by Rob Marshall
On the seaside wall beyond the Ryde Canoe lake there is the memorial plaque for HMS Sirius which began its remarkable voyage from the Motherbank anchorage close by.
Even before it left these shores the Sirius had a remarkable career. It was originally built in 1776 as a merchantman with the name of Berwick but in 1781 it caught fire and the navy then purchased the wreck and repaired it. The resulting warship fought in the war of American independence but later the navy renamed it and prepared it for its final task.
In August 1786 a government decision had been made to send a colonisation party of convicts, military, and civilian personnel to Botany Bay. Sirius was fitted out for this voyage to establish a new colony. There were 775 convicts on board a fleet of transport ships. . They were accompanied by officials including the new governor Sir Arthur Phillip, members of the crew, marines, the families thereof and their own children who together totalled 645. In all, eleven ships were sent in what became known as the First Fleet led by HMS Sirius. They set sail from Motherbank in August 1787.
The voyage was not straightforward and it took 252 days to reach the destination by way of Brazil but worse was to follow. The embryo colony had insufficient food and was on the brink of starvation and the nearest point which could supply more food was the colony on the Cape of Good Hope in distant South Africa. The Sirius was then dispatched on a 2000 mile voyage of desperation and in due course returned with the life saving supplies Sirius was needed to protect the new colony but she was wrecked on Norfolk Island in 1790 and her loss was catastrophic for the new settlers.
In 1987, the 200th anniversary, the Sydney borough of Mosman commissioned three plaques to commemorate the ship. One is now on Norfolk Island , the second , in Mosman Australia and the third here in Ryde.