Mary Ann Reid, captain's wife on the East Indiaman Friendship, describes coasting Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land) and sailing to an anchorage in Sydney Cove
[January 1800] As all sails were set, we soon approached the land, and passed a small island, which they called Swilly; it was covered with sea birds, particularly the gannet. As we drew near, each one on board was straining his eyes to behold new wonders on this strange land; some of the prisoners thought they were to be sent on shore, until convinced, that the ship was near 1000 miles from Port Jackson. Agreeably to promise, every man was now let out of irons, but carefully shut up at night, as usual, and only a certain number permitted upon deck, in their turn, in the course of the day.
Notwithstanding our ship was reckoned a dull sailer, we had come upwards of three degrees per day, upon an average, since leaving the Cape, being 128 degrees of longitude in thirty-three days.
In consequence of the wind, we could not come very near the shore the first day, but by the telescope we could see very tall trees rising upon the basis of the hills, and extending to the summits; some smoke was also observed in a small bay, which left no doubt of human beings inhabiting that neighbourhood. Many whales, seals, and porpoises shewed themselves in the course of the day; but the majority on board were too much occupied with the shore to notice them; only as I had stationed myself at the gallery window, I could not help looking at these marine inhabitants sporting in their own element.
During the night we had squally and unsettled weather, which continued for some time, and deprived us for six days of again seeing the land. When in the latitude of 40 degrees south, on account of the great and rough sea which came from the west, minutes were entered in the log-book, recording that it was thought some strait opened in that direction. [This is ascertained to be the case; and Van Dieman’s land to constitute a separate island—See Capt. Flinders’ Voyage, and other surveys—editor of the Asiatic Journal.]
On the 10th land was seen to the west, but at too great a distance to make any observations; but during the night several fires were observed, apparently very near the beach, and next day were were gratified by sailing very near the shore, between Wilson’s Promontory and Cape How, where every part, as well hill as valley, appeared in verdure, with lofty trees interspersed, and as regular did these appear in some places, as if they had been planted by the hand of man. All the telescopes were in requisition, and a good look-out kept, to discover if any natives were visible, but none could be seen; neither any smoke this day. From the favourable state of the wind, it was expected we should reach our port of destination in a few days.
That every thing might be settled with the prisoners, prior to their disembarking, on the 11th they were called, one by one, to know how much money they had given to the chief mate, when their clothing was changed, in Ireland. Some little advances had been made to them while at the Cape, for fruit &c. All was right in their money account, and each man furnished with the amount he should receive when he quitted the ship. There were about thirty of these poor men who could not speak English.
On the 14th, we passed a high promontory, which is called Cape Dromedary, from its resemblance to that animal when viewed in a particular direction. All the hills, as far as the eye could reach, were covered with trees; some parts of the shore, next the sea, were bold and rocky, but no apparent danger for a ship, unless very near the land. At night fires were frequently seen near the sea, and smoke in the day, but no natives could be distinguished.
On the 15th, in the evening, we saw Cape Banks and Point Solander, which is very near the entrance of Botany Bay, which place Captain Cook first visited, and spoke so favourably of for a settlement; but it was found not to answer, for when Governor Phillip first came to form a colony (which is just twelve years ago) he found Port Jackson a much better seat for one in all respects. Some of the men were much surprised that we did not put into Botany Bay, as they had understood they were to be landed there, until convinced to the contrary.
All was anxiety in the evening of the 16th, and every thing prepared to enter the harbour. About twelve at night the ship was off the north and south heads, which form the entrance of the of the port, where we lay-to until morning. At length daylight appeared, and the wind being fair, we boldly entered the harbour; the captain being a good pilot, needed no other guide; in less than a quarter of an hour after, the ship (to use the sea-phrase) was completely land-locked. We passed a dangerous rock (mid channel) called the Sow and Pigs; and saw a fine looking house, on our left, belonging to a Mr. Palmer, with several detached buildings, which gave it the appearance of an English farm. We also passed Garden Island, on the left, which had a fertile, luxuriant appearance, with a respectable looking house upon it. As we approached, we passed a barren rock, on the right, which is named Pinch-Gut island. This is small, and the most barren spot we had seen; it had a gibbet upon it, where a culprit had been executed for murder.
The surrounding country afforded a pleasant range of scenery, being diversified with hill and dale, with many inlets, forming little covers or bays. As we passed up towards Bennilong Point, the town of Sidney burst upon our sight. The ship anchored in the cove, about seven in the morning, and saluted the Governor with nine guns, which was the first intimation the settlement had of our arrival. Where we anchored, the distance of the shore on either side did not exceed fifty yards, which made it appear as if we were in a dock.
The Governor’s house, on the left, towards the head of the cove, and the Lieutenant-governor’s house on the right, with the barracks, and many other detached buildings, made the town altogether surpass our expectations. We found lying at this place the ship Albion, Captain Bunker; the ship Walker, Captain Nicholl; the Betsey, Captain Clark, all South seamen. The latter ship had come in with a Spanish prize, which she had captured near Lima, in South America. The Minerva, who sailed with us from Cork, had left this place for India three days prior to our arrival. As soon as our ship was moored, the captain went on shore, to wait upon Governor Hunter, to whom he was known, from having been at this port as chief mate of the Marquis Cornwallis, in 1795. He also waited upon the Lieutenant-governor, Colonel Patterson.
The men could not be disembarked for three days, which time it would take to prepare accommodations for them: this was of little consequence, as they were healthy, and had plenty of water and provisions on board.