Prisoners were gathered from counties throughout England including Wiltshire, Devonshire, Surry, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somersetshire, and Middlesex. Many had already been incarcerated for several years in various prisons under appalling conditions and were in a poor state of health.
Magnify the map above by scrolling then click on the ship icons to read accounts from First Fleet Journals. Each of the eleven ships is represented by a different colour. Enlarge the map using the icon on the top right. Select here to find out more about this map
Before the Fleet Set Sail
Of the twenty women to be embarked on the Charlotte, six had been tried in Exeter. Mary Broad, Elizabeth Cole, Jane Meech, Catherine Fryer and Mary Shepherd were all tried on 20th March 1786. The sixth, Margaret Stewart was tried in August.
The female prisoner mentioned below was also tried at Exeter on the very same day as the above women. Perhaps they were all held together in the same gaol at Exeter.....
John Howard described the Devonshire High Gaol at Exeter.......I had the pleasure to find that the proprietor, John Denny Roll Esq. has given 1000 pounds towards a new gaol, which will be now under the direction of the county magistrates by an Act of Parliament. Neither the late gaoler, Waber, who died of the gaol-fever, nor his widow who kept the gaol one year after him, nor the present gaoler have received any money from the county for the fees of acquitted prisoners, according to the act, though they have paid Mr. Follet, the clerk of the crown, his demand for the Judges' Calendars. - There were three women in their sick room, and I was surprised at finding with them a shoe-maker at work at his trade. On inquiring into the cause, I was informed that he was the husband of one of the women who was committed Sept. 1st 1785, and On the 20th of March 1786 was sentenced to be transported for seven years, for stealing a calf's skin. In Nov. 1786 she was ordered to the hulk at Plymouth, but on account of lameness contracted by a fever in the gaol, she could not be removed: a fine child, which is her fifteenth, was born in the prison. Her husband persisted in declaring he would never leave her, but would go abroad with her. Such constancy of affection in prisons is very uncommon in men, though I have frequently found it in the other sex. - But by the kindness of Lord Sydney, the woman received a free pardon Dec. 27th, 1787 : and I since learn that this couple are useful and worthy members of the community.
Male prisoners for the Charlotte and Friendship were transferred to the hulk Dunkirk at Plymouth to await embarkation where they were kept on salt provisions.
John Howard, English prison reformer, inspecting French galley prisoners at work. Howard League for Prison Reform named after him. Wood engraving c 1880. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)
It is interesting to note John Howard's account of the Dunkirk in An Account of the Principal Lazarrettos in Europe in which he describes the male prisoners in the Dunkirk as fine young fellows.....
The Hulk at Plymouth
November 10th, 1787, the convicts at Plymouth dock were on board the hulk of the Chatham, a seventy gun ship and were healthy and well; but the Dunkirk, which is more commodious, was repairing for them. Their bread, beef and beer were good; but the bread allowance of 4lb. a day to six men, is not sufficient. There were among them many fine young fellows, who all lived in total idleness, though some useful employment might here easily be found. There were ninety two men and one woman nine more convicts were coming on board from the gaol at Glamorgan. 
...Items of clothing issued on the Dunkirk hulk, 1 December 1784 National Archives(T 1/613)
John White's Journal
Surgeon John White wrote of his first days with the Fleet in his journal..........
March 1787. 5th. I this day left London, charged with dispatches from the Secretary of State's office, and from the Admiralty, relative to the embarkation of that part of the marines and convicts intended for Botany Bay; and on the evening of the seventh, after travelling two days of the most incessant rain I ever remember, arrived at Plymouth, where the Charlotte and Friendship transports were in readiness to receive them. General Collins, commander in chief at that port, lost no time in carrying the orders I had brought into execution: so that on the morning of the ninth the detachment of marines were on board, with all the baggage. But the next day being ushered in with a very heavy gale of wind, made it impracticable to remove the convicts from on board the Dunkirk prison ship, where they were confined. So violent was the gale, that his Majesty's ship the Druid, of thirty-two guns, was forced to cut away her main-mast to prevent her driving on shore.
The weather being moderate the following day, the convicts were put on board the transports, and placed in the different apartments allotted for them; all secured in irons, except the women. In the evening, as there was but little wind, we were towed by the boats belonging to the guardships out of the Hamaoze, where the Dunkirk lay, into Plymouth Sound. When this duty was completed, the boats returned; and the wind now freshening so as to enable us to clear the land, we proceeded to Spithead, where we arrived the seventeenth, and anchored on the Mother Bank, among the rest of the transports and victuallers intended for the same expedition, under the conduct of his Majesty's ship the Sirius.
Before long, according to John White, false and inflammatory accounts from the newspapers began to circulate reporting alarming incidences of illness and fatality on the transports lying at the Motherbank and estimated even that not more than one in five prisoners would survive the voyage. John White recorded that they were inundated with letters of enquiry and commiseration from all quarters and he took every step to remove fears by assurances that the whole fleet was in as good a state of health and as few in it would be found to be ill at that cold season of the year as even in the most healthy situation on shore. Despite these assurances and the fact that there was apparently no malignant disease on board, and that John White had taken immediate steps to ensure the salt diet of the Dunkirk was exchanged for fresh provisions which improved the health of the convicts considerably, the rumours persisted.
It was also reported that early in April when the ships were lying at the Motherbank, they were ordered into the harbour to prepare for fumigation
This also was apparently untrue although John White did organise for the vessels to be white washed with quick lime the parts of the ships where the convicts were confined, which would be the means of correcting and preventing the unwholesome dampness which usually appeared on the beams and sides of the ships.
Watkin Tench wrote of the positive outlook of all on the expedition....
The marines and convicts having been previously embarked in the River, at Portsmouth, and Plymouth, the whole fleet destined for the expedition rendezvoused at the Mother Bank, on the 16th of March 1787, and remained there until the 13th of May following. In this period, excepting a slight appearance of contagion in one of the transports, the ships were universally healthy, and the prisoners in high spirits. Few complaints or lamentations were to be heard among them, and an ardent wish for the hour of departure seemed generally to prevail
On the eve of the departure of the Fleet the Times reported of the intention as soon as the settlement was established to send out two ships every year with convicts to populate the new colony and to be rid of a set of people whom the over cloyed country vomits forth. The transportation to Botany Bay has the advantage of the former mode of transportation to America in securing the kingdom from the dread of being again infested with these pernicious members of society 
......In the mean time the convicts not sent on the First Fleet were to be employed at Woolwich in raising ballast and on board the prison ships at Portsmouth and Plymouth, in picking oakum and spinning rope yard.
The Marines forming the guard on the Charlotte included Captain Watkin Tench, Lieutenant Cresswell and Lieutenant Poulden. There were three serjeants, three corporals, a drum and fife player and thirty-four privates who all embarked at Plymouth.
Many years later (General) Watkin Tench took great delight in regaling younger Officers at the Marine Barracks at Plymouth or at the dinner tables of hospitable inhabitants of Plymouth of his adventures on this momentous expedition. One of those diners was Cyrus Redding who was impressed enough with the recollections to remember them many years later. He wrote of General Tench's thoughts on the female convicts of the First Fleet ....
It was amusing to hear the General relate the conduct of some of the convicts, of whom they had seven hundred men and women under their care. The women behaved much more heroically than the men, being far less depressed in mind, a thing for which he could in no way account. Perhaps they were less thoughtful of their position, and regarded their native land with less affection. They could descend no lower in a social sense, and therefore found a species of consolation in the thought, that flinging off a care for reputation, they were comforted with the line of the poet...'Creation's tenant, all the world is mine'. The men were in chains when they set sail; perhaps that contributed to their downcast feeling.
David Collins wrote.....The convicts, for whose disposal this speculation was undertaken, consisted of 565 men and 192 women; and every necessary arrangement having been made by the naval and military commanders, which seemed best calculated to ensure a fortunate termination to the voyage, on Sunday, the 13th May 1787, the little fleet, which had previously collected at the Mother Bank, sailed with a leading wind through the Needle Passage, accompanied by the honourable Captain De Courcy, in the Hyaena frigate.
The Hyaena, of 20 guns, sailing under Captain Michael de Courcy was ordered to accompany the fleet 100 leagues to the westward.
John White also recorded the momentous day in his journal.....
13th May. This morning the Sirius and her convoy weighed again, with an intention of going through St. Helen's; but the wind being fair for the Needles, we ran through them, with a pleasant breeze. The Charlotte, Captain Gilbert, on board of which I was, sailing very heavy, the Hyaena took us in tow, until she brought us ahead of the Sirius, and then cast us off.
While at Rio de Janeiro in August, Commodore Philip ordered six female convicts, who had behaved well, to be removed from the Friendship into the Charlotte; and at the same time an equal number, whose conduct was more exceptionable, to be returned to the Friendship in their stead. The commodore's view was (a matter not easily accomplished) to separate those whose decent behaviour entitled them to some favour from those who were totally abandoned and obdurate
Voyage From Rio De Janeiro
In correspondence from an Officer on one of the vessels the following account of the voyage after leaving Rio is related:
'We left Rio Janeiro the 4th August 1787 nothing material happened until the 19th when a convict fell overboard from the Charlotte transport, and in despite of every effort to save him, was drowned.' This was William Brown, a very well behaved man who was hanging out washing when he fell overboard, the ship passing over him.
'From that time to the 25th (August), we had bad weather, rain and heavy lightning. On the 3rd September, we discovered an intent among the seamen of our ship to mutiny; but by the timely exertions of the Commodore and officers, the ringleader was punished and we were happily relieved from danger. At this time the Charlotte had 30 sick, and the rest of the ships, crew, marines, and convicts, had many ill; but by the blessing of God, soon after, the weather clearing up the sick were sent upon deck, which method, with the cleanliness preserved throughout the fleet, proved restorative, health was reinstated among us, and we prosecuted our voyage in high spirits; about this time some female convicts on board different ships, increased the number of souls by an addition of seven children; our Doctor baptized them on an appointed day, and the weather being exceeding fine, the christenings were kept on board the respective ships with great glee, an additional allowance of grog being distributed to the crews of those ships where the births took place.'
On 4th September surgeon John White remarked that Thomas Brown, a convict, was punished with a dozen lashes for behaving insolently to one of the officers of the ship. This was the first (convict) to receive any punishment since their embarkation on board the Charlotte.
On the evening of 8th September, a dark day of heavy showers, John White recorded that convict Mary Broad was delivered of a fine girl. Mary Broad called her daughter Charlotte after the ship however the little girl was not long in the world. Read of her fate here.
Arrival At Table Bay
The correspondent continued.....'On the 12th October to our great joy we made Table Bay, and our Commodore having ordered the signal to be thrown out for all the ships to come into his wake, the Captains received their instructions for the disposition in which the fleet was entered and moored. They immediately hoisted their colours saluting the Commodore as they passed by, sailing into the Bay. Joy now beamed in every countenance, and we congratulated each other on the pleasing prospect of plenty of fresh provisions with great 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.'
At Table Bay thanks to the persistence of Governor Philipthey 'obtained supplies of corn, sheep and other stock and various necessaries. Unfortunately the quantity they could find room for fell very short of what was needed to have taken in as the only spare room was what had been used by the consumption of provisions since they had left Rio and the removal of twenty female convicts from the Friendship into the Charlotte, the Lady Penrhyn and the Prince of Wales.'
Late in December John White remarked that....... scurvy began to show itself on the Charlotte, mostly among those who had the dysentery to a violent degree; but I was pretty well able to keep it under by a liberal use of the essence of malt and some good wine, which ought not to be classed among the most indifferent antiscorbutics. For the latter we were indebted to the humanity of Lord Sydney and Mr. Nepean. 
They first sighted land on 7th January 1788......
Early in the morning the Lady Penrhyn made the signal for seeing land; but it only proved to be a fog-bank; a circumstance that often deceives the anxious mariner. About two o'clock in the afternoon the Prince of Wales, being the headmost ship, made the same signal. The Charlotte being next in succession, the signal was scarcely displayed before we also discovered it very plainly through the haze, and repeated the signal, which was answered by the Sirius.
Arrival At Botany Bay
By the 19th January 1788 the Charlotte had arrived at Botany Bay......
In the evening we saw the land over Red Point, bearing W. by N. the extremes of the land from S.S.W. to N. We were then about three leagues from the shore, and, finding it unlikely to get in that night, Captain Hunter made the signal for the convoy to come within hail, when he acquainted them that the entrance into Botany Bay bore N.N.W: adding that for the night he intended to stand off and on, and early in the morning make sail for the bay.
Botany Bay was found unsuitable - the soil was poor and water scarce and on the 21st January Governor Phillip accompanied by officers set off in three open boats to examine the coast in the hope of finding a more suitable site for settlement. Finding in a cove of 'this noble and capacious harbour' a sufficiency of water and soil, he returned to Botany Bay after an absence of 3 days and gave directions for immediate removal to Port Jackson.
