The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER XII.

The Departure of the French from Botany Bay; and the Return of the ‘Supply’ from Norfolk Island; with a Discovery made by Lieutenant Ball on his Passage to it.

About the middle of the month our good friends the French departed from Botany Bay, in prosecution of their voyage. During their stay in that port, the officers of the two nations had frequent opportunities of testifying their mutual regard by visits, and every interchange of friendship and esteem. These ships sailed from France, by order of the King, on the 1st of August, 1785, under the command of Monsieur De Perrouse, an officer whose eminent qualifications, we had reason to think, entitle him to fill the highest stations. In England, particularly, he ought long to be remembered with admiration and gratitude, for the humanity which marked his conduct, when ordered to destroy our settlement at Hudson’s Bay, in the last war. His second in command was the Chevalier Clonard, an officer also of distinguished merit.

In the course of the voyage these ships had been so unfortunate as to lose a boat, with many men and officers in her, off the west of California; and afterwards met with an accident still more to be regretted, at an island in the Pacific Ocean, discovered by Monsieur Bougainville, in the latitude of 14 deg 19 min south, longitude 173 deg 3 min 20 sec east of Paris. Here they had the misfortune to have no less than thirteen of their crews, among whom was the officer at that time second in command, cut off by the natives, and many more desperately wounded. To what cause this cruel event was to be attributed, they knew not, as they were about to quit the island after having lived with the Indians in the greatest harmony for several weeks; and exchanged, during the time, their European commodities for the produce of the place, which they describe as filled with a race of people remarkable for beauty and comeliness; and abounding in refreshments of all kinds.

It was no less gratifying to an English ear, than honourable to Monsieur De Perrouse, to witness the feeling manner in which he always mentioned the name and talents of Captain Cook. That illustrious circumnavigator had, he said, left nothing to those who might follow in his track to describe, or fill up. As I found, in the course of conversation, that the French ships had touched at the Sandwich Islands, I asked M. De Perrouse what reception he had met with there. His answer deserves to be known: “During the whole of our voyage in the South Seas, the people of the Sandwich Islands were the only Indians who never gave us cause of complaint. They furnished us liberally with provisions, and administered cheerfully to all our wants.” It may not be improper to remark, that Owhyee was not one of the islands visited by this gentleman.

In the short stay made by these ships at Botany Bay, an Abbe, one of the naturalists on board, died, and was buried on the north shore. The French had hardly departed, when the natives pulled down a small board, which had been placed over the spot where the corpse was interred, and defaced everything around. On being informed of it, the Governor sent a party over with orders to affix a plate of copper on a tree near the place, with the following inscription on it, which is a copy of what was written on the board:

Hic jacet L. RECEVEUR, E.F.F. minnibus Galliae, Sacerdos, Physicus, in circumnavigatione mundi, Duce De La Perrouse. Obiit die 17 Februarii, anno 1788.

This mark of respectful attention was more particularly due, from M. De Perrouse having, when at Kamschatka, paid a similar tribute of gratitude to the memory of Captain Clarke, whose tomb was found in nearly as ruinous a state as that of the Abbe.

Like ourselves, the French found it necessary, more than once, to chastise a spirit of rapine and intrusion which prevailed among the Indians around the Bay. The menace of pointing a musquet to them was frequently used; and in one or two instances it was fired off, though without being attended with fatal consequences. Indeed the French commandant, both from a regard to the orders of his Court as well as to our quiet and security, shewed a moderation and forbearance on this head highly becoming.

On the 20th of March, the ‘Supply’ arrived from Norfolk Island, after having safely landed Lieutenant King and his little garrison. The pine-trees growing there are described to be of a growth and height superior, perhaps, to any in the world. But the difficulty of bringing them away will not be easily surmounted, from the badness and danger of the landing place. After the most exact search not a single plant of the New Zealand flax could be found, though we had been taught to believe it abounded there.

Lieutenant Ball, in returning to Port Jackson, touched at a small island in latitude 31 deg 36 min south, longitude 159 deg 4 min east of Greenwich, which he had been fortunate enough to discover on his passage to Norfolk, and to which he gave the name of Lord Howe’s Island. It is entirely without inhabitants, or any traces of any having ever been there. But it happily abounds in what will be infinitely more important to the settlers on New South Wales: green turtle of the finest kind frequent it in the summer season. Of this Mr. Ball gave us some very handsome and acceptable specimens on his return. Besides turtle, the island is well stocked with birds, many of them so tame as to be knocked down by the seamen with sticks. At the distance of four leagues from Lord Howe Island, and in latitude 31 deg 30 min south, longitude 159 deg 8 min east, stands a remarkable rock, of considerable height, to which Mr. Ball gave the name of Ball’s Pyramid, from the shape it bears.

While the ‘Supply’ was absent, Governor Phillip made an excursion to Broken Bay, a few leagues to the northward of Port Jackson, in order to explore it. As a harbour it almost equals the latter, but the adjacent country was found so rocky and bare, as to preclude all possibility of turning it to account. Some rivulets of fresh water fall into the head of the Bay, forming a very picturesque scene. The Indians who live on its banks are numerous, and behaved attentively in a variety of instances while our people remained among them.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04