The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER VI.

The Passage from the Brazils to the Cape of Good Hope; with an Account of the Transactions of the Fleet there.

Our passage from Rio de Janeiro to the Cape of Good Hope was equally prosperous with that which had preceded it. We steered away to the south-east, and lost sight of the American coast the day after our departure. From this time until the 13th of October, when we made the Cape, nothing remarkable occurred, except the loss of a convict in the ship I was on board, who unfortunately fell into the sea, and perished in spite of our efforts to save him, by cutting adrift a life buoy and hoisting out a boat. During the passage, a slight dysentery prevailed in some of the ships, but was in no instance mortal. We were at first inclined to impute it to the water we took on board at the Brazils, but as the effect was very partial, some other cause was more probably the occasion of it.

At seven o’clock in the evening of the 13th of October, we cast anchor in Table Bay, and found many ships of different nations in the harbour.

Little can be added to the many accounts already published of the Cape of Good Hope, though, if an opinion on the subject might be risqued, the descriptions they contain are too flattering. When contrasted with Rio de Janeiro, it certainly suffers in the comparison. Indeed we arrived at a time equally unfavourable for judging of the produce of the soil and the temper of its cultivators, who had suffered considerably from a dearth that had happened the preceding season, and created a general scarcity. Nor was the chagrin of these deprivations lessened by the news daily arriving of the convulsions that shook the republic, which could not fail to make an impression even on Batavian phlegm.

As a considerable quantity of flour, and the principal part of the live stock, which was to store our intended settlement, were meant to be procured here, Governor Phillip lost no time in waiting on Mynheer Van Graaffe, the Dutch Governor, to request permission (according to the custom of the place) to purchase all that we stood in need of. How far the demand extended, I know not, nor Mynheer Van Graaffe’s reasons for complying with it in part only. To this gentleman’s political sentiments I confess myself a stranger; though I should do his politeness and liberality at his own table an injustice, were I not to take this public opportunity of acknowledging them; nor can I resist the opportunity which presents itself, to inform my readers, in honor of M. Van Graaffe’s humanity, that he has made repeated efforts to recover the unfortunate remains of the crew of the Grosvenor Indiaman, which was wrecked about five years ago on the coast of Caffraria. This information was given me by Colonel Gordon, commandant of the Dutch troops at the Cape, whose knowledge of the interior parts of this country surpasses that of any other man. And I am sorry to say that the Colonel added, these unhappy people were irrecoverably lost to the world and their friends, by being detained among the Caffres, the most savage set of brutes on earth.

His Excellency resides at the Government house, in the East India Company’s garden. This last is of considerable extent, and is planted chiefly with vegetables for the Dutch Indiamen which may happen to touch at the port. Some of the walks are extremely pleasant from the shade they afford, and the whole garden is very neatly kept. The regular lines intersecting each other at right angles, in which it is laid out, will, nevertheless, afford but little gratification to an Englishman, who has been used to contemplate the natural style which distinguishes the pleasure grounds of his own country. At the head of the centre walks stands a menagerie, on which, as well as the garden, many pompous eulogiums have been passed, though in my own judgment, considering the local advantages possessed by the Company, it is poorly furnished both with animals and birds; a tyger, a zebra, some fine ostriches, a cassowary, and the lovely crown-fowl, are among the most remarkable.

The table land, which stands at the back of the town, is a black dreary looking mountain, apparently flat at top, and of more than eleven hundred yards in height. The gusts of wind which blow from it are violent to an excess, and have a very unpleasant effect, by raising the dust in such clouds, as to render stirring out of doors next to impossible. Nor can any precaution prevent the inhabitants from being annoyed by it, as much within doors as without.

At length the wished-for day, on which the next effort for reaching the place of our destination was to be made, appeared. The morning was calm, but the land wind getting up about noon, on the 12th of November we weighed anchor, and soon left far behind every scene of civilization and humanized manners, to explore a remote and barbarous land; and plant in it those happy arts, which alone constitute the pre-eminence and dignity of other countries.

The live animals we took on board on the public account from the Cape, for stocking our projected colony, were, two bulls, three cows, three horses, forty-four sheep, and thirty-two hogs, besides goats, and a very large quantity of poultry of every kind. A considerable addition to this was made by the private stocks of the officers, who were, however, under a necessity of circumscribing their original intentions on this head very much, from the excessive dearness of many of the articles. It will readily be believed, that few of the military found it convenient to purchase sheep, when hay to feed them costs sixteen shillings a hundred weight.

The boarding-houses on shore, to which strangers have recourse, are more reasonable than might be expected. For a dollar and a half per day we were well lodged, and partook of a table tolerably supplied in the French style. Should a traveller’s stock of tea run short, it is a thousand chances to one that he will be able to replenish it here at a cheaper rate than in England. He may procure plenty of arrack and white wine; also raisins, and dried fruits of other sorts. If he dislikes to live at a boarding-house, he will find the markets well stored, and the price of butcher’s meat and vegetables far from excessive.

Just before the signal for weighing was made, a ship, under American colours, entered the road, bound from Boston, from whence she had sailed one hundred and forty days, on a trading voyage to the East Indies. In her route, she had been lucky enough to pick up several of the inferior officers and crew of the Harcourt East-Indiaman, which ship had been wrecked on one of the Cape de Verd Islands. The master, who appeared to be a man of some information, on being told the destination of our fleet, gave it as his opinion, that if a reception could be secured, emigrations would take place to New South Wales, not only from the old continent, but the new one, where the spirit of adventure and thirst for novelty were excessive.

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