His Honour Henry Pownall QC and Brigadier John Pownall OBE
Great-great-great Nephews of Henry Waterhouse Midshipman with the First Fleet
Henry Waterhouse was our great-great-great uncle. He entered the Navy before he was eleven years old. When he was 15¾, he was recommended to Captain Arthur Phillip from Cumberland House; his father, William Waterhouse, being a member of the Duke of Cumberland’s Household, and the Duchess was his godmother. A letter from Captain Arthur Phillip to the Duchess’ Private Secretary, 17 November 1786:
I shall with pleasure receive the Midshipman the Duchess has been pleased to recommend, and tho’ it is not in my power to rate him at present, when it is, I shall render him that Service. The ship will leave Deptford in about ten days and consequently it will be necessary for him to join her as soon as he can get his things together.
As I shall do myself the honour of receiving the commands of their Royal Highness before I leave town, I hope at the same time to have the pleasure of assuring you that I am with great truth, Dear Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant.
In 1787 Midshipman Henry Waterhouse sailed in the SIRIUS with the First Fleet and wrote a number of letters and accounts to his father which were handed down in the family until they went to the Mitchell Library in Sydney in 1997. We shall read you some extracts.
We sailed from the Cape of Good Hope on the 13th November (1787) with a ship completely full with stock, grain, etc., for the settlement; we had continually foul winds until the 24th. On the 25th December (no mention of it being Christmas Day) there were a number of Pindada Pettrel and Albatross Birds about the ship, and a seal swam under the stern. On 27th six whales were playing about the ship one of which the ship rubbed against; it appeared to be very old; its nose was covered with barnacles. On the 8th January saw Van Diemens Land. The land from here has a most barren appearance. Only some few spots having trees on and those seemingly not in a very flourishing state, though this is one of the summer months. On 9th lost sight of land, there was a vast quantity of birds about the ship of the gull kind, some of the duck and the bird which Captain Cook calls Motacilla Cyanea which has a most beautiful azure head and neck.
On the 19th anchored in Botany Bay. Most of the ship’s company went on shore to clear the ground, the Governor and several officers went to the Northward to examine a bay. They returned and informed us they had been to Port Jackson and had found it to be a most excellent harbour and good soil--- At noon turned out to sea and after a short run anchored as did all the convoy in a cove about six miles up the harbour where the English colours were displayed.
On 28th I was sent with Captain Hunter, the 1st Lieutenant and Master to survey the Harbour which we completed by 6th February. Found it run about thirteen miles in nearly a West direction and is allowed to be the best harbour known in the world. About this time it thundered and lightened excessively hard. In one night it shivered a large tree near the camp and killed six sheep, two lambs and two pigs.
On 7th February the Governor’s Commission and the Commission for establishing the Laws and Courts of Judicature was read by the Judge Advocate of the settlement when the Governor addressed the convicts in a most excellent speech giving them every promise that could encourage them. On 16th May the foundation stone of the Governor’s House was laid. Buried with it the date of the Governor’s arrival in this country, also the date of the laying of the foundation stone.
On 3rd June got the ship in order. On 4th (the King’s Birthday) hoisted a flag at each mast head and fired 21 guns at sun rise, the same at 1 o’clock and the same at sun set. The Governor this day gave a public dinner at which were all the officers of the Garrison, the captain, lieutenants and three midshipmen one of which I had the honour to be. We went on short at twelve o’clock where the whole battalion were assembled, fired three volleys and gave three cheers as did the convicts who this day were allowed liquor. At two o’clock we were all assembled and had a most excellent dinner. After it was over the following public healths were drank with three cheers and the band playing God Save the King – The King – The Queen and Royal Family – The Prince of Wales – Prince William Henry – His Majesty’s Ministers and The Cumberland Family. The Governor then said he meant to name the County which he called the County of Cumberland. The Governor then went out and his health was drank likewise with three cheers. The healths and toasts then circulated briskly and most did honour to the day. We supped at nine and then went on board at 11. The convicts had made a most amazing fire, and the day was concluded on all sides with great festivity, though I am afraid alarmed the natives most terribly.
