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Tench was born in England. He became familiar with Latin and French and spent some time in France during his early years. He served in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence and in 1786 volunteered for three years service with the First Fleet.
Following James Cook's 'discovery' of Australia in 1770, the First Fleet arrived from England in 1788 carrying approximately 760 convicts and a force of 212 officers and marines. What is now Sydney was to be settled and established as a penal colony.
Tench, who served as a marine on one of the vessels, provides a first hand account of the voyage ("A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay") and then goes on to describe the subsequent settlement in Sydney, New South Wales ("A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson"). He details the natural environment of Port Jackson and its environs; the efforts to establish food production; the exploratory trips into the hinterland; and, most interestingly, the first interaction between Europeans and the Australian Aborigines.
This is a remarkable eye-witness account by a thoughtful, humane man who was also a talented writer. Tench was interested in everyone and everything around him. These two works may be considered the first works of Australian literature.
On returning to England, Tench found that England was at war with the France. He was promoted to Brevet Major and went to sea with the Channel Fleet. When he retired in 1821 he held the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Royal Marines.