Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Lord Ducie - Letters (2) received from Captain James Campbell, 12 July 1788, possibly October 1788 (incomplete)
MLMSS 5366 (Safe 1/123)

Letter 1

My dear Lord,

Tho’ your Lordship did not desire it, yet I take the liberty of giving you the best account in my power of this Country, as well as of the things we have met with in since our arrival.

I have no doubt but that the people in England will expect some account of our arrival here, long before it is possible they can receive any unless they hear of us from France. The reason why, I must leave to be explained by those, more in the secret, then I either am or wish to be. But it appears to me rather strange, that eight ships should have remain’d here so long, without sending some of them home, or if not home, to the nearest Port, to endeavour to procure some stock or Refreshment for us, which we are in absolute want of, having nothing but salt Provisions to subsist on. and of even this, our allowance is very scanty.

I know not why, or whither it was so intended by Administration, that the only difference between the Allowance of Provisions served to the Officer and served to the Convict, be only half a Pint (per day) of vile Rio Spirits, so offensive both in Taste and Smell, that he must be fond of drinking indeed, that can use it. but such is the fact.

I take it for granted that your Lordship is already acquainted with all our Transactions prior to our leaving the Cape of Good Hope /13th Novr - In a few days after our Governor made known his Don Quixote scheme of seperating our little Fleet, leaving them to work there way through an immense sea but little known, and

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to which all were strangers. On the 26th of the same month, he Embarked himself on board the Supply Tender and left us on the same day strike he left us, strikeend ordering the Agent to follow him with three of the Transports, leaving the other six to the care of Captain Hunter in the Sirius. They were all out of sight before night. From this time we were most fortunate in fair Winds, tho’ we saw no more of each other till our arrival in Botany Bay. The Tender got there on the 16th. The Agent and his Ships, on the 19th, and the Sirius with the Division on the 20th of January 1788. Indeed so very little difference was there in the sailing of the Transports in general, that I cannot see how any other, if they arrived at all, could have been expected than our being closs at the heels of each other. The Time Peice which had been put on board the Sirius, and had been painstakingly attended to by Capatin Hunter, had been found to answer extremely well. But when the Govr went on board the Tender he carried the Time Piece with him, as if indifferent about every thing but his own safety. However, he very soon let it run down and render’d it useless for the rest of the Passage.

Our stay in Botany Bay was but very short, the first three days of which, were employ’d in looking out for some eligible spot to form our Settlement, But no promising spot being found there, the Governor determined to look at this Harbour to see what it promised, this he did in one of his Boats, and on his return, said it was, what it certainly is, as fine a Harbour as any ever seen. This discovery made us quit Botany on the 26th and got into our present Cove the same evening. The morning we left Botany Bay, two French ships of War, (L’Astrolabe and Boussole) strike which strikeend came there to refit. They were on a Voyage of Discovery, had visited

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the West coast of America where they lost two of their Launches with their Crews. At Navigator’s Islands, they had been still more unfortunate, having had one of their Captains, many of their Officers and about forty of their Men cut off by the Natives.

As soon as we came to this place, every body in health were got on shore, and into Tents. All hands were then set to work, but without order or regularity, nobody could know what was, or ought to be done but our Principal. Every thing was to be done at the same time, and of course nothing is done but what we ought to be ashamed of. A scene of confusion ensued which we have not yet got out of, and, I much fear, never will. In short, my Lord, I do not think (entre nous) that your three Kingdoms could produce another man, in my opinion, so totally unqualified for the business he has taken in hand, as this man is. To establish an Infant Colony with any hope of success or satisfaction to those embarked in the attemp, does it not require a man of a Free, Liberal and Generous way of thinking, it surely does. This Man will be every thing himself - never, that I have heard of, communicates any part of his Plan for establishing the Colony or carrying on his work, to any one, much less, consult them, - whither it proceeds from confused ideas, or from other cause, I know not, but there is hardly a day in which the orders of the preceding are not contradicted, men are taken from one Peice of work before it is well begun, and sent to another which is again left in the same state. I must here except such things as are actually carrying on for himself, which are never suffer’d to be interfered with. Every thing that can be got hold of, is appropriated to his own use, He is

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selfish beyond measure, in so much that even the Public Stores sent out, as we suppose, for the benefit of the Colony at large, are as far as possible, by this strange character, lookd upon as private property, to that degree that not one Article or Tool can we procure from him but what necessity compels him to give, and even then it is granted as a favour and that favour granted in such an ungracious manner that our necessitys and not our wills let us accept of them. and I may safely say that from the greatest Rascal among the Convicts, to his next in Command, some Toad Eater and Tale-bearer excepted, there is not a man but what dispises him. Is it not most extraordinary how such a man as this could have got himself talked of as he was at home.

