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Title: The Diggings, the Bush, and Melbourne - or, Reminiscences of Three Years' Wanderings in Victoria
Author: Armour, James
Language: English
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public domain works at The National Library of Australia.)



                         THE DIGGINGS, THE BUSH,
                             AND MELBOURNE;


                REMINISCENCES OF THREE YEARS’ WANDERINGS
                              IN VICTORIA.

                             [Illustration]

                                GLASGOW:
                  G. D. MACKELLAR, 18 Renfield Street.
                            PRICE NINEPENCE.

                                  1864.



PREFACE.


The following short narrative was written specially for a small circle
of intimate acquaintances, who varied the dulness of village life by
meeting once a week to read manuscript essays and selections from
favourite authors. The time allowed for reading being limited, and the
audience being partly composed of young people, I confined myself mainly
to personal experience. As many of the company had previously heard me
relate in an off-hand way, the leading incidents, detection would have
been sure to follow any attempt at spicing my story with fiction.

The incidents are selections merely from three years’ recollections
of the Colony. Some who have never been further from home than in
their annual visit to a watering place, have been pleased to call them
adventures. The term may appear too strong to those who like the writer
have reclined by a bush fire, listening to the stories of old hands, but
as there may be much serious living without broken bones, I submit this
brief history to those who think so.

                                                            James Armour.

GATESHEAD, _April, 1864_.



THREE YEARS IN VICTORIA.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER I.

MARCH TO BENDIGO.


Early in the month of September, 1852, I landed at Cole’s Wharf in
Melbourne, one of four hundred passengers newly arrived from Liverpool
by the “Lady Head” sailing ship. While yet at sea I had agreed to join
a party of young men who intended starting for the diggings without
delay. We found the lodging-houses overcrowded, with table-tops,
chests, and chairs in use for bedsteads, and we were made acquainted
with a considerable portion of the town before we found accommodation.
Our capital being small we grudged the price asked, but were disposed
to be thankful on witnessing next morning the shifts that numbers of
our shipmates had been put to in getting shelter for the night. Some
were lying among the barrels and bales of goods that lay lumbering the
wharf. Some two dozen had made free with some piles of planks and built
off-hand houses for themselves, but the night had been rainy, the roofs
had leaked, and they looked anything but refreshed. Among these latter I
observed a mother with a family of young children. A shawl hung across
the opening that faced the road, but it was too scanty to screen her as
she sat with a looking-glass before her setting her hair in order. The
husband was absent, and the children sat with comfortless wonder in their
young eyes, gazing at the rude throng that was beginning the bustle of
the day.

I heard my name called, and turning to look, I recognised a late
mess-mate perched on the top of an old waggon-shaped boiler, that stood,
as it were, stabled, amidst the piles of wood. At first I thought he was
but taking a birds-eye view of the situation, until another well-known
figure struggled up from within, through the man-hole by his side, then
a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and a seventh, and all so brown
with rust from the hair to the boots that it was evident they were not
far from where they had been sleeping. Awakened by the rumbling din they
make in clambering out, an eighth figure is added to the group, but he
comes from beneath, and is in a more singular condition than the others,
for the lowness of the fire arch not allowing him to lie otherwise than
on his back, his face has got sooted, and the handkerchief with which
he wipes it spreads the marks all over, in various shades of black.
They tried to console themselves with the thought that all this was but
right and proper training for the diggings, but he who had lain in the
chill fire-hole seemed to have some doubt upon the matter by the haste
he made to a hot-coffee-stand that stood close by. One who had lain
within proposed that they should further inure themselves to roughing
it, by retaining possession of the boiler for the few days they would be
in town, but the suggestion fell to the ground for want of support. The
ground about was littered with the wet chests and the softer baggage of
the houseless, and before we returned to town the first of the new day’s
arrivals from the Bay, by lighter and by steamer, had begun to add to the
confusion and the mud, to the evident distress of the wives and others
who had been left in charge meantime.

Our preparations for the road were soon made. Dressed in blouses blue and
red, with the creases of the shop folds bearing witness to the newness
of our purchase, and in bright new leather leggings, and each carrying a
couple of blankets and a change of clothes, with a quantity of bread and
other necessaries in a pack slung across his shoulder, and each provided
with a tomahawk stuck in his belt, and a tin pot, we joined company with
a large party about to start from Flag-Staff Hill in the afternoon,
having been advised to do so on account of the unsafeness of the roads.
We were about forty in number at starting, but the packs, or as we
were taught to call them, “swags,” began to sit heavy on many of our
unaccustomed shoulders, obliging us to halt so often for re-adjustment,
that I found myself at sundown one of six far in the rear.

On reaching Keilor plains, about ten miles from Melbourne, it began to
rain, and as it was now useless to think of overtaking the main party
we looked about for some place to camp in for the night. Much previous
rain had drenched the ground, but we found a spot, with a dwarfish
tree standing in the middle, and with perhaps a little less water than
elsewhere standing about the grass roots. With difficulty we got a fire
lit. We took no thought of those who would be coming after us, but
carried and dragged from far and near the old mouldering wood that lay
thinly scattered in our neighbourhood, and piled log upon log, until we
raised a blaze that reddened the clouds overhead. We were drenched to
the skin, our blankets were wet, and our bread and tea in a miserable
condition. Fixing our loaves on long forked sticks, we would have toasted
them, but the rain kept pouring down, and only made them softer, until
the crust could be distinguished only by its colour. The steam from our
fire-heated clothes enveloped us like smoke; we began to feel drowsy, and
yet unwilling to lie down, for where were we to lie? Our feet had swollen
in our rain-soaked boots, but for fear we might not be able to get them
on again if taken off, the boots were allowed to go with us to bed.
Breaking some branches from the tree above us, we made a rain shed of
them, and spreading a few upon the floor, crept underneath the dripping
bower, leaving one on guard to see to the fire and our general security
while we slumbered. One of the company, when the fire had begun to throw
out heat, had called the situation “jolly,” and in the exuberance of his
delight, had commenced to sing,

    “In the days when we went gipsying,”

and sacrificing both poetry and music to his desire to bring the thing
home to our hearts, he improvised, and made the diggings and bags of gold
the burden of his lay; but finding he was having the singing all to do
himself, he soon gave over, and now here he was lying next to me, close
huddled up, and shivering I thought even worse than myself.

In the middle of the night, those lying down had almost succeeded in
falling asleep, when splashing footsteps were heard approaching. The
watch called out, and we scrambled to our feet, our wits all flying loose
in vain attempt to gather what the calling was about, or even where we
were; and before we were thoroughly aware, a man with his face streaked
with blood, and his clothes muddy and torn, ran in amongst us. Gazing
on us for a moment, with eyes swollen and red, he inquired whereabouts
the nearest police station lay. Truly we were sorry we did not know,
for the question made us suddenly apprehensive that the knowledge might
be useful to ourselves before morning; and not knowing but that this
apparent distress of his was merely a device to throw us off our guard,
while he spied our quality and means of defence, we felt glad when the
owner of the only gun in our possession came forward with it in his hand.
Willing however to propitiate the powers of evil, we spoke him softly,
in our ignorance of how many confederates he might have close by to come
up at his signal. Making known to him that we were strangers, he looked
round on us, and in a tone that was anything but complimentary, and that
sounded strangely from one seeking help, he answered. “Ha, I might ha’
seen’t afore.—A lot o’ new chums, d⸺ ’em.” An awkward pause followed,
in which we were beginning to regard him with increased suspicion, and
to connect him with numberless shadows that we had not noticed till now
outlying in the gloom, and to which the unsteady flame of our fire gave
the appearance of motion. After sitting a few moments with his head
between his knees, he abruptly rose, and started off in the direction of
a light that appeared away on the border of the plain, and we saw him no
more, though we thought we did several times, which led us, when the fire
burnt low, to be content with a seat closer to it rather than venture out
for more fuel.

At daybreak we tried to dry our blankets and spare clothes, but growing
impatient to reach the bush, we rolled them up as they were, and started.
The sun rose, and by mid-day we were making good progress. Finding the
dray track wound much about, we decided upon guiding ourselves with
the aid of a pocket compass, and the occasional sights we got of Mount
Macedon, close by the foot of which the road to the Bendigo diggings
lay, and setting out, we made what we thought were short cuts through
the bush, but as we frequently lost ourselves, these were often the
occasion of warm discussion and a change of leaders. The creeks were
swollen by many days’ rain, and we had several times to strip in fording
them. The scenery improved as we advanced. In the morning we might be
crossing lightly wooded ranges, and at mid-day winding our way through
what seemed ancient forest, in which at intervals stood groups of huge
blackened trunks, the relics of bush-fires long before the white man
had appeared upon the scene, the ground around being strewn with the
old charred limbs, half-buried by the mould of byegone vegetation, and
the rank luxuriance of the present. On the evening of the same day we
have come upon wide-spreading grazing ground, and at times on scenes
where nature, simple and unhelped, surpassed in beauty the finest parks
we had ever seen in the old country, the indented margin of the forest
that surrounded them, being as positively marked as if the hand of man
had been there to clear away, and strike the lines with fence and ditch;
while fancifully shaped clumps, with rich green underwood, relieved
the lawn-like surface with so much appearance of art and method in the
general arrangement, that our eyes have involuntarily looked about for
signs of human habitation. Again, our way lay sometimes alongside of
what at this season of the year were full watered creeks—great trees
overshadowing the pools, and the banks on either hand spreading away with
easy undulation, and looking so pleasant, with the sun shining on their
soft carpeting of grass, waved gently by a fresh-smelling summer breeze,
as to beguile completely the weariness of the way. One of our small
company, becoming thoughtful as he looked abroad one morning on such
a scene, said that if he had not been going to get gold he might have
been tempted to remain and try what he could do at kitchen gardening;
but recollecting that we had seen neither man nor habitation in the last
twenty miles we had come, save one solitary shepherd, and his small bark
hut in the distance, our friend’s thoughtfulness took a turn, and brought
him the first to his feet to resume the march.

Towards sundown of the seventh day of our journey, wearied in feet and
shoulders, we found ourselves limping along in melancholy scattered
train the songs of the morning exchanged for sighs and useless, because
unheard, murmurings against the two stronger men of the party, who would
keep going on and on though passing places that seemed in every way
suited to our wants for the night. The wearied ones being the majority
would have halted and obliged the two to come back to seek them, but
as darkness might have prevented reunion in this way, and as the two
were carrying the beef can, there seemed no help for it but to continue
following. At last, when the head and tail of the company were about a
mile apart, a halt was made in front among some grey moss-grown rocks by
the side of a small running stream. Oh what relief to throw our swags
off, and to bathe our distressed feet in the cool clear water. Bendigo,
where all the gold lay, was distant now only some ten miles; we hoped to
be there by mid-day on the morrow. The stragglers as they came toiling in
singly and in pairs with sullen moodiness louring in their faces, were
made quickly to forget they had an explanation to demand, and soon all
were merry as a wedding party, some gathering fire logs, one out with
the gun, and the others preparing supper. One of the latter beckons from
the water side that there is something to be seen there. We go to him,
get down upon our knees, and can hardly think it real, but the sandy
bottom is glittering with small gold-like atoms. We try to lift some with
our fingers, but—it may be from our clumsiness—we are unable to raise
anything but pinches of pure sand. We have learnt how the diggers wash
their bottom stuff, and hurry up for some of our tin dishes, and are busy
with them, when the man with the gun returns, and learning from us what
we are hoping to be true, urges the advisability of getting under cover
with our operations, in case we may be seen from the road by passing
travellers, who might claim a share; we see the wisdom of the advice,
scramble behind a bushy knoll, and speedily forget everything but our
new discovery. We wash and try again, but we seem awkward hands at it,
for we never can retain in the dishes anything the least like metal.
Darkness is fast coming on, and we begin to fear we shall have to give
over for the night, when a bigger bit than we have yet noticed is seen in
the failing light, faintly glistening in the bottom of a shallow pool:
three pair of legs on the instant wade in for it, and there might be
more, but a certain pearly lustre, too like the moon, for the first time
brings misgivings as to the nature of the chase. We have seen gold grains
exposed in shop windows in Melbourne, and are anxious to attribute the
difference in colour, as it now appears, to the presence of the water,
but, a finger and thumb bring the truth sadly to our notice—we have
been fishing powdered mica. We now find that we have been incredulous
from the first as to its being anything but something of the mica kind,
and the man with the gun claims credit for having saved us from making
fools of ourselves openly, by getting us to go where we were not likely
to be seen before wisdom came. We had lost time by the occurrence,
and had to do without our usual brushwood shelter from the cold night
wind; but making a large fire, we lay down to windward, with our feet
to it, and slept soundly, with our heads covered by the blankets. One
however allowed, his crown to escape from under its mantle: hoar-frost
had whitened the ground like snow, and had glued the blankets to his
uncovered locks. We found him first hard to waken, and then slow to rise,
but beyond that he seemed but little the worse.

We now kept upon the dray track; it was sadly cut up by the winter
traffic, and the numerous carcases of bullocks and of horses, that lay
in some places at short intervals where they had fallen in their yokes,
told a tale of road hardship and adventure, that made us better satisfied
with our simpler though toilsome mode of travelling. Half an hour before
coming on the diggings, we passed a bullock dray that had started from
Melbourne, a hundred miles distant, the day before we sailed from the
Mersey. The men looked sullen and toil-worn, and the cattle seemed scarce
able to pull their feet out of the mud in which they sank half way to the
knees at every step.

We reached the diggings about an hour before sundown, and were rather
disconcerted at the appearance of a company of diggers, whom we met,
and who called out that there was “still some left for us to get:” they
were wet to the knees, had evidently been sitting among water, and their
shoulders looked as though they had been dragged through a clay bed. Our
mica business had but little prepared us for this sort of work, and—hum—a
newly open clay field in wet weather, before the bricks have begun to be
made, is clean and comfortable walking compared to this that now comes in
view, as we near the creek that lies between us and the tents; and what
water! yea, what a place to look for gold in.

Not wishing to be out of the fashion in the mode of living as practised
by those who were now to be our neighbours, we without delay set about
making for ourselves a house, but where was the stuff to make it of?
One said that he had “some needles and three pirns o’ thread,” got for
casualties among the buttons; but that seemed small help until another
who had brought some fine bed linen with his blankets, pulled it from his
swag, and remarking that it would be “nane the waur o’ the bleachin’,”
offered it to make the roof; a third gave a tartan plaid, and a fourth a
blanket; a fifth, in the enthusiasm of the moment, tore a striped shirt
open, and throwing it with two towels among the other offerings, said
these would make a gable. While some were fixing forked sticks in the
ground to bear the ridge pole and attending to the fire and supper,
the rest were busy, without thimbles, at the needlework. “Be it ever so
humble, there’s no place like home.” We were happy and contented, nay
more, we were thankful when at last, by the aid of firelight, we got all
finished, the floor strewn thick with rosin-smelling leaves, and our
blankets disposed in order. Though not so grand looking as many of the
neighbouring edifices it was our own, and the occupiers of those others
might not be able to say more.



CHAPTER II.

THE DIGGINGS.


