New South Wales

Botany Bay Part 2

LINKS to other pages in the New South Wales website and the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

NSW Home Page
1 : Cook's Landing
2 : First Fleet and Sir Joseph Banks
3 : Daniel Solander and Cook Museum
4 : Bare Island and Cape Banks


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The information that follows was obtained from the Wikipedia free encyclopaedia website, the Fairfax Australian Travel Guide, The City of Botany Bay website :

Cook named the bay 'Stingray Harbour'. That name was also recorded on an Admiralty chart. Cook's log for 6 May 1770 records "The great quantity of these sort of fish found in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Stingrays Harbour". However, in his journal (prepared later from his log), he changed to "The great quantity of plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found in this place occasioned my giving it the Name of Botany Bay".

In his journals, Cook wrote enthusiastically of the well watered fertile meadows he had seen. His descriptions helped to convince the British government that New South Wales would be the ideal place to set up a penal colony.

THE FIRST FLEET is the name given to the 11 ships which sailed from Great Britain on May 13, 1787 to establish the first European colony in New South Wales. It was a convict settlement, marking the beginnings of transportation to Australia. The fleet was led by Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip.

The decision to send convicts to Botany Bay was taken by the British Government on 18 August 1786, with the responsibility to organise and choose officials falling on then Home Secretary, Lord Sydney and his junior, Evan Nepean. Preparations to obtain ships, convicts, guards and provisions began soon after.

At the time the five hulks in service held about 1300 men, and selected convicts, including women from county gaols were transferred to the hulk Dunkirk at Plymouth and the New Gaol in Southwark. Optimistically, it was hoped to be able to sail in October, but a series of postponements were made. In mid April 1787 the St James's Chronicle commented that “strange as it may appear, we are credibly informed of the Fact that the Transports for Botany Bay have not as yet sailed".

By October 1786, more than 200 marines had volunteered for Botany Bay duty, and Major Robert Ross was chosen to command them. The man chosen to lead the expedition, command HMS Sirius, and take on the governorship of the colony, was Captain Arthur Phillip, of whom The First Lord of The Admiralty said, “The little I know of [him] would [not] have led me to select him".

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Convicts were delivered to the transports from the hulks and gaols with no reference to skills, or fitness to contribute to the creation of the new colony. The first arrivals embarked on the transports at Woolwich and Gravesend in early January, and continued throughout the next three months. Gradually the ships made their way to Portsmouth, where the last convicts were loaded on the day the fleet sailed. Eventually the fleet set sails and moved off down the English Channel on 13 May 1787.

In November, Phillip transferred to Supply. With Alexander, Friendship and Scarborough, the fastest ships in the Fleet and carrying most of the male convicts, Supply hastened ahead to prepare for the arrival of the rest. Phillip intended to select a suitable location, find good water, clear the ground, and perhaps even have some huts and other structures built before the others arrived. However, this "flying squadron" reached Botany Bay only hours before the rest of the Fleet, so no preparatory work was possible. The Supply reached Botany Bay on 18 January 1788; the three fastest transports in the advance group arrived on 19 January; slower ships, including the Sirius arrived on 20 January.

This was one of the world's greatest sea voyages — eleven vessels carrying about 1400 people and stores had travelled for 252 days for more than 15,000 miles (24,000 km) without losing a ship. Forty-eight people had died on the journey, a death rate of just over three per cent. Given the rigours of the voyage, the navigational problems, the poor condition and sea-faring inexperience of the convicts, the primitive medical knowledge, the lack of precautions against scurvy, the crammed and foul conditions of the ships, poor planning and inadequate equipment, this was a remarkable achievement.

It was soon realised that Botany Bay did not live up to the glowing account that Captain James Cook had given it in 1770. The bay was open and unprotected, fresh water was scarce, and the soil was poor. First contacts were made with the local indigenous people, the Eora, who seemed curious but suspicious of the newcomers. The area was studded with enormously strong trees. When the convicts tried to cut them down, their tools broke and the tree trunks had to be blasted out of the ground with gunpowder. The primitive huts built for the officers and officials quickly collapsed in rainstorms.

On 21 January, 2 days after he had arrived in Botany Bay, Phillip and a party which included John Hunter, departed the Bay in three small boats to explore other bays to the north. They soon found what they were looking for and the men returned on 23 January with news of a harbour to the north, with sheltered anchorages, fresh water and fertile soil. Phillip's impressions of the harbour were recorded in a letter he sent to England later. He wrote "the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security ...". This was Port Jackson, which Cook had seen and named, but not entered. A decision was made to relocate the party to this new site.

On 26 January 1788, the fleet weighed anchor and by evening had entered Port Jackson. The site selected for the anchorage had deep water close to the shore, was sheltered and had a small stream flowing into it. Phillip named it Sydney Cove, after Lord Sydney the British Home Secretary. This date is still celebrated as Australia Day, marking the beginnings of the first British settlement.

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The site of Cook's landing at Kernell (left and below}

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Monument to Sir Joseph Banks (left) which is situated close to the Cook landing memorials.

From the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria website (with acknowledgement) :

"Joseph Banks was born in 1743, the only son of a wealthy land-owning family. From an early age, his declared passion was natural history, and in particular, botany. Shortly after inheriting his family's fortune in the early 1760's he chose to pursue this passion to the full. In 1766 he travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador to collect plants, animals and rocks and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in the same year.

"When the Royal Society was successful in initiating Captain Cook's 1768 expedition to Tahiti for astronomical observations, Banks obtained permission from the Admiralty to join the venture. For him, this was like a present-day scientist being given the chance of a trip to another planet, a chance to study new plants in unknown lands.

"They made collections and observations in South America, Tahiti and New Zealand before reaching Australia. His major landfalls on the eastern coast of Australia were at Botany Bay (28 April - 5 May 1770) and at the Endeavour River (17 June - 3 August). By now the 'collection of plants was . . . grown so immensely large that it was necessary that some extraordinary care should be taken of them least they should spoil . . .' The plant material collected and sorted on the voyage was extensive, with the herbarium specimens accounting for about 110 new genera and 1300 new species.

"After his triumphant return from this voyage, Banks travelled to Scotland, Wales, Holland and Iceland, collecting more and more 'curiosities'. Among a host of other activities, including the running of his estates, he controlled the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and was a Trustee of the British Museum. In 1778 he also became President of the Royal Society, an office which he held until his death in 1820. He was knighted in 1781.

"Although Linneaus' suggestion of naming the new country 'Banksia' was not adopted, Bank's name was bestowed upon a genus of Australian plants and he made his mark upon Australian history in other ways. When the British government was casting about for a suitable place to establish a penal colony, Banks was an advocate for Botany Bay. After the settlement was established at Sydney Cove, he encouraged further investigation of the natural history of the area and became the acknowledged authority on matters relating to New South Wales. His impact on the study of natural history in both Britain and Australia cannot be overestimated."

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A contemporary map of the bay (right). Cape Banks is featured on page four of this site and Point Solander on page one.

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