The following is the first chapter of the book ‘The World Turned Upside-down’. One of the aspects of the goldrush that fascinated me was the fact there were so many songs from the Victorian diggings and virtually non from the first strikes, in New South Wales. The work of Charles Thatcher in Victoria was, of course, a major reason, however, truth is there were songs, many songs, from the New South Wales rush. No one had bothered to search them out. In this chapter you will see some of the songs I ‘unearthed’ – there’s many more in the subsequent chapters and I would urge anyone with an interest in Australian mining history to order the book. It also helps finance my work!
There is no doubt that the discovery of gold at Ophir, near Bathurst, in 1851, set the entire colony of New South Wales into a tumble of excitement. Rich copper steams had already been discovered in South Australia and prospectors had been scratching and scraping all over the colonies and reporting traces of gold but here was the evidence that Australia had real golden valleys. Three years earlier the discovery of gold had radically changed California and now it was Australia’s turn to shine.
News of the Californian rush would have taken quite a while to reach Perth, West Australia, but it certainly did not go unnoticed as this song, discovered whilst this book was in preparation, reports. Clipper ships were now criss-crossing the world with increased regularity and passengers, always keen for news, would have picked up stories (and rumours) from various ports and this news eventually arrived in the Australian colonies. The cost of sea journeys was also becoming more affordable and many Australians, unaware there was gold in their own ‘backyard’ packed up their goods and chattels and joined the Californian rush. This song was published in the Inquirer, Perth, 209 May, 1850 as ‘A New Song of California’
Down in California
(Tune— Gipsy Party.)
Oh have you heard the news so grand,
The last and best time’s come to hand,
About the rich mid golden land, Glorious California.
‘Tis flying fast o’er the land and main,
Through every house, street, field, or lane,
And if it’s true, ’tis very plain
The golden age is come again:
But, whether it’s true or not, we’re told
The rich, the poor, the young, the old,
Are all a going to dig for gold
Down in California.
Down in California.
Perhaps you think ’tis only chaff,
But all the world and his better half
Are going to kiss the golden calf
Away in California.
They’re all across the waters bound,
We’ve empty houses all around,
And if this dodge keeps gaining ground,
Whole towns to let will soon be found.
Wherever a man can use his shanks,
He’s off and away to join the ranks:
There’s a regular run on all the banks,
To get to California.
If a fortune you would make,
Go procure a shovel and a rake.
And two or three little odd things to take
Down to California.
A washing tub you get the first,
A dung fork next, to break the crust,
A broom to scour away the rust,
And a chummy’s bag to hold the dust;
Then pack them up and take your route.
And when you find the dust hills out,
Just take your pick, and axe about
For gold in California.
Now, if you’ve got relations poor,
And want to cut them, nought so sure,
Take and write upon your door
‘ Gone to California.’
And, tradesmen, when your bills come in
You’ve but to use— and that’s no sin—
A little brass instead of tin;
For when the duns are on your track,
Just say— the while your hands you smack —
I’ll settle your bills when I come back,
I’m going to California.
When little boys at horses play,
They mount their sticks and ride away,
And if you ask them where— they say,
‘We’re going to California.’
A friend of mine, with parts so bright,
No rest enjoys by day or night :
In stating facts you’ll find them right :
He’s California fevered quite.
One night with drink and discontent,
On finding gold dust strongly bent,
Full tilt he up the chimney went
To look for California.
So if you’re tired of fortune’s raps,
You’ve nought to do but sell your traps
At Fox’s or some other chap’s,
And start for California.
The beggar there his wallet fills,
There doctors meet with golden pills,
And there you’ll find, if fortune wills,
A sovereign balm for all your ills.
Glorious times are coming quick,
So if the lucky hour you nick,
Sell your traps and cut your stick
Away to California
Australia’s population in 1850 was around 405,000 and comprised of convicts and their keepers, ticket-of-leave released convicts, settlers and colonial government. All that was to change dramatically as the cry of “Gold!” echoed across the world. It was heard particularly loud in Britain and Ireland, however, would-be miners came from the four quarters of the globe including many who had tried their luck on the Californian goldfields.
The very first evidence of gold in Australia was made by James O’Brien, a Land’s Department surveyor. Other reports also pointed to the presence of gold but the colonial government, fearful of damage to the all-important pastoral industries, hushed them up. They had good reason to be concerned.
Edward Hargraves, an Englishman, had emigrated to Australia as a young lad and, in 1848, had been an unsuccessful prospector in California, returning to Australia two year’s later. On 12 February 1851 he, with John Lister as a guide, found five specks of gold in Lewis Ponds Creek, near Bathurst. He had taken six pans of river gravel obtaining a grain of gold in five of the six pans. By this stage the colonial government had offered a reward for anyone finding what they described as ‘payable’ gold. Hargraves travelled to Sydney to collect his reward. Eureka! The rush was one. By three months there were between 400-500 claims being worked on Lewis Ponds and nearby Summer Hills Creek. Hargraves was rewarded by the New South Wales Government for his find – he was paid £10 000 and was appointed Commissioner for Crown Land. The Victorian Government also paid him £5000. He only claimed £2381 before the funds were frozen after James Tom protested over claim rights. An enquiry was held in 1853 which upheld that Hargraves was, in law, the first to discover a payable goldfield.
Here is the Sydney Morning Herald 29 May 1851report on Hargraves’ claim including the prospector’s statement to the press and that he was possessed of what old-timers called the ‘gold fever’.
“I have no desire to acquire notoriety, neither do I take to myself much credit for the discovery; it was the result of observation and reflection, and some little perseverance not unattended I admit with considerable privation. The simple truth is, that about sixteen years since I travelled over the gold country in Australia, without the remotest idea that I should ever see it again; the features, and to a limited extent the geology of the country, made an impression on my mind, which eventually led me to the present discovery. During my recent travels in California I had ample opportunities of observing the features of that country; the similarity between the country I had visited sixteen years ago, and the country in which thousands and tens of thousands were then busily employed extracting the precious metal, struck me very forcibly, so much so that it took possession of my mind day and night, and I resolved, with the blessing of Providence, to visit the locality immediately on my return to New South Wales.
I mentioned my belief of the existence of gold in this colony to several of my most esteemed and sincere friends upon my return, and my resolve to make a personal search under any privation. From the best and kindest motives they endeavored to dissuade me from the enterprise, and even held out pecuniary motives that under ordinary circumstances would have been too powerful to withstand ; but feeling that I could not rest until I had satisfied my mind by a personal search, I went through hundreds of miles of the solitary wilderness, and having made the discovery, disclosed it to the Colonial Government, who may or may not reward mc for the unbounded wealth which I have, through an overruling Providence, been the humble instrument of conferring on my fellow-colonists”. (Signed) Edward Hammond Hargraves.
Gold fever certainly hit the local residents of New South Wales and also those in far away colonies who scrambled to board vessels bound for Sydney. Going to the gold fields was described almost immediately as ‘going to the diggins’.
Bathurst is about 125 miles (203 km) west of Sydney with what would have been a very slow journey, especially considering the mountain range. Roads were better described as bullock tracks and often little more than a muddy bog in the wetter months. The Bathurst region is bitterly cold in the winter and hot as Hades in summer. None of this dampened the determination of the gold seekers and the roads out of Sydney were soon crowded with travellers, some better equipped for the journey than others. Some foolishly travelled with little more than their enthusiasm.
Songs were still an important way of spreading news in the mid 19th century. In some ways they filled the role of the earlier broadside seller and his or her sheets of songs written about current affairs. The street sellers had virtually disappeared but songs were still being printed as broadsides including many inspired by the gold rush. Songbooks were becoming more popular because of advancements in printing and affordability. There was also an increasing level of literacy and a general desire to own books, something that had previously been the domain of the rich. It is important to remember that prior to the gold rushes the majority of people worked as farm laborers and lived in small, isolated communities. With the gold rushes came large communities, even if in the early stage they were little more that tent cities, and that change to people’s lives demanded more entertainment. The establishment of drinking houses led to entertainment and much of this entertainment involved the singing of songs. Many goldfield towns had what were described as ‘singing rooms’.
There were also a growing number of newspapers and magazines, many of which carried songs and topical parodies. These songs, whatever their source, were often viewed as ‘news’ and also an important link with ‘back home’. This collection will publish many of these songs only recently discovered by digital research.
One of the earliest songs published appeared in a Sydney newspaper, Empire, 22 May 1851, as ‘Song For The Miners. No. I’ and referred specifically to Ophir and Bathurst. ‘Dame Fortune’ is mentioned. Gold was often described as ‘dust’.
Away to the Bathurst Diggings.
Away, away to the Bathurst ground,
Where the “dust” is brightly shining:
Away, away to the “Diggins” found,
Where the boys are busily mining.
And Midas, my boy, in thy turn thou’lt be,
If Dame Fortune but smile on thy clay;
But, while rocking the cradle right merrily,
Keep the ass’s ears far away !
Away, away, to the Ophir glen,
Where the boys the sands are laving ;
And the “Diggins” ring with gladness again,
To the songs of the miners slaving.
The same issue of Empire carried a story indicating just how crazed Sydney had become, and the important outlying settlement of Parramatta in particular.
‘Parramatta. The people in this Town are in a state of madness; it appears, everyone, rich and poor, are determined to leave it directly, and go to the Diggings, a great number have left here already and a very large party leaves here in the course of 10 days, with their Captain, Mr. H. Taylor, junior, who thinks that Gold Digging, will be much better than butchering. His party seem to spare no expense; they are taking everything that is required, with six months’ provisions. He has been the means of causing a great excitement in Parramatta, by bringing under their eyes a large cradle – a thing they say, they never saw before. All that he prays for is, that he may not rock the child to sleep, but rock the gold in his pocket; but I wish him luck if he gets it.’
Another ‘Song for Miners’ appeared in Empire a few days later, 24 May, this one invoking the ‘god of the gold creek’ to answer prayers for luck.
Song for Gold Miners
Softly as falls the bell-bird’s song,
Our shovels we ply and our hopes grow strong;
Soon as the loaves in store looks small,
For Bathurst we’ll start with our golden “haul”.
Dig, brothers dig! the dust shines bright,
The cradle’s at work, and the labour’s light.
Why should we yet our souls alarm?
There is gold enough the fond eye to charm;
But when the snow locks up the mine,
Oh ! sadly we’ll then our task resign.
Stay, winter, stay ! the dust shines bright,
The cradle’s at work, and the labour’s light.
Sweet Ophir’s mine, — the sun and moon
Shall see us diggers make fortunes soon;
God of the gold creek, hear our prayers.
Oh ! grant us fine weather and honest shares!
Stay, winter, stay ! the dust shines bright,
The cradle’s at work, and the labour’s light.
The following account of a public meeting conducted one month after Hargraves’ discovery makes for fascinating reading as it captures the spirit of the gold rush as the audience listen to the advice of three individuals, assumedly councillors, who had seen the Bathurst goldfields and reported to the community of Parramatta. One gets the sense that the entire population was intent on going to the diggins. Apart from offering advice on what to take, when to travel, what to expect, the councillors also pointed to the fact that the colony was about to be changed forever including the prophesy that the gold rush would result in the early termination of the convict transportation system which had, by this stage, become an issue of immense debate.
Sydney Morning Herald 10 June 1851. Parramatta meeting about the gold.
‘Messrs. Oakes and Byrnes, M C.’s, returned from the gold fields on the evening of Thursday last, and the next morning the following requisition was sent to them : –
‘To James Byrnes and George Oakes, Esquires, M.C.’s.” Gentlemen,-As you have returned from the gold mines beyond Bathurst, we, the inhabitants of Parramatta, are desirous of knowing your opinion and advice as to whether it would be advisable to turn our attention to that most important discovery of gold to better our condition, along with those who have already gone before.
“Will you be pleased to call a public meeting of the inhabitants, at such time and such place as you may think proper to appoint, to meet our wishes in that respect.”. The requisition was numerously signed.
Accordingly, a public meeting was held at 7 o’clock the same evening, and we may say, that during a residence of thirty years in this town we have never witnessed so crowded a meeting. It is calculated that between six and seven hundred were inside, and vast numbers outside the Court House. A short time after the meeting had opened, the staircase, containing about thirty persons, gave way, and came down with a crash; great alarm was created, but fortunately no lives were lost, one person named Hughes, innkeeper, of Prospect, was carried out severely hurt in the loins, and some others seriously bruised.
Mr John Hamilton was called to the chair, and after reading the requisition, and stating briefly the object of the meeting, requested that the best order might be maintained, Mr James Byrnes, M C., came forward and after a few introductory remarks said, “that after proceeding as far as possible with the carriage towards the diggings, their friends furnished them with saddle horses, and a significant uniform of blue serge, tin pots, &c. to descend to the diggings.” The speaker stated that as regards the question of a great quantity of gold being in the district referred to, that might strictly be relied upon; but as regards the effect that such a change of affairs would have upon our community, that was a question worthy of serious consideration for it was undeniable that the stockholder, the sheep farmer, the agriculturist, the manufacturer, the merchant, and the shipping interest, must all expect a vast reversion of affairs, and that not for the better, at least for some time. Parties would find it best to prepare for disappointment and suffering in their several interests, under the persuasion of its ultimately turning out for the general interest of the country; such as can bear up against temporary losses and suffering, which for the present must take place, will be more than recompensed by the tide of prosperity that will afterwards flow in upon us. Port Phillip has exulted over us in the Middle District; South Australia has been lauded to the skies before the British community for its rich mines of copper ore; Moreton Bay has impatiently called for separation, and spoken of the middle district with contempt as retrograding and gliding into adversity; but such vaunting must now terminate, mid the day is come for rejoicing, not in copper mines, cotton-fields, or coal mines, but in the richest of all commodities, gold! In reference to the interest of himself and brother, he considered it quite clear that a perfect damp was thrown upon the establishment that had cost years of exertion and expense; all must now be laid prostrate; there was hardly a man to stand by them, or one willing to keep there vast machinery at work. The only course he thought it his duty to pursue was to book up the establishment, and await patiently a reaction of affairs; and in the meantime follow the people with the cradle apparatus, and thankfully pick up the crumbs that fall therefrom. But to return to the recital of what they had seen, he would remark that after they mounted their horses, they found a good road to Yorkey’s Corner; from thence they proceeded to the diggings and soon witnessed the rocking of cradles, separating of rocks, shoveling of earth, &o. The process of washing was carried on with much exertion in about forty minutes thirty buckets of earth were placed in a cradle, which stands partly in the water the man who rocks it at the same time dips the water after a while the deposits are taken from the cradle- first the top earth, next the heavier sediment, comprising emery or particles of iron, then the drift sand, and lastly the precious metal. From observation, and conversation with many persons, ¡t was his (Mr, Byrne’s) opinion that those who work with care and attention upon an average make the most; though instances have occurred where par- ties wrought for a week without obtaining enough to pay for rations whilst some have been blessed with extraordinary results, as in the case of the four men who worked but two days and got £400. But from deliberate calculation he should say that the average earnings of the bulk would produce £1 per diem. In one instance sixteen men obtained £180 value in a fortnight. Some have obtained two or three pounds of gold, whilst others only got the same number of ounces. He believed that were it the lot of many to find pieces of four pound weight, the effect would prove fatal; as it is not easy to describe the petrifying effect that the discovery of lumps had upon the mental faculties. Person’s at the ‘diggins’ are not generally satisfied unless they find lumps; whereas it is believed, especially by Mr. Rudder, a person of some experience, that by perseverance in washing, the gold is got as fine as flour. I discovered very soon the general unwillingness on the part of the diggers to give the slightest information in reference to the quantity obtained. He would state an instance in which he stood watching a lad who was hard at work, and all of a sudden picked up a piece of gold he instantly concealed it, and in a manner as though he had stolen it, looked fiercely round to see if he was observed, He (.Mr B) went towards him and said, “Well, how do you get on?” he replied, “Oh, very badly – there’s nothing but dust and rubbish.” Mr. Byrnes then asked him what it was he held in his hand, telling him he (Mr. B, was not a digger. The boy then produced a piece of gold of about an ounce and a half in weight. Mr Byrnes continued that he had told the meeting the bright side of the question, and he was not willing to expose the dark side. (Cries of “Go on.”) Well, he would tell them plainly he did not expect to see such labour, he thought to meet with more loose soil, capable of easy digging. Provisions were exceedingly dear, flour 1s per lb. tobacco Is a fig, mutton, 4d. and was expected to be 6d. tea, sugar, &c. equally high slops not much in demand. All you meet are diggers searching for gold; and they have no sympathy for each other. One thing he would say, that counter jumpers, quill-drivers, tailors, and the like have no business there; strictly speaking they ought lo be quarrymen stout hardy labourers to cope with the climate and severe labour being without a house to cover them by day or night. He (Mr B) slept in a bed with nine or ten persons, and but for the humanity of Mr Oakes in keeping his back warm, he should have come off but second best; but on waking the last night he slept at the diggings, the rain teemed down upon him. The diggers extended two miles, and a party had gone five miles. From Yorkey’s corner to the fullest extent of the creek, about fifteen miles, mid if there are not fresh discoveries, that would be turned up in one month but in conversation with Mr Hargraves upon this subject, and he believed a more disinterested person was not to be found-he had not pocketed a sixpence-worth of the treasure his words were, “Bless you, I can find employment for one hundred thousand men” He (Mr Byrnes-) would ask, may not our gracious Sovereign pride herself upon having in this country it treasure more valuable than any of the other British dominions. Some of every nation will soon think of setting their houses in order, and emigrating to share the gold with them. His first remarks should be to advise any one proceeding from this place to respect the laws; assist the authorities; respect the Sabbath, and show a model of fellow feeling to all.
Mr. Oakes, M C, was called upon, and stated that he could do little more than confirm every assertion made by Mr. Byrnes. He believed there was plenty of gold at Ophir. He had purchased a quantity for the purpose of making rings to present to his children, to be kept and handed down as a memento of the first gold discovered in Australia. Persons must not sup pose that gold can be purchased cheap at the gold field. For instance, his brother had purchased five shillings’ worth, and when weighed here, it was not found to be worth more than three shillings and sixpence.. Mr. Oakes next, enumerated the various articles necessary to be taken such as tin dishes, tin dippers, a gardener’s trowel, crowbars, picks, cross-cut saws to remove the timber, maul and wedges, buckets, spades, in shape of an Irish shovel, and a box for the fine gold; also, some spare sheet iron, as the bottom of the hopper of the cradle soon wore out with constant friction: plenty of bed-clothes and stretchers to keep them from the damp earth. He (Mr. Oakes) saw a little, ragged fellow, five years old, offer gold for sale worth £I. 5s., which he had obtained in a very short time with an old tin dish. He saw many children amongst the diggers, but he certainly disapproved of it. He was at the diggings on the Queen’s birthday, and he must bear his humble testimony to the loyally there displayed, for numbers of salutes of twenty- one guns were fired and all seemed to pride them selves on being British subjects, as a good many united and sang the National Anthem. He advised all not to be in a hurry to go at this season of the year, although he believed two doctors were going from this place. He was much struck with the backwardness of the Government for such delay as had been manifested. Had they sent a Commissioner in the first instance, measures might have been arranged for issuing licenses, and preserving order and affording protection.
There was no protection either at the diggings or to the wives and families who were left behind? In reference to the journey to the diggings, there is a road about forty miles, in a north-west direction of Bathurst that you cannot take teams, but must use pack-horses. When they first arrived, there were rather more than six hundred; but when they left there were double the number. Sometimes the water rises in the creek twenty feet high, and would consequently wash in all the excavations again; the Summer Hill Creek is about fifty or seventy yards wide. He (Mr O.) met so.no men who asked for employment at 10s’per day. There was plenty of swamp oak for fire wood, but not much building timber The Rev Mr Chapman preached on the gold field, and had many to hear him some continued to work at the commencement, but were constrained to leave off for the the remainder of the Sabbath. He, Mr Oakes, gave the same advice as Mr Byrnes, viz, to show a due regard to the laws of both God and man.
Mr. Byrnes rose and said, be did not approve of what Mr. Oakes had said about the government for it might be easy for him to make laws end regulations, and promptly enforce them in n private establishment but not in so vast an affair as the present. If the executive had ruled upon the impulse; they might have been blamed for too great precipitancy in a matter that for some time was said to be a hoax, and Mr.Oakes would have been one of the first to do it. Before he sat down, he would state that from what he had witnessed of the foolish idea of a cradle, prompted him to suggest that hoop iron bottoms to the hoppers was the best, leaving of course proper openings; they would last longer and stand more friction than either tin, zinc, or sheet iron.
Mr Oakes said, to talk of one Commissioner issuing licenses to 3000 people was quite absurd, and unless the Government shows the public that their officers have deceived them by not furnishing prompt information, they are to blame; but should the former be the case, the officers deserve to be dismissed. He believed that in one more month there would be 10,000 persons on the ground. One thing was certain in the matter, namely, that the transportation question would be at once and for ever settled.
Mr Dunn, who accompanied Messrs. Oakes and Byrnes, made a. few remarks confirmatory of the’ foregoing statements, adding that he had “rocked the cradle” during his stay, but his honest opinion was, that men who were in business and doing moderately well, ought not to leave their calling. Men who are working on the roads for 2s 6d per day may go if they can provide clothing, bedding, and provision’s; but, for himself, he should not go back till the whole of Parramatta went – then of course he must make one. He believed that in about six months a reaction would take place ; but he would rather proceed to Goulburn to search for the gold, and take the reward. Mr Oakes stated that a gentleman had left by the mail for the Argyle district that evening upon the same mission.
A vote of thanks was given to Messrs Oakes and company for their valuable information. After which, Mr Ryan, the chief constable, informed the Chairman that they were responsible for the destruction of the staircase. The meeting then broke up at a late hour.’
Another popular magazine published in Sydney was Bells Life in Sydney & Sporting Reviewer and the issue 16 August 1851 carried a song which the editor apologetically notes ‘was written by Henry Monks. a plain hardworking hand. We publish the above as the production of an illiterate man; and although the lines do not possess much poetic merit, yet they afford a good graphic description of the Diggings, the Diggers and their doings.-(Ed, B.L.S.) Songs published in newspapers and magazines of this period tended to be florid prose and lacking in the honesty of anonymous folk songs. Henry Monks song certainly captures the spirit of the diggings and it is interesting to see his references to honesty and, in the last verse, that food was readily available. As more and more diggers swarmed onto the goldfields, especially those who had travelled from Europe and America, both honesty and food supply changed for the worse. sovs = sovereigns. gigging = as in a horse and gig.
A Song- of the Ophir Diggings
(Tune: Bow Wow Bow)
Let’s thank the enterprising men who sent us all a gigging
Since they found out the golden stream where thousands now are digging;
When first I heard about those mines I thought it all a story
Until I got well grounded truth from a shepherd wise and hoary;
Says he, “My son if there you go, you’ll find that I’m not rigging.
But take a spade, a pick, and dish, there’s lots of gold for digging.”
Bow Wow Wow (repeat last line of each verse.)
So on my nag I mounted and with full supplies I started
But I was nearly turning back through jests as I departed;
My master swore that I was mad; my mistress I was raving;
Thinks I, I’m not the only fool for yellow metal craving;
There’s parsons, clerks, J.P.’s and all togged out in mining rigging
Just rushing fit to break their necks to Ophir gold mine digging.
When I got there to my delight I found it was no gammon;
So I lit my pipe and quaffed a tot-full to the health of mammon
Said one-” I’ve found n nugget bright, for two hours just, I sought it”
It bumped down thirty sovs. by scale, the sheeny Austin bought it;
‘Twas he who sent the news abroad, but most thought he was rigging.
But now like swallows here they fly to test the Ophir digging.
In hundreds hither now they flock with cradles on their shoulders.
With knife and pistol in their belts to frighten all beholders;
‘Tis strange to sec the motley group whilst their machines are rocking.
While lumps of gold fall down like lead to fill each digger’s stocking:
Their camps are like the native blacks’, in tents like gypsies pigging.
They care defy; sing jolly songs about the Ophir digging.
At night when all the fires are lit, ’tis an illumination;
The guns pop off; they shout ‘huzza’ as if at Coronation;
The old men tell their tales of love, tho young-uns full of laughter
Declare that when their fortune’s made some sweet girl they’ll be after;
Then through the night the sounds you’ll hear of whistling, humming, jigging
And all to praise the poor man’s friend, the Ophir gold mine digging.
‘Twas said by slothful stop-at-homes, tho diggers were all starving,
We’ve lots of bread and at our boards fat meat we’re always carving;
We’ve tea galore and something strong we use in moderation;
And all are honest here as men in highest occupation;
Our goods we leave unwatched, exposed; there’s nothing heard of prigging
So here’s good luck to New South Wales and Ophir gold mine digging.
Australia’s Our Home
Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, was established in 1845, and always had a topical verse for most occasions and, in its issue of 31 May 1851 it offered the following ditty suggesting that the Australian goldfields were proving far larger than California.
“On the gold-digging epidemic now raging in New South Wales”
Off to the Diggins’
It’s off to the diggins we’ll go,
Whether they’ll let us or no ;
We’ll scramble for gold
Through wet, dirt, and cold,
And it’s off to the diggins we’ll go,
It’s off to the diggings we’ll go,
And perhaps without striking a blow
We may fill up our bags,
And then mounting some nags,
We’ll cut to the . . . . oh oh.
Gold’s call’d the elixir of life,
It certainly causes some strife;
But what of all that.
We are not quite so flat.
But that we can use dirk or knife.
Then it’s off to the diggins’ we’ll go,
And the Quaker’s advice we’ll pursue;
With pick axes and spades,
We are such devil-may-care blades,
We’ll prove California no go.
There seem to have been many ‘We’re off to the diggings’ type of song and all thick with optimism. It is small wonder the world went crazy. This one was printed as a broadside in 1854 and is from the Berckleman Collection.
Here’s off, here’s off to the diggings of gold,
Australia’s our home where wealth is untold;
Up, up, with your picks, take your shovel in hand.
Here’s off, here’s off to a happier land.
We dread not the voyage, though distant and long,
We’ve a compass to steer by, our arms they are strong.
And ne’er into misery unheeded we’ll fall,
While Melbourne’s rich gold fields are open to all.
Quick, quick, ‘All’s serene,’ – at trifles don’t stand
I’ll warrant we’ll soon have a fortune in hand;
Up, up, with your picks, let your courage by bold,
Here’s off, here’s off to the diggings of gold.
The gold fields are near – see the diggers how thick –
What matters, here’s into the work like a brick,
What to us is the toll, or palm-blister’d hands,
If a barrow we wheel o’er the gold yielding sands.
They may tell us of hardships – of dangers unknown,
Of knives and of bullets – but there we will roam;
With mountains above us, and valleys below,
To Melbourne’s rich gold fields right onward we go.
Huzza! fellow-townsmen, ye may dig till you’re rich,
The gold-fields are open, our tents there we’ll pitch,
Up, up, with our picks, the treasures unfold,
Here’s off, here’s off to the diggings we’ll go.
Equipping fossickers with everything from food to shovels sent prices rocketing and it became clear that many traders would strike it rich without going anywhere near the goldfields. Food supplies were erratic in the colonies and despite the government’s emphasis on encouraging food production it was still at the mercy of the unpredictable climate. The following despatch from the New South Wales goldfields published in the Courier (Hobart) 14 June 1851 gives an indication of the price hikes.
NEWS FROM THE NEW GOLD COUNTRY. ‘BY the arrival of the Emma, from Sydney, we have news to the 3rd instant, being a few days in advance of that received at our last issue. The intelligence is vastly important, and in the first place we lay the following extract from a letter received by a merchant in this city before our readers If possible more excitement exists now than ever. Since I wrote you last every able-bodied man in Sydney and its vicinity have either gone to the ‘diggins,’ or are preparing to start: labour is therefore exceedingly high. Carters, porters, and others are now charging cent, per cent., and in many cases 200 per cent upon their former charges. The high price of flour and bread has also tended materially to get up the price of labour. Large parcels of the gold have come to town, and report states there is in Bathurst upwards of £40,000 worth waiting a safe conveyance to Sydney. I have seen lumps brought to Sydney weighing from 2 ounces up to 4 pounds of pure virgin gold.
Several large pieces are now on their way to London for exhibition at the Industrial Meeting, this will tend to direct attention to this great discovery, and ere this day 12 months I would not be surprised to see 1000 sail at anchor in our harbour without a man on board. That our present population will in less than two years be doubled, I am quite satisfied. I would particularly direct your attention, and the attention of your relatives and friends, to the great profits that will next year be derived from flour, grain of all sorts, hay, potatoes, butter, cheese, fruit, as well as for every article of luxury, make arrangements to plant and sow every inch of available land you can with grain and potatoes. Agriculture will be totally neglected here. Gold is continued to be discovered in many other parts of the colony, having the same geological formation as the Bathurst district: yesterday a man arrived per steamer from Maitland bringing with him pieces of pure gold found at the William’s River, where I hear hundreds are now at work.’
One of the most popular songs of the 1840s and 50s was Thomas Hood’s ‘Song Of The Shirt’ and, not surprisingly it was parodied many times including ‘Song of the Sock’, ‘Song of the Knitting Needle’ etc. but the following song, about the rush to Australia, appears to be the earliest and, I suspect, it was circulated and published in England before being published in the Geelong Advertiser & Intelligencer (Victoria) 9 February 1853.
Song Of The Dirt
(Parody: Song of the Shirt)
Dig, dig, dig,
To pierce for the golden ore; Dig–dig.-dig
Till you sweat at every pore. Dig – dig – dig
To root in the deep black sand,
And this is to be a citizen
Of a free and Christian land.
And it’s oh ! to be a slave
To the Heathen and the Turk,
To rid the hands of a Christian man
From such dirty and toilsome work!
Till the back is almost broke
With your legs and your thighs in soak;
Revolving an old tin pan.-
And warbling about with a shake and a splash
Till you doubt you’re a Christian man!
Soul, and body, and mind;
Mind, and body, and soul,
Oh ! can it be right
When they’re all confined
To the basin and the bowl
When it’s only a little heap.
Till it “‘grandly” grows more deep.
And stow it away in a bag,
Till you gaze with eyes of wild surprise.
On the contents of that rag!
Oh! can it be here I stand ?’
And can it be gold I see?
Ho! ho! I am off for a Christian land,
To spend it so merrily !
Glanmire was part of the rush to the Bathurst district. It is now a small settlement on the Great Western Highway. The song is another from J. Small’s Sydney Songster. It is set to the tune ‘Boys of Seven Dials’ The Seven Dials was the home to many London broadside printers. It is close to London’s Covent Gardens.
The Rush To Glanmire. (Tune: Boys of Seven Dials)
0h, listen brother diggers all, I hope I shall not tire;
I’ll tell of my adventures when I went to the Glanmire.
The news of gold inflam’d my heart With some most strange desire;
And I left Sydney town by rail,
To go to the Glanmire.
So you’ll agree to pity me;
My woes I hope won’t tire;
Believe me I have rued the day,
I went to the Glanmire.
Oh I pack’d up a stock of clothes,
And by the train did steer;
And strange to me, I do declare,
Was that ere “railway keer.”
At Penrith town they set me down,.
The journey did me tire;
My cash was low, and sad was I,
When off to the Glanmire.
The mountains on that road were high,
And 1 was soon footsore ;
I rail’d and swore at my old mate,
Who my abuses bore.
I felt as if I should have died,
The journey did so tire;
And I was totally knock’d up,
Before I reached Glanmire.
Arrived at last, one Mr. Briggs,
(’Twas so they called his name) ;
Persuaded me to try and buy
An old and work’d out claim.
If ever I do so again,
Tie round my neck a wire;
Spoken —“ Yea, strangle me with a cord, a rope, or a gridiron.”
For I was totally done brown,
Upon that place Glanmire.
Oh, right and left, my luck I tried,
And found it wouldn’t pay;
My hands were blister’d as I sank
About two feet a day.
My back ached as I dug for gold,
And much I did perspire;
I wished myself in Sydney town,
Away from the Glanmire.
As every hole had prov’d a “shice”
A t last I did depart;
To Sydney town I dragged m y limbs,
With almost broken heart.
Near starved to death upon the way,
I did not much admire
The trip I lately took to dig
For gold at the Glanmire.
So all new chums who think to try
At Glanmire for good luck ;
Don’t heed the tidings which have come
Of new leads being struck.
Be warn’d by my disasters there,
And if you do require
A change of life, don’t waste your time
In going to Glanmire.
The discovery of gold in the colony of Victoria in the same year produced a bigger reaction than the New South Wales find and it was to prove the most successful, especially for Ballarat and Bendigo. Reports heralded bigger nuggets and more of them. People really did believe they could pick up their fortune just by walking around and turning rocks over. It was, of course, not that simple.
Geelong was the gateway to the golden west and this gushing report from the Geelong Advertiser, 4 October 1851.
ALARMING SPREAD OF THE YELLOW FEVER.— We cannot quite say that we are heartily tired, or utterly sick of hearing nothing talked about except Gold, because it would be sheer affectation to pretend indifference to a matter which absorbs the thoughts of every one, and is unhinging all the relations of our social condition. But there is certainly something very curious, if not even alarming, in the extraordinary spread of the ‘Yellow Fever.’ It has smitten the entire community. From the old crone to the hoyden girl, from the grey-haired man to the beardless juvenile, nothing is talked about but ‘Gold.’ It absorbs all passion, all interest, all feeling. It is disorganizing our social relations. It is unhinging every one, it is deranging the functions of social life; it is literally unbalancing common sense, and upsetting the sturdiest understanding. The wildest fictions of German romance are becoming reality. And the most charming part of the matter is, that there is no diabolical compact to be entered into, nor mysterious process to be gone through. You are not required to sign a deed with a pen dipped in the “ensanguined fluid” or “purple fountain” of the victim. No compact with the evil one is necessary. You have simply to throw up your situation, rig yourself out, and march out to the “Diggins.” The torrent is too strong, and nothing will abate it, until it is seen and felt that all is not gold that glitters.
That much inconvenience, suffering, and loss will be endured by individuals, we admit. But the thing will right itself. Our mineral treasures are to us what the ‘bullion vaults’ are to the Bank of England; and though trade and labour may be temporarily convulsed, we cannot be otherwise than ultimately benefited, by that increase of capital, that augmentation of our monetary power, which will be the result of our auriferous discoveries.’
Diggers, reflecting the times, were generally quite superstitious and believed in the mystique of ‘Lady Luck’. Several songs have luck as their theme although they also offered solace to the unsuccessful diggers just in case Lady Luck wasn’t listening.
This song invokes ‘Lady Luck’ to bestow riches on the digger so he can look after his family back in Ayrshire, Scotland. The song was published in ‘Half a Dozen Ballads For Australian Emigrants’ London, 1853.
A Ballad For The Gold Diggers
Luck boys luck! A nugget of gold
Big as my fist in the blest black mould Luck!
A gallon of bright yellow grains
Dotted like stars in the white quartz veins.
Luck? Can I keep it by wallowing in vice –
Fighting and swearing and drinking and dice?
D’ye call that luck? No luck could be worse,
Than picking up nuggets that brought such a curse!
Luck? My luck is good luck let it be –
Blessings for others, and plenty for me;
Comfort without, and contentment within,
Un-curs’d by folly, unconquered by sin.
Luck! Good luck! This hillock shall give,
My sisters in Ayrshire enough while they live,
And haply bring father, and mother and all,
From want and the workhouse to Liberty Hall.
Luck! In your little heap there hide
My farm and its fields on a green hillside
With flocks, and bairns, and the braw wee wife,
And – God’s good grace on a good man’s life.
Following the announcement of ‘pay dirt’ in Victoria one of Australia’s most successful newspapers, the Melbourne- based Argus, started to feature what could only be described as ‘sensationalist’ articles that fueled the gold rushes. They also posted regular songs about goldfield life.
This song from the Argus, 9 June 1851, encourages people to ‘shut up their shops’ and advising ‘you’ve got but to dig there to find it’ and that the diggings were already inhabited by all classes of society including aristocrats, priests, shep- herds, sailors, doctors, timber-workers and lawyers.
Hurrah For The Diggins’
Hurrah! for the diggins! come join in the cry—
Let us pack up our swag without bother—
With a well temper’d pick and a cradle, we’ll try
Our luck there as well as another.
Hurrah! for the diggins!—come shut up your shop,
And over the hills let us ramble;
I’ve dined upon worse than a damper and chop,
And we’re yet in time for the scramble.
Hurrah! for the diggins! there’s gold in galore:
You’ve got but to dig there to find it;
Though you’re up to your middle while washing for ore,
As for consequence,—pshaw! never mind it!
Hurrah! for the diggins! come shoulder your spade;
The secret we’ll quickly unravel;
I doubt not we’ll soon do a rattling trade,
When we’re shaking our bowls full of gravel.
Hurrah! for the diggins! come hasten away,
You’ll find there, priests, doctors, and lawyers!
Hutkeepers and shepherds, in goodly array,
And seamen, and splitters, and sawyers!
Hurrah! for the diggins! you’ll find in the dirt
Some scions of high aristocracy,
Who are digging away in the humble blue shirt
In a mob of the lowest democracy.
Hurrah! for the diggins! hurrah for the road!
Come, muster your tools each brave party—
Hope nerves every limb, while it lightens our load;
Then, hurrah! for the diggins! all hearty.
The colonial government were rightfully very concerned about people abandoning their work and leaving the colonies in disarray. There was more than a sense of panic in the air and rumour mills were in over-drive. Who wouldn’t want to share in the vast fortune offered by gold? The government grappled with how to control the ‘bolter’ situation – a ‘bolter’ being anyone who abandoned their work – and it wasn’t long before the concept of licensing the diggers became a hot issue. In the meantime one proposed solution was to refuse a digger’s license to anyone who ‘bolted’ from their employment.
Geelong Advertiser. 4 October 1851. CAUTION TO GOLD SEEKERS.—With a view to check the system of “bolting” from employers, now unfortunately too much in vogue with the employed, the Government have come to the wholesome resolution not to issue licenses to dig to parties who are unable to produce regular discharges from their last employers. There may be some difficulty in enforcing this rule, but if regularly enforced, and so it ought to be, much annoyance and confusion will be saved to both master and man. In order however to enable the Gold Commissioner to discriminate in any case where a doubt may be entertained as to the applicant’s right to a license, it would be well for employers who are unceremoniously left in the lurch by their servants, to drop that official a line to that effect, stating the circumstances under which they have been so left; this precaution would in very many cases doubtlessly have the effect of depriving the “bolter” of the advantages to be derived from the gold fields altogether; and send him back if not a better, at all events a wiser man.
Even the publishers of newspapers were not immune from the ‘bolter’ problem as seen from this item from the Geelong Advertiser, 4 October, 1851, which it announces that one of its competitors, The Victoria Colonist, had shut its doors and the Geelong Advertiser had also been affected saying, ‘As regards ourselves, we are determined to maintain our daily issues; but we are afraid we shall be compelled to reduce the size of our sheet, to bring its punctual publication within the capabilities of our thinned establishment.’
‘The Victorian Colonist’. —Our contemporary has determined to suspend publication for a couple of months, in consequence of his compositors and press-men, suffering from the all-pervading gold mania, having resolved upon a trip to the Gold Fields. As no alternative remained but to head a current it was useless to oppose, the proprietor of the “Colonist” wisely determined to accompany his workmen in their excursion’
In just a short space of a week the Geelong Advertiser, clearly spooked by the gold mania, published an editorial pleading for sanity.
Geelong Advertiser. 7 October 1851. ‘One more question of vital importance remains to be considered. What is to become of the present year’s [wool] clip and harvest? There is, we admit, danger to be apprehended; but we think there is energy to overcome it. Up to the present time there has been no inconvenience felt; and we feel satisfied that there will always be a large section of the working population who will prefer their ordinary avocations. All superfluous servants will have to be dispensed with, and for a time the sheep will have to be run in larger flocks. Wages will be temporarily raised; the profits of the woolgrower will be reduced; while the gains of the agriculturist will most likely be enhanced in a greater ratio than his expenses. A few may be injured, but the classes benefited will form a large majority. So long as the golden rumours were merely echoed from a distance, they sounded more like romance than reality, and quiet people were at least not disturbed by the actual spectacle of a whole population, an entire town, rushing off to the “Diggings.” But the romance has now become reality. Geelong is actually and visibly a moving encampment; those that are going are in a state of hilarious delirium, and those that are staying are in a state of excited stupor—if we may use such an expression. Scarcely any one can or will work at their ordinary callings. A short time ago, it would have been almost impossible to realise the spectacle now passing before our eyes. It is not alone the moving panorama which our town exhibits, the restless excitement, the feverish throb of our social state; every thing is disturbed or upset, and madness rules the hour. Nothing but time and bitter experience will calm down the excitement of the community. So long as men hear of extraordinary “luck” in gold hunting, it will create and maintain a craving of restlessness, which can only be subdued by repeated evidences of thorough disappointment; and we must wait until time and experience impress upon the community the great fact, that all are not destined to find gold, nor to be happy with it, even should they prove successful in obtaining it. Meantime, the fever must work itself out—as no doubt the gold fields will be, whatever may be their present richness.’
A short time later the newspaper assessed the colony’s situa- tion and the effect on Geelong in particular.
Geelong Advertiser. 22 October 1851. ‘Various parties having returned from the diggings to Geelong, the streets have ceased in some measure to wear that deserted holiday appearance which have characterised them for some weeks past. They are still, however, comparatively dull looking, not only from the want of the usual number of stragglers and business men, but from many of the shops being shut up, owing to their occupiers having gone to Ballarat. In the suburbs a more visible change is manifested still, most of the brick works, which at this season of the year were wont to be in full and healthy operation, are now at a stand still. Instead of the volumes of smoke, which not ungracefully emanated from them when associated with the rewards of industry, the inhabitants of these districts are in the enjoyment of a pure atmosphere. An observer cannot but be sensibly impressed with the number of empty and dilapidated cottages to be met with, which only a few weeks ago were the scenes of thriving industry, and the habitations of comfort. Some of these have the windows and doors nailed up with spars, others have their doors open and windows taken out. Little neat gardens are left to the mercy of the weeds, or to the destructive propensities of mischievous boys. Altogether, the appearance of our suburban district is indicative of having been visited with some awful calamity, which had bereft many of these once thriving and cheerful dwellings of their inhabitants. Such are some of the immediate effects of the gold diggings on our prosperity; the remote ones, it is hoped, will carry with them characteristics of a more cheerful and satisfactory nature. The city of Melbourne wears quite as deserted an appearance as the town of Geelong. There are perhaps a less proportion of shops closed, but those, which are open, do very little business. In Geelong, there has been a degree of bustle with dealers in gold-diggers’ stores, which has been well sustained, and the return of successful diggers has given a hope-inspiring tone to dullness itself.’
When the news of Australian gold reached England, around July 1851, London newspapers and magazines joined the mania with sensationalist articles full of speculation. Excitement spread across the Empire and to neighboring Ireland and central Europe. Almost overnight hundreds of thousands of people made the decision to make a rush to the diggins’.
The following song, written by Andrew Park with piano music by Alfred Mullen, was published in London soon after the first announcement of the discovery. It’s cover drawing depicted the hopeful prospector. The pejorative term ‘rich as a Jew’ is from the Middle Ages when the majority of successful merchants were Jewish. ‘Figgins and Wiggins and Spriggins’ were fictional characters mentioned in the 18th century Britannic Magazine, or entertaining repository of heroic adventure. Vol. 5. n.d. circa 1800 – 1820. I suspect, because of the length of the song, it must have originally been written for a stage production.
I’m Off To The Diggings.
I’m off to the diggings, pick, cradle and spade
For who but a bumpkin would stick to his trade
I’m off to the diggings to gather the gold,
For the wealth of Australia has never been told!
I’ve got my revolver, my tent and tea kettle,
My blankets and bed, and boots that are strong.
With a crucible ready to solve the bright metal,
I’m off bag and baggage to dig at Geelong!
I’m off to the diggings pick, cradle and spade,
For who but a bumpkin would stick to his trade?
I’m off to the diggings to gather the gold,
For the wealth of Australia has never been told!
What signifies life if a person be poor,
Nor friends nor relations will call at your door –
What signifies character, talent, or mind?
‘Tis riches that makes all the world to grow kind!
I’ll leave my old cot on the side of the mountain,
Those places revered both in history and song;
The heath-covered hills and the wide spreading fountain –
I’m off, bag and baggage, to dig at Geelong!
When once I have got half a million or more,
Oh, then I’ll return to my loved native shore;
I’ll court some fine lady and make her my wife,
And live like a prince all the rest of my life!
And honours will come when they see my great riches,
And carriages stop at my door in a throng;
No more this plodding and digging in ditches –
I’m off bag and baggage, to dig at Geelong!
Let’s Be Off to the Diggings, and get rich as a Jew
To sing is my intention,
But first I will just mention,
A man deserves a pension,
Who strikes up something new,
Which now I cannot do;
For pity it is ‘tis true
Invention gets exhausted,
And mine is oft a lost head,
Whenever I’m accosted
With “tell us something new”
All I can say to you
If you’d have something new,
O let’s be off to the diggings
Let’s be off to the diggings
Where Figgins and Wiggins and Spriggins
Are getting rich as a Jew
I say of those who’re fumbling
Through this old world, and grumbling;
Although it may be humbling,
They’d better be off to the new,
For here they only stew,
While they might laugh in lieu,
By to the diggings going –
The Yankees who are knowing
Exclaim, “I guess we’re showing
What he who digs might do,
Then why should people stew,
And stick home like glue?
They’d better be –
Of to the diggings etc
They tell us by free-trading Old England is de-grading,
And farmers keep upbraiding, And take a gloomy view
Of markets getting lower –
Corn does not pay the grower
Then, what with tithes and taxes
And rent that ne’er relaxes,
In such a rare one axes
What can a farmer do?
Why they must be –
Off to the diggings etc
The doctors join the cry, sir
And say, “we can’t deny, sir
That people getting wiser
On physics look askew
Practicioners, rather blue,
Instead of serge look rue Apothecaries’ noses
The ho-meo-o-pathic poses
By infintis’mal doses
And through this system new
Tis useless physic to brew,
Then what’ll the doctor do?
Why they’ll be off to the diggings
They’ll be off to the diggings
Where, either by delving or drugging
They’ll get rich as a Jew
Then go ahead each bold one
The new world is a gold one!
Ah! Long we’ve known the old one
Has but enough for the few!
Then like a cast off show,
I hope you’re in the queue
To leave the old world behind you
For one that offers to find you.
Young widows who are grieving
Young spinsters, who are wearing
A snare for love, are leaving
The old world for the new
And you’ll think of it too,
When you have bills come due
If sight of gold regales you
Or if you’ve had a failure
Go over to Australia
And ‘gin the world anew
Or, if you’ve lost the clue,
Of one you would pursue
Oh, you must go to the diggings etc
The clergy, military,
The workman wise and chary
And folks of England weary
Australia have in view
The Welsh to go are glad,
The Irish roving mad!
The Scotchman’s finger itches
And sailors give them hitches
Heave anchor, yeo-o-yo
And where mean they to go,
When they say yeo-o-yo
They mean to go to the diggings
They mean to go to the diggings
Where they’ll have grogging and jigging
On getting as rich as a Jew
Gold dust enough to blind you
High wages and plenty to do If half that’s said be true,
Gold lies about like dew
So let’s be off to the diggings
Let’s be off to the diggings
Where Figgins and Wiggins and Spriggins Are getting as rich as a Jew.
On the 1st July 1851 writs were issued to establish Victoria as a separate colony from New South Wales, days later gold was ‘officially’ discovered at two regions west of Melbourne town, Ballarat and then Bendigo. Early finds in 1850 had been concealed with the colonial authorities not convinced. Subsequent discoveries were also concealed as the New South Wales colonial authorities were already in panic mode over the Bathurst announcement. After Bathurst was officially recognised Victoria fell into place. The Victorian gold discover- ies yielded the richest flow of the precious metal, rivaling or exceeding that of California. Colonial Minstrel, Charles Thatcher, captured the spirit of the Victorian rushes in this song about the rush to Bryant’s Ranges.
(Tune: Bow Wow Wow)
Oh, what a curious world is this,
So various in its changes;
I’m now alluding to the rush,
Down there on Bryant’s Ranges,
The diggers are all hastening there,
As fast as they are able;
With tent and pick, and puddling tub,
And dish, and spade, and cradle.
Golden Square is out of town,
Their tents away, they’ve collared;
Kangaroo Gully’s gone sometime,
And Eagle Hawk has followed.
Dead Horse Flat looks flat indeed,
‘Their tools away they’ve carted;
And Ironbark some days ago,
With Sydenham Gully started.
The White Hills now appear quite blue
There’s few left in that quarter;
Sailor’s Gully’s short of hands,
But Long Gully is much shorter.
And on Commissioner’s Flat as well,
A very striking change is;
And all the world is hastening,
To the rush on Bryant’s Ranges.
Sheepshead now has lost its jaw,
So many have departed;
Job’s Gully out of patience got, An
d with old Tinpot started.
Pegleg’s given us leg bail,
And what a deal more strange is,
Old Blatherskyte has paid his debts,
And gone to Bryant’s Ranges.
Mother Hicks, that sells sly grog,
Went away on Sunday;
Sold right out, and sent back for
A cart load more on monday;
And Timmy Timkins, who you know,
Lives just about close handy;
Has started with a dray load full Of whiskey, Gin and Brandy.
When I went to work this blessed day
On the spot where I’m located;
My driving pick and puddling tub,
Had both absquatulated.
I found my cradle gone as well,
Says I, confound these changes;
No doubt, my tools are in full work,
Down there on Bryant’s Ranges.
Well, let those rush away that like,
I’m game to bet a fiver,
That I’ll not rush and lose the tin
I once did at Mclvor;
I’ll get good information first,
Before I make my changes;
And if it turns out well, why then –
Here’s off to Bryant’s Ranges.
Here is another original song, ‘as written and sung by Thatcher, at the Shamrock Hotel’. This was only located as I prepared the collection. It was published in the Bendigo Advertiser 20 Sept 1856. ” Dunolly is in the centre of the Victorian goldfields.
The Rush to Dunolly
(Tune: Over the Water to Charlie)
Oh what a great row is kicked up just now;
Strange reports all about here are flying;
New diggings are found, and to rush to the ground
Great numbers of people are dying.
They don’t wait to enquire, but seem all on fire ;
But to hurry away thus is folly,
For numbers they say come back every day,
And give bad accounts of Dunolly,
At Dunolly we’re told there is plenty of gold,
But the job is to know where to strike it.
Forty feet you go down and find you’re done brown
When the color ain’t there you don’t like it.
A nugget is found, and they rush all the ground,
But lots of ’em look melancholy,
And with hearts full of wee back to Bendigo go
And regret that they went to Dunolly.
Mister Coleman they say went away in a dray,
With his traps and a stunning pianner;
But his plans were all crossed, for his horses he lost,
In a most unaccountable manner.
He found them at last but the rain poured down fast:
I assure you he did’nt look jolly;
And his company too all begun to look blue,
As they trudged down the road to Dunolly,
I hear on the spot there’s a very rum lot;
Grog shops up by hundreds are springing;
Tents where they sell victuals, and places for skittles,
Theatres, and casinos and singing.
If boxing one loves be can put on the gloves
And spar like a brick and be jolly.
And I can tell you there is sticking up too
Every night at the famous Dunolly.
If there you’re rambling, there are places for gambling,
Where flats are soon eased of their ochre :
It’s a regular do if you sit down to loo,
And they nail you like winking at poker.
They go the whole hog, and the gals they sell grog;
There’s Jenny and Nelly and Polly;
And as at you they smile hocus you all the while,
That’s the dodge that they have at Dunolly.
While there’s ground here to pay I advise you to stay ;
Your ear to reports don’t be giving.
This ancient goldfield still is able to yield
To any poor man a good living..
Rush away if you like it, but if you don’t strike it;
You’ll have no one to blame for your folly.
When you find you’re done wrong you’ll think of my song
As you trudge slowly back from Dunolly.
In the following song, published in The Argus, 23 June 1851, signed ‘Elshie’, appears to have been written on Henry Frencham’s announcement that he intended to prospect for gold in Victoria. Frencham, an Irishman, was the discoverer of the Bendigo goldfields. Mr Hood was the government contracted chemist who worked for the Land’s Department, the authority to verify the gold.
The Rhyme of the Melbourne Mania.
I shall now the story tell,
How the lust for glittering ore,
Brought a sad disgrace upon
Melbourne people rich and poor.
From the Bathurst diggins spread
Far o’er all our pleasant land
News that heavy lumps of gold
Were picked up on every hand.
Then the shepherd left his flock, ‘
Then the Larry dropt his hod,
Then the tailor cut his cloth,
Then the ploughman cut the sod.
Then the starving lawyer’s clerk
Left his deed without a name,
Then the cobbler left his awl
Then the lover left his flame.
To the diggins hundreds hurried,
With hot haste and reckless speed
To the dangers of the journey
Blinded by their grasping greed.
Then our big-wigs thought dismayed,
As they saw the people fly,
All our glory had departed ;
Others thought ’twas all my eye.
But a meeting soon was called
Of those Melbourne gentry who
Fearing that they’d lose their all
Did not grudge to risk ‘a few’
There ’twas shown without dispute
Gold had ever proved a curse,
That to stop our onward course ,
Nothing could befall us worse
Than to find the cursed ore,
Whose effect would be to send,
From the path of honest toil.
Men on whom we all depend,
For the value of our wealth,
For the tending of our sheep,
For the baking of our bread,
For the safety of our sheep.
But as news of Bathurst gold
Was decoying men away
We must find a counter-curse
Nearer home, to make them stay ;
And to find the curse desired,
By each lover of our weal
Must be paid a handsome sum
All to fire our diggers’ zeal
Then the mob all clapped their hands,
And exclaimed with deafening roar
He shall get two hundred pounds
Who discovers golden ore.
On the morn a gallant squad
To the Plenty field repaired,
Hoping ere a week had past,
Each to have the plunder shared.
O’er the ranges then they sped,
Through each gully’s mud they toiled
Until night, when quite used up,
Underneath a tree they coiled.
Cold and bleak the morn arose,
To their work again they took,
Till at length they came upon,
Something heavy that did look.
Not unlike a piece of gold,
Then with cheers the welkin rung,
Scanned they all the treasure dear,
Then on horseback Frencham sprung,
Rowel deep he plunged his spurs,
Madly on the courser dashed,
Halting not till through our streets
Foaming and begrimed he’d splashed.
Through the city spread the news
Samples of the gold were shown,
Frencham’s squad may- proudly boast
Now the prize is all their own,
Once again the public met,
Much was talked of public good,
Then to test the mineral
Set to work was chemist Hood.
But alas the truth to tell
Ne’er a grain of gold I ween
Science from it could extract,
Frencham now looked rather green,
Burst the bubble with a crash,
Sheepish looked our public men,
Frencham bolted like a shot
Fortune’s freaks to chance again.
It appears that the subject of gold discoveries turned many Australians into poets and would-be songsmiths. Provincial newspapers published many such contributions and I include this one from Fremantle, West Australia, which concerns the 1870s gold rush in the West. It is typical and, for the time, topical, and contains many local references, particularly about individuals, lost in time. It was performed by the local amateur theatre. From The Herald (Fremantle) 10 September 1870
A Visit to the Gold Fields
(Tune: King of the Cannibal Isle)
Oh ! have you heard the news of late
About which the people all do prate,
From morn ’till night they are all agate,.
And it’s all about the Gold field !
As in the Bay the other night,
I chance’d to drop, when lo, a sight
Which nearly put me in affright
But it soon was turned into delight,
For just outside H. G’s store,
Such a thundering mob stood round the door,
And their tongues ran ninety to the score,
And all about the gold field !
So its rifum tifum galloping fun,
The work now fairly is begun,
And everybody’s off ding dong.;
For a visit to the gold field !
A little further down the street,
There an old friend I chanced to meet
With a shake of the hand he did me greet,
Saying have you heard about the gold field!
It’s really true this time they say,
And the people’s all going mad in the Bay,
And say’s they’ll go without delay,
If they have to tramp it all the way –
And traveling Sall’s got ready her pack,
And say’s she’ll hump it on her back;
She’ll wait for neither Bill nor Jack
But she’ll set off to the gold field !
The tailor’s wife’s in such a rage,
That she can’t in the affair engage,
Her grief she really can’t assuage
She’s thinking so much of the Gold field!
The old Fogies too, are making a fuss,
Say’s they it’ll make more pay for us;
You’d laugh to hear them thus discuss,
About going to carry the blunderbuss –
And Humpy Jennings leap’d for joy,
He swears he’ll go and carry his boy,
And in company with Tinker Toy.
He’s going to work in the Gold field .
And Tilly she skipped, about on her feet,
And says dear Billy we’ll rise the meat;
And the boys at the depot- we’ll starve and cheat
While the Beak’s away to the gold field !
And in her joy she stept a jig –
But falling athwart a half-starved pig
Which threw her against the filthy block,
And spoiled her crinoline and frock –
How you.would have laughed to have seen her I am sure,
As ‘about the shop she stamp’d and swore,
You never heard a Queen curse more
Than she did – but not at the gold field !
So now kind friends I’ll bid you farewell,
As there’s no more just at present to tell,
And hoping you all may succeed well,
I wish you safe to the gold field !
But oh! just fancy the morn they’ll start,
You’ll see them off in a bullock cart,
The Traveller, Humpy, and Tinker so smart.
The tailor’s wife will break her heart
And how the boys will shout and bawl,
To see H. Miller and P. Wall,
With cradle, pick’s, spades, shovels and all,
Just jogging off to the gold field!
Port Curtis, near the Fitzroy river, Queensland was one of the next gold rushes to create hysteria. This announcement, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 1858, indicates that the locals were first to ‘bolt’. It also mentions the ship Jenny Lind, named for the famous singer ‘The Swedish Nightingale’, Jenny Lind, of whom we will learn more later.
‘Australian alligators attacking a native girl’ 1867. Arthur Jackson. State Library of Victoria.
‘Discovery of a rich gold field on the Fitzroy River. By the arrival of the Jenny Lind, from Port Curtis, last night, we learn that the report of a gold-field having been discovered in this locality is authentic Mr. Wilmott, who came passenger by this vessel states that an extensive and rich field has been found. He has seen some very fine specimens, and parties on the spot, capable of expressing an opinion, are sanguine as to the existence of gold in large quantities. Port Curtis, and the neighboring stations, have been completely deserted by the male portion of the community, all having left for the new diggings.’
Researching resources like digital newspaper archives throws up continuing surprises. I had searched TROVE using key words like ‘gold song’ and although it threw up many songs included in this collection, it also taught me to be canny. Searching ‘Port Curtis“ “song” provided the next item – and it was published in The Launceston Examiner, Tasmania, 11 December 1858.
Port Curtis – Oh
The shades of night were falling fast,
When through the town a digger passed
A youth who shouldered pick and spade,
And cradle, too, most strangely made. Port Curtis, Oh
Over dusty roads since break of day,
The weary youth had sped his way,
And like a penny trumpet rung
The accents of that miner’s tongue, Port Curtis, Oh
All through the town he saw the light
Of windows gleaming clear and bright,
Hard by the taverns gas lamps shone,
But still he pushed on all alone.
Port Curtis, Oh
‘Beware the Fitzroy,’ old men said,
“The sun is burning overhead
Be not so rash but stay awhile;”
Yet still he answered with a smile, Port Curtis, Oh
“Oh, stay,” a fair one cried,” and rest
Your bushy head upon this breast,
The diggings there are all my eye ;
He only answered “by and, bye.” – Port Curtis. Oh
“Beware the dangers on your way,
The fearful prices you must pay ;
The sand-fly and mosquito’s bite,
The fever, too”-Cried he “all right.”
Port Curtis, Oh
At break of day, as outward bound,
A hark left for the promised ground,
A youth the deck came staggering on,
Still chaunting forth that well known song Port Curtis, Oh
A month had passed when there was found,
With empty pockets on the ground,
A youth with cradle by his side,
Who surfacing did much deride.
Port Curtis, Oh
There, on the surface, so they say,
Boozy and beautiful he lay,
Extinguished like a fallen star
No more his cry was heard afar Port Curtis oh!
Personal reminiscences of the gold rushes were sometimes published in newspapers. The following, from Cairn’s Post (QLD). 29 September 1934, provides a detailed and excellent account of a rush to the diggings, in this case the Port Curtis, Fitzroy River rush.
On Tom Tiddler’s Ground. The rush to Canoona in 1858. The “Duffer Rush” that led to the founding of a city.
By J- G. Eastwood. Babinda.
It is curious to reflect that prior to the time when Queensland commenced its career as a separate and distinct State in 1859 the opinion was held by most mining men that no gold was likely to be found inside its borders. A somewhat similar opinion was held about Western Australia in the ’80’s of last century. Later experience proved the overwhelming falsity of each supposition. Old Cornish miners had a saying, ‘Where ’tis, there ’tis.’ It is not wise to predict of an area or place that no gold may be found there.
During the greater part of the fifties, gold in abundance had been found pretty well all over Victoria, and what is now the state of New South Wales, but nowhere beyond. Therefore, when in the latter part of 1858 it became known that away far up in the tropical North gold in plenty had been found there was a flutter of excitement throughout the length and breadth of the land. “Far off hills look blue” is an old saying;- the remoteness of the place added entrancement to the news, and so on Melbourne and Sydney were thronged with diggers, eager to get to the. new and distant Eldorado.An old- time miner at that time residing on one of the New South Wales gold-fields has left to us a graphic account of the excitement in their small community when the news arrived of the finding of good gold away north, in the then Moreton Bay district of New South Wales. The account proceeds as follows: “Erskine’s Flat,Turon River, was just then turning out a fair swag of gold from the several claims on Ration Hill, Golden Point, Troppitt’s Hill, and points and flats below Sofala. Every morning. Captain Isaac Harris in his usual picturesque attire, mounted a heap of wash-dirt and read aloud to the assembled crowd the city paper containing the very latest news (three days’ old) from Canoona and here “Captain Ike” would add to the report explanatory remarks as to Canoona’s exact locality. Skipper Harris (he was a nautical) had voyaged and travelled much, and had been on the diggings in California; he was a good reader, and had a far-reaching voice, and his interpellations were well received. Canoona my lads, is up the Fitzroy River, Port Curtis; the port being Rockhampton. Well, here it states that there is gold in plenty, – junks of it lying on the surface among the long grass, and already some of it has been brought to Sydney, and may be seen in certain jeweler’s shop windows in George street. Now’s yer time, lads. Hurry up and work out these insignificant claims of yours, and sail away to the new Eldorado.” Such was Captain Harris’s advice every morning, after reading the newspaper reports. Myself and mate were ready, we were young, and had been fairly lucky; so we went over to Golden Point, and sold our claim; sold the lot, windlass, buckets, tubs, cradle, picks, shovels, etc, to an old hatter known by the name of “Scotch Jock.” He worked the ground for many months and did very well out of it.