In the morning, having provided ourselves with tools, we made a beginning
in a small gulley near our camping place. There did not seem to be much
business doing in it, but it was nice and dry and quiet, and we had
been informed that great hits were occasionally made in very unlikely
spots. We had agreed to work in pairs, my lot falling in company with
a decent man, a hand-loom weaver to trade, from the North of Scotland.
We took spell about at the digging, short spells being in favour, as my
mate argued that “the chance o’ goold bein’ below, was’na like to be
ony greater, for oor hurtin’ oorsels, ye ken.” We agreed very well, but
a large stone that we came on about four feet from the surface, sorely
troubled us. When sitting on the top looking ruefully down upon it, and
inclined to shift to some other place, a stranger with pick and shovel on
his shoulder came sauntering up, joined us in looking down, asked what
we intended doing, and remarked that we ought at least to see what was
beneath, that many a digger would give gold to have such a boulder in his
ground, they were found to have been such grand catchers of the nuggets
when they came “scouring down in the flood.” As he seemed to have been
longer acquainted with the diggings than we, we thought it might be true
what he was saying, and that we might at least try till dinner time. The
weaver dropping down, commenced afresh to pick away the clay at one side,
but our friend said “No, the stone will drop on you if you go below it:
you must break it up, and bring it to the surface.” “Break it up, break
it up,” I heard him in the hole say, “man ye’re shurely thinkin’ its a
muckle cheese ye’re speakin’ aboot,” on which the man left us to engineer
as we had a mind.

Evening came, but we had not made the progress we expected, for as my
esteemed mate said, “the hannels o’ the picks were aye in our road, there
was sae little room to work in.” The holes were only about eight or ten
feet deep, bottoming on the usual pipe clay, imbedded in the surface of
which, and in the gravelly stuff immediately overlying it, the gold was
found. Sometimes it was got in gutter-like depressions, in which numerous
pockets occurred, full of grain gold and nuggets; sometimes it lay in
patches, and often lay like seed grain in a new-sown field. In the case
of gutters, only the holes that struck upon the line were profitable,
but the line was generally so uncertain and took such unexpected turns,
that those who in the morning might despond at being so far to a side,
might in the evening be harassed with fear of the encroachments of their
neighbours.

The common crowd confined its operations to the ground already opened,
but kept itself ever ready for a rush to new discoveries. Numerous small
parties, possessed of more than average enterprise, were ever on the move
amongst the outlying ranges, sinking shafts on speculation. Did they
light on gold, they passed the word quietly to their friends to occupy
the ground immediately adjoining them, that the common harpies, who went
spying about, too indolent to seek for themselves, might be outsided.
Not long could the matter remain hidden; a rumour would get upon the
wind, a few would be seen to leave their old claims hastily, with their
tools upon their shoulders, and steal off through the scrub; friendly
signals would be passed about, men would be seen tumbling up out of their
holes, and in little more time than it takes to tell it, the bulk of
the multitude were away upon the run to overtake those who were before,
leaving the place that before had swarmed with life, with only a mere
gleaning, which often seemed in doubt whither it was doing the best thing
for itself by remaining. In one such rush we joined, but arrived too late
for anything better than an uphill claim, which we bottomed at about one
third of the depth that gold might be expected at. A few yards below us,
two men had come up panting among the first of the runners, and on the
instant marked off twelve feet by twenty four for their united claim,
but thinking the ground too much on the slope, they shifted just twelve
feet lower down. Another party immediately took possession of the vacated
ground, and within four hours, the sinking being shallow, broke through
into a bed of nuggets, worth, as was afterwards affirmed, four thousand
pounds. The original claimants bottomed theirs on a few pennyweights
only. There was feverish excitement in all this, and the fortunate, when
wise, kept their own counsel, at least until their findings had been
placed safe under the charge of the Commissioner, for conveyance down to
town.

With various small fortune, my mate and I continued our labours, with
bankruptcy at length ominously near. We tried surface washing, but got
only sore backs by it, and returned to the sinking, there patiently to
await the approaching crisis in our circumstances. One day, a little
before sundown, we took our way homeward, rather downcast, and with some
misgivings about supper. Happily our friends had been more fortunate
than we, and the sight of half a sheep hanging from the tent pole, and
of a well-known face bending over a frying pan, quickened our dull weary
gait, while my companion, evidently touched with thankfulness for the
visible mercies, said half to himself, “I kent the puir ravens would be
fed,” adding for my encouragement,—“We’re no jist at the wab en’ yet, my
man.”

The night was cloudy and dark, but calm. We had drawn a large log to the
fire for want of chairs. We were in no lack of topics for conversation,
and there, spread out before us was a singular panorama of tents
illuminated from within, log fires among the trees in height and hollow,
and groups of big-bearded men, squatted around them. The Government being
at that time weak for want of policemen, all went armed, and for the
protection of the tents and what was in them during the absence of the
owners, dogs abounded. The firearms, partly with a view to intimidate the
ill-disposed, and partly because of damp, were fired off nightly, which
occasioned a protracted fusilade far and near before bed time, the dogs
not being idle the while, and the uproar being increased in interest, by
the uncertainty about the bullets. Putting fresh logs on the fire we go
to bed, six of us in a row, with no room to spare upon the floor when we
are down. In the middle of the night we are awakened by the rushing of
the wind among the trees, a few drops come pattering on the roof, and we
feel thankful it is cloth that covers us, but we soon hear a sound that
is different from the noise of the wind as it sways the branches; nearer
and louder it comes, and we hold our breath in fear; our fire outside
roars in the blast, and the lighter brands are whirled down the slope.
We see it all, for there is no door to our dwelling. With a fury, the
like of which we never before knew, the storm breaks on us, in a moment
all is confusion and dismay, and an unbroken deluge of rain drowns our
voices by its drumming on our roof, which reels as if it would forsake
us. The sewing gives way, and the water comes spouting through the
openings; we try to stop the leaks with our caps and stockings, but we
only make the breaches bigger; what matter this however, when a torrent
begins to dam up behind our uphill wall, ultimately breaks through, and
washes across the floor. Helpless and beaten now, we gather our blankets
hastily together, roll them into balls, and sit on them. We have no help
but to continue sitting till daybreak, for our fire has been washed out,
and cannot be renewed till morning; with its last simmering sob expires
our hope of coffee or even a light to our much desired pipes. The storm
in its great violence soon spent itself, but the morning showed a wreck
around of limbs of trees torn from their living trunks, while the face
of the hill was furrowed deep with torrent beds. A clump of bushes to
windward had alone saved our habitation from being blown away.

On reaching our hole early in the forenoon, we found it filled to the
brim with water. Some of our neighbours, in like predicament, had already
begun with pails to bale theirs out. Want of a pail, and the urgency of
our necessities, caused us to betake ourselves to some of the deserted
workings, in the hope of gleaning something there. The ground was
shallow, and so much honey-combed that our search was accompanied with
some little risk, when we had to use our picks upon the thin partitions.
But half a sheep among six men was not likely to last long, so, providing
ourselves with candles, we descended each into a separate hole, making
this agreement before disappearing from each other’s sight, that any
change made by either of us must be reported to the other in case of
accident. Late in the afternoon I heard my name called from above, and
crawled to the daylight at the bottom to answer and learn progress. In
reply to his inquiries about how I was, I cried up merrily, “Pretty
weel, I thank ye, in ma health, but I hae got nae goold.” “Ah weel,” he
says, “never mind that, my man, we’ll speak about goold the morn, come
yer wa’s up ti the tap, and bring yer tools wi’ ye, there’s been awfu’
wark gan on here I’m thinkin’.” A fight or something equally interesting
immediately occurred to my mind as the occasion of his seriousness, and
I lost no time in getting to the surface. I could see no crowd, and
turned to him for explanation. He had come upon some yellow specks in a
corner of the roof he was examining, and had used his pick in following
up the clue: the hollow sound made by his blows startled him a little,
and he moderated his first zeal. He began soon to be more and more
sensibly aware of a smell of a particularly disagreeable nature, and
which increased so much as he made the opening bigger that he was seized
with nausea, in which his mind became troubled with strange apprehension
unaccountable to him. He could hear no sound but what he made himself,
his tallow candle but feebly lighted up the face of the wall before him,
and left the pillared chamber with its crumbling drifts behind in solemn
darkness. Making an attempt to shake off his depression of spirits, he
made his pick fall vigorously into the hollow he had already made, and
wrenched away a clod that left a cavity beyond. Seizing the candle, he
held it to the breach, and to his dismay, there lay “glowerin’ oot at
him, the wasted face o’ a deed man.” We made known the circumstance to
a party of men whom we met on our way back to the tent; but they seemed
not sufficiently interested to go out of their way to see the place. We
made it known to some of our neighbours on the hill, and learnt that wood
for coffins being scarce, and church-yards scarcer, it had been found
convenient in the earlier days of the diggings simply to pass the bodies
down a deserted hole, and fill it up with top stuff.

About a week after, we found ourselves reduced to dependence on the
others of the company for the bread we ate; they were willing that it
should be so, while they continued able, but I prepared to go in search
of daily work, washed my spare shirt, baked a small loaf to take with
me, and bade them all good bye. My mate having some prospect of joining
another party, whose finances were in a better state than ours, remained
in hope, but accompanied me on my way for about a mile. Having no
particular occupation in view, all roads were alike to me. At starting,
however, we set our faces in a direction somewhere between south and
west, but when we stopped to part, we discovered we had gradually turned,
and were going somewhere between north and east, judging by the sun. This
specimen of our art in bush travelling caused my friend evident concern
about how I would get on when left to myself, and he wished me to return
and make a new effort to better our circumstances, but as my doing so
would have prevented his acceptance of the offer that had been made to
him, I declined, but felt my heart moved strangely when my hand loosened
from his parting grasp. All day I travelled, but towards evening, when
looking out for water by which to camp for the night, I came upon an old
square hole, that seemed familiar to me. My mind at first was inclined
to disown acquaintance with it, but the surrounding evidence was too
strong, and I sat down for some minutes, overpowered by thoughts on the
circumstance. I must have been travelling in a circle, for this hole lay
scarce half a mile from the tent I had left in the morning, in fact,
now that my attention was awakened, I could hear the barking of the
dogs belonging to my late neighbours. Was it providence that was thus
overruling my movements? I thought of Whittington. Or was it merely a
case of inattention to the course of the sun? My whole heart went in
favour of the Whittington interpretation, but there was one from whom I
feared the remark, that “A bad shilling was ill to get quit of,” were I
to appear among my late companions again; so I rose and walked about two
miles further off, and camped in a bushy hollow. I made my bed close in
among the matted undergrowth of a clump of thick growing bushes, but was
awakened in the middle of the night by certain rustlings underneath and
round about me, that made me a wiser man before daylight came. In all my
subsequent wanderings I chose open level ground, with a shelter of my
own making. Distrust of the creeping things I had heard, and thought I
felt, caused me to sit up the last few hours of darkness, but one end of
a decayed log I sat on being near the fire, its tinder-like substance
became heated and began to smoulder. With my head resting on my hand,
I was in a musing way watching the thin wreaths of smoke spueing from
the cracks, a few of which extended to near my seat, when I was rather
startled by the sight of a large beetle running wildly about among the
crevices, but I rose quickly to my feet when a centipede about as long
and as broad as my fore-finger, came crawling from the under side within
a few inches of my hand. There seemed nothing left me now but to stand,
until it suddenly occurred to me that mistaking my motionless legs for
stumps, the creatures might be crawling up for concealment under my loose
bark-like trousers, but I had not well begun to walk about to deprive
them of the chance, when a new fear took hold of me, that of possibly
treading on their tails. This was the first sincere misery I had met
with in the country; it was the first, but not the last by many of my
lonely nights in the bush. I had made an ill choice of my resting place,
a small green spot surrounded close at hand by piles of mouldering wood,
in which small animal life was swarming, and set astir by the heat of the
huge fire I had made before lying down. Next night I camped by the side
of a small marsh in an open forest scene, being very tired and retaining
unimpaired the serious impressions of last night’s lesson. I looked upon
a certain dampness of the ground as an assurance that I would not be
similarly disturbed, but in the morning as I sat at breakfast, from time
to time taking a perplexed look at my swollen hands, and passing them
over my evidently ill-treated face, I began to fear that I had no longer
personal appearance to rely upon in finding an employer. The musquitos
had hived about me from the going down of the sun till the chilly hour
before daybreak: in vain I had wrapped my head in a blanket, the knobs
disfiguring my nose and brow told that the pests had found their way to
me. Wearied and sore with the two days’ travelling, I had hoped to get a
little sleep when I found their numbers thinning as the morning advanced,
but a damp white fog hung low above the ground, and the cold from the wet
turf beneath had reached me through the few twigs I had made my bed on. I
became cramped in all my limbs, and was glad to rise with the first flush
of the rapid dawn.



CHAPTER III.

BULLOCK CREEK.


After walking about a mile, I came upon a sheep station at Bullock creek,
and got engaged to assist in sheep shearing. The station being only
about ten miles from Bendigo where I had been digging, it was plain I
had not come as the crow flies, nor by the beaten road. A portion of
the building was in use as a tavern called “The Albert,” appropriately
fronting which, at a distance of two or three hundred yards, was a small
police station, where the few who would not suffer the many to get drunk
quietly were taken care of—a great convenience to the landlord. The few
shearers who had been collected meeting with old friends in one another,
and in certain of the general company, seemed fast making themselves
eligible for the lock-up, when I first made their acquaintance. Till they
sobered, I was employed in a generally useful way in the garden and the
horse paddock. The first of my service, however, was with a wheelbarrow,
in the removal of broken bottles from the open space in front of the tap
room door, thrown there by the frequenters of the place, in brick-bat
practice at the trees, the skill thus learnt to be exercised when
occasion came upon the constables. Before I left, a mounted trooper in
attempting to lay hold of a suspected horse-stealer, had his head cut
open by a heavy champaign bottle thrown by the thief, who was enabled
thereby to remount the stolen animal and get away. The circumstance for a
time put me off the notion of becoming a policeman, having an impression,
the result of certain small casualties, that my skull was rather
delicate, and hardly round enough for maximum resistance to flying bodies.

The shearers being quartered in a hut by the side of the creek, about a
stone throw from the main buildings, I took up my abode there with them.
The hut was roomy; the walls were formed of hard-wood slabs, split like
huge laths from logs, and having been framed together when yet green,
they had shrunk so much that the hand might have been passed edge-ways
between any two of them. The roof was composed of great sheets of bark,
and happily was rain-proof; there was no need of a window, and no
shutting of the door could keep the draught out. Along the walls was a
sparred bench of rude construction, on which the first comers had made
their beds, the later arrivals having to be content with sheep skins on
the floor. The fire-place was big enough to accommodate a sitter on each
side within when the fire was low. There was a man to cook, and to attend
to the house wants of the company.

Being among strange people, whose manner of living I had yet to get
acquainted with, I sat up later than was agreeable to me waiting and
wearying for my fellow-lodgers to come home, that I might see how they
did about the sleeping. About midnight they came—a noisy multitude,
full of brandy and “Old Tom.” Their coming freed me from a tedious and
apparently endless recital of rheumatic and other ailments, under which
the old cook—toothless, and bald, and bowed, was suffering: the poor
man’s eyes watery and dim with age, seemed to brighten at the sympathy
that notwithstanding a certain dulness in the subject, I could not help
feeling for him. He had no home, and had wandered here like a thing
driven by the wind, to die some day, and be reproached for the trouble he
would give to those in whose hands he left his wasted body. About an hour
or so after their arrival, the men prepared their beds, and I did mine
on a bare place near the door, but was kept long awake on account of a
few who restlessly kept staggering out and in, their heavy-booted limbs
not always careful about where my legs were. I was too tired however to
keep awake until the danger was quite past, and awakened in the morning
with a great beef bone lying across my neck, thrown there by him who had
been last gnawing it. These were the grosser inconveniences, there was
another that I did not quite understand at the time I was first feeling
it; however, on spreading my blankets in the morning on the fence, I got
to know the secret—fleas. There was no use trying to catch them, even had
I been inclined, so I contented myself with quietly looking on as they
scoured away through the woolly fibres on being exposed to the light and
the cool air, and I wondered whether instinct would guide them back to
their kindred inside among the sheepskins and the dust.

