13 Jan 1800
On the 13th of January, 1800 , the Lady Nelson hauled out of Deadman's Dock into the River, having her complement of men, stores and provisions on board, with every requisite for building and equipping another vessel of the same size, wood excepted, which could be got in New South Wales ; or, in case of shipwreck, where it could be found. The provisions were calculated for fifteen men for nine months, and the water for six months. The former were of the best kinds; and, in addition to which, we were supplied with abundance of antiscorbutics.
We arrived at Gravesend on the 16th following. In going down the River, I had the satisfaction of observing that she worked well; though, like all new things, we had but few who saw us pass, that did not say something against so small a vessel destined for a long voyage. The general appellation we got was that of His Majesty's Tinder-box.
17 Jan 1800
On the 17th the crew were paid their river pay, and to those who could find bondsmen two months in advance. Government was very liberal to the men employed in the Lady Nelson.
We arrived in the Downs on the 20th. In going down the River, owing to thick foggy weather, we got too near the Brake, and were warned of it by the after-keel lifting up, by which we avoided running aground. We anchored in the Downs in five fathoms water, the South Foreland bearing S.W. by S. half S. and Sandown Castle N.N.W. It blew strong, and, from the appearance of the weather, I had every reason to believe that the gale would increase, which it did on the making of the flood: before dark we got every thing snug, and gave the vessel a greater scope of cable: the keels were found of great use in steadying her, and preventing her rigging from training.
At this time there was a very large convoy for the Westward lying in the Downs , which had been detained nearly a month with westerly winds. On the evening of the 23rd the wind from the S. S. W. came on with the flood, and blew very hard, with a heavy sea. At eleven o'clock at night many signals of distress were made in the offing, and several ships drove past us. Finding the Lady Nelson drive, we let go another anchor, which presently brought us up, and enabled us to ride out the gale with ease.
The following morning six vessels were on shore, dismasted and in the Offing two more without either masts or bowsprits. This circumstance, though very unfortunate for other vessels, was, I confess, very pleasing to me, as it must of course satisfy my crew of the good qualities of the vessel in which they had to perform so long a voyage: more especially as their minds were, in some degree, prejudiced against her from the many unfavourable reports in circulation with respect to the impossibility of her performing the voyage. As the day advanced the gale ceased; and towards evening, it blew a steady breeze from the W.
On the 26th it again freshened into a gale, and blew very hard from W. by S. but with the former precautions we rode it out, affording me the satisfaction of finding, that my littlc vessel was easy when at anchor, and perfectly dry. The wind still continuing steady in the S. W. quarter, I judged it most prudent to shelter my charge as much as possible; particularly, as many vessels had gone into Ramsgate Harbour . Having obtained leave for that purpose, and being provided with a pilot, we run into that harbour; where I was detained by the same wind till the 7th of February, when it hauled to the northward. I sailed on the evening of that day, and got to Spithead the following. The Lady Nelson, on this occasion, outsailed all vessels of her size going the same way.
On the 9th we went into Portsmouth Harbour , and brought up off Gosport , in order to wait for a convoy to the Westward, and to have some alterations made on our boats,etc. As we had only two brass carriage guns on board, we were supplied with four more, from three to four pounders. With small arms and ammunition we were well furnished: our provisions and stores were also completed; and some oak plank was taken on board to repair the sliding keels in case of accident. The vessel by these means became very deep in the water, insomuch that we had only two feet nine inches clear abreast the gangway.
Many people who saw the Lady Nelson reckoned her unfit for so long a voyage, which gave me much trouble to keep the crew together, particularly as the day of departure approached. The men became very dissatisfied and how to replace some that escaped from me was a difficult business, as the crimps, who procured men for the East India fleet, and other ships about to sail, picked up every man they could get hold of. They were very assiduous in seducing some young men I had, whose minds were easily worked upon by representing the impracticability and risk of my undertaking.
On the 15th of March, my friend Captain Schank, accompanied by Mr. Bayley,of the Royal Academy , Portsmouth , paid me a visit. They observed, that the vessel was deep though she had nothing but what was absolutely necessary. I answered that a short time at sea, with the consumption of fuel and provisions, would bring us to the proper equilibrium.
On the 16th in the evening we had every thing clear for sea. In the course of this week I had suffered a diminution of two men in my crew; one I had been obliged to send ashore sick, the other deserted, taking with him some of my wearing apparel.
