4. A First Fleet Journal

John Hunter’s An historical journal of the transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, 1792.

Australia Day is observed this week on January 26th. To mark the holiday we have chosen as our featured object the First Fleet journal compiled by John Hunter.

On January 26th, John Hunter, Post Captain on the Sirius, sailed with the First Fleet into Sydney Cove, where the colony of New South Wales would be established at Port Jackson. Within days Hunter set about charting the bays and coves of the harbour, which was completed in one week. In the following years of his first stay in the colony he surveyed Broken Bay, Botany Bay, and the coastline to create the earliest maps of the area surrounding the settlement.


Hunter kept his journal from the time of the departure of the fleet from England, during his stay in New South Wales, on a voyage to Norfolk Island where he was shipwrecked, and until his return journey to England. A keen naturalist, he recorded in detail the voyages, encounters with the Indigenous people, and the landscape. He also made drawings and paintings of the people, animals and plants. Some of these were added to the manuscript that on his return to England, was published by John Stockdale, in 1793, with the very wordy title of:

A Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island,

With the Discoveries which have been made in New South Wales and in the Southern Ocean,

since the publication of Phillip’s voyage, compiled from the Official Papers;

Including the Journals of Governor Phillip and King, and of Lieut. Ball;

and the

Voyages of the first Sailing of the Sirius in 1787, to the Return of that Ship’s Company to England in 1792.

 Illustrated with seventeen Maps, Charts, Views, & other embellishments,

drawn on the spot by

Captains Hunter, & Bradley, Lieutenant Dawes, & Governor King. 

As well as including the maps and illustrations created by Hunter, the journal is significant as it makes an early reference to mainland Australia and Tasmania being separate, on p126 –

Hunter returned to Port Jackson in 1795 as the second Governor of New South Wales. He retained his enthusiasm for discovery, exploring when he could, and sent drawings and specimens of newly discovered animals, including the wombat and platypus, to his good friend Sir Joseph Banks. He remained in the colony until 1800 before returning to England, where he resumed his naval career eventually attaining the rank of Vice-Admiral.

Hunter’s journal manuscript was bequeathed to the State Library of New South Wales by Sir William Dixson in 1952, where both the original and a text version are now available online.

While the provenance of the manuscript is known, the published copy held by Curtin has no ownership marks or labels, and we know little about the history of this particular item. What we do know is that this 200 year old book was received as a gift to the Library in April 1992, from the publisher Blackwells, in recognition of 25 years of  service by Geoffrey Allen, our first University Librarian.


Next week 50 Objects will continue the seafaring theme, with an object selected from the Project Endeavour: Jon Sanders’ Triple Circumnavigation collection.

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