Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Margaret Blackburn - Letters (14) received from her brother David Blackburn, 1787-1791
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My dear Sister,
I arrived in town safe and just time enough to see my friend Chadd before his departure for the coast of Africa and went down to Woolwich with him in a post chaise to join his ship which he expected was there. But she had been sailed for the Downs two days before -so he must post chaise it all the way to Dover. Tom is in good health and his wife very forward in her pregnancy but I do not know when she expect to be laid aside. P. is certainly deformed his right breast is too far forward and his left shoulder too far back. They say he is very ill tempered but he was very good with me and pleased with my nursing him. I was astonished to hear her say she did not believe it was her own child. I found him sitting on a stool with his arms pinned behind him, no wonder he is fretful, but the moment his mother released him he came to me and would not quit me till I went away.
At the Navy Office I find I stand 226 on the list consequently cannot come on the half pay list yet, but am high enough up to be called to service and Chadd advises me to write to the Navy
Board which I think I shall do but will first see Martineau and ask Mr Henslow's advice. Captain Anniss is not yet arrived in town but is expected every day. Tomorrow I shall call on the gentleman Mr Barrow mentioned. I was two hours to-day enquiring for Mr Viney but could not find him. I shall go to lodgings on Thursday on Friday but whether at Deptford or in Clare Street near Temple Bar I am at present uncertain. I delivered all the letters safe and had a quarter of an hour's chat with Mrs Calthrop, she is a much finer woman
than I expected from the recollection I had of her as a girl. I shall expect to hear from you in the week. Direct your letter to the Bull. I hope my Mother's forehead is getting well and that you continue drinking porter and regaining a good constitution.
Elsmere is at Gravesend therefore I shall not see him. Mr Baker says that he believes your letter can be sent to Newbury the latter end of this week but if he has no opportunity of sending it then I shall send it by the Post this day sennight. I shall write to you again in the week if anything occurs. If not shall wait for your letter. Give my duty to my mother and love to sister Betsy and love to Rand when you see her - and don't forget to finish my watch cushion.
Your affectionate brother D. Blackburn.
Bishopsgate. 12th March, 1787.
My dear Sister,
I have to-day received a letter from sister Betsy which informs me you are to be in Sudbury as to-day. I therefore write in haste to tell you I set out tonight for Portsmouth to join my ship now laying at Spithead and bound with the rest of the squadron to Botany Bay. I have been at a great deal of trouble in endeavouring to get my warrant for her changed but nothing can effect that. Mr Henslow assured me that if I refused to go in her I should be struck off the List and have no claims to employment till every other master had been provided for by rotation and that the Navy Board considered it as a particular mark of their favour to employ me so soon. She is a brigg and I shall be paid only as a sixth rate viz. £5 per month, which of itself is a hardship as I have passed for a third rate which is £7 monthly. Aunt Martineau has lent me £10 which is very acceptable. I have purchased a dozen new shirts, a coat, 6 pairs of shoes, a dozen pairs of stockings, some charts of the East Indies and South Seas and hope I shall go to sea tolerably well stocked.
The Brigg -her name is the Supply, is commanded by a Lieut. Ball, an old ship mate of mine in the Victory. I hope we shall be happy together and I know some other officers who are going out in other ships, they talk of sailing every day but Mr Henslow says he does
not think they will sail these ten days as the lawyers have not yet finished a Code of Laws for this New Establishment.
I cannot say I am very fond of the voyage and am vexed that
I shall be deprived of the happiness of seeing you again before we sail. However, you will write to me often, and direct your letters for me Master of His Majesty's Armed Tender Supply,
to be left at Mr Lads at the White Hart, Point Street, Portsmouth.
I have time to write no more at present, but that I am your
most affectionate brother D. Blackburn.
London. 6th April 1787
I received your letter my dear sister this morning and the
watch cushion safe in it, which be assured and I will preserve
whilst I have life, at least till we see each other again, which I
don't despair of.
Do not therefore my love let your affection for me deprive you of the fortitude you are mistress of, but rather look forward with a cheerful hope of a happy meeting on our return, remembering that the same providence which has hitherto protected me in all my dangers is still the same and that the southern hemisphere is like this equally under his allseeing eye.
I confess it is not a voyage I should by any means have chose, but I must go or be struck entirely off the List. It is therefore my Duty to obey without murmuring and I shall make it my study to go through my Duty with cheerfulness.
I have but one wish and that I am afraid is impractible which is that I should see you here on your way to Newbury, it would not be above a guinea and a half more expense and I can spare that for so desirable a satisfaction.
It is not known when we shall sail but it is supposed about the middle or latter end of this month. My chest arrived here yesterday, it goes on board tonight and tomorrow I go on board myself. I went on Board on Sunday with my Captain, who was very civil and as far as I can judge at present seems to wish to live with me on friendly terms. If so, it will take off a deal of the unpleasantness of so long a voyage.
I believe we are to stop at Teneriffe for wine and also at the Cape of Good Hope for livestock and from thence proceed to Botany Bay and it is generally
supposed we shall be gone three or four years. It is a fine climate and I dare say a healthy one and every officer who returns from this expedition will certainly be provided for by the Admiralty and Navy Boards; it is said that there will be other ships sent after us in less than a twelvemonth, if so you will have an opportunity of writing to me by them and when we arrive at the Cape of Good Hope, I shall certainly write to you.
I have packed up my nieces things in a deal box and directed them to Brother Torn and they set off tonight for London and I have wrote to him by this post to inform him of it. You will write to me by return of post and let me know whether I may expect you here. Mrs Lad (Miss Allcock that was) will accommodate you to your wish and I shall be on shore to receive you.
