The Registrar-General in his Report for 1844, makes the following interesting observations: — "Supposing the whole population of the colony were now grown up and unmarried, out of every 100 males, as many as 67 could find wives.
"Supposing the total population UNDER TWELVE were now of age, and wished to marry; out of every 100 males 97 could find wives.
"Supposing the total population OF PERTH were now grown up, and unmarried, 87 out of every 100 males could find wives.
"But supposing the population OF PERTH UNDER TWELVE were grown up, and wished to marry, out of 100 FEMALES, only 85 could find husbands."
The temperature of the atmosphere is exceedingly dry, and therefore the heat is not oppressive, though the thermometer may stand at a high degree.
A rainy day in February or March is an extremely rare occurrence at Perth, though not unusual at Australind, a hundred miles southward.
In the hottest weather, farm-labourers work all day in the open air, and feel no more inconvenience than reapers do in England. This is owing to the dryness and elasticity of the atmosphere.
I have no recorded observations of a late date, but the following table is extracted from the journal of an obliging friend, Robert Dale, Esq., who, when a Lieutenant in the 63d regiment, was stationed some years in the colony.
The thermometer was kept in a cool house at Perth, from March, 1830 to June 1831.
MONTHS. A B C D E F REMARKS. 1830 March . . .28 . . 2 . . 1 . .88 . .71 . .58 April . . .23 . . 0 . . 7 . .87 . .70 1/2. .54 May . . . .17 . . 6 . . 8 . .84 . .64 1/2. .45 . .Fine weather at commence- ment of this month. June . . . 18 . . 5 . . 2 . .76 . .56 . .40 . .Five days not accounted for. July . . . 14 . . 9 . . 8 . .65 . .49 1/2. .30 August . . 9 . . 8 . . 7 . .76 . .57 . .38 . .Seven days not accounted for. September .17 . . 2 . . 4 . .80 . .62 . .44 . . Ditto ditto. October . .19 . . 5 . . 6 . .78 . .62 . .46 . .One day not accounted for November . 23 . . 3 . . 4 . .93 . .73 1/2. .54 December 26 . . - . . 5 . 103 . .82 1/2. .62 The thermometer was lower than what is marked in the minimum column. 1831 January 28 . . - . . 3 . 106 . .87 . .68 February 26 . . 1 . . 1 . 102 . .82 . .62 March 30 . . - . . 1 . 96 . .78 . .60 April . . .28 . . - . . 2 . .98 . .73 . .48 May . . . .21 . . 2 . . 8 . .78 . .61 . .44 At this season frequently a heavy dew during the night. June . . . 14 . . 9 . . 7 . .70 . .52 . .38
A - No. of Fine Days. B - No. of Rainy Days. C - No. of Showers D - Maximum Height of Thermometer E - Medium Height of Thermometer F - Minimum Height of Thermometer
THE BOTANY OF THE COLONY.
Baron Hugel, Dr. Lindley, and Sir William Hooker, have published lists of Western Australian shrubs and plants, but the most complete and elaborate work on the botany of Western Australia is the series of nineteen letters published in the "Inquirer," by Mr. Drummond, of Hawthornden, in the colony, and from them we shall compile the present chapter; but, interesting as they are in their fullest and most minute details to botanists, it is possible that they may be TOO descriptive and extend too much into detail for general readers, and we shall therefore abstain from giving a catalogue of the various indigenous plants, and confine our remarks to the more useful ones.* The first to which Mr. Drummond alludes is the blackboy, of which there are several varieties. The glaucus-leaved York blackboy is, however, the most important, and grows thirty feet in height without a branch. It is considered by the settlers the best material for thatch, and the young and tender leaves are found to be an agreeable vegetable, and also fodder for horses, goats, sheep, and cattle. The natives are particularly fond of the blackboy, whilst its sound old flower-stalks furnish them with the means of obtaining a light by friction. The native yam, of the class Dioeceae, is stated by Mr. Drummond to be the finest esculent vegetable the colony produces. The fungi, or mushrooms, are also palatable to the Aborigines; one species belonging to this order, and named the Boletus, is remarkable for possessing the properties of German tinder, when well dried, and for emitting a radiant light in its natural state.
[footnote] *This brief compilation is the work of Alexander Andrews, Esq.
There are seventy species of grasses. The genus stripa has several varieties, of which the seeds are injurious to sheep, penetrating into the wool, and sometimes into the carcase and causing death. By adopting the precaution of shearing before the seeds are ripe, this mischief is however obviated. Another description is distinguished as elegantissima, from its beautiful appearance, and is used as a decoration, and for ornamenting rooms.
The bulrush of Scripture is found here, and is used by coopers to stanch their work. A large jointed rush has also been found of great service, and introduced in the walls of houses to advantage, and some varieties of the Restiaceae are useful in thatch work; and in his sixth letter, Mr. Drummond mentions the buttack as very useful in tyings. A climbing species of the Thysanotus, near the Moore river, is much used by the natives as food. The Madge and the Guardine are roots from which the natives extract nutritious food; the pigs are also fond of them, and besides these there are other white roots used as food by the natives.
The oak-leaved Chenopodium is supposed to contain essential oil; it was formerly used by the settlers as a vegetable, and is proved to contain carbonate of soda, so that, as Mr. Drummond suggests, "it would be worth inquiry at what price we could afford barilla as an export." The Erythraea Australis is, we are informed, a good substitute, and is used as such, for hops; and one species of tobacco is indigenous to the colony. The sow-thistle of Swan River was, in the early days of the settlement, used as a vegetable, but is now eaten only by the domestic animals, by whom it is much relished. As a salad, it is said to be scarcely inferior to endive. The Helicrysum, a biennial of the Vasse district, is a grateful fodder for horses, and the Morna nitida for goats, sheep, and cattle, as are also several species of Picris and other shrubs. There is also a native celery, which forms a poor substitute for that of Europe; two varieties of this species are mentioned — the Conna, of which the roots are eaten by the natives after being peeled, and the Kukire, the foot of which resembles the carrot in appearance, with the smell and colour of the parsnip. The wild carrot is also an excellent vegetable, and from its root rich wine has been extracted. The order Eryngo has a species of which the roots when candied have great restorative powers. Of the Hederoma latifolia, Dr. Lindley remarks, that its half-ripe fruits, if sent to Europe, would give several original and valuable scents to the perfumer.
Of the sea-weeds, one particular species, supposed to be the Fucus amylaeceus, thrown in great quantities upon the coast, is mentioned as forming when boiled, sweetened, and spiced, a nutritious and beautiful jelly of a fine rose colour; and as it appears that it may be dried without injury and preserved for years, it would be of value as an export.
The catalogue of indigenous fruits is not very extensive, but one species, belonging to the order Epacrideae, is reported to bear very palatable berries. The Vasse apple, of the size of a peach, is stated when boiled with sugar to be an agreeable sweet-meat.
Another fruit, of the species Mesembryanthemum, is of a less pleasing flavour; but one of the same species, resembling the English gooseberry, is said to be delicious. Mr. Drummond also records the discovery, southward of the Vasse, of a nondescript shrub of about five feet in height, and bearing fruit as large as a middle-sized plum, of a fine purple colour, covered with a rich bloom, and having a stone similar to the plum. It is reported to have a pleasing taste. This completes the list of fruits, which Mr. Drummond acknowledges to be imperfect, as the cultivation of the vine, olive, currant, and other imported fruits has withdrawn the attention of the settlers from the native productions; and we shall now pass to the smaller classes of the Eucalyptus tribe. The Doatta is a species of this class, and the bark of its root is much relished by the natives, having a sweet and pleasing taste, as is also the trunk of the red-gum; and its leaves, washed in water, form an agreeable beverage. They also collect a description of manna from the leaves of the York gum, which yields a considerable quantity of saccharine matter. The common green wattle of the genus of Acacia is found plentifully on the alluvial flats of the Swan, and the bark is much used for tanning; and the gum-wattle of the same order produces so great a quantity of gum as to demand the attention of exporters. Another shrub of this order is found in the Vasse district, and produces galls similar to those of the oak, which might also be collected for exportation. The gum of some of these species is used by the natives as food, and the seeds, when ground, give them a tolerable substitute for flour.
Instead of entering more at large into dry botanical details, I will transfer to these pages a letter from my respected friend, Mr. James Drummond, the botanist already alluded to, which perhaps will prove more acceptable to the general reader.
This letter was published at the time in the local journals.