We preferred walking – deeming it safer, as cases of “sticking up” were frequent, and men on foot carrying swags, and clad in every-day working duds, were less likely to be molested. We were not the only ones who pursued the same tactics. Thus we had company all the way to Penrith, where we took coach to Parramatta, thence to Sydney by train. What a commotion there was in Sydney. Everybody seemed intent on going to the far-off goldfield. ‘Lumps of it to be picked up on the surface -come and see it in De Ia Rue’s window,” said a man to whom we had spoken at the Haymarket. We went and there it was, almost black looking, more like bronze than gold; but its ticketed weight and worth convinced us.
OFF BY SEA.
Now for a ship. The steamer Eagle had just left, and as steamers in those days were not too plentiful, shipping agents were laying on sailing craft. The old barque Shamrock (Towns I think) was advertised to sail in a day or two, with passengers and cargo, to Rockhampton. Here was our dart, and passages were secured. Two other sailing ships were laid on-one I think was the Royal Saxon-they were too late anyhow, for the Eagle returned with bad news before they got under weigh. What a sight was to be seen at the Quay, which was crowded. Men, women and children were there, the two latter taking leave of their husbands and fathers. These had sold their all-their houses, farms, businesses-everything they had, to raise money to purchase tools, cradles, tubs, prospecting pans, tip-drays, wheelbarrows, cooking utensils, bed- ding, tents, and flies. The biggest “olla podrida” (Spanish stew) I had ever seen outside of Paddy’s Market.
The few days’ run in the old barque was a pleasure trip. Alas and alack. The Canoona had “snuffed out” before we reached there, and being young and inexperienced we hesitated, and did not go up the river, but since then I have often regretted that we did not. A few remained and profited, but they were good men, capable miners from Fryer’s Creek, Bendigo, and Ballarat. They bought up heaps of stuff from disheartened men, who had hoped to pick up gold easily, and were now selling their belongings for almost a song. The shrewd men who stayed behind at Canoona, picked up a lot of gold – for they prospected the country for miles around, and found payable patches.
The first finder of the precious metal at Canoona was a miner named Chappell, and he and a few of the early comers did well for a time; but the place was soon swamped by the thousands from all parts, even Victoria and far-off New Zealand, who rushed to the place. Being in such a remote and out of the way district, it was difficult to get away from, and great distress and privation were experienced by many who had not the means to ship away. The authorities in Melbourne and Sydney (it was before the separation of Queensland from New South Wales) had to send vessels to take off many of the distressed diggers, whilst the neighboring squatters, the Messrs, Archers of Gracemere, found odd jobs on their Station for many to help them along.
A well-known resident of Rock hampton in after years, Captain Sykes, has given us a graphic ac- count of the excitement and eagerness of the rush to the new find, and I give the story in his own words, as follows:-
“In October, 1858, I was master of a sailing vessel trading from Sydney to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales; and on my return from a trip, I saw in the Sydney “Morning Herald, that the brigatine Jenny Lind had arrived from Port Curtis, bringing the news that alluvial gold had been found in that vicinity in large quantities, and that a rush had already set in from Brisbane and Maryborough. The news caused considerable excitement in Sydney, and it was current about the wharves that colors had been found in the Jenny Lind’s ballast. With other coasting masters, I went down to Campbell’s wharf and interviewed the master of the Jenny Lind, Captain Curran. We obtained nothing very definite from him, but still sufficient to make us believe that gold had been found. During the next few days the papers were full of paragraphs concerning the new field, giving a lot of definite information, but from what source it was difficult to come at, as there was no telegraphic communication beyond Maryborough. However sev-eral small schooners were laid on for Port Curtis, and the A.C.N. Company advertised the s.s. Yarra Yarra, should sufficient inducement offer. The people went mad, and soon from Coleman’s ballast boats of 15 tons, to the Blackball liner Grand Trianon of 1600 tons, was laid on for passengers and cargo for the Port Curtis goldfield, where nuggets of fabulous weight we’re to be picked up amongst the grass tussocks without anything like sinking. I very soon made up my mind to be in the swim. At the time I was on the point of getting married, the date fixed, and the furniture purchased but interviewing my fiancee she agreed to postpone the ceremony until I returned with a few of the largest nuggets that the tussocks were holding for me. So I drew £100 from my little savings for housekeeping, and purchasing a tent, cradle, shovel and picks, I paid £5/10/- for my passage in the Grand Trianon.
IT’S A DUFFER.
We left the wharf with 772 passengers, and being towed by the tug Washington to the Heads, after a few days sail dropped our anchor to the eastward of Hummocky Island,
and the next day Pilot Robertson came on board, got the ship under weigh, and anchored her off the Timandra Bank where the gas-buoy now is. The pilot’s crew told us that there was no gold, and what was of more importance – no food. Then a brigantine, the Jane, passed outward full of people, who called out, “Go back, go back; don’t leave the ship. It’s a duffer-you will starve – no tucker.”
Warren Fahey sings ‘Sam Holt’ a song recorded fromJack Pobar, Toowoomba, Qld, 1973.
This was not encouraging, and the next day when a Sydney ketch named the Courier came alongside, and asked our captain if he wanted his passengers taken up the river (up to the diggings he said), our skipper came to the break of the poop and told us to go on board the ketch, as his contract was finished. However, the people soon told him that they would not leave the ship. To sum up, he offered to take them back for 2 pound per head, and they were to be satisfied with what food he could give them. Eventually they agreed to pay 30/- per head, but there were lots of them that had not 30 pence. Then I went on to the poop and told the captain that a few of us wished to go ashore, and a show of hands being called for 176 elected to go in the Courier. The captain tried to show that we should pay our passage up the river. We satisfied him on that point pretty I quickly, and after persisting in having three bags of biscuits and 20 71b. tins of soup and bouille put on board, we boarded the Courier.
The master of the Courier was named Sullivan, and he had his brother and a Brisbane man named “Red Ned” for a crew. The Courier cast off from the Grand Trianon, and sailed to Sea Hill where we anchored for the night. The next day we were under weigh with the flood and got nearly as far as Rocky Point, where we grounded on Egg Sand. There were several vessels going both up and down, and some were aground. We were eight days from the time we left the ship until we got up abreast of where Messrs. Walter Reid and Coy’s warehouse stands now. There was a barque, a brig, schooner, a ketch, a cutter, or a steamer on every sandbank in the river; but there was always plenty of room on that same sand bank for the Courier and she never failed to avail herself of it. On getting alongside a bank at what is now Derby-street, a few mangrove were cut down. By a plank across the mud we soon landed, and our swags be ing ready for humping we were quickly absorbed in the hundreds of people swarming the river bank.
Captain Sykes travelled on to the scene of the rush, and spent seven to eight weeks in prospecting around, with such poor results that he finally landed back in Sydney with .13 pennyweight of gold (worth about 50/-), as the result of his venture on his way back he counted 20 three-masted vessels, be sides brigs, schooners, cutters, and of every rig, in addition to H.M.S. Iris and the Victorian armed steamer Victoria, lying at anchor in Keppel Bay, and be concluded his narration as follows :
The Canoona rush was without doubt the roost disastrous that ever took place in Australia. I suppose that there was never a rush where proportionately to the numbers of diggers so few got gold; though without doubt a few did very well.
Once on the ground at Canoona, one was induced to be sanguine, because colors and specks could be got in every dish into which a tussock was shaken and washed. At the same time the rush gave a start to the Central and Northern Divisions of Queensland (which at the time were almost a terra incognita) many years earlier than would have happened under ordinary conditions.”
The pioneers of the district were, of course, the Messrs. Archer brothers, who had some years earlier taken up the pastoral country alongside some lagoons of the Fitzroy River, and which they named Gracemere. Coming out originally to New South Wales to join their uncles the Messrs. Walker, the mer chants and pastoralists of Sydney, they were for a time on their Wallerawang Station on the Liverpool Plains. Start ing on their own account, later on they eventually made their way with the sheep into the Moreton Bay district of New South Wales and settled down for a few years at Durundur, towards the head of the Brisbane River. Later on they moved on further North, and after some years settled down at Emu Creek and Cooyer on a station which they named Eidsvold in remembrance of their childhood days spent in Norway, before they came to Australia. Always on the lookout for better country for their stock they eventually sat down for good at Grace mere on the Fitzroy. When the Canoona rush petered out they found work for many of the destitute, and encouraging others to prospect the district helped to form the nucleus of a township, which in time became the city of Rockhampton.
This was for a time the most northern settlement, and from it started most of the early comers, who were pushing out north and west from the older and more settled districts. In a small booklet belonging to the writer, and giving an account of an early expedition with sheep on to the Barkly Table and in 1864, the author, Mr. J. Sutherland, gives the following description of the Rockhampton of that time:
“Rockhampton was then but a small hamlet, and owing to the heavy rain the streets and roads were in a fearful condition. Bullock teams from Peak Downs and Springsure were bogged in rows in the streets, and the whip crack- ing and lurid language of the bullockies made the township a little ‘inferno.’ Then the drinking and rowdiness made night hideous. The few police had not much chance of coping with so many, all vieing with each other to turn the town red.”
In most Australian histories the rush to Canoona is described as a failure “a duffer rush”-but it must be borne in mind that it was the means of bringing North a considerable number of experienced miners from south; and these gradually spreading over the length and breadth of the land in many cases brought to light the golden deposits which were in the ground, and so led to the populating of much the waste land of the State. We see this when we come to observe the dates of the various goldfields of Queensland, thus: The Peak Downs goldfield proclaimed in August, 1863; Cape River and Gympie both in September, 1867 Ravenswood, November, 1870; Ettidge, January, 1872; Charters Towers August, 1872; and the Palmer in December 1874 ‘
Coxon’s Comic Songster summed up the ‘duffer’ rush to Port Curtis with the following song where the tune was suggested.
The Rush to Port Curtis
(Tune: Over The Water to Charlie)
Everybody’s complaining that Ballarat’s dull.
That but stagnation nothing is stirring,
That the papers with bankruptcy cases are full,
And failures quite daily occurring;
And now to mend matters the cry is ‘Rush Oh!
And each one to slither, alert is,
And by coach or wagon right slick off they go
To Melbourne, and ship for Port Curtis.
l’ve looked for accounts in the papers each day,
And at last one from Sydney announces,
That a steamer arrived direct from Keppel Bay,
Brought down of gold, twenty-two ounces,
lt’s a shicing return for a fortnight`s work
If as they say gold thick as dirt is,
Though p`raps it’s a newspaper dodge just to burk
The diggers from going to Curtis.
You now every time you walk down the main road
, Meet American wagons, out-riggers;
And find that each vehicle has for its load,
A whole crowd of Ballarat diggers.
Should you ask them their reasons for leaving to state
The answer that each out will blurt is,
‘They’ve just seen a letter from Tom Snook`s mate,
Who’s making a pile at Port Curtis.`
Our flashy new buildings have come to a stop,
For the storekeepers see ruin in view,
And swear ‘that they will soon have to shut up shop
If the rush like this long should continue.`
They say at Rockhampton` stores fetch any price,
That two notes for a jumper or shirt is,
That staying on Ballarat now is all shice,
And they shall clear out for Port Curtis.
The servant girls are just as bad as the men,
And their places have left and deserted,
Say they will no longer work like slaveys,
When Into ladies they can be converted.
The Labour Marts now are left empty and bare,
And each girl quite uppish and pert is,
Will tell you, no matter if plain, dark or fair,
She`ll nail a rich mate at Port Curtis.
The policemen too have the fever all caught,
And likewise all the tailors and cobblers,
A Publican also has left for the Port,
Who intends to sell sixpenny nobblers,
It’s true the mosquitoes will close up your eyes,
And heat each ones health sure to hurt is,
The natives quite savage-the `Diggins’ all lies,
Still it’s a fine place this Port Curtis.
The Palmer River rush commenced in 1874 and was technically the last Queensland rush however we now know the real rush came in the 20th century when giant mining companies began digging for other treasures like coal, copper, bauxite, uranium and gas.
This song was published in ‘Colonial Born: a tale of the Queensland bush’, a novel by G. Firth Scott, published 1900. The song has entered the treasury of Australian folk song after being included in Keesing & Stewart’s 1957 edition of ‘Old Bush Songs’.
Luke Webbsings ‘The Golden Gullies of the Palmer’ with Warren Fahey & Marcus Holden.
The Golden Gullies of the Palmer.
(Tune: Marching Through Georgia)
Then roll the swag and blanket up,
And let us haste away
To the Golden Palmer, boys,
Where everyone, they say,
Can get his ounce of gold, or
It may be more, a clay,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.
We’ll sound the jubilee.
And we will merry be,
When we reach the diggings, boys,
There the nuggets see,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.
Kick at troubles when they come, boys,
The motto be for all;
And if you’ve missed the ladder
In climbing Fortune’s wall,
Depend upon it, boys,
You’ll recover from the fall,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.
Then sound the chorus once again
And give it with a roar
And let its echoes ring, boys
Upon the sea and shore,
Until it reach the mountains,
Here gold is in galore
In the golden gullies of the Palmer
Here is the song, in context, as published in G. Firth Scott’s
‘This time a dozen men straggled into the camp, but it was evident by the
size of their swags that they were not quite so down on their luck as the first-comers.
They straggled up to the fire, each man with a brief crisp remark, and swung their swags from their shoulders, loosening their billy-cans, which they filled at the creek before setting them beside the fire to boil. Every man had his own store of provisions with him, and as they prepared their meal there was a constant buzz of conversation. Question after question was asked as to the quality of the gold at the new find; whether there was plenty of timber on the field; how about the supply of water, and the depth of the payable dirt. Gleeson, as the discoverer, was the man to whom most of the inquiries were addressed, and if he had not done much work in preparing camp, he had to do more than his share now, a fact upon which Peters was not slow to remark.
The cross-fire of questions would probably have lasted as long as Gleeson cared to furnish answers, but another delight was suddenly introduced by one of the new arrivals producing an accordion from his swag, and sounding a couple of chords. At once the attention of the men was taken off the topic of the new field; there was a want of alcohol in the camp wherewith to rouse their spirits to the full enjoyment of their new good fortune, but the melody of accordion and song made an excellent substitute.
“Good boy, Palmer Billy,” one of the men cried as soon as he heard the sound. “Give us the good old Palmer stave.”
There was a burst of approval from all the men as they came nearer the fire, forming themselves into a ring round the blazing pile, some sitting, some standing, some stretched out on the ground, but all smoking. Palmer Billy, a middle-aged man with a face lined and tanned by many a summer’s sun, and without a spare ounce of flesh on his sinewy frame, stood a bit apart with the accordion in his hands, his hat pushed back, and his head on one side as he looked round the assembly. Palmer Billy was the musician and vocalist of Boulder Creek, without a rival, equal, or superior, albeit his musical prowess was limited to the five chords which the key arrangement of the accordion automatically provided for, and his vocal repertoire to one song, sung to the American melody of “Marching through Georgia,” and celebrating the glories of the great Palmer Goldfield–whence came Palmer Billy’s pseudonym. His voice was neither cultivated nor melodious–from a musical point of view; but it was loud, and of the peculiar penetrating timbre which is invaluable for the use of that language which alone serves in inducing a bullock team to pull well, or for sending the stanzas of a bush song hurtling round a camp fire.
As he raised his accordion to strike the preliminary canter of the five automatic chords, every voice was silenced, and all eyes were turned upon him, for Palmer Billy was always ready to oblige a camp with his vocal entertainment, though in return he demanded, on the part of his audience, silence (except when the chorus-time came) and attention. Failing either, or both, Palmer Billy yielded to the sense of outraged artistic sensibility and lapsed into silence himself, and when men are living a more or less lonely life a hundred miles from anywhere, they are inclined to look leniently upon the eccentricities of such genius as fate casts in their way.
Palmer Billy, casting his eye round the fire-lit circle of bearded and bronzed faces, and seeing every mouth closed and every eye fixed on his, was satisfied, and completed the five automatic chords. Then he lifted up his raucous, stridulating voice and sang, with the accentuation of an artistic drawl which no one but himself ever knew where it was likely to
come, the opening verse of his song–
“Then roll the swag and blanket up, And let us haste away
To the Golden Palmer, boys, Where every one, they say, Can get his ounce of gold, or
It may be more, a day,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.”
At the conclusion of the last word, which the vocalist sang as “Par-her-mur,” with a graceful little flourish on the “her,” he swept his eye round his audience, swung the accordion up to the full extent of his arms over his left shoulder, and shouting, “Chorus, boys,” opened his mouth and his chest in the full glory of his stridulating notes as he yelled, the others lustily joining–
“Hurrah! Hurrah! We’ll sound the jubilee.
Hurrah! Hurrah! And we will merry be,
When we reach the diggings, boys,
There the nuggets see,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.”
The force of the chorus pleased him, and his eyes twinkled; for even if every one of his audience had not caught the exact rhythm of the melody, there could be no question as to their endeavors being in earnest, and good soul-stirring noise, Palmer Billy, as a musician, maintained, was miles ahead of a mere ordinary tune.
The second verse afforded the opportunity, in Palmer Billy’s mind, for the exercise of expressive pathos; and when the chorus after the first verse was given with a will, and the audience thus testified its capacity for appreciation, he was as generous with his expression as he was with his force. Two portentous sniffs and a whine were blended with
the word he considered the most appropriate for pathetic accentuation, the word following being bawled in full vigor with a prolonged quiver in the voice by way of contrast. Thus with alternate sniffs, whines, and bawls, he sang–
“Kick at troubles when they come, boys, The motto be for all;
And if you’ve missed the ladderIn climbing Fortune’s wall,
Depend upon it, boys,
You’ll recover from the fall,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.”
The chorus was again taken up with an energy amounting to enthusiasm, and at the third verse, delivered with a declamatory power that carried moral conviction in every syllable, Palmer Billy introduced his special accomplishment by reversing the order in which he played the accompaniment of the five automatic chords. The declamation and the accompaniment always made the third verse a triumph.
“Then work with willing hands, boys, Be steady, and be wise;
For no one need despair there, If honestly he tries,
Perhaps to make a fortune, At all events a rise,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.”
The chorus was so lustily given that the soloist called for the audience to join him in the last verse, a most unusual compliment, and so well did they respond that the sound of their voices travelled far through the silent bush, farther than they intended, farther than they knew, as they yelled–
“Then sound the chorus once again And give it with a roar,
And let its echoes ring, boys, Upon the sea and shore,
Until it reach the mountains, Where gold is in galore,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.”
“Hurrah! Hurrah! We’ll sound the jubilee.
Hurrah! Hurrah! And we will merry be,
When we reach the diggings, boys,
There the nuggets see,
In the Golden Gullies of the Palmer.”
The following song has also entered the folk tradition. It is set to the tune of an old droving song, and is interesting because it discusses conflict between the local indigenous people and the miners. It was actually more hostile than ‘trouble’.
Warren Fahey sings ‘Ten Thousand Miles Away’ with Luke Webb & Marcus Holden.
Old Palmer Song
(Parody: A Thousand Miles Away)
The wind is fair and free, my boys, the wind is fair and free
The steamer’s course is north, my boys, and the Palmer we will see
The Palmer we will see, my boys, and Cooktown’s muddy shore
Where I’ve been told there’s lots of gold, so stay down south no more
So, blow ye winds, heigh-ho A-digging we will go
I’ll stay no more down south, my boys So let the music play
In spite of what I’m told
I’m off in search of gold
I’ll make a push for that new rush
A thousand miles away
They say the blacks are troublesome, and spear both horse and man
The rivers are all wide and deep, no bridges them do span
No bridges them do span, my boys, and so you’ll have to swim
But never fear the yarns you hear, and gold you’re sure to win
So let us make a move, my boys, for that new promised land
And do the best we can, my boys, to lend a helping hand
To lend a helping hand, my boys, where the soil is rich and new
In spite of the blacks and unknown tracks, we’ll show what we can do
Gold Diggers NSW. 1850s,
New South Wales experienced numerous rushes sending gold diggers in all directions. The early goldfields were in the western districts and then up inland north and south and, in 1860, into the state’s alpine region. The following diary provides a real insight in what these traveling prospectors experienced and how they survived. It is a terrific read and I suggest you will enjoy the writer’s whimsical style – especially in giving the six members of the company military titles and their oxen nominated as ‘foot soldiers’. The diaries were published in The Southern Argus (Port Elliott) commencing 2 September. 1880 and continuing to 14 October of the same year. Because of the age of the newspaper it was a devil to correct but, I hope, worth the agony of my OCR corrections.
THE ADVENTURES OF A PARTY OF SIX SOUTH AUSTRALIANS TO THE SNOWY RIVER GOLD DIGGINGS, IN THE ALPINE REGIONS OF AUSTRALIA.
