Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria Part 7

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Somehow, the circ.u.mstances considered, we had all, independently, concluded that there was no small chance of their being bushrangers; for already the towns and goldfields--the latter, of course, mostly--swarmed with these unmitigated ruffians, arrived chiefly from Tasmania. We discussed the chances--three, four, possibly even five to one in our favour--and considered what we should do in case even five to one failed us in the lot. What we COULD do was the practical question. We had also, I think, five of a party, and Bell was a huge, strong fellow, able for a couple of ordinary mortals; but what availed all that against desperadoes each doubly armed with revolver and rifle. We calmed ourselves as best we could as we mutually approached; our salute was cordially returned, and then we found that we owed an ample apology for having for once so grievously mistaken honest men.

Another goldfields feature was of the most pleasing and inspiring character. In no goldfield we had then visited did we ever meet with so much as one drunken person. With most laudable prescience, our authorities had prohibited the ingress of and the dealing in any intoxicating drink on all proclaimed goldfields. The good order in consequence was quite marvellous, and we seemed as if in some earthly paradise, where mankind had, as with one consent, dropped the worst of human vices and pa.s.sions. But this was only so far as drink and drunkenness were concerned; for rude circ.u.mstances made rude men, to say no more of the pervading convict element. Nor were the goldfields free from "sly grog selling," as it is called. Still, the difficulties put in the way kept them thus sober. Of course, outside the goldfields' limits there was drunken riot enough, intensified, no doubt, by the enforced sobriety within. Troops of diggers, or their employees, with their pockets full of gold, would start for town, or for the nearest "public,"

there to run up a score till the whole "pile" had vanished. We were told of one country hotel called "The Porcupine," whose keeper was making 40,000 pounds a year of net profit. These riotous crowds, at each public-house, indulged in such shocking excesses of language and conduct as to make mere drunkenness the very innocence of the case. But withal I confess to a greatly disappointed feeling when, having left the colony on a Home visit early in 1853, and returned late in 1854, I found that the influence of the great "spirit interest" had succeeded in removing all restriction from the goldfields. By this time, however, the police and other authority were better organized, so that there was a very considerable mitigation of bad effects.

EARLY VICTORIAN LEGISLATION.

"They that stand high have many blasts to shake them."

--Richard III.

"Hear ye not the hum of mighty workings."

--Keats.

"Stay, you imperfect speakers."

--Macbeth.

We commenced with an unpretending budget, although memorable 1853, with all its gold and its progress, in what Wentworth happily called the precipitation into a nation, had dawned upon us. The Speaker of our then single Chamber system--one-third nominees--had but 400 pounds a year, which is guide sufficient to indicate the scale and style of other things. Our first choice for Speaker fell upon Dr. Palmer, an early colonist of the medical profession, and of good culture and bearing, but who had not previously taken any prominent social position. His ambition was probably stimulated by the fact that amongst the busy colonists, who perhaps foresaw more work than either honour or pay, there was no candidate but himself. The rest of us speculated, not without expected amus.e.m.e.nt, as to the official attire our new dignitary would appear in.

Probably any other of the elected members, as Speaker, would have decided on simple evening dress, as most consistent with the modern tendency to make a gentleman plain, and the waiter and footman dressily conspicuous; and this would perhaps have decided as to "the Chair" in that respect for all the future. But Palmer we all knew to be too much of the old Tory for any surrender of that kind, and there was, besides, just a trace of the oddly positive in him, although otherwise a genial good fellow, which held out promise of sport. We were only half gratified. He appeared in a plain quaker-like but much braided coat, which was understood to have gone for dress in the good old times of Charles II.--a time when kings were really kings.

Three prominent subjects came before us for legislation. First, that fundamental topic of interminable difference, the Land Question. Second, the Goldfields Question, which was even more important then, seeing that the Government, under pretence of old English law, to the effect that all "treasure trove" was the Crown's, claimed the whole goldfields as Crown territory, whose population had thus no rights, political or fiscal, except the Crown chose to give such. Third, the Transportation Question, which, under the startling emergencies of the moment, was perhaps second to no other before us.

It was rather amusing to see how business went at first, for nearly all of us were quite inexperienced in public life. But Mr. Barker, our first Clerk of the Council, took bravely to his duties, and soon became a useful referee. There was much looking up for authority, and O'Shana.s.sy indulged in many a profane joke at "May" having taken definitive possession of Speaker Palmer's brain. One most decided obstacle to our legislative progress was the fact that the vast incessant tide of business thrust upon the colony made it hardly possible to spare any time for other than each one's own private concerns. In my own case, the only "leisure" I ever had then in the six days was half-an-hour for a walk and a thought in the early morn. The entire remainder of the day, and great part of the night also, were one succession of private business, public meetings, and deputations, Council Committees and Council sittings.

