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Title: Over The Straits: A Visit To Victoria Author: Louisa Anne Meredith * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1600471h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2016 Most recent update: March 2016 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of 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 file. 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 Licence which may be viewed online.
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CHAPMAN AND HALL,
To Sir William à
Late Chief Justice of Victoria, etc., etc.
Dear Sir William,
You will see I am indebted to the book you gave me, for half a Preface; will you accept a Dedication from me in exchange? and allow me to inscribe to you these slight Sketches of the Colony with which you were so long and so honourably connected, and where I was happy in acquiring the privilege of subscribing myself.
Very faithfully yours,
LOUISA A. MEREDITH.
"In the" following "narrative, I have abstained from touching on any topics that did not legitimately belong to the object with which it was written, viz, to convey an idea of my own impressions and feelings during my rapid tour, rather than to afford instruction to intending travellers.
"For my part, whenever I take up a book of travels, I feel myself to a certain extent defrauded, if I find the author going into a long disquisition about the history of the places he happens to visit.
"I want to know what HE has seen, heard, and felt, not what other people have written. It is a mixture of impertinence and book-making that ought to be discouraged."*
[* "Out of Harness," by Sir William à Beckett, Chief Justice of Victoria. Published by Guillaume, Chester-square, London.]
The above passage, from the brief and witty narrative of a continental tour, by my friend, Sir William a Beckett, conveys so entirely my own thoughts, in offering these slight pages to my English readers, that it only remains for me to express a hope that there may be, as I believe there are, many persons who entertain similar opinions, and to whom the few faithful strokes of an original sketch are more welcome than a finished picture elaborated from borrowed scraps.
For statistical details, histories of public institutions, and various other, matters which come within the province of a systematic topographer, I must refer my readers to works of more grave and methodical character. A rapid glance over the surface was all that our few weeks in Victoria permitted me; and I venture to believe that I should be guilty of far greater presumption in building a serious book on so small a basis, than in offering to the public a slight one, with the frank avowal of its many inevitable shortcomings. The liberal welcome with which my former sketches of colonial life have been received, creates in me the grateful faith that this small addition to them will experience the same kind indulgence.
Old intentions to be realized—Our "Golden Legend"—Colonial circumlocution office—Home view—Departure—Mountain ride—Oyster-bay pines—Stock-keeper's cottage—Who makes the "Images?"—Sam Slick—Dinner-tea-supper—Serenades—Morning start—Some true stories about snakes—Forest trees and flowers
Campbell Town—Road—House-breaking—Old mill near Perth—Flood—Launceston—Cataract valley—Go on board the steamer—My state-room—Contrary gale—Waterloo Bay—Wind-bound—Boots, beards, and politics—Sporting talk—Cooking talk—Chorus
Third day of the gale—Shark alongside!—Colonel H. and the butter-firkin—A new acquaintance—Fourth day of the gale—Fifth day—Put to sea again—Heads of Port Philip—Hobson's Bay—Mail steamer—Sandridge Pier—Irish car—Housed at last—"Chancery Lane"—"Temple Court"—Boots—Blue-stone buildings—St. Paul's church—University—Suburbs—Villas—The Botanic Gardens—Cremorne—The swamp—Theatres—"Quite colonial"—Shilling balls
Toorak—Prahran—St. Thilda—Emus—Departure for the Diggings—Fête on board Royal Charter—Cobb's coaches—"All aboard!"—Quartz-reefing—Castlemaine—Hall of the Cherubim—Silk umbrella—Warden—English officers—The old sad story—Sign-painting
Bendigo—Strange reception—A "rush"—Chinese quarter—Snug times—Saturday night—Sunday morning—"There's a hill!"—"Hang over!"—Return—Concert—Electric telegraph—Conjuror—Coppin's theatre—Colonial tragedy—Virginius, with a difference—'Amlet—Mrs. Waller and the harp—Burwood—Garden at the river Plenty
Leave for Geelong—The Yarra and its horrors—"The merciful man is merciful to his beast"
Over the bay to Geelong—Station Peak—Theatre—"Remember thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath-day"—Morning and evening walk—Sparrow's-nest tent—Off before daylight—"Carriage exercise"—On the plains—Leigh Bridge—The tent on the plain—Warrambeen—Magpies
Start for Ballaarat—Mount Mercer—Extensive views—Through the forest—First diggings—Camp—"Ugly creeks"—Slaughter-yards—Buningyong—On to Ballaarat—Charred forest—Valley of Ballaarat—A clean tent—The town
Leave Buningyong—Green hills—Pleasant camp—Chimney architecture—A good business—Tract of unspoiled forest—Return to Warrambeen—Morning occupations—Night barricades—Christophe—Hill view—"Wild fellows"—Over the plains—Mount Gellibrand—Colac—Taciturnity—Gigantic cranes—Sheep
Leave Warrambeen—Native turkeys—A young Apollo—Seas of mud—Mud-carts—Bog—Reach Geelong—Return to Melbourne—The Queen's ball—Battle of the hats—Mechanics' Institute—Departure—Recognition—On board—An Australian dancing dervish—Ride home—L'Adieu!
02 On The Schoutens
03 Oyster Bay Pines
04 The Old Mill at Perth
05 On The South Esk
07 Melbourne in 1836
11 Station Peak
12 Beach Hut, Near Geelong
13 Leigh Bridge
14 View from Mount Mercer
15 Green Hill Diggings
16 The Sisters and Mount Elephant from Mount Mercer
Old intentions to be at last realized—Our "Golden Legend"—Colonial Circumlocution office—Home view—Schoutens—Departure—Mountain ride—Oyster-Bay Pines—Stock-keeper's cottage—Who makes the "Images?"—Sam Slick's clocks—Dinner-tea-supper—Serenades—Morning start—Some true stories about snakes—Forest trees and flowers
So many years in Australia, and we had never seen Melbourne! True, we had talked of going there for a long time past. Each ensuing Spring we said, "We will go in the Autumn;" and as each Autumn came, and found our hands full of other affairs, we said, "Not now, but we really will go in the Spring; the country always looks greenest then." For, seeing that we hold our Tasmanian climate to be as near perfection as most sublunary things, we were not disposed to face the greater extremes of our northern neighbour. But Springs and Autumns alike passed away, and we had not seen Melbourne.
In the meantime occurred the terrible "Black Thursday" conflagration in Victoria; which has been so often described, that the dreadful story needs not repetition, save as the fire made itself felt all over Tasmania. The extreme heat of the day, in which the thermometer showed a great increase after sunset, was rendered more intolerable by the hurricane of hot wind, like the blast from a furnace, which sprung up in the afternoon. The air was thick and smoke-laden—
"All in the hot and copper sky,
The bloody sun at noon
Right up above the trees did stand,
No bigger than the moon."
and was, ere four o'clock, obscured altogether. We felt a mysterious and horrible dread of some impending calamity—for no one of course could divine the real cause of the awful aspects of earth and sky. We wandered up and down the garden and veranda in the pitchy darkness of the premature night, expecting to feel the earth reel beneath our feet in the convulsion of an earthquake, or see a burst of blinding lightning cleave the "thick blanket of the dark" asunder. On the north coast of our island, charred leaves and twigs, blown over the Straits, fell in great quantities on the sea-beach; and as far south as Perth, black dust and ashes covered the flowers in gardens, and in greenhouses, whose sashes were open. We know from long experience, how perceptibly the summer bush-fires increase the atmospheric temperature in their vicinity, but never imagined anything so frightful, or so far-felt, as the fiery desolation of that awful day.
We are notoriously a prosaic, matter-of-fact community, we settlers and sheep-farmers of the far south-east, and it is but seldom that an original or picturesque thought can be laid to our charge; therefore, when so rare an elimination is achieved, it seems only prudent to follow the sensible advice of worthy Captain Cuttle, and "when found, make a note of it." On this sound economic principle, I repeat here, what we may call, a Golden Legend, (so weird in its uncouth simplicity, that it sounds more like a bit of black-lettered monkish tradition, than a parable of the 19th century,) repeated to me by my valued friend our excellent Bishop; his authority he did not give me. But I am making my Overture longer than the Opera itself. On that Thursday of dread and destruction, amidst the blazing and crashing forests—the wide plains of hungry fire—the heaps of smouldering ashes, that a few hours before were luxurious and happy homes—the hecatombs of wretched, terrified, torture-maddened animals, fleeing from death on the one hand, only to meet it in perhaps a worse form on another—amidst bereavement, suffering, affliction, and despair—
The Devil was abroad,
"Going to and fro upon the earth, and walking up and down in it,"
Sowing the gold.
And when the flames abated, and the land cooled once more, and men went forth to their wonted labours—Lo! there it was!
Then the gold-fever broke out—(for the gold was found immediately after the great fire), and raged furiously—and anon grew milder in its symptoms, only to rage again with greater force than before—and suffered continual accessions and relapses; and still we had not seen Melbourne. At length circumstances enabled us to carry out our long-cherished project. It was the middle of April, answering to an English October, ere we started, and our first intention was to go to Hobart in the little steamer then running on the east coast, and take our passage to Melbourne in one of the large and commodious vessels trading between the two ports. But this scheme involved the necessity for four voyages, and four doublings of Cape Pillar, whose environment of "ever-vexed" sea I hold in enough dread to avoid it, if practicable. Our plans consequently resolved themselves into the amphibious arrangement of riding over the "Tier," as our mountain-range is termed; and taking our departure by sea from Launceston instead of Hobarton.
"And why must you ride over the Tier?" perhaps some one not unreasonably inquires; and I reply—because our Circumlocution Office, the Colonial Government, so wilfully and wickedly mismanaged, misapplied, and red-taped the immense amount of labour which was at its disposal for fifty years—that instead of having excellent roads made, leading into every fertile and habitable nook of our beautiful island, and connecting each township and district with towns adjacent—we are still for the most part, as destitute of such works as if Great Britain had never emptied her gaols upon our shores at all. And thus the fertile and populous district of Great Swan Port, which was settled and occupied by members of our family, and the emigrants they brought out, as early as 1821, remains to this day without a land-approach fit to drive a cart over; although the island was for fifty years swarming with convicts, for whom sufficient employment could not be found, even in working for the benefit and emolument of their officers; and at Maria Island, the rocky hills, and other so-called "probation-stations," (though in what the probation consisted, except in increasing idleness and crime, it were hard to say,) the prisoners were used in tens and twenties, attached to ploughs, harrows, and light carts, with two or three to each common wheelbarrow, for the purpose of cultivating land, and growing grain, potatoes, turnips, &c.; feeding pigs, and in fact, farming; the Government doing the hucksters-shop part of the business, and selling the articles in competition with the then wretchedly low-priced produce of the oppressed and tax-ground free settlers; to whom the labour of the gangs by day was thus made a curse instead of a benefit; and by night they were robbed equally, but undisguisedly; and occasionally murdered too, by the ill-guarded desperadoes, who made forays round the neighbourhoods of these probation dens. Add to which, they were pillaged by enormous taxes for the maintenance of a large police force to keep the prisoners in check.
Can it be surprising that the Colony grew weary of such an incubus? or that such strenuous exertions were made to be quit of it? Few persons believed that the Home Government ever intended to lay such a galling yoke on the colonists. It is the perverse short-sighted Government here which deserves the blame, not only of our grievances, but for the loss to Great Britain of this outlet for her criminals.
That many of us would have preferred competence without a convict population, to wealth with it, is most true; but these, I opine, would have found themselves in a very small minority, had the labour of the prisoners been wisely and honestly directed to the benefit and improvement of the Colony. Few men who saw substantial bridges building over dangerous rivers, or roads in progress, which gave them greater facilities for conveying their wood and grain to port or market, would have had moral courage to say, "Take away those busy workmen. Let me still continue to be half-drowned in flooded fords, and wearied by scrambling over precipitous mountains. Let my wood cost me a quarter or third of its value to get it shipped—and my wheat rot in the barn—rather than try the work of criminals!" But to pay an enormous amount of taxation for the maintenance of a grievous wrong to ourselves—to see thousands of men, not only ingeniously and systematically prevented from benefiting the Colony, but specially and deliberately empployed to do it mischief—was too much to be borne; and perhaps the enormity of the evil has been a blessing, in securing its destruction; for, had the Comptrollers-General of convicts, in past times, directed, or permitted others to direct, the great amount of disposable labour to useful works, I believe that this island would be to this day a Penal Colony—and the Jubilee of 1853, which we celebrated with such enthusiasm on the final cessation of transportation hither, would be still an undone thing—and the cheers that rang through the hills, for the Queen and the Duke of Newcastle, would never have awoke the echoes! As it is, poor Tasmania has for ever shaken off the Old Man of the Sea—whose own sin and greediness wrought his downfall, as they did that of his Sindbadian prototype.
As one item in the frightfully voluminous list of grievances inflicted upon us by the misappropriation of convict labour, there is not a road into Swan Port:—not that it is a remarkable predicament for a wealthy district to be in—the districts that are really remarkable here, are the two or three, that do possess such extraordinary advantages. Hence, when we required to reach the interior by land, we had only the choice between a very circuitous and very rough road in one direction, which might be driven over with care; and a more direct, but far worse track, in another, which could only be traversed on horseback. Thus, every time we have occasion to go or to send on these most dreary and rugged ways, we remember, with the tenacity of injured and insulted victims, the dismal years when we were ground down and outraged by the Convict Circumlocution Office, and its graceless tribe of malicious, covetous, and unprincipled obstructives.*
[* The utter idleness of the entire swarm at many of the Probation stations was notorious. Mr. Meredith was one day visiting our then Governor, and his esteemed personal friend, the lamented Sir John Franklin, when his Excellency inquired concerning Mr. M.'s journey to town, etc., and added—
"You passed the Rocky Hills Station?"
"Yes, Sir John."
"Did you see how the men were employed? What were they doing?"
"They were sitting in arbours."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean. Sir, that they were all sitting under arbours made of green boughs, by the road-side; except a few, who were amusing themselves by fishing with rods and lines off the long rocky point."
"Where were the officers in charge of the party?"
"Sitting under arbours too. Sir John, but with superior accommodation; as they had camp-stools, books, or newspapers, whilst the men sat and lay on the grass."
"Perhaps," said the Governor, "it was the dinner-hour?"
"No; I passed about three in the afternoon; but the scene was nothing uncommon there."
"You are serious, Mr. Meredith?"
"Indeed I am. Sir. You could not suppose I should jest, when you desire information. I tell you the simple truth."
"Did you speak to them?"
"Only to refuse the request of one man, who got up from his arbour, asking me for tobacco."
At the time this occurred, the gang were stationed at the Rocky Hills ostensibly to make a road into Swanport; but as the making of that road would have benefited persons for whom the then Comptroller of Convicts entertained a vindictive hatred, the road remained in an incomplete state, until the possession of Representative Government, and the passing of a Road Act, enabled the inhabitants of the district to tax themselves, and make it roughly passable. The Governor was in those days a secondary person, the Comptroller of Convicts was the real despot in power; and as few gentlemen are ambitious of a head gaoler's position, such power fell into dishonest and unscrupulous hands, who first cheated and deceived the English Government, and then robbed and insulted the colony in its name.
Sir John Franklin was just beginning to emancipate himself from the ruling faction, composed of old disciples and tools of the Arthur school, and had dismissed one of them, when his term of residence here expired. His successor. Sir Eardley Wilmot—good, honest, thorough English gentleman that he was—not being capable of trickery himself, could not, for a long period, credit the villainy of that in which he was enmeshed by the same old clique; but the scales had at last fallen from his eyes, and he, too, was about to free himself and the colony from the mischievous influences oppressing both, when, dreading the result to themselves, his covert foes, as a last effort, attempted, by infamous slanders, to impose on the pharisaical credulity of the English Colonial Minister, who fell into the trap laid for him; and—there is no possibility of doubt in the matter—our good Governor was murdered by the treatment he received, not for his faults, for wickedness would have won some sympathy, but simply because he was too honest to countenance fraud, when he had discovered it.
Sir Eardley Wilmot told us, one day he had been riding out unattended, and passing a gang of men supposed to be road-making, observed one dropping his hammer on a stone, with a particularly slow, listless motion, and presently observed to the man—"If you don't take care, you'll break that stone!"
"Not if I can help it!" was the cool reply.
Now seeing that, however easy our own transit over the Tier might be on our good horses, we could not, in like manner transport those indispensable incumbrances which came under the denomination of "luggage," and for the conveyance whereof a cart was dispatched first, to go by the rough and circuitous track, we proceeded by the rougher and straighter one, purposing to meet our trunks on the main road at Campbell Town.
As we mount at our own gate, we glance over our wide home view, ere we depart. There lies the bay, blue as the heavens, save where a passing cloud drops a shadow, and weaves a green ribbon across its broad bosom. On the opposite side, twelve or fifteen miles distant, rise the granite peaks of the Schouten mountains—all cliffs, ravines, and many-folded slopes, with turret rocks and towers, that Cyclopaean Architects may have fashioned for the pre-Adamites—and deep precipitous gorges, curtained and canopied by forests of our sombre evergreen trees and shrubs. On clear sunny days, the sea-washed crags and stretches of snowy quartz-pebble beach, are all seen perfectly clear and sharp from the other side of the bay. A tiny black object is visible in the Schouten Passage (or strait), and a lengthening puff of smoke therefrom tells us that the East-coast steamer is coming in from her trip to Wabbs Harbour, Falmouth, and George's river; where she steams periodically, carrying thence to Hobarton, butter, cheese, coals (from the mines at Douglas river and the Schouten Island), apples, wool, wheat, and sundries, passengers included.
Nearer to our shore, we see flocks of gannets, either skimming along high above the sea, or poised for an instant, like silver stars; till, one after another, dozens of them pounce down on the shoal of fish below.
For the foreground of my picture I can say but little. All the trees and bushes near the settlement were cut away long before I saw it, in the old times of convict official-rule, lest they should harbour prisoners; and one straggling street comprises the main body of the small township of Swansea.* Three little reefy points of black-trap rock jut out into the bay to the south; and on the chief of them sits, snugly perched amidst green Booby Alla bushes, and dusky olive-coloured Casuarinas, the white cottage abode of the English clergyman; and above this, rising clear and purple, is the distant lofty crest of Maria Island, thirty miles off. How grandly beautiful all these black points, and broad sandy beeches are, when a southerly gale sets in, and the giant waves come rolling on and on, one behind another—an awful amphitheatre of angry foaming billows, plunging over the dark crags in cataracts of spray—only those who have dwelt in such a spot can tell! But now all is calm and sun-lit, as we look our farewell, and turn away to the hills.
[* Whose chief feature is an excellent and substantial wooden pier, erected by the inhabitants, assisted by a Parliamentary grant of £1000. Its length is over 600 feet, and the height above high-water mark, 15 feet.]
So long as our way lay through level and partially cleared land, we had a road, though an indifferent one; but by degrees the country assumed a wilder look, dead timber cumbered the ground in an abundance, that showed the absence of the fire-wood cart, which acts as a marvellous improver of the bush in the vicinity of a homestead; and in times when labour was cheaper than at present, owners of small sheep-runs found it answer to employ men to gather up the dead wood and rubbish in heaps, to burn on the ground; so much more grass could then grow on the space freed from the sticks and leaves, to say nothing of the improved appearance of such land. In portions of estates where this had been carefully done, and the ugly trees removed, I have seen beautiful glades and slopes of the native turf, with groups of trees and shrubs, of quite a park-like aspect.
But far enough from any likeness to park scenery were the mountain ranges before us! Steep, narrow gullies with almost precipitous sides rising into lofty ridges, covered with loose rocks and scraggy gum-trees, charred and disfigured by the frequent bush fires, formed the dreary scene, here and there relieved by groups of our beautiful Oyster Bay Pine (Frenela Australis). The view being nearly always bounded by the next ridge, there was little to beguile the tiresome monotony of our ride, which, from the steepness and roughness of the track, seldom exceeded a foot-pace for twelve or fourteen miles; until, passing through a region of moister soil, deeper grass, and more luxuriant shrubs and trees, we emerged from the hill-forest upon a wide open moorland on the summit of the Tier, with hilly ground on all sides, but flat as a lake itself. The evening wind blew bitterly cold, sweeping across this high plain, and we gladly unbuckled coats and plaids, and wrapped ourselves up for the last hour's riding.
The whole of the wild country, through which our track lay, is occupied by the flocks of neighbouring sheep farmers. Some portions are the freehold possessions of settlers, but for the most part it is "Crown Land," leased from the local government in lots of from 640 acres (one square mile), to 2,000 acres or more, at an annual rental of £1 for one hundred acres, payable in advance. Failure in payment of the rent due is followed by the forfeiture of the lease, and by the advertisement in the Government Gazette of such lots (described by their numbers and boundaries) for new rental. Each lessee surrounds his "lot" with brush or deadwood fences; and as these cross the road at not very distant intervals, gate-opening is an ever-recurring interruption. When a gate is a gate, and can be opened without dismounting, this is little thought of; but when the barrier is some heavy and rickety slab-rail and paling fabrication, that one person can scarcely lift when on foot; and, as is most usual, is placed in the midst of a deep, sticky quagmire, and digs into the mud so obstinately, that the widest space it allows hardly permits us to twist through, we not unreasonably vote it a nuisance, and threaten to leave it open next time we pass, if not made more practicable.
It is over these wide ranges of hill, mountain, and ravine, that the summer bush-fires rage furiously, and sometimes destroy immense quantities of fencing, which must either be replaced, or the land relinquished. No years pass without large portions being thus lost; and it is more than suspected that in many instances the fixes originate with the men who subsequently apply for the "job" of replacing the loss. Not unfrequently the applicants give the first intimation to the loser, where the fire has been.
Many anxious and harassing campaigns of fire-fighting have occurred in my bush-life; when for days and nights together, every man on our establishment has been enlisted in the weary and exhausting service; beating out the advancing fire with green boughs, or tearing gaps in the fences, to save a portion of them, or carefully themselves burning the grass and deadwood on a strip of land not ignited, so as to leave no fuel to the coming foe, and cheat its advance by that means. Often when the poor fellows, worn out with fatigue and scorching, have left all safe, and gone home to rest, a patch of lurid light is seen in a new quarter, and a fresh alarm arouses them, to hurry off miles in another direction. Frequently the mountain streams fail, in our hot dry summers, and even water to quench their inordinate thirst has to be carried to the sooty fire-brigade. As the fight is generally a long one, and obstinately contested, supplies of food, and above all, of tea and sugar, are sent out; and the fire-side beverage is boiled on the field of action, poured into buckets, and ladled out into pint pannicans. With ourselves and other settlers whose orchards were old enough to be productive, cider of late years gradually superseded the use of tea on such occasions, and the pleasant, sharp, cool drink, was more grateful and refreshing.
Twilight was nearly out of the sky ere we neared our shelter for the night, as we divided the long day's ride to Campbell Town between the afternoon of one day, and the morning of the next; purposing to sleep, or at least to sojourn, at a little cottage occupied by a shopkeeper and his wife, who keep what they term an "eating-house" for travellers; but that these accommodations are not on an extensive scale, may be inferred from the fact of those dedicated to first-class visitors being all comprised in one apartment of about ten feet square.
The barking and growling of dogs made sonorous announcement of our arrival at the small settlement of huts, sheds, stables and hovels (many of them in a very unpicturesque state of ruin), which formed the homestead of this outstation; but their masters, who ran out to meet us, soon restored quiet; and whilst Mr. Meredith went to see the horses properly cared for, our young son and I followed our hostess into her best parlour, where we found an immense fire of logs blazing away in the huge chasm of a chimney, which laid open half one side of the room, and was surmounted by a wooden shelf, covered from end to end with objects in glazed and coloured earthenware, of various sizes and shapes. As I stood before the welcome blaze, thawing my benumbed fingers, and getting unfolded from my riding wraps, I examined the unmeaning display before me, and marvelled, as I have done often, who are the people who in this 19th century—and in the face of art-unions, schools of design, and the universal extension of common knowledge and eye education, can fabricate such things; and with what ideas of pleasure or ornament others can not only give them house-room—but pay hard money to obtain them, and then effect their conveyance over long and rough mountain roads! Here were seven articles nearly alike; with a black knob on the top, touched with two spots of white and one of red, (for eyes and mouth?) a mass of white below, eccentrically pencilled out by lines and dots of gilding, and four more patches of black—two halfway down, and two at the base—which latter spots, when informed by the gold letters on the pedestal that the whole mysterious combination is "Uncle Tom"—naturally resolve themselves into hands and feet. Another device, named "Duke Wellington," is all cocked-hat and boots, with a dab of scarlet connecting the two; and this is flanked by nondescripts of the animal kingdom, to which the Australian Bunyip, and Mons. Violet's mythic swamp monsters, are tame everyday acquaintances; though I know they pretend to represent cows, dogs, and sheep. We often hear of the "schoolmaster" being abroad; I wish he would take the "artist" with him!
In the place of honour, the centre of this menagerie of crockery monsters, stood a noisy American clock. Sam Slick and his brotherhood of clock-makers are universally patronized here: I rarely enter a cottage that is without one of their loud, busy "go ahead"-sounding square cupboard-like clocks, about a foot broad, and a foot and half high—the upper stage filled with the broad face of the dial, and the lower glass either permitting a sight of the penduluun, or presenting some flaring coloured print behind.
A bed, not much more than four feet and a half long, stood in one corner of the room, a little dresser beside it, and in the midst, a small table, covered, in anticipation of our arrival, with rough but plentiful materials for tea, the main feature of which, a large tin teapot, made its appearance as soon as Mr. Meredith came in; and having, by dint of some squeezing and jostling, and overlapping of dishes, made room for a plate of nice fresh eggs, and a roast chicken, we arranged the three infirm chairs, snuffed the dark and not fragrant candles (with the old pair of scissors lent to me as a favour by the hostess)—and sat down to supper.
An extempore bed was managed for Charlie at the foot of the other, and with his head peered up oddly enough beneath a shelf-full of empty bottles, and his feet poked out at the opposite end, he enjoyed the comfortable proximity of the fire.
The vast width and extreme lowness of the chimney, had this inconvenience, that unless a fire, enough to cook us all, were kept up, a volume of icy-cold air rushed into the little room from without; and accordingly at various intervals during the night, the terrors of starvation urged me to rise and scrape the ashes together with a stick—and coax them into lighting the fresh wood I put on. Nor was this my only nocturnal diversion; I could watch as I lay, the transit of the stars which shone through the chinks in the roof, from one aperture to another, and if I dozed off in the midst of an "observation," Sam Slick on the chimney-piece woke me up the next time he struck. A cat, of uneasy mind and doleful voice, performed in long-drawn solo, a species of promenade concert on the creaking roof; and when during her wanderings to the more distant rafters of sheds and stables, the demoniac voice died away and blended with the wailing of the wind in the giant trees around—then, lest sleep should find a quiet pause to make good its entrance—the poor baby, for whose teething-troubles my sympathy and advice had overnight been sought by its puzzled mother, began to cry noisily, and to be hushed up more noisily still; and as every sound, in such a crazy, cranny-full tenement, pervades all corners of it alike, I may be understood to have, in popular phrase, "enjoyed a very bad night."
I could not help wishing that my hostess's taste had inclined rather to the useful than to the ornamental, in the earthenware department, as I could have suggested several desirable additions of homely requirements; a wash-handbasin for instance—as I rather demur to the use of a tin-bowl out of the kitchen—but tastes differ.
Our dressing-table having been cleared for breakfast, that dispatched, and valises packed, we set forth on a rough, rocky track, twisting and turning through the forest, which here consists of very lofty trees, nearly all Eucalyptus of different species. As we passed one giant gum-tree, Mr. Meredith, pointing to the black cavernous hollow which repeated bush fires had burned in its enormous trunk, said—
"The last time I rode this way, I killed the largest black snake I ever saw, in that hole."
And the narration of this perilous, but not otherwise remarkable incident, gave to the conversation of the next few miles a very reptilious complexion. We have known several recent instances of snakes being found in the act of swallowing other snakes. Sometimes the victim has been alive and writhing actively when discovered; and then the question arises—'How was its head induced to go down its neighbour's throat?' In other cases, both reptiles were lying perfectly still; one quieted by death, the other by repletion. I have seen snakes opened, and the creatures they had swallowed taken out; the process of digestion had evidently been going on upwards—the head, which first reaches the stomach, being quite, or nearly decomposed, and the adjoining parts in a sort of transition state. In the digestion of so long a body as that of another snake, I believe that several days must elapse before the whole is sucked in and consumed. As a snake thus occupied is incapable of biting anything else, it would be curious, and quite safe, to capture one after his meal has begun, and keep him until he finished. But the horror of them is so great, and they so often contrive to elude pursuit, that few persons have sufficient coolness and composure to pause in this favourable moment for the solution of any natural enigma.
A lady of my acquaintance once displayed greater presence of mind, than I, with my impulsive, shuddering terror of the dangerous reptiles, could have supposed possible. She was lying awake one dark night, aroused, she believed, by a slight noise in her room, and felt something come softly on to the bed, and pass over her feet; it glided on, and pushed, gently and coldly, against her arm, which lay outside the clothes, across her breast. She then knew that the moving thing was a snake, and that to stir—was to die. With wonderful self-command, every nerve thrilling with horror, she lay perfectly still, whilst the reptile endeavoured again and again to nestle itself beneath her warm arm; failing to do this, it glided slowly on, over her shoulder and the pillow, and thence dropped on the floor. With one convulsive plunge, she gained the door and called for help, and when lights came, a large black snake was found and killed; but my courageous friend suffered in general ill-health for some time, from the fright of those few awful moments.
When such hair-breadth escapes from death by snake-bites become topics of fireside chat, many strange and true tales are told, that make one fidget and glance uneasily round, with a creeping kind of suspicious dread, much as children do who go upstairs in the dark after hearing a good ghost story; and a black ribbon or velvet band, dimly seen in a suspicious shape on the floor, or the round soft tail of demure Mrs. Puss or honest Sancho, felt for a moment beneath one's foot, gives the whole frame a shock, not to be thoroughly comprehended by those who have no worse domestic intruders to dread, than a poor little sleek mouse or even a "black beadle." And the snake-panic is in one respect like earthquakes and tooth-drawing; each new visitation or alarm, instead of increasing our indifference and stoicism, seems to cause more terror than the last.
