Victoria: with a description of its principal cities, Melbourne and Geelong/Chapter 2
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Chapter 2: Victoria in 1855
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"While the manners, while the arts,
THOUGH having some practical experience of acquiring a knowledge of the country by various tours during the author's sojourn there in 1855, yet he is much indebted to the perusal of the valuable works by Dr. Muellar, and Mr. Vandowski's talented Botanist and Geologist of Victoria, for the scientific portion of the information which he now places before the public. Situated on the southern part of the Australian continent, Victoria lies between the latitudes of 34° to 39° south, and longitude of 141° to 150° east. Its area is estimated to contain 90,000 square miles, or 57,600,000 acres. On the east and west the boundary is determined by the imaginary lines of the parallels of longitude; but the sea bounds it on the south, and the river Murray along the whole of the north line.
This magnificent river is navigable for 1400 miles, rising in Mount Kosciusko, and, 60 miles from its source, is navigable for small steamers. It has a north-westerly direction until it reaches 140 parallels of longitude, being navigable in the Victorian territory 360 miles. It then suddenly takes a southerly direction, falling into Lake Victoria, and entering the ocean in Encounter Bay. The course of the Murray is, for the most part, through a flat alluvial country, sometimes cutting its way through cliffs of tertiary limestone, which vary in height from 80 to 100 feet above the level of the river, and contain a number of fossil remains.
There are but few other rivers of any note throughout the wide extent of the colony, and none are navigable save the Gleneley, which is only so for 20 miles, and has also a shoal bar.
There are some fine lakes scattered through the country, and of considerable extent, but yet there is no part of the world so well adapted, from the value of its soil and formation, for agricultural or pastoral purposes, that is worse watered. The early settlers suffered severely from the want of this indispensable desideratum. One or two of the lakes also, in the interior, are salt, and several brackish; the latter, however, are used by the inhabitants and for the cattle; custom, and the lack of better, rendering it palatable, and even preferable to fresh—an instance of which occurred to the author, having met a squatter from such a district, who stated that he could not drink fresh water for some time after leaving his station, and for that purpose always took a supply of salt to suit his taste.
There are three rivers remarkable as falling into lakes, having no outlet to the sea, and are, therefore, supposed to have some subterraneous connexion with it, or the neighbouring rivers that have. These are, the Wimmera into Lake Hindmarsh; the Avon into Lake Boloke; and the Avoca into Lake Bael-bael.
Within the limits of the State there are only two good harbours besides those spoken of in Port Phillip Bay. These are. Port Albert and Welsh Pool to the eastward, in the territory known as Gipp's Land; to the westward are Port Fairy, Portland Bay, and Lady Bay, and the harbour of Warrnambool; but these latter are unfortunately exposed to the south-east winds, which render them unsafe during its prevalence. Besides these, there is a harbour at Western Port.
Of the soils of the country it would be impossible, in a sketch like this, to give a full description. They are almost as numerous as the order of rocks on which they are decomposed. Along the coast the principal formation is from the limestone of gray or yellow colour; oftentimes, however, iron ore is embedded in the limestone, and imparts to the soil a rich brown colour. This soil is peculiarly adapted to the culture of vine and fruit trees. Much of it is also to be found along the banks of the Murray. In the mountain ranges the granite soil prevails. It is loose, and not very productive, easily known by the presence of mica, quartz, or felspar. According to the report of the late Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, about one-third of Victoria is composed of basalt, generally of a chocolate brown colour. It is superior to any other for agricultural purposes, and, when mixed with lime, cannot be surpassed. It is on this account that the name of Australia Felix has been given to the State. Of the stone found in Victoria, granite is most abundant, and of great variety, well adapted for building. Sandstone is also found at Geelong, Cape Patterson, and in Gipp's Land, of a very good and valuable quality. There are also vast quantities of basalt found, of the greatest use in forming and macadamizing roads.
It is supposed that coal is to be found in many places, but as yet none has been discovered, save at the Barrabool Hills, near Geelong, and Cape Patterson; the latter is supposed to be the best. Some stir is now being made to prosecute further inquiries for an article so much needed by a vast and increasing population.
Though hitherto the thirst and pursuit of gold have swallowed up all desire to inquire after other minerals, yet, within a mile from Melbourne, there is a large deposit of iron ore, computed to be over two millions of tons, remarkable for its softness and purity; it is also to be found in other places throughout the colony, and is likely to be an object of traffic and use at no distant day. Antimony appears to exist at M'Ivor in considerable quantities. It is chiefly used in the manufacture of type; also as an alloy for hardening tin and lead; as well as for medicinal purposes. Tin is also to be found at the Ovens, but as the gold is found there also, and both procured by the same process, the former is not sought for.
Although this colony possesses many beautiful tracts of country, as in the Grampians, Victoria Ranges, and Buffalo Mountains, in which the scenery and productions are peculiar to it, yet the greater part is similar in character to those of surrounding colonies. This remark applies particularly to the north-western region. The scenery, productions, and soil of this portion of the province are precisely similar to those of the extensive regions of South Australia, and along the Darling. The rich pastures cease, and a country of tertiary limestone, sand-hills, or a meagre clay soil, often saturated with salt, takes their place.
The rainfall in this part of the province ( probably from its vicinity to the great central desert) is much less than in the southern districts, so that the vegetation consists of hard, rigid plants and shrubs, interspersed with salt bushes. The latter render the Murray deserts eminently fitted for depasturing sheep, as this salt herbage and the dry soil effectually save the sheep from all the diseases to which they are subject in the south. The Mallee scrub is formed by dwarf Eucalypti, growing in dense masses, between which are intermingled the pine, a kind of Callitris, which yields the Sandaroo gum. In other parts of the wilderness Acaciæ prevail, and are known by the name of "myall scrub." The most useful indigenous fruit-tree, the native peach, quandang (Furanus acuminatus), belongs to this part of the country. Ornamental shrubs, some of them of the most brilliant description, are numerous.
The coast tract, as well as the greater part of Gipp's Land, assumes entirely the physical characters of Tasmania. Some of the plains along the coast, westward, near Port Fairy for example, boast of the richest soil in the country. Other parts are low, and subject to inundation, and in these are found the native tea-tree, which it is almost impossible to extirpate. Large tracts of heath are also found, and at intervals, especially at Wilson's Promontory, and the eastern part of Gipp's Land, reaches of shifting sand extend continuously for miles. Picturesque bluffs of carboniferous sandstone occur on the coast beyond Western Port, and at Wilson's Promontory. The mineral riches of this country are not yet sufficiently appreciated. We may here mention that argentiferous lead ore has been found at the Gibbo Creek, and malachite at the Grampians.
At a moderate distance from the coast, along the whole extent of this province, there is an extremely fertile country; and when we consider that in the western and northern part of South Australia, and also in the Swan River colony, the really rich agricultural land forms only but scattered oases, and that in many districts of New South Wales the heat of the climate prevents the progress of agriculture, we must look upon Victoria as the most promising, for the future, even did she not possess a distribution of gold through nearly the whole of her mountains.
We cannot avoid here expressing our conviction that the richest of all the Gold Fields lie yet hidden in the unexplored recesses of the Snowy Mountains. Only a single party of diggers have as yet ascended the Boogong Mountains. They were Californians, and made the journey from the Buffalo Mountains. Surface gold was plentiful, and they were only prevented commencing operations for want of provisions. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that the severity of the climate during six or seven months of the year must in this district seriously retard the progress of settlement. The climate, however, is no worse than that experienced by the villagers on the snow-clad mountains of Switzerland.
In the whole of the Australian continent, as far as discoveries have hitherto gone, there are not more than six mountains that rise to the height of eternal snow. In fact, excepting in the Grampians (Mount William) and the south-eastern ranges, the existence of even sub-alpine mountains is uncertain. In the latitude of Victoria, the snow, or height at which glaciers are never or very rarely dissolved by the summer heat, commences at 6000 feet—an elevation which is attained by three mountains, viz., the Boogong Range, the highest peak of which is probably 7000 feet. Mount Buller, and the Corborras. All the numerous mountains of the great dividing chain between Victoria and New South Wales are covered with snow during our rainy season; they may be considered sub-alpine, their elevation being from 4000 to 5000 feet.
The chief timber of the Australian Alps is, as in other mountains, the Eucalypti. In the sub-alpine zone they are of moderate size, but as they ascend they degenerate into brushwood. In the Buffalo Mountains and Fuller's Ranges, enormous blocks of granite form bold outlines. The most prominent heights in the Ranges are Mounts Wellington, Valentia, Gisborne, Ben Cruachan, Angus, and Castle Hill, all from 4000 to 5000 feet high. At least of equal elevation are Mount Baw-baw and many mountains intermediate between the highest peaks. The mountains extending from the Limestone River to the Pinch Range, on the borders of New South Wales, are likewise alpine or sub-alpine, but the greater part of these ranges are yet untrodden by civilized man.
The Omeo country in this region resembles, in climate and scenery, the Highlands of Scotland. The plains are elevated 3000 feet above the level of the sea, and nothing can be more delightful than to proceed in the summer from the parched plains, at the base of the mountains, to this elevated table-land, where the traveller finds a renewed spring, and a delicious climate. The emerald green of the Omeo Plains, the horses and cattle scattered over them, and the towering mountains which surround them, combine a beauty and a grandeur which the beholder cannot easily forget. This country was discovered by Mr. James MacFarlane.
Towards the south-eastern part of Gipp's Land, the nature of the country alters almost suddenly from that of Van Dieman's Land to that of New South Wales.
Beyond the Snowy River, the cabbage palm (Corypha Australis) attains the stupendous height of 60, and even, though rarely, 80 feet. This useful tree reaches here its most southern latitude, and associated with it are numerous climbers and other plants generally found within the tropics. The whole of this extraordinary region is, in fact, evidently sub-tropical. In all probability this phenomenon is partly traceable to the country being sheltered by Van Dieman's Land from the Antarctic, south, and south-westerly winds; and by the mountains from the northern winds, which are extremely cold in winter, and a sirocco in summer. Its only exposure is to the mild and gentle breezes of the Pacific Ocean. This region, as a producer of sub-tropical plants, is evidently destined to perform a great part in the industrial history of Victoria.
