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October 1787

October 1st. Light airs, with haze and rain. Saw a


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great number of different birds; we were then in latitude 34°42'S. longitude 1°10'E. of the meridian of London.

13th. The Sirius made the signal for seeing land; and at seven in the evening we came to, in Table Bay, at the Cape of Good Hope, in seventeen-fathom water, abreast of Cape Town, distant about a mile or a mile and half. As soon as the Sirius anchored, the commodore and commissary went on shore and took up their residence in lodgings at the house of Mrs. De Witt. They were soon followed by such officers as could be spared from the duty of the fleet, all wishing to prepare themselves, by the comforts and refreshments to be enjoyed on shore, for the last and longest stage of their voyage.

14th. The contract for provisions being settled with Messrs. De Witts and Caston, the troops, men, women, and children, were served with a pound and half of soft bread, and an equal quantity of beef or mutton daily, and with wine in lieu of spirits. The convicts, men, women, and children, had the same allowance as the troops, except wine.

16th. Commodore Phillip, attended by most of the officers of the fleet, paid a complimentary visit to his excellency


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Mynheer Van Graaf, the Dutch governor, by whom we were received with extreme civility and politeness. A few hours after we had taken leave, he called on the commodore at his lodgings, to return his visit, and the next day returned the visit of such officers, residing on shore, as had paid their respects to him.

Notwithstanding this studied politeness, several days elapsed before the commodore could obtain a categorical answer to the requisition he had made for the supplies he stood in need of for the expedition: and had it not been for the judicious perseverance Commodore Phillip observed, in urging his particular situation, and the uncommon exigency of the service he was engaged in, it was believed the governor fiscal, and council would have sheltered their refusal under the pretence that a great scarcity had prevailed in the Cape colony the preceding season, particularly of wheat and corn, which were the articles we stood most in want of. This idea they wished to impress us with; but, as just observed, the commodore's sagacity and industrious zeal for the service subdued


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and got over the supineness shown by the governor, &c. and procured permission for the contractor to supply us with as much stock, corn, and other necessaries, as we could


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stow. It is, however, much to be lamented that the quantity we could find room for fell very short of what we ought to have taken in, as the only spare room we had was what had been occasioned by the consumption of provisions, &c. since we left Rio de Janeiro, and the removal of twenty female convicts from the Friendship into the Charlotte, the Lady Penrhyn, and the Prince of Wales.

After the supplies had been granted, his excellency Governor Graaf invited the commodore, and many of the officers of the expedition, to a very handsome dinner at his town residence. The house at which we were entertained is delightfully situated, nearly in the centre of an extensive garden, the property of the Dutch East India company, usefully planted, and at the same time elegantly laid out. The governor's family make what use they please of the produce of the garden, which is various and abundant; but the original intention of the company in appropriating so extensive a piece of ground to this purpose was that their hospital, which is generally pretty full when their ships arrive after long voyages, may be well supplied with fruits and vegetables, and likewise that their ships may receive a similar supply.




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This garden is as public as St. James's park; and, for its handsome, pleasant, and well-shaded walks, is much frequented by persons of every description, but particularly by the fashionable and gay. There are many other agreeable walks about Cape Town, but none to be compared with these. At the upper end of the principal of them is a small space walled in for the purpose of confining some large ostriches and a few deer. A little to the right of this is a small menagery, in which the company have half a dozen wild animals and about the same number of curious birds.

As you approach the Cape of Good Hope, a very remarkable mountain may, in clear weather, be discovered at a considerable distance; it is called the Table Land, from its flat surface, which resembles that piece of furniture. Mr. Dawes, lieutenant of marines on board the Sirius, an ingenious and accurate observer, who has undertaken during the voyage the astronomical observations, accompanied by Messrs. Fowell and Waterhouse, midshipmen of the Sirius, Lieutenant De Witt, of the Dutch navy, and myself, went


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to the top of this mountain, an undertaking which we found to be of a far more serious nature than we at first were aware of. For my own part, I suffered so much from heat


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and thirst that, had not the fear of shame urged me on, my companions being determined to accomplish it at all events, I should most certainly have given it up before I reached the top. During this sultry and fatiguing expedition, I found great benefit, towards alleviating my thirst, by keeping a small pebble in my mouth; and sometimes by chewing rushes, which we met with in our way. But, when we had reached the summit, the delightful and extensive prospect we there enjoyed, the weather being uncommonly fine, fully atoned for the trouble, fatigue, and every suffering, we had undergone. From this elevation we could overlook all the country about the Cape.

As soon as we got to the top, our first business was to look out for water; but all we could find was some stagnant rain, which lay in the hollow of the stones. Our thirst, however, was so intolerable that the discovery even of this gave us inexpressible pleasure, and, notwithstanding we all perspired most violently, and were sensible of the danger and impropriety of drinking a quantity of bad water in such a situation, yet we could not refrain. As for my own part, it was utterly out of my power to listen at that time to the dictates of prudence, and I believe it was equally difficult


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to my companions, if I might judge from the avidity with which they drank out of the little pools, lying on the ground at full length, that being the only posture in which it was to be obtained.

