Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Jonathan Wathen - Letter received from William Hill, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, 26 July 1790 (copy made in 1791)
MLMSS 6821

Copy of a Letter from W. Hill to Jonathan Watham Esqr. of Bond Court, Walbrook London
dated Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, 26th. July 1790

Dear Sir,

Fain wou'd I give you my warmest Thanks, and tell you of the great affection I bear you for those genuine, disinterested and animated Exertions of Kindness, you poured upon me, when I wanted your Assistance; but my Pen is even incompetent to give you a faint Idea, how high the pulse of Gratitude beats within me; my Heart, I hope is too honest not to look on Flatterers in a very despicable point of View; tho' it cannot but approve of Eulogy, which is no other than paying a just Tribute of Praise; and my mind wou'd feel an insupportable Burthen, were I not permitted to evince you its sense of Love and Duty, for so worthy a Benefactor; - I thought it my duty to write to Mr Wilberforce, giving him the underneath account of our Voyage, and the situation of this Colony; I mean not to intrude, and hope I have not done wrong, if I have, I can only lament it, and plead in excuse that I had not you to Consult.

It would be tedious to enumerate the variableness of the Winds, and trifling Occurrences that happened in our rout to the Cape; I will therefore only Remark, that we sailed from Cowes harbour (Isle of Wight) the seventeenth of January, and arrived in False Bay, Cape of Good Hope the thirteenth of April; that our Voyage might be deemed a very Prosperous one, so far as we pass'd the Line with few Calms; and those of short duration, nor had we any bad Weather, 'till we came in sight of that tremendous Promontory; (well might its Discoverer, Bartholomew Diaz, name it Cabo de Tormentoso, or the Stormy;) we met so violent a Tempest, which continued for six and thirty Hours, that left us no Room even to hope an Escape from a Watry Grave; It being the winter season at our Arrival, was the reason of our anchoring in false Bay, as the safest Harbour; otherwise Table bay in fine Weather, or in the Summer Season is much to be prefer'd; being contiguous to the Cape Town; we found the Dutch, answer minutely the Character given of them by Travellers; a Change of Clime, which is generally believ'd to produce a Change of Constitution & Disposition had not abated one Tittle of their Propensity to Avarice; their Governors are Merchants, and monopolize the whole Stock of the adjacent Country, and will not supply the Shipping but at an advance of five or six Hundred per cent.

Here I had some Conversation with the unfortunate Mr Riou (of the Guardian), the Loss of his Ship, will be severely felt by this Colony; and I much fear the Dutch are taking every Advantage, of his situation, charging enormous sums for Wharehouse room, and fresh Provisions for the Crew; so that the Cargo must, ere now be insufficient to defray the Cost - We left the Cape, the twenty ninth of April, and anchor'd in this beautiful Harbour the twenty sixth of June; Wou'd I cou'd draw an eternal Shade over the Remembrance of this miserable Part of our Voyage, miserable - not so much in itself, as render'd so by the Villiany, oppression and shameful Peculation of the masters of the Transports. - The Bark I was on board of, was indeed, unfit, from her make & size, to be sent to so great a Distance; if it blew but a trifling Gale, she was Lost in the Waters; of which she shipp'd so much, that from the Cape, the unhappy Wretches, the Convicts, were considerably above their waists in Water; and the men of my Company, whose Births were not so far forward, were nearly up to their middles; in this situation they were obliged, for the safety of the Ship, to be pen 'd down; but when the Gales abated, no means were used to purify the air by Fumigations, no vinegar was applied, to rectify the nauseous steams, issuing from their miserable Dungeons; Humanity shudders to think that of nine hundred male Convicts embark'd in this Fleet, three Hundred and seventy are already Dead, & four hundred & fifty are landed sick, and so emaciated and helpless, that very few, or any of them, can be saved by care or medecine; so that sooner it pleases God to remove them, the Better it will be for this Colony; which is not in a situation to bear any Burthen; as I imagine the Medicine Chest to be nearly exhausted and Provisions are a scarce Article.

