The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER XVII.

Some Thoughts on the Advantages which may arise to the Mother Country from forming the Colony.

The author of these sheets would subject himself to the charge of presumption, were he to aim at developing the intentions of Government in forming this settlement. But without giving offence, or incurring reproach, he hopes his opinion on the probability of advantage to be drawn from hence by Great Britain, may be fairly made known.

If only a receptacle for convicts be intended, this place stands unequalled from the situation, extent, and nature of the country. When viewed in a commercial light, I fear its insignificance will appear very striking. The New Zealand hemp, of which so many sanguine expectations were formed, is not a native of the soil; and Norfolk Island, where we made sure to find this article, is also without it. So that the scheme of being able to assist the East Indies with naval stores, in case of a war, must fall to the ground, both from this deficiency, and the quality of the timber growing here. Were it indeed possible to transport that of Norfolk Island, its value would be found very great, but the difficulty, from the surf, I am well informed, is so insuperable as to forbid the attempt. Lord Howe Island, discovered by Lieut. Ball, though an inestimable acquisition to our colony, produces little else than the mountain cabbage tree.

Should a sufficient military force be sent out to those employed in cultivating the ground, I see no room to doubt, that in the course of a few years, the country will be able to yield grain enough for the support of its new possessors. But to effect this, our present limits must be greatly extended, which will require detachments of troops not to be spared from the present establishment. And admitting the position, the parent country will still have to supply us for a much longer time with every other necessary of life. For after what we have seen, the idea of being soon able to breed cattle sufficient for our consumption, must appear chimerical and absurd. From all which it is evident, that should Great Britain neglect to send out regular supplies, the most fatal consequences will ensue.

Speculators who may feel inclined to try their fortunes here, will do well to weigh what I have said. If golden dreams of commerce and wealth flatter their imaginations, disappointment will follow: the remoteness of situation, productions of the country, and want of connection with other parts of the world, justify me in the assertion. But to men of small property, unambitious of trade, and wishing for retirement, I think the continent of New South Wales not without inducements. One of this description, with letters of recommendation, and a sufficient capital (after having provided for his passage hither) to furnish him with an assortment of tools for clearing land, agricultural and domestic purposes; possessed also of a few household utensils, a cow, a few sheep and breeding sows, would, I am of opinion, with proper protection and encouragement, succeed in obtaining a comfortable livelihood, were he well assured before he quitted his native country, that a provision for him until he might be settled, should be secured; and that a grant of land on his arrival would be allotted him.

That this adventurer, if of a persevering character and competent knowledge, might in the course of ten years bring matters into such a train as to render himself comfortable and independent, I think highly probable. The superfluities of his farm would enable him to purchase European commodities from the masters of ships, which will arrive on Government account, sufficient to supply his wants. But beyond this he ought not to reckon, for admitting that he might meet with success in raising tobacco, rice, indigo, or vineyards (for which last I think the soil and climate admirably adapted), the distance of a mart to vend them at, would make the expense of transportation so excessive, as to cut off all hopes of a reasonable profit; nor can there be consumers enough here to take them off his hands, for so great a length of time to come, as I shall not be at the trouble of computing.

Should then any one, induced by this account, emigrate hither, let him, before he quits England, provide all his wearing apparel for himself, family, and servants; his furniture, tools of every kind, and implements of husbandry (among which a plough need not be included, as we make use of the hoe), for he will touch at no place where they can be purchased to advantage. If his sheep and hogs are English also, it will be better. For wines, spirits, tobacco, sugar, coffee, tea, rice, poultry, and many other articles, he may venture to rely on at Teneriffe or Madeira, the Brazils and Cape of Good Hope. It will not be his interest to draw bills on his voyage out, as the exchange of money will be found invariably against him, and a large discount also deducted. Drafts on the place he is to touch at, or cash (dollars if possible) will best answer his end.

To men of desperate fortune and the lowest classes of the people, unless they can procure a passage as indented servants, similar to the custom practised of emigrating to America, this part of the world offers no temptation: for it can hardly be supposed, that Government will be fond of maintaining them here until they can be settled, and without such support they must starve.

Of the Governor’s instructions and intentions relative to the disposal of the convicts, when the term of their transportation shall be expired, I am ignorant. They will then be free men, and at liberty, I apprehend, either to settle in the country, or to return to Europe. The former will be attended with some public expense; and the latter, except in particular cases, will be difficult to accomplish, from the numberless causes which prevent a frequent communication between England and this continent.

POSTSCRIPT

Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, New South Wales.

October 1st, 1788. Little material has occurred in this colony since the departure of the ships for England, on the 14th July last. On the 20th of that month His Majesty’s ship Supply, Captain Ball, sailed for Norfolk Island, and returned on the 26th August. Our accounts from thence are more favourable than were expected. The soil proves admirably adapted to produce all kinds of grain, and European vegetables. But the discovery which constitutes its value is the New Zealand flax, plants of which are found growing in every part of the island in the utmost luxuriancy and abundance. This will, beyond doubt, appear strange to the reader after what has been related in the former part of my work: and in future, let the credit of the testimony be as high as it may, I shall never without diffidence and hesitation presume to contradict the narrations of Mr. Cook. The truth is, that those sent to settle and explore the island knew not the form in which the plant grows, and were unfurnished with every particular which could lead to a knowledge of it. Unaccountable as this may sound, it is, nevertheless, incontestably true. Captain Ball brought away with him several specimens for inspection, and, on trial, by some flax-dressers among us, the threads produced from them, though coarse, are pronounced to be stronger, more likely to be durable, and fitter for every purpose of manufacturing cordage, than any they ever before dressed.

Every research has been made by those on the island to find a landing-place, whence it might be practicable to ship off the timber growing there, but hitherto none has been discovered. A plan, however, for making one has been laid before the Governor, and is at present under consideration, though (in the opinion of many here) it is not such an one as will be found to answer the end proposed.

Lieut. King and his little garrison were well when the ‘Supply’ left them: but I am sorry to add, that, from casualties, their number is already five less than it originally was. A ship from hence is ready to sail with an increase of force, besides many convicts for the purpose of sawing up timber, and turning the flax-plant to advantage.

So much for Norfolk. In Port Jackson all is quiet and stupid as could be wished. We generally hear the lie of the day as soon as the beating of the Reveille announces the return of it; find it contradicted by breakfast time; and pursue a second through all its varieties, until night, welcome as to a lover, gives us to sleep and dream ourselves transported to happier climes.

Let me not, however, neglect telling you the little news which presents itself. All descriptions of men enjoy the highest state of health; and the convicts continue to behave extremely well. A gang of one hundred of them, guarded by a captain, two subalterns and 20 marines, is about to be sent up to the head of the harbour, at the distance of 3 leagues, in a westerly direction, from Sydney Cove, for the purpose of establishing a settlement there. The convicts are to be employed in putting the land around into cultivation, as it appears to be of a more promising nature than that near the encampment. Indeed this last hitherto succeeds but very indifferently, though I do not yet despair, that when good seeds can be procured, our toil will be better rewarded. But as this is an event at a distance, and in itself very precarious, Governor Phillip has determined on procuring a supply of flour and other necessaries from the Cape of Good Hope, as our stock on hand is found to be, on examination, not quite so ample as had been reckoned upon. To execute this purpose his Excellency has ordered the Sirius to prepare for the voyage; by which conveyance the opportunity of writing to you is afforded me. It was at first intended to dispatch the Sirius to some of the neighbouring islands (the Friendly or Society) in the Pacific Ocean, to procure stock there, but the uselessness of the scheme, joined to the situation of matters here, has, happily for us, prevented its being put into execution.

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