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Monday, February 17, 2014

Mrs. R. in Sydney, continued

We frequently joined the oyster parties at different corners of the harbour, taking bottled porter, bread, and condiments with us. There was no ceremony observed on these occasions; the ladies were quite independent, each being furnished with a little hammer to knock off the upper shell; the oyster was then easily taken out with a small knife; after which, we regaled ourselves with bottled porter, sitting upon the clean projecting rocks. At one of these parties, Mrs. K.’s little daughter had sat down upon a stone among the bushes; she presented screamed out, saying she had been bit on the ancle by something that ran under the stone; upon turning over the stone, we discovered numbers of large centipedes running about in all directions. We killed many of these disgusting reptiles; one of them measured about eight inches in length. So tenacious are they of life, that one which had been cut in two made it difficult to distinguish which was the head, as each part crawled about equally nimble. Mr. H[arris]., surgeon, put both parts into a small box, saying they would unite again; but whether they did or not I never learnt. The child sustained no injury from the fright.

One morning early in March [1800] we had a visit from Capt. And Mrs. A., with an invitation to take tea with them in the evening, in order to see a battle between two tribes of natives who had quarreled, and intended that their field of battle should be the Barrack-square, of which there was a good view of them from Capt. A.’s windows. I accompanied my husband to this gentleman’s residence. At an early hour the natives began to assemble, and squatted themselves down, men, women, and children, as they arrived. I was anxious to observe all that passed, while I listened attentively to all the observations of the governor, who was present. It was thought there would be no fight that evening, as the adverse tribe had not arrived; however, contrary to expectation, a single chief came in, advancing fearlessly, having a shield on one hand and a short club in the other.  

Presently the women and children got up, and retired to a little distance; when this single chieftain began an harangue, sometimes rising and sometimes lowering his voice; but he could not be understood by any of us. At length a natives from the tribe who first arrived, advanced a certain interval towards him with a long spear, and a throwing-stick in his hand, and jabbered something for a few minutes; after which he appeared to be in great rage, throwing the spear with great force at the other, who caught it upon his shield, where it was perceived to break.  This champion then stood for a time alone unsupported by any other; when presently another man advanced like the former, and after haranguing in the same manner, let fly his spear also, which rebounded, slanting off the shield. This was done alternately by several men until dusk; at length two spears were thrown at him by different persons at the same time, one of which he warded off, but the other went through his thigh. 

One of the medical gentlemen present cut off the barbed part, and drew it back the same way it went in. Thus ended the combat, as the wounded man had given the offended party satisfaction. The quarrel was occasioned by one of their women having been taken away by this man. The governor observed, it was from motives of humanity he allowed them to settle disputes openly in this manner; as when left to themselves, natives of both sexes were sometimes found murdered in the woods, when the perpetrators could not be discovered. The wounded man was seen walking about next day, as if nothing had happened to him.

While we staid, two ships came into the harbour; one was the Hunter, Capt. Anderson, from Bengal; the other a Spanish prize, from the coast of Peru. Next day sailed the ship Walker, Capt. Nichol, to look after spermaceti whales.

The town of Sydney is small, with straggling detached wooden houses, extending about a mile north and south. The regular buildings then consisted only of the barracks, for the church had been maliciously set on fire sometime prior to our arrival; in consequence the chaplain, Mr. Johnson, was obliged to put up with a barn to perform divine service in; and we were informed that the clergyman at Paramatta, the Rev. Mr. Marsden, was as badly accommodated. One Sunday morning we heard an impressive and edifying discourse from a missionary minister, whom Mr. Johnson permitted to preach; he had just arrived in the Spanish prize from Otaheite, where she had touched, and was on his way by the first ship for England, for some more labourers in the same field. He said that their greatest enemies were some renegade Europeans, who had tried to thwart all their measures, but were ultimately frustrated.

Some bold, faithful pastors, disinterested men, sound in doctrine, and exemplary in conduct, might be of much use at this place. Religion seemed to be little regarded, particularly amongst persons in humble life. We observed evidences of much depravity; and some examples were obliged to be made, even amongst our own seamen, who had been enticed to pilfer from the ship. As to security on shore, locks and bars had no effect in keeping out the depredators there; for when they had a mind to plunder they opened a passage through the brick wall. Almost incredible were the stories we heard about the achievements of incorrigible thieves; and had we not been living on board, should most certainly have suffered much loss of property.

Early in April, we had an invitation from the governor to accompany him up to Rose Hill, at Parramatta, where he had built a new government house, and intended giving the first dinner in it to a few friends. On the morning fixed for this jaunt we prepared to start early, the distance being upwards of twenty miles. About six o’clock the governor’s boat was alongside; but a painful duty now devolved upon our hospitable entertainer. Government stores had so often been robbed of late, that an example was determined upon. A convicts had been detected in the act with some accomplices who had escaped. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. We saw all the preparation on shore, and the signal when the culprit was to be turned off was to be made from our ship, by hoisting a union jack at our flag staff. 

The fatal moment approached: the governor held his watch in his hand, and ordered the flag to be hoisted, but from some inattention to the person who had charge of it, the signal lines being jammed in the pully, the flag could only be hoisted half way up. The greatest agitation at this moment seized the governor, who running to the man, ordered it to be pulled time instantly.  No time was lost in again preparing the tackle. At length the ensign run fluently to the top of the staff.  It had been arranged, that should the provost martial see the jack hoisted half-mast high, the culprit was to be turned off; but if it rose to the top he was respited. It was at this critical moment the Governor’s agitation was seen.  Mrs. K. and Mrs. A. were in the cabin with me. We were all very sad at the impending execution; but when our worthy and humane friend came below, and told us the man was respited, he had the most cordial thanks and smiles from us all; and I am sure he felt great satisfaction, in this act of mercy. We took an early breakfast on board, and set off quite happy.

To approach towards a just description of the beautiful varied scenery, of capes and coves, hills and valleys, as we passed up the river, is beyond my feeble abilities. The day was fine; we arrived at Paramatta about one, and walked up the town. The street is regular, and of a good width; the houses are detached, chiefly built of wood.  As we walked up the street, a person came from his own door, and saluted the Governor. I was desired to notice him particularly, as it was the notorious George Barrington; he had lately been made high constable at this place and proved himself very useful in that station. He was tall and thin, of a gentlemanly appearance, but looked sickly.

I was rather disappointed with the new government house, finding it small, and much inferior to that at Sydney. As it was early in the day, an excursion was proposed to Town Gabley; and gigs were procured by the kindness of Capt. P., who commanded at this station. We had a picturesque ride over a pretty good road; we saw very little cultivated land, the soil being poor. They depend more upon the land about he Hawksbury river. Town Gabley had not more than forty houses when I saw it, and they were built of wood. We saw her one of the individuals, MacCullam, who came out with us. He expressed his grateful thanks to my husband, for getting him the medical situation which he then filled; and that he was more comfortable than he had any reason to expect. 

We returned to Parramatta, dined, and proceeded by water to Sydney. We reached the ship at 10 at night, but the time appeared short; it was a fine moon-light evening, and several of the party enlivened us by singing some select songs, particularly Mrs. K. who had a very fine voice; we had music, instrumental as well as vocal; a man in the boat played extremely well on the violin.

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