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  • 1853
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digging was quite forgotten.

About noon I contrived to have a damper and a large joint of baked mutton ready for the “day labourers,” as they styled themselves. The mutton was baked in a large camp oven suspended from three iron bars, which were fixed in the ground in the form of a triangle, about a yard apart, and were joined together at the top, at which part the oven was hung over a wood fire. This grand cooking machine was, of course, outside the tent. Sometimes I have seen a joint of meat catch fire in one of these ovens, and it is difficult to extinguish it before the fat has burnt itself away, when the meat looks like a cinder.

Our butcher would not let us have less than half a sheep at a time, for which we paid 8s. I was not good housekeeper enough to know how much it weighed, but the meat was very good. Flour was then a shilling a pound, or two hundred pounds weight for nine pounds in money. Sugar was 1s. 6d., and tea 3s. 6d. Fortunately we were Well provided with these three latter articles.

The hungry diggers did ample justice to the dinner I had provided for them. They brought home a tin-dish full of surface soil, which in the course of the afternoon I attempted to wash.

Tin-dish-washing is difflcult to describe. It requires a watchful eye and a skilful hand; it is the most mysterious department of the gold-digging business. The tin dish (which, of course, is round) is generally about eighteen inches across the top, and twelve across the bottom, with sloping sides of three or four inches deep. The one I used was rather smaller. Into it I placed about half the “dirt”–digger’s technical term for earth, or soil–that they had brought, filled the dish up with water, and then with a thick stick commenced making it into a batter; this was a most necessary commencement, as the soil was of a very stiff clay. I then let this batter–I know no name more appropriate for it–settle, and carefully poured off the water at the top. I now added some clean water, and repeated the operation of mixing it up; and after doing this several times, the “dirt,” of course, gradually diminishing, I was overjoyed to see a few bright specks, which I carefully picked out, and with renewed energy continued this by no means elegant work. Before the party returned to tea I had washed out all the stuff, and procured from it nearly two pennyweights of gold-dust, worth about 6s. or 7s.

Tin-dish-washing is generally done beside a stream, and it is astonishing how large a quantity of “dirt” those who have the knack of doing it well and quickly can knock off in the course of the day. To do this, however, requires great manual dexterity, and much gold is lost by careless washing. A man once extracted ten pounds weight of the precious metal from a heap of soil which his mate had washed too hurriedly.

In the evening Joe made his re-appearance, carrying another sack on his shoulders, which contained a number of empty bottles, and now for the first time we became initiated into the BRAN mystery which had often puzzled us on the road–it seemed so strange a thing to carry up to the diggings. Joe laughed at our innocence, and denied having told us anything approaching a falsehood; a slight suppression of the truth was all he would plead guilty to. I verily believe William had put him up to this dodge, to make us smile when we should have felt annoyed. Being taxed with deceit, said he: “I told you two-thirds truth; there wanted but two more letters to make it BRANDY,” and with the greatest SANG-FROID he drew out a small keg of brandy from the first sack and half-filled the bottles with the spirit, after which he filled them all up to the neck with water. The bottles were then corked, and any or all of them politely offered to us at the rate of 30s a piece. We declined purchasing, but he sold them all during the evening, for which we were rather glad, as, had they been discovered by the officials in our tent, a fine of 50 pounds would have been the consequence of our foolish comrades good-nature and joke-loving propensities.

We afterwards found that Master Joe had played the same trick with our shipmates and with the two doctors, who had bought a tent and settled themselves near our old place by Montgomery’s store.

SATURDAY, 25.–The two holes were “bottomed” before noon with no paying result. It had been hard work, and they were rather low-spirited about it. The rest of the day they spent in washing some surface-soil, and altogether collected about I ounce and a half of gold-dust, counting the little I had washed out on the Friday. In the evening it was all dried by being placed in a spade over a quick fire. We had before determined to square accounts and divide the gold every Saturday night, but this small quantity was not worth the trouble, so it was laid by in the digger’s usual treasury, a German match-box. These round boxes hold on an average eight ounces of gold.

