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VII. At Botany Bay.

WHEN, in 1787, the British Government entrusted Captain Arthur Phillip with a commission to establish a colony at Botany Bay, New South Wales, they gave him explicit directions as to where he should locate the settlement. “According to the best information which we have obtained,” his instructions read, “Botany Bay appears to be the most eligible situation upon the said coast for the first establishment, possessing a commodious harbour and other advantages which no part of the said coast hitherto discovered affords.” But Phillip was a trustworthy man who, in so serious a matter as the choice of a site for a town, did not follow blindly the commands of respectable elderly gentlemen thousands of miles away. It was his business to found a settlement successfully. To do that he must select the best site.

After examining Botany Bay, he decided to take a trip up the coast and see if a better situation could not be found. On the 21st January, 1788, he entered Port Jackson with three boats, and found there “the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security.” He fixed upon a cove “which I honoured with the name of Sydney.” and decided that that


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was there he would “plant.” Every writer of mediaeval history who has had occasion to refer to the choice by Constantine the Great of Byzantium, afterwards Constantinople, as his capital, has extolled his judgment and prescience. Constantine was an Emperor, and could do as he would. Arthur Phillip was an official acting under orders. We can never sufficiently admire the wisdom he displayed when, exercising his own discretion, he decided upon Port Jackson. True, he had a great opportunity, but his signal merit is that he grasped it when it was presented, that he gave more regard to the success of his task than to the letter of his instructions.

While he was making the search, the eleven vessels composing the First Fleet lay in Botany Bay. He returned on the evening of the 23rd, and immediately gave orders that the whole company should as soon as possible sail for Port Jackson, declaring it to be, in King's quaint words, “a very proper place to form an establisht. in.”

To the great astonishment of the Fleet, on the 24th, two strange ships made their appearance to the south of Solander Point, a projection from the peninsula on which now stands the obelisk in memory of Cook's landing. What could they be? Some guessed that they were English vessels with additional stores. Some supposed that they were Dutch, “coming after us to oppose our landing.” Nobody expected to see any ships in these untraversed waters, and we can easily picture the


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amazement of officers, crews, and convicts when the white sails appeared. The more timid speculated on the possibility of attack, and there were “temporary apprehensions, accompanied by a multiplicity of conjectures, many of them sufficiently ridiculous.”

Phillip, however, remembered hearing that the French had an expedition of discovery either in progress or contemplation. He was the first to form a right opinion about them, but, wishing to be certain, sent the Supply out of the bay to get a nearer view and hoist the British colours. Lieutenant Ball, in command of that brig, after reconnoitring, reported that the ships were certainly not English. They were either French, Spanish or Portuguese. He could distinctly see the white field of the flag they flew, “but they were at too great a distance to discover if there was anything else on it.” The flag, of course, showed the golden lilies of France on a white ground. One of the ships, King records, “wore a chef d'escadre's pennant,” that is, a commodore's.

This information satisfied Phillip, who was anxious to lose no time in getting his people ashore at Sydney Cove. He, therefore, determined to sail in the Supply on the 25th, to make preliminary arrangements, leaving Captain Hunter of the Sirius to convoy the Fleet round as soon as possible. The wind, just then, was blowing too strong for them to work out of the Bay.

Meanwhile, LapérouseLaperouse, with the Boussole and the Astrolabe, was meeting with heavy weather in his


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attempt to double Point Solander. The wind blew hard from that quarter, and his ships were too heavy sailers to force their passage against wind and current combined. The whole of the 24th was spent in full sight of Botany Bay, which they could not enter. But their hearts were cheered by the spectacle of the pennants and ensigns on the eleven British vessels, plainly seen at intervals within, and the prospect of meeting Europeans again made them impatient to fetch their anchorage.

The Sirius was just about to sail when the French vessels entered the Bay at nine in the morning of January 26, but Captain Hunter courteously sent over a lieutenant and midshipman, with his compliments and offers of such assistance as it was in his power to give. “I despatched an officer,” records LapérouseLaperouse, “to return my thanks to Captain Hunter, who by this time had his anchor a-peak and his topsails hoisted, telling him that my wants were confined to wood and water, of which we could not fail in this Bay; and I was sensible that vessels intended to settle a colony at such a distance from Europe could not be of any assistance to navigators.” The English lieutenant, according to LapérouseLaperouse, “appeared to make a great mystery of Commodore Phillip's plan, and we did not take the liberty of putting any questions to him on the subject.” It was not the business of a junior officer to give unauthorised information, but perhaps his manner made a greater mystery of the Governor's plans than the circumstances required.




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It was at Kamchatka that the French had learnt that the British were establishing a settlement in New South Wales; but LapérouseLaperouse, when he arrived at Botany Bay, had no definite idea as to the progress they had made. According to Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson, he expected to find a town built and a market established. Instead of that he found the first colonists abandoning the site where it was originally intended that they should settle, and preparing to fix their abode at another spot. But after he had seen something of Botany Bay he expressed himself as “convinced of the propriety and absolute necessity of the measure.”

The later relations between the English and French were of the most pleasant kind. It does not appear from the writings of those who have left records that Phillip and LapérouseLaperouse ever met, or that the latter ever saw the beginnings of Sydney. His ships certainly never entered Port Jackson. But we learn from Captain Tench that “during their stay in the port” ( i.e. in Botany Bay) “the officers of the two nations had frequent opportunities of testifying their mutual regard by visits and other interchanges of friendship and esteem;“ and LapérouseLaperouse gratified the English especially “by the feeling manner in which he always mentioned the name and talents of Captain Cook.”

Not only in what he wrote with an eye to publication, but in his private correspondence, LapérouseLaperouse expressed his gratification at the friendly relations established. He spoke of “frequent intercourse”


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with the English, and said that “to the most polite attentions they have added every offer of service in their power; and it was not without regret that we saw them depart, almost immediately upon our arrival, for Port Jackson, fifteen miles to the northward of this place. Commodore Phillip had good reason to prefer that port, and he has left us sole masters of this bay, where our long-boats are already on the stocks.”

The fullest account is given in the journal of Lieutenant King, afterwards (1800-6) Governor of New South Wales. On February 1 Phillip sent him in a cutter, in company with Lieutenant Dawes of the Marines, to visit LapérouseLaperouse, “and to offer him whatever he might have occasion for.” King relates that they were “received with the greatest politeness and attention by Monsieur de LapérouseLaperouse and his officers.” He accepted an invitation to remain during the day with the French, to dine with the Commodore, and to return to Port Jackson next morning. The complete history of the voyage was narrated to him, including of course the tragic story of the massacre of de Langle and his companions.

After dinner on the Boussole, King was taken ashore, where he found the French “quite established, having thrown round their tents a stockade, guarded by two small guns.” This defence was needed to protect the frames of the two new longboats, which were being put together, from the natives; and also, it would appear, from a few escaped convicts, “whom he had dismissed with


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threats, giving them a day's provision to carry them back to ye settlement.” LapérouseLaperouse himself, in his history — in the very last words of it, in fact — complains that “we had but too frequent opportunities of hearing news of the English settlement, the deserters from which gave us a great deal of trouble and embarrassment.”

We learn from King a little about the Père Receveur — a very little, truly, but sufficient to make us wish to know more. From the circumstance that his quarters were on the Astrolabe, and that, therefore, he was not brought very much under the notice of LapérouseLaperouse, we read scarcely anything about him in the commander's book. Once during the voyage some acids used by him for scientific purposes ignited, and set fire to the ship, but the danger was quickly suppressed. This incident, and that of the wounding of Receveur at Manüa, are nearly all we are told about him from the commander. But he struck King as being “a man of letters and genius.” He was a collector of natural curiosities, having under his care “a great number of philosophical instruments.” King's few lines, giving the impression derived from a necessarily brief conversation, seem to bring the Abbé before us in a flash. “A man of letters and genius”: how gladly we would know more of one of whom those words could be written! Receveur died shortly before LapérouseLaperouse sailed away, and was buried at the foot of a tree, to which were nailed a couple of boards bearing an inscription. Governor Phillip,


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when the boards fell down, had the inscription engraved on a copper plate. The tomb, which is now so prominent an object at Botany Bay, was erected by the Baron de Bougainville in 1825. The memorials to the celebrated navigator and the simple scholar stand together.

King, in common with Tench, records the admiring way in which LapérouseLaperouse spoke of Cook. He “informed me that every place where he has touched or been near, he found all the astronomical and nautical works of Captain Cook to be very exact and true, and concluded by saying, ‘Enfin, Monsieur Cook a tant fait qu'il ne m'a rien laissé à faire que d' admirer ses œuvres.’” (In short, Mr. Cook has done so much that he has left me nothing to do but to admire his works).

There is very little more to tell about those few weeks spent at Botany Bay before the navigator and his companions “vanished trackless into blue immensity,” as Carlyle puts it. A fragment of conversation is preserved by Tench. A musket was fired one day, and the natives marvelled less at the noise than at the fact that the bullet made a hole in a piece of bark at which it was aimed. To calm them, “an officer whistled the air of ‘Malbrook,’ which they appeared highly charmed with, and greeted him with equal pleasure and readiness. I may remark here,” adds the Captain of Marines, “what I was afterwards told by Monsieur de Perousse” (so he mis-spells the name) “that the natives of California, as throughout all the isles of


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the Pacific Ocean, and in short wherever he had been, seemed equally touched and delighted with this little plaintive air.” It is gratifying to be able to record Captain Tench's high opinion of the efficacy of the tune, which is popularly known nowadays as “We won't go home till morning.” One has often heard of telling things “to the Marines.” This gallant officer, doubtless, used to whistle them, to a “little plaintive air.”

It was the practice of LapérouseLaperouse to sow seeds at places visited by his ships, with the object of experimenting with useful European plants that might be cultivated in other parts of the world. His own letters and journal do not show that he did so at Botany Bay; but we have other evidence that he did, and that the signs of cultivation had not vanished at least ten years later. When George Bass was returning to Sydney in February, 1798, at the end of that wonderful cruise in a whaleboat which had led to the discovery of Westernport, he was becalmed off Botany Bay. He was disposed to enter and remain there for the night, but his journal records that his people — the six picked British sailors who were the companions of his enterprise — “seemed inclined to push for home rather than go up to the Frenchman's Garden.” Therefore, the wind failing, they took to the oars and rowed to Port Jackson, reaching home at ten o'clock at night. That is a very interesting allusion. The Frenchman's Garden must have been somewhere within the enclosed area where the Cable Station now stands, and it


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would be well if so pleasant a name, and one so full of historical suggestion, were still applied to that reserve.

It may be well to quote in full the passage in which LapérouseLaperouse relates his experience of Botany Bay. He was not able to write his journal up to the date of his departure before despatching it to Europe, but the final paragraphs in it sufficiently describe what occurred, and what he thought. Very loose and foolish statements have occasionally been published as to his object in visiting the port. In one of the geographical journals a few years ago the author saw it stated that there was “a race for a Continent” between the English and the French, in which the former won by less than a week! Nonsense of that sort, even though it appears in sober publications, issued with a scientific purpose, can emanate only from those who have no real acquaintance with the subject. There was no race, no struggle for priority, no thought of territorial acquisition on the part of the French. The reader of this little book knows by this time that the visit to Botany Bay was not originally contemplated. It was not in the programme.

What would have happened if LapérouseLaperouse had safely returned home, and if the French Revolution had not destroyed Louis XVI and blown his exploration and colonisation schemes into thin air, is quite another question; but “ifs” are not history. You can entirely reconstruct the history of the human race by using enough “ifs,” but with that


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sort of thing, which an ironist has termed “Iftory,” and is often more amusing than enlightening, more speculative than sound, we have at present nothing to do. Here is the version of the visit given by LapérouseLaperouse himself: —

“We made the land on the 23rd January. It has little elevation, and is scarcely possible to be seen at a greater distance than twelve leagues. The wind then became very variable; and, like Captain Cook, we met with currents, which carried us every day fifteen minutes south of our reckoning; so that we spent the whole of the 24th in plying in sight of Botany Bay, without being able to double Point Solander, which bore from us a league north. The wind blew strong from that quarter, and our ships were too heavy sailers to surmount the force of the wind and the currents combined; but that day we had a spectacle to which we had been altogether unaccustomed since our departure from Manilla. This was a British squadron, at anchor in Botany Bay, the pennants and ensigns of which we could plainly distinguish. All Europeans are countrymen at such a distance from home, and we had the most eager impatience to fetch the anchorage; but the next day the weather was so foggy that it was impossible to discern the land, and we did not get in till the 26th, at nine in the morning, when we let go our anchor a mile from the north shore, in seven fathoms of water, on a good bottom of grey sand, abreast of the second bay.

“The moment I made my appearance in the


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entrance of the Bay, a lieutenant and midshipman were sent aboard my vessel by Captain Hunter, commanding the British frigate Sirius. They offered from him all the services in his power; adding, however, that, as he was just getting under way to proceed to the northward, circumstances would not allow him to furnish us with provision, ammunition or sails; so that his offers of service were reduced to good wishes for the future success of our voyage.

“I despatched an officer to return my thanks to Captain Hunter, who by this time had his anchor a-peak, and his topsails hoisted; telling him that my wants were confined to wood and water, of which we could not fail in this Bay; and I was sensible that vessels intended to settle a colony at such a distance from Europe, could not be of any assistance to navigators.

“From the lieutenant we learnt that the English squadron was commanded by Commodore Phillip, who had sailed from Botany Bay the previous evening in the Spy, sloop, with four transports, in search of a more commodious place for a settlement further north. The lieutenant appeared to make a great mystery of Commodore Phillip's plan, and we did not take the liberty of putting any questions to him on the subject; but we had no doubt that the intended settlement must be very near Botany Bay, since several boats were under sail for the place, and the passage certainly must be very short, as it was thought unnecessary to hoist them on board. The crew of the English boat, less discreet than their


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officer, soon informed our people that they were only going to Port Jackson, sixteen miles north of Point Banks, where Commander Phillip had himself reconnoitred a very good harbour, which ran ten miles into the land, to the south-west, and in which the ships might anchor within pistol-shot of the shore, in water as smooth as that of a basin. We had, afterwards, but too frequent opportunities of hearing news of the English settlement, the deserters from which gave us a great deal of trouble and embarrassment.”

Pieced together thus is nearly all we know about LapérouseLaperouse during his visit to Botany Bay. It is not much. We would gladly have many more details. What has become of the letter he wrote to Phillip recommending (according to King) the Pacific Islands as worthy of the attention of the new colony, “for the great quantity of stock with which they abound”? Apparently it is lost. The grave and the deep have swallowed up the rest of this “strange eventful history,” and we interrogate in vain. We should know even less than we do were it not that LapérouseLaperouse obtained from Phillip permission to send home, by the next British ship leaving Port Jackson, his journal, some charts, and the drawings of his artists. This material, added to private letters and a few miscellaneous papers, was placed in charge of Lieutenant Shortland to be delivered to the French Ambassador in London, and formed part of the substance of the two volumes and atlas published in Paris.




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It may be well to cite, as a note to this chapter, the books in which contemporary accounts of the visit of LapérouseLaperouse and his ships to Botany Bay are to be found. Some readers may thereby be tempted to look into the original authorities. LapérouseLaperouse's own narrative is contained in the third and fourth volumes of his “Voyage autour du Monde,” edited by Milet-Mureau (Paris, 1797). There are English translations. A few letters at the end of the work give a little additional information. Governor Phillip's “Voyage to Botany Bay” (London, 1789) contains a good but brief account. Phillip's despatch to the Secretary of State, Lord Sydney, printed in the “Historical Records of New South Wales,” Vol. I., part 2, p. 121, devotes a paragraph to the subject. King's Journal in Vol. II. of the “Records,” p. 543-7, gives his story. Surgeon Bowes' Journal, on page 391 of the same volume, contains a rather picturesque allusion. Hunter's “Voyage to Botany Bay” (London, 1793) substantially repeats King's version. Captain Watkin Tench, of the Marines, has a good account in his “Narrative of an Expedition to Botany Bay” (London, 1789), and Paterson's “History of New South Wales” (Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1811) makes an allusion to the French expedition.

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