Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

Title: Fiction Fields of Australia (1856)
Author: Frederick Sinnett
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800881.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: August 2008
Date most recently updated: August 2008

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to


Title: Fiction Fields of Australia (1856)
Author: Frederick Sinnett

[From an article in Journal of Australasia Vol. 1, July-December, 1856.]

Man can no more do without works of fiction than he can do without
clothing, and, indeed, not so well; for, where climate is propitious,
and manners simple, people often manage to loiter down the road of
life without any of the "lendings" that Lear cast away from him; yet,
nevertheless, with nothing between the blue heaven and their polished
skins, they will gather in a circle round some dusky orator or
vocalist, as his imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown,
to the entertainment and elevation of his hearers. To amend our first
proposition, then, works of fiction being more necessary, and
universally disseminated, than clothing, they still resemble clothing
in this, that they take different shapes and fashions in different
ages. In the days of Chaucer--

    "First warbler, whose sweet breath
     Preluded those melodious bursts that fill
     The spacious times of great Elizabeth
     With sounds that echo still"--

didactic and descriptive poetry was almost the only recognized
vehicle of fiction. Then came the bursts that Chaucer preluded; and in
Shakspere's days the dramatic form prevailed over all others. For some
time afterwards every kind of feeling and thought found its expression
in miscellaneous verse; and (though he was, of course, not the first
novelist) Fielding, probably, set the fashion of that literary garment
of the imagination, which has since been almost exclusively worn--the
novel. In the shape of novels, then, civilised man, at the present
day, receives the greater part of the fictitious clothing necessary to
cover the nakedness of his mind; and our present inquiry is into the
feasibility of obtaining the material for this sort of manufacture
from Australian soil. We are not, of course, questioning the
practicability of writing novels in Australia. Thackeray might have
begun "The Newcomes" in Kensington, and finished the book in
Melbourne, as well as on the Continent. Our inquiry is into the
feasibility of writing Australian novels; or, to use other words, into
the suitability of Australian life and scenery for the novel writers'
purpose and, secondly, into the right manner of their treatment.

A reference to the second topic almost forestalls the necessity of
our stating the distinct conviction by which we are possessed, that
genuine Australian novels are possible; and, as a corollary from their
being possible, it follows, with apparent obviousness, that they are
desirable, inasmuch as it is desirable that the production of things
necessary or comfortable to humanity should be multiplied and

First, however, we must deal with the possibility; for, it has been
our lot to fall in with men, by no means altogether given over to
stupidity, who deem, what Signor Raffaello calls, "this bullock-drivers'
country" to present a field, not by any process whatsoever to be
tilled and cultivated so as to produce novels, for some ages to come.
The real reason, we take it, why our incredulous acquaintances arrived
at the opinion they expressed, is, that such cultivation has not yet
prospered to any remarkable extent; and that it is always difficult to
believe in the possibility of anything of which there is no existing
example and type. But, as this particular reason for disbelief is one
which, while it has much actual weight over men's minds, is not often
openly advanced, some more specific and respectable arguments were
required, and, accordingly, were soon forthcoming.

In the first place, then, it is alleged against Australia that it
is a new country, and, as Pitt said, when charged with juvenility,
"this is an accusation which I can neither palliate nor deny." Unless
we go into the Aboriginal market for "associations," there is not a
single local one, of a century old, to be obtained in Australia; and,
setting apart Mr. Fawkner's pre-Adamite recollections of Colonel
Collins, there is not an association in Victoria mellowed by so much
as a poor score of years. It must be granted, then, that we are quite
debarred from all the interest to be extracted from any kind of
archeological accessories.

No storied windows, richly dight, cast a dim, religious light over
any Australian premises. There are no ruins for that rare old plant,
the ivy green, to creep over and make his dainty meal of. No Australian
author can hope to extricate his hero or heroine, however pressing the
emergency may be, by means of a spring panel and a subterranean
passage, or such like relics of feudal barons, and refuges of modern
novelists, and the offspring of their imagination. There may be plenty
of dilapidated buildings, but not one, the dilapidation of which is
sufficiently venerable by age, to tempt the wandering footsteps of the
most arrant parvenu of a ghost that ever walked by night. It must be
admitted that Mrs. Radcliffe's genius would be quite thrown away here;
and we must reconcile ourselves to the conviction that the foundations
of a second "Castle of Otranto" can hardly be laid in Australia during
our time. Though the corporation may leave Collins-street quite dark
enough for the purpose, it is much too dirty to permit any novelist
(having a due regard to her sex) to ask the White Lady of Avenel, or a
single one of her female connections, to pass that way.

Even if we survive these losses, the sins of youth continue to
beset us. No one old enough for a hero can say,

    "I remember, I remember the house where I was born,"

apropos of a Victorian dwelling. The antiquity of the United States
quite puts us to shame; and it is darkly hinted that there is not so
much as a "house with seven gables" between Portland and Cape Howe.

Mr. Horne, in his papers on dramatic art, observed very truly, that
one does not go to the theatre (or the novel) for a fac simile of
nature. If you want that you can see nature itself in the street or
next door.

You go to get larger and more comprehensive views of nature than
your own genius enables you to take for yourself, through the medium
of art. In the volume of Shakspere's plays, for example, is compacted
more of nature than one man in a million perceives in a life's
intercourse with the world.

Shakspere, like all the kings of fiction, was a great condenser. We
are not detained by him, except occasionally, and, for subsidiary
artistic purposes, with mere gossip about the momentary affairs of the
men and women brought upon the scene. A verbatim report of a common
evening's conversation would fill a book, and the greater part of what
would be reported would be quite uninteresting, uninstructive, and
unconducive to the purposes of art. The author of genius leaves no
apparent gaps in the discourse; and brings about in the reader's mind
a half-illusion that he is listening to a complete and unstrained
dialogue; whereas, in fact, the speeches are so concise, and in such
sequence, that we only have the essence of any possible conversation.
Conversation is one of the essential processes of the writer of
fiction, whatever form he may adopt--otherwise the description of
years of life would take years to read.

