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Saturday, February 15, 2014

In port in New South Wales, 1800

Having arrived in Port Jackson, Mary Ann Reid, wife of Captain Hugh Reid of the East Indiaman Friendship, enjoys entertainment on shore by day, while living in her comparatively luxurious accommodations on board at night. Included with her observations are comments on the Aboriginal natives of New South Wales -- somewhat devastating in the case of Bennelong, the friend of both Governor Phillip and Governor Hunter, who did a great deal to ease relations between the locals and the British intruders, and unconsciously admiring when describing the boat skills of an Aboriginal woman who fished off the stern of the ship.

Tupaia, sketch of Aboriginals fishing BL Add MS 15508 f.10
[February 1800] The next day we had an invitation to dine at the Government house, where we met an agreeable family party, comprising Mrs. K[ent]., niece to the Governor, whom I found friendly and well informed; also the Rev. Mr. J[ohnson]. and lady; Captain and Mrs. A[bbott]. and Major J[ohnson]. After spending a pleasant day, we returned on board in the evening; and I must confess, that I thought our own apartments on board more comfortable and much safer than theirs on shore.

Next day we were invited to meet a large party at Colonel P[aterson].’s, and were treated in a friendly and polite manner by himself and lady, from whom I received much information respecting this infant Colony; but was sorry to learn there was much party-spirit, with jarring and bickering among the free members of this small community, which was a bar to friendly intercourse between the adherents of the rival parties.

On the 21st, the prisoners were disembarked.  Many of them left the ship with tears, and each boat-load cheered as they put off, which was rather a novel sight to many on shore, who had received harsh treatment on their passage out. The captain received a letter from the Governor, expressing his thanks and approbation for the kind treatment and good management during the passage, saying that such conduct would not be forgot in the dispatches to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

The captain spoke particularly to the Governor in respect of those prisoners who had seen better days, and who had conducted themselves so well on the voyage; he also made known the conduct of Mr. MacCullam, who had assisted the surgeon; from which favourable report he was immediately appointed to officiate as an assistant in a medical department, at an out-settlement called Town Gabby, with a salary of fifty pounds per annum, and a free house.

As we were now left to ourselves, all prison-doors, bulk-heads, and armed gratings were taken down, after which the ship did not appear like the same. We were now visited in return, on board, by the ladies and gentlemen of the settlement, and had many social, pleasant parties. It was arranged a few days after our arrival, that we should live entirely on board; indeed several ladies said they thought the accommodation which we had on board better than we could have on shore, especially as we had our servants and comforts about us. We judged this the best made, as the access to and from the ship to the shore was safe and easy.

One Tuesday evening, the governor and his niece, Mrs. Kent, came on board to take tea in a friendly way; when he informed us that next day he had engaged a few friends to dine with him upon fish, it being Wednesday; and if they were good Christians, they would be satisfied with it, for he had no doubt but a sufficiency would be procured with the sein; it it all depended upon luck, and those who had any doubts would take something else, as a stand-by. The dinner was to be prepared down the harbour, near the entrance, under a large tree, with a rough table, and seats already fixed there for such parties.

We were included in this proposed expedition, and willingly accepted the invitation. On the morrow our friends, the governor and Mrs. Kent, called for me, and we proceeded down the harbour. I was introduced to a native chief, named Benallong; his countenance and figure were most repulsive: his figure resembled a baboon more than one of the human species. He had been taken to England by Governor Phillips, and brought back by Governor Hunter; so that he had been a considerable time in civilized society, including the passage to Europe, the time he staid in England, and his last embarkation. Nevertheless by all this he had not profited, but appeared as much a savage as any of his countrymen that I saw.

We arrived about one o’clock at our station, and met a party of thirteen, including ourselves. The seamen went directly to work with the nets, and repeatedly drew them up empty; on which the governor desired them to try a lucky spot, where they before had met with success, and this time were not disappointed, for they got a draught of fine fine, which would have served fifty persons. They consisted of mullet, snappers, and several other kind of fish whose names I do not recollect.