Give my Duty to our dear Mother, I shall write to her tomorrow. I have not time tonight. I wrote to Betsy yesterday. Remember me to Laetitia when you write and to her brother and family. My love to Little Bet.
God bless you my love and believe me your most affectionate
Brother, D. Blackburn.
Portsmouth. 10th April, 1787.
I received your letter my dear sister yesterday but could not get the answer on shore time enough to save the post. In your letter you have said enough to convince me that it is not essentially necessary for you to come to Portsmouth and that seeing you again before I sail could not be to any advantage to either and the objections you mention, particularly your cold, has put it out of my power to wish you to take the journey. We must therefore content ourselves with thinking of each other till my return.
There will not, believe me, one day pass without a wish for the health and happiness of my best beloved sister. With your letter I received one from sister Betsy and one from Richard Knight with a long postscript from Laetitia, filled with good wishes and prayers for my welfare. I will write to Devizes before we sail, our time is yet uncertain.
I have been on board ever since last Wednesday and am upon good friendly terms with Captain Ball and it shall not be my fault if we don't continue so. The vessel I am in is small and rather uncomfortable, but if we are happy amongst ourselves that will not much signify - you will continue writing to me.
Let me know when you expect our mother will join you in your road to Newbury, else I shall not know how to direct to you, but if we are not sailed when you and our mother arrive in London, your cold better and she should express a wish to come to Portsmouth with you, I hope I shall then see you. Let me hear from you by return of post.
Your ever affectionate brother,
Supply 15th April 1787
Direct to me as before
I received your letter my dear sister yesterday but was not able to answer it by return of post as it blew fresh and we lay five miles from Portsmouth. I am truly sorry that by what I wrote in my last you should think I am hurt by your objections to coming to Portsmouth. Be assured my love I am not, they are rational. I know your affection for me is too strong for me to doubt it. Your cold was of itself a sufficient cause with me for your declining the journey - believe me my dear sister, your health and happiness are as dear to me as my own and I am very happy to hear that your cold is better.
We hear to-day that the Governor has settled all his business in London and is expected here this week. If so we shall sail in a few days after his arrival. It will be impossible for me to get leave of absence any further from the ship than Portsmouth,
even if you were now in London, and I relinquish my wish of seeing you here, for great as the pleasure would be in seeing you, there must come a parting painful to us both.
I am on very friendly terms with my Captain and dare say we shall continue so and my dislike to the voyage begins gradually to wear off. We are to stop either at Madeira or Teneriffe and from thence round the Cape of Good Hope where we shall wood and water and take in cattle and from thence proceed to Botany Bay. It's supposed it will be January before we arrive there and that our voyage will take up three years at least.
You will write by return of post and let me know when you proceed to London and whether brother Tom has received Betsy's cloaths as I have never heard from him since I sent them.
Give my love to the dear little girl. I received sister Betsy's letter and answered it, give my love to her when you write to Norwich and my duty to our good Mother. You have not said whether she is in Norwich or with you. I shall write to her as soon as I receive your next.
May health and happiness attend you prays your sincerely affectionate brother,
Supply 19th April 1787.
My Dear Sister
I received yours of the 22nd of last month in due time and to-day have one from sister Betsy which I shall answer by this post which is the first time these seven days that I have been able to get a letter on shore for the blowing weather we have had. However, I hope this will find you and our mother in good health and spirits at Lambeth from whence you will write and let me know when you shall be at Newbury.
I am glad you have accepted Brother Thomas's invitation.
You don't say how my niece does, I hope she is well. The time of our sailing is quite uncertain, though we expect it every day, but it is generally believed we shall not sail before the middle or latter end of this month. I know of no means for you to convey letters to me, except by such ships as Government may appoint hereafter, which it is supposed they will do yearly. My leaving a letter or attorney would be useless as my personal pay cannot be through till I return and then no one can receive it but my agent, whose name is Benjamin Robertson, a clerk in the Navy Office.
I am in haste to get this letter on shore to save post, therefore must leave with my hearty wishes for your health and happiness and duty to our mother and subscribe myself your ever affectionate brother,
Supply 2nd May 1787 - Write by return of post.
I wonder I have not yet heard from brother Thomas, it is now a fortnight since I wrote to him.
Portsmouth 6th May 1787
I received yours my dear sister this morning and am indeed truly concerned at the death of that good man, the father of your Laetitia. I would write to Devizes by this post but am at a loss to express my sentiments upon paper on such an occasion, but I will write soon, tomorrow if I can. I am of your opinion that Laetitia cannot wish you in Newbury so soon and yet I think if my mother and you were with them you would at least by partaking of their grief, lessen it.
However, I shall hear by return of post what Laetitia's wishes are and consequently how to direct to you for our stay will be very short now, as Captain Phillips who is going out Governor of Botany Bay is arriving in Portsmouth this evening and it is thought a week will be the longest of our stay if the wind permits, the whole fleet are ready for sea at a day's notice.
We for our part have two years' provisions of every species on board, wood and water excepted and you will be glad I know to hear that my Captain and I continue on friendly social terms and I dare say we shall continue so.