Previous to the time of which we write, the greater portion of the lands above described, tracts free from timber and capable of depasturage, have been more or less occupied by squatters. This term is used as the most aristocratic one in the colony, the greater portion of them being emigrants possessed of capital, of enterprising character, and of respectable families, from the mother country. Even at the present moment, notwithstanding the large fortunes made by many others at the Gold Fields, they form by far the wealthiest portion of the community, and hold a more prominent position from the advantages of birth and education. Victoria is, therefore, justly considered as a colony possessing the purest extraction of the Anglo-Saxon race. And, although it has happened that during the wild mania of emigration, after the discovery of the Gold Fields, thousands of every nation and class flocked to its shores, still, the foundation being so English in character, and the squatters holding possession of such immense tracts of country, we may reasonably hope that they and their principles will still predominate. The only drawback to such an expectation is the nature of the tenure by which they hold their lands, which, in all probability, will shortly be changed. Up to the present moment the nature of this tenure has been divided under three heads, to meet a like number of districts in the colony, denominated respectively as the settled, intermediate, and unsettled.
The settled districts of the colony comprehend twenty-one counties, which were occupied and proclaimed in 1848. The intermediate districts comprehend the lands adjoining the above with almost the whole of that extensive tract known as Gipp's Land, already alluded to. The unsettled form the remainder. Leases for the first class are only issued from year to year, the rent fixed for each several run of land being proportioned according to the number of sheep or equivalent number of cattle it is estimated to be capable of feeding,—each run to contain 4000 sheep, or an equivalent number of cattle, at an annual rent of £10, increasing according to stock. Any portion of these runs can be put up for public sale and entered upon on the expiration of the lease.
Upon the same terms and conditions, runs on the intermediate lands are also leased for a term not exceeding eight years, during the continuance of which lease the lands, or any portion thereof, may be purchased by the lessee, restricted, however, to certain limits, and not less than 160 acres could be so purchased. Leases for the unsettled districts are issued not exceeding fourteen years in duration. The foregoing leases are for pastoral purposes only, with permission to the lessee to cultivate any portion of the said run for the general support of his establishment, but not for the purpose of sale or barter. The upset price for land, and of which the lessees in the unsettled and intermediate districts have the privilege of purchase, is fixed at £1 per acre. If, however, on the expiration of a lease, the land is put up for sale, the improvements made by the tenant are valued by arbitration and the amount added to the upset price. In addition to the above rents the Government have reserved to themselves the power of levying a tax upon the sheep and cattle.
Our space will not permit to enter into particulars as to the mode of leasing and disposing of the land. Government land sales are constantly taking place, and any person choosing any particular spot can apply, by paying for the survey fee, to have any portion thereof put up at the same, the upset price being £1 an acre, except when the land has been portioned off for a township or contiguous to it. The drawback before alluded to will be removed as the lessees become purchasers, which now seems to be the greatest desideratum of the Legislature, and every exertion is being made to survey the lands. By the formation of roads, building of bridges, together with enactments favourable to land proprietors, we may reasonably expect the greater portion will become so. It thus happens that the squatters holding their stations only on leases of short duration, without the power of cultivation for traffic, have not, for the most part, considered them as home, but as birds of passage contented to live on them, enduring discomfort and privation, accumulating wealth with the intention of either returning to dear fatherland, or purchasing property elsewhere. It is, therefore, more politic for the Legislature to hold out every inducement possible to make them proprietors as well as lessees. The life consequent upon such a system, and with such objects in view, does not tend to the advantage of society, or the proper colonization of the country. The stations are generally far apart, the intercourse little and uncertain, the mode of life semi-savage, or too much retired for the growth and benefit of civilization. A visit to one of them may not be inappropriate.
After many incidents during a tour through a northern district, some of which will be found elsewhere, we drew near a station where it was our intention to stay a few days; the author, therefore, chooses, as this is a good one, to describe a specimen of the major part,—although, indeed, Blenheim had an attraction that many cannot boast of, in being under the domestic sway of a lady, and that too, of one sufficient in herself to ameliorate the hardships of a residence in far Bushland. A long ride over some rocky hills, covered with the stunted honeysuckle-tree and loose herbage, and along the banks of a pretty stream, through a large plain here and there interspersed with trees, under whose shade lay the grouping flocks,—scenery not surpassed in the pastoral districts of England, though having a degree of wildness and an absence of the human form divine — brought us to a line of paling stretching across the plain; and this our guide pointed out as the general landmark to find a station, for, from the extent of the runs, they cannot be fenced, but a few hundred acres around the station are generally more or less so, with posts and rails for the purpose of occasionally collecting the flocks and herds,—the former for shearing, and the latter for branding, which last operation is necessary from the constant occurrence of cattle straying into other runs, and the difficulty occasioned thereby of identification; and as the branding only takes place every second or third year, it is rendered more necessary, for the sake of the increased number during the interval, and which are only known by the general resemblance to the herd which they accompany.
