Melbourne and Mars/Chapter 3
Youth and Early Manhood.
OUR hero's diary is pretty full of particulars as to the settling of his family and their progress in the new country, but his story for the next few years is not very sensational, or out of the common run of experience. The Government authorities gave the pardoned man a choice between a passage home and a small grant of land in the vicinity of the infant city. His parents chose the latter, and the father and mother, for many years, made a good living by keeping a few cows and growing vegetables.
The elder girls got married early, the other two children came from England. On the whole things went well with the family of Jacobs. If they had held on to the piece of land granted by the Government their descendants to-day would have been very rich. As it was they were much better off than they could ever have hoped to be in England. The old man lived to be seventy, and his wife nursed her great-grandchildren, and was alive in Sydney in 1875. We have nothing more to do with the family life. None of them either made a fortune or attained distinction. They lived simple and honest lives, such as their ancestors in Lancashire had done for generations.
Adam Jacobs worked for a time with his parents, and made himself useful as a farmer and gardener until he was about eighteen years of age. He then joined a shipping firm, and underwent some adventures while sailing in the South Sea Islands and trading with the Maories in the North Island of New Zealand. Some of his scrapes and escapes would bear recording, and would be given a place in his book if they had not been eclipsed by later adventures of much greater importance that must be recorded.
When about twenty-three years of age we find him running a small business of his own as ship chandler and outfitter, and his diary gives a few hints regarding a powerful incentive to settle down and remain ashore in the form of a blue-eyed daughter of a sea captain whom he frequently visits. Business is successfully prosecuted. He builds a small suburban villa—suburb and villa long since swallowed up in city and forgotten—and at twenty-four becomes a benedict, marrying a woman who for more than forty years proves a true help-meet and faithful companion. We have not done with her. We meet her again many times, and do not part, with her until the diary and the story comes to an end.
Business fluctuates, and Jacobs grows impatient. He hears of the rapid growth of Melbourne. He goes to Melbourne to establish a branch of his business, and the branch rapidly becomes the leading house, so much so that he removes to the new city in the earlier part of 1842. Before the end of the year, however, there is a grand collapse in commercial and financial circles. A land boom, which has been leading to some artificial successes and giving a fictitious value to every thing, suddenly bursts up, and a kind of universal bankruptcy sets in.
Jacobs is involved like many others, and declares himself bankrupt on the same day that Melbourne declares itself to be a city and claims municipal rights.
For nine years more the diaries record little but the struggles of a business man trying to earn an honest living without much capital to back him up. He has to give credit and to take produce instead of cash, the coin of the realm being a scarce article everywhere. However, he and his wife work together in their store and make their position tolerable again.
And now comes the gold find in Bathurst, and Jacobs, hearing of the rapid acquisition of wealth by lucky diggers, must try his luck. His wife keeps the business going in the almost empty city, and Jacobs searches for gold and finds a rheumatic fever, of which he nearly dies, and comes home a sad wreck to be nursed into health again.
He has barely recovered when gold is found near Melbourne, and the rushes to Ballarat and Mount Alexander take place. Ten thousand miners are washing out gold within sixty miles of Melbourne. This time our diarist follows the rush to supply provisions to the diggers, and finds that pay better than digging.
Some of his records about this time are full of adventure. He gets his drays bogged, and the bullocks sink into the ground until only their heads are visible. He tells of the roads becoming so bad that a pound of flour has to be sold for two shillings in order that the cost of its carriage may be defrayed. He does not speak of the miners as a lawless set of men at all. They seem to be anxious to wash out plenty of dust, and indeed they have to in order to live, when they are fed but poorly at a cost of about a sovereign a day.
Of course there was a contingent of roughs, but these were kept in check by the stern rough and ready justice dealt out by the more orderly members of the community. There was a mixture of all classes—sailors, soldier, university scholars, tradesmen, business men, and even British peers. The Marquis of Salisbury spent some time in the Victorian goldfields.
Jacobs going to and fro with money and goods was never robbed, and never subjected to personal violence. On the contrary, he frequently speaks of the help he gets from most unlikely quarters when he gets into difficulties. On one occasion four diggers worked "up to the eyes in mud" for nearly a day extricating him and his stores, his four bullocks and his dray from a morass, and all he can prevail upon them to accept is each a bottle of beer and a cake of tobacco. Judging from Jacobs' diary, the accounts of the lawlessness of the goldfields have been much exaggerated.
In this diary a mere passing mention is made of the separation of Victoria from New South Wales. The great influx of population which occurred at this time, and a few years afterwards, does not appear to have had much effect upon the fortunes of Jacobs. He seems to have stuck to the goldfields trade too long, to have gone on with it after the rush was over, and to have made losses in the latter part of the time. For we find in the diary for 1858, on his fortieth birthday, the remarks:—"I am now forty years of age. It is said that what a man is at forty he will be all his life. If so, I shall be a poor struggling man to the end of my term; for I have never been worth a thousand pounds in my life, although I have had as good chances as many of the men who have made fortunes. Too soon or too late I have ever been. If I had given up this travelling business two years ago and let the debts slide, I had been hundreds of pounds in pocket."
He gives up the goldfields, leaves more active and enterprising men the work of following up the new rushes, and comes back to town. His children are getting useful in the store, and his wife proves herself the better business man of the two. As a result, he is at liberty to devote attention to any other pursuit by which he can earn a bit of money. So he commences as a commission agent, and now thirty years later he is still so engaged.
No breach, ever happened between Jacobs and his wife, although she took the lead in the city business, and ran it for over twenty years with the help of the children. The very saddest pages in his diaries are those in which he records the death of his wife, which occurred in his sixty-fifth year.
The business which he founded, and which his wife put her life into, is carried on in the city to this day by one of his children.
Taken as a whole the life appears to be a commonplace one; just a straight and simple life such as might be lived by anyone. Had this been all, however, the story of Jacobs would never have been lifted out of the dusty obscurity of his accumulated diaries.