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1-026 (Raw)

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addressee,female author,female,Macarthur, Elizabeth,22
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Private Written
Private Correspondence
Hale, 1950
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Sydney, Port Jackson, N.S. Wales, March 7th, 1791. At length we have a prospect of communication once more with our friends by letter. The Gorgon, so long wished for, and so long expected, is not yet arrived, and by her unaccountable delay, has involved us all in the most mysterious uncertainty, and clouded our minds with gloomy apprehensions for her safety. I hope you will have rec'd my letter, dated August, 1790, which I sent by the Scarborough transport, by way of China.
I told you of the unfortunate loss of the Syrius, a King's ship, that had been stationed here from the first settling of the Colony. She was wrecked on Norfolk Island. The ship's company, who all escaped with life, but not altogether without hurt, remained on the Island, and the Supply, a small brig, that sailed from this place with the Syrius, returned with the news of her sad fate.
The provisions of the Colony, at that time, being at a very low ebb, it was deemed necessary to take some step lest supply might not arrive from England in time to prevent a threatened famine. Every individual of this Colony was reduced to a very short allowance, and the little brig was dispatched to Batavia under the command of Lieutenant Ball, there to take up a Dutch ship, and purchase a certain quantity of provisions for this place, with which it was to be freighted and dispatched hither with all possible expedition. A few weeks after the Supply sailed, the first ship, Lady Juliana, arrived, and brought an account of the loss of the Guardian, occasioned by falling in with islands of ice. The ship arrived on the 3rd June, and came timely to prevent very great distress. [121] 
On the 21st June the Justiana arrived, a store ship, and on the 29th our fleet was safely anchored in the Cove. As all these ships were under contract to return by way of China to take home Tea for the East India Company, and there being at that time no ship stationed here, no way was left to convey a relief to the inhabitants of Norfolk Island, but by ordering some of those ships to touch there on their way to China. The Justiana and Surprize received orders, for that purpose reimbarked a certain proportion of provision for the island. We had every hope that the supplies might arrive in time to prevent any fatal consequences; yet, as we could have no certainty of that, and till some ship should first arrive here that might be dispatched to know the particulars of their fate, our minds were never perfectly easy on their account. At that time there was, with the Syrius's company, the Marines, and convicts, near 700 persons on the Island, and I can truly say that for upwards of six months I never passed a day without reflecting on them with pain and anxiety. Week after week stole away, and month after month with little diversity. Each succeeding sunset produced among us wild and vague conjectures of what could be the cause of the Gorgon's delay, and still we remained unsatisfied - indeed all our surmises have nearly worn themselves out and we are at a loss for new ones - time the great resolver of all events alone can determine this seeming mystery to us.
On the 20th October a general cry prevailed through the Garrison of the Flags being hoisted (which is a signal of a ship appearing off the Harbour). I was preparing myself to receive Mrs. Grose and Mrs. Paterson, being fully persuaded it was the Gorgon, however I was soon undeceived, as it proved to be the Supply from Batavia; she had a very quick passage but had experienced a very sickly one.
On the 21st of January the Supply was sent to bring hither the Syrius ship's company, and learn the state of affairs at that place. She returned on the 25th of February with the officers and men in health, and brought a good account of the health of every individual left behind. This circumstance removed some considerable anxiety from our minds; but it proved our fears had been but too well grounded, as when the Supply arrived they had not more than ten days' provisions in the store, at a full allowance, and from the 14th of last May, till the 18th of July, they were reduced to the scanty pittance of 3 lbs. of flour and 1.5 lbs. of beef for a week. [122] At this time a most merciful relief came to their assistance. It had been observed on a high hill in the island (which they have named Mount Pitt) that many seabirds frequented it. An endeavour was made to take some of them, which was successful, and by attending more particularly to the time of their appearance and their favourite haunts they were discovered in the greatest abundance. It was the season in which they laid their eggs, and both birds and eggs were taken in such quantities as occasioned the small allowance of meat they had issued before to be stopped, and, however wonderful it may appear to you, yet true it is, that those birds for many weeks, were the chief subsistence of seven hundred men, and they were so easily taken that after sunset it was impossible to walk on the Mount without treading on them, and sometimes towards evening, they have been observed hovering in the air in such innumerable flocks as considerably to exclude the light from admiring spectators. But now the melancholy truth of their decrease became more and more apparent. Their flights were directed to other quarters and at length few remained. But before hope was quite extinguished, a ship appeared and brought them a long expected supply. Believe me, my dear friend, that in writing these faithful traits of the pitiable situation of the inhabitants of Norfolk Island, a chill seems to overpower my faculties; my mind has so truly entered into their distresses that a dread comes over me, which I am unable to describe, but it is succeeded by so firm a reliance on the merciful dispensations of an Almighty, whose hand I think we may here trace without presumption, that I can only admire in silence.
