British Home Secretary Lord Sydney appointed Phillip as captain of HMS Sirius, the flagship of the Australian First Fleet, which set sail on 13 May 1787 with a fleet carrying mostly convicts, and arrived at their intended destination Botany Bay, on the east coast of Australia, in January 1788. Phillip realised that the soil there was not suited to cultivation and there was a lack of fresh water, so he took the fleet a short way further north to the inlet now known as Sydney Harbour (formally Port Jackson). On 26 January 1788, the fleet landed at a place which Phillip named Sydney Cove, now in the heart of modern day Sydney. The Australia Day public holiday now marks this occasion as Australia's national day.
Phillip was now governor of the new colony, and saw it through its early difficult days. By standards of the age, his approach to both the convicts and local Aborigines was enlightened. He remained in post long enough to stabilise the colony, before retiring as governor and returning to England in 1792.