On the morning of the third day the sheep shearing commenced, and the
packing of the wool in bales became my work. The press consisted of a
large box set on end, and without either top or bottom; the sides were
detachable, and were merely clamped together when the pressing was being
done. A strong coarse canvas bag, exactly fitting the inside of the box,
was placed in it; the flaps that were to enclose the top end of the bale
were turned over the sides and secured there, so that the bottom barely
rested on the ground within. Throwing a few fleeces in and armed with a
spade, I kept stuffing the wool that lay along the sides down between the
bagging and the mass I stood on, until I made it somewhat solid, then
more fleeces, and more stuffing, till I reached the top, which, on the
flaps being sewn together, was packed by means of a short staff. I did
feel proud when I managed to turn out a bale that had no soft spots in
it, but my specimens on this first day were few, the shearers were out of
condition, their wrists grew feeble, and their backs grew sore, and they
adjourned to the tap-room for “a stiffener,” and I saw them no more till
late at night, when they came down in a body to the hut bringing disorder
and two strangers with them, also some liquor, which however, lasting but
a short time, and their fierce humour inclining them to make “a night
of it,” a select few were despatched to procure, if at all possible, no
matter by what means, a five gallon keg of rum, as they could no longer
satisfy themselves with drops in bottles; but the proprietor having an
eye to his flocks, which before the public-house was started, had been
his main stay, gave them instead a certain warning of police proceedings
were the shearing any longer delayed on their account. Shearers were
scarce, and consequently were disposed to stand upon their dignity, but
these having been made debtors for “slop” goods, and for liquor supplied
to them at the rate of twenty shillings a bottle, felt themselves on the
wrong side of the law for showing airs, having no money to pay off the
score, besides present thirst making them like very Esaus, they gladly
for the sake of two bottles more agreed to the terms he now imposed on
them. These bottles were soon drained dry as the others, on which the
yet unsatisfied began to quarrel among themselves. One sang while the
dispute was going on, and another, too drunk to stand, sat on the floor
reciting doggrel verse, which he appeared to make as he went on, every
now and again stopping to say that he was Fraser of Kilbarchan, and that
everybody knew him.

I sat for about an hour by the side of the singer, his hands clasping
mine, and his drunken breath blowing full in my face. I was delivered
from him ultimately by a commotion taking place in the far end of the
hut. During my distress, I had observed one of the shearers paying much
attention to the elder of the two strangers, who were both becoming
stupid with the liquor that had been given them, and had noticed him
lead the man into a little place partitioned off from the main room, and
containing bed benches. In a few minutes the shearer came gliding out,
and passed through the open doorway into the outer darkness. The other
followed with only his shirt on, and loudly muttering to himself, but in
a few minutes returned, and, apparently more sober than before, commenced
to gather his boots and clothes together. While so engaged he said
something that appeared to touch the honour of the company, and raised a
clamour of indignation at himself, an Edinburgh man called Jack, being so
much overcome by it that he staggered out, and made his way to the police
to complain of unjust accusation. I had gone outside, and stood leaning
against the fence gratefully enjoying the cool night air, and the solemn
quiet of the forest scene, when I heard a rustling of feet among the dry
grass of the enclosure, and saw two figures stealthily approaching. I
moved away, they came on then at a run, and leaped the fence, and were up
with me before I reached the door—two constables. Shoving me roughly to
one side, they entered with pistols cocked and ready in their hands, and
asked for the man who had the complaint to make. The wrangling din was
on the instant hushed to a dead stillness; the man was sitting by the
fire with his face hidden in his hands. Some one pointed to him on the
question being repeated, but as all he could be got to say, was simply
“he knew,” the constables angrily turned him out of doors and left us.
I then gathered from the hints that were dropped that his pocket had
been picked of £40. The ill-looking rascal who had shown him so much
attention, and who went by the name of “Brummie,” had returned during my
absence at the fence, and was now standing with his back to the fire,
but with his outer blue shirt off, no doubt with a view to prevent his
victim recognising him. From the talk that followed I learnt that nearly
all the company had been “Government men,” as convicts style themselves,
and that the stranger in declining to inform the police of his loss, had
but shown himself to be a good man and true, according to the notions of
trueness held in common by his class—to regard the police as the common
enemy, and to settle all private differences to the unwritten law of
the fraternity. Jack was blamed for having brought the enemy upon them,
but Brummie afforded him an opportunity of redeeming his character in
this respect some few weeks after, by eloping with £5 belonging to him.
He was very angry, called Brummie a mean sneak, declared he would never
speak to him again, and then let the matter rest. Jack being a fellow
countryman of mine, I made free to speak to him about what I had observed
of Brummie, but got for reply a discreet hint to see as little as I could
of what happened, and to keep my own counsel when I did see, as being a
“square head,” that is one outside of their community, I would readily be
suspected were tales told out of school.

During one of their drinking days I had found one of them, a Yorkshire
man, asleep on the banks of the creek, close to the water’s edge, and
had gathered him up, and taken him home to bed, and in the act of doing
so I seemed to have roused him sufficiently to recognise me, and know
what I was doing with him. After that, to the end of my stay among them,
he never got warm with liquor but he retold the story to his mates, and
hugged me in his arms, with vows that he would make a man of me after
shearing was done, by taking me with him to the diggings; but “Philip
drunk and Philip sober” appearing each to forget what the other had been
doing, I formed my own plans for the future, and left him out. Philip
drunk said that his wife Nancy—an old “government lady” I had every
reason to believe—would be as good as a mother to me. I felt quite safe
in agreeing to become her son, for I knew that Philip sober would put the
matter right for me again next morning.

When I had been about three weeks at the shed, the men learnt from some
passing travellers that shearers were in great demand at neighbouring
stations—stations that had no public house attached to them—and that
the rates of pay offered were far beyond what they were now receiving.
Making application and being refused a rise on present rates, they left
off working and adjourned to the tap-room, there to enjoy themselves and
await the consequences. They were paid at so much the hundred fleeces,
whereas my pay was fixed, thirty shillings a week with rations, much
work or little. I did not think myself directly interested in the strike
till Jack on coming down in the evening to the hut, rather unsteady on
his legs, began to question me about what I meant to do. Recollecting
I was a square head, I replied “Nothing.” He rose, called me a cur and
nob, and said it was me and the like of me who were ruining the country,
by playing into the hands of the masters; then seizing an empty bottle
by the neck, he raised it and advanced a step to strike. A pang of fear
shot through me, my heart beat quick, for I had seen the effects of a
blow made with such a weapon, and I had just nerve enough and no more
to retain my hands behind me, my back being to the fire, and fix my eye
steadily on his. For a few moments we stood thus balanced. I could not
have borne the suspense long, but held to it when I observed his arm
relax a little. He could not hit me thus, the arm dropped by his side,
and throwing the bottle from him with a muttered curse he staggered out
of doors, and I heard no more of it. It was the only instance of personal
violence offered to me, during the whole of my mixed wanderings in the
colony, and the sorry impressions left upon my mind, became lost in
gratitude some few months later, when seeking shelter from a storm, at an
out station where the same man happened to be cook and hutkeeper.

Changes were frequently occurring in the working party. The high wages
earned by the better classes induced many who had never shorn a sheep to
offer their services, hoping that their unskilfulness would be winked
at in the dearth of high-class hands. A hundred and twenty fleeces a
day was reckoned good work for one pair of shears. We had several who
shore sixty, a few eighty, and one or two a hundred, but the latter were
often brought to task for “tomahawking,” or leaving ridge-and-furrow
shear-marks. The learners—old government men like the others—seldom
reached higher in the count than from fifteen to twenty, and let the poor
animals go spotted sometimes from neck to tail with shear wounds. The
superintendent was a humane man, but the flocks were sorely afflicted
with the scab, and humanity had to choose between allowing the animals to
linger with disease, or letting them smart for a short time with tarred
holes in their pelts. The accidents of unskilfulness were overlooked,
but when the bad workers, vexed with their own unhandiness, and the
jeers of their abler comrades, began to let loose their passion on the
wretched, restless animals by furtively digging the shear-points into
their sides, and knocking their horns loose, it was thought high time
to part with them. Thus dismissed, they might go no farther than the
next station, get a little more practice there, and perhaps have learnt
sufficiently before the season ended to make a fair start in the next.
The talk in the shed and hut ran much in boasting about what each had
been able to do in shearing before the diggings put their hands out of
practice. It was good to see their pride honestly interested in this
direction, but I fear there were many great lies told. After the shearing
had been fairly commenced, I was much attracted by the appearance of two
new-comers, who, during the rudely animated discussion in the hut, sat
quietly smoking their pipes, seldom joining in with more than a chance
comment, or a brief reply when asked to verify any assertion, more than
usually extraordinary. The undisguised and avowed rascality of many of
the others required but little study to understand, but those silent
ones—hard-featured, sullen, with eyes ever stealing searching glances at
the speakers—seemed undefinable. In the others, a kindly trait would now
and again flash out in their outspoken lawlessness, but in these there
seemed ever a dark spirit of evil brooding, all the more terrible because
unknown.

Of the tales of old-hand doings that they told, I may briefly mention
two. One was related as a piece of confidence from an absent comrade,
the circumstance happening on “the Sydney side.” He had been for a year
serving as shepherd at an out-station in the interior, and as such, was
held responsible for the full number of sheep committed to his care.
When the pay-day at the year’s end came, his employer deducted the value
of two or three sheep he could give no account of except that they must
have been killed and eaten by wild dogs. Muttering vengeance, he took
his leave and stole by night to a fold in a distant station, where the
sheep were under treatment for catarrh, killed one, cut its head off,
and, under cover of darkness, returned to his late master’s, and threw
it into the midst of the flock he had recently been tending. The sheep,
after their first alarm was over, gathered about it with down-stretched
necks to sniff and feel it with their noses. The disease was contagious,
and the savage design took full effect, but before the discovery was
made, the miscreant had taken himself out of reach. I could not detect
any particular impression the story made upon the hearers, except in the
case of one who appeared to have some old grudge festering in his heart,
and who jerked out that “it would serve them bloody right if a lot more
could have sheep’s heads thrown at them.” The other story, however, was
the occasion of much laughter, being given by one of the actors in it.
He was travelling with a comrade from Bendigo to Tarrangower. They were
beginning to be foot-sore, when they overtook a “new chum” with a cart
laden with stores for Bendigo. He had missed his way, and was going
in the wrong direction. O’Brien, for so the man who told the tale was
named, seeing his advantage at once on the youth making inquiries about
the road, informed him that he also was bound for Bendigo, and would
guide him there to the very spot he wanted, if he would give himself and
comrade a lift for a few miles inside the cart. The offer was readily
accepted. O’Brien had a bottle of strong brandy with him, and the young
man was plied with it so well that when three hams that formed part of
the lading were pitched out one by one down a bushy bank he neither saw
nor heard. The two got out when about a mile from Tarrangower, pointed to
some tents at a distance as his destination, then struck off through the
bush, and towards dark, with the hams wrapped in the blankets at their
backs, arrived among their comrades at the other end of the diggings from
that the cart would reach. The story was well and circumstantially told.
The youth’s simplicity, and the art used in ensnaring his attention when
the hams were being thrown out, were declared by the company to be “as
good as a play.” The transaction was looked upon not as a robbery, but
as a first-rate practical joke, marred only by the two jokers having to
absent themselves from the locality for a few weeks, on account of “the
noise” the victim had made about it to the police.



CHAPTER IV.

AVOCA.


Having earned a few pounds, I left Bullock creek, and returned to
Bendigo, but found my old comrades gone. Meeting however with an
acquaintance whose mate was about to leave for town, we agreed to go
together, and hearing Tarrangower well spoken of, we proceeded thither.
We met with varying success, that barely covered our expenditure. My
companion became anxious, his wife, left behind in Melbourne, being
in great measure dependent on what he might send from time to time.
One day, in speaking grudgingly of the cost of a quarter of mutton,
it suddenly occurs to him that selling mutton is more profitable than
buying it; he puts it to me, and I cannot see but that he is right, and
make no opposition to his proposal to try the selling business. The
arrangements necessary were of the simplest nature. We purchased a small
frame tent, a dead bargain, from a butcher leaving for other diggings.
Being already furnished with window board, table, block, and hooks, the
place required only a few yards of chintz to make it in our eyes quite
a trap for customers. A red and yellow pocket handkerchief nailed to
the top of a light pole, would enable folks to find their way to us.
We purchase half-a-dozen sheep from a passing dealer, and for want of
another place pen them in a corner of the shop, and nervously prepare
for our first job with them. He does the knife work while I hold the
feet; but never having examined the neck of a sheep unboiled, he misses
his way, and only ultimately gets the vital spark to take its leave. We
hang the body to the branch of the tree, and he proceeds to flay it, my
attention being wholly taken up with the leakage of the animal’s late
dinner from its neck. Much water is needed, and when we hang the carcase
up inside, we confess it has rather a washed appearance, and fear we may
have the eating of it to do ourselves. We were busy with the second when
a digger on his way home drew near and stopped to look. We thought we
were doing rather better than last time; not quite so much water needed.
Hopes of a customer made us wink at his presence till he asked leave to
try. The victim’s groans lay heavy on my conscience, and I humbly hinted
to my mate that there was murder enough upon our hands for one day, we
had better give him the doing of the third, but for my answer I got a
foot to hold straight out, and after the man’s departure, his services
having been civilly declined, I was brought to task for compromising the
business by my unbutcherlike compliance with his offer. I was not sure
but that my frequent application of the wet clout was a confession of
weakness to the stranger quite as much as my acknowledged willingness
to be instructed, but as logic failed somehow to acquit me, I ceased to
argue and hardened my heart for the third demonstration of our doubted
skill. Before we turned into bed, we had transacted business to the
extent of sixpence, for a paunch, which a lean dog that accompanied the
purchaser by the eager interest he exhibited informed us was for him.

Early rising profited us nothing. Dull sales all day begat in us a doubt
whether mutton was so much an article of food as formerly. To induce
trade we patronised a home-brewed beer business that was carried on close
by and got the woman to promise us her custom. My partner happened to be
absent on the first visit that she made. The legs and head and tail of
a sheep I knew, but whereabouts the piece she asked for lay I could not
think, but making an attempt at sharpening a knife, I smilingly asked
her to point out precisely where she would like the cuts made, and as
this shift to save myself had occurred like a new idea, I thought it
well to acquaint my partner with it, that the one idea might serve us
both. Custom continuing shy, and fly blows appearing on the increase,
we hold much private consultation, and reflecting on the weary sameness
of mutton, roast and boiled, we resolve to try the effect of mincing
it, and purchasing mint and spices, set to work within the hour—for we
find there is no time to be lost. A new-killed sheep supplies us with
skins, which we wash and dress to the best of our ability, and with a
tin bottle filler to assist us, we have soon some ten or twelve yards of
sausages, all nicely coiled in a large tin dish that has recently been
washing bottom stuff. Certain inequalities in the filling detract from
their appearance—corpulent bits, and spindly bits, with occasionally a
windy looking vacancy—but we think the people will not be too fastidious
about appearances, so far from town, and as they seem slow to come to us,
we think it well to go in search of them, taking the sausages along with
us. But here a difficulty arises, as to which of us should undertake the
mission. I talk him over, and prevail on him to go, he being the elder,
and the better able of the two to give an account of himself if asked.
In less than an hour he returns in great glee with empty dish, having
sold all the stock. Great hopes now arise; mincing with the knife too
slow a process, and filling with the bottle funnel sore upon the thumbs
after the first few yards have been rammed. Wish we had a machine. We sit
up till far in the morning preparing a supply for customers’ breakfast.
Wonder if we could not add pies to our stock in trade; think they would
sell well, with nice crimped edges, and a paste button or something
neatly clipped out of dough upon the top; think people would not grudge
sixpence for them. Put lots of seasoning into the sausage meat, lest
any change should happen to it while we slept. In the morning, after an
absence of less than an half an hour, he returned perspiring and excited,
without his cap, and with the dish full as when he left with it. He never
told the tale of what had happened to him, but having heard a great
clamour among the dogs in the direction he had come from, and seeing him
put his nose to the dish as if in the act of smelling, I for the present
forbore to question him, and made haste to cook a supply for our own use
before it would be too late. We gave up business and separated after
disposing of our effects for a mere trifle. He returned to Melbourne, and
I, lonely and with only a shilling in my pocket, set out again in search
of work upon some sheep station. Late in the afternoon of the third day I
got from a drayman the direction to a station, known as M’Gregor’s.

