Cattle Chosen/Chapter 3
T H O U G H the parallel is far from complete, the story of the pilgrimage of Lenox Bussell and his sisters, Frances and Bessie, to join their brothers in Australia, suggests that of Mr. Greatheart and his companions on their way to join Christian in the Celestial City. They set out in the sailing ship 'Cygnet' late in 1832, and anchored in Gage Roads — in sight of the promised land on 26th January 1833. Their journals tell of nothing more exciting than a visit to a French whaler, and another to the island of St. Paul's. Of the former, Frances bids her 'dearest mother, fancy your girls climbing over the gangway, and descending, somehow or other, into a little cockleshell of a boat, upon the bosom of the broad Atlantic Ocean.'... Aboard 'La Commerce de Paris' they were joined by the captain of an American whaler, and Miss Fanny notes the contrast in national characteristics, 'the American all solidity and judgement, the Frenchman courtesy, animation and ease, and the Englishman jovial and frank, as Captain Rolles is, under the influence of variety and good cheer. "How pleasant it is," said Mrs. Clarkson, "thus we assemble in peace. How far preferable to meeting in war." The sentiment was universal and we drank to each other's future success and prosperity.'
On the island of St. Paul's, a desolate rock rather more than half-way from the Cape to the Swan, a party including Lenox, Mr. Shenton and Mr. C. Clarkson went ashore, and remained, fishing, overnight.
'Bessie and I paced the deck from six in the morning, until at length a boat was discernible. Judge of our delight when we discerned Len's cap. As he came nearer he waved a cray-fish in the air, in token of their success in fishing, but he looked so pale, having been seized in the night with a violent attack of sickness after eating cray-fish. I will leave him to the quiet enjoyment of his hammock, and a basin of farinaceous powder which we prepared for him immediately.' Despite Lenox's experience, the ship's company all found the fruits of the landing-party's exertions a very agreeable variety in their diet. Penguins, too, were brought off from St. Paul's. 'They are,' thinks Miss Fanny quite solemnly, 'a link between a kangaroo and a flying-fish. The wings are in reality fins and the legs placed so far back that the birds walk upright.' Such a distinctly pre-Darwinian theory was excusable on ship-board, but the 'Cygnet's' people might at least have read Coleridge on the albatross.
'As we were sitting in the Cuddy this morning, the alarm was given. "Black swans in sight." I cannot say how it overcame me. They proved, however, to be albatrosses, and were shot accordingly.' That is to say, 'treated as sich,' as if no ancient mariner had ever passed like night from land to land. 'Captain Rolles has given me the foot.'
They were 'now running on delightfully', like the journal itself, 'seven knots an hour, with a bright sky and a delicious air, This they tell me is the Swan River climate. In four days we shall see the land which is to be henceforth the abode of all our interests, hopes and affections. Dear, happy England already seems like the land of shadows, beautiful and beloved, but abandoned for ever.'
The first person on board, on the morning of their arrival, was 'Captain Toby, of the colonial schooner 'Ellen', with news that all the brothers were well.' He says they are grown such rough creatures. Vernon and Alfred are quite young men. Miss Turner is married to a Mr. MeDermot, so there was no truth in the report of Ally's engagement.'
Mr. McDermot carried them off to his home in Fremantle that very evening, and they reported Mrs. McDermott 'a very nice little woman', with a 'nice drawing-room with every English comfort, except a looking-glass, a tea table with all appliances and means to boot, but the Hindoo servants in attendance partake more of the Oriental style.'
The Swan, as they voyaged up to Perth next day, was 'like Chepstow, Clifton, Henley, every beautiful place I have ever seen, only broader, clearer, fuller than any river in England, and then such a lovely clear sky, and a gentle breeze. We both felt that fullness of enjoyment which silence can alone express. Captain Toby was good-natured and attentive in all our vagaries, whether of silence or sauciness. Everyone is so, such is the estimation in which the dear, dear boys are held.'
While 'Captain Toby' voyaged south in the 'Ellen' to announce at Augusta the arrival of their sisters and Lenox at the Swan, Mrs. Bussell in England was learning, from another source, of the high esteem in which John and his brothers stood. George Miller, a surgeon, reported from London having fallen in with a naval officer from H.M.S. 'Sulphur' on its return from Swan River. 'He knew your sons perfectly well, and they all dined on board his ship in July last (1832). At that time they all were in excellent health and spirits, and anxiously expecting the arrival of their sisters, which I hope will soon be. He describes them as very fine young men, most indefatigable and persevering, respected and beloved by every individual, high and low, rich and poor. The deference paid to John by his younger brothers and their friends in general was no less remarkable than deserved. He says their spot is truly a paradise, and that they had made considerable progress in cultivating their land.... He has no doubt of ultimate success, and is sanguine in his hopes and enthusiastic in his admiration of all that is Swan.'
