Wandering around the delightfully named suburb of Woolloomooloo I came across a small building called First Fleet House. The shingle above the entrance announced this to be the business premises of the Fellowship of First Fleeters (1788AD). Above the shingle a Union Jack proudly fluttered in the light breeze.
My Reader may know that the First Fleet is the term given to the 11 sailing vessels that arrived, from the UK, into Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 bringing with them Australia’s first European settlers – a mixed bag of convicts and those who came of their own volition. All up around 1,500 government officials, convicts, seamen, marines and their wives and children arrived to create a new British Colony on the other side of the world. You can read more about the First Fleet and its flagship, the Sirius, on my separate review – Vestiges of the First Fleet.
The Fellowship of the First Fleet was established in 1968 with the purpose of identifying descendants of those who arrived into Sydney on the First Fleet and positively proving yourself to be a direct descendant is a prerequisite for full membership of the Fellowship.
To date over 8,000 descendants have established their direct lineage and joined the Fellowship (active membership around 1,800). Links have been established in 136 families to 191 individual First Fleet arrivals. While impressive, that leaves around 1,300 arrivals for which no descendants have yet been traced. Of course some of those who arrived voluntarily may have returned to the UK without procreating in Australia and not all of those who stayed would have procreated though I suspect a few may have procreated with more than one person!
Additionally, while the ships’ manifests are available some of the details there-in are scant making drawing a positive link well nigh impossible. Should you, Dear Reader, be able to establish a link with “Rodney the Ship’s Boy” who arrived aboard the Friendship do contact the Fellowship.
In 1976 the Fellowship took on the additional role of trying to ascertain the location of the graves, in Australia or overseas, of those who arrived on the First Fleet. Where feasible, a Fellowship bronze plaque is attached to the tombstone. As of January 2016, 123 graves have been located.
One of the objects of the Fellowship of First Fleeters that I find a little perplexing is:
‘To honour and be loyal to our Country — the Commonwealth of Australia; and to honour and acknowledge the Crown and Monarch as the Head of State’.
I imagine a significant proportion of the First Fleet arrivals (particularly convicts), or their descendants with Republican leanings, would not want to be associated in any way with the Crown.
I assume that the flying of the Union Jack on the building, as opposed to the flag of the Commonwealth of Australia, relates to the fact that the First Fleeters originated from the UK and/or the fact that the Union Jack was the flag of the Australian Colonies until Federation and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.
The observant will note that the flag flying here today is not the current Union Jack of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (bottom flag in the picture below) but rather the 1606 version of the flag (top flag in the picture below). It lacks the red cross of St Patrick. This was added in 1801, to represent Ireland, following the Act of Union of that year.
First Fleet House would certainly be worth a stop for Australians wishing to trace their lineages back to the UK or anyone seeking to learn more about the First and indeed later Fleets which arrived into Australia. The Fellowship has a number of Chapters elsewhere in Australia. More details can be found on the website below.
OFFICE HOURS Monday, Wednesday & Thursday – 10.00am to 3.00pm (noting that if you are planning to carry out genealogical research you should phone ahead and make an appointment).
Address: 105 Cathedral St. Woolloomooloo
Phone: (02) 9360 3788