Old Catalogue
Manuscripts, oral history and pictures catalogue
Adlib Internet Server 5
Try the new catalogue. Start exploring now ›


  • Title
    File 1: Margaret Blackburn letters received from her brother David Blackburn, 12 Mar. 1787-17 Mar. 1791
  • Call number
    SAFE/MLMSS 6937/1/1 (Safe 1/207)
  • Level of description
  • Date

    12 Mar. 1787-17 Mar. 1791
  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Issue Copy
    Microfilm : CY4084, frames 1-53
    Partly Digitised
  • Physical Description
    Textual Records - manuscript
  • Scope and Content
    This series of 14 autograph letters signed by David Blackburn to his sister comprises 8 letters written in London and Portsmouth describing the preparations for the departure of the First Fleet, 3 describing the course of the voyage and 3 written during the first three years of the colony.

    12 Mar. 1787; Black Bull [Inn, London]. Blackburn mentions that at the Navy Office he stands '226 on the list Consequently Cannot Come on the half Pay list yet. But Am high Enough up to be Calld to service'. On the advice of a friend, he thinks he will write to the Navy Board. 1 1/2 pp.
    6 Apr. 1787; London. Informs his sister that he has been appointed Master of His Majesty's Armed Tender Supply bound to Botany Bay and is setting out for Portsmouth that night to join his ship. He endeavoured to change his warrant, but was assured that 'If I Refused to go in her I should be Struck off the List & have no Claim to Employment till Every other Master had been Provided for by Rotation & that the Navy Board Considered it as a Particular mark of their favour to Employ me so Soon'. He shall only be paid as a Sixth Rate (5 pounds per month), even though he has passed for a Third Rate (7 pounds per month). His Aunt lent him 10 pounds with which he purchased 'A Dozen New Shirts - A Coat - 6 Pr Shoes - A dozen Pr Stockings some Charts of the Et Indies & South Seas'. The Commander of the Supply is to be Lieutenant Ball, an old ship mate of Blackburn's in the Victory. He expresses concern that a Code of Laws for the new establishment is not yet finished. 1 1/2 pp.
    10 Apr. 1787; Mr Lads, White hart, Point Street, Portsmouth. Blackburn tries to allay his sister's fears for his safety. He resolves to go through his duty 'with chearfullness', even though it is not a voyage he would have chosen. The date of departure is still not known and 'It is Generally Supposd We Shall be gone 3 or 4 Years'. He hopes that his sister may be able to visit him at Portsmouth before he leaves. 2 pp.
    15 Apr. 1787; Supply. Blackburn understands his sister's reasons for not coming to Portsmouth. 'We Must therefore Content ourselves with thinking of Each other till my Return.' The time of sailing is still uncertain. He is 'upon good friendly terms with Capt Ball'. He remarks that 'The Vessel I am in is Small & Rather Uncomfortable. but If we Are Happy Amongst our Selves that will not much Signify'. 1 p.
    19 Apr. 1787; Supply. Blackburn writes that the 'Governor has Settled All his Business in London & is Expected here this Week. If so we Shall sail in a few Days After his Arrival'. He continues to be on very friendly terms with his Captain and his 'Dislike to the Voyage begins gradually to wear off'. The fleet is expected to arrive at Botany Bay in January, having stopped at Madeira or Teneriffe and then the Cape of Good Hope, where they will take in wood, water and cattle. 1 1/2 pp.
    2 May 1787; Supply. Blackburn is still uncertain of the time of sailing, but it is generally believed to be towards the middle or end of the month. His personal pay cannot be received until he returns and no one can receive it except his agent, Benjamin Robertson, who is a clerk in the Navy Office. 1 p.
    6 May 1787; Portsmouth. Blackburn writes that Captain Phillip, who is to be Governor of Botany Bay, has arrived in Portsmouth so they expect to leave within the week, weather permitting. They have 'two Years Provisions of Every Species on Board wood & water Excepted'. Blackburn explains to his sister that the armed tender is a brig, commanded by a Lieutenant rather than a Captain. Blackburn is therefore next in command as the Master, followed by the surgeon ('who I think is a good Man - A Little Younger than Myself'), boatswain, gunner and then carpenter. If the Lieutenant becomes sick or receives a promotion, the command of the tender will devolve upon Blackburn. The Supply is expected to be employed 'surveying the Coast of new holland on that side Where We Build our fort & Land the Convicts - which will take a year at Least to make a Chart Tolerably Sufficient for the Press'. 2 pp.
    9 May 1787; Supply. A hasty note to say that Friday has been fixed as the day of sailing, if the wind permits. 1 p.

    5 June 1787; Teneriffe St Cruiz. Blackburn reports that they arrived in Teneriffe on 2 June 1787, 3 weeks after leaving Portsmouth. He comments that the convicts are generally all in good health and spirits 'As they Are not now Confind in Irons or kept Below the Decks, Under Certain Restrictions - Except Such As Are Refractory &c'. Water and wine are to be taken on board at Teneriffe. The plan for the remainder of the voyage is outlined, with further stops at Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope for supplies.
    2 Sept. 1787; Supply, Rio Janeiro on the Coast of South America. Blackburn gives an account of the voyage from Portsmouth, which began on 13 May 1787. He describes the fleet of 11 ships as comprising the Sirius of 24 guns with Captain Arthur Phillip on board, the Supply of 8 guns, 6 ships with convicts (596 men and 267 women) and 3 ships with stores and provisions. They left Teneriffe on 10 June 1787 and arrived at St Iago [Santiago Island], Cape Verde Islands, on 19 June, but were unable to anchor. They crossed the Equator on 15 July and arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 6 August. There follows a detailed description of Rio de Janeiro. Blackburn then reports on the good health of the convicts, 'Having in all from their first Embarkation Buried only 28 Men & two women & there has Been 8 or 10 Births - Chiefly females'. He attributes their health to the 'Humanity' of Governor Phillip and the constant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. 2 pp.
    9 Nov. 1787; Supply, Cape of Good Hope. Blackburn reports that they left Rio de Janeiro on 4 September and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on 14 October 'After A Pleasant Passage Across the Pacific Ocean'. They have continued to enjoy very good health. While at the Cape, they took in water and a large quantity of livestock for the Colony 'So that Could you See the Supply She would Put you in Mind of Noahs Ark. Except that we have No Woman on Board'. They expect to cover the 9000 miles to Botany Bay by the end of February or beginning of March. 1 p.

