[Extract of a letter from an officer on board the Sirius] [7-9 February 1788]

[Editor: A letter from an officer aboard the First Fleet, during the voyage to Australia. Published in The London Chronicle, 7-9 February 1788.]

[Extract of a letter from an officer on board the Sirius]

Extract of a Letter from an Officer on board the Sirius Man of War, one of the Botany Bay Fleet, dated Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 28, 1787.

“Agreeable to my promise, I embrace the favourable opportunity of writing to you by one of the gentlemen belonging to the Sirius, who returns to Europe on account of his health, by the Diana, bound from Rio to London.

“We had a more favourable passage than we could have expected at that season of the year, having been only three weeks in sailing from Spithead to our anchoring off Teneriffe. In St. Cruz Bay we continued from the 3d of June till the 10th, during which time the fleet were busily employed in taking in water, wine, &c. We also procured a few vegetables, but it being there winter, we found them very scarce, which was a great disappointment to us. Thermometer 72, Barometer 30. 10.

“The fleet sailed from Teneriffe the 10th of June for the Cape de Verd Islands, with an intention, I believe, to touch at St. Jago, where they hoped to have an opportunity of being amply supplied with fruits, vegetables, &c. We stood in for the Bay of Port Praya, within about two miles of the shore; but the winds being variable, and unfavourable for getting into the Bay, we were obliged to haul off shore, to the great disappointment of the whole fleet, as we expected to have got here our sea stock of fruit, vegetables, &c. We found the weather exceedingly warm, the thermometer 82 1-3d, barometer 30. 14, which was the highest we had had it since we sailed from England.

“Being thus disappointed, we made the best of our way for Rio de Janeiro, crossed the line the 15th of July, in long. 26. 10. West of Greenwich, and made the port of Rio the 6th of August, the fleet being all in good health, even beyond expectation, nor had there been a man dangerously ill on board the Sirius since we failed from Europe. The convicts are very healthy, not above eight having died on their passage, and the most of them were advanced in years, and exhausted by diseases they had laboured under in prison previous to their embarkation; but since we sailed, the utmost endeavours have been used to preserve their health: they have had fruit, vegetables, and fresh beef procured for them at every port we have hitherto touched at; should we be equally fortunate the remainder of the voyage, it will be more than could be expected. Capt. Phillips pays the greatest attention to the fleet under his command, and merits the greatest commendation for the regulations he has made in it.

“The officers have received here greater indulgences and civilities (on Captain Phillips’s account), than any British officers that ever visited this country before us; we are allowed to walk all through the city and its environs, as well as five miles into the country, without a guard or soldier with us, which is more than has ever been granted here before, as they do not wish to suffer strangers to acquire any kind of knowledge of the place, which is very mountainous for 20 or 30 leagues about the town; nothing but ridges of mountains appearing as far as you can see, intersected by some very fertile vallies.

“Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil, and the seat of the Viceroy. There is a palace, with several large buildings, about 20 churches, and nine monasteries, convents, and nunneries. It is a large, rich, and populous city, with a very spacious bay, formed by a number of rivers, not less than 13 or 14 of them emptying themselves into the bay, which seems capacious enough to contain the whole navy of Europe, and has from 20 to 120 fathoms of water; the whole defended by 14 batteries on different parts of it.

“The inhabitants are degenerated into an effeminate luxury, and seem very fond of parade and pomp; they scarcely ever shew themselves in the street, except in the evening, and then either in chaises or hammocks, carried by negroes, the ladies in sedans, and scarcely any people of distinction can be seen at all in the public streets. They are in general great bigots, and tenacious to a degree of their religion. The procession of the best is to be seen almost every night in the city, and they have at the corners of most of the streets the image of some saint, to which the inhabitants in passing always pull off their hats. At night the negroes assemble about them to pray and sing hymns, and they make such a noise as to be heard at a considerable distance from the town: it seems to me quite a scene of confusion, having neither beginning nor ending, but a constant bellowing for the greatest part of the night.

“We take our departure from hence in a very few days, as every exertion is used to get the fleet ready for sea, which is now nearly completed in water and other refreshments that were found necessary to be taken in here for the benefit of the expedition.

“P.S. We are expected to sail on Sunday for the Cape of Good Hope.”

The London Chronicle (London, England), vol. LXIII no. 4882, 7-9 February 1788 [“From Thursday, February 7, to Saturday, February 9, 1788”], page 141 (5th page of that issue)

Also published in:
The St. James’s Chronicle; or, British Evening-Post (London, England), no. 4217, 7-9 February 1788 [“From Thursday, February 7, to Saturday, February 9, 1788”], page 1

Editor’s notes:
chaise = (also known as a “chay”, or “shay”) a light horse-drawn carriage (usually two-wheeled but also four-wheeled) with a folding top, designed for use by one or two people

Spellings retained as in the original text:
shew (show)
vallies (valleys)

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