So much for a vile subject of which your Lordship is I dare say heartily tired. I shall therefore go on to give the best account I can of this vile Country.

The Principle part of it is of a very light sandy Soil, Marshes and Rocks, with here and there small Paches of tolerable good looking Ground which, if cleared from Trees, might be brought to produce Corn. The whole surface is, as described by others, intirely covered with Trees some of which are of a very large size. Tho’ they do not stand closs to each other, yet are they as bad as if they did, for their roots run on or very near the surface, and from Tree to Tree in such a manner that there is no such thing as turning up the ground till the Trees have been removed Root and Branch. A work of infinite labour and difficulty.

All the Fresh Water we have yet found, are the drains from the Marshes, but it is exceeding good. Not a River, or any thing like one have

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can we find. Some Convicts who had been sent a few days ago to hunt for the Governor’s lost cows, say that they discover’d a large River, but as they could perceive no stream in it, it is probable that it was only one of the Marshes which was overflow’d by the incessant rains we have had for some weeks. I should suppose the Governor to be of the same opinion, for I cannot understand that any steps have been taken to ascertain the truth of it.

All the Trees here, meriting the name of Timber, are confin’d to two kinds, - the first is a very large, promising and beautiful Tree, perfectly straight in its Trunk, with noble spreading Branches. Its leaves have a strong aromatick taste and smell, much resembling Pepper-mint. It is hard, heavy and red in grain, and when cut, a great quantity of a kind of astringent red Gum really underline runs underlineend from it in a stream, but the Physical Gentlemen say it is of no use, neither is the Tree, for when it is Sawed it is found good for no one purpose but the fire. When exposed to the air it falls to peices like a cut Onion.

The other Tree does not grow to any considerable size, tho’ very lofty, it is likewise very hard, and grows, not unlike our Pine, but in its grain it is much more of the Oak. This Tree if it could be found sound might be useful underline here underlineend in building, but not one in a thousand can we find but what is rotten at the heart, yet of those, with the assistance of the Cabbage Tree, of which we have not left one within a dozen of Miles of us, are we from necessity obliged to errect such Hutts as we are now making for ourselves. Our variety of Shrubs is great, and some of them most beautiful, from those, I intend collecting

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some of the Seeds for your Lordships Hot House, which I shall send you as soon as possible.

All the Animals we have yet seen are confined to a very small number. The Kangaroo, the Opossum, the Rat, which is much larger than ours, and from the length of its hind Legs, we call the Kangaroo Rat, the flying Squirle, which is full as large as a Rabbit. We have likewise Snakes of a large size, but apparently very inoffensive. Of the Kangaroo, we have had several killed, weighing from twelve to one hundred and forty pounds. This animal has been already described by those much more equal to the task than I am. I shall therefore only say of them that their flesh is by no means so good as it has been reported, on the contrary, it is rather rank and strong, and without a vistage of fat about any that I have yet seen. However, bad and rank as it is, I can assure your Lordship of our being very happy when we can get a piece of one to add to our salt Beef mess. That your Lordship may be enabled to form a better judgement of this strange animal than any descriptions can convey, I have taken the liberty to send you one of their Skins with one that Major Ross is going to send to Lord Howe. Should you wish to see it in its natural position, I have no doubt but that Sir Joseph Banks, who has seen them in life, will direct the stuffing and placing of the skin wch is complete. We have a young one, about the size of a large Hare, which is lying by me. The Dam of it was shot about ten days ago, and the young one stood quietly by her till the man took it up in his arms. It is become perfectly tame already and eats almost anything given it. Its head, neck

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and shoulders are very handsome but its enormous Tail and long Legs give it a most awkward appearance in its hinder parts.

Birds, except of the Parrot kind and Crow, which are just the same as yours, are scarce and shy. One Bird, of the Ostrich kind has been shot, it weigh’d ninety four pounds. The feathers of this Bird have more the appearance of Hair then Feathers, two grow from each Quill. Inclosed your Lord has one of the largest of them.

We have likewise had a black swan killed, the only kind yet seen. A very few Wild-ducks and Teel have been shot, and, they say that they have seen Wild Geese. Some Birds, resembling the Partridge have been seen, but not shot. All the Birds said to be of exquisite beauty, are confin’d to the Parrot kind. The smaller Birds are in no number or variety, and nothing remarkable in any of them yet met with. They all seem to be of the Wood-pecker kind.

