For just over 8 months, the First Fleet sailed from Portsmouth to Rio de Janeiro, to Cape Town, down to the Great Southern Ocean around Tasmania and up the east coast of Australia, bound for Botany Bay. As they sailed, men and women died and children were born and ahead of them was an unknown future.
Lieutenant James Cook had spent eight days in Botany Bay and he and Sir Joseph Banks had suggested that it would make a good site for a penal colony. They didn’t get that quite right, however Cook at least did a better job of managing his crew than did Captain Arthur Phillip. Eighteen years earlier Cook had left Portsmouth with 94 on board, and in two and a half years sailing to and around the South Pacific, only lost 5 men. By the time Phillips fleet reached Botany Bay, 103 of the 1,336 people on board had died.
Phillip had left the fleet under the command of Lieutenant Hunter, sailing on HMS Sirius, shortly after they left Cape Town. On board “H.M.A.T Supply”, he sailed ahead of the fleet and was the first to Botany Bay, two days ahead of the rest.
Able Janszoon Tasman, the great Dutch explorer had discovered the south coast of Tasmania 146 years earlier and Cook the south east coast of Australia. Both had mapped their discoveries and it was assumed that Tasmania was the southern coast of the continent. It’s probably just as well that the 1st Fleet sailed around the bottom of Tasmania rather than through Bass Straight given the number of ship wrecked there.
Even so, they encountered Bass Straight at it’s tempestuous. As the, mate on HMS Sirius, Daniel Southwell wrote to his mother:
“From this part, likewise call’d Van Dieman’s Land, we stretched away for Botany Bay, the place of rendesvous, and lost sight of it in two days. Soon after this we luff’d up in a hard squall, and shook it out, as we term it, but were in luck that it did not shake or blow all the sails from the y’ds or the masts over the side; ’twas some time before we could take the canvass in, and being of long continuance it press’d her down in good faith to her best bearings, and she look’d for some time as tho’ she did not mean to right. Our ship perhaps was a little crank; however, we sustained but trifling damage. Some of the convoy split their topsails, some their courses, and some both; other were seen with staysails blown away. Our m. staysail was the only thing of consequence that gave way, and it we recover’d, tho’ something the worse for wear and tare. Cousin Dan’s ship, P. Wales, among other things, lost a man from the main yard,** and the sail split to ribbands. The merchantmen, as is their usual way, wore round or put before it; but we, as I said, shook it out, or, in other words, presented her ship’s head to the wind; ’tis a point much contested among seamen which is best. I have only to say we had the best of the breeze this time. Capt. Hunter, who is a very clever and experienc’d officer, gave good reason for this management, and his opinion where each method becomes eligible, but as you are not much of a sailor, tho’ well enough in your own way, and a very good mother, I shall not here adduce them.”
On the 18th January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip sailing on “H.M. Armed Tender Supply” sailed in to Kamay (Botany Bay). Dharug country, home of the Gameygal clan on the northern side of the bay and Dharawal or Tharawal country, home of the Gweagal clan on the south. He arrived around 2.00 pm and by 4.00pm had rowed to the northern shore to meet with six Gameygal men, two of whom had indicated the safest place to reach the land and directed them to a stream of fresh water.
When the rest of the fleet arrived, some anchored on the southern side, near where Cook had anchored 18 years earlier and others on the northern shore. Captain John Hunter certainly recorded that he anchored on the north shore off a sandy bay, as there was nowhere suitable for sheltering from the wind. Again Phillip, this time joined by Hunter, went ashore to meet with the Gweagal on the southern shore and present them with gifts.
After several days of digging wells and assessing the country around Currewol or Curriwul or Cooriwal (Fremchmans Bay) at Wadba Wadba (Botany Bay north head), Phillip decided that Cook and Banks had over-estimated the potential of Botany Bay as a settlement site, and decided to investigate Port Jackson to the north.
When on January 20th 1788, the last ships of the first fleet arrived at Botany Bay. There were 1,336 people on board 11 ships.At that time, there were around 750,00 indigenous people living on the continent, with 5,000 to 8,000 living in the Sydney Basin. There were probably 500 Dharug people, living in small clans of up to 50 people between Botany Bay and South Head.
