traditionally marks the anniversary of 26 January, 1788 when Captain Arthur
Phillip and the First Fleet raised the flag on Australia's first European settlement at Sydney Cove.
After the United States of America won the Revolutionary
War in 1783, it was no longer possible for Britain to send unwanted
criminals there. As the crime rate increased in England, jails and
prison hulks moored in British harbours became overcrowded. Captain
Cook had discovered the east coast of Australia in 1770 and not long
after this voyage, the possibility of using Australia as a penal
colony was considered.
It is believed that this need for a place to
"dump" convicts, was not the only reason for colonising
Australia. Botany Bay was also seen as a port of call and supply base
for British ships traveling the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and
trading with China. Although shorter alternative routes were
possible, by the mid 1780's, the British Government was concerned
that these routes might be cut if the Dutch went to war with Great
At the same time, Britain was heavily dependent
on Baltic countries fro timber that could be used for masts and
shipbuilding and flax used for the manufacture of canvas, sailcloth
and rope. As possible alliances between French, Dutch and Russians
could block the supply of these material, Britain was anxious to
find alternative sources. Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks
recommended that Australia, New Zealand and nearby islands could be
potential sources of timber and flax.
On May, 13 1787, eleven ships set out from
Portsmouth, England on an eight month voyage to Australia, carrying approximately
1 350 men, women and children.
The ships of the First Fleet and their functions
Sirius - Flagship
of Wales - Transport
Supply - Armed Tender
Grove - Storeship
Penhryn - Transport
The Supply was the first ship to reach Botany Bay, followed by the three transports the second
day and the remainder the following day, 20th January 1788. The journey of 15,000 miles took
just over eight months. After exploring Botany Bay it was found to be unsuitable for settlement. The reason was that it
lacked good soil, it lacked a good supply of fresh water and that the bay was so shallow that
ships had to anchor too far offshore.
On Monday 21st January, Phillip took a small party of officers and marines in three open
boats to explore the coast north of Botany Bay Captain Cook had mentioned Port Jackson
which he had not explored, and also Broken Bay which he described as having hills right down
to the edge of the bay.
As Port Jackson was closer, the explorers examined it first and were delighted with what they saw.
There was a cove with a good stream of fresh water flowing into it and Phillip named it Sydney Cove
after Lord Sydney. His party spent two days examining the area around the cove.
On 23rd January they returned to Botany Bay and the idea of a settlement
at Port Jackson was enthusiastically welcomed.
The next day two French ships under the command of Jean-Francois Galoup, Comte de la Perouse
was sighted. They were on a voyage of discovery set to continue on the work done by Captain Cook.
On 25th January Phillip set sail for Sydney Cove, allowing the rest of the fleet to sail when the
strong gale eased sufficiently to allow the 10 ships to sail safely together.
A clearing was made and a flagpole was erected and on the next day the Union Jack of Queen Anne
was hoisted with the usual ceremony. On that evening the rest of the fleet under Captain Hunter arrived.
The day of the hoisting of the flag, 26th January, 1788 was originally called Foundation Day and
today is called Australia Day.