"Dear Sir, — I send you a few extracts from a journal of observations which I made in a journey to the north, in company with Mr. Gilbert, the ornithologist.* My sons had heard from the natives that a considerable river and lakes of fresh water were to be found about two days' journey to the north of their station on the Moore River; and in company with Captain Scully, the Government Resident of this district, they determined to explore the country in that direction. Mr. Phillips and some other gentlemen who were to be of the party, as well as Mr. Gilbert and myself, arrived at the station too late; I shall therefore principally confine my observations to Mr. Gilbert's transactions and my own.
[footnote] * Mr. Gilbert, an enthusiastic naturalist, and an amiable and highly respectable man, was treacherously murdered by natives to the North-East of New Holland, whilst engaged upon a scientific expedition.
"We left Hawthornden on the 22d August, and slept at the residence of Captain Scully, who had set out some days before to join the exploring party. On the 23d we proceeded on our journey to the north, and in about five or six miles we examined some remarkable masses of granite rocks a little to the right of the road which is formed by our carts and horses passing to and from the Moore River. Mr. Gilbert found a small but curious fresh-water shell in some pools of rain-water on the rocks, and I found two plants which I had not seen before. In about eleven or twelve miles from Captain Scully's we reached a permanent spring called Yoolgan, where there is excellent grass, and where we stopped to dine and feed our horses. Soon after leaving Yoolgan, we met with Mr. Phillips and Mr. John Mackie returning; they had arrived at our station a day too late for the party; we therefore knew that our hurrying on to join them was useless. In ten or twelve miles from Yoolgan we reached Yeinart, a tea-tree swamp, where there is grass and water to be had throughout the year. The night threatened to rain, but we arrived too late to do much in the house-making way; fortunately, the rain kept off until daylight, when we soon covered our house with tea-tree bark, and determined to stop for the day, which I consider the best way, as no collections can be made when it is raining, and provisions and everything get spoiled. It cleared up about ten o'clock, and we went to visit a brushwood swamp, where my son Johnston had shot several specimens of a beautiful species of kangaroo with a dark-coloured fur, overtopped with silvery hairs, called Marnine by the natives: we saw plenty of tracks of the animals, but could not see a single specimen. On the top of a hill to the north of the swamp I succeeded in finding two very distinct species of Dryandra, new to me. I also found a fine species of Eucalyptus in flower, which is distinguished from the Matilgarring of the natives, the Eucalyptus macrocarpus of Sir W. T. Hooker, by having lengthened recurved flower-stalks; the flowers are rose-coloured.
"On the 25th we proceeded on our journey. I observed two new species of acacia near Yeinart. We mistook our road, and made our old station at Badgee-badgee, where we stopped to dine and feed our horses. I also found some curious aquatic plants in the pools of water among the rocks at Badgee-badgee. After dinner we succeeded with difficulty in tracing our road to our present station on the Mouran pool, the cart tracks being nearly obliterated by the trampling of the sheep. On arriving, we found that the exploring party had returned, and that Captain Scully and my son James had left, on their return, about half an hour before our arrival. The mutilated specimens of plants brought home by the party, and the accounts of some which were left behind, determined me to visit the new river myself, after botanizing a day in the vicinity of the station, where I found a fine glaucus-leaved Anadenia, and Mr. Gilbert got specimens of the blue kangaroo, and several small new quadrupeds — one of them apparently a true rat, almost as large and mischievous as the Norway rat. Having got two natives, one of whom (Cabbinger) had been with the party to the north, we started on the 27th, and slept at a spring called Boorbarna. On the way I found a species of the common poison which I had not seen before, and a beautiful Conospermum, with pannicles of blue flowers varying to white. I was informed, by my son Johnston, that a plant like horehound, but with scarlet flowers, in tubes about an inch long, grew on the top of a stony hill to the north of the spring; I went and found the plant, which belongs to Scrophularinae; I also found a Manglesia, allied to Tridentifera, but having the leaves more divided; I also found a beautiful blue climbing plant, a species of Pronaya, on the top of the same hill. On the 28th, soon after setting out on our journey, I found two splendid species of everlasting flower, of which my son Johnston had been the original discoverer; one, with golden-yellow flowers varying to white, has the flowers in heads different from anything of the sort I have seen before, and will, I think, form a new genus of Compositae; and the other with pink flowers, growing two feet high, something like Lawrencella rosea, or Rhodanthe Manglesii, but if possible finer than either. In nine or ten miles to the north of Boorbarna, we crossed a curious tract of country, covered with what I considered a variety of quartz, which breaks with a conchoidal fracture, but it has very much the appearance of flint; in many places the pieces were large, with sharp angles; my sons complained that it injured their horses' feet, but by alighting, and leading our horses over the worse parts, I did not perceive any bad effects from it. This tract of country produces some interesting plants; a splendid Calathamnus, with leaves nine inches long, and showy scarlet flowers, was found by my youngest son, and I got plenty of specimens.
"With regard to a new Banksia, allied to Aquifolia, which he found here, I was not so fortunate, and he brought home no specimens. After crossing several miles of this quartz formation, we came upon an extensive flat of strong clay, covered with Eucalyptus, and some curious species of acacia; we crossed a considerable river, or brook, running strong to the west, and about two miles, after crossing this brook, we made the river we were in quest of at a place called Murarino by the natives. Near the river I found a splendid plant, which had been first observed by my son Johnston; he took it for a Lasiopetalum, but I expect it will prove to be a species of Solanum; it grows two or three feet high, with large purple flowers, with calyxes like brown velvet; the leaves are irregularly shaped, acuminate, about two inches long, and an inch and a half wide at their broadest parts; the stems are prickly, and all the leaves covered with a down as in Lasiopetalum. I am uncertain about the genus, not having seen the seed-vessels, but whatever that may be, it is of our finest Australian plants.
"We stopped to dine on the river, and in about four miles farther to the north, we reached two fresh-water lakes called Dalarn and Maradine. Ducks of various sorts were here in thousands, and the water-hens, or gallinules, which visited the settlements on the Swan some years ago, were plentiful. Mr. Gilbert shot three or four at a shot. I found a fine Baechia, which had been first found by my son James, and a curious new plant belonging to Compositae, but not yet in flower. The appearance of the country about these lakes, of which there are several besides those I have named, and the plants which grow about them, which are generally met with at no great distance from the sea, seem to prove that the lakes are at no great distance from it, and that the Darling Range does not extend so far to the north. No hills of any description appeared to the west; from the top of a hill to the east, two remarkable hills appeared, apparently about thirty miles to the north; one of them was observed by my son to have a remarkable peaked top, and they supposed they might be Mount Heathcote and Wizard Peak. We saw, as we came along, a high hill, which the natives called Wangan Catta; they said it was three days' walk to it; it lay due east of our course.
"On the 29th, we returned on our track for about seven miles, until we reached the first running river we met on our journey to the north. Our guides agreed to take us back by a different route, and to take us to a hill where a curious species of kangaroo called Damar by them, would be met with. My son Johnston has shot several of these animals about a day's walk to the east of our station on the Moore River. We therefore ascended this river in a course S.E. by E., and soon after we were upon its banks, we came upon a grassy country; three or four miles up we stopped to dine and feed the horses, at a place called Nugadrine; several pairs of beautiful falcons, the Falco Nypolencus of Gould, were flying over us, and Mr. Gilbert succeeded in shooting one of them. After dinner, we proceeded in the same direction for nine or ten miles; we soon crossed the tracks of Captain Scully and my sons on their return; they had gone up the main or northern branch of the river, and had found but little grass while they followed its banks; but they had passed over a great deal of grassy land in crossing the country from it to the Moore River.
"We travelled for ten or eleven miles through a splendid grassy country, and met with a large tribe of natives, several of whom had never seen white men before; they were very friendly, and offered us some of their favourite root, the wyrang, which grows abundantly among these grassy hills. They made so much noise, that we wished to get some distance from them to sleep, but they all followed us and encamped near, many of the single men sleeping by our fire. In the morning of the 30th I went to the top of a hill, near our bivouac, while Mr. Gilbert was superintending the preparations for breakfast, and clipping the beards of some of our new friends. After breakfast, we started direct for our station on the Moore River; the natives who were with us as guides considering our stock of flour insufficient to proceed any farther in the direction of the hill where they expected to find the Damars. For almost the whole of this day we travelled over the most splendid grassy country I have ever seen in Australia; the hill-sides, as far as we could see in every direction, were covered with beautiful grass, and of a golden colour, from the flowers of the beautiful yellow everlasting flower which I have described in a former part of this letter, which is only to be found in the richest soil. After reaching our station, I was a day or two employed in drying my specimens of plants. My son Johnston pointed out a most beautiful new Dryandra, which he had discovered on the top of a hill near the Mouran-pool; I have named the species Dryandra floribunda, from its numerous blossoms, which almost hide the leaves; it grows twelve or fifteen feet high, and in such abundance, that the side of the hill on which it grows actually appears of a golden colour for several miles. I consider it the most beautiful species of the genus yet known for cultivation.
