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Historical Records of New Zealand

Governor Phillip to Lord Sydney

Governor Phillip to Lord Sydney.

Government House, Sydney Cove, February 12th, 1790.

My Lord,—

I had the honor of informing your Lordship of the state of this colony by the last ships which sailed from hence, and I shall now proceed to lay before your Lordship such circumstances as have occurred since their departure.

In February [1789] the Supply, armed tender, went to Norfolk Island with provisions and twenty-seven convicts, for although the officer who commanded there had but a very small number of free people, and in whom alone he could place any confidence, yet from the apparent impossibility of the convicts page 105 succeeding I never supposed they would attempt an escape, which was the less to be apprehended from the great lenity they had been treated with.

But when the Supply returned I was informed that the convicts had laid a plan for confining the officers and free people on the island, which was to be carried into execution the first Saturday after the Supply or any store-ship arrived.

It was usual for the commandant to go every Saturday to a farm at a small distance from the settlement. There he was to be seized, and they were then to send, in his name, for the surgeon and several others, who, as they came out, were to be confined with him, and the marines, going on Saturdays into the woods to get cabbage-tree, were to be met on their return and confined with the rest, as well as those who came on shore from the ship, after which two convicts were to go off in a small boat belonging to the island and inform those on board that their boat had been staved in landing. This intelligence they supposed would bring more people and boats on shore. The people were to be secured with the others, and the convicts were then to go and take possession of the ship, with which they intended to go to Otaheite, and there form a settlement.

A woman discovered this scheme to a man belonging to the Sirius, with whom she lived, in hopes of persuading him to leave the island, and some of the convicts, being examined, confessed their intentions.

The commandant, finding there were only three convicts who had not engaged in this affair, and that it would not be possible to send them all away when a ship should arrive, after taking such steps as he judged would prevent their attempting to carry their scheme into execution, returned them all to their different labours, and when the Supply arrived he received the convicts sent in her.

The convict who had first proposed the scheme was sent here to be tried; but no capital punishment could be inflicted upon him, as no attempt had been made to carry the scheme into execution.

My former letters mentioned that the officer sent to make the settlement on Norfolk Island, and who I had appointed to remain there as superintendent and commandant, was the second lieutenant of the Sirius. He speaks well of the few he had to depend on, and I beg leave to assure your Lordship that he acted in that affair with great prudence.

It had been thought necessary, after the discovery was made, to cut down all the trees which were within a certain distance of the huts, and which probably saved many lives, for in the following month they had a violent hurricane. It came from page 106 the south-east, and crossed the island, confining itself to a very narrow space, so that while all the trees on one side of the valley were broken down or torn up by the roots, the trees on the opposite side did not suffer the smallest injury. One tree, which from its situation had been left standing, fell on a granary, which it destroyed. This hurricane was accompanied by very heavy rain, and a torrent of water, which came down from the hills, destroyed all their gardens of Indian corn, as well as doing considerable damage to the provisions.

I do not think the island is subject to hurricanes; if it was, some vestiges would appear, which I am told is not the case. Several of the pines which were blown down measured an hundred and eighty feet in length.

When the Sirius sailed from hence the 2nd of October, 1788, Captain Hunter was to have made the passage round the South Cape, which I am confident will be found the best passage from hence to the Cape of Good Hope; but having the wind southerly when he sailed, he did not attempt that passage, but went round Cape Horn. Arrived at the Cape of Good Hope the 2nd of January. Left it the 20th of February, and anchored here the 8th of May, 1789, having met with a very heavy gale of wind when so close in with the South Cape that it was for some time doubtful if it would be possible to clear it.

By the Sirius we received some seed wheat and barley and four months’ flour for the settlement, which was all that ship could bring, with a year’s provisions for the ship’s company.

After the arrival of the Sirius the Supply was sent to Norfolk Island with provisions, and carried a lieutenant, one noncommissioned officer, and fourteen privates.

