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The Alexander





A three-masted, barA three-masted, barque-built vessel, 'Alexander' weighed 452 tons. She was 114 feet long on the lower deck, with an extreme breadth of 31 feet at the beam and was of 452 85/94 tons burthen. Built in Hull, England, in 1783 the bark vessel 'Alexander' carried 213 male convicts, 37 marines, and approximately 30 seamen (officers included). She was the largest of the 11 ships in the First Fleet. She was the largest transport ship in the First Fleet


 Before leaving England, fever broke out on board, and sixteen men died.


She left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, carrying 195 male convicts. 15 more convicts died on the journey, the most for any ship in the fleet. She arrived at Port Jackson, Sydney, Australia, on 26 January 1788.  William Douglas, sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing a silver watch, was on board.


Philip Wilson aboard the transport ship Alexander arrives in New South Wales with the first shipment of convicts.

After eight incredible months, we on board the Alexander have finally reached our destination. As I write this, the ship is moored in Sydney Cove, Port Jackson. Our original destination of Botany Bay, discovered by Captain Cook in Endeavour in April, 1770, was judged unsuitable by the commander of this fleet, Captain Arthur Phillip RN. So, with that, we headed another few days north and now, the fleet is unloading its 750 convicts, male and female, for what promises to be a strange and unknown new life.

Long Haul: It has indeed been a long haul to get to New South Wales. We left Portsmouth, England early on Sunday 13 May last year. A place and a time that seem literally half a world away to us now as I stare up at strange new constellations I have never seen before.

After docking for a few days in Tenerife at the beginning of June last year, we spent most of August in Rio de Janeiro and then, after crossing the Atlantic, from mid-October to mid-November at the Cape of Good Hope. We arrived in Botany Bay on January 19 after eight weeks being battered by the southern oceans. It is an experience I won't forget for a long time.

Now we are finally here and the government's policy of convict transportation has become a reality. It is the responsibility of these 750 convicts and the ships' crew and accompanying marines to forge a new existence out of this seemingly barren place. We have enough supplies with us to suffice until the second fleet arrives in about two year’s time. Until then, we are on our own!

Mixed Bunch: I have got to know some of the characters on Alexander over these months and some have tragic stories indeed. They are a mixed bunch. Some have been sentenced to life for murder - others for just a few years for seemingly very petty crimes indeed.

One man John Randall spoke to me recently on the Alexander. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to New South Wales. What had he done to deserve such a fate? "I stole a silver watch chain - that was three years ago. I did some time on the hulks in the Thames and then got sent to the Alexander."

Make no mistake. There are some very nasty characters on this ship but it does break your heart to hear some of the tales told by both the men and the women (nearly 200 in all in the fleet) now preparing to start anew here in New Holland.


By July 1788, all the ships except the Naval vessels "Syrius" and "Supply" had left and the settlement was isolated.  The Alexander left Port Jackson on 14 July 1788 in company with the Friendship, whose crew she picked up when that ship was scuttled. She reached England on 3 June 1789. Her master was Duncan Sinclair, and her surgeon was William Balmain.


Little is known about her return journey but in 1808 she disappeared from records. However, I have a note that a convict, William Douglas of Middlesex, arrived on The Alexander in 1804.




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Last modified: Thursday, 16 January 2020