Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 20


Proceed up the River Tamar to Launceston—Short Excursion into the Country—Flourishing state of the Town—Hospitality of the Inhabitants—Sail from Port Dalrymple—Arrival at Sydney— Excursion over the Southern settled Districts—Departure from Sydney, in the ship Surry, and safe arrival in England.

No time was lost in entering into arrangements for procuring a supply of provisions, which were much facilitated by the Deputy-Assistant-Commissary General Hull, being at George's Town.

The Commissary was to leave next morning, with Mr. Kenworthy, Comptroller of Customs, who offered Lieutenant Sleeman and myself a passage to Launceston, which we availed ourselves of, our own boat being small, leaky, and unfit for a forty miles' excursion. Accordingly on Saturday morning, we staged before daylight, for the purpose of carrying the tide with us all the way.

As the morning dawned, the appearance of the river, and its scenery, were singularly picturesque; each reach appearing like an inland lake. In a reach, about seven miles above George's Town, I observed a large ship at anchor, which I was informed was the Surry, taking in Mimosa bark for London. I also learned, that she was to sail in a few days for Sydney, to complete her cargo. Captain Dacre, the commander, being an old friend, I determined to proceed home by her, and therefore viewed her with some interest.

Her present situation, protected from every breeze—her shadow intermingled with that of the luxuriant foliage of the surrounding verdant hills, reflected from the glassy bosom of the tranquil lake,—formed a striking contrast, to that place of peril she soon would be in, contending with the rude assaults of stormy winds and waves, while passing those dreary regions,—

where wild-meeting oceans boil,
Besouth Magellan."

The sun rose beautifully over the eastern hills, and the surrounding views became most interesting: at a point named Whirlpool reach, the scenery much resembles that of the highland lakes; but even this scenery is surpassed, at a spot named Swan Reach; and at the point where Nelson's shoals open, the view is truly magnificent, the distant hills, among which towers the lofty Benlomond, presenting a prospect highly agreeable to all who have any taste for the picturesque.

When within a short distance of Launceston, I noticed a spruce-looking gentleman, whose face was not unknown to me, guiding a boat, as I thought, rather awkwardly. We soon recognized each other as former fellow-voyagers, and he took a seat in our boat, which was better adapted for passengers than his own.

The last time we met, he was captain of the light company of a crack regiment of infantry. After mutual salutation, and condolence on his part, I expressed my astonishment at his having converted his sword into a plough-share: I also could not help reminding him how he used to rail against any life excepting that of a soldier, which (he thought) so far surpassed all others. He had now his boat full of wheat, which he was conveying to "the maid of the mill," to get ground. This was rather a different employment from that of exhibiting the symmetry of his form, and the smart cut of his coat, after parade, in the view of the admiring fair. As regards dress, however, he had not degenerated into that "agrestem et inhumanam negligentiam," so frequent among those who have, in their earlier years, been celebrated for their attention to the adorning of the outward man. He had also altered his opinion regarding the relative importance of the soldier and the firmer, and he now expatiated, with Ciceronian eloquence and enthusiasm, on the pleasures of a country life.

Having arrived at Launceston about noon, through the kindness of Mr. Hull, we got pretty well housed at a comfortable inn, and instantly made arrangements for the disposal of the two days, we intended to remain. Having a farm about thirty miles from Launceston, which I had never seen, I purposed to embrace the present opportunity of paying it a visit, and Lieutenant Sleeman consented to accompany me.

The next day being Sunday, we went to church, where we heard a very good sermon. In the afternoon, I received a friendly visit from many old acquaintances. I was also much gratified, by several prisoners, (who had come to the colony under my care, and who were now in responsible situations,) calling to pay their respects, and to express the sorrow they felt on hearing of my shipwreck. It afforded me no small degree of pleasure to observe the interest these unfortunate men seemed to take in my welfare.

Next morning, at daylight, we were ready to take our intended trip to the country; but after waiting some time for the gig, on inquiry we found that Captain ————, the innkeeper, would not let it come until he saw one of the party requiring it, this put us in mind of the nonchalance of the transatlantic innkeepers; and Lieutenant Sleeman, being exceedingly wroth and indignant, threatened to punish the fellow for his insolence; however, there was no remedy, as it was the only gig to be hired in the place, and if we had shown any airs, it was unlikely we should get it. I therefore, presented myself, roused Captain Boniface from his slumbers, and by a little blandiloquentia, the gig was soon got ready, and away we started to take a view of the country.

