Second Fleet (Australia)

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The Second Fleet was a convoy of six ships carrying settlers, convicts and supplies to Sydney Cove, Australia in 1789. It followed the First Fleet which established European settlement in Australia in the previous year.

Sydney Cove Bay in Sydney Harbour, Australia

Sydney Cove is a small bay on the southern shore of Sydney Harbour, one of several harbours in Port Jackson, on the coast of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

First Fleet 11 ships that left Great Britain to found the penal colony in Australia

The First Fleet was the 11 ships that departed from Portsmouth, England, on 13 May 1787 to found the penal colony that became the first European settlement in Australia. The Fleet consisted of two Royal Navy vessels, three store ships and six convict transports, carrying between 1,000 and 1,500 convicts, marines, seamen, civil officers and free people, and a large quantity of stores. From England, the Fleet sailed southwest to Rio de Janeiro, then east to Cape Town and via the Great Southern Ocean to Botany Bay, arriving over the period of 18 to 20 January 1788, taking 250 to 252 days from departure to final arrival.


The Second Fleet has achieved a historical notoriety for the poor conditions aboard the vessels, and for cruelty and mistreatment of its convicts. Of the 1006 convicts transported aboard the Fleet, one quarter died during the voyage and around 40 per cent were dead within six months of arrival in Australia. [1] The captain and some crew members of one vessel were charged with offences against the convicts, but acquitted after a short trial.

The ships were intended to sail to Australia together, arriving at Sydney Cove in 1789. However, one was disabled en route and failed to make the destination, while another was delayed and arrived two months after the other ships. The colony had expected that the Fleet would contain fewer unskilled convicts and more supplies: the arrival of so many sick and dying and so few additional provisions brought the settlement close to starvation before the Third Fleet reached Sydney Cove in 1791.

The Third Fleet comprised 11 ships that set sail from the United Kingdom in February, March and April 1791, bound for the Sydney penal settlement, with more than 2,000 convicts aboard. The passengers comprised convicts, military personnel and notable people sent to fill high positions in the colony. More important for the fledgling colony was that the ships also carried provisions.

Fleet summary

ShipImageTypeMasterCrewDep. EnglandArr. SydneyDurationMale convicts arrived (boarded)Female convicts arrived (boarded)
Lady Juliana Lady Juliana B4622.jpg convict transportThomas Edgar3529 July 17893 June 1790309 daysn/a222 (226)
Guardian HMS Guardian Riou.jpg converted gun ship to convict transport Edward Riou 12 September 1789disabled en routen/a20 (25) – see belown/a
Justinian storeship28 June 178915 April 1790291 days
Surprize converted merchant ship to convict transportNicholas Anstis19 January 179026 June 1790158 days218 (254)n/a
Neptune Convict ship Neptune00.jpg convict transportDonald Traill19 January 179027 June 1790159 days? (421) + 12 from Guardian? (78)
Scarborough converted transport to convict ship John Marshall 19 January 179028 June 1790160 days180 (253) + 8 from Guardiann/a
TOTAL859 [114] (973)300 [4] (304)

Origins and history

Lady Juliana sailed before the other convict ships and is not always counted as a member of the Second Fleet. It carried female convicts. [2] The storeship Justinian did not sail with the convict ships and arrived before them. HMS Guardian set out before the convict ships but struck ice after leaving the Cape of Good Hope, returned to southern Africa, and was wrecked on the coast.

<i>Lady Juliana</i> (1777 ship) convict ship to Australia in 1789

Lady Juliana, was launched at Whitby in 1777. She transported convicts in 1789 from Britain to Australia.

HMS <i>Guardian</i> (1784) Roebuck-class ship

HMS Guardian was a 44-gun Roebuck-class fifth-rate two-decker of the Royal Navy, later converted to carry stores. She was completed too late to take part in the American War of Independence, and instead spent several years laid up in ordinary, before finally entering service as a store and convict transport to Australia, under Lieutenant Edward Riou. Riou sailed the Guardian, loaded with provisions, animals, convicts and their overseers, to the Cape of Good Hope where he took on more supplies. Nearly two weeks after his departure on the second leg of the journey, an iceberg was sighted and Riou sent boats to collect ice to replenish his water supplies. Before he could complete the re-provisioning, a sudden change in the weather obscured the iceberg, and the Guardian collided with it while trying to pull away. She was badly damaged and in immediate danger of sinking. The crew made frantic repair attempts but to no apparent avail. Riou eventually allowed most of the crew to take to the Guardian's boats, but refused to leave his ship. Eventually through continuous work he and the remaining crew were able to navigate the ship, by now reduced to little more than a raft, back to the Cape, a nine-week voyage described as 'almost unparalleled'. Riou ran the Guardian aground to prevent her sinking, but shortly afterwards a hurricane struck the coast, wrecking her. The remains were sold the next year, in 1790.

Cape of Good Hope Headland of Cape Peninsula, South Africa

The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.

Surprize , Neptune, and Scarborough were contracted from the firm Camden, Calvert & King, which undertook to transport, clothe and feed the convicts for a flat fee of £17 7s. 6d per head, whether they landed alive or not. This firm had previously been involved in transporting slaves to North America. The only agents of the Crown in the crew were the naval agent, Lieutenant John Shapcote, and the Captain of the Guard; Camden and Calvert supplied all other crew.[ citation needed ].

