Just to keep all this flag-waving in perspective, here is Governor Phillip’s own account of what we now know as Australia Day. From his telling, the presence of the French ships was of more significance than the flag-raising ceremony, especially during this time of uneasiness in British-French relations. It all seems rather understated, really.
25 January 1788
On the 25th of January therefore, seven days after the arrival of the Supply, Governor Phillip quitted Botany Bay in the same ship, and sailed to Port Jackson. The rest of the fleet, under convoy of the Sirius, was ordered to follow, as soon as the abatement of the wind, which then blew a strong gale, should facilitate its working out of the Bay. The Supply was scarcely out of sight when the French ships again appeared off the mouth of the harbour, and a boat was immediately sent to them, with offers of every kind of information and assistance their situation could require. It was now learnt that these were, as the Governor had supposed, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, on a voyage of discovery, under the conduct of Monsieur La Perouse.
26 January 1788
On the 26th, the transports and store ships, attended by the Sirius,finally evacuated Botany Bay; and in a very short time they were all assembled in Sydney Cove, the place now destined for their port, and for the reception of the new settlement. The French ships had come to anchor in Botany Bay just before the departure of the Sirius; and during the intercourse which then took place, M. la Perouse had expressed a strong desire of having some letters conveyed to Europe. Governor Phillip was no sooner informed of this, than he dispatched an officer to him with full information of the time when it was probable our ships would sail, and with assurances that his letters should be punctually transmitted. By this officer the following intelligence was brought back concerning the voyage of the Astrolabe and Boussole.
… (omitted- long description of the French ships)…
The debarkation was now made at Sydney Cove, and the work of clearing the ground for the encampment, as well as for the storehouses and other buildings, was begun without loss of time. But the labour which attended this necessary operation was greater than can easily be imagined by those who were not spectators of it. The coast, as well as the neighbouring country in general, is covered with wood; and though in this spot the trees stood more apart, and were less incumbered with underwood than in many other places, yet their magnitude was such as to render not only the felling, but the removal of them afterwards, a task of no small difficulty. By the habitual indolence of the convicts, and the want of proper overseers to keep them to their duty, their labour was rendered less efficient than it might have been.
26 January 1788
In the evening of the 26th the colours were displayed on shore, and the Governor, with several of his principal officers and others, assembled round the flag-staff, drank the king’s health, and success to the settlement, with all that display of form which on such occasions is esteemed propitious, because it enlivens the spirits, and fills the imagination with pleasing presages. From this time to the end of the first week in February all was hurry and exertion. They who gave orders and they who received them were equally occupied; nor is it easy to conceive a busier scene than this part of the coast exhibited during the continuance of these first efforts towards establishment.