The Settlement at Port Jackson, by Watkin Tench


Transactions of the Colony in June, July, and August, 1790.

At length the clouds of misfortune began to separate, and on the evening of the 3rd of June, the joyful cry of “the flag’s up” resounded in every direction.

I was sitting in my hut, musing on our fate, when a confused clamour in the street drew my attention. I opened my door, and saw several women with children in their arms running to and fro with distracted looks, congratulating each other, and kissing their infants with the most passionate and extravagant marks of fondness. I needed no more; but instantly started out, and ran to a hill, where, by the assistance of a pocket glass, my hopes were realized. My next door neighbour, a brother-officer, was with me, but we could not speak. We wrung each other by the hand, with eyes and hearts overflowing.

Finding that the governor intended to go immediately in his boat down the harbour, I begged to be of his party.

As we proceeded, the object of our hopes soon appeared: a large ship, with English colours flying, working in, between the heads which form the entrance of the harbour. The tumultuous state of our minds represented her in danger; and we were in agony. Soon after, the governor, having ascertained what she was, left us, and stepped into a fishing boat to return to Sydney. The weather was wet and tempestuous but the body is delicate only when the soul is at ease. We pushed through wind and rain, the anxiety of our sensations every moment redoubling. At last we read the word ‘London’ on her stern. “Pull away, my lads! She is from Old England! A few strokes more, and we shall be aboard! Hurrah for a bellyfull, and news from our friends!” Such were our exhortations to the boat’s crew.

A few minutes completed our wishes, and we found ourselves on board the ‘Lady Juliana’ transport, with two hundred and twenty-five of our countrywomen whom crime or misfortune had condemned to exile. We learned that they had been almost eleven months on their passage, having left Plymouth, into which port they had put in July, 1789. We continued to ask a thousand questions on a breath. Stimulated by curiosity, they inquired in turn; but the right of being first answered, we thought, lay on our side. “Letters, letters!” was the cry. They were produced, and torn open in trembling agitation. News burst upon us like meridian splendor on a blind man. We were overwhelmed with it: public, private, general, and particular. Nor was it until some days had elapsed, that we were able to methodise it, or reduce it into form. We now heard for the first time of our sovereign’s illness, and his happy restoration to health. The French revolution of 1789, with all the attendant circumstances of that wonderful and unexpected event, succeeded to amaze us*. Now, too, the disaster which had befallen the ‘Guardian’, and the liberal and enlarged plan on which she had been stored and fitted out by government for our use, was promulged. It served also, in some measure, to account why we had not sooner heard from England. For had not the ‘Guardian’ struck on an island of ice, she would probably have reached us three months before, and in this case have prevented the loss of the ‘Sirius’, although she had sailed from England three months after the ‘Lady Juliana’.

[*These words bring to my mind an anecdote, which, though rather out of place, I shall offer no apology for introducing. Among other inquiries, we were anxious to learn whether M. de la Peyrouse, with the two ships under his command, bound on a voyage of discovery, had arrived in France. We heard with concern, that no accounts of them had been received, since they had left Botany Bay, in March, 1788. I remember when they were at that place, one day conversing with Monsieur de la Peyrouse, about the best method of treating savage people, “Sir” said he, “I have sometimes been compelled to commit hostilities upon them, but never without suffering the most poignant regret; for, independent of my own feelings on the occasion, his Majesty’s (Louis XVI) last words to me, de sa propre bouche, when I took leave of him at Versailles, were: ‘It is my express injunction, that you always treat the Indian nations with kindness and humanity. Gratify their wishes, and never, but in a case of the last necessity, when self-defence requires it, shed human blood.’ Are these the sentiments of a tyrant, of a sanguinary and perfidious man?”

A general thanksgiving to Almighty God, for his Majesty’s recovery, and happy restoration to his family and subjects, was ordered to be offered up on the following Wednesday, when all public labour was suspended; and every person in the settlement attended at church, where a sermon, suited to an occasion, at once so full of gratitude and solemnity, was preached by the Reverend Richard Johnson, chaplain of the colony.

