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Watkin Tench Describes the Shortage of Fresh Food at Port Jackson


Dear Grandpa Pencil looks at early Australian development through journals, official reports and newspaper excerpts of the day. Readers should remember that these accounts are based on personal observations at the time and some have, since, been shown to be flawed.

An eyewitness account of the shortage of food at Port Jackson in April 1788 and the colony's first church service: by marines Captain Watkin Tench from his book A narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay (London 1789).

Shortage of Food at Port Jackson

On the 6th of May the Supply sailed for Lord Howe Island to take on board turtle for the settlement; but after waiting there several days was obliged to return without having seen one, owing we apprehended to the advanced season of the year.

Three of the transports also, which were engaged by the East India Company to proceed to China, to take on board a lading of tea, sailed about this time for Canton.

The unsuccessful return of the Supply cast a general damp on our spirits, for by this time fresh provisions were becoming scarcer than in a blockaded town.

The little livestock which with so heavy an expense, and through so many difficulties, we had brought on shore, prudence forbade us to use.

And fish, which on our arrival, and for a short time after had been tolerable plenty, were becoming so scarce as to be rarely seen at the tables of the first among us.

Had it not been for a stray kangaroo, which fortune now and again threw in our way, we should have been utter strangers to the taste of fresh food.

Thus situated, the scurvy began it's usual ravages, and extended it's baneful influence, more or less, through all descriptions of persons.

Unfortunately the esculent vegetable production of the country are neither plentiful nor tend very effectually to remove this disease and the ground we had turned up and planted with garden seeds, either from the nature of the soil, or more probably, the lateness of the season, yielded but scanty and insufficient supply of what we stood so greatly in need of.


First Church Service Celebrated

January 27, 1788

On the Sunday after our landing divine service was performed under a great tree, by Rev. Mr. Johnson, chaplain of the settlement, in the presence of the troops and convicts, whose behaviour on the occasion was equally regular and attentive.

In the course of our passage this had been repeated every Sunday, while the ships were in port, and in addition to it, Mr. Johnson had furnished them with books, at once tending to promote instruction and piety.



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