The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER VIII.

From the Fleet’s Arrival at Botany Bay to the Evacuation of it; and taking Possession of Port Jackson. Interviews with the Natives; and an Account of the Country about Botany Bay.

We had scarcely bid each other welcome on our arrival, when an expedition up the Bay was undertaken by the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, in order to explore the nature of the country, and fix on a spot to begin our operations upon. None, however, which could be deemed very eligible, being discovered, his Excellency proceeded in a boat to examine the opening, to which Mr. Cook had given the name of Port Jackson, on an idea that a shelter for shipping within it might be found. The boat returned on the evening of the 23rd, with such an account of the harbour and advantages attending the place, that it was determined the evacuation of Botany Bay should commence the next morning.

In consequence of this decision, the few seamen and marines who had been landed from the squadron, were instantly reimbarked, and every preparation made to bid adieu to a port which had so long been the subject of our conversation; which but three days before we had entered with so many sentiments of satisfaction; and in which, as we had believed, so many of our future hours were to be passed. The thoughts of removal banished sleep, so that I rose at the first dawn of the morning. But judge of my surprize on hearing from a serjeant, who ran down almost breathless to the cabin where I was dressing, that a ship was seen off the harbour’s mouth. At first I only laughed, but knowing the man who spoke to me to be of great veracity, and hearing him repeat his information, I flew upon deck, on which I had barely set my foot, when the cry of “another sail” struck on my astonished ear.

Confounded by a thousand ideas which arose in my mind in an instant, I sprang upon the barricado and plainly descried two ships of considerable size, standing in for the mouth of the Bay. By this time the alarm had become general, and every one appeared lost in conjecture. Now they were Dutchmen sent to dispossess us, and the moment after storeships from England, with supplies for the settlement. The improbabilities which attended both these conclusions, were sunk in the agitation of the moment. It was by Governor Phillip, that this mystery was at length unravelled, and the cause of the alarm pronounced to be two French ships, which, it was now recollected, were on a voyage of discovery in the southern hemisphere. Thus were our doubts cleared up, and our apprehensions banished; it was, however, judged expedient to postpone our removal to Port Jackson, until a complete confirmation of our conjectures could be procured.

Had the sea breeze set in, the strange ships would have been at anchor in the Bay by eight o’clock in the morning, but the wind blowing out, they were driven by a strong lee current to the southward of the port. On the following day they re-appeared in their former situation, and a boat was sent to them, with a lieutenant of the navy in her, to offer assistance, and point out the necessary marks for entering the harbour. In the course of the day the officer returned, and brought intelligence that the ships were the Boussole and Astrolabe, sent out by order of the King of France, and under the command of Monsieur De Perrouse. The astonishment of the French at seeing us, had not equalled that we had experienced, for it appeared, that in the course of their voyage they had touched at Kamschatka, and by that means learnt that our expedition was in contemplation. They dropped anchor the next morning, just as we had got under weigh to work out of the Bay, so that for the present nothing more than salutations could pass between us.

Before I quit Botany Bay, I shall relate the observations we were enabled to make during our short stay there; as well as those which our subsequent visits to it from Port Jackson enabled us to complete.

The Bay is very open, and greatly exposed to the fury of the S.E. winds, which, when they blow, cause a heavy and dangerous swell. It is of prodigious extent, the principal arm, which takes a S.W. direction, being not less, including its windings, than twenty four miles from the capes which form the entrance, according to the report of the French officers, who took uncommon pains to survey it. At the distance of a league from the harbour’s mouth is a bar, on which at low water, not more than fifteen feet are to be found. Within this bar, for many miles up the S.W. arm, is a haven, equal in every respect to any hitherto known, and in which any number of ships might anchor, secured from all winds. The country around far exceeds in richness of soil that about Cape Banks and Point Solander, though unfortunately they resemble each other in one respect, a scarcity of fresh water.