All the officers were afterwards entertained at dinner by the governor. And in the evening, an address to his excellency, expressive of congratulation and loyalty, was agreed upon; and in two days after was presented, and very graciously received.

The following invitation to the non-commissioned officers and private soldiers of the marine battalion, was also about this time published.

In consequence of the assurance that was given to the non-commissioned officers and men belonging to the battalion of marines, on their embarking for the service of this country, that such of them as should behave well, would be allowed to quit the service, on their return to England; or be discharged abroad, upon the relief taking place, and permitted to settle in the country — His Majesty has been graciously pleased to direct the following encouragement to be held up to such non-commissioned officers and privates, as may be disposed to become settlers in this country, or in any of the islands comprised within the government of the continent of New South Wales, on the arrival of the corps raised and intended for the service of this colony, and for their relief, viz:

To every non-commissioned officer, an allotment of one hundred and thirty acres of land, if single, and of one hundred and fifty acres, if married. To every private soldier, an allotment of eighty acres, if single, and of one hundred acres if married; and also an allotment of ten acres for every child, whether of a non-commissioned officer, or of a private soldier. These allotments will be free of all fines, taxes, quit-rents, and other acknowledgments, for the space of ten years; but after the expiration of that period, will be subject to an annual quit-rent of one shilling for every fifty acres.

His Majesty has likewise been farther pleased to signify his royal will and pleasure, that a bounty of three pounds be offered to each non-commissioned officer and soldier, who may be disposed to continue in this country, and enlist in the corps appointed for the service of New South Wales; with a farther assurance, that in case of a proper demeanour on their part, they shall, after a farther service of five years, be entitled to double the former portion of land, provided they then choose to become settlers in the country, free of all taxes, fines, and quit-rents, for the space of fifteen years; but after that time, to be subject to the beforementioned annual quit-rent of one shilling for every fifty acres.

And as a farther encouragement to those men who may be desirous to become settlers, and continue in the country, his Majesty has been likewise pleased to direct, that every man shall, on being discharged, receive out of the public store, a portion of clothing and provisions, sufficient for his support for one year; together with a suitable quantity of seeds, grain, etc. for the tillage of the land; and a portion of tools and implements of agriculture, proper for their use. And whenever any man, who may become a settler, can maintain, feed, and clothe, such number of convicts as may be judged necessary by the governor, for the time being, to assist him in clearing and cultivating the land, the service of such convicts shall be assigned to him.

We were joyfully surprised on the 20th of the month to see another sail enter the harbour. She proved to be the Justinian transport, commanded by Captain Maitland, and our rapture was doubled on finding that she was laden entirely with provisions for our use. Full allowance, and general congratulation, immediately took place. This ship had left Falmouth on the preceding 20th of January, and completed her passage exactly in five months*. She had staid at Madeira one day, and four at Sao Tiago, from which last place she had steered directly for New South Wales, neglecting Rio de Janeiro on her right, and the Cape of Good Hope on her left; and notwithstanding the immense tract of ocean she had passed, brought her crew without sickness into harbour. When the novelty and boldness of such an attempt shall be recollected, too much praise, on the spirit and activity of Mr. Maitland, cannot be bestowed.

[*Accident only prevented her from making it in eighteen days less, for she was then in sight of the harbour’s mouth, when an unpropitious gale of wind blew her off. Otherwise she would have reached us one day sooner than the ‘Lady Juliana’. It is a curious circumstance, that these two ships had sailed together from the river Thames, one bound to Port Jackson, and the other bound to Jamaica. The Justinian carried her cargo to the last mentioned place, landed it; and loaded afresh with sugars, which she returned with, and delivered in London. She was then hired as a transport, reladen, and sailed for New South Wales. Let it be remembered, that no material accident had happened to either vessel. But what will not zeal and diligence accomplish!]

Good fortune continued to befriend us. Before the end of the month, three more transports, having on board two companies of the New South Wales corps, arrived to add to our society. These ships also brought out a large body of convicts, whose state and sufferings will be best estimated by the following return.