The wind in the night becoming fair, at day-break on the 17th the signal for the convoy's sailing was made by the Anson, Captain Durham. We unmoored, and got a pilot on board by order of Captain Patten, the resident Agent of Transports at Portsmouth, whose attention and assiduity to me, while in his department, I feel myself happv in thus publicly acknowledging, as deserving my most grateful thanks. While getting the kedge up, my carpenter, who was assisting in it, and had been drinking too freely to (St. Patrick) his tutelary saint, found means to make his escape in the dark. The loss of this man made me more uneasy than any other three of the crew would have done. Being anxious to sail, I was reluctantly obliged to put up with my loss. One thing consoled me, and induced me to sail without a carpenter, which was, the strength of the Lady Nelson: she was new; and I knew her to be, a good sea-boat. As I had passports to all the Powers then at war with my Sovereign, I determined, if any accident should happen, to run into the nearest port, and claim protection and assistance; but nothing but dire necessity would induce me to attempt this.
By eleven A.M. we got clear out from St. Helen's, and received Captain Durham's orders for keeping company. At noon we had a fresh breeze from N. At six P.M. on the 18th, we took our departure from Dunnose, in the Isle of Wight, bearing E. by N. five leagues distant. As the weather was thick and hazy, we soon lost sight of land and bid adieu to Old England. Towards night it fell little wind, so that some of the Indiamen slipped faster through the water than we did.
On the 19th the Commodore sent an officer on board to say, that he thought I had better go into Falmouth, and take an opportunity of sailing, from thence with the West India fleet, as I sailed too heavy for the East Indiamen. It being left to myself, I preferred going on, as if it did not blow too heavy I should be able to keep up.
On the 20th it blowing very fresh, and a considerable swell, I found that the fleet got from us. As the wind increased, and the sea made, we were obliged to take in our small sails, while the large ships could set their steering sails, which had nearly as much canvas in them, as we could show altogether. This is a convincing proof, that in going free large vessels in rough weather have a great advantage over small ones, especially when they are not deep in the water; as they can carry more sail, (even admitting it to be the same sail), in proportion. A vessel when low in the water has her progress much impeded by being forced downwards between two seas, and this will be found to operate more powerfully on short bodies than long ones.
The Brunswick East Indiaman, commanded by Captain Grant, in the afternoon hailed me with the Commodore's orders to take the Lady Nelson in tow. This was a business which I did not relish; but it also required some consideration how far my conduct would be justifiable in refusing it. From the observation made at noon , we were in Lat. 49 degrees 3 minutes N. the first we had made since leaving the land; and judged the Long. to be 9 degrees 47 minutes 26 seconds W. of Greenwich ; therefore we were exactly in the track of the enemy's cruizers. As I had more reason to dread detention (the season being so far advanced, and the inconveniences attending a winter passage to the Cape considered) than any doubt of the faith and honour of the Maritime Powers then at war, breaking through the liberty granted in my passports; particularly knowing, that if separated from my charge many articles, from various casualties, might be lost or damaged, of which the mathematical instruments were not the least to be considered. Besides, if the vessel towed well, I knew she could not receive any damage, and we should be the sooner out of the enemy's track. As I had neither a carpenter, nor any mechanic on board, this was another reason for my acquiescing to the proposal. Captain Grant assured me we should have free scope; we therefore got the end of his hawser on board, and soon found that the vessel towed very well.
During the time we had been out the weather was very indifferent, being gloomy, with more or less rain, which prevented me from making many necessary arrangements. I had also observed that there were several small leaks in the decks, and upper works, which greatly annoyed us, owing to the slovenliness and inattention of the workmen employed in fitting her out, although the most positive directions were given to the contrary. The water found its way in many places under the covering boards, and along the gunwale, insomuch that I was deprived of the use of one of the bed-places in the cabin; and also to the detriment of many articles fastened up against the side, which were necessary to be kept at hand. The vessel being rigged also into a brig from a cutter, the pumps were removed further aft, and not being well finished, admitted much water, until the weather permitted us to stop the leaks.
On the 21st the wind freshened with thick gloomy weather, which we had reason to expect from its being the equinox; and the sea, from the long and steady wind at E.N.E. became rough and more uneasy ; yet the vessel rose well to it, but being in tow, it was impossible at all times to prevent her from being dragged through some of the seas. This afforded some amusement to the passengers on board the Brunswick , who visited the stern gallery of it to see the little vessel in tow.
Nothing particular occurred till the 23d, when the wind had increased so much, that being forced into several heavy seas by the Brunswick, it evidently appeared to me that the vessel might be strained too much ; and as night was coming on, with great appearance of blowing hard, I ordered the hawser to be let go at five P. M. wishing my name-sake a pleasant passage. I have since been informed, that it was generally supposed I intended to return to Spithead , as deeming it impracticable to go on.