For around 30,000 years, this country had supported up to 500 people and now it had to feed an additional 1,336.
With all ships at anchor in Kamay, he took a long boat and two cutters and rowed up the coast to Warrane or Port Jackson as named by Cook. Hunter noted that the winds were either NE or SE at the time, as we now experience most of summer. Square rig sailing ships are restricted to tacking a bare 30 degrees, so at least the fleet would have been able to work their way up and down the coast without having to tack too far out to sea.
With Captain Arthur Phillip in command of the longboat with 10 or 12 seamen to row and perhaps 4 marines, they set off out to sea around Cape Banks and headed north. They were followed by the two cutters which were commanded by Captain Collins and Captain Hunter The monument at Camp Cove lists Lieutenant William Bradley as also being among the party and Jacob Nagle also records him as being in the party, however his journal records that he was still at Botany Bay during the three days that Phillip was in Port Jackson. Bradley records his first visit to Camp Cove on the 28th of January, two days after the fleet anchored in Sydney Cove.
Hunter recorded “The day after my arrival the Governor accompanied by me & two other officers embarked in three boats, and proceeded to the northward along the coast intending if we could, to reach what Captain Cook has called Broken Bay, with a hope of discovering a better harbor as well as better country, for we found nothing at Botany Bay to recommend it as a place on which to found an infant settlement – in this excursion a large opening or bay to the northward of Cape Banks about 5 leagues, was the first place we looked into, it had a rather unpromising aspect on entering between the outer heads or capes which form its entrance, which are high rugged and perpendicular cliffs, but we had not gone far in before we discovered a large branch extending to the southward; into this we went, and soon found ourselves perfectly landlocked with a good depth of water; we proceeded up for two days examining every cove or other place which we found capable of receiving ships, the country was also particularly noticed, and found greatly superior in every respect to that around Botany Bay.”
He made no mention of camping for the night at Camp Cove. One of the crew did however. Jacob Nagle was the son of a German immigrant who served in the American war of Independence. Jacob was captured late in the war and ended up enlisting in the English navy. He wrote his journal in 1829 and consequently some have questioned its accuracy.
“ we took three days provisions & a number of officers & some marines in the morning we started it being about 5 Leagues by water but we found afterwards it was not more than 5 or 6 by land we arrived in the afternoon & run up middle harbour to the westward & then a circular round to a bay that governor Phillip Call’d Manly Bay & Surveyed round till we came into the S.W. branch view.
It then coming on dark we landed on a beach on the south side & there pitched our tents for the night this place was call’dCamp Cove the marines were put on their posts & the sailors was employed variously, some getting out the cooking utensils, some making fires & then shooting the seane for fish by the time we got out suppers it was late in the night & by four in the morning we had everything in the boats again & on our oars with one man at the led to sound out of one cove into another. Capt Hunter Mr Bradly Leughn & the Master taking a draught of the soundings likewise the distances we eat our breakfast on our seats & pulling all day the harbour was so large and extensive & the govener anxious to get to the head of it but we could not at length we got as far as where the town is now Call’d Sidney Cove & landed at the West Side of the Cove along shore was all bushes but a small distance at the head of the cove was level & large trees & no underwood worth mentioning & a run of fresh water running down into the center of the cove the Govener & Officers & Seamen went up to assess it. I Remained in the boat being boatkeeper. I hove my line over being 4 or 5 fathom water along side of the rocks & I ketched a large Black Brim & hove it into the stern sheets of the boat. The govener came down determined to settle here & observed the fish I had hall’d in & asked who had caught that fish I inform’d him that I had Recellect he said that you are the first white man that ever caught a fish in Sidney Cove we could not remain longer than three days for the want of provisions therefore we returned to Botany Bay”
Logic suggests that Jacob Nagle’s account is correct. When entering through the heads, Camp Cove isn’t visible till you are well past South Head and while the harbor is visible and wide and long, you cannot see into Rose Bay or Double Bay. Ahead of you however is Middle Harbour, which is also reasonably wide and to the right North Harbour with Manly Cove and other smaller coves. Phillip was a methodical man, and would have explored what was closest to him first.
