The dragon transport had been sailing south from Gibraltar for several days. Laurence, as was his habit, had come up on deck after dinner to read to Temeraire. Coming onto the dragon deck he saw Temeraire and Iskierka curled up alongside one another. Temeraire raised his head as Laurence approached.
“Laurence, we were talking, and neither of us know much about Australia. Can you tell us about it?”
“Certainly,” Laurence said, sitting down by Temeraire. “We are being sent to the colony in New South Wales, based around Sydney harbour.”
Laurence paused for a moment, before continuing, “The governor is Bligh, who was famous for helping Nelson win the battle of Copenhagen.”
Temeraire snorted at the mention of Nelson. “Well, that's nothing to recommend him.”
“Temeraire, it is ill done to speak ill of the dead,” Laurence chided him gently.
“I do not see why I should change what I say because he is dead. It is hardly likely to offend him more.”
Laurence could not find a good answer to this so continued, “The colonies in Australia were originally penal colonies, although now that is less so. The penal colonists are often rebellious, although this was often due to bad government, and should have been improving recently. Bligh will have been a fair governor, though undoubtedly harsh – he has a reputation for that – but efficient. He was sent out to suppress the New South Wales Corps' rum trading.”
“What is his reputation for being harsh? You only mentioned his serving with Nelson.”
“On the ships he has commanded he kept discipline to the full weight of the rules. Let us say that he was not a captain I would have wanted to serve under.” Laurence felt slightly guilty to be disparaging the man to Temeraire, but knew that he must be honest. “However, he also has a reputation for heroism, in an efficient way.”
“If he had such a reputation for harshness, why was he given a colony to govern, especially when there are so few safeguards on his actions?”
“I expect that it was felt that a harsh hand was needed to keep the colonists in line. The former governor was in favour of giving opportunities to the emancipists, the former prisoners.”
“That sounds like a good thing for the governor to do,” Temeraire commented.
“In theory, yes, but it was a problem for the free colonists, who petitioned the king to have him removed.”
“So it was much like our efforts to get rights for the dragons of the Corps – by doing it so unsubtly, we offended people.”
Laurence nodded, “That is the case. It is why the Abolitionist movement has been working so slowly and incrementally, that in the end the result will be more acceptable.”
Temeraire turned to look at the sky, then said, “Look there. Is that a Winchester?”
Laurence turned and looked, but could only see a speck in the sky. “Probably, your eyesight is better than mine.”
Temeraire remained looking at it for a moment, then said, “Definitely a Winchester, but I do not think that it is anyone we know.”
“I do not know where he would be coming from in that direction; perhaps another ship, or St Helena, but I would have thought that that would be too far still.” By this point he could see the dragon, although not clearly enough to confirm Temeraire's statement that it was not one they had met before.
A few minutes later the dragon landed on the deck. The young aviator on it jumped off, saying,
“Captain Wentworth on Pennipitias. We were out flying when Penny spotted your ship on the horizon and thought that we could make it here. With a rest, we can hopefully make it to Gibraltar later today.”
“Where have you come from?” Temeraire asked.
“From the light dragon transport Orca, carrying governor Bligh back to England, with news of the rebellion in the New South Wales Colony,” he answered.
Iskierka, who had been ignoring their conversation, looked up at the mention of the rebellion. “Was it very bloody? Will they still be fighting when we get there? Will there be many prizes left for me to take?”
“Would Pennipitias like some water or food while he is resting?” Laurence asked, hoping to deflect Temeraire from asking about politics, although he did not have much confidence of this being successful.
One of the other aviators, who had come on deck to see what had happened following the swaying as the dragon landed, went to fetch them.
Temeraire turned to his new acquaintance and asked,
“What is Australia like?”
“Dry! Hot!” replied Pennipitias.
Temeraire nodded. Laurence thought that he was put in mind of Volly, and so not expecting a much more coherent answer.
“So there has been a rebellion in the colony?” Laurence asked politely.
“Yes, the solders did not like the governor's attempts to crack down on their trading of rum. Mutinied against him.”
The other aviators had gathered around while he was taking. Granby offered him some water, which he gratefully accepted.
Temeraire said, “So the governor was being too harsh with the soldiers?”
The courier captain blinked at that, coming from a dragon, then said,
“He was doing his duty, I did not see enough to judge his methods.”
“Are there many dragons with the colony there?” Laurence asked quickly.
“They are still there, for all we know. I do not know if they are loyal or allied with the mutineers. The captains told me that they could not desert their positions, but that I should go as the governor might have need of a courier. What is the news of England, and the war?”
They supplied him with such news as they had, almost up to date as they had got the latest news from a courier arriving in Gibraltar the day they departed.
After a while to allow Pennipitias to rest, Wentworth took off, flying on towards Gibraltar. Temeraire watched as the dragon flew away, and said, with his innocent, insatiable curiosity,
“So if the governor is not there, who is in charge of the colony?”