By Anne Gibson.
Philip Gidley King kept a number of journals during his service in the Southern Seas. His Official journal, kept on Sirius became the basis of the Norfolk Island Report in some early books concerning Australia. It was purchased in 1897 for the Sydney Public Library and is now in the Mitchell Library there.
Another journal written by King and referred to as the private journal was purchased by the Mitchell Library from the P.G. King estate in 1933. It is considered a rough copy which was not intended for publication. The journal, in two notebooks, forms one continuous narrative from late 1786 to April 1790.
The private journal has been reproduced and was published in 1980 by the Australian Documents Library Pty Ltd. A copy of this reproduction has been acquired by the First Fleet Fellowship and is available in the library for members use. The journal by King falls into the five distinguished parts.
- A description of the voyage from England to Norfolk Island.
- A diary of events at Norfolk Island from March 1788 to April 1790.
- A vocabulary of The New Zealanders Language.
- A journal of a voyage from Norfolk Island to New Zealand.
- A draft letter to Under Secretary Nepean.
King has recorded many day to day details and the colony’s struggle for survival.
WHEAT and CATERPILLARS on NORFOLK ISLAND
Philip Gidley King records in his diary the struggle to grow a crop of wheat in 1789.
April 1789, Tuesday 21st. Eight acres of Wheat is up and has a very fine appearance, there are seven acres in the Vale and one in the Back field.
May 1789. On the 7th I observed all the Wheat which had a very fine appearance was blighted in many places particularly where thinnest sown. On looking into it found it was entirely covered by a small caterpillar which had eaten off the stems that occasioned the stems dying, it is rather alarming: as I did hope by the Wheat being sown at this time of the year that nothing would have infested it.
May 1789, Saturday 9th. The immense quantity of Caterpillars that have settled on the Wheat is surprizing and hardly to be credited as they may be gathered off in handfuls.
I am much afraid that the total destruction of the Wheat will follow, which will be an afflicting circumstance. As I have only eight Bushell of seed reserved. On the 9th I sent out every person to cut off the tops of 3 acres which are the worst and hoping that their treading will kill some of them, but I much fear that the evil will not be removed. It is extraordinary that nothing is hurt or touched in the garden which lies between two patches of Wheat, one of 3 acres and the other of 4 which is covered.
May 1789, Wednesday 13th. I find this destructive Caterpillar is hatched from the Eggs of a Moth, one species of which is about the size of a small Fly and the other is as large as a bee. They Fly in a Cloud about sunset and then deposit their Eggs which in the Morning covers the surface of the Ground. The Caterpillars are beginning in the upper three Acres, the other four Acres being quite destroyed – they are also got into the garden.
May 1789, Monday 18th. I do not think that beating the Wheat in order to kill the Caterpillars has answered good end as in an hours time, they are as thick as ever.
One only thing remains which is collecting all the Urine and mixing it with ashes (some who pretend to be Farmers advise boiling it) and then Sprinkle or wash the Wheat and Vegetables with it but this, will take a long time to collect sufficient Urine for one Acre of ground, however I have ordered and shall see the order enforced, that every person urines in tubs which are placed for that purpose, in the Camp and where the people work. I have ordered two men to collect it and boil it otherwise preparing it for laying on the ground.
May 1789, Friday 22nd. The Urine and ashes have been tried but without any good effect whatever and the Caterpillars are times ten more numerous than ever and grow very large some of them being an inch and a half long. The whole of the Corn is eat off close to the mold and I fear is quite destroyed.
May 1789, Wednesday 27th. As I perceive little or no alteration in the Caterpillars only that they grow much larger, it is my intention not to sow the remaining 3 bushel of Wheat Seed until the latter end of June, as it may be that these destructive Vermin may be gone and if they remain all the Year, it will be a terrible Misfortune. I much fear totally put a stop to the raising of Wheat or Barley. I shall sow 1 Acre in the Vale with Barley and Wheat drilling it in next week.
June 1789, June 1st. The Caterpillars are quite gone and the four Acres of Wheat are shortly out again – 3 Acres are quite destroyed.
King records that further wheat seed was sown toward the end of June and reports in early July that the Wheat is up and has a very fine appearance.
However on Monday 6th July 17879, it is recorded at 2 p.m. punished Edward Gaff Convict with 100 lashes fort stealing 3 Quarts of Wheat out of the bag of Wheat which he was carrying to Arthur’s Vale to be sowed there.
Later in July the Wheat in Arthurs Vale is reported to have a very promising appearance.
Article written by Editor Anne Gibson
for First Fleet Folio 201, April 2019