Successful Exploration Through the Interior of Australia
by William John Wills
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A life terminating before it had reached its meridian, can scarcely be expected to furnish materials for an extended biography. But the important position held by my late son, as second in command in what is now so well-known as the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition across the Island Continent of Australia; the complicated duties he undertook as Astronomer, Topographer, Journalist, and Surveyor; the persevering skill with which he discharged them, suggesting and regulating the march of the party through a waste of eighteen hundred miles, previously untrodden by European feet; his courage, patience, and heroic death; his self-denial in desiring to be left alone in the desert with scarcely a hope of rescue, that his companions might find a chance for themselves;—these claims on public attention demand that his name should be handed down to posterity in something more than a mere obituary record, or an official acknowledgment of services.

A truthful, though brief, memoir of my son's short career, may furnish a stimulating example, by showing how much can be accomplished in a few years, when habits of prudence and industry have been acquired in early youth. He fell a victim to errors not originating with himself; but he resigned his life without a murmur, having devoted it to science and his country. His death, with the circumstances attending it, furnishes an application of the lines of a favourite poet, which he often quoted with admiration:

Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And departing leave behind us Footsteps on the sands of time; Footprints that perhaps another, Sailing o'er Life's solemn main, A forlorn and shipwreck'd brother, Seeing, shall take heart again.

The following pages are the only tribute a fond and mourning father can offer to the memory of one who, while living, merited and reciprocated his warmest affections.


London, January, 1863.



Birth.—Infancy.—Boyhood and Early Education.—Youthful Traits of Character.


My two Sons leave England for Australia.—Incidents of the Voyage. —Extracts from Journal.—Arrival at Port Phillip.—Melbourne. —Employed as Shepherds in the Interior.—Mode of Life.—Melbourne in 1853.—Advice to Immigrants.—Descriptive Letters from the Bush.


I arrive in Australia.—Join my two Sons at their Sheep-station. —Return to Melbourne and Remove to Ballaarat.—Visit to Mr. Skene. —My son studies Surveying.—His Rapid Proficiency.—Appointed to take Charge of a Party.—Letters on various Subjects to his Mother and Brother at Home.


My Son is appointed to the Magnetic Observatory at Melbourne, under Professor Neumayer.—His Rapid Advance in the Study of Magnetism and Mineralogy.—Letters to his Relatives at Home, descriptive of his Pursuits, Wishes, and Sentiments.—First suggestions of his Probable Employment on the Exploring Expedition.


Postponement of the Exploring Expedition projected at the beginning of 1860.—My Son's Letter to his Sister on going into Society.—Mr. Birnie's Opinion of him, and Extract from his Lecture.—Letter from William to his Mother on Religious Views and Definitions of Faith. —His last Communications to his family at Home, before the Departure of the Expedition.


How the Expedition originated.—Appointment of the Leader, Officers, and Party.—Mr. Robert O'Hara Burke, Mr. G.J. Landells, Mr. W.J. Wills, Dr. Herman Beckler, Dr. Ludwig Becker, etc.—The Expedition starts from Melbourne on the 20th of August, 1860. —Progress to Swan Hill.—Discharge of Mr. Ferguson, the Foreman. —Advance to Menindie.—Resignation of Mr. Landells and Dr. Herman Beckler.—Mr. Wills promoted to second in command, and Mr. Wright to third.


From Menindie on the Darling to Torowoto.—Mr. Burke's Despatch, and Mr. Wills's Report from Torowoto.—Mr. Wright's unaccountable delay at Menindie.—The Expedition proceeds onwards to Cooper's Creek.—Exploring Trips in that neighbourhood.—Loss of three Camels.—Mr. Wills's Letter to his Sister, December 6th and 15th. —Incorrectness of McDonough's Statements.


Mr. Wills's Survey of the line of Country pursued by the Expedition, from Torowoto Swamp to Cooper's Creek.


Departure from Cooper's Creek for the Gulf of Carpentaria. —Arrangements for the continuance of the Depot at Cooper's Creek. —Mr. Brahe left in Charge.—Determination of Route.—Progress and Incidents.—Mr. Wills's Field Books, from the 16th of December, 1860, to the 30th of January, 1861, 1 to 9.—Shores of Carpentaria.


Return from Carpentaria to Cooper's Creek.—Mr. Wills's Journals from February 19th to April 21st, 1861.—Illness and Death of Gray. —The Survivors arrive at Cooper's Creek Depot and find it deserted.—A Small Stock of Provisions left.—Conduct of Brahe. —Report of the Royal Commission.


Proceedings in Melbourne.—Meeting of the Exploration Committee. —Tardy Resolutions.—Departure of Mr. Howitt.—Patriotic Effort of Mr. Orkney.—South Australian Expedition under Mr. McKinlay.—News of White Men and Camels having been seen by Natives in the Interior.—Certain Intelligence of the Fate of the Explorers reaches Melbourne.


The attempt to reach South Australia and Adelaide by Mount Hopeless.—Mistake of selecting that Route.—Mr. Wills's Journals from the 23rd of April to the 29th of June, 1861.—Adventures with the Natives.—Discovery of Nardoo as a Substitute for Food.—Mr. Burke and King go in search of Natives for assistance.—Mr. Wills left alone in the Desert.—The Last Entry in his Journal.


King's Narrative.—Mr. Burke and King again go in search of the Natives, as a last resource.—Death of Mr. Burke.—King returns and finds Mr. Wills dead in the Gunyah.—He falls in with the Natives and wanders about with them until delivered by Mr. Howitt's party. —Extract from Mr. Howitt's Diary.—Extract from Mr. McKinlay's Diary.—My Son's last Letter to me, dated June 27th, 1861.—Strong Attachment between Mr. Burke and my Son.—King delivers the Letter and Watch intrusted to him.—With some difficulty I recover the Pistol.—King's Reception in Melbourne.—Sir H. Barkly's Letter to Sir Roderick Murchison.—Summary of Events and their Causes.


Letters of sympathy and condolence; from Sir Henry Barkly; Major Egerton Warburton; A.J. Baker, Esquire; P.A. Jennings, Esquire; Dr. Mueller; The Council of Ballaarat East; Robert Watson, Esquire; John Lavington Evans, Esquire—Meeting at Totnes.—Resolution to erect a Monument to Mr. Wills.—Proceedings in the Royal Geographical Society of London.—Letter from Sir Roderick Murchison to Dr. Wills.—Dr. Wills's Reply.—'The Lost Explorers,' a poetical tribute.—Concluding Observations.




Painted by Scott. Melbourne. London: Richard Bentley, 1863. Engraved by J. Saddle.


Painted by Scott. Melbourne. Engraved by J. Brown.



Birth. Infancy. Boyhood and Early Education. Youthful Traits of Character.

William John Wills was born at Totnes, in Devonshire, on the 5th of January, 1834. He had, therefore, attained the full age of twenty-seven at the time of his death. Even in infancy, his countenance was interesting and expressive. He began to speak and walk alone before he had completed his first year. His lively disposition gave ample employment to his nurses, though I cannot remember that he ever worried one, through peevishness or a fractious temper. As soon as he could talk distinctly, he evinced an aptitude to name things after his own fancy; and I may fairly say, that he was never a child in the common acceptation of the term, as he gave early indications of diligence and discretion scarcely compatible with the helplessness and simplicity of such tender years. About the time of his completing his third year, Mr. Benthall, a friend and near neighbour, asked permission to take him for a walk in his garden. The boy was then in the habit of attending a school for little children, close by, kept by an old lady. In less than an hour, Mr. Benthall returned to ask if he had come home. No one had seen him, and we began to be alarmed lest he might have fallen into a well in the garden; but this apprehension was speedily ascertained to be groundless. Still he returned not, and our alarm increased, until his mother thought of the school, and there he was found, book in hand, intent on his lesson. He knew it was the school hour, and while Mr. Benthall was speaking to the gardener, had managed to give him the slip, passing our own door and proceeding alone to the school, on the opposite side of the square. Mr. Benthall, who can have seen or heard very little of him since, was one of the first, on hearing of his recent fate, to send a subscription to his monument, about to be erected at Totnes. Perhaps he remembered the incident.

Another anecdote of the child bears upon a leading characteristic in the after life of the man. My late lamented brother, W.T. Wills, who has since died at Belleville, in Upper Canada, was on a visit at my house from abroad. He had occasion to go to Plymouth and Devonport, and I engaged to drive him over in a gig. A petition was made to his mother, that little Willy might accompany us. It was granted, and we put up for the night at the Royal Hotel, at Devonport, where he became quite a lion. The landlady and servants were much taken by their juvenile visitor. The next morning, my brother and I had arranged to breakfast at ten, each having early business of his own to attend to, in different directions. When we returned at the appointed time, the boy was missing. None of the household had seen him for an hour. Each supposed that someone else had taken charge of him. After a twenty minutes' search in all directions by the whole establishment, he was discovered at the window of a nautical instrument maker's shop, eight or ten doors below the inn, on the same side of the street, within the recess of the door-way, gazing in riveted attention on the attractive display before him. The owner told me that he had noticed him for more than an hour in the same place, examining the instruments with the eye of a connoisseur, as if he understood them. His thirst for knowledge had superseded his appetite for breakfast. About twelve months subsequent to this date, we had nearly lost him for ever, in a severe attack of remittent fever. At the end of a fortnight, the danger passed away and he was restored to us. As he lay in complete prostration from the consequent weakness, our old and faithful servant, Anne Winter, who seldom left him, became fearful that his intellects might be affected; and I shall never forget her heartfelt delight and thankfulness when she saw him notice and laugh at the ludicrous incident of a neighbour's tame magpie hopping upon his bed. The effect of this fever was to alter the contour of his features permanently, to a longer shape, giving him a more striking resemblance to his mother's family than to mine. His utterance, also, which had been voluble, became slow and slightly hesitating.

For some time after this he resided at home, under my own tuition. Our intercourse, even at this early age, was that of friendly companionship. Instructing him was no task; his natural diligence relieved me from all trouble in fixing his attention. We were both fond of history. From what I recollect, he took more interest in that of Rome than of Greece or England. Virgil and Pope were his favourite poets. He was very earnest with his mother in studying the principles of the Christian religion. More than once my wife remarked, "that boy astonishes me by the shrewdness with which he puts questions on different points of doctrine." In his readings with me he was never satisfied with bare statements unaccompanied by reasons. He was always for arguing the matter before taking either side. One question, when very young, he would again and again recur to, as a matter on which the truth should be elicited. This was a saying of our old servant, above named, when she broke either glass or earthenware: that "it was good for trade." His ideas of political economy would not permit him to allow that this axiom was a sound one for the benefit of the state; and on this point, I think, Adam Smith and Malthus would scarcely disagree.

The pleasure I enjoyed in my son's society when a boy, was greater than that which intercourse with many grown men contributed; for I may strictly repeat, as I have already said, that he was never a child in intellect although juvenile enough in habits and manners. He never made foolish remarks, although not in the slightest degree uncomfortably precocious or pragmatical. I had no fear of trusting him with anything, and was often reproved for allowing so young a child to handle a gun, which he was accustomed to do as early as eleven years of age. His first practice was on some young rooks which he brought down with unerring aim, from a rookery on the grounds at our country residence. He was so particular in his general demeanour that I designated him Gentleman John, and my Royal Boy. His brothers, all younger than himself, styled him, Old Jack, and Gentleman Jack. He had a wonderful power of attaching animals of all kinds. Nothing moved him to anger so readily as seeing one ill-used. Beating a horse savagely would excite his disgust, as well as his dislike to the person who did it. Not having a dog, he used to take a fine cat we had, which would accompany him to any distance in the fields, and hunt the hedges and hedgerows for him. Never feeling that I could have too much of his company, I frequently made him my companion in long country walks, during which he incessantly asked for information. For the science of astronomy he evinced an early taste. When a very little boy, I began to teach him the names and positions of the principal constellations, the revolutions of the earth on its axis, and the fixity of the polar star. I believe we were the first to notice a comet in 1845, which was only a short time visible here, having a south declination, and which we afterwards knew to have been a fine object in the Southern hemisphere.

At the age of eleven he went to school at Ashburton. Although the distance was not more than six miles from the cottage of Ipplepen, my then general place of residence, it was with much reluctance that I consented to the separation. Several friends urged on me that I was not doing him justice by keeping him at home; that a public seminary where he could mix with other boys was an advantage, even though he might not learn more. It also happened that, at this time, a gentleman with whom I had been long acquainted, and of whose talents I held a high opinion, was elected to the head-mastership of that school, which held its chief endowments from Gifford, the satiric poet, and Dr. Ireland, the late Dean of Westminster. I remember how I returned in gloomy spirits after leaving him there. As I had four other children, it may be said that I showed undue partiality for this one, but my conscience clears me from the charge. I deeply felt the loss of his companionship. He was so suggestive that he set me thinking; and whilst I was endeavouring to teach, I acquired more knowledge than I imparted. There was nothing remarkable in his progress at school. I experienced no disappointment because he did not return home at the end of every half-year with the head prize. He merely brought his six months' bill, and a letter commending his steady diligence and uniform propriety of conduct. In viva voce examinations he had scarcely an equal chance with one of inferior intellect who might be quicker in expression; for besides the trifling hesitation of speech I have already noticed, he would have been ashamed to give a wrong answer from eagerness. A remark of Mr. Page, his tutor, confirmed me in my own previous impression on this point. "It vexes me," he said, "that John does not take a top prize, for I see by his countenance that he understands as much, if not more, than any boy in my school; yet from want of readiness in answering he allows very inferior lads to win the tickets from him." On the whole, I think he derived much benefit from Ashburton; for besides his scholastic improvement he became an adept at the usual games, and a social favourite out of school hours.

At the age of sixteen he left the grammar-school, and I find the 30th of May, 1850, to be the date of his articles to me as surgeon. I had at that time taken a partner, Henry Manly, Esquire, now resident at Ipplepen, with a view of introducing and resigning to him my Ipplepen practice. Being in a country place, five miles from Totnes, where there was no chemist or dispensary, my son readily acquired his duties, which were to distribute the medicines and appliances directed for our patients by my partner and myself. In all cases his caution was extreme and we had no fear of his making mistakes. The ordinary operations of extracting a tooth or breathing a vein when a bumpkin presented himself as a patient, he speedily mastered. The absurd practice of going to be bled on any occasion that might strike the fancy of the party, without the advice of the doctor, was not at that time so completely obsolete as in this advanced age I hope it is, and ought to be. I remember, during the time of my own articles, that I frequently performed venesection five or six times in a day on persons who requested and fancied they required it; and I seldom indulged in the liberty of asking, wherefore.

In 1851, I took my son to London to show him the Great Exhibition. His chief attractions there, were the instruments and mechanical inventions. If, after a day or two, I chanced to deviate from the leading thoroughfares and missed my way, he would set me right in a moment. This was rather mortifying to one who fancied himself well acquainted with London from frequent visits, but he smiled when he saw I was not a true guide. I asked him how he acquired this apt knowledge. "On the second day," he replied, "when you were out, I took the map and studied it for two hours, so that now I am well versed in it." My subsequent experience made me think he had some instinctive power in matters like these, such as horses and carrier-pigeons possess, for the darkest night never baulked him. On a visit to Windsor, being told that it was considered a feat to climb the statue of King George the Third at the end of the long walk, he accomplished it in a very short time. At Hampton Court he unravelled the mystery of the Maze in ten minutes and grew quite familiar with all its ins and outs.

In the following spring, 1852, I took him again to London, at the opening of the session for medical students. As there was no anatomical class he studied that branch of science by visiting the museum at Guy's. Having myself been a student at that school, I introduced him to my late respected teacher, Charles Aston King, Esquire, through whom he obtained permission to attend. Surgical operations he witnessed at the theatres of any hospital on the regular days. The only class he entered was that of practical chemistry, under Dr. John Stenhouse, LL.D., at Bartholomew's. When the course had nearly terminated, I saw Dr. Stenhouse, and inquired whether my son evinced any particular talent in that line. Dr. Stenhouse came from the lecture-room, and walked with me through Newgate-Street into Cheapside, earnestly requesting me not to take from him one of the most promising pupils he had ever had. "I venture an assurance," he said, "that in two years, in practical chemistry, he will be second to few in England." Dr. Stenhouse at that time was engaged in analyzing the different articles of food sold in the shops, and found my son useful and suggestive. His testimonial ran thus:—

I have much pleasure in certifying that Mr. W.J. Wills attended a course of practical chemistry at this medical school during the summer season of 1852. He obtained considerable proficiency, and invariably distinguished himself by great propriety of conduct.

(Signed) JOHN STENHOUSE LL.D., Lecturer to the Medical School of St. Bartholomew's Hospital,

September 1st, 1852.

At the house where he lodged, kept by an old couple and their servant, he was as one of themselves, and amused them greatly by the discoveries he made of the tricks practised by vendors of goods in the street; tricks they had no idea of, although they had lived in London all their lives. They used to say he would be a great genius in the detective department of the Police.


My two sons leave England for Australia. Incidents of the Voyage. Extracts from Journal. Arrival at Port Phillip. Melbourne. Employed as Shepherds in the Interior. Mode of Life. Melbourne in 1853. Advice to Immigrants. Descriptive Letters from the Bush.

DURING the summer of 1852, I formed the intention of joining the exodus, then pouring out from England to Australia. I had been in treaty with the "Melbourne Gold Mining Company," recently started, in which promising speculation, on paper, I held some shares. The late Earl of Devon was chairman. I was to go in the Sarah Sands, in my professional capacity. My two sons, William John, and his younger brother, were to accompany me; but on further investigation of the modus operandi, I gave up all idea of attaching myself to the scheme, sold my shares at a slight discount, and engaged as medical attendant on the passengers, taking my two sons with me, in a fine new ship, the Ballaarat, on her first voyage. This arrangement I considered final. But a few days after William returned home, he came to me when I was sitting alone, engaged in writing, and with that expression in his countenance so peculiarly his own, said; "My dear father, I have a favour to ask of you." "My dear boy," I replied, "there is nothing you would venture to ask that I could possibly refuse." "Then," continued he, "it is this. I see my mother is grieving, although she says nothing, at our all leaving her together. Let Tom and I go alone: I will pledge myself to take care of him." After a consultation with my wife this new plan was agreed upon. I released myself from my engagement with Messrs. Simpkin and Marshall for the Ballaarat, and secured two berths for the boys in one of Mr. W.S. Lindsay's ships, which at that time were conveying living freights to Melbourne, their Channel port of departure being Dartmouth.

