A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 20

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213920A Voyage to the South Sea — Chapter 20William Bligh

Occurrences at Batavia and Passage thence to England.


In the afternoon at four o'clock I went on shore and landed at a house by the river where strangers first stop and give an account who they are, whence they came, etc. From this place a Malay gentleman took me in a carriage to Sabandar, Mr. Engelhard, whose house was in the environs of the city on the side nearest the shipping. The Sabandar is the officer with whom all strangers are obliged to transact their business: at least the whole must go through his hands. With him I went to pay my respects to the governor-general who received me with great civility. I acquainted his excellency with my situation and requested my people might be taken care of and that we should be allowed to take a passage to Europe in the first ship that sailed. I likewise desired permission to sell the schooner and launch. All this his excellency told me should be granted. I then took leave and returned with the Sabandar who wrote down the particulars of my wants in order to form from them a regular petition to be presented to the council the next day. I had brought from the governor of Coupang, directed for the governor-general at Batavia, the account of my voyage and misfortune, translated into Dutch from an account that I had given to Mr. van Este. So attentive had they been at Timor to everything that related to us.

There is a large hotel at Batavia fitted up purposely for the accommodation of strangers, who are not allowed to reside at any other place. It is situated near the great river in a part of the city that is reckoned the most airy and healthy. Nevertheless I found the air hot and suffocating and was taken ill in the night with a violent pain in my head.

Friday 2.

The next morning at nine the council sat and I attended, accompanied by the Sabandar; and was informed that the council had complied with all I had requested.

When I returned to the hotel my headache increased and a violent fever came on. I sent to acquaint the Sabandar of my situation and was soon after attended by the head surgeon of the town hospital Mr. Aansorp, by whose care and skill in less than 24 hours the fever considerably abated but a severe headache continued. I had an invitation from the governor-general to dine with him, which of course I was obliged to decline.

I hired a carriage which cost three dollars per day for the benefit of taking an airing. My lodgings at the hotel were so close and hot that I desired the Sabandar to apply to the Governor-General for leave to hire a house in the country; which request his excellency not only immediately complied with but gave directions for my being accommodated at the house of the physician or surgeon-general Mr. Sparling.

One of my people, Thomas Hall, being ill with a flux I obtained leave for him to be sent to the country hospital which is a convenient airy building.

Tuesday 6.

This morning at sunrise I left the hotel and was carried to Mr. Sparling's house, about four miles distant from the city and near the convalescent hospital which at this time had also sick men in it, the whole number of patients amounting to 800. I found everything prepared for my comfort and convenience. Mr. Sparling would suffer me to take no medicine though I had still considerable fever with headache: but I found so much relief from the difference of the air that in the evening I was able to accompany Mr. Sparling on a visit to the governor-general at one of his country seats, where we found many ladies all dressed in the Malay fashion, some of them richly ornamented with jewels. I had invitations from several gentlemen and some very kindly pressed me to make their country houses my abode till my health should be reestablished.

My indisposition increasing, Mr. Sparling advised me to quit Batavia as speedily as possible and represented the necessity of it to the governor-general. I was informed from his excellency that the homeward-bound ships were so much crowded that there would be no possibility of all my people going in one ship, and that they could be accommodated no other way than by dividing them into different ships. Seeing therefore that a separation was unavoidable I determined to follow the advice of the physician and, as a packet was appointed to sail for Europe on the 16th instant, I sent to request of the governor that I might be allowed to take a passage in her for myself and as many of my people as they were able to receive. In answer to this I was acquainted that myself and two more could be accommodated in the packet, she being too small to admit a greater number; but that I might rest assured of passages being provided for those that remained by the earliest opportunities.

Friday 9.

