Diary of ten years eventful life of an early settler in Western Australia and also A descriptive vocabulary of the language of the aborigines/The journey
October 15th, 1831.
You will hardly believe that I have only this night been able to seat myself at home as a resting-place, since the thirtieth of August, I shall now take up the narrative from the date of the last letter.
The Governor having determined to commence a settlement on the other side of Darling Range, and several settlers being desirous to take the opportunity of going over to their respective grants, Mr. Dale, an officer in the 60th Regiment, the first who had penetrated beyond the Range, was selected to point out the most direct practicable route; and it was deemed a good opportunity to combine with the expedition an exploratory excursion for some distance in a S.S.E. and N.N.W. direction from Mount Bakewell, the centre of York district, where it was intended to form the settlement; the river Avon was supposed to run direct in this line. As the country had before been examined twenty miles up and ten miles down its stream, it was now proposed to go fifty miles in a S.S.E. and fifty miles in a N.N.W. line from Mount Bakewell, then to strike across the Darling Range to the west, until the Range should be passed over, and to return home along the base of the hills: such is the outline of the instructions given by the Governor.
Many circumstances made me willingly accede to the proposal of joining the expedition. I shall give you some details of our ramble.
On Tuesday, 6th ult., we assembled at Guildford, and mustered twenty-one persons, all interested and excited by the novelty of the first expedition over the hills. Many spectators came from curiosity and gave us a convoy, the Governor himself kindly riding with us a whole day's journey, and by his presence infusing a spirit of animation into the whole party. His Excellency led the van then came the Governor's cart drawn by five horses, followed by that of Messrs. Clarkson and Hardy drawn by two horses and two cows, and by another cart belonging to Mr. Hales drawn by two cows. The three horses bearing our provisions and clothes in sacks, saddle-bags, and other contrivances, and numerous men on foot brought up the rear. We crossed some wet places by laying down brushwood, and formed bridges of trees over the stream; and after clearing away trees and all impediments, advanced seven miles to the ascent of the hills. The Governor on his departure was saluted with three hearty cheers, and we then proceeded to bivouac under a large gum tree, near which were two native huts; and this was my first actual experience of bushing.
I found the excitement delighful, as the evening was very fine; a kangaroo was killed, a roaring fire kindled, and we enjoyed a delicious fry of steaks. Our hammocks were slung in front, from trees called blackboys, and the scene altogether was such as I thought I should never tire of; however, when going into my hammock it fairly capsized—a moral hint that there are ups and downs in the happiest scenes; and the cold, which was intense towards morning, gave still further evidence that perfect enjoyment is rarely to be found.
Next day, Mr. Dale and I walked forward to explore the way, and found a native path leading up the hill: when returning to breakfast a kangaroo came near us, very much to his surprise as well as ours.
After breakfast, as we set out, the day became rainy, and the pass was rocky and difficult; so much so, that the carts could proceed only three miles. Our order of march was as follows:—Mr. Dale in advance, to ascertain the direct line and mark trees in that direction, generally accompanied by me; next came Mr. B., who had charge of the waggons, attended by a number of men having axes, &c., to clear a cartroad as near the direct line as practicable; and in this road the rest followed;—but I am going too much into details, and must only give you the short notes of my tablets, or else my story will extend to an unmerciful length.
Halted in the valley. Heavy rain. Found great difficulty in lighting a fire under a tree. My hammock fell in the night; all my clothes were wet, and being in dread of the falling of the tree (pleasant sensations altogether), I lay down by the fire, my head on a soft log and my feet to the fire; and thus I composed myself to sleep.
8th.—Started at an early hour, on a good road, through an open forest of mahogany and some blue gum trees: halted in a picturesque vale, where we had loud thunder and heavy rain—made great fires to dry the hammocks for the night.
Next morning, the party started at half-past seven; but I remained prudently behind with several others to dry our clothes.
Here I first took notice of Mr. Dale's servant, a soldier, who was afterwards a source of great amusement to us. "Well, Sheridan, how did you pass last night?"—"Why, sir, I just lay on that 'dentical spot there fornint you at the fire all night, rain or no rain; for I thought I might as well keep one side dry, any way—the side that was under me." Morning or evening, wet or dry, busy or idle, Sheridan whistled or sung incessantly: it was his duty to wheel a perambulator (an instrument for measuring distances), and off he started with it this morning, singing with stentorian voice the old drum beat, "Tither, row dow, dow, dow; and tither, ither, row, dow; tither ither, row, dow.
Nothing remarkable on this day's journey. Changed our course to wind up a steep hill; and at the end of four miles and a half reached a watered valley; stopped here, and had a pleasant bivouack, about a hundred yards from a swampy stream of good water. One of the party slept in the hollowed part of a tree, and made a tent of his blanket, tied by ropes to two of the trees called blackboys.
10th.—We passed this day over a broken hilly country; where large masses of granite appeared in several places of a tabular shape. After crossing over one of those tables, alongside which ran a strong rivulet, we came to deep and rapid streams (branches of the river Helena), and were obliged to halt until we formed a bridge. The day had been rainy, which rendered it difficult to light a fire, so that we were exceedingly uncomfortable; but the evening became moderate, and the genial warmth of a blazing fire made us soon feel comparatively happy. Here some of the party began to make small huts, like the wigwams of the natives, which often afterwards proved useful; the process of forming which is very simple. Blackboy poles are stuck in the ground, forming three-fourths of a circle, and meeting in a common point at top; these are covered with grassy tops of the blackboy: it is a good temporary shelter in rain. Next day, a sufficient bridge having been formed by placing trees and spars over the stream, we proceeded for some time over a rising ground; then descended into an extensive and rich valley, where there was good feeding for the horses, which they had not regularly had before for some days.
12th.—Crossed a more level and open country for seven miles (which we considered great progress, having made only three or four miles each preceding day) and had a more extensive view from some of the hills. The only very attractive object was a conical sloped hill which obtained the name of Mount Dale, after our companion and leader. The appearance of the country and timber began to undergo a change; the casuarina tree, which is somewhat like a fir, is common on the east side of the range;—halted at two, having passed some native huts without seeing the natives themselves.
l4th.—Crossed good level ground, and saw fifteen kangaroos; none killed.