While speaking on this matter, we may further describe it as rather an exciting event to the squatters. When a proprietor resolves to have a grand branding-day, his neighbours for miles around are invited to assist, he returning the compliment when required. We joined one of these battues, and were it not for our being under the particular guardianship of a Bush horseman, we certainly would have been lost in the wilds and woods we had to go through, or injured, if not killed, by some of the ferocious attacks of the herds we encountered.
We started about daybreak, after a hurried breakfast, some thirty horsemen in number, the only weapon for the chase being what is termed a stock whip. It has a thick handle, of about 16 inches in length, and a very heavy tapering thong of 18 to 20 feet. It is most surprising with what dexterity and effect they are handled. At a hand-gallop we rode about six miles over the plain ere we entered the forest country where the herds were known to be. The horses we rode, as far as appearance went, did not seem of any great repute, but were without exception the best and most enduring that ever came under my experience in all the different parts of the world I have been in. In truth, the Bush horse of Australia bears a resemblance to the Arabian, to which it owes its extraction; though not so pretty, yet they are short, well-knit, and high-mettled, possessing an indomitable power of speed, endurance, and agility, with a brilliant eye and large nostril, and trained for this particular use beyond the power of description. For two or three hours we traversed the woods in all directions seeking for the main body; at length, in an open glade by the side of a little stream, as we gained a rising ground, we saw a large number beneath us, about a thousand. The practised eye of the owner soon discovered that several hundred were still wanting; so, retracing our steps a little to a more open part of the wood, we dismounted, to hold consultation as to our future proceedings. It was resolved, that we should form six separate parties, myself and friend accompanying our host, with two others of the most experienced. The directions were, for each party to take a different route, making a detour, and scour the country round, driving towards the glade all the stray herds they met. It was also directed, that each party, as they came near the glade, were to remain perdu until they could ascertain that the whole six were collected. We were occupied in this duty two or three hours, and several times had to turn the flank of some outstraying ones endeavouring to make off in a contrary direction as we approached them. On one occasion, as we discovered three fine black bulls, which our host said were the chief of the herd, we cautiously drew near them; however, they showed an evident disposition to fight. The horses, now left entirely to their own guidance, moved quietly on them in the form of a half circle. Scarcely had our host given the caution, "Loose the reins and stick on," when the three bulls gave a low moaning bellow, and simultaneously rushed frantically upon us, with heads towards the ground and tails in the air. The most formidable of the three seemed to single me out as its victim, and in a second the infuriated beast rushed on me. My presence of mind did not desert me; I faithfully obeyed the order I had received, and held on like grim death. I felt suddenly whirled about, and my sight somewhat dimmed by the rapidity of the movements. When I could see, I found myself going full pace after the retreating bull, who had actually touched my leg as he charged past me, borne free by my well-trained steed. A well-delivered lash from the long-thonged whip wielded by one of the gentlemen who supported me, turned the chase in the right direction, and soon the trio were making towards the glade. My friend was not so fortunate, for, though he had received the same caution, he was not quick enough to meet the sudden whirl of his horse, and was pitched head foremost on "mother earth;" the horse, however, continued the chase, and, when we drew in, stopped and waited quietly for his discomfited rider.
At another time, as I was going down a thickly wooded ravine, I started a cow and calf. With the utmost fury the former rushed on me, when my horse, with the agility of a cat, bore me round a large tree, and immediately of himself took up the chase, bearing me alongside nolens volens, still edging on the animal, turning her in the right direction. When, at length, we had reached the glade, and as each party drove some before them, then indeed it was an exciting scene to see their discomfiture, fierce and determined, and evidently inclined to show fight. Whilst, however, they seemed to deliberate, the attacking party formed a three-quarter circle around them, gradually emerging from the forest, the horses themselves forming the curvature, the riders' whole attention being devoted to cracking their whips and shouting. What a moment of intense anxiety, as some lordly bull of the herd would turn round and present a hostile appearance, the whole herd imitating him in preparing for a grand rush. As the cordon grew more distinct, and the opening became more exposed, the herd, now about 1500 in number, discovering it, made one grand rush, heading as we wished them to go. The day now was partly won, for, having once succeeded in collecting the entire body, and giving them the lead in the proper direction, the rest was not attended with much difficulty, except to keep them blindly at fall pace as long as possible. The shouts and cracking of whips were stunning, and we all dashed into the wood as if infected with the same wildness as the animals; indeed, the horses seemed to enter most heartily into the spirit of the thing, and on they went with headlong speed: crashing through the woods, over fallen timber and deep ravine, wading rivers, "o'er bank, bush, and scaur," they hurried on, until we opened on the plain, when the now foaming cattle drew up to breathe. After whipping in the loiterers, and forming all in a compact body, we drew in rein and dismounted, most of the party to light their pipes, which form the constant companions of the Bushmen. We had still six miles to take them. On the verge of the plain ran the river, over which, with considerable difficulty, we urged them, and as we waded after them, and reached the opposite bank, whether from the renewed vigour from the stream, or the scattering and delay of getting them over, we had not time to form them into a body before they made a retrograde attack. It was then the wonderful sagacity of our horses was most apparent. Immediately on the rush, all reins were loosened, and the horses, coming together into a close body, whirled round, forming a circuit after the herd. Never was charge of cavalry executed with greater order or precision than these half-wild horses, without whip, spur, or rein, manœuvred. Closing round the leaders of the herd ere they reached the stream, outflanking them, they succeeded in bringing them to their former position. It was really most astonishing to see how the horses watched any indication of a backward movement, and with what spirit they maintained the chase during the whole day.