Diary of J. L . Dawesley
‘News having reached South Australia that a very rich deposit of gold had been discovered at the sources of the Snowy River, in the alpine regions of New South Wales, in 1860, a number of fellow colonists were so smitten with the gold fever that great excitement prevailed, and no wonder, for we are told that one lucky digger had obtained £500 worth of gold in a few days, and the next news to hand a few days later is of a still more startling character. A man without a penny in his pocket finds himself in a few days suddenly possessed of a handsome fortune. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that we should be affected with the malady which causes a spasmodic affection of the limbs which want to be off. Nay, my dreams of gold eclipsed the fairy tales of old. The genii of the Arabian nights would have stared had they beheld the splendor of golden treasures which I saw in the land of my dreams, driving my pick into earth mingled with gold of untold wealth. Whether I spoke aloud in my dreams I know not, but I was suddenly awake. My elbows had come into violent contact with a hard substance which speedily deceived me. I found that the rest had pleasant dreams of the golden far off land, and we were as firmly resolved as ever to try our fortune in this distant region of glittering gold. We were ready to suffer toil and hardship to any extent. Oh! what a power gold has over frail human kind. Having held a consultation with my parents and two brothers, it was resolved that we should go. The party was to consist of six young men. We soon found three more suitable companions for the journey, and after due consideration it was resolved that we should go overland; for although the greater number who were leaving Adelaide took the sea route, landing at Twofold Bay, the nearest landing place to the Snowy Diggings, we considered that by the latter route we should have to tramp some 100 miles over a rough and mountainous country, with a heavy swag on our backs. This we considered would be a very undesirable mode of reaching the seat of the goldfields. Having made three trips overland to the Victorian Goldfields, and, consequently, being well acquainted with bush life, judged the journey with bullocks would be preferable, well- knowing that heavy sand hills and rough roads would have to be encountered. We, therefore, selected six good young oxen, well-tried and staunch. Our load consisted of the following : — Eight bags of flour, two small bags of sugar, some ground coffee, a good-sized chest of tea, camp oven, frying pan, picks and shovels, crosscut saw, and axe. We also took a good stock of warm clothing, blankets, and opossum rugs, even mattresses and a large oilskin to place on the ground to prevent the damp from striking through, pilot cloth coats, trousers, red flannel shirts, and night caps to match. These, it was intended, should be drawn over our eyes to protect them from the damp night air. Each had a pair of very thick flannel drawers, watertight boots, and calfskin leggings, and one of our party possessed a Russian coat, nearly as heavy as himself, and many other articles too numerous to mention, showing that we did not mean to suffer much from either cold or hunger, but to make the trip as pleasant and comfortable as possible, to which end we also fixed wattle sticks, bent archways over the dray, which we covered with a tarpaulin ; this was to be the upstairs apartment, and was to be also a sleeping apartment for three. We had also a very large tarpaulin, which was to form the roof of our ‘house’ when we arrived at the diggings, and this was to be thrown over the dray pole at night to form the sleeping place for the other three. Having got all snuggly packed up in the dray, we had fully in tended to rest from our labours a day or two before starting, but fresh and startling news having reached us of the richness of the diggings, we resolved to delay no longer, but to start next day, April 10th, I860, and to celebrate our departure a grand entertainment was held in the barn, during the evening all friends and sweethearts being present, and great was the enjoyment thereof, and many long and anxious looks were cast upon our heroes that night. The entertainment broke up at about 12: o’clock, when all retired to the homestead and partook of a substantial supper, after which a discussion took place, and the ladies suggested that we should bear military titles, which we all thought was a capital idea, and was accordingly adopted. The following is a list of the roll – Jas. G., colonel; Hy. L. – captain ; Jnr. L. major; R A. sergeant; A: H. corporal; Jos. L, squire. It will be thus seen that I was dubbed squire, and was the only member without a military title. The parting from friends and relatives was very solemn, and the ladies gave evident signs of distress at parting. April 10, 1860 we started from Ladyvale, near Nairne, at 10 p.m., firing of all our guns and pistols at a little distance from the house as a few signals, repealing when again when we arrived at the smelting works at Scott’s Creek, whence a volley was returned, and after cheers from each side we moved on, the gallant major being mounted on Teddy the mule. I forgot to mention that we had a mule ; and a very pretty creature he was. though rather wicked. He was however, a great favourite of mine. Kanmantoo was reached at 12 a.m. Here we did not stay to dine, but took each a piece of bread and cheese as we travelled along, being anxious to get as far as possible that day. People came out of their houses in all directions, no doubt wondering what procession it was; and all being dressed in red shirts, render us truly objects of attraction. The road was good until we left the Bremer Creek, when it became hilly and sandy, and in some places the oxen had quite enough to do. The Murray Scrub was reached at 5 p.m. The road had by this time become very rough; huge limestone, rocks, and sand. The dray was tossed about like a ship in a storm; jolt, jolt, creak, creak. The tinkling of bells, rattling of tin cans, buckets, camp ovens, pots, and frying pans was deafening. We continued on until sunset through the same dreary sandy scrub, where we were compelled to camp without water for the oxen. There was no grass for them. This was rather disheartening for our ‘soldiers’. They were beginning to suffer the reverses of war at the first night out. A hard day’s march and no provisions was enough to try the best tempered private. The colonel and I pitched the tent in a suitable spot, or rather we stretched the tarpaulin across the dray pole, not before we had made our beds however, which was easier done before than after, for it was so low as to necessitate creeping in on one’s handstand knees. The corporal was, in the meantime, collecting firewood and lighting a fire to boil the tea can, whilst the sergeant was engaged preparing a mess for supper. It will be as well to mention that the sergeant was very proud of his skill as a cook, whilst the corporal had no previous experience in culinary matters; in fact, he was a green hand, and knew absolutely nothing. The captain and major having released the privates from duty, went with them in search of provisions, taking with them the crosscut saw and axe. They returned in about an hour, and reported having found a gnarled and twisted sheoak, with which they regaled our soldiers. It was an apology for a meal, and they soon began to fight for the lion’s share, where upon the captain and major had to remain to maintain order and see that all shared equally, a hide whip being used pretty freely to quell petty disturbances as they occurred, which was very frequent, and no wonder, for hunger will drive them to desperation. Private ‘Doughboy’ being a restless dissatisfied fellow, had a bell suspended to his neck, so that be could not escape without being heard moving off. It was a lucky thing that we filled our keg with water at the Bremer Creek; otherwise we should have fared badly, and although it was very brackish, we were glad of it, and our poor soldiers would have smacked their lips at it if they had a chance. The captain and major had to run off and leave their supper half finished, as it became apparent to all that the privates were attempting to escape, as the tinkling of the bell indicated a measured tramp westward. They were soon brought back, and it was agreed to put the most refractory in irons at once. Supper being disposed of it was thought necessary to watch them all night, and the captain and the corporal agreed to take the first watch, which was to be until midnight. The rest disposed of themselves thus : — The colonel and major occupied the state room above, and I turned in downstairs after writing my report of the day’s proceedings and events. The captain and corporal returned soon after midnight, and reported that privates ‘Doughboy’, ‘Redman’,’ and ‘ Strawberry’ had made furious attempts at escape, giving their officers a great deal of trouble, and not-withstanding they were ironed, hobbled off much faster than one would suppose they were able to do. We arose next morning at day break, and found the captain and corporal making up the fire. They had found a little more provender for our dissatisfied fellows, and had left them apparently satisfied with their scanty portion, and it was thought that they would remain until we had breakfasted. The sergeant and major then went to muster them, but found that they were in full retreat, and had got away some three miles before they were overtaken, making homewards. Having struck camp, we started on the march once more, reaching the River Murray at 1 p.m. to our great delight and it took the united efforts of the captain, major, and sergeant to prevent the privates from rushing headlong into the river. Our fellows having slaked their thirst, we again moved on. Here a very amusing affair took place. The corporal now got out his gun. Several wild fowls were seen in a swamp, and our worthy corporal went in hot pursuit of one that appeared more daring than the rest. Getting within range of it, he fired, but only wounded it, However, to show his pluck he went in full chase. The bird had flapped a good way into the water, and was followed by the gallant fellow, who was up to his chest in water before he captured it. Our worthy friend now retraced his steps, floundering through mud and water to the great amusement of the party, and arrived at the dray in a most pitiable condition, plastered with mud from the knees downward. We now made a halt for the purpose of getting our dinner, and I advised the Corporal to dress the bird, which was a coot, in the native style.
‘Well,’ says the Corporal, ‘do yee’s know how to do it ?’ I replied in the affirmative, and volunteered to superintend his cooking it. ‘Now, my boy, it will be as well to listen to me — first of all you are to denude it of its covering.’ ‘What do yee’s mean, squire ? ‘ ‘Simply this. Are you listening ?’ ‘To be sure I am.’ ‘Very well. You are to pull all the feathers off that will come easily.’ ‘And what am I to do with what’s left?’ ‘Yee don’t mean me to ate them?’ ‘No, unless you like them.’’ Och, sure, an’ I don’t like them.’ ‘You are to burn them off.’ ‘Och, sure, an’ I moight have thought ar that. Them long ones are moighty hard to pull.’ ‘Sure, an’ yee’s forgot the inside must come out.’ ‘Not at all.’. ‘ Sure, an’ I’ll not ate the inside for the best man alive.’ ‘You are not required to do so, sir. Now you are te put it into the hot coals, and be quick. Don’t you see the Captain preparing to march.’ ‘ Of course I do.’ ‘In with it, then, and turn it over quickly with that stick.’ When it had been sputtering and roasting for ten minutes the column was ordered to move on. The corporal was compelled to take it out. ‘Do yee’s think it is cooked?’ ‘It will do. You may eat it as you go. A little further instruction may be useful before commencing. You don’t require a knife; bite it all round as though you were eating a turnip.’ He commenced at once, but the task was a hard one. It was only scorched, not cooked. He managed to tear a bite or two off, and set a wry face at it. Many were the enquiries as to how he liked it. ‘Well, yee’s see, I was never used to eating flesh cooked on the outside. Its got a moighty bad taste entirely. I don’t like the native fashion. Be the powers it’ll be the last time yee’s persuade me to try it again.’ The whole party were convulsed with laughter; even Teddy seemed to enjoy the fun.’
9 September 1880
‘I must now say a little respecting the grand river system of Australia, the monarch of Australian rivers, the noble river Murray, which is navigable at this time as far as Echuca, and occasionally as far as Wahgunyah. We were informed that steamers had been as far up as Albury four years previous to this. The distance from Goolwa to Albury we are told is 1840 miles by the river charts. The bends of the river from this town upward are tortuous and full of snags. We travelled all along the banks of the river, and camped at 5 p.m. The timber consists of red gum and pines. There is scarcely any vegetation at this time of the year. The land here consists chiefly of sand and scrub; occasionally a nice green spot is seen, and the reeds in the swamps have the appearance of green fields of corn at a distance. Cattle are very fond of these reeds when they can get them, but the boggy nature of the soil in a great measure prevents them going in to feed among them, as they may get hopelessly bogged. These swamps are swarming with wild fowl, swans, geese, ducks, teal, pelicans, and many other kinds. We found it difficult to approach to within gunshot. We had a few heavy showers of rain, and found it a trouble to light, a fire this evening. The first watch this night fell to the lot of the sergeant and myself. We cut down what few sheoaks we could find, there being no grass but from some cause or other they were not liked. The privates were still attempting to abscond to our great discomfort and annoyance. The night being dark and cold, we kept up a large fire, both for warmth and cheerfulness, and were just in the act of gathering more wood, when we were suddenly startled by the violent ring ing of private ‘ Doughboy’s’ bell. A panic had evidently arisen among them. What could have caused such a rush off we could not tell. The night was so intensely dark that we could only get a glimpse of private ‘ Snowy’ running at full speed through the scrub. We ran after them until we could ran no longer, falling headlong over every imaginable obstacle, until at last we gave up the chase in despair, seeing that it was a desperate case. The sergeant fired his gun, and I attempted to fire my pistol, but it had got wet and would not go off. Not knowing what distance we were from the camp, I was afraid our brother officers would not hear the alarm. In less than five minutes two volleys were fired. We thus knew that our firing was heard. Soon we heard a coo-ee, which we answered, and were soon joined by the captain, major, and corporal. The colonel was left at the camp to keep up a vigorous fire of musketry at short intervals, so that we might know where the camp lay. Five of the privates only were captured; the three others had made good their escape ; and to make sure of those got they were chained to the trees, and the old one ironed. The captain in formed us that they had only just returned when the report of our gun was heard. It was about 2 p.m. when we retired to rest, which we were in great need of. Next morning the captain, major, sergeant, and corporal went off in pursuit of the deserters, the gallant major mounted on Teddy the mule. They returned unsuccessful. The colonel and I had prepared a good break fast for our companions who did it ample justice. Breakfast over, off they went again, the captain on the mule this time. During their absence I commenced baking dampers for the first time since our departure. We had sufficient bread to last us until now. The colonel was employed watching the prisoners. A 3 p.m. the captain returned unsuccessful, and after partaking of some refreshment was about to make a further exploration of the scrub westwards, when we descried our brother officers returning, driving the deserters before them at the point of the bayonet. The major reported finding them near the Bremer Hills, making homewards as fast as they could. It was 4 p.m. before we got on the march again, and having travelled a few miles, arrived at a small enclosure adjacent to the river, in the centre of which there was a pine hut. In this small enclosure the grass was luxuriant. It was too tempting to pass without our notice, so all agreed it would make a splendid camping place. The captain, as a precautionary measure, marched to the hut to see if it was inhabited, and found it quite deserted, so the dray was drawn up in front of the hut, where the privates were at once released. and turned into the finest feed which they had enjoyed since leaving home; and I must say they behaved remarkably well, labouring very hard to fill themselves whilst they had the chance. The river being close by, we thought a fish would be a nice treat, and, therefore, resolved to try our luck at angling, but all at once it occurred to us that we had forgotten to provide any fishing tackle— a great over sight indeed. However, I set about in search of a line, and was fortunate enough to find a few pieces of cord in the dray, which I tied together, and next went in search of a rod, and with no small difficulty procured a redgum pole, somewhat smaller than a rail, and very crooked. With this rude tackle I marched to the river and hoisted in my line; and after suspending this over the water for some time, without any further result than aching; arms. I laid it down in disgust, fixing it in such a manner that if a fish did get hooked he could not drag my line off. Supper over, all retired to rest in the hut. We found berths rigged up something like a ship’s cabin. The privates were very contented this night, but, we did not rest well, being literally devoured with fleas of an enormous size ; and so sharp were their bites that the colonel declared they could not be fleas, but something worse. The major was sure they were yellow nippers, whereupon the captain got up at once and struck a light to make sure who our midnight intruders were. Up to this time the corporal appeared undisturbed, and we began to think that his hide was against them. Then all at once he uttered a yell that startled us.
‘Tare an’ ages, the brutes are letting into me ribs a hurricane and be me soul they are as thick as pease soup.’ Our worthy friend was writhing and tearing to such a degree that his bunk, which was immediately above the sergeant’s, gave way at the bottom, and through he went plump, down upon the sergeant amid deafening roars of laughter, and the sergeant was so enraged as to throw the corporal headlong with execrations of of annoyance and disgust. The corporal picked himself up, not much the worse for his tumble down and toss out. Finding it would be no use going to bed again, we made up a fire, boiled some tea, and amused ourselves by relating amusing tales, At daylight I went to inspect my fishing line, hoping that a fine fish would be on the line. I drew it slowly out, and finding it very heavy was sure of a fish, but to my extreme disgust and chagrin hauled up a piece of gum bark to the amusement of all. Breakfast over, the corporal raised a hue and cry. Teddy had got out of the enclosure, and was making off at full speed. They all bolted after him, leaving me to take care of the effects. I really did not expect they would catch him, but in about an hour they came back in triumph, having caught him after a good long run. He had made straight for home. Luckily there happened to be a few horses in the direction he was going, and he joined them, and so he was secured. Had it not been for this, doubtless some of us would have had the pleasure of returning home, for we could not well do without Teddy. We started on the march again, and continued our journey along the banks of the river, the road being sandy. The settlers are few and far between. They do not attempt to cultivate, sheep farming being the most profitable. Large numbers of cattle are bred also at some of the stations. After we had left the hut, being about three miles, we met a man who enquired of us where we had camped the previous night. The captain very innocently replied in the hut, which he no sooner heard than he commenced abusing us in a manner that quite astonished us, cursing and swearing furiously at us, telling us that we had eaten up all his fine grass that, he was saving for his lambs. We apologised, and told him that we thought the place was deserted from its dilapidated appearance. He declared that he would have impounded our oxen if he had seen them in it. The corporal ventured to remark that he might have impounded us also. This exasperated him the more. ‘Be aisy, me hinney, yee’s are a dale too hard on us, for yee’s must know that we were nearly devoured with vermin, and were so ill-treated, that our bodies are as full of holes as a milk strainer; and I’m sure we ought to pull yee’s for damages, to say nothing of yer abusing dacent people. Surely yee’s must have got out the wrong side av the bed. Yee’s are fighting. Arrah. I’m the man for ye, come on.’
Here the colonel and captain interfered to prevent it. The corporal was only joking and the man had not the sense to perceive this. We moved on at this juncture, leaving the fellow behind. We saw that he was quarrelsome. This circumstance delayed us a good deal. We reached Wellington this afternoon at 3 p.m. There was a public-house. and a store at this place. We camped about 2 miles the other side of the river. The blackfellows soon perceived us, and were soon at the camp, begging for ‘tuck out,’ and giving us to understand that other whitefellows give them plenty of ‘ tuck out.’ We enquired if they could get us any wild ducks. ‘Oh, yes, me plenty shoot him duck. You gimme gun.’ The corporal showed his gun, which was minutely inspected. ‘Now, whitefellow, this good one gun ?’ We told him it was a good one, no gammon. Having supplied a few charges away he went. At about dusk back he came with one duck and a water-hen, and looking displeased, told us ‘ Gun no good.
What for you too much gammon? Me get em picaninny way from duck, and me shoot, and me no kill em.’ We then showed him an old soldier’s musket. He seemed pleased with this. We promised to lend it to him next morning, and he promised to come at daylight for it, but we never saw him again. We arose at daybreak next morning. Not the sound of a bell was heard, and all but the colonel and myself went off in pursuit of the deserters. We were in the meantime to prepare breakfast and guard the camp and during their absence two blackfellows came to us, asking for baccy, tea, and sugar, and soon after two apparently young black girls arrived. The colonel promised to reward them if they would give us a song; and we were quite surprised when one of them began to sing, in tolerably good English, the following : — ‘ If by chance you don’t succeed, Try, try, again.’ We found they had learned to sing at the school for Aborigines. We gave them each a piece of damper, which was soon devoured. Then they wanted some tea, and the more we gave them the more they wanted, so we took no further notice of them. Our companions soon returned, having found the deserters a few miles off, and having breakfasted, started off again, not very well pleased that no fish were to be got, as we fully expected to get some, as we had done on former trips to Victoria, at this place. We had nothing but salt beef, so horridly salty and unpalatable that very little of it was eaten, so that we were very inadequately provided with suitable meat with which to face the desert, which we expected to enter this day. We were informed at Wellington that if we intended to go through the long desert, we should take the track to the left, and we would come to a well beaten road which we were to follow. We agreed to follow this advice, but the further we travelled the more we were perplexed, for it came to an end suddenly. We could just see a few tracks, branching to the right and left, so we chose those to the left in accordance with the direction given us; and so much were our minds occupied with this road that we quite forgot our dinner until 2p.m., and after a hasty meal proceeded on our journey. After about two hours we were much gratified at seeing a hut right before us, but on coming to it were disappointed to find it deserted. However, we were glad to see a pond of water near the hut; and although it was muddy we were glad of it. Here we filled our keg and passed on. At about two miles further on we arrived at a limestone well, which, we concluded, must be the one spoken of at the entrance of the desert so we camped here and made the usual preparations for passing the night. The major and sergeant now went to try and find the track, as all trace of it was lost at the well, and returned in about an hour with the dismal information that neither road nor track, was to be found, and had gone & good way into the scrub, which was penetrated with difficulty. The sergeant shot a curious bird, commonly called a morepork, a species of owl; and as we had not tasted fresh meat for some time, this bird was dressed, cooked, and eaten. It was not unpalatable. The sergeant was such a good cook that I really believe that under his magic treatment rats, frogs, and even dogs might have gone down, and we thought him a second M. Soyer. All being made secure, our comrades retired to rest. I, however, had to remain up to bake dampers. The colonel volunteered to keep me company. I baked five dampers that night. The colonel read aloud part of ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ which relieved the tedium of damper baking. We turned in at 10 p.m., and arose very early. ‘Snowy’ and ‘Redman’ were at the troughs, but we could not prevail on them to drink, although they were thirsty. The rest were not afraid, and drank freely.’