At 'The Adelphi' excitement reigned when Captain Toby brought his news, though mixed with disappointment that he had not succeeded in bringing the sisters themselves. Back with him went John. Charles, during his absence, whiled away an evening telling Mary, still in England, 'of the accommodation we have at present prepared for the reception of the newcomers. You will thus be able to form an opinion whether it is likely to exceed their expectations. This description, too, will have the effect of putting it out of your power to view your future home through the optics of Romance, which even you, dearest Mary, are not without. First and foremost, there is one main room about fourteen feet square with a comfortable fireplace, no ceiling, nor windows, nor doors. Start not, for the two latter are in progress and will be completed on John's return, if not before. Secondly, there is a small room detached from the main house, decidedly of the petit class, built by John in his private hours, ranged throughout by bookshelves well filled, perfectly complete in fact. This he has set apart as the ladies' boudoir. Thirdly, there are two most complete little rooms built by Vernon and Alfred in their private hours. (I have built none, on account of my time being too much divided between Augusta and The Adelphi.) These are to be disposed of as the females (to whom we shall deliver over all domestic arrangements) shall think proper. Fourthly, there is a small other room set apart for the servants, and lastly, there is a large room detached, intended as a store house in which all the males will sling their hammocks until better accommodation be provided.'
At Swan River, while they waited, Fanny and Bessie were thrilled by the hospitality of all, and especially of the Colonial Secretary, Peter Brown of Bassendean, and Surveyor-General J. S. Roe.* 'I quite love Mr. Brown', wrote Fanny Bussell. 'He speaks of John just as people used to speak of Papa, dearest Mother. I can only pray that we may be equally worthy of him and you, and that when you arrive you may hear your girls spoken of as we do the boys.... Their perseverance, unanimity and industry are quite proverbial.'
* Cf. Charles to Capel Carter, from Swan River, 3rd Nov. 1833. 'Hospitality is indeed the order of the day. Dinner parties, routs and even balls given at which, although I have often talked of the absurdity of dancing, I assure you I mingled in the crown and much enjoyed myself. There is a sad, sad dearth of females, however, for such amusements. We mustered four ladies, but of these there was only one single.' In March, after they had enjoyed, despite great heat, six weeks of comfort and luxury at the Swan, John arrived from the south coast, in the 'Ellen', to escort his sisters 'home.' 'On Monday, 8th March,' records Fanny Bussell, 'I decided on a trip to Fremantle and a visit to the "Cygnet", accompanied by Lenox. Little did I dream of the happiness in store for me. "A ship in sight! A schooner !" is announced by the cabin boy. Can it be the "Ellen"? I ran on deck to watch her approach, not as I had often done before from the listless desire for something new, but with all the delirious excitement of hope. "It is the 'Ellen', for she comes in not as a stranger but as if she knew the harbour well." Captain Rolles watched every movement with his glass, and reported it to me. A whaleboat is lowered and makes for the shore, the Lieutenant-Governor leaving the vessel with his suite. Now another boat is lowered and comes towards us, nearer and nearer.
'"There's a Bussell in that boat, I'm sure", said Captain Rolles, and shortly even I could recognize a row of white teeth which seemed to claim relationship with my own. In a few minutes more John was on board, looking so well, my Mother — rather barbarous, but quite poetical, in large canvas trousers made by his own hands, a broad leather belt, hair and beard both long, somewhat, and moustaches enough to give a bandit look. And then, too, there was a mingled likeness to you, my Mother, and to Emily which had never struck me before. That moment of meeting was decidedly the happiest I have experienced. Forgive me if I have dwelt upon it too long. The kind Mr. Toby accompanied him, and really this our meeting seemed an affair of general interest.
'John has made a vow not to shave his beard until you come out, but', adds the daughter of the vicarage, 'he keeps it beautifully combed.'
'Perth is a very promising city, but the sand is greatly against it', continues the indefatigable Frances. 'The country residences are far preferable, and I do not at all join in the universal regret that we are so soon to retire completely from the world and its gaieties. Not that the society has degenerated in the least. Instead of anyone or anything for the Swan, I should say selectness and refinement are more prevalent than in England. Yet no one scruples to assist in the duties of the "menage." ... The heat is great certainly, but the warm climate suits me even better than I expected. I may truly say I never was better in my life. This (Mr. Peter Brown's home) is an extremely pretty place, with all the comforts and luxuries of an English country house, with a few incongruities which by the charm of novelty prevent perfection from becoming insipid.