Indeed tis his interest to be civil to me, as I am the next in rank to himself and except the surgeon, who I think is a good man, a little younger than myself, he has no one else to converse with but me and in case of sickness of his side, the command of the tender must devolve upon me and I am not without hopes of being a gainer by this voyage, tho' no prizes can be taken, for the Lords of the Admiralty have promised in printed instructions to us, that our assiduity in following these instructions will recommend us to their particular notice and favour, these instructions principally tend towards accurate observations and remarks on the different coasts, harbours, etc. we may meet with in this pretty voyage, and it is supposed that we being a small vessel are to be employed surveying the coast of New Holland on that side where
we build our fort and land the convicts, which will take a year at least to make a chart tolerably sufficient for the press and I have well stocked myself with paper, books and proper instruments for the purpose.
I am not surprised at poor Parlow's death and with you thank God for taking him to himself. I am sorry my mother is so much fatigued with the journey but hope a few days' rest will perfectly recover her health and spirits.
In consequence of yours this morning when I came on shore I soon found by enquiry that my box had been arrived three days at the Inn here, but not delivered to Mr Lad's. However, I have got it safe with the letter it enclosed for which I thank brother John. Give my love to him and Mrs B. I wish her safely out of her present situation and believe me my dear sister
your most affectionate brother
Portsmounth 6th May 1787
It is not clear to me that you understand how I am situated - the Armed tender is a Brig. not commanded by a Captain but a Lieutenant under him - the Master next - then Surgeon - Boatswain - Gunman - Carpenter - therefore I am second in Command on Board and as tis known that my Commander Lieutenant Ball is to be made a Captain the first opportunity I think I stand an equal chance of preferment. My present pay is £5 per month.
My dear sister,
I have but just time to save the post to inform you that Friday is the day fixed for our sailing if the wind will permit. I am and shall be very busy all this night and tomorrow, fear I shall not have time to write to our mother but sending affectionate duty to her and hope she will write to me by return of post.
I need not say how much I wish your health and happiness nor how sincerely I am your affectionate Brother D. Blackburn
I will if possible write to Sister Betsy and Mr Knight
tomorrow. I need not put you in mind of writing for I am
sure you will by return of post.
Supply 9th May 1787
My dear Sister,
I know it will give you pleasure to know that we arrived here safe and in good health on the 2nd of this month after a passage of three weeks from Portsmouth and that we have a prospect of compleating our long passage to New South Wales without any malignant distemper amongst the convicts as they are not now confined in irons or kept below the decks, under certain restrictions, except such as are refractory, etc. In general they are all in good health and spirits.
We are to take in water and wine here and shall sail in a few days for a Portuguese settlement called Rio Janeiro, in South America, where we shall get wood, water and refreshments, and from thence proceed to the Cape of Good Hope where we shall be I suppose in about October from whence you shall hear from me again if possible. From thence we have a long track of ocean to pass, no land being in our way till we make the coast of New South Wales.
It is totally unknown to us, at least to me, how long we shall remain there but it is generally thought we shall be employed surveying the coast harbours, etc., at all events I don't think we shall be home in less than three years.
I am sorry I had not time to write to Devizes before we sailed. Do you my dear sister, thank Mr Knight for his letter to me and your Laetitia for her postscript which I shall keep in the purse till I have the pleasure of seeing you and them again.
I am sorry I did not get a letter from our mother before I sailed but we sailed in such a hurry at last that I dare say I missed her letter but by one post.
Give my duty to her and my love to sister Betsy and Thos. May God bless you my sister with health and happiness.
Your ever affectionate brother
Supply, Teneriffe - St Cruiz. June 5th 1787.
I wrote to you my dear sister from Teneriffe by a vessel bound to London which I hope you have received. This will probably be some months before it reaches England as it comes by an English South Sea ship which is put into this harbour to stop a dangerous leak. I hope by this time your health is quite recovered and that you are happy amongst our amiable friends at Newbury or Devizes. Believe me my dear sister that a day has not passed since I left England without a prayer for yourself and your Laetitia's health and happiness and that neither time nor absence can ever abate my love and esteem for you both. I hope our good Mother and sister are well. I have enjoyed a very good state of health and spirits.
I will now give you a short account of our voyage thus far. We sailed from Portsmouth on the 13th of May, eleven ships in all, including H.M. ship Sirius of 24 guns on board of which is Captain Arthur Phillip, Governor of the new colony and his retinue. The Supply of 8 guns, 6 ships with convicts, viz. 596 men and 267 women and three ships with stores, provisions, etc. We had an excellent passage from England to Teneriffe where we lay eight days taking in water, wine, etc., and were supplied daily with fresh beef. We set sail from thence on the 10th of June and directed our course for St Iago, the principal of the Cape de Verd Islands where we arrived on the 19th of June, but as the wind did not admit of our getting to a proper anchoring place without great loss of time, the Governor took
in the signal which had been made for anchoring and we proceeded to the southward, crossed the Equator on the 15th of July and arrived at this place on the 6th of August. Here we have refitted our rigging, wooded and watered and taken in a good stock of port wine. This place, which is very little known to the English, is perhaps the most extensive harbour in the world and is well defended by a number of fortifications.
The city is large and regularly built; it has 17 principal churches, which are very magnificent besides a great number of inferior churches, chapels and convents. It is governed by a Viceroy from the Crown of Portugal, who is attended with as much state and his palace as grand as any monarch in Europe. The number of inhabitants are computed at 45,000, about two thirds of which are slaves. The rest are Portuguese gentlemen and merchants, who export into Portugal sugar and tobacco and some cotton. But their greatest source of riches are precious
stones of different kinds, particularly the diamond and topaz. I have not seen any curious shells here, but I have got some skins of birds of this country which I think will be worth your acceptance, tho' I fear I shall not be able to procure enough to make a muff.