By the advice of Mr. Lindsay himself I took steerage passages for them. He shrewdly remarked, "They will be there as soon and as safely as the cabin-passengers, and their money will be saved." This sounded so like an axiom in practical economy that my dear boy never attempted to argue the question. Having obtained permission to knock two cabins into one, my sons considerably diminished their expenses, and had quite as agreeable a voyage as if they had paid sixty guineas each; for I have lately learned by experience, in a homeward passage, that you have to put up with companions in the cabin, as objectionable as can be imagined in almost any situation of life.

At Dartmouth, a day or two before the ship started, I found that William had expended some money on a quantity of stuff rolled up like balls of black ropeyarn. I exclaimed with astonishment, "In the name of goodness, are you going to chew or smoke all the way to Australia?" for the commodity was the good old pig-tail tobacco. He said, smiling, "This is to make friends with the sailors: I intend to learn something about a ship by the time we reach our destination." I dare say the worthy skipper of the good ship Janet Mitchell, should he be still alive, has some recollection of him. His mode of proceeding, as he told me, was first to secure the good graces of the crew through the persuasive medium of the pig-tail; then, to learn the name and use of every rope, and of every part of the ship's tackle from stem to stern. He soon acquired the art of splicing and reefing, and was amongst the first to go aloft in a storm, and to lend a hand in taking in topsails. When I arrived in Melbourne at a later period, several of his fellow-passengers spoke to me with praise and wonder, referring to his activity, and readiness to leave an unfinished meal, on the slightest indication of danger or difficulty. His journal of this voyage, is now before me, from which I extract a few remarks:—

1852. October 1st.—Left Dartmouth—Slightly sick for the first few days—My brother much more so, but got right again—Foretopmast carried away by a squall, just at the crosstrees, bringing down with it the main top-gallant mast—'We look a precious wreck! '—Remember the Honourable Michael de Courcy, brother of Lord Kingsale, saying to me on the quay at Dartmouth, the day before we sailed, that the first gale would carry away the fore-top-gallant mast—I believe the Janet Mitchell is quite a new ship, on her first voyage—The remark speaks well for the judgment of a young officer.

19th.—Sailors prigged some spirits in the hold and got very drunk—A passenger so drunk that he became mad, and was put in irons.

20th.—Sailors not yet recovered from their drunkenness—A naval captain, passenger on board, insulted by one of them; struck him with his fist and cut his face open.

22nd.—Fine weather—Getting hot—Latitude north 21, longitude west 36—The Great Bear getting low—Sunsets and risings very fine, particularly the former.

November 1st.—Shark taken, of which I had a large share and rather enjoyed the novelty of the feed.

5th.—Crossed the Line—Sailors shaved and ducked a good many—Tom and I got off very well. (Query—effects of the pig-tail?)

16th.—Stormy weather—Obtained some books on navigation and studied trigonometry.

20th and 21st.—Passed Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible and Nightingale Islands, about 37 south latitude, 12 longitude west. —Saw a great many whales, mostly sperm, thousands of birds, albatross, Cape pigeon, and many others, the names of which I am ignorant of.

23rd.—A shoal of porpoises passed us. A sailor struck one with a harpoon, but it got off again. They are of a salmon colour, no more like pigs than horses, just the shape of salmon, only much larger. In swimming they turn on their sides.

December 1st.—Smart breeze this morning which soon increased to a gale—Assisted in furling top-gallant sail—sailors only half dressed—After breakfast, had to double reef top-sails and main-sail. I like reefing very much.

2nd.—Waves not so high as I expected. It is amusing to see how the birds ride them.

27th.—Saw an eclipse of the moon last night, which lasted three hours; little more than three quarters were eclipsed—Some of the passengers discontented with the provisions—wonder that some of them ever thought of leaving home.

1853. January 1st.—Saw land this morning—Reached Cape Otway in the afternoon; much the appearance of Berry Head, with a slight haze on it—Coast to the west very like that about Dartmouth—Cliffs, high; could fancy I saw Rock Vale.

[Footnote: The residence of a gentleman, near Dartmouth, with whom he had been on a visit a short time before his departure.]

3rd.—Dropped anchor—Captain and Doctor going ashore will post my journal and our letters.

. . .

His own was short:—

Port Phillip, January 3rd, 1853.


We have this morning dropped anchor, just off Williamstown. There are a fine set of ships here: amongst them are the Great Britain, Cleopatra, Ballaarat, Aberfoil, and an immense number of others, great and small. The Great Britain leaves early to-morrow, so I cannot finish my letter. We have been ninety-five days on our passage. The Cleopatra has only arrived two days. There are a great many vessels coming in. The day before yesterday we overtook and passed the Jane, and Truth, of London, which left Plymouth a fortnight before we sailed from Dartmouth. I hear already that things are very dear in Melbourne. Our pilot says he gives 200 pounds a year for a small four-roomed cottage, two miles from the town.

. . .

To show how well prepared the young adventurer was for life in Australia,—notwithstanding letters of introduction and means of obtaining money if required—after remaining only a few days in Melbourne, and disbursing but a small modicum of the limited supply of cash he had taken with him, anxious to see the interior of the Island Continent, he obtained employment for himself and brother, a lad only fifteen years of age, at a large sheep station two hundred miles up the country. The following letter, dated February 12th, 1853, describes their proceedings to that date:—


We are at Deniliquin. And where in the world is that? you will say. Well; it is about two hundred miles north from Melbourne, on the Edward River, in the New South Wales district, and nearly five hundred miles from Sydney. The station belongs to the Royal Bank Company. We have engaged as shepherds at 30 pounds per annum each, and rations. We are very comfortable, in a hut by ourselves, about four miles from the station. We have between thirteen and fourteen hundred rams, by far the smallest and easiest flock, under our charge. We take the hut-keeping and shepherding in turns. The hut is a very nice one, built of split wood, and roofed with bark. It is close beside a pleasant creek or river, where there are plenty of fish and ducks. I assure you we make ourselves quite snug here. One of us rises almost as soon as it is light, gets some breakfast, and starts off with the sheep; lets them feed about until ten o'clock, then brings them slowly home, where they lie down until four; after that, they go out again until sunset. The other stays within to clean up the hut and prepare the meals. We can kill a sheep when we like. [Footnote: Not the rams. There were a few others kept for the purpose. I stayed a few days with them, when I went out myself, at the end of the year.] The worst part serves for the dogs, of which we have three—a sheep dog, and two kangaroo dogs. [Footnote: They had a horse when I visited them, but not, I conclude, at the time when this letter was written.] The latter are good, and keep off the native curs at night. The sheep dog was the only one the former owner had last year, to watch a flock of five thousand sheep.

But you will want to hear something of Melbourne and how we came here. The first discovery we made after we got into port was, that we had to take ourselves and things ashore at our own expense. There was a good deal of fuss made about it to no purpose. It was four shillings each by steamer to Melbourne, and thirty shillings per ton for goods. It cost us about 2 pounds altogether. At Melbourne we found everything very dear; no lodgings to be had, every place full. At length we were offered lodgings at sixty shillings a week, to be paid in advance, and twenty-five persons sleeping in the same room; but we preferred the Immigrant's Home, a government affair, just fitted up for the accommodation of new-comers, where you pay one shilling a night, and find yourself. You must not stay more than ten days. We got there on Friday and remained until the Saturday week following. We then obtained this situation, and started on the same afternoon. Twenty-three of us came up together. Drays were provided to carry our luggage, but we ourselves had to walk. We were three weeks on the journey, through the bush, sleeping, of course, in the open air.

. . .

He then proceeds to describe Melbourne, as it then was:—

Melbourne is situated, as you know, on the Yarra Yarra, [Footnote: A native term, which means "always running."], which has not nearly so large a bed as the Dart, although more navigable. It is narrow but very deep, and so far resembles a canal rather than a river. The town, or city, as they call it, is situated low, but laid out on a good scale. The streets are very wide, and I think when filled with houses it will be a fine place; but what spoils the appearance now is, the number of wooden buildings they are throwing up, as they cannot get workmen for others. When we were there, butter was from two shillings and fourpence to three shillings per pound, bread fourpence, milk eightpence per pint, vegetables enormous, butcher's meat and sugar, as at home. Fruit very dear; a shilling would not purchase as much as a penny in England. Beer and porter, one shilling per pint in Melbourne, but from two shillings to two and sixpence here. The town of Melbourne is all on one side of the river, but on the opposite bank is Canvas Town, connected with Melbourne by a good bridge of one arch. Canvas Town takes its name from being entirely composed of tents, except a few wooden erections, such as a public-house, and the Immigrant's Home, where we had lodged. I do not like Melbourne in its present state. You are not safe out after sundown, and in a short time you will not be safe during the day. There were some men taken out of the river drowned, suspected to have been murdered, and several attempts at robbery, while we were there. I sold my box of chemicals, after taking out what I wanted, for 4 pounds, and the soda-water apparatus for 2 pounds 5 shillings. I also sold some books that we could not carry, but got nothing for them. Scientific works do not take. The people who buy everything here are the gold-diggers, and they want story books. A person I know brought out 100 pounds worth of more serious reading, and sold the lot for 16 pounds.

