worse, Captain Meredith was to flog them the same as the men in future when they behaved ill—which, I imagine, will not be long.
In a private conversation, Phillip asked Meredith to give the women one more chance. If they played up after that, he could resort to the lash. The women were released from their irons, and there was no trouble from them for many weeks. Phillip’s intervention had done the trick. One female convict was transferred from the Prince of Wales to the Charlotte, the ship for the best-behaved women. Since Eleanor Fraser always insisted she arrived in Port Jackson on the Charlotte and not on the Prince of Wales where the ship’s list initially placed her, one has speculated that it was she who left the Prince of Wales. Her record in the Colony would show initiative and independence more in keeping with self-control than with behaviour typical of the fighting five.
The repairs necessary to the ships, in particular the Sirius, and the loading of supplies meant the fleet was delayed a month in Rio de Janeiro. It was no hardship for the officers. Their friendly welcome allowed them to stroll freely around the town and visit all the places of interest. They saw the busy markets, gazed in Protestant wonderment at the popish ceremonies, and admired the dark women. Their only serious complaint was that they were frustrated in the search for amorous adventures. The best that a few could do was strike up a friendship with some young women securely locked behind the grating of a convent on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Surgeon White wrote:
Many of these women were agreeable both in person and disposition, and, by conversing with them at the grate, we formed as tender an intercourse with them as the bolts and bars between us would admit of. Myself, and two other gentlemen belonging to the fleet, singled out three of those who appeared to be the most free and lively, to whom we attached ourselves during our stay, making them presents as we thought would prove most acceptable, and receiving more valuable ones in return. These little attentions were viewed by them in so favourable a light, that when we eventually took a last farewell they gave us many evident proofs of their concern and regret.
Surgeon White has given an appealing demonstration of the way an eighteenth-century gentleman conducted and later reflected on his amorous endeavours. With the officers’ tender farewell to their convent sweethearts and the repairs and loading completed, the fleet made ready to depart. On 3 September, Phillip closed off his reports to Lord Sydney, Secretary Stephens, and Under-Secretary Nepean. Besides reporting he had kept costs of repairs and supplies to a minimum, he could write that the convicts were healthier than they were when they left England. He achieved the improvement by letting them out on the deck at regular intervals and insisting they wash—with the soap he himself paid for.
Showing an abiding concern for the convict women, he reported that although they were still short of adequate clothing, they were now better provided for through the generosity of some sailors who paid for clothing out of their own pockets. On 4 September, under the booming 21-gun salute, an extravagant honour, the fleet sailed out of Rio de Janeiro harbour and set their course east for Cape Town.
The voyage to Cape Town took thirty-nine days. Phillip, Tench and Hunter wrote in their journals that the fleet maintained a decent speed, and there was nothing out of the ordinary to trouble them. Nothing, that is, if ferocious gales and squalls, disease, deaths, damage to ships, and a mutiny put down at the last minute do not qualify as out of the ordinary. There was also the discovery of serious structural problems to the Sirius, which should not have passed the inspection in the home dockyard. It seems the leadership had become inured to the voyage’s trials and the precariousness of the undertaking.
There was a forced stay in Cape Town. The longer than expected stay resulted from the uncooperative Dutch Governor and the delay in allowing supplies. Indeed, the Dutch, who gave priority to the Dutch East India Company, appeared determined to be uncooperative and offensive. After almost two weeks of waiting patiently, Phillip received permission to negotiate for supplies. The Dutch Governor’s manner softened, and he became amenable to friendly contact. While the convicts remained stowed between decks in their boredom and confinement, the officers embarked on a routine of social visitations and exploring Cape Town and the surrounding countryside. One might be surprised to learn that the cruelty of the Dutch penal system, gruesome evidence of which was on public display, sickened them. On 12 November, Phillip finished his dispatches and prepared to leave. As they were leaving, they passed Kent, an English ship coming in. David Collins, the fleet’s legal officer on the Sirius, remarked in his journal with understandable feeling:
It was natural to indulge at this moment a melancholy reflection which obtruded itself upon the mind. The land behind us was the abode of a civilised people; that before us was the residence of savages. When, if ever, we might again enjoy the commerce of the world, was doubtful and uncertain. The refreshments and the pleasures of which we had liberally partaken at the Cape, were to be exchanged for the coarse fare and hard labour at New South Wales. All communication with family and friends now cut off, we were leaving the world behind us, to enter on a state unknown; and, as if it had been necessary to imprint this idea more strongly on our minds, and to render the sensation still more poignant, at the close of the evening we spoke to the ship from London. The metropolis of our native country, its pleasures, its wealth, and its consequence, thus accidentally presented to the mind, failed not to afford a most striking contrast with the object now principally in our view.
