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Australia’s First Fleet Convicts

On 13 May, 1787 a fleet of 11 ships left Portsmouth in England with 579 male convicts, 193 female convicts, 14 convicts’ children, 16 officials and passengers, 324 ships crew, 247 marines and 46 marines’ wives and children. Until Portsmouth, the convicts had been held in appalling conditions on prison hulks at Woolwich.

Those 11 ships were H.M.S. Supply and H.M.S. Sirius accompanied by the convict transports – the Alexander, the Charlotte, the Friendship, the Lady Penrhyn, the Prince of Wales and the Scarborough. And three supply ships – the Golden Grove, the Fishburn and the Borrowdale. They had enough supplies to last two years. The fleet was commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip.

To put that journey in perspective, in the late 1700s this particular fleet’s destination of New South Wales was an alien land declared by Cook to be British. It was so far away even the marines recorded distress they would never survive to see England. And England was unloading its low-level villains into an untamed environment because it had few realistic choices.

America had won independence, the bubonic plague had hit Africa and British prisons were brimming over capacity. Even the prison hulks were over-capacity. The First Fleet was an unprecedented voyage given the size, the cargo and destination.

The First Fleet’s journey took 252 days via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and around the Cape of Good Hope (as the last landfall) before striking across the Indian Ocean and below the Australian continent to approach New South Wales. The last ships arrived on 26 January, 1788 (Australia Day – also disparaged as Invasion Day). In transit, the Alexander (with my great great great great great grandfather Richard Morgan aboard) suffered the majority of deaths and a mutiny.

That they would survive in this harsh land wasn’t a given either. It was four long years of hard work before the colony at Sydney was self-sufficient.

All in all, over 80 years, Britain transported a total of 163,000 convicts to Australia aboard 806 ships. They were English and Welsh (70%), Irish (24%), Scottish (5%) and from British outposts (1%). Although none were aboard the First Fleet, as many as one in forty-five convicts deported to Australia were political prisoners.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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