Governor Arthur Phillip: British Spy? (Part 3)

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Was Governor Arthur Phillip a ‘British secret agent’? (Part 3)

Phillip was desperate to have his entire fleet of eleven ships out of Botany Bay, away from prying French eyes and safely anchored in Sydney Cove deep inside Port Jackson. Despite very strong winds blowing across Botany Bay creating very rough seas, Phillip ordered the whole fleet to get under weigh.

Sydney Cove 1788 by John Hunter
Sydney Cove 1788 by John Hunter

Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth described in his journal 25 January 1788 that all ships were raising their anchors to try and leave the Bay but could not due to the wild weather.

“Our Anchor was got up about 5 o’Clock a.m. as were also the Anchors of most of the other Ships & we were endeavouring to work out of the Bay, but were obliged to drop Anchor again as did also the Supply – but about 12 at noon she again loosen’d her Topsails & with the greatest difficulty got out of the mouth of the Bay, & we endeavour’d in vain to follow her, the wind being directly against us, blowg very strong & rather increasing. At 2 o’Clock p.m. it blew almost a hurricane, Thunder’d Lighten’d & rained very much.”

The next day, 26 January 1788, the much reduced wind permitted the two French ships to enter the Bay and drop anchor by 10 am. The remaining British ships cleared the bay with difficulty.

“We were obliged to work out of the Bay & with the utmost difficulty & danger with many hairbredth escapes, got out of the Harbour’s mouth about 3 o’Clock p.m. The Charlotte was once in the most imminent danger of being on the Rocks. The Friendship & Prince of Wales who could not keep in stays came foul of each other, & the Friendship carried away her Jib Boom. The Prince of Wales had her New Mainsail and mast topmost staysail rent in pieces by the Friendships yard... all agreed it was next to a Miracle that some of the Ships were not lost, the danger was so very great.”

The bulk of the fleet reached Port Jackson and dropped anchor in Sydney Cove early in the evening.

Trevor Patrick is a local historian of the north-west of Sydney, Australia. His latest book, In Search of the Pennant Hills, recounts some of these stories (and others) in more detail.