15th.—Passed seven native huts, and ensconced ourselves in them; ascended a hill composed of what is here called ironstone (a red sandstone) which we imagined affected our compasses, so much so that we called this elevation Magnetic Hill;—cut some bark from a tree, which smelled like raspberry jam, and caught two lizards—two iguanas, 14 inches long, with a purple tongue, and without a tail. One of our party killed what he called a puff adder, and a small snake; killed a kangaroo, and found its young one (a beautiful black-eyed creature) in time to rescue it from the dogs. I carried the poor thing in my pocket, and nursed it carefully; it will soon become familiar;—surprised some natives, who went off gesticulating and vociferating furiously; ascended some rising grounds, whence we had a fine view of an abrupt hill in the distance, called Cut Down Hill, and where we observed for the first time the appearance of white lime, and got sight of Mount Bakewell, which we hailed with three cheers and a volley; crossed a stream running through a very fine country, and ascended another picturesque hill, from which we had no longer the cat-in-bag kind of prospect which had hitherto almost invariably been the case with us. Like puss in a sack, we had been endeavouring to poke out our heads, but in vain; each hill tempted us to push onwards and upwards in hopes of liberation, but we only found another and another tempting us forward to incur a fresh disappointment.
16th.—Came to another rich valley, where we caught a kangaroo; arrived at Mount Bakewell, which is covered with long grass, principally of the poa species; searched for a stream, and found the river Avon, which in some places is 40 yards in breadth, but is in this place broken into several channels; we ascended at a steep point of the mount, which is about 1500 feet in elevation, and affords an extensive view of what appeared a level country, wooded and rich. Mount Bakewell is a combination of quartz, red sandstone, and granite; traced out the valley of the Avon for some distance, and calculated that our view extended forty miles, in some directions, without any very striking objects, excepting a few hills of conical form rising here and there; the soil in this district seems rich loam of a brownish hue, producing patches of grass, wherever a tree had been burnt, and flowers in great quantities, particularly everlasting pink; and here we also found trees like the crab apple, bearing round nuts of a walnut taste in abundance, but not yet ripe.
17th.—Bathed in the Avon, and made this a day of rest, as well as of ablution, of which the whole party were in need; our store of linen being necessarily very limited, almost like Falstaff's—"one shirt for superfluity, and one for use,"—it became necessary to wash; my stock was pretty large, consisting of four shirts, four pair of stockings, two pair of trousers, three pair of shoes, two coats, a large pair of worsted stockings, with leather soles, which I found very comfortable to sleep in; a straw hat for the day, and a blue cap for the night, with the hammock, blankets, and cloak already mentioned. In fine weather we preferred strewing the tops of the grass tree, which resemble rushes, on the ground, and so sleeping with our feet to the fire. I shall give you a short account of the tract we have explored: it is a range of hilly country, about fifty miles broad in one place, over which you must pass in order to arrive at a more open, level, and grassy country, which appears to continue in the interior, and to preserve the same uniformity of character, as far as has been examined in that direction. The hills on the range are principally covered on the surface with the hard red sandstone, or ironstone already mentioned, either in lumpy fragments, or broken into coarse gravel; in some places, granite appears in large solid masses, or hillocks; there is a good deal of coarse herbage, but little grass, except in a few of the valleys. Many prickly shrubs abound, differing exceedingly in general appearance, yet bearing very similar flowers, of the pea blossom in shape, and of the colour of single wallflower. There is also a profusion of what you and I would call heath; but the learned botanists assert that there is no heath in the colony—far be it from me to dispute their judgment! This is almost a forest of great mahogany and blue gum trees, which have not been seen beyond the range. The streams do not appear to flow decidedly to the east, but rather to the north and south.
In the many valleys which we saw, I doubt if the streams flow through the summer. Pools and springs may be frequent; but there are no mountains, whose summits covered with snow might furnish a regular supply of water, nor frequent rains to saturate the earth and feed its springs. The thirsty soil absorbs, and the unclouded sun of summer evaporates, the moisture in its progress; and this, I take it, is the solution of the apparent paradox, with respect to rivers—that they are sometimes greater at their source than at their mouth. Such is the state of the river in summer; but what must it be in winter, when every valley and ravine pours forth its tributary streams into one common channel, the sole outlet of the accumulated waters of an extensive district? The Avon, through which I walked (first tucking my trousers up to my knee), seems the only artery for the collected waters of a line of 150 miles which we traced; and yet we did not reach its source.*******
Dampier, and subsequently King, observed the great fluctuations of tides on this coast (I forget at what time of the year); if it was in our winter months, their observations would tend to corroborate the opinion, that a large river debouches there. But this is a long and dull digression to you.
Deeming it expedient to give the horses another day's rest, we went without them, on a little excursion of six or seven miles, to look at Mr. Dale's grant, and on our way passed a hut, in which five of the natives concealed themselves; saw some turkeys; bathed in the Avon, in which we observed something stirring, which we conjectured to be a platypus, but naturalists have not yet ascertained that it exists here.
Returned by the river on the plain, and noticed a kind of thorn—a species, I think, of the Mespilus; and a shrubby tree, bearing fruit like the sloe. Dined on kangaroo stew. My young pet, poor "Hop," looks sickly, and will probably die.
19th.—We have changed our station, to the place where it was intended that the nucleus of the settlement should be formed. I found many burrows, like badger earths; and shot two ducks, and as many cockatoos.
20th.—Poor little kangaroo has died; it was a pretty affectionate creature, hopped after me wherever I went, knew my voice, and slept in my bosom. I was sorry for it, and buried it. Set out on our expedition southward, the party consisting of Mr. Dale, Mr. Thompson, myself, and Sheridan, mounted on horses in rather an odd way. Those which Sheridan and I had were without saddles, which had been left behind; we had for substitutes our cloaks doubled under us, with rope stirrups, and in this way we rode 300 miles! Mr. Dale's horse was the only one properly equipped. Mr. Thompson rode his own horse, which had a pad on him: and each of us carried his proportion of provisions as well as his clothes, in saddle bags or other contrivances, with his gun slung across his shoulder. We passed over a beautiful country for seven miles, and halted during the middle of the day in a picturesque valley, in which we saw a singular cavern, which had been discovered the preceding year; it is a large mass of granite, forming the abrupt side of a hill on one part of the valley, and appearing as if the outer side wall of the cave had fallen away, and had left its length exposed; its extreme end is a round figure, supposed to represent the sun, with the impressions of open hands round it. It appeared to us as if the rock had been covered with reddish pigment, and that the impressions had been formed by the friction of a stone on the rock. The roof is covered with what looks like the remains of broken swallows' or hornets' nests. This cave is supposed to have been a place of worship; yet I know not why, as the natives do not appear to have any object of veneration, nor is there any indication of a path leading to it.—Made by our estimation thirteen miles, and halted near a small stream to make a stew of our cockatoos, but found a grievous want of our plates, which had been left at York, from a prudential desire to lighten our baggage; we had to make use in their stead of flat stones.