On the 24th January, Phillip and the three boats returned to Botany Bay and readied the fleet for departure on the 25th.. On two occasions Phillip lead the fleet on “Supply”, out through the heads of Botany Bay and on both occasions the wind and the incoming tide forced them to re-anchor. The second time, he sailed on and anchored in Sydney Cove where he waited for the fleet to arrive on the 26th, raising the flag and toasting the king.
Bradly recorded that the best way to establish when approaching the entrance to the harbor from the south, was to look for “… some remarkable sand hills overlooking a sandy bay, 2 or 3 miles to the southward of the south head, the shore from this bay to the south head is high rock cliffs.” (Bondi)
On the 28th January, Bradley went with Captain Hunter and George Raper, a 19 year old midshipman and watercolour painter to survey the harbor. Raper copied the map drawn by Hunter and marked all the bays and water sources around the harbor. On the afternoon of the 28th they arrived at Camp Cove. Bradley recorded meeting three men on the beach and seeing several women in a canoe at the other end of the beach.
While it sounds like three men rowing around the harbor familiarizing themselves with the new country, in reality, it would have been a rowing crew of 6 or 8 sailors, possibly 3 or 4 marines plus the three officers. When they pulled the boat up on the eastern end of Camp Cove, in the shelter of the headland, the three Birrabirragal men walked down the beach from the western end and placed their spears on the sand before approaching the strangers.
If these same people had been at Camp Cover a week earlier, they may not have seen these white strangers as they had arrived around sunset. This time they were inquisitive. As the sailors lit a fire and cooked their lunch, they moved among them inspecting the cooking and the boat. The meal over (eaten on board the boat), they rowed toward the Green Point to return to Sydney Cove. The Birrabirragal men followed them along the beach, however the women fled their canoe and ran off into the “woods”. At that time Green Point must have been woodland similar to the country still as it is today on the north side of the harbor.
When returning from an exploration of Broken Bay with Phillip on the 10th March, Bradley recorded that as they approached the beach, most of the Birrabirragal ran away, leaving just two on the beach to meet them. One of them had bruises on his body and a spear wound in his shoulder. They claimed that two boats had landed at the beach and they had been attacked.
David Collins recorded this event:
“In the course of this month several convicts came in from the woods; one in particular dangerously wounded with a spear, the others very much beaten and bruised by the natives. The wounded man had been employed cutting rushes for thatching, and one of the others was a convalescent from the hospital, who went out to collect a few vegetables. All these people denied giving any provocation to the natives: it was, however, difficult to believe them; they well knew the consequences that would attend any acts of violence on their part, as it had been declared in public orders early in the month, that in forming the intended settlement, any act of cruelty to the natives being contrary to his Majesty’s most gracious intentions, the offenders would be subject to a criminal prosecution; and they well knew that the natives themselves, however injured, could not contradict their assertions. There was, however, too much reason to believe that our people had been the aggressors, as the governor on his return from his excursion to Broken Bay, on landing at Camp Cove, found the natives there who had before frequently come up to him with confidence, unusually shy, and seemingly afraid of him and his party; and one, who after much invitation did venture to approach, pointed to some marks upon his shoulders, making signs they were caused by blows given with a stick. This, and their running away, whereas they had always before remained on the beach until the people landed from the boats, were strong indications that the man had been beaten by some of our stragglers.”
In May and July, a number of ships sailed to China and England and Phillip relayed Captain Hunters instructions on how to enter the harbor and navigate around Birra Birra (the Sow and Pigs)
REMARKS and DIRECTIONS for SAILING into PORT JACKSON, by Capt. J. HUNTER, of the Sirius. IN coming in with Port Jackson, you will not immediately discover where the harbour is: Steer right in for the outer points, for there is not anything in the way but what shows itself by the sea breaking on it, except a reef on the south shore which runs off a small distance only: when you are past this reef and are a-breast the next point on the same side, you will open to the south-ward of you an extensive branch of the harbour, into which you will sail; taking care to keep the shore on either side well on board, for there is a reef which dries at low water and lies very near the mid-channel, right off the first sandy cove on the east shore; this reef is pretty broad athwart, as well as up and down the channel, and shoals very gradually: The marks for it are, the outer north point and inner south point touching, Green Point will then be on with a remarkable notch in the back land. To avoid it to the eastward, pass the inner south head a cable’s length from it, and when you open any part of the sandy beach of Camp Cove, haul short in for it until you bring the inner north head and inner south head on with each other; that mark will carry you up in five and six fathom: But if you cannot weather the reef, tack and stand into Camp Cove, which shoals gradually. If you pass to the westward of the reef, steer in for Middle Cape, which is steep too, then steer up for the next point above it on the same side; when you are that length, you may take what part of the channel you please, or anchor where you like.
