Skip to Main Content

First Fleet: Home

What did the convicts see when they first arrived?

In the 1780's there were no cameras, so the only way to make an image was to draw or paint it.

So the way we can tell what Sydney looked like to the people from the First Fleet, is by looking carefully at the paintings and drawings they made.

Click on a painting below to go to the Natural History Museum with lots of scenes of early Sydney as well as drawings of the indigenous people living there at the time and strange animals and plants that we know, but look a bit odd because the artist was seeing them for the first time.

What did the convicts see when they first arrived?


The artist who created this had never seen a possum before, so he called this a flying squirrel or mouse.


Painted between 1788 and 1797 by an unknown artist.


The foliage looks more English than Australian.

For Teachers

Online Book

Read these books online by clicking on the cover. 

What was life like in Britain in the 1700s?

Useful Web Sites

Joseph Banks was on the Endeavour with Captain Cook. His job was as a scientist, to observe all the new types of plants and animals never seen before.

His diary gives us a description of what it was like when white people first landed in Australia. Some of the words are old fashioned and a bit hard to understand, but that is because they were written down over 200 years ago.

Clickview Videos

Bound for Botany Bay

The story of the first fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip.

It begins in England with the British government desperate to alleviate their overcrowded prisons by establishing a new colony at Botany Bay. With the hardships faced by the fleet, it was one of the greatest maritime expeditions ever.

Filmed on location in Portsmouth and at the fleet's ports of call. Written and presented by historian Dr Jonathan King in 1988

Books in our Library on the First Fleet

ABC Education

Mary Ann Friend was the wife of Matthew Friend, who captained the Wanstead. She wrote about the Swan River Colony during her visit in 1831.

In this video, State Library of WA Battye historian Dr Kate Gregory talks about Mary Ann Friend’s humorous accounts of life as a female in the early colony – she describes Fremantle as a "circus town" and curses the sandflies.

Discover the real life stories of some of the child convicts on the First Fleet. Produced by BTN.

Fiction about the First Fleet

One of the best (and most fun) ways of learning history is to read historical fiction. Check out these titles.

Ms Keen

Profile Photo
Nell Keen
5436 7347