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The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N./Appendix B

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The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. by Ernest Scott
Appendix B. Peron's account on Port Jackson
by François Péron, translated by Ernest Scott

Appendix B

PÉRON'S REPORT ON PORT JACKSON.

[The following is a fairly literal translation of Péron's report on Port Jackson, furnished to General Decaen at Ile-de-France.]

Port N.-O., 20th Frimaire,
Year 12.[1] 

Citizen Captain-General,

Fifteen years ago England transported, at great expense, a numerous population to the eastern coast of New Holland. At that time this vast continent was still almost entirely unknown. These southern lands and the numerous archipelagoes of the Pacific were invaded by the English, who had solemnly proclaimed themselves sovereign over the whole dominion extending from Cape York to the southern extremity of New Holland, that is to say, from 10° 37' S., to 43° 39' S. latitude. In longitude their possessions had been fixed as reaching from 105° W. of Greenwich to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, including all the archipelagos with which it is strewn.[2])

Note especially in this respect that in the formal deed of annexation no exact boundary was fixed on the Pacific Ocean side. This omission seems to have been the result of astute policy; the English Government thus prepared itself an excuse for claiming, at the right time and place, all the islands which in the future may be, or actually are, occupied by the Spaniards—who thus find themselves England's next-door neighbours.

So general a project of encroachment alarmed, as it must, all the nations of Europe. The sacrifices made by England to maintain this colony redoubled their suspicions. The Spanish expedition of Admiral Malaspina[3] had not fulfilled the expectations of its Government. Europe was still ignorant of the nature of the English settlement; its object was unknown; its rapid growth was not even suspected.

Always vigilant in regard to whatever may humiliate the eternal rival of our nation, the First Consul, soon after the revolution of the 18th Brumaire,[4] that Bonaparte overthrew the Directory by a coup-d'etat, and became First Consul of the French Republic.) decided upon our expedition.[5] His real object was such that it was indispensable to conceal it from the Governments of Europe, and especially from the Cabinet of St. James's. We must have their unanimous consent; and that we might obtain this, it was necessary that, strangers in appearance to all political designs, we should occupy ourselves only with natural history collections. Such a large expenditure had been incurred to augment the collections of the Museum of the Republic that the object of our voyage could not but appear to all the world as a natural consequence of the previous action of our Government. It was far from being the case, however, that our true purpose had to be confined to that class of work; and if sufficient time permitted it would be very easy for me, citizen Captain-General, to demonstrate to you that all our natural history researches, extolled with so much ostentation by the Government, were merely a pretext for its enterprise, and were intended to assure for it the most general and complete success. So that our expedition, so much criticised by fault-finders, so much neglected by the former administrators of this colony, was in its principle, in its purpose, in its organization, one of those brilliant and important conceptions which ought to make our present Government for ever illustrious. Why was it that, after having done so much for the success of these designs, the execution of them was confided to a man utterly unfitted in all possible respects to conduct them to their proper issue?

You have asked me, General, to communicate to you such information as I have been able to procure upon the colony of Port Jackson. A work of that kind would be as long as it would be important; and, prepared as I conceive it ought to be, and as I hope it will be when presented to the French Government, it would fix our attention to some useful purpose upon that growing snare of a redoubtable power. Unfortunately, duty has made demands upon me until to-day, and now that I find myself a little freer our departure is about to take place. Moreover, all the information we have collected upon the regions in question is deposited in the chest which has to be forwarded, sealed, to the Government, and without access to this the notes that I should desire to furnish to you cannot be completed. Nevertheless, in order to contribute as far as possible to your enlightenment on the subject, I take the liberty of furnishing you with some particulars of the new establishment. In asking you to excuse, on account of the circumstances, faults both of style and of presentation, I venture to assure you, General, that you can rely upon my jealous exactitude in fulfilling as far as was in my power the intention of the Government of my country. I have neglected no means of procuring all the information that as far as I could foresee would be of interest. I was received in the house of the Governor with much consideration. He and his secretary spoke our language well. The commandant of the troops of New South Wales, Mr. Paterson, a member of the Royal Society of London, a very distinguished savant, always treated me with particular regard. I was received in his house, as one might say, as a son. I have through him known all the officials of the colony. The surgeon, a distinguished man, Mr. Thompson, honoured me with his friendship. Mr. Grimes, the surveyor of the colony, Mr. Palmer the commissary-general of the Government, Mr. Marsden, a clergyman of Parramatta, and a cultivator as wealthy as he is discerning, were all capable of furnishing me with valuable information. My functions on board permitted me to hazard the asking of a large number of questions which would have been indiscreet on the part of another, particularly on the part of soldiers. I have, in a word, known at Port Jackson all the principal people of the colony, in all vocations, and each of them has furnished, unsuspectingly, information as valuable as it is new. Finally, I made with Mr. Paterson very long excursions into the interior of the country. I saw most of the best farms, and I assure you that I have gathered everywhere interesting ideas upon things, which I have taken care to make exact as possible.

1st.—Present Establishments of the English.

Whilst in Europe they are spoken of as the colony of Botany Bay, as a matter of fact there is no establishment there. Botany Bay is a humid, marshy, rather sterile place, not healthy, and the anchorage for vessels is neither good nor sure.

