January 18, 2011

Bound for Botany Bay

Sir Arthur Phillip, Admiral of the Fleet

When William Brice was 14 years old, he yielded to temptation and stole a looking glass.  He was caught and tried and sentenced to seven years penal servitude and transportation.

Thus did William become one of 778 convicts who were part of the First Fleet, the 11 ships that set out from Portsmouth in May and arrived at Botany Bay in New South Wales in 1788 – bringing convicts for a penal colony yet to be established.  The very first of the ships was the armed tender Supply, which arrived on this date.  William was aboard the Friendship, which landed the next day.  The last ships arrived on January 26, now officially Australia Day.

William’s story can be found in the First Fleet database, set up by the University of Wollongong.  It’s hard to stop yourself going from name to name:

Edward Perkins – He was tried at Plymouth, Devon on 26 January 1785 for stealing livestock (a rooster) with a value of 1 shilling. He was sentenced to transportation for 7 years and left England on the Friendship aged about 57 at that time (May 1787). His occupation was listed as labourer or brickmaker.

Elizabeth Pulley/Powley/Pooley – She was tried at Thetford, Norfolk on 14 March 1783 for burglary with a value of 8 shillings. She was sentenced to transportation for 7 years having been originally sentenced to death, and left England on the Friendship aged about 24 at that time (May 1787). She had no occupation recorded. She died in 1837.  [Notes: She had a previous conviction for theft. Married Anthony Rope on 19 May 1788. Frances Williams lent her clothes for the wedding which was celebrated with seapye that caused a furore in the community, containing goat’s flesh believed to have been stolen. They had 6 children.]

Anthony Rope – He was tried at Chelmsford, Essex on 10 March 1785 for stealing clothing with a value of 35 shillings. He was sentenced to transportation for 7 years and left England on the Alexander aged about 28 at that time (May 1787). His occupation was listed as labourer. He died in 1843.  [Notes:Actual value of stolen goods was 100 shillings.Received 25 lashes on 11 February and 11 March 1789 for neglect of work.Married Elizabeth Pulley  on 19 May 1788 and had 6 children.]

Sydney, where the convicts settled. Photo by Rodney Haywood.

Although the First Fleet landed at Botany Bay – and that was indeed the name that became synonymous with transportation – Admiral Phillip realized immediately that the land was too low and sandy for agriculture.  He spent the next few days exploring and after anchoring in what is now Sydney Harbour, chose that location for settlement.

The First Fleet Online also includes contemporary accounts of the colony’s settlement, though very little exists.  Ship’s surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth describes the day the women were allowed off the ships (a month after the men):

“At five o’clock this morning, all things were got in order for landing the whole of the women, and 3 of the ships longboats came alongside us to receive them; previous to their quitting the ship, a strict search was made to try if any of the many things which they had stolen on board could be found, but their artifice eluded the most strict search, and at six o’clock p.m. we had the long wished for pleasure of seeing the last of them leave the ship…”




  1. A good tell of a tell in history thank you


    Comment by avery — January 18, 2011 @ 9:16 am | Reply

  2. In fifth grade, in San Antonio, Texas, we sang a song whose origin was aboard these transport ships! I still remember it – the music has the roll of the sea: “Oh there’s Gastwick, and Berwick and Penterville; There’s Portsmouth and old Dartmoor; But they ain’t of interest to none of us; ‘Cause we’re bound for a far, foreign shore Too-Roo-Lee-, etc…. It’s not leaving old England we care about; Nor sailing for shores far away; It’s the blooming monotony wears us out; And the prospect of Botany Bay.”


    Comment by Celia Carroll — March 5, 2011 @ 6:34 pm | Reply

    • That same old shanty has been in my mind for many years; but, I can’t find the rest of the song. I too learned it in the 5th grade; but, in Connecticut. I would love to find all the words to all the verses. Does anyone have a link to the words.?


      Comment by Scott Kuhner — January 4, 2015 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

      • sk – a google search gives you a lot of choices. i quite liked this one:


        Comment by jchatoff — January 6, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

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