• Si Biggs

The First Fleet - Landing at Sydney Cove

Unit/ Formation: His Majesty's Marine Forces


Location: Sydney Cove


Period/ Conflict: 1700's


Year: 1788


Date/s: 26th January 1788


Captain Arthur Phillip RN lands at Botany Bay with 21 officers and 192 marines and 40 wives, who had volunteered for a 3 year posting.

On 13 May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships, which came to be known as the First Fleet, was sent by the British Admiralty from England to New Holland. Under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, the fleet sought to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay on the coast of New South Wales, which had been explored and claimed by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770.


The settlement was seen as necessary because of the loss of the Thirteen Colonies in North America. The Fleet arrived between 18 and 20 January 1788, but it was immediately apparent that Botany Bay was unsuitable. On 21 January, Phillip and a few officers travelled to Port Jackson, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) to the north, to see if it would be a better location for a settlement.

Cook’s chart of Botany Bay. British Library

They stayed there until 23 January; Phillip named the site of their landing Sydney Cove, after the Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. They also made contact with the local Aboriginal people. They returned to Botany Bay on the evening of 23 January, when Phillip gave orders to move the fleet to Sydney Cove the next morning, 24 January.


That day, there was a huge gale blowing, making it impossible to leave Botany Bay, so they decided to wait till the next day, 25 January. However, during 24 January, they spotted the ships Astrolabe and Boussole, flying the French flag, at the entrance to Botany Bay; they were having as much trouble getting into the bay as the First Fleet was having getting out.


On 25 January the gale was still blowing; the fleet tried to leave Botany Bay, but only HMS Supply made it out, carrying Arthur Phillip, Philip Gidley King, some marines and about 40 convicts; they anchored in Sydney Cove in the afternoon.

‘The Founding of Australia 1788’, an oil painting by Algernon Talmage. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

On 26 January, early in the morning, Phillip along with a few dozen marines, officers and oarsmen, rowed ashore and took possession of the land in the name of King George III.


The remainder of the ship's company and the convicts watched from on board Supply. Meanwhile, back at Botany Bay, Captain John Hunter of HMS Sirius made contact with the French ships, and he and the commander, Captain de Clonard, exchanged greetings.

Sydney Cove 1788

Clonard advised Hunter that the fleet commander was Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. Sirius successfully cleared Botany Bay, but the other ships were in great difficulty.


Charlotte was blown dangerously close to rocks; Friendship and Prince of Wales became entangled, both ships losing booms or sails; Charlotte and the Friendship actually collided; and Lady Penrhyn nearly ran aground. Despite these difficulties, all the remaining ships finally managed to clear Botany Bay and sail to Sydney Cove on 26 January. The last ship anchored there at about 3 pm.


The formal establishment of the Colony of New South Wales did not occur on 26 January as is commonly assumed. It did not occur until 7 February 1788, when the formal proclamation of the colony and of Arthur Phillip's governorship were read out.


The vesting of all land in the reigning monarch King George III also dates from 7 February 1788.

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