On 13 May 1787, the First Fleet – led by Captain Arthur Phillip (and first NSW Governor) – set sail from Portsmouth, England to establish a penal colony and the first European settlement in Australia.
The 11 ship fleet consisted of two Royal Navy vessels (HMS Supply and Sirius), three store ships and six convict ships. Of the near 1,500 settlers, nearly 800 were convicts (of which nearly 200 were women).
The fleet went south-west to Rio de Janeiro (via the Canary Islands), then east to Cape Town and then into the long stretch of the roaring forties, rounding Van Diemen’s Land and up the south coast of NSW, taking around 250 days to complete.
To this day, it remains one of the world’s greatest sea voyages – 11 ships without losing one, travelling 24,000 kms over 250 days with less than 50 of the nearly 1,500 people on board perishing (in those days, 3% was a very decent attrition rate, especially with convicts involved). It also founded a new colony which has become the great nation of Australia.
The First Fleet’s intended destination for settlement was Botany Bay – the bay of Captain Cook’s landing in 1770. But due to its poor supply of fresh water, lack of depth near shore and poor soil, they ended up settling at Sydney Cove (Circular Quay) on 26 January 1788 – now Australia Day – proclaiming it as the Colony of NSW on 7 February 1788.
So on 13 May, celebrate the grand First Fleet’s departure from Portsmouth by:
- if you’re in the Sydney area, visiting Circular Quay or Botany Bay (Kurnell Peninsula) and soaking up the surrounds of the landmarks and destinations of the First Fleet and early convict settlement
- watching these videos on the First Fleet
- reading further about the First Fleet – context, purpose and ultimate impact
- taking a boat trip with the family across a body of water and telling the story of this famous and pivotal voyage
- having a feast to mark the departure from Portsmouth, perhaps featuring some preserved or pickled foods, the like of which were common on long sea voyages
- visit the First Fleet Memorial Gardens on the New England Highway, New South Wales, at Wallabadah
- saluting these brave and stoic men and women from Britain who gave birth to our great nation, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, the historically-curious and fellow patriotic Aussies.