These two unproductive holes had not been very deep. The top, or surface soil, for which a spade or shovel is used, was of clay. This was succeeded by a strata almost as hard as iron–technically called “burnt stuff,”–which robbed the pick of its points nearly as soon as the blacksmith had steeled them at a charge of 2s. 6d. a point. Luckily for their arms, this strata was but thin, and the yellow or blue clay which followed was comparatively easy work–here and there an awkward lump of quartz required the use of the. pick. Suddenly they came to some glittering particles of yellow, which, with heartfelt delight they hailed as gold. It WAS MICA. Many are at first deceived by it, but it is soon distinguished by its weight, as the mica will blow away with the slightest puff. After a little useless digging among the clay, they reached the solid rock, and thus having fairly “bottomed,” the holes to no purpose, they abandoned them.

SUNDAY, 26.–Although impossible at the diggings to keep this day with those outward observances which are customary in civilized life, we attempted to make as much difference as possible between the day of rest and that of work. Frank performed the office of chaplain, and read the morning service in the calm and serious manner which we expected from him.

I was rather amused to see the alacrity with which, when this slight service was over, they all prepared to assist me in the formation of a huge plum-pudding for the Sunday’s dinner. Stoning plums and chopping suet seemed to afford them immense pleasure–I suppose it was a novelty; and, contrary to the fact implied in the old adage, “too many cooks spoil the broth” our pudding turned out A1.

In the afternoon we strolled about, and paid a visit to our shipmates. I was certainly most agreeably surprised by the quiet and order that everywhere prevailed.

MONDAY, 27.–Today our party commenced “sinking” in a new spot at some little distance. The first layer of black soil was removed, and on some being washed in a tin dish, it was found to contain a tolerable portion of gold, and was pronounced to be worth transporting to the tent to be regularly cradled. My first official notice of this fact was from Richard, who entered the tent humming “Suona la tromba,” with a bucket full of this heavy soil in each hand. He broke off in the middle of his song to ask for some water to drink, and grumbled most energetically at such dirty work. He then gave me an account of the morning’s doings. After a thin layer of the black surface soil, it appeared they had come to a strata of thick yellow clay, in which gold was often very abundant. This soil, from being so stiff, would require “puddling,” a work of which he did not seem to relish the anticipation. Before the day was over, a great number of buckets full of both soils were brought up and deposited in heaps near the tents. All, with the exception of the “operatic” Richard, seemed in good spirits, and were well satisfied with what had been done in so short a time.

In the evening the other party of our shipmates arrived, and were busy fixing their tent at a distance of about forty yards from us. Frank and the other four, though pretty tired with the days labour, lent a helping hand, the united efforts of nine speedily accomplished this business, after which an immense quantity of cold mutton, damper, and tea made a rapid disappearance, almost emptying my larder, which, by the bye, was an old tea-chest.

We asked our friends their motive for leaving the old spot, and they declared they could stand the “amiable female” no longer; she grew worse and worse. “Her tongue was sich” observed the Scotchman, “as wad drive ony puir beastie wild.” She had regularly quarrelled with the two doctors because they would not give her a written certificate, that the state of her health required the constant use of spirits. She offered them two guineas for it, which they indignantly refused, and she then declared her intention of injuring their pracitce as much as possible, which she had power to do, as her tent was of an evening quite the centre of attraction and her influence proportionably great. Pity ’tis that such a woman should be able to mar or make the fortunes of her fellow creatures.

TUESDAY, 28.–The holes commenced yeserday were duly “bottomed,” but no nice pocket-full of gold was the result; our shipmates, however, met with better success, having found three small nuggets weighing two to four ounces each at a depth of not quite five feet from the surface.

WEDNESDAY, 29.–To-day was spent in puddling and cradling.

Puddling is on the same principle as tin-dish-washing, only on a much larger scale. Great wooden tubs are filled with the dirt and fresh water, and the former is chopped about in all directions with a spade, so as to set the metal free from the adhesive soil and pipe-clay. Sometimes I have seen energetic diggers tuck up their trowsers, off with their boots, step into the tub, and crush it about with their feet in the same manner as tradition affirms that the London bakers knead their bread. Every now and again the dirtied water is poured off gently, and with a fresh supply, which is furnished by a mate with a long-handled dipper from the stream or pool, you puddle away. The great thing is, not to be afraid Of over-work, for the better the puddling is, so much the more easy and profitable is the cradling. After having been well beaten in the tubs, the “dirt” is put into the hopper of the cradle, which is then rocked gently, whilst another party keeps up a constant supply of fresh water. In the right hand of the cradler is held a thick stick, ready to break up any clods which may be in the hopper, but which a good puddler would not have sent there.