At Sydney Cove Governor Philip and Officers raised the British flag and took formal possession. Later, on the evening of the 26th January more people were landed and the whole assembled where they had first landed and a union jack had been displayed. The marines fired several vollies and toasts to the health of His Majesty and the success of the new colony were given. The women remained on the ships until the 6th February.
Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth of the Lady Penrhyn kept a journal during the voyage. He described the day in February when all the women were landed from the various vessels:
Wednesday 6th February 1788..... This day at 5 o'clock, all things were got in order for landing the whole of the women, and three of the ship's longboats came alongside of us to receive them; previous to their going out of the ship, a strict search was made to try if any of the many things which they had stolen on board could be found, but their artifice eluded the most strict search, and at six o'clock p.m. we had the long wished for pleasure of seeing the last of them leave the ship.
They were dressed in general very clean, and some few amongst them might be said to be well dressed. The convicts got to them very soon after their landing and the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night may be better conceived than expressed.
Select here to read more from the journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth at the National Library of Australia.
Convicts arriving on the Charlotte included James Squire, James Bloodsworth and Thomas Barrett.
Thomas Barrett was the first person to be executed in Australia. He is believed to have produced the Charlotte Medal a silver medallion depicting the vessel Charlotte at anchor in Botany Bay on the day of arrival, 20 January 1788.
Read the story of Thomas Barrett and the Charlotte Medal at the National Museum Australia
Departure From The Colony
The Charlotte and the Scarborough departed New South Wales in company in May 1788. The next convict ship to arrive in New South Wales after the First Fleet was the Lady Juliana.
Female Prisoners Transported On The Charlotte
Fanny (Frances) Anderson - Tried Winchester 7th March 1786. Married Simon Burn/Byrne in February 1788
Elizabeth Bason (Hatherly);- Tried at Salisbury, Wiltshire 24 July 1784. Married James Hatherly. Departed the colony on the Providence bound for NZ in 1796.
Mary Braund (Bryant) Tried Exeter in 20th March 1786. Select here to read of her escape from the colony in 1791
Ann Carey Tried Taunton in 1786. Stowed away on the Providence in 1796
Mary Cleaver Tried Bristol 1786. Married John Baughan in February 1788.
Elizabeth Cole Tried Exeter 20th March 1786
Ann Coombes Tried Taunton, Somerset 1786
Jane Fitzgerald Tried Bristol 1786
Eleanor Frazer / Redchester Tried in Manchester in 1787
Hannah Jackson Tried in Bristol in 1785; sentenced to 7 years; wife of Jeremiah Dunnage at Richmond
Margaret Jones Tried Wiltshire in 1783
Ann Lynch Tried in Bristol in 1786. Wife of Thomas Williams South head road
Jane Meach (Meech) Tried Exeter in 20th March 1786
Mary Phillips Tried Taunton, Somerset in 1786
Jane Poole Tried Wells Somerset in 1786
Catherine Pryor/Fryer; Tried Exeter 20th March 1786
Mary Shepherd/ Eaton Tried in Exeter 20th March 1786
Ann Smith Tried in Winchester in 1785 Sentence 7 years; Wife of William Smith of Parramatta.
Hannah Smith Tried in Winchester in 1785 Sentence 7 years.
Margaret Stewart or Stuart Tried in Exeter in 28th August 1786
Mary Wickham Tried in Wiltshire in 1783
Notes and Links
1). Escape from the Colony in 1791 - In March 1791 the above mentioned Mary Broad together with her husband William Bryant, James Martin and several other convicts made a daring and now famous escape from the colony. An account of the escape is attributed to James Martin.Select here to read of their remarkable escape from the colony in 1791.
3). More about Captain Marshall....In the transport Scarborough sailed from Port Jackson bound to China May 6th, 1788, being engaged to take in a cargo of tea by the East India Company. For a considerable part of the voyage he found himself in company with the Charlotte, Captain Gilbert, the latter discovered and named Matthew rock, Charlotte bank, and several of the Gilbert group which bears his name. Captain Marshall, in like manner, fell in with and named after himself, the Marshall islands. Both vessels touched at Tinian of the Ladrone islands, previously discovered by Lord Anson, to recruit the health of their men, who had suffered greatly from scurvy, and to procure water. A heavy S.W. gale which afterwards ripened into a hurricane, rendered it necessary for both vessels to cut their cables and proceed to sea. Macao roads were arrived at 7th September, 1788, without any further noteworthy occurrence taking place. - Voyage to Botany Bay, with an account of the establishment of the colonies of Port Jackson, and Norfolk island, and the Journals of Lieutenants Shortland, Watt, and Capt. Marshall, with accounts of their discoveries.
