[Editor: An article about Australia, printed prior to the establishment of the colony at Sydney, New South Wales. Published in The New London Magazine, October 1787.]
A description of New Holland, particularly the Eastern Coast, called South-Wales, in which Botany-Bay, the spot intended by Government for colonization, is situated.
This country is of greater extent than any other that does not bear the name of a continent; it extends from the 11th to the 38th degrees of south latitude; and the length of the east and north-east coast, reduced to a straight line, is 27 degrees, which amounts to near 2000 miles; so that it’s square surface is much larger than all Europe!
Soil and vegetation.
To the southward of lat. 33, the land is in general low and level: farther northward it is hilly, but in no part mountainous; for the hills and mountains make but a small part of the surface, compared with the plains and vallies. The rising grounds are chequered by woods and lawns, and in many places the plains are covered with herbage, but loose land and a barren soil most generally mark the aspect of the country. The vegetation to the northward is less vigorous than to the southward; the trees being neither so tall, nor the herbage so rich. The grass, though high, is thin; and the large trees, two kinds only of which could be considered as good timber, are seldom less than forty feet asunder. There are likewise trees covered with a soft bark, the same that is used for caulking of ships in the East-Indies. There are three sorts of the palm, and a variety of plants to enrich the collection of a botanist, but very few of the esculent kind.
Animals, birds, &c.
Of the quadrupedes, the most remarkable is, that called by the natives Kangazoo, which is as large as a sheep. The head, neck, and shoulders are small, compared with the rest of the body, but the ears are large, and stand erect. The fore-legs of a young one were only eighteen inches long, and the hind-legs twenty-two: it’s progress is by successive leaps of a great length, in an erect posture. The skin of this animal is covered with a short fur of a dark-mouse colour, except the head and ears, which resemble those of a hare: the tail is as long as the whole body, and tapers towards the end. This animal, when dressed, is excellent food.
Various species of dogs were seen — also an animal of the Opossam kind, and another resembling a pole-cat, called by the natives Quoll, the belly of which is white, and the back spotted with white. These were the only quadrupeds to be seen on the coast of this extensive country.
The land-birds are bats, which hold a middle rank between beasts and birds, and are as large as a partridge: parrots, paroquets, cockatoos, and other birds of exquisite beauty; pigeons, which fly in numerous flocks; doves, herons, bustards, quails, crows, hawks, and eagles; pelicans of an enormous size, and many sea-fowl, that are unknown in Europe.
Among the reptiles are various kinds of snakes, centipeds, scorpions, and lizards. The insects are principally caterpillars, butterflies, musquitos, and ants; some of these are quite black, and construct their habitations in the inside of the branches of a tree, by taking out the pith, almost to the extremity of the slightest twig, and yet those branches flourish as if they had no insects: — if a person breaks a branch, he is instantly covered with millions of these animals, which inject their stings with incessant violence.
The sea furnishes the inhabitants with a much more plentiful supply of food than the land. The fish are of various sorts; but except the mullet and some of the shell fish, none of them are known in Europe: most of them are palatable, and some delicious. Upon the shoals and reefs are incredible numbers of the finest green turtle in the universe; oysters of various kinds, cockles of prodigious size, lobsters and crabs. In the rivers and salt creeks there are alligators.
This country is very thinly inhabited. The men are of a middle size, and in general clean limbed, nimble and active. Their skin is of a chocolate colour; but their features are far from being disagreeable, for their noses are not flat, nor their lips thick; their teeth are white and even, and their hair naturally long and black, though they universally crop it short: their beards are bushy and thick. Both sexes go naked, and seem to have no sense of indecency in thus discovering their bodies. Their principal ornament is a bone thrust through the cartilage that divides the nostrils: as this bone is as thick as a man’s finger, and between five and six inches long, it reaches quite across the face, and stopping up both nostrils, they snuffle so when they attempt to speak as to be scarcely intelligible to each other. They have also necklaces made of shells; bracelets of small cord wound three or four times round the upper part of the arm; and string of platted human hair round their waist — Some of them had also gorgets of shells hanging round the neck. They also paint their bodies white and red; the red is laid on in broad patches upon the shoulders and breast, and the white in narrow stripes drawn over the limbs, And broad ones over the body; not without some degree of taste. The white was also laid on in small patches upon the face, and drawn in a circle round each eye. They have holes in their ears, but they were not observed to wear any ornament in them.
Habitations, food, and manners.
Nothing like a town or village was to be seen in the whole country. The huts at Botany Bay, where they are the best, are but just high enough for a man to fit upright in, and will not admit of his being extended at length: they are made of pliable twigs in the form of an ovan, by sticking the two ends in the ground, and then covering them with palm leaves, and broad pieces of bark. The door is only a large hole at one end; yet in this miserable hut three or four persons lie, coiled up with their heels to their heads. Far to the northward, where the climate is warmer, none of these huts are more than four feet deep, and one side is intirely open.
The only furniture belonging to the houses, appears to be an oblong vessel made of bark, by tying up the ends with a withe, which being cut off, serves for handles. These are used to fetch water. They have also a small bag about the size of a cabbage net, made somewhat in the manner of knitting, which the man carries upon his back by a string that passes over his head. This contains a lump or two of paint, some hooks of shell, and lines, a few points of darts, and their usual ornaments; which includes the whole worldly treasure of the richest among them.
These people have not the least idea of traffic, nor could the English prevail on them to exchange one thing for another. They set such a value on their own ornaments, that they would not part with the least article for any thing that could be offered to them, however shewy and brilliant; and the same indifference which prevented their bartering, kept them honest.
Canoes and weapons.
The canoes on the southern part of the coast, are formed of bark tied together at both ends, and kept open in the middle by small bows of wood: these will hold three people. Farther to the northward the canoes are made of the trunk of a tree hollowed, perhaps by fire: they are fourteen feet long, and are fitted with an out-rigger, to prevent their oversetting. These will contain four people, and are worked by long paddles, that require both hands to be managed.
How they fell the trees of which these canoes are formed, is not known. The only tools found among them were an adze, wretchedly made of stone, some small pieces of the same substance in the form of a wedge, a wooden mallet, and some shells, and fragments of coral.
Their weapons are spears or lances of different kinds. These they throw with such good aim, as to be more sure of their mark, than an European with a single bullet. They also use a shield or target of an oblong form, of about three feet long, and half that width, made of the bark of a tree.
Dr. Hawkesworth remarks, in favour of the increase of population which our globe is capable of, that New Holland, a country equal to all Europe in magnitude, admirably well calculated by it’s situation, and no less so by it’s soil to afford subsistence, together with every social and rational enjoyment to many, many millions of the human race, is found to be the solitary haunt of a few miserable savages, destitute of cloathing, ill provided with food, and whose lives are rendered supportable merely by that principle of happiness with which the Creator has endowed all his creatures, namely, a consciousness of existence.
The establishment of the forces destined for the new colony of Botany Bay, is at length fixed. It is to consist of a Post-Captain, as Governor, with a salary of 500l. per annum; a Master and Commander, as Lieutenant-Governor, with 300l. per annum; four Captains, twelve Subalterns, twelve Serjeants, and 160 rank and file from the corps of marines, a Surgeon, Chaplain, Adjutant, and Quarter-Master, are to compose the whole force.
The New London Magazine (London, England), October 1787, pages 555-557
Also published (with some variations) in:
The Scots Magazine (Edinburgh, Scotland), Volume 49, April 1787, pages 162-164
John Payne, Universal Geography Formed into a New and Entire System: Describing Asia, Africa, Europe, And America; With their Subdivisions of Empires, Kingdoms, States, and Republics, vol. 1, Dublin: Zachariah Jackson, 1794, pages 889-890
adze = an axe-like cutting tool with a curved blade
esculent = edible
gorget = an ornamental collar covering the throat
ovan = [unknown; oven?]
traffic = trade (also refers to the movement of people, especially the movement of vehicles along set routes)
withe = a slender flexible branch, stem, or twig with which items can be bound together
Spelling retained as in the original text: