An account of a voyage to establish a colony at Port Philip in Bass's Strait on the south coast of New South Wales, in His Majesty's Ship Calcutta, in the years 1802-3-4/Chapter 4
|←Chapter 3||An account of a voyage to establish a colony at Port Philip in Bass's Strait on the south coast of New South Wales, in His Majesty's Ship Calcutta, in the years 1802-3-4 by
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Quitting Rio Janeiro the 19th of July, with the wind at E.N.E. we shaped our course to the southward, in order to get into the region of westerly winds, which came on gradually till they fixed in strong N.W. gales. It was now found impossible to keep company with the Ocean, without running under bare poles, which strained the ship violently, and we therefore parted company near the Islands of Tristan d'Acunha; the largest of which we made on the 2d of August. The preceding evening it had blown a heavy gale, with a mountainous sea; but as we approached the island, the wind moderated to a fine breeze, the billows subsided, and the clouds clearing away, shewed the full-moon suspended in the clearest ether: by her friendly light, at about four o'clock we saw the land, at six leagues distance. As the dawn arose, the horizon becoming hazing, concealed it from our sight; but at sun-rise, the vapours again dispersing, left us a clear view of it till noon, when it was fourteen leagues distant.
The effect which the sight of the smallest spot of land, or even a bare uninhabited rock, has in breaking the tedious monotony of a long sea voyage, is easier felt than described. After passing a long succession of weary hours, with no other objects of contemplation than a world of waters, bounded only by the extent of vision, where it unites with the world of clouds, the sight of land acts like a talisman, and instantaneously transports us into the fairy regions of imagination. We compare the spot we are viewing with one rendered inestimably dear to us, by the remembrance of its beloved objects, and the tender recollection of past happiness. We pass over, as points in time or space, the years or seas that separate us; and by a cherished delusion, find ourselves arrived at the moment of re-union, cheered by the embrace of friendship, or locked in the arms of love and beauty.
The Island of Tristan d'Acunha, and the circumstances attending our view of it, brought forcibly to mind the beautiful apostrophé to Hope in Mr. Campbell's poem.
Angel of life, thy glitt'ring wings explore
From Tristan d'Acunha a short run of eleven days brought us off the Cape of Good Hope, which we were in hope of passing with a continuance of our favourable wind; in this, however, we were disappointed, as it suddenly veered to the S.E, and obliged us to run to the northward and make the land. Upon mature deliberation it was thought better, under these circumstances, to run into the Cape, than endanger the present high health of the ship's company and convicts, by keeping the sea in this Stormy season; and we accordingly cast anchor in Simmon's bay.
So much has already been written of the Cape of Good Hope, by travellers of every description, that little remains to be gleaned by the most piercing observation. Different persons, however, view the same objects in different points of view, according to variety of disposition, or the temper of the moment; and what may escape the general observer in the wild field of nature, or be deemed too trifling for the philosophic enquirer, falls to the lot of the humble gleaner; and it is, indeed, by minute and familiar description alone, that we can point out to others the scenes that we ourselves have viewed.
Cape Town is one of the handsomest colonial towns in the world; the streets, which are wide and perfectly straight, are kept in the highest order, and planted with rows of oaks and firs. The houses are built in a stile of very superior elegance, and inside are in the cleanest and most regular order. They are not, however, sufficiently ventilated, to dissipate the stale fume of tobacco, which is peculiarly offensive to a stranger. The play-house is a neat building, erected by the English, where French and Dutch plays are acted alternately twice a week by private performers.
The public garden, in which was formerly a mènagerie, well stocked with all the curious animals of Africa, was entirely neglected by the English. Within the garden is the government-house, a neat convenient building, without any appearance of grandeur, and perfectly consonant to the plain and frugal manners of the old Batavians. The torrents which descend from the Table-hill in the wet season often overflow the town; to carry the waters off, canals are cut through the principal streets, communicating with the ditch of the fort, and thence with the sea.