Port Jackson, thirteen leagues from Botany Bay, is unquestionably one of the finest ports in the world. It was in these terms that Governor Phillip spoke of it, and certainly he did not exaggerate when he added that a thousand ships of the line could easily manoeuvre within it. The town of Sydney has been founded in the heart of this superb harbour. It is already considerable in extent, and, like its population, is growing rapidly. Here reside the Governor and all the principal Government officers. The environs of Sydney are sandy and not very fertile; in almost all of them there is a scarcity of water during the hot summer months.

Parramatta is the largest town founded by the English. It is in the interior of the country, about six leagues from Sydney, from which it can be reached by a small river called the Parramatta River. Small vessels can proceed close to the town; larger ones have to discharge some distance away. A very fine road leads overland from Sydney to Parramatta. Some very good houses have been built here and there along the road. Already people who have made considerable fortunes are to be found there. The land around Parramatta is of much better quality than that at Sydney. The country has been cleared to a considerable extent; and grazing in particular presents important advantages.

Toongabbie, further inland, three or four leagues from Parramatta, is still more fertile. Its pastures are excellent. It is there that the flocks belonging to the Government have been established.

Hawkesbury, more than 60 miles from Sydney, is in the vicinity of the Blue Mountains. It is the richest and most fruitful of the English establishments. It may be regarded as the granary of the colony, being capable by itself of supplying nearly all the wants of the settlement. The depth of soil in some parts is as much as 80 feet; and it is truly prodigious in point of fertility. These incalculable advantages are due to the alluvial deposits of the Hawkesbury River, which descends in cascades from the summits of the Blue Mountains, and precipitates itself upon the plain loaded with a thick mud of a quality eminently suitable for promoting vegetable growth. Unfortunately with benefits such as are conferred by the Nile it unites its inconveniences. It is subject to frightful floods, which overwhelm everything. Houses, crops, and flocks—everything is destroyed unless men and animals save themselves by very rapid flight. These unexpected floods are sometimes so prodigious that the water has been known to rise 60 and even 80 feet above the normal level. But what gives a great importance to the town of Hawkesbury is the facility with which large ships can reach it by the river of which I have just spoken. This part of New Holland will be a source of rapid and very large fortunes.

Castle Hill is a new establishment in the interior of New Holland, distant 21 miles from Parramatta, from which it is reached by a superb road, which traverses thick forests. Allotments of land are crowded round this place, and the clearances are so considerable that for more than a league all round the town we could see the forest grants being burnt off.

Richmond Hill, towards the Hawkesbury, is a more considerable place than the last mentioned, and is in a fertile situation.

So, General, it will be seen that this colony, which people in Europe still believe to be relegated to the muddy marshes of Botany Bay, is daily absorbing more and more of the interior of the continent. Cities are being erected, which, at present in their infancy, present evidences of future grandeur. Spacious and well-constructed roads facilitate communication with all parts, whilst important rivers render access by water still more convenient and less expensive.

But the English Government is no longer confining its operations to the eastern coast of New Holland. Westernport, on the extreme south, beyond Wilson's Promontory, is already engaging its attention. At the time of our departure a new establishment there was in contemplation. The Government is balancing the expediency of founding a new colony there or at Port Phillip, to the north.[6]) In any case, it is indubitable, from what I have heard the Governor say—it is indubitable, I say, that such a step will soon be taken. Indeed, whatever advantage Port Jackson may possess, it suffers from a grave disadvantage in the narrowness of its entry. Two frigates could by themselves blockade the most numerous fleet within. Westernport would in certain eventualities offer an advantageous position. Moreover, the navigation of Bass Strait is very dangerous. The winds there are terrible. Before negotiating the strait, ships from Europe, fatigued by a long voyage, require succour and shelter. The new establishment will be able to accommodate them. A third reason, and no doubt the most important, is that the English in spite of all their efforts, in spite of the devotion of several of their citizens, in spite of the sacrifices made by the Government, have not yet been able to traverse the redoubtable barrier of the Blue Mountains and to penetrate into the west of New Holland. An establishment on the part of the coast that I have just mentioned would guarantee them success in their efforts in that direction. At all events it is indubitable that the establishment to which I have referred will be immediately founded, if indeed such is not already the case, as appears very probable from the letter which the Governor wrote to our commandant in that regard a few days after our departure from Port Jackson.

So then, the English, already masters of the eastern coast of New Holland, now wish to occupy the immense extent of the west and south-west coasts which contain very fine harbours, namely, that which they call Westernport, Port Phillip, Port Flinders[7] at the head of one of the great gulfs of the south-west, Port Esperance, discovered by Dentrecasteaux, King George's Sound, etc.

