Convicts were originally transported to the Thirteen Colonies in North America, but after the American War of Independence ended in 1783, the newly formed United States refused to accept further convicts. On 6 December 1785, Orders in Council were issued in London for the establishment of a penal colony in New South Wales, on land claimed for Britain by explorer James Cook in his first voyage to the Pacific in 1770.
The First Fleet was commanded by Commodore Arthur Phillip, who was given instructions authorising him to make regulations and land grants in the colony. The ships arrived at Botany Bay between 18 January and 20 January 1788: HMS Supply arrived on 18 January, Alexander, Scarborough and Friendship arrived on 19 January, and the remaining ships on 20 January.
The First Fleet included two Royal Navy escort ships, the ten-gun sixth-rate vessel HMS Sirius under the command of Captain John Hunter, and the armed tender HMS Supply commanded by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball.
Ropes, crockery, agricultural equipment and a miscellany of other stores were needed. Items transported included tools, agricultural implements, seeds, spirits, medical supplies, bandages, surgical instruments, handcuffs, leg irons and a prefabricated wooden frame for the colony's first Government House. The party had to rely on its own provisions to survive until it could make use of local materials, assuming suitable supplies existed, and grow its own food and raise livestock.