I shall begin my relation now of things more immediately occurring to myself.
We passed our time away many weeks cheerfully if not gaily - gaily indeed it could not be said to be. On my first landing everything was new to me, every Bird, every Insect, Flower, etc.; in short, all was novelty around me, and was noticed with a degree of eager curiosity and perturbation, that after a while subsided into that calmness I have already described. [123] In my former letter I gave you the character of Mr. Dawes, and also of Captain Tench. Those gentlemen and a few others are the chief among whom we visit. Indeed we are in the habit of intimacy with Captain Tench that there are few days pass that we do not spend some part of together. Mr. Dawes we do not see so frequently. He is so much engaged with the stars that to mortal eyes he is not always visible. I had the presumption to become his pupil and meant to learn a little of astronomy. It is true I have had many pleasant walks to his house (something less than half a mile from Sydney), have given him much trouble in making orreries, and explaining to us the general principles of the heavenly bodies, but I soon found I had mistaken my abilities and blush at my error. Still, I wanted something to fill up a certain vacancy in my time which could neither be done by writing, reading, or conversation. To the first two I did not feel myself always inclined, and the latter was not in my power, having no female friend to unbend my mind to, nor a single woman with whom I could converse with any satisfaction to myself, the Clergyman's wife being a person in whose society I could reap neither profit or pleasure. These considerations made me still anxious to learn some easy science to fill up the vacuum of many a solitary day, and at length under the auspices of Mr. Dawes I have made a small progress in Botany. No country can exhibit a more copious field for botanical knowledge than this. I am arrived so far as to be able to class and order all common plants. I have found great pleasure in my study; every walk furnished me with subjects to put in practice that Theory I had before gained by reading, but alas, my botanical pursuits were most unwelcomely interrupted by Mr. Macarthur being attacked by a severe illness. In December he got better, and in January we removed into a more convenient house.
I shall now tell you of another resource I had to fill up some of my vacant hours. Our new house is ornamented with a pianoforte of Mr. Worgan's, he kindly means to leave it with me, and now, under his direction, I have begun a new study, but I fear without my Master I shall not make any great proficiency. [124] I am told, however, that I have done wonders in being able to play off 'God Save the King,' and Foot's minuet, besides that of reading the notes with great facility. In spite of musick I have not altogether lost sight of my botanical studies. I have only been precluded from pursuing that study by the intense heat of the weather which has not permitted me to walk much during the summer. I have seen very little rain since my arrival, indeed I do not think we have had a week's rain in the whole time, the consequence of which is our garden produces nothing, all is burnt up; indeed, the soil must be allowed to be most wretched and totally unfit for growing European productions, though you would scarcely believe this, as the face of the ground at this moment, when it is in its native state, is flourishing even to luxuriance, producing fine Shrubs, Trees, and Flowers which by their lively tints afford a most agreeable landscape. Beauty, I have heard from some of my unlettered countrymen, is but skin deep. I am sure the remark holds good in New South Wales, where all the beauty is literally on the surface, but I believe I must allow it has symetry of form also to recommend it, as the ground in all the parts that have been discovered is charmingly turned and diversified by agreeable vallies and gently rising hills; but still, these beauties are all exterior.