Our natives are surely the most wretched set of the human species yet discover’d. Men, women and children, naked as they came into the world. Here and there you met with some of their Huts which are all of the most rude construction, a few peices of Bark placed on end, and support each other at the top. Their principle places of abode seem to be, the crevises in the Rocks near the Sea side. From the Sea, with the Fern Root roasted, they appear to us to draw their support. Both men and women are very dextrous in spearing such Fish as swim near the surface, which they perform from the points of

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projecting Rocks or their Canoes. They have also Hooks and Lines. the first is form’d from shells and the other from the Fibres of the bark of some Tree. With the same kind of string are the ends of their Canoes tyed together. Their Canoes are, simply, a piece of the bark of a Tree, brought together at each end like the mouth of a tyed Bag.

Their offensive as well as defensive Weapons are a Spear, a Club with a nob at one end, brought to points, and a Target of Bark. They have Stone Axes, but where they procure the stone, we know not, for as yet, we have met with but one kind, resembling, very much, your Portland Stone. In the summer season they may be enabled to exist by their Fishing but the winter is very severe upon them, and [text obscured] starving and left, like the Brutes, to the care of Providence. They are however much more numerous then was supposed. The Governor, not many days ago, met with a Body of them near the head of Botany Bay, of near three hundred. They were armed, and supposed to be going on some Expedition.

I do not myself believe them to be that Harmless. Inoffensive people they have been reported and for the following reason. About a month ago [text obscured] mile further with some men to collect materials for my intended Hut.

I stumbled upon the bodies of two of our Convicts who had been sent out by the Govr to cut Rushes. I never saw a more shocking sight - the sculls of both were fractured, one quite open with no less than seven Spears through the body. Fourteen of the same people have been

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missing for a considerable time, and I think there can be no doubt of their having suffered the fate of the others. For, for them to exist in this Country without being assisted from the stores is, I think, from the following circumstance, proved to be impossible. A stout healthy Convict of twenty four years of age, having committed a Robbery for which he knew, knowing himself detected, that nothing could save him from the Gallows if he was once got hold of. He made his escape into the woods, thinking, no doubt, but he might exist there independent of us. In about twelve days, finding the cravings of nature supperior to the dread of an ignominious death, he returned to us, but one of the most miserable ghastly looking objects eyes ever beheld, and was hanged as soon as Tryed. He said that the Natives were seen by him in many places, in the same starving condition with himself.

The Thunder and Lightning of this Country is truly dreadful, and every part of it that we have yet seen, bear evident proofs of the violence of the latter. I have, for one, been made to suffer severely by it already. Major Ross and myself had bought some Ewes and pigs at the Cape for a breed. Every one of the first and a part of the others, have been killed by it, and to add to our comforts, we have already experienced the shock of an Earth quake.

Surely, my Lord, Administration will never persist in so romantick a scheme as the forcing a settlement in such a Country as this at present appears to be. Not one thing can

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can be found that ever promises to be an object of Commerce or worthy the attention of a Commercial Nation. Did the Harbour indeed lay in passage to any of our other settlements, it would be then certainly be most desirable, but even then, every thing necessary for equipping or repairing ships, must be procured from some other quarter.

I am a perfect stranger to what our Govr intends saying of it, but I am myself fully convinced that the Nation would save money by feeding their Convicts at home, upon Venison and Claret, Cloathing them in Purple and Gold, rather than provide for them here the worst fare that can be thought of.

We have likewise taken possession of Norfolk Island. Lieut King of the Sirius with some Male and Female Convicts were sent there in the Tender (Lt Ball) very soon after our arrival. Ball gives a terrible account of the Island as well as the difficulty he had in getting the Stores and People landed. On his return to us he fell in with another small Island from which he brought us some Turtle. tho’ few in number, they were most welcome to people in our situation. He likewise found there a new species of Fowl, about the size of your common ones, the Bodies are white, the Bills red and rather long. They are run down and caught by hand, never taking wind. To this Island which had no Inhabitants, he gave the name of Lord Howe’s.

Our Climate is looked upon to be a favourable one, our disorders are the Scurvy, Dysentery, Fever and Agues. The two last may be produced from our

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mens having but their Canvas Tents, now rotten, to keep them from the inclemency of the weather, and now, wet ground to lay themselves upon.

The Scurvy proceeds from our Salt Provisions and all among us are, more or less, afflicted with it. We have neither Vinegar or Oatmeal in our Stores, nor have our Surgeons, either Portable Soop, Spices, Sugar, and but very, very little of any Vegetable production to administer to the unhappy sufferers many of whom are in a dreadful condition. We lost about 60 of our Convicts since we came here. In all, we have, since they first embarked, lost one hundred, of them, sixteen are supposed to have suffer’d by the Natives, four have been Executed, and the rest, if it can be so called, have died natural deaths.