There was plenty of water near us, for a heavy rain during the night had filled several vacated holes, and as there were five pair of hands, we hoped, before evening, greatly to diminish our mud-heaps.

Now for an account of our proceedings.

Two large wooden tubs were firmly secured in the ground and four set to work puddling, whilst Frank busied himself in fixing the cradle. He drove two blocks into the ground; they were grooved for the rockers of the cradle to rest in, so as to let it rock with ease and regularity. The ground was lowered so as to give the cradle a slight slant, and thus enable the water to run off more quickly. If a cradle dips too much, a little gold may wash off with the light sand. The cradling machine, though simple in itself, is rather difficult to describe. In shape and size it resembles an infant’s cradle, and over that portion of it where, if for a baby, a hood would be, is a perforated plate with wooden sides, a few inches high all round, forming a sort of box with the perforated plate for a bottom; this box is called the hopper. The dirt is here placed, and the constant supply of water, after well washing the stuff, runs out through a hole made at the foot of the cradle. The gold generally rests on a wooden shelf under the hopper, though sometimes a good deal will run down with the water and dirt into one of the compartments at the bottom, and to separate it from the sand or mud, tin-dish-washing is employed.

As soon as sufficient earth was ready, one began to rock, and another to fill the hopper with water. Richard continued puddling, William, enacted Aquarius for him, whilst a fifth was fully occupied in conveying fresh dirt to the tubs, and taking the puddled stuff from them to the hopper of the cradle. Every now and then a, change of hands was made, and thus passed the day. In the evening, the products were found to be one small nugget weighing a quarter of an ounce, and in gold-dust eight pennyweights, ten grains, being worth, at the digging price for gold, about thirty-five shillings. This was rather less than we hard less calculated upon, and Richard signified his intention of returning to Melbourne, “He could no longer put up with such ungentlemanly work in so very unintellectual a neighbourhood, with bad living into the bargain.” These last words, which were pronounced SOTTO VOCE, gave us a slight clue to the real cause of his dislike to the diggings, though we, did not thoroughly understand it till next morning. It originated in some bottles of mixed pickles which he had in vain wanted Frank, who this week was caterer for the party, to purchase at four shillings a bottle, which sum, as we were all on economical thoughts intent, Frank refused to expend on any unnecessary article of food. This we learnt next morning at breakfast, when Richard congratulated himself on that being the last meal he should make of tea, damper and muton, without the latter having something to render it eatable. The puddling and cradling work had, I fancy, given the finishing stroke to his disgust. Poor Dick! he met with little commiseration: we could not but remember the thousands in the old country who would have rejoiced at the simple fare he so much despised. William, in his laughing way, observed, “that he was too great a pickle himself, without buying fresh ones.”

Richard left us on Thursday morning, and with him went one of the other party, the house-painter and decorator, who also found gold-digging not so Pleasant as he had expected. We afterwards learnt that before reaching Kilmore they separated. Richard arrived safely in Melbourne, and entered a goldbroker’s office at a salary of three pounds a week, which situation I believe he now fills; and as “the governor,” to use Richard’s own expression, “has not yet come to his senses,” he must greatly regret having allowed his temper to be the cause of his leaving the comforts of home. His companion, who parted with Richard at Kilmore, was robbed of what little gold he had, and otherwise maltreated, whilst passing through the Black Forest. On reaching Melbourne, he sold everything he possessed, and that not being sufficient, he borrowed enough to pay his passage back to England, where, doubtless, he will swell the number of those whose lack of success in the colonies, and vituperations against them, are only equalled by their unfitness ever to have gone there.

Thursday was past in puddling and cradling, with rather better results than on the first day, still it was not to our satisfaction, and on Friday two pits were sunk. one was shallow, and the bottom reached without a speck of gold making its appearance. The other was left over till the next morning. This was altogether very disheartening work, particularly as the expenses of living were not small. There were many, however, much worse off than ourselves, though here and there a lucky digger excited the envy of all around him. Many were the tricks resorted to in order to deceive new-comers. Holes were offered for sale, in which the few grains that were carefully placed in sight was all that the buyer gained by his purchase.

A scene of this description was enacted this Friday evening, at a little distance from us. The principal actors in it were two in number. One sat a little way from his hole with a heap of soil by his side, and a large tin dish nearly full of dirt in his hand. As he swayed the dish to and fro in the process of washing, an immense number of small nuggets displayed themselves, which fact in a loud tone he announced to his “mate”, at the same time swearing at him for keeping at work so late in the evening. This digger, who was shovelling up more dirt from the hole, answered in the same elegant language, calling him an “idle good-for-nought.” Every now and then he threw a small nugget to the tin-dish-washer, loudly declaring, “he’d not leave off while them bright bits were growing thick as taters underground.”

“Then be d—-d if I don’t!” shouted the other;” and I’ll sell the hole for two hundred yeller boys down.”

This created a great sensation among the bystanders, who during the time had collected round, and among whom was a party of three, evidently “new chums.”

“It shall go for a hundred and fifty!” again shouted the washer, giving a glance in the direction in which they stood.

“Going for a hundred, tin-dish as well!” letting some of the water run off, and displaying the gold.

This decided the matter, and one of the three stepped forward and offered the required sum.

“Money down,” said the seller; “these here fellers ‘ll witness it’s all reg’lar.”

The money was paid in notes, and the purchasers were about to commence possession by taking the tin-dish out of his hand.

“Wait till he’s emptied. I promised yer the dish, but not the stuff in it,” and turning out the dirt into a small tub the two worthies departed, carrying the tub away with them.

Not a grain of gold did the buyers find in the pit next morning.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2.–This day found the four hard at work at an early hour, and words will not describe our delight when they hit upon a “pocket” full of the precious metal. The “pocket was situated in a dark corner of the hole, and William was the one whose fossicking-knife first brought its hidden beauties to light. Nugget after nugget did that dirty soil give up; by evening they had taken out five pounds weight of gold. Foolish Richard! we all regretted his absence at this discovery.

As the next day was the Sabbath, thirty-six hours of suspense must elapse before we could know whether this was but a passing kindness from the fickle goddess, or the herald of continued good fortune.

This night, for the first time, we were really in dread of an attack, though we had kept our success quite secret, not even mentioning it to our shipmates; nor did we intend to do so until Monday morning, when our first business would be to mark out three more claims round the lucky spot, and send our gold down to the escort-office for security. For the present we were obliged to content ourselves with “planting” it–that is, burying it in the ground; and not a footstep passed in our neighbourhood without our imagining ourselves robbed of the precious treasure, and as it was Saturday night–the noisiest and most riotous at the diggings–our panics were neither few nor far between. So true it is that riches entail trouble and anxiety on their possessor.

Chapter VIII.

AN ADVENTURE

SUNDAY 3.–A fine morning. After our usual service Frank, my brother, and myself, determined on an exploring expedition, and off we went, leaving the dinner in the charge of the others. We left the busy throng of the diggers far behind us, and wandered into spots where the sound of the pick and shovel, or the noise of human traffic, had never penetrated. The scene and the day were in unison; all was harmonious, majestic, and serene. Those mighty forests, hushed in a sombre and awful silence; those ranges of undulating hill and dale never yet trodden by the foot of man; the soft still air, so still that it left every leaf unruffled, flung an intensity of awe over our feelings, and led us from the contemplation of nature to worship nature’s God.

We sat in silence for some while deeply impressed by all around us, and, whilst still sitting and gazing there, a change almost imperceptibly came over the face of both earth and sky. The forest swayed to and fro, a sighing moaning sound was borne upon the wind, and a noise as of the rush of waters, dark massive clouds rolled over the sky till the bright blue heavens were completely hidden, and then, ere we had recovered from our first alarm and bewilderment, the storm in its unmitigated fury burst upon us. The rain fell in torrents, and we knew not where to turn.

