Australia's "First Fleet" was a group of 11 ships and about 1,400 people who established the first European settlements in Botany Bay and Sydney.
Illustration by E. Le Bihan, courtesy State Library of New South Wales

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    On May 13, 1787, a group of about 1,400 people in 11 ships set sail from Portsmouth, England. Their destination was a vaguely described bay in the continent of Australia, newly discovered to Europeans. In a stunning feat of planning and navigation, nearly all of the voyagers survived and arrived in Botany Bay about a year later. Here, they established the first European settlement in Australia.
     
    A wide variety of people made up this legendary “First Fleet.” Military and government officials, along with their wives and children, led the group. Sailors, cooks, masons, and other workers hoped to establish new lives in the new colony
     
    Perhaps most famously, the First Fleet included more than 700 convicts. The settlement at Botany Bay was intended to be a penal colony. The convicts of the First Fleet included both men and women. Most were British, but a few were American, French, and even African. Their crimes ranged from theft to assault. Most convicts were sentenced to seven years’ “transportation” (the term for the sending of prisoners to a usually far-off penal colony). 
     
    The First Fleet departed from Portsmouth, then briefly docked in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The ships then crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they took on huge stores of food and freshwater. Then the fleet sailed back across the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa, where they took on even more food, including livestock. The main portion of the journey was across the entire Indian Ocean, from Cape Town to Botany Bay—24,000 kilometers (15,000 miles).
     
    Botany Bay was not as hospitable as the group had hoped. The bay was shallow, there was not a large supply of freshwater, and the land was not fertile. Nearby, however, officers of the First Fleet discovered a beautiful harbor with all those qualities. They named it after the British Home Secretary, Lord Sydney. The day the First Fleet discovered Sydney Harbor is celebrated as Australia’s national holiday, Australia Day.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    bay Noun

    body of water partially surrounded by land, usually with a wide mouth to a larger body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: bay
    cargo Noun

    goods carried by a ship, plane, or other vehicle.

    celebrate Verb

    to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    colony Noun

    people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.

    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    convict Noun

    prisoner or person who has been convicted of a crime.

    destination Noun

    place where a person or thing is going.

    dock Verb

    to bring and secure a ship or boat to a space or facility.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    feat Noun

    accomplishment or achievement.

    fertile Adjective

    able to produce crops or sustain agriculture.

    fleet Noun

    group of ships, usually organized for military purposes.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    harbor Noun

    part of a body of water deep enough for ships to dock.

    Encyclopedic Entry: harbor
    holiday Noun

    period of celebration or honor.

    hospitable Adjective

    welcoming or inviting.

    legendary Adjective

    famous, heroic, or celebrated.

    livestock noun, plural noun

    animals raised for sale and profit.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    navigation Noun

    art and science of determining an object's position, course, and distance traveled.

    Encyclopedic Entry: navigation
    penal Adjective

    having to do with prison or punishment.

    portion Noun

    part of a whole.

    route Noun

    path or way.

    settlement Noun

    community or village.

    survive Verb

    to live.

    vague Adjective

    unclear.

    voyage Noun

    long journey or trip.