Now, in the old world, we are accustomed to this kind of
conversation; to conversations not reported verbatim, but
artistically. From Shakspere downwards hundreds of authors have
performed this service with admirable general fidelity; and have, at
the same time, with artistic skill, concealed the evidences of their
own labor as effectually as the sculptor does, in whose smooth and
finished marble no mark of the chisel is to be discerned. This much,
which is entirely due to the manner of the narrative, we have suffered
ourselves to believe an attribute of the matter; and, because daily
life, which is not much more prosaic on one part of the earth's
surface than on another, has been, in the old world, so often and so
admirably converted to the purposes of art, we fancy it to be
peculiarly adapted to those purposes. Here we have not been accustomed
to see nature through the medium of art, but directly; and though, to
the eye of genius, "the earth and every common sight" possesses a
"glory and a freshness," and needs no abridgement or coloring, yet to
possess such powers of perception is the privilege only of one among
thousands. The great mass of mankind can only hope to catch glimpses of
the glory of "every common sight," when genius holds it up for them in
the right light. This genius has not yet done for Australian nature.
Most of us have had more than enough of positive Australian dialogue,
but we have never read an Australian dialogue artistically reported. We
have heard squatter, and bullock-driver, and digger, talk, and we
think it would be very uninteresting, no doubt; and a verbatim report
of the conversation of Brown, Jones, and Robinson, in the old world,
would be equally uninteresting, but we know by experience that genius
can report it so as to be interesting--yet to leave it the
conversation of Brown, Jones, and Robinson still. The first genius that
performs similar service in Australia will dissipate our incredulity,
as to this matter, for ever.

It is not to be assumed that, if the life going on about us seem
somewhat slow and tedious, the picture of it must be equally so; for
the picture is microcosmic, and does not reproduce the life itself, but
a compact and comprehensive likeness of it, that enables us to see, in
a few minutes, and in true perspective, the scenes which, in actual
existence, we plod through only in the course of years. It is,
however, superfluous to deal theoretically with the objection, that
fiction cannot properly deal with things close upon the foreground of
our observation, because it is destroyed by experience. European
novelists, during one period, thought that their works acquired an
extra charm by dealing chiefly with distant times and places. Scott's
genius invested distant times and places with such interest that people
began to fancy such distance an essential of such interest. Dickens,
on the contrary, by his genius, suddenly awoke London to a perception
of the artistic uses that could be made of every-day London life; and
men, in the constant habit of having their boots cleaned at Borough
inns, were startled to find how the "boots" at a Borough inn might be
a Sam Weller. Thackeray has, perhaps, gone still farther in selecting
his characters from the precise time and circle of his readers. From
his pages many old habitues of clubs first acquire a true
understanding of club life, and the majority of his admirers are,
perhaps, most delighted with seeing their own experiences reproduced
to them by this master mind, with the exquisite and seemingly
intuitive sense which belongs to him--of the manner in which true art
makes keenly pleasurable the contemplation of what, in its absolute
shape, we tire of every day of our lives. The most successful and
delightful novels of the present day are so invariably those which
deal with immediately surrounding circumstances, both of time and
place, that we shall not discuss farther the second objection we have
noticed. A somewhat cognate objection--that of the smallness of the
community among which the scenes of Australian novels must at present
be necessarily laid--we shall deal with hereafter.

The first is--that details of time and place are to the novel
writer what costume is to the painter. Your hack artists, who, year
after year, go "fossicking" for artistic nuggets in such rich but
exhausted claims as the Vicar of Wakefield and Don Quixote, and who
present the Royal Academy every May with their views of how Moses
looked when he brought back the gross of green spectacles, and how
Sancho twirled in the air when he was tossed in the blanket, or, when
aiming at the truth historical, condemn Edward's wife to suck his
wounds through all time, and Alfred to neglect everlasting cakes in a
perpetual neatherd's cottage, are unable to construct a picture out of
nature's own materials; they can only copy the microcosmic pictures of
others. Some there be, even, who are more undisguisedly the painters
of costume, and whose pictures merely stand in the place of a Belle
Assemblee to a bygone generation. These are great in the peculiarities
of armours and doublets, and tell us, with the nicest accuracy, how
the barons and John dressed--when he signed the great charter--and
nothing more. But the true artist, whether he work with brush or pen,
deals with nature, and with human feelings and human passions; and the
question of clothing is considered for the sake of accuracy and unity,
and as an accident, not as an essential.

With respect to feelings and passions, then, which of them is there
excluded from Australian soil? Certainly not that master passion
which is the fiction writers' most Constant theme.

"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
That ever move this mortal frame,
Are but the ministers of love,
And feed his sacred flame."

"Love rules the court, the camp, the grove," and Australians as
effectually as dwellers in old countries; and all the joys and sorrows
of that emotion--which wise people, aged sixty and upwards, and other
non-combatants in Cupid's warfare, laugh at and long for--are present
for the novelist to deal with, as he tells, in some new form, the
oft-told tale of which mankind never tires. Nay, the very fact that
numberless lovers are here separated from their loves, should suggest
a thousand various stories and situations, peculiar, in their details,
to the soil, and yet dealing with a cosmopolitan and universal

Is the opposite feeling of hate banished from Australia? We could
contentedly give up the possibility of Australian novels for the
assurance that we resided in such a utopia. Alas! that such a perfect
reality cannot be obtained by the sacrifice of so much novelists'

Is avarice extinct among us? Most emphatically, No! And with the
presence of avarice, we have that of all the schemes, and plots, and
wiles with which the avaricious man ministers to his fault. The rapid
turns and changes of this place give, indeed, peculiarly free scope
for developing the romance of money-making; and it is not to be
overlooked that the desire to make money has good as well as bad
phases. Novelists would not have been true to their vocation of giving
"a picture in little" of the world as it really is, if they did not,
at the present time, cause the plots of their stories very often to
turn upon pecuniary failures and successes. Money means command over
almost all external things and resources, and is left out of
Consideration only by those old romancists whose knightly heroes were
comfortably provided with whatever their authors thought good for them
without the vulgar and mundane necessity of what we call "making
money"--a slow and unromantic process, quite incompatible with their
gallant and adventurous lives. Novel heroes now no longer have their
occasions supplied out of treasure chambers bursting open to a potent
"open sesame." We deal with money in a more business-like way. We
fight for it in the chancery court as plaintiff in the great case of
Jarndyce and Jarndyce--we lose it in the Bundelcund bank--uncle John
muddles away the property of Mr.

Caxton, senior; and hero Pisistratus has even to find his way out
to this very country of Australia to retrieve the family fortunes.
Novel heroes must not expect, in these days, to lead lives of perfect
freedom from pecuniary difficulties and embarrassments, any more than
other people. They enjoy, as it is, an unfair advantage in the
certainty they have of making fortunes in the long run. To judge,
however, by the spirit that authors have recently been evincing, there
is no security for the poor fellows being left in possession of even
this advantage much longer.

A novelist, indeed, can invest more people with the desire to make
money than he can even bring the passion of love to bear upon; for,
with respect to money-makers, the means and ends are alike infinitely
various, and susceptible of being adapted to every possible age and
character. Ralph Nickleby, and his nephew Nicholas, had, in common,
the wish to make money, but the wish in the one was associated with
all that was base, and mean, and sordid, in the other with the best and
noblest hopes and desires. There is no source of interest connected
with money-making of which the Australian novelist cannot avail
himself. The means and the motives are at his own command, and he can
make us watch the process with every feeling, from that of perfect
sympathy to perfect scorn, according to the genius and skill with
which those means and motives are conceived and pourtrayed.

At the same time, he can make his tale thoroughly Australian. The
events may be true and natural to this place, while impossible for any
other. We need not labor to shew that the same truth holds good of the
feelings and passions. We have here "the same organs, dimensions,
senses;" as the good folks in Europe. "If you tickle us, do we not
laugh? If you prick us, do we not bleed?" Human nature being the same,
the true requisites of the novelist are to be found in one place as
well as in another. Australia offers fresh scenery, fresh costumes,
and fresh machinery, new as to its details--great advantages, to
those that know how to use them--and, for the rest, presents a field
neither better nor worse than most others, in which people love, and
hate, and hope, and fear, and strive, and are disappointed, and
succeed, and plot, and scheme, and work out their destinies, and obey
the good and evil impulses of their infinitely various natures.

One word as to scenery. Many worthy people thought railways would
put an end to romance in England. The new police act, it was conceived
by others, would be equally destructive to the raw material of novels.
The romance of robbery, some imagined, ended when robbers ceased to
wear gold-laced coats and jack boots, and to do their business on
horse-back. The genius of fiction, however, can accommodate herself to
greater changes than these, and remains just as fresh and as blooming
under circumstances that make people, unacquainted with the
invulnerable hardiness of her constitution, predict her immediate
decline and death. For our part we hold that there is comparatively
little in the circumstance, and almost all in the genius that handles
it; but those who believe in mounted robbers, and mourn over the
introduction of railways, should feel that in Australia the novelists'
golden age is revived. When Waverley travelled up from London, to
visit his northern cousins, the Osbaldistones, he went on horseback,
and took a fortnight over the journey--that is the way we manage here
to this very day. There was a great deal of "sticking-up" then, and
there; and there is here, and now. Sir William of Deloraine had to
swim the stream that it would have spoiled a magnificent description
for him to have crossed by a cast-iron bridge, as he would do in the
reign of Victoria; but in the colony which bears her name, the Central
Road-Board cannot be accused of having destroyed the romance of the
water-courses. How, in the name of gas-pipes and rural police, is a
traveller to be lost and benighted in England now--a-days. Here he can
be placed in that unpleasant but interesting predicament, without
violating, in the least, the laws of perfect probability. Look at a
railway map of England, and see where

    "Now spurs the lated traveller apace
    To gain the timely inn."

He has no control over the iron-horse that whirls him along, and
when he gets to the terminus he gains the timely inn in a Hansom cab.
Here the description applies with precise accuracy. In short, the
natural and external circumstances of Australia partake much more of
what we used to call romance than those of England, but we refuse to
claim any advantage on this score, and content ourselves with
reasserting that those who know how to deal with it can extract almost
as much out of one set of circumstances as out of another, wherever
the human heart throbs and human society exists.

We explain the absence of any really first-class Australian novels
simply by a reference to the mathematical doctrine of probabilites. It
is only once in many years that there steps forth from among the many
millions of the British people a novelist able to break up new ground,
and describe phases and conditions of life undescribed before. The
great mass of those that load the circulating library shelves

     "Remodel models rather than the life."

They only sing the same old song over again, "with variations."
Like most painters, they fancy that they are imitating nature when
they are only imitating pictures of nature previously painted. Just as
hack orators can only quote from quotations, so hack novelists can
only deal with such scenes and characters as have been put upon the
stage before. Give them a set of circumstances, for the mode of
handling which, for novelistic purposes, they have no precedent, and
they know not what to make of it.

Show them an actual living man, some type of whom is not to be
found in already existing novels, and they can make no use of the
material at all. They pass him as they pass thousands of good human
materials every day without recognising their worth. When the real
genius has once laid hold of the new material, however, and shown them
how to mould him to the purposes of art, they can "remodel the model"
ad infinitum, so much easier is it to steal out of books than to accept
the gifts of nature.

Well, then, we argue, if only now and then out of the population of
all England there arises a novelist capable of breaking up fresh
ground, it is not to be wondered at that no such man has yet risen

Geniuses are like tortoiseshell tom-cats--not impossible, only
rare. Every ten years one is born unto great Britain, but probably
none exists in Australia, and a reason precisely analagous to this
makes it improbable that we have at present among us any one capable
of doing justice to Australian materials of fiction. There are not
cats enough in Australia to entitle us to a tortoiseshell tom yet,
according to the doctrine of averages.

We have to confess that we labor under the same disadvantages as
afflict the hacks and copyists, and we cannot, therefore, point out
how the great untouched Australian quarry is to be rightly worked.