21st.—Breakfasted at daylight, and traversed some beautiful pasture country to the site of Beverley (twenty miles). Went up a hill—fine view—and went down again. Former excursions had terminated here; and the country was supposed to improve towards the south—here it is not good.
Touched upon the river again, and halted at noon to refresh. Walked across the bed of the river, which was dry, and ascended till we came to a deep pool, or reach, as it is called here, which proved to be salt; and no fresh water was to be had for our horses or ourselves; exceedingly puzzled, as the river was running fresh and strong where we had crossed it. The land here is of poor quality; coarse herbage—hard, barren-looking plains of whitish clay, covered with white gum trees, having a rusty tinge on the bark. Saw a native skulking away; and had many a fruitless search after kangaroos. Saw a beautiful animal; but, as it escaped into the hollow of a tree, could not ascertain whether it was a species of squirrel, weazel, or wild cat. Entertained great apprehensions of not finding water at night; but found a fresh pool at last. Soil worse and worse: rather melancholy, remembering that my grant is situated somewhere on this day's progress.
22nd.—Started at seven A.M.; came to a long, deep, and narrow lake of fresh water, four miles in length, and eighty or a hundred yards in breadth, with an amazing number of ducks on it. Sheridan's calculation was quite Irish—"a thousand, sir, a hundred thousand, would'nt be missed out of them." Dale shot a black swan, and I swam for it, and tried the depth in several places, which I ascertained to be about six feet. The soil about it is indifferent. On its margin are samphire and the Hottentot fig (a species of sedum), which gives no indication of fresh water running into the lake. Met with a large native dog, and chased another little animal, such as had escaped from us yesterday, into a hollow tree, where we captured it; from the length of its tongue, and other circumstances, we conjecture that it is an ant-eater—its colour yellowish, barred with black and white streaks across the hinder part of the back; its length about twelve inches. Found some water in pools and streams running eastward and the soil improving, but of sandy quality.
23rd.—The country improves. We met seven natives, who drew up in some surprise at the sight of four men on horseback—perhaps the first Europeans they had seen: we had just before disturbed an emu, of which they seemed to be in chase. At noon, having travelled twelve miles, we halted in a fine valley, with plenty of grass for our horses; and having now made sixty miles in a S.S.E. line, we were, to our regret, obliged to return. Turned N.N.W.; ascended a hill, which afforded an extensive view to the eastward of a level country; but undulating to the south. Here were pools of water courses and trees, which are supposed to be casuarinas and acacias; but neither mahogany nor gum trees. Saw two emus, many kangaroos, and shot a brace of cockatoos, which made no insignificant appearance at our evening meal; and we turned into our hammocks at nine o'clock.
24th.—Up at day-break, and followed the course of a considerable stream—probably the Avon: determined not to lose sight of it, and passed a waterfall, which rolled six feet over a granite rock, through a falling ground, with buttercups on its surface, and the acacia, bearing flowers like the laburnum. There are many bare downs visible from a hill near this, with green patches here and there.
25th.—Found that one of our horses had broken loose in the night, and had some trouble and difficulty in catching him. Passed rapidly over a bare tract, with here and there a white gum tree creeping like a ghost through the vistas. Found the running water in the river to be fresh; but that standing in the pools, brackish. Followed the river, looking for its connexion with the fresh water lake; but could not find it: at length discovered the head of a salt water lake. It appears that the stream which we had followed for forty miles had ceased to flow, and become absorbed by the earth: this is one of the puzzles of the country.
A river runs fresh to a certain point, where it terminates; and if you trace its bed for one hundred yards, you find it occupied by a salt water lake, without any apparent outlet: some miles further down we found a long and deep lake in the reach of the river quite fresh again!
This day we had the last of our rice with a loin of pork, washed down with a glass of spiced grog; the only new delicacy we could command.
26th.—Our provisions being almost gone, we breakfasted on the dust of biscuit, soaked in tea; which was a slender preparation for the ensuing fatigue of following the river's course for eight or nine miles to the spot where it disappears above the salt water lake. We contrived, however, to make out a dinner of cockatoos and the remains of the pork, with greens of the carduus or sow-thistle. Took a short march in a westerly direction, to examine another stream, which proved to be the Avon, flowing strongly and deeply in some places, through tolerably verdant banks.
It now appears that all former observations as to the eligibility of location here, were upon mistaken grounds; and that the line must be changed. We wished to trace this line further; but neither time nor the state of our provisions permitted us to do so: turning, therefore, towards Mount Bakewell, we made a push to reach it by sunset, in which we happily succeeded, and enjoyed our tea and a good night's rest.
27th.—This day we recruited; repaired and washed our clothes and ourselves in the river, which had fallen fourteen inches. Missed our dog "Fly," which has not returned.
28th.—Took out all the dogs in the settlement to look for a kangaroo; but without success.
29th.—Fly has come to us again. Mr. Johnston, who has charge of the Government settlers, having furnished us with twelve pounds of biscuit, to enable us to return and trace that branch of the Avon which we had so recently left, we started for the point of our former resting-place, and there surprised a native family, consisting of a man, woman, girl, and infant, who raised a sad outcry, although we used the most conciliating tones and gestures. As we rode away, the man set fire to the top of the grass trees, either as a signal to other natives, or for the purpose of terrifying our horses; probably with the first object, as we soon afterwards saw two responding fires. Here we took our bearings, and saw, at a considerable distance, Cut Down Hill.