We started from Melbourne on a Saturday, with the drays, eight bullocks to each, laden entirely with the luggage of the party, twenty-three in number. We made only five or six miles that afternoon, and slept under some gum trees. Our clothes were nearly saturated with dew; but as we advanced farther inland, the dews decreased, and in a night or two there was no sign of them. The land for a few miles is dry and sandy, but improves as you proceed. The woods extensive, sometimes without interval for two or three days' march. There was no scarcity of water, except for the first fifteen miles, after leaving Melbourne. We enjoyed the journey much, and shot many birds, which constituted our principal food. Ducks abound in the creeks, [Footnote: Watercourses, running in flood time, but partially dry in dry seasons.] and up this way there are fine white cockatoos, which are good eating, and about the size of a small fowl. There is also a bird very plentiful here which they call a magpie. It is somewhat the colour of our magpie, but larger, and without the long tail; easily shot and eatable, and feeds, I believe, much like our wood-pigeons. [Footnote: It feeds more on insects.] The pigeon here is a beautiful bird, of a delicate bronze colour, tinged with pink about the neck, and the wings marked with green and purple. They are tame, and nicer eating than those at home. Where we are, we have abundance of food; plenty of mutton, and we can get a duck, pigeon, or cockatoo whenever we like, almost without going out of sight of our hut, besides a good supply of fish in the river; Murray cod, which in the Murray are said sometimes to weigh eighty pounds, but in our creeks generally run from two to twelve; also a kind of mussel, and a fish like a lobster, not quite so large, but good eating. [Footnote: Crawfish; the river lobster.]

Everyone who comes out does a very foolish thing in bringing such a quantity of clothes that he never wants. All you require, even in Melbourne, is a blue shirt, a pair of duck trousers, a straw hat or wide-awake, and what they call a jumper here. It is a kind of outside shirt, made of plaid, or anything you please, reaching just below the hips, and fastened round the waist with a belt. It would be a very nice dress for Charley. [Footnote: His youngest brother, at home.] I should wear it myself if I were in England. It ought to be made with a good-sized collar, and open at the breast, like a waistcoat, only to button at the neck, if required. We brought out the wrong sort of straw hat, as they are only fit for summer, but we sold all but two. One I made six shillings of, but the cabbage-tree hat is worth a pound. No one should bring out more than he can carry on his back, except it be to sell. Boots and shoes are at a great price, but they should be thick and strong. Wages are very high for butchers, carpenters, and bakers. A butcher's boy can get 3 pounds a week, with board and lodging. Bullock-drivers get the same. Innkeepers are making fortunes. I know a public-house, not larger than the Two Mile Oak, [Footnote: A small public-house between Totnes and Newton.] that cleared 500 pounds in three months, so it was reported. Sydney, I hear, is as cheap to live in as London. As to the diggings, I cannot say much about them. I have seen many who have made money there, and many who have lost it again. It is generally spent as fast as it is got. I hope we shall send you some specimens of gold dust soon. Please to give my love to my mother and all at home.

From your affectionate and dutiful son,


. . .

His subsequent letters were of the same kind, descriptive of his management in his shepherd's life in the bush. He tells how he converted legs of mutton into excellent hams by pickling and smoking them; and how he also obtained preserves of melons, by sowing seeds which produced abundantly. The flies and ants were their greatest torment, particularly the former. The heat was not great, as there was a constant breeze from one quarter or another. Deniliquin is in between 35 and 36 degrees south latitude. The trees are almost exclusively gum trees, but they differ in appearance and leaves, according to age and locality. This gives the appearance of variety, when, in fact, there is none. The wood is hard and splits easily. The bark is tough and thick, and can be converted into canoes by closing the ends of a piece taken from half the circumference of a tree, and tying a cord round the centre to keep it from spreading. The colour is of a beautiful red. A moisture sometimes exudes from the leaves in such abundance as to convey the idea of an animal having been slain under the branches. It has the smell of carraways and is agreeably sweet. "How it would delight Bessy and Hannah," (his young sisters, then quite children), he says, "to go into the woods, picking up comfits under the trees!"

He then speaks of the blacks in that district; of their habits and ideas; but expresses a low opinion of their intellectual powers, and thinks little can be done with them. In May, he wrote to his mother and myself conjointly, fearing his former communications might not have reached us, and briefly recapitulating their purport. I afterwards heard at Deniliquin that he had successfully performed a surgical operation. A shearer had run the point of his shears into the neck of a sheep, and opened the carotid artery. My son having a small pocket case of instruments, secured the vessel and saved the animal. I remember when it was considered a triumph in practice to effect this on a human subject. The letter I am now alluding to concludes by hoping that we were all as comfortable at home as he and his brother were in the bush. He never tired of expatiating on the beauties of Australia and its climate. His next, in August, gave a more extended account of local peculiarities and features. Deniliquin is at this time (1862) a place of considerable importance, with a thriving population. The island on which my sons shepherded their rams is formed by two branches of the Edward River, which is itself a branch of the Murray.


I arrive in Australia. Join my two Sons at their Sheep-station. Return to Melbourne and Remove to Ballaarat. Visit to Mr. Skene. My son studies Surveying. His rapid proficiency. Appointed to take charge of a Party. Letters on various Subjects to his Mother and Brother at Home.

IN the month of August, 1853, I reached Melbourne, after a good voyage, having obtained an appointment as superintending surgeon of a government emigrant ship, commanded by Captain Young, a perfect sailor, and a gentleman I shall always remember with pleasurable feelings. More than two months elapsed before I could discover where my sons were. Having, at length, ascertained their locality, I purchased a horse and performed the journey in four days, resting one day on the road, at the station of Mr. Jefferies, on the Campaspe. I started at daylight, and made my fifty miles before halting, as I generally did about two P.M. I arrived at the shepherds' hut at five o'clock on a beautiful summer's evening, having remained two hours at the hotel at Deniliquin to refresh.

Robberies on the road—stickings up as they are called—were rife at this period. Thefts also were common at the resting-houses. A gentleman who arrived at this hotel, not long before I was there, took the saddle off his horse, and placed it under the verandah: when he returned, after leading his animal to a paddock hard by, he missed the saddle, which he supposed had been removed by some person belonging to the house, and threw down his bridle on the same place. After taking something to drink with the landlord he said, "You have got my saddle."—"No." "I left it under the verandah, where I have just placed my bridle." On going out to show the spot, the bridle also had disappeared: both stolen. A good saddle and bridle at that time would fetch twenty pounds readily.

At the station I took a native black for my guide. He brought me to a place where my horse had nearly to swim across the creek, pointed to a dry path, exclaimed, "There," then turned his own animal and rode off. I followed the track for about three miles, and found myself in front of the hut. My sons were both at home. Tom called the attention of his brother to my approach. They appeared as much astonished as he describes the blacks near the Gulf of Carpentaria to have been at sight of himself and companions. Presently came the recognition, a shout of joy, and a greeting such as may readily be imagined, on the part of two boys on seeing the father they had not long before supposed to be separated from them by some sixteen thousand miles.

A few days after, we all left Deniliquin, each mounted on a horse, my sons having first disinterred their money, buried at the foot of a gum tree on a hillock which they considered as a safe bank of deposit. It was their intention to have made a present of the greatest part, 100 pounds, to their mother, on the first eligible opportunity of forwarding it. On our way back we paid a visit to the Bendigo diggings. William here evinced his skill as an explorer by leading us, with the aid of his compass, through a trackless bush, by which we saved a circuit of several miles. At Matthison's hotel, on the Campaspe river, where we halted for the night, an amusing conversation occurred. In the evening there was a great gathering of all nations in the parlour. I undertook to tell the different parties of English, by their dialect, from what particular quarter they came. A person present, who articulated with much difficulty from having nearly lost the roof of his mouth, declared that he would defy any one to identify him by his speech. We all agreed that it exceeded our powers, when he informed us with a great effort that he was "a Kashman," meaning Scotchman.

On our return to Melbourne, we made preparations for a removal to Ballaarat. William remained with me at the latter place for twelve months, attending to any patient that might come in my absence. He also opened a gold office adjoining my tent and did very well. Here he perfected a plan of his own for weighing specimens containing quartz and gold, in water, so as to find the quantity of each component. But he was ever pining for the bush. The "busy haunts of men" had no attraction for him. He preferred the society of a few to that of many, but the study of nature was his passion. His love was fixed on animals, plants, and the starry firmament. With regard to medicine, he used to say that it was not clear and defined in practice. He wanted to measure the scope of a disease, and to supply the remedies by mathematical rule. He saw, too, that medical men were less valued for their real worth than for their tact in winning confidence through the credulity of the public. This was particularly exemplified in a gold-field, where the greatest impostors obtained credit for a time. His thoughts and conversation also constantly reverted to the interior, and to the hope that he would one day undertake the journey to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He was anxiously looking out for a movement in that direction, then often talked of.

