January 26th 1788: First Fleet arrives


‘The First Fleet Entering Port Jackson on January 26, 1788’ by E. Le Bihan


On this day in 1788 the British First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, sailed into Port Jackson, Australia. The New South Wales region of Australia had been ‘discovered’ by Captain James Cook in 1770 but the first attempt to settle the area came a few years later. The Fleet of 11 ships carried 1,500 convicts and settlers on the arduous, 252 day journey from England. They arrived at Botany Bay on January 18th 1788 but as it lacked a fresh water supply they continued to look for a site for permanent settlement. On January 26th they sailed into Port Jackson and found it to be perfect conditions for settlement. Philip named the site Sydney Cove after the British Home Secretary Lord Sydney. Port Jackson is now Sydney Harbour, home to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

“How grand is the prospect which lies before this youthful nation!”
– The now Governor Phillip’s February 7th address


australia day

‘The Founding of Australia’ painting by Algernon Talmadge 1937

Initial relations with indigenous people were amicable, however conflict soon began and there was increasing encroachment on indigenous lands by European settlers. Whilst this day is commonly celebrated as Australia Day, it has also become symbolic of the adverse affects of British colonisation on the native population. It is thus also remembered as ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’.


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