At seven P.M. the gale increased at E. and E. by S, when we made the vessel snug for the night, during which she was very comfortable, and rose well to the sea. Day-light brought us more moderate weather, and at noon we had a good observation, which gave us Lat. 43 degrees 55 minutes N. Long. 14 degrees 17 minutes W. We lost sight of the fleet during the night.
As this was the first day we had any clear weather since we came out, I ordered all the bedding on deck, and spread them out to air, together with the seamen's clothes, which custom I constantly followed when the weather permitted, and to which I attribute the great health my men experienced during the voyage, who were landed at Sydney in New South Wales in the same state as when they embarked. It is true, that on board of all his Majesty's ships the hammocks are brought up every fine day, and stowed into the settings, yet the benefit of dispersing contagion cannot be procured while close packed up, so well as by exposing the different articles to the air and sun. Infectious matter it is well known may be preserved in the flocks with which the bed-ticks are filled: how necessary then is it that the hammocks should be opened, particularly in warm climates, where the perspiration is augmented. This mode ought constantly to be followed. Besides, another advantage accrues from it; the lazy and dirty seamen are spirited on, by the example of those who are otherwise, to keep their bedding and clothes in decent order; as the whole is under the view of their officers. We took the opportunity of stopping, several leaks in the upper works; and found in many places about the covering board or plank, sheer putty substituted for oakum.
On the 25th P. M. we had fresh gales and cloudy weather. At three P. M. a strange sail was in sight. On going to the masthead a large fleet was seen bearing N. N. E. and the strange sail apparently in chace, and gaining fast on us. Every sail was set, and the vessel on the best point of sailing; we had only to wait the issue. As she neared us, I perceived she was an English frigate. At six P. M. she fired a shot at us, when we shortened sail, and shewed our colours; but another shot convinced me she took us for an enemy's cruizer.
We then wore, and stood towards her. It proved to be His Majesty's frigate Hussar, Captain -------, as part convoy to the West India fleet which we had seen from the mast-head. Captain ------ told me he had taken us for a Spaniard, and was sorry he had given us so much trouble. He said his Longitude was from 13 degrees 30 minutes to 14 degrees W. which was within a very few miles of our own. After the usual compliments we parted. At eight P. M. it came on to blow very fresh with heavy squalls, and at midnight it blew very strong from almost every point of the compass for twelve hours.
At daylight on the 26th, we were close to part of the West Indian fleet, some of which not knowing what to make of us, crowded all the sail they could to get out of out of our way. One of them, much to his credit, hove to and fired a shot, almost plump on board of us.
After hoisting his colours, I showed him ours, when he stood on. Another vessel, the Hope of Liverpool, I could hardly keep clear of; for the more I endeavoured to avoid him, the more he attempted to get near me, insomuch that we were near running on board each other. He asked me very haughtily who I was, and where I came from, I replied by hoisting my pendant and colours, nevertheless, he was not satisfied; and as he had no force, I believe he intended, if he could,to have run me down. There was at this time much sea going, but I found the Lady Nelson do wonderfully well in it. The convoy stood to the westward under close-reefed topsails. As it continued to blow hard, with heavy squalls and rough sea, I had an opportunity of trying the vessel, which I did by carrying sail upon her, and never had less than two reefs in her mainsail, and the topsails close reefed. The mercury this day stood on deck at 65 degrees Lat. observation at noon , 39 degrees 59 minutes N.
the 27th it was more moderate; but dark, gloomy and uncomfortable weather,with drizzling rain. The wind being from the S. W. and continuing freshening, at six P. M.of the 28th we had so much sea that I hove the vessel to for the night, when I found her perfectly easy and dry.
At day-light on the 29th it became more moderate, and the wind hauled to the N. We bore up and made sail. I now found the great benefit of the keels in facilitating the vessel's coming to, and bearing up ; for the most dangerous situation a vessel can be put in, is when she has got no way on her, and in the act of wearing or being put before the sea, where her beam is entirely exposed to an high breaking sea. It is often in this situation that deep loaded merchant ships have their decks cleared of all that is on them; and sometimes are dismasted. If proper attention is paid to the keels, it is only to watch one sea passing, and before the next gets up to you, the vessel will be far enough round to receive it endways, or at least considerably abaft the beam. Of this I am the more convinced, from much experience I have repeatedly had, in a very heavy sea, while in the Lady Nelson ; and that in the tract of ocean, when some thousand miles from any known land, where there was no continent to interrupt the fetch of the sea, and but little wind to assist me in throwing off the vessel before it.