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The Irons used upon these unhappy Wretches were barbarous; The Contractors had been in the Guinea Trade, and had put on board, the same Shackles used by them in that Trade; which are made with a short Bolt, instead of Chains that drop between the Legs and fasten with a Bandage about the Waist; like those at the different Gaols; these Bolts were not more than three Quarters of a Foot in Length, so that they could not extend either Leg from the other, more than an Inch or two at most; Thus fetter'd, it was impossible for them to move, but at the risque of both their Legs being broken; Inactivity at Sea is a sure Bane, as it invites the Scurvy, equal to, if not more than salt provisions; to this they were consign'd, as well as a miserable Pittance of Provisions; altho' the allowance from Government is ample; Even when attacked by Disease their situations were not alter'd, neither had they any Comforts administer'd; the slave trade is mercifull, compar'd with what I have seen in this Fleet; in that it is the Interest of the Master, to preserve the Healths & Lives of their Captives; they having a Joint Benefit, with the Owners; in this, the more they can withhold from the unhappy Wretches, the more Provisions they have to dispose of in a foreign market; and the earlier in the Voyage they die, the longer they can draw the deceased's Allowance to themselves; for I fear few of them are honest enough, to make a just Return of the dates of their Deaths, to their employers; it, therefore highly concerns Government, to lodge in future a controlling Power in each Ship over these low lif'd barbarous masters, to keep them honest, instead of giving it to one man, (an agent,) who can only see what is going forward in his ship; as there will be generally Officers of the Army coming out, men disinterested, and it is to be hop'd, possessing Humanity, and that Point of Honour which is expected from the Profession, that Power can be no better lodg'd than in them.

My Feelings never have been so wounded as in this Voyage, so much so, that I shall never recover my accustomed Vivacity & Spirits; and had I been empower'd, it would have been the most gratefull Task of my Life, to have prevented so many of my fellow Creatures, so much Misery and Death; It is now our winter Quarters, and had I superior abilities to any man that ever wrote, it would be impossible for me to Convey to your mind a just Idea of this beautiful heavenly Clime; suffer your Imagination to enter the Regions of Fiction; and let Fancy in her lovliest moment paint an Elisium; it will fall far short of this delightful Weather; it is well we have something to keep up our spirits, everything else is unpromising; and did the gloomy months prevail here as in England, it is more than probable that the next Reinforcement on arrival, would find a desolated colony.

At this moment, I am at a Loss how to guide my Pen; were it honorable, I surely would put the present State of this Colony, in a more than a favorable Point of View; because a true and just narration may shew an inefficacy in the Government of this Isle, may evince that the measures pursued here are on too contracted a Principal, and will never answer to the means and Intentions of the British Government; and as I am well persuaded, nothing draws on Persecution by those in Power, sooner than the speaking disagreable Truths, 'tis therefore I would not be partialar in stating Facts, had you not a claim on me for Truth; I look upon it as unpardonable not having a greater Knowledge of the Country; the same Pains that have been taken to explore, wou'd, if rightly plann'd, have been successfull; A party is sent out with a few day's Provision on their Backs, perhaps as much as they can carry; this with other Impediments prevent them from getting over much ground, and they consequently are oblig'd to return with the Knowledge only of a few miles of the Country; yet there are two or three Colts, and their dams in the Colony, that wou'd be the better for gentle work and, Burthen them but slightly with Provisions, would be a means of penetrating twenty times as far, as we already have; but effectually to do so, Depots should have been formed soon after Governor Phillips's arrival, which had he placed progressively as he advanced on Discovery he might by this period have trans-

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mitted to England an ample Knowledge of great Part of this Territory; I have been once Kangaroo shooting, & lay in the woods for that Purpose; the Ground they feed on is apparently very fine, and not quite so woody and much to be preferred, to that which surrounds our Settlement; which is little better than a sandy Desert. - There can be no doubt, but some of this immense Tract be free from Wood, and has a diversity of Soil and Country equal to any; yet what we have already seen, even the best, (such as the Settlement at Rose Hill,) tho maiden Land, will not Produce the Quantity that is sown, after the first Year, without great Quantities of manure; of which all the Stock that is in the Colony, would not make so much as is covenanted, to be put on an Estate in England of Thirty Pounds a Year; I have heard (and beg to remark it only as hearsay, being no Politician) that above half a million has been expended already in planting and supporting this Colony; and must lament, that there are no means used, or even thought of, to remove the Burthen from my native Country: Had half that sum been laid out in the Purchase of Cattle, this place had now been tenable, and we should have wanted very little, if any assistance from the british Government; we might by this Time, have established a Market, and improv'd the Lands unincumber'd with Timber, by manure and Culture; as it is, two or three thousand souls are Continued to be fed with salt Rations, Flour, & every other necessary Provisions from England; neither can it be otherwise 'till other steps are taken; and even it will require great Time: - it is a melancholy Truth and galls on reflection, that so many should be subsisted without making the smallest return, or even a Possibility of doing it, while the same Measures are pursued by our Chief. All here, the Officer, Soldier, Sailor, and Convict, have the same Ration allowed by the Governor; and to enter no farther into the Detail of our miserable Existance, I will give you a just Account how I am situated; which is preferable to many, by my being second Captain in the regiment consequently entitled to a second Choice of Quarters.