Only as we roam about the motley streets, or ride through the
silent bush, we have just sense enough to feel that, when the capable
eye comes to look upon them, all these rude amorphous materials may be
arranged in form of the highest and most artistic beauty. The
recorders are tuneless only because there is no one who knows how to
play upon them; in the right hands they will "discourse most eloquent

But if we have not the genius to say how the quarry is to be
worked--if we had, we should work it instead of talking about it--we
are able to see certain peculiar defects in the attempts that have
hitherto been made at Australian novel writing, and one or two of these
we will here point out.

In the first place we may remark that most Australian stories are
too Australian. and, instead of human life, we have only local
"manners and customs ", pourtrayed in them. The dramatis personae are
not people with characters and passions, but lay figures, so
constructed, and placed in such attitudes, as to display the costumes
of the place and period. The few Australian novels which have been
written are too apt to be books of travels in disguise. The authors
are but voyagers, sailing under the false colors of novelists, and you
might as well call the illustrations to Cook's voyages (depicting
"natives of Nootka sound," "war dance among the Sandwich Islanders,"
pictures, as such works novels.)

They have their uses, doubtless, and are not to be despised, but
they are, at best, works of simple instruction as to matters of fact,
rather than works of art. If we were asked what was the first
requisite of a novel, we should say human character. The second--
human character. The third--human character. Even plot and incident
comes afterwards, and the mere question of costume and local coloring
after plot and incident. In most Australian stories the order is
reversed, and Australian customs are pre-dominant. We must be careful
not to be misunderstood here, or we might be supposed to say, what
would be contrary to the whole tenor of our writing, and to imply that
beau ideal Australian novels would only differ in trivial and minor
things from any other novels. Let us, then, illustrate what we mean by
an example, and let us take the exquisite scene (from the Antiquary) in
old Mucklebackit's cottage.

That scene could have been laid no where else but in the dwelling
of a fisherman upon the Scottish coast. No where else could the
characters and incidents have developed themselves in that form. Grief
for a son's loss is, indeed, not an emotion confined to one time and
place; and such grief Scott could have brought before us in palace or
hovel, as he pleased; but the novelist has to shew us the same human
feelings and passions working under various circumstances and modified
by them. Now, in the scene we speak of, all local circumstances--all
local coloring--sound and striking as they are, are subordinated to
this purpose. Everything else is merely accessory to the display of
human character and passion; but human characters and passions are
affected and changed by such accessory circumstances; and, thus, while
the relative importance of the elements of fiction remains unaltered,
the change in the lesser implies change in the greater, and the
combined whole is new, and full of new interest. We have not space to
extract the scene here, but, if the reader take sufficient interest in
this kind of speculation, let him open the Antiquary and read the
description again, and, perhaps, he will apprehend us better. If not,
he will not regret reading it again for its own sake.

Now, in the kind of novel we want to see written, but do not expect
to read for some time, we want to see a picture of universal human
life and passion, but represented as modified by Australian externals.

The description of all these externals must then be truthful and
complete, but subordinated to the larger purposes of fiction.

In further illustration of the defect we allude to let us consider
what a London story would be, if written in the spirit, and after the
fashion, of most Australian Stories. The dramatis personae would walk
the stage merely to illustrate, in their acts, the habits and
peculiarities of London. The work would be a sort of amalgam of "The
Great Metropolis," "The Book of Trades," "The Strangers' Guide to
London," and "The Police Reports!" We should learn how different
classes of people spend the twenty-four hours--how they live, and
what they live upon. We should learn the manner in which policemen
arrange their beats, and the system according to which cab fares are
regulated. We should learn that there are butchers in Whitechapel, and
noblemen in Mayfair. We should learn how London dairymen water their
milk, and London bakers get up in the small hours to knead their dough
with their heels,--but we should have no true novel, or work of art
or genius. We should have a picture, not of human life, as modified by
London externals, but of some London externals alone.

We had intended, in this paper, to have reviewed some of the best
Australian stories that have yet been published, but these general
remarks have extended to such a length that we must postpone the
fulfilment of this intention until next month. In the mean time we
content ourselves with the concluding remark, that real genius is ever
able to draw its inspiration from the rills that run at its own feet,
and without travelling to Helicon--that everywhere nature has new
beauties and truths for the eye and mind that know how to perceive and
grasp them--and that, when we complain of her sterility, we should
rather humbly confess our own. The fault is ours, if, in this fresh and
vast country, peopled with men of all characters, and degrees, and
nations, in which all human feelinge, and emotions are astir, in which
the pulse of existence beats with almost feverish speed, we regard the
whole scene as tame and prosaic, and able to furnish the materials for
no books but ledgers. What should we have made of such far more barren
places as have given up hidden treasures, and been made bright and
beautiful for all generations, at the touch of such genius as his, for

     "Who trod in glory and in joy,
    Following his plough along the mountain side?"

The month before last we cast a few rapid glances over these large
and fertile, but almost untrodden, plains which stretch around us, in
all directions, farther than the eye can reach, and to which even
imagination can assign no definite bounds. This month we propose to
examine some small patches that have already been cleared, and fenced,
and cultivated, and to collect a few specimens of the fruit that they
have yielded.