The stream at this spot is fresh, strong, and deep: the soil of middling quality. We fired seven shots at game; but dined on salt pork. Came to a better tract, near or about which my grant may be supposed to lie—not far from a rising ground called Mount Shole, from the likeness which it is supposed to bear to the bald head of a gentleman of that name. The plains are of stiff clay of different colours, with some varieties of sandy loam. Here the river dividing into two branches, we had to choose one which runs westerly: we followed until we arrived at a wet valley, not unlike that near the "Echo," and as full of springs.
Turned homewards by a tract more distant from the river, in hopes of discovering better land; but it proved to be miserably bad—of white sand, bearing the mahogany tree—which satisfied us that we had again arrived at the Darling Range: soon afterwards, however, we passed through a valley of better quality behind Mount Shole, where we bivouacked, having first shot two cockatoos for supper. This day we saw several huts.
Oct. 1st.—Proceeded farther in a N.N.E. course, through very bad land, mere sand; and at noon reached a rich valley, but not well watered. We here saw many kangaroos, and one native, skulking behind a tree; and heard the screaming of native women and boys. As we approached the settlement, several of these people scampered off, uttering a word which sounded like "hunnyan;" and we ascertained, subsequently, that a great number of them had been at the settlement the day before, with green boughs (we hope emblematic of peace) in their hands.
3rd.—At eight o'clock, a.m., we proceeded on an excursion from Mount Bakewell, N.N.W. Very fine land on Mr. Thompson's grant. Beyond Mount Mackie, fell in with some natives, who called to us frequently "coo—oo" and as soon as we had acknowledged the invitation, two of them (one of whom Dobair recognised to have seen several times before) threw down their spears, and approached us with a friendly manner, as if glad to see us; we shook hands, and then parted: but on halting for bivouac, we heard several advancing, hallooing for some time, and then preserving silence; we did not deem it prudent to encourage their familiarities. On the ensuing day (Oct. 4th), anticipating an early visit from them and an attack on our provisions (of which we had a very limited allowance), we hastened our preparation; but had scarcely commenced breakfast, when they began to collect in considerable numbers; so that we packed up rather precipitately. Dale, having a servant to arrange for him, had finished his breakfast—I had swallowed half mine—Thompson had scarcely tasted his—and poor Sheridan had got none. The manner of these people (who advanced in little detachments, old men and boys among them) was, however, friendly. Some of them sat down beside us; some remained at different distances, according to the signals which we made them; and none of them appeared to have any arms. Curiosity seemed to be their only motive in remaining with us: there were thirty-one altogether; among whom we did not perceive either of the two men who had been present on the previous evening. Having vainly endeavoured to support a conversation with them, we shook hands and took leave, and proceeded to a deep and broad reach of the river, through a picturesque country, with high hills rising abruptly from each side. Here I shot two ducks, and swam for them.
5th.—Anxious about water, but did not discover any; and at sunset halted to hold a council of war. My proposal to look for water was rejected; we were all somewhat in the blues, our horses being knocked up, and ourselves excessively thirsty; but the indefatigable Sheridan seizing his gun, went off to reconnoitre, and soon returned in great glee, with the agreeable intelligence that at a short distance there was a swamp, and water of course, not ten yards off. Made a famous dinner of ducks, and slept on the ground all night—and slept well.
6th.—Conjecturing that this is probably identical with the Swan River, we advanced over a hilly and barren country, and again heard the natives. After crossing a very rocky district, the country changed its character, and we suddenly found ourselves on a promontory, abruptly sinking into a large and beautiful valley.
This view elevated our spirits again; "Worcestershire," cried one; "Shropshire," cried another; "Kilkenny for ever," roared out Sheridan. Headlong we rushed into the valley, through grass to the horses' knees, hoping to find the river; but this valley proved to be only an extensive swamp of soil not so good as it appeared at a distance from the point of our bivouack. We, however, had the satisfaction of observing symptoms of cows, which appeared to have gone further into the interior. We examined our charts, and felt confident that the Avon and the Swan are identical.
After a march of five miles across the swamp, and over a bare and sandy soil, and having reached our N.N.W. limit, we turned east, and crossed a flat sandy tract, surrounded by hills; pushed on for a valley, and on reaching it, found that we had almost imperceptibly crossed the Darling Range. From a high hill we got an open view of the plain studded over (in one direction) with lakes, which we supposed to be salt; the plain seems barren and sandy, and the only attractive object towards the sea, was a double-topped hill, about sixteen miles distant. Halted for the day, after a ride of five hours and a half near a running stream, which we fortunately found, having feared that we should not have met one nearer than that which is called Lennard's, twelve miles distant: must soon satisfy our conjectures about the Swan River. While we were at dinner, a native dog came up, and gnawed some bones within ten yards of us; Dale fired, but missed the poor animal.
7th.—Arrived at land much dug by the natives, several of whom we heard, but they in general kept out of view; reached Lennard's brook, which at once struck us all as being the Avon. This we had much difficulty in crossing, as it is deep and strong in current, but we walked through it three or four miles higher up the river. Rich grasses grow on the lands here.
Two natives, immediately succeeded by others, joined us in a friendly way, but we did not think it wise to eat in their presence, especially as they seemed very desirous that we should waive all ceremony and do so; we cannot well understand them yet; on seeing us prepare to depart, they called to others, who came in groups, until they amounted to twenty-eight merry looking fellows, who accompanied us in a friendly manner for some miles; one of them begged for a few hairs of my horse's mane, which he seemed to prize exceedingly. These people appeared to have painted themselves fresh for the visit; and if we could judge from their anxiously pointing in a particular direction, they invited us to take a lunch at their village; however, we went in a line precisely opposite. Soon afterwards, finding ourselves perplexed in the mazes of a swamp, we began to think that we should have taken their advice, and that the exclamation of "Bogh" was kindly meant to indicate some bridge or ford higher up; at last, however, we got out of the swamp; crossed a sandy country; saw many tracts of natives; halted at a good grassy stream; drank tea, and went to sleep.
8th.—Continued our progress at a rapid pace over a plain of white clay, which produced white and red gum trees; halted, and refreshed ourselves at Ellen's brook; broiled our slices of pork at the fire on the end of a long stick; forward again; had a view of a limestone vein two miles broad, and dined at Mr. Bull's, where I met Mr. Macleod of the 63rd, and several other gentlemen; at night Messrs. Dale and Mackie accompanied me to my own habitation, where I once more got into bed with my clothes off, for the first time during six weeks; and will you believe that I did not sleep half as well this night, as when I had been stretched on rushes in the open air? I was occupied with the workings of my own brain, and thinking "murders sleep." On the ensuing morning we went to Guildford; waited on the Governor; presented our report, and then proceeded to Perth under a drenching rain; thus terminated our expedition. Just think, although it took place during what is supposed to be part of our winter or beginning of spring; it never interrupted our sleeping in the bush and remaining in the open air for so many weeks without suffering even from a cold in the head; the fact is, the weather, with the exception of the two or three first days, was very pleasant, like May or June in the old country. Several observations occurred to me at different times, on the particular nature and character of the country, the trees and shrubs, flowers, grass, &c., which I intended to have thrown together in this letter; but I shall refrain, and sum up the results of my exploration in a few brief and general remarks. Of flowers there is a great profusion in all directions; the ground in some places is covered with them, but the variety is not great, at least so it occurred to me; we had not leisure to examine large quantities of chrysanthemum, daisies, geraniums, a green tendril with a pink flower, and another splendid flower, growing like bunches of violets close to the ground. There are many flowering shrubs. Of birds we saw no great variety; mocking birds, paroquets, larks, and warblers, but none very beautiful. I have mentioned already all the other animals which we obtained sight of, except some reptiles—viz., three or four snakes. As to the nature of the soil, the salt district may at some future period become valuable, but it is not useful for present purpose; there is a great deal of light sandy land, and also of stiff clayey soil, which requires, in the language of holy writ, to be subdued, before it becomes in a state to receive seed.
Upon a former occasion, Mr. Dale had been fifty miles farther into the interior, which he describes to be similar to what we passed, undulating and grassy, in such a direction as would seem to indicate a continuation of the saltish land, which we observed in an E.S.E. direction. Some time hence it may afford an interesting excursion to follow the river down from whence we left it, and identify it with Lennard's brook (if it be the same), and trace it to the sea; this brook has been on several occasions visited by persons looking for stray cattle, and on one occasion by Messrs. Dale and Lennard, who never dreamed of it being the Avon; but thinking the land good, Mr. Lennard applied for a grant in that district, and it has been called by his name ever since. A singularity was observed there, which is not yet accounted for; namely, that the river appeared to flow into a large lake on the plain, from which no current in any direction was perceptible. However, they were not then thinking much about the matter, and may have overlooked some outlet near or through the doubled hill adjacent.******
It is only now that I have been able to finish these random notes (brief and hasty as they are), having written a little now and again, as opportunity permitted; and on looking over them, I have often to pick up, as my grandmother would say, "my dropped stitches"; a reference to them (keep all my letters and journals for me) may one day or other amuse and interest us at the fire side, if it shall please God that, among the changes and chances of this mortal life, we shall ever meet again.
On my arrival at home, I was treated with a number of very dismal stories—the sow had devoured nine chickens and several eggs; the bell was lost from the goat's neck; many things were going to waste in the garden; and many other such drawbacks, lest I should feel myself too comfortable on my return.******
18th.—Had my potatoes dug this morning; I have about 3 cwt., which is good produce; for although I purchased 1 cwt. for seed, price thirty-five shillings, but a small portion of it was in a fit state for planting; I believe that only one tenth of the sets grew, so that from ten pounds I had 3 cwt.; where they did grow, they would bear comparison with any of our crops at home, and this is saying much for vegetation here; our usual bargain is to give them and seeds of all kinds on condition of getting half the produce. I have this day given Mr. Tanner sixteen pounds for this con-sid-e-ra-ti-on, and I intend to trade a good deal in this primitive kind of way with some of my neighbours, who have soils different in quality from mine, and we thus assist each other. For twenty pounds of potatoes I received, as I was starting on my late expedition, twenty shillings—a great price, you will say.
There has been seasonable rain this day, which has been of service to some turnips and cauliflowers, which I transplanted early in the morning on the potato ground. I have found not a mare's nest—but a hen's nest, with fourteen eggs, which I have removed with Dame Partlet herself to an appropriate incubation lodge, snugly placed among the grass-tree tops; as a set off against this profitable discovery, I have to state the loss of a full-grown chicken barbarously devoured by my sow.
In my list of births I have to enter two kids, but both of the wrong sort, and three kittens; and though last, not least in importance, six young pigs farrowed in the bush, and were discovered with much trouble. I have now eleven pigs, but it is difficult to procure food for them at present, and I am in consequence of the difficulty, obliged to give them biscuit and flour mixed with greens, viz., sow thistles and turnip tops.
26th.—The beautiful picture of the hen sitting upon her eggs has now vanished; one of the dogs devoured them all this morning, I hope they will make him very bilious, the abominable brute! I learn that during my absence the river rose considerably, and flooded the low ground beside the well; the tremendous floods in winter have ended in this!
27th.—Broke up a considerable quantity of ground at the well, and planted upwards of one hundred yards of potatoes in drills. If these succeed, I shall have had two crops of the same kind within one year. My other vegetable have multiplied so that I know not what to do with them. The walnuts, however, have totally failed, and I have only eight out of fifty almond trees, and but one healthy-looking orange tree; strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, all failures.
28th.—Despatched James this day with potatoes, cauliflowers, turnips, and cabbages, to market. A servant of the Governor passed to-day, and told a fine budget of news, about an attack of the natives on the Government House. I do not believe it; but the natives have undoubtedly made sad havoc among the flocks of sheep in the neighbourhood; they took eleven from Mr. Brown, nay worse, speared his cow, and afterwards being fired at for this offence, came stealthily and killed his shepherd; and as a grand finale, drove away no fewer than sixty-seven sheep, belonging to Mr. Bull, of which, though hotly pursued, they slaughtered forty-seven, en chemin faisant. These wholesale doings must be checked by the presence of a body of yeoman cavalry, when horses can be procured, which it is the intention of the Government to supply to those persons who shall enrol themselves. I intend to serve either as a private or an officer, I care not which. Additional magistrates have been appointed since I was here, in order to act with the military on any sudden emergency; and a party of soldiers has been stationed on the hills at the head of the Swan—as the upper part of the navigable river is called; all these matters have occurred during my absence.
A ship soon goes to Van Diemen's Land, and possibly this letter may go that way. We have not had any arrival from England this long time. I am anxiously expecting news from you, besides shoes, my last pair of which I have this day put on.
The Governor and Mrs. Stirling have come down to the river and gone on board the Sulphur, which is going to King George's Island.*****
30th.—Sixteen months have elapsed since I left Dublin, and precisely a year from the day of my arrival here; within that little year what changes at home what a change in myself! what a change in my own people!***
I met Captain Ellis (the brother of the master in chancery) the other day at a mess dinner in Perth. On my return home, I began to cut hay in partnership with Mr. B.—This mem should have come in before—but it is all the same.
After dinner on this same anniversary day of my arrival, I went to examine Captain Irwin's grounds and gardens, and gave him fifteen pounds of potatoes; took tea at Mr. Burgess, and returned at night; on the opposite side of the river, shouted for my boat, "A boat, a boat unto the ferry," but all my people were asleep, so that I was obliged to swim for it; the water was then rather cool, though in the middle of the day it is warm.
31st.—I this day opened my last cask of Sherlock's pork; it has kept perfectly sweet, and would now bring a very high price here. Perhaps I am the only person in possession of one cask. Ten guineas per barrel have been paid for Irish pork, and Mr. Labertouche must have made a considerable profit by sending his vessel here always at this time or a little before it.
My outfield of wheat is almost a failure, but wherever there were ashes a good patch appears. Half an acre of my Indian corn looks only middling, but will probably improve; Swedish turnips, rape, and mangel-wurzel look well; every kitchen vegetable is promising.
In removing some barrels from the house, I found them filled with white ants, which had reduced the bottom of the vessel (an American flour cask) to a substance of extreme tenuity, as thin as a card.
Have got a "whisper" that one of my servants means to make battle to get another half year taken from his indentures, but I shall kick most manfully against this.
Nov. 1st.—Killed a great number of white ants, which are extraordinary creatures, the most impotent looking things, and yet they perpetrate much mischief, carrying on their depredations in secret, and making their imperceptible approaches under the screen of a covered way. Opened my front window, which has a blackboy lattice, for the first time this day since the natives threw the spear; I am making a linen blind for it—very grand, all this!
I am at a sad loss for furniture, having scarcely a table, chair, press, or shelf, except what I brought with me, and I have no doors—mere contrivances in place of them. More of servants' whims! I have just heard of one who demands four glasses of rum per day! Really, there is no enduring the insolence of this class here; they soon find out their value, and act accordingly. Any one bringing out servants should accurately enumerate in their indentures every article, and how much of it each should get. Many, who on landing would have been startled at the idea of taking four glasses of spirits every day, soon reconcile themselves to this excess, if they be indulged by their masters: in laborious and warm work, however, such as mowing, a large allowance of grog is not unreasonable.
I exchanged two pair of small linen trousers (which had been made for the boy who came out with me) for a cock of hay, and have a grand project in my head of bartering some chickens (when hatched) for a kid which one of my neighbours expects soon to have born to him.***
4th.—I am helping Mackie to cut an avenue from his place to mine; many settlers are doing the same kind of thing, which makes our houses appear much closer than we before supposed.
James brought me home a turtle yesterday, and to-day another, which he found in the grass, where they had been depositing their eggs; their weight is four pounds each, and and one had sixteen eggs with remarkably hard shells. Found a pretty rail, shaped like ours, but handsomely freckled; and a young wagtail, which has as varied a style of singing as it has various names, being called, besides the name just stated, razor-grinder, and superb-warbler. Mr. B. called to purchase the single Cape sheep (for which I had twelve months ago given two sheep) for the sum of £3.
6th.—Day cold, wet, and stormy—good for the garden, but not for the hay. As we had so little rain during the winter, it is possible that we may now have frequent showers. I cannot go to church.
10th.—James at work mowing. Made two covered sheds and pig yards. Thermometer 50° at seven in the morning. Fished for cobblers in the evening. The warbler sings its night-song. Fine weather. Rumour that two ships have arrived.
12th.—Hay-making—five cocks saved. Our Irish servants are beginning to be just as saucy as the English ones, who expect to live here as well as their masters did at home; they talk of having meat and beer three times a day! The vessels have arrived from Java, with pork, rice, and sugar.
14th.—Gave a kitten to Mr. Brockman; little as you may think of such a donation, let me tell you that a guinea has been given here for one. I have got some weighty mahogany from a sawyer to make a box and bedstead. Ten other chickens this day; we have now twenty-four chickens and seven hens.******
19th.—Returned from Perth and Fremantle. Purchased flour at 7d. per pound, and American pork at £8 per cask—what a price your Irish pork and butter, leather, and shoes, would produce here! No shoes in the whole colony, except a few made in India, not worth a farthing. Another sow has farrowed in the bush; only four youngsters alive—how provoking!
23rd.—Purchased a cow for £2 10s. My stock of black cattle now consists of ten, great and small, with a prospect of increase. Heard that many settlers are expected, and, consequently, that our land will rise in value. Busy all day ricking my hay, which the men carried in a sort of hand-barrow: there are four tons yet remaining in the field, and the quantity in rick is ten tons. Transplanted celery early in the morning.
25th.—This has been a very scorching day, hotter than yesterday, when I was an hour in the water, cutting, sawing, and raising stumps of trees. Thermometer 90° in my room. Johnny has gone to Guildford for 2 cwt. of wheat for the pigs; this with garden vegetables will keep them in condition. James (not in the sulks at present) has been mowing in the distant field.
27th.—A great change in the weather; it being now cloudy and threatening rain, with high wind. Black servants, I find, are very serviceable in this colony; on them we must eventually depend for labour, as we can never afford to pay English servants the high wages they expect, besides feeding them so well. The black fellows receive little more than rice—their simple diet.
This is an excellent settlement for labourers, if they would honestly preserve their engagements. Government seem desirous to establish a colony on the most thrifty scale, and every part of it should be uniform and consistent with the general plan. If an officer holding a high office under Government receives but £300 a-year, it is out of all proportion to give from £24 to £36 a year, and diet, to a menial. We are in great want of stock; and have been wofully disappointed at not having an expected supply from Van Diemen's Land. The plan of purchasing (at a dear rate too) from each other is doing nothing.
30th.—I took Mackie down the river in my boat this morning at day-light, and returned before my people were stirring, and then commenced hoeing my Indian corn with a three-pronged hoe.
Dec. 1st.—For the first time during a long period my people are employed in labour at the house, and thatching a shed for the cow. Discovered numberless grubs at the root of the Indian corn, to which they do infinite mischief, concealing themselves by day in the ground, and marauding at night. Thermometer 72° at two P.M.
2nd.—One of our agricultural meetings was held this day, only fourteen members, out of forty-five, were present; our discussions were interesting, Another (special) meeting is to be held after the Governor's return from King George's Sound, to consider in what form our memorial, which has not been yet forwarded, should be put.
I exhibited a sample of turnips in a garden at the York settlement, was present at the admission of three new members, and dined with the society at our head inn on a good dinner with a pint of wine—bill five shillings.
4th.—On the morning of this day I came to Mr. B., a new settler, in time for family worship, and in the evening went to Mr. W.'s, where we had a clergyman for the evening service.
I have just heard of a tree which is at Fremantle, bearing fruit which answers for preserves and pies; it is said to resemble an apple, with a thick pulp and rough kernel. Hay-rick completely finished. Our wheat was cut during my absence; it was a small patch, but yielded well, and would have been admirable, but for the trespasses of cows and pigs; indeed, there was more on this patch in the garden than on the two acres, to which the pigs unfortunately found their way, and where they spent many of their leisure hours, while we thought they were at home. There is, however, excellent wheat this season in the colony. Would that I had some one interested in my welfare to assist me here! my men are careless of every thing not directly relating to their own advantage. I cannot well attend to gardening, farming, fishing, hunting, grazing, fencing, building, boating, exploring, and marketing.
After the expiration of the time which my servants have to remain with me, I should be glad to have others bound for five years, and would advance their passage money, giving them £5 a year with clothes and diet, or £10 a year without clothing; but retaining in my hands their wages until the passage money be cleared, and with a contract that their servitude should continue until this debt be fully discharged—a bonus of two glasses of rum per day. Mr. B. is advancing the passage money to servants, and giving £10 for the first year, and £40 for each of the two next; repaying himself the money advanced. I want a carpenter sadly, but must wait until I become (if ever) rich enough to employ one; until then, I must make my own doors and window shutters, be they ever so rude.
On the lower part of my meadow flat there is a hollow, with water in it during winter; it is now dry from evaporation, and become a rich compost, which I have dug up and planted with potatoes.
6th.—The young sow has six young ones: I have now twenty-two, old and young; and all, except one, are the offspring of the sow which I bought out of the Cleopatra, besides six which I sold.* * * * *
If you have not written by the mail which is at Sydney, how I shall be disappointed! Always recollect that mails are made up for this, periodically, and sent via Sydney, the Cape, or India, far more frequently than by direct conveyance, If you wish to send a package (shoes, for instance), you must send it direct: post pay your letters to London, whence they will be forwarded at a very cheap rate. I still am of opinion that O. would do well here; the way is now smoothed for him, and a well-managed dairy would yield him ample means of livelihood. He should purchase cows at the Cape. This day I got £3 for my Cape sheep; at Van Diemen's Land one could be purchased for 5s., and at the Cape (fat) for 6s.
7th.—Great visitings among the neighbouring servants; seven or eight of them patrolling about; and all this is sure to end in drunkenness and mischief—they talk of forming a club! They have too much control over their masters already; and club-law would be a terrible exercise and increase of their power.
The indefatigable little warbler, or razor-grinder, is singing its sweet notes at nine o'clock P.M., by beautiful moonlight; it is a very fearless little bird, associating with all the farm and domestic animals, watching attentively for flies, at which it springs with unerring aim, twittering out every now and then, by way of interlude or for the sake of good digestion, some of its sweetest notes.
9th.—Had a harvest-home, or churn, as it is here termed, this roasting day—I fear there is little butter in the churn for me. I shall have nearly as much produce from about twenty square yards in the garden, as from the tillage farm of two acres. One of our most experienced farmers has assured me, that it will not answer to cultivate on an extended scale, under the existing circumstances of the colony, from the dearness of labour, &c.: three acres altogether, will be the maximum of my tillage. Summer is our worst season, as vegetation on the dry grounds is then at a stand, and there are few facilities for irrigation. Nine months of our year are like your best summers, and the remaining three are very warm; a land breeze, however, springs up every night at about ten o'clock, and blows very fresh, making a grand roaring in the trees. Thermometer now (nine o'clock P.M.) 84°—was 94° at two.
10th—Pigs, pigs, pigs—an addition of six—total, twenty-eight.
I wrote shortly after my arrival here, recommending a speculation in slop clothes, Irish pork, and butter; if a cargo of it had arrived here about or before this time, it would have been very profitable to the owners. There has been no butter—any price could have been got for it. Pork, as I have already stated, has been selling for ten guineas per barrel; porter would also sell well.
I am sorry to state that two men were drowned in Melville Water last Tuesday, in consequence of intoxication—the bane of this country as of Ireland. I have been threshing to-day with new (patent it ought to be) machinery, viz., the bars of a ladder. The grain is good, but the head is small. More pigs to-day—total 32. They are a very troublesome stock.
Killed two cockatoos at one shot, and caught a small turtle. After these exploits, I tried to make a door, and with much labour planed one side, and shall put it up in this state tomorrow. Time is so precious that I cannot afford any portion of it for planing the other side.
I find that a surprising number of persons on their way to this settlement have been frightened out of their intentions by the people at the Cape, who seem to act as if they thought every injury which they inflict on us were a positive gain to themselves. Some people (whom we are much better without) have left this place without giving it a fair trial. We want quiet, hard-working, practical people—not gentlemen, nor adventurers: by gentlemen, here, I mean those who consider themselves degraded by pursuing any useful occupation. Let such stay away: better to have their room than their company.
I have finished my door, and actually ornamented the show side with the aid of a bead-plane; and ground some of my own wheat in my steel mill, which grinds well and fast. I had been apprehensive on finding my store of flour so low, but now I have as much as relieves me from all danger of want. Flour is at present 7d. per pound; but the usual price, when there is a supply from the Cape or Van Diemen's Land, is 3d. per pound.
Towards this morning I was aroused by the sound of a boat, in which E—arrived, on his way to Mr. Tanner's to parade the soldiers there, in order to recognise some who had committed an outrage. He and Mr. Dale took beds with me. This making of beds must surprise you,—I managed it easily enough; having three matrasses, we have only to stretch one for each guest on the floor, with sheets and blankets. The colonising system (like "misery,") "makes us acquainted with strange beds" as well as with "strange bed-fellows."
I could not hang my new door—reason why—the doorposts are crooked. I shall have sad and warm work at them. Ther. 90°.
How different my rural life from that which I had imagined it would be! Instead of being demi-savage and romantic, it is civilised (often ceremonious) and uniform; with less of privation and much more of occupation for mind and body than I had anticipated. But where are all the flocks and herds?—Where?
It cost me £32 to get a cow and a calf, and the cow is dead. Sheep are £3 each; so that it would take all my capital to possess a flock—even less than the patriarch's—such as would afford the keeping of a shepherd. From one sow I have had thirty pigs—the only stock which has multiplied with me—and a much larger number I could not support. It is easy for a person at home to say, " You can keep pigs and poultry without limit as to numbers," but they must be fed in summer at considerable expense; and as our fences are generally bad, the pigs eat down the wheat and destroy the gardens, and the poultry soon devour their own value in grain. These are among our checks; however, I am giving you the worst side of the picture—the features of the reversed one you will trace through the sketching lines of my whole journal.
The truth is, I hate high colouring in these cases, which may mislead, and therefore strip the portraiture of all ornament and exhibit the naked truth, "which when unadorned is adorned the most." An awful responsibility would rest on me were I to hold out inducements to any one, when success depends so much on the taste, physical adaptation, amount of capital, &c, It costs a considerable sum to bring out and to support the emigrant until he can support himself. Land must be purchased—if from government at 5s. an acre; and if servants be brought out, the expense of maintaining them is considerable; and what can a solitary individual do if he do not bring them? Two or three stout hard-working brothers, or a father with a family able and willing to assist, with some money, are sure of establishing themselves in rough comfort and plenty in a very few years; but there must be no squeamishness as to fare. In short, it is a plodding, matter-of-fact, and hard-working sort of life, until you become settled; with very little of the romance and adventure about it which is so tempting and alluring to your minds. Yet it has its pleasures too; but people should prepare themselves for what it really is, and therefore I show more of the unfavourable side, and expose the truth in its most undisguised and unflattering state, leaving people to draw their own inferences. There is one point which I recommend to every one coming out; namely, the purchase of cattle from the Cape. Good ponies are very reasonable there also.
McDermott's stock has long since arrived. His wooden houses were rather late, but some have been sold for £100. He lives about three miles from this, and breakfasted with me this morning.
The excellent crops that have been harvested this year (equalling if not exceeding the best in England), have inspired us all with confidence; but, from want of labourers and cattle, few have cultivated extensively. Mr. Brockman has had fifteen acres in culture—a great quantity, under existing circumstances—and he as well as others have happily experienced that the sandy soil, at first despised, produces as well as stiff clay soil, and with infinitely less trouble. The present prices of hay are £5 here; £8 at Perth; and £10 per ton at Fremantle.
You will have had, before this reaches you, all the information you sought as to the Avon River. I fear that there is no large navigable river on this coast, as far as it extends. The Swan serves the purpose of a canal, but the frequent flats are obstacles; these, however, may be deepened or avoided at some future day.****
Jan. 6th, 1832.—This has been a busy day with me. I have put up the posts and wall-plates of a house, 23 feet by 10—6 feet in height, and shall fit up an additional apartment for servants. Nor is my domicile without ornament, as I have made a portico of black-boy sticks, in a very neat yet strong manner, arranged like wicker work, and then plaistered over with stiff well-tempered clay.
I have been calculating the expense of my little establishment since I occupied it. It is nearly as follows:
|14 cwt. of meal||£50||0|
|1 ton of flour||30||0|
|Wages and clothes for servants||36||0|
|Clothes for myself||20||0|
After adding wages and the value of garden vegetables, you may see the present expenses of a colonist here.
8th.—Dined with Mr. Mackie. His grant, with the new house and garden, are the pride of the colony. The house is prettily situated on a gently-rounded eminence, rising from an extensive meadow flat, on the bank of the river. The house, when completed, is to be flat-roofed with boards, pitched and caulked like the deck of a ship. He has great quantities of melons and cucumbers, which probably produce as much money as pays his steward's salary—£52 a year—besides rations for a family of eleven persons. From the front of my little crib I can see into his hall door.
10th.—Opened my chest of books, which has been at Fremantle since my arrival; they are in better condition than I could have expected after so long and close a confinement, and looked very like, and, by association of thoughts, reminded me of old friends. The collection of English grasses which Furlong gave me is a source of great amusement to me. The botanists here say, that though our grasses resemble many of the British sorts, there is some slight characteristic difference in each; but such is the similarity, that I am justified in asserting that there are here several species of Poa, and we have the Holcus, and Avena. Thirty species have been enumerated on no very extensive space.
11th.—I have heard that a vessel was about to sail for Van Diemen's Land and take a mail, as I sat down beside a party who were talking despondingly about the want of flour, and of cattle, neglect of servants, and many other désagremens of this kind.
I have frequently spoken of the climate. I think it the very beau idéal of one. We are now in the hottest month of the year, enjoying a delicious breeze, with the thermometer at 77°. It is true that when there is neither breeze nor cloud to darken the sun's noontide rays, the heat is very great; but this is not often the case. Since March last, the imagination could not conceive more delicious weather, the time of year considered. The Egyptian has arrived, and brought tidings of joy to many a family here, and many a beloved member has joined the emigre's who had preceded them; but where, oh where are my friends? I often ask myself, am I ever to see you again?—Farewell!
G. F. M.
- In the county of Wicklow, Ireland.
- I shall henceforward prune or cut away altogether the details of horticultural operations; interesting as they might be to many readers.—Editor.
- I have here omitted a great part of the Journal as comparatively uninteresting,—Editor.