Admiral Phillip/Chapter 8

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In the annals of Australian exploration, the stories of attempts to find a way over the Blue Mountains, and of terrible journeys across the deserts in the heart of the continent, Phillip has no place—these hazardous adventures came after his day. When he landed in 1788, his only map was Cook's chart of the continent, and on its eastern boundary line from north to south the famous navigator had surveyed the whole sea coast so thoroughly that the names he gave crowd one another upon the chart. But here, upon the edge. Cook's work ended and Phillip's began.

On the map as it was after the first Governor had marked all his discoveries upon it, the piece cut out of the big territory is very small indeed, but to win that little in the time, and in the face of the difficulties encountered by the first explorers, is of itself evidence enough of his tireless energy.

The first and greatest proof of Phillip's sagacity was his selection of a site for the settlement. The city of Sydney is a monument for all time to its founder. How it came about that Port Jackson was chosen in place of Botany Bay is shown in Phillip's first despatch, already quoted.

The Governor lost little time after landing at Port Jackson before still further extending his dominions. On the 15th of February—scarcely more than a fortnight after the ships had entered Sydney Cove—the Supply was sent to Norfolk Island. King, who was given the command of the island, was, as has been said, the friend of Phillip. He had served before under the Governor, and although twenty years younger than his chief, the lieutenant of thirty was unquestionably the ablest officer on the staff. By sending King to Norfolk Island, the Governor, actuated by the highest motives, cut himself off from the society of his best friend, but King's energetic and wise administration justified Phillip's choice.

Very soon after landing, Phillip saw the necessity of going further afield for farming land. No land suitable for agriculture was to be found on the shores of Port Jackson, and so he set out to examine Broken Bay. Describing this journey he says:—

'The 2d of March I went with a longboat and cutter to examine the broken land mentioned by Captain Cook about eight miles to the northward of Port Jackson. We slept in the boat that night within a rocky point, in the north-west part of the bay (which is very extensive), as the natives, though very friendly, appeared to be numerous; and the next day, after passing a bar that had only water for small vessels, entered a very extensive branch, from which the ebb tide came out so strong that the boats could not row against it in the stream; and here was deep water. It appeared to end in several small branches, and in a large lagoon that we could not examine for want of time to search for a channel for the boats amongst the banks of sand and mud.'

After describing the other branches of Broken Bay, one of which he 'honoured with the name of Pitt Water,' he goes on as follows: 'We found small springs of water in most of the coves, and saw three cascades falling from a height which the rains then rendered inaccessible. I returned to Port Jackson after being absent eight days in the boats. Some of the people feeling the effects of the rain, which had been almost constant, prevented my returning by land, as I intended, in order to examine a part of the country which appeared open and free from timber.'

A few weeks later he repeated these explorations, and this time found good land.

No mere pleasure excursions these journeys into the interior, although some of the places visited by these early explorers are nowadays favourite picnic grounds. For instance, the large lake he next describes is now known as Lake Narrabeen—a spot which is to the Sydney holiday-maker as familiar as Hampstead Heath or Richmond is to the Londoner.

In one of his many short but careful examinations of the shores near Port Jackson, Phillip found a deep water passage leading into a branch of the harbour that trended north-west. Finding fresh water at the head of the bay, he resolved to make further exploration; and a few days later set out with a small party of officers and marines. 'To the northward of this part of the harbour,' he writes, 'we found a large lake, which we examined, though not without great labour, for it is surrounded with a bog and large marsh, in which we were frequently up to the middle. There we saw a black swan; it was larger than the common swan, and when it rose after being fired at, the wings appeared to be edged with white; there is some red on its bill, and it is a very noble bird. … In three days we got round the swamps and marshes, from which all the fresh water drains that this harbour is supplied with. The country we past through when we left the low grounds was the most rocky and barren I ever saw; the ascending and descending of the mountains being practicable only in particular places, but covered with flowering shrubs; and when about fifteen miles from the sea-coast we had a very fine view of the mountains inland. … From the rising of these mountains I did not doubt but that a large river would be found.'