But still more, General, their ambition, always aspiring, is not confined to New Holland itself, vast as it may be. Van Diemen's Land, and especially the magnificent Dentrecasteaux Channel, have excited their cupidity. Another establishment has probably been founded there since our departure from Port Jackson. Take a glance at the detailed chart of that part of Van Diemen's Land. Look at the cluster of bays and harbours to be found there, and judge for yourself whether it is likely that that ambitious nation will permit any other power to occupy them. Therefore, numerous preparations had been made for the occupation of that important point. The authorities were only awaiting a frigate, the Porpoise,[8]) to transport colonists and provisions. That establishment is probably in existence to-day.[9] Several reasons will have determined it; 1st—The indispensable necessity, for the English, of keeping away from their establishments in that part of the world rivals and neighbours as redoubtable as the French; 2nd— The desire of removing from occupation by any other nation those impregnable ports whence their important trade with New Zealand might be destroyed and their principal establishment itself be eventually shaken; 3rd—The fertility of the soil in that part of Van Diemen's Land, and above all the hope of discovering in the vast granite plateaux, which seems here to enclose the world, mines of precious metals or some new substance unknown to the stupid aboriginals of the country.

I will not refer in detail to the Furneaux and Hunter's Islands, to King Island and Maria Island. Everywhere the British flag is flown with pride. Everywhere profitable fisheries are established. Seals of various species, to be found upon these islands, open up a new source of wealth and power to the English nation.

But New Zealand is especially advantageous to them in that regard. There is the principal seat of the wealth of their new colony. Thence a large number of ships sail annually for Europe laden with whale oil. Never, as the English themselves acknowledge, was a fishery so lucrative and so easy. The number of vessels engaged in it is increasing rapidly. Four years ago there were but four or five. Last year there were seventeen.[10] I shall have occasion to return to this subject.

Let us sum up what has been said concerning the English establishments in this part of the world. Masters of the east coast of New Holland, we see them rapidly penetrating the interior of the country, clearing pressed forward on all sides, towns multiplying. Everywhere there is hope of abundance of great agricultural wealth. The south coast is menaced by coming encroachments, which, perhaps, are by now effected. All the ports of the south-west will be occupied successively, and much sooner than is commonly thought. Van Diemen's Land and all the neighbouring islands either are to be occupied or already are so. New Zealand offers to them, together with excellent harbours, an extraordinarily abundant and lucrative fishery. In a word, everything in these vast regions presents a picture of unequalled activity, unlimited foresight, swollen ambition, and a policy as deep as it is vigilant.

Well then—come forward now to the middle of these vast seas, so long unknown; we shall see everywhere the same picture reproduced, with the same effects. Cast a glance over that great southern ocean. Traverse all those archipelagos which, like so many stepping-stones, are scattered between New Holland and the west coast of America. It is by their means that England hopes to be able to stretch her dominion as far as Peru. Norfolk Island has for a long time been occupied. The cedar that it produces, coupled with the great fertility of the soil, render it an important possession. It contains already between 1500 and 1800 colonists. No settlement has as yet been founded in any of the other islands, but researches are being pursued in all parts. The English land upon all the islands and establish an active commerce, by means of barter, with the natives. The Sandwich Islands, Friendly Islands, Loyalty Islands,[11] Navigator Islands,[12] Marquesas and Mendore Islands all furnish excellent salt provisions. Ships, employed in trade, frequently arrive at Port Jackson; and it increases every day, proof positive of the advantage that is derived from it.

The Government is particularly occupied with endeavouring to discover upon some one of these archipelagos a strong military post, a species of arsenal, nearer to the coasts of Peru and Chili.[13] It is towards these two points that the English Government appears to be especially turning its eyes. They are quite aware of the feebleness of the Spaniards in South America. They are above all aware that the unconquered Chilians are constantly making unexpected attacks, that like so many Bedouins they appear unawares with a numerous cavalry upon places where the Spaniards are most feeble, committing robberies and outrages in all directions before sufficient forces have been collected to repulse them. Then they retire with a promptitude which does not permit of their being followed to their savage fastnesses, which are unknown to the Spaniards themselves—retreats whence they very soon reappear, to commit fresh massacres. (See the Voyage of Lapérouse). The English, to whom nothing that occurs in those important regions is unknown, are equally aware that it is simply a deficiency in arms and ammunition which prevents the redoubtable Chilians from pushing much farther their attacks against the Spaniards. It is to the furnishing of these means that the English Government are at the present moment confining their enterprise. A very active contraband trade is calculated to enable them to carry out their perfidious ends, whilst at the same time providing a profitable market for the produce of their manufacturers. Another manner in which they torment the Spaniards of Peru is by despatching a swarm of pirates to these seas. During the last war very rich prizes were captured by simple whaling vessels, and you can judge what attacks of this kind will be like when they are directed and sustained by the English Government itself.

