Thursday, November 14, 2013

compiled from Authentic Papers

(I said I'd cover two books per post but I'm exhausted for reasons that have nothing to do with the blog, so I'm reverting to a single book.)

The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay with an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island; compiled from Authentic Papers, which have been obtained from the several Departments to which are added the Journals of Lieuts. Shortland, Watts, Ball and Capt. Marshall with an Account of their New Discoveries, embellished with fifty five Copper Plates, the Maps and Charts taken from Actual Surveys, and the plans and views drawn on the spot, by Capt. Hunter, Lieuts. Shortland, Watts, Dawes, Bradley, Capt. Marshall, etc.

The current of order was running through these people (the belief in order, and the trust in it: I think it was a current of trust), or so I can imagine when I read them and perceive that theme recurring, a mental liquid that could fill any balloon: it ran through Caroline Chisholm in 1842, it ran through Mary Gaunt and Catherine Helen Spence, it runs through Arthur Phillip when he writes his portions of The Voyage Of Governor Phillip To Botany Bay, which says that it has been edited by a publisher named John Stockdale who pulled material from different authors, sometimes paraphrasing them and sometimes printing them verbatim. The difference is not always acknowledged but the tenses and references change and by this I believe that I can pick him out.

Order sees its opportunity and pounces or flows in a greedy or anarchistic way, it is a vapour or a droplet; in Phillip it comes to fruition not through female immigrants as in Chisholm or fictional characters finding work as in Gaunt and Spence, but through an adventure.

There are few things more pleasing than the contemplation of order and useful arrangement, arising gradually out of tumult and confusion; and perhaps this satisfaction cannot any where be more fully enjoyed than where a settlement of civilized people is fixing itself upon a newly discovered or savage coast. The wild appearance of land entirely untouched by cultivation, the close and perplexed growing of trees, interrupted now and then by barren spots, bare rocks, or spaces overgrown with weeds, flowers, flowering shrubs, or underwood, scattered and intermingled in the most promiscuous manner, are the first objects that present themselves; afterwards, the irregular placing of the first tents which are pitched, or huts which are erected for immediate accommodation, wherever chance presents a spot tolerably free from obstacles, or more easily cleared than the rest, with the bustle of various hands busily employed in a number of the most incongruous works, increases rather than diminishes the disorder, and produces a confusion of effect, which for a time appears inextricable, and seems to threaten an endless continuance of perplexity. But by degrees large spaces are opened, plans are formed, lines marked, and a prospect at least of future regularity is clearly discerned, and is made the more striking by the recollection of the former confusion.

Order in this instance is a way of measuring time. It is a clock or a calender for the colony. Phillip never wants to end anything, he only wants to order it; he does not want to stop the Eora people living along the coast, he only wants fair conduct between them and him, he does not want to end sex among convicts, he wants to direct it. "He particularly noticed the illegal intercourse between the sexes as an offence which encouraged a general profligacy of manners, and was in several ways injurious to society. To prevent this, he strongly recommended marriage ... we are informed, that in the course of the ensuing week fourteen marriages took place among the convicts." John Latham, the ornithologist whose descriptions of birds have been borrowed by Stockdale for the book, does not want to end birds, he wants to describe them.

The colour of the head, neck, and under parts of the body are dusky brown, inclining to olive, darkest on the belly: the feathers of the top of the head and back part of the neck are edged with olive; the rest of the plumage on the upper part of the body, the wings, and tail, are of a glossy black; the last is pretty long and a little rounded at the end; the two middle feathers are wholly black; the others of a fine vermilion in the middle for about one-third, otherwise black; the outer edge of the exterior feather black the whole length. Legs black.

The connection between Ruskin's moral noticing and the contemporary upsurge in scientific philosophy becomes very bare to me now, this same science that created his dark cloud as well as mountains in the form that he looked at them (both massively and smally), and if you hate those things that are closest to yourself as they say you're supposed to do then I might imagine that I'm being illuminated when I remember that Thoreau said he hated scientists for the way they ordered and categorised things, and I could think, "Of course, since he and they were both in the business of noticing. But the expression or ordering was different."


  1. Yes, that's colonialism, isn't it? Measurement as order, order as measurement, taxonomy, nomenclature, location, scheduling. We define ourselves by defining everything around us. Nicely pointed out, that philosophers and poets do that same work, but with "different expression." I have never thought of that.

    1. It's life, I think, it's living made visible (idea: structure is an action that makes things visible: I don't see a molecule until it's been structured into a cow or a table) and as colonialism is one form of living, so measurement is one aspect of colonialism, although one thing that I haven't addressed in that quick review is the patchwork haphazardness of this ordering and structuring, and the impression the book leaves, that the newcomers didn't know exactly what they should be measuring, nor did Stockdale know what would be useful in his compendium and what would not be useful, so he tosses in (at one point) three paragraphs about the weather in Sydney, then a story about Captain Cook getting his portrait painted in Tahiti, and the parts about the animals are scattered here and there -- he jumps from birds to sharks, he gives you the vital statistics of kangaroos and then fifty pages afterwards he says, Oh wait, here's a table of facts about one very specific large kangaroo, and he puts that in as well. It's all over the place.