This day anchored in the road the General Elliot, an English ship commanded by Captain Lloyd. In the Straits of Banca he had met with some boats belonging to the East India Company's ship Vansittart that was lost in the straits of Billaton by having struck on a rock that went through her bottom. Captain Wilson, who commanded the Vansittart, I was informed had just finished a survey of those Straits and was hoisting his boat in when the ship struck. Immediately on receiving the intelligence Captain Lloyd, in the General Elliot and another ship in company called the Nonsuch, sailed for the wreck. They found the ship had been burnt down to the water's edge by the Malays. They however saved 40 chests of treasure out of 55 which were said to have been on board. Most of the ship's company were saved: one man only was lost in the ship, and five others in a small boat were missing who were supposed to have taken some of the treasure. The greater part of the people went with Captain Wilson to China, and some were with Captain Lloyd.

Saturday 10.

This morning the Resource was sold by public auction: the custom at Batavia is to begin high and to lower the price till some person bids; and the first bidder is the buyer. She was accordingly put up at 2000 rix-dollars but to my great disappointment no one offered to purchase before the auctioneer had lowered the demand to 295 rix-dollars, for which price she was sold, the purchaser being an Englishman, Captain John Eddie, who commanded an English ship from Bengal. If no strangers had been present at the sale I imagine they would have let her run down to 200 dollars, in which case I should have had no alternative.

The launch likewise was sold. The services she had rendered us made me feel great reluctance at parting with her; which I would not have done if I could have found a convenient opportunity of getting her conveyed to Europe.

Little as the schooner had sold for I found I was in danger of having the sum lessened; for the Sabandar informed me that by an order of the council there was a duty on the sale of all vessels. With this demand I would by no means comply for I thought I had sufficiently suffered in sustaining a loss of 705 rix-dollars out of 1000 by the purchase and sale of the vessel, she having cost 1000 rix-dollars.

This day Thomas Hall, whom I had sent to be taken care of at the hospital, died. He had been ill of a flux from the time of our arrival at Timor.

Monday 12.

I agreed with the captain of the packet for a passage to Europe for myself, my clerk, and a servant. The Sabandar informed me it was necessary that my officers and people should be examined before a notary respecting the loss of the Bounty, as otherwise the governor and council were not legally authorised to detain her if she should be found in any of the Dutch settlements. They were therefore at my desire examined, and afterwards made affidavit before the governor and council at the Stadthouse.

My officers complaining to me of the unreasonableness of some tradesmen's bills I spoke to the Sabandar. A bill of 51 dollars for five hats he reduced to 30 dollars and in other articles made proportionable deductions.

Paper money is the currency of Batavia and is so understood in all bargains. At this time paper was at 28 per cent discount: there is likewise a difference in the value of the ducatoon which at Batavia is 80 stivers and in Holland only 63 stivers: this occasions a loss of 21 1/4 per cent on remittance of money. It therefore follows that if any person at Batavia remits money by bills of exchange to Europe they lose by the discount and the exchange 49 1/4 per cent.

Those who have accounts to pay and can give unexceptionable bills on Europe will find a considerable saving by negotiating their bills with private people who are glad to give for them a premium of 20 per cent at the least. This discovery I made somewhat too late to profit by.

One of the greatest difficulties that strangers have to encounter is their being obliged to live at the hotel. This hotel was formerly two houses which by doors of communication have been made one. It is in the middle of a range of buildings more calculated for a cold country than for such a climate as Batavia. There is no free circulation of air and what is equally bad it is always very dirty; and there is great want of attendance. What they call cleaning the house is another nuisance; for they never use any water to cool it or to lay the dust, but sweep daily with brooms in such a manner that those in the house are almost suffocated by a cloud of dust.

The months of December and January are reckoned the most unhealthy of the year, the heavy rains being then set in. The account of the seasons as given to me here I believe may be relied on.

The middle of November the west monsoon begins and rain.

December and January. Continual rain with strong westerly wind.

February. Westerly wind. Towards the end of this month the rain begins to abate.

March. Intervals of fine weather. Wind westerly.

April. In this month the east monsoon begins. Weather generally fine with showers of rain.

May. East monsoon fixed. Showery.

June and July. Clear weather. Strong east wind.

August and September. Wind more moderate.

October. In this month the wind begins to be variable with showers of rain.

The current is said always to run with the wind. Nevertheless I found the reverse in sailing from Timor to Java. Between the end of October and the beginning of the ensuing year no Dutch ship bound for Europe is allowed to sail from Batavia for fear of being near the Mauritius at the time of the hurricanes which are frequent there in December and January.

My illness prevented me from gaining much knowledge of Batavia. Of their public buildings I saw nothing that gave me so much satisfaction as their country hospital for seamen. It is a large commodious and airy building about four miles from the town, close to the side of the river, or rather in the river: for the ground on which it stands has by labour been made an island of, and the sick are carried there in a boat: each ward is a separate dwelling and the different diseases are properly classed. They have sometimes 1400 patients in it: at this time there were 800, but more than half of these were recovered and fit for service, of whom 300 were destined for the fleet that was to sail for Europe. I went through most of the wards and there appeared great care and attention. The sheets, bedding, and linen of the sick were perfectly neat and clean. The house of the physician, Mr. Sparling, who has the management of the hospital is at one extremity of the building: and here it was that I resided. To the attention and care of this gentleman, for which he would receive no payment, I am probably indebted for my life.

The hospital in the town is well attended, but the situation is so ill chosen that it certainly would be the saving of many lives to build one in its stead up the river, which might be done with great advantage as water carriage is so easy and convenient. A great neglect in some of the commanders of the shipping here was suffering their people to go dirty and frequently without frock, shirt, or anything to cover their bodies, which, besides being a public nuisance, must probably be productive of ill health in the most robust constitution.

The governor-general gave me leave to lodge all my people at the country hospital which I thought a great advantage and with which they were perfectly satisfied. The officers however at their own request remained in the town.

The time fixed for the sailing of the packet approaching, I settled my accounts with the Sabandar, leaving open the victualling account to be closed by Mr. Fryer the master previous to his departure, who I likewise authorised to supply the men and officers left under his command with one month's pay to enable them to purchase clothing for their passage to England.

I had been at great pains to bring living plants from Timor, in six tubs, which contained jacks, nancas, karambolas, namnams, jambos, and three thriving breadfruit plants. These I thought might be serviceable at the Cape of Good Hope if brought no farther: but I had the mortification of being obliged to leave them all at Batavia. I took these plants on board at Coupang on the 20th of August: they had experienced a passage of 42 days to my arrival here. The breadfruit plants died to the root and sprouted afresh from thence. The karambolas, jacks, nancas, and namnams I had raised from the seed and they were in fine order. No judgment can hence be formed of the success of transporting plants, as in the present trial they had many disadvantages.

Friday 16.

This morning being sunrise I embarked on board the Vlydte packet commanded by Captain Peter Couvret, bound for Middleburgh. With me likewise embarked Mr. John Samwell, clerk, and John Smith, seaman. Those of our company who stayed behind the governor promised me should follow in the first ships and be as little divided as possible. At 7 o'clock the packet weighed and sailed out of the road.

Sunday 18.

On the 18th we spoke the Rambler, an American brig belonging to Boston, bound to Batavia. After passing the Straits of Sunda we steered to the north of the Cocos Isles. These islands, Captain Couvret informed me, are full of coconut trees: there is no anchorage near them but good landing for boats. Their latitude 12 degrees 0 minutes south. Longitude 96 degrees 5 minutes east.

In the passage to the Cape of Good Hope there occurred nothing worth remark. I cannot however forbear noticing the Dutch manner of navigating. They steer by true compass, or rather endeavour so to do, by means of a small movable central card, which they set to the meridian: and whenever they discover the variation has altered 2 1/2 degrees since the last adjustment they again correct the central card. This is steering within a quarter of a point, without aiming at greater exactness. The officer of the watch likewise corrects the course for leeway by his own judgment before it is marked down in the log board. They heave no log: I was told that the company do not allow it. Their manner of computing their run is by means of a measured distance of 40 feet along the ship's side: they take notice of any remarkable patch of froth when it is abreast the foremost end of the measured distance, and count half seconds till the mark of froth is abreast the after end. With the number of half seconds thus obtained they divide the number 48, taking the product for the rate of sailing in geographical miles in one hour, or the number of Dutch miles in four hours.