The unprepared speeches were in due accordance. Dr. (now Sir Charles) Nicholson, the Sydney Speaker, happened to pay us a visit during these early legislative throes of baby Victoria; and as I sat by him in the privileged place near the Speaker's chair, he remarked that, prepared as he was to find a crude spectacle, he had never imagined an a.s.semblage of such helpless incompetency. But, in defence, I took Bulwer Lytton's view, that genius being mainly labour, and labour mainly time, the want of the last might be merely preventing the first. And so it has turned out long ago; so that if Sir Charles, who, I am glad to say, is still to the fore, were to pay another visit, and try conclusions with Mr.

Service, and possibly a hundred others besides, he might reach a different verdict.

We were all, confessedly, terribly raw in all matters of Parliamentary form. One day, while we were more than usually puzzled in that respect, Town Clerk Kerr, who happened to be present, was continually sending to myself and others written slips, suggesting the proper or common-sense course. I could not help thinking that, if he had been but a trifle less of a party man, there was no one in the colony who would have made a better Speaker, with his sufficiently portly person and commanding presence, his imperturbable gravity, and his well-filled head in everything required from that quarter for the position. But this was an utter non possimus with the nominees and squatting members, most of whom, with Ebden at their head, would almost rather have endured a presentable Vandemonian expiree in the chair than the ultra-democratic Town Clerk and caustic ex-editor of the anti-squatter and anti-government "Argus". Some of the officials, however, were fairly up to their mark, notably our Attorney-General Stawell (now Sir William, the ex-Chief Justice), who, both then and since, has ever held the first position in ability. At an interval came Auditor-General Ebden, and one or two others, official or unofficial. My worthy friend Ca.s.sell, Collector of Customs (or Commissioner thereof, as I think he was then called), was brimful of information for us all, but not much of a speaker.

The other side of the House, that of the two-thirds elected, was, in my memory, raw throughout. O'Shana.s.sy's strong brogue, and ungainly delivery and manner, had not yet been overbalanced by the solidity of his arguments. Johnson, our third metropolitan, had early descended, or else condescended, to pungent snapping at the heels of the nominees, as though these sacred persons had been ordinary mortals like the ruck of members.h.i.+p on his own side of the table. By far our most vivacious member was William Rutledge, of Port Fairy, who, with an earnestness of manner, contrasting with a merry twinkle of the eye, and with a ready but utterly negligent tongue, gave us many a laugh. He was highly indignant on one occasion, as I remember, on hearing that a bet had been taken that, on a particular Committee day, he would rise and speak more than thirty different times; and he was still more angry when his informant went on to tell him that the bet had been won. One of the country members, whose name I am now not quite sure of, set us all in a roar, on one occasion, by taking as a personal affront, and very tartly too, as though quite intended, the interruption to his speech by the arrival of a "royal" message from the Governor.

Another curiosity was the way in which the House adjusted itself for legislative action. Almost as matter of course, under the instincts of the position, the elected members were, in fact and in principle alike, opposed to the nominated; and that, by consequent instincts, ever meant simply the Government. The press, with similar unanimity, was on the elected side, for both were in the fight for the full "const.i.tutional"

concession, which came a few years later. In anything that touched squatting, however, the squatting representatives, led by another old friend, W.F. Splatt, of the Wimmera, went over bodily, thus giving the Government a small majority, which, as I have shown in my sketch of Mr.

La Trobe, blocked us seriously in dealing with the waste or Crown lands for the benefit of the inpouring tens of thousands of people. Sometimes, by the force of our case, we stole a vote from the Ministerial side, as when Mr. (afterwards Judge) Pohlman defected upon my anti-transportation motion for transmission to the Home Government. There was one sole exception on our elective side (another old personal friend), William Campbell, of the Loddon, who, uncongenial towards the disturbing democratic prospect, voted steadily for the Government. On this account, Edward Wilson, then editing "The Argus", found for him the designation of "the lost sheep of the Loddon," which, as from the enemy's side, was no bad piece of humour; and it took its place in the colony's category accordingly; alongside of Ebden's "disgustingly rich," and possibly other like humour which I have forgotten.

One of the nominee members, Mr. Dunlop, took me roundly to task for a.s.serting that, through a mere "accident of law" about "treasure trove"

being, as of old, the property of the Crown, the Government claimed to confiscate the const.i.tutional rights of one-half of the colonists. I "explained." But the situation really explained itself. The common-sense, as well as the political attainment of the day, could not possibly tolerate such an application of "Old Black Letter" to the entirely novel and unantic.i.p.ated circ.u.mstances of these great and populous goldfields. The elected members were compelled to threaten the only course which appeared legally open to them--namely, that of not voting the supplies, if the goldfields regulations, and receipts and expenditure, all of which the Government had claimed as entirely their own independent matter, were not of reasonable and suitable character, and in accordance with the colonial representatives' views. At the last, however, there was happily mutual agreement.

