Once a Week/Series 1/Volume 5/My arrival in Australia

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


Light ahead!” shouted the man aloft on board the ship M——h, one evening in November, 1852.

The ship was crowded with people, and this intimation of its near approach to land was joyfully received by all of them.

Scandal, ill-temper, and discontent for some time had been making much mischief and trouble amongst the different classes of persons so unavoidably thrown into each other's society, and all were weary of the long voyage.

Several young men kept the other passengers in a state of nervous apprehension from morning till night lest they should set the ship on fire; for in their cabins they boiled coffee over spirit-lamps, they smoked, and they drank large quantities of brandy one against the other for wagers, getting dreadfully intoxicated of course; and as each cabin had to accommodate three, if not four passengers, besides berths and boxes here and there, wearing apparel hanging about, and stores of one kind or other filling up corners, there was really hardly room to move in any one of them; so that it was wonderful some dreadful accident did not occur.

My thoughts were always on fire; so were my dreams at night; and to go'to sleep again after such a dream was an impossibility, so I was condemned to lie awake, listening to the strange noises made in working the ship instead—the bell indicating the hours, the short, quick steps of the sailors when shifting sails, the loud, hoarse voice of the officer on duty singing out his orders, as he called it—perhaps the wind would be howling too, might be splitting a sail in its anger; and oh! how tired I got of the rolling, pitching, tossing motion of the ship, which never allowed me to lie still a moment. Then sometimes, in the dark, a big cockroach would alight on my face and startle me: the ship was full of them. Then, at four o‘clock, the pig would be squeaking and the fowls screeching, poor things, for at that hour the butcher was getting through his morning‘s work. Then came the splashing and the dashing down of pailfuls of water upon the decks and cuddy, and the swabbing and the holystoning them afterwards, and then—it was time to get up.

Having stayed in my cabin after breakfast next morning, packing up books and other things in readiness to go on shore, I was too late on deck to see the lighthouse on Cape Otway; but there was a little black figure, an aboriginal, fishing at the edge of the sandy shore on our left, to look at, and a number of gentlemen with telescopes were disputing and laying wagers about it.

It was a lovely morning; a fresh breeze was filling our sails, and we had even our skyscrapers up, as the sailors call them; so I seated myself on deck with my little girls, one on each side of me as usual, and we were soon busily employed at needlework.

Most of the people near us were talking of what they would have to eat and drink on their arrival, which caused some amusement, for we were all heartily tired of board-ship provisions, and longing to taste fish, fruit, and vegetables again.

“I have heard that peaches, nectarines, and melons are as common in Australia as apples in England," said an old lady sitting in her armchair opposite to us, with gold spectacles across her thin aquiline nose and a blue silk ugly over the front of her bonnet to shade her eyes from the glaring sun.

“I’ll have a duck and green peas for my dinner the first time I dine on shore," said the old lady's fat little husband: “that’s a favourite dish of mine—very—worth all the peaches and nectarines to be got anywhere, I think," and he nodded his round little head, and his big black eyes sparkled at the thought of the luxury in perspective.

“Dear me! will peas be in season, sir, at this time of year!" said a pretty rosy-checked girl sitting next him, whose large, soft blue eyes had been sending all the single men into fits of abstraction and thoughts of household expenses for some weeks past.

“Lord love you, my dear! they grow all the year round in these parts," said the old gentleman, looking admiringly into the young lady‘s face, which she did not at all seem to mind. “You see the climate does such wonders—such wonders!"

Then, screwing up his little mouth, as if he were going to whistle, and slily darting a glance at his old wife, who was now hobbling towards the companion-ladder, he added, in an under tone, “I’m told it even makes old ladies young again—he, he! The newspapers say it does—he, he! I do believe now that that was the reason my wife would insist upon coming with me this long voyage—he, he! I do, indeed—he, he, he!" and he chuckled for some minutes about it.

The old lady by this time had arrived at the companion-ladder, and she was standing there looking straight at her husband over the top of her gold spectacles.

“Charles, dear, lunch is ready,” said she, with the shadow of a rebuke, I thought, in the manner she spoke the words; “won’t you come with me and have some?"