The regularity of the streets of the town, which intersect each other at right angles; the buildings, gardens, castle, and forts, with twenty-three ships then at anchor in the bay, all which appeared directly underneath us, was a sight beautiful and pleasing beyond description. The perpendicular height of this land is 1857 feet from the surface of the water. On the top of it we gathered several species of heath, some wild celery, a few shrubs, and some nondescript plants; we found also some little stones of a fine polish and singular whiteness.

In our descent, which proved nearly as difficult and troublesome as going up, we saw some runaway negroes, round a fire, on the clift of a stupendous rock, where it was entirely out of the power of their owners to get at them. To look at their situation, one would think it beyond the utmost stretch of human ingenuity to devise a way to reach it. Here they remain all day in perfect security, and during the night make frequent excursions to the town and the parts


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adjacent, committing great depredations on the inhabitants. The whole subsistence of these fugitives depends on this precarious method: and even this method would prove insufficient were it not for the assistance they receive from those who were once their fellow slaves. Nor is it always that they succeed in the depredatory trips, which necessity thus urges them to take; they are often betrayed by their quondam friends; and when this happens, as the Dutch are not famed for their lenity in punishing crimes, they are made horrid examples of. But neither the fear of punishment, nor hunger, thirst, cold, and wretchedness, to which they are often unavailably exposed, can deter them from making Table Land their place of refuge from what they consider to be greater evils. Scarcely a day passes but a smoke may be seen from some of these inaccessible retreats.

In the mild or summer season, which commences in September, and continues till March, the Table Land is sometimes suddenly capped with a white cloud, by some called the Spreading of the Table-cloth. When this cloud seems to roll down the steep face of the mountain, it is an unerring indication of an approaching gale of wind from the south-east;


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which generally blows with great violence and sometimes continues a day or more, but in common is of short duration. On the first appearance of this cloud, the ships in Table Bay begin to prepare for it, by striking yards and top-masts, and making everything as snug as possible.

A little to the westward of the Table Land, divided by a small valley, stands, on the right hand side of Table Bay, a round hill, called the Sugar Loaf, and by many the Lion's Head, as there is a continuance from it, contiguous to the sea, called the Lion's Rump; and when you take a general view of the whole it very much resembles that animal with his head erect. The Sugar Loaf, or Lion's Head, and the Lion's Rump have each a flag-staff on them, by which the approach of ships is made known to the governor, particularizing their number, nation, and the quarter from which they come. To the eastward, separated by a small chasm from the Table Land, stands Charles's Mount, well known by the appellation of the Devil's Tower, and so called from the violent gusts of wind supposed to issue from it when it partakes of the cap that covers the Table Land, though these gusts are nothing more than a degree of force the wind acquires in coming through the chasm. When


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this phænomenon appears in the morning, which is by no means so frequent as in the evening, the sailors have a saying, as the Devil's Tower is almost contiguous to the Table Land, that the old gentleman is going to breakfast; if in the middle of the day, that he is going to dinner; and if in the evening, that the cloth is spread for supper.

The foregoing high lands form a kind of amphitheatre about the Table Valley, where the Cape Town stands. From the shipping the town appears pleasantly situated but at the same time small, a deception that arises from its being built in a valley with such stupendous mountains directly behind it. On landing, however, you are surprised, and agreeably disappointed, to find it not only extensive but well built, and in a good stile, the streets spacious, and intersecting each other at right angles with great precision. This exactness in the formation of the streets, when viewed from the Table Land, is observed to be very great. The houses in general are built of stone, cemented together with a glutinous kind of earth which serves as mortar, and afterwards neatly plastered, and whitewashed, with lime. As to their height, they do not in common exceed two stories, on account of the violence of the wind, which at some seasons of the year


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blows with great strength and fury; indeed sometimes so violently as to shake the houses to the very foundation. For the same reason, thatch has been usually preferred to tiles or shingles, but the bad effects that have proceeded from this mode, when fires happen, has induced the inhabitants in all their new buildings to give the preference to slates and tiles. The lower parts of the houses, according to the custom of the Dutch nation, are not only uncommonly neat and clean in appearance, but they are really so; and the furniture is rather rich than elegant. But this is by no means the case with the bed-rooms or upper apartments, which are more barely and worse furnished than any I ever beheld: and the streets seem to be much upon a par with them, they being rough, uneven, and unpaved. I was, however, upon the whole, extremely well pleased with the town. Many of the houses have a space flagged before the door, and others have trees planted before them, which form a pleasant shade, and give pleasing novelty to the streets.

