An account of a voyage to establish a colony at Port Philip in Bass's Strait on the south coast of New South Wales, in His Majesty's Ship Calcutta, in the years 1802-3-4/Chapter 1

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Motives which induced Government to employ King's ships in transporting Convicts to New South Wales.—Intention of establishing a Colony in Bass's Strait.—Calcutta appointed to convey thither the first establishment.—Passage from England to Teneriffe and the Cape Verd Islands.

THE motives, which, in the year 1802, induced Government to employ King's ships in transporting convicts to New South Wales, appear to have had their foundation, not only in principles of economy, but also in the union of many other advantages, which promised to he the result. Until this period, merchant ships had always been, chartered to convey these victims of vice and folly to the place of their destination: independent of the expence of these vessels, which was a dead loss to Government, the abuses disgraceful to humanity, that too frequently took place on board of them, called aloud for correction. By employing king's ships cm this service, a number of officers and seamen would be provided for, who might otherwise emigrate to foreign services, and be totally lost to their country; and again, it must naturally be supposed, that the Officers, having neither pecuniary nor commercial interest in the voyage, would conduct it upon principles very different from those of mercenary, and perhaps illiterate traders; at the same time that the former would be enabled to keep the convicts in a better state of discipline, and also be more careful of their health, by that constant attention to cleanliness, which, characterizes the British navy. To these obvious and immediate advantages, was added another, which, though merely speculative, promised, if successful, to exceed them all. It was known, that timber, supposed to be peculiarly adapted to naval uses, might be procured at New South Wales with little difficulty or expence, and in the present time of its encreasing scarcity and great demand at home, both for public and private service, this was an object of the first national importance[1]: it was therefore determined to try the experiment, when, by the conclusion of peace, the nation began to breathe, after the late long and arduous contest. The ships of the navy best calculated for this purpose, were decidedly those built for the East India Company, and purchased into the King's service during the war; and accordingly, the Glatton sailed for Port-Jackson in September, with 330 male, and 170 female convicts.

The Calcutta, another ship of the like class, was intended to pursue the same route, and was commissioned in October following[2]; but while fitting out, a material change was made in her destination. Since the discovery of Bass's Strait[3], it had entered into the contemplation of Government to establish a settlement at its western entrance, as well from commercial, as political motives. In the first respect, it would give the greatest encouragement to the speculations carried on for seals and sea-elephants, to the islands in the Straits, to have a secure port in their vicinity, where the produce might be collected until ready for exportation: in the next place, this measure would prevent any rival nations from establishing themselves on this coast, who might become troublesome neighbours to our colony at Port Jackson, which must no longer be considered as a contemptible part of the British dominions; and to "which, the possession of Bass's Strait would give ps a less tedious and circuitous access. Port Philip[4], on the north shore of the Straits, which was reported to be an excellent harbour, seemed, from its geographical position, to possess all the advantages required in the proposed settlement. To carry this project into execution, several necessary alterations took place in the equipment of the Calcutta; and the command of her was conferred on Captain Daniel Woodriff, an experienced naval officer, who had before visited New South Wales, as Agent of Transports. As the Calcutta was found insufficient to convey the necessary stores for the new settlement, the Ocean, a merchant-ship of 500 tons burthen, was chartered for that purpose, and was afterwards to proceed to China, for a cargo of teas: on board her were embarked the civil, and part of the military officers, and settlers; together with the greater part of the stores, provisions, and implements of agriculture; while the Calcutta convened a detachment of marines, the whole of the convicts, their wives and children, and the remainder of the stores, as well as a considerable quantity for Port Jackson[5].

The Calcutta arrived at Portsmouth, from the river Medway; in the middle of February 1803, where she waited the junction of the Ocean, which was protracted until the 8th of April. The first weeks of this month the winds had been constantly from the eastward; but various trifling causes, which commonly retard expeditions of this nature, prevented our taking advantage of them, and when these obstacles were removed, the winds, as if determined to shew their contempt for the ambitious, and too often short-sighted views of man, suddenly changed to the westward, and blew with a degree of violence that left no hopes of succeeding, should we attempt to beat down Channel. Perhaps no situation can be more irksome than this to a sailor; when his mind is made up for departure, every delay that impedes it, is felt as a misfortune; and yet such is the contradiction in the mind of man, that while he wishes, he fears the removal of these impediments, and would still linger out another day, to accomplish something which is yet undone, or perhaps to take another last farewell of friends, to whom he has already bidden fifty times adieu. The first moment of a favourable wind we took advantage of, and quitted St. Helen's on the morning of the 26th; but on the evening of the next day, the wind again veering to the westward, and blowing hard, obliged us to run through the Needles, and take shelter in Yarmouth Roads. The following morning, with a strong breeze from the northward, we again put to sea, and cleared the Channel on the 29th. This part of a foreign voyage, though a mere, point as to distance, is reckoned by sailors the most material and difficult; for the English Channel is so situated, that the prevailing westerly winds make the egress from it extremely precarious, particularly in winter.

In bidding farewel to England, it may naturally be supposed, that, the feelings of our motley crew would be as various as their situations, their prospects, or their characters; yet the general sentiment seemed to be, that of entire indifference: a few women alone, whose birth and education had promised them a far different fate, were; affected by this heart-rending, though voluntary exile from their native country; and

"Shudd'ring still, to face the distant deep,
"Return'd, and wept, and still return'd to weep."

Among the convicts on board, were some who, by prodigality, and its attendant vices, had degraded themselves from a respectable rank in society, and were indebted to the lenity of their prosecutors alone for an escape from the last sentence of the law. Some of these men were accompanied by their, wives, who had married them in the sunshine Of prosperity, when the world smiled deceitfully, and their path of life appeared strewed with unfading flowers; in the season of adversity, they would not be separated, but reposed their heads upon the same thorny pillow; and as they had shared with them the cup of joy, they refused not that of sorrow. Those alone who know the miserable and degraded situation of a transported felon, can appreciate the degree of connubial love, that could induce these women to accompany their guilty husbands in their exile. The laws can only make distinction in crimes, while the criminals, whatever may have been their former situation in life, must suffer alike for crimes of the same nature: it therefore entirely depended on us to ameliorate their condition, and grant such indulgences, as the nature and degree of the crime, and the otherwise general character and conduct of the prisoner seemed to deserve. To these helpless females, all the attentions that humanity dictated, and that the nature of our service would admit, were extended, but still it was impossible to separate their situations entirely from their guilty husbands, they were consequently far, very far, from being comfortable; and one of them, borne down by the first hardships of the voyage, which she felt with redoubled force from being far advanced in her pregnancy, fell a victim to her misplaced affection before our arrival at Teneriffe.

The ships anchored before Santa Cruz on the 17th of May, and having completed their water, and procured a supply of wine, sailed again on the 21st. While laying at Santa Cruz, fresh beef was served throughout the ship, and as a slight indication of scurvy was observed in some of the prisoners, a large quantity of vegetables and lemons was laid in for sea-store. The free use of fresh water was also permitted to wash the convict's clothes; an indulgence, the beneficial effects of which cannot be too highly valued. In voyages of this nature, where a great number of people are crowded together, to whom it is not always possible to permit such exercise as is necessary to health, cleanliness is the only preventative of disease; and, independent of any other necessity, it will always be eligible to put into, any convenient port for that purpose alone.

It would appear, that the island of Teneriffe deserves the high character it has received for salubrity of climate. We attended the funeral of a native, who had lived 26 years beyond the common life of man, "after which all is but labour and trouble." His brother, who attended the funeral, was 94, and seemed to put his own mortal destiny at a distance.

The thermometer stood between 70 and 72, a temperature, perhaps, more congenial to human life, than any other.

The celebrated Peak has by no means the grand appearance that the traveller is taught to expect, but its apparent altitude is much diminished, by the general height of the circumjacent mountains; indeed, the appearance of the eastern side of the island gives a very unfavourable impression of its value; a confused assemblage of rocky hills, heaped upon, and crossing each other in every direction, present themselves to the eye, like the waves of the ocean disturbed by the fury of contending winds and currents. These precipices are bare of vegetation, except where a starved brush-wood insinuates its roots between the rugged masses, of volcanic matter, or in a few spots where the industry of man has conquered the sterility of nature, and raised a scanty crop of barley or maize: as we recede from the sea-coast, however, the country improves, and affords many prospects of romantic grandeur, and luxuriant fertility. The town of Santa Cruz is built with tolerable regularity, on a gentle acclivity, on the west side of the Bay; the landing-place is defended from the sea, by a projecting rocky point, and a good stone pier. Being merely a King's port, it derives but little advantage from commerce, which is entirely carried on from the port of Orotava, on the west side of the island. Teneriffe has no manufactures of any consequence, except its wine, nor does it produce corn enough for its own consumption; for this, and also for poultry, it depends upon the other islands, particularly the Grand Canary, with which there is a constant intercourse by boats. The importation of foreign linen, or cotton manufactures, is prohibited, and consequently those of the English looms bear a high price, and are universally worn; which proves, that great restraints laid on any articles of merchandize, serve but to enhance their, value, to make them be sought after with more avidity, and to encourage their clandestine importation. It was found, that the friars and women, whose persons were held free from scrutiny, smuggled on shore great quantities of these goods; and in consequence, neither are now permitted to go on board any vessel, without express leave from the Governor. The importation of tobacco, by private traders, is also forbidden, Government drawing part of its colonial revenue from the exclusive sale of this article.

Santa Cruz has but three churches; rather a small number for the religion of its inhabitants, which teaches, that to "give to the church, is to lend unto God;" and that, being buried in the sacred vestments of a religious order, ensures a favourable reception from St. Peter, who more readily opens to them the portal of everlasting life. In visiting places of public worship, in Roman Catholic countries, we cease to wonder at the deeply imprinted superstition of the, people; children, before they can scarce speak, are taught to set a sacred value on the ridiculous grimace of devotion, and a father brings his boy, not three years old, to lisp his ave maria, and count his little rosary before the altar. This early impression it is impossible can ever be erased; imitation, at last, becomes a second nature; in maturer years, reason, in vain, attempts to pull down the firm bulwark of superstition, and narrow-minded bigotry becomes the characteristic of the man. Toleration of religious opinions has not yet reached this island, and, whatever may be his real persuasion, every person residing here must conform to the external ceremonies of the established church: a heretic is still denied the boon of a consecrated grave, and his hapless ghost must be contented with a mansion in the unpurified bosom of his mother earth, unless it prefers a more extensive sepulchre in the ocean. The bodies of those who die in the faith, are usually interred in the churches; the coffins have no cover, and are filled up with quick-lime, which decomposing the flesh, the bones are afterwards removed to a general charnel-house. This example deserves to be universally followed, but the prejudices of education, which teaches us to consider disturbing the dead as a species of horrid sacrilege[6], still wars against our better judgment, and perpetuates the noisome and acknowledged evil of crowded churchyards.

It appears to be a custom of ancient origin throughout Europe, (perhaps antecedent to heraldic achievements,) to denote the death of any member of the family, by some symbol affixed to the house of the deceased; at Teneriffe, a branch of the palm-tree is placed over the door or window for this purpose.

The manners of the inhabitants in general are those of the mother-country; a few families, of which the Lieutenant Governor's is the chief, adopt the French customs in dress and society; and the vivacity and liberal manners of the latter, afford a striking contrast to the austere gravity, and prudish reserve, of the former. The return of peace has not yet brought back to the island the English, who were driven from it by the war; and the necessary business of any British vessels that touch here, is at present transacted by Mr. Armstrong, a native of the island.

In its present state, Santa Cruz could scarce make a successful defence against a well-conducted coup de main; the fortifications are in ruins, and the garrison consists of a miserable rabble, who, to appearance, would verify the old adage about running away; The pier is, however, defended by a battery, which might annoy the invaders, and which ought, therefore, to be immediately silenced; for this purpose, one line of battle ship would be fully sufficient. A shot from this battery pursued its too unerring course, and deprived the Navy of the brave Bowen, at the same time that it took off the arm of Nelson. In the church of Neustra Senora de Constantia, is suspended the union flag, left behind by Nelson, in his unsuccessful attack en the island in 1799. It was pointed out to us with every mark of national pride by our conductor, who, after a long harangue on the courage of their troops, was drily requested by an English Officer to be particularly careful of this trophy of their prowess, for that Nelson might probably one day return, and call for it.

The water here has a soft, soapy taste, and I believe a slight purgative quality; it is conducted from the mountains to a stone fountain, which throws up three jets d'eau. The island produces a species of pine-tree, which is used in the construction of the houses, and in small vessels; we were here too early for the fruits of the island, which are those peculiar to the tropics. Vegetables were plenty, onions in particular are remarkably good; and as they are not to be procured at Rio de Janeiro, it is advisable to lay in a large stock of them here: fowls cost about half a crown each: sheep are scarce, and bad; and hogs neither cheap nor good[7]. The only fish we saw, were large mackarel, vast shoals of which come into the bay at this season; they are caught with hook and line, and attracted towards the boats by fires of the dried pine, which give a bright blaze, and of a serene evening the bay presents the appearance of a magnificent marine illumination.

Between England and Teneriffe we lost four convicts by death; two of these had been embarked in the last stages of consumption, vainly hoping that a warmer climate might restore their healths.

From Teneriffe, we pursued our course towards the Cape Verd Islands, and on the 25th of May made the isle of Sal, along which we coasted at the distance of six or seven miles, without seeing any thing that could induce a stranger to land on it from choice; not a trace of cultivation, nor of inhabitants, was to be seen; nor did a single shrub enliven the dreary brown of the parched soil. This island has but few stationary inhabitants, but is frequented for the salt which is collected on it, with which it supplies America, and the West Indies.

On the morning of the 26th, we stood close in for St. Jago, the largest of the Cape Verd Islands, and ranged along its S. E. side at from one to two miles distance. This side of the island is broken, and uneven, in, some places bound by projecting shelves of rock, the lower parts being excavated by the continual action of the water; in other spots are small sandy coves, defended by reefs on which the sea beats with violence. This island affords an agreeable prospect to the distressed mariner; the sides of the more gently ascending hills are covered with a verdant carpet, upon which numerous herds of cattle are seen grazing, and in the rallies are groves of cocoa-nuts and bannanas surrounding the habitations of the natives. The harbour of Praya, laying on the south side of the island, is, during the regular N.E. trade-wind, perfectly secure; but it is exposed to the tornadoes, which in the months of August and September often blow from the southward. The natives appeared desirous of our landing, by waving their handkerchiefs on the rock as we passed along: hoping some of them might be induced to come on board with fruit, we stood close into the bay, but not a canoe was to be seen, and it was not an object of sufficient consequence, to suffer any delay by sending a boat on shore. The town, from which we were distant about five miles, is the seat of government; to appearance it consists of a few wretched clay huts adjoining the fort which alone is white-washed. A lucrative trade is carried on from this island to America and the West Indies in mules: by breeding these animals, and by supplying ships with refreshments, the inhabitants support themselves. The mother-country feels so little the importance of these islands, that scarce any precautions are taken for their defence: a Creole is often governor-general; and the inferior islands are sometimes governed by Mulattoes.

A thick haze always obscures these islands, and prevents their being seen at the distance that might be expected from their altitudes: this, I suppose, proceeds from the exhalations arising from the Salt lakes, and this haze is much thicker and more opake when the sun is in the Northern tropic.

  1. See the Letters between the Court of Directors of the East India Company, and the Commissioners for the Affairs of India.

    Asiatic Register, July 1801

  2. The Glatten and Calcutta were fitted exactly alike. They were armed en flute having only 18 guns on the upper deck; rigged at 56 gun ships, with a compliment of 170 men.
  3. Bass's Strait separates New Holland from Van Diemen's Land, in lat. 39°S.; it was discovered by Mr. Bass, surgeon of his Majesty's ship Reliance, in an open whale boat, in the year 1799. It was afterward surveyed by Mr. Bass and Mr. Hinders, second lieutenant of the Reliance, and found to be from 106 to 130 miles in breadth, affording a clear passage from the South Sea into the Indian Ocean.
  4. Port Philip was discovered by Acting Lieutenant John Murray, in his Majesty's armed brig Lady Nelson, and by him named Port King; which was afterwards changed by Governor King to Port Philip, after Captain Arthur Philip, the first Governor of New South Wales.
  5. The following was the Establishment for the New Colony
      1 Lieutenant Governor, 480l. per ann.
      1 Deputy Judge-advocate*  10s. per diem.
      1 Chaplain,  10 s.
      1 Deputy Commissary,   7s. 6d.
      1 Surgeon,  10s.
      2 Assistant Surgeons 1st, 7s. 6d. — 2d, 5s.
      1 Surveyor,   7s. 6d.
      1 Mineralogist,   7s. 6d.
      2 Superintendants of Convicts, each  50l. per ann
      4 Overseers, each,  25l.
      1Superintendant of Artificers,  45l.

    Military (Marines).

      1 Captain Commandant. (Lieut. Governor.)
      2 1st Lieutenants
      1 2d ditto.
      3 Serjeants.
      3 Corporals.
      2 Drums.
     39 Rank and File.
      5 Women, and 1 child.
    307 Male Convicts, with 17 of their wives; and 7 children.

    ^* This Officer remained in England.

  6. The veneration paid to the mortal remains of our ancestors is generally dignified with the appellation of natural affection; it however may more properly be deduced from pride of birth, united with religious superstition. In Europe, it appears to be almost the last spark from the dying embers of feudal government. In China, where every beggar can trace his pedigree to one of the three hundred families, the dead are objects of more care than the living; feasts are held in honour of them, and their graves are continually adorned with silken streamers, and strewed with fresh flowers.
  7. Beef is about 4d. per pound. The price of Teneriffe wine has increased within a few years; the best is now 20l. a pipe, and that of inferior quality 16l.
  1. Handwritten note on page:
    To Sir A.S. Hammond, (illegible text)
    This Narrative is presented with the Author's respectful compliments