How Many People Died on the First Fleet?

While it is impossible to know the exact number of deaths due to poor record keeping, it is estimated that 69 people either died, discharged, or deserted during the First Fleet’s voyage from Portsmouth to Sydney Cove. Of these, only 29 are thought to be convict deaths.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, Great Britain often sent convicts to the Thirteen Colonies. After the war, America stopped accepting convicts. On December 6, 1785 provisions were made to establish a penal colony in Australia to which British convicts would be shipped. The First Fleet set sail in 1787, arriving in Australia’s Botany Bay in January 1788.

An estimated 1,420 passengers are thought to have made the voyage, comprised of convicts and their families, as well as naval officers, British officials and crew members.