The only landing-place is at the east end of the town, where there is a wooden quay running some paces into the sea, with several cranes on it, for the convenience of loading and unloading the scoots that come along side. To


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this place excellent water is conveyed by pipes, which makes the watering of ships both easy and expeditious.

Close to this quay, on the left hand, stands the castle and principal fortress, a strong extensive work, having excellent accommodations for the troops, and for many of the civil officers belonging to the company. Within the gates the company have their principal stores, which are spacious as well as convenient. This fort covers and defends the east part of the town and harbour, as Amsterdam fort does the west part. The latter, which has been built since commodore Johnstone's expedition, and whereon both French and Dutch judgment have been united to render it effectual and strong, is admirably planned and calculated to annoy and harass ships coming into the bay. Some smaller detached fortifications extend along the coast, both to the east and west, and make landing, which was not the case before the late war, hazardous and difficult. In a word, Cape Town is at this time fortified with strength, regularity, and judgment.

There are two churches here, one large, plain, and unadorned, for the Calvinists, the prevailing sect, and a smaller one for the Lutherans.

The hospital, which is large and extensive, is situated


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at the upper end of the town, close to the company's garden. It is an honour to that commercial body, and no small ornament to the town. The only objection that can be made to it, as a building, is its situation: had it been erected on an eminence, and a little detached from the town, which might easily have been done, no fault could have been found with it. As it is, the convalescents have free access to the company's gardens, where they reap the benefit of a wholesome pure air, perfumed with the exhalations of a great variety of rich fruit trees, aromatic shrubs, and odorous plants and flowers; and likewise have the use of every production of it, as before observed, advantages that compensate, in a great measure, for the flat situation of the hospital.

The inhabitants are all exceedingly fond of gardens, which they keep in most excellent order. The doing this is very little trouble to them, the climate and soil being most benign and friendly to vegetation. Among the many which afforded me delight, I must not forget that belonging to Colonel Gordon, commander in chief of the Dutch troops at the Cape; where not only the taste and ingenuity of the gardener, but the skill and knowledge of the botanist, are at once manifest. The colonel is a man of science, of an active and well-cultivated genius, and who


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appropriates those hours he can spare from his military duties (in which he is said to excel), to a perusal of the book of nature, and researches after useful knowledge. These pursuits tend not only to his amusement, but to his honour; and they will, doubtless, at some time or other, further conduce to the advancement of natural history, and to the honour of his country, as it is said he intends to publish the observations and remarks which have been the result of his researches. Those he has made on the Hottentots, Caffres, and the countries they inhabit, will doubtlessly be valuable, he having made himself better acquainted with the subject, and penetrated farther into the interior parts, than any traveller or naturalist that has hitherto visited the Cape. It is to be lamented that he has so long withheld from the world the gratification and improvement, which most assuredly must be derived from the observations of a person so well and so extensively informed. His polite attention and civility, during our stay at the Cape, claim our most grateful acknowledgements.

Besides their hospital, the Dutch East India company have several other public buildings which tend to improve the appearance of the town. The two principal of these


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are the stables and a house for their slaves. The former is a handsome range of buildings, capable of containing an incredible number of horses. Those they have at the Cape are small, spirited, and full of life. The latter is a building of considerable extent, where the slaves, both male and female, have separate apartments, in a very comfortable stile, to reside in after the fatigues and toil of the day, which undoubtedly is great, but by no means equal, in my opinion, to that endured by the slaves in our own colonies. However severe and cruel the Dutch may be considered in other respects, they certainly treat their slaves with great humanity and kindness, which, I am sorry to say, I scarcely ever saw done in the West Indies, during a residence there of three years. On the contrary, I have frequently been witness to the infliction of the most brutal, cruel, and wanton punishments on these poor creatures, who are the source and immediate support of the splendour of the Creoles. The bare retrospect of the cruelties I have seen exercised there excites a kind of horror that chills my blood. At the Cape, there are several officers placed over the slaves, who have commodious apartments, and treat them humanely.

The first week after our arrival at this place, the militia,


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consisting both of horse and foot, were embodied, and held their annual meeting: I say annual, as that is the usual period, but this was the first time of their assembling since the conclusion of the war in 1783. The Cape militia differ from the English in not receiving pay or wearing regimentals. In fact they should rather be called volunteers, who turn out for the protection of their own property, and are not subject to strict military discipline. Most of them wore blue coats, with white metal buttons, aukwardly long, and in the cut and shape of which uniformity had not been attended to. Neither was it visible in the other parts of their dress or accoutrements; some wore powder, others none, so that, upon the whole, they made a very unmilitary appearance. The officers are chosen annually from among themselves. Some of these, indeed, I observed to be very well dressed. Neglect, non-attendance, and every other breach of their military rules, is punished by fine or forfeiture, and not corporally. At this burlesque on the profession of a soldier, I could not help observing that many of them had either got intoxicated that morning or were not recovered from their overnight's debauch; notwithstanding which they marched to the field and went through their evolutions


