The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER XVI.

The Progress made in the Settlement; and the Situation of Affairs at the Time of the Ship, which conveys this Account, sailing for England.

For the purpose of expediting the public work, the male convicts have been divided into gangs, over each of which a person, selected from among themselves, is placed. It is to be regretted that Government did not take this matter into consideration before we left England, and appoint proper persons with reasonable salaries to execute the office of overseers; as the consequence of our present imperfect plan is such, as to defeat in a great measure the purposes for which the prisoners were sent out. The female convicts have hitherto lived in a state of total idleness; except a few who are kept at work in making pegs for tiles, and picking up shells for burning into lime. For the last time I repeat, that the behaviour of all classes of these people since our arrival in the settlement has been better than could, I think, have been expected from them.

Temporary wooden storehouses covered with thatch or shingles, in which the cargoes of all the ships have been lodged, are completed; and an hospital is erected. Barracks for the military are considerably advanced; and little huts to serve, until something more permanent can be finished, have been raised on all sides. Notwithstanding this the encampments of the marines and convicts are still kept up; and to secure their owners from the coldness of the nights, are covered in with bushes, and thatched over.

The plan of a town I have already said is marked out. And as freestone of an excellent quality abounds, one requisite towards the completion of it is attained. Only two houses of stone are yet begun, which are intended for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. One of the greatest impediments we meet with is a want of limestone, of which no signs appear. Clay for making bricks is in plenty, and a considerable quantity of them burned and ready for use.

In enumerating the public buildings I find I have been so remiss as to omit an observatory, which is erected at a small distance from the encampments. It is nearly completed, and when fitted up with the telescopes and other astronomical instruments sent out by the Board of Longitude, will afford a desirable retreat from the listlessness of a camp evening at Port Jackson. One of the principal reasons which induced the Board to grant this apparatus was, for the purpose of enabling Lieutenant Dawes, of the marines, (to whose care it is intrusted) to make observations on a comet which is shortly expected to appear in the southern hemisphere. The latitude of the observatory, from the result of more than three hundred observations, is fixed at 33 deg 52 min 30 sec south, and the longitude at 151 deg 16 min 30 sec east of Greenwich. The latitude of the south head which forms the entrance of the harbour, 33 deg 51 min, and that of the north head opposite to it at 33 deg 49 min 45 sec south.

Since landing here our military force has suffered a diminution of only three persons, a serjeant and two privates. Of the convicts fifty-four have perished, including the executions. Amidst the causes of this mortality, excessive toil and a scarcity of food are not to be numbered, as the reader will easily conceive, when informed, that they have the same allowance of provisions as every officer and soldier in the garrison; and are indulged by being exempted from labour every Saturday afternoon and Sunday. On the latter of those days they are expected to attend divine service, which is performed either within one of the storehouses, or under a great tree in the open air, until a church can be built.

Amidst our public labours, that no fortified post, or place of security, is yet begun, may be a matter of surprise. Were an emergency in the night to happen, it is not easy to say what might not take place before troops, scattered about in an extensive encampment, could be formed, so as to act. An event that happened a few evenings since may, perhaps, be the means of forwarding this necessary work. In the dead of night the centinels on the eastern side of the cove were alarmed by the voices of the Indians, talking near their posts. The soldiers on this occasion acted with their usual firmness, and without creating a disturbance, acquainted the officer of the guard with the circumstance, who immediately took every precaution to prevent an attack, and at the same time gave orders that no molestation, while they continued peaceable, should be offered them. From the darkness of the night, and the distance they kept at, it was not easy to ascertain their number, but from the sound of the voices and other circumstances, it was calculated at near thirty. To their intentions in honouring us with this visit (the only one we have had from them in the last five months) we are strangers, though most probably it was either with a view to pilfer, or to ascertain in what security we slept, and the precautions we used in the night. When the bells of the ships in the harbour struck the hour of the night, and the centinels called out on their posts “All’s well,” they observed a dead silence, and continued it for some minutes, though talking with the greatest earnestness and vociferation but the moment before. After having remained a considerable time they departed without interchanging a syllable with our people.

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