On this day…

This image is of a reenactment of the First Fleet of British ships arriving in Sydney Harbour in 1788.

Taken on Australia Day (26th January), this was Australia’s bicentenary in 1988.



On this day: the Great New Orleans Fire

On the 21st of March, 1788, a fire broke out in a home in New Orleans, present-day Louisiana.

856 of the 1100 buildings in the town were destroyed.

Because the fire happened on Good Friday, priests wouldn’t allow church bells to be rung as a warning to residents.

Below is a map of the destroyed area, published in 1886. X

New Orleans Map of 1788 fire, published in 1886.

The First Fleet

A 1938 image depicting the First Fleet arriving in Australia on the 26th of January, 1788. This was the beginning of European colonisation of the continent, and the 26th is now called Australia Day.

From the collection of the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

Reproduction of John Allcot (1888–1973), The First Fleet in Sydney Cove, January 27, 1788, from The Sydney Mail, January 26, 1938. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

On this day: the First Fleet in 1788

View_of_Botany_Bayengraving of the First Fleet in Botany Bay at voyage's end in 1788

On the 20th of January, 1788, the main body of the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay, modern-day Australia.

The First Fleet, consisting of eleven ships of convicts, marines and seamen, had left England in 1787.

Botany Bay was deemed unsuitable for a colony, with concerns about the lack of fresh water and the swampy land, and the fleet moved further north, to Port Jackson. The fleet’s arrival in the second port is marked by Australia Day on the 26th of January.

On this day: On this day: the First Fleet arrives in Australia in 1788

The 26th of January is now celebrated as Australia Day (or sometimes scorned as Invasion Day by Aborigines). It is the date the First Fleet of settlers arrived in Sydney Cove, beginning the establishment of today’s Australia as part of the British Empire.

Many of the people aboard this fleet were convicts, and most were transported for crimes that would be considered ridiculous now.


The First Fleet entering Port Jackson on January 26, 1788 by E. Le Bihan

Amongst the people aboard were:

Elizabeth Thackery

Said to be the first white woman to set foot on Australia. She was sentenced to seven years transportation for the theft of two black silk handkerchiefs and three white handkerchiefs to a total value of one shilling.

John Baughan

Convicted of stealing five blankets, he was to be transported for seven years. Though he left behind a wife and three daughters, he remarried in New South Wales, having three more children (though one died in infancy), and choosing to stay on in Sydney. He died only nine years after arriving in the Southern Hemisphere.

Margaret Dawson

Considered one of the founding ‘mothers’ of Australia (many Australians can now claim Dawson ancestry). Convicted of “feloniously stealing” goods to the value of £12 4s 1d, she was sentenced to the mandatory sentence of death. However, being only fifteen at the time, her sentence was changed to transportation for seven years.

Nathaniel Lucas

Convicted for feloniously stealing clothing with a value of 40 shillings and sentenced to seven years transportation. He stayed on in New South Wales until his death in 1818.

 Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788, a 1937 oil sketch by Algernon Talmage.

Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788, a 1937 oil sketch by Algernon Talmage.

I read a guidebook to Australia (written by an Englishman, so I think he had an ulterior motive!) that claimed almost all convicts were murderers and rapists. This is simply not true (and may I also point out that as the convicts were British, it wasn’t really painting England in a good light!).

What the author of the book didn’t seem to understand was that Australia isn’t trying to cover anything up. Australians with convict ancestry are proud of it. I don’t have any – my first family members to move here arrived long after they stopped transporting convicts – but I know some who do, and they brag about it the same way Americans with Mayflower ancestry do.

Perhaps there wouldn’t have been an overcrowding problem in British prisons if the court system had been a little more humane…