THE VICTORIA DIGGINGS.
Hindmarsh, near Adelaide,
30th June, 1852.
TO ABSENT FRIENDS.
Per favour of the " MORNING CHRONICLE."
Agreebly to promise, I write you a few mems relative to the colony and diggings of Victoria, both of which promise, as the newspaper folks say, to
become "world renowned."
I embarked at the Port about the middle of
January last, and entered the "heads" of Port Phillip on the 6th day ; the appearance of these "heads" is picturesque, and the bay of noble extent, being something like 2 miles across, and having a tolerably bold shore, with high ranges of mountain land for a back ground. Unfortunately Melbourne is not approachable by vessels of large tonnage, all of which discharge cargo in Hobson's Bay, fronting William's Town, distant from the city about seven miles. Passengers and cargo are then con- veyed up the Yarra, near to the city wharves, in steamers or lighters; or else landed on the east side of the bay, at a place about 2½ miles from the town - this was my case, and as the weather was fine and the day Sunday, I resolved to walk over. Upon landing I was struck with the apparent grandeur of the public-houses, and deemed it a bad sign that they should rear their viciously supported crests above those of a private character - it reminded me of the old story of the fool's pence. The soil be- tween the landing place and the town is of a sandy nature, and apparently subject to inundation ; by the road side were ranges of iron pipes, whose pro- bable use puzzled me, inasmuch as I could see no other for them than either to convey salt water from the bay to the town, or fresh water from the town to the bay. Nearly the first object in ap- proaching the town is the Prince's Bridge, which consists of one water arch of large span, and some small dry ones, and approaches; is built of a hard greenish grey stone, and is thrown across the Yarra just above the falls, where the fresh and salt waters meet: its situation is good, and appearance striking;
altogether it is most creditable to the architect who designed, and the people who furnished funds to
build it, and is in excellent keeping with the ensemble of the city. There is a somewhat arbitrary but most excellent Ordinance in Melbourne, which enacts that all houses built within the municipal
boundary must be either of brick or stone. The benefits arising from this Act are the superior healthiness attendant upon comfort, and the small risk of anything like general conflagration. The only disadvantage I know of is that it prevents the poor man, who may have purchased a plot of land when such was cheap, from building a house according
to his limited means. This would have had the effect of throwing the property of the city into the hands of the "moneyocracy," had not the mass of small freeholders constituted themselves a building society, whose object was to raise, by small periodical pay- ments, funds for the erection of buildings - said funds to be allotted to members in rotation, to be awarded by ballot, and secured by mortgage upon the building until the completion of the plan, that is, until each member of the society shall have re-
ceived from the common fund the sum due to his
You would imagine the Melbournites - to be akin to the Americans, seeing that they have, within the period of sixteen years, built a city superior in most points to many second rate towns in England, and in all to anything I have yet seen in any of our colonies, Cape Town included.
As regards the welfare of their city, I look upon the discovery of gold in this part of the world as an evil, inasmuch as it has, by raising the price of labour, prevented them from carrying into effect certain arrangements necessary for promoting the health and comfort of the inhabitants, such, for example, as the conveyance of water from a pure source to be supplied at a moderate rate. You will understand how severely all those who not benefit directly by the discovery of gold feel the want of water, when I tell you that they have to pay a bagatelle of 30s for a horse load for that precious article ; wood is equally dear, varying from £3 to £7 sterling per dray load, aad four roomed cottages let at from £60 to £70 per annum. Provisions generally are cheap - flour being from £18 to £20
per ton of 2000 lbs., and other articles in propor- tion. Clothing is dear, being 60 or 70 per cent, in advance of English rates, and boots as dear again. It is a blessing food is so cheap, otherwise there would be as much destitution among a class of people whose income has not been increased in an equal ratio with their expenditure. I mean clerks and shopmen, and all those known as the ''betwixt
and between," being neither capitalists nor in- dependent labouring men, for labourers are now the most independent class in Melbourne. The position
of these non-descripts is an unenviable one.