Their hopes in regard to the Spanish possessions are heightened, and their projects are encouraged, by the general direction of the winds in these seas. A happy experience has at length taught the English that the prevailing wind, that which blows strongest and most constantly, is the west wind. Determined by these considerations (would you believe it, General?) the English nowadays, instead of returning to Europe from Port Jackson by traversing Bass Strait and doubling the Cape of Good Hope, turn their prows eastwards, abandon themselves to their favourite wind, traverse rapidly the great expanse of the South Seas, double Cape Horn, and so do not reach England until they have made the circuit of the globe! Consequently those voyages round the world, which were formerly considered so hazardous, and with which are associated so many illustrious names, have become quite familiar to English sailors. Even their fishing vessels accomplish the navigation of the globe just as safely as they would make a voyage from Europe to the Antilles. That circumstance is not so unimportant as may at first appear. The very idea of having circumnavigated the globe exalts the enthusiasm of English sailors. What navigation would not seem to them ordinary after voyages which carry with them great and terrible associations? Anyhow—and this is a most unfortunate circumstance for the Spaniards—it is indubitable that the fact of the constancy of the west wind must facilitate extraordinarily projects of attack and invasion on the part of the English, and everything sustains the belief that they will count for much in the general plan of the establishment in New Holland. Therefore the English Government appears day by day to take more interest in the colony. It redoubles sacrifices of all kinds. It endeavours in every way to increase the population as much as possible. Hardly a month passes but there arrives some ship freighted by it, laden with provisions, goods, and above all with men and women, some transported people, who have to serve practically as slaves, others free immigrants, cultivators, to whom concessions will be granted. Perhaps at first you will be astonished to learn that honest men voluntarily transport themselves with their families to the extremity of the world, to live in a country which is still savage, and which was originally, and is still actually, occupied by brigands who have been thrust from the breast of society. But your astonishment will cease when you learn under what conditions such individuals consent to exile themselves to these shores, and what advantages they are not slow in deriving from a sacrifice which must always be painful.

In the first place, before their departure from Europe, a sufficient sum is allowed to each individual to provide for the necessities of a long voyage. On board the vessel which transports them to Sydney a price is fixed for the sustenance of the immigrant and his family, if he has any. Upon his landing at Port Jackson concessions are granted to him in proportion to the number of individuals comprised in his family. A number of convicts (that is the name they give the transported persons), in proportion to the extent of the concessions granted, are placed at his disposal. A house is constructed for him; he is provided with all necessary furniture and household utensils, and all the clothes he needs; they grant him all the seed he needs to sow his land, all the tools he needs to till it, and one or more pairs of all domestic animals and several kinds of poultry. Besides, they feed him, his family, and his assigned servants during eighteen months. He is completely sustained during that period; and for the next twelve months half rations are allowed to him. At the end of that time the produce of his land is, with reason, expected to be sufficient for his requirements, and the Government leave him to his own resources.

During five years he remains free of all contribution, accumulating the produce of land all the more prolific because it is virgin. At the end of that time a slight repayment is required by the Government. This gradually and slightly increases as time goes on. But mark here, General, the profound wisdom of the English Government, that enlightened policy which guides all their enterprises and assures them success. If the new immigrant during these five years has shown himself to be a diligent and intelligent cultivator; if his clearings have been well extended and his stock is managed with prudence; if the produce of his land has increased rapidly—then, so far from finding himself a debtor to the Government, his holding is declared to be his own, and, as a recompense, fresh concessions are made to him, additional servants are assigned to him, his immunity from contributions is prolonged, and additional assistance of all sorts is extended to him. It is to these extensive and well-considered sacrifices that it is necessary to attribute the fine farms that daily increase in number in the midst of what was recently wild and uncultivated forest. Activity, intelligence and application conduce here more rapidly than elsewhere to fortune; and already several of the earlier immigrants have become very wealthy proprietors. Emulation of the noblest kind is stimulated everywhere. Experiments of all kinds are made and multiplied. The Government encourages them, and generously recompenses those who have succeeded.

What still further proves the particular interest which the English Government takes in the colony is the enormous expense incurred in procuring commodities for the new colonists. Nearly everything is furnished by the Government. Vast depots are filled with clothes and fabrics of all kinds and qualities, from the commonest to the finest. The simplest furniture and household goods are to be found alongside the most elegant. Thus the inhabitants are able to buy, at prices below those ruling in England,[14] everything necessary to not only the bare wants of life, but also its comforts and pleasures.

Anxious to maintain the settlement on a firm and unshakeable basis, it is to agriculture, the source of the true wealth of nations, that the English Government endeavours to direct the tastes of the inhabitants of the new colony. Different kinds of cattle have been imported, and all thrive remarkably well. The better kinds, so far from losing quality, gain in size and weight. But the improvement in sheep is especially astonishing. Never was there a country so favourable to these animals as the part of New Holland now occupied by the British. Whether it be the effect of the climate or, as I think, the peculiar quality of the herbage (almost wholly aromatic), certain it is that the flocks of sheep have multiplied enormously. It is true that the finest breeds have been imported by the Government. At first, the choicest kinds of English and Irish sheep were naturalised. Then breeds from Bengal and the Cape of Good Hope were introduced. Finally, the good fortune which seems to have conspired with the enterprise of our rivals furnished them with several pairs of merinos from Spain, which the Spanish Government at great expense were sending to the Viceroy of Peru, upon a ship which was captured upon the coast of that country by an English vessel out of Port Jackson, and which were brought thither, much to the satisfaction of the Governor, who neglected nothing to derive the fullest possible advantage from a present valuable to the colony. His endeavours have not been in vain. This species, like the others, has improved much, and there is reason to believe that in a few years Port Jackson will be able to supply valuable and abundant material for the manufacturers of England. What is most astonishing is that the Indian sheep, which naturally produce short, coarse hair instead of wool, in the course of three or four generations in this country produce a wool that can hardly be distinguished from that furnished by English breeds, or even Spanish. I have seen at the Governor's house an assortment of these different kinds of wool, which were to be sent to Lord Sydney, and I assure you that it would be difficult to find finer samples. In my excursions with Mr. Paterson, Mr. Marsden and Mr. Cox, I have seen their flocks, and really one could not but admire in that regard the incalculable influence of the industry of man, so long as it is encouraged and stimulated by enlightened and just administrators.