The officers and gentlemen of the city have given us the highest opinion of them by their repeated civilities and attentions and you can easily judge how comfortable we must feel ourselves amongst such people at the distance of 4,571 miles from England. We have been here now a month and are ready for sea and shall sail in a day or two for the Cape of Good Hope which we hope to make in a month or six weeks, where I suppose we shall stop to wood and water and then proceed on our course to the Eastward for Botany Bay or elsewhere in New South Wales.
I shall certainly write to you again, if we touch at the Cape, after which it will be impossible to convey any letter to England till the convict ships return to Europe. They are all very healthy, having in all from their first embarkation buried only 20 men and 2 women and there has been 8 or 10 births, chiefly females.
I cannot quit this subject without saying that the health of the convicts may in a great measure be attributed to the humanuty of the Governor, who gives them every indulgence their situation will admit of, none of them are confined in chains or even under the deck by day, except such whose behaviour deserves such punishment and they are constantly supplied with fresh provisions, fruit and vegetables. It will give you pleasure to know that I am upon friendly terms with my Captain and have no doubt of a continuance of it.
God bless you my best beloved sister. Present my duty to our good Mother, love to my brother and sister, my love and esteem to your Laetitia and her brother. My respects to Aunt M. and all friends in Norwich and believe me,
Your ever Affectionate Brother, D. Blackburn.
H.M. Armed Tender Supply 2nd Sept. 1787.
Rio Janeiro on the coast
of South America in
Lat 22 deg. 54 m. south west
Long. 42 deg. 44 m.
H.M. Armed Tender Supply, Cape of Good Hope.
9th Nov., 1787.
My dear Sister,
I hope you have before this time received the letters I wrote you, the first from the Island Teneriffe, the last from Rio Janeiro, which place we left on Tuesday 4th September, and arrived here after a pleasant passage across the Pacific Ocean on Sunday 14th October.
I hope by this time my dear sister's health is perfectly recovered. I have enjoyed an uncommon share of health ever since we left England, and the fleet in general have been very healthy. We have been here now a month, taking in water, and a large quantity of livestock for the Colony, so that could you see the 'Supply', she would put you mind of Noah's Ark, except that we have no woman on board.
We expect to sail on Sunday next for Botany Bay, the distance is near 9000 miles, so that we may expect, if no particular accident detains us, to arrive there in the latter end of February or beginning of March and from thence I will write you again by the ships which will return to England after the convicts are landed, and I do not despair of hearing from you, as we are told that there are one or two ships to be appointed to bring out clothing, etc., for the Colony.
I hope you are happy and still amongst our Newbury friends. You will give my love and esteem to your Laetitia and Mr and Mrs Knights, tell them a day never passes without my wishes for their health and happiness.
Give my Duty to our good Mother, who I hope is well, my love to sister and Thomas and Niece, Aunt M. and family, and believe me my dear sister, your ever affectionate brother,
I have wrote to sister Betsy by the same ship which brings this, she is bound to Amsterdam so that I suppose it will be March before you receive this.
I wrote to you my dear sister by the last ships which sailed which was in July last, of which this will be little more than a duplicate, for I think we know at present very little more of this country than we did then. The country as far as it has been penetrated affords but a bad prospect to the new colony. It is a continued track of swamps and rocky hills covered with a thin loose soil. A mixture of sand and black mould. Our gardens have produced little or nothing, the young plants spring up very quick but soon after pine away and die.
I believe the Governor's is the only garden which has as yet afforded a few vegetables for the table. There is now some wheat and barley which promises to do well, if the small animals of the opossum kind and the ants (of both which here are great numbers) do not destroy it. The valleys abound with cabbage trees with which most of the houses are built for the present and several stone buildings are begun. The Governor's house will be a very elegant one and is near finished.
I believe I told you in my last that the town will be called Albion and that it is in the centre of the county of Cumberland. The trees of various kinds grow to a great size but when sawn into plank the wood is short, heavy and not fit for house or ship . building. In my opinion the only recommendation to this part of the coast is the excellent harbours of Port Jackson and Broken Bay which is about 12 miles further North - Port Jackson is perhaps the finest in the world. There is high land to be seen at the distance of about 40 miles inland where perhaps the soil will be better than so near the sea and a detachment from the main body is intended to be settled there as soon as possible.
We have been here now above nine months without being able to persuade any of the natives to live or associate amongst us, or without being able to learn a sentence of their language - they seem to be the most miserable of the human race, they go quite naked and are very dirty. Their principal food seems to be fish and a few roots. Many of the men want the left fore tooth of the upper jaw and some of the women have the first joint of the left little finger cut off, but what these
particular marks of distinction are intended for I know not. They have canoes of the most simple construction, being nothing but the bark of a tree about 12 feet long, tied at each end by a kind of running vine which grows near the seaside. In one of these wretched canoes a man, his wife and a child will go up and down the harbour striking fish with a spear, at which they are very dexterous. If they are hungry they do not wait to dress their fish but eat it raw, or if they take it on shore to dress it it is thrown on the fire, scales, guts and all, warmed through and eat.
They live in caves and hollows of the rocks with which the coast abounds and sometimes they make a nest of the leaves of the cabbage tree just big enough to sleep in. The men go armed with lances of about 12 foot length pointed with a sharp fish bone, a very dangerous weapon, with which they will kill at 30 or 40 yards distance. They have clubs headed with stone and stone hatchets. They have lately been very troublesome to our fishing and foraging partys, have wounded several and killed three, so that we have been obliged to fire among them and are now always obliged to go well armed as they have several times come down in a body of 60 or so and thrown stone and spears at us whilst fishing and even attempted to take the fish from us.
