Admiral Arthur Phillip
Watling Street, London, England
In April 1770, HMS Endeavour reached the east coast of Australia. Those on board the ship were the first to see Australia’s golden, sun-drenched coastline, and the ship’s captain, James Cook, soon claimed the land for Great Britain. Even though there were people already living there. But it was good news for British politicians. Back home, prisons were splitting at the seams. The Industrial Revolution and the introduction of machinery into farming and manufacturing processes had left many unemployed and, in a time before adequate welfare, destitute. Prisons had become dangerously overcrowded, full of people who’d stolen bread, food, or perhaps a few coins just to survive. But now, an answer had presented itself to the problem of jam-packed jails – the transportation of prisoners to Australia. And by 1787, the first transportation was ready to sail to Australia. In total, 11 ships carrying food, supplies, marines, sailors, soldiers and 772 petty criminals from the slums of London set off for Botany Bay. The First Fleet. Commanded by Admiral Arthur Phillip. It took eight months to get there, and 23 prisoners died along the way, but on 26 January 1788, the fleet landed in Australia, near what is now Sydney. Shortly after, on 7 February, a new colony was proclaimed by the British Empire. The colony of New South Wales. Even though there were already people living there, and had been people living there for thousands of years. The main settlement was named Sydney, after the British Home Secretary at the time, Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney. Arthur Phillip was made First Governor of New South Wales, and was answerable only to the Colonial Secretary, the Prime Minister and King George III. Who were all thousands of miles away in London. It wasn’t an easy ride. Crops failed, supply ships didn’t arrive, and his attempts to broker a harmonious relationship with the local Aboriginal people didn’t always go well. But he was fair to his prisoners. Once they’d served their time, he allowed them the freedom to follow any business venture they chose. A clean slate. By 1790, former convict James Ruse became the first to start a farm. Others followed. And before long, the remote colonial outpost was not only able to feed itself, it was thriving. In 1793, Arthur turned 55. He returned home to Britain, where he married and commanded ships in the war against France. His job in Australia was done, and although he continued to write to his friends and colleagues there and to promote the interests of the colony with government officials, he never stepped foot on the vast continent again. He died in 1814, at the age of 75.