The Settlement at Port Jackson, by Watkin Tench


Transactions of the Colony from the sailing of the First Fleet in July, 1788, to the Close of that Year.

It was impossible to behold without emotion the departure of the ships. On their speedy arrival in England perhaps hinged our fate; by hastening our supplies to us.

On the 20th of July, the ‘Supply’ sailed for Norfolk Island, and returned to us on the 26th of August; bringing no material news, except that the soil was found to suit grain, and other seeds, which had been sown in it, and that a species of flax-plant was discovered to grow spontaneously on the island.

A survey of the harbour of Port Jackson was now undertaken, in order to compute the number of canoes, and inhabitants, which it might contain: sixty-seven canoes, and 147 people were counted. No estimate, however, of even tolerable accuracy, can be drawn from so imperfect a datum; though it was perhaps the best in our power to acquire.

In July and August, we experienced more inclement tempestuous weather than had been observed at any former period of equal duration. And yet it deserves to be remarked, in honour of the climate, that, although our number of people exceeded 900, not a single death happened in the latter month.

The dread of want in a country destitute of natural resource is ever peculiarly terrible. We had long turned our eyes with impatience towards the sea, cheered by the hope of seeing supplies from England approach. But none arriving, on the 2d of October the ‘Sirius’ sailed for the Cape of Good Hope, with directions to purchase provisions there, for the use of our garrison.

A new settlement, named by the governor Rose Hill, 16 miles inland, was established on the 3d of November, the soil here being judged better than that around Sydney. A small redoubt was thrown up, and a captain’s detachment posted in it, to protect the convicts who were employed to cultivate the ground.

The two last of the transports left us for England on the 19th of November, intending to make their passage by Cape Horn. There now remained with us only the ‘Supply’. Sequestered and cut off as we were from the rest of civilized nature, their absence carried the effect of desolation. About this time a convict, of the name of Daly, was hanged, for a burglary: this culprit, who was a notorious thief and impostor, was the author of a discovery of a gold mine, a few months before: a composition resembling ore mingled with earth, which he pretended to have brought from it, he produced. After a number of attendant circumstances, too ludicrous and contemptible to relate, which befell a party, who were sent under his guidance to explore this second Peru, he at last confessed, that he had broken up an old pair of buckles, and mixed the pieces with sand and stone; and on assaying the composition, the brass was detected. The fate of this fellow I should not deem worth recording, did it not lead to the following observation, that the utmost circumspection is necessary to prevent imposition, in those who give accounts of what they see in unknown countries. We found the convicts particularly happy in fertility of invention, and exaggerated descriptions. Hence large fresh water rivers, valuable ores, and quarries of limestone, chalk, and marble, were daily proclaimed soon after we had landed. At first we hearkened with avidity to such accounts; but perpetual disappointments taught us to listen with caution, and to believe from demonstration only.

Unabated animosity continued to prevail between the natives and us: n addition to former losses, a soldier and several convicts suddenly disappeared, and were never afterwards heard of. Three convicts were also wounded, and one killed by them, near Botany Bay: similar to the vindictive spirit which Mr. Cook found to exist among their countrymen at Endeavour River, they more than once attempted to set fire to combustible matter, in order to annoy us. Early on the morning of the 18th of December, word was brought that they were assembled in force, near the brick-kilns, which stand but a mile from the town of Sydney. The terror of those who brought the first intelligence magnified the number to two thousand; a second messenger diminished it to four hundred. A detachment, under the command of an officer was ordered to march immediately, and reconnoitre them. The officer soon returned, and reported, that about fifty Indians had appeared at the brick-kilns; but upon the convicts, who were at work there, pointing their spades and shovels at them, in the manner of guns, they had fled into the woods.

Tired of this state of petty warfare and endless uncertainty, the governor at length determined to adopt a decisive measure, by capturing some of them, and retaining them by force; which we supposed would either inflame the rest to signal vengeance, in which case we should know the worst, and provide accordingly: or else it would induce an intercourse, by the report which our prisoners would make of the mildness and indulgence with which we used them. And farther, it promised to unveil the cause of their mysterious conduct, by putting us in possession of their reasons for harassing and destroying our people, in the manner I have related. Boats were accordingly ordered to be got ready, and every preparation made, which could lead to the attainment of our object.

But as this subject deserves to be particularly detailed, I shall, notwithstanding its being just within the period of time which this chapter professes to comprise, allot it a separate place, in the beginning of the next.

Nor can I close this part of my work without congratulating both the reader and the author. New matter now presents itself. A considerable part of the foregoing chapters had been related before, either by others or myself. I was however, unavoidably compelled to insert it, in order to preserve unbroken that chain of detail, and perspicuity of arrangement, at which books professing to convey information should especially aim.

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