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Indigenous people

In the Sydney area life changed after the Europeans arrived. At first the local Eora people might have been curious about the new people. Maybe they thought they would leave soon. The Europeans started chopping down trees. The convicts began stealing the Eora people’s tools, canoes and weapons. The Eora people no longer felt friendly. Both the Eora and the European settlers were responsible for attacks. People on both sides were killed.

The Europeans hunted and fished and left very little for the Eora people. The harbour had once been filled with women fishing in low canoes but now it was becoming more difficult to find sufficient fish.

In April 1789 hundreds of Eora people died from a disease that looked like smallpox. No Europeans got sick. The Eora people fled to escape the disease.


The new world was harsh. Many convicts were scared of the silence or of the strange sounds of the bush, as many had come from the city. The convicts did not go into a gaol. They were expected to work and help build the new colony. Many of them did not want to work. The Governor threatened that any convicts who did not work would not be fed. If anyone stole food or animals then they could be hanged.

Convicts were put into work gangs, with a convict supervisor. They had assigned jobs to do such as brick making, carpentry, nursing, serving, cattle work, shepherding and farming. After they completed their work each day, they were free to work on their own gardens. Most preferred to steal or starve rather than keep a garden for themselves.

Many convicts had been starving in England. In the new colony they probably got more food, as they received a weekly ration. But when the food ran short after the supply ship did not arrive, their rations were cut by a third.

Early settlers

The settlers who came with the First Fleet in 1788 were convicts, seamen or marines and their wives and children. The first free settlers arrived in 1793 on the ship Bellona and farms quickly spread up the Parramatta and Hawkesbury rivers, which was the land of the Bidjigal people. The free settlers cleared large plots of land to grow wheat and other crops. This made the Bidjigal people angry. There were many battles between the settlers and the Bidjigal people. Many were killed on both sides.

Marines and guards

The marines did not think that they should have to supervise the convicts. They felt that their job was to guard the colony, not act as gaol keepers. So convicts were put in charge of other convicts. The marines did not have a lot to do so they became bored and got into fights. Their commander, Major Ross, did not let the marines do any extra work, like building their own barracks, without extra pay.

They were angry because they got the same rations as the convicts. In March 1789, six marines were hanged because they had been caught stealing from the government store. This is when the colony had its rations cut by a third.

In June 1790 the Second Fleet arrived and brought with it the New South Wales Corps, to supervise the convicts. But many of these men were crooks themselves, and had been thrown out of other regiments.

After Governor Phillip left the colony in 1792, Major Grose, head of the New South Wales Corps, took over the colony. He gave his men large amounts of land and convicts to work it. He let the New South Wales Corps get away with many crimes and gave them extra rations. The New South Wales Corps soon took over all the trading and would sell arriving cargo at very high prices. They controlled the colony until 1809, when they were recalled.

The Governor and officers

Captain Arthur Phillip was appointed the first Governor of New South Wales. He was semi-retired when he was appointed to lead the new colony and had plans for New South Wales to be a good place for free settlers and not just a gaol. He was a careful planner and made sure that during the voyage everyone ate as much fresh fruit as they could when they called in to port. He was a fair man and when the colony was running out of food he ordered that everyone, including himself, receive the same rations. When convicts refused to work, he ordered that they wouldn’t eat and declared anyone caught stealing food would be hanged. While Governor Phillip was positive about the future of the colony, some other officers were not.

Major Robert Ross did not like the new colony at all. He was a bad influence on the marines under his command and they refused to supervise the convicts. Ross sent letters back to England saying that Phillip was lying about how good Sydney Town was.