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Extracts from the letters and journals of George Fletcher Moore, now filling a judicial office at the Swan River Settlement/The colony (6)

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THE COLONY.

LEAVE KING GEORGE'S SOUND—FLINDER'S BAY—THE BLACKWOOD RIVER—INTERVIEW WITH THE NATIVES—ARRIVAL OF THE MEROPE—ADVANCE OF THE COLONY.

Hermitage, Swan River, March 9.

Here is a wide chasm in my diary, which I fear I shall not be able to close satisfactorily. Between hurry and bustle on land, (not to speak of a little squeamishness at sea), my various occupations since I have landed, and interruptions at home, I have got most hopelessly into arrear; yet I hope to bring it up.

On the 26th ult. we left George's Sound at sunrise, Doctor Littleton, Mr. Cheyne, (with whom I had lived there), Mr. Morley, and Mr. M'Cleod, of the 63rd, accompanying our original party, until we got into the Sound. We anchored in Flinder's Bay, and on the 28th went to Mr. Morley's house, which is prettily situated on the Blackwood, near its mouth. Here, on the floor of an uninhabited house, we spread our mattrasses and cloaks, and with the aid of a good fire made ourselves very comfortable.

The weather, during the whole period of our excursion, was about the temperature of an English spring; indeed, it is said that the thermometer at King George's Sound seldom rises above 82°.

March 1st.—We advanced up the Blackwood, and got fast on the flats, which we had some trouble to push over; there is a passage, but we missed it. On these flats we saw numbers of ducks, and upwards of a hundred swans—a good classical omen.[1] The river above is deep and wide, the banks on either side rich and thickly covered with timber, principally red gum and mahogany. We ascended about twenty-two miles, returned to the same point next morning, and slept at Mr. Russel's. From this we walked to the settlement, about four miles, through thick forest, with a dense luxuriance of underwood, through which a pathway leading to the Vasse river has been recently cut. Most of the colonists here speak of going to settle at the Vasse when they can procure sheep, the land there being described as open and grassy, on a substratum of limestone. If this be so, it must be a fine tract of pasture land, continuing, in all probability, of the same quality to the Murray River. Yet this was thought at first a poor sandy district!

The river is inconsiderable, its mouth blocked up, and without shelter on the bay; but it has many advantages. We had some intention of walking to it from the Blackwood, while the vessel was going round, (she could have picked us up there); but as that part was so recently explored, and so well laid down in charts, it did not possess sufficiently the interest of novelty to induce us to take a step which might have been attended with many inconveniences, if the ship should have been prevented from coming round in time. I did not mention that we brought six natives, at their urgent request, from King George's Sound, to visit Swan River; but as we were preparing to embark, one of them was missing. On searching for him I suddenly found myself among a large body of natives, who, seeing me hesitate, called out "abba," an expression of friendly salutation. I immediately joined them, and found our runaway among the number: he declared his intention of remaining some time on a visit with them, and then going by land to King George's Sound: as they were numerous, well armed and powerful, yet good-humoured-looking men, we deemed it prudent to proceed without them. If he should reach his tribe in safety, the circumstance may be of great service to us, as he may be the means of opening a friendly intercourse between us and the natives of this district. Whales frequent King George's Sound. Mr. Lukin who went with us to examine the Sound, in order to ascertain whether it be adapted to the whale-fishing, considers it highly eligible for that purpose, and intends to attempt it immediately.

I hope he will succeed; it would be a chief means of giving stability to the colony. I trust that we shall yet be enabled to avail ourselves of the advantages, quæ larga, profundit fœcundo Natura sinu. As we were working out of Augusta Bay, we saw many seals of the most valuable species upon the rocky islands of Cape Lewin: in truth, this colony only requires that its natural advantages should be turned to account, in order to vie with any other.

It was the intention of Captain Irwin to call at Vasse; and he also contemplated a visit to the Murray River, for the purpose of inspecting that outport, but a foul wind frustrated these purposes.

A river called the Donnelly, fresh at the mouth, and having ten feet of water at the bar, is said to have been seen by Mr. Preston, falling into the sea, about thirty miles east of Augusta. If this be the case (which I doubt) it differs very much from every other known river in this climate; to counteract the force of the salt water at the mouth, it must have a powerful stream. I was anxious to persuade Captain Irwin to trace it; but as the captain of the Ellen informed us that his boats were not calculated for such service, we were obliged to relinquish the attempt, and leave to others the fame of exploring it.

It was not until the evening of the 3rd that we cleared Flinder's Bay, off Augusta; next day we arrived at Fremantle about noon, and in the evening reached Perth, where I was detained until Thursday (the 7th).

On my arrival at home I found everything right. The servants informed me that they had never seen such heavy torrents of flooding rain since their arrival in the colony: this wetting has prepared the arid soil for crops; and I shall immediately plant potatoes. We have always had some rain in March, but not so much as on the late occasion. Indeed, we are only now acquiring knowledge of the seasons and the method of managing our crops.

13th.—On this day I sat on the bench from ten until six, in a crowded court. I had a list of forty-two cases for argument, questions of cost, &c.

14th.—On the bench again all day.

15th.—Ditto. Our colonists are becoming fonder of law every day. Besides the excitement of litigation, three houses have been destroyed by fire. As they were constructed of inflammable materials, every thing which they contained of furniture and clothes was totally consumed.

During the progress of the conflagration, the Swan River natives had a row among themselves, and speared two of their own women and one man very severely. Yet this occasion afforded me strong indication of the good feeling of these people; for I never before witnessed more genuine sensibility than was manifested by the husband of one of the women (a very young and pretty one, however); though wounded himself, he bore her in his arms to the hospital, and sat beside her all day, supporting her on his bosom. I hope that they will all recover; though some of their wounds are deep. The cause of the outrage has not been ascertained.

I was preparing to come away on Friday, when a messenger arrived to inform me that the natives had set fire to Mr. Shaw's hay, and driven away my sheep. The report I did not fully credit; and on arriving at home, found that the rumour regarding the abstraction of my sheep had originated in their having stayed away during the night, while under the care of a black man whom I now have with me; they returned like dutiful truants in the morning.

Captain Irwin, and Captain Ellis, superintendent of the native tribes, have investigated the particulars of what had occurred relative to the hay, to discover whether it had been destroyed designedly by the natives, or by accident. I rode with these gentlemen to the spot, about three miles distant; it appeared that the fire was not accidental, for three ricks, at a distance from each other, were consumed by unconnected fires. We have, in consequence, a post of soldiers overlooking the plain on which the mischief was committed.

18th.—At an early hour this morning I had a visit from seven natives; and seventeen more came in the course of the day. I have hired a new shepherd at 2l. per month, and have had a litter of nine pigs! These have been my last domestic changes of great importance.

19th.—While wandering about to-day with a gun on my shoulder, I met a gentleman who informed that the natives killed a valuable mare belonging to Mr. Tanner, at Woodbridge, yesterday, in revenge it is supposed, for some imaginary cause of offence. The same people were perceived on Friday behind my place (soon after the hay was destroyed) on the look out, in all probability, for my flock; but I keep a steady watch, and shall take my gun with me every day, and observe the precaution of putting a brace of pistols in my belt. We have been on good terms with them every where, so that I cannot imagine the occasion of this mischievous outbreak.

21st.—I have been trying to burst asunder the stump of a tree in front of the house; and I shall then be able to make the ground slope gently from the verandah to the river; but I sadly want some of you to assist me in my landscape gardening; I have been for two days burning brushwood and grass near the house, as a preventive against fire. This has a paradoxical sound; but the removal of the inflammable material is a certain security from conflagration in the cleared quarter, and the young grasses are benefited by this process.

After being occupied seven hours in this way, I had several visitors in the evening—among them many ladies. In fact, we see more of our friends here in a week, than you do in a month at home.

22nd.—Sad chapter of accidents to be recorded; knocked my head against an angular beam, and cut it through my hat; my dog Carlo jumped at my nose and bit it, by way of showing his affection; and I afterwards cut myself under the eye by the recoil of a hammer; then burned my thumb and scraped my hand in moving a burning log; and, by way of grand finale, burned my great toe through my shoe.

23rd.—A boat-load of visitors—male and female—enough to terrify any bachelor out of his wits. Mr. Kingsford, an experienced miller, lately come out, after searching in vain for an eligible mill site with water power, now proposes to cut a deep trench, and lay a pipe from some lagoons behind Perth into the town, to afford him a supply of water. There are some of these lagoons eight miles in circumference, and at no great distance, which he thinks have a communication with each other through the sandy soil, or which may be made to communicate by unexpensive cuts. Mr. K. seems prejudiced against a windmill; nor does he think that Mr. Revely's horizontal one can succeed; and insists that more can be done by gravity than by impulse.