The old gentleman instantly hastened to her; and just as his straw hat and her bonnet with the blue ugly over it were disappearing down the companion-ladder, all the gentlemen who had been quizzing the little black figure fishing, simultaneously rushed over to the other side of the deck to i look at a boat a long distance off, which appeared i to be having a very uncomfortable time of it; amongst the rough waves there, for the breeze I that was filling our sails and blowing us straight on our way to Melbourne had the contrary effect on the boat; however, it at last got near enough for us to count seven men in it, and shortly after it was rocking about in the foam alongside our ship, whilst the men were catching hold of ropes thrown to them, and making it fast to her side. Then two gentlemen came scrambling up out of the boat, and the instant they alighted on deck, mobs of people from all parts of the ship surrounded them, so that it was quite impossible for me to get near them; however, recollecting that the rest of the men were sitting in the boat alongside, I hastened down the companion-ladder into the cuddy at once, to have a look at them from one of the port-holes. They were rough-looking fellows, with a quantity of hair about their heads and faces that wanted trimming sadly.

“I’ll be bound they are all ticket-of-leave men,” said a young man near me.

“How thin and downcast that one looks with a wide-awake on,” said a lady, quite pathetically.

Sundry bottles of Guinness’s stout, and bundles of biscuits and cheese were being lowered into the boat by “fast young fellows” from their cabin windows, with ropes, no doubt with the view of setting the men talking; but it had quite the contrary effect—pulling against the fresh breeze had evidently sharpened their appetites—not a word could be got out of them—they sat devouring the biscuits and cheese ravenously; at last, a man from a porthole near the forecastle bawled out at the top of his voice:

“I say, master! Hello! ho! one of you in the boat I means. What’s the price of bread in Melbourne—can you tell us!”

“Bread? l’m blest if I knows!" said the master of the boat, eating all the time; then, turning to his companion, he said, quite leisurely, “Bill, what’s bread a-loaf? You’ve got a hen and chicks to feed, so I’spose you knows summut about it: jest tell that hungry chap up there, will you?”

“Bread’s four-and-six a quartern,” shouted Bill, with his hands to his mouth for want of a speaking-trumpet: then he knocked off the neck of a bottle with his knife, and drank off the contents out of a pannikin.

I don’t know what effect that information had on the poor man who had asked for it, but I know it caused an immense sensation amongst some of my fellow-passengers: they withdrew their heads from the portholes, and quite a discussion took place about it.

“lf bread is so dear, what will other things be?" said they: and, indeed, for some time after bread was in everybody’s mouth.

“What a dreadful noise those people are making about bread," said a gentleman who had been reading at the table, but who was now leaning out of the porthole at which I was standing; "I was reading a—a beautiful thing of Byron's, and a --and they quite disturbed me.”

He was twisting and twirling the long hairs of his thin whiskers into tiny ringlets all the time he was speaking.

“How plainly that curved line of sea,” said I, pointing to the horizon, “demonstrates the fact that we are sailing over the surface of a vast globe.”

“Ah, yes!” said he; “wonderfully—does it not? a—

He that has sail'd upon the dark blue sea
Has view‘d at times, I ween, a full fair sight,
When the fresh breeze is fair as breeze may be,
The white sail set——

Bless me, how those fellows in the boat below there are looking up at me,” said he, stopping suddenly in his recitation. “I suppose they-er —they think I’m mad. I’ll just speak—a—Melbourne is a nice sort-er—sort of a place to live in, I suppose.”

The man in the boat said quite briskly in reply, “Well, your honour, I thinks it a werry fine place—Melbourne is—werry, I calls it—lots of employ—good pay for it, too ; the work’s pretty hard, though.” Then he whispered something into his companion’s ear, and they both burst out laughing.

“Fish, did you say?” shouted Bill, to the third-class passenger, with whom he had been keeping up quite a spirited conversation. “Vy, there’s shoals in this here water, if we’d only time to ketch some on ’em.”

The portholes being again blocked up with people’s head, the men in the boat pitched the empty bottles a long way off into the sea, and gave themselves up to answering the numerous questions of all kinds put to them. They told the full particulars of several horrible murders that had taken place in Melbourne and at Ballarat; and how some men, coming down from the diggings to sell their piles of hard-earned goldin Melbourne, had been attacked by bushrangers on the road, and lamed for life, as well as robbed by them.