Again on Saturday the 24th May, Lt Bradley recorded “Went to theSouth Head , observed the Latitude 33°:50?:43″.So & Captain Hunter 33°:51?:07″S.o Saw several Women fishing in Canoes without the Head, they noticed us immediately & made a great noise, we threw them a handkerchief over the precipice which we saw them take up & throw by in one end of the Canoe.”
A First Fleet Surgeon, George Worgan wrote of the same event in his journal:
“on 24th I accompanied Captn Hunter & Lt . Bradley to Day, upon an Excursion to the Point of Land, that forms the South Head of the Opening of Port Jackson, They went for the Purpose of ascertaining the Latitude of it, which from the Result of many Observations proved to be. We met nothing very remarkable. We saw two Natives at a Distance in the Woods, but they would not be sociable. We likewise saw under us, for we were standing upon a tremendous Precipice from which you looked down into the Sea, (but not without being Giddy) 5 or 6 Canoes, in which were 8 or 10 of the Damsels of this Country, jabbering and Fishing. We hollowed to them, and They, to us, I tied my Handkerchief to a piece of Wood, and threw it down into the Water, which, presently one of them paddled after, & taking it up between her Thumb, and Finger as if it was —— and after turning it round two or three times gave it a Toss, with the utmost Indifference, into the dirtiest Corner of the Canoe, chattering something at the same time If that is the Way You treat my Favours Madam, says I Ill keep my Handkerchiefs to —— There is something singular in the Conduct of these Evites, for if ever they deign to come near You, to take a Present, they appear as coy, shy, and timorous, as a Maid on her Wedding Night, (at least as I have been told Maids are) but when they are, as they think out of your Reach, they hollow and chatter to You, Frisk, Flirt, and play a hundred wanton Pranks, equally as significant as the Solicitations of a Covent-Garden Strumpet. I cannot say all the Ladies are so shy and timorous on your approaching them, for some shew no signs of Fear, but will laugh and Frisk about You like a Spaniel, and put on the Airs of a Tantalizing Coquet. indeed, if it were not for the nauseous, greasy, grimy appearance of these naked Damsels, one might be said to be in a state of Tantalism, whenever they vouchsafe to permit Us to come near them; but what with stinking Fish-Oil, with which they seem to besmear their Bodies, & this mixed with the Soot which is collected on their Skins from continually setting over the Fires, and then in addition to these sweet Odours, the constant Appearance of the excrementitious Matters of the Nose which is collected on the upper pouting Lip, in rich Clusters of dry Bubbles, and is kept up by fresh Drippings; I say, from all these personal Graces & Embellishments, every Inclination for an Affair of Gallantry, as well as every Idea of fond endearing Intercourse, which the Nakedness of these Damsels might excite one to, is banished. And I can assure You, there is in some of them a Proportion, a Softness, a roundness, and Plumpness in their Limbs & Bodies, were they but cleanly, that would excite tender & amorous Sensations, even in the frigid Breast of a Philosopher. “
On the 1st of July after a gale had been blowing for two days, they were again sent down the harbor to “..get on the high land of one of the heads to look round that part of the harbour which is exposed to the sea, for any broken water or foul ground that may shew itself in so great a sea; We found the swell too great to attempt landing near the Middle Head as we intended; We went to a Cove near the land of the South Head & walked over to the sea face near the South Head, where we had a good view of the sea & of all that part of the harbour open to it, could not see the least appearance of any foul ground except the rock marked in the Chart & which was seen when the boats first visited this harbour & that shoal did not appear of greater extent than we had before determined it; If the flat round this rock was not a perfect smooth bottom, I am confident that with the Sea that was running it would break.”