26th.—I have just hired a thresher, paying him 1s. 6d. a bushel: he threshes five or six bushels a day, so he earns high wages. My wheat is good, and yields well. I wanted to hire a boy also, but his former master would not give him a certificate, because he had left him without previous warning: this is a wholesome check, which was resolved on at an agricultural meeting, greatly to the annoyance of some of the servants of the colony. While I was at breakfast, the messenger of the Civil Court at Perth came with affidavits, &c., to support an application for a writ against the captain of a vessel, who is about to leave the colony, while there are some unsettled questions of law affecting him. This is one of the few cases in which there is an arrest in civil matters here; and the writ can only be issued by myself.

The same messenger also brought intelligence that a ship had arrived from Hobart Town, but without a mail. This appeared so strange that I determined to ride down and inquire for myself—True enough—not a single letter, parcel, or package has she brought—nothing but her own freight of cattle, flour, and potatoes. There is some mystery which we cannot as yet develope; but the general opinion is, either that another vessel had sailed before her, and had not yet arrived, or that one was about to follow, which would interfere with her market.

28th.—Went to dine with Mr. Shaw, and had a drive home with Mr. and Mrs. Brockman in a kind of dog-cart. I killed a fine sheep this morning—the first which I have regularly slaughtered for sale: it is small, 11 lbs. a quarter—but I should not be ashamed to compare it with any mutton in your market. The carpenter and thresher purchased a side at 1s. 6d. a pound. It was one of those for which I gave 2l. 10s., but as I have been paying a shepherd ever since, my profit is not very considerable.

Perth, March 30th.—A man has arrived in breathless haste to announce that the Merope, chartered by Major Nairn, had arrived. Soon afterwards the mail was brought in; but I cannot express my mortification at not receiving a letter; but in the envelope of one to Captain Irwin lay your letter, dated Nov. 1831, and another from Mrs. Logan, who had forwarded it. I shall start for Fremantle to-morrow, to ascertain if the articles mentioned in your letter are on board, and if they can be exchanged for sheep, of which the Merope has brought 358; but I know not if they be for sale. She has also imported eleven horses, fifteen head of black cattle, twenty goats, fifty tons of potatoes, twenty-five tons of flour, and 200 bushels of seed-wheat; and the other vessel is freighted with forty tons of flour, and some potatoes; and both have beef and pork.

I shall now enumerate my own stock:—

Sheep (old and young) 66
Cows 8
Horses 2
Pigs 21
Goats 3
Fowls 24
Ducks 5
Dogs 3
Cats 5

It is rumoured that another vessel (the Georgina) is also coming out with stock, and that one from Sydney is bringing out 1,000 sheep. If these grand expectations be realised, we shall soon have stock in abundance, and plenty of seed-wheat and potatoes.

April 5th.—I went last Tuesday to Freemantle, to see about the chest, pork, &c.; but they have not been landed from the vessel. This is provoking; for, with most feminine curiosity, I longed to open the chest and inspect its contents. By some untoward chance it got into the commissary store at Hobart Town, and Major Nairn had great trouble in effecting its liberation.

*****

To-morrow I must go to Perth; my judicial duties there being important.

*****

You know that I have never suffered myself to shut my eyes to the difficulties and inconveniences of my situation; but rather forced myself to contemplate them in their sternest aspect. The certainty may be painful; but why should I struggle to conceal from myself that all my former scenes must henceforth be but as a dream of the days that are gone? Here is my lot cast, Between us there is a gulf fixed (oh how wide!) which few have resolution to cross: yet it is nothing when attempted. It is an excitement, a novelty, a sensation worth the purchasing.

To a first settler, the uncertainty of the how, the when, the where, the everything, connected with his prospects, is distracting; but to those coming out to join their friends, what is there but pleasure? I really believe that most persons would think it a change for the better. But it is, as I have more than once observed, too great a responsibility to advise the change.

There are now no difficulties in the way of emigration compared with those which the original settlers encountered. We have houses to shelter in, beds to sleep on, inns to quarter at,—meat and bread. But as to any of yourselves emigrating—how could you leave property, business, friends to lead the life of a rustic? Could you enjoy such a condition, so widely differing from your present habits and occupations? It is kind in you to talk of coming out here, to keep me in spirits; but I know the impracticability of it. If any of you have definite intentions on the subject, write, and demand whatever specific information you desire.

I begin to fear that I am bound to this place for life, or for a very long period; but this is the first time I have dared to express the conviction, even to myself, and I must not dwell on it.

*****

The Merope is about to sail. If I should not be able to write more in this packet, accept my concluding prayer, that God may bless you all with health and happiness, and receive the assurance of the health, contentment, and probable prosperity of your affectionate brother,


  1. Mr. Moore probably alludes to this passage:—
    "Cycnus in auguriis nautis gratissimus ales."—Doyle, Jun.