The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER VII.

The Passage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay.

We had hardly cleared the land when a south-east wind set in, and, except at short intervals, continued to blow until the 19th of the month; when we were in the latitude of 37 deg 40 min south, and by the time-keeper, in longitude 11 deg 30 min east, so that our distance from Botany Bay had increased nearly an hundred leagues since leaving the Cape. As no appearance of a change in our favour seemed likely to take place, Governor Phillip at this time signified his intention of shifting his pennant from the Sirius to the ‘Supply’, and proceeding on his voyage without waiting for the rest of the fleet, which was formed in two divisions. The first consisting of three transports, known to be the best sailors, was put under the command of a Lieutenant of the navy; and the remaining three, with the victuallers, left in charge of Captain Hunter, of his Majesty’s ship Sirius. In the last division was the vessel, in which the author of this narrative served. Various causes prevented the separation from taking place until the 25th, when several sawyers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and other mechanics, were shifted from different ships into the ‘Supply’, in order to facilitate his Excellency’s intention of forwarding the necessary buildings to be erected at Botany Bay, by the time the rest of the fleet might be expected to arrive. Lieutenant Governor Ross, and the Staff of the marine battalion, also removed from the Sirius into the Scarborough transport, one of the ships of the first division, in order to afford every assistance which the public service might receive, by their being early on the spot on which our future operations were to be conducted.

From this time a succession of fair winds and pleasant weather corresponded to our eager desires, and on the 7th of January, 1788, the long wished for shore of Van Diemen gratified our sight. We made the land at two o’clock in the afternoon, the very hour we expected to see it from the lunar observations of Captain Hunter, whose accuracy, as an astronomer, and conduct as an officer, had inspired us with equal gratitude and admiration.

After so long a confinement, on a service so peculiarly disgusting and troublesome, it cannot be matter of surprise that we were overjoyed at the near prospect of a change of scene. By sunset we had passed between the rocks, which Captain Furneaux named the Mewstone and Swilly. The former bears a very close resemblance to the little island near Plymouth, whence it took its name: its latitude is 43 deg 48 min south, longitude 146 deg 25 min east of Greenwich.

In running along shore, we cast many an anxious eye towards the land, on which so much of our future destiny depended. Our distance, joined to the haziness of the atmosphere, prevented us, however, from being able to discover much. With our best glasses we could see nothing but hills of a moderate height, cloathed with trees, to which some little patches of white sandstone gave the appearance of being covered with snow. Many fires were observed on the hills in the evening.

As no person in the ship I was on board had been on this coast before, we consulted a little chart, published by Steele, of the Minories, London, and found it, in general, very correct; it would be more so, were not the Mewstone laid down at too great a distance from the land, and one object made of the Eddystone and Swilly, when, in fact, they are distinct. Between the two last is an entire bed of impassable rocks, many of them above water. The latitude of the Eddystone is 43 deg 53 1/2 min, longitude 147 deg 9 min; that of Swilly 43 deg 54 min south, longitude 147 deg 3 min east of Greenwich.

In the night the westerly wind, which had so long befriended us, died away, and was succeeded by one from the north-east. When day appeared we had lost sight of the land, and did not regain it until the 19th, at only the distance of 17 leagues from our desired port. The wind was now fair, the sky serene, though a little hazy, and the temperature of the air delightfully pleasant: joy sparkled in every countenance, and congratulations issued from every mouth. Ithaca itself was scarcely more longed for by Ulysses, than Botany Bay by the adventurers who had traversed so many thousand miles to take possession of it.

“Heavily in clouds came on the day” which ushered in our arrival. To us it was “a great, an important day,” though I hope the foundation, not the fall, of an empire will be dated from it.

On the morning of the 20th, by ten o’clock, the whole of the fleet had cast anchor in Botany Bay, where, to our mutual satisfaction, we found the Governor, and the first division of transports. On inquiry, we heard, that the ‘Supply’ had arrived on the 18th, and the transports only the preceding day.

Thus, after a passage of exactly thirty-six weeks from Portsmouth, we happily effected our arduous undertaking, with such a train of unexampled blessings as hardly ever attended a fleet in a like predicament. Of two hundred and twelve marines we lost only one; and of seven hundred and seventy-five convicts, put on board in England, but twenty-four perished in our route. To what cause are we to attribute this unhoped for success? I wish I could answer to the liberal manner in which Government supplied the expedition. But when the reader is told, that some of the necessary articles allowed to ships on a common passage to West Indies, were withheld from us; that portable soup, wheat, and pickled vegetables were not allowed; and that an inadequate quantity of essence of malt was the only antiscorbutic supplied, his surprise will redouble at the result of the voyage. For it must be remembered, that the people thus sent out were not a ship’s company starting with every advantage of health and good living, which a state of freedom produces; but the major part a miserable set of convicts, emaciated from confinement, and in want of cloaths, and almost every convenience to render so long a passage tolerable. I beg leave, however, to say, that the provisions served on board were good, and of a much superior quality to those usually supplied by contract: they were furnished by Mr. Richards, junior, of Walworth, Surrey.

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