About this period he made a pedestrian excursion to the Wannon, to sojourn for a short time with a Mr. Skene, a most worthy gentleman, now no more. He was actively employed at that place, and wrote to me frequently, describing the family, to which he was much attached, the whimsicalities of his landlord—a thorough old Scotian, who amused himself by waking the echoes of the wilderness with the bagpipes,—the noble fern trees and the fine black cockatoos. He also continued his practice in surgery, but I believe he made no charge, as, not being duly licensed, he considered he had no right to do so. He returned to Ballaarat in consequence of a communication through me, from an American gentleman named Catherwood. On receipt of my letter he lost not an hour, shouldered his swag (blankets, kit, etc.), took leave of Mr. Skene and family, and walked to Ballaarat, sleeping one night in the bush, by the way. On the 22nd of April, 1855, he wrote thus to his mother:


I had the pleasure of receiving a letter from you a fortnight since. I was at Moora Moora then, as you will see by a letter I wrote just before I came down here, in the hope of joining a party that is spoken of as about to explore the interior of the country, which you appear to have such a dread of. It seems uncertain whether they will go at all. As to what you say about people being starved to death in the bush, no doubt it would be rather disagreeable. But when you talk of being killed in battle, I am almost ashamed to read it. If every one had such ideas we should have no one going to sea for fear of being drowned; no travellers by railway for fear the engine should burst; and all would live in the open air for fear of the houses falling in. I wish you would read Coombe's Constitution of Man. As regards some remarks of yours on people's religious opinions, it is a subject on which so many differ, that I am inclined to Pope's conclusion who says:—

For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight; His can't be wrong whose life is in the right;

and I think we cannot have a better guide to our actions than

'to do unto others as we would be done by.'

Ever your affectionate son,


P.S. If I go, I will write again before starting.

. . .

The expedition he here speaks of turned out a mere venture to obtain cash, and nothing came of it. He remained but a short time at Ballaarat, and never idle. In a month he completed a wooden addition to my residence, building the sides, and shingling the roof in a most workmanlike manner. It was perfectly weatherproof, and stood good for some years, being only taken down when an alteration in the line of the street rendered its removal necessary. He now wished to study surveying. My acquaintance with Mr. Taylor, district surveyor at Ballaarat, obtained for him an admission as an amateur into his office. He there set to work with his characteristic industry to perfect himself in trigonometry and Euclid; drawing and mapping in the office by day, and working hard in his own room by night. On rising from bed in the morning, I have found him sitting as I had left him, working out his point, for he never deserted anything he had once taken up until he mastered it. At the expiration of a few months, Mr. Taylor promised me to introduce him to a gentleman in the survey department named Byerly, with a view to reciprocal services. On the 20th of August, 1856, he speaks for himself in a letter to his mother from Glendaruel:


I have at length found time to write to you. You will no doubt expect a long letter after so much delay, but I am afraid you will be disappointed, as long letters are not my forte. In your last, you asked me to send Bessy any information I could. I can assure you I shall be most happy to do so, and to encourage her taste for knowledge as much as lies in my power. I send her Bonwick's Geography of Australia, which is a very useful little book, and in most instances correct.

You must not look upon it as infallible. For instance, he says Lake Burrambeet is in the Pyrenees, whereas it is more than twenty miles from those mountains. But this may be a misprint. I would recommend you to let the children learn drawing. I do not mean merely sketching, but perspective drawing, with scale and compasses. It is a very nice amusement, and may some day be found extremely useful. There is another thing would do them much good, if they should happen to have a taste for it: this is Euclid. Not to learn by heart, but to read so as to understand it. Mathematics generally, and Euclid, and Algebra in particular, are the best studies young people can undertake, for they are the only things we can depend on as true, (of course I leave the Bible out of the question). Christian and Heathen, Mahometan and Mormon, no matter what their religious faith may be, agree in mathematics, if in nothing else. But I must now tell you something of your undutiful son. I am learning surveying under Mr. F. Byerly, a very superior man indeed. In fact I could not have had a better master had he been made to order, for he is a first-rate surveyor, and we are exactly suited to each other in our general ideas; and this, to tell the truth, is a rare chance for me.

I am getting 150 pounds per annum, and rations, but I hope in twelve months to have a party of my own. It is just the sort of life for me, nearly always in the bush marking out land for sale, or laying down unknown parts. It is quite a different thing from surveying in England. Glendaruel is fifteen miles from Ballaarat. I saw the Doctor and Tom a few days since. They were quite well; I hope you are so also. Love to all.

Your affectionate son,


. . .

He was appointed to the charge of a field party before the time he expected. I was anxious to give him a set of surveying instruments, and requested him to send me a list and an order to the best London maker for such as he wanted. He transmitted the following letter, which marks the progress of his knowledge, to be forwarded to Messrs. Troughton and Sims, Fleet Street. I obtained it very recently from that house.

March 20th, 1857.


I shall be much obliged by your executing the following order as quickly as possible, and at your most reasonable prices.

1. One four-inch theodolite, best construction: 21 pounds.

2. One of Troughton's best reflecting circles, eight-inch radius, divided on silver: 23 pounds.

3. One prismatic compass, three and a-half inch, with silver ring: 5 pounds 5 shillings.

4. One six-inch semicircular protractor, with Vernier: 3 pounds 3 shillings.

5. One glass plane artificial horizon, ordnance pattern: 4 pounds 4 shillings.

6. One brass rolling parallel ruler, two feet long; must not weigh less than five pounds.

7. One twelve-inch brass sector: 1 pound.

8. One set of six-inch ivory plotting-scales, with offset scales complete: 4 pounds.

9. Two steel straight-edges, three feet each.

10. Four sixty feet land chains.

11. One small compact case of good sector-jointed, drawing instruments with ivory parallel ruler: 3 pounds 3 shillings.

12. One very small achromatic telescope of the strongest make, not to exceed six inches in length, when closed: 1 pound.

13. A small chemical blowpipe with ivory mouthpiece, and two platina tips; also some platina foil and wire.

14. Two Nautical Almanacs, 1858 and 1859.

Leather cases and straps for theodolite, circle, and prismatic compass. A catalogue of instruments with prices.

N.B. I should wish the theodolite and circles to be packed very differently from the usual way, as many instruments are seriously injured by the box warping either inwards or outwards; in the one case pressing too much on the instruments, and in the other, which is worse, leaving them too much space, so that they shake about whenever the box is carried. The consequence is that the screws loosen, the glasses fall out of the telescopes, and the instruments become unfit for use just when they are most wanted. I think these evils may be avoided by having the parts of the box which touch any instrument well padded with the most elastic materials, and for it to be supported entirely on steel springs, strong enough to keep it firmly in its place, and with sufficient play to allow the box to warp without injury to any of the contents. I also wish an improvement in the stand of the theodolite, which ought not to be smaller than that of the five-inch one, and the joints made of the metals least likely to sustain damage from friction. The cap-piece should be nearly twice the depth, vertically, and cut out of one solid piece of metal. I subjoin a sketch of it, with the dimensions. It may be made of whatever metal you think proper. There is no harm in having iron about it, because we seldom require to use the needle. My reason for wanting this improvement is, that the legs get loose so quickly from the wearing away of brass, and that the many small surfaces in contact are too disproportionate to their length. Strength and durability are of far more consequence than lightness, as we have not the facilities for getting things repaired here that you have in England. The figures I have placed opposite to the instruments described are not supposed to be the exact prices, but merely suggested as guides. I hope you will do the best you can with the improvements mentioned, especially in the mode of packing the larger articles. Please also to insure them to the full value.

I have the honour to be,


Your obedient servant,


. . .

He then in a postscript makes some suggestions as to the graduation of the scales. The instruments were sent out in the shortest possible time and gave great satisfaction. On departing for his last fatal expedition, he requested me, should he not return, to give all his remaining instruments to his friend Mr. Byerly, for whom his high estimation never abated. This injunction I fulfilled as far as in my power. Any person who may happen to be in charge of some that I had not, will I trust deliver them to their lawful owner, Frederick Byerly, Esquire, Surveyor, Melbourne.

About the time I am now referring to, I was often congratulated by gentlemen of the Surveying Department, who were acquainted with my son, on his rapid progress in the difficult branches of the science. One, in particular, said: "I consider it wonderful that your son should have mastered this business almost by his own exertions, whilst I have cost my father nearly a thousand pounds in England, under first-rate teachers, and am glad to go to him for information on many points." Mr. Byerly too, who is not given to flatter, when I thanked him for having so ably instructed and brought my son forward in so short a time, replied: "Don't thank me; I really believe he has taught me quite as much as I have taught him." In my own experience, his queries and suggestions led me to investigate many things, which I had slightly considered, without thoroughly understanding them. He had a rare gift of ascertaining in a very short time the use of any instrument put into his hands, and could detect at a glance its defects, if such existed. In the early part of 1858, a gentleman who had made errors in his surveys asked him to look over some of his instruments. William, on taking one into his hand, said at once, with a smile: "If you work with this, you will find many errors." "That is why I asked you," replied the owner. "I have been surveying with it, and have committed nothing but mistakes." So much were people in the habit of praising him, that it carried my thoughts back to my Latin Grammar, and the quotation from Terence:—

Omnes omnia Bona dicere et laudare fortunas meas, Qui gnatum haberem tali ingenio praeditum.