Another source of production which appears to offer great advantages to the English is that of hemp. In this country it is as fine in quality as it is abundant, and several persons whose testimony is beyond suspicion have assured me that New Holland, before many years have passed, will herself be able to furnish to the British Navy all the hemp that it requires, thus freeing England from the considerable tribute that she pays at present in that regard to the north of Europe.

The climate also appears to be favourable to the cultivation of the vine. Its latitude, little different from that of the Cape of Good Hope, combined with its temperature, lead the Government to hope for great advantages from the introduction of this plant to the continent of New Holland. Furthermore, French vignerons have been introduced at great expense to promote this object. It is true that their first attempts have not been very happy, but the lack of success is due entirely to the obstinacy of the English Governor, who, in spite of the representations of these men, compelled them to make their first plantations upon the side of a small, pleasant terrace forming a kind of semi-circle round Government House at Parramatta. This was, unfortunately, exposed to the north-west winds, burning winds like the mistral of Italy and Provence, the khamsin of Egypt, etc. The French vignerons whom I had occasion to see at Parramatta, in company with the Lieutenant-Governor, Mr. Paterson, assured me that they had found a piece of country very favourable to their new plantations, and that they hoped for the greatest success from their fresh efforts. Choice plants had been imported from Madeira and the Cape.

In all the English establishments on these coasts traces of grand designs for the future are evident. The mass of the people, being originally composed of the unfortunate and of wrong-doers, might have propagated immorality and corruption, if the Government had not taken in good time means to prevent such a sad result. A house was founded in the early days of the settlement for the reception of young girls whose parents were too poor and too constrained in their circumstances at the commencement of their sojourn there to be able to devote much care to them; while if parents, when emancipated, so conduct themselves that their example or their course of life is likely to have an evil effect on their offspring, the children are taken from them and placed in the home to which I have referred. There they pursue regular studies; they are taught useful arts appropriate to their sex; they are instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, sewing, etc. Their teachers are chosen with much care, and the wife of the Governor himself is charged with the supervision of that honourable establishment, a supervision in which she is assisted by the wife of the commandant of the troops. Each or both of them visit every day their young family, as they themselves call it. They neglect nothing to ensure the maintenance of good conduct, the soundness of the education and the quality of the provisions. I have several times accompanied these admirable ladies to the establishment, and have on every occasion been moved by their anxious solicitude and their touching care.

When these young girls arrive at marriageable age they are not abandoned by the Government. The following is the sagacious and commendable manner in which their establishment in life is provided for. Among the free persons who come to Port Jackson are many men who are not yet married. The same is the case with some of those who by good conduct have earned their freedom. When one of those young men wishes to take a worthy wife, he presents himself to the Governor's wife, who, after having obtained information concerning his character, permits him to visit her young flock. If he fixes his choice upon someone, he informs the Governor's wife, who, after consulting the tastes and inclinations of the young person, accords or refuses her consent. When a marriage is arranged, the Government endows the young girl by means of concessions, assigned servants, etc.; and these unions have already become the nursery of a considerable number of good and happy homes. It is undoubtedly an admirable policy, and one which has amply rewarded the English Government for the sacrifices made to support it.

The defence of the country has not up to the present been very formidable, and has not needed to be, on account of the ignorance which prevails in Europe respecting the nature of this colony. The English Government is at the present moment directing men's minds towards agriculture. It has not, however, neglected to provide what the physical condition of the land and the nature of its establishment demand. Two classes of men are much to be feared at present: first, the criminals, condemned for the most part to a long servitude, harshly treated, compelled to the roughest and most fatiguing labour. That infamous class, the vile refuse of civilised society, always ready to commit new crimes, needs to be ceaselessly restrained by force and violence. The English Government therefore maintains a strong police. It is so efficient that in the midst of that infamous canaille the most perfect security reigns everywhere, and—what may appear paradoxical to those who do not know the details of the administration of the colony—fewer robberies are committed than in a European town of equal population. As to murder, I have never heard tell of a crime of the kind being committed there, nor, indeed, did I hear of one occurring since the foundation of the colony. Nevertheless, the first consideration entails the maintenance of a very considerable force; and with equal foresight and steadiness the Government has taken precautions against the efforts of these bandits. A second class of society, more formidable still (also much more respectable, but having most to complain about, and the most interesting class for us), is composed of legions of the unfortunate Irish, whom the desire of freeing their country from the British yoke caused to arm in concert with us against the English Government. Overwhelmed by force, they were treated with pitiless rigour. Nearly all those who took up arms in our favour were mercilessly transported, and mixed with thieves and assassins. The first families of Ireland count their friends and relations upon these coasts of New Holland. Persecuted by that most implacable of all kinds of hatred, the hatred born of national animosity and differing convictions, they are cruelly treated, and all the more so because they are feared. Abandoned to themselves, it is felt, they can do nothing, and the Government gains several interesting advantages from their residence in this country. First, a population as numerous as it is valiant is fixed upon these shores. Secondly, nearly all being condemned to a servitude more or less long, they provide many strong arms for the laborious work of clearing. Thirdly, the mixing of so many brave men with criminals seems to obliterate the character of the settlement and to provide, by the retention of a crowd of honest men, some sort of a defence against the opprobrium cast upon it. Fourthly, the Government has relieved itself in Europe of a number of enraged and daring enemies. At the same time, one must admit, this policy has its defects. The Irish, ruled by a sceptre of iron, are quiet to-day. But if ever the Government of our country, alarmed by the rapidly increasing strength of this colony, should formulate the project of taking or destroying it, at the mere mention of the French name every Irish arm would be raised. We had a very striking example when we first arrived at Port Jackson. Upon the appearance of the French flag in the harbour the alarm in the country was general. We were again at war with England. They regarded our second ship,[15] which had been separated from us and compelled to seek shelter at Port Jackson, as a French ship of war. At the name the Irish commenced to flock together. Everywhere they raised their bowed foreheads, bent under an iron rule; and, if their mistake had not been so rapidly dispelled, a general rising would have taken place amongst them. One or two were put to death on that occasion, and several were deported to Norfolk Island. In any case, that formidable portion of the population will always compel the English to maintain many troops upon this continent, until, at all events, time and inter-marriage shall have cicatrized the recent wounds of the poor Irish and softened their resentment.

