The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER XIII.

Transactions at Port Jackson in the Months of April and May.

As winter was fast approaching, it became necessary to secure ourselves in quarters, which might shield us from the cold we were taught to expect in this hemisphere, though in so low a latitude. The erection of barracks for the soldiers was projected, and the private men of each company undertook to build for themselves two wooden houses, of sixty-eight feet in length, and twenty-three in breadth. To forward the design, several saw-pits were immediately set to work, and four ship carpenters attached to the battalion, for the purpose of directing and completing this necessary undertaking. In prosecuting it, however, so many difficulties occurred, that we were fain to circumscribe our original intention; and, instead of eight houses, content ourselves with four. And even these, from the badness of the timber, the scarcity of artificers, and other impediments, are, at the day on which I write, so little advanced, that it will be well, if at the close of the year 1788, we shall be established in them. In the meanwhile the married people, by proceeding on a more contracted scale, were soon under comfortable shelter. Nor were the convicts forgotten; and as leisure was frequently afforded them for the purpose, little edifices quickly multiplied on the ground allotted them to build upon.

But as these habitations were intended by Governor Phillip to answer only the exigency of the moment, the plan of the town was drawn, and the ground on which it is hereafter to stand surveyed, and marked out. To proceed on a narrow, confined scale, in a country of the extensive limits we possess, would be unpardonable: extent of empire demands grandeur of design. That this has been our view will be readily believed, when I tell the reader, that the principal street in our projected city will be, when completed, agreeable to the plan laid down, two hundred feet in breadth, and all the rest of a corresponding proportion. How far this will be accompanied with adequate dispatch, is another question, as the incredulous among us are sometimes hardy enough to declare, that ten times our strength would not be able to finish it in as many years.

Invariably intent on exploring a country, from which curiosity promises so many gratifications, his Excellency about this time undertook an expedition into the interior parts of the continent. His party consisted of eleven persons, who, after being conveyed by water to the head of the harbour, proceeded in a westerly direction, to reach a chain of mountains, which in clear weather are discernible, though at an immense distance, from some heights near our encampment. With unwearied industry they continued to penetrate the country for four days; but at the end of that time, finding the base of the mountain to be yet at the distance of more than twenty miles, and provisions growing scarce, it was judged prudent to return, without having accomplished the end for which the expedition had been undertaken. To reward their toils, our adventurers had, however, the pleasure of discovering and traversing an extensive tract of ground, which they had reason to believe, from the observations they were enabled to make, capable of producing every thing, which a happy soil and genial climate can bring forth. In addition to this flattering appearance, the face of the country is such, as to promise success whenever it shall be cultivated, the trees being at a considerable distance from each other, and the intermediate space filled, not with underwood, but a thick rich grass, growing in the utmost luxuriancy. I must not, however, conceal, that in this long march, our gentlemen found not a single rivulet, but were under a necessity of supplying themselves with water from standing pools, which they met with in the vallies, supposed to be formed by the rains that fall at particular seasons of the year. Nor had they the good fortune to see any quadrupeds worth notice, except a few kangaroos. To their great surprize, they observed indisputable tracks of the natives having been lately there, though in their whole route none of them were to be seen; nor any means to be traced, by which they could procure subsistence so far from the sea shore.

On the 6th of May the ‘Supply’ sailed for Lord Howe Island, to take on board turtle for the settlement; but after waiting there several days was obliged to return without having seen one, owing we apprehended to the advanced season of the year. Three of the transports also, which were engaged by the East India Company to proceed to China, to take on board a lading of tea, sailed about this time for Canton.

The unsuccessful return of the ‘Supply’ cast a general damp on our spirits, for by this time fresh provisions were become scarcer than in a blockaded town. The little live stock, which with so heavy an expense, and through so many difficulties, we had brought on shore, prudence forbade us to use; and fish, which on our arrival, and for a short time after had been tolerable plenty, were become so scarce, as to be rarely seen at the tables of the first among us. Had it not been for a stray kangaroo, which fortune now and then threw in our way, we should have been utter strangers to the taste of fresh food.

Thus situated, the scurvy began its usual ravages, and extended its baneful influence, more or less, through all descriptions of persons. Unfortunately the esculent vegetable productions of the country are neither plentiful, nor tend very effectually to remove this disease. And, the ground we had turned up and planted with garden seeds, either from the nature of the soil, or, which is more probable, the lateness of the season, yielded but a scanty and insufficient supply of what we stood so greatly in need of.

During the period I am describing, few enormous offences were perpetrated by the convicts. A petty theft was now and then heard of, and a spirit of refractory sullenness broke out at times in some individuals: one execution only, however, took place. The sufferer, who was a very young man, was convicted of a burglary, and met his fate with a hardiness and insensibility, which the grossest ignorance, and most deplorable want of feeling, alone could supply.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tench/watkin/botany/chapter13.html

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