Journals of the First Fleet

The State Library of New South Wales holds the largest collection of journals and letters written by mariners in the ships of the First Fleet. Of the eleven known journal manuscripts, nine are held in the Mitchell Library and Dixson Library collections.

The links below take you to the web page at the State Library where each journal or collection of letters is to be found. A short sample of the journal or letters can be viewed up front or it is possible to “Explore the Complete Journal” by clicking on the link of that name. Keep an eye open for links to other interesting item such as charts and other documents available on some pages. Details of the careers of these men are quoted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, giving us a glimpse into the sometimes fascinating and often dangerous lives they, by the very nature of their occupation, lived and sometimes died. These journals and letters give us a unique first hand look at the First Fleet voyage to Botany Bay and the establishment of the settlement at Sydney Cove and on Norfolk Island as well as the desperate expedition to Batavia in April 1790 to buy supplies and hire a ship to bring them back to Port Jackson – see Newton Fowell’s last letter before he died of fever on the voyage back to Sydney.

Arthur Bowes-Smyth

“Arthur Bowes Smyth (1750-1790), surgeon, was born on 23 August 1750 at Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex, England, the seventh child of Thomas Smyth, a surgeon. He lived at Tolleshunt D’Arcy and practised there at least between 1778 and 1783. In 1787 he was appointed a surgeon in the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet; he took charge of the prisoners when the convicts’ surgeon on board, Dr Alltree, fell ill at Tenerife. Under the name of Arthur Bowes, as he was known in the colony, from 22 March 1787 to 12 August 1789 he kept a journal which included a record of the events of the voyage and the first weeks in New South Wales. While still in Sydney, on 19 March he reported on the birds of Lord Howe Island where Lieutenant Henry Ball had landed from the Supply on the way back from Norfolk Island.

Smyth left Sydney in the Lady Penrhyn on 20 April, and the journal is most significant for its descriptions of bird life at Port Jackson and Lord Howe Island, where the ship called on her way to China. He collected curios and natural history specimens on his excursions at Port Jackson, in a way typical of the non-scientific collecting done in the colony before George Caley arrived in 1800. Bowes must have been one of the first white men to see an emu, of which he made a drawing. While on Lord Howe Island he made the earliest known drawing of the now extinct white gallinule, and observed the bell magpie or currawong and four now rare or extinct birds, which have been identified as the Lord Howe Island pigeon, the booby, the Lord Howe Island rail or woodhen, and an extinct species of parrakeet. He died soon after his return to England and was buried at Tolleshunt D’Arcy on 31 March 1790. His journal is held by the National Library of Australia, Canberra.”1

William Bradley

“William Bradley (1757-1833), naval officer and diarist, was said to be the great-nephew of James Bradley (1693-1762), astronomer royal from 1742 until his death. One of his brothers, James, was on the staff of the Royal Naval Academy, Portsmouth, and his wife, Sarah Witchell, whom he married some time before May 1787, was a daughter of one of the masters there. He entered the navy on 10 April 1772 and served successively as captain’s servant, A.B., midshipman, and master’s mate until 31 October 1778 when he was promoted lieutenant. He served in H.M.S. Lenox,Aldborough, Mermaid, Ripon, Prothée, Phaeton and Ariadne before being appointed first lieutenant in the Sirius on 25 October 1786 and sailing with the First Fleet next May.

After reaching Port Jackson in January 1788 John Hunter, second captain of Sirius, immediately began with Bradley a series of surveys. They had completed that of Sydney Harbour by 6 February, Bradley’s Head, on the northern shore of the harbour, first known as Bradley’s Point, being named after the lieutenant. During his stay at Sydney Bradley lived in the Sirius and appears to have taken little part in the social life of the new colony, though he recorded in his diary the more striking day-to-day events and, in the course of duty, sat on the Court of Criminal Judicature. On the various short surveying expeditions he undertook, usually with Hunter, his main interest was the Aboriginals, whose appearance and behaviour he describes in his journal. Natural history also engaged his attention, as may be seen from his descriptions of animals, birds and local timbers.”2

Ralph Clark

“Ralph Clark (1762-1794), officer of marines and diarist, was born on 30 March 1762 in Edinburgh, son of George Clark, gentleman’s servant, and his wife Ann, née Man. After a period in the Dutch service before 1777, he became a second lieutenant in the marines on 25 August 1779. After the American war he lived in London, though officially a member of the Portsmouth Division of marines. On 23 June 1784 he married Betsy Alicia, eldest daughter of Matthew Trevan, of Efford manor, Egg-Buckland and Swilley, Stoke Damerel, both in Devon, and his wife Elizabeth, née Stephens. He had met her at Efford. Their son, Ralph Stuart, was born on 23 August 1785. Anxious for promotion, Clark volunteered for duty at Botany Bay, and was permitted on 7 December 1786 to exchange with an officer ordered there. In May 1787 he sailed in the Friendshipin the First Fleet.