Shortly after my husband joined us with some bread, cheese, bottled porter, and other viands. The cooks began their operations; and after half an hour’s walk, we return to an excellent dinner. The treat, being seasoned with the entertaining conversation rich in numerous anecdotes of our worthy host, made the day pass pleasantly. Several of the natives hovered about, but were not allowed to join our party without being properly clothed. This Bennilong was commissioned to tell them; and as clothing had been distributed to them a short time before, no excuse would do; however, plenty of fish read cooked and others from the surplus quantity, were left for them on purpose. In the evening we returned to the anchorage, much gratified with the day’s excursion.

I had often seen the natives at a distance paddling their little canoes down the cove, but none of them met my near view until the following incident. One forenoon I was rather surprised at hearing a strange humming noise under the cabin window; looking out I was more so, at beholding one of their canoes tied with a string to our rudder chains, with a native woman, and young infant in her lap. The canoe was nothing more than the bark of a tree, about seven or eight feet long by two feet wide, tied together at each end in a rough puckered manner. The embers of some half-burnt wood were smoking before her as she sat cross-legged at her employment; she had a fishing-line in each hand over the side of her little boat, and was humming her wild notes, either to entice the fish or to quiet the infant. I saw her draw up a small fish with one of the lines; she immediately applied her teeth to the neck of it, which instantly ceased struggling. Taking it off the hook, she put it upon the embers, and blew them into a flame; before it was warm through she began to eat it, apparently with great relish; after which, she gave her child the breast, and continued her labours. 

I threw down some biscuit, which she also eat; I then gave her a handkerchief, and some linen to cover her, which she took, and carelessly put on one side, repeating some jargon, which I did not understand. This poor creature might be about twenty-eight years of age, but it was difficult to judge from the sooty appearance of her skin; the child’s appearance was about three months. The woman wore her hair matted and dirty; her features had been cast in the plainest of nature’s moulds. She afterwards became a frequent visitor astern of the ship, and never went away empty-handed; but I never saw the clothing upon her which had been given. She never ventured on board, although frequently entreated to come. She managed her canoe with great dexterity; with a paddle in each hand, about eighteen inches long, she could turn it in all directions, and make it go as fast as our boats with two men rowing in them. The canoe is so light, that when she came to the shore she pulled it up with the greatest ease a considerable way from the water. After she had landed, I frequently saw some of the native men come to share her little stock of fish, biscuits, and other acquisitions of industry and fortune.

The oysters are so plentiful here, that two boys sent from the ship in the course of an hour could bring on board several buckets full. They were about the size of our Melton, or Colchester oysters, of a delicious flavour; the beards of them, with a little of the oyster attached, made an excellent bait for fish.

One afternoon I was so fortunate in angling from the cabin windows, that, strange as it may appear, I caught as many fish as not only supplied the cabin-table, but furnished the whole crew with a meal next day.  They were called snappers, and weighed from two and a half to three pounds each; so keen were they after the bait that evening, that the line was no sooner thrown out than they bit immediately. We never wanted fine fish while we remained here. The wallimy (otherwise called the light horseman, from the head resembling the cap of a trooper) is a most excellent fish for boiling, common specimens weighing from ten to fifteen pounds each.

Fruit was in such abundance, particularly figs, that our people were almost surfeited with them. Baskets full of figs were frequently thrown into the pig-stye, in order that they might not be wasted. Culinary vegetables were also in great plenty. Butchers’ meat, mutton, or pork, was high, at the rate of 2s. 6d. per pound; as for beef, none was allowed to be killed. Poultry was dear in proportion. Butter, none in the market, except what came from Europe; it was a great treat when I had a little fresh butter presented to me by Mrs. Kent or Mrs. Patterson, made at their own dairies.

1 comment:

Linda Collison said...

I've been enjoying this series. I especially like viewing the world through a woman's eyes. The observations about the native woman and her baby were particularly interesting. Especially how she dispatched the fish!