Mr Alastair Leslie

Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers

I start with an apology – you are accustomed to and certainly deserve a distinguished orator on this important occasion and all you have is me.

The reason is this. It is a classic case of the message not the messenger. As soon as your great and very sadly departed Chairman Peter Gadsden, a fellow Clothworker, heard that I had these papers he was determined that I must talk to you about them.

The background is this. Forty something years ago a great Australian friend and I found in auction ‘A package of papers relating to the early days of Australia’ we bought it and I am pleased to say that it promptly went to Australia, where it remains today in a private collection.

Before it went I ran it through the photocopier and it is these copies that I have here.

So what do I have to talk about? Remarkably and apparently unrecorded but mysteriously removed from the Navy Office, it is part of the file about The First Fleet.
First there are The Navy Board requirements and the tenders submitted for them. Then there are the orders for the conduct of the voyage and treatment of the convicts. Additionally we have correspondence which is mainly between the Undersecretary of State, Evan Nepean and Sir Charles Middleton, Controller of The Navy Board, together with the submissions that they received.

I shall end with a letter from Captain Phillip, as he then was, reporting on his safe arrival and early days at Sidney Cove.

But first to the beginning:-.

We start with the tender for carrying convicts to New South Wales on the following terms.

Provisions for six men per week                    Provisions for six women per week

16lbs Bread                                                                                   20lbs Bread
12lbs Flour                                                                                     12lbs Flour
14lbs Beef                                                                                        7lbs Beef
  8lbs Pork                                                                                        6lbs Pork
12 pints Peas                                                                                 12 pints Peas 
  1 1/2lbs Butter                                                                                1 1/2lbs Butter                                            
  2lbs Rice                                                                                         2lbs Rice
                                                                                                        1/4lb Tea
                                                                                                        3lbs Sugar
Each mess to be allowed 2 lbs Soap per month

120 gallons of water for each convict

Irons and handcuffs for the convicts

A surgeon for each vessel with proper medicines and necessaries.

Viz. Spices, Barley, Oatmeal and Sugar

Wine for the use of the sick – 1 Hogshead for every 200 convicts, Essence of Malt, Oil of Tar, a necessary proportion for the sick as the surgeon may think proper.

And so on – a lot more detail……

Then we have a list of the ships, with the master’s names, tonnage, crew and the number of marines and convicts to be carried. The average vessel being about 400 tons.

An example – the largest ship was: The Alexander – Master: Sinclair, 452 tons,
27 crew, 36 marines, 210 convicts

The tenders go into immense and fascinating detail. For instance, here is the beginning of one:-

Clothing and bedding for passage plus two years for 680 Male and 70 Female - £5,765
Tools and implements of husbandry for erecting public edifices, Inc’ nails, glass etc. – £3,056-8s-7d
Medicines and surgeon’s instruments for hospital - £1,202-8s-7d

Seed grain - £286-17s-4d

Marquees for the Governers and Marine Officers - £389-4s-1d

Old dockyard canvas for convicts tents - £69-0s-9d

All in all there follow page after page to cost every item for the voyage and in addition the stores needed to set up the new colony – far more than we have time for today.

Incidentally an interesting aspect of the cost of chartering the actual ships was the effect of the date of departure – thus if the ships were able to sail in time to catch the right wind for a return with freight from China one quote changed from £22,000 to £15,000.

The various contractors recommend themselves such as the following: –

“Sir Charles, I have made myself acquainted with the price of every article. You may rely on my endeavours. Others employ every artful evasion to destroy the intention of government – withholding stores – badly stowing – false masters – unnecessary delays – prolonging the voyage”

A further quotation states the cost of transportation as £17-13s-6d for each of 940 male. £15-7s-0d for each of 78 female, £10-12s-0d for each of 15 children.

It is interesting to note that the same cost is quoted for the Marines, their wives and their eleven children. An additional quote of £100 covered the cost of bringing 200 women from the Friendly Islands.

Strict orders were issued for the voyage with considerable emphasis on the convicts being treated properly. Their daily ration was not only to be defined and issued but to be written down and pinned up in each ship, “So that the people may know that they have had their allowance regular” (though I wonder how many of the passengers could read?) additionally a prayer, also pinned up, was to be said morning and evening “And the commanding officer of each vessel shall attend”.

