How Australia Was Born

How Australia Was Born

Captain Phillip steps ashore in a new land.

Living conditions in the United Kingdom in the 1770s and 1780s were appalling. The Industrial Revolution meant that many workers had been replaced by machines, and small farmers had been forced off their land .

Without work or food for their families, many turned to crime -– the enforced deportation of criminals to another country – was seen as a possible answer.

And so on 13 May 1787 a fleet of eleven ships sailed from Portsmouth with about 750 convicts on board. They were to set up the first British colony in Australia. 

The small fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, sailed from Portsmouth to Tenerife, then to Rio de Janeiro and from there across the Atlantic through the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town and on to Australia. The 24,000 km – nearly 15,000 miles – journey took eight months and during that time there were said to be about 100 deaths and 20 births on board the ships. 

After they arrived at Botany Bay Captain Phillip soon realised it wasn't a suitable place for settlement. The soil was of poor quality, the supply of fresh water was inadequate and the bay was too exposed, the strong winds denying safe harbour for the ships. But he found what he wanted – an excellent natural harbour and a stream with a reliable water supply – 12km to the north.

He named it Sydney Cove in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, the British Home Secretary of the day, and on 26 January 1788 he raised the British flag there, taking possession of the area in the name of the British government.

The convicts on the First Fleet had been found guilty of a variety of crimes. Most of them were thieves, pickpockets, forgers, petty criminals and ordinary people just struggling to survive and driven to steal food. There were no murderers and no-one convicted of a violent crime. 

But the work had to be done and soon they were tilling the tough Australian soil and planting the first crops. They were also set construction projects, as there were no roads, bridges or buildings. 

In the end, it all came good and the city of Sydney began to grow and flourish.