Table and False Bay are separated by an isthmus, which has evidently been covered by the sea at no very remote period, for it is a plain of fine sea-sand mixed with shells, but little elevated above the level of the sea. The S.E. wind, which blows with great fury, forms this sand into hills, which are in some places bare, and in others bound by flowering shrubs, and heaths of various kinds; the distance between the two bays by land is twenty-four miles. Quitting Simmon's town, the road to Muisenbourg (a small post about six miles from it) sometimes runs along the beach which is flat, and on which the sea flows with gentle undulations; at others, it winds round the feet of craggy hills, which are covered with masses of stone suspended almost in air, that seem nodding, and ready to be displaced by the least impulse; even the reverberation of sound, one would think, might dislodge them. The sides of these hills are covered with heath and shrubs, which throw out blossoms of every colour in the spring, and they abound in deer and other game. Regiments of baboons assemble on them, and, screened behind the impending rocks, roll down the loose masses on the passing traveller; wolves also descend from them in large troops, and "burning for blood; bony, and gaunt, and grim," seize as their prey the strayed oxen or wandering goats. A few scanty and turbid rills, apparently impregnated with iron, steal down the mountain's sides; but scarce a stream deserving the name of rivulet is to be found here. At Muisenbourg the road crosses a salt lake about half a mile wide, which is always fordable. From hence to within eight miles of Cape Town, the road lies over a flat heavy sand, where the path is distinguished only by the tracks of waggons; on either side the sand is covered with an innumerable variety of flowering heaths and shrubs, whose blossoms impregnate the air, with the most balmy odours. The remainder of the road to Cape Town is formed of the iron-stone, which abounds here, and is kept in excellent order. Neatly elegant country-houses embellish it on each side, while lofty oaks growing out of the fences, and clumps of firs within them, in some parts, give it the appearance of an English avenue. The entrance into the town is over a down, rising on the left side to the Table mountain, and on the right descending to a fertile valley, with several neat farm-houses and wind-mills scattered over it. The sides of the hills are variegated with patches of the silver-tree, contrasting their glossy leaves with the brown heath and barren rocks.
The sensations which possessed our minds on entering this beautiful town fresh from sea, acquired the most vivid colours from contrast. The evening before we were confined to the narrow limits of a ship, surrounded and buffeted by the boisterous waves, and almost beaten down by the torrents of rain, mingled with the continual sprays of the sea; now the loud winds rending the sails, and whistling through the cordage, employed all our exertions to secure our vessel against its utmost fury; now incessant peals of thunder rattling above our heads, while after every vivid flash the eye felt a temporary suspension of sight, and the mind for a moment shuddered at the doubt of its total extinction, and recollected that a frail plank alone was the barrier between mortal existence and eternity. Now view the contrast in a few short hours; our vessel rides in safety where,
while the danger and the fatigue past are drowned in oblivion; and now we tread the verdant turf, and breathe the balmy atmosphere of odoriferous flowers, while, as we approach the town, parties of equestrian ladies attract our eyes, attended by their beaux, whose happiness we might envy, did not the call of honour, and the voice of patriotism, render us less vulnerable to the charms of beauty, or the blandishments of love.
Simmon's Town is situated on a small bay of that name, and contains about one hundred and fifty well-built houses; the inhabitants chiefly subsist by supplying ships with refreshments, during the months they are unable to lay in Table Bay. The English built a small block-house, with a battery enbarbet, to the eastward of the town; the post of Muisenbourg has also a small battery, and the beach, in places of easy access, is guarded by a few guns. The road to Muisenbourg has several difficult passes, which might be defended against very superior numbers. A detachment of three hundred troops are stationed at Simmon's Town, who would, in the event of an enemy's landing, retreat to Cape Town, which is garrisoned by three thousand troops, chiefly Swiss, particularly the regiment of Waldeck, which having served under the English banner in the American war, remembers with partiality the food and pay of its old masters, both of which, in the Dutch service, are wretched enough.