Taking me between them, they succeeded in reaching an immense shea-oak, under which we hoped to find some shelter till the violence of the rain had diminished; nor where we disappointed, though it was long before we could venture to leave our place of refuge. At length however, we did so, and endeavoured to find our way back to Eagle Hawk Gully. Hopeless task! The ground was so slippery, it was as much as we could do to walk without falling; the mud and dirt clung to our boots, and a heavy rain beat against our faces and nearly blinded us.

“It is clearing up to windward,” observed Frank; “another half-hour and the rain will be all but over; let us return to our tree again.”

We did so. Frank was correct; in less than the time he had specified a slight drizzling rain was all of the storm that remained.

With much less difficulty we again attempted to return home, but before very long we made the startling discovery that we had completely lost our way, and to add to our misfortune the small pocket-compass, which Frank had brought with him, and which would have now so greatly assisted us, was missing, most probably dropped from his pocket during the skirmish to get under shelter. We still wandered along till stopped by the shades of evening, which came upon us–there is little or no twilight in Australia.

We seated ourselves upon the trunk of a fallen tree, wet, hungry, and, worst of all, ignorant of where we were. Shivering with cold, and our wet garments hanging most uncomfortably around us, we endeavoured to console one another by reflecting that the next morning we could not fail to reach our tents. The rain had entirely ceased, and providentially for us the night was pitch dark–I say providentially, because after having remained for two hours in this wretched plight a small light in the distance became suddenly visible to us all, so distant, that but for the intensity of the darkness it might have passed unnoticed. “Thank God!” simultaneously burst from our lips.

“Let us hasten there,” cried Frank, “a whole night like this may be your sister’s death and would ruin the constitution of a giant.”

To this we gladly acceded, and were greatly encouraged by perceiving that the light remained stationary. But it was a perilous undertaking. Luckily my brother had managed to get hold of a long stick with which he sounded the way, for either large stones or water-holes would have been awkward customers in the dark; wonderful to relate we escaped both, and when within hailing distance of the light, which we perceived came from a torch hold by some one, we shouted with all our remaining strength, but without diminishing our exertions to reach it. Soon–with feelings that only those who have encountered similar dangers can understand–answering voices fell upon our ears. Eagerly we pressed forward, and in the excitement of the moment we relinquished all hold of one another, and attempted to wade through the mud singly.

“Stop! halt!” shouted more than one stentorian voice; but the warning came too late. My feet slipped–a sharp pain succeeded by a sudden chill–a feeling of suffocation–of my head being ready to burst–and I remembered no more.

When I recovered consciousness it was late in the morning, for the bright sun shone upon the ground through the crevices of a sail cloth tent, and so different was all that met my eyes to the dismal scene through which I had so lately passed, and which yet haunted my memory, that I felt that sweet feeling of relief which we experience when, waking from some horrid vision, we become convinced how unsubstantial are its terrors, and are ready to smile at the pain they excited.

That I was in a strange place became quickly evident, and among the distant hum of voices which ever and anon broke the silence not one familiar tone could I recognize. I endeavoured to raise myself so as to hear more distinctly, and then it was that an acute pain in the ankle of the right foot, gave me pretty strong evidence as to the reality of the last night’s adventures. I was forced to lie down again, but not before I had espied a hand-bell which lay within reach on a small barrel near my bed. Determined as far as possible to fathom the mystery, I rang a loud peal with it, not doubting but what it would bring my brother to me. My surprise and delight may be easier imagined than described, when, as though in obedience to my summons, I saw a small white hand push aside the canvas at one corner of the tent, and one of my own sex entered.

She was young and fair; her step was soft and her voice most musically gentle. Her eyes were a deep blue, and a rich brown was the colour of her hair, which she wore in very short curls all round her head and parted on one side, which almost gave her the appearance of a pretty boy.

These little particulars I noticed afterwards; at that time I only felt that her gentle voice and kind friendliness of manner inexpressibly soothed me.