To determine this matter the energetic Governor led another party, consisting of eleven officers and men, with six days' provisions, into the interior. Leaving the settlement in a boat they landed at the head of the harbour, and for three days the little party marched westward through country which Phillip describes as fine as any he had ever seen, clothed with large timber and, except in occasional places where the soil was poor and stony, without any undergrowth. In general the land was level or else undulating, which gave it a very pleasant and picturesque appearance. On the fifth day they reached more elevated country, and saw hills to the southward. So beautiful did the Governor consider this part of the country that he named the place from which he surveyed it Bellevue. Want of provisions now compelled him to return, though water was everywhere plentiful in pools. But the presence of these could not be depended upon as they advanced, and therefore the party always carried their water with them; this, with the provisions, arms and two tents, obliged every officer and private to carry each a very heavy load. They returned to the head of the harbour in a day and a half, following a marked tree track on their return. Thirty miles of country had been explored—country that in Phillip's opinion could be cultivated with ease. He, and indeed everyone that accompanied him were anxious to return and penetrate further into the interior in the hope of finding a large river, but the exposure undergone by the Governor at Broken Bay was now telling upon him, and his ardent spirit had to submit to a few weeks' rest. His hopes were raised, however, and he wrote that he now knew that there was good country near the settlement, and that it should be settled in the spring.

Tench—the only one or the old chroniclers who in his writings makes a departure from the hard, matter-of-fact, official style of the others—thus writes of one of these exploring expeditions undertaken in April 1791, to ascertain whether or not the Hawkesbury and the Nepean were the same river:—

'The party consisted of twenty-one persons, including the Governor and our friends Colbee (Coleby) and Boladeree (Ballooderry). Their equipment,' he says, 'will convey to those who have rolled along on turnpike roads only,' some idea of what these explorations meant.

Every man carried his own knapsack, which contained provisions for ten days, a gun, blanket and canteen—40 lbs. weight in all; then to this were added cooking utensils and a hatchet, and they were 'garbed to drag through morasses, tear through thickets, ford rivers and scale rocks.' It will be seen from these few lines alone that Phillip and his officers did not rust in the settlement, and let the country develop itself, as some writers, with but scant knowledge of the early days of the colony, imagine was the case.

This particular expedition started from the Governor's house at Rose Hill—some miles from the main settlement—and first travelled to the N.E. for the greater part of the day, 'after which,' says Tench, 'we turned to N. 34 West … until we halted for the night. Our method was to steer by compass, noting the different courses as we proceeded; and counting the number of paces, of which two thousand two hundred, on good ground, were allowed to be a mile. At night, when we halted, all these courses were separately cast up, and worked by a traverse table … so we always knew exactly where we were, and how far from home: an unspeakable advantage in a new country, where one hill and one tree is so like another, that fatal wanderings would ensue without it.' Here Tench pays a high compliment to the ardour and skill of Lieutenant Dawes, who worked the traverses. 'The country for the first two miles, while we walked to the north-east, was good, full of grass, and without rock or underwood; afterwards it grew very bad, being full of steep barren rocks, over which we were compelled to clamber for seven miles, when it changed to a plain country, apparently very sterile. … Our fatigue in the morning had, however, been so oppressive that one of the party knocked up. And had not a soldier, as strong as a pack-horse, undertaken to carry his knapsack in addition to his own, we must either have sent him back or have stopped at a place for the night which did not afford water.'

The two blacks who accompanied the party, says Tench, 'walked stoutly, appeared but little fatigued, and maintained their spirits admirably, laughing to excess when any of us either tripped or stumbled. … At a very short distance from Rose Hill, we found that they were in a country unknown to them; so that the farther they went, the more dependant on us they became, being absolute strangers inland. We asked Colbee the name of the people who live inland, and he called them Boo-roo-ber-on-gal, and said they were bad; whence we conjectured that they sometimes warred with those on the sea-coast, by whom they were undoubtedly driven up the country from the fishing-ground, that it might not be overstocked; the weaker here, as in every other country, giving way to the stronger. We asked how they lived. He said on birds and animals, having no fish. … About an hour after sunset, as we were chatting by the fire side, and preparing to go to rest, we heard voices at a little distance in the wood. Our natives catched the sound instantaneously, and bidding us be silent, listened attentively to the quarter whence it had proceeded. In a few minutes we heard the voices plainly; and wishing exceedingly to open a communication with this tribe, we begged our natives to call to them, and bid them to come to us, to assure them of good treatment, and that they should have something given them to eat. Colbee no longer hesitated, but gave them the signal of invitation in a loud, hollow cry. After some whooping and shouting on both sides, a man with a lighted stick in his hand advanced near enough to converse with us. The first words which we could distinctly understand were, "I am Colbee, of the tribe of Cad-i-gal." The stranger replied, "I am Ber-ee-wan, of the tribe of Boo-roo-ber-on-gal." Boladeree informed him also of his name, and that we were white men and friends, who would give him something to eat. Still he seemed irresolute. Colbee therefore advanced to him, took him by the hand, and led him to us. By the light of the moon we were introduced to this gentleman, all our names being repeated in form by our two masters of the ceremonies, who said that we were Englishmen, and Bud-ye-ree (good), that we came from the sea-coast, and that we were travelling inland.'