I have now, my Lord, said every thing that at present occurs to me of this Country, and shall now take the liberty to conclude my letter with saying that the two inclosed representations are taken from the life by that worthy character Captain Hunter, and by him given to me for your Lordship.

With the sincerest wish that my letter may find you, Lady Ducie and the young Gentlemen in that good and perfect health I so ardently wish you to enjoy. I am

My Lord, with great respect your Lordship’s much obligd and most humble servt.

Jas Campbell

Sydney Cove
Port Jackson, New South Wales
12th July 1788 Will your Lordship excuse the liberty
I take in troubling you with the inclosed letter, with a request of your Lordships under freeing underend it to my Brother.

Right Honble Lord Ducie

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Letter 2 - incomplete

My Dear Lord,

In the last letter I did myself the honour of writing to your Lordship, I said that I would send you some of the Seeds of the Flowering Shrubs of this Country. All such as I have yet been able to collect, I have much satisfaction in sending you by the present opportunity - the remaining two of our Transports which I [word illegible] sail tomorrow. They are sent in a small Box, directed for your Lordship, and under the care of the Master of the Golden Grove, who has promisd to take the greatest care of them. As I am no Botanist, your Lordship must have them without either Class or Name. I shall esteem it a particular favour if your Lordship will have the goodness to send a few of the different Seeds to Doctor Farr at Plymouth, who expects some from me. This trouble, I would not have presum’d to give you, but that I have not had it in my power to make up another Box of them. nor indeed have sent you all the kinds I wished to send, some not being yet ripe, and others of which I cannot discover the Seeds.

If your Lordship expects any new information from me relative to this Country, I am sorry to say, you will be disappointed: nothing either new or worthy of remark having been

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discover’d since the date of my last letter.

With respect to our Colony and our manner of proceeding here, I can, or rather shall, say but, for nothing can I say of it with either pleasure of satisfaction. We [are] destitute of every thing but salt Provisions, vile Rio Spirits, most offensive both in smell and taste. of salt provisions and flower, we are on short allowance, and we have not, I understand, three Weeks Beef in Store, and when that is gone, our weekly allowance will be four pounds of Pork per man, which is, it said here, is the proportion of the Ration fixed upon at home, as likewise half a pound of Rice for a Pound of Flower. In short my Lord, there is nothing but distress staring us in the face, & but a distant prospect of relief. Notwithstanding all this, the same confusion and selfish line of conduct, is, unremittly persisted in, of course our difficulties not likely to be decreased. But even if that was not the case, I still maintain it as my sincere and fixed belief that this Country (at least the part which we have taken possession of) can never be brought to support this Colony but at such an expense to the Mother Country as in the days of her greatest prosperity, she was hardly equal to. What grain has hitherto been put in the ground seems to turn to no account, and our Timber, as I formerly observed, is totally

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useless for every thing but fire wood. So much does our Governor now seem to be of that opinion, that he has been at the trouble of sending to Norfolk Island for some Timber for a House that he is erecting for himself. The Timber he has received from Norfolk, he calls Pine, it appears good but in rind and bark, exactly resembles the Beech.

Norfolk, we are told, is a most fertile spot, and we are wished to believe it a second Paradise, but be it what it will, it is so very difficult to access that four or five lives have already been lost in the surf which surrounds it. This Island, our Govr has given the Command of to one of the Lieuts of the Sirius. From all I have said, your Lordship may imagine the expense that must attend the establishing a Colony in this Country, at such a distance from home, into which every article and necessary of life must be imported. Our Chief, however, but whither from interested motives or not, I will not presume to say, is still most sanguine in his hopes, and wishes to make us believe that this place will in time, become the Empire of the East. Not being quite so sanguine in my hopes, and willing to gain information, I, one day, when he [was] talking in this manner, took the liberty of asking him what he grounded his opinion upon. after some altercation, he was at last obliged to rest

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it solely upon our situation. here I could not but again differ with him, saying that, in my own opinion, it was the very last reason that should be assigned, for as he had already confessed that all our supplys must come from elsewhere, surely, with respect to Trade, we were out of every line whatever.

How far this man has let the people at home into a proper knowledge of the true state of this vile Country I cannot say, but from the general tenor of his conversation, I much, very much, fear the contrary.

We remain, as much as ever, and are likely so to do, strangers to the Natives of this Country, they are however, become more daring and have put some more of our people to death.

The grounds round this place not being found to answer our hopes of raising some grain, I am, in two or three days, to be Transported with a few men to endeavour to clear a spot of ground for the next year’s Crop. the place is about forteen miles from here and is said to have a much more promising appearance then any nearer us. Of this place I hope to be better able to give your Lordship a better account when I trouble you with another letter, but when such an opportunity will offer, Him above only knows.

I once requested your Lordship’s interest