Towards evening we approached the station, when we were joined by several herdsmen and dogs, who mingled amongst the horsemen, and assisted us to drive the whole within the stockade. My horse seemed as fresh as when I started, although I am certain of having gone more than sixty miles during the day, and most of that of hard and difficult riding. His saddle and bridle were taken off, and he was turned loose into a paddock, but it was several days ere I could get into the saddle again.
Most of the squatters' houses are on the same cottage plan, unless, indeed, some of recent date, which are of a more extensive style and pretension. Blenheim fronts in a bend of the river, with a pretty garden of about two acres in extent before it, fenced in. The house is on a gentle rise; the outer walls roughly built of uncut stone, partitioned with timber, cottage style, with a deep verandah in the centre, on which opened the dining and sitting room. A wing on either side, for the sleeping apartments, opens sideways on the verandah. A passage runs in rear of the two front rooms, dividing them from the kitchen and store-room. The wings on either side extend back for some sixty feet, forming a small yard, a wall, with gateway, completing the square. In these are the servants' apartments, laundry, dairy, and stores. Some twenty paces further to the rear is another block of buildings of a similar description, though still more rudely constructed. These contain the overseer's house in front, with stables. Wool-shed, and stores in the yard. On one side of the buildings is a large, well-fenced stockade, used for penning the cattle for branding, and the sheep for shearing. Close to this is the horse paddock, and on the other side some fifty acres of tillage are fenced in. This, and a similar field along the banks of the river, comprise the whole cultivation on a run containing 20,000 acres.
The house, as seen from the river, has a very pleasing appearance. The garden is always kept in beautiful order, and the trellis-work around the verandah covered with creepers, which extend over the roof, hiding the shingles, which would otherwise have rather a rusty appearance, concealing also the unfinished sides of the building. Considerable attention is paid to the interior comfort at Blenheim, owing to the advantage it has over many which we have already alluded to. The sitting rooms are neatly furnished, one having a good piano, and the other three parts lined with handsome book shelves, full of works of every kind—a great desideratum in the country, so far away from a town. We spent several happy days at Blenheim; in fact, during our whole tour of some six weeks' duration, we experienced the greatest hospitality from the squatters; the great difficulty being to get away, so attentive and kind they always were in promoting all kinds of amusement to induce us to prolong our stay.
We had several days of exciting sport in hunting the kangaroo, equal, indeed, to fox-hunting, and when they broke cover the pace was killing. It was most amusing to see this curious animal leaping on its hind-legs, and outstripping our best horses and dogs. Another sport in which we two or three times indulged was wild turkey shooting, curious and sedate enough in its way, though fall of excitement and fun. Fancy six keen sportsmen sitting on a bundle of hay, in a bullock-cart, quietly moving over the plain. We had two carts, our party consisting of two divisions, each pursuing a different route. After some three or four miles we gradually came upon a flock quietly feeding, which appeared quite regardless of our approach. It is most curious that these birds, so exceedingly wary on the appearance of either a pedestrian or horseman, will, nevertheless, allow a bullock-team to come quite dose to them. I am ashamed to confess the bait was too tempting to prevent us firing on them as they strutted about in apparent confident security. At a preconcerted signal, bang went three pieces, and a like number of fine birds were sprawling on the ground. As the remainder took the wing, our reserved fire brought down two more. We were several hours without getting another opportunity, and then only a chance shot on the wing.
Towards evening both parties returned, loaded with twelve as fine turkeys as ever graced a larder. They are better than the tame bird, having a fine wild-fowl flavour. The wing is coloured meat, the leg and breast being white.
Another day was spent in fishing on a large lake into which the river discharges itself, and as several gentlemen lived around it, we made an excursion to one of their houses. It seemed almost a fac-simile of Blenheim, wanting, however, the chief attraction there, and the comforts attending it. Besides these, and other sports by day, we had others by the moonlit nights in shooting the opossum and spearing the dingoes. Of the former, when the moon was in the full, we had two or three trials. With dogs trained for the sport, we started for the forest. Shortly after we entered it, the dogs gave tongue, and, following them, we found them barking under a tree, up which an opossum had gone. It took us some time ere we could decide which spot he was on, as they hide themselves with wonderful instinct, sometimes stretched along a branch at full length; at another, coiled up like a ball at the top of a bough* We fired several shots without success; at length I fired at the top of a dead limb, and down came poor opossum to the ground. We had considerable success at this sport, and I have now a beautiful rug as a trophy.
