Banalong, c.1793
W.W. [William Waterhouse]
Pen and ink wash
DGB 10, f.13, Dixson Library, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

Two Australian Aboriginal men are leaving their country. They are the first to cross 10,000 miles of ocean to the other side of the world in a sailing ship. It will be an epic journey, taking six months to reach England, evading ‘ice islands’ in the pre-Antarctic, rounding Cape Horn, stopping for three weeks at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and confronting Neptune, God of the Sea, at the Equator.

On 10 December 1792, Woollarawarre Bennelong and his young kinsman Yemmerrawanne board the 422-ton capacity convict transport Atlantic, moored at the Governor’s Wharf on the eastern side of Warrane (Sydney Cove).

Atlantic, a Third Fleet timber vessel, built in Wales in 1784, is ‘ship-rigged’, with three masts and square sails, apart from the mizzen or third mast. Her master is Archibald Armstrong, naval agent Lieutenant Richard Bowen and surgeon James Thompson.

The two Aboriginal men, who are said to be ‘much attached’ to Governor Arthur Phillip, embark ‘voluntarily and cheerfully’, says Lieutenant David Collins, withstanding ‘the united distress of their wives, and the dismal lamentations of their friends, to accompany him to England, a place they well knew was at a great distance from them’. 

They soon pass the brick house the governor had built for Bennelong on the eastern point at Dubuwagulye (now Bennelong Point) and leave Warrane.

Arthur Phillip, returning home from five years of solitary leadership as the first Governor of New South Wales, takes with him a portfolio of watercolour drawings of nondescript plants and animals and portraits of the Indigenous ‘savages’.

Aboriginal spears, shields and fishing tackle, specimens of timber, plants, animals and birds, four live and nervous kanguroo and some howling dingos have been loaded on board. A week earlier, Lieutenant John Poulden had marched the returning marine detachment on board as fires swept through the heights of The Rocks on the western side of the cove.

Officers and oarsmen in small boats shout ‘Huzza’ as the ship slips her ropes from the jetty. They give three farewell cheers for Governor Phillip, but the Reverend Mr. Johnson’s boat is staved in when it rams the side of the ship.

By English reckoning, Atlantic clears the Port Jackson Heads at 9 o’clock on the morning of 11 December 1792.

Wind fills the sails. From the Look Out Post high on South Head, the Indigenous burial ground of Wollara, keen eyes still sight the sails at midday. The Eora detect a white speck on the horizon well into the afternoon.

Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne have sailed out of the Eora world into a new Dreaming.

John Easty
Extract from his journal for ‘Sattaday March the 8th 1788’
[SAFE/DLSPENCER 374, Dixson Library, State Library of NSW, Sydney]

In this extract from his journal, John Easty, a private of marines, who sailed to New South Wales on board the First Fleet transport  Scarborough, records his own punishment for ‘bringing a feameale Convict into Camp’, for which, on 12 March 1788, he received ‘150 Lachess’ of the cat o’ nine tails.

Two weeks out from Sydney the ship’s passengers celebrate the festive season.

‘Tuesday Decbr 25 this being Christmas day, His Excellency the Govr gave Evry mess in the Ship a joint of fresh pork and some punkin [pumpkin] and ½ pint of Rum to Each man,’ writes Marine Private John Easty. Neither handwriting nor spelling come easily to Easty, who torturously pens his ‘memarandom’ throughout the voyage.

For the first time in their lives Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne catch sight of rocky snow-covered peaks as they approach the cold southern ocean. Battered by gales, squalls and strong winds, Atlantic sails by shimmering blue-streaked icebergs on New Year’s Day, 1 January 1793. Easty writes:

… this Morning att 4 oclock a very Heavy Squall att ½ past 5 Saw ae large Rock of Ice to the Southerd very high very Cold Heavey weather all day Shiped Several very heavey Seas duren the day att Night at ½ past 9 Saw a very Large Iland of Ice’ …

While forced to avoid ‘a great many Ilands of Ice’ in the days that follow, the ship makes rapid progress, running 4500 miles in one month to 8 January 1793.

