Unlocking the Mystery of the First Fleet Marine Arrivals

With all the family research carried out over the last hundred years one would expect there to be no major unknowns left regarding the arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay. You might be surprised to learn that to this day no clear record detailing the arrival vessels for the First Fleet Marines exists. For years researchers have tried to locate this information to no avail and so a complete knowledge of the Marine arrivals has remained at an impasse. How is it possible that in the huge array of records we have in Australia and in the National Archives in Britain not one document to answer this question has survived? There are major repositories of records in this country that specialise in such documents. The National Library alone has more than 10000 reels of 35mm microfilm in just one series of records comprising the Australian Joint Copying Project filmed in a variety of British Archives most of which concerns the Colonial era, yet not one record has been found that addresses this question

The likely reason is that being started as a penal colony, the records are primarily of the convicts. There are countless volumes of records on convictions, sentencing, transportation, and administration of convicts. Vast numbers of these original records involving convicts exist here in Australia and in Britain dating back even years prior to 1787, detailing trial records, petitions for pardon, transfers to prisons or Hulks, embarkation of Transports, payments of bonds, and a variety of convict lists made aboard ship for administration purposes. After arrival the plethora of convict information continues, with records to monitor their lives and progress, many of these also identifying them by arrival vessel. By comparison there is much less record of free persons and even less of the military. It appears there was little need for much record of the Marines on the lead up to, and during the journey. All that has actually survived are fragmentary records designating how many Marines would be required on each vessel, which vessel would carry the Marine families, and sparse mentions recorded in journals made aboard ship

On the 7th May 1787 Commander of Marines, Major Robert Ross was instructed by Admiralty to make an 'Effective list of the Non Commissioned Officers and Private Marines embarked on board the transports to do duty on shore at Botany Bay'. It was to be completed before proceeding from Spithead, and would be a complete list of the Marines to serve on the transports on duty to Botany Bay, distinguishing the ships in which they embark agreeable to the attached form. These would have been the exact records to provide clear answer to the question but sadly if they were ever completed by Ross they have not survived. Ironically what has survived is the blank form which Ross was to use as a guide for each vessel listing

The surviving blank form which Major Ross was to use as a guide for each vessel listing from Admiralty records

Obviously our knowledge of the Marines has not been remained a complete blank. Arrival vessels of the Marine officers has been largely determined from administrative records concerning organisation aboard the vessels, however the lowly rank and file did not figure as anything more than numbers in these letters. Over many years researchers have been able to determine a good proportion of Marine rank and file arrival vessels by other means such as references in journals made on the journey, ships logs of the Transports (which occasionally mentioned Marines), later personnel records of the NSW Corps (into which many Marines transferred after their Marine service in the colony expired), later population musters, assorted petitions by the Marines themselves, letters to the Colonial Secretary and other period records. Further inroads were made in Mollie Gillen's 1989 publication 'The Founders of Australia', however there remained more than 90 First Fleet Marines of unknown arrival vessel. Note that some soures claim to have identified most of the arrival vessels but examination of such information has found it to be based on guesswork and hearsay

Is this really a worthwhile topic to be looking into you might ask. Many of these Marines simply served their 5 year term and returned to England into obscurity. However, a good number travelled to the colony with wives and children with the prospect of remaining as settlers. Those who are descended from a First Fleet Marine would tell you yes it is worthwhile, and the myriad Australians who are descended from Marines such as John Munday, Thomas Bishop, James Reilly, Thomas O'Brien or William Ellis who for all these years have remained of unknown or questionable arrival vessel would certainly answer in stronger terms

