Australia in the 1780s


Immediately after arriving at Sydney Cove, the convicts were preoccupied with establishing the settlement by building huts, a hospital, storehouses and barracks. Gradually, Governor Arthur Phillip (1738–1814) travelled outside the immediate settlement and explored the surrounding country to find better land for farming and more fresh water.

In early March 1788 Governor Phillip explored the area at the southern end of Broken Bay, which he called Pittwater. He declared this area to be the finest piece of water he had ever seen. He named it after the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759–1806).

In April 1788 Governor Phillip explored the area around Manly Cove, sighting a black swan. He also explored the caves and found numerous examples of Aboriginal rock art. In the same month, Governor Phillip and 11 explorers travelled up to the head of the river, exploring the mountainous area to the west of the settlement and coming upon the place now known as Parramatta, where they found both fresh water and good fertile soil.

In June Governor Phillip followed another river leading out from Broken Bay, stopped by a waterfall and named the hill nearby Richmond Hill.

In 1789 Captain Watkin Tench (1758?–1833) and Lieutenant Willliam Dawes (1762–1836), who was a keen explorer and mapmaker, named the Nepean River.

In September 1789 Captain John Hunter (1737–1821) spent ten days exploring and making charts of Botany Bay. In the same month, Captain William Bligh in HMS Bounty spent two weeks in Van Diemen's Land. The ship was on its way to Tahiti to collect breadfruit. He and his crew made some contact with local Indigenous people, giving them trinkets, which they showed no interest in.

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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