What Bradley was saying, was that they beached in Lady Bay or Camp Cove and walked up to the cliffs above where they could look out to sea as well as around the harbor to see if there were any rocks or reefs that might be a hazard to shipping. All they saw and confirmed was that the Sow and Pigs was the one outcrop in the harbor.
On Tuesday the 8th, they again went down the harbor, this time landing in Rose Bay, and walking across the sandy neck of land to the Bondi beach and sandhills.
Then, on Thursday the 17th. “Boards of direction were sent to Botany Bay to be fixed on Bare Island which is near the entrance, so that any ship that may arrive there would be informed that we were at Port Jackson, this party met with but few of the Natives. One of our Boats down the Harbour had several stones thrown at her on landing, a musquet fired at them set them off. The Supply sailed for Norfolk Island with provisions & stores.
With the settlement at Sydney Cove progressing, it was time for the convict ships to return to England. On the 14th of July, Bradley and others rowed down to the heads to see four of the ships off, and with a south-westerly gale blowing, they were soon out of sight as they headed north.
Bradley’s boat pulled in to Camp Cove where “… we found a man and two children who appeared to be starving and gave them salt beef which eagerly took and eat immediately, whilst the boats remained in the cove, the man went into the woods and brought in a root which he roasted, beat it with a stone which he frequently wet with his mouth and when it was properly prepared he gave it to the children to eat., the man had many sores about him and was really a miserable object, the boy and girl appeared to be about 5 or 6 years of age, the boys teeth were complete as were the girls fingers. We saw several women fishing near the cove but they would not land; we had two seins with us, both of which were hauled several times without one fish being taken, some birds were shot, all of which were given to the old man and his children.”
This wasn’t the first time that Bradley had mentioned the women or girls having all their fingers. While no one at this time understood why many of the women and girls had the top two joins of their little finger on their left hand removed, it was so common as to question why a girl hadn’t had the joints removed. Later they discovered that young girls might have sinew or hair tied tightly around the finger to cause it to rot without circulation and drop off. The people call it “Malgun”, and while David Collins thought it was to allow them to wind their fishing line around their left hand without the finger getting in the way, it was probably more significant than that.
In the 1860’s William Scott who grew up in Port Stevens noted “An Aboriginal woman, Fanny, who was a servant of our family for many years, was in her girlhood days dedicated to the art of fishing. When quite young, a ligature was tied about the first joint of her left finger very tightly, and being left there for a considerable time, the top portion mortified and, in time, fell off. This was carefully secured, taken out into the bay, and, with great solemnity, committed to the deep. The belief was that the fish would eat this part of the girl’s finger, and would ever, thereafter, be attracted to the rest of the hand from which it had come … at least one woman from each tribe was usually dedicated to fishing through the malgun operation. These women were not only defined as fishers, but also as the makers of fishing lines so that ‘the virtue accruing from her innate powers over fish’ were ‘communicated to the lines she made.”
In noting that the boy still had all his teeth, he was also making the point he was too young to have been initiated and the old man with sores allover his body might have been an early victim of smallpox which within two years killed half of the peoples of the Sydney Basin.
The root that the old man cooked and then crushed with his saliva was most likely a yam. Four times the nutritional value of potatoes, it was a regular part of the Birrabirragal diet. It would have grown wild throughout South Head and was even cultivated in fields on the land between Sydney Cove and Botany Bay, around modern day Erskineville or St Peters.
As for the birds they shot and gave to the old man; they were most likely ducks, who frequented the fresh water pond behind the sandhills at Camp Cove.
