NotesThe models of Sirius and Supply were presented to the Museum after the 1938 parade and displayed on Level 4 of the Museum's Harris Street building. They were featured by Australia Post on the 27 cent Australia Day stamps for 1983.
British merchant ships of the 1780s were classified according to their hulls. The Berwick (later name the Sirius) had elements of both frigate and barque hulls. Features conforming to the frigate hull design were the full head, cheeks, rails and figurehead at the bow together with the square tuck, galleries, and wales terminating in the wing transom at the stern. Features of the barque were the full convex entrance and run. The mid-section of the ship had flat floors, easy rounded bilges and vertical sides below a sharp tumblehome. In some respects the ship can be likened to a larger version of Captain James Cook's Endeavour with the same keel-length to beam ratio.
The ship represented by this model was constructed between 1780 and 1781 for the Baltic trade and was originally named the Berwick. It was built at Rotherhithe, England, then a shipbuilding village on the Thames River adjacent to Deptford. It is thought the vessel was built by Christopher Watson & Co. Prior to its completion, it was purchased by the British Navy for £5856 and was fitted out as an armed storeship and transport. This was a time of considerable stress for the British Government, which was facing defeat by America. A large number of British merchant ships were being converted to cross-Atlantic store and troop carriers at the time.
After being purchased by the Navy, the Berwick was taken into the single dock at the Royal Naval Dockyards at Deptford on 1 December 1781 for fitting out. Common timbers used at the time included English oak, elm and beech. The vessel was painted with Dawson's composition, sheathed with paper and then coppered. It was armed with six carronades and four 6-pouders, with ten more 6-pounders in its hold for use in the new settlement. The mainmast, foremast and mizzenmast were each made from a single tree. The masts and yards were contracted out. At over 520 tons, the Berwick was a large ship for the time, five out of every six ships owned in Britain being of less than 200 tons. A contemporary Admiralty plan (lines and profile) gave the vessel's dimensions as:
Length on the Lower Deck 110 feet 5 inches (33.7 m)
Breadth extreme 32 feet 9 inches (10 m)
Depth in Hold 12 feet 11 inches (3.9 m)
Burthen Just over 511 tonnes
The ship this model represents the Royal Navy storeship and transport Berwick, later named the Sirius. After completion in 1782 the Berwick was initially stationed at Nore off Sheeness at the mouth of the Thames before setting off with a convoy across the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ship returned to Britain in 1783 ready for a refit, as without regular repair the life of any ship was short. Two or three more voyages were undertaken before 1786 when His Majesty's store-ship Berwick was given a comprehensive refit prior to 'foreign service' as Captain Arthur Phillip's flagship on the First Fleet voyage to Botany Bay.
A letter of the 18 August 1786 from the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, to the Lords Commissioner of the Treasury set in motion the machinery to implement the British Government's decision to found a penal settlement at Botany Bay. From the vessels proffered in response to an Admiralty advertisement posted up in the coffee-houses frequented by shipowners, ship brokers and merchants, the Navy Board chartered five transports (Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Lady Penryn and Scarborough) and three store ships (Borrowdale, Fishburn and Golden Grove). Together with the two warships, Sirius and Supply, a sixth transport (Prince of Wales) was added to the expedition.
The Berwick had its name changed to Sirius, after the brightest star in the sky, and was registered as a 'sixth rate' vessel. Major interior work was undertaken, including enlarging storerooms and fitting them with bins, shelves and lockers, as well as building a sailroom and two more storerooms on the lower deck.
The Sirius was victualled for twelve months for its complement comprising bread, beer, beef, pork, peas, oatmeal, butter, cheese, vinegar and water. In addition to food and drink, a wide variety of stores were required both during and after the voyage, including wood, candles, lamphorns, tallow, astronomical instruments, copper fastenings, bolts, bosun's and carpenter's general stores, and Peruvian bark to treat malaria.
Recruiting crew immediately after a long period of war was not easy. Added to this was the fact that the ship formed a convict convoy of 11 ships heading to the farthermost corner of the globe, to found the first permanent British settlement in Australia. By the time the Sirius left Motherbank near Spithead, off Portsmouth, on 17 May 1787, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip, the vessel was well under its complement of 160 men, mustering only 136 at sea in August 1787. The ship was crowded with stores and supplies, and the officers brought as much as they could fit on board. The surgeon on the Sirius even brought a piano.