The Government, however, appears to feel that considerably larger forces are required than are now available. At the time of our departure the regiment forming the garrison at Port Jackson did not number more than 800. But some were being continually removed to India, and to replace them 5000 men were expected. The news of the war must have led to the changing of these dispositions, because the troops, which were to have been transported on warships, were drawn from Europe, and probably the English Government will have been careful not to despatch so considerable a force to New Holland in the critical situation in which it now finds itself. Moreover, General, do not believe that so many troops are indispensable to the security of the coasts of New Holland, but rather consider the advantages that the English nation is likely to draw from its establishments in that part of the world. The climate of India, inimical to newcomers from Europe, is still more so to these British regiments, drawn from the frosty counties of the north of England and from the icy realms of Scotland. A considerable loss of men results from their almost immediate transportation to the burning plains of India. Forced to look after a population which has little affinity with its immense possessions in both hemispheres, England has always set an example of great sacrifices for all that can tend to the conservation of the health of its people. The new colony of Port Jackson will serve in the future as a depot for troops destined for India. Actually the whole of the territory occupied up to the present is extremely salubrious. Not a single malady endemic to the country has yet been experienced. The whole population enjoys the best of health. The children especially are handsome and vigorous, though the temperature at certain times is very high. We ourselves experienced towards the close of our visit very hot weather, though we were there in the months of Fructidor, Vendémiaire and Brumaire[16] nearly corresponding to our European spring. The temperature of New Holland, rather more than a mean between those of England and India, ought to be valuable in preparing for the latter country that large body of soldiers which the Government despatches every year to Bengal, the Coromandel coast, Malabar, etc., etc. Consequently the loss of men will be much less, and you will easily realise the advantage that will accrue to a power like England, when it contemplates the invasion, with a mediocre population, of archipelagos, islands, and even continents.

Note:—This portion of New Holland appears to owe its salubriousness:—

(1) To a situation resembling that of the Cape of Good Hope (Port Jackson is in about latitude 34°).

(2) To the nature of the soil, which is very dry, especially round Sydney;

(3) To the nature of the vegetation, which is not vigorous enough to maintain a noxious stagnation in the lower strata of the atmosphere;

(4) To the great, or rather enormous, quantity of aromatic plants which constitute the principal part of the vegetation, including even the largest species;

(5) To the vicinity of the Blue Mountains, the elevation of which contributes largely to maintain a certain salutary freshness in the atmosphere;

(6) To the remarkable constancy of the light fresh breezes which blow from the south-east towards the middle of the day.

I have not yet finished the account of the important advantages that England draws from this colony. If time were not so pressing and if I had at my disposal the abundant material consigned to our Government, I could write more. I venture to sum up those considerations to which I have referred, in a form which will be useful for determining your opinion upon this important and rising colony.

(1) By means of it England founds an empire which will extend over the continent of New Holland, Van Diemen's Land, all the islands of Bass Strait, New Zealand, and the numerous archipelagos of the Pacific Ocean.

(2) She thereby becomes the mistress of a large number of superb ports, several of which can be compared with advantage to the most fortunately situated harbours in other parts of the world.

(3) She thereby excludes her rivals, and, so to speak, blocks all the nations of Europe from entry to the Pacific.

(4) Having become the neighbour of Peru and Chili, she casts towards those countries hopes increasingly assured and greedy.

(5) Her privateers and her fleets in time of war will be able to devastate the coasts of South America; and, if in the last war she attempted no such enterprise, the reason appears to be that her astute policy made her fear to do too much to open the eyes of Spain, and even of all Europe.

(6) In time of peace, by means of an active contraband trade, she prepares redoubtable enemies for the Spaniards; she furnishes arms and ammunition of all kinds to that horde of untamed people who have not yet been subjugated to the European yoke.

(7) By the same means she enables the products of her manufacturers to inundate South America, which is shabbily and above all expensively supplied by Spain.

