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"Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Botany Bay Fleet" dated Rio De Janeiro. 29 August 1787 [in] The London Chronicle....
London: 1 March, 1788. Broadsheet, 8 pp. comprising a complete issue of the London Chronicle, p. 2 with a long letter written from Rio, original tax stamp; excellent. Even the convicts have a dessert after dinner. Rare: a significant letter written from on board one of the ships of the First Fleet at Rio de Janeiro, published in the London Chronicle. Such letters in contemporary journals, indifferently recorded and only very rarely seen, include some of the most candid comments on the voyage of the First Fleet: this letter does not appear to he recorded in the Historical Records of New South Wales or otherwise noted.Rio de Janeiro, writes the correspondent, is 'without exception the pleasantest and most fruitful place in the whole universe; it is now the middle of their winter, yet we have oranges, lemons, limes, olives, coffee, &c. in blossom and in fruit at the same time; oranges are only four-pence per hundred, and even the convicts have a dessert after dinner.' Indeed, as this remarkable comment about convicts indulging in sweets suggests, much of the letter is taken up with fulsome praise of Phillip's care and attention during the voyage. One passage notes: 'He gives them fresh beef every day when in port, and procures them fruits, when to be had. He liberated them all from their irons a week after they left England; in short, he allows them every indulgence which prudence and discretion in our present situation will authorize. It is to this clemency and attention, that we must ascribe the extraordinary good health they have enjoyed since we left England. The sick list at present is not above 30.'Although the letter is full of interesting asides on the conditions aboard, two stories get top billing. The first is the tale of the attempted escape of a convict, who 'attempted his escape at Teneriff, and effected it so far as to land by the help of a small boat, about ten miles from the ship, round the S.W. part of the island; he was taken the next morning by a party of marines, sent on shore for that purpose' (the convict in question was on board the Alexander; see White's Journal, p. 14).The second tale is a benign, even slightly approving, account of the ingenuity with which one of the convicts set about counterfeiting coins: 'one of the convicts felt an inclination to have a little trade with the Portugueze, and he therefore determined upon a new coinage of dollars some of the best counterfeited dollars I ever saw; they were so ingeniously executed, so as to render them passable; he coined them out of pewter spoons, and a something that gave them the solidity and lustre of silver; however, an end is put to his plan, and on account of the circulation of his dollars being topped, and his credit not being good in the island, his intended investments cannot be made.' The convict in question was Thomas Barrett, now famous for the Charlotte Medal, recently purchased by the National Maritime Museum of Australia.The letter signs off in the best of good spirits. 'I have the pleasure to acquaint you,' he writes, 'that we have not lost an officer since we left England, and at his moment, we are all in health and spirits. We sail in a day or two for the Cape, where you shall hear from me again. If you are curious to know the occurrences at sea on our passage hither, you shall hear them in a few words. We saw flying fish, caught bonettas, albacoras, &c. &c. and took the Devil.'Neither the original author nor his correspondent is recorded here, and it is not even absolutely clear on which ship the author was sailing, despite the tantalising hints. Generally speaking, there are surprising few comments about anything nautical, but there are more than a few about the sicklist and general health. There is also the glorious tale of Barrett and his counterfeiting, and the tale of the attempted escape in Tenerife, both of which stories were reprinted in White's Journal; indeed, it is White who is thought to have commissioned the Charlotte Medal from his old shipmate Barrett. Taken together, this might suggest that the letter was originally written by John White, but any attribution is likely to remain little more than speculation. The only clue to the recipient is a passing reference in the passage about the good health on board the Fleet, with the note 'that you have not a village on your island (wherein there are an equal number with us) more healthy.'....
      [Bookseller: Hordern House]
Last Found On: 2015-03-06           Check availability:      Direct From Bookseller    

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