On 22nd August 1770, after having sailed north along the east coast of Australia, British explorer Lieutenant James Cook landed on Possession Island in Torres Strait. The purpose for going ashore is recorded in his journal: “I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third, took possession of the whole Eastern Coast from the above Latitude down to this place by the name of New Wales.” Upon returning the England, he amended the name to New South Wales. What exactly about the east coast of Australian reminded Cook of South Wales is not known. Cook’s instructions had been these: ‘You are also with the consent of the Natives to take possession, in the name of the King of Great Britain, of convenient Situations in such Countries as you may discover, that have not already been discovered or visited by any other European Power … But if you find the Countries so discovered are uninhabited, you are to take possession of them for His Majesty.’
Cook’s proclamation effectively declared the whole of Australia as British territory, except for the western third, which was still called New Holland. New South Wales as proclaimed by Cook extended north to south from Cape York to a latitude of 38 degrees south (which excluded Tasmania part of Victoria), and east of the 135th meridian of east longitude included all islands of the South Pacific Ocean discovered during the voyage not previously discovered by an European country, which included New Zealand and Fiji.
Cook’s claim was sealed in January 1788, when Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet to found a convict settlement at what is now Sydney. Phillip, as Governor of New South Wales, exercised nominal authority over all of Australia east of the 135th meridian, as well as the islands of the South Pacific, including New Zealand. Phillip was appointed as ‘Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief in and over Our territory called New South Wales, extending from the Northern Cape or extremity of the coast called Cape York, in the latitude of ten degrees thirty-seven minutes south, to the southern extremity of the said territory of New South Wales or South Cape, in the latitude of forty-three degrees thirty-nine minutes south and of all the country inland westward as far as the one hundred and thirty-fifth degree of east longitude reckoning from the meridian of Greenwich, including all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean within the latitudes aforesaid of ten degrees thirty-seven minutes south and forty-three degrees thirty-nine minutes south’. It was these territories that Phillip proclaimed as being under his jurisdiction as Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief when he raised the British flag at Sydney Cove on 26th January 1788.
For the next 40 years the history of New South Wales was identical with the History of Australia, since it was not until 1803 that any settlements were made outside the boundaries of New South Wales, and these, at Hobart and Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), were at first dependencies of New South Wales. It was not until 1825 that Van Diemen’s Land became a separate colony. Also that year, on 16th July, the border of New South Wales was set further west at the 129th meridian to encompass the short lived settlement on Melville Island. In 1829 this border became the border with Western Australia, which was proclaimed a colony.