AN EVACUATION – SAVING LIEUTENANT WILLIAM COLLINS

‘It is probable the ships’ company will be on salt provisions for some months after they arrive on the coast of New South Wales, [I] will be glad of two hundred pounds of portable soup in addition to fifty pounds already supply’d. Arthur Phillip to Admiralty, 22nd March 1787, Historical Records of New South Wales.

Made from; ‘all the offals of oxen killed in London for the use of  the navy’ portable soup was a dried concoction suitable for re-constitution.

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: Led by HMS Sirius a large armed squadron of eleven (11) ships commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN with a complement of 1500 souls, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, sailed from England to New South Wales in mid May 1787.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: Eight (8) months later, on the  26 January 1788, Phillip raised the Union Jack at Sydney Cove and proclaimed British sovereignty over New Holland.

The initial allocation of a meagre twenty-five (25) kg of portable soup to feed two hundred (200) Royal Naval, personnel of HMS Sirius and HMS Supply, is strong indication supplies were expected to arrive in a matter of months

Despite government assurance that more Englishmen and supplies would ‘follow shortly’ the ‘First Fleet’ Robinson Crusoes waited years – until June 1790 – before they heard a word or received a morsel of food from England.

Worse still, not until mid September 1789 with HMS Guardian, was an attempt made to resupply Englishmen marooned 13,000 miles (21.000 km) from their homeland. Guardian struck an iceberg and never reached Sydney. See: Australia’s Titanic – HMS Guardian – The Missing Link

1788 – February. Sydney: As Fishburn, Golden Grove and Borrowdale the ‘First Fleet’s three (3) stores-ships were unloaded in February 1788 it became clear food reserves were perilously low so immediate reductions had to be made in the ration issue.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and the [male] convicts…the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, 1993

The First Fleet, sold as a convict fleet, was nothing of the sort. All 1300 males were available for combat. See: Convict Transportation – The Hulks Act & How The Mindset of Slavery Came To Australia 

1788 – May, Sydney: Transports Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn and Scarborough chartered from the British  East India Company had, by the end of May 1788, departed Sydney for England via China.

1788 – June, Sydney: Between January 1788 and the middle of the year the English survived largely by supplementing their dwindling supplies of salted meats and dried tack with fish and crustacean, local Aborigines’ primary summer protein food. However in winter fish became scarce

1788 – July: Governor Phillip wrote: ‘They [Aborigines] are now much distressed for food, few fish are caught & I am told that many of them appear on the Beach when the Boats go to haul the Seins [trawling nets], very weak & anxious to get the small fish, of which they made no account in the Summer.

Nor can we give them much assistance as very few fish are now caught, & we have many sick’. Governor Arthur Phillip to Joseph Banks, 2 July 1788. Oxford Book of Australian Letters, ed. Brenda Niall and John Thompson, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998

1788 – 14 July, Sydney: The store-ship Borrowdale with transports Alexander, Prince of Wales and Friendship, left Sydney in mid 1788 for the return voyage to England. Friendship carried a passenger Marine Lieutenant William Collins brother of Captain David Collins judge-advocate and Governor Phillip’s chief advisor.

David, ten (10) years older than William, appears to have delighted in his young brother who, it is said; ‘unfurled the first British Flag at Sidney Cove’.

Records show illness was given for his evacuation. However as William Collins died in 1842 aged seventy-seven (77) years this reason invites speculation. Could his exit from famine ravaged Sydney have been stage-managed by his influential brother to circumvent William’s involvement, by association, in a dishonourable act?

1788 – September:These people [Aborigines] 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, Arthur Phillip to Lord Sydney, 28 September 1788. Historical Records of New South Wales.

1788 – 2 October, Africa: At Sydney the supply situation was so desperate HMS Sirius, with her crew weak from semi-starvation and suffering scurvy, sailed to Cape Town to buy food from the Dutch. 

Captain John Hunter RN, an excellent navigator with an extensive knowledge of wind patterns and sea-currents plotted a course that took Sirius on a perilous route round Cape Horn directly into the path of; ‘treacherous westerlies…through floating islands of ice…reached the Cape [Good Hope] in three months instead of five’.

1789 – January, Sydney: Meanwhile in Sirius’s absence desperation and depression deepened. Two (2) hungry populations, one using traditional methods, HMS Supply with large trawling nets, competed without equity but with increasing hostility for fish that, for millennia, had sustained the Aboriginal peoples.

Captain David Collins and Major Robert Ross, commander of the Sydney marine garrison, from experience gained at the Siege of Boston (1775-76) during the American War of Independence, knew there was a solution to the supply-demand impasse at Sydney. See: A Lethal Weapon: Smallpox Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789

‘It is true that our surgeons had brought variolous matter in bottles’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Major Ross doubted Governor Phillip would implement that solution, perhaps David Collins feared Major Ross might.

1789 – April, 1789: ‘A smallpox epidemic struck the Aboriginal population around Sydney. Inexplicably, the epidemic did not affect the European population but Phillip estimated that it resulted in the death of 50% of the local Aboriginal community’. People of Australia, Macquarie Series, ed. Bryce Fraser, 1998 

Lieutenant William Collins was on his way home to England when the killing began.

‘Not one case of the disorder occurred among the white people either afloat or on shore although there were several in the settlement; but a North American Indian took the disease and died’. Samuel Bennett, Australian Discovery and Colonisation, Vol. 1 to 1800, facsimile edition,1981. See: Joseph Jefferies from New York to Rio and Old Sydney Town: One – Then There Was None.

 

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