"I am, Sir, "Your obedient servant, "James Drummond.
"P.S. — Our course generally by compass from Hawthornden to these lakes has been several points to the west of north. The natives informed us, when at the lakes, that they could reach the sea-coast long before sunset.
"Hawthornden Farm, Toodyay Valley."
MISFORTUNES OF THE COLONY.
Many causes have unhappily united to keep Western Australia from rising into notice and importance with that rapidity which has marked the career of the other Australian colonies. The misfortunes of the first settlers, attributable in a great measure to flagrant mismanagement, deterred intending emigrants from tempting the like fate. The man who had the largest grant in the colony allotted to him — a monster grant of 250,000 acres — made so ill an use of the means at his command, that nothing but misery and misfortune has ever attended his steps. The funds with which he was intrusted might have been applied with the happiest effect, both for the advancement of the colony and of his own personal fortunes. The people whom he brought out, chiefly mechanics and labourers, to the number of four hundred or upwards, were sufficient to have formed a settlement of their own. By an unhappy fatality, the early settlers were landed on a part of the coast the most unfavourable in the world for their purposes. The whole country around them was a mere limestone rock. Here, however, the town-site of Clarence was fixed upon, but scarcely a yard of land was to be found that afforded space for a garden. No attempt was made to sow grain, or plant potatoes, to provide for the wants of the following year.
The people lived upon the provisions they had brought out with them. The four hundred workmen being left by their principal without direction or employment, soon consumed in riotous living the abundant stores left at their disposal, and too soon found that destitution is the inevitable consequence of idleness and folly. Many perished miserably of want and sickness, and many others effected their escape to Van Dieman's Land, where they gave a melancholy account of the wretchedness of those who were unable to flee from the scene of their errors.
The active intelligence, and unremitting exertions of the Governor, Sir James Stirling, at length ameliorated the condition of the unfortunate settlers. He removed the seat of Government to Perth, and explored the neighbouring country in every direction in the hope of finding tracts of land sufficient for the support of the people under his charge. The flats of the Swan River afforded all the facilities he required; but the settlers were greatly intimidated by the treacherous attacks of the natives, and were very reluctant to separate from the main body. In consequence of these fears, many consumed their capital in their present support, instead of applying it in the formation of farms, and laying the ground-work of future prosperity. Provisions being all imported, were sold at high rates, and the hesitating colonists became unavoidably subservient to the cupidity of the traders.
In addition to these misfortunes, no man liked to lay out his money in building a house upon land which might not eventually be allotted to him. He lived therefore, with his wife, children, and servants, miserably under a tent, until the surveyor-general should be able to point out to him the land which had fallen to his share, in the general lottery of the Government. In many cases this was not done for one or two years after the formation of the colony, in consequence of the lamentably inefficient force placed at the disposal of the able and indefatigable surveyor-general; and even then, the boundaries of the different allotments were not permanently defined. This state of incertitude had the most fatal effect, not only upon the fortunes, but upon the moral condition of the settlers. Those who had come out resolutely bent upon cultivating their own land, and supporting themselves and families by their manual labour, refused to make the necessary exertions upon property which might eventually belong to others for whom they had no desire to toil. Waiting, therefore, in their tents on the shore, until the Government should determine their respective locations, they passed the time in idleness, or in drinking and riotous living; and when at length they obtained their Letters of Allocation, they found themselves without money or any means of subsistence, except by hiring out their manual labour to others more prudent, or more fortunate.
Other accidental circumstances have combined to retard the progress of the colony. From ignorance of the seasons, many lost their crops, and were obliged consequently to expend the last remains of their capital in procuring necessary supplies. From the same cause, vessels which brought emigrants to the colony were not secured during the winter season in the safest anchorages, and being exposed to the fury of the north-west gales, were in too many instances, driven ashore and completely wrecked.
Again, too, there has always existed a strong desire on the part of Western Australia to connect herself with India, conscious that there are great facilities of communication between the countries, from favourable trade-winds, and that her own climate is perhaps better suited to invalids than even that of the Cape. This desire has been met by several influential gentleman of Calcutta, and on two occasions, vessels were freighted and despatched from that city to the colony, in the hope of establishing a mutually advantageous connexion, and on both occasions the vessels were lost on the voyage. At length a small establishment was effected near Australind, by the agents of Mr. W. H. Prinsep, for the purpose of breeding horses for the Indian market; and we most sincerely hope success will ultimately attend the enterprising effort. Indian officers have occasionally visited the colony; but they have naturally received unfavourable impressions, from being unable to find those accommodations and luxuries to which they had been accustomed.
The settlers will not build houses and lay out their money on the mere speculation of gaining advantage by the visits of Indian officers, but if once there appeared a reasonable prospect of early remuneration, every convenience would be provided, and every comfort ensured to visitors. Living is now extremely cheap, and there is a profusion of vegetables and fruits of every kind. There are plenty of good horses and pleasure-boats, and there are the amusements of fishing, and hunting the Kangaroo and Emu.
The misconduct of some, and the misfortunes of others of the early settlers, tended to bring about calamities which were echoed throughout Great Britain, and for many years had the effect of turning the stream of emigration away from these shores. Other causes have also contributed to this end. The Government plan of giving grants of land to emigrants, proportioned to the capital which they introduced into the colony, was good to a certain extent, but the object was perverted, and the boon abused. In almost all instances, men received a much greater quantity of land than they were justly entitled to. Every article of provisions, furniture, and household effects, and even wearing apparel, were taken into account. The valuations were made by friends and neighbours, who accommodated one another, and rated the property of the applicant at a most astounding price. The consequence has been, that large grants of land have fallen into the hands of those who have never lived upon them, or spent anything upon their improvement, beyond a fictitious amount which they were required to specify to the Government before they could obtain possession of their deeds of grant. These original grantees have clung to their lands with desperate tenacity, in the hope that some day their value will be more than nominal. The idea that all the best portions of the colony are in the hands of a few great unimproving proprietors, has been one reason why emigrants have turned away from it.
But the provision, which has so long been an evil to the colony, may now be looked upon, thanks to the narrow-minded policy of the Home Government, as an advantage. These original grants, which have proved so little beneficial to the owner, and so highly detrimental to the community, are now far more easily obtainable by the emigrant than the surrounding crown-lands. The policy of the Government has entirely changed with regard to the disposal of waste lands in the Australian colonies; instead of giving them away with a lavish hand, it has for some years been the practice to throw every obstacle in the way of intending purchasers.
They are now valued at one pound per acre, though it is well known, even at the colonial office, that five acres of Australian land are requisite to maintain a single sheep; and as the average value of sheep in all these colonies is six or seven shillings, it scarcely requires the head of a Secretary of State to calculate that every one who buys land for the purpose of feeding his flocks upon it, must be content to purchase it at an irreparable loss of capital. In consequence of this wise regulation, no purchase of crown-lands are now made in any of the Australian colonies, except of town allotments, which have a factitious value, altogether irrespective of the qualities of the soil. It is now that the holders of large grants find purchasers, as they are extremely willing to sell at a much lower rate than the crown. In Western Australia alone, however, are these grants to be found; and here excellent land may be purchased at three shillings an acre. Thus the careless profusion of one government, and the false policy and unhappy cupidity of another, have proved the means of placing this colony in a better position in some respects than any other.
Western Australia has been unfortunate also in having had no powerful company to support her cause in England. The neighbouring colony of South Australia, with a much less extensive territory, and without any natural superiority in the quality of the soil, was immediately puffed into notice by the exertions of her friends at home.
