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  • peter-macinnis 3 Nov 2010 at 21:05
    This may be the first comment on 'coffee tents' as sources of liquor.

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Sir — I imagine that a short description of what is called 'a rush' at the Gold-fields may not be uninteresting to many of your readers, though some of them have doubtless witnessed and perhaps been actors in such a scene, to their

cost. The beginning of an affair of the kind which I am about to describe is small enough. Some mate had been sent, perhaps, by his party, to see what was called the new diggings at the Ovens, and having brought a favourable report, it leaked out by degrees ; and at length several knots of diggers were seen talking very seriously, and imme- diately after wonderous tales spread like wildfire, and then there are symptoms of an extensive move. At first a few loaded carts would be seen starting off in the evening, then a number of men with their 'swags ' on their backs, and in a day or two the ' rush ' becomes general. Our party started for the Ovens with provisions for three months, but many others sold all they could find purchasers for, and then left many things behind. The place where a great number of tents had been struck presented a most desolate appearance, but would have afforded a fine harvest for some of the old clothes collectors of London. There were hats, caps, boots, shoes, trousers, blue shirts, check shirts, and tools of all descriptions scattered about in all directions. The first stage passed over in tolerable order, no public-houses having been met with for the day ; but on the day following we fell in with a public-house, and notwithstanding their enormous charges, such as 25s. for a bottle of brandy, 16s. for a bottle of wine of the worst description, 5s. to 8s. for a pot of ale or porter, and 6s. for what was termed a feed (merely mutton and damper), you might see numbers of men running along the road with three or four bottles each. These scenes were soon followed by drunken brawls and fights, capsized carts and bolting horses. In the course of

the journey, if there happened to be but one waterhole near the general camping-place for the night, good bye sleep, it was necessary co watch the horses, and that sharply, or they would be afar off in some other party's possession long before daylight. I saw one young fellow, travelling on horseback, who, to make sure of his horse, went a short distance from the general mob, and lay down with the tether-rope in his hand ; but, unfor- tunately, he fell asleep, and some vagabond rascal cut off the rope about three feet from the poor fellow's hand, and walked off with his horse, bridle, and saddle. You may imagine his surprise when he awoke and found himself so cruelly robbed. He ran about with the short piece of rope in his hand like a madman. On the third day, which happened to be a Saturday, we reached the river Goulburn, and, oh, what a vast assemblage of people ! There were vehicles, too, of all sorts, from a gig down to a wheel   barrow. Notwithstanding the distance (100 miles) from Bendigo, and the many miles to be travelled, at least a hundred more, to the Ovens, there were many wheelbarrows heavily laden, each driven by a man, assisted by the rest of his party, who were drawing with ropes. I saw seven young men, some of them having friends of high standing in this colony, who made a start from the White Hill at Bendigo with a loaded light cart, to which they yolked themselves with ropes, having lost their   horse, and being through ill lack unable to buy another ; but they turned to, and with determined perseverance reached the Goulburn in four days. They deserved to reach their destination, and I hope were more fortunate, but did not see them beyond the Goulburn, for there was a tide of people returning with bad news, and we returned also. But I must not omit to give you a description of a Sunday scene

at that crossing-place of the Goulburn, which we reached as mentioned before. The river there is at least a hundred yards broad, and from what I could learn, about sixty feet deep, with exceedingly steep banks. The punt being a miserable affair, the man could only cross one vehicle at a time, which had to be let down the bank by men's hands. It would take two or three persons constantly baling to keep the punt afloat, but with all their endeavours she would swamp two or three times a day ; consequently the passage was very slow, and vast numbers accumulated on the banks. Amongst other misfortunes, there was most unfortunately a great supply of grog. The scenes of drunkenness that day surpassed all that I had witnessed since my first ac quaintancc with the Victoria diggings. Maddened by drink, a great many began to swim across the river, some with their clothes on, others with their garments in bundles on their heads. Some crack-brained fellows had two bottles of grog each tied round their necks, and others swam across with lighted pipes in their mouths. During the forenoon there was a great deal of skill displayed by the swimmers, but as the liquor began to operate it was evident that the day would not close without accident. The ven- dors of grog conducted their trade in a business-like way ; the casks or cases were stationed under the most conve- nient trees, with taps and paraphernalia, and the several

dealers cried up the qualities of their strong potions and in-   vited customers. At length some of the swimmers became very tipsy, and one poor unfortunate fellow staggered into   the river and tried to swim over as fast as the punt man could pull the punt, using the most taunting expressions mixed with dreadful oaths. At last he began to flag, and was offered a rope from the punt, but he rejected help and went down, with oaths on his lips, to rise no more. It was a horrible scene, but it appeared to have very little effect upon the crowd. Some said, ' He is sinking,' others, ' There he goes,' and, at last, exclamations of ' He is gone,' seemed a put an end to the excitement produced by his melancholy case. I was told there were several such scenes ; but I only saw the one I have described. On the Monday we became heartily tired of the place and the company, and made a start on our return to Bendigo, accompanied by thousands. Before we quitted the Goulhurn, I could have bought flour at £4 per bag that cost £14 in Beudigo; and picks or shovels by the dray-load. We were in the midst of a vast motley crowd, with a pretty large sprinkling of the fair sex, of all ages, characters, and sizes, from nineteen stone, downwards. Many of the more elderly dames sat on their carts or drays with four inch pipes stuck in their mouths; but smoking was not confined to the old or the ugly, for even the young and beautiful indulged in the use of tobacco. I saw one very handsome young woman, apparently not above 18 years, sitting under a tree, blowing a cloud, and seeming to be as much at home as a lady in this colony would feel in a nicely   furnished room presiding at a tea-party. On our return to Bendigo we heard, through a friend, of what was confi- dently circulated respecting Mount Courong, and set out again ; but on that road we were nearly alone, and as there was no direct line, we really ' bushed it ' often. On our arrival there were not above sixty or seventy persons on the spot, but within ten days the numbers had increased to twenty thousand, at the lowest calculation ; but the greater number seemed disappointed. Viewed from a distant point there seemed a mass of tents extending to six miles or more in length. The assemblage of light-fingered gentry was amazing— if I were to say they amounted to five thousand in number there would be no over-rating. They had their tents upon the road and their tents upon the diggings, all with distinguishing flags best known to themselves. There were sham coffee-houses ; but to these I apply too mild a

term, for they were places of resort for all the worst of the vagabonds living upon the spoils of the genuine diggers. If all the quick and the dead of Norfolk Island could have been assembled to match some lots that we saw, it would have been a hopeless task. In the immediate neighbour- hood of our tent seventeen horses were stolen in one night, but we kept watch upon ours, two at a time, with loaded guns ; and several times had to challenge interlopers in the night. As to grog, it was selling in all directions. The very civil dealers in the deadly compound would meet you, bottle in hand, and sometimes offer a glass out of pure friendship; but, fortu- nately for those who have any kind of discernment, these liberal publicans carry their signs in their faces, so that they may be known by their ways and avoided, like the rattlesnake by his noise. The gaily-dressed ladies who pretend to keep refreshment tents are nothing more than housekeepers for their partners in crime. Some of them are dressed in satin, and wear nine or ten massive rings on their hands, with hollow ear-drops almost large enough for bullock-bells. I would especially warn the unwary who   may visit distant diggings against coffee tents such as I have described. Many of them are resorted to by thieves and murderers. I am, Sir, yours, W. MASSON. Clarement, February 26, 1853.