From Terra Australis to Australia

In May 1787 the British government sent the First Fleet 20,000 kilometres around the world to establish a  British colony in New South Wales.

Charting the land

Sydney Cove lies 3 leagues to the northward of Botany Bay which is situated in Lat. 34 S : Long 151 E

The eastern coastline of Australia had been charted by James Cook during his first voyage of discovery in the Pacific in 1770 where he charted 5000 miles (8047 km) of the eastern coastline of the continent.

On the arrival of the First Fleet into Port Jackson, naval officers continued the hydrographic surveys of Sydney. Coastal profiles of the ‘Heads’ and surrounding coves were recorded, then exploratory parties travelled inland to present day Parramatta as well as north to Broken Bay and the Hawkesbury River, noting rivers, the terrain and quality of the land for cultivation.

British naval officers such as John Hunter, William Bradley and George Raper formed the earliest exploratory parties. All naval officers were trained in navigation, chart making and surveying, along with sketching. Young midshipmen learnt these skills at sea, taught by their seniors.

A number of the maps were included in published accounts of the settlement of the colony, such as Watkin Tench’s A Complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson and David Collins in his publication, An account of the English colony in New South Wales.

A map of the southern hemi-sphere showing the discoveries made in the Southern Ocean up to 1770 [cartographic material] / James Cook.

William Bradley (1757?-1833)

The transports are placed in the Cove as moored on their arrival

William Bradley was First Lieutenant on the ship, Sirius, captained by John Hunter. In his twenties, Bradley was great-nephew of the Astronomer Royal and son of a mathematics master and excelled in navigation.

Contained in his journal are 22 meticulously drawn charts which record a series of early survey expeditions in the colony and voyages on the Sirius.

Two days after reaching Port Jackson, Bradley accompanied John Hunter to survey and chart Sydney Harbour and commenced the naming of various Harbour landmarks, including Bradley’s Point (now Bradley’s Head). Over the next three months he accompanied Arthur Phillip on exploratory trips to Broken Bay, Manly Cove and the upper reaches of the Parramatta River.

His sketch of the encampment in March 1788 is the earliest known map of Sydney. Written on the map are Bradley’s notes; "the position of the encampment & buildings are as they stood 1 March, 1788. The transports are placed in the Cove as moored on their arrival".
Bradley has marked the location of the Governor’s house and gardens, tents of the male and female convicts, the parade ground and marine encampment, along with other staples such as the stores and blacksmith locations.

Bradley also charted the 1788-1789 passage of the Sirius to the Cape of Good Hope to obtain stores for the colony and also surveyed Norfolk Island during the 11 months following the wreck of the Sirius there in March 1790.

Bradley returned to England on board the Dutch ship, Waaksaamheyd, arriving in Portsmouth in April 1792.

Considered a brilliant cartographer, his charts proved to be not only accurate and detailed, but also delicate works of art.


Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, 1788

View William Bradley's other charts

Read William Bradley's journal

David Collins (1756 - 1810)

Good country, the grass high thick & luxurian

Having served as a young officer in the Marines during the American War of Independence, Collins was appointed to be the Judge-Advocate for the military and civil courts in the new colony in New South Wales. Once arrived in Sydney, Collins also worked as secretary to Governor Phillip and then also for Phillip’s replacements, Grose and Paterson before Governor Hunter, Phillip’s successor arrived in 1796.

Collins kept a journal of his voyage on the Sirius and his experiences in the settlement at Sydney. He returned to London in 1797 and the following year his account was published with the title, An Account of the English colony in New South Wales. His account is regarded as a particularly detailed one, due to Collins’ close association with the administration of the colony.

His map of the settlement in Sydney depicts a growing town including remarks on the state of cultivation of the land, out to Cowpasture Plain and Mt Taurus (now Camden) where bulls were observed: descendents of those cattle which had escaped from Sydney Cove after the disembarkation of the First Fleet.

The settlements of Parramatta and Toongabbie are noted with the main concentrations of land under cultivation focused around the Hawkesbury and Parramatta Rivers.

