First Fleet collection

The First Fleet collection gives a fascinating insight into life in Australia following the arrival of the British in 1788, when 11 ships carrying some 1,400 people landed to establish the first colony.

Through the eyes of the fleet's artists we glimpse the flora and fauna, the people of the Eora Nation (the group of clans that lived in the area around Port Jackson, modern-day Sydney, united by a common language), and the landscape they inhabited. The perspective of the people invaded was not recorded at the time but is investigated here.

It is customary for some Aboriginal Australian communities not to mention names or reproduce images associated with deceased people. Members of these communities are respectfully advised that some images on display, including in the videos, depict deceased Aboriginal people.

  • Waratah by the Port Jackson Painter, from the First Fleet collection
    First Fleet art highlights

    Explore the British view of Australia in the early days of colonisation through a selection of highlights from the First Fleet collection.

  • Eastern gray kangaroo and grass tree by George Raper
    Unique flora and fauna

    The First Fleet, together with the earlier Endeavour voyage, opened Europeans' eyes to a unique new world of plant and animal life. Discover for yourself why the artwork is an important record of Australia's natural history.

  • A detail of the First Fleet painting showing the British Governor with a spear through his shoulder
    Spearing the Governor

    This famous painting depicts the British Governor with a spear through his shoulder. But, as you can find out in this video, there is much more to the story than might at first appear.

  • Daniel Boyd, artist-in-residence at the Natural History Museum
    Artist Daniel Boyd looks beyond the images

    Australian artist-in-residence Daniel Boyd looks at what the First Fleet collection does and doesn't tell us about the early years of colonisation and the relationship between the British settlers and the Aboriginal people. Watch the video.

  • Detail from the Images of Nature gallery installation by Daniel Boyd
    Tracing the past

    Discover in this video how Daniel Boyd's installation brings a fresh perspective to both the First Fleet collection and the human remains collection housed at the Museum.

  • Dasyurus viverrinus, a marsupial no longer found on the Australian mainland
    First Fleet artwork collection

    Find out more about the history of the collection and browse over 600 drawings and watercolours.

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The Art of the First Fleet book

The Art of the First Fleet book

Enjoy rare watercolours, ink and pencil drawings and some of the only visual records of the lives of the indigenous Eora people of Australia.

These beautiful illustrations, by artists on board the First Fleet, document the sights witnessed by the first Europeans to colonise Australia.

Buy The Art of the First Fleet online