THE FIRST FLEET 1787 - 1788


" --- at 4.00am fired gun and made the signal to weigh, weigh'd and made sail, in company with the HYAENA frigate, SUPPLY armed tender, SIX TRANSPORTS, and THREE STORE ships, at 9.00am fired a gun and made the sign'l for the convey to make more sail " these words were recorded in the logbook of HMS SIRIUS on May 13th 1787, as the First Fleet set sail for the new Colony of New South Wales, some 8 months and half a world away.


Note: The HYAENA frigate stayed with the Fleet as an escort vessel until 200 miles to the west of Scilly Isles, then Phillip ordered the HYAENA to return to Plymouth.


Notes about the 1st Fleet:

Captain Arthur Phillip, a little known but efficient Naval Officer was appointed to command the Fleet and to be the Colony's First Governor.

There were 11 ships in the First Fleet;- War Ship HMS SIRIUS, Transport Ships CHARLOTTE, ALEXANDER, SCARBOROUGH,  LADY PENRHYN, FRIENDSHIP, PRINCE OF WALES, Armed Tender SUPPLY, and 3 Store Ships (carrying sufficient supplies to last 2 years) GOLDEN GROVE, FISHBURN & BORROWDALE.

Apart from the ship's crews, there were 1044 people aboard the Fleet, 568 male convicts, 191 female convicts, 13 convicts children, 205 Marines (to guard the prisoners on the voyage, and act as the garrison in the new colony), with 27 wives & 19 children. There were also 21 Officials & servants. The youngest convict was only 9 years old, serving 7 years transportation for stealing, and the oldest was a woman, aged 82 years, convicted of housebreaking.


The first Port of call was the town of Santa Cruz on Teneriffe in the Canary Islands. The Fleet arrived on, 3rd June some three weeks after leaving England. There they took on fresh fruit and vegetables

Marine Captain Watkin Tench recorded " --- During our short stay we had every day some fresh proof of His Excellency's esteem and attention, and had the honour of dining with him, in a style of equal elegance and splendour"  The Fleet departed on the 10th June for Rio de Janeiro"


It took eight weeks for the Fleet to cross the Atlantic, from the Canary Islands to the South American coast and Rio de Janeiro. This seemingly circuitous crossing was to take maximum advantage of the prevailing winds. Captain Arthur Phillip noted in his official account  " --- Stormy seas were succeeded by warm weather and favourable winds. Land was sighted on August 2nd 1787, and by August 6th the even ships in the Fleet were anchored in the harbour at Rio de Janeiro" shore leave was granted from August 7th, with the Fleet weighing anchor on September 4th, with a course set for Capetown.


The Fleet took some five weeks to complete the crossing from Rio to the Cape of Good Hope. It was to be their third and final civilized port of call on route. Land was sighted early on the morning of October 13th and by dark all eleven ships of the Fleet were anchored in Table Bay, Capetown

Whilst in port, provisions were loaded. Corn was in short supply, but cattle and other supplies were found to be plentiful. The prisoners enjoyed the luxury of fresh meat and vegetables. The months rest came to an end on November 12th when the Fleet hoisted sail for the final leg to Botany Bay.


For the next eight weeks a most uncomfortable passage was endured by all, as the Fleet was buffeted by rough and heavy seas. There was no letup, even on Christmas Day.

Captain Arthur Phillip decided to go on head of the main Fleet and seek out the best possible site for the new Colony, before the main body of the Fleet arrived, so he transferred to HMS SUPPLY, and split the fleet into three. HMS SUPPLY would proceed alone, with the three fastest transports, ALEXANDER, SCARBOROUGH and FRIENDSHIP to follow at full speed. HMS SIRIUS would then escort the remainder of the FLEET at the fastest rate they could muster.


Phillip on board HMS SUPPLY arrived in Botany Bay on January 18th 1788, with the second part of the Fleet arriving some 24 hours later on Jan 20th 1788,  and the rest appeared the following day. The Fleet all safely anchor in Botany Bay, after a voyage of some 15,000miles taking some 250 days or 8 months, with 68 days in Ports on route


Captain Phillip is not taken with Botany Bay so six days later  he orders that the Fleet to up anchor and sails them a further nine miles north to Port Jackson, where he describes it as  " --- one of the finest harbours in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line might ride in perfect security"  By nightfall on January 26th 1788 Phillip's convey is safely at anchor in a quiet cove with a fresh water supply he called Sydney Cove- so named in honour of Lord Sydney.




1)      The First Settlement- Jonathan King

2)      Biography of George Raper 1769-1797- David Collins

3)      Various 1st Fleet Web Sites



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters South Coast Chapter