16 September 1880
‘We lost no time in starting, being anxious about the road. We crossed a plain of considerable extent, the gallant major taking the lead on Teddy. After going three miles the axle began to squeak — a sure sign that it wanted greasing — and we halted to perform that operation. The major now returned. Bad news again. He has gone a good way without seeing any road, so we retraced our steps, and camped at 1 p.m. To make further explorations, after a good deal of traveling, at last found what appeared to be the right track, so we made a start once more, our hopes brightening on overtaking a party who, like ourselves, had lost themselves. After passing through a mile of scrub we arrived at a well and troughs, the water being brackish ; no herbage of any consequence, and were glad to find a few sheoaks. Being very much fatigued, we retired early. This morning the captain baked a damper before breakfast. It was arranged that we should cook in turns. A blackfellow and his lubra came to the well. The woman was a shepherdess. We found they were both employed on the station. The man told us that we were on the right road, and half-a-mile further on we would come to Wark’s Station. He also told us that we could get plenty of bullocks. This we rejoiced to hear, for we did not expect to find sheep and cattle slaking in the great desert. We trudged on, and found the blackfellow’s half-mile a long one. We enquired at the station if they could provide us with fresh meat, but were disappointed. We could only get salt junk. We purchased some and stowed it away. We had now fairly entered the desert and, truly, it had a desolate appearance, nothing but heavy sand hills, which increased as we advanced. We could see Mount Barker looming in the distance from the top of a high sand hill. We took a long last look at that familiar spot where near to it all our friends were, doubtless, wondering where we were. We lost sight of the Mount at 1 p.m. On the summit of another hill we found water in very curious holes, formed by nature, in large masses of hard blue limestone, embedded in the loose sand, the largest being two feet deep. Here we boiled our kettle, and fried a few slices of junk in water; and it was so terribly salty that we did not try much of it. We travelled on at a steady pace all day, having occasional light showers of rain. At sunset we came to an oasis in the desert; fine grass, but not much water. The colonel and I crept under the dray to take notes of our day’s proceedings. The rest amused themselves singing and relating stories by the camp fire. This morning we found our soldiers near the camp, launched out once more into heavy sand and scrub, the colonel and sergeant being on ahead with the mule. On coming to a pool of water in the middle of the road the oxen rushed headlong into it before we could stop them. However we managed to secure a little of it, which we bailed out with a pannikin, and though rather muddy we were glad of it. Our companions ahead had seen two kangaroo rats, but having no gun with them gave chase with the dog, but to no purpose, he being too heavy and clumsy to catch such nimble little creatures. We arrived at another flat, surrounded by sand hills, in the centre of which were extraordinary blocks of granite, rocks, and quartz. A few stunted gums stood on the flat. There was no water. We passed over low sand hills, and came to a hollow where there were two or three wells. We found a little water in one. It had partly fallen in, and was dangerous. We endevoured to clean it out, but it fell in as fast as taken out, so we gave it up. These wells had been sunk by the South Australian Government for the use of the escort, and this being discontinued the wells fell in. This place was Linney’s Lookout— a very poor lookout indeed. Two miles further on we came to a sheep station. It was a matter of surprise to us how sheep could exist here. We purchased a sheep, which the colonel and corporal carried on a pole across their shoulders to the dray. This was McDonald’s Station -a dreary spot. We killed the sheep, and fried some of the liver and chops for our supper. It had such a disagreeable flavour that we could scarcely eat it. The captain baked a damper this morning whilst whilst I was darning my socks. We got very little rest this night for the doleful howling of numerous packs of dingoes, the fox of Australia. At 7 p.m. this morning we started of on our journey. This forenoon the colonel lost his bowie knife. We were all provided with these useful knives. It was probably torn from his belt in passing through the scrub. It was a warm day. Just as we were thinking of halting for dinner two parties en route for the diggings overtook us. After dinner we went on steady. At 5 pm. we came to a flat. There were two wells – one fresh, the other brackish. This was an oasis in the desert. The grass was very fine around these wells. There were a few gum trees. At these wells we found the parties before mentioned. We camped here also. The sergeant commenced washing his shirts and socks, and we all put on clean shirts. After supper one of the party of English came over to us and we had a long confab about the Victorian Diggings until 9 p.m., when we retired to rest, our party being much fatigued with the long day’s march through heavy sand. At day break the corporal, sergeant, and major began crowing like cocks, and were answered in like manner by the other party. This being a common practise on the diggings, for the first up to raise the cry cock-a-doodle-do, which was repeated from tent to tent. We were off again at 7 am. The sand hills are here covered with grass trees, a very singular plant, not unlike a gigantic bull-rush. It has a hard sharp pointed sword-like leaf, like a two edged sword I have severe cuts inflicted on the hands with them. In the centre a straight stem shoots up to the height of from 4 to 12 feet, which is terminated at the top, and often several feet downwards, with a compact mass of white flowers from, which bees extract a quantity of honey and from the stem. When quite dry it is used the natives to procure fire by friction.
At noon we came to Jim Crow Flat. Here there was no water. The road was less heavy than before. At sunset we came to another flat. We procured brackish water here. Here we watered ‘Doughboy’ and his mates from buckets. After supper this evening I was requested to play a tune to enliven the party. I did so, and all began to dance around the camp fire, kicking the cooking utensils in all directions. The corporal was unfortunate enough to fall into the fire, and the sergeant on the top of him. Neither were injured, and the sergeant was avenged relative to the corporal’s fall through the bunk. I thought I should come to grief, fiddle and all, so I perched on the dray for safety. The corporal again came to grief, falling over a fallen tree headlong, skinning his nose and face. Our friend got no sympathy On the contrary roars of laughter followed his descent among the brush wood. ‘Well,’ says the corporal, ‘yee’s are fellows; bedad, I believe ye’s would laugh if I’d been kilt intirely. May be, it will be yer turn next.’ The captain suggested that a Baves’ salve plaister on the nose would relieve it. The major thought leeches would do. ‘Will ye’s lave off, or I’ll get vexed; don’t trifle. Maybe, ye’s would sing a different song if ye’s had got it. Sure an’ I’d never come with ye’s if I’d know how ye’s would trate a fellow. I’ll go to bed at wanst.’ A chorus of voices shouted to him to mind his nose, and not hit it against the dray pole. At this our noble friend discharged an oath which surprised us all. We now retired to rest at once. We arose early next morning and many were the enquiries as to the corporals poor nose. I was asked to examine it. I pronounced it a lacerated wound I recommended cold water, which soon had the desired effect. The weather was very hot and the road did not improve as we expected. We dined at 1 p.m. The captain, sergeant, and corporal went on ahead, the major driving, and I was mounted on Teddy. Our progress was very slow for want of water. The colonel and I were together when all at once a strange bird fluttered out of a bush near to us. We got a gun and shot it. I saw that it was a species of owl. We crossed a plain of sand, very heavy, of about six miles in extent. Our companions returned, and reported no water to be found. We met one of the other party, who had been 10 miles ahead of us; and no water, and country worse. This was bad news. The captain and sergeant went in another direction in search of water. It was now getting dark, and our comrades had not returned. We discharged guns and pistols several times; still they did not return, and we feared they were lost. At last we heard a coo-ee, which we joyfully answered. They had heard our firing. They had found good feed, but no water. This kangaroo grass was very acceptable, being green The sergeant, corporal, and I rolled ourselves up in our blankets to take a short nap. The colonel and major were rolled up in the Russian coat. This was a very heavy coat half-an-inch thick. It would take in two persons at a pinch. The captain slept in the dray. We did not remove our clothes, as it was our intention to stay only a short time. In about two hours we were on the march again. The captain and sergeant now went ahead at a round pace, with the kettle. If they found water they were to return at once with it full. The colonel and I rode on Teddy in turns. After travellng about a mile we were so overtaken with sleep as to appear like tipsy men, and choked with thirst. At 5 p m. we overtook the other party returning to their camp. They had sent a man on ahead. Their horses were knocked up. Bad news for us, who had been traveling all night. We were now scarcely able to speak, so parched were we with thirst. ‘Doughboy’ and his mates stood it wonderfully well. We determined if they gave up to drive them slowly on till we found water, leaving the dray behind. At 8 a.m. we met one of the men leading his horse, quiet done up. He had been on ahead 15 miles, and still no water. What dreadful news! Our distress was great. On we went slowly. We met three other men returning, telling us to cheer up. Water was only five miles ahead of us. It rained soon after this, and thirst seemed to leave us as by magic; and at 3 p.m. we sailed through the great desert of Australia, the Sahara of South Australia, a 100 miles across. What a relief to us weary travelers to once behold abundance of beautiful water, and fine grass of a splendid dark green sue, and magnificent gum trees ! What a contrast to the dreary sandy waste which we had just traversed. Strange to say, no one cared to drink, though we had passed through 50 miles without water. We were very hungry. The captain, sergeant, major, and I went to the station to enquire about the road. We returned with a fore-quarter of mutton, which was given us. We had not met with such generosity since leaving home. We retired to bed early. We passed through a beautiful country this day, and splendid timber, magnificent red and white gum trees and sheoaks The wood is said to be valuable. We camped in the midst of good grass. A very heavy rain came on suddenly before We had got the tarpaulin rigged, so we had to beat an hasty retreat under the dray. When it cleared up, the colonel and I basely put up the tent ; and we had no time got it temporarily up when down it came, pell mell, before we had got half of our things under cover. Seeing that it was likely to continue, we put on great coats, and went about collecting fire wood. We started on the march again. We traversed a fine level country. We came to a township a few miles on from the camp. The colonel and I had got in advance of the dray, and commenced writing to our friends, our desk being a prostrate tree. The township was scarcely worth the name. It consisted of a slab public house, a small store, composed of slabs, and one hut, post office there was none. We called at the inn to inquire about the road, and the landlord offered to forward one letter to Adelaide, and we gratefully accepted his offer: We got on the march early next morning. The sergeant baked our last piece of mutton in the camp oven. The aspect of the country changed wonderfully, nothing but a Bay of Biscay land. The dray was rolling and tossing about like a ship in a violent storm. Having traversed a considerable tract of this description of country, we arrived at Gordon’s Station, and were in want of animal food. We expected to get a fresh supply here, but were disappointed. The hut-keeper informed us that we could procure it at the head station It was so far out of our way that we resolved to satisfy our hunger on dry damper till another station was reached. This part of the county is badly watered. Wells have to be sunk 150 feet deep to water the stock. Another sheep station was reached this day, and again failed to get any meat, although thousands of sheep swarmed the country. We felt rather annoyed at this and really we began to think that they did not care about supplying us. The hut-keeper wanted to buy Teddy, but we declined to sell him. Camped a short distance from this, and the major mounted Teddy and went to try the man at the hut for a sheep, but returned un successful. It seemed as though we were never to taste meat again. We had leather jackets for supper, and a very appropriate name it is for them They are merely flower and water mixed, and kneaded into cakes, which are baked in the frying pan. They kept our jaws at work for more than half an hour before our hunger was satisfied. This evening we used up our last candle, by the light of which I took brief notes of our journey. We succeeded in getting a sheep the next day, the meat of which was a great treat to us, though it was poor. The shepherd’s wife at this station inquired if we had any amusing books to part with. The colonel being possessed of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ gave it to her in exchange for another, ‘The Warhawk’, a sea tale, This afternoon we were much amused with the corporal’s feats of horsemanship. It being his turn to ride he started off at full speed, he had got about a 100 yards off when Teddy suddenly popped his head between his forelegs, landing our friend on the crown of his head. This was a trick of his when badly treated by his rider, and it was quite amusing to see how comical he looked at our companions, as much as to say ‘Yees are right for abasing me.’ The colonel made bis first attempt at making a damper, and under the able superintendence of the sergeant learned the art very well, the only thing that annoyed him was the determination of the dough to stick to his hands in spite of his efforts to remove it. Oar gallant cook, however, came to the rescue before his patience was exhausted. At midnight heard ‘Doughboy’s’ bell ring loudly. The corporal and I went to bring them back, and had some trouble to find the camp, as the fire had burnt down. The corporal, having a terrible dread of being lost, made such terrific yells as to make the woods resound. Our companions heard the noise, and were so alarmed that something serious had happened. The firearms were discharged, and the whole camp roused up. Whilst the sergeant was frying mutton chops he saw a wild turkey. He left the pan and its contents in charge of the corporal, and got his gun, the colonel approached from the opposite side. The bird was now between them, and they made sure of it and when they got about 100 yards of it our feathered friend sailed majestically into the air, leaving them to mourn over their loss. The corporal was so intently watching the turkey that he burnt the chops, and received a good reprimand from the head cook. ‘ Doughboy’ and his mates were making off again. The corporal went after the deserters. That worthy soon returned, shouting out that two were missing. The captain accompanied this time, and after a vigorous search they were found them hiding among a cluster of thick bushes, quite near. Got on the way early; came to a part of the country thickly studded with mallee, in the centre of which we were surprised to find a remarkable basin or hollow of sand, in which were & cluster of fine pines. Passing through this we came to a hill, and having ascended, saw from the summit the Grampian Ranges looming in the distance, as also Mount Arapiles, a sunny mount, standing on the verge of a large plain. At a short distance from this was a lagoon, where the colonel, sergeant, and corporal thought they would like to have a swim, so stripped and walked in very cautiously, thinking it would be deep, and to our great amusement saw them wading to the centre in less than 2 feet of water, and were nearly bogged. We travelled on. It was now sun set, and not a blade of grass was to be seen, the country being overrun by sheep. The captain went ahead, and the corporal followed a track to the left in search of grass and sheoaks We had travelled about two miles when we heard the voice of the corporal resounding through the woods. Our friend was again lost within coo-ee of us. He was invariably lost out of our sight. He came up panting and out of breath. ‘Sure an’ I’ve seen a quar ‘ooking baste, the likes of which yees never seen.’ ‘ Well,’ I replied, ‘can you describe it.’ ‘To be sure I can’. ‘He stood on his behind legs looking at me. He had awful long tusks – like a boar, and was a blue color. Yees know when 1 shouted?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, I saw him then, an’ I thought yees would come quick, and may be we’d have got the baste; we’d have made a power of money by him at the Museum— shure at the menagerie, I mane.’ ‘Oh !’ says the colonel ‘ you are only trying to make us believe you were not lost.’ ‘Do yees doubt my word ? I’m after spakin’ the truth?’
The sergeant hoped he was. ‘ Av coorse if yees dont like to believe me yees can lave it alone.’ This amusing discussion was brought to a close as the captain returned. He had found a few old twisted sheoaks, on reaching which we camped. It was quite dark, and we all felt fatigued with the long days march. There was six oaks, so cut down three, and left the remaining three for morning. It was a miserable spot, and being very dark, it was a job to see what we were doing, for although it was light around the fire, it was dark a few yards off. Here another misfortune happened, as the sergeant and corporal came into collision, and between them capsized the quart pot containing the soup. Our cook was so vexed that he gave the corporal a kick under the coat-tails, which the corporal made some attempt to return, and we were afraid that a mutiny would have broken out; fortunately the affray was put an end to before any serious damage was done. Our cook was a man of Herculean strength, and doubtless the corporal thought it the better part of valour to quietly submit. On the pot being taken to the light it was discovered that the liquid only was lost, and the cook was of opinion that it would still make soup. It was rather late when we got supper- The soup went down with great gusto. A very animated debate was carried on by the major, sergeant, and corporal about the girls, this being a very favourite topic of conversation among them. The major had received a poetical effusion from his girl reminding him very forcibly that should he meet with other friends who loved him well to forget her not. The corporal and sergeant also received a billet-doux. The rest of us heard from our parents and friends.’
23 September 1880
‘We reached the Wimmera next day. This part of the country lies very low, and much of it is flooded. The backwaters of this river are numerous. We were fortunate in finding an abundance of grass and sheoaks, so we camped for the day and as the woolen clothes had not been aired, we pulled and spread them out in all directions. They we’re rather damp, but had received no further damage. There was a grand display of bright colors. In the midst of all this drapery was to be seen the gallant major greasing his boots and the captain busy examining the other goods and rearranging them. A mouse was discovered among the flour bags, which we had imported into Victoria duty free. The sergeant, major and captain were washing their clothes, the day being dry and favorable for the drying process. The corporal commenced baking dampers for the first time in his life, and, as a matter of course, made a mesa of it, the dough being only half worked, and was full of dry lumps of flour and only half baked, and our model cook was so enraged at him that he declared that he should eat it himself, and at once set about making frying-pan cakes, and our friend was left to enjoy his own baking. The colonel had charge of ‘Doughboy’ and his companions. I was busy making the tea ready. After this meal the colonel and I took a turn at the wash; and neither of us being adepts at washing, the dirt, of course, was only partially removed. We put on clean garments much to our comfort. The sky suddenly became overcast, and we saw signs of approaching rain, and before we got all snug it rained heavily. It did not last long however. Having finished our last piece of mutton, we called at a sheep station to get a fresh supply. The overseer at this place was rude and uncivil to us. At last he threw at our feet a hindquarter of mutton, and wretched stuff it was, and for which we had to pay an exorbitant price. Soon after this we passed the seven branches of the Wimmera, and arrived at Eadlie Station— a beautiful spot, situate in Horseshoe Bend of the main channel of the river. It was a beautiful day. All nature seemed to enjoy the warmth of the sun. The giant red gum flourished here in all his glory. The finest specimens of native cherry trees had ever seen grew here. We halted for a time to repose m the banks of the river to enjoy the beauty, serenity, and grandeur of this pretty spot. The Wimmera is an extraordinary river, flowing through the country, divides into numerous branches, and when floods come unite and inundate the low land. A man at the station informed us that flaming accounts were published of the richness of the Inglewood Diggings. All the station hands were going after shearing time. We again crossed a Bay of Biscay plain of great extent, very soft in places, the traveling being extremely fatiguing, especially to ‘Doughboy’ and his companions, but they were splendid workers, although refractory at times. We saw flock of native companions. I should say some of them stood fully six feet high. These birds are of the stork species. We were reluctantly obliged to camp in the midst of this plain, there being no possibility of passing through it, for it was nearly dark. There was neither feed nor sheoaks. We had enough to do to scrape up sufficient rubbish to boil our tea can, and cooking was out of the question. Luckily we had a piece of boiled meat, so we fared better than our labours; and to make things worse it began to rain heavily whilst the captain and sergeant were out watching ‘Doughboy’ and his mates, who were rambling about in search of provender and shelter from the driving rain.. They returned wet to the skin and cold, so they thought it wise to go to bed at once. The major and corporal turned out to take the first watch in their greatcoats and overalls It was a miserable cold job, which required constant vigilance, for the attempts at escape were frequent aid desperate, and the nigh very dark it was impossible to see far ahead of you. So intense indeed was the dark ness, that the corporal and sergeant both fell over Teddy, one after the other. This time the corporal was undermost, and must have been crushed by the ponderous weight of our worthy cook. The captain and major now took the second watch. They had a great deal of amusement at the corporal’s description of the adventure with Teddy. They made such a noise that the colonel and I could not rest, so we lighted the torch and listened to it. ‘Well,’ says the corporal, ‘I’ll tell ye’s how it happened. Myself and the sergeant was going double quick march, for ‘Doughboy’ an’ his crew was off, when all at wanst I fell over something soft, and alighted far on me head into a mud hole, full of water, and the sergeant here came tumbling after me, an’ I thought I kilt intirely. Sure, an’ he can’t grumble at me for what happened when I fell through me bunk in the hut. Sure, an’ the debt is paid with interest. ‘No,’ says the sergeant, ‘not yet’. ‘Do you forget the mutton chops that you burnt that morning when we tried to shoot a turkey ?’ ‘Sure, an’ I don’t; but that’s nothing to do with ye’s that was affecting the party in genera! Ye’s don’t catch s weasel asleep, and, besides, the turkey made a fool of ye’s If I burnt the mate, yes wernt men enough to shoot the bird’ ‘We’ll cry quits.’ ‘Now lave off. I want to have a slape. I’m tired an’ aching all over.’ Everything was in a mess next morning. We breakfasted on cold water, damper, and a very small allowance of cold mutton. We started off early. The road was in a frightful condition. At 1 pm. we reached Darlow’s Station, where we purchased a miserably, lean sheep for 15s. It was shouldered and carried to the dray and killed at once. We fried some for dinner. This meat would not have been considered fit to eat in any town, but we were obliged to take what we could get, and be thankful we were always hungry, and, therefore, what would have, been loathsome to eat at one time was almost a relish now. Traveling the bush is fine for sharpening one’s appetite. We had no luxuries. Cups and saucers, we had none, nor plates. We cut our meat on a lump of damper with our bowie knives, and instead of forks used our fingers; as do the primitive sons of the bush. We were still standing over the dreary crab-hole plain. The major saw a wild cat run into a hole in the earth,. He pulled it out by the tail, and let it go again to have some sport, chasing it with his bullock whip. He and the sergeant at last despatched it in this way. Very few dogs will venture to attack this ferocious little animal. They are very destructive to the feathered tribe and great egg thieves. We were again unfortunately having to camp at a place where there was littler grass and sheoaks. We retired to rest early, but were disturbed ere long, ‘Doughboy’ and mates making off for fresh fields and pastures new. They had got five miles before’ they were overtaken. We were off at 7 am. At about three miles camp camp we arrived at Wilson’s Station, and greeted the Wiminera again. We were now on the old overland road, which was well, known to me, having traversed it twice before. We came to a public house at noon. We got our dinner near here . We kept aloof from these places. We met a party of Adelaide men returning from the diggings. ‘These men informed us that they had not been successful; had spent £50 since they left home. Altogether they gave, as a very dismal account of the gold fields, to all of which they had been but Snowy River. We were not to be frightened by this piece of news for we knew some would be unfortunate. It was so in the palmiest days of the gold fields. At 4 p m. we came to a fine forest of sheoaks where we camped, and felled plenty of them for our faithful workers. This evening we had boiled mutton and pudding for supper. The colonel, captain, and corporal greased the wheels. Again we met returning diggers, who said that they had done well but had spent it foolishly, making good the old adage, -’A fool and his money is soon parted’. However, this is no uncommon occurrence, as many can tell who imagined; that gold finding would never, come to an end, and that when their first findings were spent they had only to return; plenty more was waiting the revelation of their picks. Alas! nine out of ten lucky diggers who returned were the second time unlucky. The happy dream had exploded, and they were in a worse position than before. To-day we passed Airey and Nicholl’s Station: This is a very pretty part of the country, not too thickly timbered. The red gum and box trees predominate, of which we observed a few fine specimens. The native cherry tree also flourishes here. The grass being almost nil, we were obliged to cut down a few for fodder. They took good care to make us pay dear for meat. Seven shillings was paid for a miserable fore- quarter of mutton. The Victorian squatters seemed to cherish a great dislike to travellers from Adelaide. The reason given by a man at one of these stations was that overlanders sometimes burnt their runs by leaving camp fires unextinquished in the summer season. If this really was the case such culpable negligence deserved condemnation. Still it was hard that we, who were very careful, should suffer for the guilty.