This being understood, my readers will be better prepared to sympathize with the feelings of a gentleman whose occupation as a land surveyor compelled him frequently to make long journeys and sojourns in the bush, with only a small tent for shelter; and in consequence he was led so much into the company of the snaky fraternity, that his antipathy and fear devised a scheme for his protection at night, by sewing up the sides and one end of an oppossum-skin rug, in the form of a bag, or bolster-case, with a running string round the open end. Laying this straight out where he proposed sleeping, he used to shuffle and wriggle into it feet first, and then draw up the string round his neck. Having on one occasion achieved this rather complicated process of getting into bed, he became aware that one of his dreaded enemies had retired before him, and being aroused by his entrance, was writhing and twisting about his feet. How he extricated himself from the abhorred reptile, I believe he had no very clear remembrance; one thing however is tolerably certain—that he got out of bed much more expeditiously than he got in.
Snakes are fond of being wrapped up in clothing; they are not unfrequently found in the jackets or woollen shirts which labouring men fling aside when at work; and I have heard many stories of their getting on and into beds in huts; but the comparative rarity of fatal encounters with these deadly reptiles is to me a source of as great surprise, as of thankfulness.
One day Mr. Meredith and a friend found a large snake sunning itself outside a deserted hut; when disturbed, it instantly glided in amongst the loose stones of the chimney, whilst my husband stood, gun in hand, watching for a sight of the creature's head amongst the ruins. E—— peered cautiously in at the open doorway, thinking he might discern it in the dark hollow of the smoke-blackened hearth.
"Do you see him?" inquired Mr. Meredith.
"No—no—I can't see anything—Yee-ah!" and with a bound that would do credit to an acrobat, and a yell worthy of a Red Indian, E—— leaped from the door.
"Has he bitten you?"
"Eh? No—I'm not sure—I don't think so—but I was looking straight into the chimney for him, and heard a rustle—and there he was, with his head flattened out and his eyes glittering, sailing along just between my feet."
This snake escaped in the panic—as very many do.
An incident which was lately related to me, shows that my favourites, the birds, have as much cause to dread snakes, as ourselves. The narrator, Mr. John Amos, of Swan Port, was riding through his sheep-run, when his attention was attracted by the loud and distressed cries of a pair of Miner birds, which were flying closely round and about a tree at a short distance. He rode quickly up, and then saw that a large black-snake had ascended the tree, and crawled along a large branch. On a bough beneath, and beyond it, was the nest of the poor Miners, full of young helpless birds; and the snake, elongating itself to the utmost, was trying to reach them. It had, luckily for the birds, mistaken the bough, and climbed along the wrong one. Again and again it launched itself forward, holding on by as little of its body as would sustain its weight, but in vain—when a slight noise made by Mr. Amos in approaching nearer, alarmed him, and he dropped quickly to the ground, but was killed. Mr. Gould, nature's painter, in extra-ordinary, for our part of the world, should have beheld the scene. He would have made an effective picture of it.
The poor Miner has many enemies; gardeners abuse him, because he is fond of fruit, and an excellent judge of cherries; and, as I have before been forced to confess, he is an impudent and very pertinacious fellow; yet I like him more than many a bird of better behaviour, and less objectionable tastes. There is something so clever and piquant in his person and manner; he is so active and full of energy; whether the affair he has on hand be an onslaught on my cherries, or the noisy chase of a hawk or crow; or a grand convocation of some fifty of his kind, to discuss (amidst infinite fluttering, chattering, and as much irrelevant gossip, and snappish impertinent personality, as if he were a human member of a Colonial Legislative Assembly) any question of miner-ological interest; he is always the same busy, bustling, self-reliant, and thoroughly well-dressed bird. His surname of Garrula (Myzantha Garrula) is certainly well deserved. My boys in no degree partake of my partiality, for they complain that my friend is so much on the alert, that when they are creeping silently along, to get a shot at anything, the miner often defeats them by sounding an alarm in his shrill cry of "Thief! Thief!" whereat the intended victim escapes. But this only increases my respect for the clever miner. His common name is a great absurdity, it is said to be given from his resemblance to some Indian bird called Mina, or Miner. But why our merry, bold denizen of sunshine and flowers, should bear an appellation suggestive of subterranean vocations, with which he has naught whatever to do—I do not comprehend. I suppose we must attribute it to the same topsy-turvy style of nomenclature, which calls a tree, with foliage like the jointed horse-tail grass of English brooks, an oak, and a handsome talkative bird, a jackass.
I have one more snake story to tell. A little colony of swallows had built under the eaves of an old house of ours (Spring Vale), and remained undisturbed favourites of the friends who subsequently occupied the house. One day an unwonted amount of fluttering and twittering attracted attention to the nests; when the cause of their distress was discovered, in the presence of a large snake, which had, in some extraordinary manner, and with strange powers of adhesion, contrived to ascend the stone wall, and was stretched along it, beneath the wooden gutter or spout surrounding the roof, and with no other support than the trifling inequalities of the stone work; and very composedly occupied in diving its horrible head into a nest, and devouring the callous little fledglings one after another, despite the frantic endeavours of the poor old birds to drive it away. Of course the cruel destruction was stopped instantly, and the snake knocked down and killed.
In driving up our own lane on our way home from church one Sunday, Charlie called out, "There's a snake in the hedge, father!" and on stopping, we found a not very large one, lying basking on a sort of slanting ledge, formed by the gorse; in no way incommoded, apparently, by the spiny nature of its couch: it was also killed.
During this digressive gossip, let it be supposed that our horses have paced steadily on, and that some miles of monotonous forest have been traversed. The trees on this high land grow to an immense size, and are Eucalyptus, of the kinds commonly known as Blue Gum, White Gum, Peppermint, and Stringy bark; among them some green and blue Wattles (Acacia) and the Honeysuckle (Banksia) afford some diversity of tint and form. The underscrub is rich in lovely plants, including several varieties of the Epacris; the bright rose-crimson and the common white, both grow two or three feet high, with long, slender spikes of heath-like bells; another very beautiful white one, has shorter and more starry flowers, closely wreathed round the stem, with the points of their sharp little leaves peeping between the blossoms, and all as close and compact as an ear of maize, and so purely delicate, that I prefer them to the more showy crimson ones, which vary greatly in depth of tint in different situations, showing sometimes within a short space, every gradation from deep crimson to pale blush-colour.
Many of our low shrubs have small pea-shaped flowers of orange and yellow, all most daintily pencilled with veins of darker tint, and with all varieties of foliage; some have soft leaves, and are altogether of a mild and pacific character; others carry sharp spikes, like hidden weapons, beneath their festal array; and some stand on the offensive without disguise or compromise, one mass of interwoven spikes, as difficult to capture as a bunch of gorse itself: but very handsome, forming, as many of them do, a gleam of gold, like a flame in the sombre forest. Our taller shrub Lissanthe Strigosa, a perfect chevaux-de-frise of small narrow spiny leaves, bears greenish white flowers on the ends of the young shoots, and quantities of beautiful currant-shaped berries, tinted like ripe peaches, on the wood of the previous season. Any flower or shrub with larger leaves is a treasure amidst these lovely, but petite forms, and a handsomer tuft of feathery ferns, or even a great tussock of the tall reedy marsh grass, with its long, ragged, brown spikes, and far-waving green blades, "comes in" nicely in the foreground of logs and stumps, with which all artistic eyes are only too familiar in the Bush.
Campbell Town—Road—Housebreaking—Old mill near Perth—Flood—Launceston—Cataract Valley—Go on board the steamer—My state-room—Contrary gale—Waterloo Bay—Wind-bound—Boots, beards, and politics—Sporting talk—Cooking talk—Chorus.
The forest now began to show broader vistas, the trees grew more sparsely, and were of less gigantic proportions, and we emerged on the brow of the "Green Hills" (brown enough sometimes!) whence there is an extensive view over the flat central plain of the Island, with the dark Western Tier, the vertebral range of our mountain system, rising gloomy and cloud-wreathed beyond Ben Lomond's massive, square, buttressed form looming grandly on the N.E. Our only adjunct is wanting to render the view eminently beautiful; there is neither winding river, nor gleaming lake, nor far-off glimpse of the blue sea, to refresh and delight the eye. Still it is a lovely prospect, particularly in Spring, ere the grass has lost its too transient verdure. Because rivers are not visible from hence, it must not be supposed that none flow through the wide extent of country over which we looked, and past the meadows, woods, orchards, and gardens, which embosom so many English-looking country-houses and cottages; but these, the Macquarie, Elizabeth river, and others, are all small, and in dry seasons shrink to chains of ponds.
As we descended the hills, the buildings in Campbell Town became more distinct, and the increasing scarcity of dead wood and trees would alone have indicated our approach to a township.
It used to seem to me a strange colonial anomaly to call a very small village a "township" and a much larger one a "town." But the former is the term applied to the lands reserved in various places for future towns, many of which are in the heart of the primeval forest, or on open plains, unfrequented save by sheep, and with as little token of human habitation as there was, twenty years ago, on the top of Plinlimmon (perhaps, despite Wordsworth, there is a city and a railway there, now); a fingerpost, or board nailed on a tree with the name of the town, is perhaps, for years, the sole intimation to the traveller, of its long anticipated existence. Then, increasing traffic in the neighbourhood induces some adventurous individual to build and open a small public-house; a blacksmith probably follows, for there are marvellous subtle sympathies between the two callings; then perhaps a shoemaker, also of a thirsty temperament, embarks his all in the vicinity, and shortly after it becomes essential, that a police-office should watch over the general weal, under the guardianship of a constable, and visited periodically by either a stipendiary magistrate, or the nearest justice of the peace. A church and a school sometimes follow, but in many cases are far in the rear; whilst the taproom, the skittle-ground, and the gaol, perform their share in educating the rising generation, unchecked by any antidote, moral or religious.
Campbell Town probably germinated much in the same manner, but so long ago, that I never heard when it first became settled. Now it is indubitably a town of small degree, containing several straggling streets (the principal one being the main road from Launceston to Hobart), a church and good grammar-school, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian chapels, besides Dissenting meetings, some tolerably good "stores," (as we designate those colonial shops-of-all-work, where on one side we buy iron pots, groceries, glass, china, medicines, and door-mats; and on the other, a fashionable French bonnet, a packet of envelopes, a skein of Berlin wool, or a counterpane), and, as in all colonial towns and villages, the number of public-houses is absolutely astonishing. I believe I do not exaggerate in the least, in judging the proportion of the latter, as compared with the number of butchers or bakers, to be as twenty to one—in most places. Even so small a
"Pennyworth of bread,
To this intolerable quantity of sack!"
Most of the hotels here are superior in all respects to the generality of inns in the colony. Neither Hobart nor Launceston has any equal to them for comfort or quietness; and in the well-appointed rooms we were accustomed to occupy in one of them, and in the society of our eldest-born, a schoolboy in the town, who gladly gained permission to obey his brother's welcome summons to visit us, all travelling fatigues and troubles were soon forgotten.
The luggage had safely arrived by its circuitous route, and from hence, sending our favourite horses back home by a servant, we proceeded to Launceston by coach, without further adventure, unless the imperilling of our lives and those of the other passengers by the yoking up of wholly unbroken horses, may be mentioned as such; the proprietor of the coaches, now a monopolist of the business on the whole line of road (120 miles), having purchased a number of young, wild, unbroken horses, promised his coachmen a pound a head for each colt they could make go in harness "without the bother of breaking in." Two of these were accordingly put in at each change, with two old stagers, and the consequences were such rearing, plunging, kicking, entanglements with the traces, and general disorder, as might be expected, amidst a confused Babel of cries—"Hold him. Jack!" "Stand o' one side!" "Free the traces!" "Woa!" "Keep off!" "Take his head!" "Hold that mare!" "Legs over the pole!" "Look out!" "That'll do—LET 'EM GO!" and off they went, assuredly; and off the road on the other side; then backed nearly into the doors of the inn; but after a few more eccentric manoeuvres, more lively than pleasant, the poor scared creatures became so far manageable, as to gallop along the road, with only a few serpentine deviations, until their task ended for awhile, at the next stage, when the same performance ensued, with new characters.
What would have been said at Home, in the days when railways were not, if the "crack" coaches on the main roads had been horsed in like style? In one most essential point, I must give all praise to the proprietor. However he might underrate our necks, his horses were all in good condition, and without wounds. The very recollection of the frightful cruelties I have seen and remonstrated against in the treatment of coach-horses on this same road some years back, is absolutely sickening. I have seen the collars when put on, fitting into red, raw hollows in the galled shoulders; and open holes, chafed by ill-managed harness, on the bleeding sides of the wretched animals; and not one of the other spectators of the iniquity seemed to think it worth an observation; but on the contrary, looked amazement at my horror and indignant expostulations.
The excellent road from Campbell Town to Perth, is as straight as a railway, and nearly as level. It passes through a monotonous woody tract, named Epping Forest, with few views of any interest, except when openings give a peep of grand Ben Lomond. In the vicinity of Perth, and on the banks of the South Esk river, some of our wealthy colonists have made most English-like homes, with deer-parks, gardens, conservatories, and other adjuncts of comfort and luxury; but as we are whisked along in the coach, all we see of them is perchance the glint of a glass-roof in the sun, a wreath of curling smoke, and a chimney-top, or a handsome carriage turning in at one of the white gates beside the road.
During one of my pleasant sojourns in this neighbourhood, I was introduced, when on a sketching expedition, to a most picturesque old water-mill, seated in a verdant hollow, on the bank of a broad, placid pool of the river. Woody hills rose behind it, and the intervening banks of the winding stream shut out all sign of the world beyond. The mill was built of wood, irregular in shape, with all sorts of odd excrescent lean-tos and projections, and a high peaked roof, with droll little cock-loft windows peering out at the top; and so old, that every portion was Time-tinted, mossy, and mellow. Not two lines in the whole fabric ran parallel; the windows sloped one way, the doors sloped another; and the steps, each one slanted away from its brother. In token of its advanced age and infirmities, props, consisting of trees—every one crooked—cut down, and not barked, but merely the branches lopped off, had been stuck up against it for crutches; but these too had been up so long, that they harmonised in tone with the rest. The heavy primitive old wheel, green and grey, and not quite true in its circularity, went bumbling and tumbling round, making a suitable bass to the soft coo of the pretty white pigeons that were daintily pacing on the high roof; and the bright spout of water, falling in flakes of sunlight, chafed into impatient foam, and hurried angrily away at being received with such imperturbable apathy by the superannuated old wheel, that ever purred sleepily on, as it made each deliberate turn. A slender, graceful young Tea-tree (Leptospermum), growing up between the massy mossy old props, dropped some of its long sprays of snowy blossoms over the dark wheel, and into the falling water, as though to deck itself with the glittering drops that flashed around like jewels; and a group of Acacias, their blueish blooming foliage laden with fringed golden clusters, hawthorn-like in fragrance, grew just beyond the corner of the mill, where the eddying water gurgled past, to rejoin its parent river.
How I wished that some artist, who could worthily paint the picture, had been there to see it! But were any now to seek the spot, he might "dree as weary a weird," as did the brave Roland de Vaux in the Valley of St. John,* and not the spells of a thousand Merlins could avail him to win a glimpse of my beautiful old mill. The next winter there came a continuance of heavy rains; and devastating floods swept over many parts of the Island, destroying property to an immense amount, in sheep, buildings, bridges, roads, fences, and land. (Our own particular share of the calamity included above a thousand fine ewes, and their lambs, beside many smaller losses, in land, grain, and fences.) The friends who had directed my steps to the old mill, told me afterwards, how they watched the river rising rapidly, tearing up and ploughing into holes the lowest portions of their own terraced garden, which rose from the river-side, up the slope of the hill. Amidst the quantities of "wreck" that were borne past on the surging, tumultuous waves, besides the accumulated dead wood and branches, came trees and fences; then portions of the rafters and shingles of some old roof—Could it be the mill?
[* Vide Sir Walter Scott's "Bridal of Triermain."]
"There's a door—and some weatherboarding."
"And there comes, bobbing up and down, one of the quaint little cock-loft windows."
"And look—look there. What is that large white mass sailing steadily down?"
"Ah! the mill-floor, and a heap of flour sacks still standing on it!"
Alas—there remained no room for doubt—the poor old mill had been washed away!
The widow who had occupied it, and carried on her late husband's business, lived in a cottage close by, and narrowly escaped with her little children and servants, but they were all rescued, housed, and assisted, with that true good Samaritan benevolence, which calamity or distress invariably meets with here.
And now, I am told, whenever the people "of that ilk" go to the mill, they find a smart, straight, upright edifice, with patent machinery, and all manner of "improvements;" and very possibly, the flour may be more finely ground, and orders executed with greater dispatch—but I doubt exceedingly, if I shall linger round it, and stay to make three sketches of its various aspects, near and more distant, if I go there again! This is the second old water-mill in Tasmania whose disappearance I have had to deplore. No one at home can imagine how lovers of art, and what art delights in—picturesque forms and mellow bits of colour—lament such changes. No well-built colonial stone edifices have yet had time to get respectably old-looking; all are sharp and raw as ever; mere parvenus of yesterday; and failing all such ancienne noblesse as the castles, abbeys, churches, mansions, and manor-houses of the old world, even a rickety, tumble-down old wooden mill has its value. The handsome stone-bridge over which we crossed the South Esk, and entered the town, or rather village of Perth, suffered great injury from the same calamitous inundation, and was so unsafe to traverse, that men were stationed on it to prevent carriages going faster than a foot's pace. Fortunately it had been repaired, ere our parody upon Mazeppa and the wild horse was performed across it.
Launceston is certainly improved, since my first acquaintance with it ten or twelve years ago, when carts used to be swallowed up in the mud-pits of its streets; but the visits I have since made thither, when flitting through, a mere bird of passage, have been too brief to qualify me for any description of the place or its environs. We enjoyed our very pleasant ramble on the morning after our arrival, towards the "Cataract," a deep gorge through which the waters of the South Esk pour in a series of foaming, tumbling rapids; but our time being limited by the necessity of going on board our steamer early in the afternoon, we were prevented walking far enough to reach the head of the glen. Climbing a steep, bare hill, partly by a road made for carting stone and road-metal into the town, and then by scrambling among the bold projecting crags and masses of rock, we gained an imposing view of the deep glen beside and far beneath us, where the river, rolling rapidly, fitted the bottom of the ravine, chafing at each impediment in its headlong course, and making foam-fringed eddies as it rushed along.
Looking onwards, as far as the obstructing hill-side permitted, thick scrubs of Tea-tree lay dark beside the river, and a broad gleam of white foam, backed by steep, sombre hills in deep shadow, indicated the greater beauty which lay beyond, and which we might not stay to reach.
Some pretty goats frisked and ran beside us, performing all possible and, as it seemed, impossible antics, as they bounded along, or sprang from crag to crag, and gracefully poised themselves on pinnacles, overhanging the dark deep below, as we retraced our way town-wards. Soon a solitary fishing-boat appeared below—then two or three more—then a few larger craft; and—when in view of the town, partly built in the flat near the river, and partly in streets and terraces, with intermingled gardens and trees, climbing up and almost covering the hill side behind, whilst an assemblage of steamers and other vessels peopled the wharves and stream—a most bright and pleasant picture lay before us.
After laying in a supply of new books for the voyage, and securing our luncheon, as a last land privilege of comfort, we went on board the Firefly, amid precisely the same bustle and confusion that accompanies the process all over the world; and a crowd of trunks, coals, butchers meat, ladies, carriages, onions, cabbages, wheelbarrows, baskets, nursemaids and children, servants with dogs, tons of bags of potatoes, legions of boxes of apples, trays full of fresh loaves, crates of poultry, stokers and pokers, black and soot-begrimed gentlemen with cigars, wide-awakes, and the boots Bombastes loved—these and "many more" were hurrying and being hurried on board, with a distracting amount of ringing of bells, calling, bawling, bustling, jostling, huddling, thumping, growling, grumbling, haggling, disputing, scrambling, stamping, and, it must be confessed, a small amount of "swearing" and "ugly words past mentioning or bearing."
When we had escaped from the thickest of the turmoil, and I had time to look round, the most gentlemanly looking individual I saw, sitting quite erect and composed, until he advanced towards me with a dignified but inquiring air, was a very large and handsome Newfoundland dog, and apparently satisfied with the result of his examination, he put his great black nose into my hand, and looked up into my face. Some one warned me not to touch him, as he "was savage;" but I suspect my shaggy friend was a better judge of human, than his accuser of canine, nature; and accordingly, after a satisfactory interview, carried on by caresses and encouragement on my side, and grave inquisitive sniffs and glances on his, he evidently made up his mind that I was deserving of patronage, and lay down majestically close to my feet. I felt greatly disposed to remonstrate, when some time after, the mate or steward came with a chain and collar and took my noble acquaintance ignobly into custody, and led him off to be secured elsewhere. I found that he had come on board of his own accord when the vessel was last at Melbourne, and was now being taken back again. Perhaps he thought the cooler climate of our island would better suit his constitution, as it doubtless would; the Newfoundland dogs I afterwards saw in Melbourne were nearly all diseased, and mangy, and suffer distressingly in the hot, dry seasons prevalent there. I remember hearing, when in Sydney years ago, of similar travelling propensities in a dog belonging to a family, who personally resided at Parramatta, but had a house of business in Sydney. The dog was equally well acquainted with both places, and having accompanied his friends to and fro in the steamer, and approving of it as an easy means of transit, used, when disposed for a change of air and scene, to go down to the wharf at the proper time in the afternoon, trot on board, and be carried to Parramatta; when, quitting the deck with the other passengers, he duly appeared at home. After a time, he would, in the same independent manner, take his passage down again to Sydney.
On the evening of our embarkation we only made "Whirlpool Reach," a narrow, tortuous part of the Tamar, and there anchored for the night in smooth water. As my husband had told me, he had taken a "state-room" near the ladies' cabin for myself and Charlie. I fear my expectations were not fully realized by the cupboard with two shelves, one over the other, into which I was ushered by the stewardess. Table or seat there was none, and only just space for the narrow door to open, without striking the shelves. So that the state-room promised a state of cramp for want of room, if naught else. The ladies' cabin adjoining, besides being the dormitory of all the other female cabin-passengers, and several children, was their general washing and tiring-room. Thinking that on the following night we should reach Melbourne, discomfort or privation for one day and two nights was not deserving of much anxiety; the less so, as the two dominant evils I anticipated—seasickness and evil smells—were wholly unavoidable; and thankful to pass one night in smooth water, and full of pleasant expectations of new scenes and happy meetings, the evening and night passed quietly away.
Early in the morning we were again steaming and screwing along; but in passing George Town (at the mouth of the Tamar) and the pretty shore opposite, my reminiscences of former travels, and difficulties suffered there, were dismissed by present apprehensions. A heavy swell and rough sea, with a sharp westerly wind, met us at the Heads, boding no realisation of the "pleasant voyage" assured to us by leave-taking friends. Such lady-passengers, as had come on deck, either vanished altogether, or assumed suspiciously recumbent attitudes.
My poor boy, looking unutterably pale and woe-begone, clung to the side; and I have some faint recollection of losing all power to fix my attention on the book in my hands, and sinking down in a forlorn and collapsed condition among some of the apple-boxes with which the deck was lumbered over, where my husband, failing to induce me to "go below," covered me up with wraps as warmly as the penetrating wind permitted. He, happy man! being exempt from all such humiliating sensations, by virtue of a liberal amount of salt-seasoning in early years.
All that wretched day the vessel continued to plunge and shudder and groan through the tossing sea, making very little progress. The gale continued to increase in vehemence, and the sea rose higher and higher. Night fell, and still we were struggling vainly to make way against the storm. Sea after sea broke over the vessel, and poured down through the skylights, adding the splash of water and the screams of women and children to the frightful chorus of that awful night.
The howling and whistling, and, as it seemed, the shrieking of the furious gale, the creaking and groaning of the vessel, and the loud concussion which shook her from stem to stern, each time the screw was flung out of the water by her abrupt descent from the summit of a wave, were truly horrible. It seemed impossible that wood and iron could hold together much longer in such a contest. Happily, we were then ignorant of the real state of the vessel, and that during each of her ordinary voyages, the working of the screw loosened the stern-plates so much, that repairs had always to be made before going to sea again. My berth lay "fore and aft," amidships, and each concussion seemed like the blow of a mighty sledge-hammer at the bulkhead, adding positive bodily pain to the terror I and poor Charlie suffered, and often shooting us over the ridge of our shelves. M——, whose bed was in the gentlemen's cabin, athwartship, was, as I afterwards found (albeit of no airy proportions), absolutely jerked out, by some of the heaviest shocks. His first welcome visit next morning brought the news that the captain, finding it utterly useless to fight against wind and waves any longer, had stopped the screw (finding it dangerous, no doubt, to let its straining motion continue), and borne up, under sail only, for Wilson's Promontory, until the gale should abate; and pleasant music to my ears was the sound of the chain-cable running out, as the anchor was dropped, an hour or two later.
The tiny light over my cabin-door opened just beneath an open skylight, so that we suffered less distressingly from semi-suffocation than it has been my frequent fate to do before, in colonial steam-vessels. Many of those here making sea-voyages of from two to five and eight hundred miles, are English river boats, in which but little night-accommodation is required; so that, whilst the "saloon" is spacious enough for a large company, the sleeping arrangements are, especially for ladies, inadequate in point of space, and totally bereft of ventilation. I know one or two, the "ladies' cabin" in which is so situate, that the two little round holes which comprise all the means for admitting light and air, are close to the engine and paddles; so that, when the vessel is at anchor, a disgusting greasy metal-and-steam effluvia comes in, and when in motion, the spray from the paddle-wheel wets everything within reach. The Firefly's boudoir (!) had a good skylight; but when, I opened the door, such an oppressive and mephitic atmosphere met me, as proved my neighbours to be mysteriously independent of my necessity of life—fresh air. The close heat of a stove, shut skylights, and the night's exhalations from twenty or more women and children, ill and well—Ah! one feels faint at only the remembrance! Surely, if purgatory were a fact, foul air and evil smells would be among its penal agonies. The latter even more than sickness, are my dread at sea; for I truly believe that not Cologne itself, redolent of the "two-and-seventy separate" unfragrant odours, celebrated by Coleridge, could rival the ingenious variety and potent abomination of those encountered in steam-vessels. The chief saloon in this was very well arranged for fine weather, and being a river-boat originally, no sea-storms were prepared for; it was built on the deck, long and spacious, with sliding windows all round, and doors at either side, more suitable for a summer pleasure-excursion on lake or river, than to encounter a fierce "Nor'-Wester" in Bass's Straits.
On gaining the deck, I found we were snugly lying in Waterloo Bay, under Wilson's Promontory. It still blew a hard gale, covering even the land-guarded little bay with foam-edged waves, their snowy crests drifting along in the whistling, spiteful-sounding wind, like sleet-storms going crab-wise; and from the deck we saw the angry sea beyond, gloomy and black, except where the great rolling waves broke in sudden gleaming silver. Thick squalls continually drove athwart this grand but threatening picture; and distant vessels labouring through the mountainous sea, with close-reefed topsails only, appeared and disappeared amid the shifting mist, like spectreships; and we began to speculate on the probability of the Flying Dutchman having made his ghostly way into Bass's Straits.
Landward, our prospect was limited, and certainly monotonous. Save the crescent-shaped range formed by two headlands, and the intermediate steep rocky shore, the only land visible were distant and indistinct points, to the east, beyond Gipps' Land. Thick "bush" and scrub commenced at the very edge of the sandy beach, and rough, steep ground, covered with rocks and gigantic trees, continued up to the brow of the height above. On the seaward points, some finely grouped massive crags, stood aloft like watch-towers guarding the lonely bay; and lesser rocks, variously tinted with bright red, grey, and brown lichens, and set in wreaths of vivid green. Boobyalla bushes lay within the dash of the ceaseless spray.
The most weather-wise people on board could not see any prospect of immediate change or abatement of the wind. No Grand Lama ever assembled round him more watchful devotees, than did the aneroid barometer. Groups of anxious eyes were perpetually peering into its placid unconscious little face, like worshippers at the shrine of a divinity. It was, for the time, the "Great Medicine," the "Fetish" of the tribe; but the slender finger still pointed inexorably to "stormy." As there was not any prospect of escape for another twelve hours, boats were sent ashore for wood; and I hoped, that I might be enabled to enjoy the delight of a scramble in another new spot of earth, of thoroughly primitive aspect, and where I might find, if not wholly new plants, species unseen before by me. But the certainty of being wetted through by the rain, which fell in sudden squalls, or rather drifted (for I doubt if a cannon-ball could have dropped straight down in such a gale—gravitation itself seemed suspended), besides the quick crisp waves which I could see constantly broke over the boats, caused a veto to be put on any such designs; and I could only observe the progress of the wood-boats, as they pulled and pulled, for a weary time, scarce making any way; and when at last they succeeded in landing, I watched the beautiful "effects" of the blue smoke from the fires, made by the men and some of the passengers who accompanied them, as it curled and wreathed upwards, from some deep glen or gully; and the distant sound of the axe, and sometimes the rustling and crash of the "fall of a glorious tree," came by upon the fierce wind. Night fell, and the saloon, warm and brightly lit, assembled its motley collection of passengers round the long table, or in small chatting coteries on the sofas. There were Australian squatters, and Tasmanian settlers, merchants, clerks, shopkeepers; and among the latter, some of the "Wiggins-at-Boulogne" stamp, assuming and dictatorial abroad, in proportion as they would be found crimping and obsequious behind the counter at home. The Australians discoursed largely concerning "last year's clip," and prices thereby realized; of the prices of sheep; shepherds' wages and rations; the gold-fields nearest their own "runs;" the new "land regulations;" and, above all, the various compositions for dressing sheep. Topics of this class were generally discussed by personages of particularly hirsute physiognomy and stout aspect, addicted to Bombastes-boots, loud waistcoats, perpetual cigars, and knowing "wide-awakes;" the latter not inapt tokens of the idiosyncrasy of their wearers. There were Tasmanian settlers, also very hairy, very smoky, and with a considerable tendency to boots; likewise learned in sheepology and wool, and diligent in discussing and comparing notes on such matters with the Victorians, especially in the scab-dressing department; and earnest arguments ensued on the relative merits of corrosive sublimate, sulphur, arsenic, tobacco, soda, snuff, and saltpetre, in various combinations and proportions—and whether best applied hot or cold—and whether by means of rubbing, soaking, or dipping—when "Greek met Greek" on this kindred subject.