We were not armed, by the advice of Captain Donaldson, the Commandant, although a bushranger named Bevan (free, and a native of Sydney) was abroad, and in the vicinity, committing great depredations with impunity; doubtless being sheltered by those pests of society, receivers of "swag," the phrase for plunder, in the jargon of thieves, rogues, and vagabonds.

There was also some danger to be apprehended from the natives, who were now committing several cruel acts of retaliation, which their extermination seemed to be the only means of stopping. This is the more to be regretted, as the natives, at first, were friendly disposed, and appeared mild and affable; their hostility being caused by the rash and imprudent conduct of certain civilized individuals.

At the first formation of the colony (observes Mr. Evans[1]), Lieutenant Gov. Bowen having left Risdon, on a tour through the Island, to ascertain the spots of land most eligible to be formed into allotments for settlers, the command devolved upon an officer of the New South Wales Corps. Towards noon of the day, after the Lieutenant Governor's departure, a considerable number of natives were seen descending from the neighbouring hills; and as they approached, they were distinctly heard to sing, each man having in his hand a green bough, a well known emblem of peace among savage tribes. Perhaps their signals of amity were not understood, or their numbers appeared too great to be trusted; otherwise the officer in command, would not have directed a discharge of grape and canister shot to be made among them.

Several instances have lately occurred, where opportunities of regaining the confidence of the Aborigines, thus lost through the lamentable rashness of the first settlers, might have been profited by; but instead of this being the case, every hostile feeling has been aggravated by the treacherous and barbarous conduct of their white antagonists[2].

We passed through an exceedingly fertile, and well-cultivated country, and arrived at Perth, a rising town, situated on the right hank of the South Esk, about twelve miles from Launceston. We crossed the river in a very convenient punt, and halted at the Government House, where, through the kindness of Captain Donaldson, we found an excellent breakfast in readiness for us.

This repast being finished, we renewed our journey; and, after travelling about fifteen, miles, through a pastoral-looking country, chiefly belonging to Mr. Archer, an opulent settler, we arrived at Mr. Alston's, who received us with unfeigned cordiality. After mutual gratulations, he informed me, that nothing could have happened more opportunely than my present visit, as an influential individual was endeavouring to deprive me of my farm, with the view, and in the hope, of getting it added to his own possessions. I was somewhat surprised at this information, and thought it prudent to lose no time in adopting measures to thwart his design.

Next morning, we were awakened, at early dawn, by the pleasing song of the magpie (which is far from being an indifferent substitute for the lark), and being provided with horses by Mr. Alston, who accompanied us, we started, to take a view of the surrounding country, but more especially of my property, which we soon reached; and the scenery surpassed my most sanguine anticipations.

At this season of the year, the mornings, in Van Dieman's Land, are generally delightful;—this one was particularly so; and we enjoyed the contemplation of nature, in her mild and peaceful aspect, much more keenly, from having lately been compelled to view her under less attractive forms:—it was certainly far more pleasant to listen to the soothing and gentle sough of the autumnal breeze, waving o'er the yellow bending grain, than to hear the stormy winds whistling wildly through the shrouds, in dismal concert with the clamour of the crew, the rattling of the ropes, and the hoarse voice of conflicting waves.

On our return to Mr. Alston's, we found Boniface's Bucephalus ready caparisoned, and being refreshed by rest and good treatment, quite willing to carry us back to Launceston. Having no time to lose, we mounted, entered the gig, bade adieu to our hospitable friend (who promised to make the necessary improvements on my farm), and proceeded on our return, repeating, "Beatus ille qui procul negotiis." After a pleasant drive, we arrived at Perth in safety, being neither disturbed by blacks nor bushrangers, and immediately sat down to an excellent tiffin, and a choice assortment of fruit, which the Serjeant had in readiness.