Of my walkes round Sydney the longest has not extended beyond three miles, and that distance I have, I believe, only ventured upon twice: once to a farm which Captain Nepean has for his Company, to which we sent our tea equipage and drank tea on the turf, and once to a hill situated between this and Botany Bay where I could command a prospect of that famous spot. Nor do I think there is any probability of my seeing much of the inland country until it is cleared, as beyond a certain distance round the Colony there is nothing but native paths, very narrow and very incommodious. The natives are certainly not a very gallant set of people, who take pleasure in escorting their ladies. No; they suffer them humbly to follow Indian file like. As I am now speaking of the natives, I must give you an account of how we stand with them. In the winter, 1789 (which you will recollect is summer in England) a dreadful small pox was discovered amongst the natives. Amongst the unhappy objects that were discovered was a Boy and Girl. [125] These were brought in, and from the humanity of the Clergyman, who took the Girl, and of the principal surgeon, Mr. White, who took the Boy, they were both saved. After they began to learn English and to make us understand them, it was immagined from their communication that if a man or two could be brought to reside with us, that some valuable information might be obtained respecting the interior parts of the country. With this view the Governor left no means untried to effect an intimacy with them, but every endeavour of that sort, as before, proved ineffectual. They accept of his presents as children do playthings; just to amuse them for a moment and then throw them away disregarded. Despairing to gain their confidence by fair means, the Governor ordered that two men should be taken by force. This was done; the poor fellows, l am told, exhibited the strongest marks of terror and consternation at the proceeding, believing they were certainly meant to be sacrificed. When they were taken to the Governor's house and immediately cleaned and clothed their astonishment at everything they saw was amazing. A new world was unfolded to their view at once. For some days they were much dejected, but it soon gave way to cheerfulness. They were then admitted to the Governor's table, and in a little time ate and drank everything that was given them. They now walked about the settlement as they liked, only with a man who was appointed to attend them that they might not escape into the woods, but, as they showed no apparent inclination to do that the vigilance of their keeper by degrees abated, which the older of the two (named Coleby) soon observed, and in a very artful manner one night made his escape. The one who remained, and called himself Banoyloog, till May, 1790, and then took himself off without any known reason, having been treated with the most uniform kindness, and appeared highly pleased with our people and manners, taking it a great compliment to be called White Man. On the 7th Sept., Captain Nepean and several other Gentlemen went down the Harbour in a boat, with an intention of proceeding to Broken Bay to take a view of the Hawkesbury River. In their way they put in at Manly Cove, a place so called from the spirited behaviour of the natives there at the Governor's first landing. [126] At this time about 200 natives were assembled feeding on a whale that had been driven on shore. As they discovered no hostile intentions our party, having arms, went up to them. Nanberry was in the boat and was desired to inquire fur Bannylong and Coleby, when behold both gentlemen appeared, and advancing with the utmost confidence asked in broken English for all their old friends at Sydney. The Governor lost no time, but as soon as he was acquainted with the above circumstances, ordered a boat, and accompanied by Mr. Collins, the Judge Advocate, and a Lieut. Waterhouse of the Navy, repaired to Manly Cove. He landed by himself unarmed, in order to show no violence was intended.
Bannylong approached and shook hands with the Governor, but Coleby had before left the spot. No reason was asked why Bannylong had left us. He appeared very happy, and thankful for what was given him, requesting an hatchet and some other things which the Governor promised to bring him the next day. Mr. Collins and Mr. Waterhouse now joined him, and several natives also came forward. They continued to converse with them with much seeming friendship until they had insensibly wandered some distance from the boat, and very imprudently none of the Gentlemen had the precaution to take a gun in their hand. This the Governor perceiving deemed it prudent to retreat, and, after assuring that he would remember his promise, told him he was going. At that moment an old man advanced whom Bannylong said was his friend, and wished the Governor to take notice of him. At this he approached the old man with his hand extended, when on a sudden the savage started back and snatched up spear from the ground and poised it to throw, the Governor, seeing the danger, told him in their tongue that it was bad, and still advanced, when, with a mixture of horror and intrepidity, the native discharged the spear with all his force at the Governor. It entered above his collarbone, and came out at his back nine inches from the entrance, taking an oblique direction. The natives from the rocks now poured in their spears in abundance so that it was with the utmost difficulty and the greatest good fortune that no other hurt was received in getting the Governor into the boat. As soon as they returned to this place you may believe an universal solicitude prevailed, as the danger of the wound could by no means be ascertained until the spear was extracted, and this was not done before his Excellency had caused some papers to be arranged lest the consequences might prove fatal, which happily it did not, for on drawing out the spear, it was found that no vital part had been touched. [127] The Governor, having a good habit of bodily health, the wound perfectly healed in the course of a few weeks. Since then a convict game keeper has been killed by a spear, but it seems in some measure to have been owing to his own imprudence. Bannylong came many times to see the Governor during his confinement, and expressed great sorrow, but the reason why the mischief was done could not be learnt, since that period the natives visit us every day, more or less.
My spirits are at this time low, very low, to-morrow we loose some valuable members of our small society and some very good friends. In so small a society we sensibly feel the loss of every member, more particularly those that are endeared to us by acts of kindness and friendship. From this circumstance and my former letters you may be led to question my happiness, but this much I can with truth add for myself, that since I have had the powers of reason and reflection I never was more sincerely happy than at this time. It is true I have some wishes unaccomplished, but when I consider this is not a state of perfection I am abundantly content.