Tag Archives: Captain Arthur Phillip

The Amazing incredible voyage of the First Fleet

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

Chapter 13

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.

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Australia did not exist before 26 January 1788

The historical detail for the reasons I claim Australia did not exist before the 26th of January 1788 is in chapter 2, Foundations of a Nation of my book PRISON HULK TO REDEMPTION SECOND EDITION. The philosophical arguments about what it means to be a people are in my essay Edmund Burke on what it means to be a people. Both should be in read in combination to appreciate the full argument.

Prison Hulk to Redemption

Chapter 2

Foundations of a new nation

On 28 April 1770, the then Lieutenant James Cook steered his ship, the Endeavour, into a broad open bay and dropped anchor at its southern shore. He named it Stingray Bay because of the abundance in its waters of stingrays on which his crew gorged. He later crossed out Stingray Bay in the ship’s logs and entered Botany Bay in tribute to Botanist Joseph Banks, the ship’s eager scientist. Banks had put together an impressive collection of specimens of unknown plants and animals after trekking around the land bordering the bay’s shores.

Cook and the Endeavour were on their way back to England after carrying out the official task of observing the transit of Venus from the island of Tahiti. There were also unofficial tasks, one of which was the order to investigate the existence of the South Land, whose ancient mythology promised great riches of all kinds. From Roman times, it had been called Terra Australis Incognita—Unknown South Land. The search for the mysterious land of the south had occupied the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spanish, and later the English in the person of William Dampier (1688 and 1689).  Dampier added little to the findings of the Dutch seamen.

Until Cook’s voyage, the most successful effort to map what was south of present-day Indonesia and New Guinea was the voyage of Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642 and1643. This eight-month voyage on the order of the Governor of Batavia to find the South Land took Tasman west from Batavia (today’s Jakarta). Keeping the Indonesian islands to the north of him, he eventually turned and sailed far to the south before turning directly east. After navigating a great distance, he hit landfall. He followed the shoreline south, mapping it as he went, turned east, then north, but left the coast to head east again. He named this bushy landmass Anthoni Van Diemens Landt after Batavia’s governor. After some days, he made landfall again. Thinking the land he had come across reached as far as Tierra Del Fuego in South America, he noted Staten Landt in his logbook. Staten Landt was the Dutch for the Spanish name of Argentine’s Isla de Los Estados.

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