His only claim to importance is the diary he kept from 9 March 1787 to 17 June 1792, written up almost every day, sometimes at great length. There are four gaps, the only considerable one being between 10 March 1788 and 15 February 1790. The journal is intimate, informal and revealing. It was certainly never intended for the public. The idiomatic language, untidy writing, careless spelling and sparse punctuation show the unselfconsciousness of the born diarist, and the human element lacking in other contemporary records is uppermost here.”3

John Easty

“John Easty (flourished 1786-1793), marine, was a private soldier in the marines for ten years and ten months, beginning at latest in January 1784. He probably served in France and Spain before being sent to New South Wales as one of the marine detachment in the First Fleet. Easty was appointed to Captain-Lieutenant Meredith’s company on 4 November 1787. He carried out the normal duties of a marine, committed the typical military crimes of his kind, and endured as a matter of course the hardships and punishments, including a flogging in March 1788 for bringing a female convict into the camp. In December 1790 he was a member of two punitive expeditions sent against the Aboriginals around Botany Bay. Easty returned to England in December 1792 with the last detachment of marines to leave Sydney and rejoined his division at Portsmouth on 24 May 1793. On 15 September 1794 he entered the service of Waddington & Smith, grocers, in London; he was still employed there in November 1796 when he petitioned the Admiralty for compensation for short rations supplied in New South Wales.

Easty’s chief importance lies in his diary which covers the period from November 1786 to May 1793. This is a rare contemporary account of the first settlement in New South Wales as seen by the ordinary soldier, although some of it was hearsay and some was written long after the event. Easty was an experienced and competent marine but had very little formal education. He was compassionate and sentimental, unimaginative, with an uncomplicated patriotism and a soldierly pride in his corps. His religion was a simple Protestantism with Evangelical leanings. He was unmarried while in New South Wales but had relatives in England.”4

Phillip Gidley King

“Philip Gidley King’s journal is contained in two volumes. It covers the voyage to New South Wales, the voyage to Norfolk Island and events there, a vocabulary of ‘The New Zealanders language’, and an account of a voyage from Norfolk Island to New Zealand. King’s journal was published in part, with the journal of John Hunter, in 1793. King also kept a copy of this journal in a single volume and with additional information. This copy is also held in the Library’s collections. In February 1788, shortly after arriving in Sydney Cove, Philip Gidley King sailed for Norfolk Island under orders to found a settlement there. On 6 March 1788 King formally took possession of Norfolk Island in the name of King George III. While on Norfolk Island, King formed a relationship with Ann Inett, a convict woman. They had two sons, Norfolk and Sydney. Both boys were educated in England, and like Phillip Parker King, his legitimate son, became officers in the Royal Navy. King was appointed third Governor of New South Wales in 1799 taking over from Hunter in September 1800. King’s journal was acquired from the King family in 1933.

John Hunter

John Hunter sailed with the First Fleet as second captain on board HMS Sirius. Once at Port Jackson, Hunter undertook surveys in the harbour and around the coast. He records in his journal his surprise at the size of the indigenous population which belied the notion of terra nullius. In October 1788, the Sirius, under Hunter’s command, returned to the Cape of Good Hope to buy emergency supplies for the colony. They arrived back at Sydney Cove in May 1789. Hunter returned to England on the Waaksamheid in March 1791. In England he was court martialled for the loss of the Sirius, at Norfolk Island in March 1790, and honourably acquitted. In February 1795 he was appointed Governor of New South Wales to succeed Phillip though he did not return to the colony to take up his new position until September. Hunter’s journal was published in 1793. His manuscript journal was bequeathed to the Library by Sir William Dixson in 1952. Extract from journal John Hunter kept on board the Sirius during a voyage to New South Wales, May 1787 – March 1791:

Jacob Nagle

The account of seaman Jacob Nagle was written some 40 years after the events it describes and provides the perspective of the common sailor. Jacob Nagle was born in the American colony of Pennsylvania in 1761. He fought in the American War of Independence and served time as a prisoner of war of the British as a result. Following the American Revolutionary War in 1783, Nagle joined the Royal Navy and was transferred to the Sirius, as Able Seaman, in March 1787. He sailed with the First Fleet on the Sirius. At Botany Bay, in January 1788, he was part of Phillip’s boating party exploring the coast and harbour, looking for a better site to found the colony. The Sirius, with Nagle aboard, was sent to Norfolk Island in March 1790 where the ship was lost on a reef, stranding her crew until they were taken back to Sydney Cove in February 1791. Nagle returned to England and was paid off at Portsmouth in 1792. He died in Ohio, United States of America, in 1841. Nagle’s journal was acquired by the Library in 1995.

James Scott

Little is known of James Scott, Sergeant of Marines. He travelled on the Prince of Wales transport and was accompanied by his wife, Jane, and their daughter Elizabeth, born during the voyage. A son, William, was born in the colony. The family arrived back in England in June 1792. While in New South Wales Scott spent all his time in Port Jackson.
Scott’s journal was bequeathed by Sir William Dixson in 1952.

George Bouchier Worgan

George Worgan was probably born in 1757. He was appointed as surgeon on the Sirius in November 1786. His journal extract covers the brief period from 20 January – 11 July 1788 only and is attached to a long, descriptive letter to his brother, Richard, in England. Worgan makes references to a fuller journal which he is keeping and also to his ‘rough’ journal from which these entries have been copied out but these have not been located. Worgan, who seems to have been an amiable, good natured man, describes his life in the colony enthusiastically, even boyishly to his brother. He undertook several expeditions to the Hawkesbury and Broken Bay areas. He returned to England in 1791 in the Waaksamheid. He died in March 1838, his death certificate says by apoplexy. The acquisition of the journal of Surgeon George Worgan is the most curious of all. Found among the personal belongings of a deceased aunt, the journal was donated to the Library by her family in 1955.