If Englishmen at home, as is asserted, always talk politics, what must be said of Colonists? Because, even as a wave in shoal water makes infinitely more surf, and splash, and foam, than in the fathomless ocean, so do the political affairs of a small community create proportionably more turmoil, excitement, and party-feeling, in its limited circle, than the grander events do in a larger sphere of action; and thus, in all grades, trades, societies, and meetings whatsoever in the colonies, politics claim the lion's share of attention and talk. The contemplated "abolition of State aid" to all religious establishments—the cry for "consolidation in public departments," and consequent diminution of the enormous cost of Government*—the customs duties and general tariff, and the multifarious subordinate matters thereunto belonging—the publican's licensing bill—"masters and servants" act—or that notable scheme, worthy only of the dark ages, the increase in the already high rates of postage (which, by the way, has happily, and most signally failed)—even that fertile subject for never-ending argument, "the waste lands bill"—all come in for brisk discussion, because all are alike important to the masses and to individuals.
[* The late census gives the entire population of Tasmania as 80,802. Of these, 26,836 are males above 21; and the number of "inhabited houses" is given as 14,273, including every hut, hovel, or shanty occupied by servants, shepherds, sawyers, &c. The Governmental expenditure for the same year is £335,399 14s. 5d.! Let ever-grumbling John Bull in England read, mark, and draw what consolation he can, from a comparison of his grievances with those of the colonial branches of his family!]
One person, of loud and authoritative tone, in a complete suit of rhubarb-and-ginger colour, was singularly sporting and "turfy" in his discourse, which was chiefly made up of stable and race-course slang—"odds," "two to one," "well-bred uns," "distanced," "light weights," "neck and neck," and similar phrases, very glibly delivered; and yet there was a palpable discrepancy between the man and the talk—fully explained subsequently, when I saw him, sleeved and aproned, behind a grocer's counter in Melbourne. Three stout middle-aged men, evidently well-to-do in the world, were travelling together, on a pleasure-trip. One of them incessantly talked eatables. Like—with a difference—the fairy-tale damsel who with every word dropped a diamond on a rose, this worthy never spoke but to enunciate, in a tone of immense relish—"soup," "gravy," "turtle," "capital pie!" "savoury jelly," "steaks done to a turn, with the juices in!" "glorious goose!" "splendid sassages!" "oysters stewed in cream"—and all with such a watery smacking and sucking of the lips, and an unctuous gabble in the voice, that, as a neighbour, he was more to be dreaded, if possible, than the second of the triad, who volunteered long narratives of dyspepsia and other maladies, with a catalogue raisonné of every remedy, whether quack or orthodox—oil, pill, powder, bolus, draught, lotion, electuary, cataplasm, and the doctors only know what besides!—-all which "to hear, did seriously incline" one quiet rosy old lady, who (on board) wore her bonnet over her nightcap, and, with silver spectacles very low on her nose, knitted like perpetual motion itself; the quick gleam of the steel pins made one wink to look at them. The amount of medical and pharmacopaeical information poured into her willing ears, must have been something frightful!—comparable only to reading columns upon columns of Holloway's or Morrison's advertisements. The excellence of her constitution was really consolatory, enhancing the hope that she might survive the ordeal! The third of the party was clearly superior to, and more silent than the others; as he needed, poor man! to listen to the gastronomy and physic dispensed by his allies. Young ladies, with crochet and little work-baskets, and elder ladies with families and nursemaids, and the usual quota of absolute insipidities, filled up the list, and surrounded the table at breakfast, luncheon, dinner, and tea. After tea, three or four whist-quartets plunged across the long table; cribbage, chess, and backgammon, had also their pairs of votaries, and the jargon that arose often reached the corner where I sat reading, much in this fashion:—
"Yes, sir, I've proved it. I always dip my"—
"Governor himself was against it, when it was passed."
"Oh, indeed, they 're splendid eating, if you cook them"—
"In arsenic and soda, hot as"—
"Deep-sea fishing company."
"And the Colonial Secretary said to me, says he, I'm"—
"Thirty fathoms down below"—
"And did their distance cleverly—won by a head; a good jockey, sir!"
"Improves the staple, yoke rises beautiful, and"—
"Clubs is trumps."
"A sweet pretty pattern! Did you ever work"—
"Trumpeters* five feet long, and weighing thirty pounds"—
[* An excellent fish.]
"Scammony, quinine, and assafoetida, equal parts."
"Yes, sir, that spout pours the water in one continued stream"—
"—from Manilla or the Mauritius, direct, at a duty of"—
"Two for his heels! It's my crib."
"Cod-liver ile, ma'am, and reveylentyarybicky."
"Steward! two brandies-and-water, hot."
"With six hundred tons of guano on board."
"And when they pass that bill, sir"—
"It's a gammon!"
Third day of the gale—Shark alongside!—Col. H. and the butter-firkin—A new acquaintance—Fourth day of the gale —Fifth day—Put to sea again—Heads of Port Philip—Hobson's Bay—Mail-steamer—Sandridge Pier—Irish car—Housed at last—"Chancery Lane"—"Temple Court"—Boots—Blue stone buildings—St. Paul's church—University—Suburbs—Villas—The Botanic Gardens—Cremome—The Swamp—Theatres—"Quite Colonial"—Shilling Balls.
Another morning! And still the gale continued unabated; and still the aneroid divinity remained unpropitiated by the constancy and devotion of its worshippers. Still, the dear, busy old lady knitted—knitted on, as if under a conviction that the world must go barefoot, until her active fingers provided it with hosen; and the politicians argued; and,
"—e'en tho' beaten, they would argue still."
and the sharp-dipping liquid was warmed up anew; and the gastronomer cooked and gobbled over his retrospective dainties; and the dyspeptic prescribed, compounded, and dispensed as usual; the young ladies simpered, and worked the eternal crochet; and the married ones looked after their straggling olive branches, and bemoaned themselves apologetically on the subject of soiled frocks and socks, and other small gear; winding up each lament with, "But as we shall certainly sail tonight, it is not worth while to unpack trunks."
I disliked the omen. If, I thought, those trunks were to be unpacked, and all these dingy little people made bright and fresh again, I should have far more hope of our speedy liberation. But the fact of everything being ready and everybody confident of getting away, seemed to me real cause for apprehension. The wind still whistled and whizzed and shrieked round us, and contenting myself with an occasional peep through the open window at the slowly moving wood-boats going ashore, I lay comfortably ensconced on a sofa, reading; when I was slightly aroused by ejaculations of surprise and interest outside; and footsteps went scuffling along in a more animated style than commonly. Presently, my boy darted in,—
"Mother! mother! here's a great shark alongside, and we're going to catch him. Do come and see!"
So wrapping my plaid round me, and tying my hat down with almost strangling tightness, I mounted the apple-box platform, which entirely occupied the afterpart of the deck, thinking the while of one of M——'s fellow-passengers in a homeward voyage. This was a testy old military officer, very gouty, very asthmatic, and irascible to an explosive degree. One day, sitting down in the cuddy, he accidentally hit one of the invalid feet against some obstacle.
"What the —— is that! What the —— business have people to put things there! Confound that mischievous imp of a steward: he does it on purpose. What is it, I say?"
"Please, sir," quoth the steward's boy, "I think it is only the butter-firkin, sir."
"Butter-firkin, sir!—the butter-firkin! And what, may I ask, is the butter-firkin doing under the cabin table, sir? Butter-firkin, forsooth! I'm crippled for a week. Now, mark my words, sir: I'll never—no, that I won't—bless me if I do! I'll never take my passage in a ship again, that carries her butter-firkin under the cabin table." (As though the so-doing were a fixed institution peculiar to a certain class of vessels.)
Now, I must acknowledge a somewhat kindred feeling, in my prejudice to apple-boxes on the deck of a steamer. And although my protest was less vehement than that of the tortured Colonel, I registered a vow, mentally, not to have my passage taken again in a steamer that built pyramids and barricades of apple-boxes all over her decks. The nuisance is a serious one, even in a short voyage, as space for moving about is never too abundant; but, in the present case, we were penned up like sheep for the slaughter, with only just room left to pass singly along. All other deck-room was paved and built over with the abominable boxes, made of split paling roughly nailed together, (so roughly, that by the end of the voyage, few feminine dresses remained on board, that had not paid tributary shreds and fragments towards their decoration,) and containing one basket of apples each. They were expected to realize from 20. to 25s. per bushel in Melbourne; but this consignment must have turned out less profitably, having been for the most part saturated with salt water, and detained long over the usual time of transit.
By this time, the shark excitement had greatly increased. Hooks, harpoons, ropes, lines, and baits, are all in requisition; and, unscared by the hubbub on board, the great black back-fin of the monster goes cutting through the crested waves round and about the vessel.
"Look out!" "Here he comes," "There he goes," "Stand by with the harpoon!" sounded on all sides.
The creature had been first observed snapping at an empty bottle, flung overboard with other rubbish by the steward. The interest increases.
"He turns this way!"
"He smells the bait!"
"No, he's off again."
Even the knitting old lady pins her shawl over her bonnet, like an exaggerated gipsy, and comes to look on. Children swarm, and scramble over the boxes, at the peril of necks and legs (not to mention the rending of garments). The sporting personage in ginger-brown is vociferously active in giving orders to every one else. The gourmand wonders "What sort of eating shark would be," and speculates on the best mode of cooking it. The dyspeptic has a notion that it would be "horrid and indigestible." Meanwhile, M——, with the aid of Charlie's goodwill and admiring eyes, has caught the poor shark, and a tremendous splashing and flapping is heard down over the stern. A rope is quickly passed along to more hands, and at last the prey is hauled on deck, or rather on the platform of boxes, very speedily putting to flight all the excited spectators of the capture, by its convulsive plunging and floundering about, striking violently with its powerful tail in all directions, with rapid and heavy blows. It was about twelve feet long. I hope that my earnest petition, that it might be quickly and mercifully killed, availed to spare it any extra suffering. And a nice fine part was eaten by the sailors; but whether the gastronomist tasted it, I know not. And thus ended that episode of our Waterloo Bay captivity, except that every one discoursed "Shark" in addition to, and almost to the exclusion of all other topics for the remainder of the day; and such a mass of fearful, horrible, and incredible stories were narrated, as were distressing to listen to.
When the last wood boat arrived in the evening, one of the passengers brought on board some branches of shrubs, and among them one, which I at once saw was a new acquaintance for me. It was a very singular and handsome species of Banksia (colonially termed Honeysuckle). The general character of the tree was evidently similar to our common kind; but the leaves, instead of being small and dumpy at the end, were very long (5 or 6 inches), narrow, dark, and so deeply serrated, that the indentations very nearly, if not quite, touched the mid rib. These leaves grew very symmetrically round the stem below the cone, which was long, and to my thinking, very beautiful; though I heard some person near me exclaim:—
"Dear! it's an ugly thing!"
This cone-blossom, shaped like a muff, on stalks, was about five inches long, and more than two in diameter, and the long filaments of the pistils and stamens, which in the Tasmanian members of the family are soft, yellowish-green threads, like the texture of other flowers, were in this species, hard, black, and springy, exactly like horsehair, giving a most singular appearance to the cone. The acquisition of this new flower, and the capture of the shark, were the only two "events" in my Calendar this weary time.
Night came and passed, and the morning of Wednesday, the fourth day, dawned and shone; but no change of wind came with it. The old Greeks could not surely have been subject to such continuous hurricanes. Eolus and all his caverned crew would have split their cheeks ere they had blown an hour of our stubborn gale. Towards the evening of Wednesday, the Aneroid began to show some symptoms of compunction. The slender black finger went slowly up, as the great angry wind went slowly down, veering round a little to the east.
On Thursday morning we left our haven of refuge, and were soon rolling and pitching through the heavy sea beyond. As we proceeded, quantities of broken planks, bulkheads, casks, hen-coops, and other fragments floating round, indicated but too surely, that some vessels had been less fortunate than ours, and had gone to pieces in the storm. We afterwards learned that many had been lost during the gale, on all the neighbouring coasts; and had indeed cause for the devout thankfulness we felt for our preservation. Our dear ones at home had meanwhile comforted themselves by the "conviction" that we were safe in Launceston, thinking that the gale must have set in ere we had sailed.
After about seven hours more rolling and pitching, we approached the "Heads" of Port Philip; and here encountered a terrific increase of the swell. The huge, long waves, breaking and tumbling over in roaring cataracts, reminded me of a grand picture, seen years ago, of the surf at Madras; and it being evident that our way lay through them, I looked on, and held on, in no small anxiety. The active captain and the oldest seamen on board, wore grave and earnest faces; and my husband himself, who generally appears to me incapable of the sensation of fear, desired me and our boy to keep awhile within the cabin, thinking it probable the deck might be swept, and the encumbering load of boxes cause some accidents. Often it seemed, as if the mountain of blue water rolling towards us, must engulf the vessel; but only a few sprays struck her, and she rode well; and after struggling through the eddying and troubled sea for some time, we found the breakers were left behind, and our perils over.
The coast appeared uninteresting and barren; but now fearful along the sea-line, with the broad white foaming belt of breakers. The bar over which we had passed in safety, has been the scene of many fatal shipwrecks, and we watched with some anxiety a schooner which was approaching as we did. But our steam-speed soon left her far astern, and we could see her still labouring amidst the difficulties we had escaped.
As we advanced, the coast still looked dreary and bare, neither is it lofty enough to be picturesque at a distance. At length one or two human habitations became visible on the low rocky bank of the left shore; then the two lighthouses and the signal-staff, at Queen's Cliff, with a few houses and cottages for the resident officials, and such visitors as come to enjoy sea-bathing. A gleam of green here and there, gave the idea of attempts at gardening, but still it looked bare and uninviting. A boat came off, with the "Port officer," or the "Health officer" (or both, perhaps), and with them some passengers from Melbourne; after this, no signs of habitation or population on shore was visible until we came in sight of the ships and lighthouses in Hobson's Bay. The land was low, and becoming hazy and indistinct in the falling twilight. The numerous large buoys, of various colour and shape, marking the channel, were the most conspicuous objects; and on several were perched beautiful snow-white sea-gulls, looking as if they enjoyed the drowsy undulating motion of the buoys, as they moved in the ripple of the steamer; and were being pleasantly rocked to sleep.
Presently the red flame of a lighthouse blazed out ahead, like a great star suddenly risen; and twinkling lights in an uneven chain, failing in one place, doubled in another, denoted the position of William's Town. A whole fleet of phantom ships lay around us in the gathering gloom, and there was an "eerie" sort of excitement in the scene altogether. Hearing that a small steamer would come to fetch the mail, we decided to take a passage ourselves also, as the Firefly would not proceed further than William's Town until morning, and it was desirable to escape another night's "accommodation" on board, if possible.
A small black object, with a lantern aloft, soon came towards us, with a queer sound of "phit! phit! plit!" like a spitting cat. This was the mail boat; and after fizzing away beyond us, on some other errand, she came spitting back again, when it was almost dark, and drew up alongside; the top of her paddle-box not quite reaching our deck. Many other "fireflies" besides ourselves availed themselves of the opportunity; and boxes, trunks, carpet-bags, men, women, and children went scrambling over the bulwarks; and, amidst a Babel of "Hold on!" "Let go!" "Look out!" "Jump in!" "Here you are!" "There you go!" "Easy now!" and "Take care!" I found myself passed carefully down the black, narrow, slippery steps, and deposited on the little dirty deck; one smelt how dirty it was—though too dark for sight.
Heavily laden with her human freight, the puffing, spitting little machine went on her way, wabbling and rolling from side to side in most unpleasant fashion. It appeared to be about three feet each way, across from the hot black funnel which rose up almost in the midst of us, to the greasy rope or rail which, running through low stanchions, formed all the guard round the deck; nor was the length of the boat very much more than the width; and so, bobbing and rolling, spitting and gasping, we made our way; not very speedily, passing by spectral-looking vessels of all sizes; some towering above us dark and shadowy; the bright stars peeping and twinkling amongst the rigging, and red gleams glancing from cabin windows; others, more distant, telling only like oddly-shaped spiders' webs, against one pale strip of light—the last dying glory of the sunset sky.
"Ahoy!" suddenly sounds out of the gloom beside us; and the steamer is stopped, as a boat with more passengers comes alongside. Blind, as so many owls, in the fitful gleams of the mast-lantern, they came stumbling in amongst us, grumbling themselves, and being the cause of grumbling in others, who considered the little vessel overloaded even before; but with a fresh impetus of spitting and grunting, she went wabbling on.
Lights became more numerous as we proceeded, marking, apparently, the shore-line of the bay; and at last we reached the pier at Sandridge, where we were glad to quit our dark friend, and climb up to the platform. A considerate fellow-passenger had very kindly hurried on, and engaged one of the conveyances for us, which were waiting at the landward end of the pier. It was an inside Irish jaunting-car, with good bright lamps. We had two miles to drive into Melbourne, over which hung a broad illumined haze, whilst the scattered lights of the city specked over a wide extent of darkness below.
"This is Prince's-bridge, sir," said our driver, and soon we were flying along broad streets of shops blazing with gas; and whisking round corners, and up other streets, with a velocity quite bewildering to eyes dizzy with sea and darkness. At last we reached the hotel specially recommended to us.
"Extremely sorry—not one private sitting-room at liberty; no—not even a bedroom," was our pleasant reception! But the civil landlord, seeing me very weary and exhausted, proposed that we should rest, whilst he sent to see if rooms could be had near. Half an hour passed, and the messenger returned without having been successful. One other place was suggested, at some distance. Thither we drove, and were "taken in." Ushered up a long, narrow, and not very clean flight of stairs, we reached a lofty apartment, about 70 feet long and 20 feet wide, lit by gas, in three great chandeliers, and with a table running down the centre of the room, which it was a voyage to circumnavigate. The tea and coffee equipage, when it arrived, only told as a small islet, in that vast ocean of oiled-cloth table-cover. Charlie adopted a system of exploration on the tunnelling principle, but I contented myself with only a view of the opposite shore, until strengthened for the exertion by a cup of coffee and other comfortable accessories. Then I found considerable amusement in making the tour of the numerous coloured engravings, framed and hung round the walls; consisting of sporting, sentimental, dramatic, rural, and very miscellaneous subjects, of most inferior merit, but gorgeously framed. By way of contrast to our immense sitting-room, the sleeping arrangements were on a very limited scale. Small rooms, very small beds, and the smallest specimens of ablutionary apparatus I had yet seen. The descriptions of American inns and boarding-houses often recurred to us during our sojourn in Victoria; especially in this particular. Next morning, having collected our luggage incumbrances, they proceeded on a dray, with Charlie as supercargo, to the chief shrine of our Victorian pilgrimage—the house of dear friends.
I have heard Melbourne compared to London; but cannot myself recognize the slightest resemblance between the two in any way, or any part of either. I think it reminded me more of portions of Liverpool than any other Old Country city, and that chiefly on account of the comparatively more recent growth of the latter. Crowded thoroughfares, numerous vehicles, and an active, bustling, business-engrossed character are alike common to both; besides the grand feature of the shipping and seaport interest, although that can scarcely be said to form a prominent feature in the aspect of Melbourne itself; as the city is at some distance from the bay, and only linked to it by a railway, and a dirty river—which would be more correctly described as a ditch—but of that anon.
In walking down one narrow street, we noticed constantly such inscriptions as "Brown, solicitor,"—"Jones, barrister-at-law,"—"Robinson and Smith, solicitors,"—"Green, notary public," &c. "Surely this is Chancery Lane," I exclaimed, "if there be such a locality here," and on looking up at the end of the street, there was the old familiar name, and hard by it, is "Temple Court."
We passed several great horse-bazaars, and their usual accompaniment of what 'Punch' calls "horsey-looking" personages, employed in exhibiting or discussing the merits of various animals, and attired in a truly ingenious variety of driving, riding, jockeying, grooming, training, breaking, dealing, and criticizing costume, including the most marvellous collection of astonishing boots that ever congregated together. Boots are in fact a colonial epidemic, which has of late broken out in a violent manner, and with somewhat aggravated symptoms. The legs of Bombastes form a prevailing characteristic of all Australian street groups, and in fine, dry weather have an anomalous aspect enough; but my subsequent experience in the depth, consistency, and universality of mud, in wet seasons, tends greatly to explain and justify the fashion.
The substantial time-defying solidity of some of the buildings in Melbourne, composed of the dark-blue "trap" of the neighbourhood, must strike every new comer; and the neat, and even elaborate finish, which in many cases has been bestowed on this extremely hard and impracticable material, is especially noticeable in a country of such dear labour. But what detracts so much from the appearance of the streets is the extreme diversity of buildings. If all the good ones were assembled together in one part, the effect would be astonishing, in a new country; but a fine four-story blue-stone edifice, with cornices, columns, and capitals, and other magnificences, is perhaps flanked on one side by a dead wall of crazy old weatherboards, covered with all varieties of placards, in every colour and every stage of existence, from new to ragged; and on the other, by some wretched little shanty of a shop, made of paling or corrugated iron, with a stick and calico veranda; and next again to that, a blank space covered with rubbish, which is heaped against the side of another handsome and costly structure. Such "extremes meeting" are perhaps unavoidable in new cities, and particularly in one of such recent and rapid advancement; but they are not pleasant to the eye. Our large, handsome church, of blue-stone, dedicated to St. Paul, is (or was) left unplastered within, showing throughout the neat, good masonry of the bare stone; with a slated roof, uncoiled. The effect, to my taste, was very good; solid, simple, and honest, as befits such a structure. The open seats (which, by-the-by, were ill-adapted for kneeling) and the timbered roof, were all of neat and finished workmanship, in polished cedar; totally devoid of pretentious, meretricious gewgaws; I admired it very much; more than St. Peter's, the service in which left far less solemn impressions on my mind. This was possibly in some measure attributable to the sermon, which, impressive in its opening clauses, degenerated towards the close into an unmistakable chink from the "tables of the money-changers." The congregation were urged to make up, by contribution, some mysterious defalcation in certain missionary accounts or revenues; and the particular sum needed was so rehearsed and repeated, with the various debits and credits, minutely detailed in pounds, shillings, and pence, that I began to think, I must be listening to a page or two of the ledger in a merchant's office, rather than to the exhortation of a minister of Christ, teaching his flock to behold the lilies of the field, who toil not, nor spin—far less "do sums" in church.
One most pleasant morning passed swiftly away in a visit to the University, a beautiful building, in what I should call the ecclesiastical order of architecture. (And having before my eyes the fear of the Ruskin fraternity, should I use erroneously any technical distinction, I essay no further definition.) The building was unfinished, only three sides of the intended quadrangle being erected, but enough was completed to show what it would be, perhaps now is. A vaulted cloister surrounding the inner court, recalled one's recollections of that most lovely feature in the glorious collegiate edifices of the beloved old country; and when the graceful designs for the central fountain, the grove of fern-trees, and that daintiest device of the garden kind, which is to lie like a living emerald set in the richly wrought frame of stone-work, are all adequately realized—I should like to look on it again! (The task of laying out and planting the domain surrounding the College, has been also entrusted to Mr. G. La Probe Bateman, of whose exquisite taste and ability the Melbournites would do wisely to avail themselves, if they wish to see the uglinesses of their immense city transformed to beauties.) The halls and lecture-rooms are noble apartments, and the suites of rooms for the resident professors, excellent too, but I saw no preparation for the reception of resident students. The lofty, spacious corridors won my especial admiration. So few Colonial buildings are planned liberally in this respect; and when I sometimes conjure up visions of the stately old houses at home, with their broad, vast stairs, ample landings, and sweeping galleries, the cramped accommodation generally deemed sufficient for such purposes on this side of the world is very striking. From the upper windows of the College we enjoyed an extensive and animated view of, and over Melbourne, to the bay, with its crowds of shipping, and the opposite shore.
Whilst looking at some of the carved work preparing for erection, I said, "This white sandstone appears to be identical with that in Tasmania, quarried at Kangaroo Point." Whereto replied our courteous and kind cicerone. Professor M'Coy, "This is the Kangaroo Point stone. All you see—the whole material for the University, has been brought thence."
Verily, they have need of gold-mines in Victoria.
Another most enjoyable afternoon found us en route for the Botanic Gardens. No matter in which direction you turn from the centre of Melbourne to drive environwards, the same extraordinary number of small, mean habitations presents stray little bits of dwellings, with perhaps one window and a door to the street, and a slant-roof or "shilling" behind, the whole affair measuring some ten feet by fifteen; many of these are shops, of the meanest grade, and displaying a stock of goods that might all be put into a small trunk; others are private dwellings, so minute, that one would think the residents were qualifying for a professional tour in good Mrs. Jarley's Wax-work caravan: and even she, I think, used to set the big drum outside, for a tea-table—a piece of rural freedom, not to be enjoyed by denizens of Melbourne.
Who lives in them? and How do they live? were questions on our lips daily, as suburb after suburb, street after street—never ending, still beginning—were passed through, on our own exploratory expeditions, or when carried by our friends to various points of interest or on business. I was so curious on the subject, that I intended asking some clergyman (who really knew his parishioners) what classes occupied such tiny tenements, but I had not an opportunity. The places are made of divers materials and in divers forms. Those of corrugated iron are perhaps the very ugliest; having no eaves, and, with their slightly elliptical roofs, looking very much like steam-boilers, with doors and windows cut in them;—and at home I have often seen boilers of much larger dimensions. Some are neat little wooden boxes, about large enough for a modern doll, with bright little green doors, shining little brass knockers, and white little muslin curtains. Tidy little maiden sempstresses might live in these, and make baby-clothes; or possibly they may accommodate dressmakers; but it is quite evident that one of the latter could not have two finished dresses in the house at once! Some are roughly "run up," of the split paling, whereof Tasmania has exported such immense quantities to Victoria; and some few are built of brick or rough stone; while others look as though the rubbish heaps of the city had furnished the odds-and-ends and rags and scraps, with which they are stuck together—-no sparrow's-nest more heterogeneously patched up; and one cannot imagine that anything above a picker-up of "old rags, bones, and old shoes" could inhabit such rickety, squalid little hovels.
Amongst all these, either scattered singly, or in respectable and mutually protective companionship, are good, spacious, comfortable houses, cottages and villas—plain and ornamental—with stone or stuccoed walls, bright Venetian-shuttered windows, and shadowy verandahs; often fenced off from the street or road by handsome iron railings and gates, enclosing a neat carriage-drive, and a pretty shrubbery or flower-garden, such as one might pass in any London suburb; nor would the interior "plenishing" either shrink from the comparison. The elegancies and refinements of civilized life are as well understood by the best classes in Victoria, as in Royal Victoria's loyal old city itself; with, perhaps a tint or two more of show, where the wealth of to-day is not the ancestral characteristic of the family, and the recent gilding is not toned down. My mention of "neat carriage-drives," reminds me that the sketch is, in point of truth, incomplete, without a touch or two in the foreground; this is (or was at the time I write of—some months ago) frequently a street only in name, the ground being unpaved, unmetalled, and undrained.
I know one unlucky piece of road, in front of a friend's house, where I passed some very happy days, which was repudiated by each of two adjoining parishes, as being within the other's boundary, and so continued unrepaired, or rather, unmade. It was a deep bed of sticky, tenacious clay, knee-deep for horses, axle-deep for carriages, and for pedestrians—! any rash adventurer attempting the passage, must have been lost, until the dry weather baked the top crust of the mud billows, and then the intervening chasms might be crossed, with adroit management. To the carriage it was a long-continued danger and difficulty; and to such annoyances very many inhabitants of Melbourne (in which I include all its outskirt appendages, Collingwood, Richmond, Prahran, &c.) are subject. Shall I ever forget one walk at night from Collingwood into Melbourne! My determination to perform it was considered, if not named, obstinacy; but I beg to say it arose in a rigid sense of duty. I think, if I had really known the state of the streets, my duty would have relaxed a little; but we set out; the kind friend who was my companion, carrying a lantern, for there were not any street lamps, and it was an inky-dark night, after a day of heavy rain. To say the ways were muddy, does not give the faintest outline of their condition; they were almost wholly inundated; and so slippery, that it was difficult to keep one's footing at all. Often what seemed to be an islet of earth above the water, proved only a deeper hole; and hearing another passenger floundering near us, we allowed him to pass ahead, so that we might at least avoid such deeps as he fathomed first. Sometimes we had to ford one of the broad ditches so common in Melbourne, and sometimes we forded them without distinguishing the ditch from the almost equally deep mud and water around; and so, slopping, splashing, and slipping; exclaiming and laughing at our disasters, the amphibious performance came to an end,—as does my gossip of mud, at the gate of the gardens, before their broad smooth gravel walks and terraces, lovely shrubs, and grand old trees.
What admirable good sense has been shown here, in retaining those noble gum-trees! They form nuclei, around which the younger and choicer growths of the garden group with so charming an effect; and they convey that impression, so difficult to obtain in these raw new lands, of something older than yesterday, or last year; without which I cannot conceive full enjoyment of such scenes. Very delighted to my mind was the Melbourne Garden. One chief beauty was the absence of any hideous blank in a state of transition from the freedom of nature to the tutelage of art. So far as cultivation had been carried, all was neat and trim, replete with glorious forms of leaf and bloom. But where time or funds, or other causes, had not enabled the presiding genius to effect such transformation, the native bush shrubs and trees remained, amidst native grass and flowers, with merely winding pathways cleared among them, cool and shady. Even if a portion could always be left in this unsophisticated state, it would be a pleasing contrast to the finished and radiant borders, that, like an all-accomplished and beaming-eyed "Lesbia, with her robe of gold," would only enhance the simple beauty of the "Norah Creina" wilderness beyond.
The river Yarra, hitherto clear and uncontaminated, bounds the gardens on one side, fringed by dark groves of native trees and shrubs, under which winds another shady, wild wood walk, whence are quiet glimpses of the reedy lagoon within the grounds, where flocks of aquatic birds live happily amongst the rushy islets, tall tussock grass, and tea-tree scrub; happily, at least, when heartless, greedy Melbourne cockneys do not sneak in to shoot the innocent creatures. One species was quite new to me, and that is not wonderful; but M——, whose Australian experiences are so much more extensive, had never before seen them: on inquiry, we were told that a flock of these birds had suddenly arrived no one knew whence, some time before, and had adopted the quiet garden lagoon as their abiding place. They appeared to belong to the goose family, but are more elegant than any of the members of it with which I am acquainted, with intelligent, pretty heads, and beautiful pied plumage.