But whilst the settlers at Adelaide and their patrons in London, proclaimed to the world the advantages of the new colony, they scrupled not to draw comparisons between it and the Western settlement, that were neither flattering nor just to the latter. Not content with elevating their own idol with paeans and thanksgiving, before the gaze of a bedinned public, they persisted in shouting out their scorn and contempt at the pretensions of their unhappy neighbour. The public, with its usual discernment, gave implicit credence to both fables. Western Australia had met its contumelious detractors with silence; and the false statements were therefore looked upon as admitted and undeniable. But notwithstanding the injurious misrepresentations of enemies, and her own injurious silence, this colony has been quietly and steadily progressing, until she has laid for herself a foundation that no envious calumny can shake. The last blow she has received was from the failure of the settlement at Australind; a subject that I intend to treat of in a separate chapter.
So many misfortunes and untoward accidents have combined to prejudice the emigrating portion of the British public against Western Australia, that no voice is ever raised in her behalf, and scarcely any literary journal condescends to acknowledge her existence. And yet, notwithstanding the veil of darkness that conceals her from Northern eyes, there is perhaps no spot in the world that contains so eminently within itself the elements of prosperity and happiness. A climate more genial, more divine than that of Italy, robs poverty of its bleakness and its bitterness. Absolute want is never felt, and those who possess but little, find how little is sufficient in a climate so productive and so beneficent.
The purity and elasticity of the atmosphere induce a continual flow of good spirits.
To all the fruits of Italy in most abundant profusion, are added the productions of the East.
The regularity of the seasons is so certain, that the husbandman always reckons with confidence upon his crops. No droughts interfere, AS IN THE OTHER COLONIES, to ruin his hopes. The vintages, annually increasing and improving, are equally free from disappointment.
It must not, however, be denied that there are many natural disadvantages which can never be overcome without a much larger population.
In the first place, the only good harbour on the Western coast has only just been discovered — June 1846 — and is at least thirty-five miles distant from Perth, the capital. Then, secondly, all the superior land of the colony is situated about sixty miles back from the capital, and the farmers therefore have a considerable distance to convey their produce to the port; and part of that distance the roads are extremely bad.
There is another objection to the colony in the opinion of intending emigrants, which arises from a small plant, or shrub, of the order leguminosae, a deadly poison to sheep and cattle. This plant grows over the colony in patches, but is now so well known, that accidents very seldom occur from it, shepherds being careful not to allow their flocks to feed in its vicinity. It is however to be observed, that neither sheep nor cattle will feed upon this plant unless they be very hungry, and other food be wanting. It is very seldom indeed that cattle, which are sometimes left to roam at large over the country, are found to have perished from pasturing upon it. This plant has no injurious effect upon horses; but these animals have in several instances been poisoned by eating the leaves of a small plant described as resembling the ranunculus, which grows in small quantities in the Southern portion of the colony. A gentleman once informed me that he was riding up from Australind on a favourite and very fine horse, which he allowed to feed, during several hours of rest, on a spot where this plant unfortunately grew. On mounting to resume his journey, the horse seemed full of spirit; but he had not proceeded a mile before it stumbled, and was with difficulty kept from falling. A little farther on, after proceeding with evident difficulty, it fell, to rise no more, and died in a few hours of violent inflammation of the kidneys.
However alarming these drawbacks may seem to people at a distance, they are only lightly considered in the colony. Fatalities are very rare among the flocks and herds, and many diseases which prevail in New South Wales are entirely unknown among us.
THE RESOURCES OF THE COLONY: — HORSES FOR INDIA — WINE — DRIED FRUITS — COTTON — COAL — WOOL — CORN — WHALE-OIL — A WHALE- HUNT — CURED FISH — SHIP TIMBER.
The geographical position of Western Australia makes it one of the most desirable colonies of the British empire. The French would be delighted to possess so advantageous a station in that part of the world, whence they could sally forth and grievously annoy our shipping-trade. Vessels bound for China and the Eastern Islands pass within a few days' sail of the colony. For my part, I confess I should feel by no means sorry were we to fall into the hands of the French for a few years, as they would not hesitate to make such lasting improvements as would materially add to the importance of the settlement. It requires that Government should be made to feel the value of this colony as a naval station before it will rise into anything like consequence. The anchorage of Cockburn Sound, lying between Garden Island and the main land, presents a splendid harbour, where hundreds of ships of war might lie throughout all weathers in perfect safety. Enemy's cruisers passing along the coast cannot come within Garden Island from the south, and they would scarcely venture without a pilot from the north, except with a great deal of deliberation and caution, so that small vessels might readily slip away and avoid the danger; and numbers of ships might lie so close under Garden Island, that they never would be perceived by men-of-war reconnoitring the coast.
There is no other colony in Australia so admirably situated with respect to other countries. The Cape of Good Hope is four or five weeks sail distant; Ceylon about twenty days; Calcutta, Sincapore, and Batavia are all within easy reach. In exporting live-stock, this is of vast importance; and in time of war a central position like this would afford an admirable place for vessels to repair to in order to refit. With the finest timber in the world for naval purposes in unlimited profusion; with a soil teeming with various metals; with harbours and dock-yards almost ready made by the hand of Nature, all things requisite for the wants of shipping may be obtained whenever a Government shall see fit to resort to them.
It must doubtless surprise many that more has not been done in a colony possessing such natural advantages. The reason is, that the prejudices which have so long prevailed against this settlement have retarded the progress of immigration, and the small number of inhabitants has ever precluded the possibility of any great effort being made by the colony itself.
Public opinion in England must turn in its favour before it can rise from obscurity into importance; but public opinion is never in favour of the poor and deserted. Time, however, will eventually develope those resources, which at present lie dormant for want of capital and opportunity.
The proximity of this colony to India peculiarly marks it as the most advantageous spot for the breeding of horses for that market. From Van Dieman's Land or New South Wales, ships are generally about eight weeks in reaching an Indian port, and must proceed either by the north of New Holland, through the dangerous navigation of Torres Straits, or by the south and west, round Cape Lewin. Either route presents a long and rough passage, highly detrimental to stock, and of course increasing the cost of the horses exported. The voyage from Fremantle may be performed in half the time, and the animals will therefore arrive at their destination in much finer order, and with much less loss.
It is well known that none of these colonies afford better or more extensive pasture-ground for horses and cattle than ours. Nothing is wanted but capital and population to produce a thriving traffic in horse-flesh between this settlement and India.
There is every reason to believe that Western Australia will one day become a great wine country. Its vineyards are becoming more numerous and extensive every year, and the wine produced in them is of a quality to lead us to believe that when the art of preparing it is better understood, it will be found of very superior quality. It will, however, be a new kind of wine; and therefore, before it will be prized in Europe, prejudices in favour of older wines have to be overcome. Soil and climate combined, give to different wines their peculiar flavour. The vines which in Madeira produce the wine of that name, when brought to another country, even in a corresponding latitude, and planted in soil that chemically approaches as closely as possible to that which they have left, will produce a wine materially different from that called Madeira. So with the vines of Xeres and Oporto; of Teneriffe or Constantia. Different countries produce wines peculiar to themselves; and the wine of Western Australia will be found to be entirely sui generis. All that I have tasted, though made from the poorest of grapes, the common sweet-water, have one peculiarity; a good draught, instead of affecting the head or flushing the face, causes a most delightful glow to pervade the stomach; and it is of so comforting a nature, that the labourers in harvest prefer the home-made colonial wine to any other beverage. Every farm-settler is now adding a vineyard to his estate. The olive is also being extensively cultivated. In a few years' time, dried fruits will be exported in large quantities; but we almost fear that the colonists are giving too much of their attention to the cultivation of grapes and other fruits. In addition to exports, on a large scale, of wool, horses, timber, and metals, these articles of commerce are not undeserving of attention, but they should not be brought so prominently forward as to form the principal feature in the trade of the colony. Wine and fruit countries are always poor countries; let us think of substantials first, and of wine and fruit only by way of dessert.
Cotton is a plant that grows extremely well in this colony, and might be cultivated on a large scale, and doubtless with great success. Mr. Hutt, the late governor, whose constant anxiety to promote the interests of the settlers in every way must long endear him to their memories, always appeared extremely sanguine as to the practicability of making this a great cotton country.
But Western Australia contains, perhaps, greater internal wealth than that which appears on the surface. She abounds in iron, which must some day come into the Indian market; and as the metal lies close to the surface, it may be obtained without much expenditure of capital. There is no doubt, also, that she is equally rich in copper and platina, but capital is wanting at present to enable the settlers to work the mines. Soon, however, companies will be formed, and operations will be carried on rivalling those of South Australia.