The Fleet weighed anchor from Portsmouth, England, on Sunday 13 May 1787. Heading south, the Fleet sailed via Tenerife in the Canary Islands where it anchored on 3 June to take on fresh water and supplies before the long Atlantic crossing to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On this leg, water shortages led to rationing and sickness, and the Fleet arrived in Rio in early August to load food and water as well as tropical plants, seeds, and rum. Leaving on 4 September, the Fleet sailed back across the Atlantic. It reached Cape Town on 13 October and dropped anchor there until 12 November. The Fleet set out on the last leg of the voyage after re-stocking with fresh supplies, adding more livestock to those brought from England, and taking on board more plants and seeds.
The hazardous voyage of over 24,241 km (39,011 miles) took about 250 days, 68 of which were spent in port en route. Four female and 36 male convicts died, as well as a marine, a marine's wife, a marine's child and 5 convict children. The total number on board the 11 vessels was about 1487, which included 759 convicts, 252 marines and 20 government officials, 210 Royal Navy seamen and 233 merchant seamen, as well as marine wives and children and convict children. Most of the convicts landed were English, about one-third of them from the Greater London area. Their crimes included theft, house-breaking and robbery with violence, and a good percentage of them were habitual criminals. The Fleet anchored in Sydney Cove on the afternoon of 25 January 1788, having spent some days in Botany Bay. The British flag was planted the following day.
When the Fleet was at anchor in Sydney Cove, Sirius took up its position at anchor at the entrance as guardship to stop convicts attempting to steel ship's boats and as protection for the unarmed transports should any foreign ship enter the port while the unloading and establishment of the colony was taking place. The setting up of the penal settlement ashore became the first priority of all the officials, and the Sirius was neglected for the following seven months. Some minor maintenance was undertaken, but the ship's carpenter was directed to build huts for the convict women. The repairs and caulking to keep the ship watertight were done by a carpenter's assistant and a convict, without supervision, and was consequently unsatisfactorily completed.
In October 1788 Phillip sent the Sirius to Cape Town for much-needed grain and flour. The crops in the colony had yet to take hold and the expected storeship, Guardian, had not arrived. No sooner had the Sirius cleared the Heads than it started leaking badly. It headed south of New Zealand and then turned eastward past Cape Horn to Cape Town for supplies. Under Captain John Hunter, the ship was the first to sail this route; those that later followed this route became known as 'home bounders'. The Sirius was almost wrecked on its return journey through the Roaring Forties and around the southern tip of Tasmania. For only four months' supply of flour, the Sirius had circumnavigated the globe and her company had undergone terrible hardships and peril.
Back in Sydney, the vessel was in urgent need of careening (or 'heeling over', turning on its side for repairs and cleaning). Great Sirius Cove, now known as Mosman Bay, was chosen as the best site. Sirius was worked on from June until November 1789, and the vessel's time in the bay is still commemorated by the local names Hunter Park and Bradleys Head, after the vessel's commander and his lieutenant.
In 1790 the Sirius and Supply were sent by Phillip to transport 275 starving convicts and marines to another settlement on Norfolk Island, where crops were reported to be growing well. On their arrival Captain Hunter sailed into Sydney Bay on the southern side of Norfolk Island, but the turbulent seas and stormy weather forced him to find a more sheltered spot at Cascade Bay to offload the marines and convicts. On 19 March 1790, with no sign of the seas abating, Hunter began off-loading provisions in Sydney Bay, but a combination of wind and tide drew Sirius close inshore and the ship was blown backwards onto a reef. Despite dropping both anchors, the ship was forced aground. No member of the ship's company was lost, but the ship was abandoned and the men were taken ashore via a cable. Most of the provisions and cannon were safely landed during a few days of calm weather, but the Sirius became a total wreck, the first recorded shipwreck in Australian waters.
The site of the Sirius wreck was well documented. One of its anchors was raised in 1906 and sent to Sydney and mounted the following year on a pedestal in Macquarie Place, off Bridge Street. It remains there today together with one of the ship's guns, which had been removed from the ship soon after it arrived in Sydney Cove and mounted first at Dawes Battery and then at South Head to fire a signal when a sail was sighted.
On 29 October 1984, the wreck was placed under the protection of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act of 1976 and the Australian Bicentennial Authority funded a preliminary survey of its remains on the surf-battered reef at Sydney Bay. In 1987 a team of 11 volunteer divers, headed by Dr Graeme Henderson of the Western Australian Maritime Museum, retrieved 600 items from the wreck site, including part of the ship's sextant, cannon balls and bosun's whistles.