(8) If amongst the numerous archipelagos that are visited constantly some formidable military position is found, England will occupy it and, becoming a nearer neighbour to the rich Spanish possessions, will menace them more closely, more certainly, and above all more impatiently. Mr. Flinders, in an expedition of discovery which is calculated to last five years, and who doubtless at the present moment is traversing the region under discussion, appears to have that object particularly in view.[17]

(9) The extraordinarily lucrative whale fishery of New Zealand is exclusively[18] assured to them. No European nation can henceforth, according to the general opinion, compete with them for that object.

(10) The fishery, no less lucrative, of the enormous seals which cover the shores of several of the islands of Bass Strait, and from which is drawn an oil infinitely superior to whale oil, guarantees them yet another source of greatness and of wealth. Note: the seals in question, distinguished by the English under the name of sea elephants, are sometimes 25 or 30 feet long. They attain the bulk of a large cask: and the enormous mass of the animal seems, so to say, to be composed of solid, or rather coagulated, oil. The quantity extracted from one seal is prodigious. I have collected many particulars on this subject.

(11) A third fishery, even more lucrative and important, is that of the skins of various varieties of seal which inhabit most of the islands of Bass Strait, all the Furneaux Islands, all the islands off the eastern coast of Van Diemen's Land, and all those on the south-west coast of New Holland, and which probably will be found upon the archipelagos of the eastern portion of this vast continent. The skins of these various species of seal are much desired in China. The sale of a shipload of these goods in that country is as rapid as it is lucrative. The ships engaged in the business are laden on their return to Europe with that precious merchandise of China which gold alone can extract from the clutch of its rapacious possessors. Accordingly, one of the most important objects of the mission of Lord Macartney[19] to China, that of developing in that country a demand for some of the economic and manufacturing products of England, so as to relieve that country of the necessity of sending out such a mass of specie—that interesting object which all the ostentatious display of the commercial wealth of Europe had not been able to attain, and all the astute diplomacy of Lord Macartney had failed to achieve—the English have recently accomplished. Masters of the trade in these kinds of skin, they are about to become masters of the China trade. The coin accumulated in the coffers of the Government or of private people will no longer be sunk in the provinces of China. That advantage is incontestably one of the greatest that they have derived from their establishment at Port Jackson.

(12) This augmentation of distant possessions is likely to occasion a fresh development in the British Navy. The practice of voyaging round the world should exalt the enthusiasm of their sailors, whilst it increases their number and efficiency. I may add here that to attain the last-mentioned end the English Government compels each ship which sails for these regions, and above all for New Zealand, to carry a certain number of young men below 19 years of age, who return from these voyages only after having obtained a very valuable endowment of experience.

(13) The temperature and salubriousness of the country will enable it to look after a very large number of soldiers who used to be incapacitated every year by the burning heat of Asia.

(14) The abundance of the flocks, and the superiority of their wool, will furnish an immense quantity of excellent material to the national manufactures, already superior to those of the rest of Europe.

(15) The cultivation of hemp and vines gives cause to the English to hope that before very long they will be freed from the large tribute which they now pay for the first-named to all the Powers of the north of Europe, and for the second to Portugal, France and Spain.

(16) I will not discuss with you some substances indigenous to the country which are already in use, whether in medicine, or in the arts—of eucalyptus gum, for example, which is at once astringent and tonic to a very high degree, and is likely soon to become one of our most energetic drugs. Nor will I say much about the resin furnished by the tree which the English mis-name gourmier,[20] a resin which by reason of its hardness may become of very great value in the arts. It will be sufficient to say, General, that I possess a native axe obtained from the aboriginals of King George's Sound. It is nothing better than a chip of very hard granite fastened to the end of a piece of wood, which serves as a handle, by means of the resin to which I have referred. I have shown it to several persons. It will rapidly split a wooden plank and one can strike with all one's force, without in the least degree injuring the resin. Though the edge of the stone has several times been chipped, the resin always remained intact. I will say little of the fine and abundant timber furnished by what is called the casuarina tree, and by what the English improperly call the pear. This pear is what the botanists term Xylomelum, and by reason of its extremely beautiful and deep grain, and the fine polish which it is susceptible of receiving, it appears to be superior to some of the best known woods. I will not refer at length to the famous flax of New Zealand, which may become the subject of a large trade when its preparation is made easier; nor to cotton, which is being naturalised; nor to coffee, of which I myself have seen the first plantations, etc., etc. All these commodities are secondary in importance in comparison with others to which I have referred; yet, considered together, they will add greatly to the importance of this new colony. Similarly, I will pass over the diverse products which are sure to be furnished by the prolific archipelagos, and of which several are likely to become of great value and to fetch high prices for use in the arts and in medicine. For example, the cargo of the last vessel that arrived in Port Jackson from the Navigator Islands, during our stay, consisted partly of cordage of different degrees of thickness, made from a plant peculiar to those islands, the nature of which is such that, we were assured, it is almost indestructible by water and the humidity of the atmosphere; whilst its toughness makes it superior to ordinary cordage.

(17) The English hope for much from mineral discoveries. Those parts of the country lying nearest to the sea, which are of a sandstone or slaty formation, appear to contain only deposits of excellent coal; but the entire range of the Blue Mountains has not yet been explored for minerals. The colony had not up to the time of our visit a mineralogist in its service, but the Governor hoped soon to obtain the services of one, to commence making investigations; and the nature of the country, combined with its extent, affords ground for strong hope in that regard.