Two guns had been landed from the Supply, and a small redoubt was to be erected, which, with this little additional force, will, I presume, prevent the convicts from making any future attempts. The Supply, after landing the people and provisions, had orders to go in search of the reef seen by the Golden Grove, store-ship, and a shoal or island which Lieutenant Shortland informed me (by the Sirius) he had seen in his passage to the northward. The Supply cruized for several days in the latitude and longitude in which Lieutenant Shortland places the island, but returned without seeing it. There is some reason to think that a mistake has been made as to the latitudes in which the island and shoal are placed by Lieutenant Shortland*; and I

* Sir Charles Middleton’s Island and Middleton Shoals, so named by Lieut. Shortland after Sir Charles Middleton, Comptroller of the Navy. Shortland gave the latitude and longitude as follows:—“Sir Charles Middleton’s Island, lat. 28° 10′ S., long. 159° 50′ E. Middleton Shoals, lat. 29° 20′ S., long. 158° 48′ E.“ Search was afterwards made for the island and shoals by Lieut. Shortland, in the schooner Francis, and by Lieut. Ball, in the Supply, but without success. They failed to discover the shoals, because the latitude and longitude had been in the first instance incorrectly observed. The island, according to modern authorities, has no existence. The “Directory of the South Pacific Ocean,“ p. 856, gives the following information: “Middleton Reef, an extensive reef, covered at high water. Its west elbow, according to Captain Denham, is in lat. 29° 27′ 40″ S., long. 159° 3′ 38″ E. The following reported dangers may be said not to exist: Middleton Island, or Sir Charles Middleton’s Island, said to be very high, in lat. 27° 58′ S., long. 159° 30′ E.

page 107 trouble your Lordship with this information in case any ship sent into those seas should go to the northward without calling at this port, and which, from the accounts received from the Cape of Good Hope, there is reason to suppose the Bounty, store-ship, has done. The weather did not admit of the Supply’s going in search of the shoal seen by the Golden Grove. The Sirius is now under repair; and, when ready for sea, I shall send that ship and the Supply to determine the situation and extent of the shoals and the island.

When the Supply left Norfolk Island the public were all very healthy, the damages sustained by the hurricane had been repaired, and they had vegetables in the greatest abundance. They get fish when the weather permits the boats to go without the reef, and at times in such quantities that fish is served to the people in lieu of salt provisions. They make their hues from the flax-plant; but unfortunately we have not any person who understands how to dress it.

Half a pod of cotton being found on this island, supposed to be brought there by a bird, and a cocoanut which was perfectly sound, and appeared to have been but a short time in the water, being thrown upon the beach, have given some reason to suppose that both those articles will be found on some island at no great distance.

Parts of two canoes, which answer the description given of the canoes of New Zealand, have been found on the rocks, and a wooden figure (very rudely carved), and which in every respect answers the description given of the idols seen in the Friendly Islands, has likewise been found, and probably was carried thither in one of the canoes.

Lord Howe Island has been examined, but no fresh water or good anchorage being found it can be of no other advantage to this settlement than occasionally supplying a few turtle.

I had the honor of informing your Lordship that a settlement was intended to be made at a place I named Rose Hill. At the head of this harbour there is a creek which at half flood has water for large boats to go three miles up, and one mile higher the water is fresh and the soil good. A very industrious man page 108 who I brought from England is employed there at present,* and has under his direction one hundred convicts, who are employed in clearing and cultivating the ground. A barn, granary, and other necessary buildings are erected, and seventy-seven acres in corn promise a good crop. The soil is good, and the country for seventy miles to the westward, which is as far as I have examined, lays well for cultivation, but even there the labour of clearing the ground is very great, and I have seen none that can be cultivated without cutting down the timber, except some few particular spots, which, from their situation (lying at a distance from either of the harbours) can be of no advantage to us at present; and I presume the meadows mentioned in “Captain Cook’s Voyage“ were seen from the high grounds about Botany Bay, and from whence they appear well to the eye, but when examined are found to be marshes, the draining of which would be a work of time, and not to be attempted by the first settlers. But I shall have the honor of giving your Lordship a more particular account of the country hereafter.

The captain’s guard which untill lately did duty at Rose Hill is now reduced to a lieutenant and twelve privates, and intended merely as a guard to the store which contains the provisions, and which is in the redoubt; for I am sensible there is nothing to be apprehended from the natives, and the little attention which had been desired of the officers more than what was immediately garrison duty, when at Rose Hill, is now no longer required.

At Sydney Cove all the officers are in good huts and the men in barracks; and, although many unforeseen difficulties have been met with, I believe there is not an individual, from the Governor to the private soldier, whose situation is not more eligible at this time than he had any reason to expect it could be in the course of the three years station; and it is the same with the convicts, and those who have been in any ways industrious have vegetables in plenty. The buildings now carrying on are of brick and stone. The house intended for myself was to consist of only three rooms; but, having a good foundation, has been enlarged, contains six rooms, and is so well built that I presume it will stand for a great number of years.

