The records of the actual numbers of persons landed in January 1788 are inconsistent, but of the total of approximately 1,000 souls, some 750 were convicts and their children; the remaining 250 or so were marines and their families.
Research by many historians continues to reveal fascinating glimpses into the lives of those ‘First Fleeters’. Some brief notes of those more prominent are as follows:
Thomas WATLING was the first professional artist to arrive in the colony (Royal Admiral 1792) and was seconded to the Surgeon General, John White who was an amateur naturalist. His paintings are one of the principal records of the earliest days of Australia. ‘Letters from an exile at Botany Bay’ gives an irreverent informal account of his life in the early years of the colony. The full text of the book is online in the Australian Literature Database.
William REDFERN, a ship’s doctor, was tried for his involvement in mutiny over bad pay and conditions in the navy. He was transported in 1801 on the Minorca, sent to Norfolk Island, and pardoned in 1803. Back in Sydney and wanting to become a doctor again, he was tested by three other doctors and passed the test, thus becoming Australia’s first medical graduate.
The First Bentley in Australia: A servant girl, Mary Moulton, was sentenced to seven years penal servitude in the Colonies for shoplifting. She found an ‘association’ with Joshua Bentley, a seaman. They sailed on 13 May 1787 on board the “Lady Penryn”, and as a result of the affair, a male child was born, just out from the Cape of Good Hope on 16 Nov 1787. On arrival in Australia, the child was baptised aboard ship on 21 Jan 1788. The child was called Joshua Bentley and records were kept at St. Phillip, Sydney. Unfortunately, a little over two years later, he fell into a hole of water and was drowned. He was buried on 14 Feb 1790 in Port Jackson Cemetery. It was situated where Sydney Town Hall and St. Andrew’s Cathedral now stand. It is thought, but not proven, that Joshua Bentley was the first white child to be baptised in Australia.
Many of Australia’s first achievers were convicts. Among the convicts of the First Fleet was a man called BLOODSWORTH, an English brickmaker who made use of the brickmaking equipment brought on the voyage and became the colony’s first brick maker.
James SQUIRE, who also arrived with the First Fleet, saw the need to quench the colonial thirst, and became the colony’s first brewer in 1790. Another convict, James WILKINSON, produced a 5 metre wide mill wheel, propelled by two other convicts walking inside it, and became one of the colony’s earliest millwrights.
In 1798 Henry KABLE, a First Fleet convict, opened a hotel called the Ramping Horse, from which he ran the first stage coach in Australia. In 1968, on the 180th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, more than a hundred descendants of Henry and Susannah Kable met in Sydney to honour them as the heads of one of Australia’s founding families. It was the first reunion to acknowledge convict ancestry.
William BOND, baker of Pitt Street, made the first damper and was believed to be the last man alive from the First Fleet.
James RUSE has been called Australia’s first farmer. He was a convict sentenced to seven years transportation for breaking and entering in 1782, and arrived in the colony of New South Wales on the First Fleet in 1788. In 1789, Ruse was given 12 hectares of land near Parramatta, which he turned into the colony’s first proper farm, growing grain and vegetables. After his sentence expired in 1792, the title of the land was deeded to him, the first land grant in the colony. He died in 1837.