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Students imagine convict women’s emotions and conversations on the day of arrival at Port Jackson in the context of the traditional owners of the land. 

Student activities

Task no. 1


Governor Arthur Phillip arrived in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788 on HMS Supply.  The Lady Penrhyn arrived later two days later with the second part of the fleet on the 20 January 1788, but none of the convicts left the ship.  The soil at Botany Bay didn’t appear to be good for farming, and there was little fresh water, so Governor Arthur Phillip decided to keep looking for a suitable place to settle.  He decided upon a small bay in a big harbour called Port Jackson that was further up the coast. He named the bay Sydney Cove after one of the officials in England.  (It was known as Warrane by the Aboriginal people.) On the 26 January 1788, the First Fleet, including the Lady Penrhyn entered Port Jackson.   

Look at the two paintings, below. The first is from a collection by William Bradley, who was on the First Fleet, and provides his impression of the fleet’s arrival through the heads of Port Jackson. The second painting is also of Port Jackson, but further up the harbour. It was also painted in 1788. Zoom in to the details to notice the natural environment.  This is what everyone on board the ships were seeing for the first time as they had never been here before.  

Opp. p. 65. 'Entrance of Port Jackson 27 Janury 1788', ca. 1802
View collection item detail
a. A view in Port Jackson taken from Sirius Island; the Sirius lying of [sic] the entrance of Sydney Cove, 1788 / possibly by William Bradley, 1929-1932
View collection item detail

Answer these questions: 

  • Whose land was this? Discuss
  • What is another word you would use to describe the ‘arrival’ of the First Fleet? Discuss.  

On 30th January six women from the Lady Penrhyn were chosen to join the HMS Supply with Lieutenant Philip Gidley King to form a settlement at Norfolk Island. 

Read Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth's record of this day: 

The Women I recommended & who consented to go wt. him were Elizth. Lee -- Elizth. Hipsely -- Elizth. Colly -- Olivia Gascoin -- Ann Inett -- Ann Yates was recommended as a very fit person to go, having uniformly behaved well during the whole of the Voyage. 

and on 4th February 1788: 

the women…were this day landed on the Governor's side of the Encampment, & had Tents pitch'd for them not far from the Governor's house.  

Answer these questions: 

  • What do you think uniformly behaved well means?  
  • What were these convict women doing to have that said about them? 
  • If you had been on the First Fleet would you have been one of those convicts who uniformly behaved well, or perhaps not? 
  • How would you have felt if you had been one of the convict women left on the ship watching these chosen women disembark and sleep in tents on land? 

Read how Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth records the women being given fresh clothes before leaving the ship: 

They were dress'd in general very clean & some few amongst them might be sd. to be well dress'd. 

As a convict you had no choice in the clothing you received. [For further information on convict women’s clothing see Convict Clothing Learning Activity.]

Read Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth's entry in his journal for 4 Feb 1788 after arriving in Port Jackson. 

One woman (Ann Smith)… upon giving here some Slops…, throw'd 'em down on the deck & wd. not have anything. 

After arriving at Warrane/Sydney Cove, the convict women who were not going to Norfolk Island had to wait until the morning of 6th February to disembark. 

Read the following quote from Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth’s journal. 

6th. At 5 o'Clock this morng. all things were got in order for landing the whole of the women & 3 of the Ships Long Boats came alongside us to receive them: previous to their quitting the Ship a strict search was made to try if any of the many things wh. they had stolen on board cd. be found, but their Artifice eluded the most strict search & abt. 6 O'Clock p.m. we had the long wish'd for pleasure of seeing the last of them leave the Ship. 

Look at the handwritten version in his journal, extracted below.

Image 1: Detail from Collection 01: Arthur Bowes-Smyth, illustrated journal, 1787-1789. Titled `A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in the Lady Penrhyn, Merchantman William Cropton Sever, Commander by Arthur Bowes-Smyth, Surgeon - 1787-1788-1789'; being a fair copy compiled ca 1790.

Answer these questions: 

  • Why would Arthur say we had the long wish'd for pleasure of seeing the last of them leave the Ship
  • After 13 months onboard ship (this includes waiting time in England and the 8 month ocean voyage) how do you think the women felt when they saw land?  
  • How must they have felt to be able to see land but not be allowed to disembark? 
  • Do you think the convict women were aware there were traditional owners of the land? If they could see some people on the land from the ship, what might these convict women be thinking? 

Write a dialogue between two convict women who were waiting onboard until 6 February. Think about the clean clothes, how long you have been on the ship, waiting 11 days to disembark even though you could see the land, not being one of the women chosen to go to Norfolk Island, perhaps excitement about a new life (or not!) and the knowledge that you might not see your family and friends ever again. Record your conversation.