1787 First fleet provisions

William Bradley drawings from his journal `A Voyage to New South Wales'. State Library of NSW

Among the 11 ships that set sail for Botany Bay on May 13 1787, three – Golden Grove, Fishburn and Borrowdale – were store ships, charged with carrying the First Fleet provisions. In the course of the voyage, female convicts on board the Friendship were moved to one of the other transports to make room for additional livestock. The route involved two crossings of the Atlantic before the long haul through the Southern Ocean to New South Wales.

It was estimated that the fleet needed to carry sufficient supplies to sustain the new settlement for two years. Many staple foodstuffs were loaded in England, but the duration of the voyage required the fleet to reprovision at various ports along the way. The first stop was at Santa Cruz, Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, where fresh water and vegetables and meat were taken on board. The fleet remained there for a week, before departing for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The First Fleet arrived in Rio in the first week of August 1787 and remained there for a month. During that time, Portuguese fruit sellers with highly decorated boats brought their produce to the ships. The ships’ agents also took the opportunity to stock up with a variety of plants and seeds. Among these were banana, orange, lemon and coffee plants.

After a second crossing of the Atlantic, the First Fleet provisions were topped up for the final time at the Dutch East India Company’s Cape colony in South Africa. While in port, everyone on board was able to enjoy fresh meat and vegetables, a change from the usual salt rations.  An officer of the fleet wrote in a letter:

Joy now beamed in every countenance, and we congratulated each other on the pleasing prospect of plenty of fresh provisions with abundance of herbs, roots, and fruits, the production of this fine country. Judge then, after a run of 1094 leagues, our happiness at the pleasing scene before our eyes….Whilst we remain here every person is allowed one pound and a half of meat, one pound and a half of bread, and one gallon of beer per diem; and I can assure you our agent has purchased a plenty of belly timber for the remainder of the voyage.

The fleet remained there for a month, setting sail again on 12 November. Surgeon George Worgan described in his journal the supplies taken on at the Cape.

We sailed from the Cape of Good Hope on the 12th of November 1787- As that was the last civilized Country We should touch at, in our Passage to Botany Bay We provided ourselves with every Article, necessary for the forming a civilized Colony, Live Stock, consisting of Bulls, Cows, Horses Mares, Colts, Sheep, Hogs, Goats Fowls and other living Creatures by Pairs. We likewise, procured a vast Number of Plants, Seeds & other Garden articles, such, as Orange, Lime, Lemon, Quince Apple, Pear Trees, in a Word, every Vegetable Production that the Cape afforded.

The only proposed stop between the Cape and Botany Bay was  Desolation Island, in the southern Indian Ocean. Part of the Kerguelen Islands, the rocky island had been named by Captain Cook and had a glacial lake, a source of fresh water which was important to preserve the livestock.

Not all the animals survived the voyage and, even after landing in Sydney Cove, other disasters occurred. On 6 February, six sheep, two lambs and a pig were destroyed by lightning while sheltering under a large tree. And in June 1788, all the colony’s cattle escaped into the bush. Many of the seeds that were planted failed to flourish. As a result, during the first years of the settlement rations were limited and the colonists endured several hard seasons before new supplies arrived.

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