The following excerpts are taken from a collection of newspaper articles assembled and titled “Early News from a New Colony: British Museum Papers by Various, Unknown”. First published in 1893, the Newspaper Extracts in this book relate to the new colony of New South Wales – from the years 1785 to 1795. An excerpt of the introduction to this fascinating record of Australia’s colonisation reads:
The accounts of the colony (many of them written by private individuals to their friends in England), which appeared from time to time in the newspapers and magazines of one hundred years ago, . . . contained, in very many cases, information for which we look in vain in the official despatches of the Governor or his subordinates . . .
TREATMENT OF CONVICTS PENDING TRANSPORTATION.
IT is really surprising that Government does not somehow dispose of such convicts as are sentenced to transportation. Their staying confined for a great length of time, sometimes even for years, is inflicting a punishment that the law does not warrant, and far exceeds the sentence pronounced on them. Besides, this will appear to be a very cruel neglect, when it is considered that the term of their transportation does not commence till they are actually embarked, and their imprisonment is a superaddition of punishment. One of those who escaped [Note in the original:—“Two prisoners had escaped on the previous Wednesday from the New Gaol, Dublin.”] was four years in prison under that rule—a very decent prologue to seven years’ transportation. Add to this, that the long continuance of prisoners before they are sent away is a very heavy expense on the city of Dublin, which is obliged to support them till they are embarked.
THE COST OF TRANSPORTATION.
OWING to the high price of victualling, the demand for shipping, and risque of capture, or price of insurance, the contract for conveying the last convicts from Great Britain and Ireland to Botany Bay was £80 per man.
The following excerpt is an article published in the ‘True Briton’ on the 20th August 1796. The letter was stated by the Editor of the paper to have been addressed by Hunter to a friend in Leith. The following is an extract of the said letter:
GOVERNOR HUNTER TO ————.
16th October, 1795.
THIS settlement is wonderfully improved since the time I left it. It appears now to be making rapid progress towards an independence for provision. Our corn-fields (wheat) at this moment appear as beautiful and luxuriant as any I ever saw in any part of the world; and barring those accidents to which all countries are liable, we shall have a rich and abundant harvest. Our gardens are equally productive; we shall have a variety of fruit, European as well as tropical. Our grapes are in immense quantities; some of the gentlemen, from their own gardens, expect to make a butt, some two butts, of wine this year. The few cattle we have are thriving exceedingly. The sheep and goats are wonderfully prolific; three lambs at a time is no uncommon thing, and that twice a year; the goats still more so. We find the best breed of sheep to be between the small Bengal ewe and the large Cape ram; they produce a middle size, which is delicate fine meat. All the superfluous males among the goats are prepared for the pot or spit, and are so fine that I would defy even an epicure to say whether it was mutton or caperate he was eating.
The following excerpt is an article published in the ‘True Briton’ on the 18th June 1796. The article is an excerpt of a letter from an officer on board the Marquis ‘Cornwallis’, East Indiaman, to his brother in London:
MUTINY ON A CONVICT-SHIP.
St. Helena, 22nd October, 1795.
ON the 11th of September we discovered a most desperate plot formed by the men convicts, who, to the number of 163, are the most horrid ruffians that ever left the kingdom of Ireland. They were on the point of putting the captain, officers, and ship’s company to death, when one of them, either through the fear of punishment or from a hope of reward, discovered the whole affair. It was a common practice for Captain Hogan and the officers of the deck to go down and see that their berths were clean twice a week, at which time they were to watch an opportunity to seize the captain, surgeon, and such other officers as were down with them, whom they were to put to death with their own swords, and force their way upon deck, where they were to be assisted by the Serjeant, corporal, and some of the private soldiers, who were to dispatch the officers upon deck, and also supply the convicts with arms. We got the ringleaders upon deck, to the number of forty, who, after a severe punishment, confessed the whole.
We thought this might put a stop to any further proceedings, but in this we were much mistaken. About two nights after they made an attempt to break out. They began by strangling the man who discovered the plot; while the rest were to force down the bulkhead, force their way upon deck, put those not in the plot to death, and take possession of the ship, or die in the attempt. The captain and officers did all in their power to appease them by fair words, and also by threats, but all would not do; they were desperate.
Captain Hogan rushed down the fore hatchway, followed by Mr. Richardson and three more of the officers and myself, armed with a pair of pistols and cutlass each, where began a scene which was not by any means pleasant.
We stuck together in the hatchway, and discharged our pistols amongst them that were most desperate, who, seeing their comrades drop in several places, soon felt a damp upon their spirits; their courage failed them, and they called out for quarter. I broke my cutlass in the affray, but met with no accident myself. There were none killed upon the spot, but seven have since died of their wounds. The Serjeant was severely punished, and is since dead.
STATE OF THE SETTLEMENT IN 1795.
LETTERS from Port Jackson, dated the 21st of December, 1795, mention that the settlement then was in a very flourishing state, and that the harvest, which was then collecting, was so abundant as to be thought equal to two years’ consumption. The only scarcity was that of animal food. The capital of the colony is Sydney town, The other settlements are Hawkesbury and Parra Matee. The productions of the country are but few; at least, they have not been fortunate enough to make any recent discovery; the interior is, however, little known.
The following fact is a striking instance of the want of enterprise and activity. A few days after the first arrival of the colony (now eight years since) a bull and six cows strayed from their keeper into the woods. A fear of venturing far amongst the natives, then somewhat hostile, repressed all attempts to regain them; indolence succeeded these fears, and no search was ever instituted. Some time since, an officer’s servant, shooting in the woods, between twenty and thirty miles from Sydney, discovered them, and conducted the Governor and a party of his friends to the spot, where they found a heard consisting of nearly sixty head of remarkably fine cattle. The bull attacked the party, who, with some difficulty, escaped unhurt. That a neighbourhood of thirty miles by land, presenting no unusual obstacles to an adventurer, should, in the almost starving state of the colony, have remained unexplored for so long a period, is not to be accounted for otherwise than by the apathy or despondency of the settlers.
Muir, Skirving, Margarot, and Gerald are there, and treated with every possible indulgence; their conduct had been exemplary. Of Palmer, as much cannot be said. Gerald was very ill. Each of these had grants of land, and were allowed convicts to clear their ground.
The accounts from Norfolk Island do not represent that place in so favourable a light.
Source: Excerpts – ‘Early News from a New Colony: British Museum Papers’ – by Various, Unknown [Newspaper Extracts concerning the Colony of New South Wales, 1785-1795.] – published 1893
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