Total of 4 Captains; 12 Lieutenants; 12 Serjeants; 12 Corporals; 8 Drum and Fife ; 160 privates; 40 wives of marines permitted to sail also
Lady Penryn - Captain Campbell + 3 Privates to embark at Portsmouth. Officers Lieut. G. Johnston; Lieut. William Collins ;
Scarborough - Captain Shea + 26 Privates to embark at Portsmouth. Officers Lieut. Kellow; ;Lieut. Morrison ;
Friendship - Capt. Lieut. Meredith + 36 Privates to embark at Plymouth. Officers Lieut. Clarke; Lieut. Faddy
Charlotte - Captain Tench + 34 Privates to embark at Plymouth. Officers Lieut. Cresswell; Lieut. Poulden ;
Alexander - Lieut. J. Johnston + 30 Privates to embark at Woolwich. Officer: Lieut. Shairp. ;
Prince of Wales - Lieut. Davy + 25 privates ;Officer - Lieut. Timmins. Provost Martial ;
-The History of New Holland from its first discovery in 1616 - William Eden Auckland 1787
11). Peter Despourrins was one of the sailors on board the Hyaena the vessel that escorted the First Fleet out of the Channel in 1787......
He entered the Navy, 30 Sept. 1787, as a Servant, on board the Hyaena 20, Capts. Hon. Mich. De Courcy and John Aylmer; under the former of whom, we believe, he soon afterwards, as Midshipman, escorted clear of the Channel the first party of convicts ever sent to New South Wales. In July, 1793, he rejoined Capt. De Courcy, as Master's Mate, in the Pearl; on removing from which ship to the Alfred 74, Capt. Thos. Drury, he assisted at the capture, in the course of 1796, of the island of St. Lucia, and of the French frigates La Farorite of 22, and La Renommee of 44 guns. After a continued servitude of 14 months in the West Indies on board the Dictator 64, Capts. Wm. Geo. Rutherford and Thos. Western, and Prince of Wales 98, flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey, he was promoted, 27 Dec. 1797, to a Lieutenancy in the Madras. In that ship (with the exception of a few months in 1801, when he was lent to the Kent 74, Capt. Lord Edw. O'Bryen, off Alexandria) he continued to serve, under Capts. John Dilkes, Chas. Hare, Thos. Briggs, and Chas. Marsh Schomberg, on the Home, East India, and Mediterranean stations, until July, 1807. We subsequently find him employed, from 14 Dec. 1807 to 15 June, 1808, and from 16 April, 1810, to 26 Jan. 1811, as First-Lieutenant of the Bellerophon 74, and of the Adamsterdam, the former ship commanded by Capt. Edw. Rotheram in the Channel fleet. Commander Despourrins, who has not since been afloat, was placed on the Junior List of Retired Commanders 1 Dec. 1830, and was promoted to the Senior List 1 June, 1841. - A Naval Biographical Dictionary: Comprising the Life and Services of every living Officer in Her Majesty's Navy By William R. O'Byrne
12). Sydney Cove 1788
The above sketch by Captain Hunter, was made on 20th August 1788 or about seven months after the British colours were first unfurled. The picture shows in front the site on which the official residences were first planted; this was a little to the east of the end of what became Pitt street north and a little further south than Circular Quay. In the small bight where the land on each side slopes down to a point in the middle of the sketch the once famous Tank Stream that supplied Sydney with water, emptied itself into the Cove. The water which occupies the fore part of the picture shallowed in the course of years and became an unwholesome muddy beach which was eventually filled up. The space became occupied by the level land abutting circular quay. Pitt Street runs from a spot between the flagstaff shown in the engraving and the place where the small stream flows from between the hills into the cove. At the time the drawing was taken temporary barracks had been erected. The huts were composed of soft wood of the cabbage palm, others of upright post wattled with twigs and plastered with clay. One of the most substantial buildings was an hospital, which was on the land shown to the right in the picture, and in the same locality a small observatory had been raised. The first farm was formed on land eastward of the landscape given in this illustration, the space being now partially occupied by the Botanic Gardens.