Sunday, October 27, 2013

Caithness at the Cape 1803

Simon's Bay, Cape of Good Hope

Among the duties with which James Caithness would have assisted on joining the crew of HMS Calcutta at Simon’s Bay was loading five cows, one bull, and twelve sheep destined for the new settlement at Port Phillip. Fresh provisions including bread and beef for the ship's company were also taken on and the vital water casks filled for the next lengthy leg of the voyage. The weather continued moderate and fair but the political climate was less than salubrious.

Captain Daniel Woodriff, portrait,
National Library of Australia
The Dutch demanded the surrender of Calcutta and her contents. Captain Woodriff, not easily intimidated, prepared his ship for a fight. With the men standing to their guns Woodriff suggested that the Dutch ‘come and take her if they can’. 

Opinion on shore swiftly veered in favour of allowing the Calcutta to remain for 24 hours before departing the bay and removing the shipload of convicts from the vicinity.

Lieutenant James Hingston Tuckey of the Royal Navy, who accompanied the expedition, has left us an account of the voyage of HMS Calcutta. For an explorer and geographer he seems to have taken rather more than a scientific interest in the female population of the places visited en route and his descriptions of scenic beauties are equally fulsome, punctuated by poetic extracts. However, he gives us a glimpse of the Cape as James Caithness saw it at the time, though whether James had leisure to walk through the streets of Cape Town, as Tuckey evidently did, is doubtful.

Cape Town is one of the handsomest colonial towns in the world; the streets, which are wide and perfectly straight, are kept in the highest order, and planted with rows of oaks and firs. The houses are built in a stile of very superior elegance, and inside are in the cleanest and most regular order. They are not, however, sufficiently ventilated, to dissipate the stale fume of tobacco, which is peculiarly offensive to a stranger.

Shipping off Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope

Simmon's Town [sic] is situated on a small bay of that name, and contains about one hundred and fifty well-built houses; the inhabitants chiefly subsist by supplying ships with refreshments, during the months they are unable to lay in Table Bay. The English built a small block-house, with a battery enbarbet, to the eastward of the town. 
 A detachment of three hundred troops are stationed at Simmon's Town, who would in the event of an enemy's landing, retreat to Cape Town, which is garrisoned by three thousand troops, chiefly Swiss, particularly the regiment of Waldeck, which having served under the English banner in the American war, remembers with partiality the food and pay of its old masters, both of which, in the Dutch service, are wretched enough. 
The Dutch government is endeavouring …by the strictest economy to make the colony pay its expences. These measures are exceedingly unpopular, and have already caused upwards of one hundred real or fictitious bankruptcies. Hence the partiality with which the English are viewed here. Their return is openly wished for, even by those who were formerly their greatest foes. In fact, the Dutch government at the Cape, as well as at home, is entirely under French influence; and it is probable that in the boundless ambition of the Corsican usurper, he considers the Cape of Good Hope as one of the steps by which he intends to mount the Asiatic thrones.

Napoleon I
cameo by
 Nicola Morelli (1771-1838)

Tuckey compares the Cape unfavourably with Rio de Janeiro, where ‘the lofty spires of innumerable churches arise in every point of view’ while ‘at the Cape of Good Hope, two churches and two clergymen are enough for the inhabitants, and at Simmon's Town there is no trace of the peculiar appropriation of the sabbath to religious duties; all here are employed in making money’.*

Presumably, then, with the unfriendliness of the Dutch an additional irritation, Tuckey and all on board Calcutta were pleased to make sail on 25 August, trusting to a fine breeze from the N.W. for a speedy passage to the coast of New Holland. James Caithness was about to get his first view of Terra Australis.MCa


* A Voyage to Establish a Colony at Port Phillip in Bass's Strait On the South Coast of New South Wales, in His Majesty's Ship Calcutta, in the Years 1802-3-4: Tuckey, James Hingston (1776-1816)

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