'Yesterday we had a pleasant little evening party, beginning with music and ending with quadrilles, much amusement, but no dearly beloveds. Mr. Lewis and Mr. Dawson were my partners. With the latter I had one of my tremendous tête-à-têtes, despite Bessie's reproving looks, but I could not resist hearing all about our darlings.'
John and his charges were spared the troubles of transhipment, for the 'Cygnet', on her way home, called and landed the ladies, John Lennox, and all their packages, 'in such good order that the cases almost have the appearance of being just shipped', reports Miss Bessie on 20th April 1833 . 'Captain Rolles has behaved beyond everything famous, and we hope you will take the opportunity of writing him a letter of thanks. The two cows were shipped through to Augusta and landed for nothing. John's passage and all his purchases at Swan River he has likewise landed for love of us. Of the beauty of the country, the kindness of the Molloys, and of the dear boys I will say nothing, but while I have time will mention the things we, they and you will find most useful.' Opportunities of writing by return post were not to be lightly wasted in those days. 'Do you remember the material that my school clothes-bag was made of? It was a blue check. We should find two dresses apiece of this invaluable. For my own part, I like a dress that will wash and be new again better than constantly wearing a stuff with all its accumulations.' The low ebb to which, in their eyes, the boys' outfits had fallen set both sisters furiously to work, but it was well that Miss Bessie had first posted her list of essentials to England.
About the time when a ship bearing the bespoken goods was due, the house at 'The Adelphi', centre of so much toil, so many hopes, went up in fire, with most of its contents. It was on the night of the fifth of November. Such a bonfire would have daunted most. Yet here is Miss Bessie's account, written at three in the morning, immediately after the fire, to Fanny at Augusta:
'My dear Fan, — What a change is here! John left us about sunset inhabiting our comfortable little room. Now behold me at three in the morning, retired to his room after having contemplated to satiety the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds. We had had tea. Ally had gone to bed. I was reading a letter Len had written to post, when Emma came in very calmly and said "The house is on fire, Mr. Len." We immediately went out, but without apprehending much danger, expecting it to go off as usual,* but the kitchen chimney was blazing tremendously and the ridge post was on fire. It was no use to try water; I said "Ally, I shall go and save the Encyclopædias." Off I went to tear down the books. Ally and Len pulled out the piano, tables and chairs. Emma got everything out of the kitchen. I ran to look after my dear crockery. Len cut down your cot. I was endowed with some unnatural strength, took your mattress, my own and our bedding, and rushed out of the room. I hope we saved the books and linen that were in the piano case under my bed. I ran off with all your chemises and etc., and our merino dresses, I think, Ally got into the loft through the ceiling and had a tumble; threw down the boxes, helter skelter. All needles, tapes, bonnets, ribbons, pins are lost. All your shoes are safe. I have not a pair left, nor a bonnet. Poor Vernon has lost some shoes, Ally his pistols. Len saved Mr. Mayo's medicine chest, but not in a perfect state, I fear. All the Bibles and the Byron safe, but I dread to discover the loss of books, Ally tore out the windows and saved them, but could not the doors. Len ordered the gunpowder to be thrown into the bush. The piano got very hot after it was out. Music safe, desks, workbox. Your elegant extracts I saved with my own hands. Ally says he heard several maniac laughs all the time. The cellarets were thrown out, not much breaking, I think. It was Emma who carried out your chest of drawers, Len mine. Phœbe active beyond compare. In fact, we have saved wonderfully, but lost immensely. I must have lost two or three frocks, and all my stays but one pair, all my frills and vanities till the last. Salt cellars and silver cruetstand are safe. I had just concluded my journal in time, but they had better know what has happened, and bring out a tin or two of slates or tiles. You can send this, but put it in somewhere they will not find it immediately. I may have time to ascertain more certainly the state of affairs before the "Ellen" sails. Looking-glasses safe. I wish it was daylight. It is the longest night I ever knew. I should like you to come up, for Emma is on the sick list, and Phœbe's shoulder bad. Ally better. But if you do come up in the present state of accommodation it will be one more bedroom to provide. I can manage everything, and you will do what is right. Good-bye, my poor Fan. I know you would much rather be here than hear of it all. What will Charley say? All his things are safe.' 'Charley' was paying one of his rare visits to Perth, and Vernon was on his way back from a visit to King George's Sound. He arrived to help in the retreat from the ruins. [See Appendix for Bessie Bussell's account of this in a letter to Capel Carter, 1st December 1833.]