We reached Launceston just in time to dine with the Magnates. A ball took place in the evening. The arbiter elegantiarum was Captain Welch, who seemed as much at home in the duties of that important station, as he was in laying down the beacons and buoys in the river Tamar.

The assemblage of the fair sex was numerous and respectable; and the healthy aspects, blooming cheeks, and expressive eyes, of the young damsels (who, considering it was the first time some of them had appeared in public, conducted themselves with becoming gracefulness and ease), shewed that the soil was as well adapted for the development of female beauty, as it is universally allowed to be for the growth of grain.

The supper was well "got up;" and, in short, the entire arrangements did credit to the taste and judgment of the stewards. If I mistake not, this is the first instance of a subscription ball in any part of this colony, and therefore highly praiseworthy; as the cheerful intercourse of a dance (while used as an occasional relaxation, and not as the important business of life,) is not only harmless, but even likely to do good, by tending to promote that social, and friendly intercourse, which, unfortunately, is so little regarded in these colonies.

Launceston is flourishing, and likely to increase in prosperity, as large ships are now enabled to come up to the wharf. I noticed several of considerable size; one upwards of 400 tons. There is no doubt that it will become a place of great trade, although I cannot agree with those who predict that it will, ere long, surpass Hobart Town. It is badly supplied with water, which might be obtained abundantly, and without great labour, skill, or expense, from the South Esk, above the falls—not half a mile from the town.

Next morning, we left Launceston; and, being engaged to spend some part of the day with an old friend, we crossed the North Esk, mounted horses, and shortly arrived at his farm, which is pleasantly situated on the right bank of the Tamar. After having viewed and praised his improvements, and partaken of a well-cooked dinner, we took our departure, and proceeded down the river in Mr. Kenworthy's barge, accompanied by Captain Donaldson, and Mr. Lockyer.

Having imprudently tarried too long at dinner, the tide failed us, and we were obliged to stop during the night, at the residence of a settler, an old sailor, named Guilders[3]. We were under some alarm of a visit from the Bushrangers;—particularly Captain Donaldson, against whom, they had vowed vengeance; consequently, we did not enjoy much sleep, and at dawn of day, we renewed our journey. At five, A.M., we called alongside the ship Surry, and had coffee. Captain Dacre received me with a hearty welcome, and offered me a passage to England, on exceedingly favourable terms, which I immediately embraced.

On Friday, the 15th, at six, P.M., we got under weigh, and left George's Town[4]. On Saturday, we encountered a heavy gale, accompanied with much thunder and lightning. On the 19th, we made Cape Howe; then coasted along the shore, and on Thursday, Jan. 21st, at daylight, we entered the heads of Port Jackson, and shortly afterwards anchored in Sydney Cove, when I was surrounded by many friends, whose disinterested and substantial kindness will never be forgotten.

In a few days afterwards, I proceeded on a tour through the Counties Cumberland, Camden, Argyle, Murray, St. Vincent, Bathurst, &c.; and, although only twelve months had elapsed since my last visit, the improvements on the various farms were really astonishing, and reflected infinite credit on the perseverance and enterprise of the settlers;—of those especially, who had given up ploughing the waves, for the more placid occupation of ploughing the land. Indeed, I may state, without much fear of contradiction, that; with few exceptions, the farms, and flocks, and herds, of ci-devant sailors, are better managed than those of any other class of settlers.

On returning from my excursion, I found that the Surry had arrived, but at the same time I heard the disagreeable intelligence that the crew had left her, in consequence (as they said) of her being very leaky, and totally unfit to undertake a voyage round Cape Horn, during the winter season. I was strongly advised not to proceed in her; but, being anxious to get home, and being assured by Captain Dacre, who was an experienced seaman, and one who well knew whether or not any real cause existed for apprehension, that the report, which was exaggerated, had been spread from malicious motives, I unhesitatingly embarked, in the full hope that this, my second attempt to reach England, would be successful.

On the 9th of April, the Surry being again manned, and having completed her cargo, we left Sydney Cove. As soon as we cleared the heads of Port Jackson, we encountered a heavy gale from the southward, which blew with unabated fury for several days; and, notwithstanding the reported crazy state of the vessel, she made no more water than any other merchant-ship, under similar circumstances, would have done.

