Chapter 5 - 'Sydney Cove, January 1788'
The natives watched from a safe distance as the biggest nowee they'd ever seen entered the quiet cove of 'Warran', not far from the special place reserved for ceremonial gatherings. Soon after, smaller boats were lowered over its side, bringing the white men close enough to wade ashore.
Now, one of the white strangers splashed towards the bank carrying another man on his back. The man being carried wore a bright red coat which, the natives had already learnt, signified a superior one. As the men reached the water's edge, the man in the red jacket jumped into the shallows, lost his footing, and as he stumbled and splashed about, his hat floated across the water out of reach. The white men watching from the boat laughed and cheered, and the natives hidden within the circle of trees rimming the cove couldn't help smiling to themselves.
Maybe they are just young men like us, and not so strange after all.
But unbeknown to the black observers, the camaraderie shown between the white men in that incident was strange; very strange indeed. The two white men coming ashore were in fact at opposite ends of a huge social divide; one was a convicted felon, James Ruse, and on his back had been Lieutenant George Johnston of the British marines. The good-natured taunting coming from the boat would, in 'normal circumstances', be highly inappropriate. The black onlookers could not have known that the white men were from a distant country with a social system in which people were divided into strict levels of importance; the lines of which could not be crossed. The higher classes of British society strongly believed in the fixed superiority of a privileged few; a concept unfamiliar to the black men.
The scene the natives had nodded and smiled at would be highly unlikely in Britain. Yet in this isolated cove, far away from the stratums of British society, the frivolity the black men had observed was a sign that the rigid lines of that social order were already beginning to blur.
Lieutenant Johnston, the cause of the amusement, had sensed it too, but it hadn't irked him. In fact, it would suit him. As he walked up the slope of the thickly wooded cove feeling his legs adapt to solid ground, he thought about Esther Abrahams, the young convict he would take as his housekeeper. She wasn't rough like many of the other women. In fact she was lovely. He pictured her long black hair, her almond shaped eyes and slender face.
It had been a difficult voyage for her, trying to look after her small baby, who'd been born in prison only a few months before the ships sailed from England. It wouldn't have been easy, keeping a baby clean and healthy in the unhygienic conditions of the ship, but she was devoted to her daughter.
Accused of stealing a roll of black lace, she'd been lucky to escape death by hanging. She'd only been a teenager at the time and swore in court that she was innocent. She said that the lace had fallen to the ground from the counter but another customer had sworn the roll had dropped from beneath Esther's coat as she tried to leave the store with it concealed. Although three character witnesses had vouched for her good reputation, she'd been sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay for seven years.
Well, he'd look after them both, Esther and her daughter, from now on. When they came ashore, he'd give them the protection his superior rank allowed; he'd provide a decent hut for them to live in as soon as it was possible.
Hearing his name brought Johnston back to reality. The tall, fair-haired young Scotsman squared his broad shoulders and braced himself for the task ahead. There was so much work and planning to do!
A day prior to the main fleet's arrival from Botany Bay, Governor Phillip had already started setting things in motion at Sydney Cove. A priority was to officially claim the territory for Britain:
'In the evening of the 26th the colours were displayed on shore, and the Governor, with several of his principal officers and others, assembled round the flag-staff, drank the king's health, and success to the settlement...'
That day, 26th January 1788, would be remembered in future years, as a historic occasion. The following day the governor lost no time in disembarking the troops and a number of male convicts. The prisoners were immediately put to work clearing ground for the officers' tents. The sooner a camp was established, the better.