HMS Sirius (1786)

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See HMS Sirius for other ships of this name.

The merchant ship Berwick was built by Watsons of Rotherhithe in 1780 for the Baltic trade; but she is famous in Australian history as HMS Sirius, having served under this name, refitted as an armed naval vessel, as the flagship of the First Fleet. The First Fleet set out from Portsmouth, England, in 1787 to establish the first European colony in New South Wales, Australia, the following year.

Sirius was wrecked off the coast of Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean in 1790.

File:Unveiling of HMS Sirius' anchor.jpg
The unveiling of Sirius' anchor at Macquarie Place, Sydney, in 1907.


There has been confusion over early history of the Berwick. A note about her by the future New South Wales governor Philip Gidley King, describing her as a former 'East country man', was interpreted for many years as relating to the East Indies trade; yet, analysis of the maritime nomenclature of the time suggests that this description referred instead to ships participating in the Baltic trade.[1] It was likely built by Christopher Watson and co., who also built the Prince Of Wales, another ship of the first fleet.[2] She had a burthen of 511 83/94 tons and after being burnt in a fire was bought and rebuilt by the Royal Navy in 1786 and renamed Sirius, after the southern star Sirius.[3] It carried 16 guns. [4] She sailed under the command of Captain John Hunter and carried Arthur Phillip, the Governor of the colony which was to be established. She also carried Major Robert Ross commander of the Royal Marines responsible for guarding the convicts in the colony. The surgeons on this ship were George Bouchier Worgan and Thomas Jamison. (Jamison later became surgeon to the settlement on Norfolk Island and eventually Surgeon-General of New South Wales.)

Sirius left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, and arrived at Port Jackson on 26 January 1788. She remained in the colony until 2 October 1788 when she was sent from Port Jackson to the Cape of Good Hope to get flour and other supplies for the almost starving colony, a voyage that took over seven months.

On 19 March 1790 Sirius was wrecked on the reef at Norfolk Island while landing stores. Among those colonists who witnessed the ship's demise from shore was Norfolk Island's then surgeon, Thomas Jamison, who, as we have seen, had arrived in the Antipodes in 1788 on the very same vessel, as a member of the First Fleet.

With the settlement still on the brink of starvation, the loss of Sirius was a catastrophe as it left the colonists with only one ship. Her crew was stranded on Norfolk Island until 21 February 1791, when it was rescued and eventually taken back to England. Hunter returned to New South Wales, serving as the colony's governor from 1795 to 1799.

Notably, one of the sailors on Sirius, Jacob Nagle, wrote a first-hand account of the ship's last voyage, wreck and stranding.

A Sirius anchor was retrieved from the wreck site and is now mounted in the Pier Museum, Kingston, on Norfolk Island. Another anchor, as well as a cannon recovered from the surf-smashed vessel, is on display in Macquarie Place, Sydney. Other Sirius artefacts can be viewed at the Sydney Maritime Museum.


  1. Henderson G, Stanbury M (1988). The Sirius:Past and Present. Sydney: Collins. pp. 39. ISBN 0-7322-2447-0. 
  2. Henderson p. 40
  3. Henderson, p. 38
  4. Australian Shipwrecks - vol1 1622-1850, Charles Bateson, AH and AW Reed, Sydney, 1972, ISBN 0 589 07112 2 p26

Further reading

  • Gillen, Mollie, The Founders of Australia: a biographical dictionary of the First Fleet, Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1989.

See also

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