Female labour has become dear, owing, I imagine,
to these three causes : - 1st. The success of married
gold diggers, whose golden earnings have absolved their wives from the necessity of seeking for em- ployment. 2ndly. The number of marriages result-
ing from the success of single men; and 3rdly, and most unfortunately, the great number of young women, who lured by lust and the golden bait of the more spendthrift diggers, have left the beaten but reputable track of peaceful industry for the more attractive but horrible course of prostitution; poor fools! they will find the discovery of gold a curse. but do not merit one jot of pity, because all who
choose to labour may now procure remunerative em- ployment. As far as regards needlewomen, it would appear that the golden age has literally arrived, for eight-tenths of the clothing now worn by the males at the diggings are made by women either in Mel-
bourne or elsewhere.
As it was nearly dusk when I arrived in town, and believed at that time, and with reason, to be
very dangerous to walk the streets under such cir-
cumstances I did not remain out, and so cannot give you any detailed account of the town. I was one of a party of seven or eight who slept on the floor of a lodging-bouse, which was alive with creep- ing things. Next morning at six o'clock I and my brother George, who had arrived a day or two before started for Mount Alexander, and as tools, &c., were said to be procurable at a cheaper rate on the diggings from parties leaving, than in town, we resolved only to take only the most necessary " swag and tucker," as the colonists, in their semi- convict slang, denominate luggage and food. We took two suits of very rough clothing, (including blue woollen shirts instead of coats), a tinned quart pot and frying pan, and sufficient tea and sugar, and bread and meat for the journey. For the two first miles we saw only about a dozen individuals, one of whom was driving a passenger cart, in which he offered to take us up for £2 5s each, which was reasonable, considering that freight was 20s per cwt. ; however, we declined his offer, and walked on to Flemington, where we met a carman, who affecting to be charmed with George's appearance, offered us a lift to the Mount, so we put our traps up and George undertook to drive, and a nice drive he made of it - running against stumps and fences, and stray bullocks were a mere sandwich to him, and he looked as proud when stuck on the box as a monkey riding on a terrier dog. The car- man and I walked on together, and he amused me by the way by stories of his wondrous doings at the diggings, having obtained 200 lbs. weight of gold for his share, but as he was a good humoured and harmless liar, the time passed well. I was at a loss to account for his kindness to us strangers, until I ascertained that his cart being filled with wine and spirits, would in case of detection subject his property to confiscation, and himself to a fine, such articles being prohibited at the diggings, and so he thought that George's good humoured boyish face would serve as a passport, which it did, for we
were not molested.
The road was very much cut up and dusty the
whole way, owing to the prodigious amount of traffic upon it, notwithstanding which and the heat of the weather, and comparative drought, the journey was a pleasant one, as there was in the scenery and events passing around me ample scope for the mind to dwell upon, and when such is the case physical fatigue is unfelt. After a time we began to pass and were passed by numbers of travellers on their way to and from the diggings, on foot, on horseback, in donkey carts, and horse and bullock drays, and some wheeling their "swag" in barrows; two equipages surprised me, one was a German woman harnessed en cheval to a kind of monster wheel- barrow, with her husband driving her, and the other a bull dog with its master's pannikins strapped round its body, and a frying pan over its head with the handle strapped along its back. The accounts given by the diggers coming down were contra-
dictory, and yet perhaps all true - some said that they were out of pocket by the trip, whilst others had done well, and talked of their hundreds as children do of cherry-stones, but all agreed that water was scarce, and that we had better defer our visit till March; one lot swore that they had been drinking "bullock's———," for a month, and looked rather foolish when asked how the bullocks pro- cured water for the concoctiou of the said precious compound. In the centre of the Black Forest we met the Government weekly gold escort, taking down in the two vehicles a ton and a half of gold, the property of diffident individuals, who pay one percent, to the Government for carrying down to town, about 80 miles, this sum does not cover any risk or insurance of any kind beyond the bare carriage, so that should the treasure be plundered or lost in any other way, the owner has no redress. The only precaution taken by the Government was to send a force of sixteen mounted policemen, who with their cavalry equipments and drawn swords, present quite a martial appearance. Without com- plicity on their part, I do not think that the treasure can be plundered whilst on the road, as there are always a number of armed passengers on foot and horseback constantly passing. After escort- ing the gold through the dreaded Black Forest, a portion of the police return to the diggings.
We did not meet with any adventure by the way, yet, owing to the cause before mentioned, I was not at all tired of the journey. The aspect of the country between Melbourne and the diggings is park like, with fine sweeps of undulating grass lands, studded and fringed by the stringy bark and peppermint gum trees, and the beautiful silver wattle. There are seven or eight streams or water- holes, and when we passed there were five villages, but since that time public-houses and accommoda- tion huts are springing up like mushrooms, and thereby hangs a tale, as Shakspear said, for in these
same accommodation huts travellers are said to be occasionally eased of their gains.
On the afternoon of the fourth day we arrived at the diggings (Golden Point, Forest Creek), and upon emerging from the forest into the cleared space, the view was a strange one, the mounds of upturned earth giving the place the appearance of
a huge rabbit warren, and the strange assemblage of tents, with their many coloured flags daunting in the wind, with the booth-like stores, and the crowds of individuals rushing about in every description of costume, would almost lead a person to believe that he had entered into the world's fair, for there were representatives of almost every country under the heaven, and the Babel of tongues, the Erse, the Gaelic, the spluttering guttral German, the ener- getic French, the soft liquid of the Malay (the Italian of the east), the Russ, the Swede, the Yankee, the Welsh and English, the Dutch, and the monkey-like aborigine of the southern hemis- phere, all were represented, but high above the others arose the blasphemous oaths of the "convict element," those brutes in human form, who, at- tracted by the treasure of the famous Mount, the hope of plunder, and almost absolute impunity which the then inefficient police ensured them, had made this part their stronghold; here were the murderers, the burglars, the forgers, in short most
of the crime stained men of these crime charged regions, for all circumstances have conspired to make their access easy. The exodus of the police and inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land, and the consequent non-demand for convict labour there, and the falling off of the revenue, have rendered it almost impossible for the Government of that colony even if they wished it, to retain their bondsmen. Consequently a system of granting tickets of leave, and of almost compulsory winking at escapes have already concurrred in spreading throughout these colonies sufficient moral depravity to contaminate a world. The effect is felt already, but as Talley- rand said of Napoleon's downfall, "it is only the beginning of the end,' for as yet the evil has only extended to the cutting of throats and purses, whereas it is to be feared that in a few short years the horrors which are as yet confined to the Port Phillip colony will extend throughout the world, and the attacks which are now made only upon life and property will be directed against morality generally, poisoning the very springs of social life, for when these thousands of convicted felons, and
thousands more felons in embryo, shall have enriched themselves either by labour or plunder, they will disperse and settle in other lands, where they are as
yet unknown. Doubtless many will lead a better life, for I believe, from what I have observed, that there are some among them who have been driven by cir- cumstances, over which they had no control, into their present degraded state, and yearn for reforma- tion, in which may God speed them ; but others there are whose love of justice and morality, if they ever possessed any, is now extinct, and who are to be restrained by no other motive than that of fear. These men will, when time serves, give loose to every passion - some will marry, whilst the majority will indulge their lust without incurring this obligation, and its sickening to think of the result of their in-
fluence and example upon their wives and children, and of the horrors that await many a now happy family. It is idle to talk of the restraint of the law in Melbourne, for what signifies the law if its agents be corrupt, as those of Melbourne are feared to be. I speak now of its police, many of whom have been convicted of connivance with criminals, whilst the mere fact of their serving at all as they do for an almost starvation pittance, is prima facie evidence against their industry and integrity. Policemen are not more actuated by an abstract love of justice nor of a disregard of interests than other men, and yet they serve in Melbourne for one half of the pay which labouring men may readily ob-
tain. What should be expected from such a state of things ? Precisely that which has occurred, viz., the acceptance of bribes for conniving at crime, and the unchecked commission of daylight and nocturnal murder and robbery. The gaols of Melbourne are full of criminals, and in almost every law report may be seen applications by counsel for the discharge under the habeas corpus act of men committed for heinous offences but against whom accusers and witnesses have failed to appear.
In my concluding letter to morrow I shall treat of the gold fields, meantime,
I remain sincerely yours.