They seem to have no curiosity, for they will scarce take off their attention from fishing in their canoes whilst a ship has to pass close by them in full sail. They appear to have no mode of worship or any religious ceremony that we can perceive. They burn the bodys of their dead and scratch a little earth over the ashes. They are great thieves and are very angry if prevented from taking what they have a mind to and in all probability will always look upon us as enemys and take all advantages in their power.
There are several extraordinary animals in this country, the kangaroo is very curious, some of them have been killed of 200 pounds weight and are very good eating, they have four legs but in making their escape they use only the hind with which they hop with great swiftness over the high grass and underwood, so that it is with great difficulty a good greyhound can overtake them. The forelegs are short and small and only used in scratching up roots, etc., for food.
The tail is very large and strong and is their principal weapon of defence and with which they would soon break the bones of the strongest dog. They are of the opossum kind and have a false belly in which the young remains whilst sucking and into which it retreats in time of danger. They bring forth young not bigger than a mouse and we have often shot old ones with young in the belly as big as a rabbit. There are several small species of the oppossum, flying squirrels, dogs, not unlike our fox dogs -some snakes which seem to be harmless, numbers of ants, some very large which bite very severe.
A beautiful variety of birds and of fishes, none of the last are quite like those of the same class in Europe but partake of the likeness of two or more different kinds and in general their colours are very brilliant. The torpedo is frequently caught and its numbing quality is indeed very powerful, especially when the fish is first taken. The sea abounds with whales of a good size and sharks, the largest I have ever seen.
As the surface produces little of value to us so it is supposed the internal parts of this coast will afford us nothing worth digging for -a slate quarry is found but the slate is too brittle for use. It is the opinion of many that iron may be found here and I am of the same opinion. But of the purer metals I think none can be expected, at least on this low part of the coast. However an
artful fellow (a convict) found means during the absence of the Governor (who was gone with a party inland) to raise a report that he had found a lost mine, * on which an officer and guard was sent to be conducted by him to the place but he gave them the slip, was soon after taken and confined till the Governor's return when, after much equivocation and a good flogging he owned that he had filed a guinea and a brass buckle and mixed the filings up with a quantity of earth, the glittering particles were easily perceptible and when tryed by fire of course actually produced a little gold. He said he hoped by this scheme to get his freedom, but I am since informed that he now denies all that he said then and still says he knows where the place is but will not tell.
Since I wrote last we have been in the Supply to Norfolk Island, with six months' provisions for that colony and about 2 months ago I was sent by His Excellency with the ship which brings this called the Golden Grove, under my Command to Norfolk Island, with an additional number of male and female convicts, stores, etc., and two years' provisions. I have been returned but a week and on my passage back discovered part of a very dangerous ledge of rocks about 130 miles to the Eastward of Lord Howe Island. Of what extent these rocks are I know not for they reached to the North East further than could be seen from the masthead. I brought with me a small cargo of deals of timber and small masts and some flax.
Norfolk Island is a beautiful spot and bids fair to be a valuable acquisition to the Government. The soil is rich beyond description. Every seed they have sown (except onions) grows as fast as in Europe and they have already several acres of ground laid out in gardens. The island is about 17 miles round -it is a continued range of hills and valleys covered with most beautiful pine trees fir for the mast of the largest ship. Some of them
measure from 30 to 40 feet and upwards in circumference and from 100 to 180 ft. in height. The wood is of a much finer and closer texture than the mats we get from Russia. The flax plant grows all round the sea coast in the greatest luxuriance so that cordage and cloathing cannot be wanting. There are few animals on the island, chiefly rats, some pigeons and paraquets. The sea round it abounds with fish and turtle is caught in plenty during the summer months from November to March.
Near the middle of the island is a hill higher than the rest of the island called Mount Pitt from which issues springs which run in different directions and form rivulets which water the whole island. It is much to be regretted that this island affords no harbour or place of safety for ships and that landing is almost always attended with great difficulty and danger on account of the violence with which the sea dashes against the shore which in general is steep and rocky. A midshipman and 4 men were drowned in a boat the last time we were there in the Supply, though the sea was then apparently smooth.
The only two remaining ships of our fleet sail for Europe tomorrow, so that we shall now be very solitary these six months to come, unless some ships arrive from England as we cannot expect the Sirius (which sailed for the Cape of Good Hope on the same day I did for Norfolk Island) in less time. I hope you will miss no opportunity of writing to me, I shall expect a large packet by the first ship by which I hope I shall hear you are in good health. Give my love to Sister Bet. I hope she will write also. You will let our friends at Newbury or Devizes know that they have constantly my best wishes for their health and happiness. The few days I spent in
that little family will ever be remembered with pleasure. I hope in another year Government will think of relieving us, believe me I begin to think the voyage a long one.
Give my respectful duty to our good mother, who I hope is well. Compliments to Aunt H. and family, D. Columbine, etc.
Your most affectionate brother D. Blackburn.
Supply, Sydney Cove,
New South Wales. 15th November, 1788.
It is now my dear sister, 20 months since I wrote to you by the last ships which sailed from Port Jackson, in which my former I believe I gave you but an indifferent idea of New South Wales. I can only now add that it certainly is a very poor country, at least that part of it where the colony is settled. Such land as is cultivated not having produced near so much as the least sanguine amongst us expected.
Potatoes and garden stuff however, do tolerably well and the first may in time become a substitute for bread. The best that can be said of the country is the healthiness of the climate and the excellent harbours it affords. At least as far as we have examined the coast. Our knowledge of it does not exceed 60 miles along the coast and about as much directly in land.
