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Tracking the First Fleet From Sydney to Macau — Manuscript Chart from the First Transport Voyage to Australia

Previously unknown manuscript chart showing the track of part of the First Fleet as it journeyed from Port Jackson to Macao after landing the convict colonists in Australia. The manuscript chart is drawn on the verso of a rare first state of a Sayer & Bennett printed chart of the South African coast.

The chart was almost certainly drawn by an officer aboard one of the two ships that sailed from Port Jackson to Macao, departing May 5-6, 1788.  These were the Charlotte and the Scarborough.  

The manuscript chart shows the progress of the ship as it left Port Jackson, near the bottom of the chart, sailed to Lord Howe Island, and then out into the Pacific. The track returns to the page at an unnamed shoal, which is known as Charlotte’s Bank, and then again at Lord Mulgrave’s Island, today Mile Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The ship then heads to the Ladrones, or the Marianas, skirts Tinian, and then sails east.

The chart includes magnetic variation measurements along the ship’s route. It also has coordinate calculations at the bottom of the sheet, along with notes that say, “no compression allowed,” and “all degrees of lat & long are alike not a Mercator chart.” These marginal remarks and figures again suggest that a trained officer made the chart.

The chart is quite similar to one that would be published in the Philip account of the First Fleet, The voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay with an account of the establishment of the colonies of Port Jackson & Norfolk Island (London: J. Stockdale, 1789). The printed chart was based on a manuscript map by John Marshall of the Scarborough and this is likely one of the sources for or is related to that printed document.

The manuscript chart is drawn on the verso of a first edition of Sayer & Bennett's chart of the coast of Southern Africa, first published in November 1781. This chart is itself rare.

The first edition pre-dates the addition of the tracks of the Worchester under the direction of Captain Hall in 1786; this state was issued in about 1788 with a different title. The present example includes three insets: “A Plan of Saldanha Bay geometrically surveyed in 1752,” “A Plan of Da Lagoa Bay called by the Portuguese Bahia de Lourenzo Marques, and by the French Baye du St. Espirit;” and “A View of the Cape of Good Hope.”

The First Fleet

Soon after the Endeavour’s encounter with Botany Bay during James Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771), Joseph Banks and others wondered at the potential of western Australia as the site of a penal colony. When the American Revolution disrupted convict transport to North America, officials in Britain again took up the topic. They rejected two proposed sites in South Africa in favor of shipping convicts to New South Wales, over 20,000 kilometers from Britain’s shores.

The plan was approved in August 1786. To lead the ships that were to take the first load of convicts to Australia, Lord Sydney, Home Secretary, turned to Arthur Phillip, a 47-year-old naval captain. Phillip had enjoyed a quiet, yet lively career up to that point as a sailor and a spy. He was a skilled linguist and administrator who threw himself into preparations for the coming voyage.

After nine months, Philip and his fleet were ready to sail. His command would include eleven ships. Two were naval vessels, HMS Sirius and HMS Supply. The other nine were civilian ships: Alexander, Scarborough, Charlotte, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales, Borrowdale, Fishburn, and Golden Grove. The last three were supply ships, while the first six were prisoner transports; together they carried over 700 convicts and 600 civilians, sailors, and Marines to begin a new colony.

The voyage set off from England on May 13, 1787. The fleet sailed first to Rio, where they took on fresh food and supplies. Then, they crossed to the Cape of Good Hope, where they purchased live stock and seeds. They left southern Africa in late November. All the ships survived the tumultuous seas of the roaring forties and landed at Botany Bay within three days of each other, from January 18 to 20, 1788.

Phillip quickly realized that Botany Bay would not serve the purposes of a penal colony and port. Instead, he scouted ten miles to the north, at Port Jackson. It was there that the settlement took root, at a place Phillip called Sydney after the Home Secretary. Meanwhile, the British ships met with the Boussole and Astrolabe, of the Lapèrouse expedition; it seems they arrived to claim eastern Australia just in time, as the French were also interested in the area.