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with a steadiness and regularity that was really astonishing, considering the state they were in: but it is said, and I believe with some truth, that a Dutchman when half drunk is more capable of performing every kind of business than if he were perfectly sober. After these annual exhibitions, the members of the corps meet their wives, daughters, &c. (who take care to be present, that they may be witnesses of their military skill and achievements) at some friend's house, where they crown the night in dancing, of which they are uncommonly fond. To dancing are added substantial suppers and potent libations, in which they indulge not only upon this but on all other occasions. A Dutch supper to me, at first, was a matter of wonder, as I could never see any kind of difference, either in the quality or quantity, between them and their dinners, which were always abundant, and consisting chiefly of heavy food.

The inhabitants of the Cape, though in their persons large, stout, and athletic, have not all that phlegm about them which is the characteristic of Dutchmen in general. The physical influence of climate may in some degree account for this; for it is well known that in all


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southern latitudes the temper and disposition of the people are more gay, and that they are more inclined to luxury and amusements of every kind, than the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere.

The ladies at the Cape are lively, good-natured, familiar, and gay. They resemble the women of England more than any foreigners I have ever seen. English fashions prevail among them (the female part of the governor's family excepted, who imitate the French), notwithstanding their intercourse with France is now by far greater than with England. The habits and customs of the women of this place are extremely contrasted to those of the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro. Among the latter a great deal of reserve and modesty is apparent between the sexes in public. Those who are disposed to say tender and civil things to a lady must do it by stealth, or breathe their soft sighs through the lattice-work of a window, or the grates of a convent. But at the Cape, if you wish to be a favourite with the fair, as the custom is, you must in your own defence (if I may use the expression) grapple the lady, and paw her in a manner that does not partake in the least of gentleness. Such a rough and uncouth


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conduct, together with a kiss ravished now and then in the most public manner and situations, is not only pleasing to the fair one, but even to her parents, if present; and is considered by all parties as an act of the greatest gallantry and gaiety. In fact, the Dutch ladies here, from a peculiar gay turn, admit of liberties that may be thought reprehensible in England; but perhaps as seldom overstep the bounds of virtue as the women of other countries.

During my residence on shore, whenever I heard of any Hottentots being in town, I made a point of endeavouring to get a sight of them, in order to see whether their manners and appearance corresponded with the description given of them by travellers; such as being besmeared with grease, and decorated with the stinking entrails of animals, on which they likewise, when pressed by hunger, are said to feed.

I saw many of the men, without being able to make any other remarks on them, than that they were thin, of rather a low stature, but formed for activity: and, further, that their hair, which was short and woolly, as well as their whole bodies, was bedaubed with some unctuous or greasy substance, which was very offensive.


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They were of a dark brown colour, had a flat nose, thick lips, large full eyes, and were ornamented with ivory rings, and wore narrow strips of the skin of some animal, devoid of its hair, around their neck, legs, and arms. The only female of that nation I could get a sight of was during a little excursion in the environs of Cape Town: walking one evening with a Dutch gentleman, to see a garden about a mile from the town, I accidentally met one of these ladies, who was equally as offensive as the male I had met.

The heavy draft work about the Cape is mostly performed by oxen; which are here brought to an uncommon degree of usefulness and docility. It is not uncommon to see fourteen, sixteen, and sometimes eighteen in one of their teams; when the roads are heavy they sometimes, though rarely, yoke twenty; all which the Hottentots, Malayes, and Cape slaves have in the most perfect subjection and obedience. One of these fellows places himself on the fore part of the waggon, or, when loaded, on the top of the load, and with a tremendous long whip, which, from its size, he is obliged to hold in both his hands, manages these creatures with inexpressible address. I have often


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seen the driver, when he has found expedition needful, make them keep whatever pace he thought proper, either trot or gallop (a gait performed or kept up with difficulty by European oxen), and that with as much ease as if he was driving horses. This immense whip, the only thing with which they guide the team, the drivers use so dexterously that they make them turn a corner with the utmost nicety; hitting even the leading pair, in whatever part they please. The blows thus given must inflict intolerable pain, or these slow animals could never be brought to go with the velocity they do at the Cape. These sooty charioteers likewise manage horses with the same dexterity. To see one of them driving three, four, five, and sometimes six pair, in hand, with one of these long whips, as I have often done with great surprise, would make the most complete master of the whip in England cut a despicable figure. Carriages are not very numerous at the Cape, as the inhabitants in general travel in covered waggons, which better suit the roughness of the country. The governor and some few of the principal people keep coaches, which are a good deal in the English stile, and always drawn by six horses. The only chariot


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I saw there belonged to the governor; I however heard there were some others.

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