Extensive fields of excellent COAL have lately been discovered, and will prove the source of vast wealth to the colony. Steam-vessels in the Indian ocean will be supplied with coal from Western Australia; and the depots at Sincapore, Point-de-Galle, and perhaps at Aden, will afford a constant market for this valuable commodity.
The staple export of the colony is, of course, at present wool. Our flocks, unfortunately, increase in a much greater ratio than the inhabitants, and thus the scarcity of labour becomes severely felt. A large flock becomes an evil, and men are burdened and impoverished by the very sources of wealth. The expense of maintaining becomes greater than the returns. The emigrants who are most sure of improving their condition in a colony, are those men who begin as shepherds, and having established a good character for themselves, undertake the care of a flock upon shares; that is, they receive a certain proportion — a third, and sometimes even a half — of the annual increase and wool, delivering the remainder to the owner at the seaport, ready packed for shipping. These men, of course, soon acquire a flock of their own, and then abandon the original employer to his old embarrassment, leaving him, (a resident probably in the capital, and already a prey to multitudinous distractions,) to find out a new shepherd on still more exorbitant terms. As large grants of land may be obtained by tenants for merely nominal rents, or in consideration of their erecting stock-yards or farm-buildings in the course of a term of years, there is every inducement to men of this class to become settlers.
The houses in some districts are built of clay, or prepared earth, rammed down between boards, and thus forming solid walls of twelve or eighteen inches in thickness, that harden in a short time almost to the consistency of stone. The windows and doorways are cut out of the walls. These edifices are built at a very cheap rate; and when laths or battens are fixed inside of them, may be covered with plaister, and either whitewashed or painted.
Besides the extensive sheep-runs of the colony, there is an unlimited extent of excellent corn-land. The crops in the Northam, Toodyay, and York districts — though inferior to those of the midland counties of England, for want of manure, and a more careful system of husbandry — are extremely fine; and there is land enough, if cultivated, to supply the whole of the southern hemisphere with grain.
The sea on the western coast of New Holland still abounds with whales, although the Americans for many years made it one of their principal stations, and have consequently driven many of the animals away. The whale is a very suspicious and timid creature, and when it has been once chased it seldom returns to the same locality. The Americans tell us that Geographe Bay, about twenty years ago, abounded with whales at certain seasons. Many of them came there apparently to die, and the shore was covered with their carcases and bones. About the month of June, the whales proceed along the coast, going northward; and then visit the various bays and inlets as they pass, in pursuit of the shoals of small fish that precede them in their migration. They generally return towards the south about six weeks afterwards, and at these times the whale-fishery is eagerly pursued both by the Americans and the colonists. Bay-whaling is followed with various success at Fremantle, Bunbury, the Vasse, Augusta, and King George's Sound.
At these times swarms of sharks of enormous dimensions infest the coast. At the Vasse, they were so numerous in 1845, that the men in the boats became quite cowed by their audacity. Were a whale killed in the evening, two-thirds of it would be eaten before morning by the sharks. The monsters (sometimes thirty feet in length) would follow the whale-boats, and strike against them with their snouts and fins; until the men were so intimidated that they even refused to go in pursuit of a whale which otherwise they might easily have captured. Mr. Robert Viveash, one of the principals at this station, told me, among other anecdotes, that one day, standing on the deck of a small schooner, watching the evolutions of an enormous shark, he saw it seize the rudder with its teeth in a kind of frenzy, or else in mere sport, and shake it so violently that the tiller, striking against some heavy object on deck, was actually broken in two pieces. It is a well-authenticated fact, that some years ago a shark, playing round a whaling vessel of upwards of 300 tons, whilst lying at anchor during a calm, got entangled in the buoy-rope of the anchor, and in its efforts to free itself actually tripped the anchor. The people on board, perceiving something extraordinary had happened, hove up the anchor, and brought the struggling shark to the surface. Having thrown a rope over its head and secured it by a running bowline knot under the pectoral fins, the fish was boused up to the fore-yard; and its length was so great, that when its nose touched the yard, its tail was still lashing the water.
There is something highly exciting in the chase of the whale. I have watched the proceedings for hours from Arthur's Head, the high rock between Fremantle and the sea. A man stationed here on the look out, perceives a whale spouting about six miles off, between the main-land and the opposite islands. He immediately hoists a flag, and makes signals indicating the direction.
The crews of six whale-boats, which have been lying ready on the beach, with their lines carefully coiled in a tub, and harpoon and lances all at hand, assemble like magic. The boats are launched, and pulling rapidly out of the bay, each with its own particular flag flying at the bows; the steersman leans forward, and gives additional force to the stroke-oar by the assistance of his weight and strength; the men pull strongly and well-together; the boats dance over the flashing waves, and silence and determination reign among the crews. The object is to meet the whale, and come down upon him in front; none but a lubber or a knave would cross his wake; for his eyes are so placed that he can see laterally and behind better than straight before him, and the moment he detects a boat in pursuit he begins to run. The lubber crosses his wake, because he has not steered so as to be able to avoid doing so; the knave, because either out of spite to his employer, or because he is bribed by an adverse company, is desirous that the fish should be lost. If the boats are a long distance astern when the whale begins to run, pursuit is useless, and the men return, hoping for better luck another time.
The boats come round Arthur's Head almost together. The men, knowing that many hours of severe toil are probably before them, pull steadily, but not so as to exhaust themselves at the outset. At length one boat creeps out from the rest; the others gradually drop into line, and the distance between each widens perceptibly. The last boat, a heavy sailer, is half-a-mile astern of the first. From the boats, your eye wanders to the spot where the whale was last seen to blow. For some time you can discern nothing, and fancy he must be gone off to sea again. At last a thin white column of vapour is perceptible; the animal is carelessly sporting about, unconscious of danger. The first boat draws rapidly down upon him; it approaches nearer and nearer. The fish has disappeared, but his enemies seem to know the direction in which he is going, and are ready awaiting him when he returns to the surface. You now perceive him blowing close to the first boat, the steersman of which draws in the steer-oar and runs forward, whilst the men have all peaked their oars, and remain quiet in their seats. The steersman has seized the harpoon to which the long line of coiled rope is attached; in a moment he has plunged it into the animal's side. Starting at the stroke, away it darts; the line flies out of the tub over the bow of the boat; the men begin to pull, in order to ease the shock when the line is all run out; and now away they go, the whale drawing the boat after him at such speed that the water flies off from the bows in broad flakes.
After running upwards of a mile, the fish dives down to the bottom; there he remains some minutes, until compelled to return to the surface for breath. His reappearance is heralded by a column of water spouted from his nostrils.
Two of the boats are able to approach near enough to allow lances to be thrown at him, which, penetrating through the blubber, pierce his vitals, and cause him to run again as swiftly as before. Again he sinks, and again appears on the surface; the column which he now spouts forth is tinged with red. The boats again approach, the more lances are driven into his sides, but he is not yet subdued; he breaks away from the assassins, and tries once more to escape; but, alas! his strength and his life-blood are fast ebbing away; his breath begins to fail, and he cannot remain long beneath the surface.
He comes up suddenly in the very midst of the boats, and, as he rolls from side to side, he strikes one of them with his fin, staving it in and making it a wreck upon the water. The drowning men are picked up by their companions, and the whale is again pursued. He is now in the death-flurry, spinning round and round, and lashing the sea into foam with his broad tail. He is still; and now the boats venture to come close up to the carcase, and fixing grapnels in it, with tow-lines attached, they form in a line, and commence towing their conquest to the shore, singing as they row, their measured paeans of victory.
When the blubber is cut off and tryed out, it produces from three to ten tons of oil.
Besides whales, there are immense quantities of fish upon this coast. The best kind are called tailors, and have a good deal of the mackerel flavour; and snappers, which somewhat resemble cod-fish. The mullets and whitings are better than those on the English coast, but every other fish is much inferior in flavour to those known in England. We have nothing to equal salmon, turbot, soles, cod, or mackerel; nevertheless, a snapper of twenty pounds weight is a very eatable fish.
They are caught in great quantities, salted and exported to the Mauritius, where they are acknowledged to be superior to the fish imported from the Cape of Good Hope. Snapper-fishing is not bad sport, as they bite freely. They go in immense shoals, and it is not an uncommon thing to catch twenty-hundred weight at a single haul. When H.M.S. Challenger was lying in Cockburn Sound, some of the men with a very large seine-net, caught two thousand fish at a single haul — averaging five pounds a-piece. This is almost incredible, but it is related on good authority.