We found the natives tolerably numerous as we advanced up the river, and even at the harbour’s mouth we had reason to conclude the country more populous than Mr. Cook thought it. For on the Supply’s arrival in the Bay on the 18th of the month, they were assembled on the beach of the south shore, to the number of not less than forty persons, shouting and making many uncouth signs and gestures. This appearance whetted curiosity to its utmost, but as prudence forbade a few people to venture wantonly among so great a number, and a party of only six men was observed on the north shore, the Governor immediately proceeded to land on that side, in order to take possession of his new territory, and bring about an intercourse between its old and new masters. The boat in which his Excellency was, rowed up the harbour, close to the land, for some distance; the Indians keeping pace with her on the beach. At last an officer in the boat made signs of a want of water, which it was judged would indicate his wish of landing. The natives directly comprehended what he wanted, and pointed to a spot where water could be procured; on which the boat was immediately pushed in, and a landing took place. As on the event of this meeting might depend so much of our future tranquillity, every delicacy on our side was requisite. The Indians, though timorous, shewed no signs of resentment at the Governor’s going on shore; an interview commenced, in which the conduct of both parties pleased each other so much, that the strangers returned to their ships with a much better opinion of the natives than they had landed with; and the latter seemed highly entertained with their new acquaintance, from whom they condescended to accept of a looking glass, some beads, and other toys.

Owing to the lateness of our arrival, it was not my good fortune to go on shore until three days after this had happened, when I went with a party to the south side of the harbour, and had scarcely landed five minutes, when we were met by a dozen Indians, naked as at the moment of their birth, walking along the beach. Eager to come to a conference, and yet afraid of giving offence, we advanced with caution towards them, nor would they, at first approach nearer to us than the distance of some paces. Both parties were armed; yet an attack seemed as unlikely on their part, as we knew it to be on our own.

I had at this time a little boy, of not more than seven years of age, in my hand. The child seemed to attract their attention very much, for they frequently pointed to him and spoke to each other; and as he was not frightened, I advanced with him towards them, at the same time baring his bosom and, shewing the whiteness of the skin. On the cloaths being removed, they gave a loud exclamation, and one of the party, an old man, with a long beard, hideously ugly, came close to us. I bade my little charge not to be afraid, and introduced him to the acquaintance of this uncouth personage. The Indian, with great gentleness, laid his hand on the child’s hat, and afterwards felt his cloaths, muttering to himself all the while. I found it necessary, however, by this time to send away the child, as such a close connection rather alarmed him; and in this, as the conclusion verified, I gave no offence to the old gentleman. Indeed it was but putting ourselves on a par with them, as I had observed from the first, that some youths of their own, though considerably older than the one with us, were, kept back by the grown people.

Several more now came up, to whom, we made various presents, but our toys seemed not to be regarded as very valuable; nor would they for a long time make any returns to them, though before we parted, a large club, with a head almost sufficient to fell an ox, was obtained in exchange for a looking-glass. These people seemed at a loss to know (probably from our want of beards) of what sex we were, which having understood, they burst into the most immoderate fits of laughter, talking to each other at the same time with such rapidity and vociferation as I had never before heard. After nearly an hour’s conversation by signs and gestures, they repeated several times the word whurra, which signifies, begone, and walked away from us to the head of the Bay.

The natives being departed, we set out to observe the country, which, on inspection, rather disappointed our hopes, being invariably sandy and unpromising for the purposes of cultivation, though the trees and grass flourish in great luxuriancy. Close to us was the spring at which Mr. Cook watered, but we did not think the water very excellent, nor did it run freely. In the evening we returned on board, not greatly pleased with the latter part of our discoveries, as it indicated an increase of those difficulties, which before seemed sufficiently numerous.

Between this and our departure we had several more interviews with the natives, which ended in so friendly a manner, that we began to entertain strong hopes of bringing about a connection with them. Our first object was to win their affections, and our next to convince them of the superiority we possessed: for without the latter, the former we knew would be of little importance.

An officer one day prevailed on one of them to place a target, made of bark, against a tree, which he fired at with a pistol, at the distance of some paces. The Indians, though terrified at the report, did not run away, but their astonishment exceeded their alarm, on looking at the shield which the ball had perforated. As this produced a little shyness, the officer, to dissipate their fears and remove their jealousy, whistled the air of Malbrooke, which they appeared highly charmed with, and imitated him with equal pleasure and readiness. I cannot help remarking here, what I was afterwards told by Monsieur De Perrouse, that the natives of California, and throughout all the islands of the Pacific Ocean, and in short wherever he had been, seemed equally touched and delighted with this little plaintive air.

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