Watkin Tench

Watkin Tench books and biography

Watkin Tench

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Lieutenant-General Watkin Tench (1758 – 7 May 1833) was a British Marine officer who is best known for publishing two books describing his experiences in the First Fleet, which established the first settlement in Australia in 1788. His two accounts, "Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay" and "Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson" provide a fascinating and entertaining account of the arrival and first four years of the colony. Little is known of Tench apart from what he writes in his three books and his service record.



He was born at Chester in the county of Cheshire in England, a son of Fisher Tench, a dancing master who ran a boarding school in the town. His father appears to have named Watkin after a wealthy local landowner, Watkin Williams Wynn, whose family probably assisted in starting Tench's military career.

Tench joined the His Majesty's Marine Forces, Plymouth division, as a Second Lieutenant in January 1776, aged 17. He fought against the American forces in their War of Independence where he was captured when HMS Mermaid was driven ashore on Cape Henlopen in July 1778, after which he was imprisoned by the French in Maryland until October.

Little more is known of him until he sailed as part of the First Fleet, although he records in Chapter 13 of the Account that he had spent time in the West Indies[1] and his service record shows that he was promoted to Captain-Lieutenant in September 1782 and went on half-pay in May 1786.

Aboard the First Fleet

The retirement did not last long, as in October of that year the Admiralty called for volunteers for a three-year tour of Botany Bay. Tench's offer to re-enter the corps was accepted in December 1786, and he sailed on the transport ship Charlotte in May 1787.

Before sailing with the fleet, he arranged with the London publishing firm of Debrett's to write a book describing his experience of the journey and the first few months of the colony. His manuscript was taken back in July 1788 by John Shortland and published as the "Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay" by Debrett's in 1789. It ran to three editions and was quickly translated into French, German, Dutch and Swedish.[2]

In October 1788, Robert Ross made a list of marines who wanted to stay in Australia either as soldiers or settlers. Tench headed the list as 'a soldier for one tour more of three years.' Among his achievements in the fledgling colony of New South Wales Tench was the first European to discover the Nepean River. He duly stayed until December 1791 when he sailed home on the HMS Gorgon, arriving in Plymouth in July 1792.

Back in England

In October 1792, Tench married Anna Maria Sargeant, daughter of a Devonport surgeon, who was a few years younger than himself. The following year, publishers Nicol and Sewell published his "Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson" which as well received as his first book. He joined HMS Alexander as a Brevet Major, serving under Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh in the Channel fleet's blockade of Brest.

Tench in the Napoleonic Wars

In November 1793, Bligh surrendered HMS Alexander after the Action of 6 November 1793, a hard-fought battle with three French ships, the first fleet action of the Napoleonic Wars.[citation needed] The crew were initially imprisoned on ships in Brest harbour, but later Tench and Bligh were moved to Quimper and imprisoned on parole (Bligh kept Tench close by because Tench was fluent in French). During this time, Tench wrote (but probably did not send) the letters that formed the basis of his third book, "Letters written in France to a Friend in London". He was exchanged in May 1795 after being held prisoner for six months.

After returning to service, he served four years on HMS Polyphemus escorting convoy ships in the Atlantic and the Channel. He rejoined the Channel blockade fleet in 1801 on HMS Princess Royal and remained there until his career afloat ended in 1802. After this, he appears to have taken shore posts at Chatham, Plymouth and Woolwich until he retired with the rank of Major-General in at the end of 1815.

Later years

He was reactivated as Commandant in the Plymouth division in October 1819 at the age of 61. Although he and his wife had no children of their own, in 1821 they took responsibility for three nephews and a niece when the four children were orphaned; at the time, Watkin Tench was 63 and his wife was 56.

Tench finally retired with the rank of Lieutenant-General in July 1827 and died in Devonport, near Plymouth, England on 7th May 1833, aged 74.


  1. ^ A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson by Watkin Tench
  2. ^ A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany-Bay by Watkin Tench
  • Fitzhardinge, L. F., Editor's Introduction in Sydney's First Four Years, Library of Australian History, 1979, ISBN 0-908120-24-9
  • Edwards, G., Introduction in Letters from Revolutionary France, UWP, 2001. ISBN 0-7083-1691-3
  • Phillip, A., The Voyage to Botany Bay (facsimile edition), Hutchinson, 1982, ISBN 0-09-137880-X
  • Serle, Percival (1949). “

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A Complete Account Of The Settlement At Port Jacks

A Complete Account Of The Settlement At Port Jacks

A Narrative Of The Expedition To Botany Bay

Narrative Of The Expedition To Botany Bay

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