Many pleasant houses and villas are built in the enticing vicinity of the gardens; and on the opposite side of the Yarra, above the ferry, is the Victorian "Cremorne," which my husband and little boy visited more than once; and the latter brought me marvellous accounts of the acrobats, dancers, jugglers, singing, music, variegated lamps, fireworks, and pyrotechnic tableaux there exhibited. An outside and daylight view of this scene of enchantment revealed only dim and sadly diminished glories. Some trellised bowers, and bird-cage structures in the trees, some white filagree pagodas and temples, looking as if they had walked off a wedding-cake and got magnified; and an ungainly fabric of canvas and scaffolding, the dull material foundation for magical illusions at night, were the chief objects visible.
Having, one afternoon, walked to the Botanic Gardens, we set forth to return through the proposed Government domain on the banks of the Yarra, intending to go over in the ferry-boat, and walk across "the swamp." Trusting to the guidance of two young friends, I did as I was bidden; landed from the ferry-boat, and proceeded to walk along a path, about the width of a sheep-track, with black mud and water spreading out for acres on either side, the consequence of recent rains. The path, which began as a ridge, soon sank to a level with the general mud, and became undistinguishable, except where narrow planks were here and there laid down; these the greasy black clay had rendered as slippery as ice. Finding that my travels would probably end in the black swamp, if I proceeded, we retraced our steps to the river; but the ferry-boat had disappeared, and none other was visible, whilst twilight was fast deepening into darkness. Knowing that I only was to blame, in not having more adroitly skimmed across the Al Sirat of the swamp, and gained the paradise of home, I grew doubly anxious. Escape there was none, save by either walking in the dark where I could not by day, or getting taken off by a boat.
"Oars! Listen! Yes—they are coming down the river."
They approached, and we saw a boy, sitting, to all appearance, on a large bodkin, darting swiftly along.
"It is only a wager-boat, practising."
Another pause; another sound of oars.
"Yes, and voices. It is a waterman's boat, let us hail it."
Our "hail" at first did not seem likely to produce any effect, but perhaps despair endued our voices with some pathetic appealing power, and the boat paused. Our request was again urgently repeated, and after a short parley between the rowers, they put the boat into a little inlet in the bank, and handed us all four in, a lady-friend and myself, and the two boys. I was in the act of reaching my purse to pay for our rescue, when a voice said, "Where shall we land you?" The tone and manner startled me, and in an instant I saw the blunder. We were in a private boat, with two gentlemen pulling, and a lady sitting in the stern: and I had hailed it as a waterman's! Very probably my explanations and thanks were incoherent enough, but the opportune and kindly assistance was gratefully remembered, if not suitably acknowledged at the moment.
M—— frequently looked in at one or other of the theatres in an evening, and often amused me by accounts of the performances. I remember his description of one little afterpiece, of Victorian authors' life, which must have been very diverting, being extremely well acted, and with enough truth in the highly-coloured picture, to be recognized by mistresses of Australian households. A lady is in want of a servant, and a damsel appears as an applicant for the situation, dressed in everything that can be put on at once, in the shape of finery and appendages. Entering the lady's drawing-room, she selects the most tempting causeuse, and seats herself. The lady looks her astonishment.
"What are you staring at? Because I'm sitting down? Why, you don't suppose I'm going to stand all the while I'm talking to you? Couldn't think of such a thing. Oh! I tell you, you don't need to be surprised—It's quite Colonial." The question of wages is brought forward "Wages? Oh, I suppose you mean my salary, Well, I'll take £150 a year, if the work's light."
The lady walks slowly up and down.
"I do wish you'd sit down. I hate talking to folks when they're walking about. And now I've took the trouble of coming to speak about business, I must beg you'll sit still."
"Very well—perhaps I mayn't object to the situation. And you'll understand I like to have my friends to tea and supper, and sometimes to dinner; and when I've company I can't be running after you. And then I always have two days to myself every week! 'sides Sunday."
"Two entire days!" exclaimed the amazed mistress; "and who's to do the work?"
"Who's to do the work? Why you, to be sure! who else is likely to do it? Oh! you needn't look that way—I assure you it's quite Colonial. Then I suppose you're clever with your needle? Most folks is, from the old country."
"Me!" replies the lady. "Me, clever with my needle! Why, what can that possibly signify to you?"
"Signify? Oh! all in the world: because you'll have to help me to make my dresses. Couldn't think of engaging with anybody as isn't able to do that. It's quite Colonial"—And so on—through as whimsical a series of servant-galism airs, as the inimitable Leech ever illustrated. The English lady decides that the candidate is not exactly the kind of handmaiden she requires; whereupon the rejected fair one gives her a cordial invitation to "our place, up in the Bush—and may be, you'll find some things there you mayn't quite like; but you'll find also, that kindness of heart and generous hospitality are universal—and quite Colonial."
And with a profound courtesy to her Colonial audience, this original version of a housemaid retires, beneath the falling curtain, and sounds of applause.
After this little interlude, we adjourned, with a Melbourne friend, to a "shilling ball." How often these are held during the week, I am not aware; this was on a Saturday night, and the institution is not only "quite Colonial," but, I imagine, quite peculiar, also. The entrance to the festive scene had a curtain drawn across, which the visitors passed, after paying the introductory shilling, and found themselves in a very large, clean, well-proportioned room, brilliantly lighted, and with an excellent band, playing good modern dance music. Plenty of comfortable seats were ranged round the room, and a master of the ceremonies paraded to and fro. Cards of the ensuing dances were hung up, and all conducted selon les règles. And the company! No gauzes, laces, tarlatans, nor satin shoes—and right little superfine broadcloth decked that singular assembly. The room was filled with men and women of the working classes, in their every-day dresses; men in fustian coats, blue, and red, and serge shirts, divers sorts of frocks and "pimpers," and the commonest cord or fustian trousers, trade-grimed or mud-bespattered; all with their hats on, and the majority with pipe or cigar in their mouths. The women, young and older, in dowdy common gowns, shawls, bonnets, and walking shoes. These people, in the most correct and orderly manner imaginable, were dancing quadrilles, polkas, waltzes, &c., generally with great precision and evident enjoyment, but with rather a tinge of gravity in their manner than the reverse. Not a shadow of impropriety or indecorum was visible. When each dance ended, the partners promenaded round the room, or chatted together in groups. The women were always provided with seats—M—— saw several men give up their own to females, with the most kindly politeness—and every proper attention was paid them. Liquor might be obtained in the room; and beer, ginger-beer, and other light beverages were generally partaken of. Not one tipsy or disorderly person was seen or heard.
I do not presume to give an opinion as to the really best mode of innocently amusing the great masses of artisans and mechanics in large cities; but I may repeat one question, which the description of the foregoing scene suggested at the time: "If these shilling balls were not held in Melbourne, how many of those honest, work-weary, fustian-clad men might at that very time have been consuming their gains, and destroying their constitutions, in the thrice-abhorred orgies of the gin-shop or tap-room, and perhaps passing from drunkenness to frenzy, cruelty, and murder—instead of enjoying some cheerful music, and dancing happily and innocently, in the company of their wives, sisters, daughters, or sweethearts, and going home in good time, good health, good humour, and sobriety, afterwards?"
I know that the advocates of dancing and music "for the million," are denounced in no measured terms by the bigoted and Pharisaical. I know that the granting of licences to permit these amusements in "public-houses," are furiously opposed by such worthies. Most of these self-elected saints have Dives' share of the purple and fine linen of this life; and, whilst they would so rigidly restrict the scanty indulgences of their poorer brethren, can, if they so desire, enjoy in their own splendid saloons and elegant drawing-rooms, the tones of organ, piano, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, whether for the performance of an Oratorio, or 'Don Juan.' They can, without sacrifice, dispense with all "public" music (but I am not aware that this is the case), whilst, to deprive the poor hard-working mechanic of such small gratifications, as might, but for their narrow prejudices, be given him, seems about as reasonable, as though they said, "We sit down to four sumptuous meals every day; how then can a beggar be hungry?" or—"We are clothed in velvet and sables and broadcloth; how can that naked wretch shiver with cold?"
Seeing that it has been so well proved in Melbourne, that dancing and music may be enjoyed by the working classes, with such perfect observance of decency, sobriety, and good manners, I must think, that if similar assemblies, under equally good and honest management, were generally instituted elsewhere, the effect would be such as to defy misrepresentations, and silence Pharisaical uncharitableness on this head, for ever.
Toorak—Prahran—St. Kilda—Emus—Departure for the Diggings—Cobb's coaches—"All aboard!"—Quartz-reefing—Castlemaine—Hall of the Cherubim—Silk umbrella—Warden—English officers—The old sad story—Sign-painting.
In this region of contrasts and contrarieties, the transition from one extreme to another—from the Nadir to the Zenith, seems the most natural proceeding possible. And accordingly I pass on from the notice of a shilling ball, to the Governor's residence at Toorak. A morning drive thither showed us the simple entrance and lodge, and the pleasant approach, of gravelled carriage-way, skirted and shaded by plantations of trees and shrubs, native and exotic; which at our former visit, to a large late dinner-party, had only seemed the culmination of the mysterious turns and twists, which our hired charioteer seemed to make twice the length of the real distance. The house looks like the mansion of some wealthy English gentleman.
It was built by a rich tradesman of Melbourne, for his own residence on retiring from business, and by him let on a three or five years' lease, for the use of Sir Charles Hotham. The Government expended £30,000 in making a road to it, and £45,000 more in additions and improvements; an outlay for so short a term, which in any other community would argue against the sanity of all concerned, but which in Victoria, at that time, was simply a consequence of gold-fever delirium. Nothing in the aspect of Toorak would suggest the idea of such expenditure. The house, except that it is too new looking, might be the country mansion of a Squire Hazeldean; it is a plain, square building, with the door in the centre, two windows on each side, and two upper floors. The dining and drawing rooms are comfortable and well-proportioned, but of no unusual dimensions; and the interior arrangements are in keeping with the aspect of the house—handsome, without any aim at magnificence. Nor would anything magnificent be expected in a Colonial Governor's establishment, even in the Land of Gold; did not certain of our Australian newspapers who delight to emulate the grandiloquent paragraphs of the Morning Post, on a small scale, usher in any mention of their respective governors with a flourish of (penny) trumpets; as, "The vice-regal carriages were ordered," &c.; "The vice-regal children were observed to laugh heartily at the farce," &c., &c.: which is all the more gratuitously absurd, as the English gentlemen who usually fill the office of Governor (or, according to "Jenkins," Viceroy) in the Colonies, have little need or inclination to gild their solid respectability with more than is indispensable of the glitter of temporary importance.
The road to Toorak exhibited the same wonderful quantity of small shops, sheds, and cottages, as all other parts of Melbourne and its environs; and when, on our return, we drove through Prahran, they appeared even more numerous. The roads or streets in this offshoot of the great city, were wholly inundated; water spread across from the doorsteps on one side to those on the other; and judging from the apparent level of the house-floors, many of them must be under water too. It would have seemed nothing unnatural, to find boats plying to ferry the inhabitants about. In the rapid rise and extension of the city, and its fringe suburbs, houses appear to have been built in street-lines, and the aspect of a town assumed, before such a thing as drainage was dreamed of; and hence the amphibious condition of these little tenements in even moderate rains.* After a long and unpleasant navigation of canal-streets—by no means Venetian in their associations—we made our way out to St. Kilda, one of the pleasantest parts of the suburbs, where the number of good houses and pretty gardens, with bright glimpses of the bay and its busy population of ships, boats, and steamers, accounts for the favour this locality finds in the eyes of merchants and other business-men of Melbourne, who can here enjoy home-sanctuaries, after their daily labour in the service of the Golden Image. Not the least of St. Kilda's contingent advantages is the broad, excellent road leading directly from it to the city, which traverses a level tract of ground, where groups of trees, and grassy openings, and distant peeps of the bay and the town, make pleasant pictures as we drive along.
[* The following passage occurs in a letter I received from Melbourne by a late post:—"The weather here is very cold, and the rains heavy, and the floods have spread the Yarra far and wide in all directions over its banks. One long-backed cottage near Prince's Bridge presents me with my childish idea of Noah's Ark exactly (as then derived from a box of toys), barring that it has a chimney, and is innocent of windows. There is no dove to be seen, probably on account of the extreme distance from the shore; but I am quite prepared to vouch for having seen one of the cottager's 'olive-branches' up to its ankles in water."]
During this morning's leisurely idle exploration, we passed one domain and house which so plainly said, "Look at me, I am remarkable," that I obeyed, and remember it vividly, though I know not if it were situate in Prahran or St. Kilda, or between the two. A few acres of ground, whereon grew some fine old gum-trees, were enclosed by a park fence, and on the highest part of the land was placed the house; an edifying structure of towers, verandas, balconies, projections, and recesses, suggestive of an infinite amount of stairs and passages within, to reach all the turrets and galleries seen from without. It had more the expression—(I always see faces in houses)—of a "Belle Vue Hotel" for some notoriously picturesque site at a watering-place, than a family home, but tastes differ. A fine Emu, which had in the first instance attracted our admiration, was walking about the "park," and when we stopped, as near as we could drive to the fence, came towards us, making that curious rustling shiver of the harsh, long plumage, which is so peculiar, and generally so alarming to horses. It is unsafe to allow Emus to be at large, where persons on horseback or in carriages are likely to pass through the same enclosure. Horses, not accustomed to the birds, are seized with an absolute panic, tremble all over, and with startling eyes, and unmistakable symptoms of intense terror, usually bound away with uncontrollable violence, often pursued by the Emus, who seem to enjoy the chase. The young ladies of a family in Tasmania, who had several of these birds tame, have described to me the desperate and really dangerous rides they have often had, to escape from their troublesome favourites, who would run up to the horses, as soon as they saw them.
The number and diversity of vehicles in the streets of Melbourne is certainly amusing to a stranger. Private carriages of all possible descriptions, and some of them new and handsome; cabs, jaunting cars, and others, for hire; omnibuses, long and short, closed and open, dashing along in all directions; some of the latter, which M—— denominated "three-deckers," were, to us, of a most original stamp, having, besides their inside freight, three rows of passengers down each side of the roof; the two middle rows form the apex of the pyramidal mass, as seen "end on" and the two outside rows enjoy the privilege of exhibiting their taste in boots, to the observation of the inside passengers; the danger of their breaking the glass with their dangling heels preventing the windows being closed. The loaded machine looks about the size and shape of a tolerable haystack, and much the same height. The number of horses is by no means in proportion to that of passengers; two, three, and sometimes four are used to drag these unwieldy, toppling masses of human beings; whilst the dashing tandem of the sporting squatter whirls past, with two highly-fed, powerful horses, to convey one man and a small tiger. Bullock-drays and waggons, with long trains of very large and handsome, patient, docile, and alas! too generally ill-treated, oxen, grind slowly along, with country produce coming in, or supplies from the town going out; and horse-carts, breaks, tradesmen's caravans, and hosts of lesser machines on wheels, fill up the mighty stream; nor may I omit the important element of stage coaches, which will claim a few words hereafter.
As a matter of course we refreshed our old country reminiscences by railway trips to Sandridge, greatly to the edification of one item of the rising generation—our boy. Our first excursion was on our way to visit the Royal Charter, the largest screw steam-ship that had come out to the colonies. When the brief two miles of railway had been traversed (and this was so soon done, that it seemed as if we had been put into the carriage and locked up, for no other purpose than to have it unlocked, and be let out again) we took a bright trim boat, and sailed off to the immense ship. The Leviatlian* was not a fact at that time; but the huge and grand proportions of the majestic vessel we approached rendered it a Leviathan in our eyes. As we glided into the shadow of her enormous hull, and were gazing with up-turned eyes of admiration at the far-away spars and rigging above, a voice greeted us with—
"No one can be admitted on board to-day."
"Very well," replied M——; "but will you be good enough to hand this letter to the captain?"
[* Now the Great Eastern.]
A pause of perhaps half a minute, and the same voice, yet how different in tone! conveyed to us "Captain's compliments—will be most happy to show you the ship, sir; permit me to assist the ladies." And up the commodious ladder, and into the mighty ship we went. Anything more admirable, as a merchant vessel, could not be desired; and we keenly enjoyed a thorough tour over it, from the noble saloon and damask-cushioned "ladies' boudoir" even to the commodious pig-sties and cow-rooms. The long streets of cabins were all named, and the titles painted on the bulkheads:—"Fitzroy-place," "Hotham-square," "Russell-street," "Bond-street," "Collins-street," &c. &c., and the cabins all numbered like houses in a city. The provision of excellent hot and cold baths for the different classes of passengers, struck me as the greatest and best, however, of all the innovations. Having seen all the upper regions, we went down into the engine-room; and thence down—down—by steps and ladders never intended for the transit of feet and garments feminine, into the narrow, low, iron tunnel, where the shaft of the screw-propeller works. Nor, until we had traversed more than half its length, did we discover that a certain oily, black, metallic salve was plentifully transferred to our dresses; those of my lady-companions, and my own, being destroyed thereby. May the fact, thus humbly and penitently narrated, if not fitted "to adorn a tale," at least "point a moral," on the deplorable results of female curiosity so exemplified! The officers of the ship declared the machinery had never been rubbed so clean before!
Our second visit to the noble vessel was on the occasion of a fête given on board to many hundreds (if not thousands) of guests. Again taking the railway to Sandridge, we found steamers, engaged for the purpose, with awnings over them, passing between the pier and the festive decks (?), conveying crowds of visitors; joining one gay cargo, we were soon alongside, and ushered up the carpet-covered accommodation-ladder, and to the poop, which was roofed with canvas, flags, and evergreen shrubs, and already filled, to all appearance, with company; although, long after our arrival, steamer after steamer came, presenting to us, as we looked down on them from above, masses of hats, bonnets, silks, and coats, which all found reception-room, and the cry was still "they come!" Pleasant acquaintance and abundant chat passed away the time until luncheon was announced. Three squadrons of hungry guests swooped upon the tables in quick succession, and they were as often replenished, before our more deliberate movements succeeded in effecting an entrance to the saloon. The scene was a multitudinous impersonation of the proverb, "Everyone for himself;" and reminded me more of descriptions of the helter-skelter rush to an American inn-dinner than the usual demeanour of Englishmen in the society of ladies. When my careful cavalier had at last piloted me into the saloon, the table was still invisible, all but the pinnacles of the confectionery temples; a double or triple row of standing gentle(?)men quite encircled it in a dark, close, struggling wall, and behind these, seated against the sides of the apartment, were such ladies as had gained admittance, myself among the rest, hastily and uncomfortably eating such viands as our male friends could with difficulty procure over the shoulders of the living and devouring wall in front, whilst waiters and guests continually squeezed and trampled past, and sometimes nearly over us. Any arrangement so antipodean to English habits I never witnessed before. The heat and sufffocation were so intolerable, that I gladly accepted my husband's proposal to take me on deck, leaving my still famished friend, the Professor, to carry on the campaign unencumbered. When we regained the poop, dancing was in fuall and vigorous progress, to the gay, but rather loud tones of a good band; and large hats, white, grey, and brown; small bonnets, streaming veils, cloaks, mantles, shawls; delicate silk, satin, and muslin dresses, were in active gyration, revealing the occasional discrepancies of thick cloth boots and ebon hosen. That the company was "mixed," is not to be denied; nor that some very pretty faces were mixed with it. Of the genus homo, the specimens were extremely varied; and some certainly singular. We left the busy scene between four and five in the afternoon, despite the captain's assurances that "all the best was to come," that the ship would be illuminated, and the deck draped in with flags, and that "nobody would think of going ashore before daylight." Judging, however, from the crowded state of the steamer, which conveyed us to the jetty, there were some few of our own way of thinking.
As I intended to accompany M—— in his visit to Ballaarat, and deemed that one tour amongst "diggings" would satisfy me, I remained in Melbourne, in the kind and congenial society of dear friends, and enjoying more of art and literature than had before fallen to my lot on this side the world, whilst M—— made his journey to Castlemaine and Bendigo. From the descriptions he has since given me, I now retrace his proceedings. And, firstly, as to his mode of conveyance, by one of Cobb's coaches:—
In the early days of the diggings, when, however bad the roads are now, they were considerably worse, and when drivers and "teamsters" in general,—English, Scotch, Colonial, and miscellaneous,—all stuck fast in the impracticable mud, an American, named Cobb, arrived in Victoria and, observing the state of affairs, and that no vehicles with springs could be made to endure the inevitable amount of straining and jolting, which carriages in such roadless regions must submit to, commissioned agents to purchase a number of good horses, and returned to America himself, whence, again coming back without delay, he brought the coaches which now bear his name, and, with them, American drivers. Then establishing his line, from Melbourne to Ballaarat through Castlemaine, with true Yankee enterprise and determination to overcome difficulties, he very soon succeeded in monopolizing the entire traffic of the route; and the discomfited Jehus, whose failures had made his fortune, had the alternative of seeking some other vocation, or of adopting the American mode of prosecuting their old one. Coaches on Cobb's principle now traverse the colony successfully in all directions, irrespective of obstacles, which to ordinary vehicles would be insuperable. Roads to them appear conveniences only, not necessities.
The outward seeming of these conveyances is rough and primitive, savouring strongly of the backwoods and their corduroy roads, where, probably, the necessity for such inventions first gave them birth. The fore and hind wheels are far apart, and the whole machine very long. The body is a long, and of course a very strong box, containing six seats, and each seat holds three persons. This box rests upon two longitudinal bands of leather, in lieu of springs. Five thicknesses of ordinary trace-leather are stitched together, passed over great iron bars, before and behind the axles, and joined, making broad thick straps of ten folds each, under either side of the box-body; in the sides of which are iron stanchions to support rods, and an oiled cloth roof, with curtains, which can be closely drawn, so as nearly to exclude rain. No more luggage is allowed each passenger than he can stow under the space he occupies on the seat, a carpet-bag being the utmost. The driver, who is securely strapped into his seat by the tightly-buckled leathern apron over his legs, has a break, which he applies by pressing a spring under his feet, to lock the wheels in descending steep places, but the speed of the horses is not checked. A fast swinging trot, or a hand-gallop, is steadily maintained both up hill and down—over turf, stones, rocks, mud, swamps, or rivers; but, before traversing any particularly heavy or steep road, additional horses are hooked on. To the honour of the Americans be it said, that their horses are fat, sleek, and free from galls, sores, and whip-marks—a memorable example to many of their less wiser and less humane rivals in business. The animals are usually harnessed two in the pole, and three abreast, leading, with two or more in front of these, when occasion requires. The driver carries a very long-thonged whip, with a short handle, like a "stock-whip," which he manages very adroitly. He never chirps, or chucks, or talks to his horses, but with silent vigilance guides his team skilfully through the difficulties that beset him; and when some danger or obstacle greater than common presents itself, such as a deep, crooked "creek" or gully, or a smothering morass, he utters one shrill yell that acts as the requisite impetus, astonishing both passengers and horses at the same time, and then is silent until another great effort is needed. The stages are all ten miles each, and all over very bad road, varied by some much worse, the coach-axles often dragging along the mud for many yards together. The perpetual, unceasing jolts, often fling the whole eighteen passengers off their seats, and the uninitiated are occasionally projected completely out of the vehicle, when they incur considerable risk of being left behind where they fall, awkwardness meeting very scant sympathy from Jonathan Jehu. He is strictly sober, very independent, and marvellously taciturn.
"Whose place is that?" inquired M—— of the driver, soon after leaving Melbourne.
"Well, I don't know. Plenty to do besides asking whose places they are," was the not encouraging reply. Then, as if self-reproved for such curt speech to a new comer, he added, more civilly—
"And if you'll take my advice, you won't care neither: here's a bad creek coming; you'd better shut up—and hold on."
Counsel which the next moment's terrific concussion showed the value of. And so, "shutting up" and holding on to the seats with grim determination and both hands, M—— resigned himself to the process of wholesale dislocation, as he best might.
Pouring rain, which continued the whole day, added to the dirt and discomfort of the journey; and when the coach stopped to change horses, which operation was performed with great smartness and celerity, the squeezed, bruised, steaming contents of the oiled cloth curtains were thankful to scramble out for a brief change of position, and, it might be, to procure some kind of consolation in the way of stimulating liquids also.
Hurrying on one occasion into the wayside "traveller's rest," M—— found it consisted of a bare, rough, barn-like edifice, built of slabs, with the earth for a floor, and not even a coat of plaster or mud on the walls to stop the rifts and broad spaces between the slabs, where, as well as through the leaky roof, the rain poured in. A sort of counter, composed of old gin-cases and boxes set together in a row, occupied one side of the hovel, covered with bottles of all kinds, full and empty; jugs, cans, kegs, pannicans, and cups. Crowds of wet, dirty, wretched-looking men, drinking and smoking, almost filled the place, so that there was hardly room for the coach passengers to come in. Many of the men, with eager, haggard looks, were playing at cards, and beside the hearth, where some damp, smouldering wood was simmering out the oozing sap, and filling the den with smoke, seated on a rough log, was a young girl, about fourteen, with frouzy, tangled hair, muddy clothes and feet, and slipshod shoes—a picture of degradation and squalor—playing at draughts with a man as dishevelled in attire as herself, unwashed and filthy. Their table was a cask, on the head of which the semblance of a board was made by squares scored with a knife. The draughts were bits of cut potato, one set being distinguished by having an X cut on them, while the others were plain—a notable instance of idleness and invention.
"All aboard!" shouts the driver at the doorway (this being Jonathan's version of the "Now, if you please, gentlemen," of the English coachman); and "All aboard the Telegraph," is hurriedly echoed through the crowd. Rushing out pell-mell, the passengers scramble into their places, carrying with them no small quota of mud and wet. The whip cracks, and off they rush again, for another ten miles' jolting and thumping.
As no unnecessary delays are made on the road, ample time is allowed for dinner, at which the whole coach cargo, including the driver, sit down together. The inn, at which they stopped on this occasion, was a large weatherboard building, kept by Americans, near a small valley where gold had been found, and digging carried on to a considerable extent; but a "rush" having just taken place to some more promising quartz reefs at a short distance, the banks of the stream were nearly deserted, and only a few stragglers remained at work amidst the chaotic earth-honeycomb of holes, visible in all directions. Dinner being expeditiously disposed of, M—— found time to walk down to the "creek;" and, as these were the first "diggings" he had seen, was looking with some interest at the proceedings of a mud-encrusted man, who was busily grubbing up the clay near him. Finding himself observed, the earthy individual looked up, and asked—
"What lay are you on?"
M——, carefully vague in his reply, said he had not quite made up his mind what to try next.
"You'd best go a quartz-reefin. I've been surfacing this good while; but quartz-reefin's the payinest game, now."
M—— looking as if he perfectly understood the respective merits of both "games" alluded to, and thoroughly appreciated the advice given him, was about to make some further inquiry, when the shrill cry of—"All aboard!" compelled him to run with all speed, and scramble into his coach again. I suppose every one knows now, that a "reef" is a vein or dyke, traversing the general formation of rock, in certain localities, and sometimes containing small nuggets of gold, but usually only grains, so minute, that until the introduction of quartz-crushing machines and the separation of the gold by means of mercury, the produce of these auriferous reefs was but small.
The greatest quantity which M heard of——, as having been obtained by crushing, was 800 oz. of gold from one ton of quartz: but this was an extraordinary yield.
The situation of Castlemaine is pretty, if not picturesque (in a small off-shoot of the great valley which runs across the continent to the gulf of Carpentaria), and reminded M—— of the pleasant Plossor's Vale in Tasmania. Knolly hills rise up singly and in groups, with rocks and cliffs of quartz seen amongst the trees. A little rivulet, called, with that singular pertinacity for error which I have so often noticed here, "the creek," winds through the valley, and is plentifully used and defiled by the people washing gold "stuff" on its banks, whilst quartz-refining goes briskly on in the higher ground. A hill, four or five hundred feet in height, rises to the west, on the lower slope of which the Government buildings are placed; and the town spreads thence into and across the valley. Several good stone churches and other substantial buildings are surrounded by the heterogeneous crowd of weatherboard, slab, paling, and calico tenements always found in digging locations. At this time, the upset price of Government land here, in town allotments, was £230 an acre.
The essentially Yankee inn, at which the coach stopped, and where M—— took up his quarters for the night, stands at the entrance of the settlement, near the road turning off to Bendigo. The building then consisted of three great wooden sheds, at a little distance from each other, with the ends on the street, forming a centre and two wings; the latter considerably higher than the former (like offspring which had outgrown their parents) and connected therewith by a sloping roof, which covered a passage, open at the side, like a verandah reversed, surrounding the dining-room. This apartment occupied the whole of the middle shed; and although the weather was very inclement, it was destitute of fire, stove, or any outward means of warmth. The rough gum-boards, of which it was built, had shrunk and warped, so as to rend in fragments a once very showy crimson flock paper, which had been pasted over the walls and round the line of posts which sustained the roof. Above each of these posts, and in various other places, were—or rather had been, for their glory had departed—coarse paper-hanging representations of angels and cherubim; all, like the red wall-paper, torn and tattered, and dangling about in pitiful shreds of arms, legs, trumpets, and wings; flapping, in forlorn dismemberment, in the hurricane draughts that rushed and howled through the dreary saloon.
A motley assemblage soon gathered about the long, narrow table, to discuss the evening repast; the prominent features of which were a great smoking dish of hot curry, and quantities of tea, the warmth of which won a hearty welcome from the troop of soaked, shivering, hungry guests. Besides the coachman and his passengers, there were squatters, diggers, Chinamen—these, blue-green with cold, and by no means celestially clean of aspect—and the usual proportion of nondescripts; all sitting in their wet, steaming garments, closely buttoned up, to preserve some remains of warmth.
After supper many of the party made their way into the bar, where a fire was burning; and M——, on adjourning thither likewise, found the American institution of "liquoring" in a flourishing state of progress, with smoking à discrétion, and—the concomitant ceremonials.
Of sleeping arrangements there were two styles. For travellers of social and gregarious habits, were dormitories containing four beds each; each bed being intended to accommodate two occupants, forming a pleasant party of eight; and very probably affording considerable insight into habits and manners, to such inquiring spirits as were disposed to avail themselves thereof. For individuals of less enterprise and more retired tastes, small single-bedded rooms were provided. When M—— was shown to his, he found it was a little cabin, about nine feet by five, outside the rest of the building; with a small bed and a box (to act as a compendium of washhand-stand and toilet-table) bearing a small looking-glass, and smaller jug and basin.