For himself, he was perpetually lamenting to me that at school he had not received more mathematical instruction; that the time spent in classics exclusively, was, for many, time thrown away. But I must do his late master the justice of saying, that when he first received him under his tuition, he showed little fondness for mathematics in general, although he had a taste for algebra. The two following letters, to his brother and mother, bearing the same date, in the spring of 1858, were despatched from the out-station where he was engaged in a survey.

St. Arnaud, April 10th, 1858.


I do not think you have written a letter to me since we have been out here. It gave me much pleasure to see yours to the Doctor. I wish you could be here, instead of working for 40 or 50 pounds a year at home, out of which you can save very little. Here you might be getting at least 100 pounds, and nothing to find yourself but clothes. But it will not do for you to come until the Doctor goes home. I want you to write and tell me if you have any taste for any particular profession, and if you have been making good use of your spare time, in reading useful works. You should remember never to waste a minute; always be doing something. Try and find out what things you have most taste for, as they are what you should study most; but get a general knowledge of all the sciences. Whatever else you learn, don't forget mathematics and the sciences more immediately deduced from them, (at the head of which stands astronomy,) if you have any love of truth—and if you have not, you have none of your mother's blood in you. Mathematics are the foundation of all truth as regards practical science in this world; they are the only things that can be demonstrably proved; no one can dispute them. In geology, chemistry, and even in astronomy, there is more or less of mere matter of opinion. For instance, in astronomy we do not know for certain what the sun or stars are made of, or what the spots are on the sun, and a few details of that kind; but the main mathematical principles cannot be disputed. The distance and size of the sun or of any of the planets can be proved; the length of their days and years, and even the weight of the matter of which they are composed. Such things will probably appear to you impossible, if you have read nothing of them; especially when you hear that the sun is ninety-five millions of miles off, and that the planet Neptune, which is the farthest known planet from the sun, is at such a distance that the light of the sun takes about five hours to reach it; that is, the sun is actually five hours above the horizon before the people there see it rise. Its distance is 2850 millions of miles, and the sun as seen by them is not larger than Venus appears to us when an evening star. And although this planet is so distant that it can only be seen with large telescopes, they can not only compute its distance and size, but also the mass of matter of which it is composed. But you will find all this thrown into the shade by the way in which it was discovered. As I may be telling you what you know already, I will merely state, that from observed perturbations in the course of the planet Uranus, it was supposed that another planet was in existence beyond it; and two competitors set to work to calculate its size, situation, etc. The result was, the discovery of this other planet within a few minutes of the place pointed out by them, and its size, etc., not very different from what they estimated it at. But besides this, astronomy includes matters more intimately mixed up with our everyday affairs. In the Nautical Almanacs, which are constructed for several years in advance, the situations and nearly everything connected with the different planets are calculated for every day in the year, and can be found, if required, for any minute in any day you please, for 10,000 years to come. Also the eclipses of the sun or moon, with the exact moment at which they will commence or end, at any spot on the earth; the exact portion eclipsed, or, in fact, anything about it you like to mention for any given number of years in advance. Not only this, but you can find the eclipses of Jupiter's moons with the same precision. Now is there anything to be compared with this? But if astronomy led to no other end than the mere gaining of knowledge, or the assistance of commerce, it would take a far lower stand than it is really entitled to. As the great object of the science is the correction of error and the investigation of truth, it necessarily leads all those that feel an interest in it to a higher appreciation and desire for truth; and you will easily perceive that a man having a knowledge of all these vast worlds, so much more extensive than our own, must be capable of forming a far higher estimate of that Almighty Being who created all these wonders, than one who knows nothing more than the comparatively trifling things that surround us on earth.

I send you 3 pounds, with which you are to get the following books for yourself and the girls:

Dr. Lardner's Museum of Science and Art, in six double volumes: 1 pound 1 shilling.

Chambers' Mathematics, Parts 1 and 2, and Chambers' Mathematical Tables, each: 3 shillings 6 pence.

A Nautical Almanac for next year: 2 shillings 6 pence.

The Art of Reasoning, or the Principles of Logic, by Samuel Niel: 4 shillings 6 pence.

Twelve planispheres, forming a guide to the stars for every night in the year, with an introduction: 6 shillings 6 pence.

Lardner's Museum of Science and Art is one of the best books that has ever been written. It includes a general knowledge of nearly everything you can think of; and will be as useful to Bessy and Hannah as to you.

Chambers' Mathematics, contain all that you are likely to require in that branch, with the exception of Euclid and Algebra, both of which you must get, unless you have them. You will need some one to assist you and explain points in the mathematics and algebra, otherwise your progress will be very slow. But remember that whenever you have puzzled over a problem for some time, and cannot understand it, do not give it up altogether, but leave it for a few days or weeks and then try it again. It will then, very likely, appear quite simple, and you will be astonished that you did not make it out before. You will find the Nautical Almanac very useful, not only in giving you an idea of astronomical problems, but also for ascertaining the particulars of any strange stars you may see, or where to look for the different planets, etc. With the help of the twelve maps you will soon be acquainted with all the principal fixed stars.

You should carefully study the Art of Reasoning, as it is what most people are very deficient in, and I know few things more disagreeable than to argue, or even converse with a man who has no idea of inductive and deductive philosophy. After getting the books I have mentioned, you may spend the balance in any others you please, but remember, they must be scientific ones. If you write to Walton and Maberley, 27 Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row, they will send you a catalogue of books published by them, in which you will find descriptions of nearly all that I have mentioned and plenty of others. You can order those you want direct from them, or get them through a local stationer. I expect you to acquire some practice at printing, and ornamental writing, in the Bank. If you have a steady hand, you should exercise yourself at it as much as possible, and learn mechanical drawing at the same time. Draftsmen get well paid out here, and are greatly in demand. Being able to print neatly and evenly is the main point: all the rest is easily learned. My hand is very unsteady, as you may see by my writing; I do not think I shall ever be able to write a decent hand. One other piece of advice I must give you before I shut up; that is, never try to show off your knowledge, especially in scientific matters. It is a sin that certain persons we know have been guilty of. The first step is to learn your own ignorance, and if ever you feel inclined to make a display, you may be sure that you have as yet learned nothing. I think I must write to mamma next time. Give my love to her, the girls, old Anne, Aunt M., Miss R., etc., and when you write, tell me what has become of Farwell, and any others of our schoolmates you may know about.

Your affectionate brother,


. . .

St. Arnaud, April 10th, 1858.


It is all very well to say write about anything, but it is easier said than done. You will find that I have written Charley a long letter, and I had no idea of doing so when I began, as you see I commenced on note paper. But what would be the use of my writing to you on such subjects, and all others are soon disposed of? (You would not think I was a surveyor, to look at the parallelism of these lines.) You tell me in one of your letters to write about myself. That is a very poor subject, and one that a mother should not recommend to a son. My father sent me a letter of yours a few weeks ago, and I cannot say whether it most amused or pained me to see the extraordinary way in which you rush to conclusions. Your argument appears to be this: J. is acquainted with a Mr. T. another Mr. T. has taken out some Miss G. G.'s, about whom there are scandalous reports (which are as likely to be false as true): therefore J. is sure to fall in love with one of the Miss G. G.'s. As it happens, J. has not had the pleasure of meeting any of the Miss G. G.'s, and it is quite probable that he never may, as Australia is not a little place like Totnes; and I do not think he would have any wish to connect himself with the G. family, or with any family in marriage, at present. There is another thing, my dear mother, in that letter. You talk about high and low people; I presume you use the words in a very different sense from that in which I understand them. I consider nothing low but ignorance, vice, and meanness, characteristics generally found where the animal propensities predominate over the higher sentiments. I have yet to learn that there is anything high about the T.'s. Mr. T. is a jolly little man, and lives more like a gentleman than most of the people about the bush; but he has rather a tendency to the animal development than otherwise, which makes it probable that there may be some truth in the reports alluded to.

From what I can judge of this dear son of yours he is not likely, I think, to do anything very rashly; and as for getting married, he will not be in a position to think of that for several years; and if ever he does, I hope it will be to some one at least equal to himself in education. Give my love to Bessy and Hannah. I do not think it would do them any harm to write a letter sometimes. I expect Bessy was tired long ago of the algebra you were talking so much about.

Does it ever enter your head that it would be a good thing for all of you to come out here in a few years, when the girls have finished their education? This country is undergoing great changes for the better. Now the rush to the diggings is over, people are beginning to live like civilized human beings. In a few years everything will be as settled as in England, and we shall be able to live much cheaper.

Believe me ever, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,


. . .

