A Lady's Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53
Mrs Charles (Ellen) Clacy
Chapter I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS Chapter II. THE VOYAGE OUT Chapter III. STAY IN MELBOURNE Chapter IV. CAMPING UP—MELBOURNE TO THE BLACK FOREST Chapter V. CAMPING UP—BLACK FOREST TO EAGLE HAWK GULLY Chapter VI. THE DIGGINGS Chapter VII. EAGLE HAWK GULLY Chapter VIII. AN ADVENTURE Chapter IX. HARRIETTE WALTERS Chapter X. IRONBARK GULLY Chapter XI. FOREST CREEK Chapter XII. RETURN TO MELBOURNE Chapter XIII. BALLARAT Chapter XIV. NEW SOUTH WALES Chapter XV. SOUTH AUSTRALIA Chapter XVI. MELBOURNE AGAIN Chapter XVII. HOMEWARD BOUND Chapter XVIII. CONCLUSION APPENDIX. WHO SHOULD EMIGRATE?
It may be deemed presumptuous that one of my age and sex should venture to give to the public an account of personal adventures in a land which has so often been descanted upon by other and abler pens; but when I reflect on the many mothers, wives, and sisters in England, whose hearts are ever longing for information respecting the dangers and privations to which their relatives at the antipodes are exposed, I cannot but hope that the presumption of my undertaking may be pardoned in consideration of the pleasure which an accurate description of some of the Australian Gold Fields may perhaps afford to many; and although the time of my residence in the colonies was short, I had the advantage (not only in Melbourne, but whilst in the bush) of constant intercourse with many experienced diggers and old colonists—thus having every facility for acquiring information respecting Victoria and the other colonies.
It was in the beginning of April, 185-, that the excitement occasioned by the published accounts of the Victoria "Diggings," induced my brother to fling aside his Homer and Euclid for the various "Guides" printed for the benefit of the intending gold-seeker, or to ponder over the shipping columns of the daily papers. The love of adventure must be contagious, for three weeks after (so rapid were our preparations) found myself accompanying him to those auriferous regions. The following pages will give an accurate detail of my adventures there—in a lack of the marvellous will consist their principal faults but not even to please would I venture to turn uninteresting truth into agreeable fiction. Of the few statistics which occur, I may safely say, as of the more personal portions, that they are strictly true.
THE VOYAGE OUT
Everything was ready—boxes packed, tinned, and corded; farewells taken, and ourselves whirling down by rail to Gravesend—too much excited—too full of the future to experience that sickening of the heart, that desolation of the feelings, which usually accompanies an expatriation, however voluntary, from the dearly loved shores of one's native land. Although in the cloudy month of April, the sun shone brightly on the masts of our bonny bark, which lay in full sight of the windows of the "Old Falcon," where we had taken up our temporary quarters. The sea was very rough, but as we were anxious to get on board without farther delay, we entrusted our valuable lives in a four-oared boat, despite the dismal prognostications of our worthy host. A pleasant row that was, at one moment covered over with salt-water—the next riding on the top of a wave, ten times the size of our frail conveyance—then came a sudden concussion—in veering our rudder smashed into a smaller boat, which immediately filled and sank, and our rowers disheartened at this mishap would go no farther. The return was still rougher—my face smarted dreadfully from the cutting splashes of the salt-water; they contrived, however, to land us safely at the "Old Falcon," though in a most pitiable plight; charging only a sovereign for this delightful trip—very moderate, considering the number of salt-water baths they had given us gratis. In the evening a second trial proved more successful, and we reached our vessel safely.
A first night on board ship has in it something very strange, and the first awakening in the morning is still more so. To find oneself in a space of some six feet by eight, instead of a good-sized room, and lying in a cot, scarce wide enough to turn round in, as a substitute for a four-post bedstead, reminds you in no very agreeable manner that you have exchanged the comforts of Old England for the "roughing it" of a sea life. The first sound that awoke me was the "cheerily" song of the sailors, as the anchor was heaved—not again, we trusted, to be lowered till our eyes should rest on the waters of Port Philip. And then the cry of "raise tacks and sheets" (which I, in nautical ignorance, interpreted "hay-stacks and sheep") sent many a sluggard from their berths to bid a last farewell to the banks of the Thames.
In the afternoon we parted company with our steam-tug, and next morning, whilst off the Isle of Wight, our pilot also took his departure. Sea-sickness now became the fashion, but, as I cannot speak from experience of its sensations, I shall altogether decline the subject. On Friday, the 30th, we sighted Stark Point; and as the last speck of English land faded away in the distance, an intense feeling of misery crept over me, as I reflected that perchance I had left those most dear to return to them no more. But I forget; a description of private feelings is, to uninterested readers, only so much twaddle, besides being more egotistical than even an account of personal adventures could extenuate; so, with the exception of a few extracts from my "log," I shall jump at once from the English Channel to the more exciting shores of Victoria.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, lat. 45 degrees 57 minutes N., long. 11 degrees 45 minutes W.—Whilst off the Bay of Biscay, for the first time I had the pleasure of seeing the phosphoric light in the water, and the effect was indeed too beautiful to describe. I gazed again and again, and, as the darkness above became more dense, the silence of evening more profound, and the moving lights beneath more brilliant, I could have believed them the eyes of the Undines, who had quitted their cool grottos beneath the sea to gaze on the daring ones who were sailing above them. At times one of these stars of the ocean would seem to linger around our vessel, as though loth to leave the admiring eyes that watched its glittering progress.* * * * *
SUNDAY, 9, lat. 37 degrees 53 minutes N., long. 15 degrees 32 minutes W.—Great excitement throughout the ship. Early in the morning a homeward-bound sail hove in sight, and as the sea was very calm, our captain kindly promised to lower a boat and send letters by her. What a scene then commenced; nothing but scribes and writing-desks met the view, and nought was heard but the scratching of pens, and energetic demands for foreign letter-paper, vestas, or sealing-wax; then came a rush on deck, to witness the important packet delivered to the care of the first mate, and watch the progress of the little bark that was to bear among so many homes the glad tidings of our safety. On she came—her stunsails set—her white sails glittering in the sun—skimming like a sea-bird over the waters. She proved to be the Maltese schooner 'Felix,' bound for Bremen. Her captain treated the visitors from our ship with the greatest politeness, promised to consign our letters to the first pilot he should encounter off the English coast, and sent his very last oranges as a present to the ladies, for which we sincerely thanked him; the increasing heat of the weather made them acceptable indeed.
WEDNESDAY, 12, lat. 33 degrees 19 minutes N., long. 17 degrees 30 minutes W.—At about noon we sighted Madeira. At first it appeared little more than a dark cloud above the horizon; gradually the sides of the rocks became clearly discernible, then the wind bore us onward, and soon all traces of the sunny isle were gone.
FRIDAY, 28, lat. 4 degrees 2 minutes N., long. 21 degrees 30 minutes W.—Another opportunity of sending letters, but as this was the second time of so doing, the excitement was proportionately diminished. This vessel was bound for the port of Liverpool, from the coast of Africa; her cargo (so said those of our fellow-travellers who boarded her), consisted of ebony and gold-dust, her only passengers being monkeys and parrots.
SUNDAY, JUNE 6, long. 24 degrees 38 minutes W.—Crossed the Line, to the great satisfaction of all on board, as we had been becalmed more than a week, and were weary of gazing upon the unruffled waters around us, or watching the sails as they idly flapped to and fro. Chess, backgammon, books and cards, had ceased to beguile the hours away, and the only amusement left was lowering a boat and rowing about within a short distance of the ship, but this (even by those not pulling at the oars) was considered too fatiguing work, for a tropical sun was above us, and the heat was most intense. Our only resource was to give ourselves up to a sort of DOLCE FAR NIENTE existence, and lounge upon the deck, sipping lemonade or lime-juice, beneath a large awning which extended from the fore to the mizen masts.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 17, lat. 39 degrees 28 minutes S., long. 136 degrees 31 minutes E.—Early this morning one of the sailors died, and before noon the last services of the Church of England were read over his body; this was the first and only death that occurred during our long passage, and the solemnity of committing his last remains to their watery grave cast a saddening influence over the most thoughtless. I shall never forget the moment when the sewn-up hammock, with a gaily coloured flag wrapped round it, was launched into the deep; those who can witness with indifference a funeral on land, would, I think, find it impossible to resist the thrilling awe inspired by such an event at sea.
FRIDAY, 20, lat. 38 degrees 57 minutes S., long. 140 degrees 5 minutes E.—Sighted Moonlight Head, the next day Cape Otway; and in the afternoon of Sunday, the 22nd, we entered the Heads, and our pilot came on board. He was a smart, active fellow, and immediately anchored us within the bay (a heavy gale brewing); and then, after having done colonial justice to a substantial dinner, he edified us with the last Melbourne news. "Not a spare room or bed to be had—no living at all under a pound a-day—every one with ten fingers making ten to twenty pounds a-week." "Then of course no one goes to the diggings?" "Oh, that pays better still—the gold obliged to be quarried—a pound weight of no value." The excitement that evening can scarcely be imagined, but it somewhat abated next morning on his telling us to diminish his accounts some 200 per cent.
MONDAY, 23.—The wind high, and blowing right against us. Compelled to remain at anchor, only too thankful to be in such safe quarters.
TUESDAY, 24.—Got under weigh at half-past seven in the morning, and passed the wrecks of two vessels, whose captains had attempted to come in without a pilot, rather than wait for one—the increased number of vessels arriving, causing the pilots to be frequently all engaged. The bay, which is truly splendid, was crowded with shipping. In a few hours our anchor was lowered for the last time—boats were put off towards our ship from Liardet's Beach—we were lowered into the first that came alongside—a twenty minutes' pull to the landing-place—another minute, and we trod the golden shores of Victoria.
STAY IN MELBOURNE
At last we are in Australia. Our feet feel strange as they tread upon TERRA FIRMA, and our SEA-LEGS (to use a sailor's phrase) are not so ready to leave us after a four months' service, as we should have anticipated; but it matters little, for we are in the colonies, walking with undignified, awkward gait, not on a fashionable promenade, but upon a little wooden pier.
The first sounds that greet our ears are the noisy tones of some watermen, who are loitering on the building of wooden logs and boards, which we, as do the good people of Victoria, dignify with the undeserved title of PIER. There they stand in their waterproof caps and skins—tolerably idle and exceedingly independent—with one eye on the look out for a fare, and the other cast longingly towards the open doors of Liardet's public-house, which is built a few yards from the landing-place, and alongside the main road to Melbourne.
"Ah, skipper! times isn't as they used to was," shouted one, addressing the captain of one of the vessels then lying in the bay, who was rowing himself to shore, with no other assistant or companion than a sailor-boy. The captain, a well-built, fine-looking specimen of an English seaman, merely laughed at this impromptu salutation.
"I say, skipper, I don't quite like that d——d stroke of yours."
No answer; but, as if completely deaf to these remarks, as well as the insulting tone in which they were delivered, the "skipper" continued giving his orders to his boy, and then leisurely ascended the steps. He walked straight up to the waterman, who was lounging against the railing.
"So, my fine fellow, you didn't quite admire that stroke of mine. Now, I've another stroke that I think you'll admire still less," and with one blow he sent him reeling against the railing on the opposite side.
The waterman slowly recovered his equilibrium, muttering, "that was a safe dodge, as the gentleman knew he was the heaviest man of the two."
"Then never let your tongue say what your fist can't defend," was the cool retort, as another blow sent him staggering to his original place, amidst the unrestrained laughter of his companions, whilst the captain unconcernedly walked into Liardet's, whither we also betook ourselves, not a little surprised and amused by this our first introduction to colonial customs and manners.
The fact is, the watermen regard the masters of the ships in the bay as sworn enemies to their business; many are runaway sailors, and therefore, I suppose, have a natural antipathy that way; added to which, besides being no customers themselves, the "skippers," by the loan of their boats, often save their friends from the exorbitant charges these watermen levy.
Exorbitant they truly are. Not a boat would they put off for the nearest ship in the bay for less than a pound, and before I quitted those regions, two and three times that sum was often demanded for only one passenger. We had just paid at the rate of only three shillings and sixpence each, but this trifling charge was in consideration of the large party—more than a dozen—who had left our ship in the same boat together.
Meanwhile we have entered Liardet's EN ATTENDANT the Melbourne omnibus, some of our number, too impatient to wait longer, had already started on foot. We were shown into a clean, well-furnished sitting-room, with mahogany dining-table and chairs, and a showy glass over the mantelpicce. An English-looking barmaid entered. "Would the company like some wine or spirits?" Some one ordered sherry, of which I only remember that it was vile trash at eight shillings a bottle.
And now the cry of "Here's the bus," brought us quickly outside again, where we found several new arrivals also waiting for it. I had hoped, from the name, or rather misname, of the conveyance, to gladden my eyes with the sight of something civilized. Alas, for my disappointment! There stood a long, tumble-to-pieces-looking waggon, not covered in, with a plank down each side to sit upon, and a miserable narrow plank it was. Into this vehicle were crammed a dozen people and an innumerable host of portmanteaus, large and small, carpet-bags, baskets, brown-paper parcels, bird-cage and inmate, &c., all of which, as is generally the case, were packed in a manner the most calculated to contribute the largest amount of inconvenience to the live portion of the cargo. And to drag this grand affair into Melbourne were harnessed thereto the most wretched-looking objects in the shape of horses that I had ever beheld.
A slight roll tells us we are off.
"And is THIS the beautiful scenery of Australia?" was my first melancholy reflection. Mud and swamp—swamp and mud—relieved here and there by some few trees which looked as starved and miserable as ourselves. The cattle we passed appeared in a wretched condition, and the human beings on the road seemed all to belong to one family, so truly Vandemonian was the cast of their countenances.
"The rainy season's not over," observed the driver, in an apologetic tone. Our eyes and uneasy limbs most FEELINGLY corroborated his statement, for as we moved along at a foot-pace, the rolling of the omnibus, owing to the deep ruts and heavy soil, brought us into most unpleasant contact with the various packages before-mentioned. On we went towards Melbourne—now stopping for the unhappy horses to take breath—then passing our pedestrian messmates, and now arriving at a small specimen of a swamp; and whilst they (with trowsers tucked high above the knee and boots well saturated) step, slide and tumble manfully through it, we give a fearful roll to the left, ditto, ditto to the right, then a regular stand-still, or perhaps, by way of variety, are all but jolted over the animals' heads, till at length all minor considerations of bumps and bruises are merged in the anxiety to escape without broken bones.
"The Yarra," said the conductor. I looked straight ahead, and innocently asked "Where?" for I could only discover a tract of marsh or swamp, which I fancy must have resembled the fens of Lincolnshire, as they were some years ago, before draining was introduced into that county. Over Princes Bridge we now passed, up Swanston Street, then into Great Bourke Street, and now we stand opposite the Post-office—the appointed rendezvous with the walkers, who are there awaiting us. Splashed, wet and tired, and also, I must confess, very cross, right thankful was I to be carried over the dirty road and be safely deposited beneath the wooden portico outside the Post-office. Our ride to Melbourne cost us only half-a-crown a piece, and a shilling for every parcel. The distance we had come was between two and three miles.
The non-arrival of the mail-steamer left us now no other care save the all-important one of procuring food and shelter. Scouts were accordingly despatched to the best hotels; they returned with long faces—"full." The second-rate, and in fact every respectable inn and boarding or lodging-house were tried but with no better success. Here and there a solitary bed could be obtained, but for our digging party entire, which consisted of my brother, four shipmates, and myself, no accommodation could be procured, and we wished, if possible, to keep together. "It's a case," ejaculated one, casting his eyes to the slight roof above us as if calculating what sort of night shelter it would afford. At this moment the two last searchers approached, their countenances not quite so woe-begone as before. "Well?" exclaimed we all in chorus, as we surrounded them, too impatient to interrogate at greater length. Thank Heavens! they had been successful! The house-keeper of a surgeon, who with his wife had just gone up to Forest Creek, would receive us to board and lodge for thirty shillings a week each; but as the accommodation was of the indifferent order, it was not as yet UNE AFFAIRE ARRANGEE. On farther inquiry, we found the indifferent accommodation consisted in their being but one small sleeping-room for the gentlemen, and myself to share the bed and apartment of the temporary mistress. This was vastly superior to gipsying in the dirty streets, so we lost no time in securing our new berths, and ere very long, with appetites undiminished by these petty anxieties, we did ample justice to the dinner which our really kind hostess quickly placed before us.
The first night on shore after so long a voyage could scarcely seem otherwise than strange, one missed the eternal rocking at which so many grumble on board ship. Dogs (Melbourne is full of them) kept up an incessant barking; revolvers were cracking in all directions until daybreak, giving one a pleasant idea of the state of society; and last, not least, of these annoyances was one unmentionable to ears polite, which would alone have sufficed to drive sleep away from poor wearied me. How I envied my companion, as accustomed to these disagreeables, she slept soundly by my side; but morning at length dawned, and I fell into a refreshing slumber.
The next few days were busy ones for all, though rather dismal to me, as I was confined almost entirely within doors, owing to the awful state of the streets; for in the colonies, at this season of the year, one may go out prepared for fine weather, with blue sky above, and dry under foot, and in less than an hour, should a COLONIAL shower come on, be unable to cross some of the streets without a plank being placed from the middle of the road to the pathway, or the alternative of walking in water up to the knees.
This may seem a doleful and overdrawn picture of my first colonial experience, but we had arrived at a time when the colony presented its worst aspect to a stranger. The rainy season had been unusually protracted this year, in fact it was not yet considered entirely over, and the gold mines had completely upset everything and everybody, and put a stop to all improvements about the town or elsewhere.
Our party, on returning to the ship the day after our arrival, witnessed the French-leave-taking of all her crew, who during the absence of the captain, jumped overboard, and were quickly picked up and landed by the various boats about. This desertion of the ships by the sailors is an every-day occurrence; the diggings themselves, or the large amount they could obtain for the run home from another master, offer too many temptations. Consequently, our passengers had the amusement of hauling up from the hold their different goods and chattels; and so great was the confusion, that fully a week elapsed before they were all got to shore. Meanwhile we were getting initiated into colonial prices—money did indeed take to itself wings and fly away. Fire-arms were at a premium; one instance will suffice—my brother sold a six-barrelled revolver for which he had given sixty shillings at Baker's, in Fleet Street, for sixteen pounds, and the parting with it at that price was looked upon as a great favour. Imagine boots, and they very second-rate ones, at four pounds a pair. One of our between-deck passengers who had speculated with a small capital of forty pounds in boots and cutlery, told me afterwards that he had disposed of them the same evening he had landed, at a net profit of ninety pounds—no trifling addition to a poor man's purse. Labour was at a very high price, carpenters, boot and shoemakers, tailors, wheelwrights, joiners, smiths, glaziers, and, in fact, all useful trades, were earning from twenty to thirty shillings a day—the very men working on the roads could get eleven shillings PER DIEM, and, many a gentleman in this disarranged state of affairs, was glad to fling old habits aside and turn his hand to whatever came readiest. I knew one in particular, whose brother is at this moment serving as colonel in the army in India, a man more fitted for a gay London life than a residence in the colonies. The diggings were too dirty and uncivilized for his taste, his capital was quickly dwindling away beneath the expenses of the comfortable life he led at one of the best hotels in town, so he turned to what as a boy he had learnt for amusement, and obtained an addition to his income of more than four hundred pounds a year as house carpenter. In the morning you might see him trudging off to his work, and before night might meet him at some ball or soiree among the elite of Melbourne.
I shall not attempt an elaborate description of the town of Melbourne, or its neighbouring villages. A subject so often and well discussed might almost be omitted altogether. The town is very well laid out; the streets (which are all straight, running parallel with and across one another) are very wide, but are incomplete, not lighted, and many are unpaved. Owing to the want of lamps, few, except when full moon, dare stir out after dark. Some of the shops are very fair; but the goods all partake too largely of the flash order, for the purpose of suiting the tastes of successful diggers, their wives and families; it is ludicrous to see them in the shops—men who, before the gold-mines were discovered, toiled hard for their daily bread, taking off half-a-dozen thick gold rings from their fingers, and trying to pull on to their rough, well-hardened hands the best white kids, to be worn at some wedding party; whilst the wife, proud of the novel ornament, descants on the folly of hiding them beneath such useless articles as gloves.
The two principal streets are Collins Street and Elizabeth Street. The former runs east and west, the latter crossing it in the centre. Melbourne is built on two hills, and the view from the top of Collins Street East, is very striking on a fine day when well filled with passengers and vehicles. Down the eye passes till it reaches Elizabeth Street at the foot; then up again, and the moving mass seems like so many tiny black specks in the distance, and the country beyond looks but a little piece of green. A great deal of confusion arises from the want of their names being painted on the corners of the streets: to a stranger, this is particularly inconvenient, the more so, as being straight, they appear all alike on first acquaintance. The confusion is also increased by the same title, with slight variation, being applied to so many, as, for instance, Collins Street East; Collins Street West; Little Collins Street East; Little Collins Street West, &c. &c. Churches and chapels for all sects and denominations meet the eye; but the Established Church has, of all, the worst provision for its members, only two small churches being as yet completed; and Sunday after Sunday do numbers return from St. Peter's, unable to obtain even standing room beneath the porch. For the gay, there are two circuses and one theatre, where the "ladies" who frequent it smoke short tobacco-pipes in the boxes and dress-circle.
The country round is very pretty, particularly Richmond and Collingwood; the latter will, I expect, soon become part of Melbourne itself. It is situated at the fashionable—that is, EAST—end of Melbourne, and the buildings of the city and this suburban village are making rapid strides towards each other. Of Richmond, I may remark that it does possess a "Star and Garter," though a very different affair to its namesake at the antipodes, being only a small public-house. On the shores of the bay, at nice driving distances, are Brighton and St. Kilda. Two or three fall-to-pieces bathing-machines are at present the only stock in trade of these watering-places; still, should some would-be fashionables among my readers desire to emigrate, it may gratify them to learn that they need not forego the pleasure of visiting Brighton in the season.
When I first arrived, as the weather was still very cold and wet, my greatest source of discomfort arose from the want of coal-fires, and the draughts, which are innumerable, owing to the slight manner in which the houses are run up; in some the front entrance opens direct into the sitting-rooms, very unpleasant, and entirely precluding the "not at home" to an unwelcome visitor. Wood fires have at best but a cheerless look, and I often longed for the bright blaze and merry fireside of an English home. Firewood is sold at the rate of fifty shillings for a good-sized barrow-full.
The colonists (I here speak of the old-established ones) are naturally very hospitable, and disposed to receive strangers with great kindness; but the present ferment has made them forget everything in the glitter of their own mines, and all comfort is laid aside; money is the idol, and making it is the one mania which absorbs every other thought.
The walking inhabitants are of themselves a study: glance into the streets—all nations, classes, and costumes are represented there. Chinamen, with pigtails and loose trowsers; Aborigines, with a solitary blanket flung over them; Vandemonian pickpockets, with cunning eyes and light fingers—all, in truth, from the successful digger in his blue serge shirt, and with green veil still hanging round his wide-awake, to the fashionably-attired, newly-arrived "gent" from London, who stares around him in amazement and disgust. You may see, and hear too, some thoroughly colonial scenes in the streets. Once, in the middle of the day, when passing up Elizabeth Street, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a mob behind, and as it was gaining upon me, I turned into the enclosed ground in front of the Roman Catholic cathedral, to keep out of the way of the crowd. A man had been taken up for horse-stealing and a rare ruffianly set of both sexes were following the prisoner and the two policemen who had him in charge. "If but six of ye were of my mind," shouted one, "it's this moment you'd release him." The crowd took the hint, and to it they set with right good will, yelling, swearing, and pushing, with awful violence. The owner of the stolen horse got up a counter demonstration, and every few yards, the procession was delayed by a trial of strength between the two parties. Ultimately the police conquered; but this is not always the case, and often lives are lost and limbs broken in the struggle, so weak is the force maintained by the colonial government for the preservation of order.
Another day, when passing the Post-office, a regular tropical shower of rain came on rather suddenly, and I hastened up to the platform for shelter. As I stood there, looking out into Great Bourke Street, a man and, I suppose, his wife passed by. He had a letter in his hand for the post; but as the pathway to the receiving-box looked very muddy, he made his companion take it to the box, whilst he himself, from beneath his umbrella, complacently watched her getting wet through. "Colonial politeness," thought I, as the happy couple walked on.
Sometimes a jovial wedding-party comes dashing through the streets; there they go, the bridegroom with one arm round his lady's waist, the other raising a champagne-bottle to his lips; the gay vehicles that follow contain company even more unrestrained, and from them noisier demonstrations of merriment may be heard. These diggers' weddings are all the rage, and bridal veils, white kid gloves, and, above all, orange blossoms are generally most difficult to procure at any price.
At times, you may see men, half-mad, throwing sovereigns, like halfpence, out of their pockets into the streets; and I once saw a digger, who was looking over a large quantity of bank-notes, deliberately tear to pieces and trample in the mud under his feet every soiled or ragged one he came to, swearing all the time at the gold-brokers for "giving him dirty paper money for pure Alexander gold; he wouldn't carry dirt in his pocket; not he; thank God! he'd plenty to tear up and spend too."
Melbourne is very full of Jews; on a Saturday, some of the streets are half closed. There are only two pawnbrokers in the town.
The most thriving trade there, is keeping an hotel or public-house, which always have a lamp before their doors. These at night serve as a beacon to the stranger to keep as far from them as possible, they being, with few exceptions, the resort, after dark, of the most ruffianly characters.
* * * * *
On the 2nd of September, the long-expected mail steamer arrived, and two days after we procured our letters from the Post-office. I may here remark, that the want of proper management in this department is the greatest cause of inconvenience to fresh arrivals, and to the inhabitants of Melbourne generally. There is but ONE SMALL WINDOW, whence letters directed to lie at the office are given out; and as the ships from England daily discharged their living cargoes into Melbourne, the crowd round this inefficient delivering-place rendered getting one's letters the work, not of hours, but days. Newspapers, particularly pictorial ones, have, it would appear, a remarkable facility for being lost EN ROUTE. Several numbers of the "Illustrated London News" had been sent me, and, although the letters posted with them arrived in safety, the papers themselves never made their appearance. I did hear that, when addressed to an uncolonial name, and with no grander direction than the Post-office itself, the clerks are apt to apropriate them—this is, perhaps, only a wee bit of Melbourne scandal.
The arrival of our letters from England left nothing now to detain us, and made us all anxious to commence our trip to the diggings, although the roads were in an awful condition. Still we would delay no longer, and the bustle of preparation began. Stores of flour, tea, and sugar, tents and canvas, camp-ovens, cooking utensils, tin plates and pannikins, opossum rugs and blankets, drays, carts and horses, cradles, &c. &c., had to be looked at, bought and paid for.
On board ship, my brother had joined himself to a party of four young men, who had decided to give the diggings a trial. Four other of our shipmates had also joined themselves into a digging-party, and when they heard of our intended departure, proposed travelling up together and separating on our arrival. This was settled, and a proposal made that between the two sets they should raise funds to purchase a dray and horses, and make a speculation in flour, tea, &c., on which an immense profit was being made at the diggings. It would also afford the convenience of taking up tents, cradles, and other articles impossible to carry up without. The dray cost one hundred pounds, and the two strong cart-horses ninety and one hundred pounds respectively. This, with the goods themselves, and a few sundries in the shape of harness and cords, made only a venture of about fifty pounds a-piece. While these arrangements were rapidly progressing, a few other parties wished to join ours for safety on the road, which was agreed to, and the day fixed upon for the departure was the 7th of September. Every one, except myself, was to walk, and we furthermore determined to "camp out" as much as possible, and thus avoid the vicinity of the inns and halting-places on the way, which are frequently the lurking-places of thieves and bushrangers.
* * * * *
On the Sunday previous to the day on which our journey was to commence, I had a little adventure, which pleased me at the time, though, but for the sequel, not worth mentioning here. I had walked with my brother and a friend to St. Peter's Church; but we were a few minutes behind time, and therefore could find no unoccupied seat. Thus disappointed, we strolled over Princes Bridge on to the other side of the Yarra. Between the bridge and the beach, on the south side of the river, is a little city of tents, called Little Adelaide. They were inhabited by a number of families, that the rumour of the Victoria gold-mines had induced to leave South Australia, and whose finances were unequal to the high prices in Melbourne.
Government levies a tax of five shillings a week on each tent, built upon land as wild and barren as the bleakest common in England. We did not wander this morning towards Little Adelaide; but followed the Yarra in its winding course inland, in the direction of the Botanical Gardens.
Upon a gentle rise beside the river, not far enough away from Melbourne to be inconvenient, but yet sufficiently removed from its mud and noise, were pitched two tents, evidently new, with crimson paint still gay upon the round nobs of the centre posts, and looking altogether more in trim for a gala day in Merry England than a trip to the diggings. The sun was high above our heads, and the day intensely hot; so much so, that I could not resist the temptation of tapping at the canvas door to ask for a draught of water. A gentleman obeyed the summons, and on learning the occasion of this unceremonious visit, politely accommodated me with a camp-stool and some delicious fresh milk—in Melbourne almost a luxury. Whilst I was imbibing this with no little relish, my friends were entering into conversation with our new acquaintance. The tents belonged to a party just arrived by the steamer from England, with everything complete for the diggings, to which they meant to proceed in another week, and where I had the pleasure of meeting them again, though under different and very peculiar circumstances. The tent which I had invaded was inhabited by two, the elder of whom, a powerfully-built man of thirty, formed a strong contrast to his companion, a delicate-looking youth, whose apparent age could not have exceeded sixteen years.
After a short rest, we returned to Melbourne, well pleased with our little adventure.
The next day was hardly long enough for our numerous preparations, and it was late before we retired to rest. Six was the hour appointed for the next morning's breakfast. Excited with anticipating the adventures to commence on the morrow, no wonder that my dreams should all be GOLDEN ones.
CAMPING UP—MELBOURNE TO THE BLACK FOREST
The anxiously-expected morning at length commenced, and a dismal-looking morning it was—hazy and damp, with a small drizzling rain, which, from the gloomy aspect above, seemed likely to last. It was not, however, sufficient to damp our spirits, and the appointed hour found us all assembled to attack the last meal that we anticipated to make for some time to come beneath the shelter of a ceiling. At eight o'clock our united party was to start from the "Duke of York" hotel, and as that hour drew nigh, the unmistakeable signs of "something up," attracted a few idlers to witness our departure. In truth, we were a goodly party, and created no little sensation among the loungers—but I must regularly introduce our troop to my readers.
First then, I must mention two large drays, each drawn by a pair of stout horses—one the property of two Germans, who were bound for Forest Creek, the other belonged to ourselves and shipmates. There were three pack-horses—one (laden with a speculation in bran) belonged to a queer-looking sailor, who went by the name of Joe, the other two were under the care of a man named Gregory, who was going to rejoin his mates at Eagle Hawk Gully. As his destination was the farthest, and he was well acquainted with the roads, he ought to have been elected leader, but from some mis-management that dignity was conferred upon a stout old gentleman, who had taken a pleasure-trip to Mount Alexander, the previous summer.
Starting is almost always a tedious affair, nor was this particular case an exception. First one had forgotten something—another broke a strap, and a new one had to be procured—then the dray was not properly packed, and must be righted—some one else wanted an extra "nobbler"—then a fresh, and still a fresh delay, so that although eight was the appointed hour, it was noon ere we bade farewell to mine host of the "Duke of York."
At length the word of command was spoken. Foremost came the gallant captain (as we had dubbed him), and with him two ship doctors, in partnership together, who carried the signs of their profession along with them in the shape of a most surgeon-like mahogany box. Then came the two Germans, complacently smoking their meerschaums, and attending to their dray and horses, which latter, unlike their masters, were of a very restless turn of mind. After these came a party of six, among whom was Gregory and two lively Frenchmen, who kept up an incessant chattering. Joe walked by himself, leading his pack-horse, then came our four shipmates, two by two, and last, our own particular five.
Most carried on their backs their individual property—blankets, provisions for the road, &c., rolled in a skin, and fastened over the shoulders by leathern straps. This bundle goes by the name of "swag," and is the digger's usual accompaniment—it being too great a luxury to place upon a dray or pack-horse anything not absolutely necessary. This will be easily understood when it is known that carriers, during the winter, obtained 120 pounds and sometimes 150 pounds a ton for conveying goods to Bendigo (about one hundred miles from Melbourne). Nor was the sum exorbitant, as besides the chance of a few weeks' stick in the mud, they run great risk of injuring their horses or bullocks; many a valuable beast has been obliged to be shot where it stood, it being found impossible to extricate it from the mud and swamp. At the time we started, the sum generally demanded was about 70 pounds per ton. On the price of carriage up, depended of course the price of provisions at the diggings.
The weight of one of these "swags" is far from light; the provender for the road is itself by no means trifling, though that of course diminishes by the way, and lightens the load a little. Still there are the blankets, fire-arms, drinking and eating apparatus, clothing, chamois-leather for the gold that has yet to be dug, and numberless other cumbersome articles necessary for the digger. In every belt was stuck either a large knife or a tomahawk; two shouldered their guns (by the bye, rather imprudent, as the sight of fire-arms often brings down an attack); some had thick sticks, fit to fell a bullock; altogether, we seemed well prepared to encounter an entire army of bushrangers. I felt tolerably comfortable perched upon our dray, amid a mass of other soft lumber; a bag of flour formed an easy support to lean against; on either side I was well walled in by the canvas and poles of our tent; a large cheese made a convenient footstool. My attire, although well suited for the business on hand, would hardly have passed muster in any other situation. A dress of common dark blue serge, a felt wide-awake, and a waterproof coat wrapped round me, made a ludicrous assortment.
Going along at a foot-pace we descended Great Bourke Street, and made our first halt opposite the Post-office, where one of our party made a last effort to obtain a letter from his lady-love, which was, alas! unsuccessful. But we move on again—pass the Horse Bazaar—turn into Queen Street—up we go towards Flemington, leaving the Melbourne cemetery on our right, and the flag-staff a little to the left; and now our journey may be considered fairly begun.
Just out of Melbourne, passing to the east of the Benevolent Asylum, we went over a little rise called Mount Pleasant, which, on a damp sort of a day, with the rain beating around one, seemed certainly a misnomer. After about two miles, we came to a branch-road leading to Pentridge, where the Government convict establishment is situated. This we left on our right, and through a line of country thickly wooded (consisting of red and white gum, stringy bark, cherry and other trees), we arrived at Flemington, which is about three miles and a half from town.
Flemington is a neat little village or town-ship, consisting of about forty houses, a blacksmith's shop, several stores, and a good inn, built of brick and stone, with very fair accommodation for travellers, and a large stable and stock-yards.
After leaving Flemington, we passed several nice-looking homesteads; some are on a very large scale, and belong to gentlemen connected with Melbourne, who prefer "living out of town." On reaching the top of the hill beyond Flemington there is a fine view of Melbourne, the bay, William's Town, and the surrounding country, but the miserable weather prevented us at this time from properly enjoying it. Sunshine was all we needed to have made this portion of our travels truly delightful.
The road was nicely level, fine trees sheltered it on either side, whilst ever and anon some rustic farm-house was passed, or coffee-shop, temporarily erected of canvas or blankets, offered refreshment (such as it was), and the latest news of the diggings to those who had no objection to pay well for what they had. This Flemington road (which is considered the most Pleasant in Victoria, or at least anywhere near Melbourne) is very good as far as Tulip Wright's, which we now approached.
Wright's public-house is kept by the man whose name it bears; it is a rambling ill-built, but withal pleasing-looking edifice, built chiefly of weather-board and shingle, with a verandah all round. The whole is painted white, and whilst at some distance from it a passing ray of sunshine gave it a most peculiar effect. In front of the principal entrance is a thundering large lamp, a most conspicuous looking object. Wright himself was formerly in the police, and being a sharp fellow, obtained the cognomen of "Tulip," by which both he and his house have always been known; and so inseparable have the names become, that, whilst "Tulip Wright's" is renowned well-nigh all over the colonies, the simple name of the owner would create some inquiries. The state of accommodation here may be gathered from the success of some of the party who had a PENCHANT for "nobblers" of brandy. "Nothing but bottled beer in the house." "What could we have for dinner?" inquired one, rather amused at this Hobson's choice state of affairs. "The eatables was only cold meat; and they couldn't cook nothink fresh," was the curt reply. "Can we sleep here?" "Yes—under your drays." As we literally determined to "camp out" on the journey, we passed on, without partaking of their "cold eatables," or availing ourselves of their permission to sleep under our own drays, and, leaving the road to Sydney on our right, and the one to Keilor straight before us, we turned short off to the left towards the Deep Creek.
Of the two rejected routes I will give a very brief account.
The right-hand road leads to Sydney, VIA Kilmore, and many going to the diggings prefer using this road as far as that township. The country about here is very flat, stony and destitute of timber; occasionally the journey is varied by a water-hole or surface-spring. After several miles, a public-house called the "Lady of the Lake" is reached, which is reckoned by many the best country inn on this or any other road in the colonies. The accommodation is excellent, and the rooms well arranged, and independent of the house. There are ten or twelve rooms which, on a push, could accommodate fifty or sixty people; six are arranged in pairs for the convenience of married persons, and the fashionable trip during the honey-moon (particularly for diggers' weddings) is to the "Lady of the Lake." Whether Sir Walter's poem be the origin of the sign, or whether the swamps in the rear, I cannot say, but decidedly there is no lake and no lady, though I have heard of a buxom lass, the landlord's daughter, who acts as barmaid, and is a great favourite. This spot was the scene last May of a horrible murder, which has added no little to the notoriety of the neighbourhood.
After several miles you at length arrive at Kilmore, which is a large and thriving township, containing two places of worship, several stores and inns. There is a resident magistrate with his staff of officials, and a station for a detachment of mounted police. Kilmore is on the main overland road from Melbourne to Sydney, and, although not on the confines of the two colonies, is rather an important place, from being the last main township until you reach the interior of New South Wales. The Government buildings are commodious and well arranged. There are several farms and stations in the neighbourhood, but the country round is flat and swampy.
The middle road leads you direct to Keilor, and you must cross the Deep Creek in a dangerous part, as the banks thereabouts are very steep, the stream (though narrow) very rapid, and the bottom stony. In 1851, the bridge (an ordinary log one) was washed down by the floods, and for two months all communication was cut off. Government have now put a punt, which is worked backwards and forwards every half-hour from six in the morning till six at night, at certain fares, which are doubled after these hours. These fares are: for a passenger, 6d.; a horse or bullock, 1s.; a two-wheeled vehicle, 1s. 6d.; a loaded dray, 2s. The punt is tolerably well managed, except when the man gets intoxicated—not an unfrequent occurrence. When there was neither bridge nor punt, those who wished to cross were obliged to ford it; and so strong has been the current, that horses have been carried down one or two hundred yards before they could effect a landing. Keilor is a pretty little village with a good inn, several nice cottages, and a store or two. The country round is hilly and barren—scarcely any herbage and that little is rank and coarse; the timber is very scarce. This road to the diggings is not much used.
But to return to ourselves. The rain and bad roads made travelling so very wearisome, that before we had proceeded far it was unanimously agreed that we should halt and pitch our first encampment. "Pitch our first encampment! how charming!" exclaims some romantic reader, as though it were an easily accomplished undertaking. Fixing a gipsy-tent at a FETE CHAMPETRE, with a smiling sky above, and all requisites ready to hand, is one thing, and attempting to sink poles and erect tents out of blankets and rugs in a high wind and pelting rain, is (if I may be allowed the colonialism) "a horse of quite another colour." Some sort of sheltering-places were at length completed; the horses were taken from the dray and tethered to some trees within sight, and then we made preparations for satisfying the unromantic cravings of hunger—symptoms of which we all, more or less, began to feel. With some difficulty a fire was kindled and kept alight in the hollow trunk of an old gum tree. A damper was speedily made, which, with a plentiful supply of steaks and boiled and roasted eggs, was a supper by no means to be despised. The eggs had been procured at four shillings a dozen from a farm-house we had passed.
It was certainly the most curious tea-table at which I had ever assisted. Chairs, of course, there were none, we sat or lounged upon the ground as best suited our tired limbs; tin pannicans (holding about a pint) served as tea-cups, and plates of the same metal in lieu of china; a teapot was dispensed with; but a portly substitute was there in the shape of an immense iron kettle, just taken from the fire and placed in the centre of our grand tea-service, which being new, a lively imagination might mistake for silver. Hot spirits, for those desirous of imbibing them, followed our substantial repast; but fatigue and the dreary weather had so completely damped all disposition to conviviality, that a very short space of time found all fast asleep except the three unfortunates on the watch, which was relieved every two hours.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8.—I awoke rather early this morning, not feeling over-comfortable from having slept in my clothes all night, which it is necessary to do on the journey, so as never to be unprepared for any emergency. A small corner of my brother's tent had been partitioned off for my BED-ROOM; it was quite dark, so my first act on waking was to push aside one of the blankets, still wet, which had been my roof during the night, and thus admit air and light into my apartments. Having made my toilette—after a fashion—I joined my companions on the watch, who were deep in the mysteries of preparing something eatable for breakfast. I discovered that their efforts were concentrated on the formation of a damper, which seemed to give them no little difficulty. A damper is the legitimate, and, in fact, only bread of the bush, and should be made solely of flour and water, well mixed and kneaded into a cake, as large as you like, but not more than two inches in thickness, and then placed among the hot ashes to bake. If well-made, it is very sweet and a good substitute for bread. The rain had, however, spoiled our ashes, the dough would neither rise nor brown, so in despair we mixed a fresh batch of flour and water, and having fried some rashers of fat bacon till they were nearly melted, we poured the batter into the pan and let it fry till done. This impromptu dish gave general satisfaction and was pronounced a cross between a pancake and a heavy suet pudding.
Breakfast over, our temporary residences were pulled down, the drays loaded, and our journey recommenced.
We soon reached the Deep Creek, and crossed by means of a punt, the charges being the same as the one at Keilor. Near here is a station belonging to Mr. Ryleigh, which is a happy specimen of a squatter's home—everything being managed in a superior manner. The house itself is erected on a rise and surrounded by an extensive garden, vinery and orchard, all well stocked and kept; some beautifully enclosed paddocks reach to the Creek, and give an English park-like appearance to the whole. The view from here over the bay and Brighton is splendid; you can almost distinguish Geelong. About a quarter of a mile off is a little hamlet with a neat Swiss-looking church, built over a school-room on a rise of ground; it has a most peculiar effect, and is the more singular as the economizing the ground could not be a consideration in the colony; on the left of the church is a pretty little parsonage, whitewashed, with slate roof and green-painted window-frames.
I still fancy, though our redoubtable captain most strenuously denied it, that we had in some manner gone out of our way; however that may be, the roads seemed worse and worse as we proceeded, and our pace became more tedious as here and there it was up-hill work till at length we reached the Keilor plains. It was almost disheartening to look upon that vast expanse of flat and dreary land except where the eye lingered on the purple sides of Mount Macedon, which rose far distant in front of us. On entering the plains we passed two or three little farm-houses, coffee-shops, &c., and encountered several parties coming home for a trip to Melbourne. For ten miles we travelled on dismally enough, for it rained a great deal, and we were constantly obliged to halt to get the horses rested a little. We now passed a coffee-shop, which although only consisting of a canvas tent and little wooden shed, has been known to accommodate above forty people of a night. As there are always plenty of bad characters lounging in the neighbourhood of such places, we kept at a respectful distance, and did not make our final halt till full two miles farther on our road. Tents were again pitched, but owing to their not being fastened over securely, many of us got an unwished-for shower-bath during the night; but this is nothing—at the antipodes one soon learns to laugh at such trifles.
THURSDAY, 9.—This morning we were up betimes, some of our party being so sanguine as to anticipate making the "Bush Inn" before evening. As we proceeded, this hope quickly faded away. The Keilor plains seemed almost impassable, and what with pieces of rock here, and a water-hole there, crossing them was more dangerous than agreeable. Now one passed a broken-down dray; then one's ears were horrified at the oaths an unhappy wight was venting at a mud-hole into which he had stumbled. A comical object he looked, as, half-seas-over, he attempted to pull on a mud-covered boot, which he had just extricated from the hole where it and his leg had parted company. A piece of wood, which his imagination transformed into a shoe-horn, was in his hand. "Put it into the larboard side," (suiting the action to the word), "there it goes—damn her, she won't come on! Put it into the starboard side there it goes—well done, old girl," and he triumphantly rose from the ground, and reeled away.
With a hearty laugh, we proceeded on our road, and after passing two or three coffee-tents, we arrived at Gregory's Inn. The landlord is considered the best on the road, and is a practical example of what honesty and industry may achieve. He commenced some nine months before without a shilling—his tarpaulin tent and small stock of tea, sugar, coffee, &c., being a loan. He has now a large weather-board house, capable of making up one hundred beds, and even then unable to accommodate all his visitors, so numerous are they, from the good name he bears. Here we got a capital cold dinner of meat, bread, cheese, coffee, tea, &c., for three shillings a-piece, and, somewhat refreshed, went forwards in better spirits, though the accounts we heard there of the bad roads in the Black Forest would have disheartened many.
Mount Macedon now formed quite a beautiful object on our right: a little below that mountain appeared a smaller one, called the Bald Hill, from its peak being quite barren, and the soil of a white limestone and quartzy nature, which gives it a most peculiar and splendid appearance when the sun's rays are shining upon it. As we advanced, the thickly-wooded sides of Mount Macedon became more distinct, and our proximity to a part of the country which we knew to be auriferous, exercised an unaccountable yet pleasureable influence over our spirits, which was perhaps increased by the loveliness of the spot where we now pitched our tents for the evening. It was at the foot of the Gap. The stately gum-tree, the shea-oak, with its gracefully drooping foliage, the perfumed yellow blossom of the mimosa, the richly-wooded mountain in the background, united to form a picture too magnificent to describe. The ground was carpeted with wild flowers; the sarsaparilla blossoms creeping everywhere; before us slowly rippled a clear streamlet, reflecting a thousand times the deepening tints which the last rays of the setting sun flung over the surrounding scenery; the air rang with the cawing of the numerous cockatoos and parrots of all hues and colours who made the woods resound with their tones, whilst their restless movements and gay plumage gave life and piquancy to the scene.
This night our beds were composed of the mimosa, which has a perfume like the hawthorn. The softest-looking branches were selected, cut down, and flung upon the ground beneath the tents, and formed a bed which, to my wearied limbs, appeared the softest and most luxuriant upon which I had slept since my arrival in the colonies.
FRIDAY, 10.—With some reluctance I aroused myself from a very heavy slumber produced by the over fatigue of the preceding day. I found every one preparing to start; kindly considerate, my companions thought a good sleep more refreshing for me than breakfast, and had deferred awakening me till quite obliged, so taking a few sailors' biscuits in my pocket to munch on the way, I bade farewell to a spot whose natural beauties I have never seen surpassed.
Proceeding onwards, we skirted the Bald Hill, and entering rather a scrubby tract, crossed a creek more awkward for our drays than dangerous to ourselves; we then passed two or three little coffee-shops, which being tents are always shifting their quarters, crossed another plain, very stony and in places swampy, which terminated in a thickly-wooded tract of gum and wattle trees. Into this wood we now entered. After about five miles uncomfortable travelling we reached the "Bush Inn."
I must here observe that no DISTINCT road is ever cut out, but the whole country is cut up into innumerable tracks by the carts and drays, and which are awfully bewildering to the new-comer as they run here and there, now crossing a swamp, now a rocky place, here a creek, there a hillock, and yet, in many cases, all leading BONA FIDE to the same place.
The "Bush Inn" (the genuine one, for there are two) consists of a large, well-built, brick and weather-board house, with bed-rooms for private families. There is a detached weather-board, and stone kitchen, and tap-room, with sleeping-lofts above, a large yard with sheds and good stabling. A portion of the house and stables is always engaged for the use of the escort. About two hundred yards off is the "New Bush Inn," somewhat similar to the other, not quite so large, with an attempt at a garden. The charges at these houses are enormous. Five and six shillings per meal, seven-and-sixpence for a bottle of ale, and one shilling for half a glass or "nobbler" of brandy. About half a mile distant is a large station belonging to Mr. Watson; the houses, huts and yards are very prettily laid out, and, in a few years he will have the finest vineyard in the neighbourhood. Two miles to the east is the residence of Mr. Poullett, Commissioner of Crown Lands, which is very pleasantly situated on the banks of an ever-running stream. The paddock, which is a large one (10 square miles, or 6400 acres), is well wooded. Some new police barracks and stabling yards are in the course of erection.
We did not linger in the "Bush Inn," but pursued our way over a marshy flat, crossed a dangerous creek, and having ascended a steep and thickly wooded hill on the skirts of the Black Forest, we halted and pitched our tents. It was little more than mid-day, but the road had been fearful—as bad as wading through a mire; men and beasts were worn out, and it was thought advisable to recruit well before entering the dreaded precincts of the Black Forest. Fires were lit, supper was cooked, spirits and pipes made their appearance, songs were sung, and a few of the awful exploits of Black Douglas and his followers were related. Later in the evening, an opossum was shot by one of us. Its skin was very soft, with rich, brown hair.
SATURDAY, 11—A dismal wet day—we remained stationary, as many of our party were still foot-sore, and all were glad of a rest. Some went out shooting, but returned with only a few parrots and cockatoos, which they roasted, and pronounced nice eating. Towards evening, a party of four, returning from the diggings, encamped at a little distance from us. Some of our loiterers made their acquaintance. They had passed the previous night in the Black Forest, having wandered out of their way. To add to their misfortunes, they had been attacked by three well-armed bushrangers, whom they had compelled to desist from their attempt, not, however, before two of the poor men had been wounded, one rather severely. Hardly had they recovered this shock, than they were horrified by the sudden discovery in a sequestered spot of some human bones, strewn upon the ground beside a broken-down cart. Whether accident or design had brought these unfortunates to an untimely end, none know; but this ominous appearance seemed to have terrified them even more than the bushrangers themselves. These accounts sobered our party not a little, and it was deemed advisable to double the watch that night.
CAMPING UP—BLACK FOREST TO EAGLE HAWK GULLY
SUNDAY, 12.—A lovely summer morning, which raised our spirits to something like their usual tone, with the exception of our gallant(?) captain, who resigned his post, declaring it his intention to return to Melbourne with the four returning diggers. Poor fellow! their awful account of the Black Forest had been too much for his courage. Gregory was elected in his place, and wishing him a pleasant trip home, our journey was resumed as usual, and we entered the forest. Here the trees grow very closely together; in some places they are so thickly set that the rear-guard of the escort cannot see the advance-guard in the march. There is a slight undergrowth of scrub. We saw some of the choicest of the ERICA tribe in full bloom, like a beautiful crimson waxen bell-blossom, and once whilst walking (which I frequently did to relieve the monotony of being perched on the dray by myself) I saw a fine specimen of the ORELUDIAE at the foot of a tree growing from the wood; it was something like a yellow sweet-pea, but really too beautiful to describe. The barks of the trees, and also the ground, have a black, charred appearance (hence the name of the forest); this is said to have been caused by its having once been on fire. Many of the ambuscades of the noted Douglas were passed, and the scenes of some most fearful murders pointed out. We only halted once—so anxious were we to leave behind us this dreaded spot—and at sunset reached the borders of the Five Mile Creek.
MONDAY, 13.—Another fine day. Crossed the Five Mile Creek by means of a rickety sort of bridge. There are two inns here, with plenty of accommodation for man and beast. We patronized neither, but made the best of our way towards Kyneton. Our road lay through a densely wooded country till we arrived at Jacomb's Station; this we left, and turning to the right, soon reached Kyneton, which lies on the river Campaspe.
Carlshrue lies to the right, about three miles distant, on rather low land; this is the chief station of the Government escort; the barrack accommodation is first-rate, with stabling and paddocks for the horses, &c.
Kyneton is about sixty-one miles from Melbourne. There are two large inns, with ample accommodation for four hundred people between them, several stores, with almost every needful article. A neat little church, capable of holding nearly three hundred persons, with a school and parsonage. There is a resident magistrate and constabulary, with a police-court and gaol in progress of erection. The township is rather straggling, but what houses there are have a very picturesque appearance. The only draw-back to this little town is the badness of the streets. Although it is rather on an elevated spot, the streets and roads, from the loamy nature of the sod, are a perfect quagmire, even abominable in summer time. The charges here are high, but not extortionate, as, besides the two inns alluded to, there are several coffee-shops and lodging-houses; so competition has its effect even in the bush.
The Campaspe is a large river, and is crossed by a substantial timber bridge.
We still adhered to our original plan of camping out; a few necessaries were purchased in the town, and after continuing our journey to a little distance from it, we halted for the night.
TUESDAY 14.—This morning commenced with a colonial shower, which gave us all a good drenching. Started about eight o'clock; returned to Kyneton; crossed the bridge, and passed several farm-houses. The country here is very changeable, sometimes flat and boggy, at others, very hilly and stony. We were obliged to ford several small creeks, evidently tributaries to the Campaspe, and at about ten miles from Kyneton, entered the Coliban range, which is thickly wooded. The river itself is about fourteen miles from Kyneton. Here we camped, in the pouring rain. Some of our party walked to the town of Malmsbury, about a mile and a half from our camping place. The town consisted of about three tents, and an inn dignified by the appellation of the "Malmsbury Hotel". It is a two-storied, weather-board, and pale house, painted blue, with a lamp before it of many colours, large enough for half-a-dozen people to dine in. It (the inn, not the lamp,) is capable of accommodating two hundred people, independent of which there is a large tent, similar to the booths at a fair, about 100 feet long by 30 wide, for the convenience of those who prefer sleeping under cover when the house is full. Being hungry with their walk, our comrades dined here, for which they paid 3s. 6d. a-piece; ale was 1s. 6d. a glass; brandy 2s. per half glass, or "nobbler;" cheese, 4s. 6d. a pound; bread, 5s. the four-pound loaf; wine, 25s. a bottle. By the time they returned, we had struck our tents, intending to cross a muddy-banked creek that lay in our road that evening, as we were told that the waters might be too swollen to do it next day. The water reached above their waists, and as my usual post was very insecure, I was obliged to be carried over on their shoulders, which did not prevent my feet from being thoroughly soaked before reaching the other side, where we remained all night.
WEDNESDAY, 15.—Rainy day again, so much so, that we thought it advisable not to shift our quarters. In the afternoon, three returning diggers pitched their tents not far from ours. They were rather sociable, and gave us a good account of the diggings. They had themselves been very fortunate. On the same day that we had been idly resting on the borders of the Black Forest, they had succeeded in taking twenty-three pounds weight out of their claim, and two days after, two hundred and six ounces more, making, in all, gold to the value (in England) of about eighteen hundred pounds. They were returning to Melbourne for a spree, (which means to fling their gains away as quickly as possible,) and then as soon as the dry season was regularly set in, they meant to return to Bendigo for another spell at work. On representing to them the folly of not making better use of their hard-earned wages, the answer invariably was, "Plenty more to be got where this came from," an apt illustration of the proverb, "light come, light go." Two of these diggers had with them their licences for the current month, which they offered to sell for ten shillings each; two of our company purchased them. This, although a common proceeding, was quite illegal, and, of course, the two purchasers had to assume for the rest of the month the names of the parties to whom the licences had been issued. As evening approached, our new acquaintances became very sociable, and amused us with their account of the diggings; and the subject of licensing being naturally discussed, led to our being initiated into the various means of evading it, and the penalties incurred thereby. One story they related amused us at the time, and as it is true I will repeat it here, though I fancy the lack of oral communication will subtract from it what little interest it did possess.
Before I commence, I must give my readers some little insight into the nature of the licence tax itself. The licence, (for which thirty shillings, or half an ounce of gold, is paid per month) is in the following form:
VICTORIA GOLD LICENCE. No. 1710, Sept. 3, 1852.
The Bearer, Henry Clements, having paid to me the Sum of One Pound, Ten Shillings, on account of the Territorial Revenue, I hereby Licence him to dig, search for, and remove Gold on and from any such Crown Land within the Upper Lodden District, as I shall assign to him for that purpose during the month of September, 1852, not within half-a-mile of any Head station.
This Licence is not transferable, and to be produced whenever demanded by me or any other person acting under the Authority of the Government, and to be returned when another Licence is issued.
(SIGNED) B. BAXTER, Commissioner.
At the back of the Licence are the following rules:
REGULATIONS TO BE OBSERVED BY THE PERSONS DIGGING FOR GOLD, OR OTHERWISE EMPLOYED AT THE GOLD FIELDS.
1. Every Licensed Person must always have his Licence with him, ready to be produced whenever demanded by a Commissioner, or Person acting under his instructions, otherwise he is liable to be proceeded against as an Unlicensed person.
2. Every Person digging for Gold, or occupying Land, without a Licence, is liable by Law to be fined, for the first offence, not exceeding 5 pounds; for a second offence, not exceeding 15 pounds; and for a subsequent offence, not exceeding 30 pounds.
3. Digging for Gold is not allowed within Ten feet of any Public Road, nor are the Roads to be undermined.
4. Tents or buildings are not to be erected within Twenty feet of each other, or within Twenty feet of any Creek.
5. It is enjoined that all Persons at the Gold Fields maintain and assist in maintaining a due and proper observance of Sundays.
* * * * *
So great is the crowd around the Commissioner's tent at the beginning of the month, that it is a matter of difficulty to procure it, and consequently the inspectors rarely begin their rounds before the 10th, when (as they generally vary the fine according to the date at which the delinquency is discovered), a non-licensed digger would have the pleasure of accompanying a crowd of similar offenders to the Commissioners, sometimes four or five miles from his working-place, pay a fine of about 3 pounds, and take out a licence. After the 20th of the month, the fine inflicted is generally from 5 pounds to 10 pounds and a licence, which is rather a dear price to pay for a few days' permission to dig, as a licence, although granted on the 30th of one month, would be unavailable for the next. The inspectors are generally strong-built, rough-looking customers, they dress like the generality of the diggers, and are only known by their carrying a gun in lieu of a pick or shovel. Delinquents unable to pay the fine, have the pleasure of working it out on the roads.
Now for my story—such as it is.
Mike and Robert were two as good mates as any at the Mount Alexander diggings. They had had a good spell of hard work, and, as is usually the way, returned to Melbourne for a holiday at Christmas-time; and then it was that the bright eyes of Susan Hinton first sowed discord between them. Mike was the successful wooer, and the old man gave his consent; for Mike, with one exception, had contrived to make himself a favourite with both father and daughter. The exception was this. Old Hinton was a strict disciplinarian—one of what is called the "good old school"—he hated radicals, revolutionists, and reformers, or any opposition to Church or State. Mike, on the contrary, loved nothing better than to hold forth against the powers that be; and it was his greatest boast that Government had never pocketed a farthing from him in the way of a licence. This, in the old man's eyes, was his solitary fault, and when Mike declared his intention of taking another trip to the "lottery fields" before taking a ticket in the even greater lottery of marriage, he solemnly declared that no daughter of his should ever marry a man who had been openly convicted of in any way evading the licence fee.
This declaration from any other man, who had already promised his daughter in marriage, would not have had much weight; but Mike knew the stern, strict character of Hinton, and respected this determination accordingly. The day of their departure arrived, and with a tearful injunction to bear in mind her father's wishes, Susan bade her lover farewell, and Robert and he proceeded on their journey. Full of his own happiness, Mike had never suspected his comrade's love for Susan, and little dreamt he of the hatred against himself to which it had given birth—hatred the more to be dreaded since it was concealed under a most friendly exterior.
For the first month Mike behaved to the very letter of the law, and having for the sum of one pound ten shillings purchased his legal right to dig for gold, felt himself a most exemplary character. Success again crowned their efforts, and a speedy return to Melbourne was contemplated. In the ardour of this exciting work another month commenced, and Mike at first forgot and then neglected to renew his licence. "The inspector rarely came his rounds before the 14th; the neighbourhood was considered deserted—fairly 'worked out;' he'd never come round there." Thus argued Mike, and his friend cordially agreed with him. "Lose a day's work standing outside the Commissioner's tent broiling in a crowd, when two days would finish the job? Not he, indeed! Mike might please himself, but HE shouldn't get a licence;" and this determination on the part of his "mate" settled the matter.
In one respect Mike's self-security was not unfounded; the gully in which their tent was now pitched was nearly deserted. Some while previous there had been a great rush to the place, so great that it was almost excavated; then the rush took a different direction, and few now cared to work on the two or three spots that had been left untouched. Like many other localities considered "worked out," as much remained in the ground as had been taken from it, and as each day added to their store, Mike's hilarity increased.
It was now the 10th of the month; their hole had been fairly "bottomed," a nice little nest of nuggets discovered, their gains divided, and the gold sent down to the escort-office for transit to Melbourne. A few buckets-full of good washing-stuff was all that was left undone.
"To-day will finish that," thought Mike, and to it he set with hearty good-will, to the intense satisfaction of his comrade, who sat watching him at a little distance. Suddenly Mike felt a heavy hand upon his shoulder: he looked up, and saw before him—the inspector. He had already with him a large body of defaulters, and Mike little doubted but that he must be added to their number. Old Hinton's determined speech, Susan's parting words and tears, flashed across his mind.
"You've lost your bonnie bride," muttered Robert, loud enough to reach his rival's ears.
Mike glanced at him, and the look of triumph he saw there roused every spark of energy within him, and it was in a tone of well-assumed composure that he replied to the inspector, "My licence is in my pocket, and my coat is below there;" and without a moment's hesitation sprang into his hole to fetch it. Some minutes elapsed. The inspector waxed impatient. A suspicion of the truth flashed across Robert's mind, and he too descended the hole. THERE was the coat and the licence of the past month in the pocket; but the owner had gone, vanished, and an excavation on one side which led into the next hole and thence into a complete labyrinth underground, plainly pointed out the method of escape. Seeing no use in ferreting the delinquent out of so dangerous a place, the inspector sulkily withdrew, though not without venting some of his ill-humour upon Robert, at whose representations, made to him the day previous, he had come so far out of his road.
But let us return to Mike. By a happy thought, he had suddenly remembered that whilst working some days before in the hole, his pick had let in daylight on one side, and the desperate hope presented itself to his mind that he might make a passage into the next pit, which he knew led into others, and thus escape. His success was beyond his expectation; and he regained the open air at a sufficient distance from his late quarters to escape observation. Once able to reflect calmly upon the event of the morning, it required little discrimination to fix upon Robert his real share in it. And now there was no time to lose in returning to Melbourne, and prevent by a speedy marriage any further attempt to set his intended father-in-law against him. The roads were dry, for it was the sultry month of February; and two days saw him beside his lady-love.
Although railroads are as yet unknown in Australia, everything goes on at railroad speed; and a marriage concocted one day is frequently solemnized the next. His eagerness, therefore, was no way remarkable. No time was lost; and when, three days after Mike's return, Robert (with his head full of plots and machinations) presented himself at old Hinton's door, he found them all at a well-spread wedding breakfast, round which were gathered a merry party, listening with a digger's interest to the way in which the happy bridegroom had evaded the inspector. Mike had wisely kept the story till Susan was his wife.
THURSDAY 16.—With great delight we hailed the prognostications of a fine day, and, after having eaten a hearty breakfast on the strength of it, we recommenced our travels, and crossed the Coliban Bridge. The Coliban is a fine river running through a beautiful valley bounded with green trees; the bridge is a timber one, out of repair, and dangerous. A township called Malmsbury has been laid out here in small allotments with the expectation of a future city; but as yet not a house has been erected, with the exception of the "hotel" before mentioned, putting one in mind of the American Eden in "Martin Chuzzlewit." A mile beyond the Coliban are the washing huts of John Orr's Station, and about three miles to the left is his residence; the house is stone, with verandahs, the garden and vineyards are prettily laid out.
After passing the bridge, we took the right-hand road, which led us through a low country, and across two or three tributary creeks; we then reached the neighbourhood of Saw-pit Gully, so called from the number of saw-pits there, which formerly gave employment to numerous sawyers, whose occupation—it is almost needless to state—is now deserted. It is surrounded with fine large timber; there are several coffee-shops, a blacksmith's and wheelright's, and a neat little weather-board inn.
At this part, our German friends bade us farewell, to follow out their original plan of going to Forest Creek; they had persuaded four others to accompany them, so our number was reduced to fifteen, myself included. The scenery now became very beautiful, diversified with hill and dale, well wooded, with here and there a small creek, more agreeable to look at than to cross, as there were either no bridges or broken-down ones. The loveliness of the weather seemed to impart energy even to our horses; and we did not pitch our tents till we had travelled full sixteen miles. We were now close beside Mount Alexander, which is nearly covered with timber, chiefly white gum, wattle and stringy bark.
FRIDAY, 17.—A lovely morning; we proceeded in excellent spirits, passing some beautiful scenery, though rather monotonous. During the first few miles, we went across many little creeks, in the neighbourhood of which were indications that the diggers had been at work. These symptoms we hailed with intense delight. Gregory told us the history of a hole in this neighbourhood, out of which five people cleared 13,000 pounds worth of gold each in about a few hours. In lieu of sinking a shaft, they commenced in a gully (colonial for valley), and drove a hole on an inclined plane up the side of the hill or rise. However wet the season, they could never be inconvenienced, as the very inclination would naturally drain the hole. Such a precaution was not needed, as the whole party were perfectly satisfied with the success they had had without toiling for more. The country between here and the "Porcupine Inn" is exceedingly beautiful—not unlike many parts in the lowlands of Wales. About eight miles on the road we pass Barker's Creek, which runs through a beautiful vale.