(18) There are, finally, other advantages, apparently less interesting, but which do not fail to exert an influence upon the character and prestige of a nation. I refer to the conspicuous glory which geographical discoveries necessarily following upon such an establishment as this bring upon a nation's name; to all that which accrues to a people from the discovery and collection of so many new and valuable things; to the distinguished services which new countries call forth and which confer so much distinction upon those who watch over their birth.

Time does not permit me to pursue the enquiry. I wish only to add here one fresh proof of the importance which England attaches to this new colony. When we left Port Jackson, the authorities were awaiting the arrival of five or six large vessels laden with the goods of English persons formerly domiciled at the Cape of Good Hope, whom the surrender of that possession to the Dutch had compelled to leave.[21] That very great accession of population ought sufficiently to indicate to you how great are the projects of the British Ministry in that region.

Before concluding I should have liked to point out the impossibility, for France, of retarding the rapid progress of the establishment at Port Jackson, or of entering into competition with its settlers in the trade in sealskins, the whale fishery, etc. But it would take rather too long to discuss that matter. I think I ought to confine myself to telling you that my opinion, and that of all those among us who have more particularly occupied themselves with enquiring into the organization of that colony, is that it should be destroyed as soon as possible.[22]) To-day we could destroy it easily; we shall not be able to do so in 25 years' time.

I have the honour to be, with respectful devotion,
Your very humble servant, 
PÉRON. 

P.S.—M. Freycinet, the young officer, has especially concerned himself with examining all the points upon the coast of the environs of Port Jackson which are favourable to the landing of troops. He has collected particular information concerning the entrance to the port; and, if ever the Government should think of putting into execution the project of destroying this freshly-set trap of a great Power,[23] that distinguished officer would be of valuable assistance in such an operation.

  1. i.e., Port North-West (Port Louis), December 11, 1802.
  2. This is a literal translation of Péron's statement, which is obviously confused and wrong. 105° W. long. is east of Easter Island, as well as being an "exact boundary" in the Pacific, which, Péron goes on to say, did not exist. The probability is that he gives here a muddled reproduction of the boundaries actually fixed by Phillip's commission—"westward as far as the 135th degree of east longitude … including all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean." [Mr. Jose's note.]
  3. Two Spanish ships, commanded by Don Alexandro Malaspina, visited Sydney in April, 1793. They had left Cadiz on an exploring and scientific expedition in July, 1789.
  4. It was on the 18th Brumaire (November 9th, 1799
  5. Péron's statement is quite wrong. The matter of despatching an expedition to Australia had been considered and proposed to the Government by the professors of the Museum two years before the coup-d'état of Brumaire: before therefore Bonaparte had anything to do with the Government. Their letter to the Minister, making this proposal, is dated 12th Thermidor, year 6—that is, July 31st, 1797. Bonaparte was then a young general commanding the army of Italy. The project was taken up by the Institute of France, and Bonaparte, as First Consul, sanctioned the expedition in May, 1800. There is no evidence that he ever gave a thought to the matter until it was brought before him by the Institute.
  6. "Le Port Phillip dans le nord de ce dernier." Peron's information was correct. King had in May, 1802, made a recommendation to the British Government that a settlement should be founded at Port Phillip. The reasons, also, are stated accurately by him.
  7. Péron probably meant the present Port Augusta in Spencer's Gulf; but the name Port Flinders was his own.
  8. Péron spells the name as it sounded to him, La Poraperse.
  9. Again, Péron's information was correct. A settlement on the Derwent, close to Dentrecasteaux Channel, was ordered to be founded in March, 1803, and the Porpoise, with the Lady Nelson as tender, was employed to carry colonists and supplies thither.
  10. It will be remembered that Bass intended to engage in the New Zealand fishery. Cf. chapter IX.
  11. New Caledonian Group.
  12. Samoan Group.
  13. This statement was entirely false.
  14. This statement is surprising, but probably true of part of the period when Peron was in Sydney. There was then a glut of goods, as Bass found to his cost. He had to sell commodities brought out in the Venus at 50 per cent below their proper values.
  15. Le Naturaliste.
  16. From Fructidor to Brumaire would be from September 22nd to December 20th.
  17. "M. Flinders, dans une expedition de découverte qui doit durer cinq ans, et qui sans doute parcourt en ce moment le theatre qui nous occupe, paroit avoir plus particulièrement cette objet en vue." The passage is peculiarly interesting. At the time when Péron was writing, early in December, 1803, Flinders was, as a matter of fact, sailing towards Ile-de-France in the Cumberland.
  18. Underlined in original.
  19. Lord Macartney's embassy to China, 1792-4, was, says the Cambridge Modern History (II., 718), "productive only of a somewhat better acquaintance between the two Powers and an increased knowledge on the part of British sailors of the navigation of Chinese waters."
  20. Péron's word.
  21. The Cape was surrendered to Holland in 1803, but British rule was restored there in 1806.
  22. Mon sentiment et celui de tous ceux d'entre nous qui se sont plus particulierement occupes de l'organisation de cette colonie seroit de la detruire le plus tot possible."
  23. "Le projet de detruire ce piege naissant d'une grande puissance."