Decidedly the best Australian novel that we have met with is "Clara
Morison," the work (as we learn from the preface, written by some
friend in England, where the book was published) of a young lady who,
for many years, has resided in South Australia, in which colony the
story is laid. Considered entirely apart from its Australian scenery
and coloring, Clara Morison would be a book deserving careful
criticism and much praise. It stands, we think, quite alone among all
Australian stories yet published, in that it is free from the defect
of being a book of travels in disguise. It is not written exclusively
for distant readers, and as a means of giving lazy people an idea of
what they call "life in Australia." It is not a work of mere
description, but a work of art. The novel is no more Australian than
results from the fact that the author, having been long resident in
Australia, having a gift for novel writing and writing about what she
knew best, unavoidably wrote an Australian novel. But the wish to
illustrate local peculiarities has had very small sway over the mind
of the author of Clara Morison. She has merely illustrated Australian
life insensibly in the process of illustrating human life. Paul de Kock
describes Parisian life because he writes novels and is a Parisian.
Dickens describes London life because he writes novels and is a
Londoner. The local coloring in each case is the accident--the
pourtrayal of human life and interest being the essential. In the same
way the Australianism of Clara Morison is not obtruded. The story is
thoroughly Australian, but at the same time is not a deliberate
attempt to describe the peculiar "manners and customs" of the
Australians. The points of resemblance are more numerous than the
points of difference between the inhabitants of various countries, and
it is therefore destructive to the completeness of any picture of
human life to give great and obvious prominence to mere local
peculiarities. If any of us, who have lived in this country for some
years, pass in review our memories of what we have done, undergone,
and witnessed, we shall find that, only occasionally--not every day
and all day long--have we been encountering either persons or
circumstances strikingly and distinctively Australian. Such persons
and circumstances are, indeed, sufficiently numerous to give a
description of life in Australia a special character, but the
specialities should no more be obtruded than in a picture of
Australian scenery, where the artist has to paint the outlines of
cloud, and hill, and plain, and wood, and water, and to obey the laws
of perspective, which hold good equally all over the world. It is by a
judicious regard to tints--by a few artistic touches about the
foliage and so forth, that the distinctive Australianism of the
landscape is conveyed. If Australian characteristics are too abundant;
if blackfellows, kangaroos, emus, stringy barks, gums, and wattles,
and any quantity of other things illustrative of the ethnology,
zoology, and botany, of the country are crowded together, a greater
amount of detailed information may be conveyed upon a given number of
square inches of canvass than would otherwise be possible, but the
picture loses character proportionately as a work of art.

We remember to have seen, many years ago, a print of "organic
remains restored," in which earth, air, and water were crowded with
all kinds of flying dragons, and slimy monsters, and antediluvian
nondescripts, with necks as long as their names. "The world must have
been very full of life in those days," was the reflection of our
ingenuous youth; for we mistook the artist's design, which was not to
shew how the earth looked before the flood, but what kind of creatures
then lived. He treated the subject with an eye to science, not art.
Had he wanted to make a good picture of the antediluvian world, he
would have foregone to crowd it with creatures, and perhaps one long
neck upreared from the waters of some vast and desolate swamp, and a
few enormous tree ferns, would have sufficed to convey to the mind a
vivid conception of what sort of a place this globe would have been to
live upon in those times. Some stories written deliberately to
illustrate national habits remind us, by the unnatural crowding
together of local peculiarities, of that engraving of organic remains

We have dwelt at such length upon this matter, because the fault we
point out is one into which the writers of Australian fictions, for
many years to come are peculiarly likely to fall, and because it would
be fatal to the claims of any story to rank in that higher class of
literature, for the possible cultivation of which upon Australian soil
we have been contending. From the fault in question Clara Morison is
almost entirely exempt. The writer took too vital an interest in the
fictitious personages she had created, in the development of their
characters, in the furtherance of their fate, and in their mutual
relations, to let the grand aims of fiction be subordinated to the
desire of working up Australian peculiarities for the information of
distant readers.

Clara Morison, indeed, deals with a time and place so peculiar that
it was only necessary for the author to put her people down then and
there, and to let them play their parts easily and naturally among the
circumstances by which they were surrounded, to ensure the result
being a thoroughly and unmistakeably (but not obtrusively) Australian

South Australia, at the time when the Victorian gold fields "broke
out," as the common phrase runs, presented a most remarkable social
aspect, well deserving to be recorded, and which has, we think, been
put properly upon record only in the pages of Clara Morison. There is
something very strange, and strangely alarming too, about the
spectacle of a whole population packing up and going away. The men ran
from South Australia in 1851 as the sand runs through an hour-glass,
and the spectator, watching the rate at which they poured out,
regarded absolute emptiness as a necessary consequence immediately to
be expected. So far as the men were concerned, indeed, this result
almost ensued, and in the midst of that sudden and tremendous social
change very few people remained cool enough to feel secure that the
ebbing tide would ever flow again. A man who owns fifty thousand
pounds worth of land upon the Toorak road fancies he is rich for the
rest of his life, and may he ever so think; but if he suddenly found
the colony emptying--heard nothing on any side but a panic-stricken
cry of ruin! ruin! ruin! to all who remained--saw his friends, his
clerks, his workmen, everybody hurrying off as from a plague-stricken
place--found that he could not sell for two-pence what he thought to
be worth a pound--and the whole social structure, which he had
accustomed himself to think immutable, breaking up like a wrecked ship
among rocks and breakers, he would think himself surrounded by
circumstances note worthy, to say the least of them.

Clara Morison is a young orphan lady, shipped out from the land o'
cakes by an eminently respectable uncle, who thinks she may do very
well in Adelaide, and is still more definitely persuaded that he can
do very well without the cost of her maintenance in the modern Athens.
So, with a letter of introduction, a Scotch blessing, and a ten pound
note, he ships her off, to sink or swim, with a languid hope that she
may swim rather than sink, but considerably preferring that she should
sink at a distance than continue swimming longer in the Scottish
waters. The description of the voyage out is not one of the best parts
of the book, for poor Clara falls into very vulgar company, and the
writer of the account seems to have been a little infected by the
nature of the scenes and people described. This small episode in the
story is, indeed, so far tinged with vulgarity that Mrs. Trollope (in
some of her most refined moods) might almost have written it. There is
one good point to be noticed in it, however. The few people introduced
to us upon the waters are genuine people, with distinct outlines,
though themselves common-place and vulgar; we forget them (thankfully)
so soon as they are out of sight, but, during the few minutes for
which we have to endure them, Mr. Renton, Mr. Macnab, and Miss
Waterstone are as distinct and disagreeable as they would be in real
life. But one can read contentedly for four minutes of people that it
would be horrible torture to be bored with for four months.