Feeling far from well, and looking forward rather anxiously to the
expected shelter, I reached the neighbourhood just as the sun was
setting. The buildings were in sight for some time before I reached them,
and I wondered at the broken condition of the fences, and the silence:
not a living thing was to be seen. Twilight was deeping into darkness in
the surrounding wood when I drew near, and found the place deserted and
in ruins, the doors and windows hanging loose, and rank weeds in masses
overgrowing what had been the public yard. My heart sank at the sight, I
shivered as if struck with sudden chill, and felt for the moment as if
the blankets across my shoulders were bearing me to the ground. Sitting
down on a heap of moss-grown stones, I tried to think, but there came to
me only thoughts of home, of changes there, of deaths, of the young ones
whom I had left crying on the door steps when I came away, and of all the
expressions of affection that had been sent after me in the few letters
that had reached my hand. For the first time for many a day I found
myself crying, for it seemed as if I had been sent here to die, and that
no word would ever reach home of the when and where. A white mist began
to gather along the marshy flat, making me very cold, yet my head was
burning hot. I rose and with weary effort, regained the road near where
some grass grown water troughs were, and, seeing some draymen encamped,
went forward and asked leave to sit down by them. Their tea billy was
simmering by the fire, and they were busy kneading damper for their
supper. I felt like one drunk and may have so appeared to them for they
answered me that there was room enough in the bush for those who wished.
I was not wanting in resignation, and moved away a few hundred yards, and
managed to get a fire kindled, but had not strength to gather wood to
keep it burning. Drawing a few withered branches together to save me from
contact with the ground, I lay down upon them with my blankets.

The morning dawned, but I could not rise, and could hardly turn my head
to look at the draymen as they yoked and slowly drove away. My lowly
bed was at too great a distance from the road to be seen by passers
by. Twice I heard the jolt of passing carts, but the sounds fell on a
listless ear, for there was no hope of any one caring to be burdened
with a sick man. As the sun got higher however, I began to take better
heart. Having eaten but little since leaving Tarrangower, three days
before, there was therefore but little grossness for the fever to work
on, and it was sensibly abating. I rose to my feet, giddy and tottering,
gathered my things together anyhow they would come, and after walking
doggedly for a while broke out into a sweat, which made me feel quite
clever on my legs, but more supple than strong. In about an hour I came
upon a man reclining wearily on the limb of a fallen tree, weary looking
and rather meditative. Hailing me to come to him, he handed me a bottle
of brandy from his pocket, saying as his eye wandered over me “have a
glass old fellow, you look as if you would be none the worse of it.”
Feeling rather in want of a tonic, I was not slow in accepting, but gaped
somewhat after the draught like a fish brought to the air, and for a
reason somewhat similar, want of water, but recovered sufficiently bye
and bye to recollect something about half a loaf which ought by rights
to be somewhere among my blankets—my stomach had resumed its work again.
My friend had that morning left the “Burn Bank” public house, where in a
week he had squandered fifty pounds, his earnings for the previous six
months at rail splitting. The bottle that he carried had been presented
to him by the landlady on leaving, and was all that he had left to show
for the money which he had sacrificed to a thirst for popularity amongst
the idlers about the place, who on getting wind of him, had crowded to
his levees, till on his resources failing, he had unfortunately gone a
borrowing among them. Though I had inadvertently lain on the loaf all
night, and it looked as if something of the kind had happened, he gladly
accepted half of it, and went his way.

At sundown I camped about four miles from the Avoca diggings, and in the
morning entered on them with the intention of passing through for the
bush on the other side, should no friendly face meet me on the way. I
had barely reached the inner circle of tents, when I observed a little
man apparently eyeing me with rather more than ordinary interest. My
breakfast had been anything but stimulating, and my gait in consequence
was perhaps a little pensive, but I quickly mended that on drawing near
him. His face somehow did not invite me to seek close acquaintance with
him, yet I was glad when he asked if I wanted work, and soon engaged
myself to serve him with stones and mortar in the building of an oven,
for fourteen shillings a day and my rations. Taking me to his tent, he
introduced me to his wife and child. The place looked clean and tidy,
and wore an air of comfort I had long been a stranger to. My employer
told me his name was Watty Scott, and that I would find him a good man
and true if dealt fairly with. After much talk about the perfidy of
former mates, he said that on the completion of the oven, he would take
me for a partner and go digging; that meantime he thought he had read me
sufficiently well to know me; I might consider the partnership already
entered into, and might look upon all he possessed as half my own, all
except—here he drew his wife tenderly to his side, and looked prayerfully
in my face. I knew not what to say to this, and was perplexed about what
might be coming next, so rapidly had events developed within two hours,
but as he sat between me and the door I could only ask how he could think
it of me, and look reproaches at him. Meanwhile the wife never spoke,
but disengaging herself from him, went outside. He laughed, and, laying
his hand upon my shoulder, said, “its all right, Jamie”—he had already
familiarised my name—“I was only trying you, come let’s take a walk.” He
does not care about beginning work that day, but next, meantime I can
take a look about me.

Evening comes, and Watty is not sober. I try to guess his age, but
fail to satisfy myself; he has no whiskers, seems never to have needed
shaving, and has a crop of jet black curly hair. He seems to be between
thirty and forty-five. His wife seldom speaks, seldom looks at either
of us, and appears very sad. Watty regrets that I have no tent with me,
but thinks an arrangement can be made for my accommodation. The night
being too chilly and damp for camping outside under a bush cover, I was
only too glad at the offer of a strip of bark upon the floor of their
tent to make my bed on. The wife made up a pillow for me, spread a spare
quilt upon the bare hollow of the bark, and then my own blankets over
all, in so quiet and kindly a manner, that I felt moved with respectful
gratitude, while somewhat ashamed of my intrusion on her privacy. On
making some remarks to that effect, Watty poohed and bade me never
mention it. I was to consider myself one of the family now. When bed
time came, he and I discreetly went outside to the fire. A drunk man’s
talk is none of the most edifying, and I had become weary of his during
the long evening, but had borne with it so patiently, and so followed
up his humours as at least to delay his very evident desire to quarrel
with his wife. To this fact I in part attributed her motherly interest in
the comfort of my bed. The little while we remained outside, he talked
more rationally, but as the topic was mainly of the weather, with which
the passions have but small concern, little positive conclusion could be
drawn from the circumstance regarding the man.

On re-entering, we found as we expected the wife and child in bed. They
lay upon a rude bench raised some eighteen inches from the ground, and
which occupied at least one-half of the tent floor, which measured only
about ten feet by eight; a narrow space of some twelve inches wide
separated my humbler couch from theirs. I could not get to sleep for
Watty’s talking to or rather at his wife, who maintained a singular
silence, save once or twice when she ventured on a brief meekly-spoken
answer; somehow this meekness did not suit him, but only excited him
the more, until about three o’clock in the morning, his delirious abuse
became outrageous. Sense and reason, judgment and humanity forsook him
in the paroxysm he had wrought himself into, and I could only hear the
ravings of a madman. I tremble for the wife and child—by the sounds he
seems to be gathering himself together, and while I am still holding
my breath in doubt about what he means to do, they are pushed bodily
out of bed and fall heavily on me. The case was beyond my help, so I
lay still; the cries of the child made it a hard task to do so. The
madman’s delirium seemed to calm considerably on getting the whole bed
to himself, and it might be towards four o’clock he muttered himself to
sleep; the wife then taking courage rose from the floor, and ventured in
again beside him. On awaking at break of day, I found him up and dressed;
hearing me move he bade me good morning more heartily than I could answer
him just then. A habit he had of raising his eyebrows, and which seemed
to say “look within who may, there is nothing to conceal,” lent a certain
air of candour to his face, that at first shook my faith in what had
passed being more than a troubled dream. He got the fire lit, and the
kettle boiled, and addressed his wife Eliza in accents so subdued, that I
was almost inclined to doubt the evidence against him.

We commenced the building of the oven. I was not a weak man, but he
proved so good a workman, that my back was never off the bend keeping
him supplied. In an hour or so however, greatly to my relief, he became
thirsty, crossed the road to a grog tent for a drink, and came back no
more till dinner time. After dinner he said that this being now a broken
day, he would wait till next day, and then begin work in earnest. I
fetched water and firewood from a distance for the wife and began to
talk with her, and keep the infant in amusement, and when Watty came
home in the evening, continued to keep him in at least peaceable humour.
His prodigious self-esteem made this comparatively easy so long as I
continued feeding it, but I found it at times disposed to froth up into
arrogance, and, at intervals, my ready consent to all he said and did,
seemed likely to take a wrong direction. Taking my hand in his, and
falling away into a whining mood, he said he had been an unfortunate and
ill-used man all his days, that he ought to have been, and would have
been an independent gentleman long before now, had he not been deceived,
and robbed, and kept down among the dust by—here his eye glanced over to
his wife, as she bent her head over some piece of sewing for the baby,
and I felt uneasy at the glare of malice that reddened in his face. At
haphazard I broke in upon him with as lively a sally as I could muster at
the sudden call; for a moment he hung in the balance, I prepared myself
for some extremity, but happily the fell grimness of his look relaxed,
his overweening pride was recovering its seat. I had touched him rightly,
and to my intense relief he broke out into a laugh, and for the present
contented himself with merely blowing out the candle she was working by.
I felt it dreary work, but for the woman’s sake I persevered, and so
passed our second night together. I thought the drink that he had taken
would surely overpower him when he went to bed, but the warmth seemed
only to make him worse, and the frightful words that poured from him
made it like a night in a cell of hell. He appeared to have lost all
recollection of my presence, so that what I suffered I feared was but a
little of what the poor wife would call her daily life with him. It had
been taking place before I came to them; it could not go on so for ever,
but the end I never knew.

The oven was not progressing, and on the fourth day I found him in the
company of two slouching fellows in a beer shop. He introduced me with
due form, for he liked to do things respectably, then taking me to one
side, begged the loan of half-a-crown, but I could only promise him the
loan of one when I received the wages due to me, and took the opportunity
of calling his attention to the condition of my boots, the soles of which
had quite loosened from the uppers, requiring some little management
when walking to keep my toes within. My appeal was ill-timed, and he
seemed for the moment ashamed of my dilapidated appearance, the eyes of
his friends being at the time directed towards us. Having respect for my
feelings, however, he said no more there, but led me out to the road, and
reminded me of our partnership agreement, and that talking about wages
was as good as mistrusting him. The oven he said would be soon finished,
and then boots and whatever else was needed I would receive to my heart’s
content.

Late in the afternoon I returned to the tent, and found the wife sitting
pale and trembling, her eyes fixed with evidently unobservant gaze,
and her lips twitching nervously apart. As I stood for a moment in the
doorway, looking in at her, there fled once and for ever from my mind
all doubt of the reality of broken hearts. For such distress I had no
consolation adequate, but mute though I was at first and disconcerted, it
seemed as if my coming had broken the rigour of her grief. I was sad with
very pity for her, and my manner may have revealed that much as I quietly
seated myself inside the door. I made an attempt to speak about something
I had seen on my way back, but was stopped short by an indescribable
working of her features, and while I was yet looking—my half-told story
fast dropping out of mind—the tears started to her eyes, and for a few
minutes I heard nothing but sobs, the like of which I had never before
known. When her grief had somewhat spent itself, she told me I had better
leave, or I would be getting into trouble, as Watty was after no good
with the men I had seen him with, one of them she knew to be a common
thief. After a fresh outburst of crying over her poor infant, she told me
further with many an outbreak of shame and sorrow between, that he had
brought this man to the tent for her specially to entertain, and had
menaced her with his eye, because she would not, and that she looked for
nothing short of death on his return. Her arms encircled her young child,
and her eyes were at times bent sadly on its small upturned face as it
lay innocently asleep upon her breast.

The day was already near its close, there was barely time to seek out
and prepare some sleeping place in the bush, even did I start at once,
and the weather was too wintry for an unsheltered bed upon the ground.
I had not yet determined what to do, when there came to the door one of
five rough looking men who had erected a couple of blankets for a tent
early in the day a few hundred yards from Watty’s. Being acquaintances of
Watty’s this was a friendly visit. After a little talk, making known to
him my intention of leaving, he kindly invited me to pass the night with
him and his mate. I gladly accepted, and left with him shortly after.
On getting among my new acquaintances, I found that one of them called
Bill, had only the day before returned, the victor in a prize fight at
Tarrangower. He was a short but strong and heavy-bodied man, with a dark
stolid-looking eye, and very deaf. He no sooner learnt that the little
mason was ill-using his wife than he swore he would have her from him
in the morning. He appeared to have no thought of her objecting to the
change; his faith had very likely grown to this assurance by considerable
practice in similar disinterested knight-errantry among the distressed
wives of the society he moved in. By their conversation I learnt that
they were all old convicts, that Watty was one also, and that they were
mostly natives of the town of Paisley. One of them had only half served
his sentence of seven years in Van Diemen’s Land, and had stolen away in
a passenger ship bound for Melbourne. On this account he was living as
quietly as circumstances would permit. There seemed no lack of money,
for liquor was in plenty, and they appeared fond of it. I was luckily
in time to hear how Bill had fought and won his battle, in which he had
received but little damage. His opponent, a “new chum” fresh from England
and conceited with excess of science, had looked on him as an unlearned
bumpkin upon whom his subtleties of art would be almost wasted. In part
this estimate was right, Bill was brute enough not to see the beauty
of the other’s fence, and being of the old barbaric school had at once
rushed to blows and buttocking; feints and manœuvres he snuffed at, and
going in straight at his man was ever quickly bringing him to grief. His
knuckles were his pride, he had before now driven nails up to the head
in pine boards with them, and cushioning one blow upon the new chum’s
stomach quickly brought to light what he had been eating last and all but
broke his back, a feat that he gleefully styled “doubling him up.”

It was my general habit to be civil and conciliatory in strange company
and I felt no inclination to be otherwise now—whichever way my “fur” was
rubbed, I made that the right way, and so succeeded that when bed time
came there were two who claimed me to lie next them. Our sleeping place
was the floor on a litter of brushwood; each rolled his blanket round
about him, but the space was so limited, that one had scarce room to turn
without jostling his neighbours. On the one hand I had to fend my face
from the long greasy uncombed hair of the Vandiemonian, and on the other
from the sour beery breath of Bill’s brother.

