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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Remembering the passing of the First Fleet

The First Fleet in Botany Bay at voyage's end in 1788
Furious battles, patriotic displays and frenetic trading, the harbour of Santa Cruz has certainly witnessed some sights over the past five hundred years or so. But when it came to the one week visit of the First Fleet – 219 years ago this month – it must have been quite an experience.

The First Fleet set sail from Portsmouth on Sunday, May 13 1787, first port of call, Tenerife and it would have been with no little relief that on June 3, land hove into view in the majestic shape of Mount Teide and the Anaga mountains. It was a welcome pause on what was to be the longest voyage ever attempted up to then by such a large group of civilians.

The agrarian revolution and the population explosion in British cities had resulted in an increase in crime. The American Revolution had put paid to the off-loading of convicts on the other side of the Atlantic. The only way, as the authorities saw it, to ease the overcrowding of prisons was to send their occupants to establish a penal colony in the land discovered by Captain Cook.

The fleet was in Santa Cruz for a week, taking on water and provisions, providing locals with trade and plenty to talk about. On the morning of June 10, 1787, with a fair wind behind them, the fleet sailed out of Santa Cruz bay. They arrived in another, Botany Bay, on January 18 1788.

The First Fleet is the name given to the 11 ships which sailed from the United Kingdom in May 1787 to establish the first European colony in New South Wales. It was a convict settlement, marking the beginnings of transportation to Australia. The fleet of 11 ships was led by Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip.