At eight in the evening the ships got under way, and at day-break on the following morning sail was crowded for Botany Bay.
AT BOTANY BAY.
When, in 1787, the British Government entrusted Captain Arthur Phillip with a commission to establish a colony at Botany Bay, New South Wales, they gave him explicit directions as to where he should locate the settlement. “According to the best information which we have obtained,” his instructions read, “Botany Bay appears to be the most eligible situation upon the said coast for the first establishment, possessing a commodious harbour and other advantages which no part of the said coast hitherto discovered affords.” But Phillip was a trustworthy man who, in so serious a matter as the choice of a site for a town, did not follow blindly the commands of respectable elderly gentlemen thousands of miles away. It was his business to found a settlement successfully. To do that he must select the best site.
After examining Botany Bay, he decided to take a trip up the coast and see if a better situation could not be found. On the 21st January, 1788, he entered Port Jackson with three boats, and found there “the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security.” He fixed upon a cove “which I honoured with the name of Sydney.” and decided that that was there he would “plant.” Every writer of mediaeval history who has had occasion to refer to the choice by Constantine the Great of Byzantium, afterwards Constantinople, as his capital, has extolled his judgment and prescience. Constantine was an Emperor, and could do as he would. Arthur Phillip was an official acting under orders. We can never sufficiently admire the wisdom he displayed when, exercising his own discretion, he decided upon Port Jackson. True, he had a great opportunity, but his signal merit is that he grasped it when it was presented, that he gave more regard to the success of his task than to the letter of his instructions.
While he was making the search, the eleven vessels composing the First Fleet lay in Botany Bay. He returned on the evening of the 23rd, and immediately gave orders that the whole company should as soon as possible sail for Port Jackson, declaring it to be, in King’s quaint words, “a very proper place to form an establisht. in.”
To the great astonishment of the Fleet, on the 24th, two strange ships made their appearance to the south of Solander Point, a projection from the peninsula on which now stands the obelisk in memory of Cook’s landing. What could they be? Some guessed that they were English vessels with additional stores. Some supposed that they were Dutch, “coming after us to oppose our landing.” Nobody expected to see any ships in these untraversed waters, and we can easily picture the amazement of officers, crews, and convicts when the white sails appeared. The more timid speculated on the possibility of attack, and there were “temporary apprehensions, accompanied by a multiplicity of conjectures, many of them sufficiently ridiculous.”