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7 February 2011

On this day in history: New South Wales founded, 1788

In August 1770 the English mariner and explorer James Cook (then a lieutenant) took possession of the eastern coast of Australia in the name of King George III, naming it New South Wales. Apart from a flag planted by Cook on Possession Island in the Torres Straight there was little evidence of the British claim over eastern Australia until the arrival of the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip. The Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, had charged Phillip with the governorship of a new penal colony to be established at Botany Bay. The fleet of eleven ships set sail in May 1787 carrying 772 convicts (both men and women), most of whom were petty thieves from London, and a small contingent of marines and naval officers.

Reaching Botany Bay in January 1788, Philip found it to be inadequate for his purposes and decided to land the troops and convicts at Sydney Cove, which he named after the Home Secretary, on the southern shore of Port Jackson. On 7th February 1788 Philip assumed the title of Governor of New South Wales formally founding the first British settlement in Australia. Eight days later he established the first colony at Port Jackson and soon after sent a small detachment of men to create a second colony at Norfolk Island both as an alternative food source and to prevent the French from taking possession of it.

Life in the colonies was harsh and chaotic at first. The marines were often nearly as ill-disciplined as the convicts and Philip soon began appointing some convicts as overseers who forced the others to work. The Governor also established friendly relations with the local indigenous population, the Cadigal, who were nevertheless ravaged by diseases the British had brought.

Within a couple of years Philip managed to create a stable settlement with a population of around two thousand. One convict called James Ruse asked for land to establish a farm. When Ruse made a success of an allotment Philip granted him ownership of thirty acres of land inspiring other convicts to follow suit.

Largely forgotten by Britain, Philip continued to administer the colony until ill-health forced him to request permission to return home. He received permission to do so and set sail in December 1792. He left behind him a successful settlement of over four-thousand people.

Project Gutenberg hosts electronic copies of Arthur Phillip's book The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay With an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island (1789).

Related posts
First English colony in North America founded: 5th August 1583
Foundation of first permanent British colony in the Caribbean: 28th January 1624
First university inaugurated in Australia: 11th October 1852

2 comments:

Michele Cameron Drew said...

It seems the British Fleet was very busy throughout those years. I think we Americans sometimes forget that there was history being made elsewhere in the world at that time. Great information. =D

—M

Stepterix said...

The Royal Navy as well as that of the East India Company were indeed key to the growth of the British Empire and Britain's domination of world trade.

Thanks for the comment