Arthur Bowes Smyth | State Library of New South Wales

Arthur Bowes Smyth (1750-1790)

Arthur Bowes Smyth sailed with the First Fleet as Surgeon on board the Lady Penrhyn. He was responsible for the women convicts and his record of their names, ages and crimes reveals the human faces of the convict mass. Bowes Smyth also took a great interest in natural history, collecting specimens and making drawings including the earliest extant illustration by a European of the emu.

He returned to England on the Lady Penrhyn travelling via Lord Howe Island, Tahiti, China and St Helena. He died some months after his return and was buried on 31 March 1790 in Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Essex, where he had been born. His journal was acquired by the Mitchell Library in 1915.

Three manuscript versions of this journal are known to exist. Other versions are held at the National Library of Australia (believed to be the original version); and the British Museum (a fair copy). The Mitchell Library version is also believed to be a fair copy.

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Transcript: Arthur Bowes Smyth - a Journal of a Voyage From Portsmouth to New South Wales and China In the Lady Penrhyn

Partial transcription (18 - 21 January 1788)

Jany. 18th. A gentle breeze -- Expect to see Land this Evening. A Noddy taken on the yardarm -- No land seen at 8 o'Clock for wh. reason the fleet were order'd to lye to all night -- the wind encreas'd in the night & the Ships roll'd very much. --

Saturday 19th. This morng. I arose at 5 o'Clock in hopes of seeing Land, but was disappointed -- The Sirius & all the fleet made Sail abt. 4 o'Clock in the morng. & at 7 a.m. we discover'd Land abt. 40 miles distant. The joy everyone felt upon so long wish'd for an Event can be better conceiv'd than expressed, particularly as it was the termination of the Voyage to those who were to settle at Botany Bay, & : it is 10 weeks on monday since we left the Cape of Good Hope; the longest period of any we had been at Sea without touching at any Port. -- The Sailors are busy getting up the Cables & preparing all things for Anchor- ing - lye to all night.

Sunday 20th. The Sirius made Sail at 4 o'Clock this morng. wt. a fine breeze go 4 Ks. -- Abt. 8 o'Clock we came abreast of point Solander & : Sail'd into the Arrive at Bay, where we were very happy to find the 4 Ships who had parted wt. Botany Bay us, all safe at Anchor. The Supply Brig got there on friday night, but the Alexr. Scarborough & Friendship reach'd it but the Eveng. before us! We saw by the Assistance of a Glass, 7 of the Natives, runing amongst the trees --

This Eveng. I went on Shore in the Boat wt. Some of the Ship's Company to the Northside of the Bay to haul the Seyne & : caught a great many fish; all excellent eating. Upon first sight one wd. be induced to think this a most fertile spot, as there are great Nos. of very large & lofty trees, reachg. almost to the water's edge, & every vacant spot between the trees appears to be cover'd wt. verdure: but upon a nearer inspection, the grass is found long & : coarse, the trees very large & in general hollow & the wood itself fit for no purposes of buildg. or anything but the fire -- The Soil to a great depth is nothing but a black sand wh. when exposed to the intense heat of the Sun by removing the surrounding trees, is not fit for the vegitation of anything even the grass itself, then dying away, wh. in the shade appears green & : flourishing; add to this that every part of the grown is in a manner cover'd wt. black & red Ants of a most enormous size. --

21st. Accompanied several Gentlemen on shore to the South side of the Bay, in order to haul the Seyne. Upon our landing 7 or 8 of the Natives came close up to us -- They were all provided wt. Lances of a great length pointed wt. the Bone of a Sting Ray at one end & a piece of Oyster Shell at the other, grown or rub'd to a fine edge & one of them had a heavy Bludgeon wh. I persuaded him to exchange wt. me for a looking glass. They were all perfectly naked rather slender, made of a dark black colour, their hair not wooly but short & curly. -- Every one had the tooth next the fore tooth in his upper jaw knock'd out, & many of them had a piece of stick abt. the size of a Tobacco pipe & 6 or 8 inches in length run thro' the septum of the Nostrils, to wh. from its great similitude we ludicrously gave the name of a Sprit Sail Yard. They all cut their Backs Bodies & Arm wh. heal up in large ridges & scars.