It was a natural reflection for anyone who contemplated the circumstances and the momentous undertaking. The fleet was about to follow an uncharted route—one never attempted before. The ships were turning south to the fortieth parallel to track east to Tasmania and sail around its southern-most tip, on a latitude of forty-three degrees. Modern commentators have compared the fleet’s daring risk-filled voyage with an attempt to colonise the moon. If the fleet encountered difficulties, there was no way of anyone coming to their aid. They were on their own in a vast uncharted region of the globe. At least they would once and for all disprove the existence of a mythical Great South Land of unimaginable splendours. The real unimaginable splendours to where they were going were of a different sort.
I wonder whether my great-grandfather (x5), Frederick Meredith, paused a moment on deck in the twilight and entertained the same thoughts while the Scarborough sailed past the Kent on its way into Cape Town harbour. Frederick’s later activities showed him a thoughtful man who planned his life in the Colony—and pursued those plans. It is reasonable to think so. It is also reasonable to assume he had many a conversation with the scribe of the Scarborough and that John Easty shared his frequent observations about the weather, the ships, the convicts and the leadership’s actions with the master’s steward. Lieutenant Clark was happy that the fighting five and the other unruly women had gone to the Charlotte and the Prince of Wales to make room for the stock taken on board: ‘30 sheep came on board this day and wair put in the Place where the women convicts Were—I think we will find much more Agreable Ship mates than they were’.
The fleet met light breezes, but on 15 November, they sailed into easterlies, which persisted for the next five days. They were continually driven to the west, which caused much frustration. To make things worse, an epidemic of dysentery among the convicts hit the transports. Easty took note of the transfer of water supplies between some ships. Within a few days, the reason for the transfer became known. Phillip had decided to split the fleet into three groups.
He would go ahead on the Supply to choose a suitable location in Botany Bay and make ready for the arrival of the rest of the fleet. He thought he could do this because the brig Supply was a good deal faster than the other ships. But he reasoned on the basis of the conditions the Supply was made for and generally experienced. He would be disappointed. The Scarborough, Friendship and Alexander would form the first division and the slower stores and transports would form the second division: the Sirius, Prince of Wales, the slow transports Lady Penrhyn and Charlotte, and the three store ships Fishburn, Borrowdale, and Golden Grove. The winds changed to favourable westerlies on the 21st, and on the 25th the fleet separated.
They now sailed into weeks of wild weather, relieved at intervals by calm seas during which the ships’ crews scrambled to repair the damage caused by the raging weather. Easty wrote he had never seen such huge swells that tossed and tumbled the vessels causing anything not nailed down to be thrown about. The gales often laid the ships so low that everyone had to hang on for their life. At the same time, perhaps in a display of mockery, whales, and all manner of birds, some unknown, casually accompanied the ships. Easty noted albatrosses and petrels.
The Supply was not made for such rough conditions, and although pulling ahead of the rest of the ships, she laboured in the very heavy seas. On 6 December, she encountered more favourable conditions, picked up speed and drew away from the first and second division ships. Fog closed in on the Supply and the ships of the first division. King on the Supply noted that they were now at 41 degrees latitude which made the going ‘rather perilous’ as ‘no Ship ever ran in this parallel of Lattitude before, so far to the Eastward’.