Nine days later Private Easty sights the ‘west part of the Iland of Terry dele fugo [Tierra del Fuego], very high mountainous Rockey barren place although in the Midts of Summer yet the land was Covred with Snow’.

On 17 January the ship rounds the menacing Cape Horn at the extremity of South America and enters its namesake, the Atlantic Ocean. Next day Phillip allows every man on board half a pint of spirits and issues a joint of fresh pork to each mess to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

The Atlantic passes the mountainous ‘States’ or Staten Island (Isla de los Estados). Here be penguins, seals and seagulls.

‘Very pleasant this Iland’ writes Easty on Sunday 20 January 1793. Sailing in clear weather, crew and passengers see the hillocks and green patches of the ‘faulkland Iland’.

On Sunday 3 February 1793, John Easty (and, no doubt, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne), sailing with Governor Arthur Phillip on the Atlantic, spot a ship which, writes Easty, proves to be the whaler ‘favouret of Nanticket in amearicca’, that is the Favourite of Nantucket, Massachusetts, North America.

Favourite gives them an account of British ships from Port Jackson ‘being all well on the Cost of Parru [Peru] in August Last’[ 1792]. The vessels  are SalamanderWilliam and Ann and Mary Ann, which in July and August 1791 left Port Jackson after delivering their convict cargo to become whalers and sealers in New Zealand waters.

Two week’s earlier Favourite spoke Captain William Raven on the Enderby & Co whaler Britannia near the River Plate who told them he had ‘Landed 12 men with the 2nd mate to Secure Seales Skins and furs against the time of the Return of the Ship to New South Wailes’ [sic].

The River Plate, or ‘River of Silver’, is in the South Atlantic, between Argentina and Uruguay.

‘They were of a sweet nature, obliging to those who asked of them their dances and other strange gestures; and they had great facility in pronouncing Portuguese.’


Until recently it was not known that Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne went ashore when Atlantic reached the port of Rio de Janiero. Their activities there were recorded months later in the Gazeta de Lisboa, published in Lisbon, Portugal, on ’27 Julho de 1793’.

This version is from the compilation Noticias de Portugal e Brazil, 1751-1800:

Written from Rio Janeiro on February 6th that Atlantic, Captain Bowen, arrived with the happiest voyage from the port of Jackson in the new South Wales, having made his way across the Pacific Sea, rounding Cape Horne, and then arrived at Rio de Janeiro, all in the brief 58 days. The ship carried Arthur Filippe [sic], the first Governor of that remote colony; this celebrated officer, (well known for having served in the Portuguese Navy) among the many curiosities of animals and collections of the products of Nature, also brought two men from that new country, well proportioned, and in colour similar to the blacks, but with less curly hair. They were of a sweet nature, obliging to those who asked of them their dances and other strange gestures; and they had great facility in pronouncing Portuguese. The ship sails on March 3.

The Atlantic anchors on Thursday 7 February 1793 (Ship’s time) in the vast harbour of Rio de Janeiro. Easty writes: ‘… att 4 Saw the Land the Easterd of Riojanaro att 10 made the mouth of that harbour att 2 oclock Came to anchor Near this town.’

Arthur Phillip is no stranger to Rio de Janeiro. As the despatch mentions, he was commissioned as a Captain in the Portuguese Navy, a British ally, from mid 1775 to mid 1778. Phillip visited Rio again as commander of the eleven ships of the so-called ‘First Fleet’, bringing convicts to Australia in 1787.

Looking around them Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne see the magnificent harbour they must have compared to their own, the overshadowing Sugar Loaf, the Viceroy’s Palace and the Carmelite Convent bordering the grand square, hear the church bells, see the carriages of the colonists, black African slaves from the sugar plantations and freed and runaway slaves dancing their own fandangos.

