You are here:

Establishing Settlements

On 13 May 1787 a fleet of eleven ships, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, set sail from Portsmouth. The convoy, later known as the First Fleet, transported ships’ officers and crew, marines and their families, and convicts from Britain to the land claimed for the British Crown by Captain Cook in 1770, and named by him ‘New South Wales’.

The Fleet consisted of two Royal Navy escort ships, HMS Sirius and HMS Supply, accompanying six convict transports, the Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales and the Scarborough, and three store ships, the Borrowdale, Fishburn and Golden Grove. The First Fleet brought over 1500 men, women and children halfway around the world from England to New South Wales over 252 days, travelling via Tenerife and Rio de Janiero.

The Fleet arrived at its destination, Botany Bay, on 18 January 1788 but, despite the fact that Sir Joseph Banks, gentleman botanist on the Endeavour in 1770, had recommended it as a suitable place for a settlement, it was found to be severely lacking, particularly as there was no supply of fresh water. Port Jackson, north of Botany Bay, appeared to be a better proposition as the site for a settlement.

The Fleet anchored at Sydney Cove in Port Jackson on 26 January. The site possessed all the features that the first settlers required; deep water close to shore, shelter and fresh water. Phillip named the site Sydney Cove, after the British Home Secretary, Lord Sydney. The date of its naming, now known as Australia Day, marks the beginning of European settlement in Australia.

The original, private manuscript journals written by individuals who sailed with the expedition occupy a central place among the records of the First Fleet. The State Library of New South Wales holds the world’s largest collection of original First Fleet Journals and correspondence. Of the eleven known journal manuscripts, nine are held in the Mitchell Library and Dixson Library collections in the State Library.

The manuscript journals held by the State Library are written by John Hunter, Second Captain and Philip Gidley King, Second Lieutenant; William Bradley, First Lieutenant; Jacob Nagle, a seaman; and George Worgan, surgeon, who all served on the Sirius; Ralph Clark, Second Lieutenant of Marines on the Friendship; James Scott, Sergeant of Marines on the Prince of Wales; John Easty, private Marine on the Scarborough; and Arthur Bowes Smyth, surgeon on the Lady Penrhyn.

All nine journals provide distinctive insights into shipboard life, including descriptions of the convicts, officers and crew, ports of call, discipline, injuries and deaths and daily life in the colony. They document, from nine individual perspectives, the processes by which an isolated colony thousands of kilometres from Britain was incorporated within its vast maritime empire as its newest possession, and the early days of this occupation that inexorably displaced the original inhabitants from their land.

The settlement that began at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788, though isolated by tremendous distances from Britain, nevertheless brought to these shores the systems of British law and administrative arrangements, including those governing private legal transactions between individuals and businesses. These included land transactions and sealing and whaling agreements, convict and master relationships, and marriages and separations – all were registered and made available on the public record, providing invaluable perspectives on the social record of the colony of New South Wales from January 1794 to May 1824.

The Registers of Assignments and Other Legal Instruments 1794–1824 (the ‘Old Registers’) document the system of registering private legal transactions in books kept by the Office of the Judge Advocate, until the Supreme Court of New South Wales was established in May 1824, and the functions of the Office of Judge Advocate were transferred to the Court. The Supreme Court retained the Register and the function of land registration until 1844, when the Office of Registrar-General was established. This function is now part of the former Department of Lands (NSW), now Land and Property Information (NSW), which records dealings related to land transactions.

One million acres, one million pounds, a Royal Charter and an Act of Parliament: these were the beginnings of the Australian Agricultural Company in London in 1824. The Company’s primary purpose was to raise fine wool in New South Wales. It was given additional responsibility for developing agriculture and to do this it brought people, technology and livestock to the colony.

