Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 3

The Lady Penrhyn, one of the eleven First Fleet ships

For the background to this post click here

Get to know the place
Do your homework and make sure your research is accurate. If you can, personally go and visit the place as much as possible. Get to know the people, the surroundings, the needs, the history and the opportunities there. Be thrilled with the beauty and variety of the surroundings and the people but be ready to face challenges. Building something new doesn’t come easily.

The glowing reports given to Parliament about Botany Bay were way too optimistic and were based on only six days of relatively superficial observation. The initial site was rejected.

Even when the fleet moved on to Sydney, the settlers couldn’t contain their optimism!

Hill writes, ‘The first recorded impressions of Sydney Cove…gave no indication that the newcomers had any inkling of the problems that lay ahead.’ (David Hill, 1788, Heinemann Australia, p.149) One settler initially described the harbour as the finest ‘in the universe’!

Well, it’s good to be full of faith and to believe that things will go well, but we also need to face our challenges realistically. David met Goliath with genuine faith, not unreality. There was a mix of previous experience, faith and boldness. He didn’t downplay the task but faced it with holy realism.

Make the right decisions quickly
After ten long weeks at sea, from Cape Town, the fleet finally drew close to Australian shores.

Arthur Bowes Smyth was aboard the Lady Penrhyn and expresses the wonder of their first sighting of land.

‘At 7am we discovered land about forty miles distant. The joy everyone felt upon so long wished for an event can be better conceived than expressed.’ (Hill, p.141)

Hopes were high. But they were met with an unexpected challenge. To everyone’s shock and surprise, Botany Bay itself was ‘totally unsuitable’.

Arthur Philip, the first Governor of New South Wales, wrote, ‘I began to examine the bay as soon as we anchored, and found that…I did not see any situation of which there was not some strong objection.’ (p. 143)

Captain Watkin Tench recorded their discouragement, ‘In the evening we returned on board, not greatly pleased with our discoveries.’ (p.143)

Here, Arthur Philip’s leadership was excellent. Within just three days, and with all the convicts still aboard the various ships, Philip and a few others set out in three small boats to explore the coastline further to the North.

It was here they discovered the more suitable site they called Sydney Cove, where the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are today. The decision to change location was made quickly.

The party returned to Botany Bay where convicts were attempting (unsuccessfully) to clear the ground in case this really was their best spot. Philip ordered the whole fleet to move up to Sydney.

Interestingly, two French ships, arrived at Botany Bay as the First Fleet were leaving. They had heard that the British had decided to establish a settlement there and fully expected to find a town, with houses and roads already built.

The French were bemused to find what looked like a hurried and comprehensive withdrawal from the Bay, but nevertheless entertained various of the leaders on their ships with some fine dining. It is amazing to think that information of a global nature took months and sometimes even years to get from place to place.

Clear decision making, especially in terms of location could be critical in establishing a new church community. And if a decision has been made that proves to be incorrect, surely wise leadership can acknowledge that and make an adjustment that benefits the community.

Many struggles still lay ahead for the settlers, and they very nearly came to starvation early on, but this single location decision certainly saved many lives.

For the next installment of this story click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

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