A Narrative Of The Expedition To Botany Bay By Watkin Tench

 - A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay

by Watkin Tench


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A Narrative Of The Expedition To Botany Bay

By Watkin Tench


In offering this little tract to the public, it is equally the writer's wish to conduce to their amusement and information.

The expedition on which he is engaged has excited much curiosity, and given birth to many speculations, respecting the consequences to arise from it. While men continue to think freely, they will judge variously. Some have been sanguine enough to foresee the most beneficial effects to the Parent State, from the Colony we are endeavouring to establish; and some have not been wanting to pronounce the scheme big with folly, impolicy, and ruin. Which of these predictions will be completed, I leave to the decision of the public. I cannot, however, dismiss the subject without expressing a hope, that the candid and liberal of each opinion, induced by the humane and benevolent intention in which it originated, will unite in waiting the result of a fair trial to an experiment, no less new in its design, than difficult in its execution.

As this publication enters the world with the name of the author, candour will, he trusts, induce its readers to believe, that no consideration could weigh with him in an endeavour to mislead them. Facts are related simply as they happened, and when opinions are hazarded, they are such as, he hopes, patient inquiry, and deliberate decision, will be found to have authorised. For the most part he has spoken from actual observation; and in those places where the relations of others have been unavoidably adopted. he has been careful to search for the truth, and repress that spirit of exaggeration which is almost ever the effect of novelty on ignorance.

The nautical part of the work is comprized in as few pages as possible. By the professional part of my readers this will be deemed judicious; and the rest will not, I believe, be dissatisfied at its brevity. I beg leave, however, to say of the astronomical calculations, that they may be depended on with the greatest degree of security, as they were communicated by an officer, who was furnished with instruments, and commissioned by the Board of Longitude, to make observations during the voyage, and in the southern hemisphere.

An unpractised writer is generally anxious to bespeak public attention, and to solicit public indulgence. Except on professional subjects, military men are, perhaps, too fearful of critical censure. For the present narrative no other apology is attempted, than the intentions of its author, who has endeavoured not only to satisfy present curiosity, but to point out to future adventurers, the favourable, as well as adverse circumstances which will attend their settling here. The candid, it is hoped, will overlook the inaccuracies of this imperfect sketch, drawn amidst the complicated duties of the service in which the Author is engaged, and make due allowance for the want of opportunity of gaining more extensive information.

Watkin Tench, Capt. of the Marines.

Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, New South Wales, 10 July, 1788.


From the Embarkation of the Convicts, to the Departure of the Ships from England.

The marines and convicts having been previously embarked in the River, at Portsmouth, and Plymouth, the whole fleet destined for the expedition rendezvoused at the Mother Bank, on the 16th of March 1787, and remained there until the 13th of May following. In this period, excepting a slight appearance of contagion in one of the transports, the ships were universally healthy, and the prisoners in high spirits. Few complaints or lamentations were to be heard among them, and an ardent wish for the hour of departure seemed generally to prevail.

As the reputation, equally with the safety of the officers and soldiers appointed to guard the convicts, consisted in maintaining due subordination, an opportunity was taken, immediately on their being embarked, to convince them, in the most pointed terms, that any attempt on their side, either to contest the command, or to force their escape, should be punished with instant death; orders to this effect were given to the centinels in their presence; happily, however, for all parties, there occurred not any instance in which there was occasion to have recourse to so desperate a measure; the behavior of the convicts being in general humble, submissive, and regular: indeed I should feel myself wanting in justice to those unfortunate men, were I not to bear this public testimony of the sobriety and decency of their conduct.

Unpleasant as a state of inactivity and delay for many weeks appeared to us, it was not without its advantages; for by means of it we were enabled to establish necessary regulations among the convicts, and to adopt such a system of defence, as left us little to Apprehend for our own security, in case a spirit of madness and desperation had hurried them on to attempt our destruction.

Among many other troublesome parts of duty which the service we were engaged on required, the inspection of all letters brought to, or sent from the ships, was not one of the least tiresome and disagreeable. The number and contents of those in the vessel I was embarked in, frequently surprised me very much; they varied according to the dispositions of the writers: but their constant language was, an apprehension of the impracticability of returning home, the dread of a sickly passage, and the fearful prospect of a distant and barbarous country. But this apparent despondency proceeded in few instances from sentiment. With too many it was, doubtless, an artifice to awaken compassion, and call forth relief; the correspondence invariably ending in a petition for money and tobacco. Perhaps a want of the latter, which is considered a great luxury by its admirers among the lower classes of life, might be the more severely felt, from their being debarred in all cases whatever, sickness excepted, the use of spirituous liquors.

It may be thought proper for me to mention, that during our stay at the Mother Bank, the soldiers and convicts were indiscriminately served with fresh beef.

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