Today the Australian Agricultural Company (or AA Co as it is commonly known) describes itself as ‘a world-leading provider of cattle, beef and agricultural products since 1824’. It is Australia’s second oldest surviving company, after Westpac Bank. The records of the Company comprise an incomparable resource documenting primary industry, land use, trade, labour relations and the interaction between business and government, and are the most complete body of business records in Australia.

The story of the Company’s earliest years is one of twists and turns. The initial tracts of land chosen were north of Newcastle, near Port Stephens, and inland at Warrah and Goonoo Goonoo. The Company’s experience at Port Stephens helped confirm that the strip of land between the Great Dividing Range and the sea was too wet for sheep to flourish. Later the Company was affected by the depression of the 1840s and the goldrushes of the 1850s. During this period, the Company operated its own immigration schemes as its need for labour increased at the moment when convict labour was disappearing. It also established churches and schools on its holdings.

From the first, the Company was also engaged in producing or extracting other commodities. Chief among these was coal in the Newcastle area from 1825 to 1910. The Company’s presence in Newcastle was initially in mining, but it also became a developer of land for urban settlement in and beyond Newcastle. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Company had begun to expand into the cattle industry in Queensland, and by 1950 it had acquired pastoral holdings in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The archives of the Australian Agricultural Company document its idiosyncratic structure whereby it was governed by a Court of Directors in London until the transfer of the Head Office to Tamworth in 1976. There are the expected minutes and annual reports, but there are many other records valuable for economic, political and social history. They include the despatches from New South Wales covering not only company operations but also colonial life generally, thus complementing the despatches sent by governors to their superiors in London.

An important part of the story of the archives of the Australian Agricultural Company is the enduring partnership between academics and archivists at the Australian National University and the Company that has seen records transferred regularly from Company offices to the custody of the Noel Butlin Archives Centre. From there the records continue to be preserved and made available for research.

An ill-fated initiative in the 1830s to settle the Port Phillip District of south-eastern Australia (later Victoria), but one which nevertheless resulted in large-scale colonisation of the region and dispossession of its original inhabitants, is documented in the Port Phillip Association Records.

The first attempt to settle the Port Phillip District was made on 7 October 1803 when Lieutenant-Colonel Collins arrived to found a convict settlement. The expedition landed on the shores of Port Phillip, near Sorrento, and explored the country, but after a few months the attempt at colonisation was abandoned, and for twenty years Port Phillip District was neglected.

In 1824 Hamilton Hume and William Hovell explored as far as the western arm of Port Phillip, and in 1826 another expedition, under Captain Wright, was sent from Sydney to form a settlement at Western Port. It returned after a year’s trial, although reports by Hume and Hovell and military officers favoured continuing the settlement. The first permanent settlement was made by Edward Henty in 1834 at Portland Bay.

The idea of the Port Phillip Association was born in November 1834, when John Wedge was visiting John Batman at Kingston, Van Diemen’s Land. Batman had previously applied for a grant to depasture cattle in the Port Phillip District but had been refused. In May 1835, Batman arrived at Port Phillip from Launceston, and obtained from the local Aboriginal people land covering an area of 600,000 acres on the shores of Port Phillip and the banks of the Yarra River, which Batman declared was ‘the place for a village’. In return the Aboriginal people received an assortment of clothes, trinkets and tools. The Port Phillip Association, initiated in June 1835 as the Geelong and Dutigalla Association after the Aboriginal names for the land, became the Port Phillip Association after April 1836. The enterprise was illegal as it contravened the Colonial Office’s 1829 limitation of settlement to Nineteen Counties. Governor Bourke had also invalidated all land deals between Europeans and Aboriginal people in August 1835. Nevertheless, the Association was granted a large indemnity. By 1839 the Association had shrunk to three members, and it became the Derwent Company, which was dissolved in 1842. While the Port Phillip Association was short-lived, it did lead to large-scale colonisation of the area from New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land.