Breakfast was scarcely over, when Watty came tumbling in amongst us with
an air of muddled defiance, and yet with an evident desire to put himself
on the best of terms with us. Slapping as many shoulders as he could well
get at, and ruffling one head of hair, by way of provoking the owner to
say something pleasant, and failing in his object, the situation was
becoming awkward for us all, when the dish of beef and bread from which
we had been eating caught his eye. With a “hie Joe reach that dish here,
the very thing I wanted,” he took it on his knee, and without uncovering
commenced with his knife upon the victuals. Regardless of the coolness
apparent in his hosts, he called on one of them for mustard, saying “that
beef was nothing without a relish,” then nudged another with his elbow
to see if there was any tea left in the billy. Wiping his lips when he
had at length taken his fill—and that was not a little—he replenished his
pipe with borrowed tobacco, and set himself to talk. He had a perfect
command of words, and a pointed manner of expressing himself that readily
attracted attention in his more earnest moods, so that the discussion
he now entered on soon found interested listeners. He began by drawing
a picture of their defenceless condition were misfortune or sickness to
come upon them. Pointing to the disordered brushwood of the beds, and the
damp dirty looking piles of blankets huddled together at the far end, he
painted them lying there through days and nights of sickness, dependent
on chance friendships for all those little attentions that a sick man
needs, and when he had apparently sobered them to think how it might be
thus, he shifted ground, and asked them to look at the men of Manchester
and Liverpool, placed in like circumstances with them, but banded
together in a common cause against bad times—relieving their needy, and
from their mutual sympathy and support, never knowing want, while they of
Paisley went their ways in solitary pairs or single tentfuls, stretching
no helping hand to save a brother in distress, but with close-fisted
narrow meanness, with a single eye to self, leaving fellow townsmen,
old schoolmates even, to fight with their troubles as they best could,
and drift away on their necessities if they could do no better. His
heart, he said, was pained at the estrangements and cold-shoulderings of
those whom a long life of misfortune such as theirs should rather have
drawn together in the fellow-feeling of fellow-sufferers—it led him at
times, through very shame, to disown being a native of the town that
had raised men possessed of so little generosity. The times in short
were so grievously hard upon the working man, that with the counsel of a
friend he advised the establishing of a fund, from which relief might be
given as need required, and contributions from the more successful among
the brethren might for this purpose be deposited in the hands of some
well known party. As his subject grew upon him, his manner became more
earnest, till at the close he bore the look of one ready to sacrifice
himself to any extent in the good enterprise; his pipe had gone out in
his enthusiasm, his eyes sought to gather the feeling of the company, but
a more stolid lot of faces I never before saw grouped together. Vexed by
their apathetic treatment of the scheme, he stretched out his hand to
them saying “Well now men how is it to be, for the honour of our town how
is it to be,” on which the Vandiemonian broke the spell by crying “to
blazes with the town, much reason have we to mind its honour.” The others
fell back in a roar of laughter. Watty in a fury dashed his pipe into
fragments in the beef dish, and cursing their stupidity hurried from the
tent in the direction of his own, the cries that shortly afterwards arose
from which made known to us that his gentle partner was expiating our
indifference, on which Bill, recollecting his vow of the previous night,
to see to her relief, abruptly rose and catching Watty as he was coming
out of his own door with the air of a conqueror, thrashed him well, but
only with his open hand, for “he never made his hand a fist,” he said,
“but when he had to do with men.” The wife cried bitterly when she saw
it. It was not likely to help her any, and I could not help thinking
that the sight of his suffering under the chastisement reanimated her
old abused affection for him into throbs of tender but timid compassion.
The weather was stormy and wet, which made me glad to accept my friends’
hospitality for at least twenty-four hours longer. I repaid their
kindness by becoming hewer of wood and drawer of water to them.

Towards sundown the Vandiemonian and another who was a barber to trade
quarrelled about some trifle. They were both the worse of liquor, but the
barber having apparently a little more mind than the other for the liquor
to work upon, was the more demonstrative of the two. The others soon
interfered to see justice done, but so managed that the disputants saw no
other way to get their rights than fighting for them. They set themselves
and footed the ground unsteadily for awhile watching for what was called
an opening, but the Vandiemonian being evidently deficient in strategy,
went straight to business at once, by lowering his head and rushing with
it full tilt upon the barber’s stomach, lifting him off his feet, and,
as it so happened, sending him sprawling with his back across the great
log fire that was blazing opposite the door. He was quickly laid hold of
and lifted off, loudly protesting against that manner of fighting, but
one of his hands being apparently necessary now for the rubbing of his
back parts, he was content with argument for the rest of the battle, and
became quite companionable again, on the Vandiemonian informing him that
on account of a rupture he could fight no other way.

About two hours after sundown we were all inside, playing at cards by the
light of a slim candle, when Watty appeared at the door in company with
a tall, robust, rough-bearded and unwashed man, rather past the prime of
life, whom he introduced in rather a stiff manner as his friend “Scottie
Stratton.” They seemed both the worse of liquor, but as regards that,
the others were fairly on equal terms with them. My impression was that
the mental habits of the company tended little to reflection, and that
the things of the passing moment were generally sufficient for their
attention, but I detected an air of wariness in Bill, attributing it to
his small transaction with Watty in the morning, and to his deafness,
which called for the more active use of his eyes. However that may be,
room was made for the new comers, and the cards were reshuffled that
a new game might be begun to include them. All went well enough for a
while, and the bottle passed freely from hand to hand, the absence of a
glass obliging them to measure their takings in their mouths. At length a
hitch occurred, Watty declared that Stratton was being imposed upon, on
which Stratton knocked the candle out, and in the darkness all struggled
to their feet. I was farthest from the door, and for a moment thought
from the shaking of the tent pole that a fight had commenced upon the
spot, and was glad on hearing Bill in the midst of the stumbling and
confusion say with steady voice “O, if that’s your little game I’m ready
for you, come, get outside.” A couple of candles were got and lighted.
The two men, Bill and Stratton stripped, Bill shorter by a head than the
other. The candles glared in the damp breeze, as they were held high
above the level of our eyes. The places were taken, the word “all ready”
was given, and I heard a rush and the dull sound of blows upon a face,
then a lumbering fall upon the ground. Again and again was this repeated,
till I began to wonder how much beating it took to kill a man. Stratton’s
height and length of arm were of no avail against the determined energy
of his opponent. I saw the bustling and the rushing leaps; I heard the
deep muttered curses of the losing man, and the shouts and imprecations
of the others, and felt as if accessory to a mad revel of damned spirits.
Could I have got my blankets out unseen, the dark bush that night would
have been my bed. When becoming faint with compassion for the man whose
flesh was being so bruised, I heard another fall, followed by a third,
and an “ugh” exclamation, that plainly told me the uppermost man had
fallen with his knees upon the body of the other, but before I had time
to think, there came a succession of mashing sounds that needed no
interpretation. Stratton was being beaten on the ground, Bill’s blood was
up, and had not his fellows rushed in and taken him off, there would have
been murder done. Bill was forced into the tent, Watty with difficulty
getting his man raised to his feet, staggered off with him, and I saw him
no more.

When, after a time, I ventured in among them, the bottle had resumed its
work. Bill was singing ballads, and the others were so elated with his
fighting merits, that daylight was close at hand before they went to
bed—possibly they would not have lain down at all had the liquor lasted.
In the morning, after breakfast, I bade them good-bye, and wandered
forth, not caring whither. I had now tasted of both frying-pan and
fire, and felt truly thankful on finding myself once more breathing the
air of solitude among the ranges. The low-toned sighing of the breeze
among the branches overhead had a peculiar tranquillizing effect upon
my mind, and set me adreaming of things old and new, of home and gold,
of my ill-clad feet, and the number of days I could do without food, in
the event of falling in with none. I was in the gold country, on the
lower ranges of the Pyrenees, from the heights of which it was thought
by many the gold found on the flats had been washed down. I had often
heard the unlucky joke with one another about the pots of precious stuff
yet to be discovered up there on the mountains, their jest savouring
of just so much sincerity that I thought want of means alone prevented
them from venturing up to seek for those real pots of the molten stuff,
of which that found in the valleys was but the boilings over, the mere
tricklings from the lips. But what about the quarrying of such blocks?
I had no tools; and what about the carrying when thus quarried? While
yet discussing these matters, I had almost without knowing it begun the
ascent. The extreme summits appeared so near that I thought to reach
them in time to return to the plain, if necessary, before sundown. I was
charmed with the scenery. The romantic glens and shady recesses among
wood and rock, with floor of bright green grass, made me at times linger
on the way with what would have been a feeling of true enjoyment had I
been less eager about what might be found further on. Now and again I got
sight of the plain spread out below, with tents peeping out among the
trees in the neighbourhood of the diggings, and with light blue smoke
curling up in many places from fires that, judging by the position of
the sun, would soon be engaged with pots and frying pans for dinner. My
heart softened at the sight. I felt myself in for a little hardship,
but tightening my belt, I resumed my toil, and arguing with as much
philosophy as the circumstances allowed, saw no reason to suppose that
hunger was different on the hills from what it was on the flats. Upward
and onward I sped, not neglectful the while to eye the ground in hopes
of seeing something to my advantage. Much rain had fallen previously,
and the surface stones and broken quartz were clean and bright, as would
also be the case with the projecting knobs of the surface nuggets when
I came upon them. After some hours’ fatigue, the upper summits appeared
but little nearer than at first. I had still hope enough and to spare,
however, until brought to a pause on the spur of a high ridge by finding
myself separated from them by a deep valley about a mile in width; and
I abandoned the attempt on observing that between that valley and the
summits lay many another hollow, whose extent I could guess at only
from the hazy atmosphere that filled them. I felt as a very atom in the
scene. When the sun went down, I made a fire and prepared to pass the
night, impressed with a notion that it would be well for me to retrace
my steps at daybreak. When I rose with the first light of the dawn, I
felt like one who has been in a night-mare, and is unable at first to
assure himself it has been all a dream. Recollection coming, I got up
and started to regain the beaten road, and falling in with an “old hand”
also in search of work, gladly put myself under his guidance. He appeared
like one just recovering from a fit of drunkenness, out of patience with
himself and everything else. He was very clean, however, and his chin
looked as if newly shaved with a dull razor, his nose as if he had been
blowing it overmuch, though I could see no handkerchief that he used and
his eyes as if he had been recklessly smoking a pipe too short to carry
the smoke clear of them. Hunger and fatigue were beginning to distress
me, and I felt quite of his humour to talk none but to make the best
use of our legs in the hope of reaching the next station before dark. I
was the more content to remain silent from observing the irritation the
slightest hindrances raised in his mind, on which my air of composure
had by no means a soothing effect. I was glad when we reached “The
Amphitheatre” sheep station, so called on account of its situation
among surrounding hills. A hutkeeper and cook being wanted for a new
slaughter-yard at the Avoca diggings, which lay about twelve miles off,
I was engaged, and, passing the night in the men’s hut, started in the
morning to make my appearance on old ground in a new character.



CHAPTER V.

COOK AND HUTKEEPER.


I never had given much of my attention to the art of cooking, and was
rather alarmed on finding I would have some seven or eight experienced
bushmen to deal with. The first day’s bread we had brought with us in
the cart, the frying-pan and kettle were to do the rest. The men seemed
satisfied with plain things, and the superintendent appearing favourably
disposed towards me, I felt less anxious than I had expected on
commencing breadmaking on the second morning. I had never baked anything
bigger than a three or four pound loaf before, but the process being all
the same, I ventured on a stone of flour for this my first professional
attempt, and not seeing well how to lay so great a cake of dough in the
usual manner among the ashes, a happy idea came to me of cooking it in a
large circular camp oven. I got it in very nicely, set the vessel on a
bed of red-hot cinders, and heaped plenty of the same upon the lid. In
about half-an-hour, I looked within to see how the work was going on, and
was glad to see the top hoven up, and as brown as well-baked pie crust,
quite tempting to look at. I gave it a few minutes more, to make sure
that the heart was reached, and when all was done turned out upon the
grass as pretty a loaf as I had ever seen, with a top like a flat dome,
and sides as crisp-like as butter biscuit. Setting it upon a stump to
cool, I again placed the oven on the fire to bake a leg of mutton, being
careful to lay some small lumps of suet on the bottom to prevent burning.
Burn it did however; turning it appeared but to present a new face to be
charred. I put more suet in, and still no gravy. Dinner time drew near,
and I became excited at the thought of the seven hungry men. I sighed,
but got no relief thereby, in the certain prospect of being sent about
my business for incompetency. The dinner party stopped their work upon
the stock-yard fencing and approached. The wind was from me to them,
and I noticed one or two looking curiously forward directly after I had
lifted the oven lid to get the meat out, and feared the smell was telling
tales on me. My hope now rested solely on the loaf. With a subdued air,
silent and foreboding, I handed it to one to cut, while I served the tea
out. I heard a sound as of some one at the dish that held the dry roast,
and a query put, “What’s this a piece of,” and then a great guffaw of a
laugh with “Well done Scottie, will we have to skin you or it I wonder.”
I turned my head to look and knew not how to shape my excuse, but there
was so little sign of anger in the speaker’s face that I was encouraged
to tell how the thing had happened with me, and to promise better work
next time. A few of the older men grumbled a good deal, and asked what I
was good for to do no better than that, but Tom, the young man who had
first spoken, rubbed the edge off their comments, and going with me to
inspect the oven, found a small crack in the bottom had let the fat out.
But hardly had the discovery been made, when a faint crash was heard; the
cutter of the loaf had sent his knee through its arched top in setting it
bottom up upon his lap. On clearing away the broken shell there appeared
a substance “that might be either cheese or grindstone,” the man said,
“which ever you please, it’s heavy enough for the one, and blue enough
for the other.” Tom laughed as I never saw man laugh before, and said I
would be the death of him, if he looked much longer at me. Though very
grateful to him for standing between me and harm, I could not see the
occasion of his mirth, and for once felt it was not contagious. There
being nothing else to eat than the two things I have named, the men did
the best they could with them, but Tom, as he was leaving to return to
work, told me he was afraid after the “tuck out” that I had given him
he would hardly be ready for the next meal, and asked if I had such a
thing as a pill or two about me. Before they came back at sundown, I had
baked a large flat loaf about the size of an arm-chair cushion, among
the hot ashes of the large wood fire—very eatable—but the dough having
been rather soft when I slid it from the sheet of bark that served for
kneading-board, it had doubled up in places, and had absorbed too many
cinders in its bottom crust. I had besides made ready a pile of pancakes,
fried in fat, with which Tom fell so much in love that I spared not the
frying-pan in maintaining the supply at all the three meals of the day.
About the end of a week however, on perceiving he was not eating so
freely of them as at first, and was evidently transferring his affections
to the loaf, and on finding that they were not altogether agreeing with
myself, I made no more.

When I had been about a fortnight thus engaged, the cartman left
suddenly, and I was told that I would have to take his place for a day
or so. When the information was brought to me, I was busy making ready a
dinner that I assured myself would atone for all past deficiencies. All
my ingenuity had been expended upon a potful of beef and mutton stew,
which was slowly simmering at the fire; the fluid portion had assumed
the consistency of jelly, and I flattered myself that great though the
quantity was, there would be but little of it left for supper. The cart
was got ready with a load for the diggings, and I was hailed to come
and take charge of it. A strong breeze was making free with the lighter
ashes of the fire, and the pot had no lid. I was hurried, and a little
anxious about how a horse was managed, so that my mind was not altogether
with my work. The hail was repeated, this time by the superintendent; the
frying pan stood on end against a stump; seizing it I made a lid of it
and ran. Shortly after returning, I looked to see how my last production
had been relished. The pot stood away from the fire, full as when I left
it, cold; and the meat hidden beneath a thick brittle layer of what
unmistakably was mutton dripping. The phenomenon was unaccountable until,
to my confusion, I recollected the make-shift lid. I had been using it
at breakfast time, and in my haste had forgotten to clean it out. There
was very little said to me about it, but on the following morning, on
returning from a second journey to the diggings, I found an old man, a
stranger, had superseded me. I tried to think that the change from cook
to cartman was promotion; but for a time every fresh meal the old man set
before us, humbled me into sincere thankfulness for having been spared
from going on the tramp again.