“The willains sent a wolley of bullets into their hankles afore they left 'em,” said he.

“Oh, the wretches! how very shocking!” exclaimed the ladies.

“I s’pose as how you’re all pretty sound on board this here wessel," said the thin man with a wide-awake on, in a tone of voice that implied it was an exertion for him to speak. “Cos, jest round that 'ere corner, t’other side of them rocks, there’s a wessel what’s performing quarantine, they calls it. She’s a New Yorker, and was a bringing us nine hunder an‘ fifteen young vimin, all hemigrunts; but howsomdiver, one hunder an’ three on ’em has died of typhus ’fore they got halfway out, and they tells me they’ve got sixty-four on ’em down with it now at this werry moment. The co’pses they throws overboard is terrible!”

Three wrecked vessels, lying shattered on the rocks we were passing, new attracted every one’s gaze: the waves were dashing up against them as if angry with them for being there. Not a word was spoken by any one of us, but when they were nearly out of sight the man in the boat said:

“You see the commander of that ’ere wessel what has got one of its masts a still sticking up, was in such a devil of a hurry to get to Melbourne, that he was a-crossing the bar at night in a storm, with the wind a-blowing hurricanes in his teeth. The men was all took off the wessel safe enough next morning, but the boat they put the women and the children into wer‘n’t seaworthy, so it killed and went down clean, that did.“

“What, with all the women and children in it!” said a lady, in an agonised tone of voice.

“Well, I s’pose as how they floated about a bit at first, marm; howsomdever, they was all drowned, that I does know," said the man.

Suddenly we withdrew our heads from the porthole, for a long boot was coming down just above us; the sole rested for a second on the outside shutter—it had made a mistake—and missed the appointed step. A moment after, and—

“God bless you all,“ said a red face, looking in at us with an old straw hat on the top of it. “You've made a splendid voyage, that you have.”

The face and hat disappeared below now.

“You’ll see your names in the ‘Argus’ tomorrow, depend on it,” said the same voice, but in a much higher key; and we, looking out of the portholes again, saw the stout little man and his friend, who had been electrifying the people on deck with their accounts of the doings at Ballarat, descending the steps outside the ship, and soon after they were settling themselves in the boat below.

A few minutes more, and the boat, with the seven men in it, was a long distance off from us again, and on its way back to Melbourne.

It was five o’clock; the whole sky appeared inflamed by the sun’s mighty beams while he was sinking to rest. Our ship was in Hobson’s Bay now, and 265 fine large vessels were lying at anchor in its sparkling waters.

We had arrived just opposite William’s Town, when the captain, in an authoritative tone of voice, called out:

“Let go the anchor.“

Three deafening cheers, that might have been heard miles off, at once testified the joy all felt at hearing those words.

Our deck was crowded with passengers, some clinging to the rigging, others standing on whatever would raise them high enough to catch a glimpse of the land they had chosen for their future home.

Exclamations of wonder and delight burst forth from all around; as the glorious sunset, the magnificent ships, the pretty town, the high rocks, and extensive bay came in for their share of admiration, there was such a clatter, such a din of voices! But, in the midst of this great excitement, every one was suddenly struck dumb, seemingly, for a military band on board a ship a long distance off from ours in the bay, commenced playing “Home, sweet Home;” and the beautiful melody stole over the waters in so soft, so melancholy a strain, that it filled our minds with memories of the past, and of those we might never see again, so that tears now were dimming the eyes of nearly all present.

“The Irish Emigrant” and “God save the Queen” were performed next, while the troops of the 40th Regiment were disembarking from the ship that had brought them from England, and getting into boats waiting to convey them to the shore.

About nine o’clock in the evening several gentlemen who had been to Melbourne returned to the ship.

“There is not a house or lodging to be got anywhere,” they exclaimed; “and the streets are crowded with riotous, drunken people."

“What will become of us? —Why did I think of coming to Australia!—Why didn’t my husband leave me at home!" exclaimed the ladies. Some thought they had better remain on board the ship and go back to England again on her homeward voyage; but our ship was going to Calcutta first, so that arrangement would be awkward as well as expensive.