On 24 February Captain James Colnett, commander of the 374-ton merchant sloop Rattler, owned by the whaling firm Enderby & Sons, finds ‘Captain Phillips’ aboard the Atlantic anchored in Rio and comes on board with a letter for Sir Phillip Stephens at the Admiralty in London.

Colnett, who sailed as a midshipman on Captain James Cook’s second voyage on HMS Resolution in 1772, has been released from the Royal Navy on a mission to survey whaling grounds in the South Pacific. He writes, in A Voyage to the South Atlantic and round Cape Horn (London, 1798):

Perhaps, if invited, the two Aboriginal voyagers taste that rare delicacy, turtle soup. Hearing from Colnett of renewed trouble between France and England, Phillip purchases guns to strengthen the ship’s defences.

The passengers are back on board on 4 March and the Atlantic puts out from Rio three days later.

7 March 1793. Third Mate Samuel Brown, aged 40, dies of ‘dropsy’. Surgeon James Thompson reads his burial ceremony.   Easty remarks ‘… this day Saw Some dolphin and flying fish’.

1 April 1793. New and unfamiliar stars appear in the sky as the ship sails north. Unfamiliar to Easty, but surely more so for the two Wangal voyagers.

… this Night the Evining Star and the 7 Stars whare intermixed a circumstance as I Never saw in my Life in any Part of the world before’ writes Easty on ‘Munday … April the 1st 1793’


Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne are startled witnesses at the Crossing of the Line ritual at the Equator on Wednesday 3 April, a cloudy day. In this grotesque ritual, green young sailors are ducked in the ocean or shaved with rusty irons by drunken old tars decked out as mermaids in seaweed petticoats. Officers and gentlemen avoid the ordeal by paying a ransom in cash or liquor.

In Easty’s opinion, ‘the 2 Natives Thoucht [thought]’ the figure of Neptune really was ‘a man who Lived in the Sea’.

On the evening of 5 April 1793, Marine private Robert Thompson, aged 38, from Belfast in Northern Ireland, is missed. Easty records his fate: ‘att 9 some people on bord heard Something fall into the water … it was Concluded that he Uenfortuneatly derounded unperceived …’

The following Monday Thompson’s belongings, estimated to be worth £ 10.10, are allotted to Lieutenant Poulden ‘to be taken to the division the articels Consisted of 1 Coat 2 Jackets 2 Wascoats 2 Breaches 1 Hat Hee had 3 Sutes of Cloaths …’

On Friday 12 April Atlantic meets a Portuguese ship bound for Brazil. ‘She gave an account of war between Great Britain and france’, writes Easty, ‘and that the King of france was beheaded the 21 of Janry that war was declared the 22nd’.


Atlantic sails north, through ‘Gales of wind’ lasting four days, from Tuesday 16 April until Friday 19, when heavy seas prevail. On 20 April the ship crosses the Tropic of Cancer and on ‘Munday 22 Cleare with Light Breases … this day the Govr Gave Evry Marines 2 lb of fresh pork …’

They suffer ‘Hard Gales and Rain again on Sunday April 28 and ‘Hard Rain all day and hard Gales of wind’ the next day.

As the ship approaches the Scilly Islands off the Cornish coast on the morning of 18 May a French ship fires ‘three Guns att us’. The sails are quickly raised and the English colours are hoisted. Another shot is fired by the pursuing French vessel that afternoon, but the Atlantic outruns the pirate.

William Dawes, Book B 1791:4.1-2
Vocabulary of the language of N.S. Wales in the neighbourhood of Sydney, MS 4165(b)
School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Patyegarang and other Aboriginal informants of Lieutenant William Dawes  in Sydney had coined  their own name for the foreign country that Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne were at last about to visit.

Captain Watkin Tench [1793, page 292] recorded its meaning:
“But the appellation by which they generally distinguished us was that of Béreewolgal, meaning men come from afar”, while the Governor’s Vocabulary [Book C 1791:9.8] gives it as “Berewal A great distance off.”