A few days after the change took place, a drove of fat cattle, about
twenty in number, and the first of our killing stock, arrived under
charge of two horsemen from some distant station. Calved and reared at
large in the open bush, they were just wild enough to fly either from or
at a man on foot, but at the same time so innocently stupid, that a man
on horseback might ride in and out amongst them if he but kept quiet,
their distinction between friend and foe being apparently ruled by the
number of his legs. The animals were too tired to make the first yarding
of them difficult. On the following morning, however, when assisting
to enclose a few of them in the slaughtering pen, I was made to fear
that here might lie the end of my strange pilgrimage. The main yard was
about thirty yards square; the twenty bullocks gathered close together
about the centre, snorting and pawing the ground as we mounted the high
rails and dropped inside. Refreshed by their night’s rest, and nimble
with hunger, they rushed about seeking some way of escape, now and again
crowding into the railed passage leading to the slaughtering floor, which
served as an intermediate yard, with slip rails for barring it from the
main enclosure, when we had got the animals we wanted in. A rush was made
to these slip rails as often as this happened, but as often, for close
upon two hours were they hurled from our hands in the act of placing
them. The courage and temper of the superintendent were much tried; once
I saw him fight his way singly from behind through the angry herd, to
help the men who were trying, but again in vain, to close the passage.
As the now infuriated beasts ran at us with lowered heads, I was too
busy making my own escape to see how his was made, but I heard some
cracks given on a dull sounding body, and seeing him from my perch on
the top rail a few minutes after still on the ground, with a light stake
in his hand, I felt encouraged next time not to run so readily, and by a
little careful observation was bye and bye enabled to distinguish signs
of mischief in the animals from those merely of alarm. By what rule I
judged I could not say, but believe the process was much the same as when
interpreting the expression of a human face. Once, however, I presumed a
little too much on my discernment, and had only time to get upon the top
rail with one leg over, when the animal sprang up, and it and rail and I
were thrown sprawling on the ground outside. As it did not on the instant
run away, I did, as well as a stunned leg would let me.

The weight of the bodies when killed and dressed ranged from eight to
eleven hundred weight, and it fell to me as cartman to carry the quarters
as they were cut, from the sling bar to the cart, no light task to
one who had yet to learn the art of balancing a yielding mass upon my
shoulders, and who trusted only in the stiffness of his back. I only
dropped one quarter the whole time I was employed in carrying, about six
months, but that one was the first I attempted, and unfortunately it fell
in the mud. On the second morning after breakfast, the superintendent
desired me to make ready to ride the cattle out for a few hours’ feeding.
It was not for me to say No, but I told him I had not practised any
other riding than in a cart, and that I was doubtful he would lose his
stock. He poohed at my scruples, saddled a small brown horse that had
a character for sobriety and slowness, and mounting it himself, rode
after the uncaged animals in their first rush to the water. When they
had quenched their thirst, he headed them round to where I stood waiting
under cover of a bush, but before I could take his place, they had gone
off at a run, and there was nothing for it but to beat them in the race.
Never, I thought, had horse flown as mine now did, over holes and stumps
with flying leaps, his head erect, and his ears laid back, as if he knew
his work, and expected I knew mine. After galloping thus about a mile, we
got in front, but could not stop the herd; half a mile more, but still
they ran. I was beginning to be alarmed, for they minded me no more than
they would one of themselves. At the end of the third mile, however,
their pace began to slacken, and shortly after, on reaching a fine grassy
bottom, they commenced to feed. It had taken us but a short time to come
this distance, but I doubted the like expedition in the return, and
consequently got into the saddle again shortly after mid-day to begin
it. I had a stock whip with me, the lash of which was about fifteen feet
in length, attached to a handle shorter and smaller than a policeman’s
baton. I had felt quite unable to use it in the morning’s run, but now
made bold to try. Throwing the lash out from me, and describing a large
oval in the air with the handle end, finishing with a jerk as I had seen
the drovers do, I thought to make some of the brown hides smart, but a
swing of the tail round to the part touched, was for a while the only
answer the phlegmatic brutes would give me, and having to stop the horse
at every such attempt, thereby losing much more than was gained, I broke
a branch from a tree and rode at them with it determined to bring the
matter to an issue one way or another, but on raising it to strike, the
horse mistook my intention and shied, nearly throwing me to the ground. I
durst not repeat the experiment, but as something had to be done, resumed
the whip, and now swinging it round my head, produced after many trials
a soft twiney crack, that made my heart leap for very joy, seeing it
made the creatures prick their ears, and snuff the wind. The horse stood
quiet while I practised, meekly winking his eyes, and appearing to take
no offence even when, as often happened, I got the lash entangled about
his legs. At last I made a crack that rang like a gun-shot through the
woods, and then another. The herd came walking as to a centre; I pricked
the horse forward, shouted, and while they were yet on the move, got them
headed for home, and giving them no rest, we reached a ridge about half
a mile from the yard, with the sun yet a good hour high. But here the
superintendent met me mounted on a tall grey horse without saddle. He was
out in search of another of the horses that had gone amissing. Seeing me
so near home, and all going well, he set me on the bare back of the old
horse he had come on, and rode away upon the other. My new seat had a
projecting back bone running down the middle, I made the best use I could
of my knees to bear my weight, and might thus have saved myself from
damage, but just as the yard came into view two diggers on foot appeared.
Foreboding mischief I shouted and waved to them to keep away, but they
did not understand or would not. The herd caught sight of them, and ran
off at a swinging trot across the creek and away up into hilly ground. My
knees could no longer support my weight, which at every leap the horse
took, came down with cruel effect upon the ridge board I sat astride of.
The men jeered and laughed, whistled, and called “Joe, Joe,” after me
until I was lost to hearing. Darkness was fast approaching, and I was
beginning to despair about my work, when the superintendent came riding
up, and with a few cracks of the whip, quickly made the animals close
their ranks, the rearmost crowding to reach the front, and all at the top
of their speed to get out of reach of his anger. I had a tale to tell on
reaching the hut, but did not tell it, though Tom next day let me know
in confidence that a plaister of pipe clay was the finest substitute he
knew for lost skin.

Next morning at daybreak I was sent with a saddle on my shoulders to
bring home the missing horse from the stock yard of an out station about
four miles higher up the creek, and in due time was mounted and making
my way slowly back along the road. Becoming a little more confident in
my seat when about half way home, I applied my single spur with the
lightest of touches, and received in return a whisk of the tail across
my back. The reply made me hold some little consultation with myself.
The animal had turned his head slightly round as if to see what the
matter was; his ears seemed fidgetty, and I wondered what that signified,
but the pace becoming slower and slower until it came to a dead stop,
there was no alternative but to use my armed heel as before. The hinder
parts rose on the instant and I was nearly thrown. I was glad to make
peace on any terms, and “woed” him quiet. We could not remain standing
still however; I geehupped and chirked with my mouth in the style of my
predecessor the cartman, but all in vain, until by slapping him with the
end of the bridle on the neck, I got him urged forward to where a tree
dropped its branches within my reach. I was becoming angry, and might
have to ride him often yet before leaving the neighbourhood. Having
heard it said, that according as the will of the man or of the horse
ruled at the first acquaintance, so was it likely to be afterwards, a
now-or-never impulse overrode my fear, and armed me for the battle. He
stood peaceably looking back at me as I wrenched a branch off. Giving him
one hearty whack with it behind, he winced and shook my feet out of the
stirrups, and went off at a hard gallop which was never slackened till I
drew him up at the hut door. My face felt rather flushed, and the horse
was blowing. The superintendent came out and asked if I had not more
sense than to ride a grass-fed horse at that rate. Feeling that sense
had very little to do with the matter, I would have justified myself had
not Tom at the moment clapped me on the back, and said with a singular
grin upon his honest face that I had a very devil in me, if I but knew
it. The character suggested in the remark being likely to be more
serviceable under existing circumstances than the other that would have
been assumed in telling the plain story, I held my peace, but shortly
afterwards ascertained from Tom that a horse that has been accustomed
only to a riding switch, is apt to misunderstand the meaning of a spur.
The adventure seemed to have rid me of my fear. Duty became a pleasure
to me when I could perform it in the saddle. The ranges were no longer
hills of difficulty when other legs than my own were bearing the fatigue.
The risk of losing the direction in which the hut lay ceased to be a
matter of anxiety, when I had the unfailing instinct of my dumb companion
to rely on, though once that instinct played me false, by bearing me
to the home station at the Amphitheatre, when I meant returning to the
slaughter-yard. Night came on shortly after I had slacked the rein to
him, and in the darkness I failed to recognise the road that we had
struck on until too late. Much hard work previously at the slaughter-yard
had, no doubt, much to do with this visit on which he took me to the
place where he had been foaled and reared.

Our old cook left, and in his room there came a young man newly arrived
from Scotland, whose christian name was David. It took but little time
for us to discover in each other kindred sympathies and habits. It was
like finding a green place in the desert. Had we been Frenchmen, we
might have kissed, and sworn life-long brotherhood, but being creatures
of less impulse we merely “hung our harps upon the willows” and mourned
over departed joys, and the small prospect at present of meeting new
ones. He had been at college, with a view to becoming a minister, but
something which he could not well explain had unsettled him, and sent
him—here. He talked of books, and was yet so full of the school, that
he was often on the floor reciting passages from the classic authors;
Greek and Latin seemed to be the languages that best suited him, when
the pots and pans did not require his attention. Very companionable,
and with an expression of face, that looked somewhat like a sly laugh
taking a rest, he had unfortunately become possessed of the idea, that
there was no securing personal independence but by keeping strict guard
upon the personal dignities. He quickly made himself acquainted with the
duties proper of a cook and hutkeeper, but beyond these he would not go
when the superintendent himself was not concerned. This was soon made
plain to his fellow-servants, who thereupon took in hand to correct the
evident errors of his education. David was in their mouths at every turn
of their leisure in and about the hut. Not a draught of water or light
to a pipe was wanted but he was called upon, and as for face washing,
there was more of it in a week now than I had seen in a whole month
before, for David was the water carrier, and they could not think to see
him idle. When there was a sheep to kill no hand but mine interfered
to help, for who but David had any business with it. He at length lost
heart; I tried to counsel him, but he could not bend, nor could he leave,
for he had engaged himself to serve twelve months upon the station. The
superintendent at last got him removed to a bush hut, to cook and shift
the hurdles for two shepherds. In this isolated and lonely situation,
without books, and with, in all likelihood, the rudest of society in
the men he shared the hut with, the yet fresh memories he had related to
me of his early homes and haunts and his hopeful studies, would begin to
burn within him, run in his dreams by night, and waste the vigour of his
mind in vain imaginations by day, until the dull routine of his duties
saddened him down to passive acquiescence. A few weeks after he left us,
I received intelligence from Melbourne that called for my presence there,
and never saw him again.

I had not heard from home for about twelve months, and it was by mere
chance that a note to me addressed “Post Office, Avoca,” came to hand.
It spoke of letters and of the arrival of an old friend from Glasgow.
I left the slaughter yard on the second morning after receiving the
information, and, carrying only a pair of blankets, and a hook pot, with
a little bread and tea, started for Ballarat, there to take the coach for
Geelong, thence to Melbourne by the steamer, being much too impatient to
think of walking all the way, though my pay of thirty shillings a week
with rations, could ill afford the expense. My mind running so much on
home during my journey down, I looked with somewhat modified impressions
on the scenes traversed; they had no longer novelty to recommend them,
and I found myself contrasting them with those of the old country. I
thought of the old hawthorn hedges there, of the quiet little villages,
where, to the passer by, peace and contentment seemed to find a home,
and where perhaps, when the children were at school, few were to be
seen—an ivy-covered spire, rearing its modest head above the thatched
roofs near, with a little graveyard, hallowed to the villagers as the
resting place of their dead—every nook and corner associated with some
story of the past, almost every house intimately connected with the
memories of preceding generations—green lanes and shady walks, where the
aged in their feeble rambles find the young following in their early
footprints with just such blushing tales of confidence and love, and just
such simple-hearted hopefulness, as they can remember of themselves:
whereas here, everything in which man has a hand seems new, and hardly
finished, the smell of paint and fresh split timber predominant through
all, with occasionally a scent upon the air of green-wood fires. Little
for the old world superstition yet to fix upon outside of the mind;
the few hillocks that have begun to dot a corner of the township must
be multiplied—familiar voices must first be missed, and memory dwell
upon the bygone years in which they were accustomed to be heard—the
living must feel themselves walking near the dead—before those old home
impressions about things unseen, that make men grave and uneasy, they
know not exactly how, can renew their troubling influence in dreams
and times of loneliness. Without local tradition to establish mental
sympathy with the place, and with people of strange dialects and tongues
gathering around, the heart may miss much of its accustomed comfort, but
there is work to be done, and good reward for it, and while that is being
realised, old habits modify, friendships and local interests arise, so
that gradually the place becomes to all intents a lasting home.



CHAPTER VI.

MELBOURNE.


Melbourne consists of two portions, older and newer. The former, which
grew much slower than the latter, lies between two low, irregular,
broad-browed ridges. These are of no great length, and flatten out their
south ends on the Yarra-Yarra river which here flows westward in front of
them. Elizabeth Street, the main thoroughfare of Melbourne, runs along
the bottom of the valley between these ridges, and in line with it is
now the highway to the Diggings in the north. The streets, unlike those
of the cities in the hot countries of the East, are wide and straight,
and run at right angles. This, while affording scope for traffic, is
attended with a sacrifice of comfort, as the rays of the sun, reflected
from the white plastered walls, and smiting direct upon the surface of
the roads, make the feet sweat and burn, while eyes unused to it and
perhaps fresh from the green shade of the forest, are oppressed by the
constant glare, and in vain seek relief in umbrellas and broad-brimmed
hats. The town lies two miles from the shipping direct, or four by the
river. The latter has its source in a diminutive spring in the Snowy
mountains, about a hundred miles to the eastward of Melbourne. The banks
are in general abrupt, and in many places high, and well wooded, with
here and there flats and gentle slopes of limited extent occurring. The
scenery is picturesque, the foliage diversified. Every short distance
presents new combinations of beauty in tree-clad height and hollow, with
birds of bright plumage, and schools of chattering parrots on the wing.
At Heidelberg, about seven miles above Melbourne, and at intervals along
the river side between, small farmers, market-gardeners, and vine-growers
have taken possession of the slopes and alluvial bottoms, and brought
them under cultivation. In times of drought, when hot winds and clouds
of dust come sweeping from the plains, these settlers may congratulate
themselves on their situation. They are exposed, however, to danger of
another kind, for the river, slow of descent, winding much, and confined
in basin, occasionally fails to carry off the waters poured down during
the heavy rains. The bottom lands and lower slopes are then laid fathoms
deep under a turbid flood. On reaching Melbourne, an elbow in the course
at Richmond, and abrupt projecting banks, a little lower down, in the
neighbourhood of the Botanic Gardens on the one side, with trees ranked
close along the margin of the other, retard and heap back the waters upon
the lower portions of the townships of Richmond and Low Collingwood.
Should this occur by night, and the condition of the weather at the time
allow it to be heard, the rippling of the current against the angles
of the houses which stand nearest to the swelling tide-way, may give
early warning to sleepers not too dull to unusual sound, but in places
more remote the water surrounds the habitations silently, progressing
from fence to door step, from doorstep to hearth, and steals upward on
the lighter furniture, and at last with slow oscillating motion, floats
it gently off the floor. Were an ear awake to listen, it might now and
again hear sounds like half-hushed lisping whispers, when the surface
of the deepening pool reaches the lips of empty vessels, and begins to
trickle into them; but the slumbering sense is inwardly engaged with
the incoherent details of dreams, the filling is accomplished, and the
silence that has scarce been broken is resumed. Before the mattresses on
which the sleeping inmates lie are reached, some one, more sensitive to
cold, or more lightly covered than the others may awaken, and struck by
the singular raw-smelling freshness of the confined air, and the strange
blackness where before he has been accustomed to see only the varying
shadow of the floor, puts his foot or his hand out, in an effort to get
up to learn the reason, and so discovers it. Wading may still save them;
there is little time for hesitation when life may depend on a few inches
more or less of depth on the uneven ground that has to be crossed in the
dark to a place of safety.