Here I am, living in a miserable thatched Hut, without a Kitchen, without a Garden, with an acrimonious Blood, by my having been nearly six months at Sea; and tho' little better than a Leper, obliged to live on a scanty Pittance of Salt Provision, without a Vegetable except when a good natured neighbour robs his own stomach in Compassion to me; not a mouthful of fresh Meat to be obtain'd; and if, rarely such a Thing should present itself, not to be purchased but at an exorbitant Price (eighteen Pence pr. pound) Fish is by no means Plenty, at least they are not caught in abundance; not enough to supply the Sick, but should one be Offer'd for Sale, 'tis by far too dear for an Officers Pocket; Tho' I have been here so little Time, when my salt Ration has been set before me, unaccompanied by either Vegetable, Vinegar or other Thing, to render it palatable or wholesome, I have felt the contention between Hunger &c. as Described by Sterne, of the pannier 'd ass: A Soldier should endure all Hardships cheerfully, when the Service requires it, but when they are occasioned by Ignorance, Incompetency, Injustice or Oppression, he has a right to complain.

With a wish to preserve my Health as much as possible, from the Inroads of Scurvy, and counteract the Effects of the diabolical Morsel, I am daily obliged to eat, I purchased some Wine, being a vegetable Juice, & obtain'd it as a favour. Port wine at Forty shillings the Dozen, and sherry fifty; I had also the offer a few days ago, of three small Pigs, very poor, and not old enough for roasters; my mouth litterally watered at the sight of them, but the Price of fifteen shillings each was too great for my Purse; I therefore had Resolution to withstand the powers of appetite, which were very acute; - Soap is from three to four shillings a Pound, - bad Irish Butter, eighteen pence - sugar two shillings - Flour when any can be bought a shilling - Teas exorbitantly dear, so that from a principal of saving, and induced by a laudable motive (I hope) I have journeyed thus far to live miserably, & yet to spend every Farthing of my Income, which wou'd have supported me very comfortably, if not genteely in England. In America the Officers and Settlers had grants of Land in proportion to their Rank; but those of the Marines who are now here, and have borne every hardship, have no such Thing; neither is there an Intention of giving each their Portion; in my humble opin-

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-ion nothing can be more impolitic. Industry is the first Essential to the Welfare of any Kingdom, consequently, all measures, that are adopted to promote it, are highly commendable; & I am well persuaded, Britain will not thank our Governor for acting not only on a mean, but unusual Plan; to the great Disquiet of ev'ry individual in the Colony and the Certainty of bringing an endless Burthen on the mother Country; It rests with you Sir to give much or little Credit to the public Accounts of this Place; you will know, that many in a public Character, impuls'd perhaps by Vanity, or other hobby horsical Frailties; perhaps the Love of Governing; have been led, first to deceive themselves, and then impose Error on the World; Tho it may appear to you I write animated, I hope you will consider I write like an honest man, he that adds ought or diminishes ought in Narrative, can have no pretentions to the Gentleman:.....

I have been misled in the Opinion of the Land at Rose Hill, and here beg to rectify the mistake; It produces the first, nearly sevenfold, the second Year not so much, & the third Year, rather better than the seed sown; afterwards by sowing a Bushel, you may probably reap a Quart or two. The Natives continue to shun us, I have not yet seen one, except a Boy and Girl we have in the Colony; who begin to speak our Language, and have no wishes to leave us; it must be admitted, there are now great Obstacles, to our establishing an Intercourse with them; but were we uniform in our plans, and earnest in our Wishes to accomplish it, it is very practicable; here is an ample field for the Botanist, or Naturalist; the most beautifull Shrubs, and the greatest Variety of any in the World; the plumage of the Birds is uncommonly beautiful; some of which (as I am inform'd) are a new Species, or rather nondescripts; such as the Emirs [emus] having no Wings, but they run very fast; seven Officers have dined abundantly off the sidesman or sidebone of this Creature; which cut up, and was in appearance like a Loin of Veal; such is its immense size. I shall collect various Birds, Seeds, Plumage and other Curiosities of the Natives; some of which I shall have the honor of transmitting to you. I am going on Monday next, in Company wth. Captain Tench, and Lieutenant Davies [Dawes] of the Marines, on a Week's Excursion to explore westward, it is a severe Business, as we sleep in the Woods, without Covering; and the mornings and Evenings are very cold; they are Gentlemen whose minds are highly cultivated and of great scientific Knowledge; I therefore anticipate the mental satisfaction I must receive with them, which I am persuaded, will outweigh a few Corporeal Hardships: If we should make any Discoveries worthy of Remark, I shall think it an Honour, being suffer'd to pen them to you.

T Baker sc: Dec 24th 91

N.B. This letter was never printed.