One of the gentlemen was reading aloud a list he had brought with him of the enormous prices charged for provisions, when another little mob of passengers returned to the ship, and these turned upside down all the others had said. These were elated with all they had seen and heard. Money was plentiful, they said, amongst all classes. They had seen an organ-boy pelted with half-crowns. They had been told by a man breaking stones in the road that he was only earning three pounds ten per week.

“Ooray!” said a poverty-stricken man to his dejected-looking wife; “I say, Mary-yan, there’s luck for you.”

“Champagne is drunk in public-houses instead of gin,” said another; “and oh my! don’t the ladies dress out a bit here; beautiful China-craps shawls with fringe a half-yard long! Shovels, picks, and cradles made of the purest gold are quite the fashion for rings, earrings, brooches and bracelets; and there’s lots of fun going on everywhere.”

“Hurrah! hurrah!” shouted the men: the ladies seemed pleased, too, and all retired to their cabins for the night in a happy frame of mind.

“How comfortably we shall sleep to-night, ma,” said Frederica, as she was clambering up into her berth; “no jolting, no tossing about to-night, you know."

“I wonder what sort of a room we shall have to sleep in to-morrow night, ma?" said little Josephine.

“Oh, master, master, save me, I’m sinking; for God’s sake help me!” exclaimed a man in the water, just under our cabin-window, in a most piteous tone of voice.

I looked out, but could not see him; the moon had not yet risen. Josephine clung to me in fright, and Frederica sat straight up in her bed, exclaiming, “There’s a man drowning, ma! I’m sure there is, ma!” And in an instant she down out of her berth, put on a petticoat, clutched hold of a shawl, and rushed out of the cabin.

Josephine and I hastened to the captain’s cabin, which was near ours; but the captain was already on deck ordering life-preservers and ropes to be thrown to the man, who was still calling out most dismally, but seeming not to take advantage of the means given him to save his life.

He was silent now, and people in low whispers said, “It is all over, he’s drowned, poor wretch!" Just then a young man suddenly threw his arms forward, with his hands together, and plunged head foremost into the sea. A few orders rapidly delivered by the officers to the men helping, and aided by the young man, the poor drowning sailor was on deck again; dreadfully exhausted, though, for he had been trying to swim to shore with all his clothes on, digger's long boots as well; and when he found he could not do so, he became awfully frightened, and bawled out for help, for he then recollected that Hobson‘s Bay was famous for sharks, fifteen, some eighteen, feet long ; and so he got detected in escaping from his ship.

At ten o’clock next morning a steamer came alongside for passengers. It filled in an instant, and away it went, the people standing up in it, it was so full, and crying “Huzza! huzza! huzza!” all the way they went.

There was another steamer alongside soon after. It was much smaller, and not so clean as the other; but as we had to seek friends and find lodgings in Melbourne before the night, I thought we had better get into it, and so away we went on our first trip to shore, feeling sorry to leave the splendid ship, though, that had brought us so safely through the perils and dangers of the long voyage.

We had scarcely lost sight of our ship when the little steamer stopped alongside an old hulk to take in coals. Then the men belonging to both vessels stood gossiping, smoking, and drinking together a considerable time. There was a man fast asleep in the cabin, so we remained on deck in the broiling sun. Feeling dreadfully thirsty, I at last asked the man who appeared to be the master of the steamer, to let me have a glass of water.

“We ha’n’t got no water on board, marm; but we’ve got some prime Guinness’s stout, if you‘d like to 'av some on it."

I hesitated.

“It’ll be some time 'fore we gits to Melbourne," added he; “for when me and my mates ’as ’ad our brekfists, we're a-going round up there a bit, ’cos two wessels is a-waiting for us, what we‘ve got to tow along, you see."

The steamer at last started again. We were so glad; but suddenly Frederica exclaimed:

“Why, ma, we are going to pass our dear old ship. Look, here she is!"

A number of people came to the portholes, and waved their hands to us, and laughed at us. So when we were going to repass it, with a great vessel following us as closely as if it were going to swamp us every minute, I proposed bread and cheese in the cabin below for us three, and I asked the master at once what he would charge us for some.

“Well, I’ll do it reasonable," said be, holding his hat above his head with one hand, while he scratched it with the other. “Let me see, bread and cheese for three, two bob; a bottle of Guinness's, half-a-crown: that's cheap, now, ha'n't it? I knows it is."

