Australasia 1788: First Fleet
Prior to the American Revolutionary War (1775–83) British convicts had been transported to North America, but the independence of the United States ended this practise. As an alternative, the British government decided to establish a penal colony on the east coast of New Holland (Australia)—claimed for Britain by James Cook in 1770. In 1788 the British landed the First Fleet of 11 ships at Port Jackson (Sydney), founding the Colony of New South Wales. This marked the beginning of the European settlement of Australia, a process which would prove devastating for the continent’s Aboriginal inhabitants.
19 Apr 1775–3 Sep 1783 American Revolutionary War▲
In 1775 growing tensions between North American colonists and the British government erupted into warfare, starting in the colony of Massachusetts. United under the Continental Congress, the thirteen American colonies declared independence as the United States of America on 4 July 1776. Despite initial setbacks, the US, supported by France and Spain, compelled the British to recognize their independence in 1783.
13 May 1787–18 Jan 1788 First Fleet▲
On 6 December 1785 Orders in Council were issued in London for the establishment of a penal colony in New South Wales—a region on the eastern coast of New Holland (Australia) which had been claimed for Britain by explorer James Cook in 1770. To that end, two Royal Naval vessels, three store ships, and six convict transports, carrying as many as 1,500 people and under the command of Commodore Arthur Phillip, departed Portsmouth, England, on 13 May 1787. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the vessels of this First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788.
24 Jan 1788–1789 Loss of La Pérouse▲
On 24 January 1788 the French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse—or La Pérouse—arrived off Botany Bay, New Holland (Australia), having crisscrossed the Pacific Ocean. There he met with the First Fleet, arriving from Britain, and took on supplies, before setting off in March to continue his explorations. It was the last time he would be seen by Europeans. In 1826 the first evidence of the wreckage of his ships L’Astrolabe and La Boussole would be discovered around Vanikoro, in the Solomon Islands. Ironically Captain Edwards of the HMS Pandora had seen—and ignored—smoke signals from this island in 1791 while searching for the Bounty mutineers.
26 Jan 1788 Landing of the First Fleet▲
Upon arrival in Botany Bay in January 1788, Commodore Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet concluded that the bay was unsuitable for a British settlement but that Port Jackson, about 12 km to the north, was an excellent site. Thus, on 26 January, the Fleet sailed north to Port Jackson, where Phillip planted the British flag at Sydney Cove (named after Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary) and established the Colony of New South Wales. Initial relations with the Aboriginal inhabitants of the land—most notably the Bidjigal—were friendly, although hostilities would begin after just over a year.