The stores have been lately overrun with rats, and they are equally numerous in the gardens, where they do considerable damage; and as the loss in the stores could only be known by removing all the provisions, that was done, and many casks of flour and rice were found to be damaged or totally destroyed. The loss in those two articles by the rats since landing has been more than twelve thousand [pounds] weight.

* Dodd, Phillip’s servant. He died January, 1791.

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While the stores were under examination the Commissary one morning found that a key had been broken in a lock. This had been done in the night, and a convict, Smith, knew the wards of the key left in the lock to belong to a marine, who, being confined with several others on suspicion, one of them offered himself as an evidence for the Crown, and accused six of his comrades, who were tried, and the charge being fully proved the six were executed. One of those who suffered accused two others, but no proof could be brought against them.

These men had for many months robbed the stores of provisions and spirits, and in a manner that did not expose them to any great risk; for having procured keys for all the locks, they never attempted to rob the store but when one of the party was centinel at the door. The key was in the lock when they unexpectedly heard the patrole, and, in the hurry, they turned the key the wrong way, and not being able to get it out broke it, knowing that the locks were always examined by the patrole.

Vegetables and provisions having been frequently stolen in the night from convicts and others, twelve convicts were chosen as a night-watch, and they have effectually answered the end proposed, no robbery having been committed for several months, and the convicts in general have lately behaved better than I ever expected.

Only two convicts have suffered death in the last year; four were executed the first year. A marine tried for committing a rape on an infant was found guilty; but being particularly recommended for mercy by the criminal court, his sentence was changed to transportation to Norfolk Island for life.

As near two years have now passed since we first landed in this country, some judgment may be formed of the climate, and I believe a finer or more healthy climate is not to be found in any part of the world. Of 1,030 people who were landed, many of whom were worn out by old age, the scurvy, and various disorders, only seventy-two have died in one-and-twenty months; and by the surgeon’s returns it appears that twenty-six of those died from disorders of long standing, and which it is more than probable would have carried them off much sooner in England. Fifty-nine children have been born in the above time.

Since the last ship sailed (November, 1788) two marines and two convicts have been lost in the woods. One convict has been killed by the natives, and ten wounded—for it is impossible to prevent the convicts from straggling, and the natives having been robbed and ill-treated, now attack those they meet unarmed.

Not succeeding in my endeavours to persuade some of the natives to come and live with us, I ordered one to be taken by page 110 force, which was what I would gladly have avoided, as I knew it must alarm them; but not a native had come near the settlement for many months, and it was absolutely necessary that we should attain their language, or teach them ours, that the means of redress might be pointed out to them if they are injured, and to reconcile them by showing the many advantages they would enjoy by mixing with us. A young man, who appeared to be about twenty-four years of age, was taken the latter end of December [1788], and unfortunately died of the small-pox in May [1789], when he was perfectly reconciled to his situation, and appeared so sensible of the advantages he enjoyed that, fully persuaded he would not leave us, I had for some time freed him from all restraint.* He had lived with me for the last two months, and his behaviour gave good reason for showing a more favourable opinion of the people of this country than what has been drawn from the report made by those who formerly touched on this coast.

Whether the small-pox, which has proved fatal to great numbers of the natives, is a disorder to which they were subject before any Europeans visited this country, or whether it was brought by the French ships, we have not yet attained sufficient knowledge of the language to determine. It never appeared on board any of the ships in our passage, nor in the settlement, until some time after numbers of the natives had been seen dead with the disorder in different parts of the harbour, and two men, with a boy of about eight years of age and a girl of eleven, had been brought to the hospital, in the small-pox.

Both the men died, but the boy and girl recovered. These people were brought up the middle and the latter end of April, and the small-pox never appeared in the settlement until the 2nd of May, when a man belonging to the Supply was seized with the disorder and died a few days afterwards; nor has it ever appeared in the settlement except on that man and the native who caught the disorder from the children.

In addition to the loss of provisions which we had sustained by the rats, a very considerable quantity of flour, rice, &c., had been lost and damaged in the passage by the badness of the casks and by a quantity of oil and tar having been put on board of the store-ships.