Cadell & Davies / An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales ~ Opp. title page

Francis Fowkes

Port Jackson in the County of Cumberland

This map is a rare early engraving of the settlement at Sydney Cove, April 1788. The eleven ships of the First Fleet are depicted anchored in the Harbour along with 'References' listing buildings, tents, men’s and women’s camps, sawpits, workshops, storehouses and gardens.

The map returned to England with the First Fleet in 1789. The creator of it remained unknown as the map only has the initials, ‘F.F. delineavit’ appearing in the lower left-hand corner. By a process of elimination, it was deduced that only one person travelled with the First Fleet had those initials: Francis Fowkes.

Formerly a navy midshipman, he had been convicted in London and sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing a cloth great coat valued at 20s and a pair of leather boots valued at 18s.

The map was published in London in July 1789 by R. Cribb and sold for 1 shilling plain, or 2 shillings coloured. However, it is not an accurate cartographical representation but it does provide much detail about the settlement just 3 months after arrival. The Governor’s Mansion stands tall over the settlement and the farm appears to be neatly laid out and flourishing. The ships anchored in the Harbour are named along with 24 other locations in the settlement.

Sketch & description of the settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson in the County of Cumberland taken by a transported convict on the 16th of April, 1788, which was not quite 3 months after Commodore Phillips's landing there
CSS Class

George Raper (1768?-1797)

George Raper, a 19-year-old midshipman and watercolour painter, copied this chart from one drawn by his commanding officer, Captain John Hunter of HMS Sirius.

Raper accompanied Hunter and Bradley on their surveying of Sydney Harbour in January 1788. The two senior officers are thought to have been Raper’s instructors in maritime education, including teaching him subjects such as astronomy, navigation, cartography and topographical drawings.

Raper was a skilled artist who created impressive and historically significant series of maps, drawings and watercolours which documented his travels to Australia.

Chart of Port Jackson New South Wales [cartographic material] : as survey'd by Capt.n Iohn Hunter, second captain of His Majesties Ship the Sirius 1788 / drawn from the original by George Raper Midn'.

This map is one of the first surveys of Sydney Harbour. Freshwater sources are marked and inlets are given English placenames, some of which are still familiar today: Farm Cove, Camp Cove, Rose Bay and Manly Cove.

Other names are no longer used, such as Garden Cove (Woolloomooloo Bay); Keltie Cove (Double Bay), named for James Keltie, sailing master of HMS Supply; and Blackburn Cove (Rushcutters Bay), after David Blackburn, sailing master of HMS Sirius.

John Walker

Sandy, rocky and very bad country...

A map of the hitherto explored country contiguos to Port Jackson, lain down from actual survey, 1789-1791 was produced by engraver to the Admiralty, John Walker. It was included in Captain Watkin Tench’s published account, A Complete Account of the settlement at Port Jackson in New South Wales. This was Tench's second book on New South Wales, published in London in 1793.

The map provides significant details of the early expeditions of discovery to the south and west of the settlement. Tench led a number of these exploratory parties. One of his most important discoveries was in locating the Nepean River which he traced from the Hawkesbury River.

A map of the hitherto explored country contiguous to Port Jackson

The map depicts the regions that had been surveyed and denotes the quality of the land, rivers and mountains. The comments made are almost universally disappointing: from comments near the Hawkesbury River, "very dreadful country the whole that we saw upon this creek the ground cover’d with large stones as if paved" to, "In floods the water rises to the height of 50 feet perpendicular leaving reeds etc. in the trees", refering to the south-western areas to the west of Sydney. Walker's map names the mountains to the west the Caermarthen Mountains (later Blue Mountains).

In August 1790 Tench and Lieutenant William Dawes attempted to cross these mountains, which proved impassable to them. 

Explore further the Library's online map collections:
Crux - rare maps from the State Library of NSW


Made possible through a partnership with John T Reid Charitable Trusts and Thyne Reid Foundation - UNESCO Memory of the World