    12 July 1788; Supply, Sidney Cove, Port Jackson. Blackburn gives an account of the voyage from the Cape to Botany Bay. The fleet left the Cape on 13 November 1787. Governor Phillip, Lieutenant King and Lieutenant Dawes came on board the Supply and they went ahead of the fleet, reaching Van Diemen's Land on 3 January 1788 'having Run in 50 Days the Distance of Very Near 6000 Miles'. They arrived at Botany Bay at 4 pm on 19 January and the rest of the fleet arrived on 21 January. He describes the expedition of the Governor, Captain Hunter, the Master of the Sirius and himself to survey the harbour of Port Jackson, which they found 'Excellent & Extensive' and consequently moved the whole fleet there. The Governor named it 'Sidney Cove'. Blackburn then gives an account of the first voyage of Supply to Norfolk Island to establish a colony there 'With the Idea of Cultivating & Improving the Flax Plant & Cutting down Fir trees'. They sailed with Lieutenant King (who was to be superintendant and commandant of Norfolk Island), a surgeon, a midshipman, a master weaver, 9 male convicts and 6 female convicts. On the way, they discovered and named Lord Howe Island on 17 February. They arrived at Norfolk Island on 29 February, but encountered difficulties in landing. Blackburn then discovered a better place to land at the south end of the Island, which was named 'Sidney Bay' by Lieutenant King. The colony was landed with 6 months provisions on 6 March. On the return journey, the Supply took formal possession of Lord Howe Island and Lieutenant Ball named its features: Mt Gower, Mt Lidgbird, Erskine Valley, Callam Bay, Hunter Bay and Blackburn Isle. Blackburn describes the fauna on the Island, including 'Plenty of the finest turtle I Ever Saw', some of which they took on board as a present for the Governor and Colony. The letter continues with a description of their unproductive attempts to cultivate 'Gardens' in New South Wales, the Aborigines and their early relations with the Colony, the observance of His Majesty's Birthday on 4 June, the naming of the County of Cumberland, and an earthquake which was felt on 22 June. Blackburn reports that there have been 50 burials, as many marriages and 26 births since their arrival. 3 pp.
    15 Nov. 1788; Supply, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Blackburn reports pessimistically on the prospects for the colony: 'It is a Continued track of swamps & Rocky hills, Coverd with a thin Loose Soil'. Only the Governor's garden has succeeded in producing a few vegetables. Most of the houses are built from cabbage trees and several stone buildings have begun to be built. The Governor's house is nearly finished. Blackburn comments that the harbour at Port Jackson is perhaps the finest in the world. He describes the Aborigines and their lifestyle in detail, including their fishing, canoes, spears, dwellings and burial customs. Kangaroos and other fauna are also described. Blackburn reports on a convict's apparently false discovery of a gold mine. He recounts two further expeditions to Norfolk Island, one on the Supply and the other on the Golden Grove under Blackburn's command. Norfolk Island is described in detail: 'A Beautifull Spot & bids fair to be a Valuable Acquisition to Government. The soil is Rich beyond description.' The advantages of the Island, such as the abundance of pine trees and flax and the springs which flow from Mount Pitt, are countered by the absence of a harbour and the perennial dangers in landing there. A midshipman and four others were drowned in a boat the last time they went there in the Supply, in apparently smooth conditions. 5 1/2 pp.
    12 August 1790 & 17 Mar. 1791; Batavia & Port Jackson. Blackburn gives a further account of the 'Very Poor Country', the cultivation of 'Potatoes & Garden Stuff' and the general scarcity of provisions. They remain ignorant of the manners and customs of the Natives, as they do not respond to invitations to come among them, but 'we have had some taken by surprise'. One man, named Arrabanoo [Arabanoo], lived with the Governor but died in about 8 months. He was replaced by Bennelong, 'a Merry fellow & does not seem Inclind to go away'. The Surgeon General has had a boy named Nanbarry [Nanbaree] with him for 2 years, and Rev. Mr Johnstone has had a 15-year old girl called Abaroo [Booron] with him. Blackburn describes the measures taken to avoid famine in the colony because a supply of provisions from England failed to arrive. In March 1790, the Sirius and Supply took 300 convicts to Norfolk Island, but the Sirius became wrecked while landing provisions. No lives were lost. The Supply returned to Port Jackson and then proceeded to Batavia for more provisions on 18th April. The main colony's rations were reduced to 'Rice 1 lb, Pease 1 lb, Pork 2 lbs, & flour 2 lbs a Week to Each Person', with the convicts on a shorter allowance. Blackburn describes the voyage to Batavia, with the discovery of Balls Maidenland on 5th May, Tench's Island on 21st May, and Prince William Henry Island on the same day. They landed at Batavia on 5th July. There follows an extensive description of Batavia, its inhabitants and trade. Having missed sending his letter by the packet boat from Batavia, Blackburn resumes seven months later. They left Batavia on 17th August loaded with beef, pork, rice, flour and arrack, and arrived at Port Jackson on 19th October. On 23rd January 1791, Blackburn commanded the Supply (while Mr Ball was ill) on a voyage to Norfolk Island to bring back the 91 officers and seamen from the late Sirius to Port Jackson, where they will prepare to return to England. Blackburn is to return to Norfolk Island with an exchange of officers and troops for the Island. He expresses renewed pessimism over the prospects of the colony - 'this Country Can Never be of Any use to the Mother Country'. Relations with the Aborigines are improving: 'Many More Men Women & Children are Come among us, & are Sometimes Quite familiar at other times as Shy'. Blackburn makes some observations on their social organisation. 7 pp.
  • System of arrangement
  • Finding Aids
  • General note

    Digital order no:Album ID : 824058
  • Creator/Author/Artist
  • Name
  • Subject
  • Place
  • Open Rosetta viewer

View Media Files


Share this result by email