Hunter was an admiral and the second governor of New South Wales. In May 1754 he became captain’s servant to Thomas Knackston in H.M.S. Grampus. In 1755 he was enrolled as an able seaman in the Centaur, after fifteen months became a midshipman, transferred to the Union and then to the Neptune, successive flagships of Vice-Admiral Charles Knowles, and in 1757 took part in the unsuccessful assault on Rochefort. In 1759, still in the Neptune, in which John Jervis, later Earl St Vincent, was serving as a lieutenant, he was present at the reduction of Quebec. In February 1760 Hunter passed examinations in navigation and astronomy and qualified for promotion as a lieutenant, but he remained without a commission until 1780. Hunter obtained his first commission in 1780 as lieutenant in the Berwick through Admiral Rodney.
When the arrangements which resulted in the sending of the First Fleet to Australia were being made in 1786, H.M.S. Sirius was detailed to convoy it. Hunter was appointed second captain of the vessel under Governor Arthur Phillip with the naval rank of captain. He was also granted a dormant commission as successor to Phillip in the case of his death or absence. In Phillip’s instructions, 25 April 1787, it was hoped that when the settlement was in order it might be possible to send the Sirius back to England under Hunter’s command. On the outward journey, soon after leaving the Cape of Good Hope, Phillip transferred to the tender Supply, hoping to make an advance survey of their destination at Botany Bay; he placed Hunter in the Sirius in command of the main convoy, though in the result the entire fleet of eleven ships made Botany Bay within the three days 18 to 20 January 1788. When Phillip felt doubtful about Botany Bay as the site of the first settlement, he took Hunter with him on the survey which decided that the landing should be on the shores of Port Jackson.
Hunter was chiefly employed on surveying and other seaman’s business, as well as sitting both in the Court of Criminal Judicature, which met for the first time on 11 February, and as a justice of the peace, the oaths of which office he took on 12 February.
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