Although there could be little doubt but that supplies would arrive before the provisions we had in store were expended, it was necessary to guard against accident. I therefore directed only two-thirds of a ration to be issued to those who have hitherto received a full ration, by which our provisions would last until

* Aranbanoo. According to Hunter, Phillip called him Manly, because he was captured at Manly Cove.

page 111 June, some few articles excepted. This order, which took place the 1st of November, 1789, included every person in the settlement, and at the same time the Sirius and Supply’s ship’s companies went to three-fourths allowance.

In December the corn at Rose Hill was got in; the corn was exceeding good. About two hundred bushels of wheat and sixty of barley, with a small quantity of flax, Indian corn, and oats, all which is preserved for seed. Here I beg leave to observe to your Lordship that if settlers are sent out, and the convicts divided amongst them, this settlement will very shortly maintain itself, but without which this country cannot be cultivated to any advantage. At present I have only one person (who has about an hundred convicts under his direction) who is employed in cultivating the ground for the publick benefit, and he has returned the quantity of corn above mentioned into the publick store. The officers have not raised sufficient to support the little stock they have. Some ground I have had in cultivation will return about forty bushels of wheat into store, so that the produce of the labour of the convicts employed in cultivation has been very short of what might have been expected, and which I take the liberty of pointing out to your Lordship in this place, to show as fully as possible the state of this colony, and the necessity of the convicts being employed by those who have an interest in their labour. The giving convicts to the officers has been hitherto necessary, but it is attended with many inconveniences, for which the advantages arising to the officers do not make amends. It will not therefore be continued after the detachment is relieved, unless particularly directed. The plan I should propose for giving the convicts to settlers will be submitted to your Lordship’s consideration in another letter. The numbers employed in cultivation will of course be increased, as the necessary buildings are finished, but which will be a work of time; for the numbers in this settlement who do nothing towards their own support exceed those employed for the publick.

My intentions of turning swine into the woods to breed have been prevented by the natives so frequently setting fire to the country

The Sirius, for the conveniency of refitting, had gone into a small cove on the north side of this harbour; and it was customary for the people to walk from the opposite shore to the ship, which one of the mates attempting lost himself in the woods, and every search that could be made to find him proved ineffectual.

From the time our native died, orders had been given to take another whenever an opportunity offered; but they were always on their guard, and I was desirous of it being done without page 112 being under the necessity of firing upon them. Towards the end of November two natives were taken,* and one of them proved to be a chief, who had been frequently mentioned to us as a great warrior. The necessary precautions were taken to prevent their escape, but which was effected by the chief, a fortnight after he was taken, from the neglect of those who had the care of him; the other remains; the lives with me, and every possible means are used to reconcile him to us, and in which I make no doubt but that we shall succeed. The little information I am able to give your Lordship of these people and the country will be the subject of another letter.

In November the Supply sailed for Norfolk Island with some convicts, and returned after being absent about six weeks. All the people on that island were well, and their crops, after all they had suffered from rats, birds, and a worm which had done them considerable damage, so good that they had grain sufficient for six months’ bread for every one upon the island, reserving sufficient for their next year’s crops.

The third lieutenant of the Sirius had for a considerable time laboured under a disorder, which terminated in the loss of his senses. I therefore appointed another officer in his room. And as the Sirius was now nearly ready for sea, having repaired the damages sustained in the gale of wind, and being strengthened in the best manner our situation permitted, all the officers belonging to her would be necessary when she went to sea, and as Norfolk Island was now settled, and likely to answer the views of Government, I discharged the second lieutenant from the Sirius,§ and appointed another officer in his room; consequently, that officer, who continues superintendant and commandant of Norfolk Island, will no longer receive any pay from the Admiralty, and I beg leave to recommend him to your Lordship’s attention as an officer who has fully merited everything I can say in his favour.

Early in January, 1790, the Supply again sailed for Norfolk Island with more convicts; and in her passage left a small party on Lord Howe Island to turn turtle; but in fifteen days only three were taken, so that no great advantages will at present accrue from thence. The island has fresh water, but no good anchoring-ground.

Since the deaths mentioned in a former part of this letter, one woman has suffered for a robbery, five children have died, and twenty-eight children have been born, making in all twenty-seven deaths and eighty-seven births.

I have, &c.,

A. Phillip

* Coleby and Bennilong.


Lieutenant Maxwell.

§ Lieutenant King.

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