The English, during the short period they were masters of the Cape, raised the price of every consumable commodity 200 per cent. but the Dutch government is again endeavouring to reduce things to their former level, and by the strictest economy to make the colony pay its expences. These measures are exceedingly unpopular, and have already caused upwards of one-hundred real or fictitious bankruptcies. Hence the partiality with which the English are viewed here. Their return is openly wished for, even by those who were formerly their greatest foes. In fact, the Dutch government at the Cape, as well as at home, is entirely under French influence; and it is probable that in the boundless ambition of the Corsican usurper, he considers the Cape of Good Hope as one of the steps by which he intends to mount to Asiatic thrones.
The Dutch, as well as the English, who have any floating property in the colony, are anxious to remit it to England, and therefore bills bear, a premium of from 30 to 35 per cent. for paper money, which is the only currency here, and which rises from 6d. to 100 rix-dollars. A quantity of copper pennies were put into circulation by the English, but finding it difficult to adjust their intrinsic value to the currency of the colony, without confusion on the one hand, or loss to the importers on the other, it was determined to double their nominal value, by which government gained 60 per cent. at the same time their private importation was made penal.
In Simmon's bay the water is supplied to ships by cocks, at a wharf where boats may lay at most times. Firewood is the scarcest article here: this is owing to the parching S.E. winds preventing the growth of timber, except the silver-tree and pollard oak. The carriage between the two towns is by waggons with fourteen or sixteen horses, the hire of which is thirty-five rix-dollars (6l. 2s.); the horses are small, but hardy; and bear much fatigue. Oxen are also used to draw the heavy waggons.
The women of the Cape, when young, are often pretty, but whether from theirlives, or peculiar gross food, in a few years they grow unwieldy, and delicacy of shape is sunk beneath a load of fat. Their dress is English, and in this respect the severe sentence of Ovid on the fair sex in general, is peculiarly applicable to the Cape ladies;
The contrast between a gay, attentive, and well-dressed English officer, and a grumbling, coarse, and phlegmatic Dutchman, was too obvious not to strike the Batavian fair ones, and their partiality was so openly expressed, that our countrymen could not well avoid taking advantage of it, and in pure compassion, preventing them from "wasting their sweetness on the desert air." But, in this respect, public opinion seems to be at present the only criterion of right and wrong, and as that opinion is entirely governed by the conduct of the majority, such venial trespasses are considered with mutual charity, and the damsel who takes an annual trip to the country for the benefit of mountain air, returns in about two months, and receives the congratulations of her friends upon the restored bloom of her complexion, with the modest air of a vestal "as chaste as unsunned snow."
In contemplating the manners and opinions of different nations, we are often apt to attribute to the caprice of the human mind, effects which proceed from natural causes alone, over which man can scarcely be allowed to possess any influence. The cleanliness and industry of the Dutch form a striking contrast with the dirt and indolence of the Portuguese, but are not more opposite than the climates of Holland and Portugal. The religious sentiments of these two nations are not less different than their external manners, and may, perhaps, be ultimately deduced from the same cause. At Rio Janeiro, the lofty spires of innumerable churches arise in every point of view; the streets are crowded with priests of every denomination and habit; the air continually reverberates the solemn sounds of the cloyster bell, while the harmonious notes of the vesperal hymn, chaunted in slow cadence, breaks the silence of the evening, and forces reverence from the bosom of levity itself. At the Cape of Good Hope, two churches and two clergymen are enough for the inhabitants, and at Simmon's Town there is no trace of the peculiar appropriation of the sabbath to religious duties; all here are employed in making money. Money is the supreme divinity of a Dutchman, for which he would renounce his religion, sell his wife, or betray his friend.
The slaves at the Cape are either Mozambique negroes or Malays from the eastern Archipelago, and we must do their masters the justice to say, that they are more humane in their treatment of them than any other European nation. When in fear of punishment, the slaves often retire to the Table mountain, and give much trouble to the police.