By 17 December, the stores were running low. By the 19th, the wine had run out and grog and water rationed to a quart per day. It had become bitterly cold. The gales and the tossing about of the ships let in water so often that nobody could keep dry. Signs of scurvy appeared, mostly among those with serious dysentery. The stock was now dying for want of feed. On 21 December, the shortest day of the year, Easty wrote that ‘fresh of wind’ arose while their position was latitude 42 degrees and longitude 94 degrees. That put them at the south-west of today’s Albany on the Western Australian coast and roughly on a level with Hobart in Tasmania. The trials of the voyage did not stop Christmas celebrations. On 24 December, Christmas Eve, Surgeon Smyth on the Lady Penrhyn wrote:
This being Christmas Eve we all drank a cheerful Glass to the health of our Friends in England (as indeed we do every Saturday night) I never call’d to mind my Relations & Friends with such Sensations as I now do—being so many thousands of leagues distant from them; nor did I ever more Cordialy drink to their health than now. Many past scenes of my Life recur’s to my busy thoughts & occasion’d such sensations as those only who are acquainted with my History, especially the latter part of it can better conceive than I describe! Last year I was, even at this Season far, very far, from happy, but I thank God comparatively speaking I am now happy, except wanting the presence of my Relations & Friends in England.
On Christmas Day, Chief Surgeon White express relief the dysentery had been brought under control ‘by an unremitting attention to cleanliness, and every other method proper and essential for the removal and prevention of the contagion. It gives me pleasure to be able to add that we only lost one person by this disease, violent and dangerous as it was’. Over on the Prince of Wales, Sergeant Scott noted in his journal: ‘Being Christmas Day, Dinned off a pice of pork & Apple Sauce a pice of Beef & plum pudding, and crowned the Day With 4 Bottels of Rum, Which Was the Best. We Vitr’ens Could Afford.’ On the Lady Penrhyn Smyth wrote:
This being Xmas Day I gave a quantity of currants out of the Box of necessaries (of which I had a good quantity remaining) to 3 Marines on board to make a plumb pudding also to the Boatswain & Carpenter’s Mess with the 2d. 3rd. & 4th Mates in them. The Captain allowed them a reasonable quantity of Grog to chear their hearts & to distinguish this day as being the most remarkable in the year & which generally brings with it Mirth & Glee to the hearts of All, except the truly Misserable!
On the Sirius, Collins was in a more subdued mood:
Christmas Day found us in the latitude of 42 degrees 10 minutes south, and steering, as we had done for a considerable time, an east-south-east course. We complied, as far as in our power, with the good old English custom, and partook of a better dinner this day than usual; but the weather was too rough to admit of much social enjoyment.
Within a few days, Collins could look back and be grateful the weather did allow some celebration because they were on the point of sailing into the worst weather yet as they tracked east-south-east towards the bottom tip of Tasmania.
The seas continued to whip up, causing the labouring Supply to take on water. On 1 January 1788, King wrote that they were caught in ‘very heavy gales and violent tumbling seas’. On the 3rd, they at last sighted land amid ‘very great seas’ and ‘dark cloudy weather with forked lightning’. At this point, the first division was around three hundred miles behind the Supply. They appeared to be sailing in more favourable weather because on the Scarborough Easty remarked that ‘this night the convicts made a play and sang many songs’. On the 5th, Clark on the Friendship sighted land. Easty confirmed they had reached ‘the South Cape of New Holland’. The weather was no longer conducive to producing plays as it was ‘very thick with rain and fresh gales’.
While the Supply ran into adverse winds and currents as it headed north, the second division was still around 300 miles from the southern tip of Tasmania. A particular worry for Captain Hunter was that the rolling and tumbling kept the stock in distress, making them vulnerable to injury. On the 7th, they arrived in sight of Tasmania’s coast. The joy and relief in sighting the land of their destination brought Smyth to propose toasts to the success of their undertaking and to Botany Bay. ‘Two bumpers of Claret each’ were required for him and his friends on the Lady Penrhyn to raise their cups in the proper manner.
