Australian English Genealogy

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The First Fleet


Aboriginals were the first Australian Settlers arriving from South-East Asia, around 40,000 years before the European's explored Australia in the 1600's. The first white settlers were mainly convicts sent from Great Britain.

The population of Great Britain in the 1770's was around 9 million, about 1 million of whom were criminals. Gaols were overcrowded and Britain transported many criminals to America. In 1783, after America's independence from Britain, they refused to take any more British prisoners and consequently Britain decided all persons convicted of crimes between 1783 and 1787 would be transported to New South Wales Australia (New Holland). Arthur Phillips was commissioned as first governor of New South Wales(NSW). He departed England on 15 May 1787 with the First Fleet, carrying around 1500 men, women and children.

The First Fleet was comprised of 3 Naval ships, 3 supply ships and 6 convict ships.  The Naval Ships carried Arthur Phillip and his wife and children, his staff and servants, doctors, a surveyor, a chaplain, a judge, marines, crewmen and their wives and children. The supply ships carried enough supplies to last two years including food, clothes, building materials, plant seeds, furniture etc. The convict ships had specially built quarters below decks while pens holding poultry, goats, sheep, dogs and cats were above decks.

The ships arrived in Botany Bay (Captain Cook's landing place) on 18th January 1788 but upon arrival Governor Phillip decided Botany Bay an unsuitable site for the 'settlement' and proceeded on to Port Jackson which he later described as "the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security".

The majority of the 165,000 convicts sent to Australia were poor and illiterate and most had been convicted of larceny. Most of these convicts did not serve the full term of their sentence as good behaviour enabled them to obtain 'A Ticket of Freedom', 'Certificate of Freedom' or complete Pardon. Many of them were instrumental in settling outlying areas of Sydney.