After having bathed my ankle, which I found to be badly sprained and cut, she related, as far as she was acquainted with them, the events the previous evening. I learnt that these tents belonged to a party from England, of one of whom she was the wife, and the tent in which I lay was her apartment. They had not been long at the diggings, and preferred the spot where they were to the more frequented parts.

The storm of yesterday had passed over them without doing much damage, and as their tents were well painted over the tops, they managed to keep themselves tolerably dry; but later in the evening, owing to the softness of the ground, one of the side-posts partly gave way, which aroused them all, and torches were lit, and every one busied in trying to prop it up till morning. Whilst thus engaged they heard our voices calling for help. They answered, at the same time getting ready some more torches before, advancing to meet us, as there were several pit-holes between us and them. Their call for us to remain stationary came too late to save me from slipping into one of their pits, thereby spraining my ankle and otherwise hurting myself, besides being buried to my forehead in mud and water. The pit was not quite five feet deep, but, unfortunately for myself in this instance, I belong to the pocket edition of the feminine sex. They soon extricated me from this perilous situation, and carried me to their tents, where, by the assistance of my new friend, I was divested of the mud that still clung to me, and placed into bed.

Before morning the storm, which we all thought had passed over, burst forth with redoubled fury; the flashes of lightning were succeeded by loud peals of thunder, and the rain came splashing down. Their tents were situated on a slight rise, or they would have run great risk of being washed away; every hole was filled with water, and the shea-oak, of whose friendly shelter we had availed ourselves the evening before, was struck by lightning, shivered into a thousand pieces. After a while the storm abated, and the warm sun and a drying wind were quickly removing all traces of it.

Frank and my brother, after an early breakfast, had set out for Eagle Hawk Gully under the guidance of my fair friend’s husband, who knew the road thither very well; it was only three miles distant. He was to bring back with him a change of clothing for me, as his wife had persuaded my brother to leave me in her charge until I had quite recovered from the effects of the accident, “which he more readily promised,” she observed, “as we are not quite strangers, having met once before.”

This awakened my curiosity, and I would not rest satisfied till fully acquainted with the how, when, and where. Subsequently she related to me some portion of the history of her life, which it will be no breach of confidence to repeat here.

Short as it is, however, it is deserving of another chapter.

Chapter IX.

HARRIETTE WALTERS

Harriette Walters had been a wife but twelve months, when the sudden failure of the house in which her husband was a junior partner involved them in irretrievable ruin, and threw them almost penniless upon the world. At this time the commercial advantages of Australia, the opening it afforded for all classes of men, and above all, its immense mineral wealth, were the subject of universal attention. Mr. Walters’ friends advised him to emigrate, and the small sum saved from the wreck of their fortune served to defray the expenses of the journey. Harriette, sorely against her wishes, remained behind with an old maiden aunt, until her husband could obtain a home for her in the colonies.

The day of parting arrived; the ship which bore him away disappeared from her sight, and almost heart-broken she returned to the humble residence of her sole remaining relative.

Ere she had recovered from the shock occasioned by her husband’s departure, her aged relation died from a sudden attack of illness, and Harriette was left alone to struggle with her poverty and her grief. The whole of her aunt’s income had been derived from an annuity, which of course died with her; and her personal property, when sold, realized not much more than sufficient to pay a few debts and the funeral expenses; so that when these last sad duties were performed, Harriette found herself with a few pounds in her pocket, homeless, friendless, and alone.

Her thoughts turned to the distant land, her husband’s home, and every hope was centred in the one intense desire to join him there. The means were wanting, she had none from whom she could solicit assistance, but her determination did not fail. She advertized for a situation as companion to an invalid, or nurse to young children, during the voyage to Port Philip, provided her passage-money was paid by her employer. This she soon obtained. The ship was a fast sailer, the winds were favourable, and by a strange chance she arrived in Melbourne three weeks before her husband. This time was a great trial to her. Alone and unprotected in that strange, rough city, without money, without friends, she felt truly wretched. It was not a place for a female to be without a protector, and she knew it, yet protector she had none; even the family with whom she had come out, had gone many miles up the country. She possessed little money, lodgings and food were at an awful price, and employment for a female, except of a rough sort, was not easily procured.

In this dilemma she took the singular notion into her head of disguising her sex, and thereby avoiding much of the insult and annoyance to which an unprotected female would have been liable. Being of a slight figure, and taking the usual colonial costume–loose trowsers, a full, blue serge shirt, fastened round the waist by a leather belt, and a wide-awake–Harriette passed very well for what she assumed to be–a young lad just arrived from England. She immediately obtained a light situation near the wharf, where for about three weeks she worked hard enough at a salary of a pound a week, board, and permission to sleep in an old tumbledown shed beside the store.

At last the long looked-for vessel arrived. That must have been a moment of intense happiness which restored her to her husband’s arms–for him not unmingled with surprise; he could not at first recognize her in her new garb. She would hear of no further separation, and when she learnt he had joined a party for the Bendigo diggings, she positively refused to remain in Melbourne, and she retained her boyish dress until their arrival at Bendigo. The party her husband belonged to had two tents, one of which they readily gave up to the married couple, as they were only too glad to have the company and in-door assistance of a sensible, active woman during their spell at the diggings. For the sake of economy, during the time that elapsed before they could commence their journey up, all of them lived in the tents which they pitched on a small rise on the south side of the Yarra. Here it was that our acquaintance first took place; doubtless, my readers will, long ere this, have recognized in the hospitable gentleman I encountered there, my friend’s husband, and, in the delicate-looking youth who had so attracted my attention, the fair Harriette herself.

* * * * *

But–REVENONS A NOS MOUTONS.

On the third day of my visit I was pronounced convalescent, and that evening my brother and William came to conduct me back to Eagle Hawk Gully. It was with no little regret that I bade farewell to my new friend, and I must confess that the pleasure of her society had for the time made me quite careless as to the quantity of gold our party might be taking up during my absence. Whilst walking towards our tents, I heard the full particulars of their work, which I subjoin, so as to resume the thread of my DIGGING narrative in a proper manner.

MONDAY.–Much upset by their anxiety occasioned by the non-appearance the previous evening of Frank, my brother, and myself. The two former did not reach home till nearly noon, the roads were so heavy. After dinner all set to work in better spirits; came to the end of the gold–took out nearly four Pounds weight.

TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY.–Digging various holes in the vicinity of the lucky spot, but without success. The other party did the same with no better result.

Such were the tidings that I heard after my three days’ absence.

THURSDAY.–To-day was spent in prospecting–that is, searching for a spot whose geological formation gives some promise of the precious metal. In the evening, William and Octavius returned with the news that they had found a place at some, distance from the gully, which they thought would prove “paying,” as they had washed some of the surface soil, which yielded well. It was arranged that the party be divided into two, and take alternate days to dig there.

FRIDAY.–In pursuance of the foregoing plan William and Octavius set off, carrying a good quantity of dinner and their tools along with them. They worked hard enough during the day, but only brought back three pennyweights of gold-dust with them. My brother and Frank gained a deal more by surface washing at home.

SATURDAY.–Changed hands. Frank and my brother to the new spot, digging. Octavius and William surface washing. There results were much the same as the day before.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10–We took advantage of the fine weather to pay a visit to Harriette and her party. We found them in excellent spirits, for at last they had hit upon a rich vein, which had for three days been yielding an average of four pounds weight a day, and was not yet exhausted. I say AT LAST, for I have not before mentioned that they had never obtained more than an ounce of gold altogether, up to the day I left them. We were sincerely pleased with their good fortune. Harriette hoped that soon they might be able to leave this wild sort of life, and purchase a small farm, and once again have a home of their own. This could not be done near Melbourne, so they meant to go to South Australia, where any quantity of land may be bought. In THIS colony no smaller quantity than a square mile–640 acres–is sold by the Government in one lot; consequently, those whose capital is unequal to purchase this, go to some other colony, and there invest the wealth they have acquired in Victoria.

As we had some idea of leaving Eagle Hawk Gully, I bade Harriette farewell. We never expected to meet again. It chanced otherwise; but I must not anticipate.

Monday and Tuesday were most unprofitably passed in digging holes; and on Tuesday night we determined to leave the Eagle Hawk, and try our fortune in some of the neighbouring gullies.