They live in miserable Wigwams near the water wh. are nothing more than 2 or 3 pieces of the Bark of a tree set up sideways against a ridge pole fasten'd to two upright stick at each end -- they are abt. 2 or 3 feet high, & few amongst them are to be found wh. are weather proof --

Their principal food consists of fish wh. they in general eat raw -- Sometimes they feast upon the Kangaroo, but I believe them to be too stupid & indolent a set of people to be able often to catch them: from the appearance of many of the lofty trees we saw, some way up the Country (vizt.) having regular steps chop'd at abt. 2 foot asunder in the Bark of the tree quite up to the top where the tree begins to branch out, there is reason to suppose they mount these wt. large stones where they lie in ambush till some Kangaroos come under to graze when they heave the stone upon them & kill them. There are great Nos. of Kangaroos but so extreamly shy that 'tis no easy matter to get near enough to them even to shoot them -- & very few in comparison of the great numbers there are, were shot during our stay at New Holland. As there is a most exact print of this uncommon Animal in Capt. Cook's Acct. of this Country I shall not take the trouble to discribe it.

There are many Cabbage trees, but scarce any fruit whatever -- There are some tollerable springs of fresh water & but few rung, streams & those chiefly towards the Sea wh. are many of them quite dry'd up in Summer.

The Animals we saw during our stay at New Holland; (In discribing Botany Bay I take in Port Jackson also, being only 5 miles distant & in most respects the same) I say then, That during our stay there of 3 months, the different Animals we saw, were Kangaroos, abt. as big as a large Sheep a very large Species of Li/ard, Dogs, Rats, Raccoons, flying Squirrels -- very large Snakes -- a Bird of a new genus, as large & high as an Ostrich -- Many species of Cockatoos, Parrotts, Loury & Louryquets, Eagles, Hawks, (Rooks & wild fowl of many sorts vizt. Duck, Teal, Widgeon &ca.) the same as in England; wt. an infinity of small Birds, some of them very handsome plumage but none that we heard of were singing ones --

There are also (as mention'd above) great quantities of Ants of 8 or 10 different species & many flies & Musquito's. The Women are also quite naked & go in misserable bad canoes to Catch fish -- The Women in general fish with a hook & Line the men strike them wt. a kind of spear. The Hook is made of the convoluted part of the Ear Shell, sharpen'd on a stone to a fine point. The Natives do not besmear their Hair or Bodies with any kind of Oil or paint as many Indians do -- Their Teeth are in general White but both their Skin & hair have a remarkably strong fishy scent. They wear their beards wh. are quite black & inclined to be curly. They did not appear hostile; their Language is excessively Loud & harsh & seems to consist of a very short Vocabulary; they Description seem'd surpris'd at the Sight of the Ships. I presented many of them of New wt. Glass Beads & several Gentlemen put Ribbands & Glass Trincketts Holland abt. their heads but they seemed altogether a most stupid insensible Continued set of beings -- they seem'd most desirous of Hats from their attempting to seize the Hats of many persons on shore.

They seemed to express a Wish to know of what Sex we were & several of the persons onshore satisfied them in that particular. -- When they found we were men like themselves they express'd their joy & astonishment by loud Exclamations & grotesque gestures, & immediately shook hands with us. Their Huts or Wigwams are dispersed abt. & cat paths leading from one to the other.

Having wandered some distance into the woods in search of Insects & other natural Curiosities, I lost myself & cd. not find my way back to the Wooding Party, which threw me into no small panic least I shd. meet with any of the Natives before I cd. extricate myself from the Labarynth I had got into. At one time I was surrounded by fern (exactly the same as in England) on every side above my head. And in this awkward situation I came very near Wigwams or Hut in which I heard the voices of Men & Women, I was apprehensive I shd. be seen by them; but, I crawl'd along gently & had the good Luck to escape being noticed by them; & : to my inexpressable Joy I shortly after got sight of the Bay; I bent my course towards it & upon clearing the wood I found myself upon a point of Rock at least a mile from the Guard & Wooding party -- I directed my course along shore till I reached the Party & in my way there I fell in with a Canoe which was drag'd up among[s] t the grass &ca. a little way from the Beach -- it way at least 14 ft long & not more than 2 feet wide made entirely of the Bark of a tree -- wt. a stick the size of my finger bound round the Edge of it with the inner bark of a tree; the Ends of it were drawn together in form of a purse & fasten'd also with slips of the inner bark. --