The strange black stayed some time conversing with his countrymen, and then left, highly pleased with a present of provisions. At nine o'clock on the following morning the party reached the river, which at the point where it was struck was 'about three hundred and fifty feet wide; the water pure and excellent to the taste.' The banks were high, covered with trees, many of which, Tench remarked, were 'bent by the force of the current. … Some of them contained rubbish and drift wood in their branches, at least forty-five feet above the level of the stream. … Our natives had evidently never seen this river before; they stared at it with surprise. … Their total ignorance of the country, and of the direction in which they had walked, appeared when they were asked which way Rose Hill lay, for they pointed almost oppositely to it. Of our compass they had taken early notice, and had talked much to each other about it; they comprehended its use, and called it "Naa - Moro," literally, "To see the way." A more significant or expressive term cannot be found.'

Following the course of the river downwards, and keeping as close as possible to the bank, the party, suffering greatly from fatigue caused by the impediments to walking—scrub and swampy ground—at last reached a deep creek which effectually barred their progress. They therefore followed its course till nightfall, and then halted. 'Our natives,' says Tench, 'continued to hold out stoutly. The hindrances to walking by the river side, which plagued and entangled us so much, seemed not to be heeded by them, and they wound through them with ease; but to us they were intolerably tiresome. Our perplexities afforded them an inexhaustible fund of merriment and derision. Did the sufferer, stung at once with nettles and ridicule, and shaken nigh to death by his fall, use any angry expression to them, they retorted in a moment by calling him by every opprobrious name which their language affords. Boladeree destroyed a native hut to-day very wantonly, before we could prevent him. On being asked why he did so, he answered that the inhabitants inland were bad; though no longer since than last night, when Bereewan had departed, they were loud in their praise. But now they had reverted to their first opinion—so fickle and transient are their motives of love and hatred.

'We set out on the following morning, and continued to trace the creek. The country which we passed through yesterday was good and desirable to what was now presented to us; it was in general high, and universally rocky. "Toiling our uncouth way," we mounted a hill and surveyed the contiguous country. To the northward and eastward the ground was still higher than that we were upon; but in a south-west direction we saw about four miles. The view consisted of nothing but trees growing on precipices; not an acre of it could be cultivated. We saw … several vestiges of the natives. To comprehend the reasons which induce an Indian to perform many of the offices of life is difficult; to pronounce that which could lead him to wander amidst these dreary wilds baffles penetration. … We reached the head of the creek, passed it, and scrambled with infinite toil and difficulty to the top of a neighbouring mountain, whence we saw the adjacent country, in almost every direction, for many miles. I record with regret that this extended view presented not a single gleam of change, which could encourage hope or stimulate industry to attempt its culture. We had, however, the satisfaction to discover plainly the object of our pursuit, Richmond Hill, distant about eight miles in a contrary direction from what we had been proceeding upon. It was readily known to those who had been up the Hawkesbury in the boats, by a remarkable cleft or notch which distinguished it. It was now determined that we should go back to the head of the creek and pass the night there, and in the morning cut across the country to that part of the river which we had first hit upon yesterday, and thence to trace upward, or to the left. But before I descend, I must not forget to relate that to this pile of desolation on which, like the fallen angel on the top of Niphates, we stood contemplating our nether Eden, His Excellency was pleased to give the name of Tench's Prospect Mount.'

For several pages Tench goes on describing his journey, until at last, after a week spent in this rough travelling, he says:—

'We resolved to abandon our pursuit, and to return home. … The country we passed through was for the most part very indifferent, according to our universal opinion. It is in general badly watered; for eight miles and a half on one line we did not find a drop of water.'

The mountains inland of which Phillip 'had a very fine view' were the Blue Mountains, and for nearly a quarter of a century after his departure from the colony they remained an impassable barrier to the westward. He made repeated journeys into the interior, discovered the Hawkesbury River, reached the foot of the Blue Mountains, gave them, from the blue mist which hung over their peaks, their appropriate name, and sent parties to endeavour to penetrate their mysteries. In this they failed, but discovered the Nepean, the source to-day of Sydney's ample water supply.

