Guide to the Correspondence of David Blackburn (as filmed by the AJCP)



National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Created: 2018

Collection Summary

Blackburn, David
Correspondence of David Blackburn (as filmed by the AJCP)
Date Range
1785 - 1796
Collection Number
19 items
Language of Materials
Australian Joint Copying Project
The Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) online portal was created with the assistance of the Australian Public Service Modernisation Fund, 2017-2020. The National Library of Australia gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the other foundation AJCP partners, the State Library of New South Wales and The National Archives of the UK, and all other organisations which supported the work of the AJCP, the world's most extensive collaborative copying project, operating from 1948 to 1997.


Scope and Contents

This collection includes correspondence with Margaret Blackburn, Captain A. Phillip and R. Harper. The correspondence details his naval experience, voyages, impressions of Australia and Blackburn's demise. Some of the letters are from others to Blackburn's mother and sister.

Conditions Governing Access

Available for access.

Conditions Governing Use

Many of the records digitised as part of the AJCP are still in copyright. Readers wishing to publish or reproduce documents should seek permission, in the first instance, from the owner of the original material.

Preferred Citation

Acknowledgement of use of this material should refer to the location of the original material and to the Australian Joint Copying Project.

Items from this collection should include references to the location of the original material and to the AJCP nla.obj number, which serves as the online identifier for the digital copy.

Example: M Series: Journal of Capt. James Cook, 18 February-23 September 1770, British Library Add. MS 27885 (AJCP ref:

Archival History

Filmed at the private residence of Mr T. Grix, England, as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, 1976 (AJCP Reel: M971). Original microfilm digitised as part of the NLA AJCP Online Delivery Project, 2017-2020.

Existence and Location of Originals

Originally filmed at Private Residence of Mr. T. Grix, Norfolk, England.

The papers of the Blackburn Family were obtained by the State Library of New South Wales (SAFE/MLMSS 6937). (

Existence and Location of Copies

The original AJCP microfilm of the records filmed from this collection is available at the National Library of Australia [] as well as other institutions holding AJCP microfilm.

Finding Aid Notes

This finding aid is a revised online version of the original finding aid prepared by the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), published by the National Library of Australia in 2018. The original AJCP finding aids were unpublished typescripts or photocopies available from libraries that held copies of the original microfilm.

Dates used in this finding aid refer to the date range of the records selected for filming rather than to the date range of the Series or Files.

Advisory Statement

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this Finding Aid contains material and descriptive information which may be considered culturally sensitive and may cause distress, including names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. This Finding Aid contains terms that reflect authors' views or those of the historical period, but which may not be considered appropriate today. While the information may not reflect current understanding, it is provided in an historical context.


Bennelong; Blackburn, David; Blackburn, Margaret; First Fleet to New South Wales; Hunter, John, Capt.; Indigenous Australians: New South Wales; Lord Howe Island; Naval officers; New South Wales Corps; New South Wales: army and defence; New South Wales: laws; Norfolk Island; Phillip, Arthur, Admiral; Port Jackson, New South Wales; Portsmouth, England; Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar, England; Royal Navy: voyages; Sirius, HMS (ship); Supply, HMS (ship)


Originally cited in Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook. Part 8: Miscellaneous (M) Series. Third Edition, published 1998. Entry 38, p. 13.

Biographical / Historical

David Blackburn (1753-1795) was born in Newbury, Berkshire, the son of the Reverend John Blackburn. After his father's death in 1762, the family moved to Norwich. In 1779 he joined the Royal Navy with the rank of midshipman. By 1785 he was the master on HMS Flora, serving in the West Indies.

In April 1787 Blackburn was appointed master on the tender Supply, commanded by Lieutenant Henry Ball, bound for Botany Bay as part of the First Fleet. The ship arrived in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788 and a few days later Blackburn was in the party that explored Port Jackson. In February 1788 the Supply sailed to Norfolk Island to establish a penal settlement. Blackburn visited Norfolk Island again in September 1788 commanding the transport Golden Grove. In 1790 the Supply sailed to Batavia for provisions and, following its return to Sydney, Blackburn commanded it on two visits to Norfolk Island.

In May 1792 the Supply returned to England and Blackburn was discharged. He joined HMS Dictatorin 1793. He died at Haslar Naval Hospital.

The original letters written by David Blackburn to his sister, and the other papers filmed by the AJCP, were acquired by the State Library of New South Wales in 1999.

