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13 May 1787: the first Wild Colonial Boys

Malcolm Redfellow

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On Sunday, 13th May, 1787, eleven vessels of the First Fleet left the Solent, on a eight-month voyage to Botany Bay. The ships would arrive in mid-January, 1788 (just beating the French expedition of Jean-François de Galaup La Pérouse). It comprised the transports:
  • Alexander, 192 male convicts, 2 lieutenants, 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, 29 privates, a drummer and an assistant surgeon;
  • Scarborough, 205 male convicts, a captain of marines, 2 lieutenants, 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, 26 privates, a drummer and an another assistant surgeon;
  • Charlotte, 89 male and 20 female convicts, a captain of marines, 2 lieutenants, 2 sergeants, 3 corporals, 35 privates, a drummer and the chief surgeon John White;
  • Lady Penrhyn, 101 female convicts, a captain of marines, 2 lieutenants, 3 privates, a drummer and the surgeon's mate;
  • Prince of Wales, mainly a store-ship, but carrying 2 male, 50 female convicts, 2 lieutenants, 3 sergeants, 2 corporals, 24 privates, a drummer and the surveyor-general;
  • Friendship, 76 male, 21 female, a captain of marines, 2 lieutenants, 2 sergeants, 3 corporals, 36 privates, a drummer, and a further assistant surgeon.
    As far as I can see, most of the transported convicts were from the slums and stews of London and the south of England. There's a database of the known names here. [My personal interest started with a collateral who should have been on the Third Fleet, but went AWOL between the pier at Portsmouth and Sydney, to die forty years later in the bosom of his family in Derbyshire.]
The commander of the First Fleet, and nominated as first Governor of New South Wales, was Captain Arthur Phillip. His flag-ship was HMS Sirius, itself a vessel of some history: it had been built as an East Indiaman, had burned to the waterline while being fitted out, had been bought by the Admiralty as a storeship (the Berwick) for the North America run, and had been reconstructed as a 20-gun man-of-war for the Botany Bay expedition.
Phillip was another anomaly:
  • his parents were German immigrants, and he had been educated at the naval charity school in Greenwich;
  • he had gone to sea at the age of sixteen, served as a lieutenant in the Seven years' War, retired to be a farmer in the New Forest after the Treaty of Paris;
  • he went back to sea with the Portuguese navy against Spain, but returned to serve in the Royal Navy against France;
  • when the American War ended was a half-pay captain.
  • So, when pulled out of his further retirement to head the Botany Bay expedition, he was more than just a surprise choice. The "pull" seems to be his near-neighbour in Hampshire (George Rose), who happened to be the under-secretary at the Admiralty.
The double-appointment of Phillip meant a special exception for a second captain on the Sirius. This was the Scot, John Hunter.

Since the expedition would need to be self-sufficient, there were three further store-ships carrying tools, equipment, and two years' provisions: Fishbourne; Golden Grove; and Borrowdale.

There was an escort-vessel, a small brig of just 170 tons burden, the HMS Supply, commanded by Lieutenant Ball.

I'm offering this up in the hope that others may engage to pursue this story. We could address a number of sub-topics:
  • how the plan came about to send convicts half-way round a barely-known world?
  • did it have the full intent to succeed? [There are enough dubious aspects in the above, to suggest it was a bit of a wild venture.]
  • what happened to Phillip and his expedition?
  • the salacious aspects of the story (Siân Rees did well from her narrative of the Lady Julian of the Second Fleet).
  • when did the "myth" (itself worth a "?") emerge that the transports were disproportionately Irish? The National Library has a database here (and a rather clunky one, if I may say so).
 


Malcolm Redfellow

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Apology, and revision ... and consequent drivel

It is the nature of "history" and historiography that there is always another source lurking to upset previously-fixed opinion. So, after posting that, above, I found myself reviewing what I'd suggested about Arthur Phillip.

On the basis of what I since have read, I could have simply and covertly amended that bullet-list of Phillip's record, before 1787, thus proving what a bright guy I am.

No: better to put up this alternative, fuller, and (I hope) more complete version, which proves just how dubious were my earlier assertions:
  • His parents were German immigrants — his father was a language-teacher (which may account for Phillips' own facilities); and he had been educated at the naval charity school in Greenwich.
  • He had gone to sea perhaps as early as his eighth year. His early experiences were whaling in the high Arctic in Summer, and trading in the Mediterranean in Winter.
  • He joined HMS Buckingham (Captain Charles Holmes Everett *) as captain's servant, to rise to lieutenant during the Seven years' War. Phillip was at the Battle of Minorca (May 1756) to witness what Phillip himself described as the Cowardice of Admiral Byng. Everett gave evidence against Byng; and Phillip, as midshipman, followed Everett into HMS Neptune.
  • In 1760-61, on HMS Stirling Castle, he was Everitt's Fourth Lieutenant at the capture of Martinique, and the siege of Havana, whence he was sent back to England on the captured Infante.
  • After the Treaty of Paris he was out of a post with the Navy. He married an older (but wealthy) widow, to set up as a farmer at Lyndhurst in the New Forest. The marriage failed, and they separated.
  • His activities during the 1770s are distinctly mirky. He was in France for extended periods, perhaps as a trader, but certainly doing well enough to repay his debts to his wife. He may have received training as a military engineer; but almost certainly was spying.
  • With the Spanish and Portuguese contending for South American lands, Phillip joined the Portuguese navy (with British Admiralty approval) as to captain the Belém and then the Pilar, patrolling the River Plate, during which a Spanish battleship was captured, and its command given to Phillip.
  • With the French supporting the American Revolution, it was clear that war with France was inevitable. So by 1778 Phillip is back, as First Lieutenant on HMS Alexander, then as a frigate Captain on HMS Ariadne. A further promotion (late 1782) made him captain of HMS Europe, a 64-gun third-rater. Here we have another indication of the nature of Phillip's service. The Europe was tasked with a secret mission against the Spanish in South America: the plan went awry when the squadron was devastated by a Biscay storm — and Phillip then followed his contingent orders to sail alone on to India.
  • In 1784 he's back in England, and spent the next couple of years "observing" activities in the French ports.
  • My original assumption (drawn from Peter Taylor) was that, after the American Wars were ended, Phillip was out-of-the-service, on half-pay, and back to his New Forest farm, from whence he was pulled out of this further retirement to head the Botany Bay expedition, as a surprise choice. The "pull" seems to be his near-neighbour in Hampshire (George Rose), who happened to be a Treasury place-man and had the ear of Pitt. In the light of what we see here of Phillip's record, he would seem just the man for such a venture.
O.K., all? Sorry for any misdirections.

* In the course of all that, I found Captain Charles Holmes Everitt. Who was captain of the frigate, HMS Solebay, sunk off Nevis (25th January, 1782) in an engagement with the French. First a prisoner of the Revolutionaries in New York, then exchanged for Abraham Whipple, Everett returned to Britain and married Pollexfen Clamady in 1783 and took her surname to become Admiral Charles Holmes Everitt Calmady.

Still with me?

If so, that raises two further lines of enquiry.

Is "Charles Holmes Everett" then any connection to the Calmady children, featured by Laurence's 1823 portrait (perhaps better known as "Nature"):

Polluxfen? Any relation to Susan Pollexfen, better recognised in these bourns as the mother of W.B.Yeats?
 

Tir Eoghain

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The 'free state' govt should apologise to Australian Govt for what Ned Kelly done and the lads from the Catalpa.

I'm sure they have in private!!!!
 

RasherHash

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The poor women, 89 male convicts and 20 females, it doesn't bear thinking about.

8 months at sea in leaky old wooden tubs :(
 

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