The "Protection Question" was early brought on, of course from Geelong, by my worthy old friend J.F. Strachan, its member, and both its income and, for that time, its exit, were amusing. "Why lose so much revenue in order to set up colonial brandy-making?" he was asked; "was the domestic article we were to make such sacrifice for to be superior to the imported?" "On the contrary," he replied; "it was because it would be inferior, and must therefore be thus bonused against the superiority of the rival import." So then we were to lose revenue, and pay a higher price, in order to subst.i.tute bad liquor for good. Let us still keep to the better quality at the lower price. So the proposal was laughed out, Strachan himself, with his usual good humour, joining in the laugh.

It would be "supererogation" to go into our early legislation, which is familiar to the colony in a hundred publications, besides the fact that I have touched already on some of the prominent subjects or questions in which I myself took a part, such as the movement against transportation, the new and rather startling course in "The Convicts Prevention Act,"

and the first Gold Commission. I have therefore exhausted my subject, so far as it is properly my own, and must hasten to take my leave. When I first thought of this work for the delightfully complete leisure and repose of a long voyage, I feared that I might find but little to say of matters of a retrospect approaching two generations. But seated at last with pen in hand, and with memory stirred up, I had ere long to exercise mercy towards my expected readers, in sifting the surging crowd of recollections, so as to keep to such as might have general interest. I hope I have reasonably succeeded; and if I have also contributed, in however small a degree, to the information, interest, or amus.e.m.e.nt of my old friends and fellow-colonists, I shall be abundantly repaid.

WILLIAM WESTGARTH.

S.S. "Coptic", at sea, lat.i.tude 45 degrees south, longitude 142 degrees east, 25th July, 1888.

"And this is my conclusion."

--Much Ado About Nothing.

POSTSCRIPT.

MELBOURNE IN 1888.

"Here, fifty winters since, by Yarra's stream, A scattered hamlet found its modest place: What mind would venture then in wildest dream Its wondrous growth and eminence to trace?

What seer predict a stripling in the race Would, swift as Atalanta, win the prize Of progress, 'neath the world's astonished eyes?"

--J. F. DANIELL, "The Jubilee of Melbourne."

"And, behold, one half of the greatness was not told me."

--2 Chronicles 9:6.

My intended postscript on Melbourne as I found it in 1888 has been delayed until I have seen Sydney also, so that I have a few words of comparison on the two great capitals of the southern section of our empire.

ARRIVAL AT HOBART.

Allow me first to complete the outward pa.s.sage. I concluded my "Recollections" when still at sea, within about a day of our s.h.i.+p's destination, Hobart. The Tasmanian sh.o.r.es gave us a salutation not usually a.s.sociated with Australia, that, namely, of the snow, thickly sprinkled over the southern slopes of the island. I welcomed the scene, both as recalling that of Home, and as giving the promise of the highest of civilization, which, as Mr. Froude reminds us, belongs to the countries where the snow remains on the ground. We shortened our course by a few miles in taking D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and were, as I understood, the first of the large vessels from the other hemisphere to do so. We cast anchor off Hobart after nightfall, the many bright lights of the city gladdening our eyes, while the babble of English tongues from the boats around us reminded us once more that, after so many thousands of additional miles since at Cape Town, we were still within the British Empire.

WESTELLA HOTEL.

My first salutation came from an exact namesake of mine, Mr. William Westgarth, whom I had known at Melbourne thirty-five years ago, and who, after varying fortunes, had for the last dozen years been conducting a superior cla.s.s of boarding house or family hotel. It was called Westella, and was situated in Elizabeth-street, the chief thoroughfare of Hobart. The house I recollected as that of Mr. Henry Hopkins, a very early merchant of the city, whom I had met more than once between forty and fifty years ago. It was the undisputed palace of the city of its day; nor was it disposed, even now, to bend its head to any second position. As my friend conducted our party over the pretty scene of garden and cliff behind the house, we found it all wrapped in frost, except where the bright morning sun had struck, and we broke the ice, quite quarter of an inch thick, on a fishpond of the grounds. Thus Tasmanian ascendancy in the civilized world is secured.

PROGRESS OF THE ANTIPODES.