After breakfasting next morning, in the hall of the distressed cherubim, M—— rambled about the neighbourhood amongst the diggers, until a seasonable hour for the presentation of letters of introduction. Crossing an open square, he remarked one lofty, imposing edifice of red brick, finished with stone quoins and cornices, with a grand entrance arch in the centre, and surmounted by a stately parapet; altogether very highly ornamented; and having leisurely contemplated this grand façade in a front view, he passed round to survey the side of the apparently spacious building; when, to his astonishment, nothing of masonry but a profile of the front elevation presented itself; the continuation of the edifice being constructed of wood, paling, calico, empty cases, and old casks:—a vagrant in rags crouching behind a lord mayor's ermined gown! And this was the Royal Exchange of Castlemaine; the place "where merchants most did congregate."
Rambling about amongst the diggings, with the rain pouring down in torrents, M—— stopped to watch a man busy at work surfacing. Knowing the "equality" spirit of the digging fraternity, and their prejudice to what they denominate "swells," M—— thought that his faithful old pea-coat and a cabbage-tree hat would pass him current as belonging to the craft; and so, with a knowing and experienced air, he addressed the busy digger.
"Much gold here?"
"Well Yes. There's gold!" (still shovelling away with unabated perseverance).
"Ah! so I thought:—a good deal like ground I've been in. I'm in the digging line myself."
Digger (taking in his querist with one quick comprehensive glance, and continuing his work): "Yes.—You are!—Diggers always carry silk umbrellas."
Querist, feeling cruelly snubbed, and his diggerology honours nipped in the bud by this frosty repulse, recovers himself with surprising presence of mind, and quietly asks—
"How long have you left Van Diemen's Land?"
Digger, with another quick look, very different to the first; a glance of suspicious inquiry: "How do you know I was ever in Van Diemen's Land?" and then, as if reassured by the expression of the face he searched (albeit I suspect there was a lurking gleam of satisfaction in it, at the success of the counterthrust), he said, "Well, I did come from there; but it's many years since I was a prisoner, sir;" and then he inquired about places and people in Tasmania, his old masters and others, whom M—— knew, and seemed delighted to hear of them in the short colloquy which ensued with him of the traitorous umbrella. He washed out some gold, to show M—— the process, and insisted on giving him a few crumbs of it, refusing stoutly to receive any kind of payment. The supposition that this man had been a convict, was a mere guess; but often, during M——'s stay in Victoria, we met old servants among the diggers, who gladly recognized him.
The chief official in a digging settlement, the padra of the district, is entitled the Warden. Formerly their head officers were called police magistrates; but that term proved offensive to the free and independent population of Victoria, as savouring too strongly of convictism; many had doubtless suffered in former years under the too often unjust and iniquity-laden yoke of the penal circumlocution system; and I do not marvel that the detested name of police magistrate should be distasteful now. Accordingly the Government officer was entitled the "Warden." His duties are to decide all disputes about contested "claims," to receive gold from the diggers, and give receipts in duplicate for the amount; to forward the gold to Melbourne by the Grovernment escort, &c. &c. So responsible a position necessarily requires to be worthily filled, and M—— found both an intelligent and pleasant guide, and a most kind host, in the Warden of Castlemaine, to whom he had introductions.
Their first expedition in company was a drive in the Warden's gig for about two miles, to a spot where a sanguine body of quartz-reapers were diligently at work. Among these were two officers of high rank in the British army, who had sold their commissions, and embarked the proceeds, together with all their other means, in digging speculations, and were living, with their families, near the "reef;" (a reef destined, I fear, to see the wreck of their fortunes!) A young relative, too, who had, whilst a governess, saved one or two hundred pounds, was induced to add this, her little all, to the general fund, and was then enduring, with patient hope, both privation and fatigue, and earning a small stipend, as morning governess, near Castlemaine, walking daily four miles to and from her duties. Her adventurous friends had given two hundred and forty pounds for a "claim" (i.e. space of ground enough to dig a shaft in). They bought a steam-engine to crush the quartz, and were in a state of anxious fever for the result; trying to believe, and impress others with the belief, that they "must very soon come upon a great mass of gold:" though it were difficult to say on what, such tempting expectations were founded. It was very sad to see two brave, intelligent English gentlemen and gallant soldiers, working and slaving in the mud and water, harder than any brickmaker's labourer—and dirtier withal,—and as tiny atoms of the deluding gold were detected by their hungry eyes, to hear the eager cry—"There's a speck!" "There's another!" and see the gleam of wild delight, when a larger crumb than usual glittered in the dish of mud.
Surely this is gambling of the most wretched kind; so protracted, so degrading; so consuming to all energies, bodily and mental; and, in its progress, so destructive of all comfort and decency. These devoted people had given up rank, station, competence; the acquisitions of their past career, the rational expectations of the future; their wives and families, delicately nurtured and accustomed to ease and luxury, were deprived of common comforts, almost of necessaries; and their worldly all was being ruthlessly swallowed up, in, I very much fear, a lamentable verification of the fable of the dog and the shadow. The "great nuggets," and the sudden accidents of good luck which are so ostentatiously set forth and proclaimed aloud, are but the exceptional cases, that serve to dazzle and mislead thousands to ruin and despair.
The hole in which these officers were working filled so rapidly with water, that five days of every seven were employed in balking it out, ready for digging. They had been, altogether, two years out, looking for gold. Had the time they had expended, and only half the labour, been devoted to the cultivation of a fertile span of upper earth, and the production of some of the vegetables which were then selling at such fabulous prices on all the gold-fields, they would have found the primitive surfacing system, with plough or spade, realize indeed a golden harvest; whilst the deep-sinking, and other costly operations they had carried on, threatened to entomb them, heart and fortune.
The vicissitudes of this gambling, gold-digging life, have been so diffusely narrated by earlier visitors, that there is little left unsaid on the subject; but a chat M—— had with a clever, gentlemanly young man, a graduate of Cambridge (who, like so many more, imagined he had but to sail to Australia, pick up gold plentifully as pebbles, and sail home again a wealthy man) revealed some singular glimpses—Mr. Cross, as we will call him, had laboured unflinchingly at the hardest work, digging and washing, until utterly prostrated by sickness, which reduced both his bodily energies and his pecuniary means to the lowest ebb. The future to him seemed comprised in the chance, whether he should die of disease or starvation. Unable to crawl from his miserable tent without assistance, he got himself helped to the nearest druggist's shop, told his case, and begged to have something given him, either to relieve his sufferings, or end them outright. "Here," said he, "is three and sixpence—every farthing I have in the world. Give me as much medicine as this will pay for."
The good apothecary made him up a remedy, assuring him he would be better.
"It costs half-a-crown; but come to me when you are richer; I shall not take your money."
"Nor I your physic, unless I pay for it."
The dispute was then compromised, that Mr. Cross should pay the money, and ask for it if in need. He was long in recovering; and a storekeeper, who could neither read nor write, employed him to sit at the door of his shop, and book the accounts of the customers. After this he tried various avocations, his health not permitting him to attempt any hard labour. "But the best trade," said he, "that I went into, was sign-painting."
"What, Blue Lions and Green Dragons?" inquired M——.
"Oh, no! nothing in the high art line; only labels on a large scale; great inscriptions of letters, on wood or calico, for stores and public-houses. An old friend joined me at it, and we were making money fast. Once, by-the-by, a grand commission came in. A fellow of ambitious and comprehensive notions, determined to set up a thoroughly British device, and desired me to paint, in addition to his name and calling, the Rose, Shamrock, and Thistle. That was a dilemma! but we could not afford to refuse; so I made a model for the thistle by stuffing a little bundle of short sticks in a tea-cup; and drew that: then the three leaves of the shamrock I managed pretty well; but the rose! How was a rose painted? What was it like? I could not think of it—I was completely baffled. At length a brilliant idea occurred to me; I went to a store, where I remembered to have seen some cabbages; and asked permission to draw one. This done, I painted my cabbage red, and there was the rose! After this work of genius being turned out by our firm, business improved astonishingly; we were in the high road to distinction; our star was in the ascendant; but, alas! all our glory was soon eclipsed, by the arrival of a real painter of sign-boards, who came armed with such an array of pots and brushes, as extinguished us at once and for ever."
Bendigo—Strange reception—A "rush"—Chinese quarter-Snug times—Saturday night—Sunday morning—"There's a hill!"—"Hang over!"—Return—Concert—Electric telegraph—Conjuror—Coppin's theatre—Colonial tragedy—Virginius, "with a difference"—'Amlet—Mrs. Waller and the Harp—Burwood—Garden at the River Plenty.
Bendigo is but twelve miles beyond Castlemaine, and we proceeded thither by an evening coach. After traversing the valley for about four miles, the road ascends a slope of a few hundred feet, and rises to the summit of the dividing granite range between the two gold-fields. Passing along this for four or five miles further, it descends into the Bendigo Valley; and from a knolly ridge, south of the settlement, an uninterrupted tract of flat country is seen stretching away for an immense distance; probably to the north shore of the Continent.
It was dark when the coach reached Bendigo—but the first inn at which it stopped, for passengers to alight, was so unpromising of aspect, that we went on in it to the next; and to another—and another (at all of which passengers got out)—for like reason. At last it arrived at a good cut stone house, and here we determined to remain. Instantly that we alighted, a crowd which had assembled round the inn-door, with one consent set up a hearty "Hurrah!" "Hurrah!" Then "one cheer more."—"Three cheers more!"—surrounding M—— as they shouted.
"Very odd this!—very strange! perhaps some electioneering excitement going on just now," thought M——, until two or three of the assembly came to shake hands with him.
"Welcome to Bendigo, sir!"—"Glad to see you, sir!"—"Hope you've had a good journey, sir!"—"This way, if you please, sir!"—to the still greater mystification of the new arrival; and he exclaimed—
"There must be some mistake here!"
"Oh! God bless your honour! no mistake at all, at all. Haven't we been looking for ye this six months?—an' its glad we are to see ye!" cried a voice in the crowd.
"Will you be so good as to inform me who I am supposed to be?" persisted M——, doubtful whether he had not been landed in the inner ward of a lunatic asylum.
"Ha! ha! ha! Capital!"—"Very good, indeed!"—"That's first rate!"—"Don't he do it well?"—"It's as natural as life."—"Jolly!"—"I say, ain't he prime?"
"Oh, sir, you perform your part very cleverly indeed, but you can't deceive us; we know you too well to be taken in, even by your acting, Mr. Brooke."
The enigma was solved! Mr. G. V. Brooke, the actor, was expected that evening, and hence the ridiculous misapprehension; the mob having pounced upon the first stranger who appeared. The descent of the true Dromio from the back seat of the coach completed the dénouement of the impromptu farce, and another volley of cheers rose from the good-humoured crowd of delighted spectators, who seemed to think they had enjoyed a dramatic treat gratis.
Two gentlemen (I do not use the term ironically), in blue serge shirts, joined M—— at an excellent dinner in a comfortable room, furnished with curtains, carpets, and all consistent accessories. The bedrooms for respectable guests were also provided with needful furniture and appliances; whilst some bare, squalid, shed-like places were allotted to diggers of low degree (or exhausted funds?), where numbers of them were shaken down together.
The next morning M—— delivered his letters of introduction to the Warden and other officials, who received him in the kindest manner, and straightway set about showing him the "lions" of their district. A "rush" had been made the day before to a new digging-ground, and thither they rode with him, to show one characteristic phase of life at a gold field. At about four miles from Bendigo they reached the new scene of search, near a chain of small ponds. Great numbers of "claims" were opened, over a space of considerable extent—hundreds of acres, probably; tents were erected, and a busy population of thousands lodged and working, where the day before had been a perfect solitude. In every direction were men digging great holes in the earth with indefatigable and absorbing energy. M—— said the whole scene would convey the idea that one-half the population had died suddenly, and the survivors had heavy best among themselves, who should most expeditiously dig their graves. They had not been at work long enough for any reliable results to be known; but a party who were resting awhile, quite exhausted, said, in reply to the officer's questions, that he believed it was "no go."
The operation of fusing down the small scale and crumb gold into a mass, is often very coarsely performed, and with a strange negligence of the commonest precaution. If diggers choose, they can get their gold melted by persons who have proper apparatus for the purpose, and who charge a moderate percentage for doing it; but many persist in contriving to manage the affair for themselves; and M——, in his wanderings, found one in the act of evaporating from the gold the quicksilver he had employed in clearing it from other matters, by heating the mass in his frying-pan, stuck upon three green gum-sticks, over a fire in the ground, which he was blowing at lustily with his mouth. M—— asked if he were not afraid of the noxious vapour? and he coolly replied, "Oh, when I see the steam begin to rise, I shall just keep my head under, and blow away below." Many dangerous, and some fatal cases had occurred from this foolish and pernicious practice, yet still it was persisted in, despite its manifest improvidence; as in this method, all the quicksilver is evaporated and lost, whilst, with a proper forge and appliances, it is condensed, and 90 per cent, saved. The number of gold pancakes in the treasury at Bendigo attested the prevalence of the system. Some were thick, like the dough-cakes fried in fat, called "Johnny-cakes," and the metal assumed very much the same colour; others were thin layers of gold, the shape of the pan.
During his stay in Bendigo, M—— strolled into the Chinese quarter, which he found to be dirty in the extreme; composed of the most ragged and filthy tents and hovels that can be conceived, and redolent of abominably evil smells all throughout; insomuch, that the celestial habitations may be "nosed" from a considerable distance. M——, who had spent some short time among the New Zealanders, long before their lands were colonised, drew comparisons between them and the Chinese, by no means complimentary to the latter. The savages were scrupulously clean in their cooking, and neat in their dwellings. I have often heard M—— describe their simple yet ingenious ovens of hot stones, and the pork, fish, sweet potatoes, and other (unexceptionable) viands which they baked, all folded carefully in leaves and pieces of matting; whilst the ways and domestic arrangements of the celestial brotherhood were undeniably unclean. They seemed very quiet and inoffensive people in other respects, and were employed in washing over the earth which had been thrown aside by the first diggers, who, in their eager and exclusive search for nuggets, entirely neglected the small gold; and at this work the Chinese were earning from £3 to £5 a day each. They were nearly all thinly-clothed in a common dark-blue cotton stuff (blue at least when new, but assuming divers indescribable shades, as the sun takes out the colour, and labour works in the dirt), and wore Manilla hats.
M—— seeing over one booth a long inscription in Chinese, and beneath it an English one, "Cider Sold Here," was curious to know what manner of beverage Chinese cider might be, and asked for some; but no flavour was discernible, save a weak solution of common coarse brown sugar, and he remarked—
"This is not made of apples!"
"Iss," and the vendor proceeded to show a little half-emptied case of dried American apples; which were, he implied, in homoeopathic proportions, infused into the mawkish liquid, and the whole miserable composition insultingly denominated "Cider."
Night fell, ere M—— and his companion emerged from the celestial regions, and they were then warned not to attempt returning the way they came, on account of the innumerable holes. They had found it sufficiently difficult to make a safe passage through them by daylight (as deserted or unused "claims" are nearly always half, or quite full of water), and so found it wisest to make a circuit of above two miles, to reach the inn, although its lights were plain before them, not two hundred yards off.
M—— dined with the hospitable Warden, and observed, in the course of the evening, "you seem to have very snug quarters here."
"Ah! I wish you'd happened to come two or three years ago," exclaimed one of the officers, "before that confounded Parliament interfered with us. Those were snug times! We had handsome salaries, all our expenses paid, as many servants as we pleased, all paid for; and nothing to do, but order whatever we choose, and send in the accounts. We never sat down to dinner without Champagne and Burgundy in those days. Oh! we've been shamefully used. Now, we receive nothing but our regular salary, and absolutely have to pay servants' wages out of that!"
On Saturday evening, after dinner, M—— walked down the hill from the camp into the town, which then contained about 25,000 souls, and was also crowded with diggers and their wives, who had come in from the out-settlements, some near, some miles away—to buy supplies for the next week, with which many of them, both men and women, were heavily laden. M—— had not seen any crowd like it, since leaving London; and all were quiet, orderly, and sober; not one intoxicated person was to be seen. Most of the diggers were in debt to the storekeepers, and as long as they seemed industrious, they were allowed to take supplies on credit, at such prices, that if the diggers were fortunate in the end, the shopkeepers realize a good profit; and in such a system of universal gambling, every one goes in prepared to trade upon chances and risks of every variety of calibre; so that if one scheme misses fire, another shall compensate for failure.
The theatre was his next destination; it was not very wellfilled; the popular taste seeming more in favour of musical entertainments, for in a large concert-room, which he afterwards visited, were some hundreds of listeners. The room, about a hundred feet long by fifty wide, was arranged with three rows of open seats, divided by broad spaces between the rows; at the back of each bench, was a leaf or ledge for the convenience of those behind to set glasses on, but nothing stronger than negus or beer was being drunk. The place was filled with men, women, and children, of the same class as the frequenters of the shilling ball in Melbourne, mentioned before, all conducting themselves with perfect decorum, and listening in silent admiration to tolerably good music, vocal and instrumental. The proprietor of the establishment walked to and fro, in the clear spaces, directing his numerous waiters, and taking care that everyone's wants were attended to. Each song or concerted piece was distinctly announced, with the names of the performers, and favourites were long and loudly applauded and "encored." One rather stout, pleasant-looking female singer, with a charming voice, seemed especially and deservedly popular. The whole ended by an early hour, and the house (for the concert was held in the inn M—— stayed at) was quite quiet, and the town still, before twelve o'clock.
On Sunday morning, when the bells of the three churches were all ringing for service, the scene, as viewed from one of the little rises near the town, was as pleasing to gaze upon as it was comforting to contemplate. The whole population, apparently of the neighbourhood, was seen swarming in, towards the different places of worship, all in holiday garb, and with bright cheerful countenances; forming almost as dense a crowd as that which had filled the same streets, like a busy, buzzing hive of bees, the previous night. Here and there might be seen a cart, drawn by horses or oxen, filled with women and children; or an old cart-horse, covered from mane to tail with the young ones of a family, whilst the father led it, and the mother walked beside him with a baby; all neat and clean; a more gladsome Sabbath sight than we expected to meet in such a community.
When M—— returned to Castlemaine, he again remained a night there, and left for Melbourne in the early coach, before daylight. Several men with lanterns accompanied it for some distance, to show the best crossing place of a steep and dangerous gully, where the new road was being cut. Corduroy roads of logs were being laid down in some places on the line, because stone for road-metal was scarce, and it never seemed to have occurred to the directors, to use some of the inexhaustible quantities of excellent gravel, with which the neighbourhood abounds, although the bogs and wide morasses were daily becoming more and more difficult and dangerous to traverse, from the continual rains! In dashing through one bad piece of road in the Black Forest, the wheels on one side of the coach suddenly sank into a great hole, nearly capsizing the whole affair, when the usually silent driver yelled out, "Hang over to windward! Hang over! Hang over!"
At this time the two up-wheels were in the air; and scrambling out pell-mell over the side went the nimblest of the passengers, and hung on to the railing, ropes, wheels—anything they could grip hold of, till the struggling horses dragged the machine out, and all four wheels again touched the ground.
Three Sydney natives ("currency," not aboriginal) were in the coach, bound for Melbourne. They had driven a quantity of cattle overland from Sydney, and sold them, and also their own riding horses, at the river Murray, and so were taking a coach-trip to see Melbourne, and purposed going home thence by steamer. As the vehicle came in sight of Mount Macedon, which to our Tasmanian eyes would certainly wear no imposing aspect in comparison with our usually hilly and mountainous landscapes, one of the triad exclaimed, with a force of expression more earnest than elegant—
"I'm —— if there isn't a hill!"
Whereupon one of his companions, looking round too, responded, more piously—
"Thank God for it! That's the first hill I've seen these three weeks!"
During very nearly twenty years of colonial life, it has been my destiny to reside in various situations, all more or less isolated, and what would be thought in England "very lonesome;" and I have always become attached to my home, be it where it might. But I think even my happy capacity for seeing the sunny side of inevitable things would fail me in one of those spirit-quelling level countries; for how could one appreciate, or even observe, a sunny side, if there were no elevation to cast a shadow? The darkest, craggiest mountain-gorge that one ray of sun could glint down into, were preferable to a dwelling on these thrice-dreary plains. During a visit, many years ago, which we made to Bathurst, in New South Wales, I well remember how refreshing it was to drive across the plain, reach the little wooded knolly hill-chain to the north, and ramble about for an hour or two; climbing up and down the slopes, sitting under the trees, watching their thin quivering shadows on the ground, listening to the few twittering birds, and then carrying off some boughs of trees or flowering shrubs, when we drove out again on to the open desert!
Various small hindrances occurred on this down journey from Castlemaine, owing to the shaky condition of the coach-wheels; the tire of one was very nearly off, and had to be continually wedged up with bits of wood driven in it to tighten it; another was so much in want of oil, that a general conflagration seemed the most probable conclusion of the day's adventures; but the driver persisted in thinking it would "do" till they reached Melbourne, until unmistakable indications both of smoke and smell rendered a stoppage indispensable. The wheel was red-hot, and busy hands were quickly at work with wrenches to loosen it; one after another worked with furious energy, but the wheel refused to stir. At last M——, observing them, suggested that they were trying to turn the wrong wing—an idea which was scouted with immense volubility, until somebody, grown desperate with labour in vain, made an effort in the opposite direction, and the wheel came off. Greased and repaired, it went on its way rejoicing, but the loose tire became more hopelessly indisposed at every mile, and only by dint of perpetual administration of wedges and splints, was it enabled to wobble along till it reached Melbourne; when my errant husband returned to me, safe, and well pleased with his Bendigo expedition.
That evening we went to hear Catherine Hayes at a concert in the Exhibition Building, which is a smaller colonial edition or humble imitation of the old Crystal Palace at home, and now used for most public assemblies where it is requisite to accommodate thousands instead of hundreds of people. Just prior to our visit to Melbourne, the building had been flooded during a great rainy inundation which had occurred, and the state of the floor seemed rather to denote that the waters of the Deluge had left considerable sedimentary deposits behind them on their subsidence. Whether the organic remains therein contained were geologically interesting, I had no means of ascertaining; but tribes of migratory Crustacea, believed by Sir Joseph Banks to be nearly allied to Astacus marinusm (although the action of water at 212 deg. Fahrenheit did not effect that change in their "tegumentary skeleton" which the great naturalist anticipated), were numerous and exceedingly lively. The great hall was well lighted with gas, but very indifferently fitted up; and the arrangements appeared to us truly antipodean, the benches on the floor of the building being considered the "boxes," and the airy galleries doing gallery duty, and devoted to the "gods;" whereas, in the days when I went to English concerts, in English town-halls, &c., the comparatively few places in the galleries were the most expensive, and certainly were by far the pleasanter. We had not gone very early, though some time before the concert began, and had to take such seats as the crowd left us, about two-thirds down the hall. The orchestra, at the upper end, on a dais, was denoted by a semicircular fence of pink calico, behind the performers, and by a row of high desks, draped with yellow calico, in front of them; whilst roses, composed of calico of divers colours, but of sadly-crumpled and glory-departed aspect, were disposed around, in shallow festoons, by way of extra decoration.
The prima donna herself, looking extremely well in rich maroon velvet, with constellations of diamonds, was precious to one's sight as a pleasant picture amidst such uglinesses. The programme was miscellaneous, including sacred, operatic, and ballad music,—a combination, in my humble estimate, of more than questionable taste. Some of Handel's grandest choruses, and those awful, thrilling words, with their elaborate subtle harmony of music, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," had scarce faded from our ear's memory, and their solemn echoes yet lingered in our souls, when a jiggy, twitchy pert, and, alas! only too familiar strain, summarily dismissed all quiet thought, and sent discarded solemnity incontinently packing,—whilst we were confidentially enlightened, by a warbling coquette, as to her possessions, suspicious and possible rencontres, when "Comin' thro' the Rye." How often, since "Miss Wirt" was first introduced to us, among the all-excellent "Snobs" of Thackeray, have I remembered her "Gitting upstairs!" and, alas! how often has it been my lot to listen to performances of like character! Sweetly as Catherine Hayes warbles, her "Comin' thro' the Rye" irresistibly recalled Miss Wirt; the intricate elaboration of her roulades and cadences made one opine that rye must be a most entangling medium for a walk; and excited some apprehension lest, in attempting to "come thro'," with so many mazy intertwisted windings, and such complex subtleties of labyrinthic chromatics, she would be utterly lost in multitudinous melodies, and so never get through at all! Being possessed of a peculiarly simple taste in music, I do not like to hear a ballad cadenzified out of its identity, and feel inclined to say to those who so overlay with tinsel a piece of rustic 'hodden gray,' "If you will needs exhibit your wonderful powers of vocalization in the repetition of these astonishing prestissimo exercises, please to do so as a distinct performance, and do not overwhelm and smother some foolish little simple tune with such unsuitable finery and furbelow of adornment."
The majority of the audience, however, were not of my opinion, for they encored most lustily again and again. Once, whilst the first notes of some sacred song were being softly played, a man in working gold-digger's garb, up in the gallery, leaned over the front, and waving a great cabbage-tree hat, apparently to attract attention, called loudly out, "Hallo, I say, you down there! Give us something spicy! Play up, you fiddlers! Scrape us a Poker, can't ye?" Then came a struggle and a scuffle, in process of which the vociferous visitor seemed to collapse and become extinguished.
Except Catherine Hayes, whose sweet voice was certainly a treat (although the building was much too large for her power), there was nothing else to reward us for sitting two or three hours to hear; and, of necessity, there was little to see: one marvellous head-dress, whose wearer sat before me, employed me some time in trying to find out how such an astonishing fabric of long pins, plaits, mock-pearl beads, black velvet lace, and other matters, had been put together, but I had to "give it up," as a too difficult problem. The design seemed an exaggerated aureola, or Virgin Mary's "glory;" but it was not quite successfully realized. I wondered how long it would take to undo again? and whether she slept in it?—for the hair looked as if a brushing once a week was more than it was used to; perhaps it was a wig, and put on and off altogether? It must have been very heavy; and some of the great pins looked as if they were driven, like Mrs. Squeers's "tortershell comb," several inches into her head: altogether it was a most mysterious and distracting fabric.
No other of my Melbourne sights so delighted me, as our visit to the electric telegraph. The arrowing lightning—Jove's mighty thunderbolts—had not been tamed, nor taken office in the administration of human affairs and consented to run of errands for small mortality, when I left the old Home land; and I had not had an opportunity of seeing before how its mysterious agency was applied and its deeds interpreted. The kindness and patient courtesy of the gentlemen in the Electric Telegraph office, enabled me thoroughly to enjoy the time we passed there, and to comprehend the working of the great problem—though the greater remains unsolved—and nothing struck me more than the beautiful simplicity of the system altogether. Several messages were sent to Queenscliff, and answered, for our edification; and by the time we had seen a few, I could read off the small words myself—so completely and audibly the strokes of the little pencil or needle form into language, to those accustomed to read off the messages, that they can hold conversations together, by tiny raps or touches on a table, in imitation of the strokes and intervals of the telegraph point.
In that clever and eccentric book, 'The Mummy,' written some five-and-thirty years ago, by my friend Mrs. Loudon (whose honoured name is now, alas! added to that long list of loved and lost, who have dropped, like the links of a broken chain, from my Home treasures, of late years) were many wild and visionary schemes, as they were then deemed, which subsequent time has seen realized almost to the letter; so that the extravagancies of her romantic fiction have become now sober daily matter of fact. Among other devices, I remember there was one for the rapid transmission of letters or messages, so prophetic of the electric telegraph, that in the days of oracles a world-famous shrine would have honoured the gifted Sibyl.* I have often marvelled that no cheap, one-volume edition of the 'Mummy' has been published; but perhaps there has, though it has not reached our hermitage. As a prophecy, it is very singular.
[* Another lady, also—Mrs. E. Barrett
Browning—seems almost to have prophesied the Electric
"Though we wrapped the earth intensely with a hot electric breath,
'Twere but power within our tether," &c.]
How coarse and clumsy, by comparison with the lightning pencil, seemed the feats of a conjuror and legerdemainist, whom we saw soon after! He was neither Jacobs nor Anderson, whom I have seen since, but called himself the "Great Eagle," and performed most of their best mechanical illusions very cleverly, although unable to speak six words without cruel dislocations of her Majesty's English and total oblivion of h's, We saw him in a large, bare, roughly-built edifice of the theatre species, that looked as if it had been hatched into existence by some unnatural process, and was growing old without ever having been properly fledged. Everything was raw, rough, tawdry, and dirty.
The great Theatre Royal was not open when we were in Melbourne, but Coppin's Olympic was a favourite place of amusement with M——, and I also enjoyed the excellent manner in which comedies, vaudevilles, and farces were acted there, with tolerably good scenery, music, and gaslights. We saw 'Speed the Plough' delightfully represented, and some amusing little after-pieces, at different times. I have suffered several such painful inflictions from colonial tragedy, that I am cautious now how I encounter it. Never shall I forget the horrors of a dreadful caricature of "Virginius," done by a huge creature, who might have made a figure among Barclay and Perkins's draymen. His unwieldy, awkward person was sustained by portentously enormous legs, which looked as if they were swathed up in bandages made of a thick counterpane, and were displayed to full advantage, in Roman costume (or what was meant for such), with a very brief tunic and scanty toga. When he first entered, I shut my eyes upon the frightful apparition, and mentally looked back to the grand, statuesque beauty and majestic grace of Macready's Roman. "Hyperion to a satyr," in verity!
But not so easily could I shut out the harsh voice, whose stentorian bellowings sounded like nothing human; and as if they were not sufficiently terrific, they were assisted by loud grinding and gnashing of teeth so violently grated together, that one expected to see them fly into splinters; this was used to exemplify either scorn or pathos! In the scene of Virginia's death, the monster clutched the unfortunate actress who personated her, under one arm, like a bundle of old clothes, and staggered backwards; whilst with the other hand he tried to reach the area-railings of a piece of a shabby street scene, which formed one side of the forum, opposite the armchair where sat Appius Claudius, surrounded by his army of four individuals; and at last, being near enough, he grasped the knife, which I had before seen stuck into the side-railings, but it had been too firmly planted for easy removal, and the sturdy Roman tugged and wrenched, and tugged again, with desperate energy, till at last out came the perverse weapon, with a jerk that nearly upset father and daughter into the tyrant's lap; and the death-stroke, for which both Romans and Tasmanians had patiently waited, at least three minutes, was bestowed, to the general relief and satisfaction; whereupon the raving and ranting again proceeded, increasing in fury and vehemence unto the end; and the welcome curtain fell upon this cruel and deliberate murder of the noble work of Sheridan Knowles.