Topographical details of all these excursions would be wearisome and out of place here, but the main advantage obtained by this thorough examination of the surrounding country was the establishment of the farms at Rose Hill. This agricultural settlement in the neighbourhood of what is now the old town of Parramatta was planned by Phillip, and from the success of its first settler dates the beginning of the young colony's self-dependence.

At headquarters an heroic attempt was made, in spite of the rocky soil, to grow something. A farm was cleared in the cove next to Sydney, and about nine acres of corn planted. The place is now the site of the Botanic Gardens, and the bay formed by its shores, like many another of the inlets of Port Jackson, commemorates by its name—Farm Cove—the earliest times of settlement. To-day in Farm Cove are the moorings of the fifteen modern warships which form the Australian Squadron. Other bays named by Phillip are Careening Cove, Sirius Cove, and Neutral Bay, the last named set apart by the first Governor's port regulations as a place where, should foreign vessels enter the harbour, they were to be moored. The great ocean liners of the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies now anchor in this bay, and the surrounding once green hills have been converted into streets of suburban residences.

While Phillip was getting his land into cultivation, King was rapidly converting his ten square miles of territory—Norfolk Island—into a valuable possession for the main settlement.

On his way to Norfolk Island, Lieutenant Ball, the commander of the Supply, discovered and named Lord Howe Island, and on the return trip surveyed and annexed it to Phillip's territory. The little island is distant from Sydney about 440 miles, and is now occupied by some seventy or eighty settlers, mostly old whaling seamen and people with a taste for a secluded life, which, as there is little communication with the mainland, their lonely retreat (notwithstanding that it is, for election purposes, within one of the metropolitan electorates) enables them to gratify.

Lieutenant King did not have an altogether pleasant time of it in his independent command. A few months after landing, the Supply, which made regular trips between the island and the mainland, brought the news to Sydney of a daring plot formed by the convicts to capture the island and then make their escape. Their plan was ingenious enough in some respects. It was intended that, on the first Saturday after the arrival of any ship except the Sirius at the island. King should be seized. Saturday was chosen, for the reason that on this day it was his practice to visit a farm which he had established in the interior, and the military were also usually away at the same time bringing in cabbage palm from the woods. The commandant was to be kidnapped while on his way to the farm. Then a message in King's name was to entice Mr Jamieson, the surgeon, away; he was to be captured in the same manner as King; and the sergeant and small military guard were to be similarly treated. These all being properly disposed of, the ship was to be signalled to send her boat on shore, and the crew were to be made prisoners. This accomplished, some convicts were to go off to the ship in a boat belonging to the island, and tell the captain that the ship's boat had been stove in, and that the commandant requested that another might be sent. The crew of this were also to be captured; and then the ship v/as to be boarded and seized, and the mutineers were to sail her to Otaheite (Tahiti) in the South Seas, and there found a settlement. They intended, however, to leave some provisions for Mr King and his command. Fortunately for the commandant, the plot was revealed to his gardener—a seaman belonging to the Sirius—by a female convict who was living with him.

'Mr King had hitherto, from the peculiarity of his situation—secluded from society, and confined to a small speck in the vast ocean, with but a handful of people—drawn them round him, and treated them with the kind attentions which a good family meets with at the hands of a humane master; but he now saw them in their true colours, and one of his first steps when peace was restored was to clear the ground as far as possible round the settlement, that future villainy might not find a shelter in the woods for its transactions. To this truly providential circumstance, perhaps, many of the colonists afterwards were indebted for their lives.'

In the last days of February, King, whose heart was set on his being able to send Phillip a good report of the place and some supplies as well, had a bitter disappointment. It began to blow early on the morning of the 26th, and by noon 'the gale increased to a hurricane, with torrents of heavy rain. Every instant pines and live oaks of the largest dimensions were borne down by the fury of the blast, which, tearing up roots and rocks with them, left chasms of eight or ten feet depth in the earth. Those pines that were able to resist the wind bent their tops nearly to the ground; and nothing but horror and desolation everywhere presented itself. … The gardens, public and private, were wholly destroyed; cabbages, turnips and other plants were blown out of the ground; and those which withstood the hurricane seemed as if they had been scorched. An acre of Indian corn which grew in the vale, and which would have been ripe in about three weeks, was totally destroyed.' Poor King! But his was not a nature to be daunted by misfortune. He at once began the work so ruthlessly destroyed over again; and fortunately the health of the people of his little colony was good. There were at this time on Norfolk Island 16 free people, 51 male and 26 female convicts, and 4 children.

Notwithstanding insurrections and hurricanes. King made good progress with his agriculture, for in December 1789 we are told that 'Lieutenant King wrote that he expected his harvest would produce from four to six months' flour for all his inhabitants, exclusive of a reserve of double seed for twenty acres of ground. Beside this promising appearance, he had ten acres in cultivation with Indian corn, which looked very well.'

Not much in all this, it may be said, but remember always that the men responsible were but rough sailors, whose business in life hitherto had not been Empire-building. Remember, too, that Hawser Trunnion and Hatchway are accepted types of the naval officers of the period, created by Smollett only thirty years earlier, and though to some extent exaggerations, still not very far from the truth. Yet, compare Phillip and King with Trunnion and Hatchway!

At Rose Hill (so named after one of the Secretaries to the Treasury) the soil was free from the rock which everywhere prevented cultivation nearer Sydney, and Phillip early in 1790 wrote:—

'As near two years have now passed since we first landed in this country, some judgment may be formed of the climate, and I believe a finer or more healthy climate is not to be found in any part of the world. Of 1030 people who were landed, many of whom were worn out by old age, the scurvy, and various disorders, only seventy-two have died in one-and-twenty months; and by the surgeon's returns it appears that twenty-six of those died from disorders of long standing, and which it is more than probable would have carried them off much sooner in England. Fifty-nine children have been born in the above time. …

'In December the corn at Rose Hill was got in; the corn was exceeding good. About two hundred bushels of wheat and sixty of barley, with a small quantity of flax, Indian corn, and oats, all which is preserved for seed. Here I beg leave to observe to your Lordship that if settlers are sent out, and the convicts divided amongst them, this settlement will very shortly maintain itself, but without which this country cannot be cultivated to any advantage. At present I have only one person (who has about an hundred convicts under his direction) who is employed in cultivating the ground for the publick benefit, and he has returned the quantity of corn above mentioned into the publick store. The officers have not raised sufficient to support the little stock they have. Some ground I have had in cultivation will return about forty bushels of wheat into store, so that the produce of the labour of the convicts employed in cultivation has been very short of what might have been expected, and which I take the liberty of pointing out to your Lordship in this place, to show as fully as possible the state of this colony, and the necessity of the convicts being employed by those who have an interest in their labour. The giving convicts to the officers has been hitherto necessary, but it is attended with many inconveniences, for which the advantages arising to the officers do not make amends. It will not therefore be continued after the detachment is relieved, unless particularly directed. The plan I should propose for giving the convicts to settlers will be submitted to your Lordship's consideration in another letter. The numbers employed in cultivation will, of course, be increased as the necessary buildings are finished, but which will be a work of time; for the numbers in this settlement who do nothing towards their own support exceed those employed for the public.' The Governor was so pleased with his farm that he took up his residence there in order personally to superintend its cultivation.

The labourers on the settlement were in charge of Phillip's man-servant, who came from England with his master. Collins describes the man as one who 'joined to much agricultural knowledge a perfect idea of the labour to be required from, and that might be performed by, the convicts; and his figure was calculated to make the idle and the worthless shrink if he came near them.

A town was laid out at Rose Hill, with a street a mile long, and on the King's birthday—4th June 1791—the place was named Parramatta. In the old cemetery at the town there still stands the tombstone of the man who surveyed it, and the stone bears this inscription:—

'Sacred to the memory of Augustus Theodore Henry Alt, Baron of Hesse Cassel, who died January 9, 1815, aged 84 years; late Surveyor-General of New South Wales, at the first settling of this colony, which situation he held till superannuated. He served in the Guards in George the Second's reign; was Aide-de-Camp to Prince Ferdinand at the battle of Minden (1759), and Captain in the Royal Manchester Volunteers at the Siege of Gibraltar under General [Elliot] (1781), where he distinguished himself in a gallant manner. He died universally regretted by all his friends, who lost in the Baron a Most Compleat Gentleman, and also one who never told an untruth to the injury of any man. This monument was erected by his Nephew, Matthew Bowles Alt, Lieutenant in His Majesty's Royal Navy, as a Tribute of Respect to the conduct of his respected uncle.'

All this so far is trivial, perhaps uninteresting, but then Australia has no history, and Phillip's farming experiments, and the condition of his crops were of real importance to the infant colony, for grim famine was at this time beginning to loom upon the horizon.