-WAHGUNYAH, AND BRIDGE, OVER THE RIVER MURRAY.
My Holiday Trip to Victoria and I
As we came alongside the pier, it was not without considerable surprise that I observed the extraordinary appliances art had given Sandridge to assist commerce. Mighty ships of two and three thousand tons carrying capacity, lay there in numbers, discharging by aid of steam machinery cargoes of merchandise, which disappeared as if by magic along a railway that extends its lines in every direction. Before me was the Golden City ; in my rear was Williamstown; on my right were Emerald Hill, St. Kilda, and Brighton ; on my left Footscray and the Yarra, towards each of which places trains were rushing ; and from them, scarcely without intermission, came the piercing shriek of the steam whistle. From the very pier head shriek ranging as far as my eye could carry me, stood stately hotels, gigantic store houses, huge manufactories, as well as humbler habita tions of labour and enterprise, of every possible descrip tion. In the bay a perfect fleet of small steamers kept continually on the move. At once I saw evidences of the go-a-head character of the people, to an extent I had never observed in New South Wales, and my heart palpitated with pleasure, as I felt that I had not made my journey for nothing, but had abundance to see that
I had never seen before.
I was much pestered by an army of cabmen and porters, who never seemed satisfied that I could not employ them all, and who tormented me for my luggage, pulling and dragging and soliciting in a most provoking manner. The captain and mate in vain tried to drive them from the ship's side, but they would not be repulsed. . I, however, stood back, and resolved in my own mind not to quit the ship until those importunate vagabonds had departed. The ship was also stormed by customs' officials, who instituted a vigorous search through the cabins, enlightening me upon the pleasures of protec tion, of which the Victorians have the benefit. I thought that we in Sydney were happy, at all events, in having no officialdom of this intrusive character to maintain, which must be not only a nuisance to new arrivals, but a drawback to the enterprise of which I saw so many evidences. Nevertheless these little difficulties being overcome, I said good-bye to Captain Clarke, bade adieu to the You Yangs, and shortly after, with my luggage, was standing at the railway
Let me here remark that this, as well as the other termini, was quite different to any I had seen in New South Wales, being a compact and commodious build ing, furnished with every accessory to comfort. Elegant bars, behind which attractive young women, fashionably attired, dispensed every description of wines, spirits, and beer, to customers whose thirst would appear to be never satisfied ; restaurants offered the choicest viands to those requiring refresh ment ; ladies' retiring rooms presented accommoda tion to those who might have occasion to wait ; books were at the disposal of those who desired them ; and attendance of every description was at hand. I found that thc termini so kept were a con siderable source of revenue to the company, and that great attention was paid to them in this respect. Sub sequently I discerned that, excellent as thc railway terminus arrangements were here, they were even better on thoeGovernment railways, and I resolved that they might be well imitated by the Sydney powers that
I had been advised to make the Port Phillip Club Hotel my home during my sojourn in Melbourne, as a place where I should find some of thc oldest and most wealthy inhabitants. And on leaving the Melbourne terminus I had only to proceed a very short distance up Flinders-street ere I pulled up at its magnificent entrance. I was at once received by an attentive waiter, and shown to a room that really combined elegance with comfort.
I determined to dine at the public table in order that I might notice the manners and customs of the Victorians, and cast about amongst the sojourners at the hotel for a congenial companion who' would be able to show me the lions of the place. In order that I might obtain thc necessary introductions, when my mind was made up as to my man, I cultivated the acquaintance of the host, Mr. Spooner, who I found to be not only gentlemanly in his manners, but, what I much desired, in every way communicative. My first introduction was, however, of a curious character. It was to no less than by the most wonderful bird the world-a cockatoo - whose powers of conversation would almost transcend
belief. This extraordinary bird has a voice as near approaching human as can well be conceived; and his language, of which he has a most copious supply, would do credit to many of our most loquacious
members of Parliament. He does not con
fine himself to the orthodox " Pretty Cocky," but talks upon many subjects with a gravity of look that is irresistibly comic. This bird is veritably the " lion " of the Port Phillip Club. It is one of the first things that attracts you at that hotel, and has afforded amusement to thousands. Mr. Spooner has been offered large sums of money for him, but would not part with him on any account.