The fresh-water rivers have no fish but a small craw-fish, that buries itself in the ground when the bed of the stream is dry; and a flat-headed, tapering fish called a cobbler. This is about twelve inches long, and has a sharp, serrated bone an inch in length on each side of its head, that lies flat and perfectly concealed until an enemy approaches. This bone is hollow, like an adder's tooth, and contains a virulent poison, which is injected into the wound, and causes intense pain for several hours. Men are frequently stung by these wretches, whilst wading through the water.
There are several valuable kinds of wood in this colony, which do not exist in South Australia or New South Wales. We may mention the sandalwood, which now finds a market in Ceylon, where it fetches about 22 pounds per ton; but if it were sent direct to China, (its ultimate destination,) it would obtain probably 35 pounds per ton. Sandal-wood is burnt in large quantities in China, as a kind of incense. There is another highly-fragrant wood peculiar to this colony, called by the settlers raspberry jam, from its resembling that sweet-meat in its scent. A small quantity sent to Tonbridge-Wells, was worked up into boxes, and highly approved of by the cabinet-makers, who gave it the name of violet wood.
One of the most beautiful trees in the colony is called the peppermint-tree; its leaves, which are very abundant, resemble those of the willow, and, on being rubbed, smell strongly of peppermint. It bears a small yellow flower. These is much reason to believe that this is of the same species as the tree which yields the valuable Cajeput oil, and it is highly desirable that an endeavour should be made to distil this oil from the leaves.
Many of the vegetable productions of Western Australia appear to correspond with those of Java and others of the Eastern Islands, modified by the difference of climate.
The timber adapted to ship-building purposes, extends in vast quantities down the line of coast, and is of three kinds, all varieties of the eucalyptus. The tooart in the districts of Bunbury and the Vasse, and the blue-gum which abounds at Augusta and Nornalup, are woods of large size, and remarkably hard and close-grained in texture. It is well adapted for keel-pieces, stern-posts, capstan-heads, and heavy beams: and its fibres are so closely matted and interwoven together, that it is scarcely possible to split it. It grows in lengths of from 30 to 60 feet, and measures from 15 to 30 inches in diameter.
But the wood most highly prized and most easily attainable is the Jarra, which grows upon the entire range of the Darling Hills, distant from sixteen to twenty miles from the coast, and extends over a country averaging at least twenty miles in breadth. It was for a long time erroneously called mahogany by the settlers, as it takes an excellent polish, and is extremely useful for cabinet purposes. A small quantity recently sent to England for the purpose of being worked up with furniture, has been thus reported upon: —
"We have just inspected about two tons of wood brought to this town (Leeds) under the name of Swan River Mahogany. Some of the wood is firm and close in texture, with a very great abundance of cross mottle; — in fact, it is quite crowded with figure. The colour is something like old Jamaica mahogany, and it bears a strong resemblance in some of its figures to the wood so celebrated by Messrs. Collard as Ocean Wood. We are quite firm in our opinion, that it is NOT mahogany, and do not know why it should be nicknamed. Why not call it by its proper name? — for it has sufficiently strong claims to maintain its own independence.
"J. Kendell and Co. "Cabinet Manufacturers, Leeds."
Mr. Bond, of the firm of Gillows and Co., cabinet manufacturers, 176 and 177 Oxford-street, London, to whom a small quantity was submitted, has also made an equally favourable report. Messrs. Chaloner and Fleming, of Liverpool, whose firm is one of the most extensive importers of timber in the empire, have reported that they "consider the specimens submitted to them to be of rich figure, and very fine quality, although the colour is rather dark. It is quite as fine in texture as the best Spanish mahogany, and takes the polish remarkably well."
It is not, however, as cabinet wood that the Jarra is so highly valuable. It has been found to be some of the best ship-timber in the world. It is so extremely durable, that when it is cut in a healthy state, it is never found to rot, even though it be buried in the ground for years. For seventeen years it has been constantly used in the colony for a variety of purposes. As it resists the white-ant, an insect that destroys oak and every other kind of wood, and is never subject to the dry-rot, it is invaluable for building purposes. Boats constructed of it, which have been in the water during the whole of this period, and entirely unprotected by paint, are still as sound as they were when first launched.
It resists the sea-worm; and our colonial vessels, when hove down for repairs or survey at Sincapore, Launceston, or other ports, have always excited the admiration of the surveyors, and have been pronounced not to require to be coppered. This wood is long in the grain, but very close and tough, and not only makes very good planking, but excellent beams, keel-pieces, and many other portions of a ship. Growing without a branch to the height of from fifty to one hundred feet, and from eighteen inches to three feet and upwards in diameter, it excites the admiration of all practical men; and as its properties have been so long tested, and are so generally admitted in the southern hemisphere, it is matter of no less surprise than regret that it should be still unknown in the English markets. Strong prejudice, and the interest of parties connected with the timber-trade in other countries, have served to keep the inexhaustible forests of Western Australia in the obscurity which has hung over them from primeval times. Besides this, although the Jarra wood exists not in other parts of Australia, and is confined to the Western coast alone, timber has been imported to England from New South Wales, and is very little prized there. Timber-merchants, therefore, who confound all the Australian colonies together, as most other people in England do, are willing to believe that the Jarra of Western Australia is the same as the Stringy-bark of New South Wales, and therefore worth little or nothing for ship-building purposes. The experience of seventeen years has proved the contrary. Not only have the valuable qualities of the Jarra been tested in vessels built in the colony, and employed in trading to the neighbouring ports; but men-of-war and merchant ships have been frequently repaired with it, and the wood so employed has always been highly esteemed when subsequently inspected abroad.
In the autumn of 1845, the Halifax Packet, a barque of 400 tons, having parted from her anchor in a gale, and drifted ashore, underwent repairs at Fremantle, to the extent of about eleven hundred pounds. On being surveyed at the Port of London on her return home, the new timber, which had never been previously recognized at Lloyd's, though many efforts have been made to obtain that sanction, was allowed to remain in the ship as being perfectly serviceable. The following memorandum was addressed by the Surveyor of Lloyd's to A. Andrews, Esq., a gentleman interested in the welfare of the colony:
"The wood used in the repairs of the Halifax Packet at Swan River, appears to answer the purpose very well. It is not found necessary to remove any part thereof.
"From the samples which I have seen of Swan River timber, I am of opinion that it will form a very desirable and serviceable wood in ship-building; but this must be regarded as my private opinion, the Society of Lloyd's Register, to which I belong, not having as yet assigned any character to it in their rules.
(Signed) "P. Courtney, Lloyd's Surveyor. "Lloyd's, 24th February, 1846."
This extraordinary timber grows to a size that would appear incredible to readers in England. It is perhaps only manageable and remunerative from 40 to 60 feet; but in the southern districts of the colony — especially to the back of Nornalup and Wilson's Inlet — it is found growing to 120 and 150 feet in height, before the first branch appears. My brother and his servant, when exploring in that district, took refuge once from a storm in the hollow of an old Jarra tree, which not only sheltered themselves but their horses; and the interior actually measured in diameter three times the length of the largest horse, an animal sixteen hands high and very long backed. This may appear an astounding assertion, but the following is not less so. The same parties found a Jarra tree which had fallen completely across a broad and deep river (called the Deep River) running between high precipitous banks, thus forming a natural bridge, along which a bullock cart might have passed!
Timber of such large dimensions is perfectly useless; but there are, of course, trees of every size, growing in boundless profusion.
As Indian teak and African oak are now scarcely obtainable, we look upon our colony as a store-house for the British navy; and though we have hitherto vainly battled against prejudice and private interest to make this timber known to our rulers, the day will arrive when the wants of the naval service will compel men in authority to acknowledge the value of wood, which is most highly prized by all who have had the opportunity of testing its qualities.
It is due to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to state, that on two occasions they have promised to receive a quantity of this timber, provided it were delivered at one of the royal dockyards, and to allow a fair price for it. But unfortunately, there is so great a scarcity of labour and of capital in the colony, that the settlers have shrunk from the outlay necessary to perform what would be, after all, only an experiment.
It cannot be supposed, that timber which has been tested in every way for seventeen years, and is known throughout Australia to be indisputably FIRST-RATE for ship-building purposes, should be condemned at home as unserviceable. But the colonists know how many prejudices and interested feelings environ the Admiralty; and in general shrink from the experiment.
RISE AND FALL OF A SETTLEMENT. — THE SEQUEL TO CAPTAIN GREY'S DISCOVERIES. — A WORD AT PARTING.
His Excellency the Governor having kindly invited me to be his companion on a journey which he proposed to make to the new settlement of Australind, about a hundred miles south of Perth, I set about making the necessary preparations. I borrowed a pair of saddle-bags, and having stuffed my traps into one side of them, loaded the other with a cold roast fowl, a boiled tongue, a pound of sausages, a loaf of bread, a flask of brandy, and sundry small packages of tea, sugar, cigars, etc.
When I looked at the result of my labours, the swollen sides of the leathern receptacle, I enjoyed a noble feeling of independence; as though I were now prepared to ramble through the world, and stood in no need of friendly welcome, or the doubtful hospitality of an inn.
Having breakfasted at five o'clock on a December morning (the middle of summer), and equipped myself in a broad-brimmed straw-hat and light shooting jacket, I mounted my steed, and sallied forth from my gate, followed by the sympathizing grins of Hannibal.
His Excellency, true to the hour, was mounting his horse at the door of Government House — and as the appearance of the whole turn-out was rather unlike anything usually seen in Hyde Park, or even connected with the morning drives of his Excellency the Viceroy of Ireland, I may as well describe it.
The representative of our gracious Sovereign was habited in his bush costume — a white hat, bare of beaver, having a green veil twisted round it, a light shooting coat and plaid trousers, shoes, and jean gaiters. His illustrious person was seated on a pair of broad saddle-bags, which went flap, flap against the sides of his charger, as he jogged steadily along at the usual travelling pace. On the pummel of his saddle was strapped a roll of blankets for the night bivouac, and to one of the straps was attached a tin-pannikin, which bumped incessantly against his horse's mane. Round the animal's neck was coiled a long tether-rope, which every now and then kept coming undone, and the caravan had to halt whilst it was being readjusted.
Behind us rode his Excellency's man, no longer the smug gentleman in a black suit, with a visage as prim as his neck-cloth, but blazing in a red woollen shirt, and grinning incessantly with amazement at his own metamorphosis. Strapped to his waist by a broad belt of leather, was a large tin-kettle, for the purpose of making his Excellency's tea in the evening. Huge saddle-bags contained provisions, knives and forks, plates, and everything necessary for travelling in the Bush in a style of princely magnificence. No scheik or emir among the Arabs wanders about the desert half so sumptuously provided. I could not help laughing (in my sleeve, of course,) at the figure produced by the tout ensemble of John mounted on his ewe-necked and pot-bellied steed.
In excellent spirits we jogged along to the Canning, and then eleven miles farther, to a muddy pool called Boregarup, where we baited the horses, and lunched on one of his Excellency's cold meat-pies. The water in the pool was not very tempting, but we ladled a little out in our pannikins, and mixing it with brandy, managed to drink it. The want of water makes travelling in the bush during summer a serious business. Frequently you find a well, on which your thoughts and hopes have been fixed for the last twenty miles, completely dried up; and you have to endure thirst as well as you can for some hours longer. Sometimes by scraping the bottom of the well, and digging down with your pannikin, you come to a little moisture, and after waiting an hour, succeed in obtaining about half-a-pint of yellow fluid, compounded of mud and water. This you strain through as many pocket-handkerchiefs as you can command, and are at last enabled to moisten your baked lips.
On these occasions the traveller cares less about himself than his horse, and often have we served the latter out of our pannikin from holes into which he could not get his nose, whilst denying ourselves more than a little sip.
After lying an hour on our blankets in the hot shade, smoking a cigar, and waging incessant war with myriads of mosquitoes and sand-flies, we decided that it was impossible to continue any longer so unequal a conflict; and saddling our horses in haste, we beat a quick retreat, and felt much cooler and more comfortable whilst in motion. In the course of the afternoon we passed through a vast dry swamp many miles long. The reeds on each side of the track frequently reached to our heads, and prevented our seeing any thing else on either side of us; and when we did get a glimpse over the rushes level with our eyes, we could behold nothing but an immense plain of waving green, like a huge field of unripe wheat, edged in the distance by the stern outline of the ever-sombre forest of eucalyptus trees. This swamp is a terrible place to pass through in winter. It is nevertheless one of the royal post-roads of the colony; and the bearer of her Majesty's mail from Pinjarra to Perth, is frequently obliged to swim for his life, with the letter-bag towing astern, like a jolly-boat behind a Newcastle collier.
After emerging from the swamp, we passed through an extensive plain, covered with coarse scrub and thinly-scattered grass, and lined with forest trees and clumps of black-boys. When about half-way down it, we came upon a herd of wild cattle grazing at some two hundred yards' distance from the path. They seemed very much astonished at the appearance of three such picturesque individuals; and after gazing for a few moments, lost in wonder, they tossed up their heads, and trotted along-side of us, keeping their original distance. Having kept us company for about half-a-mile, they relieved us of their society, (which was not very agreeable, as we had no firearms) by coming to a halt, and allowing us to proceed in peace, whilst they contented themselves with brandishing their horns and tails, and butting against one another in play.
That night we slept at the Dandalup, hospitably entertained by F. Corbet Singleton, Esq., M.C., the owner of a fine estate of twelve thousand acres, a good deal of it alluvial soil. Were the population such as it ought to be in this fine country; and the markets proportioned to the capabilities of the soil, nothing would be more agreeable than to live on a beautiful property like this, cultivating your corn lands and multiplying your flocks and herds. But as it is, unfortunately, a man is soon overdone with his own wealth. He has more corn than he can find a market for; more cattle than he can sell; and he is obliged to allow his land to run waste, and his herds to run wild, rather than be at the expense of farming on a great scale without adequate remuneration.
Let me advise emigrants to these colonies to turn their attention chiefly to the breeding of sheep and horses, which are saleable things in foreign markets. The growers of wool, and the breeders of horses for India will make their estates profitable; but large herds of cattle will produce nothing to the owner in a thinly-populated country.
The next day, after inspecting the farm, we proceeded with our host to Mandurah, crossing an estuary a quarter of a mile broad, but so shallow that the water did not reach above our saddle-flaps. And now (having parted from Singleton) we had to swim our horses across the mouth of the Murray River. After a little delay, a boat was found; with a couple of men to row it across, and removing the saddles and other things from the horses' backs, we prepared for the passage. His Excellency's Arab mare was destined to make the experimental trip, and the Governor, with many injunctions and misgivings, committed the end of the tether-rope to the hand of his servant, who belayed it to the stern of the boat, where he seated himself, to act as occasion should require. The boatman rowed till the tether-rope was out at full stretch; his Excellency coaxed and entreated the mare to enter the water, and "shoo-ed!" and "shaa-ed!" and called her a stupid creature, whilst I cracked my whip and jumped about, and rattled my hat, and made as much noise as people usually do on such occasions. The mare, on her part, reared up, and flung herself back, and plunged about, and showed so strong a determination not to go down the broken bank, that we feared we should never get her into the river. At last, however, we managed to back her into the water, when she was dragged instantly out of her depth and obliged to swim. The men pulled so fast that she could not keep up with them, and giving up the attempt, floated quietly on her side, to the great horror of her master, who thought he never should bestride her again, until he was relieved by seeing her start to her feet in shallow water, and scramble up the bank, dripping like a veritable hippopotamus.
The other horses behaved better; and when we had ourselves crossed and remounted, we rode by the side of the river, or rather estuary, a distance of ten miles, till we came to a picturesque little spot called Mocha weir — a high bank, a clump of trees, a brawling brook, (unusual sight in this country,) and a patch of excellent grass.
Here we resolved to halt for the night. Each rider attended to his own horse, which, however, did not get much grooming, and then we prepared for the great business of life, and kindled a fire, filled the kettle with limpid water, drew out our various stocks of provisions, and arranged the dinner-table on the grass, and made every thing look exceedingly comfortable and inviting. Then we made tea, and invited each other to eat, and did eat without invitation; and joked and laughed, and felt considerably more happy and sociable than if vice-royalty had been real-royalty, and the green canopy of the trees were the banqueting-hall at Windsor Castle. The man munched his victuals at a small private bivouac of his own, within easy call, as he had to jump up every now and then, and bring the kettle, or wash the plates for the second and third courses. When the things were removed, we lighted cigars, and pleasantly discoursed, recumbent before the fire. Our beds were already made of black-boy tops, and, therefore we had nothing to do but await the hour of rest. The sun had disappeared, and darkness, closing around us, drew nigher and more nigh every moment, swallowing up object after object in its stealthy advance, and seeming about to overwhelm us in its mysterious obscurity. But John heaped logs of dry wood upon the fire, and nobly we resisted all the powers of Darkness. In the midst of that black solitude, our little circle of light maintained its independence, nor yielded to the invasion which had swallowed up all around it. Here was our Camp of Refuge, and here we felt snug, and secure, and at home; whilst all without our magic circle was comfortless and desolate.
