First Fleet Collection

This collection includes journals, letters, drawings, maps and charts created by those who travelled with the First Fleet to Australia in 1788.

Arthur Bowes Smyth - drawings from his journal `A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in the Lady Penrhyn ...', 1787-1789

What's in the collection?

The Library's First Fleet Collection includes journals, letters, drawings, maps and charts created by those who travelled with the First Fleet of British ships to Australia. One of the Library’s most significant and valuable collections, these powerful eyewitness accounts not only tell us about how the British viewed Port Jackson and its inhabitants, but also record the hopes and ambitions of the First Fleeters, their feelings of homesickness and despair, along with detailed descriptions of the unfamiliar natural environment.

The Library holds the most comprehensive collection of First Fleet journals in the world; of the fifteen journals known to survive, ten are held in the Library’s collections. Written by naval and marine corps officers, as well as seaman and surgeons, these journals paint, in vivid detail, the voyage to and early settlement of Australia between 1787 and the 1790s.

This important collection makes a significant contribution to the record of pre-colonisation Australian native flora, fauna, topography and the environment, and documents the writers’ first impressions of the landscape and natural history of the Sydney region. Several journals also record observations and lengthy descriptions of the Indigenous communities living in the Port Jackson area, their responses to the new arrivals, the impact of the British colonisation, as well as words from the local language groups.

In 2012 this collection was added to the Australian register of the UNESCO Memory of the World.

You can find more information on the First Fleet collections in the Library's Manuscripts & Pictures Catalogue.