The letters were reproduced in Derick Neville. Blackburn's Isle (Lavenham UK, 1975).

Item Descriptions

Series. Letters of David Blackburn, 3 April 1785 - April 1796

19 items

Note regarding the Wiltshire Weed (File)

Note that refers to 'Wiltshire Weed'- the common elm found in the English county of Wiltshire.

S Martin to Margaret Blackburn (Norwich), 3 December (File)

Margaret Blackburn (Norwich) to Blackburn, 3 April 1785 (File)

Discusses mismanagement of their brother; plans of mother and herself to offer board and education to a few young women; seamen and balloons.

Blackburn (London, Portsmouth) to Margaret Blackburn, 12 March 1787 - 9 May 1787 (File)

Details disappointment at appointment as master of Supply; purchase of clothing and charts; likely to be away for 3-4 years; Lieut. H. Ball; arrival of Capt. A Phillip; possibility of charting New Holland coast; imminent departure. One letter is addressed to his mother Elizabeth Blackburn. (10 letters)

Blackburn (Teneriffe) to Margaret Blackburn, 5 June 1787 (File)

Arrival at Teneriffe; convicts in good condition; proceeding to Rio de Janeiro and Cape of Good Hope.

Blackburn (Rio de Janeiro) to Margaret Blackburn, 2 September 1787 (File)

Progress of voyage; impressions of Rio de Janeiro; convicts in healthy state (only 22 deaths); humanity of Capt. Phillip.

Blackburn (Cape of Good Hope) to Margaret Blackburn, 9 November 1787 (File)

Loading of livestock; expects to reach Botany Bay in February or March.

Blackburn (Sydney) to Margaret Blackburn, 12 July 1788 (File)

Quick passage from Cape of Good Hope; arrival at Botany Bay; discovery of Port Jackson; voyage to Norfolk Island and discovery of Lord Howe Island; unproductive gardens at Sydney; impressions of Aborigines; earthquake (22 June); healthy climate.

Blackburn (Sydney) to Margaret Blackburn, 15 November 1788 (File)

Impressions of colony; swamps and rocky hills, poor soil; trees; harbours; canoes, weapons and food of Aborigines; their lack of curiosity; fauna, including kangaroos; productivity of Norfolk Island; lack of a harbour; departure of transports.

Margaret Blackburn (Norwich) to Blackburn, 9 September 1789 (File)

Family news; death of brother Thomas Blackburn in 1787; hopes Guardian will bring 'many necessaries'.

Blackburn (Batavia) to Margaret Blackburn, 12 August 1790 (File)

Healthy climate of New South Wales; poor soil; vegetables do tolerably well; limited contact with Indigenous Australians; Bennelong; shortage of supplies; wreck of HMS Sirius at Norfolk Island; voyage to East Indies; discovery of islands; impressions of Batavia; hopes of returning to England. Letter continued at Port Jackson, 17 March 1791: return to Port Jackson in Oct. 1790; Blackburn's command of Supply on voyage to Norfolk Island; fir trees rotten at heart; visit by Indigenous Australians to Sydney; conflict between tribes.

Capt. A. Phillip to Blackburn, 25 September 1788 (File)

Directs Blackburn to take Golden Grove to Norfolk Island, land people, stores and provisions and receive on bard spars and deals.

Capt. A. Phillip to Blackburn, 17 January 1791 (File)

Directs Blackburn to take command of Supply and proceed to Norfolk Island and load stores and provisions.

Peter Martineau (London) to Elizabeth Blackburn, 10 February 1791 (File)

Meeting with Lieut. P.G. King; speaks of Blackburn in highest terms; Blackburn's illness; cannot explain why he has not written to his family.

Capt. A. Phillip to Blackburn, 19 March 1791 (File)

Directs Blackburn to take command of Supply and transport settlers, officers and supplies to Norfolk Island.

Capt. A. Phillip to P. Stephens (Admiralty), 18 November 1791 (File)

Commends Blackburn who commanded Supply when Lieut. Ball was ill. (extract)

Blackburn to R. Harper (Plymouth), 27 September 1793 (File)

Appointment to HMS Dictator; requests that his things be sent by London wagon.

Testimonials commending Blackburn written by Lieut. H.L. Ball, 8 April 1789, 8 April 1792, 15 May 1792 (File)

Letters received by Margaret Blackburn and her mother Elizabeth Blackburn from friends and relatives in response to questions about the whereabouts of Blackburn and giving details of his death, January 1795 - April 1796 (File)