Letters home | State Library of New South Wales

Letters home

By turns pessimistic, hopeful, lonely or desperate, the letters of those who travelled with the First Fleet are concerned with all aspects of the colony's growth and development, the convicts, perceptions of the officials, chronic food shorages, the growing settlement and contact with the Indigenous population.

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The number of surviving, personal letters of First Fleeters written to patrons, family and friends at home in Britain is, in reality, surprisingly extensive given the size of the literate population and the method of conveying letters by sea over many months.

Before the advent of an organised postal system between Britain and New South Wales, in 1809, First Fleeters entrusted their letters to the captains of ships sailing from Sydney Cove. The first letters were sent when the ships Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn and Scarborough departed the colony on 3 May 1788 followed by the Alexander, Borrowdale, Friendship and Prince of Wales on 14 July 1788. The last ships to leave, the Fishburn and Golden Grove, sailed on 19 November 1788. Only the Supply and Sirius remained.

The collections of the State Library include letters written by Captain of Marines, James Campbell, John Campbell, Master of the Supply, David Blackburn, French astronomer, Joseph Dagelet to William Dawes, first chaplain Reverend Richard Johnson, Governor Arthur Phillip, Midshipmen Newton Fowell and Henry Waterhouse. Officer of the Marines, Ralph Clark kept copies of many of his letters in a letterbook now held in the State Library.

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