Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

First Fleet shipwreck added to National Heritage List

Media release
25 October 2011

The Gillard Government will place the only known shipwreck of a vessel from the First Fleet on the National Heritage List, providing it with Australia's highest form of heritage recognition.

At the Australian National Maritime Museum today, Environment and Communities Minister Tony Burke announced the inclusion of the shipwreck of the HMS Sirius, one of Australia's most significant links to a vessel of the First Fleet.

The shipwreck site of the Sirius lies south east of Kingston Pier in Slaughter Bay, Norfolk Island.

"The HMS Sirius shipwreck is of outstanding heritage value to Australia for its importance in a defining event in our nation's history," Mr Burke said.

"The arrival of the Sirius and the rest of the first fleet at Port Jackson in 1788 is one of the most important moments in our history and is celebrated each year as Australia Day.

"The sinking of the Sirius at Norfolk Island on 19 March 1790 was a disaster for the fledging colony, and it could be said that the adaptability, ingenuity and grim determination to survive shown by the early colonists to overcome adversity have become enduring traits of Australians and part of our national character.

"The National Heritage List provides us with an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the stories and places which have contributed to our national identity.

"The inclusion of the wreck of HMS Sirius on the National Heritage List provides the shipwreck with further protection under national environment law and also gives this preeminent event in our national story the recognition it deserves."

Today marks the 225th anniversary of the commissioning of the HMS Sirius and the appointment of Arthur Philip as Captain and commander of the First Fleet.

The HMS Sirius was the guardian or Flag Ship of the First Fleet during its 15000 mile, six-month journey from England to Australia in 1787-1788, and was vital to the success to the voyage.

The Sirius was the main form of defence for the colony of New South Wales and its primary supply line and communications link with Great Britain.

By February 1790 the shortage of supplies at Port Jackson was at a critical level and the settlement was in danger of starvation and abandonment.

To avert disaster Governor Philip dispatched the Sirius and the HMS Supply to Norfolk Island with convicts and Royal Marines in the hope that the conditions on the island would be more conducive to self sufficiency and relieve pressure on the remaining government supplies. The Sirius was then to proceed to China to purchase desperately needed supplies for the colony.

The officers of the HMS Sirius played an important role in the life of the early colony and gave it its first civic leaders.

"Governors Phillip, Hunter and Gidley King all sailed as senior officers on the HMS Sirius with each one leaving an indelible mark on the beginnings of colonial Australia," Mr Burke said.

"In spite of the loss of the Sirius the decision by Governor Phillip to move colonists to Norfolk Island proved correct and ensured the colony's survival until further supplies arrived from England.

"I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the Norfolk Island government and Museum for their ongoing work for the preservation, documentation and conservation of the shipwreck site and relics.

"The wreck of the HMS Sirius is another important example of our shared maritime heritage with other nations including the United Kingdom"

The shipwreck of the HMS Sirius is the 97th place to be included in the National Heritage List and adjoins the world and national heritage listed Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area on Norfolk Island.

The shipwreck site and its associated relics have been protected from damage or disturbance under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwreck ACT 1976 since 1984.

The National Heritage List was established to list places of outstanding heritage significance to Australia. It includes natural, historic and Indigenous places that are of outstanding national heritage.

For more information on the HMS Sirius and images go to

Vision of the shipwreck is available at: