Monday, October 28, 2013

HMS Calcutta: voyage to Australia 1803

Ships off Table Bay
After leaving the Cape on board HMS Calcutta James Caithness would have been able to do some whale-watching – perhaps his first opportunity. 

Lieutenant Tuckey remarked:

In these southern seas, we were continually surrounded by whales, and were even sometimes obliged to alter our course to avoid striking on them.

The stormy seas which wash the southern promontory of Africa … are despised by the British seaman, whose vessel flies in security before the tempest, and while she rides on the billows and defies the storm, he carelessly sings as if unconscious of the warring elements around him.

Despite this boast, the effects of the wet and cold weather soon made themselves felt especially among the convicts who lacked sufficient clothing. Jackets and trousers were made up and distributed to those in need. Some cases of dysentery were reported but due to the surgeon’s care and the attention to cleanliness, only one man died. The animals taken on board at Simon’s Bay were less fortunate, three heifers dying at sea.

The tedium of the following weeks was occasionally enlivened by performances from the African American violinist William Thomas

To say the remainder of the voyage was plain sailing would be to ignore the fact that it took Calcutta until 10 October to arrive at King Island in the entrance of the Bass Straits (she had departed Simon’s Bay on 25 August). The lookouts aloft had been anxiously scanning the horizon for land for two days before the island was sighted and then because of an increasing breeze the ship had to stand three miles off shore.

Off the coast of New Holland

A ‘perfect hurricane’ commenced to blow, but had spent itself by the following morning, the day dawning beautifully serene. It was a totally unknown coast and Calcutta approached cautiously till the break in the land forming the entrance of Port Phillip was observed. 

A shout from the man at the mast-head alerted all to a ship at anchor within this entrance, soon identified as the Ocean, the companion vessel from which Calcutta had parted at Tristan da Cunha many weeks before. This was a welcome and cheering sight after so long at sea. Lieutenant Tuckey was unable to refrain from another fanciful passage of prose:

... an expanse of water ... unruffled as the bosom of unpolluted innocence, presented itself to the charmed eye, which roamed over it in silent admiration.The nearer shores … afforded the most exquisite scenery, and recalled the idea of ‘Nature in the world's first spring.’ In short, every circumstance combined to impress our minds with the highest satisfaction for our safe arrival.

After a week spent searching for a suitable spot for the settlement, it was decided to land the marines and convicts on the shores of a small bay eight miles from the harbour mouth. Camp was pitched and the crews of the two ships began unloading cargo. 

Lieut Col David Collins, leader of the expedition;
 Lieut Gov of Van Diemen's Land

On the first days of our landing, previous to the general debarkation,Capt. Woodriff, Colonel Collins and the First Lieutenant of the Calcutta had some interviews with the natives who came to the boats entirely unarmed, and without the smallest symptom of apprehension.

So far so good.

Scrimshaw on whale tooth

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