13. We Are Starving

We Are Starving

The Rations


The First Fleet carried enough food to keep its  passengers alive for two years in Australia.  The rations issued to sailors, marines and officers each week were:

Beef                      4 lb.                              Hardtack           7 lb.

Pork                      2 lb.                              Cheese              12 oz.

Dried peas          2 pints                         Butter                 6 oz

Oatmeal               3 pints                         Vinegar              1/2 pint

Male convicts got one-third less and female convicts got two thirds of the male ration.

At Table Bay (Cape Town) in South Africa, their last port of call before Australia, some officers bought livestock for themselves.  When these were added to the animals Phillip had bought for the government herd, the colony’s total stock came to:

74 hogs and sows   2 bulls              5 cows          29 sheep              19 goats

18 turkeys                  35 ducks         35 geese       209 chickens      5 rabbits 

All these creatures were guarded with care.  Phillip had told the convicts that the life of a breeding animal was worth a man’s.

The cows escaped within the first week and were found some years later over fifty miles away at a place now known as the Cowpastures near Camden. It is interesting that they travelled through Darug land and into Dharawal country without being eaten by Aboriginal people. It has been suggested that stories of the Bunyip as a cow-like creature may have originated from these cows. The Cowpastures were later used by Macarthur to start Australia’s first wool industry.

Rice that can walk on its own


“The pork had been salted between three and four years and every grain of rice was a moving body from the inhabitants lodged within it.”

Starvation in the Colony


Only a third of the prisoners could work.  More than 50 convicts were too feeble from age and incurable illness to work at all, and many others, slum-raised and ignorant of farming, would starve if left to themselves.

Some officers had their own vegetable gardens tended by convicts but few were successful. The soil and weather conditions were very different to those of England.

1789 brought no ships, and as 1790 crept by, the colony sank into starvation. 

“God help us.  If some ships don’t arrive, I don’t know what will.”

Watkin Tench described the mood that now descended over Sydney Cove.

 “Famine was approaching with giant strides, and gloom and dejection overspread every countenance. Men abandoned themselves to the most desponding reflections, and adopted the most extravagant conjectures.”


Little efforts were made to use the food resources available to them. The Europeans still preferred salted beef from England which was up to three years old – rather than eat kangaroo meat. Hoofed animals like cows, which are not native to Australia, have since been farmed on vast areas around Australia. This has contributed to soil erosion on a grand scale. After 200 years, eating kangaroo meat is still an issue of much debate, along with how to best manage forest resources.

We Are Starving


We are starving

We are starving

One piece of meat

That is three years old

Two pounds of bread

That is covered in mould

We cannot grow any food in the ground

We can’t work any more

We are starving   

We are starving

We have some peas that are just like stone

We have some rice that can walk on it’s own

What can we eat from this hostile land

We don’t know what to do

We are starving  

We are starving