It is not usual to make any allowance to the sun's declination on account of being on a different meridian from that for which the tables are calculated: they in general compute with the numbers just as they are found in the table. From all this it is not difficult to conceive the reason why the Dutch are frequently above ten degrees out in their reckoning. Their passages likewise are considerably lengthened by not carrying a sufficient quantity of sail.

December 16.

In the afternoon we anchored in Table Bay.

December 17.

The next morning I went on shore and waited on his excellency M. Vander Graaf who received me in the most polite and friendly manner. The Guardian, commanded by Lieutenant Riou, had left the Cape about eight days before with cattle and stores for Port Jackson. This day anchored in table bay the Astree, a French frigate, commanded by the Count de St. Rivel from the Isle of France, on board of which ship was the late governor, the Chevalier d'Entrecasteaux. Other ships that arrived during my stay at the Cape were a French 40-gun frigate, an East India ship, and a brig, of the same nation: likewise two other French ships with slaves from the coast of Mozambique bound to the West Indies: a Dutch packet from Europe, after a four months passage: and the Harpy, a South Sea Whaler with 500 barrels of spermaceti, and 400 of seal and other oils. There is a standing order from the Dutch East India Company that no person who takes a passage from Batavia for Europe in any of their ships shall be allowed to leave the ship before she arrives at her intended port. According to which regulation I must have gone to Holland in the packet. Of this I was not informed till I was taking leave of the governor-general at Batavia, when it was too late for him to give the Captain an order to permit me to land in the channel. He however desired I would make use of his name to governor Vander Graaf, who readily complied with my request and gave the necessary orders to the Captain of the packet, a copy of which his excellency gave to me; and at the same time recommendatory letters to people of consequence in Holland in case I should be obliged to proceed so far.

I left a letter at the Cape of Good Hope to be forwarded to governor Phillips at Port Jackson by the first opportunity, containing a short account of my voyage with a descriptive list of the pirates: and from Batavia I had written to Lord Cornwallis, so that every part of India will be prepared to receive them.

Saturday 2.

We sailed from the Cape in company with the Astree French frigate. The next morning neither ship nor land were in sight. On the 15th we passed in sight of the island St. Helena. The 21st we saw the island Ascension. On the 10th of February, the wind being at north-east blowing fresh, our sails were covered with a fine orange-coloured dust. Fuego, the westernmost of the Cape de Verde islands and the nearest land to us on that day at noon bore north-east by east half east, distance 140 leagues. When we had passed the latitude of the Western Islands a lookout was kept for some rocks which Captain Couvret had been informed lay in latitude 44 degrees 25 minutes north and 2 degrees 50 minutes east longitude from the east end of St. Michael. This information Captain Couvret had received from a person that he knew and who said he had seen them. On the 13th of March we saw the Bill of Portland and on the evening of the next day, Sunday March the 14th, I left the packet and was landed at Portsmouth by an Isle of Wight boat.

Those of my officers and people whom I left at Batavia were provided with passages in the earliest ships; and at the time we parted were apparently in good health. Nevertheless they did not all live to quit Batavia. Mr. Elphinstone, master's mate, and Peter Linkletter, seaman, died within a fortnight after my departure, the hardships they had experienced having rendered them unequal to cope with so unhealthy a climate as that of Batavia. The remainder embarked on board the Dutch fleet for Europe, and arrived safe at this country, except Robert Lamb, who died on the passage, and Mr. Ledward the surgeon who has not yet been heard of. Thus of nineteen who were forced by the mutineers into the launch it has pleased God that twelve should surmount the difficulties and dangers of the voyage and live to revisit their native country.