A PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS – THE ENGLISH MEN WOMEN & CHILDREN OF THE FIRST FLEET

‘A very tasty pea and ham soup washed down with tea from the leaves of the local sarsaparilla vine. In fact being British the colonists drank so much of the stuff that sarsaparilla remains almost extinct in the area around Sydney’. Tony Robinson’s History of Australia, Penguin 2011.

1788 –  Botany Bay, 18 January: HMS Supply, the first of eleven (11) vessels that made up the ‘First Fleet’ with a complement of 1500 hungry souls, reached Botany Bay New Holland, now Australia.

Almost immediately Supply deployed her seine [trawling] nets.

‘No sooner were the fish out of the water than they [Aborigines] began to lay hold of them as if they had a right to them, or that they were their own; upon which the officer of the boat, I think very properly, restrained them giving, however, to each of them a part.

They did not at first seem very well pleased with this mode of procedure, but on observing with what justice this fish was distributed they appeared content’. John White, Chief Medical Officer, First Fleet Journal

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‘It had been imagined in England, that some, if not considerable savings of provisions might be made by the quantities of fish that it was supposed would be taken’. Marine Captain David Collins, First Fleet Journal. 

1788 –  Sydney Cove: During the southern hemisphere’s hot summer months Sirius and Supply’s trawling nets were never idle.

‘Our customary method was to leave Sydney Cove about four o’clock [4 pm] in the afternoon and go down the harbour and fish all night from one cove to another. We have made twenty-three (23) hauls of the seine in one [1] night’. The Jacob Nagle Journal, cited, Jack Egan, Buried Alive, Allen and Unwin, 1999.  

By April the weather had cooled and fish began to leave the harbour to spawn.

‘The main battle [became] about having enough to eat’. Don Watson, The Story of Australia.

1788 – May: Marine Captain David Collins, the settlement’s judge-advocate noted ‘as the winter was approaching…our little camp now began to wear the aspect of distress, from the great number of scorbutic (scurvy) patients that were daily seen creeping to and from the hospital tents’.

The patients went to the hospital to get; ‘cabbage tasting like nut [and ] many salutary herbs that made [a] wholesome drink [sarsparilla tea] of great use to our sick.

The Aborigines were being stripped of foods that for millennia had kept their families well during the long winter months.

Midshipman Daniel Southwell’s letter to his father told of parties sent to gather; ‘a sort of green berries that are pronounced a most excellent (Vitamin C) antiscorbutic are gathered in abundance and a specie of sorrel, all of a peculiar fine acid’.

‘Justice’ Dr. White’s idea of British ‘justice’ and, the Aborigines supposed content[ment] with the distribution ‘procedure’, would not survive the winter of 1788.

‘A party of natives came to the place where the Sirius’s boat had been to haul the seine, and having beaten the crew took from them by force a part of the fish they had caught’. White. ibid

The invaders however saw the Aborigines resistance to their ‘hunter gathering’ as ‘treachery’ and expressed astonishment when their efforts were resisted.

1788 – July: Governor Phillip reported; ‘the fish caught were trifling …they [Aborigines] seem very badly off for food, not having any fish.

1788 – August:  By August Dr. White reported scurvy in the white population had; ‘now risen to a most alarming height, without any possibility of checking it until some vegetables can be raised’.

Vegetables -in Sydney’s shallow sandy soil many seedlings brought from England, planted at the wrong time of the year, failed to germinate.

During the long winter months, supposedly ignorant of ‘giv[ing] offence’, like a swarm of locusts, marooned Englishmen and women with complete disregard for the health needs of Aboriginal families, continued to relentlessly raid their resources. See: Abandoned and Left To Starve Sydney Cove January 1788 t0 June 1790

The natives appear very numerous…a convict Cooper Handly who went out with an armed party of marines to collect wild vegetable and sweet [sarsparilla] tea strayed from them and was afterwards met by the natives, who murdered and mutilated him in a shocking way…the marines buried him near where he was killed. 

 2 of the Convalescent convicts were sent out to get greens for the hospital. They were met by a party of the natives about a mile from the camp – the natives attacked them first by throwing stones which they were returning.

When they used their spears; one of the convicts escaped with a barbed spear broke in him entering the small of the back & that was obliged to be cut out. He reported that  the other convict was killed. Cited, Dr John Cobley, Sydney Cove 1788, Angus and Robertson, 1980

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Dr. John White operated on the wounded man; ‘after dilating the wound to a considerable length and depth, with some difficulty…[he] extracted the spear, which had penetrated the flesh nearly three inches’.

Dr George Worgan, notable for bringing his piano to Sydney in HMS Sirius and, later teaching Elizabeth Macarthur to play it, assisted White at the operating table. He reported; ‘the man said they had given no offence that he knew of’.

But Governor Arthur Phillip not only knew all about ‘offencehe named it in dispatches.

‘They certainly are not pleased with our remaining amongst them…as they see we deprive them of fish which is almost their only support. See: A Clear and Present Danger – Starvation

These people last summer would neither eat shark nor stingray; but the scarcity of fish in the winter, I believe, obliges them to eat anything that affords the smallest nourishment’. Dispatch Governor Arthur Phillip to Lord Sydney, 28 September 1788.

When by the end of September 1788 all chartered transport vessels, except Golden Grove, had departed and Phillip could wait no longer

He ordered Captain Hunter prepare HMS Sirius for a voyage to the Cape of Good Hope.

1788 – 2 October, Africa: Captain John Hunter RN sailed a leaky HMS Sirius out through Sydney’s towering headlands and set a southerly course for Cape Town via Drake Passage, around  Cape Horne, to buy supplies from the Dutch.

Captain Hunter RN was the First Fleet’s navigator. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s oceans and prevailing winds. Hunter also took with him Captain Cooks chart’s from his second  voyage via the Southern Oceans.

Since the Age of Elizabeth 1, the British had had global ambitions in which possession of Central America offered the prospect of opening a path between the Atlantic and Pacific’. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America, Yale University Press, New Haven, London, 2013

EPILOGUE

‘From the first decades of their colonizations, the British had envied the Spanish the riches of bullion and production they obtained from the World. Drake’s and Hawkin’s raids were early and brutal manifestations of envy’. Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip His Voyaging 1738-1814, Oxford University Press, Auckland, London, 1987

1789 – 8 May, Sydney: HMS Sirius returned from Africa with 127 lbs. (pounds) of flour for the king’s ships and medicines for the settlement.

Only to find 50% of local Aborigines were dead or dying of smallpox. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

Could there be a more ‘brutal manifestation of envy‘. See: Proximity Not Distance Drove Britain’s Invasion of Australia

 

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