From a letter to myself of the 6th of June, which was rather a long one, I give only the following extracts:—

"What you say about this world I do not quite agree with; I think it a very good world, and only requires a person to be reasonable in his expectations, and not to trust too much to others. It appears to be almost equally divided into three principal classes—honest fools, foolish rogues, and honest rational beings. Some may add another class, but there are so few belonging to it—scarcely one in ten thousand—that I think it should be ranked amongst the phenomena of nature. I mean, the successful rogues—men who do things neatly, and escape being found out. The first and second are often useful to each other; the third benefit by the first and second, inasmuch as they learn by their experience, without paying for it themselves." He then cautions me against certain money speculations. Another paragraph says: "I find I am likely to change my station, but have no instructions as yet. I do not care if they keep me here another month. I have first-rate neighbours, a Mr. and Mrs. M., who live just across the creek; very nice people, and no humbug. Mr. M. resembles you in many ways." He then mentions a colt he had reared, called Nelly; says she goes in and out of the tent as if she had been born in it, shakes hands with any one as soon as asked, and carries Mr. M.'s little boy Willie on her back with perfect gentleness. On his way back to Melbourne, he taught a colt of mine, in two or three days, to be equally docile, until it became the pet of the community. It was reared by hand, and I fear I lost it through the kindly-meant attention of one of my neighbours.

In the summer of 1858 he went down to Melbourne in consequence of a disagreement between Mr. Byerly and the Chief Commissioner of Land and Works at that time, Mr. Duffy. He was not then employed in the regular survey, but took occasional contracts, under Mr. Hodgkinson, Deputy Surveyor General, who always expressed his admiration of his character. A letter to his mother at this date says:—

Melbourne, August 15th, 1858.


I have again to plead guilty of the sin of omitting to write. It is many months since I have heard from you, and as for Charley and the girls, they do not write at all. I have just left the bush and am living, for the present, in town. The change is pleasant, after being so long in the bush. Melbourne is wonderfully altered since I last saw it. There are some very fair buildings in it now, and things are a little cheaper than they used to be. I am, of course, living in lodgings, and am fortunate in getting into a comfortable house; a private family with no other lodgers, and Mrs. H. takes almost as much care of me as you would. It is quite strange, and at the same time amusing to me, to see her anxiety about my eating, drinking, catching cold, and all that sort of thing, as I have been so long unaccustomed to these little attentions. I am sure if some of you who have never been away from home were to see how we live in the bush, you would not expect us to survive more than a few weeks, and yet it does us no harm whatever. I passed through Ballaarat on my way down, and spent a few days with my father. He was looking better than he used to be, very healthy, and not so stout. It is astonishing how little he eats, and yet is always complaining of having eaten too much. I expect it will be the same with me. I have as good an appetite as ever, but I can live on much less food than other people can. I hope Charley has the books I told him to get. I send you with this a Victoria News Letter, which will save me the trouble of writing what I suppose you will care little to hear, so I have no more news to tell you; and with best love to—etc. etc.,

Believe me, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,


. . .

As I shall have occasion to allude to this letter in a subsequent portion of my narrative, I wish the latter part of it, with regard to eating, may be borne in mind.


My Son is appointed to the Magnetic Observatory at Melbourne, under Professor Neumayer. His Rapid Advance in the Study of Magnetism and Mineralogy. Letters to his Relatives at Home, descriptive of his Pursuits, Wishes, and Sentiments. First suggestions of his Probable Employment on the Exploring Expedition.

IN November, 1858, my son received an appointment in the Magnetic Observatory at Melbourne, then recently established under Professor Neumayer, on the recommendation of Mr. Ligar, the Surveyor-General. This gentleman had his eye on him, as he told me himself, to succeed the professor, in the event of his returning to his native country, Germany; and also with the view of his being employed, on attaining a thorough knowledge of magnetic science, in the geodetic survey of the colony. Such was the progress he made, that Mr. Ellery, superintendent of the astronomical observatory at Williamstown, tried to dissuade him from engaging in the exploratory expedition, when formed. But notwithstanding the prospect of double pay and less danger, he yielded to his long-cherished desire of being one of the first to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria overland by a direct route, north from Melbourne; and therefore resolved to "set his life upon a cast, and stand the hazard of the die."

I now give a series of extracts from his letters to his mother, sisters, and brother, written during his residence at the Observatory. They indicate his character, sentiments, and occupations more distinctly than I could do by rendering them in my own words. He and his chief boarded together; a great advantage, as it gave him the opportunity, even at table, of conversing on his favourite subjects, astronomy and magnetism. At times, he feared that he should lose this position. One cause of apprehension was, that the local parliament would discontinue the grant for the Observatory; another, that superior interest might wrest it from him, as he had not been regularly appointed to the staff by Government, but by Mr. Ligar himself, who had seen, by intercourse with him during the survey, that he was putting "the right man in the right place." In a letter to me, December, 1858, he says: "I hope I shall not have to go into the bush again, I like Melbourne and my present occupation so much. But everything must be uncertain until after Christmas, as all depends on Parliament voting money for the Observatory. Should they not allow the necessary sum, I must return to surveying once more."

. . .

Magnetic Observatory, Melbourne, March 16th, 1859.


It gave me much pleasure to receive a letter from you by the last mail; but I can assure you that I am always so busy, and the time passes so quickly, that I had almost forgotten to write to you until it was too late, as the mail closes early to-morrow morning. I am now living at the Observatory, Professor Neumayer having kindly given me a room here, which is a great advantage in many ways. I hope that Charley will take every opportunity of learning the things I mentioned in a letter to him some time ago, more especially mathematical drawing: and that I shall see in the next letter I receive from him that he has changed his mind as regards the profession he said he had a taste for. I wish he would find out for me whether there is a translation into English of Colonel Savage's Practical Astronomy. It is a Russian work, and the place to inquire is of some of the booksellers in London who confine themselves to foreign publications. I like my present employment more and more every day. My only trouble is the want of time. I hope you all find your time pass as easily as I do; if the girls do not, they may as well kill some of it by writing letters. I have so much to do that I must conclude, with love to all.

Ever, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,


. . .

Magnetic Observatory, June 17th, 1859.


It was my intention to have sent you a stereoscopic photograph of your dear son by this mail; but owing to pressure of business I have been unable to get it done in time. I must therefore leave it until next month. I received a letter from Ballaarat a day or two ago, containing one from you to my father; you say something in it about not hearing from me. I do not understand how that is, as I have been wonderfully regular lately, and have sent a letter every month to one of you. I am sorry to hear that the winter has been so mild, for I fear that may cause much damage from frost in the spring. We have had a considerable quantity of rain here already, which is a great benefit to the country generally, but makes it rather unpleasant in Melbourne. Wonderful improvements have been made in our public library lately. It is now really a splendid one; in fact there are very few better anywhere. I enclose a News Letter, which is a great convenience to lazy fellows, or to those who have too much work. Give my love to all, and

Believe me, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,


. . .

Magnetic Observatory, Melbourne, June 17th, 1859.


I must write a few lines to you, more especially as I wrote to Hannah by the last mail; but mind, I must have a long answer by return of post. I want to know whether Charles got the maps of the stars that I told him to get some time ago. If so, he should begin at once to keep a register of meteors. In the first place, let him get a book—a good copybook would do—and rule it according to the following form, to which I have attached an example:—

Column 1: Number (Name) of Meteor. Column 2: Day of Month. Column 3: Hour of Day. Column 4: Altitude. At commencement. Column 5: Altitude. At end. Column 6: Azimuth. At commencement. Column 7: Azimuth. At end. Column 8: Description of its situation with respect to certain Stars. At commencement. Column 9: Description of its situation with respect to certain Stars. At end.

1 : June 1 : 8 P.M. : 35 degrees : 20 degrees : north-east : east by south : 2 or 3 degrees below Spice. : To Anthers.

Column 1: Size of Meteor. Column 2: Length of Tail. Column 3: Colour of Meteor. Column 4: Duration of Meteor. Column 5: Duration of Tail. Column 6: REMARKS. Column 7: Observer.

May 2 : 5 degrees : Yellow : 1 second : 3 seconds : Small, but very bright. : west.

The time should be very carefully noted. If there is anything in the form that he does not understand he must ask me about it when he writes. The altitude and azimuths will only be approximate, but the main thing is to see how the shooting stars are situated with reference to the fixed stars. It is of great importance to note these meteors, even the small ones, as very little is yet known of them; and every observation, if carefully made, will some day help to show what they are. The object in noting the stars they pass by is this: that if two or more observers see the same meteor from places several miles from one another, the comparison of their observations will generally give a means of ascertaining the distance of the meteor from the earth. But it is getting late, and I will write to Charley more about it by next mail; only tell him to make himself well acquainted with the stars. Give my love to him and Hannah, your aunt M., and old Anne; and tell me in your next how the latter is getting on: and do not forget to let me know all about Charley and how he spends his time. I am afraid that you little girls take him out walking too much, and make him read pretty stories instead of the books he ought to be studying.

Your affectionate brother,


. . .

Magnetic Observatory, Melbourne, July 14th, 1859.


