Australia in the 1790s

Supply crisis

By 1790, no supply ships had reached the penal colony of Port Jackson for two years. Food harvests had failed and the colony was reduced to living off the remaining stores they had brought from England. An individual's rations were reduced to about a third of the original allocation. The weekly allowance per person amounted to 2 pounds (1 kilogram) of pork, 2.5 pounds (1.2 kilograms) of flour and 2 pounds (1 kilogram) of rice. On the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), this ration was distributed equally, regardless of status. After the loss of the supply ship HMS Sirius in March 1790, relief came in October with the arrival of HMS Supply laden with provisions from Batavia.

In June 1790 the Second Fleet, known as the 'Death Fleet', arrived with enough supplies to end the famine. The first ship that docked in two and a half years was the convict ship Lady Julian with 226 female convicts. It brought letters and news from home. Later in the month the store ship Justinian arrived with much-needed supplies. It was followed a week later by the Surprise, Neptune and Scarborough, each having convicts in very poor condition. The nine-month sea journey was fraught with dangers and many deaths from dysentery, scurvy and fever. During the voyage, the convicts were chained below deck with only a few rations and had to breathe the foul air. When the ship docked, some were unable even to walk off the ship. The Second Fleet was the first transport organised by private contractors, which had reduced convict rations and medicines in order to increase their profits.

In December 1792, Governor Arthur Phillip left for England, leaving behind a viable penal colony. He had served a term of five years that had been pitted by famine, food shortages, loss of ships, disgruntled officers and conflict with Aboriginal groups and individuals.

Supply crisis_1790

A snapshot of 1798

  • January
    • The first public clock was installed in a tower at Church Hill in Sydney.
    • George Bass sighted Wilsons Promontory and Phillip Island.

  • February
    • Matthew Flinders explored the Furneaux Islands in the Bass Strait.
    • Governor John Hunter named Bass Strait in honour of George Bass.

  • May
    • The ship Nautilus arrived at Port Jackson carrying missionaries from the London Missionary Society.

  • June
    • The colonial sloop Norfolk, built on Norfolk Island by convicts, arrived at Port Jackson.

  • October
    • George Bass and Matthew Flinders left Sydney to explore Van Diemen's Land.


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