Since that memorable evening, I have not ventured into the presence of colonial tragedy. 'Hamlet' was barbarously mangled some months ago in Hobart, by a party of "amateurs," whose estimate of their own histrionic capabilities induced them to desire a public display thereof. We all remember the old story of 'Hamlet' being performed without Hamlet himself; but our amateurs, among other original emendations, acted it without H's.
Still, dramatic representations have greatly advanced in the colonies, during the last few years; and when "stars," even of third or fourth magnitude, deign to shine upon our Austral world, they find both "gods" and men disposed to do them honour. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Young, whose names we now see as high in favour with the London public, were deservedly favourites here; and during both their visit and that of Mr. and Mrs. Waller, the theatre in Hobart was nearly always well filled. On the last night of the Wallers' engagement, a little interlude, not specified in the bills, afforded considerable amusement. A party of the more enthusiastic among Mrs. Waller's admirers, had subscribed about one hundred pounds (more, I believe), to present her with some testimonial of their approbation and respect; and this, it was expected, would assume the form of a bracelet, brooch, or other valuable and portable ornament; but the directors of the affair, with extraordinary perversity of judgment, selected a harp, as the destined gift. Accordingly, soon after the conclusion of the first piece the curtain rose, and displayed to view the harp, standing alone in the centre of the stage. Then entered, on one side, five or six of the subscribers; and on the other, Mr. Waller led in his graceful and accomplished wife, who, with her pleasant face and lady-like self-possession, formed a striking contrast to the awkward, nervous, "unaccustomed-as-I-am-to-public-speaking" demeanour of the opposite party, who made faces involuntarily, and fidgeted, and huddled up and jostled each other, and evidently felt remarkably ill at ease in their new and conspicuous position, before an unusually full house, inclusive of the Governor, Lady Young, and a large party in the "vice-regal" box. At last, after Mrs. Waller had smilingly waited some little time for the recovery of her agitated friends, an individual in morning dress and dirty boots (who, as a member of the Legislature, and a rich settler, claimed the distinction of being spokesman) made three steps in advance of his supporters, and said, as nearly as could be understood:—
"I am—that is—Mrs. Waller—I have been—(horrid pause, during which Mrs. Waller smiles, plays with her fan, and looks the sweetest encouragement: audience hushed to sepulchral stillness:) In fact, I am—I wish—(desperately) we all wish—that is (relapsing again) my friends and—myself—desire to—('Speak up!' from the gallery) we beg—to present—to express—our great admiration—the great pleasure you—that we have received ('Hear, hear!' from the 'friends' in the rear), and in behalf of my honourable colleagues ('OR-der!' from the gallery)—I should say my—my—that is, the other gentlemen and myself—to—offer—in short, to beg your acceptance (and here he advanced and laid hold of the harp as a partner in difficulties) of—of this eternal testimony—I mean this testimony of our eternal—our profound esteem and admiration." And with a bow (during which, a vision of mud-spotted trousers and dirty boots must have made painfully evident to himself those outrages on propriety) the senatorial orator ended his address; how contrasted by the lively, feeling, and graceful reply, need not be set forth.
My motives for shunning tragedy of doubtful quality, have led into digressions as irrelevant as the reasons alleged by Master Slender for his "not abiding the smell of roast meat;" and these dramatic reminiscences savour so overmuch of town and gaslight, that we seem to crave fresher air and country scenes after them.
Several pretty spots lie within pleasant drives of Melbourne. Heidelberg, of which I heard great eulogy, I only saw from a distance, but the situation must be very lovely, embosomed in swelling woods, undulations, with the Dandenong range of hills in the distance. Kew, though so near the city, is (or was then) tolerably fresh and unspoiled, with some fine trees, on park-like ground, and an extensive and pleasing view; and Hawthorn, on the banks of the Yarra, is a very pretty village; there, too, is the most charming cottage residence I saw in Victoria; and being the property and the creation of a public character, Dr. (now Sir James) Palmer, Speaker of the Legislative Council, I think I need have no scruple in mentioning it. The great, and unfortunately too peculiar charm of "Burwood," is the excellent taste with which the grand old native trees around have been preserved, and the quaint, picturesque Elizabethan house, so skilfully placed nestling among them, that the necessity of its own youth does not obtrude itself on one's mind: all looks in perfect keeping and consistency. The material is the dark-blue stone I admired so much in Melbourne buildings, and it forms an effective ground-tint for the lovely climbing plants, which are trained in graceful draperies about the house, one side of which is clothed with ivy, garlanded over with roses and fuchsias. Masses of the dark shining foliage, and bright blossoms of the scarlet Tecoma, cover another part; and the grounds and flower borders beneath the patriarchal Euculyptus trees are full of bright forms and sweet odours, legions of violets adding their soft fragrance to the latter. From the sloping bank of the Yarra, here fringed with young and graceful trees, is a vast, distant view of Melbourne (suggestive of London seen from Hampstead), just enough to enhance the beauty and quiet of such a retreat. I saw nothing else so English looking as "Burwood," in the whole colony; and my powers of encomium do not farther go. The grand, old, gnarled, and bending gum-tree, which figures in a sketch I made there, might almost be fancied an oak, especially with that arched porch and oriel window peeping under its branches, and is to me almost as much a reminder of home, as of the pleasant time when it was sketched. There is also a "Cloth-of-Gold" rose in my garden here now, a gift of remembrance from thence, for I still sometimes gratify an old English habit, by bringing home floral mementos and reliques, from places visited, or friends left far away. But our own removals have been such, that despite my desire to keep my garden pets around me, I can now look back, and trace them out by fives and tens, and twenties, inevitably left in former homes, sometimes to be preserved and cared for by other tenants, but far oftener to be forgotten and destroyed.
I remember the verandah, at the house of some dear old friends in Warwickshire, beside the Shakespeare-sacred Avon, had at each pillar a climbing plant, given by a different person as a memento; and what sweeter representative would love or beauty or friendship ask, than bright, delicate, and fragrant flowers! Would that I could engage some obliging fairy to plant one fair white Clematis beside one of those slender pillars! or the azure Comesperma, with its tendril-like twining stems and sprays of clearest blue-winged flowers, in memory of many happy hours, and our last parting—long, long, ago!
Lo! another vision of a Victorian garden, on the banks of the river "Plenty;" not by any means English in character, but rather Oriental in its associations, with groves of massive fig-trees of various kinds, rich with their luscious autumn gifts; rows of graceful olives, laden with fruit. Mulberry, peach, and all common orchard trees, in luxuriant abundance; vineyards, where the grapes have nearly all been gathered, but the leaves of each kind, assuming a different set of tints in their autumnal changes, made a glorious show of colour. Some had scarcely altered their green summer garb; others wore it with a change of paly gold just gleaming over, showing the veins and deeper mid-rib, more emerald still—like verdant valleys, in a land of ripening harvest; some seemed as they had drunk the fervid sunshine in, until an amber light reflected it from every vein and tissue; here, pale and tender; there, deepening into golden russet; some had but shades of brown; but these, how exquisitely blent and softened! If one could dress in hues from such a palette! Creamy-fawn, passing to cinnamon colour, and then warmed with touches of burnt sienna, where the sun had rested longest, and relieved by dark full browns in the deeper shades; some again, parti-coloured green and gold, were flecked with vivid scarlet, like a sunset sky in the tropics; and others, with crimson for the gorgeous ground-tint, shaded it with deep maroon and purple, till, where shadows rested on it, they were black. The beauty of the fruit still left there, was as naught beside those wondrous leaves. In other places, tall spiral cypresses, darkly verdant, rose from a neighbourhood of rounder-growing, lighter-tinted trees, with tropical-looking cycal zamias and yuccas, making such exquisite groups of varied foliage, such charming bits of light and shade, that they seemed asking to be photographed forthwith; and some of the nooks have received even worthier honour from Mr. G. L. Bateman's pencil. One is a rustic flight of broad wooden steps, down a steep bank, not a formal flight (like the stately stone terrace steps in noble old English gardens, with great vases on the heavy massive balustrades, and one of Juno's own peacocks, shedding over the grey stone his train of rainbow jewels in the sun), but with an easy bend in it, artfully concealing one end, as you stand on the other; and decorated with ivy, that runs down on either side in clustering luxuriance, and sends out long straight shoots along the angle where a carpet-rod would be on a house stair, with delicate, young, green leaves, laid as closely and precisely as if Titania's upholsterer had devised the wreaths. A noble cypress stands grandly, in lieu of a statue, at the stair-foot, and great leaved tropic growths fill-in the foreground.
And then the wealth of roses! Nothing like them has gladdened my senses since. One, monarch of the whole, seemed a giant elder brother of the noble "cloth-of-gold," with great ruddy juicy stems, polished spreading leaves; and such flowers! A full-blown one might have formed a bouquet for the ample bosom of Glumdalclitch herself; the colour was rich warm buff, almost saffron colour, deepening in the centre, and the texture of the broad petals was that rich wax-like substance, like a Camelia, but even thicker. It was the noblest of the rose-tribe I ever saw, and well contrasted by the delicate Annie Vibert and Devonienses, Banksias, &c., while the cloth-of-gold and some other deep-red roses aided to make up the courtly group around. What treasures we carried back with us to Melbourne, after that merry luncheon in the cottage-room, with its windows curtained by fuchsias and passion-flowers!
Leave for Geelong—The Yarra and its horrors—"The merciful man is merciful to his beast."
A trip to Geelong by steamer was the first stage of my excursion to the "diggings," as our destination was the neighbourhood of Ballaarat. We went on board in the afternoon from the wharf in Melbourne, with the prospective advantage of going down the Yarra, instead of embarking at Sandridge, and congratulated ourselves on thus "seeing the banks of the river."
On we steamed; past wharves, warehouses, and offices—between which were glimpses of handsome streets, running off in divers directions; past the posts and wires of the electric telegraph; past the railway; past wealth, business, and, if not absolute cleanliness, at least an average appearance of respectability.
"And then, having left the city, how you would enjoy the contrast! The fresh green meadows, with cattle grazing, or idly basking in the grass; the bright stream glancing from the vessel's bows; and, perchance, some remains of the primeval forest, forming groves beside the river, added a sylvan beauty to the scene!" Such possibly is the outline which some Home-friend may mentally sketch, of our voyage down the Yarra.
Very like it, indeed!
I should think the nearest approach to the reality would be a sail down a sewer; or, perhaps, if the dirtiest portion of the dirty old Thames were turned aside into a very dirty ditch, redolent of every conceivable abomination, and barely wide enough for two vessels to pass each other safely, and the level so arranged that the whole should fester and almost stagnate under a semitropical atmosphere for nine months out of twelve, some approximation might be obtained to the condition of the Yarra below Melbourne. To exaggerate the picture is simply impossible. The banks of black or grey, shining, greasy mud were higher than the swamp beyond, thus ensuring an unfailing supply of miasmatic vapours, and sustaining the life of a low scrub of unwholesome-looking "tea-trees," stunted and hideous, that stood in the inky slime, and furnished rods to a few squalid, filthy children (not very unlike the "offspring" presented by Father Thames to the fair city of London, in 'Punch,' July 3, 1858), who, barefoot, or only booted with mud, and with scarce rags enough hanging about their attenuated limbs for the exigencies of decency, stood on the dividing ridge between swamp and sewer, fishing. Yes—fishing—in water whose indescribable foulness and putrescence made one sick to pass above it! Whether they caught any living fish—for the honour of the fishy character I trust not—or eat them afterwards, I had no means of knowing; but dead, bloated carcases of dogs, cats, pigs, and the Yarra only knows what else! were floating abundantly in the "gruel, thick and slab," fit enough for Hecate's cauldron, through which we were propelled slowly, as if to give every facility for fever and all other evil genii of the place to come quickly on board. Large "boiling-down" establishments were placed near the banks, adding their liberal quota of animal refuse to the witch-broth as it sluggishly crept by; and—saddest and worst of all—in yards erected in the swamp, and from one to three feet deep in miry slush, were crowds of beautiful cattle, shut up in filth, stench, and starvation, awaiting (as they often do for several days) the mercy of death.
And meanwhile, the Worshipful the Mayor—and those worthies the aldermen—and the honourable the members of the Legislature—ay, and the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop and his clergy—and no end of established and virtuous respectabilities besides,—men in authority and having servants under them—go to church, and stay the sacrament, and duly contribute to the contents of the napkin-lined silver plates for the relief of the poor—and then go home, and ask the blessing of God on the sumptuous dinners that await them; never heeding how they, or, what is the same thing, those under their control, abuse and torture the innocent and goodly creatures which that beneficent God has given unto man for food; but not to bear (from human brutes lower in the scale) the infliction of cruel, wanton, deliberate barbarity.
We very rarely see that consideration and thought shown for the comfort of the animal creation which every human being ought to feel is one of his religious duties—nor by any means the least of them. I thought that the oxen in Tasmania were, for the most part, very hardly used; but the amount of cruelty exercised towards these useful, patient, docile, and beautiful creatures in Victoria is something frightful. It is a moral pestilence throughout the land. Had the plague itself been rife there, I could scarcely have suffered more from sights and sounds of horror than I did; indignant and, alas! helpless sorrow, at the ever-recurring inhumanities we witnessed on all sides. "Verily, verily," I thought, "it was the Enemy of Man who sowed the gold over this broad land, and brutality is one weapon wherewith he reaps his harvest!"
To me, the most mysterious part of the Almighty's scheme—so far as it becomes manifest in our daily life—is the absence of some universal, imperative prevention of cruelty to His dumb creatures; and it is my fixed belief, that they are thus left at our mercy to give us the power of doing wrong or right—comparatively independent of human intervention or control in this life: but amenable to how severe a tribunal in that which is to come! Man can detail his sufferings, excite pity, and gain partisans against the oppression of his fellows; can make laws for his own defence, and, in the main, secure obedience to those laws by the dread of terrible punishments; the cry of his "brother's blood" is echoed by the voice of nations; and even in his extremity of pain, in the instant of a violent death, he has the promise of future bliss, the hope of a better world as a brightening light in his most utter gloom.
Let me not be condemned as seeming to compare man, made in God's own image, to the beasts which perish; but because they perish, and have no hereafter to compensate for present agonies, is one great reason why we should be careful of their comfort during their one life. Too often, during long weary years, the wretched ox lives through one continued series of suffering and privation; treated, I was going to say, like an insensate machine, rather than a being of flesh and blood, life and feeling; but a machine would receive tenderer usage, inasmuch as machines have a habit of breaking, and becoming useless, if tasked beyond their powers of just endurance: and the poor ox breaks too, sometimes,—breaks down and dies under some too heavy infliction of its oppressors. But for long years ere that release, he suffers and struggles on, strained in every nerve, galled with festering sores (any one of which would be a "pass" for the biped brute, his master, into an hospital), and often parched with drought as he labours through a thirsty land where no water is; or if there be, the biped brute generally denies the team access to it, and keeps them standing in a burning sun amidst swarms of tormenting flies, whilst he assuages his own thirst in the shady room or verandah of the wayside inn; coming out again, with renewed vigour in his merciless arm, to flog into agony and madness the terrified, panting, and suffering creatures he has command of.
In several instances under our own knowledge, oxen thus tormented with needlessly prolonged thirst, have at last become unmanageable, and, rushing into rivers in deep places, have been drowned (hampered as they usually are with heavy loads) in their desperate efforts to get water. When, as sometimes happens, the tyrant driver has been drowned too it only seems to me a grain of justice in a pound of wrong. In one case, a settler in Tasmania (a justice of the peace, too) was driving some of his family in a bullock-cart, and during a hot summer's day neglected all the evident indications of thirst in his poor cattle; and even when stopping for the midday halt to lunch and regale himself and his party, refused to let the oxen have water, though there was some close by, and drove on again. The next time the creatures scented a brook they rushed off, heedless of whip or call, upset the cart, with one child beneath, and dragged it some distance ere they were stopped and the little girl extricated, bruised all over, and to all appearance nearly dead. Had the master been so served I should have said, "Quite right;" but, as is too often the case in this world, the innocent suffer instead of the guilty. The poor little girl lingered for months on the verge of death, but eventually recovered.
Such recollections of scenes I have unavoidably witnessed crowd on my memory as I write, that all which volumes could avail me to express, of condemnation and sorrow, seems inadequate to convey an idea of the truth; one might as well lift a feather to fell a gum-tree.
It is useless to tell me "there is Martin's Act." Yes, there is; and a colonial edition of it is in operation, at least it is in Tasmania, where it was passed when the brave and lamented Sir John Franklin was Lieutenant Governor of the island; and, perchance, if his Worship the Mayor, or his Honour the Chief Justice happen to be a shade less hardened, by the frequent presence of cruelty, than his compeers, he may (I greatly doubt if he ever will) summon a brutal cabman before a magistrate, for some very unendurable act of wickedness to a poor beast (committed before other witnesses), and cabman is fined five shillings, and does the same thing next week with impunity. But how does "Martin's Act" affect the bullock-drivers of teams traversing remote, unfrequented bush roads, where neither "His Worship" nor "His Honour" ever pass? And why is a camel to be swallowed in one place, while a gnat is strained at in another?
A stringent Animal-relief Bill is wanted, not only empowering, but compelling magistrates to levy heavy fines in some cases; but in most, to condemn the offenders to penal labour for various terms according to the enormity of the offence. There is abundant employment for such penitents on our unmade roads, and a few months' real hard labour would be a very mild visitation for such cruelty as I have seen. I would not allow a whip mark to be seen on oxen. If the cattle are of proper ages, are in good working condition, and not overdriven nor overloaded, they will do all they ought to do—good, patient, willing beasts as they are—without a stroke that shall leave its trace. I would punish, not only for such acts of violence as had witnesses to prove them, but for such appearance and condition of the animals—horses, asses, oxen, camels, elephants, dogs, or whatever else they were—as in themselves were evidences of improper usage.
Cruelty to animals is a subject that nine-tenths—ay, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths—of the general population do not seem to comprehend. Many persons, very "pious," "kind-hearted" people, too, in the world's estimate of things on the surface; men who subscribe to all manner of charities (with their names in print), and women who are affected even to floods of tears by the fictitious woes of a popular novel, can placidly gaze upon palpable and severe animal suffering without any sensation whatever!* The clay their frames are fashioned of must, one would think, have been too hardly baked to receive impressions from without: and the undisguised astonishment with which they hear any remonstrance or intercession for the wretched victims, evidences the shock which so novel an idea creates. For, unhappily, the sin of cruelty is by no means confined to the "lower orders." I have seen at different times and places several teams of oxen, each the chief worldly wealth of some poor man, who tended and drove them himself; and the creatures were sleek, fat, and strong; carefully fed and watered, and unmarked by the whip. And I have seen also beautiful Arab horses called by endearing names by their "fair" owners, when brought up by the grooms to be mounted, and fed with roses or biscuit in the most fond and interesting manner—and a very happy effect it has, too, when we see no further:—but I have seen the gay new side-saddles taken off, and the saddle-cloth removed, in the presence of the riders (for I caused it to be done), and great swollen ulcers exposed to view—like huge boils—a twentieth part of which on their own delicate persons would confine the fair ladies to their luxurious beds, and call round them the skilful medical attendant, gentle nurses, and unbounded sympathy: but the wound has been covered up again, the saddle replaced, and each gentle dame (who weighed twelve and thirteen stone), crying in dulcet tones, "Woa, pet!" "Stand still, my beauty!" has calmly, smilingly seated herself on the back of the tortured, shrinking, groaning animal—sitting upon a great sore, to go a ride—for pleasure.
[* A story told me, many years ago, by my friend, Mr. William Howitt, recurs to me as an exact corroboration of my own thoughts. He went to visit a lady of refined and intellectual character, and being in the country, by some mistake, found his way to the back instead of the front door of her mansion. There, hanging by its legs to a nail in the wall, hung a living turkey, fluttering and struggling in the agonies of protracted death, bleeding, drop by drop, from a small hole in its head. Mr. Howitt very innocently called the servants, and told them, with horror that the bird was alive! "Oh, yes, sir, o' course it is! It won't be dead these four or five hour! Missus allays 'as 'em done so, to make the meat white." Sickened and shocked, he was shown into the drawing-room, and there, with her perfumed cambric handkerchief steeped in tears, lay the tortured turkey's sensitive mistress, on a sofa, reading a novel!]
"And did not you remonstrate?" says the reader. Did I NOT? But it availed nothing—such things were no novelties, had no horrors, for our fair guests.
I fear that such, or at all events, little less, cruel suffering is often endured by horses ridden by ladies. Good horsewomen have a good even seat on the horse, and instinctively keep their balance well, so that the weight does not drag over to one side; but an awkward fat girl, so tightly laced, in order to "look well in a habit," that no elasticity remains in her trussed-up form, hangs on to the pommel like a crammed sack, and goes bumping, bumping along, screwing the saddle crooked on the horse, by leaning all to one side, and in a ride of four or five miles, will cause such a "sore back" to the wretched animal as ought to have two or three months' rest to cure. I have known the same young lady, one of those before alluded to, in five short rides, render five different horses unfit for work for many weeks (two were our own), and still she persisted in riding whenever it was possible, in the sad delusion that it was a becoming and graceful thing to do. Let all young ladies who ride at all learn to ride well: by well, I do not mean following the hounds or "topping" fences, which the Diana Vernons may do if they list—but let them acquire a good seat on horseback, without which, the newest habit, the jauntiest hat and feather and smartest whip are of no avail, and will not disguise real awkwardness and constraint: and let them always see the state of their horse's back themselves—and not take the groom's word for it; rest is the only real cure, when mischief is done; but with a large, well-fitting saddle, a soft, rather thick woollen saddle-cloth (which should be frequently washed), and a lady who can ride properly, not a hair need be ruffled. As to the personal supervision of such matters being "unfeminine," that idea is pure absurdity. If the moths had devoured half the lining of Clarinda's chariot between her return from Saturday's opera and her going to Sunday's church, would she seat herself on the rags without observing them? How much more then should she observe whether injury or disease have attacked the living and sensitive skin of her gallant horse? Let all such, idle silly cant be silenced; and if women choose to use horses, or other animals for their luxury, let them know, not merely "believe," that they are properly cared for.
The mention of church leads me to another point, from whence I see much evil to be amended. Every one, in coming out from divine service, whether at home or in the colonies, must have observed various vehicles waiting by the doors, to convey away the wealthy, the indolent, and the invalid members of the congregation. To the wealthy, I have little comment to make, on this head. Dives may be oblivious of lame Lazarus lying at his gate, but he usually exercises no stint in the allowance of corn and stable-room, and attendance, for so important a part of his state and glory as his noble carriage-horses; and they are probably much better prancing out on a Sunday, than shut up without exercise. Whether John Coachman and Thomas Footman go to service at all, or only hear half of it, and go out, audibly and visibly, in the midst of the sermon to bring the carriage round, is a matter between them, their master, and the clergy, who, I humbly conceive, are better able to judge of their spiritual needs than I am; but look at the horses in the hired carriages! The thin, jaded, dejected, broken-kneed creatures, who wait, with their poor rheumy eyes blinking and dozing, as they stand on the hard pavement; resting first one battered-up old foot, and then another, in vain endeavour after ease. Poor deluded brutes! Do they think ease is for such as they!
At last the final prayer is said; the blessing pronounced; and the rustling silken tide of "miserable sinners" ebbs out at the great doors. Dives and his portly wife and fair young sons or daughters roll off in their gorgeous equipage, with the sunlight glancing from the cloudless varnish and glittering silver; while Piety that goes afoot is delighted, if it can make its bow in reply to a gracious nod from the magnates within, and looks round with pride to note who observed their condescension; all at the threshold of the house of God!
Very well. Dives's horses go back to idleness and abundance. But look at the worn-out pair of wretched hacks in that hired cab!* Would a day's rest be unwelcome to them? Have they any superfluous energy that wants exercise? And do those gaily-attired ladies, who seat themselves in the vehicle with such smooth complacency,—and the trim Paterfamilias who jauntily mount the box by the driver,—do they really believe that they are doing what is right and good in the sight of their "Father, who seeth in secret," and whom appearances and sophistries cannot deceive—by adding to the utter weariness and pain of those unhappy horses, in hiring the cab for their own more luxurious (?) conveyance to church? Do they believe, in their hearts, that their service to God is well done by such means? Can they, in conscience, beseech Him "to incline their hearts to keep his laws," when they have deliberately broken one in their approach to His footstool? Are they unable to walk? The hue of robust health is on their cheeks, and I have seen them whirling in the midnight ballroom, hour after hour, unwearied. Do they reside very far from the church? Three streets off, perhaps?
[* Most carriages for hire here are called "cabs," but they have nearly all been sent out as private carriages, carrying four persons inside.]
There are other churches nearer to their homes, whither they had better go. Are those elegant new dresses too good to trail through the dust on foot? And are the lame, lean horses needed for their safe conveyance to the shrine where we ourselves renewed, in confirmation, the promise of our sponsors,—to "renounce the pomps and vanities of this wicked world?" Would not Mercy, and Pity, and Humility, clothed in plainer garb, be more fitting visitants there? Or do they think, "We may just as well have the cab, for if we do not, others will?" Vain argument! If all resolved to obey the command, "Ye shall not do evil, that good may come thereof," evil must assume its true colours, and be shunned as evil; but now the wolf often skulks amongst us in sheep's clothing, and we are so purblind in our selfishness, we let it escape detection. If all hirers of cabs or other like vehicles, refused to engage one unless the horses drawing it were in good condition and free from hurts, this part of the calamitous state of animal affairs would quietly and effectually remedy itself.
If the Sabbath is ordained as a day of rest for us, so equally, and as distinctly is it commanded that our cattle shall rest also; and it is as a wicked, unjust oppression and extortion towards the animals, for whom their Almighty Creator himself made a merciful law, and not only as a sin against our own souls, that I view the act of causing those animals to labour on the Sabbath, which are daily worked and overworked on the other six days. If so situated that you cannot attend a place of public worship without employing ill-fed, overworked horses to convey you thither, (I say nothing of your own pampered favourites), "Enter into your closet, and pray there;" or if you have a family, assemble it in your own house, and there offer up, in innocent piety, your prayers and supplications to Him, who promises that "when two or three are gathered together in His name, he will grant their requests." Think ye He will more surely do so, if ye break His Father's commandment, ere ye pray to Him? But supposing ye despise your Maker's ordinance, and in your own persons set it at naught—work, if you will, and on your own heads be the punishment; travel by railway and welcome, so ye use no cattle in any way; go up in balloons and down in diving bells, but take not from your dumb servants that time of rest which God, in his omniscient mercy, has vouchsafed to command for them.
It is very evident, that to banish cruelty from the civilized and Christian world, we have to do with many other classes, besides ignorant and semi-savage clowns; who, in many instances, I sincerely believe, are so stupidly, grossly, darkly ignorant, that if you quietly and simply explained to them, that a whip-lash, smartly laid over their coated backs, left less sting than it did on the soft skin of their ill-used cattle, they would have some difficulty to imbibe so completely novel an idea! Much may be done for the rising generation, by wise and humane teaching in all schools, by kind and gentle example in all families; by the notice and approval of good, and the earnest reprobation of bad treatment of domestic animals in all households, farms, &c.; but to repress the present daily and hourly commission of what I sincerely and religiously believe to be a great sin and wickedness, rests with those entrusted with the government of nations, cities, and districts. I am no Quixotic visionary, desiring or dreaming that animals, useful to do man's lawful labour and also "good for food," should be left unused or uneaten. We are no Vegetarians, but have our own beautiful sheep and oxen killed for the sustenance of our family and establishment; they are well kept during their present lives, and instant death comes to them, unheralded by terrors and torments. For our use and comfort we possess them, and with grateful hearts thank Him who gave! Let them which labour for us, so far receive the meed of their labour, as to be worked with reasonable moderation, not killed lingeringly, with tasks beyond their power; let them be abundantly fed; and so, rendered capable of exertion, without pain. "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox, that treadeth out the corn." Let them drink when they are thirsty, and do not keep them in the worst of privation,—torments; and let them not be cruelly beaten, nor wounded from carelessness or barbarity. Great and infinite is the good man derives from the labour of his four-footed servants, and "Much increase is by the strength of the ox." (Prov. xiv. 4.) Why then should he almost universally return evil for that good? and the scantiest starvling pittance for that "much increase?" Does he think that God created them to be a blessing or a curse unto him? If a blessing, his usage should be such, as to testify his thankfulness for the good gift, and by his gentle and humane treatment, evidence such virtue in himself, as shall double the benediction on his head; if a curse, let him beware how, by his own sin, he deepen that curse!
I believe that they are given unto us as a trust, by Him who created all things; and that the responsibility which every human being thus possesses,—that power of acting either with gentleness or barbarity, to greater or less numbers of God's creatures, according to his place and calling in this world,—is bestowed upon us as a trial and a test, whose result shall be governed by the dictates of our own hearts; and that in the last great day, when the evil and the good shall receive the award due to their deeds here below, it will be made manifest to men and angels, that "The merciful man doeth good to his own soul." (Prov. xi. 17.)
Over the Bay to Geelong—Station Peak—Theatre—"Remember thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath-day"—Morning and evening walk—Sparrow's-nest Tent—Off before daylight—"Carriage exercise"—On the plains—Leigh Bridge—The tent on the plain—-Warrambeen—-Magpies.
My last chapter took me but short way towards Geelong; for a topic was unwittingly touched upon at starting, on which I feel so deeply, that the pen, ready to gossip about trifles, had to wait, like the impatient wedding guest whom the ancient mariner "held with his eye," until some, at least, of the painful and anxious thoughts which crowded up beyond control, had made it note them. May they find echoes in many strong and kindly hearts, until the sound of my single voice is lost in the volume of those which take up the burden of my inefficient, but earnest appeal!
Once more upon the Yarra! Yes, once more, but not for long. The same thick, scummy water, continues for another mile or so; the same low shores of black, oozy mud; the same narrow tortuous channel, just wide enough to allow of our passing the dirty vessels, moored beside the dirtier banks; till at last, a dioramic change came gradually over the scene. The river's breadth increased—widened yet more and more; the black mud receded on either hand; lingering reluctantly here and there in broad patches, scarcely above the water, and frequented—to their shame be it said—by radiantly white sea-gulls, sitting like specks of silver on a flood of ink. Presently the opaque fluid beneath us began to look as if at some distant period it might have been transparent; and soon, a fresh whiff of air from the sweet south was as welcome to the senses as hope to the heart, and saved me the utterance of an idea which had for some time been taking entire possession of my faculties, to wit, that in some situations of life, noses were troublesome and officious superfluities. And lo! we are in Hobson's Bay! The brothy fluid around us is still of the Yarra, Yarra-ish; but beyond is the bright green water, ribboned over with the blue shade of clouds, and with scores of ships, sitting like flocks of ducks upon it; or with white wings outspread, sailing here and there. Steamers too, are panting busily along, leaving a double trail behind them, murky smoke on the sky, and snowy foam on the waves; almost as clear a case of paradox, as the honest Satyr thought his guest, who blew hot and cold with the same breath.