The weather continuing stormy, and the wind still hanging to the southward, we passed to the northward of New Zealand; after which, we experienced fine weather, and a northerly breeze, which lasted many days.

On the 28th, we passed the sub-meridian of Greenwich, in latitude 35° 42'. On the 29th of May, we passed a small piece of ice, in lat. 58° 30', and long. 118° 12' W. This unexpected sight caused us much uneasiness, as we hitherto understood that, during the winter season, in these high latitudes, no danger was to be apprehended from icebergs, which were only to be met with during summer, when, from the length of the days, they could easily be avoided. Thus finding, however, that the above generally-received opinion was erroneous, our anxiety was greatly increased and not without reason; as it neither can be considered safe nor agreeable, to be scudding under a close-reefed main-topsail, during a long, dark, cold, and stormy night, in continual dread of being dashed to pieces against an iceberg[5].

Fortunately, we met no more; but shortly afterwards the weather became overcast, and we did not see the sun for several days; when we obtained a meridian altitude, it placed us a degree and a half to the southward of our reckoning, thereby shewing that a current runs in that direction[6].

On the 30th we saw the Island of Diego Ramirez; After passing Cape Horn, we were baffled with light northerly winds for several days, experiencing at the same time a north-easterly current.

On the 26th of June, in latitude 29° 34', and in longitude 15° 54', we got the S.E. trade. On the 9th of July we crossed the equator, in longitude 21° 41'. On the 20th, we got the N.E. trade; and after a protracted, but not otherwise disagreeable passage, the good ship Surry, notwithstanding the unfavourable surmises, anchored in safety in the Downs, on August 2d, at two P. M., without the aid of a pilot, as it blew such a heavy gale, that none dared to venture on board.

Thus did I complete another voyage round the world, during which I experienced some dangers, many privations, and great pecuniary loss—not having been insured, although a former similar calamity might have taught me to act more prudently.

It, however, affords me much gratification, in being enabled to state, that my losses, on both occasions, were rendered less severe, by the kind and liberal conduct of the Commissioners of His Majesty's Navy, who, unhesitatingly, granted me every indulgence which they could bestow.

  1. Description of Van Dieman's Land, by G. W. Evans, Esq., Deputy Surveyor-General.
  2. Since this period the Aborigines have been collected, and removed to an Island in Bass's Straits, where they are provided for, and protected by the Colonial Government.
  3. Since treacherously murdered by the natives.
  4. George's Town, situated on the right bank of the river, near its mouth, is rapidly going to decay; but it may revive, and, from its proximity to the sea, &c., become the Margate of the Launcestonians.
  5. During my voyage home, in the following year, in the ship John, from Van Dieman's Land, we had a very narrow escape from a peril of this description. On August 7th, being in latitude 52° 58' S. and longitude 130° E., about four o'clock in the morning, the chief mate having reported to the Captain, that there was a suspicious appearance on the starboard bow, the Captain called me up to ask my opinion, and I distinctly saw the blink of the ice; but as the ship was going with much rapidity, it soon disappeared;—being on the alert from this circumstance, the Captain remained on the poop, and the chief mate on the forecastle, and in about an hour, a heavy cloud was perceived right a-head, through the surrounding haze, which was thought to be land. During these surmises, the chief mate called out "keep her away," which was done instantly, and we grazed the S.W. point of an immense iceberg, several hundred feet high; the rebounding swell from which assisted to keep the vessel off, while the broken ice retarded her progress considerably. We then stood off till daylight, when we observed a great number of icebergs around us in every direction. We sailed through them, during six days, lying-to every night, until we reached 118° west longitude. Since this period, icebergs have constantly been met with during the winter season—generally from 130° to 110° west; and I have, therefore, no doubt, that a large extent of undiscovered land exists to the southward.
  6. It has often astonished me, that navigators do not make more use of the moon. In none of the popular works on navigation (Kerrigan's excepted), is there any problem given to find the apparent time by the altitude of the moon—a simple problem, exceedingly useful on many occasions (more particularly in high latitudes during the winter season) and now rendered more easy, by the right ascension of the moon being calculated for every three hours, in the Nautical Almanack.