Names of     No. of people   No. of persons who died   No. landed sick
  Ships         embarked          on the passage       at Port Jackson
Neptune           530                 163                  269         

Surprise          252                  42                  121         

Scarborough       256                  68                   96         
                 1038                 273                  486         

N.B. Of those landed sick, one hundred and twenty-four died in the hospital at Sydney.

On our passage from England, which had lasted more than eight months and with nearly an equal number of persons, only twenty-four had died, and not thirty were landed sick. The difference can be accounted for, only by comparing the manner in which each fleet was fitted out and conducted. With us the provisions, served on board, were laid in by a contractor, who sent a deputy to serve them out; and it became a part of duty for the officers of the troops to inspect their quality, and to order that every one received his just proportion. Whereas, in the fleet now arrived, the distribution of provisions rested entirely with the masters of the merchantmen, and the officers were expressly forbidden to interfere in any shape farther about the convicts than to prevent their escape.

Seventeen pounds, in full of all expense, was the sum paid by the public for the passage of each person. And this sum was certainly competent to afford fair profit to the merchant who contracted. But there is reason to believe, that some of those who were employed to act for him, violated every principle of justice, and rioted on the spoils of misery, for want of a controlling power to check their enormities. No doubt can be entertained, that a humane and liberal government will interpose its authority, to prevent the repetition of such flagitious conduct.

Although the convicts had landed from these ships with every mark of meagre misery, yet it was soon seen, that a want of room, in which more conveniences might have been stowed for their use, had not caused it. Several of the masters of the transports immediately opened stores, and exposed large quantities of goods to sale, which, though at most extortionate prices, were eagerly bought up.

Such was the weakly state of the new corners, that for several weeks little real benefit to the colony was derived from so great a nominal addition to our number. However, as fast as they recovered, employment was immediately assigned to them. The old hours of labour, which had been reduced in our distress, were re-established, and the most vigorous measures adopted to give prosperity to the settlement. New buildings were immediately planned, and large tracts of ground, at Rose-hill, ordered to be cleared, and prepared for cultivation. Some superintendents who had arrived in the fleet, and were hired by government for the purpose of overlooking and directing the convicts, were found extremely serviceable in accelerating the progress of improvement.

July, 1790. This month was marked by nothing worth communication, except a melancholy accident which befell a young gentleman of amiable character (one of the midshipmen lately belonging to the ‘Sirius’) and two marines. He was in a small boat, with three marines, in the harbour, when a whale was seen near them. Sensible of their danger, they used every effort to avoid the cause of it, by rowing in a contrary direction from that which the fish seemed to take, but the monster suddenly arose close to them, and nearly filled the boat with water. By exerting themselves, they baled her out, and again steered from it. For some time it was not seen, and they conceived themselves safe, when, rising immediately under the boat, it lifted her to the height of many yards on its back, whence slipping off, she dropped as from a precipice, and immediately filled and sunk. The midshipman and one of the marines were sucked into the vortex which the whale had made, and disappeared at once. The two other marines swam for the nearest shore, but one only reached it, to recount the fate of his companions.

August, 1790. In the beginning of this month, in company with Mr. Dawes and Mr. Worgan, late surgeon of the ‘Sirius’, I undertook an expedition to the southward and westward of Rose Hill, where the country had never been explored. We remained out seven days, and penetrated to a considerable distance in a S.S.W. direction, bounding our course at a remarkable hill, to which, from its conical shape, we gave the name of Pyramid-hill. Except the discovery of a river (which is unquestionably the Nepean near its source) to which we gave the name of the Worgan, in honour of one of our party, nothing very interesting was remarked.

Towards the end of the month, we made a second excursion to the north-west of Rose Hill, when we again fell in with the Nepean, and traced it to the spot where it had been first discovered by the party of which I was a member, fourteen months before, examining the country as we went along. Little doubt now subsisted that the Hawkesbury and Nepean were one river.

We undertook a third expedition soon after to Broken Bay, which place we found had not been exaggerated in description, whether its capacious harbour, or its desolate incultivable shores, be considered. On all these excursions we brought away, in small bags, as many specimens of the soil of the country we had passed through, as could be conveniently carried, in order that by analysis its qualities might be ascertained.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01