It often happens in the southern hemisphere, after blowing very heavy for some considerable length of time, that it will fall nearly calm in the course of an hour, or even less, when the sea being raised to a great height it has not time to fall, but for some short time will continue to rise and break much. There not being wind sufficient to keep a vessel to, she becomes much exposed in the trough or hollow of the sea, which makes it absolutely necessary to bear up, and put her before it. In this case the benefit of being quick in getting the vessel round is obvious to all seamen ; and it is now an undoubted fact, that nothing will facilitate her coming round so much as sliding keels, as by the use of the after-keel she is not only brought before the sea, but kept in that situation. They who do not approve of vessels built on this construction, will, however, admit that they have an advantage in this point over other vessels, which are to be thrown off, or brought to by their sails and rudders.
On the 29th we had moderate breezes with flying showers - overhauled all the places that leaked in the top-sides of the vessel, and found several in the sail-room about the breast-hook, which had not left a single sail but what was more or less damaged, and which took up much time and expense in repairing. This was a misfortune that I had no reason to expect, and therefore gave me much uneasiness.
On the 31st we had again drizzling damp weather, and as the wind was at N.E. and N. I expected to see Madeira soon; but in the evening it came on to blow from N. E. by N. and N. so heavy, that by midnight it blew a very heavy gale, and from the length of time we had had it in this quarter, and generally blowing strong, it may be judged what sea there was.
At one in the morning of the 1st of April we fell into a cross heavy sea. When the vessel was hove to, as it blew so hard, we got the fore-topsail-yard down on the deck, which I found of great service, as it allowed the vessel to come up much higher, nor did she fall off so much. The wind in general was at N. E. and never varied above a point either way. Before the fore-topsail-yard was lowered, the vessel had come up to N. and fell off to N. N. W. Sometimes a sea would throw her off to N.W. by N. When it was got down, she came up and hung long at N. by E. and never fell off farther than N. N. W. and excepting when the cross sea used to throw the spray on board, the weather side of the deck was constantly dry.
The gale continued till the 3rd, when it began to moderate, and finding the sea get down at five P. M. I bore up. During the gale we had drifted to the south of Madeira , where I expected to have fallen in with the Anson and convoy; but the wind still being fair I wished to make the most of it.
At half past three on the 5th, saw the Salvages bearing W. by S. distant six or seven leagues. At eight passed them within three leagues. Shaped a course for Palma , one of the Canary Islands ; which, at half past four , P. M. I saw bearing W. S.W. fourteen or fifteen leagues. We now crowded all the sail we could in order to get past these islands in the night, keeping to the west of them. I found the variation by the sun's azimuth to be its rising 14 degrees 22 W. Island of Palma then bearing E. by S. distant forty miles by reckoning, thermometer on deck at noon 75 degrees. We had now got into a strong N. E. trade wind, which I found tended to split most of our spare spars and masts, and I ordered them to be payed with turpentine. The bedding, &c. was brought on deck to air; we also cleaned and washed below.
On the 6th we had a strong breeze from S. by E. to S. E. by E. which does not agree with the accounts of winds that generally prevail in this country, accompanied by a very cross ribbling sea, which made the vessel very uneasy. I cannot account for this in any other way than that it is occasioned by a current setting from between the islands, for as we got past them I found the sea decrease gradually. Observation at noon in the Lat. of 27 degrees 3 minutes N.
The weather became moderate and fair on the 7th at noon the thermometer on deck was at 79 degrees. On the 8th we crossed the Tropic of Cancer. We had now many flying fish round; which, on account of the lowness of the vessel used frequently to come on board in great numbers, affording us many a delicious meal.
On the 11th we were employed in repairing the damaged sails, and airing the bedding. Served out sugar and lime-juice to the men. Saw a tropic bird. At noon found ourselves in Lat. 16 degrees 46 minutes N.
At half past one P. M. of the 12th, saw the Island of Salt, one of the Cape de Verde, bearing W. seventeen or eighteen miles. Hauled close round the S. E. end of it, and run along the S. side in order to look for an harbour, which is said to be near a small island on that side; but not finding so convenient accommodation as I expected, at half past six P. M. we shaped a course for St. Jago.