A grand ball took place under a giant gum tree, which was continued until they were exhausted. The pots and pans were kicked about in all directions. As before the colonel fell rather heavily over the soup pot, damaging his shins. This catastrophe closed the evening’s amusement. The sergeant and I complained that the corporal’s boots smelt so bad we could hardly exist for them. We remonstrated with him for leaving them in the tent, and desired him to remove them. This our worthy friend refused to do and the sergeant got up and threw them out, declaring that they were enough to cause a disease. ‘Arrah,’ says the corporal, ‘did ye’s ever hear of a pig catchin’ a disease? And where is there a healthier animal in the world? Sure, an’ ye’s are going out of yer minds intirely.’ I suggested to our friend that when he re turned a rich gold digger, he should put his theory to the test by keeping the pigs in his house ‘Will ye’s let a fellow go to slape, ye haythens. I’ll be afther spakin’ to ye’s no more’ We were on the march early next morning. Fine level country before us and a splendid hard road. A shepherd informed us that there was a likely looking country for gold not far ahead of us. At the next station there was a tame kangaroo hopping about, which the corporal much admired, and inquired if it was an emu. A loud peal of laughter followed. Our friend had never seen one before. We saw a good lot of cockatoos, but failed to get within range of them. The sergeant shot a pair of the handsomest blue mountains I had ever seen. We met two Nairne men, who were known to us. They were returning unsuccessful; gave us a most deplorable account of the diggings. They had been nearly starved. They told us if we went we would fare no better than themselves. We laughed at them, for we knew they would spend ali that they got a drink, be it much or little. We were going along very leisurely, the colonel commanding, and in the dray resting. At some distance behind a furious bull rushed out of a thicket and charged the colonel and his forces and so determined was the onset that it required all the strategy and coolness our gallant commander possessed to prevent a panic. I was dosing when I heard a terrible roar, as if a lion and charged us. I sprang up at once, armed myself with a stout stick and was soon at the scene of action. The charge of sticks and stones was useless so I charged the gap and gave him shot which soon sent his bullship at a headlong speed with head down and tail erect. Our reinforcements came up too late to be of any service ; so the colonel and I had the honour of gaining the victory. The wounded had to be attended to, ‘ Snowy’ had received a bayonet-wound in the shoulder. ‘Doughboy’ was also slightly grazed, and ‘Balmain’ received a contusion wound in the ribs. These were only trifling and we continued our onward march without further molestation. Camped early in a magnificent iron-bark forest, which reminded me of the stately iron-bark trees of Bendigo which had a noble ornament in the fluted doric column-like trunks of its splendid iron bark eucalypite. There is majesty even sublimity in the solitude of such a forest. Then in the day a variety of songsters awaken the pure air with pleasure, and the evening is closed in with the wild and ringing chuckle of the laughing jackass, halcyon gigans, and gigantic kingfisher. This was such a likely looking country for gold that we resolved to stay here a time and prospect the country, and this was not the only inducement to remain for awhile. The pasture was splendid, chiefly kangaroo grass. It is rather hilly, and the surface soil contains plenty of quartz and iron-stone; and we found ourselves beginning to speculate on the probability of finding a rich deposit of the precious metal. We shouldered our picks and shovels and explored the main gully, and found that some one had been be fore us. A few holes had been sunk evidently some time ago. We examined the stuff thrown out of the holes, and I found that it exactly resembled what I had seen at Bendigo and Avoco. We were a little disappointed, but were still sanguine of success, and hoped that we might be lucky. It was just possible that new chums have tried here and abandoned it for want of knowledge and experience. Came to a fine gully about a mile from the camp, and commenced sinking about the centre of the gully. At three feet came to the well-known burnt stuff which robs the pick of its steel point. Never mind; at it again. The flows fall thick and fast. The day is dosing, and the aching back and arms assure you it is high to go to supper. At it again in the morning. Two more feet of burnt stuff is penetrated, and the pick is so blunt as to be almost useless; and there is no blacksmith to be sought at his primitive- looking forge, as was the case at the diggings. I can well remember going to his forge at Bendigo, and after paying 2s. 6d for a point, return and dash into it again. A better relief came after the burnt stuff in the shape of some more agreeable separable conglomerate, yellow and blue clay. Some four feet of this and we bottomed on pipeclay. We now picked very cautiously, examining the stuff minutely for gold particles; but after cleaning off the bottom not a speck did we behold. Tried the wash dirk, still none. Tried more shafts; still no gold; so after trying a few days gave it up. We resolved, however, to spell another day. As I found it very trouble some spreading out my opossum rug and blankets to make my bed every night I at last hit upon a plan, which answered admirably. I simply sewed them to make a sack so that I could go in feet first, and no matter how I rolled was always covered, though I often made one revolution during the night. The rest seeing the advantage of my scheme adopted it: Time was also saved in packing the beds. The corporal was enjoying a quiet nap in the tent, but not destined to remain long so for the colonel, captain, and sergeant, resolved to have a piece of fun, so tied his legs together; and ‘ suddenly shouted into his ear that some young ladies were passing along the road, which our friend no sooner heard than he made a vigorous spring, only to bite the dust, for in addition to this the sergeant had tied his left leg to the tent pole. The corporal was nearly frantic on being told that they would soon vanish out of sight if he was not quick.’
30 September 1880
‘Will yees let me go? be jabera, yees are always tasing me. Yees never will let me have any pace and quietness at all at all.’ ‘Well,’ says the captain, ‘We knew that you always liked to see the ladies, and thought we were doing you a kindness in rousing you in this instance.’ ‘To be sure I’m always glad of a sight of the dear cratures but sure an’ yees needn’t have nobbled me. Do yees call that a good turn? Faiz an’ I believe yees were jalous and not willing for me to see them.’ ‘Och, well,’ says the colonel, ‘ we’ll let you go this time — release him now. You will have to run fast to catch them’ ‘Well,’ says the corporal, ? ‘Did yees see which way they steered?’ The sergeant said they had turned round the corner. ‘Come on, old fellow, and I’ll show you.’ ‘No’ says the corporal, ‘yee’s go back at wanst, yee’ll frighten them intirely.’ ‘Very well, go yourself; and if you don’t find them don’t blame us.’ ‘Sure an’ I’ll find them.’ Away he went. It will be necessary to remark that our friend of the Emerald Isle was a very great admirer of the fair sex, and he always made a point of marching on ahead of us on sighting a station, so as to gain time for the purpose of having, as he said, ‘a yarn with the servant girl’ and he would neither spare time nor trouble to obtain her good will. He would be running to the well for water one minute, and the next chopping wood for her. He would bare no denial. ‘Sure and I am offering my services gratuitously out of politeness, me darlin,’ he would say. Our friend used to confide in the colonel and myself, and I have heard him say that every girl at the stations we had passed had a great notion of him. He would invariably express himself thus : — ‘Now, squire, ye’s are a man to kape a sacret. The girl at the station took a great notion of me. Sure, an’ she looked awful bad when I parted with her. If ye’s had only seen the leer of love she gave me. yees must have been sorry. Be gorra, I’d a mind to stop and lave ye’s intirely, only ye’s see it would be better to get the gould first. Sure, I’ll be coming back this way, and I’ll be better able to perform the great event with me purse full than empty ; for ye’s know the auld saying, – When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window.’ I remarked that the proverb often proved true, ‘Sure, and it does. Me auld grandmother used to say, ‘My dear boy, ye’s’ll think o’ me when ye’s see the auld story come thrue. The soray a thing will ye’s belave till ye’s see it foment yer own eyes.’ We arrived at the township of Navar, situate on a fine level piece of land. From this place there was a fine view of the mountains to the N.W. It was better deserving the name of town than the first we visited. Here we received intelligence of a diggings 8 miles distant, and that a few parties were doing well, and having travelled on about that distance we arrived at a creek where we saw unmistakeable evidence of the water being used to wash, for gold, and came to a conclusion that these diggings could not be far distant. The major mounted Teddy and went on to see how far it was on, and returned in about an hour, report ing the distance I 1/2 miles further. We came to the diggings early next morning, and camped in as favorable a spot as we could find. We inspecked the diggings as soon as we had arranged everything to our satisfaction. The diggers complained of the ground being poor, in fact they were only fossiking old holes that had been previously worked by more fortunate diggers. Their gainings were very fluctuating, a little one day and nil the next. So we returned and near the creek picked up the spout of an old teapot, which we thought would do for a candle mould; so we hemmed the small end so as to admit a wick. We then get some twine, and the next thought was how to make it stand up while the hot fat was being poured in. The colonel suggested it should be stuck in the earth, which would answer the double purpose of preventing the fat running through the hole, and keeping it perpendicular at the same time. The quart pot was used to melt the fat in as there was nothing else available; and having filled this bachelor’s candle mould, we retired under cover to await its cooling. We waited about half-an-hour, and then went to draw it. Imagine our surprise and disappointment on arriving at the spot to find it gone. The corporal divined the cause at once ‘Arrah! to be sure and the dogs ran off with it, ye spalpanes; sure no one would steal the likes o’ such an instrument as that; sure an’ he’ll have a dale o’ trouble to get the mate out ave it entirety’ We found it about 20 yards from the camp. The candle was still in it, but the dog had left his mark upon it and by means of hot water we managed to draw it out. We lighted it this evening, and found it answered much better than was expected. I got out my writing materials, and commenced taking notes of the days events. The sergeant began wrestling in close proximity to my desk, and finding that I was in imminent danger of being overturned, inkstand and all, I removed until the affray was ended. This night was intensely cold, we could scarcely keep warm in bed. , On rising in the morning we found the earth covered with a hard frost. Started off on the march at 7 am. and came to a halt opposite the store, where the captain purchased a pocket looking glass, to see what effect bush life had had on his physiognomy. On consulting this useful article he thought he was looking decidedly worse; but was glad to find that the crow’s foot had not appeared as yet round his eyes. Our gallant hero declared that he had two wrinkles on his brow which he had not noticed on leaving home. ‘ ‘Colonel,’ said the corporal, ‘are ye’s dune admiring yerself I –Sure; an’ ye’ll’ be after giving me the loan of yer instrument to take me likeness, till I see what like I am.’ ‘With pleasure,’ said the colonel. ‘My best thanks to ye’s ; an’ may I be able to help ye’s in the hour of need, yer honor.’ We all had a turn at the glass. The corporal thought he was looking about the same which the sergeant and I reminded our friend was probably owing to dreams of connubial bliss, which was no doubt awaiting him at no distant date; and should he be lucky enough to unearth a huge nugget at Snowy’ his cup of happiness would, be overflowing, and great would be the spree thereof. All responded in the belief and he said, ‘I wish ye’s. all good luck, that ye’s may take swatehearts as well as meself without the poverty coming in at the door and the love flying out of the window. Och, sure, an’ I could bear the poverty coming in; but me soul I couldn’t stand the love going out of the window.’
At five p.m. we came to a public-house, or shanty as they call it, where wine and spirits are sold. The major, seeing a young woman walking along the margin of a creek, went to her as be said to enquire the best road to take. The sergeant and colonel disputed the genuineness of the tale, and were of opinion that the gallant major was desirous of stealing a march on the corporal, who was unconscious of being in such close proximity to as lovely a being. He was unfortunately asleep in the dray, being lulled in a peaceful slumber by the rocking of the vehicle. The corporal was not roused until we had passed a good way on, when the captain pulled him out by the legs; and he was duly apprised of the event that had taken place whilst be was in the land of nod, whereupon our friend lost his temper, declaring that we were all traitors to his cause. ‘Squire,’ says he ‘I thought I could trust ye to do me a good turn.’ I informed him that I had in no way betrayed the trust reposed in me. I endeavored to remind our friend of the fact that the young woman at the station would not thank him for his attentions to another. ‘ Ye’s are raving. . Sure, an’ there’s no harm in having a peaceable yarn with a girl ; and its well to make sure of many to get one. There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip. Arrah ! the sorry a bit will I trust any of ye’s more.’ The major reported receiving good news of a new diggings about a mile from where we were and that a 2 ounce nugget had been found few days ago; and only a few parties were on the new discovery, and they were doing well . This was good news, if true, but we were beginning to doubt the accuracy of reports of this kind. There is a disposition to exaggerate the quantity of precious metal found, especially on a new gold-field. You are told one day of a party pulling up a young tree and finding a family of small nuggets adhering to the fibrous roots; and such other stories may be related that would put to blush the fairy tales of old. A bullock-driver at Mount Koorony was said to have literally turned up large nuggets as the wheels of his dray plowed through the soft earth in winter; and hundreds started in hot haste as if mad; many leaving far better prospects behind for an uncertainty. It is time a few struck rich deposits; but these were few indeed to the overwhelming numbers who did little or nothing. I have seen 20 lbs. of gold taken from an area of eight feet square, and not more than 4 feet deep. Numbers were delving all round this spot; some got a little, and the rest barely the colour. My brothers and myself were the first who discovered the rich Avoca gold- field. We worked hard, prospecting the country all round for six months; and were on the point of giving it up in despair, when one day we shouldered our picks and shovels to try in a direction not visited before, where we came to fine quarts reefs, leading down ridges into a long gully. I remarked that I believed we had hit the right locality. We tried the gully, on each side of which were fine quartz reefs. We tried three holes. I sunk nearer the centre of the gully, and reached pipeclay bottom at about 6-foot deep. It was quite dark by this time, and we were three miles from our tent. We picked up a panful of was wash dirt, and on our way home washed it in a creek, there being no water near the holes. We left a little in the bottom of the dish, and started homeward. On reaching home we discovered to our great joy several fine pieces of shotty gold. We returned to work in high spirits; worked for months at this spot before we were found out. Then there was a rush. They came from Bendigo and all parts by thousands. The main gully was turned up in an incredible space of time, and although we reaped a rich harvest, which not only repaid for lost time and expenses but left a handsome surplus, still we were far from being the luckiest finders. There were three parties who netted an average 60 lbs each. We got about one fourth of this, and were satisfied this was the result of a former trip, and is in no way connected with the trip to the Snowy. To continue my narrative of the new diggings which we had heard of two diggers came to our camp, and we naturally asked their opinion of it. They told us that they could give us no reliable information as to the richness of the find, as they were only new chums, and had only just commenced to sink. The ground was very hard. They had to repoint their picks every two hours. Our tarpaulin was very troublesome. It must have been dipped into a tar barrel, for it stuck together so tightly that it often took the whole of us to unfold it, besides being a great weight The sergeant, major, and corporal were again on the favorite debate about the fair sex on one side of the camp fire, and on the other the captain was delivering a lecture on bullock punching, at which he was very skillful. There was a small attendance, the colonel and’ I being the only listeners. The corporal remarked that the lecture was an unpopular one. ‘Sure, haven’t we enough ave that every day in rale practice. Sure, an’ we mane to plaze ourselves intirely.’ We started off in high hopes for the diggings spoken of. We ascended a steep hill, the summit of which was covered with quartz and grey stone. We heard the barking of dogs, and steered in that direction. Having gone half-a-mile further, we came to a few deserted holes. A little in advance of this we found them at work. We accosted a man who was drawing wash dirt from a pit. He said the shafts were from 20 to 30 feet deep, and hard sinking. Success depended on striking the dip. No gold being found in any other part and only one party was doing well. All the rest were in hopes of striking the lead. Another man who was interrogated by the corporal told him that he had been working 12 months and had only earned sufficient to pay for candles. ‘Well,’ says the corporal, ‘did ye’s never find any gould to pay for yer mate. Sure, an’ ye couldn’t make candles. Are ye’s really spakin’ the truth?’ The man replied that diggers lived on hopes if they lied in despair. The digger’s motto is ‘Nil Desperandum’ ‘Yer right,’ says the corporal, ‘a desperate case indeed. I wish ye’s luck, an’ may ye’s have no more candles to ate before long.’ After examining the working from end to end we returned to camp and held a consultation. We thought these men were getting more than they were willing to admit As all were not willing to give it a trial, we resolved to proceed on our journey and arrived at a station at 2 pm. The country here is very thickly timbered. The acacias were magnificent and of large size. As the day was rather warm it was very pleasant traveling the woods under-such a shady canopy. Bush traveling is very conducive to health. The air is pure and balmy and you are always ready for your meals. We camped this evening at 6 p.m and struck in half-a-mile from the road to get better feed. We had little trouble with ‘Doughboy’ and his mates now they seem satisfied. It was the corporal’s turn, to bake to-night. I had again to act as musician, I sat in front of the fire, perched on an upturned bucket. They raised such a dust that I was nearly choked, and had to give it up. The 10th of May. We had now been from home a month. The township of Avoca was distant, 21 miles ahead, where we arrived in due time. We crossed over a neat wooden: bridge which spans the river 100 yards, to the right of which there is a fine vineyard of about 20 acres. Adjacent to this there is a large orchard and also a vegetable garden. Or the opposite side is Knott’a Inn. Passing on, we next came to tbe cemetery enclosed by a neat fence painted white. There are several nice cottages on the outskirts of the town but the finest buildings are situated in the centre, as is generally the case in cities. I was fortunate enough to strike a nugget whilst driving in the pipeclay with my pick. This shaft was in the main gully, and was 10 feet deep. Whilst sinking this shaft a layer of drift gravel was struck at 4 feet from the surface and water was running through this gravel fast, and we had to timber it, and ram tempered clay behind it, before we could proceed any further. In addition to the nugget before-mentioned, which was pure and weighed 31/2 ounces, another was found, weighing 10 ounces. This claim realized about 12 lbs. of gold, and was worth the labor bestowed upon it. 1 don’t know how much more it would have yielded had we been able to finish it, which we were unable to do, owing to the water bursting through below the timber, and filling it with water. In passing through Avoca I was surprised to find the place so changed as to be quite beyond recognition, it being densely wooded when we first knew it; now the timber has been completely cut down for some miles round the town and diggings, which has a most desolate appearance. A number of Chinese are employed working over and over again the debris of these gold-fields; and from all I can learn have made it pay handsomely. They work in gangs, trenching the whole as they go, washing good, bad, and indifferent. The wood aound here used to be swarmed with opossums, but they are now an extinct race. John Chinaman has digested the whole of them. These people eat every living thing, nothing escapes them. Woe to the rat, wild cat, opossum, and kangaroo-rat, that ventures too near Ching Chong; its doom is sealed. No dead carcass is allowed to putrefy where they are. If an animal dies it is quickly transferred to their flesh-pots. A dead dog is considered a great luxury I am told. We made very slow progress through the town and for some 2 miles further the road being newly metaled with quartz and ironstone we were glad to pass from this to the bush road, though it was very dusty owing to the great traffic on this road. Camped in the midst of a very likely-looking country for gold between Avoca and Marlborough; so we decided to try our fortune here whilst Doughboy and his crew were recruiting their last energies, being much in want of a spelL The captain and I made choice of a spot in the centre of a fine leading gully. We then explored the gully further down, and came upon a party of diggers at work, who said they had been prospecting for some time in the neighborhood, but had not hit upon sufficient to pay for working. I forgot to mention that we parted with Teddy at Avoca and got £16 for him. After breakfast we commenced sinking, and having sunk 9 feet we rigged a lever to pull up the earth. The sergeant undertook to wash for us whilst we were mining, and was cook in addition to this. The road was swarming with Chinese passing to and fro; and some of them visited the sergeant, who could not parlay with them. They pointed to where we were sinking, so he thought they wanted to find out if we were getting gold. The Melbourne gold escort passed us to day. It consisted of s light wagon and three horses, a mounted trooper, riding, in front, and one behind, and one on each side, and an officer inside. They were all fully armed. We left off work this evening, having got down 15 feet. I retired early to rest, not to sleep however, but to mend my trousers, which were considerably out of repair. No doubt I would have presented a strange and amusing appearance if my friends at home could have seen me just now, sitting up in bed, red night light on, tailoring away to the best of my ability. We found it very awkward dressing and undressing. The pole of the dray being so low we were reduced to the necessity of pulling on our pants in a recumbent posture. Bumping one’s head was a common occurrence. Next morning the colonel and major worked in the hole before breakfast, whilst the captain and sergeant sought for ‘Doughboy’ and his comrades. The corporal and I prepared the morning meal. Two men came to the camp at noon, who appeared to be hard up and having boiled their tea at our fire, and seeing that the poor men had nothing to eat, we gave them some of our damper, for which they were very thankful. These men had been part of the way to the Snowy River, but funds running short they were compelled to relinquish the attempt to reach the diggings, and were seeking employment. We had to go three miles to procure a fresh supply of mutton, of which we were quite out of. We bottomed the hole at 5 pm, washed some of the earth, and there was not a speck of gold in it, and after making repeated attempts abandoned it in disgust. We knew that it was impossible to spend time and money long unless we were lucky at first, for no gold means no money, and without that we could not proceed on our journey. Our idea was to try any likely spots as we journeyed along, and if we were fortunate if even reaping a moderate reward for our labour, to remain for the winter instead of visiting the icy regions at the coldest season of the year, when it would be impossible to work the ground. We got on the march again, ‘ Doughboy’ and his crew being quite fresh after their spell, and we were rather worse; blistered hands and aching arms our reward, the hands being tender and unused to the pick and shovel. The ground was perforated with holes like a colander in every direction. At 2 pm. we passed through the town of Marlborough, which is simply a long street of shops about a mile in length. The centre is compactly built I noticed several very pretty residences on the outskirts. Probably those are the seats of retired gentry, or shopkeepers in comfortable circumstances. There is an extensive diggings near the town, called the Adelaide lead. There have been rich deposits, but its best days are gone, and the old workings are undergoing a fresh disturbance. Four miles further on we arrived at the township of Carisbrook, a poor looking place, situated on fine agricultural land of some extent and nearly level. Mount Ecorong is plainly visible from here, the view being a pretty one. Continuing for some time, we came to a change in the shape of the hills, rather stony and destitute of timber. The land in this vicinity is purchased land and enclosed, and at this time of the year looks green. I thought that we should never get into open country this night. It was quite dark, and we were all greatly fatigued. At last, having gone three miles further on, we passed into open country. We camped just outside the form’s under a group of swamp sheoaks, and apparently on the verge of a level country. We prepared supper, and retired; but to sleep was out of the question, for an ox, with a powerful bell round his neck, came up to our camp, making a most deafening noise. The corporal got up and endeavoured to frighten his oxship off but without effect. Our friend assured us that the ‘baste’, to use his language, only gave him a look. . ‘Mire, an’ he almost ortbered meself off, be jabers, he shook his big head, as much as to say ye’s are in my country ‘ The captain arose next and tried the bullock whip The effect was only .temporary. He invariably returned, to annoy us on rising in the morning found the country level as we bad surmised.’