The horse I had ridden at the first cattle-hunt my kind host begged my acceptance of: he is still in my possession, and justly considered most valuable. At first he was a fierce and untameable brute, but ere were turned to Melbourne he was to me as gentle as a lamb. I think my first advance into his good graces was on a moonlight night, when we sallied out in search of dingoes, the dogs being tied up, but exceedingly restless on their chains. In a small yard, not far from my own sleeping apartment, Blenheim, for so I called him, was now kept in compliment to me, and I was in the habit of paying him many a visit, and there feeding him; several escapes have I had from his hoofs, for at first he would lash out at me most unmercifully. This evening he was more quiet, and I was holding a sheaf of oats for him to eat, when he suddenly gave a snort, and, as his eye of fire looked up, it seemed to say—"there is sport upon the wind." This the cry of the dingoes soon assured me of. I had barely time to grasp a long spear which lay near me, open the gate, and jump on his back without saddle or bridle. As I cleared the enclosure, two other horsemen, mounted in like fashion, rode on with me, separating after a few seconds, into the scrub. Trusting myself entirely to my steed, thanks to my Irish education in horse-riding, I stuck on, now grazing a tree, now stooping under a branch, now down a deep ravine, over fallen timber, rushing madly on with the wild cry of the dogs in our rear, for they were loosed immediately on our starting. I had cleared a fence with one hand, holding firmly by the mane and the other poising my spear, ready for action, when my horse snorting, with head towards the ground, intimated to me that the enemy was near. I raised my spear and drove it through the dingoe, but the headlong speed at which we went made me lose my balance, and I came tumbling over on my foe. Two or three dogs coming up at the moment soon, however, finished him, and I had scarce regained my feet ere Blenheim had returned quietly to my side, he having shot past when I fell. At other times, even with bridle and saddle, it was a difficult matter to mount him; now he stood quietly steady for me, and did the same ever afterwards.
The chase continued for some time with considerable success, and ere we returned to the station we made such an inroad into their numbers as rendered them innocuous to the flocks of Blenheim for many a day. These and the waringalls are a horrid plague to the herdsmen, for, though they are cowardly brutes, and their visits not very frequent, yet, when they do come, it is generally in a pack, and, not content with killing and eating a few of the sheep, they will destroy several for their blood, and, rendered formidable by their numbers, will defy the watch-dogs and single herds. When, therefore, it is rumoured that they are in the neighbourhood, the flocks nearest the station are driven into the home paddock, and all the dogs tied up, everything, in fact, ready for a grand rush at them. The indications of their approach are known by the dogs, by the horses, or by any of the natives if they happen to be at the station; these last are very cunning in detecting the peculiarities of the wild animals common to the country.
There were two of the aborigines almost domiciled at Blenheim, and showed considerable docility and obedience from the kind treatment they received, although the most unintellectual pair of human beings I ever saw. The Australian natives belong to the Malay race, though differing in some essential points. They bear no affinity to the New Zealanders. Unless when domesticated, they wear no clothing of any description; when it is very cold, during winter nights, they wrap round them a rug made from the opossum or wallaby skin. They endure cold, rain, and hardship of every description, without even an attempt to alleviate it. They are exceedingly indolent, and savage in their manners and mode of life, and are very seldom domesticated. They live principally on half-roasted animal food and different roots, which they display a wonderful shrewdness in discovering. They are said to devour their enemies when taken in battle. As a people, they are fast disappearing; in fact, in the eastern part of Victoria but few are to be found. Their fate has been accelerated by the influence of disease, which they had no skill to baffle; almost invariably their contact with the white man has been attended with unmixed evil to them, more particularly from the inordinate love they soon acquire for ardent spirits, and thus, as the settler advances, they are fast dwindling away from the vast country once their own.
The sketch relative to the advancement of agriculture, and its extent in the colony, we defer to our closing chapter, as its progress is daily becoming more apparent. By waiting for the latest accounts, we will have the opportunity of giving the fullest and most favourable view of the subject.
Many places in Victoria are so densely timbered, that, to prepare a single acre for the plough would be as much as any two men could accomplish in a week. The timber is not of such value as one would suppose, in consequence of the difficulty and expense in sawing and carting it away, and the largest trees are uniformly uneven and rotten within. Nor have the settlers of Australia the same facilities the American has, for they cannot make rafts of it to send down the rivers; the timber of Australia will not float. There is, however, one advantage derived from it—it does not take fire easily, and you seldom or ever hear of a house being burnt, notwithstanding the carelessness and drunkenness of servants. So hard, indeed, is the wood, that I have often kindled a fire on the timber floor of my workshop, without any injury to the apartment. The durability of such dense wood is of great importance, for around the cultivated fields we have neither hedges nor stone walls, the fences being entirely constructed of timber. A single tree may be found sufficient to fence an acre. The fences are constructed in the following manner:—Three rails are placed horizontally above one another, about eighteen inches apart, with each end inserted into morticed posts, sunk about two feet into the ground, and five feet above it. Two or three hundred rails and posts may be obtained from one tree; and there is a trade carried on in this line, and regular sawyers and splitters, whose trade is to go about preparing timber, and putting up these fences. For the most part the trees are of enormous dimensions, averaging from thirty to sixty feet in circumference four feet above the ground, and from two to three hundred feet in length. It is no uncommon thing to see a tree forty feet in circumference, and one hundred feet high, before even one branch appears. The common tree is the Eucalyptus or gumtree.