As there are many different descriptions of the appearance of the Island of Salt, it appeared to me as follows:- Having made it at the time I expected by my reckoning, I was surprized to find that it corresponded with the description of Bonavista, very nearly as given in the East India Directory, which says, "Salt is an island of high bold land with a peak on it;" and that, " Bonavista is irregular and sandy down to the water's edge. The S. E. point of Bonavista is a low spit of land whose extent is not perceived till you come up with it." This so exactly corresponds with the S. E. end of Salt, that until I had rounded this end of the island, and made the small one as laid down, I was rather in doubt which of the two islands it was. The land of Salt at the N. W. end appears high and irregular; it hath also sand and valleys down to the water's edge on both the E. and W. side; but it is most remarkable in being a long narrow island, the S. E. end running out in a lone sandy spit, which being very low and flat, you do not distinguish it from the high land, until you are close in with it. The spit is at least three or four miles in length from the land, and on the N. side has a reef and breakers on it in several places about a mile from the shore. The land from the N. W. appears pretty regular, excepting here and there it is jagged and broken towards the S. E. end. There appear three mountains in Salt, two near the N. W. end, and the other abreast of the small island on the W. side. Salt lies nearly N. N. W. and E. S. E. and is so narrow that when you get on the W. side, as far up as the small island, you may easily see the land you have left on the opposite side. This is not the case with Bonavista, as that island is much broader. There is no land that I could observe on Salt that deserves the name of a Peak: its being jagged towards the low sandy point on the 8. E. end, and the steep land falling progressively in steps below each other, may have given rise to the idea of the uppermost bellies a peak, which is, in fact, no more than the sharp corner of a table land.
Having before observed that we bore up at six P. M. for St. Jago, at eleven we saw it, and continued our course for Port Praya, intending there to refresh and fill up our water. After rounding the S. E. point of St. Jago, (which is laid down to be no more than six or seven miles to Port Praya, but it is nearer ten) there is a small bay to the E. about four miles, called by the inhabitants after St. Francis. This bay is particularly mentioned in the East India Directory as being very apt to mislead strangers, and, from the appearance of it from the sea, not without reason. Port Praya bay is known by the cocoa-nut trees, which are very conspicuous at the bottom of it, and a small house. St. Francis's bay has also cocoa-nut trees. The distance which the former bay is from the S. E. end of the island corresponds better with that of St. Francis than Port Praya, which, with its likeness to it, did not surprize me that strangers should be deceived. My second mate having been in Port Praya some months previous to his embarking with me, I was persuaded by him that the Bay of St. Francis was it: and dreading the loss of time it would occasion if I went past it, as I did not mean to touch at the Brazils, I therefore ventured into this dangerous place, taking care to anchor the vessel in a weatherly situation in case of accidents. I instantly went on shore with this man, who still thought he was right; but on landing he found, to his confusion, he was wrong.
I returned immediately on board and got out of this bay. The Bay of St. Francis may be always known by its having at the back of it, and nearly close down to the water's edge, an high flat-topt table land standing between two mountains, which cannot be mistaken. Port Praya has at the bottom of it, besides the house already mentioned, a long low valley running inland to a considerable extent, the mountains behind which are sharp and peaked. Near the landing place there are two remarkable forts on the E. side, which you must open before you come to anchor; and on the W. side is Quail Island , which is easily seen as you enter. But the surest mark is that from the S. E. end of the Island of St. Jago , the shore is low and rocky in general, until you reach the Bay of St. Francis ; from thence to Port Praya the shore is high clayey cliffs, which round into the harbour forming the E. side of it. Port Praya is well known to be very extensive, and capable of containing a numerous fleet of ships. The soundings I found corresponded with those laid down in the East India Directory.
On Sunday the 13th I came to an anchor, and saluted the fort with seven guns, which was immediately returned. I had performed this first part of my voyage in twenty-six days from Portsmouth , nearly four of which I had lain to. The Governor Antonio Marcelino de Basto received me very politely, and offered me every assistance in his power, that I might stand in need of.
Much cannot be said of the town, nor the manner the Governor is lodged. Nature has done much for its defence ,and since the commencement of this war the Governor has built two forts, one of fourteen, the other of eleven guns. They are both inclosed with a wall kept in good order, and white washed, which make a pleasing appearance. There are also several redoubts with guns mounted in them, but in a very ruinous state.
The inhabitants are chiefly black, a few officers about the Governor excepted. The troops appeared to be natives of the island, black, and poorly clothed. From the height that the forts and town stand on, a tolerable defence towards the sea might be made; but if an enemy was landed the island would instantly fall; particularly as it has few internal resources, and even water is brought from a well in the valley at the back of the town (the only place they get water from in the dry season,) which could be cut off.
The seasons are divided into wet and dry, like all other place between the tropics. At this time the ground was parched up, exhibiting a barren waste, scattered with pumice stones and other volcanic matter. What had the appearance of grass was dry and dirty. Vegetation there was none. Nevertheless the inhabitants seemed to enjoy the few comforts with apparent happiness. It has been before remarked, that the trade wind had caused several of our spare masts and spars to split, and that I had payed them with turpentine; yet this mode did not entirely prevent it. I observed that some which were painted escaped with very little damage.