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Female convicts in the First fleet

Students learn about European exploration and colonisation of Australia and throughout the world up to the early 1800s. They examine the impact of exploration on other societies, how these societies interacted with newcomers, and how these experiences contributed to their cultural diversity.
Key inquiry question #1: 
Why did the great journeys of exploration occur?

Content Summary

Stories of the First Fleet, including reasons for the journey, who travelled to Australia, and their experiences following arrival (ACHHK079).


  • using a range of sources, investigate the everyday life of ONE of the following who sailed on the First Fleet and lived in the early colony: a soldier, convict, ex-convict, official.

Background Notes for Teachers

The State Library of New South Wales holds the most extensive collection in the world of journals, letters, diaries, sketches and paintings produced by people who journeyed to Australia on the First Fleet.

This collection provides insights into one of the most significant changes that the Australian continent would experience: the establishment of a British settlement in Sydney. This settlement would almost immediately introduce profound and revolutionary change to the flora, fauna, and Indigenous people.

The First Fleet was made up of many different types of people. Some wrote letters, some wrote diaries, and some wrote accounts of their experiences to be published back in England. Others drew or painted the people, plants and animals they saw in this new land. 

These sources are an important record of the first contacts between the British and the Indigenous people. They also provide a valuable insight into the wonderment and joy as well as the difficulties and internal struggles of the people who came to ‘Botany Bay’ in the First Fleet. 

First Fleet journal of Arthur Bowes-Smyth

The list of female convicts and the information is excerpted from the First Fleet journal of Bowes-Smyth, Surgeon on board the Lady Penrhyn. It has been adapted for teachers and students.

Student Activities

Female Convicts

Students use written sources to ask historical questions about the past. 

Number of set tasks: 1


NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum History K - 10

A student:

  • HT2-5 applies skills of historical inquiry and communication


Comprehension: chronology, terms and concepts

  • use historical terms (ACHHS066, ACHHS082).

Analysis and use of sources

  • locate relevant information from sources provided (ACHHS068, ACHHS084, ACHHS215, ACHHS216)

Perspectives and interpretations

  • identify different points of view (ACHHS069, ACHHS085).

Explanation and communication

  • develop texts, particularly narratives (ACHHS070, ACHHS086)
  • use a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written) and digital technologies (ACHHS071, ACHHS087)
  • Cause and effect: events, decisions or developments in the past that produce later actions, results or effects
  • Empathetic understanding: developing an understanding of another’s views, life and decisions made

Learning across the curriculum

  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Literacy