Chief Surgeon White, in awe of Hunter’s navigational ability, remarked, ‘I believe a convoy was never conducted with more care, or made the land with greater accuracy and certainty than this. Indeed, ability and experienced nautical knowledge were never more evinced on all occasions than by Captain Hunter; who is, I may venture to pronounce, without much risk of having my veracity called into question, one of the most assiduous and accurate observers and able navigators, the present day furnishes’. Collins on the Sirius also had praise for Hunter, though indirectly:
Nothing could more strongly prove the excellence and utility of lunar observations, than the accuracy with which we made the land in this long voyage from the Cape of Good Hope, there not being a league difference between our expectation of seeing it and the real appearance of it.
I share Collins’s wonderment. The Supply and the ships of the two divisions arrived without faltering at their navigational target. At this distance in time, one can only be amazed at the navigational achievement. The ships’ crews noticed fires on the coast at night, which meant that the Aboriginals were settled at the southern-most tip of Tasmania.
The ferocious weather was still not finished for the second division. On the 10th, as the ships tacked north, Smyth wrote that he ‘never before saw the sea in such a rage’. All the ships except the Sirius were damaged. He uttered contempt for the reaction of the convict women: ‘During the Storm, the Convict Women in our Ship were so terrified that most of them were down on their knees at prayers, & in less than one hour after it had abated, they were uttering the most horrid imprecations that could proceed out of the mouths of such abandon’d Prostitutes as they are!’
On the 15th, Lieutenant William Bradley on the Sirius lived up to his scientific reputation by making the acute observation that ‘Since leaving Van Diemens Land we have experienced a strong set from between Schouter Islands and Point Hicks from which we had a great sea and [I] think it probable that there may be either a straight or deep gulf there’. Bradley predicted the discovery of Bass Strait by Matthew Flinders ten years later.
While the fierce gales and boiling seas battered the second division, the light winds from the north slowed the Supply. On the 13th, off the coast at Wollongong, the northerlies and an opposing current began pushing the Supply back. By the 16th, all the ships were out of the violent storms but had run into the northerlies and the adverse current. The Supply persisted and arrived at the mouth of Botany Bay on the 17th. The next day, conditions enabled them to enter the bay. On 19 January, John Easty on the Scarborough wrote in his atrocious spelling:
att 8 oclock made the mouth of Botany Bay…saw Severall fires made by the Indians on Cape Banks Saw a great many Indians on Point Solander [who] cane down to the shore and Shrouted att us and held up there weapons over their heads and shaked them att us thay Seem all to be naked and of Black Colour we Steered up the Bay and Came to an anchor about 2 miles in Side the Bay after being 9 weeks and 5 days from the Cape of good hope and 8 Kellander mounths and 6 days from Endgland. The Bay is very hand Some one as Ever I Saw in my Life Every Whare seeming Level with Sandy Beach in most places. We have not lost a man Ever since we Left England.
Through Private Marine John Easty’s eyes, I have in my mind the scene that Frederick Meredith, my great-grandfather (x5), gazed at on that morning two hundred and thirty-two years ago. Perhaps he stood next to John Easty, full of astonishment as the Scarborough sailed past today’s Cape Banks and La Perouse on their right and the Kurnell foreshore on their left where Captain Cook had landed in 1770. The three ships of the first division anchored close by the Supply. It did not take too long before a boat from the Supply arrived with feed for the stock. It had been the first task of the crew on the Supply to cut grass for the animals. Many of them were on the point of expiring from starvation.
The following day, 20 January, the ships of the second division sailed into Botany Bay. White on the Charlotte remarked, ‘To see all the ships safe in their destined port, without ever having, by any accident, been one hour separated, and all the people in as good health as could be expected or hoped for, after so long a voyage, was a sight truly pleasing, and at which every heart must rejoice’. It was a feeling shared by all. But it was left to Watkin Tench, also on Charlotte, to make an elegant, poetic, and portentous comment on this unique occasion.
