First Fleet ‘experienced wild weather’

Almost two hundred years ago wet weather and violent storms battered the First Fleet as it made its way to Australia, new information gleaned from ship logbooks and diaries show.


It’s now hoped the material, written decades before official meteorological stations were established, will provide new insight into weather patterns and give scientists a better understanding of climate change today.

The First Fleet weather data was released on Thursday and comes amid a global push by climate scientists to recover lost weather data from the past and develop an historical database.

“The further back you look, the further forward you can see – that’s really true of trying to understand natural climate variability,” said Dr Joelle Gergis, climate research fellow and science writer in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

“To get a better sense how humans caused climate change is actually layered on top of natural variability.

“This is the type of information that will help people in Australia try and understand climate variability.”

It has already allowed Australian scientists to reconstruct the weather the First Fleet battled during the voyage to Botany Bay.

First Fleet sailed from Portsmouth, England, in May 1787 with about 1400 convicts and had a good run down the Atlantic Ocean.

But coming from the Southern Ocean, crossing the Indian Ocean, it hit 40-degree temperatures.

“They had a really bad storm that hit them on New Year’s Day on the first of January, 1788, and they had big swells and waves,” Dr Gergis told reporters.

“Their blankets were floating away and people were on their knees praying for their life.

“It’d been an epic eight-month journey and people were starving.”

Then, as the ships closed in on Tasmania it became cold, temperature records show.

“There were patches of snow in Tasmania at the height of summer, which is a fairly unusual thing to see,” Dr Gergis said.

“As they started coming up along the east coast of Australia, again they were hammered by really severe winds and they ripped more sails.”

There was another severe storm on January 10.

When the ships came into Botany Bay and they realised there wasn’t good water supply, the First Fleet tried to turn about.

“It took them about two days and they had huge headwinds and they were really scared that they were going to be driven on to the rocky coastline and just smashed to pieces,” Dr Gergis said.

“Eventually they got out and they did make it to Port Jackson and they settled in Sydney Cove, which is where the modern day Harbour Bridge and Opera House stands.”

Records show there was wet weather at the beginning of the settlement period.