One of Australia’s most important shipwrecks is HMS Sirius. In 1787 she was the lead ship for the First Fleet of eleven ships setting out from Britain on the voyage to establish the first settlement in Australia. They landed at Botany Bay on the 18th January 1788 and soon after established the settlement at Port Jackson.
Within a few weeks of their arrival at Botany Bay, a small group of convicts under the command of Philip Gidley King had set sail to establish another settlement at Norfolk Island, a rocky outcrop 1,500 kilometres north east of Port Jackson.
It was on this small isolated island that HMS Sirius was lost on March 19, 1790. Her shipwrecking caused great distress to both settlements who were clinging to life, never far from starvation. As Captain Arthur Phillip, Governor of New South Wales recorded:
“You never saw such dismay as the news of the wreck occasioned amongst us all; for, to use a sea term, we looked upon her as our sheet anchor”
The story of the life and wrecking of HMS Sirius is only one half of her tale. The other is the story that she left lying for close to 200 years on the seafloor, on the reef at Norfolk Island. The recovery of her artefacts over the past 25 years in particular, have revealed much to us. We now have more answers to the story of the circumstances of British settlement in Australia, the Sirius’ construction as a Baltic trader, and the perilous state of this fledgling Nation when she was lost.
Today, the HMS Sirius artefacts are mostly all housed in the Norfolk Island Museum. They comprise the most significant display of First Fleet cultural heritage held anywhere in Australia and its territories.