Our time does not permit us to enter into minute description of the various trees of the Australian forest; but as they bear a close affinity to those of Tasmania, which we fully described in our work on that country, we must refer our readers to it.
Vast forests, diversified with mountains and valleys, beside innumerable plains with a few scattered trees; rivers appearing like a chain of ponds; here and there a solitary patch of cleared land;—form the principal features of the vast continent, now divided into four separate and independent countries. To a wanderer through Victoria, nothing so attracts his attention as the open forest land, which appears like a gentleman's demesne in England, occupied, however, only by the fleet-passing emu, or the wild-leaping kangaroo. Again, his vision is delighted by lofty ranges, covered with most beautiful verdure to their summits; extensive lagoons, darkened with legions of wild-fowl; innumerable birds, of the most beautiful plumage, chirping and flitting from every tree; flowers of every hue and shade in the rainbow are seen, strewing your path as you proceed; above you the blue Italian sky, the fair vault of heaven, unruffled by a cloud; the air around you soft, pure, and balmy, and all in silence around him—such is Australia! In such a scene as this it was once my fate, during my wanderings, to witness a sudden change that broke upon the contemplations which the solemn stillness and solitude gave rise to, by one of those throes of nature this climate is subject to. It was during a ramble through the mountains of Victoria, in the midst of one of the most awful thunder-storms ever experienced in the colony. The day had closed ere I had time to take up the track through the forest, and I knew not what direction to take across an extensive plain before me. Thus night closed upon me; the repeated flashes of lightning rendered darkness visible, and coruscations and lurid glare made it appear as if the very atmosphere was on fire. The very air I breathed was tainted with strong sulphuric odour. Loud and rapid peals of thunder reverberated from hill to hill around me, and the forked lightning struck the earth in repeated flashes at my very feet. My horse was scared, and refused to move. At length the war of the elements seemed to close; and now huge torrents of rain came pouring down. Sheltering myself beneath my horse in an open space, to avoid the falling trees repeatedly struck by the lightning, shivering them to atoms, I patiently watched through that fearful night; and when the daylight did appear, fearful was the havoc around me—the combined power of both lightning and whirlwind had done its part: the giant lords of the forest were either strewn on the ground, stripped of their branches by the devastating hurricane, or split from stem to stem, prostrated on the ground, displaying the mighty power that had overthrown them. The warm rays of a bright autumnal sun, and the entire cessation of the rain and tempest, caused all around to appear calm and placid, with a balmy freshness in the air, from the heavy torrents that fell; and though my limbs were stiff from the weary watching through that terrific night, yet the morning beams restored me, and hunger exciting both steed and owner, we soon hied to a friendly squatter's, whose house, with much difficulty through the falling timber, we at length in safety reached.
Before we close this chapter, to turn to matters of a very different character, we would say a few words of the emu and kangaroo, a bird and animal so strange and unknown amongst those in Europe. The emu in form and size closely resembles the ostrich, but the feathers, if feathers they can be called, are very different, being close, spiral, silky hair, bearing no affinity to the close-knit feather; being thus clad, therefore, they cannot fly; however, the rapid movement and muscular power of their long legs fully make up for this deficiency. They stand from five to seven feet in height, and in the distance look most strange and imposing to a stranger on first seeing a group of them speeding over the plain. They thus can outstrip the fleetest horse. The colour is dark gray or black; occasionally a few spots of dirty white appear under the nondescript wing. They form a considerable object of chase in the wild prairies, and over the extensive tracts of open country in the interior, more, indeed, as an object of exciting amusement, in the often fruitless attempts to run them down or circumvent them. Their flesh is of little value, being of an oily, disagreeable taste, though highly approved of by the natives. Their feathers are not valuable, and seldom used; with some care, however, a very good oil is obtained by boiling them down, which some of the more experienced Bushmen turn to good account. The emu lays from ten to twelve eggs, which they hide in the sand or loose earth; they are much larger than the ostrich, measuring from ten to twelve inches in circumference, and are of a dark-blue colour.
The kangaroo is a very curious-looking animal, having all the properties of the deer, but of a very different form and appearance; there are several kinds of them, and they go regularly down from the large forester, which stands five feet high, through several grades of sizes, even to the rat and mouse kangaroo, all preserving exactly the same form, and the same manner of living and peculiarities, in the most remarkable way—a curious study for the naturalist.