Phillip, his officers, and the convicts moved quickly to set up living quarters and to plant crops and gardens. However, the first few years of the colony were rough. The settlers were on the verge of starvation and food was often rationed. By 1792, however, the penal colony was firmly established and Phillip gave up his position as governor of the colony.

The accompanying vessels, however, left much sooner. The first to sail were the Scarborough and the Charlotte, which met the Lady Penrhyn and the Supply at Lord Howe Island.

The Charlotte and the Scarborough in the Pacific

The Charlotte and the Scarborough had been chartered by the East India Company to sail to China to take on tea after unloading their convict cargo in Australia. Rather than sail directly to China, however, the captains, Gilbert in the Charlotte and Marshall in the Scarborough, agreed to stay in consort with each other and to probe the open Pacific to the northeast.

They left Lord Howe Island in mid-May 1788. They threaded northeast and sighted many islands which they named after patrons and colleagues. The island group became known as the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, even though the captains did not land on the islands themselves. They did trade with local peoples, however, making important contacts in the region. They then arced west through the Marianas and arrived at Canton on September 8, 1788, 126 days after leaving Port Jackson. It is this portion of the voyage that is recorded on the manuscript map shared here.

Condition Description
Slightly trimmed at the right edge with loss of some manuscript image.
Nigel Rigby, Pieter van der Merwe, and Glyn Williams, Pacific Exploration: Voyages of Discovery from Captain Cook's Endeavour to the Beagle (Adlard Coles, 2018), ch. 3; Arthur Phillip, The voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay with an account of the establishment of the colonies of Port Jackson & Norfolk Island (London: J. Stockdale, 1789); Thomas Gilbert, Voyage from New South Wales to Canton, in the Year 1788 (London: J. Debrett, 1789). KAP. Many thanks to Simon Dewez for his research on this item.
Robert Sayer Biography

Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794) was a prominent London map publisher. Robert’s father was a lawyer, but his older brother married Mary Overton, the widow of prominent mapmaker Philip Overton and the proprietor of his shop after his death. Mary continued the business for roughly a year after her marriage and then, in early 1748, it passed to Robert. Robert became a freeman of the Stationers’ Company later that year; his first advertisement as an independent publisher was released in December.

Sayer benefited from Overton’s considerable stock, which included the plates of John Senex. In the 1750s, Sayer specialized in design books and topographical prints, as well as comic mezzotints. In 1753, he, along with John Roque, published a new edition of Thomas Read’s Small British Atlas, the first of several county atlases that Sayer would publish.  

Sayer’s business continued to grow. In 1760 he moved further down Fleet Street to larger premises at 53 Fleet Street. In 1766, he acquired Thomas Jefferys’ stock when the latter went bankrupt. In 1774, he entered into a partnership with John Bennett, his former apprentice. The pair specialized in American atlases, based on the work of Jefferys. They also began publishing navigational charts in the 1780s and quickly became the largest supplier of British charts in the trade.

Bennett’s mental health declined, and the partnership ended in 1784. As Sayer aged, he relied on his employees Robert Laurie and James Whittle, who eventually succeeded him. He spent more and more time at his house in Richmond. In 1794, he died in Bath.   

John Bennett Biography

John Bennett (fl. 1760-d. 1787) was a London printer best known for his role in the successful partnership of Sayer & Bennett. In 1760, Bennett became a servant of Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794), the prominent print and map seller, and was apprenticed to him in 1765. In 1774, Bennett became a free journeyman and entered into a partnership with Sayer. They issued joint advertisements and publications. In 1777, Bennett owned 1/3 share in the business. The partnership was likely to continue fruitfully, but in 1781 Bennett began to show signs of mental illness. In 1783, he was admitted to an asylum for nine months and, in 1784, Sayer filed papers to dissolve their business partnership. Bennett died in 1787.