The first English explorer to set foot on Australian soil was William Dampier who landed on the coast of Western Australia near King Sound in 1688. On his return to England, Dampier published an account of his journey and was subsequently sent on a second journey to New Holland in 1699, during which he chartered the Western Australia coast and published a second account which was definitely not favourable.
The second Englishman to explore the Australian coast was Captain James Cook who chartered the East coast after sighting land near Cape Everard in 1770. Cook captained the Endeavour and was accompanied by a young naturalist known as Joseph Banks. The Endeavour landed in Botany Bay 9 days after that first sighting and he named this area after the rich and varied plant life that he found. Botany Bay is now the home of Sydney. Captain Cook's more favourable reports of this Eastern coastline resulted in the decision to transport convicts to Australia and ease the overcrowded English gaols.
The first fleet set sail from England on Sunday 13 May 1787, bound for the East Coast of Australia. The first fleet consisted of six convict ships (the Alexander, the Charlotte, the Lady Penrhyn, the Friendship, the Prince of Wales, and the Scarborough), three supply ships (the Fishburn, the Borrowdale, and the Golden Grove), and two warships (HMS Sirius and HMS Supply). These eleven ships carried 756 convicts (564 men and 192 women), and 550 officers, marines, ships crew, and their families. There were only 23 deaths on this voyage which was commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip who later became the first Governer of New South Wales from 1788-1792. During the voyage the fleet stopped at Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, and Cape Town to replenish food supplies before finally arriving in Botany Bay on January 18, 1788. However, Botany Bay was not considered a suitable location for settlement and the new colony was moved to Port Jackson where Captain Phillip hoisted the British flag on the shores of Sydney Cove (close to where the Sydney Opera House now stands) on January 26th 1788.
The convicts who were sentanced to survive the harsh land of Australia were petty criminals who were a result of the poor conditions in England at that time. Most were sectanced to 7 or 14 years in the penal colony for crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread. But it was these same convicts and the strong first settlers that eventually tamed the country but not after first suffering terrible hardships. The tools sent with the first fleet were of a very poor standard, womens clothing was also of extremely poor quality, lack of food was a major problem and there were ongoing disputes between settlers and Aborigines. Despite the hardships, the settlement had grown by 1792 to include brick cottages for the officers, convict huts, storehouses, a hospital and Government House. The second settlement at Parramatta soon followed.
By 1805 the standard of living in the new colony had greatly improved and now included settlements in Tasmania as well as New South Wales. Under Governor Macquarie (1810-1821) an extensive building program resulted in the completion of 265 major building projects and the settlement of many more areas. First settlement in the other states was started in Queensland in 1824, Western Australia in 1829, Victoria in 1835, and South Australia in 1836.
Transportation of convicts to New South Wales ended in 1840 and transportation to Tasmania ended in 1853 but by this time there had been a total of 165,000 convicts transported to Australian shores.
Settlement of the interior of Australia soon followed and it is to one of these first settlers that Australians owe a great debt. That settler was John Macquarie who cross bred English sheep with Spanish Marino rams, resulting in the finest wool ever seen before.
I would also like to make mention on this page of another English ship which set sail from England in 1787. This story is not closely related to Australia but does hold quite a fascination for me. The ship I am mentioning is the Bounty which was led by William Bligh who had been on Cook's last voyage. Bligh may well have been one of the greatest seamen who ever lived despite his harsh and tyrannical portrayal. The Bounty arrived in Tahiti 10 months later and collected more than 1000 breadfruit plants destined for the Caribbean. During the 5 months spent in Tahiti, Bligh allowed his crew to live on the island and they consequently turned native. Just two weeks after setting sail again, Fletcher Christian, who was the first mate and had married in Tahiti, led a mutiny in which 18 crewmen plus Bligh were set adrift in a longboat. The longboat eventually made it to safety with the loss of only one life while the mutineers, their wives, girlfriends, and several Tahitian men settled on Pitcairn Island where they remained undiscovered for 25 years. In that time all but one, Alexander Smith, had perished at the hands of each other or the Tahitian men. Their descentants still live on this island today.