The wind was now fair, the sky serene, though a little hazy, and the temperature of the air delightfully pleasant; joy sparkled in every countenance, and congratulations issued from every mouth. Ithaca itself was scarcely more longed for by Ulysses, than Botany Bay by the adventurers who had traversed so many thousand miles to take possession of it [and] to us it was a great important day and we hoped the foundation and not the fall of an Empire would be dated from it.
The fleet had travelled 15,063 miles from England, reaching Botany Bay after 252 days—or eight months and one week. The people were in exceptional health considering the navigational and crewing demands and the hardships and deprivation on board. Out of around 1,350 people who departed on board the fleet, only forty-eight had died. Some of those had passed away in Portsmouth before departure. It was an incredible feat. No other sea voyage or the scope of the social undertaking can be compared with it.
Phillip found Botany Bay unsuitable and after a few days of reconnoitring in Port Jackson fixed Sydney Cove for the settlement to strike roots. The Supply with Phillip on board removed to Sydney Cove on the 25th. The rest of the fleet was to follow, but opposing winds forced them to give up and wait for the following day. On the 26th, Captain Hunter, with more favourable winds, tried to break out of the bay, but the conditions were not favourable enough to make it an easy task. The Charlotte nearly came to grief on the rocks, and the Prince of Wales and Friendship collided. It was a close thing. Surgeon Smyth remarked, ‘All agreed it was next to a Miracle that some of the Ships were not lost, the danger was so very great’. With this last danger narrowly avoided, the eleven ships headed for Port Jackson.
I imagine Frederick Meredith was now on the deck of the Scarborough gazing at the shoreline while the fleet sailed by today’s Little Bay, Long Bay, Maroubra Beach, Lurline Bay, Coogee Beach, Clovelly Bay, Bronte Beach, Tamarama Beach, Bondi Beach, and along the rocky cliffs leading to the Heads. Once through the Heads, on their left, they sailed past Camp Cove, Watsons Bay, and the future eastern suburbs of Vaucluse, Rose Bay, Point Piper, Darling Point, Rushcutters Bay, and Elizabeth Bay. Just before arriving at Sydney Cove, they passed Garden Island and Pinchgut Island. Lieutenant Clark, frightened to death by the near-fatal collision at Botany Bay, revived to record his feelings on arriving at Sydney Cove.
Blessed be to God that we have got Save to ane anchor in one of the finest harbours in the world—I never saw any like it—The River Thames is not be mentioned to it and that I thought was the finest in the world—this Said port Jackson is the most beautiful place. I cannot compare any think to come nearer to it than about 3 miles above Saltash to the Wair—here we make the Ships fast to the Trees on Shore both sides of Governours Cove—we are about 5 miles from the entrance—found all the ships here at anchor—I am quite charmed by the place.
On the Scarborough, Easty wrote, ‘itt is a very Compleat harbour we Saw a great many of the nativs as we Came in at ½ Past 7 Came to anchore opposite a Little Cove now named Philips Cove Sidney Cove’. Over the next couple of days, the marines disembarked together with the convicts and work began to establish the settlement. I cannot, however, move on to relating how Frederick Meredith and Eleanor Fraser fared in the new Colony (the next chapter) without recording what happened to some of the more interesting people about whom I have written.
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To begin with John Easty, despite his tortured spelling, he wrote one of the most valuable and informative accounts of the voyage and the early settlement. The care and honesty with which he recorded the events reflected his character. He did not sidestep reporting his own misdemeanours. On the voyage, he was put in irons for being drunk on duty. Onshore at Sydney Cove, he recorded that he was sentenced to 150 lashes ‘for bringing a faemale Convict into Camp’. It seems his honesty and sense of responsibility were noticed because he held responsible positions in the Colony until he returned to England in 1792.
He left the marines and entered the commercial world. In 1796, from the address of Waddington & Smith, a grocery firm, he petitioned the Lord of Admiralty for compensation over short rations in New South Wales. He renewed his petition in 1801. He was supported in his first petition by Arthur Phillip from Bath and in the second by John Hunter. Nothing further is known about him.