As many had done before, the usual paths were trod seeking the answers. Many fruitless hours were spent at the Mitchell Library and NSW State Archives, as well as countless hours browsing the ever increasing online holdings of the National Archives in England. Surprisingly it was found there was not even a consensus in the total number of Marines who came to this country with the Fleet. Numbers in a variety of publications ranged as low as 213 in John Moore's well known publication “The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792” to as high as 270 in other publications. More thoroughly researched publications such as Mollie Gillen's 'Founders of Australia' favoured the number 245. Surely a little logical investigation of the increasing amounts of material being digitised and more readily available combined with some lateral thinking would be able to clarify at least the question of numbers

Sure enough, looking at the full range of Marine documents did make the totals possible to calculate, and even verify. Once again it was the rank and file that presented a problem but an important point to be realised was that it was 4 companies of Marines that were dispatched to NSW, which by military standards would certainly consisted of 160 Privates accompanied by a suitable number of Officers and Non Commissioned officers. These figures (160 + 52) were clearly recorded in the return of the Marine garrison aboard ship 20 May 1787 at departure. The other figures to be added were the total Ship's Compliments of Marines of Sirius and Supply, which we definitively have in the musters of both these Naval ships, a total of 34 officers and men. The total Marines who departed England was therefore 246. Corporal Peter Talbot of HM Supply and Private Daniel Creswell of Charlotte died on the journey out, leaving a total of 244 Marines arrived at Botany Bay. There was concern caused by the fact that only 243 Marines profiles were present in 'Founders', an otherwise extremely reliable publication. As part of the project of identifying the Marine vessels a fresh database of each Marine derived only from source documents had been created, and the total extracted was exactly 244. Exhaustive comparison of the new list with previous lists revealed a variety of reasons for variation. Lists that were high were found to have duplicated men eg Private George Chestlett was often duplicated as a 2nd man named George Chestland, and Private John Wixted was sometimes duplicated as a 2nd man named John Winstead. Other lists erroniously included Naval personel such as James Nairne who were not Marines, or non Marine servants to officers like Charles Prater. Working carefully through the new database and comparing with 'Founders' revealed that there was a single Marine – Private Charles Reynolds of the 54th Plymouth, who for all these years had been unrealised due to being combined with the identity of Drummer Charles Reynolds of HMS Sirius.With Charles Reynolds (2) acknowledged there was, for the first time a complete and accurate list of each Marine who arrived in NSW. This making a good start to answering the outstanding question of arrival vessels.

In December1980 there was some excitement in the media when Portia Robinson, a university researcher, uncovered a little known but definitive listing of all persons who arrived in the First Fleet in January 1788 in the form of a Victualling List that had been stored amongst Treasury records out of chronological order (Located amongst records from April-May 1789). It was hoped that a record of similar nature could be found concerning Marines, and hence a lot of time was invested scouring for missing Marine listings in all manner of places out of sequence, but without success. Even though the Victualling List was of great interest and did include the Marine garrison it contains no mention of arrival vessels. It was noted that there exists an earlier version of this list, written up during the voyage of the fleet in 1787. Unfortunately there was no easy way to obtain a copy of this list as the film had been damaged and disposed of by the Mitchell Library. By luck recent advancements at the National Archives in Britain meant that a new high resolution scan taken directly from the original document of November 1787. Hoping that something relating to vessels might exist there that hadn't been noticed before, the high price was paid to have all 57 pages scanned and forwarded

It's arrival brought initial disappointment as the document was ostensibly very similar to the previously mentioned 1788 Victualling List in that it appeared to be simply a list of all persons victualled on the Transports of the Fleet. It was however an enticingly clear colour scan in ornate script, and a pleasure to look at, and time was spend dwelling on it. One thing that puzzled was the unfathomable order in which persons were listed. It was primarily divided into classes. The Civil, Marines and families were listed first, Male convicts next, followed by Female convicts and Children of convicts at the end. The Marine listing was ordered primarily per rank, starting with Captains Campbell, Shea, Meredith and Tench followed by Lieutenants and Non Commissioned Officers. Following was a large list of the Privates in seemingly random order. Closer investigation of sample sections of the list, much pondering, and a comparison with known arrival data suggested that sections of these Marines were recorded in vessel groups. Close examination of test sections in the comvict section lists yielded an exciting result revealing convicts recorded almost perfectly divided into their known vessel groups matching the considerable existing data on convict arrivals. Extracting the Marine listings and comparison with known arrival vessels indicated definite groupings, and even more interesting, that Marines appeared to be embarked in Company groupings. Logic indicates that the mid voyage Victualling list was copied from an earlier list as the order which persons appear is not as one would expected to see in June at Teneriffe, but rather has Marines in an order predating known transfers that occurred in late March 1787 and several more at Sea.