Sometimes the active-minded John would dive, without apparent dismay, into the black and hostile-looking regions of Night, which seemed to close upon him as though for ever; and when we had resignedly given him up, a prey to the evil spirits that prowled around, he would reappear with startling suddenness, issuing forth into the light like some red demon of the woods, and bearing a huge log upon his shoulder — the spoils of his "foray-sack" — which he would fling down upon the fire, making it blaze up with sudden fierceness, and extending the circle of light for a few moments to a greater distance around, so as to give us a transient glimpse of things which were soon swallowed up again in darkness — like glimpses of the dead in dreams.
I must hurry on to Australind, merely mentioning that we passed two lakes not far from each other, one of which was fresh, and the other salt — salt as the Dead Sea. It is usual in this perverse country (though not so in this instance) to find a salt lake surrounded with good, and a fresh-water lake with bad land. Here it was bad altogether. The country, however, improved greatly as we drew towards Australind; and about ten miles from that place, we came upon a fine flock of sheep that seemed to be doing extremely well.
We now passed along the banks of the Leschenault estuary, on which Australind is situated; and soon we discovered three figures approaching on horseback. These proved to be M. Waller Clifton, Esq., the chief Commissioner of the Western Australian Company, to whom the whole district belongs, attended by a brace of his surveyors as aides-de-camp — one mounted on a very tall horse, and the other on a very small pony. The Chief Commissioner himself bestrode a meek-looking cart-horse, which, on perceiving us in the distance, he urged into an exhilarating trot. His Excellency, seeing these demonstrations of an imposing reception, hastily drew forth his black silk neck-cloth from his pocket, and re-enveloped his throat therewith, which, during the heat of the day, he had allowed to be carelessly exposed. Gathering himself up in his saddle, and assuming the gravity proper to the representative of his sovereign, he awaited with as much dignity as his state of perspiration would allow, the approach of the Chief of Australind. As for myself, I plucked up my shirt-collar, and tried to look as spicy as possible.
The first greetings over, the two chieftains rode into the town side by side, as amicably as Napoleon and Alexander of Russia; whilst I fell to the share of the aides, and related the most recent news of Perth, and the last bon mots of Richard Nash, for their entertainment; receiving in return an account of the arrival of 400 male and female emigrants at the settlement the day before.
We were entertained, as every guest invariably is, right hospitably by Mr. Clifton and his amiable family.
Australind was then (December 1842) a promising new town. It was alive with well-dressed young men and women, who were promenading under the large forest trees which still occupied the intended squares and most of the streets. They had only landed from the vessel which had brought them some twenty-four hours before, and they were evidently variously affected by all they saw. Some appeared to be struck with the strange circumstance of trees growing in the streets; some looked aghast at the wooden houses and canvass tents; one thought everything looked exceedingly green; another fancied that a town built upon sand could not possibly endure long. And he was right: for the town has long since been deserted, except by half a dozen families; and the newly arrived settlers are dispersed over the colony. This has not been the fault of the Chief Commissioner, nor is it owing to any inferiority in the soil, but to causes which I intend briefly to explain, as there are many people in England who are, or were, interested in the fortunes of this promising young settlement.
The Western Australian Company's grant of land at Australind comprises 100,000 acres, among which there is a large quantity of excellent pasture and arable land. It is well watered, and generally well adapted for the site of a new settlement. The flats of the Brunswick and Collic rivers would supply the whole colony, if thoroughly peopled, with grain; and there is abundance of feed for sheep and cattle, even to the summits of the hills.
A great portion of this grant has been purchased by the Company from Colonel Lautour, who, however, could not furnish a good title to it. Having never performed the necessary improvements which would entitle him to a deed of grant in fee-simple from the crown, his right of possession became forfeit; and in April, 1840, Governor Hutt, though much interested in the success of the Company, of which his brother, the member for Gateshead, was chairman, thought himself obliged, in the conscientious discharge of his duty, to resume the estate for the crown.
This proved to be a most fatal proceeding. The Company's title to Colonel Lautour's grant had been confirmed by the Home-government in November 1839, but owing to the non-existence of regular post-office communication (that grand and inexcusable error, which allows the British Empire to be composed of a mass of unconnected settlements, dependent upon chance for intelligence and aid from the mother country), the news did not reach the colony until May or June following.
Accounts of the resumption of the grant by the Governor reached England, and not only perplexed the Company, but greatly disquieted the minds of the numerous individuals to whom they had sold land, to the value of nearly 60,000 pounds. At this very time, too, unhappily, arrived Captain Grey in England, on his return from the expedition to the north-western side of New Holland, of which he has since published a clever and popular narrative. Captain Grey took an early opportunity of giving a somewhat lamentable account of the Company's land at Leschenault, or Australind, and a very glowing description of a district, many miles to the north of Perth, between Gantheaume Bay and the Arrowsmith River, which he had passed through on his disastrous return. He also expatiated, in most precise terms, upon a splendid harbour which he called Port Grey, and of which he made an elaborate sketch; and on the 26th of October, 1840, addressed to Lord John Russell "a detailed description of that portion of the western coast of Australia which lies between Gantheaume Bay and the River Arrowsmith, as it would be found useful in enabling persons, intending to occupy that tract of country, to arrive at correct conclusions regarding its capabilities." In the map of his route, published by Arrowsmith, Port Grey is laid down as a spacious, well-sheltered harbour, with a convenient point of land extending a couple of miles out to sea from its northern extremity, and having a useful reef of rocks projecting, most happily, to the same distance, affording altogether a secure shelter for shipping in seven fathoms' water.
The Directors of the Western Australian Company, alarmed at the account related of Australind, perplexed by the proceedings of the local Government, and captivated by the description of Port Grey, with its splendid districts of "rich flats," and "fertile downs," determined to change the site of their settlement.
Captain Grey describes two "flat-topped ranges," in the neighbourhood of this port, lying about twenty miles apart; and in his diary of "Sunday, April 7, 1839," he says: "The country between these two ranges was an open grassy valley thinly wooded; and IT APPEARED TO BE ONE OF THE MOST EXTENSIVELY FERTILE portions of country which I had yet seen in Australia. After travelling for another mile over the sandy downs, we reached another romantic glen-like valley, bounded to the north and south by steep limestone cliffs; we descended these cliffs, and at their base found as in the last valley we had crossed, EXTENSIVE FLATS, through which wound a water-course. All the hills I could see in the vicinity consisted of limestone, and for the whole distance I could see to the eastward (about seven or eight miles) the country appeared to be of the MOST FERTILE and picturesque character; the hills were slightly wooded with large timber, and the valleys were nearly bare of trees and COVERED WITH GRASS. On ascending the limestone hills to the south of the valley, we found ourselves once more in open sandy downs; after travelling three miles across these in a S. by E. direction, we again came to a valley of the same character as the one above described; it ran from the same direction; to the eastward we saw a fertile valley. * * * We halted for some time immediately at the foot of Mount Fairfax.
"We continued our route in the evening over the sandy downs, which, at the distance of half a mile from the sea, terminated in cliffs. * * * After travelling three miles, we halted for the night.
"Monday 8th. The first three miles of our route lay over sandy downs, when we found ourselves in grassy, wooded plains, lying between the flat-topped range, and some dunes which bordered a bay," etc.
It is well known that people in the latter stages of starvation have constantly visions before their eyes of sumptuous entertainments, rich meats, and delicious wines. Captain Grey, who was then walking for his life, at a Barclay pace, with a very empty stomach, was probably labouring under a similar hallucination with respect to the country over which he passed; beholding flowery meads and fertile vales in districts which we fear would prove little attractive to a settler. He beheld fine flowing rivers and sheltered bays, which have since altogether disappeared, like the scenes beheld on misty mornings by Sicilian mariners.
His account of the country determined the Western Australian Company to change the site of their intended settlement. Calling together the purchasers of land at Australind, the Directors offered to return them the amount of their respective purchases, or allow them to take up new allotments in the very superior district of Port Grey. Almost all chose to reclaim their cash, and declined further speculation.