7 October 1880
‘We reached the Sodden River at noon. Here there were a few houses, the only one of any pretensions being a public house. In the interior of Australia an inn, a store, and one dwelling house is sufficient to constitute a town ship: The soil is of a light sandy nature. Agriculture was carried on to a limited extent. Distance a few miles further we passed through a singular country, rather hilly and sandy. Huge granite boulders of many shapes met our view on all sides. I went to examine one which drew my attention particularly. It was about 8 feet high, and on the top of this was a round one. You would imagine the Druids had once been here. It was very rough traveling indeed. We camped at 5 pm near a huge flat granite rock, made our fire on the top of it, being very little above the level sand. The appearance of the country is much the same for some distance. Another giant rock drew our attention, and we measured it; 30 yards in circumference and 1 2 feet high. This rock was, in shape, like a pentagon. We next passed a number of tents pitched near a creek, after which we arrived at a small township, surrounded by farms and gardens. Here the crops were chiefly wheat. After traversing the road for some distance we perceived that it was trending considerably the the westward, and thus knew we were wrong, our course being nearly due east. We found that we were on the Inglewood road, so we had to ’bout ship’. At noon next day we arrived at Bendigo, which we thought was as large as South Adelaide. The streets are wide, and there are fine buildings here, those most worthy of note being the Town Hall, Post and Telegraph Offices, and the Government Offices. The surrounding country is so changed in appearance that we could not recognize any part of it as resembling the Bendigo Diggings of old. In the first place the splendid iron bark forest, so celebrated for its grandeur, and is, alas! annihilated, has passed away; at least, for miles around these diggings, like the rest, have been turned over and over, and the aspect is desolate in the extreme. I can remember as though it were yesterday my father keeping a store at Eagle Hawk Gully. It was a lucrative business in those days. I can remember tea was sold at 5s. per lb.; sugar, 2s 6p. When we first left South Australia for the Victorian Goldfields, we took a quantity of flour, tea and sugar, drapery, and a variety of miscellaneous articles, it being our intention to open a general store, and great preparations were made to make the journey as pleasant and comfortable as possible. I may as well here state that when news of the great richness of the Victorian Gold Diggings was brought to this colony considerable excitement prevailed amongst all classes of society. Everyone was smitten with the gold fever. Those who possessed freehold property were eager to sell, but few cared to buy, and land was almost sacrificed to obtain money. My father had a very pretty freehold property, with improvements and permanent water, and a fine garden – this property was sold to a working man and his sons, who had recently come out from England. They seemed thriftily honest honest people, and my father let them the place on a right of purchase. The purchase money was to be £150— a low figure for so fine a property. Many persons, my father amongst the rest, were of opinion that South Australia was done; that the people would not return, but would settle in the sister colony. This was a mistake as we shall see presently. The total population was decimated; scarcely a man was left in some parts, and it was literally a colony of woman. Many there were who went bodily, taking their wives and families with, them, as in our case, but these were comparatively few, for it was impossible to do without means; and what followed. The numerous families left behind would require support, and, doubtless, those women would be very.anxious as to the results of their husbands’ labours at the goldfields, but they most wait. Many would spend sleepless nights. The imagination would run high one day, and, perhaps, sink the next, but the wheel of fortune at last turned the right way. Mr. Tolmer’s grand scheme of the gold escort was put into force, and South Australia was saved. The gold flowed into the Treasury, and everything began to prosper, but Tolmer’s services as leader of the escort were not recognised by our government in a manner at all adequate to the valuable results obtained by that gentleman in a critical period in the history of South Australia. Had all the gold obtained by the diggers of this colony gone to Melbourne the result may be easily imagined. As it was, the gold was sent to Adelaide, and the men, as a matter of course, followed, joined their wives and families purchased land, and made homes for themselves in the land of their adoption. It will thus be seen that the Victorian gold fields helped to enrich South Australia instead of doing harm, as many thought. There were many farmers who remained at home, cautious men who were skeptical as to the grand results said to be realised by gold digging. They reaped their golden harvest after the diggers’ return, for wheat rose to £1 per bushel, and property was proportionately valuable. To return to the property which my father disposed of so cheaply, I believe the working man paid for it in the second year and was offered three times the price given for it, but declined to part with it.
As we were now at Bendigo, the scene of my former adventures on these goldfields, I will describe briefly near as I can recollect the incidents connected with it. We erected our store, a large tent, opposite the centre of Eaglebank, which was perforated with holes quite half way down it. Golden Gully and Pegley Gully were like vast ants -nests, the diggers continually traversing the intricate winding paths. No time was lost in hoisting the flag ion the goldfields. A flag is run up a long pole to indicate that it is a store. Gold was £2 16s. an ounce when we arrived there and we bought all that we could get. All payments were made in gold. After a short spell our team was sent to Geelong for a load of flour. This flour on its arrival was sold at from £16 to £20 per bag. This was a tremendous price for the staff of life, but the drivers of these teams had to drag through fearful quagmires in the depth of winter. These poor men had tales of privation and hardships to tell that a digger has no conception. Two or three would go in company, and pull each other through the slough of despondence. Wet to the skin, day after day, a more rough and un comfortable life could be scarcely be imagined. Our overland travelling in the summer season was pleasant; but the ground between the diggings and Melbourne was of such an unsound nature that it was no uncommon occurrence for the oxen to disappear altogether crossing these quagmires. On one occasion I remember the team was delayed 3 weeks on the banks of a river awaiting the falling of its waters after a flood, and then were obliged to run a great risk in crossing, and all the goods had to be removed and packed in a tarpaulin to save them from being destroyed by water, for the dray was completely submerged, and the oxen swimming: The captain drove this team himself, and generally led the forlorn hope. He was a remarkable clever hand at managing a team. All being comfortably arranged my mother managed the store. She delighted in the occupation, and the store was well patronised. I then shouldered my pick and shovel and went to try my luck for the first time. I rambled about among the holes in quest of a likely spot to sink, asking many questions of the diggers who were at work; and to do them justice seemed pleased to give a new digger all the information they could; and I noticed that they were very sociable. It was quite a common thing to have two men working near to each other, anxiously enquiring whether the brown stuff was reached. Eagerly did they notice the progress of their neighbours. I was fortunate enough to meet an Adelaide man who I knew, and I was at once initiated into the mysteries of gold digging, and was shown a place not far from him. His party was sure I would find gold. It was a small if regular piece of ground surrounded by holes. On one side of this an Irishman had a claim of 8 square feet, that being the area allowed by the Commissioner for each miner, and he had dug out the whole, from the top to the bottom, instead of tunneling, as was usual. When I first observed him be was lying stretched out on his stomach picking out the nuggets with his knife, which he deposited into an old tin teapot ; and he would fossick in this way from morning till night, scarcely ever using his pick. The sinking at this spot was 9 feet. 1 got down 6 feet, and was busy throwing out earth, when all at once I heard loud shouting. I listened again to make sure. Not hearing it any more I began pitching out earth again, when I heard plainly the words, ‘Mate, are yea goin’ to murthur a man intirely. Be jabers ye’re throwin’ big stones on me. Will yez lave off.’ I then ascended my hole to ascertain what was the matter. There was so little room to place the debris that was takes out of the hole that it was no common thing for a neighbour digger to throw the soil and stones at times into the nearest hole to you, for you can’t see where you are throwing it; and whilst i was walking along the margin of his claim chanced to displace a quartz stone, and it fell crash on the Irishman’s teapot containing his treasure, crushing it into a shapeless mess.
‘Bad luck to yez. Will yez never be satisfied, rolling stones down on me, Yez have been thrying to bury me this half hour ; and now yez have broken me teapot, and all the goold in it. Arrahl Til be after the blagard that’s done all the mischief:’ I then came forward and inquired of him the cause of his annoyance. ‘ Are yez the man that has tried to bury me intirelv wid your sthones, and broke me tajpot?’ I replied that I had heard his voice calling out, and came to see what was the matter. ‘ ‘The matter did yez say? Sure, and ye’s have only to look and see I perceive there has been some disturbance in your hole.’ ‘Indade, an’ there is; look at me taypot, smashed to smithereens, and all me goold baled up in it.’ ‘ I am sorry to see you in so much trouble, my friend.’ ‘Och, bejabers, if yez are the man that’s the manes of doin’ the mischief yez are no friend to me.’ I ventured to say that it would be the result of an accident. ‘The devil an accident, at all at all,’ says he. I replied it must have been me that threw the dirt into his hole, as no one else was near enough to his claim but me; and I told him I was very sorry indeed for the occurrence, and would try and prevent it happening again. ‘Sure, yez seem a dacent man; an’ yez can do no more than be sorry.’ I pointed out that it was impossible to prevent the stuff rolling down into his hole, and suggested that we should help each other to make it safe. ‘Sure, I was thinking the same meself ; and if yea want’ any help to draw up any wash dirt I’ll help yez.’ I thanked him very kindly, and accepted his offer. I found this man an honest good-hearted fellow; and we got on well, accommodating each other in times of need I got 18 ounces of gold of the bottom of my hole, and about 3 lbs weight altogether; and I was well satisfied with the results of my first experience at gold digging. It was usual to try a dishful of wash dirt now and then to ascertain if it contained sufficient of the precious metal to pay for carrying to the tent, which was generally carried in bags, which, when filled, resembled a rolled pudding, and containing about 60 lbs of wash dirt. This was deposited in front of the tent, and remained until sufficient rain came to enable it to be washed. When we arrived at Bendigo a great many used to cart their wash dirt to the creek, where there were two water holes called the sheep wash. This water became so thick that a great quantity of gold was washed into it. The lucky diggers in those days did not half wash the stuff and I have been informed that a party who, some time afterwards, cleaned out these holes realised a handsome fortune for their trouble.’
Bells Life in Sydney & Sporting Reviewer. 2 Oct 1852
The Digger’s Chaunt
Of all the various games of life.
The digger’s life is best, boys:
No father, mother, child, or wife, .
Comes twixt us and our rest, boys.
The pick and cradle are our friends,
Our home is in the tent, boys:
And Government a license sends;
To yield us cent per cent, boys.
Dig, dig, dig: pick and cradle,
Wash away, boys, dig, dig, dig,
The Queen she sits upon her throne,
Oppressed with weighty cares, boys,
The miser counting o’er his own,
Is hoarding for his heirs, boys,
But as for cares we know not such,
They never come to tease, boys:
And when we golden nuggets clutch,
We spend them at our ease, boys..
Dig. dig. dig. etc
The merchant dreams of ships on seas.
When stormy winds do blow, boys:
The Doctors mourn departed fees.
From those they have laid low, boys.
Their troubles are not ours, we fear
No fees nor vessels’ loss, boys:
If floods arise, we wolf good cheer,
And play at pitch and toss, boys. Dig. dig, dig. etc
And should bad luck upon us come,
(For life is full of change, boys,)
We take to trigger and to thumb.
And seek tho mountain range, boys:
And if in looking out for greed,
We nap a leaden pill, boys :
We all must die once,
And the need It saves to make a will, boys.
Dig. dig, dig. grave or.cradle
All the same, boys, dig, dig, dig
14 October 1880
‘I will now give a brief account of the digger at home, as my readers may wish to know how the diggers spend their time at home. They boast not of courtly halls nor woodbine bowers; neither do they glory in Turkey carpets. The festal board is not decorated with fine tablecloths, and costly viands are thought of. They live in canvas tents or huts of bark and logs. Free ventilation is adopted on hygiean principles. The furniture is of the simplest character. A box, a block of wood, or a bucket turned upside down often serves as table, though not a few among us decline the indulgence. A few luxurious ones positively have rough stools as seats, but the majority recline on their beds or make use of a log, the ground, or a piece of bark. The dinner service doesn’t comprise many pieces. Some indulge in tin plates, knives, and forks, but few are so fastidious. The washing of plates, &c, would take up far too much time to suit the digger; besides the chops can be picked out of the frying pan, and placed on a lump of damper, and cut with a bowie knife that has done good service in fossicking during the day. In the morning the diggers rise early from their hard and often damp beds and prepare for breakfast. Happy are they who have a sheltered fireplace on a wet day. Fortunately wood is generally near at hand, though the havoc made among the trees makes it scarcer every day. The dry wood is soon gone, and green wood is universally burned, fortunately the iron bark and box burns well. Pannikans of hot tea are filled from a bucket of tea, and the first meal passes over. Active preparations are then made for work, and if the distance be far the dinners are tied up, the travelling billy-can of tea got ready, the tools gathered together, and those who smoke carefully stow away the never-to-be-forgotten pipe, and forth they go to the world of treasure and adventure. At midday a hasty repast is taken, and the pannikin and pipe again called into service. Just at sunset or before dark parties are seen wending their way homewards from the gully after a good day’s work. Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning are consecrated to cookery. The same oven has to turn out several dampers, baked mutton, and a plum pudding perhaps. A good cook is highly appreciated at the diggings. Some men will not take time to make a whole some meal, but content themselves with leather jackets fried in hot fat or eaten dry. Potatoes and onions are a great luxury, but seldom obtained. Here the skill and economy of a woman is seen to advantage in a tent. Cheese, butter, ham, bacon, and pickles are only within the reach of successful miners. Meat is reasonable. Amusements are not much indulged in. Men come to work, not to play. Yet, now and then a song is heard, with the notes of the violin and flute. In a tent near us was a oft-repeated concert nightly of a fife and tin-dish drum. The following is a sample of a digging’s song : —
A Digger’s Chief Desire
In bush attire, let each aspire,
By noble emulation,
To gain a digger’s chief desire,
Gold by wise regulation.
With spades and picks, we work like bricks
And dig in gold formation,
And stir our cradles with short sticks,
To break conglomeration.
This golden trade does not degrade
The man of information,
Who shovels nuggets with the spade
Of beauteous conformation.
What mother can her infant stock
View with more satisfaction,
Than we our golden cradles rock,
Which most love to distraction ?
Let those who speak of dissipation
And those who dare try thwart our care
At our golden occupation,
They, with bewilderment, will stare
At golden incubation.
We dig and delve from six to twelve,
And then, for relaxation,
We wash our pans and cradles, shelves,
And turn to mastication.
It is a very common practice before retiring to fire off the loaded guns and revolvers. Some go out possuming. The scream of the marsupial, flying squirrel, and the dismal howl of the dingo follow the last note of the laughing jackass. There used to be fish, but the polluting of the water must have choked them. A stray kangaroo sometimes loses his reckoning, and gets himself hemmed in and fairly entrapped among a labyrinth of holes. The intricacy of the numerous winding paths are more than a match for him, and he falls an easy prey, and is soon converted into exquisite soup for the diggers. The captain, in our party, used to give us the eight bells on a frying pan. As a rule, diggers do not visit after dark unless to a near neighbor, as a fall down a 9 or 10 foot hole would be dangerous and unpleasant. The absurd practice of discharging guns, pistols, revolvers was going out of fashion before we left. A good fire, a long entertaining story, and a short pipe were the usual evening accompaniments. Water, when we arrived at Bendigo, was so scarce that we considered ourselves fortunate in getting sufficient to make tea and wash our faces and hands, and then two pannikins full had to serve all, one after the other having to perform their ablutions in the same water. Washing clothing was quite out of the question. Those who had no horse or carts had to pay at one time a shilling a bucket for water, very muddy. Colored shirts were worn, as they would last a good while without appearing very dirty. However, my mother, who had always been used to keeping everything scrupulously clean, was the most annoyed.
This state of matters continued for some time, and we had swallowed, no doubt, more mud in one week than during the whole period of our lives. A woman, the wife of a digger, earned 30s. weekly by washing a few clothes for the diggers in the party. Some men, however, were tolerable good hands at the wash tubs, and couldn’t work and talk like the general washer-woman, whose tongue goes clattering away, fit to deafen a miller. In the wet season it is merely a change from dust to mud, and from heat to cold; but the greatest nuisance is the wood flies, and the great March flies — 0h! what tortures these winged plagues give.
It is a wild though free and independent life, with a chance of making a pile. They have no masters, go where they please, and work when they like. This is a great charm to most men. There is the love of adventure, which speaks for itself. Man has ever been fond of exploring the unknown. Healthy exercise, delightful scenery, a clear and buoyant atmosphere. To the married men the Post-office is the most sacred spot on the mines. The Adelaide men hang together. I was amused at a man from there who was terribly vexed on finding that he had pitched his tent among some Tasmanians. His mistake was no sooner found out than he straightway pulled down the tent, and pitched it near to us. I never enjoyed so good health anywhere as at the mines, and my mother, who had been delicate, appeared to be completely restored to health. The appetite is good you feel as though you could be always eating like a healthy boy. The life is altogether a jolly one, and some of the happiest hours of my life were spent amongst the ‘gold holes’’
[We regret that special demand on our space compels us to discontinue, at least for the present, these adventures. We have followed the party now from Adelaide to their destination and in some future period we will renew our acquaintance with them at the diggings and give their experiences there. Till then our readers must bid them au revoir. Editor)
By the mid-1860s the main thrust of the goldrush had settled down. People were still prospecting but it was considered that most of the river beds had been exhausted and subterranean mining was dangerous and difficult for individual miners.
When the main wave of prospecting passed there were still thousands of men, and some women, who determinedly stuck to alluvial mining. In many cases these were ‘hatters’ – someone who prefers to stay away from other folk. It was said some were too far gone with the ‘gold madness’ to return to a normal life. There are still such people in Australia today living a scant existence by panning river beds, digging holes like rabbits and believing that a fortune will be found tomorrow. I found the following song, in 2006, in a manuscript collection in the Victorian town of Maldon’s community library. Maldon is typical of exhausted gold towns and has the ghosts of times past everywhere you roam. I came upon the folder by chance. It was from the personal files of Lloyd Jones and dated 1889.
On The Gold Diggings By The Creek
Let us clear the air of mystery
From that wasteland, bare and bleak,
Join a journey into history
To the goldfield by the creek.
Back in time our thoughts will travel,
On the way our minds unravel
The tales behind those heaps of gravel,
On the diggings by the creek.
Now we’ve reached our destination,
On the diggings by the creek;
Picture men of every nation ~
Anglo-Saxon, Negro, Greek.
All are equal – no-one grovels –
A brotherhood, ‘mid tubs and shovels,
Puddlers, cradles, canvas hovels,
On the diggings by the creek.
Striving for the Midas streak;
Hear the banter, laughter, swearing
On the diggings by the creek.
Mud-stained men in moleskin trousers,
Broad-brimmed hats and flannel blouses;
Fortune hunters, coarse carousers,
On the diggings by the creek.
Meet a uniformed official,
Fresh from camp and polished sleek;
My his clothes are ‘something spicial’
On the diggings by the creek.
His bearing smacks of class division,
Such pomp and military precision,
Small wonder he incurs derision,
On the diggings by the creek.
That’s the man who runs the grog tent,
Growing richer, week by week;
Spendthrifts wonder where the gold went
At his grog shop on the creek.
Mining men don’t fancy water –
Whisky’s fine and so is porter
Brandy can expect no quarter,
On the diggings by the creek.
Come and leave the ghosts to wander
On the diggings by the creek;
Return to life to dream and ponder
On these scenes of which we speak.
Sometimes in this strife-torn age
Turn to history’s golden page,
When the diggers strode the stage,
On the diggings by the creek.
See the diggers, dashing, daring,