In August 1835 John Pascoe Fawkner, also from Launceston, settled on the site of what is now Melbourne. In 1836 Captain Lonsdale, Resident Magistrate of the District of Port Phillip, and a party of soldiers and civil servants, was sent from Sydney by Sir Richard Governor Bourke to establish government. In 1837 Bourke came from Sydney, and gave the name ‘Melbourne’ to the new settlement. Port Phillip was separated from the mother colony on 1 July 1851 and became the independent province of Victoria.

The contemporaneous establishment of the colony of South Australia was a more orderly affair. The South Australia Act was passed by the British government in 1834. Before development of the new province could proceed, the Colonization Commissioners required sales of land to the value of 35,000. However, the price of land was fixed at twenty shillings per acre, resulting in limited land sales. The South Australian Company was formed in London on 9 October 1835 to encourage the preliminary purchase of land in South Australia. George Fife Angas, Thomas Smith and Henry Kingscote formed a joint stock company to purchase the unsold land at twelve shillings per acre, and bought more than 13,000 acres, including prime town and country sections. On 27 June 1836 the Deed of Settlement was signed by Angas, Smith, Kingscote and about 300 shareholders of the South Australian Company, including John Rundle, Charles Hindley, Raikes Currie, John Pirie and Henry Waymouth.

In January 1836 Angas equipped and sent four ships on the Company’s behalf to South Australia before Colonel William Light and Governor John Hindmarsh arrived in the province. A small settlement was established at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island in July 1836, but the location was not suited to farming. The company soon transferred its operations to the mainland, where Governor Hindmarsh arrived on 28 December 1836.

The South Australian Company provided roads, bridges, ports, warehouses and mills in the new colony, and established agriculture, whaling, banking and mining enterprises. The Company played an influential role in the commercial affairs of Adelaide and the rural regions of South Australia for over a century, but was wound up on 17 March 1949 and the management of its affairs was transferred to Elders Trustee.1

The 1862 Land Map of Victoria, one of the largest maps in Australia measuring 4.5 metres by 6 metres, was created in 1862 by order of the Victorian Parliament as a requirement of the Land Act (commonly called the Duffy Act), and lodged with the Clerk of Parliament and displayed publicly.

The map represents a series of bureaucratic attempts to unlock land in Victoria, and documents land administration conducted under New South Wales legislation prior to 1860. The area that would later become the State of Victoria was settled in the 1830s by Europeans, and the Indigenous owners were swiftly dispossessed of their lands. The grassy plains and open woodland of British explorer Major Mitchell’s ‘Australia Felix’ were occupied by the early 1840s by ‘squatters’, and their herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. The squatters were given legitimacy by the British government in 1847 when an Order in Council provided for long-term leases and purchase of homestead or pre-emptive blocks. The governor could also set aside land for public reserves.

The squatters’ domination of the land was challenged by the goldrushes that ushered in a new democratic spirit, insisting that Crown lands were a public asset and not a resource for the rich to monopolise. The battle to open up the lands found a champion in an Irish nationalist, Charles Gavan Duffy, who in 1862 introduced a bill to provide for selection. The Map is a potent artefact of this battle: it gives an insight into how bureaucrats viewed the colony’s potential; their progress in surveying the colony, and their assessment of its natural vegetation and geology. It shows the impact of the Order in Council, with pre-emptive rights, and townships surveyed before 1862. It demonstrates how vast areas of the Western District had gone from Crown to freehold possession and had become the stronghold of the squattocracy, and also hints at the emergence of agriculture in Victoria.

While Duffy’s Act did not succeed in creating a landscape of small blocks – squatters gained much of the ten million acres designated for selection – it was part of an ongoing process of legislative and bureaucratic refinement of conditions for settlement.

In common with most of the other records in this section, the 1862 Land Map is a powerful link to the movement of people to Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the spread of European settlement and farming in the new world, and the consequent dispossession of Indigenous people without regard to the way they had managed their lands.

page From William Bradley's Journal

From William Bradley’s Journal. ‘A Voyage to New South Wales, December 1876-May 1792.

Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.

In this section