Conditions in England in the 18th century were tough: the industrial revolution had removed many people’s opportunities to earn an honest wage as simpler tasks were replaced by machine labour.
As unemployment rose, so did crime, especially the theft of basic necessities such as food and clothing. The British prison system was soon full to overflowing, and a new place had to be found to ship the prison inmates.
The American colonies were no longer viable, following the American war of Independence. Following Captain Cook’s voyage to the South Pacific, the previously uncharted continent of New Holland proved to be suitable.
The plan to send a colony of convicts and officers to New South Wales was first authorised on 6 December 1784.
Within two years, the formal decision was made to send a colonisation party of convicts, military and civilian personnel specifically to Botany Bay, New South Wales, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, who was appointed Governor-designate.
The First Fleet consisted of 775 convicts on board six transport ships, accompanied by officials, crew, marines and their families who together totalled 645. As well as the convict transports, there were two naval escorts and three storeships.
Transportation of convicts to Australia began when the first ship departed Portsmouth, England, in May 1787, and ended when the last convict ship left Britain in 1867 and arrived in Australia on 10 January 1868.