<i>Surprize</i> (1780 ship) watercraft

Surprize was a three-deck merchant vessel launched in 1780 that made five voyages as a packet ship under charter to the British East India Company (EIC). The fourth of which was subsequent to her participating in the notorious Second Fleet transporting convicts to Port Jackson (EIC). Her fifth voyage for the EIC was subsequent to her second voyage transporting convicts to Australia. In 1799 a French frigate captured her in the Bay of Bengal.

The three vessels left England on 19 January 1790, with 1,006 convicts (928 male and 78 female) on board. They made only one stop on the way, at the Cape of Good Hope. Here 20 male convicts, survivors from HMS Guardian, were taken on board. The three vessels made a faster trip than the First Fleet, arriving at Port Jackson in the last week of June 1790, three weeks after Lady Juliana, and one week after the storeship Justinian. [3]

The passage was relatively fast, but the mortality rate was the highest in the history of transportation to Australia. Of the 1,038 convicts embarked, 273 died during the voyage (26%) and 486 landed sick. [4] This sits in stark contrast to the mortality rates reported on the First Fleet where "with nearly an equal number of persons, only 24 had died and not thirty landed sick. The difference can be accounted for only by the comparing the manner in which each fleet was fitted out and conducted." [5]

On Neptune the convicts were deliberately starved, kept chained, and frequently refused access to the deck. Scurvy could not be checked. On Scarborough, rations were not deliberately withheld, but a reported mutiny attempt led to the convicts being closely confined below decks. [6]

Captain William Hill, commander of the guard, afterwards wrote a strong criticism of the ships' masters stating that "the more they can withhold from the unhappy wretches the more provisions they have to dispose of at a foreign market, and the earlier in the voyage they die, the longer they can draw the deceased's allowance to themselves". [7]

Arrival at Port Jackson

On arrival at Port Jackson, half-naked convicts were lying without bedding, too ill to move. Those unable to walk were slung over the side. All were covered with lice. At least 486 sick were landed (47% of those embarked). Of these, 124 died shortly after they had landed. Of the rest the Rev. Johnson, who went among them as soon as the ships reached port, wrote that "the misery I saw amongst them is indescribable ... their heads, bodies, clothes, blankets, were all full of lice. They were wretched, naked, filthy, dirty, lousy, and many of them utterly unable to stand, to creep, or even to stir hand or foot." [8]

For his part Governor Phillip noted, "I will not, sir, dwell on the scene of misery which the hospitals and sick tents exhibited when these people were landed, but it would be want of duty not to say that it was occasioned by the contractors having crowded too many on board these ships, and from their being too much confined during the passage." [9]

Among the arrivals on the Second Fleet were D'Arcy Wentworth and his convict mistress Catherine Crowley, on Neptune, and John Macarthur, then a young lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps, and his wife Elizabeth, on Scarborough. Macarthur's eldest son, Edward Macarthur, who accompanied his parents on the Neptune and Scarborough, is believed to be the only person who sailed in the Second Fleet of whom we have a photograph as well as being the last survivor of the voyage (see reference below).

When news of the horrors of the Second Fleet reached England, public and official response was shock. An enquiry was held but no attempt was made to arrest Donald Traill, master of Neptune and described as a demented sadist, or bring a public prosecution against him, the other masters, or the firm of contractors. They had already been contracted by the government to prepare the Third Fleet for sailing to Port Jackson in 1791.

Traill and his Chief Mate William Ellerington were privately prosecuted for the murder of an unnamed convict, seaman Andrew Anderson and John Joseph, cook. But, after a trial lasting three hours before Sir James Marriott in the Admiralty Court, the jury acquitted both men on all charges "without troubling the Judge to sum up the evidence".

See also

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  1. Flynn 1993, p.1
  2. Siân Rees (2009). The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of Female Convicts Bound for Botany Bay. Hachette Australia. ISBN   978-0-7336-2463-6.
  3. Tench, Watkin; Flannery, introduced by Tim (1996). 1788 : comprising a narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay and an account of the settlement at Port Jackson (Repr. with index. ed.). Melbourne: Text Publishing. pp. 127–130. ISBN   1875847278.
  4. Tench, Watkin; Flannery, introduced by Tim (1996). 1788 : comprising a narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay and an account of the settlement at Port Jackson (Repr. with index. ed.). Melbourne: Text Publishing. p. 131. ISBN   1875847278.
  5. Tench, Watkin; Flannery, Tim (introduction) (1996). 1788 : comprising a narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay and an account of the settlement at Port Jackson (Repr. with index. ed.). Melbourne: Text Publishing. pp. 131–132. ISBN   1875847278.
  6. Collins 1975, p. 100
  7. Historical records of New South Wales. Volume 1, Part 2 – Phillip. Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer. 1892. p. 367.
  8. "Our Austral". The Argus . Melbourne. 27 January 1940. p. 8 Supplement: The Argus Weekend magazine. Retrieved 27 January 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  9. "MEDICINE IN AUSTRALIAN HISTORY". The Central Queensland Herald. Rockhampton, Qld. 4 April 1935. p. 58. Retrieved 27 January 2012 via National Library of Australia.


Further reading