Sunday, 9 December 2018

#52Ancestors - Week 49 - Weather Down Under

The prompt for this week's post is Winter but as the temperature reached 38 degrees Celsius in Melbourne on Friday followed by a hot and muggy day I have decided to look at the experiences of the convicts, especially those of the First Fleet, who arrived in New South Wales at the end of January 1788.

The ships of the First Fleet had left England in the middle of May with summer approaching. By the time the ships reached New South Wales it was mid-summer while back home in England it would have been mid-winter. The convicts and their minders were plunged into a climate very different from that experienced at home.

A number of reports written by first settlement participants provided their view of the climate. It wasn't just the heat but the sudden thunderstorms that concerned the new arrivals.

Lieutenant Ralph Clark recorded on 31 January  - what a terrible night it was of thunder and lightening and rain. (Hill p161)

Lieutenant Watkin Tench described the hot summer winds as being like a blast from a heated oven. (Tench p232) He recorded that one day the temperature peaked at a hundred and nine degrees fahrenheit, which killed some of the vegetables that had been planted.

Generally Tench seemed to approve of the New South Wales climate. The climate is undoubtedly very desirable to live in. In summer the heats are usually moderated by the sea breeze, which sets in early, and in winter the degree of cold is so slight as to occasion no inconvenience. However he later provided additional information regarding the storm experienced by Clark. Ere we had been a fortnight on shore we experienced some storms of thunder accompanied with rain , than which nothing can be conceived more violent and tremendous, and their repetition for several days, joined to the damage they did by killing several of our sheep, led us to draw presages of an unpleasant nature. He then added - Happily, however, for many months we have escaped any similar visitations. (Tench p76-7)

Tench was interested in the differences in temperatures experienced in Sydney compared with  Rose Hill and provided reasons for the possible cause of this.

After living in the colony for two and a half years Watkin Tench appears to have become used to the new weather patterns and observed:
It is changeable beyond any other I ever heard of ... Clouds, storms and sunshine pass in rapid succession. Of rain, we found in general not a sufficiency, but torrents of water sometimes fall. Thunderstorms, in summer, are common and very tremendous, but they have ceased to alarm, from rarely causing mischief. Sometimes they happen in winter. I have often seen large hailstones fall. Frequent strong breezes from westward purge the air. These are almost invariably attended with a hard clear sky. The easterly winds by setting in from the sea, bring thick weather and rain, except in summer, when they become regular sea-breezes...

To sum up: notwithstanding the inconveniences which I have enumerated, I will venture to assert in a few words that no climate hitherto known is more generally salubrious, or affords more days on which those pleasures which depend on the state of the atmosphere can be enjoyed, than that of New South Wales. The winter season is particularly delightful. (Tench p235)
Thanks to the records kept by Watkin Tench and other officers we are able to see how the early Europeans became used to and eventually adapted to the different climatic conditions experienced in Australia compared with England.

Tench, Watkin. 1788: comprising A narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay and A complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson. Edited and introduced by Tim Flannery. Text Publishing, 1996

Hill, David. 1788: the brutal truth of the First Fleet. William Heinemann, 2008

1 comment:

  1. The dry hot days of summer would have been a shock, but he seems to enjoy the storms after adjusting.