I met a gay assemblage of men at dinner, numbering military and naval officers, squat ters, merchants, and wealthy bachelors. Amongst them was Mr. Aspinall, for some time Attorney-General, and Mr. Ireland, also - her Majesty's chief legal"adviser for a brief period. ' With the wine their wit was keen, and they kept up a run ning fire of jokes that kept the table in a roar. Beside me sat a very agreeable sort of follow, evidently a squatter, who, observing I was a stranger, took some trouble in explaining to me who the folks were that constituted om dinnerparty, and what were their chief characteristics. As I thought that this was the sort of person I wanted for my chaperone in Melbourne we exchanged cards, and I found that my new friend was Mr. James Young, an old colonist, and then only a middle-aged man. His station was near Wahgunyah, a postal township about one hundred and eight miles N. from Melbourne. I was pleased at having Mr. Young's acquaintance-as the sequel will show I had reason
After dinner with my new friend, I retired to the court-yard, in which, I should have mentioned before,
was domiciled the wonderful cockatoo. I dare say more millionaires have enjoyed a Melbourne evening in this delightful retreat than in any drawing-room in Australia. It is situate just off the ample billiard-room, and is covered in with trellis work, upon which are masses of evergreen creepers, passion flowers, and grape vines. rural seats of a most luxurious sort are placed within it, before which are small marble tables that served to accommodate tho "Nb. 2" and "Cliquot," which every evening are so abundantly discussed. On this occasion nearly all the seats and tables were occupied, ourselves being most agreeably accommodated. We wiled away an hour here, and, having finished our cigars, at my friend's suggestion sallied out into tho city in search of adventures.
Of course tho theatre was our first rendezvous, and wo proceeded at once up Elizabeth-street, .which was crowded by people, round into Great Bourke-street to the royal, as being tho leading theatre ; and I must confess that, accustomed as I was to tho Prince of Wales Opera Houso in Sydney, as being my beau ideal of grandeur in theatres, I was not prepared to see so elegant and com modious a place of entertainment. Its entrance is a vast vestibule, being, as I found, a lounge for tho citizens, thousands of whom occupy it each evening without entering thc theatre at all. Tho demi-monde wore herc in numbers, and swells of tho period jauntily strutted up and down, or lounged over tho counters, conversing with thc barmaids, of whom there were at least twenty. Tho bar ia a great institution in Melbourne truly her citizens must bc thirsty souls. It runs tho ; whole length of thc vestibule, and on each side it is
gorgeously litted up. Above tho vestibule, and ap proached by a grand staircase, is a fashionable cafe and restaurant, for the accommodation of the dress circle visitors to thc theatre, as well as the public generally, and remarkable for its being fre quented by literary people, artists, and others of "mind" and taste. The arrangements herc were admirable. Tho theatre was well occupied within. It will accommodate, I was told, 4000 per sons, and has, besides pit and parquette, two tiers of elegantly fitted boxes, and a spacious gallery for tho gods.
" Tho history of this theatre" said my companion, observing my scanning its ilterior with curious inte rest, " is very remarkable. It has seen some strange changes of proprietary, and witnessed the rise and fail of some extraordinary men." He then detailed to me, that tho Royal had been built in tho year 1854, at a cost of a hundred thousand pounds, by a person named John Black, who bought tho ground and commenced tho building upon credit, when he was not worth a farthing in the world ; and that he had carried it out to completion entirely in that way; ultimately, when he had
finished it, having to bolt from his creditors, and never having been heard of since. He added that it had then fallen into the hands of Messrs. George Coppin and the late eminent tragedian G. V. Brooke, upon a division of property, becoming exclusively that of the latter. That subsequently it fell into the hands of Mr. Ambrose Kyte, who, in 1853, was lamplighter to John Thomas Smith's old theatre in Queen-street ; in 1856 was one of the richest men in Melbourne ; in 1859, almost at his own expense, fitted out the memorable Burke and Wills expedition ; at that time and for years subsequently gave a thousand a year as prizes for agriculture; in 1860 was elected a member of Parliament, and held a good position in both Houses; and who only a year or two since had died in compara tive poverty. I expressed my astonishment at tho marvellous vicissitudes he mentioned, and as I did not take much interest in the play, .proposed that we should return to the hotel, and that my companion should re late to me some of his Victorian experiences ere we re tired to bed. He expressed his willingness to do so; so we called a cab, and were soon whisked back to Flin ders-street. When we had comfortably ensconced ourselves in the snuggery Mr. Young gave me tho fol lowing narrative, which I shall call
THE WAHGUNYAH SQUATTER'S STORY.