“The printed form of prayer shall not be torn down or scribbled on – the penalty to be two dozen at the gangway” “Bibles to be issued on Sunday”

“No person shall be suffered to ill treat any of the people whatever but if complaint is made to the superintendent it shall be heard on both sides with strict impartiality”

These are just a few of the many instructions and orders.

Then there are letters between Nepean and Middleton about sending convicts from the hulks to Portsmouth and providing irons for the journey.

A letter from Nepean starts:

“I now have orders from Mr White and Captain Phillip that no necessaries have been provided for the sick. Under this description are currants, barley sugar, rice, spices – it is a strange neglect.”


“Not only the convicts but the marines are daily falling sick and the surgeons are of the opinion that unless they are supplied with fresh meat and vegetables and other refreshments, a great mortality may be expected. Lord Sidney desires me to mention this matter to recommend supplying them with fresh meat and refreshments whilst they remain in port. The enclosed letter from Captain Phillip recommends reducing the allowance of salt provisions and increasing the quantity of dry.”

In another letter:

“Mr White informs me that certain proportions are fixed at the Navy Office for sea service, but I cannot think that the same quantity should be allowed to this Banditti, I should think that one half to two thirds would answer the purpose.”

A letter from Captain Hunter to Captain Phillip refers to the altercation of accommodation on The Alexander moving the seamen from steerage to the apartment forward. “The seamen have quietly informed their commander that if they are turned out of steerage they are determined to quit the ship”

The question of the women is a major feature, for instance, “I observe that instead of embarking the whole 150 in The Lady Penrhyn to go out in one ship you have ordered the women to be divided on three ships. It strikes me very forcibly that the women should not if possible be divided. Although they might be a little crowded (on one ship) it may be more healthy as there would be no danger from allowing the women to be constantly on deck.”

A letter to Middleton:

“Have you considered the expediency of enlarging the number of females destined to make part of the colonies in New South Wales? There appears to be not more than one woman to five or six men. This can never be right either as to policy or humanity – without women no colony can thrive – and a deficient number will certainly occasion contentions and at length bloodshed, not to mention more odious consequences.
There can be no objection (except the expense of their transportation) to the supplying the colonists with plenty of mates – each convict if encouraged might easily find himself a companion, who from the spirit of adventure so common among the ladies, would readily change the point at Portsmouth for the new scenes beyond the line. In such case, the method used by The Regent of France, when he colonized New Orleans, might be adopted.
Partly by fair means, partly by force, he shipped many hundreds of the frail fair ones from Paris. During the voyage, they were kept separate from the male vagabonds. But as soon as they landed at the Mississippi, the men were forced to draw lots, and were married to the women, pointed out by correspondent marks, before they were permitted to have any liberty on shore. Their eagerness for a commerce from which they had been long restrained, made them take their destined spouse with readiness, and we do not find that these predetermined weddings turned out worse than the run of marriages commonly do.
But should the charge of carrying these females from Britain be deemed too heavy, (although it seems to me that society will be amply recompensed by their removal) then some other method must be thought of. I know of no other except (whimsical as it appears) a trip to Otaheitee whence by proper management supplies might be drawn of women possibly more likely to be more useful to new settlers than those whom my first plan proposed.


A long and historically important letter from Sydney Cove starts with a lengthy description of sailing, wind direction and approach. It continues:

“I anchored in Botany Bay the 18th January having had very strong currents setting to the southward when we got on the coast. The South Cape was seen the 3rd. The three transports I had ordered to follow under the direction of Lt. Shortland (in hope of their arriving soon after The Supply to have the labour of the convicts they had a board in preparing to receive those who with the store ships were to follow under the direction of Capt. Hunter) came in the day after The Supply and The Sirius with the remainder of the ships.
The day following, the 20th. A very open bay and no good situation for the settlement that the transports could approach, made me go with the boats to Port Jackson in hopes of finding a better harbour, and in which I succeeded beyond my most sanguine expectations. But we have not that country I expected, that acceptable to Lady Middleton.
Excuse the haste in which I have the honour to assure you that I am with esteem,
                                            Dear Sir,
                                                     Your obliged,
                                                               Humble servant.

                                                                            A Phillip”