Having secured the continuance of our people's health, by the daily supply of fresh beef and bread, and having received on board five cows, one bull, and twelve sheep for the new Settlement, we put to sea on the 25th, with a fine breeze from the N.W. to the expected continuance of which we trusted for an expeditious passage to the coast of New Holland, and accordingly steered to the southward, to get into the supposed range of its greatest strength. In these southern seas, we were continually surrounded by whales, and were even sometimes obliged to alter our course to avoid striking on them. They often visit the bays about the Cape, and while they sport on the surface, the winds and waves carry them so near the beach, that all their exertions are insufficient to extricate themselves, and they perish on the shore. Their blubber is removed and converted into oil by persons who farm this prerogative from government. Flocks of albatrosses, and various kinds of peterals, follow the whales, and feed on the oily substances which they exude.
On quitting the Cape, it was natural for the reflecting mind to recur back to the history of the first adventurous navigators who passed this formidable barrier to ancient navigation. Comparing our own situation and views with those of De Gama and his followers, we are led to appreciate, as it deserves, their persevering boldness, while our admiration is excited by the progress of human invention and improvement, so peculiarly exemplified in the art of navigation.
The stormy seas which wash the southern promontory of Africa, (to which was then given the appropriate name of "Cap de las Tormentos,") are despised by the British seamen, whose vessel flies in security before the tempest, and while she "rides on the billows and defies the storm," he carelessly sings as if unconscious of the warring elements around him. In the revolution of all sublunary affairs, when the past and the present are alike sunk in the oblivious abyss of time, when De Gama is no more heard of, and a faint tradition alone records the doubtful power and opulence of the British isles, then shall some other transcendent genius arise, who, braving this foaming ocean with equal difficulty and equal glory, shall claim the honour of a first discoverer.
Scarce had we cleared the land, ere the favourable wind left us, and veering to the eastward, continued to blow from that quarter far eleven days; but by the of strong easterly currents, we were enabled to preserve our distance from the land. The constant wet and cold weather which now prevailed, required every care and attention to obviate its evil effects upon the convicts, many of whom, through mere carelessness when in fine weather, were now literally naked; the were, therefore, employed in making up jackets and , from the materials sent on board for the purpose, which were distributed to those most in want. Slight dysenteries were for some time prevalent, but by the unremitting care of the surgeon, and the most minute attention to keeping the prisons well aired and dry, as well as to the personal cleanliness of the convicts, one man only fell a victim to this disease. The inclement weather had a more fatal effect on the colonial cattle, three of the heifers dying shortly after we left the Cape.
It was our intention to make the island of St. Paul's, in order to verify our chronometers, which were at this period no less than six degrees a-head of the reckoning, but night having overtaken us, and the wind blowing fresh and fair, we ran past them in the dark; our vicinity was, however, evinced in the morning, by large patches of rock-weed, the leaves of which were very broad, and resembled in shape those of the sycamore.
From the island of St. Paul to the Coast of New Holland, the winds were commonly between the N.W. and S.W. and our track was confined to the parallels of 38° and 39°; with the wind from the northward, we always found the sea remarkably smooth, but when the southerly wind prevailed, the heavy swell, even in light breezes, evinced the long fetch of the waters, and demonstrated the general tempestuous weather in the high southern latitudes. These circumstances alone would be almost sufficient to refute the opinion of a southern continent, did not the voyages of Capt. Cook put it beyond a doubt.
From the longitude of 125° E. the oceanic birds, which before flitted over the waves in vast numbers, began to decrease, and in 137° scarce one was seen. This being the spring of the southern hemisphere, they, doubtless, now retire to the rocks, to deposit their eggs and raise their young.