After a voyage of almost six months, Atlantic makes landfall at six o’clock on Sunday evening, 19 May 1793. They have reached the safe haven of Falmouth Harbour, protected by the massive Pendennis Castle, built high on a cliff in 1544 by Henry VIII to face an earlier French threat.

At 7 o’clock next morning, writes Easty, ‘His Excellency Arthur Phillip went on shore and the 2 Natives and Mr. Alley to Proceed on thare way to London.’ Richard Alley had served as surgeon on the convict transport ships Lady Juliana and Royal Admiral.

Sea-weary, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne briefly feel solid earth under their feet before mounting the horse-drawn carriage that will take them to London. Perhaps, as they set off, they glimpse the sails of the 64-gun warship HMS Agamemnon, commanded by the young Captain Horatio Nelson, who reports for orders in Falmouth that day.

After tossing and pitching on a ship for six months with flapping sails and creaking timbers on ridges and valleys of white-flecked waves, through roaring gales, howling winds and sudden silent calms, they are jolting through the Cornish countryside to the clatter of horses’ hooves on the cobbled road.

On the ocean the two men from the Antipodes watched swooping seabirds, flying fish and dolphins at play. Now they peer through misty rain at thatched cottages, grazing sheep and fat cows in green fields dotted with yellow gorse.

Stonehenge 1740
William Stukeley

Packet ships bring despatches and letters from Europe to Falmouth, which are carried by rapid mail coach to London. The ‘Great Coach Road’ runs east through Launceston, Bodmin, Truro, Bath, Wells and Taunton. Perhaps, where the road passes close by, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne glimpse the ancient standing stone circles at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain near the River Avon.

Soaked by a hailstorm as he walks alone on the plain just two months later the poet William Wordsworth, takes shelter from a storm in the ruins at night and imagines:

A single Briton in wolf-skin vest,
With shield and stone-axe, stride across the Wold;
the voice of spears was heard, the rattling spear
Shaken by arms of mighty bone …

Eventually, the tired Wangal men reach the outskirts of London, capital of the far-reaching British Empire, where fields give way to smoky chimneys. Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne are confronted with The City, a crowded metropolis with a population in 1793 of one million in an island with only nine million inhabitants.

Its narrow-fronted brown and red brick Georgian houses and terraces, straight streets and ordered squares have been laid out over the ruins of the devastating Great Fire of 1666. The poor still live in unhealthy hovels and lodgings in narrow courts and alleys and frequent ramshackle public houses. Churches and their spires crown the skyline, dominated by the huge dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The heart of London, its great water highway, the serpentine River Thames, fringed by warehouses, wharves and shipyards, is crowded with small river boats carrying goods, passengers and horses.

Three bridges span the Thames: London Bridge, built in the twelfth century (repaired in the 1760s), the handsome Westminster Bridge, made of Portland stone (1730-50), and Blackfriars Bridge (1760-9), which has opened the way to South London. The Fleet Ditch, once a stinking sewer of sludge running into the Thames at Blackfriars, has been filled in to make space for the arcades of the Fleet Market.

[With thanks to Private John Easty, whose original journal is in Sydney’s Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney]

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020


18 MAY


Arabanoo, captured on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip on 30 December 1788, nursed the Aboriginal children Nanbarry and Boorong when they contracted smallpox, but caught the disease himself.

He died and was buried at Warrane (Sydney Cove) on 18 May 1789.
There are no known images of Arabanoo.

Yuremany [Yemmerrawanne]
Silhouette on paper
Artist unknown, no date
B10 f.14, Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW, Sydney

He was only 19. Bennelong’s young Wangal kinsman Yemmerrawanne, Yuremany or Yemmerrawanyea Kebbara, who accompanied him to England, died of a lung infection on 18 May 1794 and was buried in the parish cemetery at Eltham, Kent. 

[Thanks to my friend Adam Joseph for reminding me of this sad anniversary]

Keith Vincent Smith 2020