The number of acres cultivated is reckoned to be about, besides the gardens of the different officers - the Supply's garden contains 2 1/2 acres and is as good as any. It affords a sufficient quantity of vegetables for the ship's company daily. The country produces nothing of itself on which an European (not knowing the roots which the natives eat) can subsist, and the kangeroo, which are excellent, are now become very shy, so that a constant supply of provisions and clothing will be required for many years to come.
As to the natives, we are almost as ignorant of their particular manners and customs (if they have any) as we were at first. They will not come among us though every method has been used to invite them. We have had some taken by surprise, the first, a man whose name was Arrabanoo, lived with the Governor and was very fond of him. He was of a meek disposition and seemed very contented but for want of understanding him, little was learned from him. He died in about 8 months.
Another now lives with the Governor, called Bennelong. He is a merry fellow and does not seem inclined to go away, but no information can yet be got from him for the same reasons. The surgeon general has had a fine boy with him these two years called Nanbarry, he speaks pretty good English but is too young to give any information and it is probable will forget his native tongue,
as Mr Bennelong does not like to talk with him, or answer any questions he is instructed to ask, and once struck him. The Reverend Mr Johnstone has a fine girl about 15 years called Abaroo but little has yet been learned from her, tho' she is very fond of Mrs Johnstone. They seem to have no religion. In general they burn the dead.
The Sirius sailed from Port Jackson for the Cape of Good Hope in October 1788 and arrived from thence in May '89 loaded with flour, etc., for the colony which now began to grow short of provisions of every species. However, a supply from England was daily expected but the year '89 ended without any arrival. The situation of the colony became alarming, and in case the expected ships should not arrive, famine without the means of relief was apprehended, the colony was put to a short allowance of such provisions as remained in store and in February a council was held, in which it was resolved that the principal part of the convicts with a detachment of Marines under the command of Major Ross, the Lieut. Governor, should, with their proportion of provisions, go to Norfolk Island and that when this service was performed, the Sirius should be sent to China for another cargo of provisions.
Accordingly in March 1790, the Sirius and Supply sailed for Norfolk with about 300 convicts, men and women, and on the 16th, 17th and 18th the people were all safely landed there, also all the provisions from the Supply, but on the 19th the Sirius, in attempting to land more of the provisions was unfortunately drove on shore by the violence of the sea and in ten minutes she was quite a wreck, she went on shore directly opposite the town and thank God no lives were lost.
We stayed three days longer at this island, during which time the weater was too bad for anything to be got out of the Sirius. However, I hope as it was fine weather a day or two after, that most of the provision was got from her. Otherwise their situation on the island must be very bad. There is now near 600 people there. On our arrival at Port Jackson we were ordered to proceed to Batavia as fast as possible for a supply of provisions. The allowance of provision at this time was Rice 1 lb., Peas 1 lb., Pork 2 Ibs., and flour 2 Ib. a week to each person. The convicts were at a shorter allowance.
All the boats were employed fishing, under the inspection of proper officers, the fish brought to the publick square and there equally distributed. We sailed from Port Jackson on the 18th April '90 and pursued our course to the Northward and on the 5th of May, discovered land in latitude S. 16 East Longitude which we coasted along till the 9th being then in latitude S. W. 16 East longitude. There is no doubt but we were the first discoverers and Mr Ball has named it Balls Maidenland.
On the 21st May we discovered an island laying in latitude Longitude East. It is not more than three miles round but fully inhabited. Some of the natives came near us in their canoes but could not be prevailed upon to come on board -they were of a lively copper colour and were the largest men I ever saw -their hair was I think cut short but they had all remarkable long black beards which reached down to and covered the whole breast. They seemed very peaceable and had no weapons with them.
We threw a large string of beads to them which they just looked at and threw them into the bottom of their canoe. Soon after they all paddled on shore in great haste without any apparent cause, making signs for us to follow them, but we had no time to lose, therefore kept our course. This island is called Tench's Island in respect to a Captain Tench of the Marines at Port Jackson. At 5 a.m. set we discovered and the next day coasted along a very fine island which I believe to be about forty miles in circumference.
Some places on it seemed to be rudely cultivated; we saw numbers of the natives on the shore and a great number of very large canoes on the beach but as they did not seem inclined to come off to us we proceeded on our course. This island was named Prince Wm. Henry Island, it lays in Latitude and Longitude East. These islands are in my opinion the Northernmost of a group of islands discovered by Dampier, but he passed too far to the Southward to have seen these.
On the 5th June we made the Northernmost of the Molucca or Spice Islands and had a tedious but pleasant passage through this archipelago and on the 5th July anchored in Batavia Road -this City is the capital of the Dutch in the East Indies. Here we have loaded the Supply with beef, pork, rice, flour and arrack, also hired a Dutch ship
of 350 tons burden which is now taking in the like cargo. The expense of this voyage will not be less than £8,850. We expect to sail for Port Jackson in about a week.
This is a very fine city, it is built much after the fashion of Amsterdam in Holland, the streets are wide and clean though not paved, they form right angles with each other and have canals running through the middle with a row of trees on each side so that here are a number of bridges. The country for 4 or 5 miles round the city is delightful and the houses of the principal officers and merchants (who all reside in the country and only come to the city to transact business) are like palaces.
The number of inhabitants are reckoned 110,000 the greater part of whom are slaves, the number of Europeans are about 10,000, half of which are Creoles or such as are born in India of European parents. The Chinese have the exclusive exercise of all trades, are the only cultivators of the sugar cane and have the management of all their manufactures. As this place is situated only six degrees south of the equator, it may be supposed to be very hot, but the heat is by no means so great as might be expected. It is constantly refreshed by a breeze from the sea during the heat of the day and the land wind which blows all night is very cool.