And so we steam pleasantly along, passing vessels of all sorts and sizes, and chief among them, the Royal Charter, busy taking in the last of her cargo for England, and with such a fleet of tributary craft hovering round her, that she looks like a huge parent-bird in the midst of her progeny.
Our fellow-passengers were of various classes and aspects, with the usual preponderance of boots and beards among the male portion; and of brown hats, babies, and baskets among the female. M—— "made conversation" with some of the former, whilst I enjoyed the fresh sea-air, and the pleasant marine-pictures always changing around us; and reading, at intervals, one of Ruskin's architectural lectures, with great interest. I thought, as I read his furious attacks upon the builders of the eternal square-topped windows in the city streets of the old world—full as it is of relief to the artistic eye, in the glorious relics of by-gone grandeur and devotion—what would he say—what would he do—in the towns of our Austral colonies? In the mazes of unredeemed hideousness which colonial architects and proprietors build, and add to, and repeat over and over again! "It won't pay!" being the silencing and final rejoinder to any remonstrance against ugliness, and entreaty to consider beauty of design, even in the most unpretending edifice.
As we approached Geelong, one range of hills, called Station Peak, or Mount Youang, rose above the too evenly level line of coast. Two conical eminences, and some lower and rounder elevations form the main group, and a single little mount, of pyramidal shape, stands, like a small outpost, at some distance from their feet. About two miles before reaching the wharf, we passed over the bar of the harbour, a widely extending shoal, with only sufficient depth at low water to float vessels of small draught. As we looked down over her side, it seemed as though each moment we were in danger of grounding; every shell and starfish, even bits of kelp or seaweed, were so sharp and near in appearance.
Geelong is very pleasantly situated at the head of the Bay, on slightly rising ground, and looks pretty from the water, with its fresh, new buildings and open streets, by no means closely packed, as yet; and green lawny terraced land rising from the beach on either side; but the general scarcity of wood, or even of single trees, is a deficiency in its claims for admiration; still it looks fresher and cleaner than Melbourne, with less pretension to city greatness, and less defacement from city-dirt.
The sea-baths, of which there are several, are conspicuous objects in a sea-approach; nondescript white erections in the water, like tea-garden summer-houses gone astray, and connected with the beach by long platforms, and encircled by large cages of strong wire netting or palisades, reaching from the bottom, above the surface of the water; within there, swimmers may disport in safety, and not unfrequently see hungry sharks gliding round, gazing from without the barrier, at the unreachable temptations within. The frightful deaths which have occurred here, to persons whose ignorance or false valour induced them to bathe in the open bay, are too horrible to repeat.
On landing at a broad wooden jetty, slippery with incessant traffic, and crowded by arrivals and departures, we drove to the hotel where rooms were engaged for us, and where every creature comfort save one was well cared for—but all foregone experiences or descriptions of American, German or French ablutionary arrangements were outdone by the curiously minute apparatus we found here,—two small gilded china slop-basins and cream ewers occupying the miniature marble-topped wash-handstand, but speedily reinforced by a serviceable tub and water-can, at my request.
After dinner we inquired what amusements were to be found? Mine host knew only of the Theatre, and thither we drove; for though only a short distance, the profound scale of mud which pervaded Geelong precluded the possibility of walking after dark.
The silence and almost solitude at the box-office augured but ill for the fullness of the house, and accordingly we found ourselves comprising the entire box company for the first two acts of 'Charles the Second;' after which a few more persons came in, and the pit and gallery were three-fourths filled. The theatre was by no means small, but very long for its width, as if it had been made a good shape originally, and then squeezed to fit a particular place. Bare bricks, and bare rough boards, painted over, were abundantly visible; the fronts of the boxes and the proscenium monopolizing what finish had been bestowed. Some of the scenery and dresses were tolerably good, and the acting not bad; but the second piece was a most mysterious and tragic melodrama, in which were poachers, gypsies, and gamekeepers, who quarrelled, and shook hands, and conspired; and scowled, and denounced somebody, and loaded guns and fired them off in vollies (making a most unpleasant smoke and smell), and went out stealthily at back-doors—and dodged about behind screens and under tables—being conspicuously manifest to everybody but the men who were looking for them; while young women, in white muslin and silk shoes, coquetted and wept by turns; wrung their hands, and kissed the poachers, and did apparently everything which could be of no manner of use to anybody else; making up, in the whole, as inexplicable a piece of unintelligible confusion as one would wish to unravel; but evidently coming all straight in the end, when everybody who was not shot or otherwise made away with—and several who were—turned up at last to assist in the grand tableau, where the young ladies kissed the poachers over again, and made smiling curtsies, as the curtain fell on their voluminous white muslin. There was a third piece, but we were unequal for further enigmas.
The next day was Sunday, and many of the shops were shut, and all the churches, chapels, and meetings were open. But at many inn-doors a perfect concourse of drays was assembled, with their drivers and hangers-on, preparing to start on their up-country journeys, with teams of weary, half-famished oxen standing knee-deep in mud and water, receiving their accustomed award of cruel blows; while the blasphemous and abominable language which accompanied them could not fail of being heard within the adjacent places of worship. Truly, the contrast was startling.
On one side of the street the church doors stand open; the officiating clergyman reads the Fourth Commandment, and the devout listeners respond by beseeching that God will "incline their hearts to keep His law."
On the other side—or, perhaps, at the next door—a crowd of half-drunken, dirty bullock-drivers curse and brawl and fight, and abuse with brutal cruelty God's innocent creatures, unrestrained, unheeded. If that white-robed priest did his duty, and his Masters work', would these things be?
To go in, and attempt to pray calmly with such sounds in our ears, was to us impossible. Turning away from all—both untaught ruffians and unteaching priests—we took our way to the beach, with the sea and the sky for our temple, and our own earnest hearts for books, whence to read our prayers.
Bright and calm shone the bay, with some small vessels and boats near the wharf, and a few large merchantmen lying outside the bar. Green undulating banks, nearly devoid of trees, except where artificial plantations have been made round a few residences, rise behind the sandy shore. This, north of the town, is grievously disfigured by ranges of slaughter-houses—dirty, rickety old sheds—and other appurtenances, ugly enough at a distance, but thrice horrible on a nearer approach, when the manifold abominations of their calling become palpable to other senses than sight. A large passage, like a trough, cut through the bank, which here rises almost into a cliff, has been made for driving herds of cattle from the enclosed paddocks at the top, down into the slaughter-house, where men stationed in a gallery, surrounding the inner wall of the great shed, strike the terrified creatures down by blows from above. All the ranges of buildings were coated over with greasy animal matter, as if soaked in oil. Black reeking casks, which had held tallow, and doubtless awaited refilling, stood in tiers against the bank; parts of skins, bones, horns, and hoofs lay everywhere in heaps, and scattered underfoot; the very waves of the sea along this charnel-shore were full of them, and instead of bright seaweed and shells washed up before us, nothing but hoofs and bones, whilst the smell of all this, festering in the sunshine, was not more sickening than the thought of the maddening terror and protracted suffering of the poor animals who had here been butchered.
A short way back from the edge of the cliff stood a "mansion," in its gardens and shrubberies, where the proprietor of the charnel-houses probably resides, enjoying the sea-view, and affecting to ignore the existence of the scenes and scents which lie (hidden by the friendly cliff) between the breeze and his "great city."
Another ramble in the evening led us southward of the town, with a glorious, calm sunset spreading its gorgeous hues along the sky, and the quiet sea shining placidly below. Shallow little ripples—they were hardly waves—came up with a soft plash among the rocks; and snow-white sea-gulls, soaring gently by, scarce moved their wide-spread pinions as they flew. Calm, bright, and beautiful was all the scene; and yet a Ranter, foaming at the mouth, such zeal was in him (I think it was soap), stood upon a box on the beach, surrounded by a crowd of people, and howling, yelling, screaming, and groaning, as he consigned all his "dee-ar bretherren and sisters" to eternal perdition, in the very face of that promise-reminding, peaceful sunset—itself a benediction from above!
Just above high-water mark, a very limp and collapsed-looking attempt at a tent was the residence of an oyster-merchant and his wife, who seemed to be doing no trifling amount of business, combining a ginger-beer and cake shop with oyster selling, and being, I observed, especially patronized by the Ranter's congregation, many of whom, after meekly receiving at his hands the most liberal allowance of fire and brimstone, adjourned to the oyster and ginger-beer tent to get a cooling restorative.
Further on was another abode, which would have been a prize to a marine-painter as a delicious bit of foreground, so oddly put together of old sails (one was brick-red colour), scraps of old boats, bits of wood, bags, matting, and other waifs and strays of the most heterogeneous description, that it was quite a study, a perfect sparrow's nest of a hut, all odds and ends; and the way in which its slanting angles and slopes were brought in to suit an old patched-up door, was something marvellous, the whole being tied up and lashed round with rope-ends, in the most curiously-complicated manner that ever was devised. The door stood open, and, without going near, I could see a queer little table and stool, with shelves stuck in and hung up in all sorts of odd corners, filled with crockery, bottles, and other matters; and near the entrance—guardian and presiding genii of the place—hung a pair of orthodox fisherman's boots. I sat on my wave-washed rock longer than I otherwise should have done, in the expectation of seeing the owner of this original cabin return, but he came not, and it was growing dusk, so we turned inn-wards, well knowing that those streets, deep in inky mud as the Slough of Despond itself, and with eccentric chasms and gullies yawning in unsuspected places, to engulf the unwary traveller, were not to be explored by the uninitiated after dark.
Up next morning long before dawn, breaking fast by candlelight, and waiting for the coach, which, running to Wady-Yallak, would drop us at a point very near our destination, about fifty miles from Geelong. Presently a clatter and lumber is heard approaching; waiter says, "Coach just here, sir! I'll carry these down, ma'am," as he swiftly decamps with our brace of carpet-bags and sundry spare wraps. Not the most pleasant things in the world to climb into, by the way, those American coaches! especially in the dark, or darkness made visible by a lamp or two—as they are one undistinguishable mass of mud, with no steps to speak of. But we are in—if one may call that being "in" which is all "out"—and off we go—bounding, bumping, knocking about—jolting every instant as if a dozen bones were broken at each concussion, and every tooth in one's head jarred and splitting.
"Hold on, or you'll pitch out," cries my husband, as I suddenly make an involuntary plunge to leeward. "Hold yourself down to the seat, with both hands!"
I try to do as I am bid, but am continually shot up like a tethered shuttlecock notwithstanding, and at length, at the risk of biting my tongue off in the effort, ejaculate in spasms, with jolts between—
"Will—the—road ge—get—any smoother?"
"Not the least probability of it," replies M——; "and this is the easiest coach I have been in yet."
I groan in my despair—grip a skirt of Charlie's coat under one hand, by way of an anchor to secure him, and the dreadful process of fracture and dislocation, as it seems, continues without intermission; the only variety being that some concussions are worse than others. It was so cold, too, that bleak, keen morning, just before dawn, that one's hands had hardly power to keep a firm clenched hold of the seat constantly, and the moment the muscles relaxed, a shock from beneath sent one off like a football. Except for the acute bodily suffering, our involuntary jerks and plunges would have been ridiculous enough to laugh at. As it was, with every bone and muscle quivering with pains and bruises, the journey was anything but a laughing matter. Our driver was an old Yorkshireman, civil, though bluff of manner and broad of accent; and his horses were well used and in good condition.
As the morning gradually brightened into day, it showed us only a flat monotonous country, the greater portion being open tracts of land, with neither tree, house, nor hovel in sight; only the wide bare plain, in some places stony, in all others boggy; with innumerable tracks of wheels spread in every direction, circling, crossing, and intersecting each other, over spaces one, two, or three miles wide, where the various drivers had wandered round and about in search of ground less trodden and poached by feet and wheels.
In some few spots we passed through a more wooded and pleasant country, and the valley of the Leigh seemed positively beautiful, with its broad grassy uplands, dipping down to the winding river, and fringed with handsome native trees; besides the young orchards and gardens and diversely fashioned abodes of the straggling village. Whilst the coach stopped to change horses (which a few minutes serves to accomplish), I hurried on to the invitingly picturesque wooden bridge, and was busy transferring some of its eccentricities to my sketch-book, when our torture-machine drove up, and I was again consigned to the rack. The grass was now abundant everywhere, and the flocks of sheep we saw looked in good condition; but a respectable old woman, who was our fellow-passenger for some distance, told us that on these same Leigh Downs she had seen the young lambs lying dead in hundreds and thousands—dead of sheer starvation, and the poor milkless, skeleton ewes fast dying, too, beside their lost little ones. "It was the bitterest sight I ever did see," said the good old soul. "Enough to break a body's heart a'most, that it was!"
If another of those long and terrible droughts which from time to time have stricken these colonies in past years should occur now, with the population so enormously increased—who can predict the horror of such a visitation!
A small white speck, which had been visible for some miles as we traversed another dreary plain, and was pointed out by our driver as the end of our journey, at last began to assume the shape of a tent; one of those American tents with walls, roofs, and gables, like a cottage, made of a wooden frame covered with calico; and on nearing it we found it to be a rather large specimen of its genus, and performing the part of post-office as well as wayside inn. A buxom damsel, in gorgeous array, so far as brilliancy and diversity of colours were concerned, and with a brooch and earrings of dazzling splendour, graciously received our baggage, engaging to take charge of it until sent for; and as the house whither we were bound was distinctly visible, and as it seemed within a quarter of a mile, we set out to walk thither, delighted to exchange the jolting and noises of the "coach" for a quiet saunter. Walking on these monotonous, markless plains is certainly a most paradoxical sort of proceeding; it seems at the time as if you were under a spell from some spiteful enchanter; for to all appearance you can neither get away from the place you leave, nor approach that to which you would go; each appears to preserve the same distance, whilst you are putting forth all your energies, and walking miles.
We walked, and walked, and still the gay dress at the tent door, like a parrot at a dovecote, was as clearly distinct as the white muslin curtains of our friend's house; and the quarter of one mile grew to two and a half, ere we reached the little rocky rise where the house stood, and our host met us with his face and voice of heartiest welcome.
During the first of the few pleasant days we stayed at Warrambeen, I wondered in my own mind why the French windows of the house, which opened on a verandah gay with fuchsias and roses, should be so closely draped with their snowy muslin blinds, which were tightly drawn on rods at the top and bottom of each side of the windows, and when these were shut, entirely veiled the outside view. But I soon solved the enigma; the utter flatness and wearisome monotony of those eternal plains made the power of thus escaping their perpetual contemplation absolutely desirable. The clouds were all that one could continue to look at with pleasure. Not a tree,—beyond the garden—not a hill,—not one single object to attract or interest the eye, did I detect in that view,—some thirty miles in extent—during our sojourn.
The garden had a belt of native bushes planted round its fence, and a few taller young gum-trees stood within. All these were the resort of legions of the beautiful warbling magpies. All day the poor birds were absent, probably distributed far and wide over the plains, foraging for grubs and insects; but in the evening they returned in squadrons, flocking in from all quarters like rooks, only much more musical; and then, for an hour or two, every bush and bough seemed alive with their glancing shapes of jet and silver, as they met in pleasant little parties to have a gossip and a song before going to roost; sometimes they had a dance, too, hopping and jumping about the garden in the drollest and gracefullest way, to the chorus of their own merry voices. When fairly settled for the night, the trees were all as full of birds as a loaded apple tree of fruit; indeed, sometimes the boughs broke with their weight. They sat in close ranks on every branch and along the fence. I never saw such a congregation of birds since I was at Puffin Island in Anglesea. In the morning also, considerable stir and commotion accompanied their dispersion for the day, but it was different in character, and gave one the idea of a more grave and business-like discussion, a debate upon ways and means, and a settling of plans for providing for the day's necessities. Although they were far in advance of my morning movements, being very early birds indeed, I generally awoke and looked out at them, and enjoyed the charming morning concert, till the choir thinned off, and the few last voices served me as a lullaby back into the land of dreams. In the utter treelessness of the plains, the shelter and perches afforded by the little enclosure at Warrambeen had evidently become a resort for the whole magpie population of the neighbourhood; and certainly the merry notes and bright handsome forms of my old favourites formed the most cheering feature of out-door life there.
Start for Ballaarat—Mount Mercer—Extensive views—Through the forest—First diggings—Camp—"Ugly creeks"—Slaughter-yards—Buningyong—On to Ballaarat—Charred forest—Valley of Ballaarat—A clean tent—The town.
Our purpose of visiting Ballaarat was not only furthered and assisted by the loan of our friend's excellent dog-cart, but the expedition rendered much pleasanter by his accompanying us himself on horseback. The dreary, weary, sleepy plains were again traversed for eight or ten miles, and then, to our relief, a few scattered bushes and stunted gum-trees, and the oaks (casuarina) appeared very sparsely distributed. By degrees these became grouped more thickly together, and of larger and healthier growth. Then, traversing a tract of country more resembling the Tasmanian bush than any we had before seen, we reached our midday halt at our companion's property at Mount Mercer, a conical volcanic elevation, with a deep well-marked crater, now a lagoon, the wall-like sides of which, and their outward slopes, are strewn with masses of dark-coloured scoriae, as porous, and very nearly as light as empty honeycomb. From the summit of the mount (which in such a level country is an object of importance, though I should think not more than 150 or 200 feet high) a wide uninterrupted view extends eastward over the woody foreground, and the even plains, to the horizon, the level line of which is only broken by the distant hump of Mr. Elephant (which is truly not ill-named, "methinks it is backed like an elephant"); the conical peaks of the "Sisters,"—and further north the scarcely noticeable undulation denoting Mount Moriac.
In the middle distance, or nearer, rises Lawaloop (or "green hill"), another volcanic mound, grassy and wooded, but plainly showing a singular band or dyke, of (I imagine) basaltic rock, which traverses it diagonally, and has almost the aspect of a wall of masonry.
Looking to the west and north, the more mountain-like Buningyong and Warraneep crown the vast undulating extent of intervening forest.
The necessity of resting a short time for the benefit of the horses, fortunately gave me an opportunity of sketching the chief features of the views in both directions, whilst Charlie reconnoitred the hillside for new flowers, and the gentlemen talked "station" topics in the house; down the chimneys of which I could nearly peep from my exalted post. A luxuriant and productive garden around it, and some other cultivated land on the hillside, had an immense depth of rich black soil, extraordinarily fertile, but not pleasant to perambulate when newly ploughed and moistened with a falling shower, as was the case when we walked over it.
We were now in a region of richer land altogether, and accordingly our road became more boggy and more abounding in "soft places," as unmitigated quagmires are delicately termed here. Soon, ascending a hill, we found ourselves in as genuine a piece of forest as need be desired, with so narrow a track between the ranks of straight tall trees that it needed a skilful pilot to steer amongst them; and here, at a sudden turn in the forest, amidst a chaos of standing and fallen timber, we found a string of seven bullock drays, with from ten to fourteen oxen in each. As there was not space on either side for us to pass them, the only alternative was to edge off sufficiently for them to pass us; and this the drivers were not ready to do, as they were busy cutting whip-sticks from the lithe young saplings. There was nothing for it but to wait patiently as we might, and in pouring rain too, the pleasure of the obstructive party. Their business in the forest was what the Americans call "lumbering," that is, getting out logs for the construction of bridges, railways, or other heavy work; and the poor, thin, galled cattle, overladen, overdriven, cruelly flogged, and nearly starved, were mute but piteous pleaders for some powerful intervention on their behalf.
When the long train of timber carts had filed past, and we again pursued our way, we found the road even worse, more narrow, tortuous, and fall of deep holes, unseen, in the general sea of slop, until horses or wheels plunged into them.
We had inquired from the drivers, and other persons we had met, the distance to Buningyong; the replies varying from "nine miles" to "twenty," whilst we felt the pleasant conviction, that were it more than half twenty, we must "camp out," and creep under the dog-cart for shelter from the rain. We plodded on and on. In one place, a troop of drays was already disposed for the night; fires lit, oxen hobbled or yoked, and turned out to graze; and one or two families ensconced beneath the drays, with old bags and rugs hung round to keep out some of the wet.
A little farther, and what seemed a newly-made grave appeared beside the road; then another. and another,—six more, ten more,—we had reached the outskirts of the diggings, and were soon in the midst of a "camp," with the same tenements of calico, sticks, sheets of bark, and old casks; the same evil smells, universal dirt, and aspect of abject, squalid misery, which pervaded every digging neighbourhood I visited; except such as were only "located" within one or two days, and were not advanced to the customary state of abomination.
Beneath us all was mud, differing only in depth; above, the sky was dark, and the rain poured steadily down; our poor horses were getting tired, and ourselves too thoroughly damped in body and spirits, for any very keen observation of aught beyond the probability of obtaining shelter, warmth, and food. We crossed one or two "ugly creeks," truly meriting the unflattering title bestowed on them, which was only intended to describe their danger and the difficulty of driving through them, but was even more applicable to their aspect in the landscape, as with their banks scooped and burrowed all along, turned inside out in heaps of gravel-coloured clay, and their once bright waters, now thick and puddled, they were literally as "ugly" as poor ill-used brooks could well be made.
Another drive through a boggy forest, and then more diggings; diggings beside and upon the muddy road; diggings among the distant trees; deserted "claims" everywhere; some deep, some shallow, some half-full of water, some quite full; the opposite hill-side covered with diggings, indiscriminately mixed up with a rag and calico camp; the boggy flat covered also, with tents, shanties, and low hovels made of bark, like bad dog kennels, all sitting in the mud. Asking our way once more, we were directed into a hideous black swamp, shut in on either side by strong fences, so that there was no escape; how the horses struggled through, and how the harness held together seemed miraculous, but after sinking over the axles repeatedly, at last we emerged, and passed some slaughtering yards, where, as on the Yarra, a score or two of beautiful, cruelly-tormented cattle were standing half-hidden in a sea of slush, waiting, perhaps for days, their turn to be hoisted on the gallows; where, over their heads, a number of carcases recently butchered then hung; and all around such a stench arose from the unremoved garbage, and heaps of putrefying skins, as one would think would poison the meat steeping in it. On sanitary grounds alone—leaving the question of humanity to the poor brutes unmooted—some legislative interference is assuredly needed in this matter.
Night was now falling fast, and we were in a perfect network of diggings; all round us, and on both sides of the road,—if road there were!—even across the track, and under our horses' feet, gaped the trap-like holes, barely distinguishable amidst the universal spread of mud and water. A group of four or five, nearly naked, filthy children were squatting beside one hole, washing some dirt in an old tin dish, but whether in the way of business or amusement, I could not discover.
At last,—like the good genius in a fairy-tale, who always waits until the hero is in the last extremity of peril and perplexity ere she comes to the rescue,—a red light shone in the distance; then others glimmered out and twinkled in the wide tract of mud and water we were navigating, and with a last plump and flounder, we drew up to the inn door in Buningyong, wet cold, weary, and hungry.
"Ha! rather a pleasant change!" quoth M——, as we took our dazzled way into a snug parlour, where a bright fire, lights, and the abundant dinner-tea meal, which usually concludes a day in the bush, were most comforting to us all.
I often remark, what odd pictures one finds in country inns, and marvel how such monstrous compositions come to pass, and here was a grand specimen. A large coloured print, handsomely framed, depicting the Duke of Wellington on horseback, bareheaded, in the blackest of thunderstorms, with forked lightning darting at him from all sides; and his horse, poised on one hind-leg, fighting the storm with the other three; while his main and tail, respectively four and five feet long, according to the other proportions, "streamed like meteors on the troubled air."
Although some of our accommodations were primitive enough, our table was lighted by a lofty candelabra of three branches; so lofty indeed, that when I essayed after dinner to clear up some of my hurried sketches, I was fain to set one nozzle in a wine glass, to bring its light near enough to be useful.
The bedrooms, or rather cabins here, were ingeniously small, not more than six feet square; the length of the bed entirely filling one side, and the breadth thereof, somewhat of the narrowest, just leaving space for a two-paned window, not made to open, and a box under it, which held a tiny crooked looking-glass and a basin and ewer of minute proportions.
Early next morning, a mud-covered American coach dashed up to our inn to change horses, and M—— inquired from the driver what sort of road was before us. The report was, "One bad creek; and it's pretty baddish going into Ballaarat."
Buningyong, in the bright cheering light of a sunny morning, was calculated to make a very different impression to that of Buningyong on a dark and rainy night. The hill, perhaps we ought to say mountain, which bestows its name on the little settlement, and rises grandly behind it, clothed in wood, with a foreground of cleared land and cottages, was a most welcome picture to our plain-weary eyes, and I speculated on the possibility of an ascent, to enjoy the vast view which the summit must command; but time forbade the attempt, and we were quickly en route for Ballaarat.
A few hundred yards of perfectly macadamized road gave us a most novel sensation at starting, but the smooth decoy abandoned us to our fate ere we reached the "bad creek," through which, notwithstanding my terrors, the good horses floundered in safety, and soon scrambled up the slippery hill beyond. Then succeeded the old programme of forest and bog, the track being one wide undulating sea of mud for mile after mile. The carts and drays we met were all plastered with mud, even to the tarpaulin; horsemen in mighty Bombastes boots were all mud too, and so were their horses; whilst such travellers as were on foot, might have waded through mud, shoulders deep, and been no worse.
The trees in this forest wore a singularly odd aspect. They had been so completely burned, in some great bush-fire, that all the lesser branches were gone; and in fact, very little remained except the great, tall trunks, which were entirely black; huge pieces of jetty charcoal; but the tenacious vitality of the brave old giants was not extinguished, and now they were putting forth a new growth all the way up. Short young twigs, with broad, fresh, glossy, green leaves, were sprouting from the blackened trunks, looking rather like artificially-arranged decorations, than as if the offspring of such improbable parents. The usual undergrowth of shrubs was wholly wanting; only a little fern and a few short grass trees made a melancholy attempt to fill up the vacant space; and the occasional figures, in the dreary wayside landscape, were mostly drays "camped," and their oxen, each with a bell, feeding round them.
After passing through a number of scattered diggings, the outskirts of the great settlement, we entered the valley of Ballaarat. The whole face of a country that has taken to digging, becomes so entirely altered, that it is difficult, if not impossible to picture or divine what this valley was originally. Now, it is more irredeemably hideous than the blackest mining village in any English coal or iron district—Staffordshire, for instance. From the summit to the base, the sloping hill-sides are literally turned inside out, and show their lining to be of a darkish-nankeen colour. The little river at the foot is turned aside and dammed up, and ditched in and walled out, and twisted, tortured, obstructed, and defiled in a persecuting way lamentable to behold. Machines for deep-sinking were in active operation in many places, with wretched horses turning the huge teetotums round and round, pumping out water or drawing up earth; and the whole bed of the valley was occupied by great heaps of yellow soil, and yellow puddle lagoons, mixed with tents, huts, and kennels, swarmed over by a population hardly distinguishable, at a short distance, from the beloved earth they were manipulating; so accurately have they imitated the provision of nature for some of the insect world, in adopting for themselves the tint of their habitation. The universally displayed shirt-sleeves varied from a deep burnt-timber hue, through every gradation of shade down to light yellow-ochre; but white was no more to be observed in Ballaarat linen than in Rembrandt's pictures.
Where to cross the river was the question; and watching some carts ahead of us, and how they navigated this yellow sea, we followed, and did not upset; then through a trough full of excellent birdlime, or something closely akin to it, interspersed with rocks and tree-roots; and so on for another mile or two, tracing our way through a labyrinth of tracks over bogs, "creeks," and lagoons, the diggings spreading on our left and in front as far as we could see. Dingy-looking flags fluttered from poles, on or before many of the tents, denoting stores or "publics," and the near vicinity of these more especially abounded in the heaps of empty glass-bottles, tins, cases, and above all, sardine-boxes, which he about everywhere in Victoria, in the most extraordinary quantities. I think it would have been impossible to stop in any part of the track we had followed for thirty miles, without having some empty sardine cases and broken bottles in the foreground.
When nearly in the town, we came to one "creek" so much more "ugly" in the features of its ford, than most obstacles of its class, that we paused to reconnoitre, near the cleanest tent we had seen; and a decent-looking man and boy coming out to ask if they could assist us, we resolved to leave the dog-cart near the tent, and send the horses to an inn close by, or as its sign-board entitled it, "The Royal Hotel," and after a hasty luncheon there ourselves, set forth to see the town.
Only one thoroughfare was preserved from being honeycombed with holes, and to reach that, we had to thread our way through a labyrinth of them, all more or less full of water, and with the cast-out earth making irregular banks and hummocks between, all very narrow and very slippery. Deep-sinking engines were at work here too, flanked by hills of excavated earth; and wretched horses, working knee-deep in clay, tramped round and round.
Children seemed pitiably out of place in such a scene, but there they were, in swarms; some, poor things! playing in the mud, were scraping it up into little heaps, and digging into mimic claims, with bits of stick or iron-hoop; and one sturdy urchin was trying alone, with grave endeavour, to make a boat out of a sardine-box, with an old playing-card for a sail. Poor little fellow! perhaps brought hither from some fresh, seaside home—how changed his playground! from the bright waves and the shining sand and shells!
Arrived in the main street, we looked in vain for a house—that is, for any permanent-looking edifice of brick or stone.* Stores and shops of all kinds were plentiful, but all put together in a rough, scrambling way, like booths for a three-days' fair; the majority were the cottage-shaped tents of calico; others were wholly or in part built of split paling; some had a tall front wall of paling, covered with grandiloquent titles and announcements, whilst the whole habitable tenement consisted of a little, low tent, crouching behind, as if one were to set up the door of a large mansion, in front of a doll's house. Empty cases and crates seemed an important part of the stock-in-trade everywhere, piled up in ostentatious display. Not an attempt had been made at paving or draining; but as the middle of the road was considerably lower than the footways, every household seemed to accept, as a right, the facility it affforded for the disposal of all domestic superfluities; and each domicile had its own open ditch crossing the footway, and pouring down into the horse-road its stream of abominations, there to collect in putrescent reservoirs, or to evaporate in foul, pestilential vapours—a more pressing invitation to cholera and fever it were hardly possible to invent.