Already we began in Hobart, and we continued as we went further north, to meet with indications of the progress of the age, quite abreast of, and indeed rather ahead of, all that we have been used to at Home. For instance, we were hardly settled comfortably within Westella, when the waiter announced that. Mr. Fysh, the Tasmanian Premier, wished to see me. I had met Mr. Fysh in London, and I quite expected that he wished to have a talk with me about Tasmanian Finance and Loans. "Is he waiting?"

I asked, jumping up at once to go to him. "No, sir," was the reply, "but he is speaking to you through the telephone." I pa.s.sed to the telephone room, and the signal being sent that I was in attendance, I was given two ear-caps and told to listen. A clear, but also "a still, small voice" came up as from the "vasty deep." Whether from the smallness of it, or from my being unaccustomed to that mysterious sort of thing, I did not catch the words, and had to relinquish the business to our hostess, Miss Westgarth, and thus a meeting was conveniently arranged.

AUSTRALIAN FEATURES.

Fortunately for us, we had arrived in a leisure season in the hotel way, so that our host was free to devote himself to us in sightseeing, and thus, with hardly a day and a half to spare, we got a fair idea of Hobart, including a drive along the Huon-road, in whose shaded valleys we found as much snow and ice as though we perambulated the Scotch Highlands in January. This had been, however, an exceptionally severe winter. On the way to Government House, my eyes were once more regaled with the gum trees, in the well-accustomed form of open forest, the ground being covered with gra.s.s, on which sheep were depasturing. This is the pleasing characteristic of much of Australian scenery.

THE TASMANIAN MAIN LINE.

The next day, Sunday, we had to leave for Launceston, by a special train of the Tasmanian Main Line, so as to be in time for the boat to Melbourne, on which we depended for arrival prior to the opening of the great Exhibition on 1st August. We formed a large and important party, including the Governor and lady, the Premier, Treasurer, and Attorney-General, while the Auditor-General and others were to follow a few days after. We understood there was to be a general concourse from all the surrounding colonies, and so far as regarded the official contribution to the concourse Tasmania had done its duty.

While we ran along this, the chief railway of Tasmania, I recalled something of the endless contentions between its proprietors or agents and the Tasmanian Government. The question requires some study, for the "literature" thereof has already swollen to most inconvenient dimensions. Any way of it, the Government would have done best for the colony if they had themselves built the line. As matters now stand, the company cannot be made to maintain the line in due efficiency, because, unfortunately, it has neither capital nor credit to do so. Nor can the amount needed for that purpose be permitted to be taken out of earnings, because that only increases the guaranteed interest properly payable on the bonded debt of the line by the Government. Nor can the Government keep back any of this latter amount, because the "innocent and helpless bond-holders," or the company as their advocate, are at once down upon them for such atrocity. Nor, lastly, can the colony buy up the line and thus be extricated from the mess, because the company utterly scouts the idea of a sale at mere valuation.

THE RIVER TAMAR.

Next day we were steaming down the Tamar, famous for its beauty as a narrow inlet of the sea from Launceston downwards, rather than properly a river. A small boat took us the first twelve miles, and we were then transferred to the larger vessel in which we were to cross the Straits.

In the former we were rather crowded, for some twenty-five youths of Geelong were returning from a football contest with some Tasmanian young folks. They kept us lively with songs and recitations, in which the praises of Geelong were dutifully mingled. I was delighted to see the small Geelong of my early memory turning out in such strength; and recalling in a parental way this said small past of the place, I might have maundered in the "bless you, my children," sort of vein, had I not been kept in check by the frolicsome humour of the boys.

PORT PHILLIP HARBOUR.

Two disappointments awaited me on entering the Heads of Port Phillip: first, it was early morn, just before daybreak, and next, when the day did develop upon us half-way up the Bay, it was in such mist and rain as all but deprived us of any view. But the mist and cloud lifted somewhat as we approached Hobson's Bay, and thence I was rushed into the mult.i.tudinous s.h.i.+pping of Williamstown and Port Melbourne, the great harbour works going on all around, the New Cut, the crowded wharves, and all the other marvels of modern Melbourne.

MELBOURNE.

Here apartments had been provided for us at Scott's Hotel, as Menzies', in its near neighbourhood, the more usual place for families, was quite full with Exhibition visitors. But although our hotel had the noise of ceaseless business below, we on the floor above were so quiet, with the best of attendance and cooking, and with every other comfort, that we are, by choice, to return to it after visiting the other colonies. Here, then, we opened our campaign amongst old scenes and old friends, separated for more than a generation. I had to ascertain who were dead and who still alive. A glance over the city soon revealed to me that one old friend--the oldest, I might say, upon the ground--had entirely pa.s.sed away, and that was the old Melbourne itself which I had left behind me more than thirty-one years before. But happily the old street names remained, and thus I began to feel again at home.

Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria Part 7

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