The episodical character of this part of the book is, we think, in
some respects, a distinct (though, perhaps, accidental) merit.
Hundreds of our readers have experienced how, for ninety days or so,
the world contracts within the wooden walls that hem us in during the
"passage out," and how, when Australian life fairly begins, those whom
we have lived with and quarrelled, and thought so much about, and
hated with such preposterous ardour, and who have for a few months so
filled the foreground of our stage, pass utterly out of sight. Even in
this unprepossessing portion of "Clara Morison" we have indications of
the writer's affluence in "characters." The book is crowded with
people, but even the supernumeraries, who appear upon the stage and
pass off again in the course of the play, possess distinct

On arriving in Adelaide, Clara finds that her consignee has lost
his wife, and he surmises that the respectable Mr. Morison, of
Edinburgh, had heard of this bereavement, and had exported Clara
expressly to supply the place of the late Mrs. Campbell. Fortunately
for Clara's peace of mind, she remains ignorant of this conjecture,
and betakes herself to a boarding house while looking for (of course,
alas! poor women!) a governess's situation. In the boarding house Clara
and ourselves make the acquaintance of many persons, including the
hero--one Mr. Reginald an up-country squatter, who begins talking
modern literature, and displaying a highly cultivated mind with a
promptitude and pertinacity frightful to contemplate. Clara, however,
regarded Mr. Reginald in a more favorable light than we did on first
making his acquaintance, insomuch that an hour's vigorous and sustained
battery of references to Carlyle, Thackeray, Dickens, Scott, Byron,
and others, made a breach in her heart which never closes again till
the end of the book, when the ordinary cure for love, matrimony, is
administered with, we trust, satisfactory results. There is a great
deal to be gone through in the mean time, however, for Mr. Reginald is
under engagement to Miss Julia Marston, in England; a discovery which
poor Clara makes coincidently with this other, that Mr. Reginald
habitually buttons up in his waistcoat all that would make life worth
having. Mr. Reginald's sufferings are also acute; for his passion for
the absent Julia has subsided a good deal in the course of many years'
colonial residence, which she obstinately refuses to share, insisting
(without any considerations founded on the price of wool and "the
disease called scab in sheep") upon his coming home and living en grand
Seigneur. Still, he adheres to his contract until Julia bestows upon
him what is sometimes the greatest favor which it is in the power of
woman to confer upon man--by jilting him.

Though Mr. Reginald's affections may alone be worth living for,
something more substantial is necessary to live on while they are
being got ready, and Clara begins the weary task of many lives--the
search for suitable work, and finds none. She is not possessed of any
considerable store of young lady's accomplishments, and the more
sterling kinds of knowledge are in this age and generation lamentably
unsaleable when packed up in petticoats. She had not, indeed, entirely
neglected "the first duty of woman--that of being pretty," but, as a
countervailing disadvantage, she possessed earnest convictions, depth
of feeling, and powers of observation and reflection; qualities more or
less incompatible with the prevailing English and Turkish ideas of
perfect womanhood. Partly on this account, probably, Clara failed to
get a governess's situation, and, the ten pound manifestation of
Scotch avuncular generosity being exhausted, she was compelled to go
to Service as maid-of-all-work to one Mrs. Bantam, a harmless and
common-place lady, who, during some months' intercourse, fails to
perceive anything remarkable about her domestic. Poetical justice
towards Mrs. Bantam is partially satisfied, however, inasmuch as she
is victimised by a horrible and strong-minded Miss Withering (a
consignment from home, like Clara), who knows the art of sticking-up
people and robbing them of hospitality. To eject this lady from the
premises is an object which Mrs. Bantam only accomplishes by the
exercise of much domestic scheming and diplomacy. Among other visitors
to Mrs. Bantam's are Miss Minnie Hodges, a bright, pleasant, colonial
young lady, with a great deal of South Australian patriotism, and who
fights fierce battles with Miss Withering and Mr. Reginald, who is very
discreet, and endures being waited on by the object of his affections
with perfect philosophy, and without betraying anybody.

It is not till after the gold discoveries, and in the midst of the
consequent social convulsions, that Clara falls in with some cousins--
Miss Elliotts, whose brothers have gone off to dig, and with whom she
remains some time. The domestic pictures in this part of the book are
very pleasant indeed. The three cousins are all young ladies with
characters, and (the British and Turkish theory to the contrary
nothwithstanding) are very likeable persons, well described, and
natural, without being common place.

Female writers, like the author of Clara Morison, have an advantage
in not being afflicted by the necessity, under which most male writers
seem to labor, of making all their agreeable feminine characters fit
to be fallen in love with by anybody at a moment's notice, like the
fascinating young ladies in Mr. Leech's social sketches. It is while
Clara remains with the Elliotts that the narrative becomes most
characteristically Australian. For, attached to the central thread of
story that we have referred to with perhaps a somewhat too
disrespectful mirthfulness, there are numberless little fibres leading
in all directions, and by aid of these, while following the main
story, we almost insensibly imbibe conceptions of the state of society
which was peculiar to the time and place.

Clara does not permanently remain with the Elliotts, however, for
she has an unorthodox aversion to dependent inutility, and she and her
cousins are all sinfully poor together, and, moreover, the fraternal
digging remains inadequately rewarded. So she goes into the bush as a
companion to Mrs. Beaufort, a lady in failing health, who--but we
cannot stop to introduce to our readers one in a dozen of the people
Clara, encounters. Suffice it that poor Mrs. Beaufort's most mistaken
idol worship, and the execrable idol whom she believes in, are alike
well described, and that there is a great deal of true pathos about
the closing scenes of her life.

We had intended to make some extracts from the pages of Clara
Morison, but various considerations, of which that relating to space
is the chief, induce us to refrain. Moreover, justice would scarcely be
done to the book if it were judged by a few isolated passages. The
author has not much of that humorous faculty which produces quaint
fancies, descriptions, and forms of expression; nor has she such
command over "the sacred source of sympathetic tears" as enables the
master spirits of fiction to touch the heart by a few exquisite lines.
But we believe that most readers who turn to the book itself, provided
they can overcome some disagreeable impressions produced in the earlier
pages, and the description of the voyage, and by the abruptness of Mr.
Reginald's literary love making--

    Was ever woman in such humor wooed--
    Was ever woman in such humor won?--

will be inclined to read it to the end. The personages are not mere
wooden figures pulled about by perceptible wires, but, with few
exceptions, are full of life and truth. The circumstances which control
their fates are sustained and seem to follow one another like the
events of real life in natural sequence.

