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Watkin Tench sailed to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. In his late twenties, a captain of the marines, he was insatiably curious about the new British colony of Australia. In his four years in the country, he wrote two books about the early settlement that were bestsellers in their day: A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay (1789) and An Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson (1793). Both are included in full in this edition, lovingly edited by Tim Flannery.
Tench is the most readable of writers, and his books are fascinating for the vivid portraits they provide of early Australia. He introduces us to the iconic figures of Arthur Phillip and Bennelong, and provides fascinating descriptions of the infant colony. This popular edition of his two books should be read by every Australian.
Tench stands out amongst the storytellers of Australian history because of his lively and accessible writing, his ability to tell his tale with gusto and wit.
Tench will always remain the classic contemporary witness of our beginnings.' Les Murray
Watkin Tench (1758? -1833) was born in Chester, England, the son of Fisher Tench and his wife Margaritta. On 25 January 1776, Watkin Tench entered the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. He saw service during the war for American independence: serving off the American coast first in the `Nonsuch' and then as first lieutenant in the `Mermaid' When the 'Mermaid' was driven ashore he spent three months as a prisoner of war in Maryland, and then served in the `Unicorn' between October 1778 and March 1779. Watkin Tench was promoted captain-lieutenant in September 1782, but, with the war over, was placed on half pay in May 1786. Later that year he volunteered for a three-year tour of service to Botany Bay, as part of the expedition to establish a convict settlement there. He sailed in the `Charlotte' on 13 May 1787 as one of the two captain-lieutenants of the marine detachment under Major Robert Ross, arriving in Botany Bay on 20 January 1788.
'Ithaca itself was scarcely more longed for by Ulysses than Botany Bay by the adventurers who had traversed so many thousand miles to take possession of it.'
In early 1787, a London publishing house (John Debrett of Picadilly) commissioned Watkin Tench to write an account of both the journey to New Holland and its settlement. Watkin Tench's tour of service lasted almost five years, and during this time he wrote two books about the early settlement. Those books: `A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay' (1789) and `An Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson' (1793) were bestsellers when first published and are both included in this book.
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Tim Flannery's "Watkin Tench's 1788" is a book every Australian should read. There is very little in the way of diary accounts of the landing in 1788 of The First Fleet convicts and their keepers. It was the beginning of a colony, the beginning of what would become the great metropolis of Sydney, and the very beginning of what would become a nation. Watkin Tench was a young marine officer with the Fleet whose observations are succint, intelligent and intriguing. Nothing seems to escape his observation. Perhaps of greatest interest is the depiction of the local Aboriginal inhabitants and their reactions to this "invasion." A fascinating view of the Aboriginal people in the Sydney Cove area - as they were then ! As with all accounts "of the very beginnings" of things this would equate well with the first days of the English colonists of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. In common was the struggle with the alien environment, so unfamiliar to Europeans, the struggle to establish gardens and grow food, the struggle to understand and come to terms with the indigenous people, and the overwhelming sense of isolation. So oppressive was this sense of isolation to the Europeans at Sydney Cove that it later prompted a comment from one of the very few women in the colony in a missive to her family in England that it "was like being buried alive" I can just feel the weight of that comment. Well recommended to all readers interested in history and the human condition, but especially to Australian readers to help understand what "the beginning" was really like.
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When recently in Australia I was delighted to find that this book is widely available, written by a young adventurer from my home town of Chester, who is rightly venerated in the antipodes. This is a fascinating journal by a humane British marine officer giving his detailed view of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney (then Port Jackson). Ahead of the other more formal accounts sent home to Britain, this is the one that fired up the popular imagination and was read across Europe. By today's standard the writing is highly formal, Tench describes the hunger and disappointments found in the colony in the voice of 18th century 'civility'. Influenced by Rousseau, he was sympathetic to the aborigines and so we find accounts of tragic Bennelong and Barangaroo, amongst others, influencing later work such as Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant. This is a thoughtful and factual account by a young man who is perceived to be a key figure in Australian history. So what about a statue of Watkins in Chester, or at least blue plaque?
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