(previous ….Early Sufferings of the Colony)
The prospects of the colony at Sydney had grown very black due to the lack of food, when a store ship suddenly appeared off the Heads. There was great rejoicing on sighting the ship but it was soon to horror. The settlement could only watch in anguish as a storm arose and drove the vessel northward among the reefs of Broken Bay, their joy was now painful suspence. For some hours the fate of the ship was doubtful, but to the intense relief of the people on shore, she managed to make the port and land her supplies. Shortly after, two other ships arrived and the community was no longer at threat of starvation. All in all the situation was growing cheerful until the arrival of a fleet filled to overflowing with sick and dying convicts. Seventeen hundred had originally been on board but of those, 200 had died on the way and their bodies had been thrown overboard. Several hundred were in the last stage of emaciation and exhaustion. Scarcely one of the whole 1500 who landed were fit for a day’s work. This brought fresh misery and trouble as the deaths were of appalling frequency.
Escape of Prisoners
Many of the convicts sought to escape from their sufferings by running away; some seized boats in the harbour and tried to sail for the Dutch colony in Java; others hid themselves in the woods and wither perished or else returned, after weeks of starvation, to give themselves up to the authorities. In 1791, a band of between 40 to 50 set out to walk to China (easier digging!) and got their way through a few miles of bush before perishing. Their bleached and whitened skeletons were found a few years later.
Departure of Governor Phillips
Amid the issues of health, the poor Governor broke down and in 1792 resigned. He was a man of energy and decision; prompt and skilful, yet humane and just in his character: no better man could have been selected to fill the difficult position he held with so much credit to himself. He received a handsome pension from the British Government and retired to spend his life in English society. Major Grose and Captain Patterson took charge of the colony for the next three years but in 1795 Captain Hunter, who, after the loss of his hsip the Sirius, had returned to England, arrived in Sydney to take over the position of Governor.
By this time the crisis was virtually over and the colony was back on its feet. About 60 convicts, whose sentences had expired, had received grants of land and were now working for themselves as successful farmers. Governor Hunter brought out a number of free settlers, to whom he gave land near the Hawkesbury and before long more than 6,000 acres were covered with crops of wheat and maize. There was now no fear of famine and the settlement grew. Unfortunately, the more recent attempts to import cattle proved more or less unsuccessful. Imagine the surprise, however, when the settlers found a herd of 60 cattle wandering through the meadows of the Hawkesbury. These were the descendants of the cattle which had been lost from Governor Phillip’s herd some years before.
State of the Settlement
Twelve years after the foundation of the colony, its population amounted to between 6 to 7 thousand persons. These were all settles near Sydney even though attempts had been made to penetrate to the west, without success. The rugged chain of the Blue Mountains was an unpassable barrier. Seventy miles north of Sydney, a fine river, the Hunter, had been discovered by Lieutenant Shortlands while in pursuit of some runaway convicts who had stolen a boat. Signs of coal had been seen near the mouth of the river and convicts were sent up to open mines. It was not soon after that the town of Newcastle was rapidly established.
In 1800, Governor Hunter returned to England on business, intending to return, but he was appointed to the command of a warship and Lieutenant King was sent out to take his place.
(continues … Discoveries of Bass and Flinders)