The private story adjusts itself properly and easily to the public
history of the time. The production of this work was no mere
mechanical operation; still less was the tale a toy in the hands of the
writer. Her whole soul must have been given to it with conscientious
earnestness, and she must have had her reward in the enrichment of her
world with a group of personages, whom, though the offspring of her
own imagination, she undoubtedly and devoutly "believed in" herself,
as in a reality.

A tale of a very different kind is "Martin Beck, or the Australian
Settler," by A. Harris. Mr. Harris, long before the publication of
Martin Beck, was very favorably known as the author of a little book
upon Australia, called "Settlers and Convicts," which appeared about
ten years ago in Knight's series of weekly volumes. Mr. Harris was,
however, certainly more at home in dealing with fact than with fiction,
and Martin Beck, though full of very graphic descriptions of bush life
and operations, possesses comparatively little merit as a novel. The
story mainly concerns the fortunes of a Lieutenant Bracton and his
family, settlers on the Murrumbidgee, and takes its name from their
American negro overseer, who is an admirable Crichton as to skill in
all kinds of bush work, but, unfortunately, addicted to cattle
stealing and vengeance, both which propensities he indulges to such an
extent as to compel him to fly and take to bushranging. At length he
gets shot by the son of his old employer, and the redundant personages
being killed out of the way--the Bracton affairs prosperous--and
divers young couples joined together in holy matrimony--the story is
brought to an orthodox conclusion. The book is full of incident and
adventure--adventures with wild bullocks, adventures with wild blacks,
adventures with bushrangers, adventures on land, and adventures on

There are many good descriptions of cattle mustering, and cattle
branding, and stockyard making; and the way flocks get scabbed, and
drays bogged, and how cattle and sheep are stolen both by black and
white practitioners. The story, in fact, is a vehicle for such
descriptions; and, though Mr.

Harris has perceived the obligation that rests upon the novel
writer to delineate characters and to introduce the love-making
element into his composition, we do not think he has been very
successful in these respects. The heroines are, no doubt, very angelic
beings; for, Mr. Harris, who knows them much better than we do,
assures us of the fact: and we have already learned, in many hundred
novels, what a blessing it is to an old gentleman to have two
beautiful girls in his family, both charming and pure minded, but one
calm and the other lively. Between the characters of amiable young
ladies this is the stock distinction recognised among legions of
novelists. We must not overlook, either, Rachel, the wonderful young
Jewess, daughter to an old Israelite storekeeper on the Murrumbidgee,
where she has learned to talk about the wrongs of her people, after
the style of Rebecca, daughter of lsaac of York, and where she has
expanded into such marvellous loveliness that for it this pen can write
no word adequately expressive. Mary Kable also demands our admiration,
particularly as she is a "daughter of the soil;" and it is delightful
to know that she, too, was the sunshine of the house she dwelt in. The
young men to marry all these young women are Willoughby Bracton,
gentleman and whaler; Reuben Kable, cornstalk, and brother to Mary;
Mr. Henley, police magistrate; and Charles Bracton, a young medical
practitioner, who emigrates just in time to whip up the beautiful
Jewess, she having been, it seems, a Christian at heart all along, and
no theological difficulties therefore intervening.

It is perfectly delightful to find that, in so small a circle, not
merely has the adjustment in the number of the sexes been so complete,
but that the matrimonial requirements as to age, disposition, of every
body are all supplied to a nicety, and nothing over. The dialogue of
the book, except perhaps some of the conversations between Martin Beck
and his cattle-stealing accomplices, is very undramatic. The merit
altogether lies in the vivid description given of the externals of
Australian bush life. One drawback to the book arises from the fact
that it was written after many years' absence from the scenes
described. It treats entirely of Australia before the flood, and,
being in effect a book of information, loses much of its value by
describing things as they were many years ago rather than as they are
now. It is not without value, however, as a graphic record of how
things were managed some years ago in New South Wales, when convictism
was rife, and the assignment system in full operation.

Rowcroft's "Tales of the Colonies," a description of life in Van
Diemen's Land many years ago, certainly long bore the palm among
Australian stories. Though avowedly designed to give intending
emigrants information--which is now in a great measure out of date--
and though many artistic considerations have been sacrificed to that
design, it is a very vigorously written book, full of life and
adventure, with many interesting scenes, bold sketches of character,
and dashes of humor, about it. Perhaps it received rather more
attention than it deserved when it first made its appearance a dozen
years ago, for at that time bushrangers and wild Australian cattle
were alike unfamiliar to the reading world of London. The prevailing
ignorance of affairs at this side of the globe was startlingly great
at the other, considering that thence came the ukases of Downing
street; and Mr. Rowcroft's clever book took people by surprise.
Society was agitated to find that Van Dieman's Land was really an
inhabited island, most people having previously only considered it "a
place on the map." Used-up readers discovered a new emotion as they
read bush stories, colored up to the highest tints compatible with
truth, and other people found other sources of interest in the "Tales
of the Colonies." Though we cannot read accounts of cattle branding,
and that kind of thing, year after year, in successive works, with any
great degree of interest, the field which Mr. Rowcroft opened up was so
entirely new, and he performed the duties of a describer of external
things so well, that it would have been unreasonable to complain much
because his book did not possess the dramatic merits of a first-class
fiction. Mr.

Rowcroft's enterprise in breaking up new ground was duly rewarded.
His book had gone through six large editions in 1850, and we know not
how many more have been published since.

