Page:The progress of the colony of Victoria.pdf/8

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
The Progress of the Colony of Victoria.

and thousands of people eager to buy, the authorities doled out the land in miserable handfulls. During 1852, only 250,000 acres were sold, at an average of £6 per acre. In the suburbs of Melbourne land was sold for £20,000 per acre. A friend of mine paid, until lately, at the rate of £2,600 per annum for a house in Melbourne, about the size of an ordinary house in Dame-street. In company with some friends I rented a small four-roomed cottage, each room about twelve feet square, for which we paid at the rate of £200 a year, weekly, in advance. As one result of this state of things, people were crowded and huddled together in the Melbourne boarding-houses like pigs; and many of the new arrivals had to spend their nights in the streets of Melbourne, or among the goods on the wharves, before they could get lodgings of any kind.

The streets and wharves of Melbourne were at this time in a deplorable state. What with the scarcity and dearness of labour, and the incessant arrival of goods and emigrants, there was no time for constructing or repairing them, and in the rainy season they were like quagmires. Thousands of pounds' worth of property were swallowed up in the mud on the wharves, and never recovered. The freight of goods from the harbour up to Melbourne (a distance of eight miles) was nearly as high as the previous freight from Great Britain. Cartage to the diggings rose to £120 per ton, for the distance of 80 miles; so that, high as the prices of goods were in Melbourne, they were doubly so at the diggings.

The state of the tracks to the diggings (for roads there were none) was the chief cause of these high rates of carriage. The teams proceeded at a snail's pace. The unfortunate bullocks and horses now floundering through quagmires, now stemming swollen creeks and rivers, or ascending hills that would astonish the boldest drivers on the wildest road in Kerry. Drays were often two or three months in going the distance of 70 or 80 miles. On one occasion, during the winter, I spent a week in going 40 miles with a dray; on some days we had to unload the dray three times to lighten the bullocks.

Society was, at this time, in a highly disorganized state. Robbery and violence were perpetrated in the open day, almost with impunity; the police often being in league with the marauders. At three o'clock one afternoon, a body of bushrangers took possession of the road between Melbourne and its suburb St. Kilda, and robbed and maltreated all who passed. The ship Nelson lay in Hobson's Bay, ready to sail for England, with 4,000 oz. of gold on board. Some desperadoes put off to her in a boat, surprised and bound the crew, rigged a tackle into the hold, and hauled up the gold, swearing it was the finest diggings they ever made. The gold escort from the M'Ivor diggings was stopped and robbed, and several of the troopers shot. The daring and ferocious exploits of these bushrangers would fill volumes. Of course many were brought to justice, and during the first six weeks of my stay in Melbourne, there were six public executions.

Towards the end of the year 1852, the government began to attempt something towards ameliorating the unsettled state of affairs. Wooden wharves were erected; enormous sums were voted by the Colonial Legislature for the formation of roads and bridges on the