Guide to the Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth (as filmed by the AJCP)



National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Created: 2018

Collection Summary

Smyth, Arthur Bowes
Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth (as filmed by the AJCP)
Date Range
1787 - 1789
Collection Number
1 item
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

Describes the voyage of the First Fleet, Smyth's stay in Australia and his return voyage via Tahiti and China. Details are given of treatment of the women convicts during the voyage and events in the first three months of the new colony, including comments on the behaviour of convicts and marines, encounters with the Indigenous Australians and the fauna and flora of the mainland, Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. Contains detailed lists of the ship's company, officers stationed in N.S.W., female convicts aboard the Lady Penrhyn together with a list of children on board.

Conditions Governing Access

Available for access.

Conditions Governing Use

Readers wishing to publish or reproduce documents should seek permission, in the first instance, from the British Library. For more information visit: How I use the images I order?-The British Library [].

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 as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, 1974. (AJCP reel M933). Original microfilm digitised as part of the NLA AJCP Online Delivery Project, 2017-2020.

Existence and Location of Originals

The copy filmed by the AJCP was originally filmed at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London. For more information see Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth ( It was aquired by the British Library in 1953.

In addition to this copy, two others are known:

The original journal of Bowes Smyth is held by the National Library of Australia (Reference: MS 4568). The journal was purchased by the National Library of Australia in 1970. For more information see: Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth at the National Library of Australia ( For a digitised copy see: Arthur Bowes Smyth at the National Library of Australia.

A 'fair copy', complied ca 1790 is held by the Mitchell Library ( It was aquired in 1915.

There are only slight textual differences between the three manuscripts, but the two copies have a number of drawings which are not in the original.The copy in the Mitchell Library was reproduced in Paul Fidlon and R.J. Ryan, eds. The journal of Arthur Bowes-Smyth: surgeon, Lady Penhryn, 1787-1789, Sydney, Australian Documents Library, 1979.

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 Note

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.


Birds: Australia; Botany: Australia; Cape Town, South Africa; China; Convict ships; Convict ships: health and medical services; Convicts: New South Wales; Convicts: women; First Fleet to New South Wales; health and medical services; Indigenous Australians: New South Wales; Lady Penrhyn, convict ship; Lord Howe Island; New South Wales: flora and fauna; Norfolk Island; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Smyth, Arthur Bowes; Surgeons; Surgeons: convict ships; Sydney, New South Wales: visits to; Tahiti; Zoology: Lord Howe Island; Zoology: New South Wales; Zoology: Norfolk Island


Originally cited in Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook. Part 8: Miscellaneous (M) Series. Third Edition, published 1998. Entry number 420, page 164.

Biographical / Historical

Arthur Bowes Smyth (1750-1790), the son of a surgeon, was born in Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Essex. He practised as a surgeon in his home town at least between 1778 and 1783. In March 1787 he was appointed surgeon to the ship's company on the Lady Penhryn, one of the transports in the First Fleet, which carried 101 female convicts to New South Wales. He took charge of the prisoners on the ship when the convicts' surgeon fell ill at Tenerife. The Lady Penrhyn arrived at Botany Bay on 20 January 1788 and left the colony on 5 May 1788. During his brief stay, Smyth (who at this time was known as Arthur Bowes) collected natural history specimens and made some of the first sketches of Australian fauna, including a kangaroo and an emu. On the long voyage back to England, he visited Lord Howe Island, Tahiti, Macao, Canton and St Helena. He died a few months after his return.

Item Descriptions

Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth, 1789 (File 1)

Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth kept on the Lady Penrhyn (master: William Sever) on the voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and on the return voyage from Sydney to London, 20 March 1787 – 13 August 1789. (116 folios, 232pp)

The first part of the journal refers to Smyth's embarkation on the Lady Penhryn at Portsmouth, the crew, the arrival of Governor Phillip, the departure (13 May 1787), landing at Tenerife (2 June 1787), Smyth's appointment as convicts' surgeon, illnesses of crew members, storms, deaths of convicts, visits by officers from HMS Sirius, sightings of other ships, sightings of whales, porpoises, seals and albatrosses, landing at Rio de Janeiro (6 Aug. 1787), procurement of medicines and other provisions, impressions of the city, dining on the Alexander and HMS Sirius, a mutiny on the Alexander, arrival at the Cape of Good Hope (13 Oct. 1787), impressions of Cape Town, the separation of the fleet, provisions for convicts, thieving, punishments, Christmas Day celebrations, the first sighting of Australia (6 Jan. 1788), storms, and the arrival at Botany Bay (20 Jan. 1788).

The following entries contain impressions of Botany Bay and the local flora and fauna and refer to Smyth's wanderings around the bay, a meeting with indigneous peoples, the arrival of French ships, the transfer to Port Jackson, the selection of convicts for Norfolk Island, the disembarkation of the convicts from the Lady Penhryn (6 Feb. 1788), the proclamation ceremony (7 Feb. 1788), kangaroos, encounters with Aborigines, the trials of convicts, excursions into the bush, and deaths and illnesses of convicts.

The final part of the journal records the departure from Sydney (5 May 1788), a landing at Lord Howe Island, scurvy outbreaks, arrival at Tahiti (10 July 1788), trading with Tahitians, dances, meetings with the King, Queen and chiefs, the procurement of cloth and other articles, visits to Huahine and Penhryn Island, porpoises, tropical birds, descriptions of Saipan and Tinian islands (Mariana Islands), collecting shells and corals, arrival at Macao (18 Oct. 1788), meetings with British seamen and factors, including crew of the Scarborough and Charlotte, a visit to Canton, preservation of fish, the position of mandarins in Chinese society, departure from Whampoa (11 Jan. 1789), Sumatra, landing at St Helena (18 May 1789), news of Botany Bay and the other First Fleet ships, social life at St Helena, produce of the island, and the arrival at Portsmouth and London (12 Aug. 1789).

Scattered through the journal are a number of drawings: view of the peak at Tenerife (f. 7) Mayo Island (f. 8), the land about Rio de Janeiro (f. 19), the Cape of Good Hope (f. 27), a tree at Botany Bay 'which yields the yellow balsam of a wigwam' (f. 37), a kangaroo (f. 39), Grafton Island (f. 77), a dolphin and a fish (f. 106). There is also a newspaper cutting (Oct. 1815) with an article about St Helena and a sketch of the island (ff. 98, 116).

At the beginning of the volume there is an incomplete list of vessels in the First Fleet (f. 1), a list of officers stationed at Botany Bay (f. 2), a list of female convicts on board the Lady Penhryn with their ages, occupations, crimes and terms of transportation (ff. 2-5), and a list of children sent out with convict women (f. 6).

At the end of the volume is a list of the number of miles the Lady Penhryn had travelled from the time it left Portsmouth in 1787 until its return to the Isle of Wight in 1789 (f. 113), a list of the places touched on during the voyage (f. 113) and references to remarkable passages in the journal (ff. 114-15).