In the "Tales of the Colonies" Mr. Rowcroft alternately assumes and
ignores dramatic responsibilities just as circumstances render
expedient. If it becomes convenient to explain or to argue out of the
mouth of one of the personages of the story, that personage's powers
of oratory rise with the occasion in a most marvellous way, and he
speaks off half a page or a page of well constructed sentences with an
accuracy and fluency that the best debater of "the ninety" might envy,
and which his previous manifestations of conversational power by no
means led us to expect. It would not be fair to apply the laws of
dramatic criticism very rigorously to a work which, though in the novel
form, purports to have for its chief object the supply of a kind of
emigrants' hand-book--now, of course, much injured as a practical
guide by the changes years have made. A book setting forth such modest
pretensions disarms censure, and compels gratitude for the performance
of so much more than the preface promises. It is a very much better
novel than the avowed scheme of its construction would have justified
us in expecting, and it is only because its own merit has forced for it
an entrance into a rank of literature to which it does not altogether
properly belong, that we allude to its dramatic imperfections. Some of
the characters, however, are really good. Crab, for instance, though a
bit of a caricature, is an excellently sustained personification of
inveterate grumbling, and he is, moreover, the type of a class by no
means uncommon in this part of the world--men who are continually
fattening on the fruits they as continually condemn.

Mr. Rowcroft has written another story, whereof the scene is partly
laid in these colonies: "The Emigrant in search of a Colony;" but in
this, even more than in his previous work, the dramatic purpose is
subordinated to the design of giving specific information upon all
sorts of subjects interesting to emigrants.

The hero--who, by the way, is in such constant danger of being
hanged (now by Lynch law administrators in the slave States, then by
pirates at sea, and anon on board a British man of war on suspicion of
piracy) that in the end he must have lost all confidence in the powers
of hemp--is sent "scuttling" over the world to give information about
the different emigration fields to his readers, and to try and clear
up for his own satisfaction the mysterious circumstances of his
parentage. On one occasion when he is going to be hanged--we forget
what for that time--a clergyman turns up full of valuable
recollections, and--but we will not spoil the interest of possible
readers by saying what happens. As a story the book is full of
exaggeration and absurdity. For example, near the beginning we have a
scene, in the house of Captain Sullivan, intended to illustrate the
miseries of keeping up appearances on small means in England, and the
tax collectors keep dropping in as fast as they can knock, exactly as
they would under similar circumstances in a broad farce at the Adelphi.

However, let us not grumble at the book. It is something to get the
medicine of fact in an agreeable medium, and although a high-art
confectioner may scorn the notion of degrading jelly into the mere
vehicle of calomel powders, yet utilitarian philosophy has much to say
in support of that subordination of the beautiful to the useful.
Moreover, the jelly in which Mr. Rowcroft gives us the medicine above
alluded to, though much better than that ordinarily used for such
purposes, is hardly good enough to be consumed as a luxury upon its
own merits, and is therefore appropriately bestowed where it is.

Some very good Australian sketches have appeared occasionally in
the Household Words, and we particularly recommend for perusal two
papers entitled, respectively, "The Old Squatter" and "The New

In the remote antiquity of sixteen or eighteen years ago, long Tom
Scott, the "Old Squatter," came over from Van Dieman's Land, and
pushed up into the interior, fighting manfully against difficulties and
dangers, and leading a hard, rough life for many years; a true rugged
pioneer of civilization. Little thought Long Tom Scott that a worse
enemy than blacks or drought, or scab itself--the "New Squatter,"
destined eventually to take possession of all Tom's territory and
flocks and herds, to reap all the harvest of Tom's sowings, to gather
all the fair fruit that Tom's toil and perseverance had caused to
grow--was standing "douce" and snug in a white apron behind a grocer's
counter in Glasgow, even at the time when Tom first pushed up into the
interior. Yet so it was; for some years previously little Davy McLeod,
ragged callant, out of pure mischief, spattered some dirty water over a
decent ballie body, and the ballie, having first caught and cuffed the
little vagabond, benevolently tells him that some better employment
than dirtying honest people's clothes shall be found for him. So Davy
becomes supernumerary boy in the ballie's shop, and works himself up
to the dignity of the white apron of the regularly constituted
assistant; and he has quiet specs of his own, and does all things
prudently, and, finally, with a snug little capital, comes out to
Melbourne, and goes cautiously into business, and gradually increases
it, and becomes a capitalist, and makes advances (douce good-natured
man) to divers of his customers, and gradually draws many persons into
his net. Of course, commercial crises overtake the colony, and Davy
has to bewail his awfu' losses; but somehow or another, when the storm
has blown over, it always turns out that during the panic more property
has been sacrificed to him than by him, and so douce Davy swells into
a colonial magnate. He is now "The New Squatter;" for many stations
and flocks have fallen into his hands in satisfaction of long arrears
of debt--the douce honest man knowing well how to put the screw on at
the right time, when a debt paid in kind will be paid twice over at
least--and one fine day he takes it into his head that a trip into
the bush would do him good, and also give him an opportunity for the
first time of seeing his nibbling flocks and his "cattle upon a
thousand hills." Of course, it need not be told that poor Tom Scott's
run has been one of douce Davy's peaceable and easy conquests. On that
run the old and new squatter casually meet--the ruined man, gaunt and
grisly with toiling and fighting for years to break in the wilderness
for the other's enjoyment--douce Davy, sleek and fat, and filled with
the comfortable sense of large possessions. Tom gives Davy a piece of
his mind, accompanied with such vigourous gesticulation as make that
amiable gentlemen shiver down to the tips of his toes, and then strides
away into the bush, and we know him no more. As for douce Davy, we
presume he returns to Melbourne to urge his claims to compensation as
a much-wronged "pioneer of civilization."

These capital sketches are evidently the work of two hands. The
stories have been written in Australia by some one, knowing the place
well, but not brilliant as a writer, and some very first class writer,
probably Dickens himself, has breathed into them the breath of genius.
In some places phrases occur that could not have been written by any
one who had ever been in Australia, but which are wonderfully
conducive to literary effect, and in others we can perceive
unmistakeable traces of local knowledge. The polishing process is,
however, so skilfuly performed, and the general effect is so good,
that it is only by close observation that we are enabled here and there
to detect the tool marks.

We might easily lengthen out this paper by references to other
Australian stories that have appeared in various fugitive shapes, but
we content ourselves with having briefly called attention to a few of
the best products of these fiction fields that have yet been
published. We believe it is found among farmers generally that nothing
stimulates agriculture more than the exhibition of good specimens of
agricultural produce, and we hope like benefit may be produced by like
means with respect to cultivation of a less material kind.


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia