On This Day In History: The Second Fleet Arrives

It was on this day, 3rd June, 1790 that the Second Fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour. A solitary ship, the Lady Juliana sailed into Sydney Harbour with its cargo of 226 female convicts. The stores on board were enough for the ailing colony to increase their weekly flour ration by a paltry one and a half pound.

The arrival of Lady Juliana was a welcome shock to the colony whom had already  commissioned the Supply – the last remaining ship of the First Fleet – to head north to Batavia (modern day Jakarta, Indonesia) to purchase food supplies and keep the colony alive.

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Painting featuring Lady Juliana

The Lady Juliana had left England on 29th July, 1789. The vessel spent six and a half weeks in Rio De Janeiro where by all accounts, relations between the convict women and crew went beyond cordial. A steward on the ship wrote of his own moral failings, “When we were fairly out to sea, every man on board took a wife from among the convicts . . . The girl with whom I lived, for I was as bad on this point as the others, was named Sarah Whitelam.”

In an age without internet or phone lines, the Lady Juliana brought with it the first news from home since the convict colony had begun in January, 1788. Governor Arthur Phillip was surprised to learn that their would be another four ships carrying convicts and supplies.

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Captain Arthur Phillip

On 20th June, the Justinian a supply ship arrived in Sydney Harbour. Five days later the Surprize sailed into port with its cargo of 218 male convicts.

Finally, a day later the other two convict transports, the Scarborough and the Neptune offloaded their cargo.

Of the 1038 convicts forced onto the Surprize, the Scarborough and the Neptune, only 756 arrived alive in Sydney. Another 124 would die within days of landing in the colony. Unlike the First Fleet, which carried more than 1400 convicts and marines losing 69 lives, including those lost while still in port in England, the welfare of Second Fleet convicts was shameful.

The major difference between the two fleets was that the Second Fleet was under the command of shipping contractors. Whereas the First Fleet had officers inspecting the quality and quantity of food provided to convicts, the Second Fleet left that job to the master of the contracted ship.

The Times newspaper in England reported on the outrage. The story detailed that the Second Fleet contractors were paid for every convict loaded, not for delivery of living or able-bodied convicts. Thus the more that died, the more the contractors profited.

In Sydney the colony’s appointed clergyman Reverend Johnson reported seeing the bodies of the dead thrown overboard, and others dying on deck or whilst being rowed to shore. He wrote, “Great numbers were not able to walk, nor move a hand or foot, such were slung over the ship side in the same manner as they would sling a cask . . .”

Despite all this, the colony was buoyed by the arrival of food supplies as attempts to harvest their own had been largely unsuccessful. The settlers had been forced to survive off meagre stocks farmed from sub-colony Norfolk Island. Other provisions had been shipped in from Cape Town, South Africa, via the First Fleet vessel the Sirius. The Supply mentioned earlier returned from Indonesia three months after the arrival of the Lady Juliana.

Still the colony would struggle with most of its inhabitants incapable and unwilling to sustain themselves in a foreign land. Such was the desire to leave, that authorities set about making it near impossible for convicts who had served their sentences, to afford to make their own way back to England. The British Government also took measures to encourage marines and free settlers from England to stay on. Instructions were given that free land be given to any settlers who emigrated. They also stipulated that non commissioned officers staying on in Australia could take up to 100 acres, with privates offered up to 50 acres.

Much of the content above is taken from David Hill’s national bestseller 1788, The Brutal Truth Of The First Fleet. 

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