" When I first came to Melbourne it bore a very dif ferent aspect to that it does now. It was early in tho year 1851, and tho gold diggings then had not broken out. As you may suppose, I was a few years younger than I am now, and consequently of rather a more ad venturous turn. But adventurous as I was, visionary as was my imagination, and colour dc rose as were my hopes, tho whole of these were transcended in tho extraordinary scenes that I met with. Although, as I have said, the gold diggings had not broken out, we were on the eve of them, and that eve was one of peculiar quiet. I remember that, when the news came from Bathurst of Mr. Hargrave's discovery of gold there, it not only created a profound sensation amongst tho few residents of this city at that tune, but it threatened almost to depopulate tho place ; for many hastened to New South Wales, and you might have walked down Great Collins-street and not met half-a-dozen people. Down any of the principal streets you might have discharged a platoon of artil lery and not injured a singlo human being. It was during this period of quiet that I arrived in Melbourne alone, unintroduced, and almost penniless.
Unaccustomed to hardship of any kind, and never before having known what it was to look for my own living, I wandored about in a confused state of mind, applying unsuccessfully for employment as clerk at tho different stores or establishments that were then occupied; and it was not without considerable difficulty that I obtained a situation in a wool broker's establish ment, near the Shakspere Hotel in Great Collins-street, whero there were a number of men employed in sorting wool, wool-growing being then the principal occupation of those who were settled down in the colony. This employment, however, did not last me long. Within a few months of my having obtained it, news arrived in town of the discovery of gold at Ballarat. Then came thc further intelligence of the Forest Creek, Bendigo, and Fryer's Creek diggings. In quick succession, gold began to arrive in quantities in thc city. Then, one by one, servants bolted from their places and rushed to tho diggings. Masters followed, establishments were broken up, and Melbourne became still less the habita
tion of man.
From the establishment in which I was employed, one after the other of tho people went ; and I began to sec that soon woolbrokoiing would bc at an end, for my employer was becoming impatient, as no one was left to carry on thc business but himself and me. One day he met mo in thc street, and told me that he wondered I had remained behind, upon thc face of the news of so much success in digging gold. It was strange, he thought, that I had not gone to thc diggings, as thc men had done. I told him that I had little inclination for digging, and having no mate did not feel inclined to go alone to thc gold-fields. Ho then told mc that ho required my services no more, but that I might remain to live upon thee premises, which were now use less to him, as long as I liked. He offered to let me the premises, if I would take them, at a nominal rent (they were his property). But I laughed at the idea of my taking promises, when it struck me, if the desolation prevailed in the city that seemed every day impending, it was extremely probable that in a few weeks I should not know where to get a dinner. So my employer left me, and as I was of a retiring disposition, and knew only a very few people in the town, I was soon in a very dejected state of mind
I wandered about every day, my exchequer gradually diminishing, and no chance of anything turning up, in a sad state. The few ships that were in tho harbour, liko the houses in the town, were for the most part empty, for they were abandoned by tho sailors the moment the anchor's were dropped ; and as the police had nearly all resigned and gone to tho diggings, it was no diffi culty to them to defy all ship's articles, and laugh to scorn tho entreaties of their owners and captains to ro main and work. All the time, however, the gold fever raging, ships from the adjoining colonies kept pouring in immigrants in thousands. But none of them remained about the city to work. All made for Ballarat, Bendigo or the other gold-fields. That is all, except the publicans, whoso trade gradually began to expand, as lucky diggers returned from the diggings to knock down their 'gold, and shopkeepers and tradesmen who now found a reaction had set in, and that tho houses which a few weeks previously had been untenanted and abandoned would soon be in ten times greater request than ever; and another class of workers who soon became a terror to the place, and will never bo for gotten by those who resided in Melbourne at the period
I refer to.
