Rt Hon The  Baroness Gardner of Parkes

Australian born dentist, politician and only Australian women peer

According to the records this is the 20th Arthur Phillip address and  I am privileged to be giving this address, here in the parish of his birth .

Had Arthur Phillip not founded  Sydney, the cornerstone on which Australia as a nation has been built, I would not be here today nor born in New South Wales. I remain proudly Australian.

It is probably because of my having been a dentist, that it was suggested I might look into the medical and health aspects of the first fleet and the early days of the Sydney settlement.   There is only limited information about this so I shall make some mention were appropriate.

Arthur Philip has always been a giant to me.  He remains so in terms of ability and achievement.   I was surprised to discover that in reality he was physically a small man,  little more than five feet tall,  balding with a large beakish nose.   In fact almost an ordinary human being of his time but  he had a strong voice, a clear head and the bearing of a commander of men.  His achievements in the voyage to Australia and the settling of Sydney were almost super-human.

He was chosen by the British Government in 1787 to found the new penal colony in New South Wales.

Most people know that he captained the First Fleet of 11 ships that, after many months of preparation, sailed from Portsmouth on 13th May 1787 reaching Botany Bay on board the Supply, the fastest of the ships, on 19th January 1788.  

There he was joined,  first by the Sirius the flagship he had been aboard until the last days, and then the others.  They proceeded to the much finer harbour they had located, Port Jackson,  Sydney Harbour as we know it today. 

The South Head Signal Station which still exists today was created as a Lookout Post near Botany Bay so the settlers would  know when the Second Fleet or other vessels arrived there and the ship could be told to go on to the new harbour.

It was a long journey via Rio and the Cape of Good Hope.   When I came to London in the 1950s it was via  the Suez Canal and  yet we were six weeks at sea and we were not reliant on the vagaries of the winds.

A great naval feat, it was fortunate that all the arrangements for equipment,  provisions and modifications of the vessels the Fleet were undertaken by  the Navy Board and they were very thorough in making all arrangements.    Provisioning for the journey and for two years after the arrival were in the hands of the victualling department of the Navy.

The official record for United Kingdom Central Government Spending in 1780 shows a total budget of 22.6 million pounds of which 14.9 million is for the department of Defence,  the  Health Care expenditure is listed as zero.

The First Fleet was sailing into the unknown with a remit to set up a penal colony on arrival.   There were only the reports of Captain Cook on which to base their preparations to meet their needs on arrival.  They had no idea even whether they would be welcome or unwelcome arrivals.  

The prisons and hulks in England were very unhealthy places and the prisoners were in poor health when they boarded.  They were on the ships some months before they sailed and conditions were very cramped.

But Arthur Phillip was a naval man, from his schooling as a poor half-orphan at Greenwich, he made his name on secondment to the Portuguese escorting slaves to Brazil and unusually he spoke five European languages.  He was prepared to tackle these new challenges.

It was his experience on the slave ships that convinced him that was no way to treat people and he hated slavery.   On the sea journey over 12,000 miles,  he saw that the prisoners were given more freedom and allowed on deck for the air and movement that they needed to maintain their health.  He took the advice of the surgeon on board and the Fleet surgeons formed the medical establishment on arrival in Sydney

Arthur Phillip refused to take prisoners with venereal disease or infectious conditions.   He knew that scurvy could be prevented and that maintenance of health and strength were important  on arrival if these people were to make a new start.   He told the convicts that they were in New South Wales either to make the most of a second chance in life or to die and thus he persuaded the convicts literally to work for their living.

There were problems,  the warmer clothing for the women failed to reach the ship before it sailed.  The southern part of the voyage  was partly through hail and snow.  This lack of garments was damaging to health.  

After the long and gruelling journey,  the remarkably small number of deaths on the first fleet was 20 men of 568 and 3 women of the 191.  In his account Lieutenant Clark wrote  - “Never was prisoners so much taken care of than they have been by the Commodore  ----  they have been treated more like children than prisoners”   No doubt the fresh food and recovery time in ports on route was important for health. 

Remember the state of medical knowledge was very limited at that time.  Jenner had found a vaccination serum against small pox but this deteriorated at sea.  The causes of dysentery, typhus and cholera had not been discovered.

On arrival,  the settlers had to build somewhere to live and to try and cultivate crops.  The land was inhospitable.

Sydney was a limited site and expansion to the Hawkesbury area in a northern direction was possible but the Blue Mountains resisted all crossing attempts and any real westward expansion.  Paramatta was the limit of the area of cultivation.  The first crops were from seeds planted there by Ruse from Cornwall.   The Governors House was built at Paramatta and the first vineyard planted close by.