Lieutenant Ralph Clark, in contrast with his adolescent pining over his separation from his beloved Betsy, was a soldier of honour and responsibility, running a strict regime with those under his charge. Favoured by his superiors, particularly by Major Ross, he achieved promotion—the purpose of his signing on the fleet to Botany Bay—filling the positions of Quarter Master-General and Keeper of the stores. He was the supervisor of the settlements at Charlotte Field and Queensborough.
Despite his love for Betsy Alicia, he could not resist the temptation to take a mistress, Mary Branham, a convict on the Lady Penrhyn. She bore him a daughter, Alicia. There is evidence to suggest that Clark looked after Mary Branham’s first child (a son) and his daughter Alicia, possibly enabling them to return to England with their mother. Clark returned to England in 1792 after a five-year separation from his wife. Tragedy was to follow. He spent time with her before being assigned to the war with the French. In the same year, 1794, Alicia Betsy died in childbirth, Clark and his son Ralph died of yellow fever while serving on HMS Sceptre. Clark died intestate, which gifted his estate to his brother-in-law. That may have been in accordance with the wishes of his beloved Alicia Betsy.
The hard-drinking, tough Captain James Meredith did not relax his severe manner after the stepping ashore at Sydney Cove. He featured in several incidents, the most notable being the severe wounding of a soldier found in an officer’s tent. That soldier was later hanged. Despite his scorn for the convict women under his charge and his inclination to brutalise them (‘on the smales falt’, according to Clark) he took up with convict Mary Hughes who bore him a son, James, in 1790.
He clashed with Major Ross, commander of the Colony’s garrison, over an incident involving Ross’s convict secretary. Ross declared him ‘unfit for duty’ and sent him back to England to be court-martialled. The court cleared Meredith of all charges, declaring them ‘groundless and malicious’. Meredith took his son James with him on his return to England. He rose through the ranks, dying in his eighties as Lieutenant General at Monmouth, Wales, in 1841. He bequeathed his estate to his son James and his daughter Eliza. No doubt the ‘fighting five’ Meredith brutalised would not have been happy to hear of Meredith’s long and successful life. But what happened to those pugnacious women whose spirits Meredith failed to bow?
Elizabeth Dudgeon married fellow convict George Clayton on 24 April 1788. Both signed with their mark. There is evidence that George Clayton left the Colony in 1792 on the Admiral Barrington. It is probable Elizabeth accompanied him, as there is no further record of her.
Elizabeth Thackeray is reported to have been the first convict woman to set foot on Australian soil. Indeed, she herself made this claim. She (allegedly) was in the first boatload of female convicts to be taken ashore from the Charlotte on 6 February. Before the boat beached, she jumped out and ran up the sand to the lusty cheering of the male convicts and their guards. Whether it happened this way cannot now be verified. In any case, the story shows she had a lot of life left in her. In 1790, she was transferred to Norfolk Island, where during her stay she received 25 lashes for disobedience. She lived with James Dodding while on Norfolk Island. In 1800, she was independent enough to buy ten acres from marine Samuel King. When James Dodding moved to Van Diemen’s Land ‘with his wife’ in 1807, it is presumed she was the wife. She ended up marrying Samuel King at Hobart on 28 January 1810.
Samuel and Betsy King became prosperous farmers calling their property ‘Kings Rocks’. Respected, stable members of their community, they were married for 46 years. Betsy died on 7 August 1856, aged 89 years. While the story of her being the first convict woman to set foot on Australian soil may not be true, the claim that she was the last of the First Fleet female convicts to die seems incontestable. Her deprived squalid life in England and the brutality during the voyage to the new Colony were a prelude to a redeemed life and independence she could never have imagined in the old country.
