Being vestiges of the ‘First Fleet’ this anchor and small cannon, in Macquarie Place, hold an important place in the history of European Australia.

By the end of the 18th century, Britain had lost its American colonies and with them markets and resources. At the same time petty crime was on the increase as the Industrial Revolution initially put people out of work – Britain’s prison system could no longer cope.

While trade in the Pacific showed some promise it was the decision to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay that lead to what became known as the First Fleet leaving Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, Australia bound – to the “ends of the Earth.”

The fleet comprised six transport ships carrying convicts, three store ships and two British naval ships – His Majesty’s Ship Sirius and His Majesty’s Armed Tender Supply. This first fleet carried 1480 (mainly convict) men, women and children – mostly of British origin though there were also a few Jewish, African, American and French convicts on board.

HMS Sirius, captained by John Hunter, was the Fleet’s flagship and it was on her that the newly appointed Governor of New South Wales and commander of the fleet, Captain Arthur Phillip, travelled.

Just over six months after departing England, European Australia was established in a simple ceremony at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. Today, the 26th of January is celebrated throughout Australia as Australia Day, though some refer to it is Invasion Day.

Having lead the First Fleet into Sydney Cove, the Sirius and Supply, only a year later, relocated a number of Marines and convicts to Norfolk Island to avert disaster given a growing food shortage in Sydney. The Sirius didn’t return. She was wrecked in storms off Norfolk Island, on 19 March 1790, having just started out for China to secure food and supplies for the fledgling colony. The archaeological remains of the HMS Sirius are the only known remains of a First Fleet vessel.

HMS Sirius had been built in 1780-81 for the East India trade. Then called the Berwick, the ship was purchased by the British Admiralty. In 1786 she was renamed HMS Sirius and recommissioned under Captain Arthur Phillip for his epic run to Australia. The 540 tonne fleet flagship was 30 metres in length, 10 metres wide and its main mast stood 32 metres above the deck. The ship carried 160 men and had a top speed of around 10 knots. She was equipped 10 guns mounted on board though a further 10 were held in storage below deck for her trip to Australia.

While the cannon on display was landed shortly after the foundation of the colony in 1788 the anchor (one of 12 the ship carried) was not recovered from the seas around Norfolk Island for over 100 years. Both relics were put on public display in Macquarie Place in 1907 – where the Union Jack (British flag) was hoisted in 1788.

My second picture attached, a picture by George Raper (1769 – 1797) naval officer and illustrator, is courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia. It depicts the loss of HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island in 1790.

Address: Macquarie Place

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