The essence of the missing first fleet Marine embarkation lists, the order in which the Marines embarked, has existed in the order of the List of persons Victualled at Teneriffe, Rio de Janiero, and the Cape of Good Hope 5 Jun to 11 Nov 1787

A solution to the missing Marine vessel lists may have been in sight but it wasn't going to be that easy. Further examination of the new data revealed anomalies. There was something clouding the results, with some men out of place compared to known arrival data from other sources. Marines that the new data indicated had embarked with their company group on a certain vessel, were known to have actually arrived on a completely different vessel. The data was also very confused in the Prince of Wales section. There was obviously another factor, something that had caused certain Marines to arrive on a different vessel than that embarked.

With this obstacle, and the Marine Privates being a large group of some 212 men, the next logical step was to change focus to a smaller group - The Marine wives and children. There is a good amount of arrival data concerning these in journals and later resources, and are also records of the numbers on each vessel, including the numbers of male and female children. By identifying the vessels these travelled on another layer of data would be be gained.

It became apparent that Prince of Wales had been designated as the carrier for the Private Marine wives and children, with only a few exceptions. It was also compassionately decided that wherever possible Marine Privates could be moved onto Prince of Wales to be with their family for the voyage. This resulted in a swarm of transfers between ships in an effort to get all the families aboard, and maintain the numbers on other ships by moving personel without familes off to other vessels. There was also some balancing of numbers aboard Sirius which had also been designated as a carrier for a smaller number of Marine wives, resulting in some men transferring on and off her just prior to sailing. Fortunately there were mentions of these transfers in Ships logs and journals and it was possible to piece together virtually all of these movements, and it was at this point that things started to fall into place for the main group. Aside from several transfers that happened during the voyage for disciplinary reasons, it was the transfers for family groups that had clouded the data in the Victualling list, as it predated the transfers, and was in order per first embarkation. Hence by allowing for these transfers, the order in the new database was now able to mesh with existing arrival data. All but a handful of men were able to be located aboard a ship for the journey to NSW using the 1787 Victualling Order, with corrections due to family group transfers.

Examples of single men transferred from Sirius to other Transports 19 & 20th March 1787 from Sirius Ships Musters

An example of transfers aboard Prince of Wales. 2 Serjeants, 2 Corporals, 1 Drummer, 4 women (wives) & 24 Privates embarked 7 Mar 1787. Whilst no names are cited correlation with other known information confirms the NCO's as Serjeants James Scott with wife Jane & John Kennedy with wife Mary, Corporal Thomas Gough with wife Johanna & Drummer John Parfett with wife Sarah

Another longtime Marine mystery may also be found in this new data. The identity of the Marine Grenadier Privates sent as part of the contingent to NSW has been a complete unknown. Studies of documents at the Royal Marine museum in Portsmouth have revealed that Grenadier Privates were embarked on Charlotte Transport 7 Mar 1787 according to Maj-Gen Arthur T Collins Marine Orderly Book. They are thought to be the first boarded, and so if the order can be determined, the identity of the Marine Grenadiers may be found.

The full report on the Marine arrival vessels, detailing the complete process with all references and table of results for each ship, or all other enquiries on the NSW Marines, NSW Corps, 102nd and 73rd Regiments can be obtained by contacting Glen Lambert on glen_3@hotmail.com