Elizabeth Barber, who claimed Surgeon White secretly wanted to ‘f… her’ and issued a challenging invitation to Captain Meredith to ‘kiss her C’, quickly drifted in respectability and obscurity. Marriage seems to have doused her fearless spirits not long after she stepped ashore at Sydney Cove. She married convict Thomas (or John) Brown on 17 February. Both she and her new husband signed the register. Brown also came on the Scarborough, which makes it likely they had some contact on the voyage out. She bore him three children of which only the third, a daughter, survived.
Watkin Tench visited the Parramatta area in 1791 and reported that Thomas Brown, with a wife and child, held sixty acres and farmed another sixty in partnership with William Bradbury and William Mold. Elizabeth and John Brown, at this point, disappear from the records. Given her brassy character, it seems a stunning sequel to the foremost role she played among the fighting five. Another version on the website ‘Back River Gals’ claims that Barber returned to England as a servant to the mistress of the captain of the Neptune, leaving her husband behind at Parramatta. The Neptune sailed on 24 August 1790.
Elizabeth Pulley’s fighting five colleagues did not outdo her. She married convict Anthony Rope on 19 May 1788. She and Anthony became farmers on a number of properties in the west of Sydney around present-day Dundas, Parramatta, Windsor and Richmond. They had eight children, which was the beginning of a healthy line of descendants. Elizabeth Pulley died on 9 August 1837 aged seventy-five, her husband Anthony Rope on 20 April 1843 aged eighty-eight. They are buried in Castlereagh Anglican Cemetery, Castlereagh. There is a website for the Rope-Pulley family descendants. Once again, the deprivation, crime and brutality were a prelude to a life unimaginable in the old country. One wonders how much of Margaret Pulley’s former life her children knew about.
Early in the Colony, Sarah McCormick was in trouble for abusive behaviour. In May 1788, she received twenty-five lashes for abusing Private George Fleming. In November 1789, she was transferred to Norfolk Island where she seems to have kept out of trouble. She returned to Port Jackson in September 1792 where she was housekeeper to John Brodie in 1806. In 1814, she was recorded as ‘lives with G. Atkins’, probably as a servant. In 1821, she was listed as a housekeeper. There was no further record of her.
Margaret Hall seems to have surrendered her aggressive inclinations on landing in Sydney Cove. In February, she married Peter Williams, both signing with their mark. In January 1790, she and her husband were sent to Norfolk Island where they ended up living apart. They returned to Port Jackson in September 1792. In 1806, she was with Nathaniel Fowler, a soldier. She did not appear in any musters after 1806 which suggests she was the Margaret Hall whose burial was registered at St Philip’s, Sydney, on 9 December 1807.
The members of the fighting five together with Margaret Hall were in little or no trouble after landing in Sydney Cove in February 1788. From a life of theft, drunkenness, prostitution, violence, and entrapment in England, and incorrigibly troublesome behaviour during the voyage, they turned into pussycats. Some lived quiet, unremarkable lives, drifting into obscurity. Others went on to enjoy a productive respectable family life. What are we to make of this change? It seems that if circumstances had been otherwise in the mother country, their lives might have been otherwise. Perhaps that analysis is too simple. Might it not have been the influence and demands of a different kind of society, one formed out of a combination of inbred cultural factors and the natural environment, one that was so propitious for the healthy development of their social lives after landing? We saw a similar change—or more precisely a modification—in James Joseph Wilson and Michael Jones, although they showed none of the violent rebelliousness of the fighting five.
Frederick Meredith and convict Eleanor Fraser stepped ashore with these women, as well as with Phillip, his leadership team, the crew, the marines, and the convicts. They had all survived the risky voyage, and they were all engaged in the project to survive and build the settlement. There had to be a common feeling of responsibility. Everyone had an interest and a share in the Colony’s success that must have been continual at work in them, even if subconsciously. Although the point of the possible collapse of the Colony had passed by 1792, all those who came after the First Fleet for the next fifty years would experience similar conditions on the voyage and the same demands to establish themselves and make the settlement work. How else can one explain the radical change and cultural modification in people like the fighting five and James Joseph Wilson and Michael Jones?
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