They answer for the stag and hare-hunting of England; the colour of the skin is that of the hare; they are of a very curious shape, sitting on their hind-legs, which are long and sinewy, but bent under them to support them in a sitting posture, with body and head erect. Their forefeet, or rather arms, are very short and small, but strong and sinewy, used more as claws for procuring their food; the whole species is entirely graminivorous. The head is like that of a young deer, though the ears and nose are longer; they have a quiet and gentle aspect, and are very easily tamed; indeed, even in their wild state they are often seen herding with the sheep and cattle, with whom they live on very peaceable terms. They never have more than two young at a time, which they carry in a pouch under the belly, and from which the young are in the first place born; and this peculiarity is in all the different kinds, down to the little mouse. The flesh is good for eating, but, not having any fat, requires to be well larded and dressed in a particular manner; the tail particularly is as famed for soup as the ox-tail; it is large and long, and used to guide them in their extraordinary movements. The skin is tough and strong, and makes the finest leather in the world for ladies' shoes. Untanned, but preserved with the hair on, it forms a splendid rug, impervious to rain, and was the only covering used by the natives in former days. When not excited in the chase, their motions, skipping and jumping from their hind-legs, is very graceful and elegant. When, however, they are hunted, they go off in one continued succession of rapid bounds, leaping, each one, over fifteen to twenty paces. The chase of these animals in several parts of Australia and Tasmania is as regular as our fox-hunting in England, and dogs of a particular breed are kept for that purpose. We will close this chapter with a short account of the last one we were present at.
It was on a fine morning in the month of June, which corresponds with the English November, that, as the sun gilded the tops of the Warraboo Hills, in company with a gay young soldier, lately from Leicester, and arrayed in the hunting gear for which that Nimrod county is justly famed, that I mounted my dog-cart, and drove from our encampment, situated in a beautiful, romantic, little plain, in the neighbourhood of Ballaarat. My own gear, though not so stunning as my lively companion's, was perhaps more appropriate: a comfortable beaver, of an antique wear and character, and well strapped under my chin, formed my head-dress; a Crimson neck-tie, to give me some appearance of a Meltonian, and a green shooting-jacket; with patent leather overall boots, the common under-dress of the Australian, and which almost hid out the leather breeches, made me equal to face any forest, bank, bush, or scaur, so constantly met with in the chase.
A drive of about fourteen miles in the cool of the morning sharpened our appetites to enjoy to the full extent the luxurious and magnificent repast prepared for us and some twenty more at the hospitable home of Mr. Penrose, one of the largest and wealthiest proprietors of stations in Victoria, and one of the few houses where a style equal, if not superior, to an English country-house is always kept up. Having done every justice to the viands before us, we adjourned to the lawn before his door, where the hounds and horses were awaiting our appearance; and though neither men, horses, nor dogs,bore much resemblance to a meet in Leicester, or the Queen's hounds at Windsor, yet the heroes of the chase that morning assembled might rank amongst the proudest of Britain's noblest sons; and the steeds, though not turned out with such sleek coats or Peat-like gear, yet were they, perchance, more available for a hard run than many an English hunter; while the dogs, a motley group and lean withal, soon gave us proof of the sterling quality of their breed.
A short distance through an open glade brought us to a skirt of the wild forest, into which, making a detour, we entered, the dogs still being coupled. After rambling on for half-an-hour, scattering about to hunt up the game, a fine forester kangaroo broke cover and bounded off, heading towards the plain. The dogs were now loosed, and, giving tongue with a will, broke on the chase. Whilst dashing through the wood in the mad excitement of the moment, we had to commit ourselves entirely to the mercy of our well-trained steeds. One or two of our number, indeed, unused to the wonderful agility of the Australian horse, were made closer acquainted with mother earth. On opening the plain we beheld the hounds but a short way before us, in full cry, and though many a time I have hunted with the best hounds in my own dear native land from my very boyhood days, yet never have I recollected being engaged in a more strange or exciting chase than the one now before us. The kangaroo in his wild jumps seemed to fly through the air, and on we sped over hill and dale, through field and mead, with many a noble feat of horsemanship unrivalled in the annals of fox-hunting. Many were soon distanced; again the chase led on through the forest, and then the skill of the hardy steeds appeared, as dashing, crashing madly, themselves excited in the chase, they bore us along.
Ascending a small hill, another plain opened on our view, intersected by a wide and rapid river; into this the forester made his way, and now half beat from a run of more than ten miles without a check, prepared to meet his foe; and as each dog came rushing on him, he quickly tore him with his forepaws, or, sometimes seizing two at a time, held them underwater, drowning them in the stream. When, however, the rest of the pack came up, refreshed, no doubt, by his cooling delay, he regained the bank and bounded off again. Amid the floating and torn dogs, we, madly, to a man, took the foaming current. Some were swept down the stream, and with difficulty regained the shore they came from. My gay young friend and I were amongst the fortunate ones, and, following on, we soon again took up the chase, which, now heading over a hill of stunted trees and loose stones, seemed sheer madness, as in reckless style and still full pace we dashed on. As we reached the summit of the hill the poor kangaroo's day was nearly over, for though in going down the hill he gained considerably on the dogs, yet in the valley they once more overtook him. A gentleman, an old sportsman, now dismounted as we drew in the reins of our panting and well-nigh exhausted steeds, and in his endeavour to beat off the dogs, received a severe wound on his face from the kangaroo. This was, however, his last effort, when he fell at his feet, the victim of our day's sport. Were I to recount one-tenth of the gallant feats that day performed by our illustrious field, as we slowly bent our way homewards, or sat over the blazing hearth, I should write another book, having as my subject alone, "Incidents of the chase in Victoria."