Australia in the 1780s


Naturalists of the First Fleet


Unusual for an exploration by sea at this time, the First Fleet (1787–88) did not include any professional naturalists or trained artists. However, most of the naval officers were trained draftsmen and were required as part of their duties to draw coastal profiles, nautical charts, views and the maps of new lands.

Seventeen-year-old midshipman George Raper (1769–1796) was on the ship Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet, and learnt astronomy, navigation, cartography and topographical drawing from two of the naval officers, Captain John Hunter (1737–1821), and Lieutenant William Bradley (1757?–1833). While sailing to Botany Bay, Raper created maps, drawings and manuscripts that became an important record of the voyage. Once in the colony, Raper and other naval officers sketched and painted images of birds, fish and plants around Sydney Cove.

William Bradley kept a journal of his time in the colony, which included 29 watercolour paintings of different landscape views and the native flora and fauna of the colony, although his main artistic interest was illustrating Aboriginal people. He illustrated the First Fleet sailing into Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. Other of his works depict the entrance to Port Jackson, several views of Broken Bay, and a watercolour entitled First Interview with the Native Women at Port Jackson in New South Wales, which was painted soon after the arrival of the First Fleet.

Arthur Bowles Smyth (1750–1790), the First Fleet's surgeon who sailed in the ship Lady Penrhyn, was responsible for the women convicts. He was interested in natural history, collecting specimens and making drawings of animals such as one he titled, The Kangaroo. His drawing of an emu is thought to be the earliest naturalistic illustration of this bird. He visited Lord Howe Island and made a drawing of the now-extinct White Gallinule, a bird species with a solid red beak and yellowish-red legs.

Naturalists of the First Fleet_1780


A snapshot of 1788

  • January
    • Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson.
    • The wife of Sergeant Thomas Whittle of the marines gave birth to the first non-Indigenous child born in the colony.

  • February
    • The first female convicts arrived at Port Jackson.
    • The Court of Criminal Justice Jurisdiction sat for the first time in the colony.

  • March
    • Lieutenant Philip Gidley King took formal possession of Norfolk Island.

  • June
    • The last of the cattle that arrived on the First Fleet strayed from the settlement. Some of the animals were still being found seven years later.

  • November
    • A colonial settlement was established at Rose Hill.

  • December
    • Governor Phillip ordered the capture of Arabanoo, a Cadigal man, to find out about Cadigal language and customs.

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