David Collins also reported on a similar visit to Camp Cove:
“ Both women and men use the disgusting practice of rubbing fish-oil into their skins; but they are compelled to this as a guard against the effects of the air and of musquitoes, and flies; some of which are large, and bite or sting with much severity. But the oil, together with the perspiration from their bodies, produces, in hot weather, a most horrible stench. I have seen some with the entrails of fish frying in the burning sun upon their heads, until the oil ran down over their foreheads. A remarkable instance once came under my observation of the early use which they make of this curious unguent. Happening to be at Camp Cove at a time when these people were much pressed with hunger, we found in a miserable hut a poor wretched half-starved native and two children. The man was nearly reduced to a skeleton, but the children were in better condition. We gave them some salted beef and pork, and some bread, but this they would not touch. The eldest of the children was a female; and a piece of fat meat being given to her, she, instead of eating it instantly as we expected, squeezed it between her fingers until she had nearly pressed all the fat to a liquid; with this she oiled over her face two or three times, and then gave it to the other, a boy about two years of age, to do the like. Our wonder was naturally excited at seeing such knowledge in children so young. To their hair, by means of the yellow gum, they fasten the front teeth of the kangooroo, and the jaw-bones of large fish, human teeth, pieces of wood, feathers of birds, the tail of the dog, and certain bones taken out of the head of a fish, not unlike human teeth.”
By July, Warane was feeling the stress of the arrival of an additional 1, 336 people. Disease was starting to spread among the indigenous people and the netting of fish to supplement the dwindling supplies, was depleting their most significant food source.
David Collins reported “The natives, who had been accustomed to assist our people in hauling the seine, and were content to wait for such reward as the person who had the direction of the boat thought proper to give them, either driven by hunger, or moved by some other cause, came down to the cove where they were fishing, and, perceiving that they had been more successful than usual, took by force about half of what had been brought on shore. They were all armed with spears and other weapons, and made their attack with some shew of method, having a party stationed in the rear with their spears poized, in readiness to throw, if any resistance had been made. To prevent this in future, it was ordered that a petty officer should go in the boats whenever they were sent down the harbour.”
For much of the next two years, attention was focused on establishing the settlement at Sydney Cove, establishing farms, exploring the coast, sending the worst of the prisoners to establish a new convict settlement on Norfolk Island and hanging 6 marines and 6 prisoners.
Thomas Barrett was hung on the 27th February 1788. He was publicly hung at Sydney Cove for stealing or conspiring to steal from government stores. He had originally been sentenced to hang in England, the sentence commuted and instead transported to the American colonies. He was involved in a mutiny on the transport ship, re-tried, sentenced to death, again commuted and transported to Botany Bay. This time his luck ran out. The hangman didn’t perform too well and one of the co-convicted was pardoned on the condition that he be the hangman.
It wasn’t until January in 1790 that Courmangara, still known as South Head or Camp Cove saw a small and semi-permanent community established.
Barely three weeks after arriving in Botany Bay, Phillip sent Lt King off to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island, another Cook discovery from 1770. This is only relevant to Watsons Bay in that but for the failure of Thomas Watson to establish a farm on the island, Courmangara might have been named after any other of the original officers. Phillip had limited supplies, and as well as sending a ship back to Cape Town for more, he was providing tickets of leave to those prisoners with partners who he trusted to establish farms and also hoped Norfolk Island could be farmed as well, and would deny the French the opportunity to claim it.
Thomas Watson was still serving as the quartermaster on board H.M.S. Sirius when she was wrecked on the island in 1790. He had sailed on her back to Cape Town for supplies in October 1788, a voyage of seven months that brought relief to a starving colony.
There are conflicting reports on his association with Norfolk Island. One suggests that he was granted 60 acres on the island in 1791, but later sold it in 1793. Another claims that his grant was incorrectly surveyed and when he discovered that a significant amount of land was on the tile of another settler, he surrendered his grant. Whichever is correct, he very nearly settled on Norfolk Island instead of Watsons Bay. He was also still very much wedded to the sea.
In 1792, “The Britannia and Francis schooner sailed on Sunday the 8th for Dusky Bay. The Francis was manned with seamen and boys who had been left here from ships, and the master had for his assistant as mate Robert Watson, who formerly belonged to his Majesty’s ship Sirius, and was afterwards a settler at Norfolk Island; but his allotment having been erroneously surveyed, he, being obliged to resign a part of it, gave up the whole, and gladly returned to his former way of life.”
Dusky Bay was a sealing station in New Zealand, and in 1792, the first European house was built and the first boat in Australasia.
Despite being given a land grant at South Head, he continued to sail on the Francis until she sank near Newcastle in 1805 and only then settled at Watsons Bay.