After eating the bread and cheese, we remained some length of time in the cabin below, it was cooler there than on deck; but on hearing the steamer scraping along the ground as she went, we rushed on deck again to know what was the matter, and we found the master scratching his head and exclaiming to his men:

“Now, this here is a pretty kittlc of fish indeed. Confound you, you lazy blubber-heads; vy this will jest delay us another hour."

The steamer was stuck fast in the sands.

It seemed a very long hour to us; but at last, the tide having released us, the little steamer was making up for lost time, and getting to Melbourne as quickly as possible.

We were now in a narrow river.

“I hope we shall not get stuck on the sands again,” said I, thinking we were “hugging the shore,” as sailors say.

“Not here, not here,” said the master, with a knowing shake of the head. “They calls this here river the ‘Yarrs Yarra:' no sands here; a good-sized wessel, a deal larger nor this on, could steam up quite close on heither side."

“Yarra Yarra! What a funny name, ma," said Josephine.

“Vell, you see, my little dear, it’s a haboriginal name: it means a river what has got no hend whatsomhever. Them’s young wattles and tea-scrub what’s a-growing on them banks there; there’s plenty on ’em here.”

A little but now made its appearance on our left side with half a door, and no window to it: the man said they had been broken away to give air to the people sleeping there at night. Farther on there was another wretched-looking hovel, and a poor, infirm old woman was standing at the doorway, looking at us.

“What a desolate place to live in,” said I.

"Vy, that’s a palliss to some on ’em,” said. the man.

“Oh, ma! what is it?" exclaimed my children, putting their handkerchiefs over their faces.

“Ha, ha, ha!” roared the mate, evidently. enjoying our discomfiture. “Vy, them’s the slaughter-’usses stinks so. The vind's this vay, that‘s vy ve gits it now : ven ve turns the corner, ve shull come up close agin ’em.”

In a few moments a most appalling sight met our view: piles of bullocks’ skulls, sheep’s skulls, bones, horns, and hides were lying about in front of some broken, weather-beaten old sheds; pigs and ducks of immense size were feeding on heaps of offal; carcasses of bullocks and sheep were hanging up in rows to the roof of an adjoining shed ; and at the back, in pens, droves of bullocks and sheep were waiting their doom.

A number of savage, hideous-looking bulldogs rushed to the water’s edge and barked furiously as we passed them. I was very glad when we could see them no longer.

A much larger building, but of the same kind, now came in view.

"That was a slaughter-’uss, too," said the Master; " but lots o’ hemigrunts are living there now. The people comes so fast here, there's nowheres to put ’em: vy, them vite spots on the hill you see yonder is hevery one of ’em hemigrunts’ tents."

Shortly after we were in the midst of vessels unloading at the wharf. Men were rushing about with heavy loads on their backs; piles of timber and building materials, packing-cases of all shapes and sizes, casks, hides, and skins of bullocks and sheep were to be seen wherever one looked.

Immediately our boat neared the shore a gentleman sprang into it off the platform of the wharf.

"Is Mrs.—— on board here,” said he, “from the M—— h, just arrived?”

I told him she had not yet left the ship, and then I asked him my way to Queen Street.

“Wait a moment in my office here," said he, as he helped us to land, “and one of my clerks will go with you and show you where it is."

I never shall forget that walk.

Horses being unmercifully lashed by their riders were galloping about in every direction; ferocious looking men, uttering horrible imprecations, were striking poor, patient, torture-enduring bullocks over their heads and noses with the handles of their heavy whips, whilst the poor brutes were pulling with all their strength great drays laden high up with huge chests and packing-cases; dirty socks, old boots and shoes, bullocks’ ribs, sheep‘s skulls, lay about in the roads and thoroughfares, as well as in the deep ditches, which served the purpose of gutters, at the sides of the roads, into which people seemed to throw everything they wished to get rid of. Clouds of dust full of minute insects rose high in the air, blinding us as we walked.

“This is a dust-storm,” said the gentleman with us; “but this is nothing to what we have sometimes: however, it soon passes away, and then we have beautiful weather again.”

We now ascended a flight of wooden steps outside a merchant's counting-house, and soon we were welcomed to Australia most heartily by some old friends I had not seen for years.

Harriet Cawse Fiddes.