Since that time two convicts have been murdered by the natives but we suppose the convicts to have been the aggressors. (The natives) frequently come alongside the ship but we have not been able to persuade them to come in. They have not the least dress; their only ornaments are a bone which is run through between the two nostrils and their bodies besmeared with pipe clay and a kind of paint they get which they rub in their beards. The men have lost one of the foreteeth of the upper jaw and the women the first joint of the little finger on the left hand, for what reason no person can tell us as we saw it in all ages. They are in general well proportioned; the men more so than the women though their belly is rather protuberant. They have different kinds of spears; one with four prongs pointed with bone or fish teeth, the use of this seems to be chiefly for striking fish which they are very dextrous at, which seems to be their only food.
Their huts which we have seen are the most wretched you ever heard of, being composed of sticks crossed and covered with bark and grass about the size of a common hogsty but not so good.
The animals we have seen are the Kangooroo, Oppossum, flying squirrel and a curious kind of bat. One of the Kangooroos that has been shot weighed 140lbs – they are most excellent eating.
I am sorry to inform you that on 4th June the bull and cows strayed away and although some hundreds of people have been looking out for them they have not yet been heard of.
The town now (July 1788) begins to cut a figure; a number of wooden houses are built and the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s stone houses are almost built. Likewise the hospital and store houses. At a little distance from the town there is a form for the cultivation of seed and cattle for the public. There is a number of private farms and gardens about. There is likewise a brick field and kiln at which some thousands of excellent bricks have been made.
At present we are under such restrictions concerning the natives that I have not been able to collect any of their weapons or anything else. But I am afraid I have tired you with this long and uncorrected letter but I must beg you will excuse any errors that may attract your eye.
Your ever dutiful son
And now we shall read you an abridged version of Henry Waterhouse’s account of an incident which took place in September 1790, when Arthur Phillip went to meet Benalong and Colby, the leaders of the local native community.
I went down to the look-out with the Governor and Captain Collins. The coxswain informed the Governor that… Benalong and Colby had enquired for everybody they knew, particularly for the Governor… we went to Collin’s Cove. When we got there we saw a number of natives assembled round a fire. The Governor… asked in the native language where Benalong was. He answered in the same he was there. The Governor advanced up the beach with his hands and arms spread open and had a parley with some of them. The Governor returned to the boat and desired one of the men to bring some wine, beef and bread up and a jacket or two and went back to them. Then a man came down and said Benalong and Colby were there, that Benalong had enquired for me and that the Governor desired I would come up which I immediately did. On my getting on the bank I perceived a number of natives on each side and 8 or 10 in the front, all with spears in their hands except two with whom the Governor and Captain Collins seemed in earnest conversation. I shook hands with Benalong and Colby. Benalong took me round the neck and kissed me and Colby shook my hand again. During all which time perfect harmony subsisted.
The natives now seem closing round us… and the Governor said he thought we had better retreat.
Just as we were going Benalong pointed out several natives who were near. To one in particular the Governor presented his hand and advanced towards him, at which he seemed frightened and seized the spear Benalong had laid in the grass… and threw it with astonishing violence. All those that were near made off with the greatest precipitation. The spear entered the Governor’s shoulder and went through about 3 inches. I immediately concluded the Governor was killed as it appeared to me much lower than it really was. The Governor attempted to run holding the spear with both hands to keep the end off the ground. He then begged me for God’s sake to haul the spear out which I immediately stopped to do… Just at this instant another spear came and just grazed the skin off between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. I must own it frightened me a good deal and I believe added to my exertions, for the next sudden jerk I gave it, it broke short off. Spears were then flying very thick. The Governor pulled the pistol out of his pocket and fired it. (It) had the desired effect as we all got safe down to the beach… and put off.
I supported the Governor in my arms all the way up, during which time he was perfectly collected, but conscious that a few hours must fix the period of his existance… We got up, within two hours, to Sydney… and Mr. Balmain (the surgeon) attended with his instruments and made us all happy by confidently assuring the Governor he did not apprehend fatal consequences… The spear was then extracted and in six weeks the Governor was able to go about again.
The spearhead was, with the letters and accounts, handed down in the family until it, too, went back to Australia in 1997.