These I allude to were the Pentonville convicts that had been sent out in large numbers with tickets-of leave a year or two previously, and who formed in gangs, sometimes joined by expirées from Van Diemcn's Land and Sydney, roamed about, a terror to any unfortunate that might be walk ing tho streets after dark, sticking them up in all direc tions, robbing them, and not unfrequently treating them with the greatest brutality.
All this time I had still remained in my old quarters -the woolbroker's store that was still shut up-an uulucky searcher for employment, and now reduced to tho last extremity for food. From my room, which overlooked that part of Great Collins-street now occupied by magnificent stores, but then simply waste allotments, there was scarcely a night that I was not aroused from my sleep by the outcries of some poor wretch who had been so unfortunate as to meet the gangs of highway men that infested the streets-only to be robbed, beaten about with the butt end of a pistol or a neddy, and sometimes stabbed with a bowie knife. To their cries for help few persons dared to make response, for the banditti were as ferocious as they were powerful, and every one dreaded thom.
As I saw crowds of diggers arrive from the adjoining colonies, on their way to the gold-field, or others flush of gold returned with their lucky pile, how often I wished for a mate and an equipment that I might at all events try my fortune. But for a long time I could find no mate. I had no money to provide me with an equip ment. I was almost starving. It was a free country, and no one, consequently, pitied me.
I usually sauntered about during the day, in a sort of listless and apathetic way, watching tho immigrant diggers who now came in thousands, and who hurried about in tho most confused manner. Ono day, Christ mas Day above all others, as I was walking over Batman's Hill-historic ground, now levelled, and a site for the railway termini-I was attracted by the sounds of gaiety that issued from a small hut of ancient build, that stood upon a grassy slope. A table had been placed in front, under a tree-it was covered with the good things of this life-and round it were scated men, women, and children, who appeared greatly to be enjoying themselves. As I passed a merry song was being sung in a fine clear voice, and I lingered to listen to it. One of the bon vivants, on seeing me, got up from thc table, and, coming across to where I stood, and perceiving mc, I suppose, to bo a friendless now chum, offered mo tho compliments of tho season, and asked mc if I would join their social party. Nothing loth-for I had not tasted food that day-I at once responded in tho affirmative. Thc first proceeding was to question me about what I would drink, and to recommend mo some Irish whisky. Fill ing a tumbler half full, and although thc day was warm, mixing it with hot water, sugar, and lemon, he handed it to me, and observed with curious interest that I almost swallowed it at a gulp. I think that I have never tasted anything so refreshing os that driuk
before or since.
" Will you try another?" ho said, as l drained the
I nodded acquiesconse, and a second tumbler of whisky toddy immediately followed tho first.
" New chum ?" he inquired.
Thc effect of the whisky was now potent upon me. Hitherto I had walked about town uncomplaining, and I believe I should, have died rather than. have confessed
my misery to anyone. Now my heart was in my month, and all burst from me in a flood of words,
replied that I was scarcely a new chum, for I had been in Melbourne several months, but that I was very unfortunate. "Whilst uncouth diggers wore lavishing gold in all directions, and every one seemed prosperous I was starving, and know not where to go to, or what I do. I then related my tale, and my kind entertainer at once cheered me up by saying I should want a home no more, undertaking to find employment for me once ; at the same time begging me to eat, which, how over, I was unable to do, for my heart was too ful My now friend would not allow me to leave till night comoe In parting he pressed mo to return on the morrow, and when I reached my solitary garrot thanked God that He had sent me a friend at last.