* Jarrah timber of which chimneys were often constructed, is rather hard to ignite, and after ignition will often char and go out if the heat is not otherwise maintained.
Thus the Fates willed that Mrs. Bussell and her eldest daughter, Mary, should meet at the Cape, on board the 'James Patterson', the news that, apparently, much of her children's four years' work had gone for nothing. Mary commented, writing thence to Capel Carter: 'You will of course have heard by the public accounts the loss the poor darling brothers have had in the burning of the house and property. We will trust in a very merciful and kind Providence, and hope they saved most of the things, and at any rate be thankful no lives were lost and no personal injury received by any of the party. Further particulars we have been unable to obtain, and till our arrival must be in considerable suspense. But I will not dwell upon it. They will bear it with fortitude and so must we.'
At the Swan River news of the failure of the wheat crop at 'The Adelphi' reached them, 'so they are still existing entirely on imports, poor darlings.... The Stirlings have taken us in most hospitably, and here we must remain until the return of the "Ellen", which will directly be ordered to take us down. The provisions and most of the heavy goods have been sent down to Augusta in the "Cumberland", which, from the information we have since had, might have been better at once forwarded to the Vasse.'
Mrs Bussell's first wish had been to join her family by this little vessel, but had been almost forcibly dissuaded by Sir James Stirling, on account of the wintry season, and the size of the craft. It was well for them that he intervened. The 'Ellen' delivered them safely at Augusta, on October 5th, after a passing visit to the boys, hard at work building up a new farm on the Vasse. A few days later news reached Augusta that the 'Cumberland' had been lost, with all hands and all their goods from England, on the very evening she sailed from Swan River. The scene of the wreck was the south end of Garden Island. Fanny reports this last blow to Capel Carter: 'The fortunate (but that is a light term) the providential interference of Sir James Stirling prevented their embarking in so small a vessel and they (i.e. Mrs. Bussell and Mary) arrived in safety by the "Ellen" last Wednesday, the 5th of October. We have entertained but little hope for the "Cumberland's" safety, and this morning has totally destroyed the slender thread to which some of us still clung. She must have been lost the very evening she sailed from Swan River, and the crew and cargo have been equally unheard of. Of Mrs. McDermott who certainly claims our first sympathies, we hear that she is wonderfully supported under this trial. Our own losses have been incalculable, but our darling mother and sister have been spared.'*
* The wreck, when discovered, was found to have been plundered. Though the culprits were punished by transportation to Van Diemen's Land, the most valuable part of the cargo, the Bussell's family silver, was not recovered. See p. 49, infra.
Mary Bussell, new to the pioneers' ordeal, and betrothed to one in the homeland, gave way to doubts. From the Swan River she wrote to Capel: 'You can have no conception of the progress that has been made here, and I am sorry to say dear John has at last expressed regret that he was induced to go so far from headquarters. This has more than trebled his difficulties and outlay, which at this time is entirely lost, since from fire and other losses he can only be considered a settler of a twelvemonth. This he says for himself. They have no stock of any kind. The cows and pigs have wandered into the bush. I am afraid you will think this a letter of horrors, but I think it best not to flatter those in England with too high expectations, don't you?'
Many a time since has that excuse for their fears been urged by the downhearted.
To Fanny Bowker, by the same mail, she confided her lack of faith in the new venture at the Vasse. 'For my own part I am not very hopeful. With regard to other settlers and ships in general, I think they are out of the frying-pan into the fire. We cannot expect that the attention which was shewn to them at Augusta will be extended to them there. The one was formed by government, and the other is only private. But we must hope for the best, most sincerely. I wish while they had been on the move they had turned their attention to King George's Sound. It is indeed a most desirable spot.' Her opinion of the Sound, near which she was destined to spend her married life, was less rosy six months later, when she told Donald Alder of an official round of inspection by Governor Stirling. 'After the party left us (at Augusta) they went down to the Sound, where everything is going on as badly as it can. On their return they put into the Vasse. All pronounced that our darlings had the most beautiful grant throughout the whole colony, that the progress they have made is wonderful, and that in spite of all our losses, in a short time we shall be as forward as the best. "Nil desperandum" is our motto. We are always full of hope, and a brighter, happier group you would not find the whole world over.'
Alfred, from the midst of the hard work and spare living at the Vasse which wrought such a change in Mary's spirits, commented to his mother on the news of the lost 'Cumberland.' 'So the vessel is actually lost. I had made up my mind for a silver fork, but never mind, a steel one is very good when a person is hungry.' And then on into details of what they had built and cleared at 'Cattle Chosen'.