With (overleaf) ‘Distribution of the Detachment of Marines for New South Wales’.

Handwritten document, 2 pages, folio.

Part of the right hand margin torn without loss of text, barest clipping of the text at right margin, very lightly dusted and a little faded, but bright and legible.

Inscribed three times with the date “18th July 1788” by George Lapthorne in 1788.

An extraordinary survival, this newly discovered document lists the specifications for the First Fleet as it prepared to sail for Botany Bay. Although tables based on this information were printed in contemporary accounts of the colony, this is the only known extant manuscript original.

SKU SF000155 Category


This is the most substantial First Fleet document to appear since the sale of the Middleton papers in 1993; and, where the Middleton collection included much privately circulated material on the outfitting of the voyage to Botany Bay, this document is effectively a blueprint for the foundation of Australia, and would become for many years the standard reckoning of the disposition of the First Fleet.

The first page has the list of the military and civil establishment of the Colony, with the subheading “Captain Arthur Phillip of the Navy, Governor Commander in Chief of the territory of New South Wales, and of is Majesty’s Ships and Vessels employ’d on that Coast”. Subordinate officers are listed, followed by “Six Transports carrying the Convicts”, specifying the number and sex of convicts to be carried on each. Overleaf there is a list of each of the six principal ships with their officers as well as the numbers in their complement of marines.

This document has been tipped into a copy of the George William Anderson edition of Cook’s three voyages, ‘New Authentic and Complete Collection of Voyages Round the World’, which was printed in 1786 and would have been available at just the time when the First Fleet was being assembled. Not known for many years, the present document first came to light in a Bonhams sale in 2007.

Additional information



John Shortland


Ink, Paper