Arthur Phillip had brought livestock with him, mainly from South Africa.  Delays and bad weather en route caused the deaths of many sheep.  Some of the cattle disappeared after landing and could not be found.  This was a serious loss for the colony.   When eventually the crossing of the Blue Mountains was achieved,  in 1813 and the fine grazing land discovered,  so too was a fine herd descended from the lost cattle who had found the mountain crossing more easily than the men who had tried for years.

By the time the Lady Juliana arrived, in Sydney on 3rd June 1790 , the settlers were desperately in need of flour and other supplies and starvation was facing them had the ship not made port.  It had been 309 days on the journey and carried female prisoners only.  It is usually not treated as Second Fleet. 

The Second Fleet of 4 ships arrived from 20th June with journey times of 151-160 days.  It was a terrible shock for the settlers to find that those landing could in many cases barely walk.  486 sick were landed (46% of those who had embarked.  The mortality rate was the highest in history of transportation with 26% of convicts dying.  They had been ill-treated en route.  It was a scandalous voyage and in complete contrast to the humanity and care that Arthur Phillip gave to those he brought to Australia.

The earliest members of my own family - on my mothers side -arrived in Australia in the 1819 and my fathers family 1857.

In 2001 Australia celebrated the Centenary of Federation.  The didgeridoo was heard in Westminster Abbey in the 2001 Service to commemorate the Centenary.

After Federation in  1901 my father aged just 21 stood, unsuccessfully,  as a candidate for the first ever elections to the Federal Senate. This the beginning of the family’s involvement in politics.  He then turned to State politics and he is believed to be  the only person in the world to have borne the title of “Minister for Health and Motherhood”  He was  Deputy Premier of New South Wales at the time of the visit Edward, Prince of Wales.

Australian English is now recognised as having words of its own -  “fair dinkum”  being one of the classics.  Australians tend to add an e to the end of words,  a pressie,  a goodie,  a rellie.

Australian food also has its own specialities  .  The Occker image of another prawn on the Barbie is well known.  As a child I recall Kangaroo Tail Soup and I knew about but never tasted Galah Stew.   A bonzer bush recipe was “Rabbit on a Shovel” cooked over a camp fire -         in modern days I understand it is more usually Rabbit on a Hub Cap.

This is the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.  Rabbits, the scourge of Australia,  were also on the First Fleet but were kept in captivity and a valuable source of food.   It was in 1859 that Thomas Austin imported 24 rabbits from England and wishing to continue hunting, released them. 

We hear of rabbit teeth.  Arthur Philip did not have that type dentition but he did have a missing upper right incisor and this was exactly the same tooth  the adult male Aboriginals had missing, as the tooth was removed as part of an initiation ceremony.   They therefore believed that the Governor had this in common with them.

A contemporary health  development was the invention of the toothbrush in 1780 by William Addis “stationer and rag-merchant” of  London. Booksellers were the main suppliers of stationery but also the principal retailers of patent medicines and chemist sundries.  Sugar consumption was very high and oral health would not have been good.    Addis decided there was a future for toothbrushes.  There is no record of them on the First Fleet. UK consumers spend nearly £250 million a year now on toothbrushes. 

1988 was a special year-  The Bi-Centenary of the founding of Australia.  I was a member of Sir Peter Gadsden’s. Bi-Centenary committee in London.  My husband Kevin,  was  Lord Mayor of Westminster that year the first Australian in the role, and we were among the guests invited to  Sydney for Centenary celebrations on  Australia Day.

Another civic dignitary present was the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth (twinned with Sydney).  He attended with a butler and a very healthy allowance.  Westminster City Council agreed Kevin could go,  qualifying this by  “if you pay your own fare”

It was a joyous occasion, hot, clear and sunny.   There were so many boats in the harbour that it was a day that one could have walked across the harbour from south to north of Sydney.

When the replica First Fleet came in to the harbour, it was a breathtaking moment.  Sail training ships, came from all over the world to join the celebration.    The 11 ships of the First Fleet were stunningly small.  One could only marvel at the bravery of those who had travelled over 12,000 miles in to the unknown on what were to us now, tiny ships.  This fleet, under the command of Arthur Philip  had succeeded against all odds in arriving safely and landing its passengers to found the nation of Australia.

Arthur Phillip will always be remembered.   I am pleased to hear there are new plans  now for a memorial in the West Country where he lived in his retirement and another in Westminster Abbey.   We all know that he  deserves such recognition and I am sure we will all support these aims.