Political map of Australia, New Zealand & the Southwest Pacific 26 January 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 (Australian frontier wars).