The Expedition to Botany Bay, by Watkin Tench

CHAPTER IX.

The taking Possession of Port Jackson, with the Disembarkation of the Marines and Convicts.

Our passage to Port Jackson took up but few hours, and those were spent far from unpleasantly. The evening was bright, and the prospect before us such as might justify sanguine expectation. Having passed between the capes which form its entrance, we found ourselves in a port superior, in extent and excellency, to all we had seen before. We continued to run up the harbour about four miles, in a westerly direction, enjoying the luxuriant prospect of its shores, covered with trees to the water’s edge, among which many of the Indians were frequently seen, till we arrived at a small snug cove on the southern side, on whose banks the plan of our operations was destined to commence.

The landing of a part of the marines and convicts took place the next day, and on the following, the remainder was disembarked. Business now sat on every brow, and the scene, to an indifferent spectator, at leisure to contemplate it, would have been highly picturesque and amusing. In one place, a party cutting down the woods; a second, setting up a blacksmith’s forge; a third, dragging along a load of stones or provisions; here an officer pitching his marquee, with a detachment of troops parading on one side of him, and a cook’s fire blazing up on the other. Through the unwearied diligence of those at the head of the different departments, regularity was, however, soon introduced, and, as far as the unsettled state of matters would allow, confusion gave place to system.

Into the head of the cove, on which our establishment is fixed, runs a small stream of fresh water, which serves to divide the adjacent country to a little distance, in the direction of north and south. On the eastern side of this rivulet the Governor fixed his place of residence, with a large body of convicts encamped near him; and on the western side was disposed the remaining part of these people, near the marine encampment. From this last two guards, consisting of two subalterns, as many serjeants, four corporals, two drummers, and forty-two private men, under the orders of a Captain of the day, to whom all reports were made, daily mounted for the public security, with such directions to use force, in case of necessity, as left no room for those who were the object of the order, but to remain peaceable, or perish by the bayonet.

As the straggling of the convicts was not only a desertion from the public labour, but might be attended with ill consequences to the settlement, in case of their meeting the natives, every care was taken to prevent it. The Provost Martial with his men was ordered to patrole the country around, and the convicts informed, that the severest punishment would be inflicted on transgressors. In spite, however, of all our precautions, they soon found the road to Botany Bay, in visits to the French, who would gladly have dispensed with their company.

But as severity alone was known to be inadequate at once to chastize and reform, no opportunity was omitted to assure the convicts, that by their good behaviour and submissive deportment, every claim to present distinction and future favour was to be earned. That this caution was not attended with all the good effects which were hoped from it, I have only to lament; that it operated in some cases is indisputable; nor will a candid and humane mind fail to consider and allow for the situation these unfortunate beings so peculiarly stood in. While they were on board ship, the two sexes had been kept most rigorously apart; but, when landed, their separation became impracticable, and would have been, perhaps, wrong. Licentiousness was the unavoidable consequence, and their old habits of depravity were beginning to recur. What was to be attempted? To prevent their intercourse was impossible; and to palliate its evils only remained. Marriage was recommended, and such advantages held out to those who aimed at reformation, as have greatly contributed to the tranquillity of the settlement.

On the Sunday after our landing divine service was performed under a great tree, by the Rev. Mr. Johnson, Chaplain of the Settlement, in the presence of the troops and convicts, whose behaviour on the occasion was equally regular and attentive. In the course of our passage this had been repeated every Sunday, while the ships were in port; and in addition to it, Mr. Johnson had furnished them with books, at once tending to promote instruction and piety.

The Indians for a little while after our arrival paid us frequent visits, but in a few days they were observed to be more shy of our company. From what cause their distaste: arose we never could trace, as we had made it our study, on these occasions, to treat them with kindness, and load them with presents. No quarrel had happened, and we had flattered ourselves, from Governor Phillip’s first reception among them, that such a connection might be established as would tend to the interest of both parties. It seems, that on that occasion, they not only received our people with great cordiality, but so far acknowledged their authority as to submit, that a boundary, during their first interview, might be drawn on the sand, which they attempted not to infringe, and appeared to be satisfied with.

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