[* I have since heard that there were, even at that time, two or three such, but we did not reach them, and I believe the place has improved in all respects. I hear, from friends who have visited Ballaarat recently, that there are now many substantial and handsome buildings erected, of stone, but the accounts of the mud and general ugliness, merely prove the enduring accuracy of my own impressions.]
Weary of slipping and slopping through the ill-smelling, slimy mud, I adopted the suggestion of my husband, that Charlie and I should wait, in a shop where I had made some purchases, whilst he and Mr. Bell continued their progress through the town.
Motley enough were the groups which passed our resting-place; dirty "Britishers" and Yankees, dirtier garments, and Chinese dirtiest of all—clad in their miserable thin, blue cotton garments and wide beehive hats, with their dark, ill-expressioned faces generally wearing a look of sullen discontent. Of the women who passed us the greater portion were sluttish and dirty in the extreme, and some, very tipsy, were haled along, cursing and screaming, by men in much the same state.
So brief a glance as that which our few hours' sojourn afforded, could only note the surface of things, and that but very partially; but so far as it went, the impression left on my mind regarding Ballaarat was, that all my preconceived opinions and expectations of the misery, brutality, filth, and degradation, known to prevail in the digging settlements, were outdone by the transient experience we suffered of the reality. May I never look upon the like again!
My unfavourable impressions of Ballaarat were fully shared by my husband, who assured me that the contrast between it and the other digging settlements he visited (Bendigo, Castlemaine, &c.) was most striking. I believe that it was to Ballaarat the old convicts from this island (Tasmania) especially resorted, in the early days of the gold mania; and it is but common justice to mention this fact, as it certainly, in some degree, accounts for the inferiority of a locality so infested. We saw, both in going thither and in leaving, parties of mounted police, with fixed bayonets, escorting felons they had just captured; atoms, probably, of that social scum from which the gold-fermentation purified our colony.
As my companions were absent longer than I anticipated, I thought the most certain method of expediting their return was to begin to employ myself, and I had time to sketch the five opposite stores, ere they arrived, and reported that the rest of the town was little better than a repetition of the portion I had seen. Threading our retreat cautiously across a wide mud basin full of claims, and not unfrequently in danger of "bottoming a shycer" by slipping into it as we trod along the steep, slippery banks of wet clay, we passed through a narrow lane of dirty tents, where a general wash seemed in progress, by the quantity of garments hung to dry on lines; but not a white vesture amongst the whole; all tinged with the sienna or ochreish tint. Everywhere heaps of offal and rubbish lay around, and the numerous empty tins and cases often served us for stepping-stones through the slop and squash, on our way to the crazy foot-bridge of the creek, and the clean tent, where I found the good woman arrayed in a yet cleaner gown than she wore in the morning, and a positively white cap. The tent was even neater than before; and as I sat there with her whilst her husband and son helped to harness the horses, she told me, with tears in her eyes, how bitterly they had repented coming to Ballaarat:—
"We left a good place with Squire —— and brought all we'd scraped and saved for a many years, for they said we'd soon double it, twenty times told; and Tom he thought he'd like to go home again and see his old mother before she died, and make her a bit comfortable with what we'd got; and him and the boy have worked and slaved late and early, but the luck never come; and it's dear livin', and all the savings are gone, so if we can first manage to live till the spring, and get away, we'll go to service again, please God! But it's hard to lose all we'd worked for so long, and begin afresh."
They had tried always, she said, to keep away from the crowded parts of the settlement, to be quiet by themselves, "out of the drink, and the riot." Poor people! it was the old, old story, that I have had to listen to and lament over, again and again—but none the less sad for that. The husband handled the harness and touched the horses quite caressingly, as if they reminded him of pleasanter times; and when we had remunerated him for his trouble, and drove off, the whole family stood looking wistfully after us, as long as we could see them.
Mud, bogs, holes, water, and "claims" in all stages beset us on all sides. Up boggy hills, down slippery slopes, then over a broader and better crossing-place of the river, into a wide tract of scattered diggings, groups of tents and hotels, some huddled close together, some wide apart; earth turned up everywhere in brown and buff hillocks, and ridges; and gold washing going on with various success, generally small, and in every variety of manner, from the elaborately arranged cradle, surrounded by a party of gentlemen disguised in clay, to the primitive tin dish and tub of the runaway convict shepherd. Women were cooking, scolding, smoking, and nursing outside the hovels, with thick, heavy stock-keeper's boots on, laced halfway up the leg, and tattered, draggled gowns, "kilted" high enough to show the tops of them. Hordes of shaggy brown unkempt children were as usual wallowing in the mud. A painter fond of contrasts, should sketch, from the life, one of those squalid groups, and as a pendant, paint a party of poor village cowslip-pickers in an English meadow.
Leave Buningyong—Green Hills—Pleasant camp—Chimney architecture—A good business—Tract of unspoiled forest—Retun to Warrambeen—Morning occupations—Night barricades—Christophe—Hill view—"Wild fellows"—Over the plains—Mount Gellibrand—Coolac—Taciturnity—Gigantic cranes—Sheep.
Buningyong was really grand, with its summit wreathed in fleecy clouds, silvered by the bright morning sunlight, as we started the next day, and the little village itself looked cheerful, despite the mud. A two-story wooden "hotel" opposite our inn, but vacant, was pointed out to us as having cost £16,000 to build.
Returning by a different route to that by which we came, we passed through some pretty, open forest land, and then slightly descending, entered a basin-shaped valley, full of tents, among which there must have been a preponderance of stores and public-houses, judging by the number of flags exhibited. Great mounds of dark-grey earth surrounded the uncouth assemblage of sheds, tents, and machinery composing a "deep-sinking" establishment; elsewhere the soil was all black, a wide black swamp—a very "distant swamp" in truth, with the waves of ink-mud splashing up the sides of the tents. Logs, planks, and slabs lay in all directions, serving as partial, and slippery stepping-places between the well-like holes, yawning promiscuously all over the camp. A noisy, tipsy, abusive, quarrelsome, fraternity were congregated there, if the babel of tongues around us was any indication. Finding there was no thoroughfare in this city of rag and sticks, we cautiously retraced our way for a short distance, and turned up the side of the hill, for these were the "Green Hill" diggings, (being principally situated in a valley) and the upper portion of the hill remained as yet really green. Descending on the other side, we came into an outpost or suburban village of the settlement, which presented an unusually pleasant aspect, as the tents had only been pitched there two days, and there had not been time to destroy either the trees or the grass; and as some of the new comers had goats, fowls, and turkeys, all picking about at their ease, the scene was even pretty in its oddness. Two of the domiciles had chimneys with the lower part roughly built of loose stones, topped up by corpulent old casks, very much awry, and looking as rakish and dissipated as such portly shapes could look; one or two more chimneys were of the common rag-bag and stick order of architecture, consisting of a few slabs or sticks dabbed with mud and swathed round with wraps of old canvas tied together, looking exactly like great cut fingers, clumsily bandaged up; others again were designed in more rural taste, being the trunks of growing trees, with hollows in them, which had the fire fronting the tent-door; some had a few slabs or palings fastened to the original hollow tree, to guide the smoke up; and near all, were women busy washing or tending vessels hung over the fires, whilst troops of children playing among the green boughs of newly felled trees, or running about on the fresh grass, seemed like beings in Elysium after the sights we had passed before.
I begged a few minutes' pause to make a hasty sketch of this exception to the general rule for digging-villages, and my companions going to light their cigars at one of the fires, began talking to the mistress thereof, and made the stereotyped inquiry as to "what luck" her people had had.
"Oh! we ain't in the digging line; my man knows better than that; we've got a horse and dray, and he carts for folks, and turns a good penny that way; it's a long sight better nor bottoming a shicer!"
"So I should think," remarked my husband; "it's the very thing I thought of doing myself."
"Ah! you looks like goin' a cartin' you do! Here's a nice bit o' bark, sir, if you want a light."
On again—through the forest, which is all very pretty, where greedy man has not murdered poor Nature, for the sake of her golden eggs. Any English park would be enhanced in beauty by the addition of one or two hundred acres of the lawny glades, and wide undulating grassy slopes, which we now traversed, all lightly wooded with well-foliaged trees, chiefly of that kind of Eucalyptus known as the apple-tree, from its general shape and appearance. Herds of cattle, the first we had seen, were feeding on the higher land at a little distance, and the open forest hills swept in graceful curves down to the valley of the Leigh, with the river winding in its bosom. My admiration for the said river had for some time been tempered by the suspicion that the crossing-place we were approaching was a dangerous one, but having the good fortune to find a good ford, over solid and not very rugged rocks, we reascended the forest slope, along which lay our way to Mount Mercer, and thence proceeded to Warrambeen, as we came.
On the day following our return, Mr. Bell and my husband started to ride over to Lake Colac, an expedition I did not join, on account of the threatening rain, and the certain badness of the track, from that which had already fallen; but I went out and sketched the house, whilst Charlie cruised about me in eccentric manoeuvres, hunting for such mushrooms as had escaped the sheep, which are very fond of them, until both our pursuits were cut short by a heavy shower.
Our host's good servants (a coloured couple from the West Indies), who had attentively anticipated and supplied our wishes and wants all day, slept in a building detached from the house; and it did not occur to me until bedtime that my boy and I were alone in it. This was of no importance, so that I could secure the doors in such a way as to ensure noise enough to awaken me in case any intruder attempted an entrance. I succeeded in fastening the front door, but not without its exhibiting a considerable show of reluctance to the operation; then I barricaded another, to which there was no efficient lock or bolt, and set up an iron tea-tray to come down with a clang on the moving of the door. I next proceeded to our friend's dressing-room, to carry off his revolver (which I knew was loaded), in order to possess some means of defence, just by way of a satisfactory reassurance to myself. I always keep a five-barrelled "Dean and Adams," which my husband gave me, in my own room at home, considering it a valuable "lady's companion" in a lone country house; and desired to find one of the same manageable weapons on this occasion. The coveted revolver was not, however, visible, and it was not my business to search further, so I carried off a pair of sheep-shears instead, and slept very soundly under their guardianship, until awakened in the morning by sounds of sweeping and hearth-cleaning in the dining, room, exactly as if the servants were in the house!
Steps passing to and fro, and evident preparations for breakfast, continued whilst I was dressing, and in the hall I met Christopher, the black butler, with a grin like an ivory equator dividing his ebony face into two distinct hemispheres; and behind him was his handsome wife, a shade or two lighter, her brilliant liquid eyes dancing with merriment under her gay handkerchief head-dress.
"Why, Christopher! Susan! how did you come here? I thought I fastened all the doors, so that you must knock for me to let you in.
"Iss, Missis, doors all lock up dis morn'; we go round in 'randy (verandah), jis ope in winder—walk in so!"
How very efficient had been my precautions! but they satisfied me at the time, and that was enough. I thought that in Tasmania we were tolerably regardless of house defences, with no shutters to our windows, and only a common single lock on outer doors; but here, the house was left absolutely open all night. That few nightly marauders would venture to attack the citadel of Warrambeen when our host himself was at home, is most certain; they would need the prowess and craftiness of bold Jack-the-Giant-Killer ere they could calculate on the ghost of success; but in his absence—well, it might be unnecessary, but if I lived there, I should certainly lock the doors and windows.
Having observed a slight rise, just a little swelling on the plain near the woolshed, I thought it might command a view something differing from that seen from the house; and thither Charlie and I betook ourselves for a walk, which, of course, proved thrice as long as we expected, the woolshed seeming to sail off into the ocean of plain beyond, as we approached it. The sensation of climbing the little bank was quite pleasant, in the assurance it conveyed, that the level was not universal; but the view I sought was utterly monotonous: flat, bare, treeless, objectless, it stretched around to the horizon, thence only broken by the distant Mount Elephant's hump, and some lesser undulations. As a verification of verbal descriptions, I sketched the view looking towards the house, except which, it simply consists of a few almost straight horizontal strokes, with long lines of fencing traversing the foreground like threads. One "paddock" of good grass land, containing 500 acres, was devoted to the milking-cows, not that this was a dairy station; but besides the abundance of excellent cream and butter supplied for the house, all the servants, shepherds, and their wives and families had as much new milk as they wished.
Among the emigrants at that time were many Highlanders, who wore the kilt and spoke nothing but Gaelic; and an aboriginal native who had for some time installed himself among the hangers-on at our station, looking with an air of lofty contempt upon some of the new comers, inquired of their master what he could possibly want with those "wild fellows."
Late in the evening of the second day after they left, Mr. Bell and my husband returned from their long ride, the account of which I give, as nearly as possible, in Mr. Meredith's own words.
"It was about nine in the morning when we started for Mr. Calvert's station on Lake Colac: the intervening country is an undulating plain, without trees, the tops of the rises being formed principally of loose stones, and the lower grounds composed of rich black earth. Over the stones we walked our horses, and in the lower ground galloped them, and as the latter preponderated, we galloped nearly all the way. After proceeding some miles, I saw something shining in the distance, which Bell told me was the corrugated iron roof of a woolshed at the station whither we were bound, partly to enable me to visit it, and partly because there we should get a feed of oats for our horses and a luncheon for ourselves.
"On—on we went, the very embodiment of the old Scotch song,—
"Duncan, he kept galloping, galloping,"
and at last I suggested that the woolshed must be off on the gallop too; for so deceptive is distance on the plains, that for some time we did not seem to get a bit nearer. However, we reached it at last, and very beautiful the country looked, as far as regards grass and water, being the autumn of the year, and abundance of rain having recently fallen, all the water holes were full; but the gentleman in charge, who kindly received us, told me that in the summer all the water used in the house was fetched from a distance of twenty-two miles, and all their fuel fifteen miles. Such permanent water as the neighbourhood supplied was too brackish for their own use, but the animals on the station did not refuse it.
"We passed near the two small hills named Mount Gellibrand and Mount Hesse, after two eminent lawyers, who, in the early days of the colony of Victoria, were examining the country in this neighbourhood, and at or about that spot determined on returning to Melbourne. Their right course thither would have been nearly north-east, but Mr. Gellibrand insisted on pursuing one very nearly opposite, and which must lead them into the densely scrubby and wooded country which separates these plains from the shore of Bass's Straits. A stock-man who accompanied them, and who knew the country, exerted every power of persuasion he possessed to induce them to take the right direction, but in vain. He went on with them some distance, and still failing to convince them of their error, returned alone, declaring that if they went on they would be lost. They did go on towards the south, and were never more seen nor heard of. Subsequent inquiry and diligent search have only served to show that the unhappy gentlemen were murdered by the natives, and their horses also destroyed, and probably eaten.
"Here, in sight of the memorial mounts, and thinking of the melancholy fate of those whose names they bear, I was forcibly reminded of the occasion when I last saw Mr. Gellibrand, who was formerly Attorney-General of Tasmania, and the leading man at the bar: he was in Tasmania what Mr. Whitworth was in New South Wales, in which colony I last saw Mr. Gellibrand. We had met at Cavan, an estate on the Murrumbidgee, some twenty-five miles from Yass, from which latter place Mr. Gellibrand had come, and whither he wished to return, and we started from Cavan together. Now, I had never been to Yass, but, as an old bushman, knew in what direction it lay; Mr. Gellibrand having come from thence, fancied he knew the way back, and offered to act as guide, in which capacity he set out with me, and began by shaping a too southerly course, which would take us into the Murrumbidgee Gullies. Finding him determined to follow this course, despite all my demonstrations of its error, I put it to him as a matter of favour, to go my way until we reached the top of a hill then in sight, assuring him that if we did not see Yass plains from that hill-top, I would acknowledge my error. To humour me, he acceded, and on reaching the hill saw, to his great surprise, the white houses of Yass immediately before us. On parting with him at Yass, I remarked, 'You are going to Port Philip; take my advice, and never trust your own judgment in the bush; you are a good lawyer, but a bad bushman. and had I not been with you, you would have lost yourself to-day, to a certainty. Unfortunately, he did not follow my counsel, but to a similar mistaken idea as the one I had combated, owed his wretched and lamentable death.
"Leaving the iron-roofed station we again galloped and galloped all the afternoon over the continuous plains, and reached Mr. Calvert's pleasant homestead at Lake Colac about sunset. Seeing the abundance of green luxuriant grass everywhere, up to their horses' posterns, I was surprised to find so little indication of stock being depastured, and inquired,—
"'Why do you come to Tasmania for horses, bred there by persons who own perhaps ten or twenty brood mares, when you might run five hundred mares on the country I have ridden over now, without seeing where they grazed?'
"The reply was,—'You see the country now after the autumnal rains; but we have to regulate the quantity of stock we keep by the pasture in the vicinity of Lake Colac. A great portion of the country you rode over to-day is useless in the summer because there is no water, or it is salt."
"I noticed, admiringly, a few honeysuckle trees (Banksia) which were growing about Mr. Calvert's station, but these he declared it was his (scarcely credible) intention to cut down! One peculiar theory I adopted as regards a residence on these plains. The absence of any matter to reflect sound renders talking an effort; and although not usually affected with taciturnity, I found myself subsiding into it involuntarily. I noticed the same disinclination to converse, as characteristic of the dwellers on the plains generally.* We left Lake Colac on the following morning by a different route, purposing to go round by 'Watch Hill,' but though we were twenty miles from the woolshed with the corrugated iron roof, there it was, shining in the sun, as plainly as we saw it before. It was quite a relief to me when, towards evening, it was lost in the distance."
[* I think this effect is rather traceable to the distress of the eye, than of the ear. The poor eyes, famished for lack of change and beauty, cease to convey fresh and vigorous thoughts to the brain; whose storehouse becoming thus vacant, whence can the tongue receive material for pleasant discourse?]
"Nothing occurred to break the monotony of our ride over the plains save the appearance of several parties of the 'Native companion' or gigantic crane. I had not seen them since leaving New South Wales in 1840, and enjoyed watching them again, as, in flocks of twenty or thirty, they performed those indescribably comical dances I had often stayed to look at. Half spreading their wings, and uttering a droll conversational sort of note, they advance in short jumps towards each other, and perform a few steps with an infinitely grave systematic manner, as if the whole programme of the affair had been arranged beforehand, and they were executing the details with due etiquette and politeness. The dancers seemed precisely the same as I had so often seen on the Sydney side; in fact, I could almost have believed they were the very same birds, and that they had walked over to meet an old acquaintance.
"I found two distinct kinds of growth in the pasturage of these plains; on the richest land, the grass formed a perfect sward, and green as an English meadow; where cattle thrive and grow fat, but the sheep all get the foot-rot. We passed through a flock of ewes and lambs, pitiably diseased; those that were not limping on three legs, were, hopping on two; and poor little lambs only a few days old, equally afflicted with their dams. On the poorer lands, the grass is more wiry, and instead of forming a sward, every root is apart from its neighbour, so that you can see the earth round each plant; this is a sure indication of a sound sheep run."
Leave Warrambeen—Native turkeys—A young Apollo—Seas of mud—Mud-carts—Bog—Reach Geelong—Return to Melbourne—The Queen's Ball—Battle of the hats—Mechanics' Institute—Departure—Recognition—On board—An Australian dancing dervish—Ride home—L' Adieu.
When we left Warrambeen on our return to Geelong, Mr. Meredith pointed out to me a spot of bright light at a great distance; it was the iron-roofed woolshed he had grown so tired of seeing in his rides to and from Colac; he also showed me a little hill, twenty miles off, whence he had seen Warrambeen. The recollection of these weary plains brings drowsily back the sleepy, poppy-headed feeling I had when traversing them. Not a bird was in sight above, not a flower looked up from the turf below. Dark-brown scoriae strewed the ground everywhere, but in the greatest abundance were a singular circle of rocks which rose a few feet above the plain, like the ridge of a crater, as probably it was at some period, though now occupied by a shallow lagoon. The one event of our drive across the plains, was the sight of a small flock of native turkeys, large handsome birds, which allowed us to come tolerably near to them, before they ran away among some rocks which hid them from us.
The beautiful valley of the Leigh suddenly broke into view from the drowsy downs above it, as welcome as a palm-grove in a sandy desert, but the descent into it was somewhat of the boggiest, and at each end of the bridge, where the wooden corduroy finished, a deep hole full of black slime lay, the Scylla and Charybdis of the passage, with this difference, that falling into the jaws of one, in no way diminished the danger threatened by the other. Escaping demolition from both, however, we drew up for a few minutes at the inn-door, and a ragged boy of sixteen or thereabouts, who came to give the horses a bucket of water, had, I think, the very handsomest countenance I ever saw. A sculptor might have taken as a perfect model the oval face, finely formed forehead and brow, like a softened copy of the Apollo; and like that too, the straight nose, short upper lip, and small beautiful mouth and chin. If such a head were heir to a ducal coronet, all the world would rave about the purity of noble blood, aristocratic types of beauty, and so forth; and it is just as probable that under the tattered and tanned straw hat of the village horse-boy, no one save myself even saw the marvellous beauty which struck my art-loving eyes.
I fear my readers will grow as weary of seeing "mud," as we were of floundering through it, and I am now of recalling to mind the process; our return to Geelong was far less fatiguing than our journey from thence, being effected in our good friend's dog-cart, and with his pleasant companionship; he, like ourselves, being bound for Melbourne, to attend the ball on the Queen's birthday.
We pursued a rather different route to that by which the coach came, but it led us through little diversity of scenery. Again we navigated flat open plains, submerged in a sea of slop, and occasionally "sighting land" to larboard and starboard of our course, not unfrequently fearing lest we should get altogether "out of sounding" in unfathomable mud. Sometimes the poor horses clawed and climbed up hills that might have been paved with soft soap, and been none the more slippery; and sometimes struggled and sidled down others coated with black bog. We were met, passed, or ourselves passed by coaches, drays, and horsemen so plastered over, that had they been suddenly dried, tolerable casts might have been taken off them. On many parts of the track, bones and carcases of wretched oxen lay, where, overstrained and worn out, they had dropped and died—more fortunate than their survivors, in that their sufferings were all over. And constantly my sorrow and indignation were painfully excited by the wanton, inhuman cruelty of the brutal bullock-drivers, who, as a body, are I verily believe, among the worst and wickedest of mankind.
As night was closing in, one wide, apparently boundless expanse of bog spread out before us as we neared Geelong, another Dismal Swamp, in which it seemed by no means improbable we should be engulphed, and perhaps become, in some far future century, well-preserved objects in a geological museum; but at last we gained the road—if a chain of ponds, with stony ridges between them, deserves such a title, and after long and patient pursuit of what seemed a tantalizing mirage of the town, we entered the straggling streets, which being wholly unpaved, were in much the same condition as the bush roads—if not worse. Arrived at our former quarters, we were very thankful to dismiss the poor horses to their supper, and to betake ourselves to our own.
As the steamer did not leave Geelong very early, I had time to make a sketch of the clever little patchwork tent I had seen in our Sunday evening's walk when at Geelong before, and which forms the tail-piece of Chapter VI.
Our return voyage to Melbourne was as pleasant as the former one, so far as our course lay across the bay; and as much the reverse, when we entered the Yarra ditch, of which it is needless to say more. Most pleasant, too, was our reunion with the kind friends who welcomed us back, and enjoyed the story of our short tour. The only drawback being the knowledge that but a few more days remained to us to be passed so happily.
The ball, annual one, given by all our colonial Governors in honour of her Majesty's birthday, was of course very much like other large assemblies of the kind in England and the colonies. It was held in the Exhibition building, the Melbourne Crystal Palace, where we had heard Catherine Hayes; but the aspect of the place had been considerably improved by cleaning and decoration. Where the yellow calico orchestra had stood, at the upper end of the immense apartment, was a raised dais, covered with crimson cloth, and furnished with chairs and sofas, where the Governor received his guests as they arrived, and whence the coup d'oeil was very animated and brilliant. As the moving mass before us ebbed and flowed, new elegant dresses and new pretty faces continually appeared, like changes in a prodigious kaleidoscope; but the dust, which baffled every precaution taken to prevent it, soon rose in such volumes, as palpably to dim the blaze of the gaslights, and to show its unmistakable deposition on black velvet and broadcloth. I am afraid to trust my memory, which is especially treacherous in matters of figures, for the number of persons present, but I believe there were between two and three thousand. Supper was laid in the galleries, and attacked by countless detachments of consumers in succession; and tables with less substantial refreshments stood in convenient nooks on the floor of the hall. Ice and champagne, those two auxiliaries in the success of a soirée dansante, were liberally supplied; our good Queen's health, proposed by the Governor, was drunk with enthusiasm, and all went brightly and merrily until the throng began to disperse, when the somewhat complicated arrangements made for the safe custody of gentlemen's hats and cloaks, created first a delay, then a blockade of the lobbies, and finally a determined siege of the hat repository, which was eventually carried by assault, and demolished. The drama had only reached the second act when our party left, and groups of ladies, cloaked and hooded, were awaiting the desperate struggles of a dark, tumultuous mass of husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends, who were striving, pushing, beseeching, threatening, and coaxing round the little half-door of the general hat-box, holding up tickets afar off, and vociferating names and numbers, in the vain delusion that the one or two bewildered custodians within could satisfy a hundred applicants at once. Our detention was very short, compared with that generally suffered, and we escaped before the grand tableau of the last act, and storming of the battery by the exasperated multitude.
The concourse of carriages round the building exceeded anything I should have expected out of London; and the regulations (enforced by the police), for their approach and departure, were well arranged to prevent collisions; but the length of time occupied in setting down, became very tiresome to those far on in the interminable string.
The almost constant rain which set in after our return to Melbourne, prevented the realization of many plans, both for country excursions and city sights, and must account for the absence of many important matters from this veracious chronicle. On one evening I accompanied some friends to a lecture in the spacious hall of the Mechanics' Institute, tempted by the subject, "The Poems and Genius of Tennyson." Unhappily the rich seed had not fallen upon good ground, and the harvest was far below our anticipations. A priggish personage discoursed some ponderous platitudes concerning genius, which he was clearly unable rightly to appreciate, and melody of verse, to which his laborious and mouthy recitation was a complete antithesis.
These admirable institutions in the colonies are generally better supported by good lecturers, than might be imagined. In Hobart, our excellent and accomplished Bishop, and leading men of all professions, deliver lectures at the Mechanics' Institute, on Art, Science, Literature, &c.; and Melbourne, with its infinitely greater resources, is no doubt proportionably benefited; but I was unlucky in my one opportunity of attending the lectures. I trust some future visit to the great metropolis of Victoria may enable us to become better acquainted with, and allow us more time to appreciate her many noble and liberal institutions.
It was a dark, thick, moonless night, when, after a busy day employed in doing things delayed till the eleventh hour,—seeing farewell-taking visitors, and exchanging the few last reluctant words with the beloved friends we were leaving,—we proceeded to the Sandridge pier, to go on board our Tasmanian steamer. The instant the carriage stopped, it was surrounded by a chorus of voices, and the lamps showed pairs and groups of by no means prepossessing faces.
"Want a boat, yer honour?"
"Take ye on boord for a pound, sir."
"Git out wid yees, is it yerself ud put his honour and the lady in yer dirthy old pig-trough, an' it wid a big lake in the bottom!"
Whilst this argument was waging, my husband got out, and standing in the thick darkness which shrouded everything beyond the range of the carriage lamps, made some remark. When a voice from beyond him, drawing rapidly nearer as it spoke, said quietly,—
"If you'll go with me, Mr. Meredith, I'll take you in a good boat and a clean one."
The natural inquiry as to who this was, whose ear was so true, led to a brief explanation, that he had, at some former time, long ago, been in Mr. Meredith's service, and recognized him by his voice alone, in that improbable place. Accordingly we did go in his boat, and he took us carefully and safely on board; all the other squabblers for our custom having withdrawn their clamorous claims, the moment our singular friend advanced his.
I found in the steamer a very civil stewardess, and a nice airy ladies' cabin, with only one more occupant; there was also a large skylight, which I could keep open, a vast improvement upon the noisome atmosphere I had endured on the former voyage. The morning's prospect down the bay was bright and calm, but no sooner had we passed the heads, than I found it advisable to put aside my sketch book, in which I had been making an outline of the singular pulpit-rock off Cape Schanck, which stands out like one of the turrets at our Tasmanian Cape Pillar; for the wind rapidly veered round to the south, and blew against us the whole way across.
We had but few fellow-passengers, and only one in any way remarkable. Whether some malicious godmother had, in his infancy, dedicated him to the service of St. Vitus, or whether the saint had secured his allegiance by a mild process of adoption, are questions which occurred to me, and still remain undecided. His case required the frequent "exhibition" of popular polka-tunes, hummed in abrupt snatches, and usually at such stages of the general conversation, as rendered such voluntaries peculiarly irrelevant. To these sudden little bursts of melody, going off unexpectedly like squibs, charged with crochets and quavers, he danced a few steps at uncertain intervals, in a jaunty, jerking style, contemplating his boots all the time with beaming complacency. As I lay coiled up in a snug nook on deck, half-faint, half-drowsy, I was every now and then awoke to consciousness by the brisk boots footing their spasmodic scraps of polkas, to the burden of "Tiddy dum dum—Di, tiddy dum,—Dee, dum dum—Tiddy, dee dum," the delight of which performance to the actor thereof appeared in no way to abate by repetition.
And in process of time, the politicians walked, smoked, and argued; I read and dozed; Charlie played with a terrier given to me in Melbourne; and the dancer danced over the time occupied by our transit to Launceston, whence we made a short stage to the pretty garden-embosomed house of some kind friends near Perth, and after a day's happy sojourn, arrived at Campbell Town, where our horses had been sent, and awaited us.
The tiresome ride over the mountain tier was rendered worse than usual by the heavy rain which had fallen; and all the rivers and brooks being flooded, we had to make considerable circuits to avoid the worst fords, often riding for miles through water some inches deep, and in pouring rain; so that by the time we reached home, we most fully realized Mr. Mantalini's doleful picture, as "damp, moist," (and to ourselves) "unpleasant bodies;" though the glad, bright, welcoming faces of the dear ones who greeted our return, removed all doubt as to our pleasantness in their eyes.
And now, ere we close the curtains, and nestle round the glowing hearth of Home, let us hope that the perusal of these small adventures may have afforded to all who have thus accompanied us in our excursion "Over the Straits," some reflection at least of the pleasure we derived from it; and here bid them, for the present, a kind
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