The news by the last mail has put us all in a state of excitement about our defenses, in the event of England being involved in the continental war. Melbourne is badly situated in case of an invasion. There is at present not the least protection; and unless the home government sends us out two or three good war steamers, we shall most certainly get a good thrashing some day. The French have possession of the island of New Caledonia, which is not very far from here, and is a convenient place of rendezvous for them. I see by your letter to my father that you are rather afraid the French may invade England. For my part I believe they have more sense. It is the most hopeless thing they can attempt. I send you two or three photographs; they are very poor, and not stereoscopic as I intended. The artist made a failure of the matter and gave me these. He is going to try it again some day with a better camera; but as that would be too late for the mail I must send you these now, and you may expect better next time. I find that the mail is to close this afternoon instead of Monday morning, but if a supplementary bag should be made up on Monday I will write again. I hope that in future you will direct my letters to Melbourne instead of Ballaarat, for I seldom get them until the return mail is about to start. We have had some rather cold weather lately; that is, the thermometer has been below thirty-two degrees once or twice, which is cold for us. I am glad to hear that Charley has been appointed to the Bank, as it is a good thing for all parties at present. I fear that I shall be unable to send you a News Letter this time. I wish you would tell me whether you find anything of interest in them; also whether you would like to have the Argus sometimes. Adieu for the present, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,


. . .

August 6th, 1859.


You see I have sent you the News Letter for this month, with a long account of an unfortunate shipwreck that happened on the coast last month. It is a wonder how those passengers that were saved managed to exist so long without food. The only reasonable explanation that has been offered is, that as they were continually wet, from the sea breaking over them, a large quantity of moisture must have been absorbed by the skin, otherwise they could never have lived so long without fresh water. It must have been an awkward situation to be in. I fancy I would rather have been drowned at once; but it is not easy to judge how we should feel under the circumstances, unless we had tried it. As Pope says, 'Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is,' etc. (of course you know the rest). It strikes me that the height of happiness is, to hope everything and expect nothing, because you have all the satisfaction of hope, and if you get nothing you are not disappointed; but if you obtain what you want, you are agreeably surprised.

Your affectionate son,


. . .

Flagstaff Observatory, Melbourne, August 15th, 1859.


I am glad to be able to acknowledge the receipt by this mail of the first letter that you have sent to me direct since I have been in Melbourne. It is satisfactory to know that you are pleased with the News Letters; I must endeavour to send them regularly. I had a letter from my father to-day. He has received yours, which we feared was lost, as he saw nothing of it for some days after the mail was in; but he found it at Bath's Hotel. One must make some little allowance for a mother's partiality in your account of B. and H.; I hope your prejudice against novels does not prevent their reading those of Thackeray and Dickens, every one of whose works, especially the former, should be read by them, for they contain some of the best things, both in a moral and literary point of view, that we have in the English language. I shall be more careful in future about the postage; and now, my dear mother, with love to yourself and all,

I remain,

Your affectionate son,


. . .

Flagstaff Observatory, Melbourne, September 15th, 1859.


I was rather disappointed at not receiving a letter from any one by the last mail. I have not heard from my father since it arrived. I conclude he has not sent me your letters to him, thinking that I have received some myself. I suppose you are all glad that the war has ended so unexpectedly. It is to be hoped that the peace will be a permanent one, although people here generally appear to think that it will not prove so. The election of members for our lower house will soon terminate. Judging from the results already known, we are likely to have a curious Parliament this time. Our winter is nearly over. Last night there was a festival held in honour of Alexander von Humboldt. It was unfortunately a very wet evening, which prevented a great many from attending who would otherwise have been there. I hope you are all in good health. It would have pleased you much to have seen the two splendid auroras, of which I have sent Charley a description. At one time it was light enough to read a newspaper out of doors, after the moon went down. I must now say adieu. With much love to all,

Believe me, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,


. . .

Melbourne, September 15th, 1859.


I send you by this mail two accounts of auroras, which we have had the pleasure of observing here, one on the 28th ultimo, and the other on the 2nd instant. I would recommend you to take care of these papers, as you may find it very interesting to refer to them at some future period. You will perhaps be so good as to let me know by return of post whether anything of the kind was observed in England about the same time; and be careful to state the dates and hours, etc., as exactly as possible. You will find much, in the reports I have sent you, to object to, in the manner of expression and the words used; but you must make due allowance for their having been written by a German (Professor Neumayer). I have corrected some of the most prominent errors in the second. I wish you would look out for every description of auroras that may appear in the newspapers, as well as for the phenomena themselves. You might always cut out the paragraphs, and put them in a letter; and in the event of your seeing one yourself, you might write a description, being particular to note the time of the different phases as nearly as you can. By just taking this small amount of trouble you will be rendering a much greater service to the science of magnetism than you imagine; for one of the most important points is to establish or prove the existence of a simultaneity in the Northern and Southern Lights.

If you have yet obtained those books that I told you some time ago to get, you will find some elementary information on the subject in them, particularly in Lardner's Museum of Science and Art.

I suppose I shall hear by the next mail whether you have been able to obtain for me Savage's Practical Astronomy. I want to trouble you with another commission of the same kind, namely, to find out whether there is a translation from the German into English of Professor Carl Kreil's Introduction to Magnetic Observations, 2nd edition, Vienna, 1858. I fear you will have some trouble in getting this book for me, but it is of great importance that I should have it if possible. It may not be translated yet, but it certainly will be before long. Whenever you get any catalogues of scientific books from the publishers in London, you might send them to me in a letter; or if they are too bulky, you have only to put a strip of paper round, and send it as a book, without letter or writing. The postage is sixpence for four ounces, and threepence for every two ounces more, up to three pounds, which is the greatest weight that may be sent in one parcel; its dimensions must not exceed two feet in any direction.

They have just succeeded in raising the two thousand pounds here, by subscription, that was wanted towards an exploration fund, for fitting out an expedition, that will probably start for the interior of our continent next March. Camels have been sent for, to be used in places where horses cannot go. You would be astonished at the number of applications that are being made by people anxious to join the expedition. Nine-tenths of them would wish themselves home again before they had been out three months. Give my love to the two girls, and believe me, my dear Charley,

Your affectionate brother,


. . .

Flagstaff Observatory, Melbourne, November 18th, 1859.


The homeward mail closes in about half an hour, so that I have very little time to write. The mail did not arrive here until a few days ago, being more than a week after time. I was glad to receive your short letter. We have had a very pleasant spring this year; not so many hot winds as usual. I have mentioned in my letter to B—that it is probable I shall be going up the country again in a few months, but that need not make any difference in the address of my letters, as Professor Neumayer will have the best opportunities of forwarding them to me. We have lately had a visit from Dr. Hochstelter, a German professor, who came out in the Novara, an Austrian frigate, sent by the Austrian government to make a scientific tour round the world. Dr. Hochstelter is a geologist, and has made a geological survey of New Zealand. He exhibited a few evenings ago at our philosophical institute a great number of maps which he has compiled during the short time he remained on the island, and stated many very interesting facts connected with them. From what he says, there is no place in the world, except Iceland, where boiling springs and geysers are so large and plentiful. The doctor goes home by this mail, and I suppose there will soon be a good work published by him, giving a description of all he has seen. I hope to visit New Zealand as soon as I return from the interior of this country.

Ever your affectionate son,


. . .

It will be perceived by the foregoing letters how diligently and anxiously he corresponded with his mother, sisters, and brother in England, and how anxiously he desired the mental improvement of the latter. In his next communications he prepares them for the probability of his being one of the exploring party. Yet he wrote on the subject as he had done to me, with reserve, until the matter should be finally settled. He knew the anxiety it would occasion, and in the event of his not obtaining the appointment he so earnestly sought for, he wished to avoid creating that anxiety unnecessarily.

The same mail which bore his letter of the 18th of November to his mother, carried also the following to his sister:


I do not mean to bother you with such a long letter this time as I did last month, and which I hope reached you. I rather expected to have received the photograph I wrote to you for by the last mail. I wish you would indite some good long letters by return of post, as it will probably be the last, or very nearly so, that I shall get from you for many months. It seems very likely that I shall be leaving Melbourne in March, to accompany the expedition for the exploration of the interior of this continent. It is calculated that we shall be away for about three years. It may be more, but it is not likely to be much less. IT IS NOT YET CERTAIN that I shall go. In fact, nothing is decided, not even who will be the leader; but I thought it would be as well to mention it to you now, as your answer to this cannot reach me until March. But remember that my going away need not prevent your writing frequently; for it is likely there will be occasional means of communication with Melbourne for the first six months, and Professor Neumayer will take every opportunity of forwarding my letters. It is quite possible that I may not go, but it is more likely that I shall, as Professor N. is very anxious that I should, to make magnetic and meteorological observations, and he is on the Exploration Committee. If you have not been able to get the books I wrote for, for myself, you may as well leave them for the present. I have been indulging greatly in operas lately. I can understand that sort of music better than high-flown oratorios. The operatic company at the Theatre Royal is not first-rate, but as good as we can expect to have in a new colony like this. The pieces they have given are Il Trovatore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Lucrezia Borgia, and La Sonnambula; the latter is a delightful one, but they cannot manage it satisfactorily, some of the songs are so difficult of execution.

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