On Saturday, October 10th, we at last made King Island, in the entrance of Bass's Straits, which we had anxiously looked out for the two preceding days; the wind being from the N.E. obliged us to stand within three miles of the island, which through the haze we observed to be moderately high and level, with three sandy hills nearly in the centre. The increasing breeze and lowering sky, which portended a coming gale, prevented our the island more minutely. Fortunately we stood, off in time to gain a sufficient offing before the gale commenced, which during the night blew a perfect hurricane between the N.W and S.W. This night of danger and anxiety, was succeeded by a morning beautifully serene, which shewed us the Southern coast of New South Wales. From the total want of information respecting the appearance of the land on this coast, we were doubtful as to our situation, and approached the shore with cautious diffidence; at length the break in the land, which forms the entrance of Port Philip, was observed, but a surf, apparently breaking across it, created, at first, some mistrust of its identity, until the man at the mast-head observing a ship at anchor within, which was soon recognized for the Ocean, removed all doubt, and without farther hesitation we pushed in for the entrance. A fair wind and tide soon carried us through; and in a few minutes we were presented with a picture highly contrasted with the scene we had, lately contemplated: an expanse of water bounded in many places only by the horizon, and unruffled as the bosom of unpolluted innocence, presented itself to the charmed eye, which roamed over it in silent admiration. The nearer shores, along which the ship glided at the distance of a mile, afforded the most exquisite scenery, and recalled the idea of "Nature in the worlds first spring." In short, every circumstance combined to impress our minds with the highest satisfaction for our safe arrival, and in creating those emotions which diffused themselves in thanksgiving to that Almighty Guide, who conducted us through the pathless ocean, to the spot of our destination.
- This animal, to which scalers have given the name Of sea-elephant, appears to be the same as the sea-lion of Anson, &c. The oil of the sea-elephant, by a simply preparation, is found to answer the purpose of linseed oil in painting. To twenty gallons of the oil, when boiling, add "a quarter of a pound of white copperas, two pounds of litharge or red lead, and half a pint of spirit of turpentine;" after it has boiled half an hour let it grow cold, pour the oil off from the sediment, and it is fit for use.
- This was in August 1803.
- Vide Addenda I.
- The chronometers on board were constructed by Mr. Mudge, No 8, and No 12. The rate given in England continued without variation to Tristan d'Acunha, but in the run from thence to the Cape we found an error of half a degree of longitude, that is, a loss of two minutes of time. On the 29th of August, No 8 stopped without any apparent cause, and the next day resumed its going; this prevented any dependence being placed on it for the rest of the passage. At Port Philip and Port Jackson, the rates were again ascertained by daily observations, and they continued to agree, until a few days after leaving Port Jackson, when No 8 again stopped. No 12 agreed perfectly with the landfall of Cape Horn, but on our arrival at Rio Janeiro we found an error of 75 miles of longitude to the westward; being a loss of five minutes of time from Port Jackson to Rio, for the given longitude of Cape Horn could not be depended on.
- The confounding the names of the islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam, which has been the case since Capt. Cook's voyage, as well as the uncertainty of their relative situations, must cause some uneasiness to the navigator in passing them of a bad night. A Dutch Captain at the Cape, asserted, that they were only twelve miles distant north and south of each other (but I presume he must have meant Dutch miles, equal to English leagues). Malham's Naval Gazette of 1801 places St. Paul's in latitude 37° 56', longitude 77° 22', and makes Amsterdam in 36° 40'; 75° 15'. To make this agree with the other calculations, there must be an error of the press of two degrees in the latter latitude, which would then be 38° 40'; that is, 44' difference. Mr. Bowdich, who is in general the most correct in the latitudes and longitudes of places, takes the mean of Capt. Bligh's and Sir Geo. Staunton's observations, and makes the islands in the same longitude, viz. 77° 11', and St. Paul's in latitude 37° 52', and Amsterdam in 38° 42', 50' difference. Mr. Mafkelyne, in his requisite tables, says, fit. Paul's (meaning, I suppose, the Amsterdam of the others,) is in, latitude 38° 44', longitude 77° 18'. Hamilton Moor makes St. Paul's in latitude 37° 31', and longitude 77° 56', and Amsterdam in 38° 15', and 78° 00'. Upon the whole it appears, that the northernmost island is about the latitude of 37° 55', and the southernmost 38° 40'.
- Named after P. G. King, Esq. the present Governor of New South Wales.
- This we afterwards found was occasioned by the rapidity of the ebb-tide, counteracted by the wind which created a breaking sea, that must destroy the best constructed open boat.