In a world first, the State Library of NSW is opening the vaults to its unrivalled First Fleet collection at 6pm tonight for its launch online at www.sl.nsw.gov.au. NSW Governor Maria Bashir will officially launch the First Fleet online collection, and Australian actor Jack Thompson will read excerpts from the First Fleet journals.
The State Library’s entire First Fleet archive of over 450 original and historically significant documents and illustrations, including nine of the eleven First Fleet journals known to exist, will be available as a comprehensive online collection for the first time. Included in the collection is the private journal of Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, an intriguing tale of ambition, lust and betrayal!
“The First Fleet journals are undoubtedly the collection’s centrepiece and library staff and volunteers have spent over 3,000 hours painstakingly transcribing every page in time for this sensational launch,” said NSW State Librarian, Regina Sutton.
“Web visitors will be able to read these extraordinary first-hand ‘travel diaries’ packed with fascinating tales of adventure that are now part of our folklore, such as the capture of Bennelong and the spearing of Arthur Phillip,” said Ms Sutton.
According to State Library curator Louise Anemaat, a highlight of the collection is Arthur Phillip’s first recorded words from the Colony: a letter to friend and politician, the Marquis of Lansdown, where he describes Sydney Harbour as “…with out exception the finest Harbour in the World.”
The First Fleet online collection is part of the Library’s new interactive website which will enable web users to make extraordinary discoveries about Australia.
The new website features over 120,000 primary resources relating to Australia’s heritage which have been progressively digitalised with substantial financial support from the State Library’s private and corporate donors.
Additional highlights of the First Fleet online collection include:
- Handwritten letters, including a letter by First Fleeter Newton Fowell which records Arthur Phillip’s original intention to call Sydney ‘Albion’ (ancient word for ‘Britain’);
- the earliest visual records of the First Fleet arriving, settlement and the natural environment;
- Arthur Phillip’s written account of first contact with the Indigenous population; and
- First maps documenting the geographic features of the area.
A Tale of Ambition, Lust and Betrayal
A young First Fleeter’s dramatic and little-known story of ambition, lust and betrayal will be featured as part of the State Library of NSW’s new interactive website at www.sl.nsw.gov.au.
The private journal of Ralph Clark, Second Lieutenant of Marines, tells an intriguing story of an ambitious young man obsessed in his longing for his wife Betsy Alicia. He is forced to limit himself to kissing her portrait just once on Sundays, after driving himself mad in his desire!
He writes: ‘…I was looking on it how good the Almighty has been to me to give me So beautiful So good So Vertious a woman to wife as you are Betsey…’
Louise Anemaat says he clearly worships Betsey, while at the same time expressing utter contempt for convict women, calling them ‘the greatest living whores’.
Mysteriously, there’s a two year gap in his entries, and Betsey is hardly mentioned at all when his writing resumes on 15 February 1790.
Stranded on Norfolk Island for 12 months by the wrecking of the Sirius, Ralph Clark ironically takes up with a young convict woman named Mary Branham, and they have a daughter whom they named Alicia. The affair is not mentioned in his journal.
Some believe that Betsey Alicia’s family, who inherited the journal, tore pages from the journal to hide Clark’s terrible betrayal. Tragically, two years after Ralph Clark returned to England in 1792, he, his wife and their nine year old son were dead.
To read more fascinating true tales from the First Fleet collection visit the State Libary of NSW website at www.sl.nsw.gov.au, after the official launch tonight.