On calling at Batman's Hill next day, I was astonish* to see, sitting in the hut, or cottage (for; it was very comfortable inside, although small and primitivo i build), a tall man dressed in black. One of my new friend's children sat upon his knee, and he was fondling the other with great good humour. Up to this time beyond telling me that his name was Griffith, and that he was an old Victorian, my friend had not told me who ho was, and I was startled upon at onco recogni in the tall dark man that was playing with the chi dren, Mr. Latrobe, the Governor of the New Eldorado Both smiled when they saw my surprise, but Griffil advanced, shook me by thc hand, and introduced n to his Excellency with little formality. Griffith was chief clerk to the colonial Secretary, and a great confidant
of the Governor's.
I can assure you, that such was the suave manner Mr. Latrobo, that I was almost as soon at homo with him as I had got to be with Griffith. Both Marvelled at my simplicity, and understanding that I had a known ledgo of the wool business, told me by no means to be downhearted, for, if I would be guided by them, should soon be on the road to fortune. How glad was for any one to guide me it is needless to relate
I think a week had collapsed after this interview and at his request I visited Griffith daily, taking my meals with his family, and being made quite at home. At his hut I met constantly the present first Lord of the Admiralty Mr. Childers, who was then immigration agent at Melbourne Captain Lonsdale, the Colonial Secretary and Johnny Fawkner, the settler who had first camped upon the spot where Griffith now resided. The hut was the property of the Government. My idea of the first Lord of the Admiralty at that time, I vividly remember, was anything but complimentary to him He was a fat-faced, blue-eyed young man, with fair hair, that hung down in lank ends ; and he looked to me anything but intellectual. But you must not take people by their looks-and I am digressing.
' I say a' week had elapsed when, one day, i
found Griffith alone, and in a deep study. His table in the hut was covered with papers . and he appeared to be revolving in his mind a matter
of some importance When I came into him, after a short time he said, "Young man, from tho moment I saw you, I took a great fancy to you, and I hope shall not have reason to regret it; for I have made up my mind to place every confidence in you. I can assure you in this, both the Governor and Captain Lonsdale join with me. Now, if I were to offer you tho charge of an important enterprise that would be sure to eventuate n great advantages to yourself, do you think you could undertake it ?" I replied that i had suffered so much from unwilling idleness, that i only required to be led on to accomplish anything energy could do-that the greater the danger the better I should be satisfied. Upon this we shook hands, and i know I was commissioned for something, and my pulse beat .with wild delight.
It soon appeared that, besides tho cares of government the Governor and Colonial Secretary wore both deeply immersed in land speculations. In every direction both those gentlemen had taken up large scopes of ground, which they had stocked with sheep. The gold discoveries threatened their utter ruin ; for they, nor no living man at that time, ever once thought that a reaction would come as it did, that would cause the gold-fields to give back to the pastoral interests the labour they had taken from them. But this by the
Now Mr. Childers like myself, an adventurer in Victoria, except that when he arrived he was a little better off, had been taken greatly into the confidence of his Excellency and Captain Lonsdale. They were aware that he had brought some five thousand pounds with him, and that his name was good at the banks, for at least five more. And they know that he would be willing for the sake of position, to join them, even although at the risk of sacrificing his money. His aim. then, was political position. And although, as it turned out afterwards, he had a greed for money, it was not nearly so strong as that for politional authority. As the plot developed itself, I found that Mr. Latrobo and Captain Lonsdale, with Griffith, were a combined party-and that siege was to be laid to Mr. Childers's prudence to involve him with them-a siege which if they could have read his heart, for tho reasons I have stated, they need not have troubled themselves much about.
This was the true state of the case when Griffith communicated to me his intention of entrusting me with a confidential embassy. For as he developed his plan it become at once obvious.
."Mr. Childers," he said, after extorting many pledges of confidence from me, " is desirous of joining. the Governor and Captain Lonsdale in a station speculation, and. they are anxious that he should have one, but that it shall be irrespective of them. And i will tell you why. In a fortnight from to-day they will require ten' thousand pounds in cash, without which it will be impossible for either of them to pro ceed. And the only way to do it is to sell a station that will realise the amount. There is a property upon the Murray, which does not belong to them, but which they can readily purchase on advantageous terms, at a long credit. Hitherto it has not been stocked, but they propose to take this property, stock it, and sell it to Mr Childers. If this is done, it must be done at once. Tho only difficulty at tho present time is to get a man of sufficient activity to proceed to tho Murray at once, take over tho station from tho parties who are to transfer it, and then, having driven tho stock upon it, re-transfer it-upon his making good tho purchase
monoy-to Mr. Childors."
Tho magnitude of tho operation in which I was to take a part now fully broke before mo. But I hesitated not to undertake tho task, could I obtain the assistance which I required. Although having a knowledge of wool sorting i was no shepherd ; although a good .horseman, I had never been in the Australian bush in my life. However , I told Griffith to provide me with a good horse and a man, and I would at once proceed to do his bidding, or perish in the attempt. Upon this we shook hands, and I looked upon myself as booked for a squatter's life-probably the first who had gone into it wholly inexperienced and untaught.
That evening, on visiting the hut, Mr. Latrobe, Captain Lonsdale, and Mr. Childers weer present ;
and I saw that my friend's scheme had been developed and matured. But I was somewhat surprised when Griffith accosted me as though he had not spoken on the subject before, and asked me how I would like to take charge of a station for Mr. Childers. I thought it prudent to preserve the mysterious bond that had been entered into by us and with a dissimulation that I felt very much ashamed
of afterwards, agreed to do my best for either of the gentlemen in whatever capacity I might be engaged. .
However, to make a long story short, the next day saw me with twenty pounds in my pocket, accompanied by an aboriginal and a shepherd, with a oouple of dogs, travelling along up the Sydney road to the Murray, until we came to Wahgunyah . And I confess when I arrived at this delightful spot, my mind was made up as to my future life, and I determined at once to devote myself to pastoral pursuits-that no gold mining should ever have any glittering attraction for me. The township and district is ono of the most lovely I ever saw-at this timo, now that it is no longer a wilderness, but tho seat of busy industry, perhaps for productiveness and pic turesque beauty equal to any in Australia. There is a delightful lake, "Bulgeaba, lying to the south-west of tho township, and vineyards, from four to forty acres each, grow luxuriantly tho most delicious grapes. The "Wahgunyah wine is, I can tell you, nonparell. "We have now there a wooden bridge" spanning tho Murrav, erected at a cost of £10,000, whilst coaches run daily from our midst to Buthorglon, Chiltern, Beechworth, and Wangaratta, all largo and populous towns, sprung up since I mado my trip to Wahgunyah in tho interest of Mr. Latrobe, Captain Lonsdale, and Mr. Childers. And at least a thousand occupiers of land, havo residences, where then no tiling could bo seen but the camping placo of
But I am getting in advance of my story. When I went to take that station over for Mr. Latrobe and Captain Londsdalo, it was bought for a nominal sum, stocked with cattle and sheep, and sold to Mr. Childers for the ten thousand pounds Griffith had spoken of. With tho assistance conceded to me I took it over in the time required, saw the sheep and cattle driven on therun, and rode round the boundary hard enough work, I may assure you, for a new chum. Instead of station property diminishing in value, as feared by my patrons, in six months' time it had trebled and quadrupled. No doubt tho transaction delivered tho Governor and his partner out of a mess, saved them from ruin, and may be was tho stepping stone to tho fortunes all three realised out of their properties within a twelvemonth. When I saw thom again they were hearty in there thanks to me for my assiduity, and when I asked them to assist mo to purchase a station for myself, so satisfied were they with my energy that they did so at once. And I forth with occupied a station on tho Murray, near the township of Wahgunyah. It is now all purchased land, and my own; but I can never forget that through my lingering on Batman's Hill, on Christmas Day, 1852, and being taken pity on by my good friend Griffith, who I am sorry to say a year or two afterwards killed himself with drink, I am now in circumstances equal' to thoso of any squatter hi tho plonsnnt neighbourhood of Wahgunyah. But tho first Lord of the Admiralty does not know to this day that tho Wahgunyah station that was his property, and which ho afterwards sold to such advantage, was almost palmed upon him by a trick, to savethe first Governor
of Victoria from ruin."
Mr. Young's story ended hore, and we parted for the