The flood is released only after passing under and around Prince’s
Bridge, abreast of Melbourne. It there finds room to spread, upon the
wharves and the streets adjoining, on the one hand, and the low marshy
ground between Emerald Hill and the town on the other. River and roads,
all are alike swallowed up in the wide deluge. A few tree tops and roofs,
a frothy swirl above submerged clumps of scrub and tea-tree, with a
drifting wreck of wooden houses and furniture, proclaim the extent of
the yet uncompleted disaster to the anxious, interested crowds on the
heights around. During the heavy rains, all unmacadamized or unpaved
roads are reduced to an almost impassable puddle. Elizabeth Street, from
its low situation, receives nearly the whole of the surface drainage of
the valley slopes, and, during rain-storms, becomes impassable on foot.
One morning during a flood of only ordinary magnitude, I found myself
with many others at the crossing of Great Collin Street, cut off from
communication with the opposite side, by a torrent that ran leg deep
close in by the foot path, while two men were ferrying people across in
carts. I never till then had known a man in danger of being swept away
and drowned at his very door. This was immediately after a rather heavy
and protracted fall of rain, but the capacious causewayed side-channels,
and the elevation of the footpath above the level of the road, showed
that emergencies of this kind were not unlooked for. It is good to turn
from these accidents of situation, to the contemplation of the climate,
with its generous salubrity, as exhibited in the fields and strips of
garden ground. Vines flourish, and when trained on rods round doors and
windows, serve at once for ornament and shelter from the sun.

The scarcity of houses that followed the sudden increase of the
population, led the Government to apportion a piece of Reserve ground,
near the south end of the bridge, whereon tents might be erected. At
the time of my arrival, about twenty families were so housed, some of
them looking as if they thought they had left home truly, and were in
the wilderness. Their firewood was scarce, and their hearth on the
hill side, their couch a brush bed on the ground, and the candle after
nightfall revealing unpleasantly their every movement by the shadows
on the cloth-walls. In the course of a walk through, I came upon a few
loose branches, and a blanket thrown over them as if to dry. I heard a
mumbling of voices, but was at a loss to know from what quarter, till
something round dimpled the blanket from underneath. There was life
there—I was looking on the roof of a house. A laugh, and more dimpling
as if by elbows and hands, then a merry commotion, during which the roof
fell in, and disclosed the inmates—two beardless youths—reminded me as
I walked away, while they were disentangling themselves from the ruins,
that happiness is not dependent on outward circumstances, else these
two, without a pillow or a dish, save one ship hook-pot, and with the
rain sapping its way under them down hill and gathering in the hollows
of their knee-high ceiling, to be dislodged by an upward punch of the
hand when found to drip too fast, would have been too serious for such
exercise of limb, as revealed their state to me.

On the northern or Melbourne side of the river, a vacant piece of ground
fronting the end of Elizabeth Street, came somehow into use as a ready
off-hand market place, where the needy might dispose of their spare
clothes, and such things as guns and pistols, razors, watches, trinkets,
books, chests, &c. Symptoms of feeling and of sadness were observable
now and then in those who were thus engaged, but in no instance so
very plainly as in that of a man well up in years, decently but humbly
dressed, who was offering for sale a fishing-rod, a fiddle, and two
walking sticks. When I approached he was seated on the shafts of a loose
cart; he had perhaps grown weary waiting, and had taken the fiddle up,
and was softly playing a sweet simple air. His eyes were bent upon the
ground, and his body drooped like one whose thoughts were elsewhere
than with the scene around him. A very little girl, who had no doubt
grown weary too, was standing by his knee, just old enough to know, on
being told, that the things were to be sold, if any one would buy them,
but too young to have any memories associated with the instrument that
was deepening the father’s melancholy reverie. Eagerly she eyed those
loitering past, in the hope of some one stopping to look at the slender
stock; her young simple face expressive of wonder and disappointment,
and, I thought, of hungry wistfulness, as she saw her father’s neighbours
getting money and he none. I never think of him but my heart reproaches
me for leaving without speaking, but I was then too poor to help him
much, and more than likely the story of the past that seemed revisiting
his mind was incommunicable to a stranger, while such words as he might
have spoken, failing to embody the dejection visible, might possibly have
weakened the impressions already made by making his case seem only common
after all.

The market increased in importance. The articles at first had been
exposed on boxes and chest lids, and in umbrellas opened and inverted, or
on the ground, but as trade grew brisker, tables and light stalls were
brought by those who, on making a good beginning, had commenced to buy
the stocks of others, and adopt the business regularly. Jews were very
numerous in the town, their faces began to appear among the throng, the
trade was quite in their way of life, and they soon expanded it to such
an extent, that a removal to more roomy quarters became necessary. Two
unoccupied building-sites, one in Great Bourke Street, East, and the
other in Great Collin Street, West, received them. Open-fronted frame
tents, and light temporary wooden shops were raised, and the character
of the business so changed from its recent humble original, that a poor
dealer with a box, or a yard of bare ground only, for the exhibition of
his wares, must have felt like a vagrant on forbidden ground.

The community of tents at the bridge end, which latterly was known by
the name of Canvas Town, met eventually with a somewhat different fate.
In Melbourne, house rents were high, and the place being of easy access
from the town, many workmen were induced to make their homes there; and,
stretching calico on light spar frames, with a calico door framed on
hinges, a turf fire-place and chimney at the end, they were enabled to
live comfortably enough in mild weather. Men with small means—builders
in the first stage of development—erected such places, and let them
by the week. Small shops were opened; hand-printed cards, announcing
that tailoring or cobbling was done within, began to appear, pasted to
the sides of doorways, with perhaps a pair of newly-mended boots, or a
small sheet of square cloth patterns. Before long, jobbing carpenters
and coopers found they need not cross the river, or go to the adjoining
townships in search of work, when the want of benches and stools and
water-barrels increased with the growing inclination of their neighbours
to settle permanently. Habitations that in the beginning of the week
had stood alone, would before the close have become hemmed in all round
by a crowd of new erections. The buzz of life grew louder, and the
hill-side began to be trodden bare by the increasing multitude of feet.
Tents where, on a stall before the door, a modest trade in harmless
effervescing drinks had been established, began, as the neighbourhood
became more populous, to outgrow their early humility, and aspire to
stronger liquor; the painted sign-board was set up, the wings of the
establishment spread out, and nightly from underneath came sounds of
clamour and reeling men, who, jostling and rubbing their way home along
the frail cotton walls, indenting the thin fabrics with staggering
thrusts of their numb elbows, made the place no longer habitable for the
timid or the weak. Lying beyond the city limits, the police had hitherto
left the inhabitants to their own care and keeping. This suited well the
tastes and habits of many about town, who, for reasons understood by
the police, but better known to themselves, gladly took the opportunity
to escape from observation, and came and settled down on the hill-side
amongst the unsuspecting tent-dwellers. Cries of distress, however, began
to be too common in the neighbourhood of the bridge after dark, for this
their retreat long to escape public notice. Every morning came fresh
reports of robberies and personal ill-usage, blows struck from behind
putting it past the power of the victims to say or know more than that
the thing was done. Policemen were set to patrol the district, but they
only shifted the crime from a centre to outlying roads and pathways.
The ground the tents stood on formed part of a Government Reserve. The
people had been allowed to settle on it only to meet a temporary want
of more regular accommodation, but, as they increased in number, the
opportunity for trade had induced many from choice to set up business
among them in the hope of Government yielding to the claims of vested
rights and occupation, and allowing them to buy the ground for the
permanent formation of a township. It was agreed that were this done,
substantial buildings would quickly take the place of the existing
motley and camp-like assemblage of canvas coverings, but the authorities
appeared to think that lawlessness had struck too deep root to be so
easily eradicated, and shortly before my return to town, gave orders
for the whole to be cleared away. The Brighton road now sweeps over the
silent site.



CHAPTER VII.

COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE.


I had not been long in town before I experienced the feverish discomfort
of a sand-storm, known by the familiar name of “a brickfielder,” and
happily not more frequent than great storms in England. The weather had
been extremely hot for two or three days, with a thirsty breeze coming
from the parched plains of the interior, the sky became of a dirty light
drab colour, and the dust, heat-dried and light, began to be whirled
about in columns taller than the house tops. Woe to the wayfarer when
the road proves too narrow to admit of an escape. Let all who can,
seek shelter, for the columns begin to take the form of clouds; close
doors and windows, stuff chink and crevice, cover beef, bread, butter,
everything that will not bear the duster, for we begin to have it thick
and fast. The air is darkened by the multitude of atoms borne along in
it, to a height above the steeple tops. All traffic in the streets has
ceased, no sound from without is heard but the rushing wind and the
hailing of the larger particles upon the panes, while the finer grains
come spueing through the seams like thin grey smoke. From the highways
on the windward side, dust, sand, and leaves, drifting in thick volume
come pouring like a torrent in upon the devoted city, burying it in a
cloud so dense that the thickest mid-day fog of England does not produce
a greater darkness within doors. The closed houses become like heated
ovens, the butter that has been covered up loses its form and begins to
spread itself along the bottom of the dish, the shirt that in the morning
was stiff with starch, now hangs wet and clinging to the shoulders of its
owner, while the head that has to wear a hat heavier than the lightest
straw, escapes delirium only by such perspiration as puts the covering
out of shape, and brings it slipping down about the brows. Those unhappy
ones whom necessity has compelled to be outside have their sweated faces
so begrimed, that without the aid of the voice it were difficult to
recognise them, eyes, nose, and mouth being caked with the grit, and
their clothes of one even dusty hue, with every lurk and fold laden so
that the cloth itself is hidden. In the streets not a stone or wall but
the dust has gathered in wreaths round its leeward angles, ready for a
new flight on a change of wind. Before that could happen on the occasion
that I speak of, a copious shower of rain fell, and transformed it into
mud. The gale as usual, lasted only a few hours, and ceased shortly
before sunset. Several of my new acquaintances, about the time it reached
its height, had crept underneath the bedsteads, in the hope of the floor
there being less heated than that in the full light of the windows. This
being their last resource, and it failing them, they began to curse the
country for being nothing better than a dust-bin, and were answered by a
hollow groan from the fire place, from a youth who, for coolness (which
he was not finding) sat in it with his head a full foot up the chimney.
After sundown, however, the fierceness of the heat abated, the rain
clouds came, the dust was laid, and the clear air made soft and pleasant,
and, as we stood grouped under the verandah a little before bed time, we
were led to confess that either our senses were very grateful for relief,
or there was something in an Australian summer night that was peculiarly
enjoyable now that the rain had gone and a light wind was coming sighing
from the forest, smelling fresh and sweet, as if earth and leaf were
yielding their fragrance to its healing breath.

The acquaintances I have mentioned had but newly arrived from Ballarat,
each with about fifteen hundred pounds’ worth of gold. Immediately
previous to bottoming their claim, their prospects had looked desperate.
They had spent their all in the sinking of the shaft, which was 150 feet
deep, and slabbed from the surface to the bottom. The gutter in which
the gold lay appeared, by the signs of business above ground along a
wavy line of claims, to be taking a course outside of theirs, but, on
bottoming within one or two feet of the given depth, they had driven
downward on the slope of the bottom bed, with anxious, hopeful haste,
and found the gutter had taken one of its uncertain turns and traversed
one side of their claim for a length of twenty feet. It was but little
sleep they got until they had all removed and washed, and safe in the
hands of the commissioner. They were all of them seamen, and all single
men. Happening to live under the same roof with them, it was occasionally
my fortune to hear them discuss their adventures of the past night, in
places and with people regarding whom Solomon has left us much solemn
warning. After a time, their pleasure palled on them, they wanted change,
and went to Geelong, leaving the house quiet and orderly as it had been
before. On the third day, however, two of them returned for a further
supply of money, and, observing mysterious but evidently deeply conscious
silence regarding their intentions, quickly disappeared again. Four days
later, on entering the house in the early evening, I found these two
sitting with two well-dressed strangers in serious consultation with the
landlady. The strangers were their wives, for a double marriage had taken
place during their brief absence. The conversation was somehow far from
brisk; the new husbands were beginning to get sober and reflective, which
they had never fairly been since they struck the gold four weeks before.
One of the wives I would say was aged, but the other was very young, with
a simple-hearted cheerful look about her, that seemed likely to make her
sailor husband Peter, take kindly to the fireside when he got one for
her to sit down by; but so busy had he been in getting married, the idea
of a house being needed to put her into had not until now come under his
consideration. He had never been very fastidious about a bed, or who
shared the room with him, if they kept quiet when he wanted sleep, and he
seemed willing to wink at trifles now, but the house being a bachelor’s
home, he was overruled, and was glad of my company in his search for
other quarters down about Low Collingwood. His comrade, whom he had led
almost against his will into this nice dilemma, appeared with mysterious
suddenness to have fallen into meek subjection to his late spinster’s
wishes. He prepared to go along with us, she did the same and at the
first turning, making some slight excuse about there being a double
chance if we separated in the search, she led him off, he looking much
like one who has been asked to accompany a policeman to the station, when
he would rather not. Peter was at a loss what to make of her proposal;
he was hardly prepared to be thus thrown upon his own resources in the
new and untried life, and as she nodded back to him across her shoulder
as they walked away, he quietly confessed himself “done brown,” and
scratching his head with an outwitted air said “he had never been left
with so much slack in his hand before.” We wandered up and down through
many streets, finding plenty of lodgings for single men, but none for
wives. At last in one of a detached row of newly erected wooden houses,
we found a family who made no positive objections. Tired with repeated
failures, Peter thought to overrule any little scruple they might have,
by saying that the price was no object with him, but this, together with
the absence of anything very husband-like in his air or manner, awakened
suspicion that caused the young housewife to send for her father to have
some talk with us, but the addition of three shillings to the twelve that
had been at first named for the week removed the difficulty. We were
then asked to look at the accommodation. Peter replied that it was no
matter, he supposed it was all right, but followed me as far as the room
door, and turning his head right and left, said it would do as well as
the very best. For floor there was the bare earth, with a few tufts of
withered and foot-trodden grass, and with a plentiful sprinkling of wood
shavings, chips and sawdust, which of course would be broomed out before
Peter with his wife returned to take possession; the bedstead was made
of wood with the bark still on it, if what was seen of the low post feet
told a true tale; there was a small table made of an old chest lid, with
four slim new legs; a broken looking glass, one chair, a long stool, and
nothing more. The family seemed personally decent, and Peter’s money
would no doubt help them to complete their furnishing, but he remained
with them only a few days.

He had no notion of the use his money might be put to. He saw no call
for distressing himself with work when he had so much in the bank, but
to occupy some of the time that would otherwise have hung heavy on his
hand, he bought a horse and dray, always drawing upon his capital when
his earnings were deficient, until at last, but not till after I had left
the colony, his capital became so small that he banked it in his pocket.
His married comrade not having been so left to his own guidance, is now
living in comparative independence, and having had to forsake the company
of his old associates, his manner towards them so betrayed obedience to
a resolution that was not his own, that out of consideration for him,
they gave over troubling him, but not before one of them was treated
by the wife to an unsolicited opinion of him and his confederates, too
near the truth for repetition to be desirable. Previous to the visit to
Geelong, Peter and the young woman whom he married were perfect strangers
to each other, but discovering they were from the same small town in
the north-east of Scotland, they appeared to think it recommendation
enough, and quickly came to their agreement. The other two had been
slightly acquainted years before; a good idea of the value of money on
the one side, and the excitement of drink on the other, brought them to
conclusions with Peter’s help, Peter disliking to get married alone.

