Arthur Phillip Begins Voyage to Australia with 11 Criminal Ships

May 13, 2022

On May 13, 1787, Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet set forth to colonize Australia with 11 ships full of criminals. With such a large contingent of people who didn’t want to be shipped off to a dangerous and unexplored land to work for the benefit of the people who were shipping them there, it seemed highly unlikely that the mission would succeed. History is full of surprises, though.

It didn’t start off smoothly. There was a mutiny attempt on the voyage to the distant continent. But it was dealt with pretty easily, and pretty much everyone got to Australia in good shape. Once there, the colonists were greeted by the Aboriginal people who lived there. Unlike a lot of his peers at that time, Phillip had some relatively enlightened views of such people and achieved friendly contact and an agreement of mutual assistance. With their assistance, Phillips and his men explored the area around their landing site and established the colony of Sydney in what is now known as New South Wales.

The colonists were lucky they had Phillips as their Crown-appointed governor. He worked tirelessly on their behalf, using his political connections back home to ensure adequate supplies reached the colonists during the difficult early years. Because of him, there was no disastrous widespread famine. He had spent his entire life serving in the Navy and being a farmer. Nobody could have predicted how good he’d prove to be as a governor in such difficult circumstances.

Although Australia began its existence as a colony of criminals, it developed in a much more law-abiding direction. Today, Australia has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, much lower than the United States.


  1. Walter Glass

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  2. Becky Bartness

    Extremely interesting. I knew Australia was colonized by criminals sent to Australia as part of their punishment (the British equivalent of Siberia?) but did not know how the process worked and who was involved.

  3. Lisa Welborn

    That is parodoxical – the fact that Australia has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

  4. Ross & Kathryn Gamble

    A great country in so many respects!! I have been there twice


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