It has always been represented as a very unhealthy place, but it certainly is not so bad, the European merchants who have been resident here many years are instances to the contrary, they look well and live to a good old age and I have no doubt but the malignant fevers which carry off such numbers of European sailors and people of the lower class, are more the fatal effects of hard drinking, bad provisions and perhaps too much fatigue in the heat of the day, than of the inclemency of the climate.
We expected to find the productions of India cheap here, but on the contrary, every article is as dear as in Europe, tea, coffee, and Arrack expected, and I have seen several pieces of silk handkerchief manufactured in Spital fields offered here for sale at about
3s, 6d, per Handkerchief. By the latest news from Europe, Ships must certainly be by this time arrived in New South Wales. If so I hope on our arrival there I shall find a long packet there from you and I hope from Mr Knight to whom I have wrote by the same Packet which brings this. I begin my dear Sister to wish the voyage at an end and once more to visit my native country and be happy among the small but Social Circle of our acquaintance and I hope when we arrive at Port Jackson we shall there find a ship sent out to relieve us and as I am now secure of the half pay when not employed I shall probably feel more pleasure when I see the white cliffs of Albion that ever I did. I hope our good Mother is well, give my duty to her.
My kind love to our sister Eliza, tell her I would have wrote to her but as she will see this it is almost needless. You will also give my love to B and sister, Thos, and my little niece and to brother John if you correspond. I have seen several American Gentlemen here and have made enquiries after him but to no effect. Is the good Mrs Knight living? Is your Laetitia, her brother and family well and happy? I sincerely hope they are. You will particularly present my love and respects to them. And let not our other Newbury friends be forgot. My duty etc. to Aunt M and Family -to Dr Columbine, Mr Rand, our good neighbour Barrow family.
Above all my dear sister I long to know your situation in life, to know that you enjoy health and happiness would be the most pleasing account I could receive. Adieu and believe me
Your affectionate brother, D. Blackburn.
Batavia, August 12th, 1790
Port Jackson 17th March 1791
The Packet sailed from Batavia two days before the usual
time by which means I took the opportunity of sending the above.
We sailed from Batavia on the 17th August 1790 and arrived at Port Jackson on the 19th October where I had the pleasure to receive both your packets of letters and papers for which I am much obliged to all the parties concerned, particularly my friend Knight for his long and very friendly letter.
About 6 weeks after our arrival the Dutch ship arrived and we were ordered to Norfolk to bring the officers and seamen of the late Sirius to Port Jackson, in order to their going to England in the Dutch ship. Mr Ball's health not permitting him to go to sea the Command of the Supply was given to me till his recovery and I sailed on the 23rd January 1791 and performed the voyage in 5 weeks and brought the whole of the Sirius' ship's company, 91 persons. They are now preparing for England and will sail in a week. Mr Ball still continues ill on shore and I am to sail in two days again to Norfolk Island with an exchange of officers and troops for that island.
We found everything here as we left it, except that they had suffered by a great drought having had but two slight showers of rain for five months and I believe everyone here is perfectly confirmed in the opinion that this country can never be of any use to the Mother Country -Norfolk Island is indeed a beautiful spot and its soil excellent, but will never be able to supply Port Jackson with corn, therefore of no use. Most of the large fir trees are found to be rotten at the heart and the flax plant grows only round the borders of the island,
so that if many hands were employed they would soon want work. I have seen some lines and canvas indifferently made there and if I am to judge of the goodness of the flax by the strength of the lines, I can say but little for either-probably the flax was not properly dressed.
A little while before our arrival from Batavia several of the natives came into the town in a friendly manner, they were well treated - a house of brick was run up for a chief called Bannelong, before mentioned, where his wife, children and relatives often come and stay a day or two, since when many more men women and children are come among us, and are sometimes quite familiar, at other times as shy. They would be great thieves if they had but pockets. They certainly have no
King or supreme magistrate but seem to go in families or small tribes, the oldest man or most expert warrior of which tribe has great authority over the rest. They use their women as their menial servants and sometimes beat them very cruelly, yet they are very jealous of them and never suffer them to be out of sight whilst among us.
They often go out to meet other tribes and fight with them most desperately, the particular reason for which we have not yet been able to ascertain, but among these people who make retalliation an invariable rule, the smallest affront on either side is sufficient to bring on a general battle.
In a box directed to myself, you will find some drawings of birds, plants and fishes of this country, which you may make what use of you please. I have sent three charts of this country to Mr Henslow by Capt. Hunter.
Adieu my dear sister, and believe me
your most affectionate brother, D. Blackburn.
My Dear Sister
As I wrote to you from Teneriffe, Rio Janeiro, & the Cape of Good hope Which letters I hope you have Recd. I shall now give you a short Account of our Voyage from the Cape to the Present time. We sail'd from thence on the 19th of November. Met with Contrary winds & went on but Slowly for the first week, the wind then Came fair & on the 25th The Governor A Lieut King & Lieut Dawes Came on Board the Supply & We Made all Sail for New Holland.
Leaving the fleet to follow us Under the Care of H.M. Ship Sirius. We had a Very Quick but Windy Passage & made Van Diemans land, the South Part of New Holland on the 3rd of Jany. 1788 having run in 50 Days the Distance of Very Near 6000 Miles. But it was the 19th before we arrivd at Botany bay. Where we Anchord at 4 in the afternoon all in good health & on the 21st the Rest of the Fleet Arrivd. The Next Day the Governor, Captn Hunter, the Master of the Sirius & My Self went to Examine a Place where Capn Cook supposd there was a Harbour to which he Gave the Name of Port Jackson.