About the time of the marriages, another seaman, a fellow townsman of the
bridegroom’s, came to town for a few weeks to recruit from the fatigue
of twelve months’ constant labour at the diggings. He told no one what
success he had met with, but from his manner on being questioned, it was
judged he had got enough to satisfy him for the present. He was known
by the name of “Roddie.” He was bald, but liked not to be told so, and
when his age was spoken of had ever the same answer, that he could lead
some of us young men a dance we durst not follow him in, he was not so
old but he could do that—in fact he was not old at all. The case of his
friends causing marriage to be talked of, we affected to think he would
greatly consult his own interest and comfort by marrying some one to
take care of him in his declining years, but, winking slyly, he said he
knew a great deal too much for that, he had not been born with a fool’s
hood on his head. It so happened however that a young woman in service
in the neighbourhood, came on a visit to the landlady, one evening when
Roddie was at home. She was about half his own age, stout, not very
good-looking, and rather grey in the skin, but with no airs about her,
and, as far as we could see, not likely to object to become “Mrs Roddie.”
We did our best to raise a flame, but Roddie would not burn, though as
he seemed not to fret under our very plain attempts, we persevered from
time to time, but ever got the same sly wink and the remark that “he knew
too much for that.” At length, however, the landlady, in confidence,
showed us some manuscript poetry, the production of her friend, whom she
familiarly called “Peggy.” The rhyme was very middling, and not well
measured; the sentiment was of love, and was very serious and simple. In
due time, Roddie was given the luxury of a reading in our absence. On
our return we found him spelling his way through it for the third time.
Our opinion being asked, we proved more amiable critics than young poets
generally meet with, but were careful not to say too much, and lest we
might, we shortly began to talk of something else. Before bed time the
landlady asked him for the paper, but he seemed reluctant. She begged
it of him, and put out her hand to take it, on which he put it in his
pocket. She implored him to return it to her, as she was afraid if Peggy
knew she had been showing it, she would never visit her house again,
but Roddie was not to be moved, and ended the matter for the present by
telling her to let Peggy know that he wanted to get the verses off by
heart. Our help was but little needed after this, the poetry had done the
business. He began to visit her, and was every now and again bringing
some new verses to delight us with. Sitting down by another young man
and me, his heart swelling with feeling too big for him to hold it all,
the act of letting loose the excess threw him into raptures that were
sometimes too plainly honest for amusement to be drawn from them. Not
an expression of hers the least uncommon, but was repeated to us, not a
trait observable, but was made the subject of a long warm discourse. Her
life however being rather commonplace, there were visits made in which
nothing really novel or out of the ordinary course came to the surface,
however much they helped to confirm their growing sympathy. He maundered
considerably after these seasons of level happiness, and made us at times
wish he had her and was done with it, but, though inclined enough to
talk, he had not quite yet reached the marrying emotion. It took him some
weeks to do that, and a lot of new poetry descriptive of the married
state had to be written before he did. I happened to be at a distance
when the wedding took place, so was not there to see, but learnt that it
had been a grand affair. Neither of them having any friends, at whose
house to celebrate the event, he hired a tavern in Little Bourke Street,
and kept open house to all comers. All went well until near midnight,
when the general public, who were being treated so handsomely withal in
the lower rooms, moved by a very natural desire to see their benefactor,
went in a crowd up stairs, and unceremoniously ushering themselves in
among the marriage guests, had all quickly in an uproar. Roddie was not
sure about this behaviour being quite proper, but feeling powerless to
command the storm, and much too happy at heart for outside disturbance
to disquiet him greatly, he calmed the commotion in Peggy’s breast, by
telling her the men meant no harm, it was just a way they had, it would
all come right enough. Distrusting them, however, he saw reason to retire
with Peggy shortly after the irruption, but being quickly missed, and
followed, their bedroom door was forced, and the old and unseemly custom
of “bedding” was observed, with just such ruthless barbarity as might
have been expected of drunken men. They thronged the room—they crowded
upon the bed. Roddie besought and prayed they would “give over,” but his
bald head had no reverence in their eyes, and got many a slap as he was
told to hide it beneath the clothes, and not till Peggy cried and wailed
as if her heart would break, could the room be cleared.

I heard of them afterwards living on the diggings, he so proud of her
that he had committed to her care the management of all his movements
and concerns, and was thriving none the worse for having done so. He
had before been only a single unit in the crowd, herding and shifting
with it undistinguished, but now he had got both name and habitation.
Friends came to visit him, and, under his hospitable roof, enjoyed
cheerful home-like hours, that my own experience taught me must have been
precious to humble unmated wanderers, laying on their minds impressions
then little heeded, but destined to exercise, it might be, unmeasured
influence, when time and circumstances, and the heart unsatisfied, would
cause them to lean their heads upon their hands, and run back among
the memories and shifting homeless scenes that seemed to be repeating
themselves without end.

There were too many seeking clean-handed occupation for one to be
readily successful, and I was thankful at last on getting employment as
yard-hand in a small brewery, at two pounds a-week, out of which went
about sixteen shillings for provisions, which I had to buy and cook
myself. For the better protection of the property, I required to sleep
upon the premises at one end of a low wooden shed, lumbered with bags of
corks and bottle racks. The situation, close to the depot for Government
emigrants at the west end of Little Collin Street, was lonely. The time
was winter, so that, as my work was limited to daylight, I had long
nights of leisure; and being very content with books for my companions,
I read much, and I look back upon the quiet enjoyment so derived under
the peculiar circumstances with subdued but not sorrowing remembrance.
The wind whistled and wailed about the frail erection, and whirled the
rustling straw about the yard, as I sat with my feet to a small pan of
glowing wood—the feeble rays of the small yellow candle barely lightening
the box-like darkness round about, and bringing a dreary feeling creeping
over me, that occasionally, before I had got quite accustomed to the
singular distinctness of sounds heard by night, caused me to see shapes
in shadows, and hear fingers as it were feeling for the latch.

There were many places of amusement in town at this time, though not so
many as now. The one that most attracted me was at the head of Great
Bourke Street, East, an old circus transformed into a promenade concert
room, where, though the assembled company might not be strictly select,
the music was. My visits there, however, seemed but to make my loneliness
at home more dull. To save me from rats, and to serve in some way for a
companion, a dog was given me, a melancholy-looking animal, short-haired,
with brown spots on a white ground, and with a tail about the length of
my fore-finger. He cowered and trembled, and seemed ever so ready to run
out of the way into a corner, when I moved or rose from my seat after a
short stillness, that, apart from the effect of strangeness in me and in
the place, I saw he had been unkindly treated in his youth. The place
swarmed with rats; they clambered up and down the walls, and, gnawing
their way into boxes, made sorry work with my provisions, and when my
blankets happened to hang down from the “stretcher” on which I slept,
they over-ran myself as if not satisfied with the provisions only. One
night I was awakened by one with its fore-feet in my whiskers, and its
nose dotting cold points upon my cheek. The dog lay alongside within
reach of my arm, sound asleep and snoring. I called him while the enemy
was yet audibly scampering under cover, but he did not understand, and
only licked my hand as if in humble appeal to me not to beat him, he had
not been guilty of anything he knew of. I felt angry, and, by a cuff, was
about to let him know it, when my uplifted hand was rendered powerless
by the recollection of something that happened on the previous day, in
which, had cuffs been a meet reward for neglect of duty, I would have had
one; the tongue gave another lick, and followed the retreating hand with
more. The poor animal whimpered and rose with his fore-feet on the bed,
and licking my face, as good as asked me what I wanted with him. I would
rather he had remained dull and stupid on the ground, for I was troubled
at the contrast between his conduct and my own, and lost some sleep by
thinking over it.

My work, consisting mainly of bottle and brew-cask washing, lay outside
in the cold wintry weather. There was too little bodily exercise in it
to keep one warm. Much rain fell, the unpaved yard was miry, my feet
and legs became wet and clogged with clay, and the loose bag on my
shoulders failed to keep my body dry. My thoughts began to turn upon the
better life I had forsaken in the old country—began, upon reflection,
to fancy myself a worse man than then, not so God-fearing, ruder in
feeling, and unable to see harm where before harm was plainly visible.
Old attachments that I thought forgotten began to win their way back to
my heart. Recollections of old office-mates, and of my race with them
for preferment mingled with the rest, and made me restless. After losing
close upon three years, was it possible to overtake them now? I felt the
spirit moving that would try, but for some time hesitated at the thought
that, once returned, I might find my chances marred, without the easy
alternative of such humble occupation as this with the brewer. Balancing
the arguments in my mind, while picking my steps through the thinnest of
the mud, I observed my poor dog following me wistfully about, his tail
down, his legs bent under him, his body arched, and plainly shivering
with cold. I stood and looked. Drooping his head he crept closer to me,
looked pitifully up, and, wiping his nose with his ever-ready tongue,
gave a low trembling whine that seemed the nearest thing to a cry I had
ever heard from a dog. He tried to reach my hand, and, forgetting for the
moment where he stood, dipped his tail into the mud in an offer to sit
for a more upright look at my sympathizing face. I felt it was good for
neither of us to be there. In his unhappiness, I saw as it were my own
reflected. He tipped the balance in favour of old home, but, poor fellow,
in doing so he lost a friend.

[Illustration]



APPENDIX.

[Illustration]


As some may be interested in a fuller account of gold-digging than
the limited scope of the personal narrative allowed, the following
particulars are added.

In the Bendigo district, the shafts are generally 10 to 15 feet deep,
through loose gravel, and sometimes through sandy earth that requires
only the spade in digging. For raising the stuff from the bottom, rudely
constructed winches are employed in the deeper holes, and, for the
shallower, simple swing bars, which are merely one stout pole balanced
horizontally on the forked end of another set upright, a counterbalance,
rather in excess of the weight to be raised, making the operation of
lifting both quick and easy. At Tarrangower, the usual depth was much the
same as at Bendigo: there was, in the parts wrought when I was there, a
thick crust of hard pebbly concrete to go through, at which unskilled
workmen hammered in vain. At the neighbouring diggings of Maryborough,
Burnt Creek, and Victoria Hill, there was a stratum similar, but more
formidable, and bearing marks of fire and partial fusion, so that even
heavy hammer-picks made no impression on them. Steel gads were used,
struck by heavy malls, but weeks of patient toil were required to pierce
a thickness of a few feet. Gunpowder was sometimes employed, but it
shook the ground too much, and was generally condemned. At “Hard Hill,”
in Burnt Creek, I was one afternoon crossing the line of holes, when a
man as white as any miller came out of one for a breath of fresh air. We
spoke. He had been a month already in sinking ten feet, three of which
were crust, and he expected to be another month in bottoming on the pipe
clay. I looked down and could hardly distinguish the present bottom
through the floating grit that hung smoke-like within. The ground down in
the flat, where the sinking was easier, was not yielding even bare bread
to the few still lingering about it, and discouraging reports—common
on the diggings even in the best of times—coming from Tarrangower and
Maryborough at the time, those thus labouring on the “Hill” not knowing
but that they might remove only to fare worse, were for the time resting
satisfied with their hard pickings so long as they could live by them.
In the first days of the diggings, men would not work ground if the gold
was not plentiful enough to be seen and picked out with the fingers, but
latterly they became, and now are, very well pleased if they can but
keep themselves decently, the generally long-deferred hope of finding a
nugget, or a pocket of grains, making them bear with discomforts that
would be felt as more than irksome under ordinary wage service.

In Bendigo, at first only the pipe-clay surface, and a few inches of the
earthy gravel overlying it, were considered worthy of notice. After a
long interval the ground was re-opened, and a foot more of the earthy
gravel removed and washed and found to pay very well—as things then
went. Later on, as men’s views further modified, it was considered that
there was gold enough in the whole mass of earth above the pipe clay
to remunerate, if adequate means were employed to separate it. Parties
with small capital combined, made dams and water sluices, and washing
the earth wholesale, reaped a profit. Where the gold lay mixed with clay
however, a process termed “puddling” required to precede the sluicing and
the cradle-washing. In the case of individual diggers with small means,
the puddling is done with a spade in an ordinary tub, under three feet
in diameter, the stuff being swilled and stirred until the clay is all
dissolved and washed away, but when the quantities are considerable, as
in workings belonging to a company, the tub used might be ten or twelve
feet in diameter, and five or six feet deep, sunk in the ground, with
an upright shaft in the centre, fitted with projecting blades as in an
ordinary pug mill, and made to revolve by one or two horses yoked to
arms projecting from the top of the shaft. If the gold is very fine, it
is necessary to renew the water frequently to allow of the fine grains
settling to the bottom.

The cradle in ordinary use for washing is in shape much the same as the
piece of homely furniture it takes its name from. It is furnished with
rockers, and when at work has its head raised a few inches higher than
the foot, for the due escape of the water used. A quantity of stuff
from the puddling tub is placed in a hopper at the cradle head, and a
stream of water turned to flow quietly and regularly upon it, at the same
time that the rocking is commenced, the smaller particles and with them
the gold, thus set in motion, are washed down between the bars, into a
compartment beneath, and from it into a second, and thence down to the
discharge opening along the bottom of the box, across which at short
intervals are check bars about an inch deep, which intercept the gold as
it is rocked along close on the bottom, but which allow the lighter sand
and the water to flow over. A careless or inexperienced hand, by pouring
water in too freely, and neglecting to keep up the rocking motion, would
let the gold away with the gush.

The final process is performed in a shallow, circular tin dish, about
four inches deep, two feet diameter at top, and about eighteen inches at
bottom. Into it is put the mixture of sand and gold, removed at intervals
from behind the check bars in the cradles, then the washer balancing it
in his hands by means of ear handles under the rim outside, dips it in
a pool and lifts in it as much water as sets the stuff aswimming when
swilled and shaken, then allows the gold to sink through the sand to the
bottom by reason of its greater weight. The surface stuff is then laved
out, and the process of swilling, shaking, and laving repeated until only
the gold remains.

For ease and convenience the drifts and chambers underground are made in
the pipe clay below the gold level, a thickness of an inch or less being
left, coating the gravel of the roof, in which when sufficient breadth
has been bared, examination is made with knife and candle for gold, which
is found in greatest quantity on the surface of and immediately above the
clay.

I was once asked down into a hole belonging to an acquaintance to see
what was termed a “middling rich patch,” just then uncovered. There was
no need of the near application of the candle to discover the richness,
for the glittering specks spangled the roof as thickly as stars in a
clear moonless winter sky. It was the first and only sight of the kind I
ever saw, and for a while it infused great zeal into me.

The sinking at Ballarat requires capital, the shafts being from 120 to
180 feet deep. For the Quartz reefs, crushing mills with steam power
are necessary. Many of the workings are held by companies, who hire men
at a daily wage to do the labouring work. For an ordinary shaft aiming
at the gutter, eight men form a common complement. Of these, two may be
occupied in cutting and preparing slabs for the lining of the shaft, two
below, two at the windlass, and the other two pumping the water out, and
acting as reliefs, but sometimes the eighth man is employed as cook and
hutkeeper for the party. These numbers vary according to the capacity of
the men for work, and the greater or less hurry to get to the bottom, or,
when there, to get the gold they may have come upon cleared out.

The price of provisions in the older diggings, before the railway
connecting them with town was made, varied according to the weather and
the state of the roads. When we first arrived at Bendigo, flour was
selling at £100 per ton wholesale, and, what came nearer our mark, 1/3
per pound retail, equal to nearly £180 per ton; salt and sugar alike 2/
per pound; tea 3/6; mutton 4/ and 5/ a quarter. In the remote diggings at
the present day, similar high prices rule the market in rainy seasons,
and will continue to do so, till either railways are made to them, or the
highways are macadamised.



_ERRATUM._


In a portion of the impression, page 8, line 4, read:—“In the case of
gutters, only the holes that struck upon the line were profitable, but
the line was generally so uncertain,” &c.

    Transcriber’s Note: This has been changed as the author wished.
    The original text as printed was:—“In the case of gutters,
    only the holes that struck upon the line was generally so
    uncertain” i.e. the words “were profitable, but the line” had
    been omitted. In addition some minor printing errors have been
    corrected.

[Illustration: The End.]





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