We found it an Excellent & Extensive one & on the 25 Returnd to Botany bay & Conducted the Whole fleet up up the Harbour to the place where the Camp & Store houses Now stand. It is about 6 Miles from the Entrance. The Governor has Namd it Sidney Cove.
In the Beginning of Feby. We took on Board Six Months Provisions with the Necessary Implements for Settling a Colony on Norfolk Island. Discoverd by Capn Cook & on the 14th Sail'd with Lieut King As Superintendant & Commandant of Norfolk Isle a Surgeon. A Midshipman. A Master Weaver. With 9 Men & 6 Women Convicts
We were soon Overtaken by a Very Severe Gale of wind which continued till the 16th, but did us no Dammage. on the 17th We Discoverd an Island to which we gave the Name of Lord Howe Island. As the Wind Continued fair we Put off An Examination of this Island till our Return.
We Arrivd At Norfolk Isle on the 29th. of feb.y but it was the 3rd of March before we Were Able to land. Which we did with the Utmost difficulty, but found it would be Impossible to land the Stores & Provisions there as the sea Broke With Great Violence on the Shore. We therefore Went in search of a Better place which I Discoverd by Going in a Boat to the South End of the Island Where on the 6th & 7th We Landed the Colony With All their Stores & Provisions Safe. To this Place Lieut King Gave the Name of Sidney Bay This Colony is Settled here With the Idea of Cultivating & Improving the Flax Plant & Cutting down Fir trees With which the Island is Coverd & Grow to An Amazing height & Size. Some of them Measurd 27 feet Round.
This Island is About 15 Miles Round. It is In General Surrounded by Inaccessible Rocks & High Perpendicular Clifts on Which the Sea breaks with such Violence that Landing is Always Difficult & Very often Impractible. Having Seen the Colony Settled in their Tents On the 9th in the Evening took Leave of them & Now Steerd for our New Discoverd Island Which we Made
Made on the 12th. & Anchord in a Large Bay on its SW Side & At 4 in the Afternoon Displayd the English Colours on Shore & took formal Possession of the Island in the Name of His Brittanick Majesty. Lieutn Ball then Namd the Different Parts of the Island. It is about 6 Miles long & About 2 Wide. At its SE End Are two Very High Mountains which he Namd Mount Gower & Mount Lidgbird. the Valley Between them Erskine Valley.
There is One Large Bay & two Small ones on its SW Side - the 2 Small ones he Calld Callam Bay the Name of our Surgeon the other Hunter Bay after Capt John Hunter of the Sirius & The large Bay Prince William Henry bay and a Small Green Island Nearly in the Middle of it Blackburn Isle I was on Board Whilst this Ceremony Was Performing or It Should have been Calld Knight Isle - the Island is Uninhabited but we found Plenty of the finest turtle I Ever Saw on the Beach.
Some of them Weighing Upwards of 500 Pounds.
the Bays Abound With Excellent fish & the Island With Pidgeons a Kind of Quail & Some other Birds Peculiar to the Place. But No Running Stream of fresh Water that we Saw. We took on Board As Many turtle as We Could Conveniently Stow & Made Sail for Port Jackson Where we Arrivd on the 20th. March. The turtle Were An Acceptable Present to the Governor & Colony. We have Been Since at Howe Island & Are Now Preparing to Sail With a fresh Supply of Stores & Provisions for Norfolk Island
in a Body but once on the 6th of June a Party of Gentlemen. With their Servants & 4 Soldiers Walking to Botany Bay. Met With a Body of 300 of them All Armd With Spears & Targets. However they did not Attempt to Disturb our Small Party but let them Quietly Pass. On the 4th. of June His Majestys Birth day was kept here. the Sirius & Supply fird 21 Cannon Each at Sun Rise at Noon & At Sun Set. All the Officers of the Navy & Army Dind With the Governor who then Namd the Adjacent Country Round Port Jackson - the County of Cumberland - on the 22d of June at 20 Minutes after 4 oClock in the Afternoon a Shock of An Earthquake Was felt on Board the Ships & through the Camp Our Surgeon & me Were then in the Woods About A Mile & a Half from the Camp & Were at that time Standing Still & Silent. Examining Some Gum Running from a Large tree.
The Shock Was An Undulation from SW & did Not Continue I think More than two Seconds of time. It was Accompanyd by a Noise like A Distant Cannon. The Trees Shook as if a Gale of Wind was Blowing. the Afternoon Was Remarkably Clear & a Very light Breeze at NNE - I have Enjoyd Very Good health Since we left England & I think this Climate a Very Healthy one. there has been but 50 Burials Since our Arrival here & As Many Marriages & 26 Births -
It is Said that Some Ships will be Sent to us Next Spring. If so I hope I shall hear from you & my friend Knight to Whom I have Wrote a fuller Account of our Voyage than I have time to do now. I hope My Good Mother is Well & that your Self & Sister Eliza Are Establishd in health & Spirits. Perhaps you are still Among our Worthy friends at Newbury or Devizes & I hope you are Because I know you Must be Happy there. I hope your Laetitia is in Good health & Happy. I Beg you will Make my Love & Respects to the family - My Duty to my Mother, love to Eliza Brother & little Niece & Respects to our friends at Norwich. Adieu My Dear Sister &
Believe me your Ever Affectionate Brother
Supply - Sidney Cove
Port Jackson - 12 July 1788