Wednesday was a bustling day. We sold our tent, tools, cradle, &c., as we knew plenty were always to be bought of those who, like ourselves, were changing their place. Had we known what we were about, we should never have burdened ourselves by bringing so many goods and chattels a hundred and twenty miles or more up the country; but “experience teaches.” Having parted with all encumbrances, myself excepted, we started for the Iron Bark Gully. All the gold had been transmitted by the escort to Melbourne, and one fine nugget, weighing nearly five ounces, had been sent to Richard. We could not resist the pleasure of presenting him with it, although by our rules not entitled to any of the proceeds.

The following are the rules by which our affairs were regulated. They were drawn up before leaving Melbourne, and signed by all. Though crude and imperfect, they were sufficient to preserve complete harmony and good fellowship between five young men of different character, taste, and education–a harmony and good fellowship which even Richard’s withdrawal did not interrupt.

The rules were these:

1. No one party to be ruler; but every week by turn, one to buy, sell, take charge of gold, and transact all business matters.

2. The gold to be divided, and accounts settled every Saturday night.

3. Any one voluntarily leaving the party, to have one-third of his original share in the expense of purchasing tent and tools returned to him, but to have no further claim upon them or upon the gold that may be found after his withdrawal. Any one dismissed the party for misconduct, to forfeit all claim upon the joint property.

4. The party agree to stand by one another in all danger, difficulty, or illness.

5. Swearing, gambling, and drinking spirits to be strictly avoided.

6. Morning service to be read every Sunday morning.

7. All disputes or appeals from the foregoing rules to be settled by a majority.

Chapter X.

IRONBARK GULLY

I have said little in description of the Eagle Hawk, for all gullies or valleys at the diggings bear a strong external resemblance one to another. This one differed from others only in being much longer and wider; the sides, as is usually the case in the richest gullies, were not precipitous, but very gradual; a few mountains closed the background. The digging was in many places very shallow, and the soil was sometimes of a clayey description, sometimes very gravelly with slate bottom, sometimes gravelly with pipeclay bottom, sometimes quite sandy; in fact, the earth was of all sorts and depths.

At one time there were eight thousand diggers together in Eagle Hawk Gully. This was some months before we visited it. During the period of our stay at Bendigo there were not more than a thousand, and fewer still in the Iron Bark. The reasons for this apparent desertion were several.

The weather continued wet and uncertain, so that many who had gone down to Melbourne remained there, not yet considering the ground sufficiently recovered from the effects of the prolonged wet season, they had no desire to run the risk of being buried alive in their holes. Many had gone to the Adelaide diggings, of which further particulars hereafter, and many more had gone across the country to the Ovens, or, farther still, to the Sydney diggings themselves. According to digging parlance, “the Turon was looking up,” and Bendigo, Mount Alexander, and Forest Creek were thinned accordingly. But perhaps the real cause of their desertion arose from the altered state of the diggings. Some time since one party netted 900 pounds in three weeks; 100 pounds a week was thought nothing wonderful. Four men found one day seventy-five pounds weight; another party took from the foot of a tree gold to the value of 2000 pounds. A friend of mine once met a man whom he knew returning to Melbourne, walking in dusty rags and dirt behind a dray, yet carrying with him 1,500 pounds worth of gold. In Peg Leg Gully, fifty and even eighty pounds weight had been taken from holes only three or four feet deep. At Forest Creek a hole produced sixty pounds weight in one day, and forty more the day after. From one of the golden gullies a party took up the incredible quantity of one hundred and ninety-eight pounds weight in six weeks. These are but two or three instances out of the many that occurred to prove the richness of this truly auriferous spot. The consequence may be easily imagined; thousands flocked to Bendigo. The “lucky bits” were still as numerous, but being disseminated among a greater number of diggers, it followed that there were many more blanks than prizes, and the disappointed multitude were ready to be off to the first new discovery. Small gains were beneath their notice. I have often heard the miners say that they would rather spend their last farthing digging fifty holes, even if they found nothing in them, than “tamely” earn an ounce a day by washing the surface soil; on the same principle, I suppose, that a gambler would throw up a small but certain income to be earned by his own industry, for the uncertain profits of the cue or dice.

For ourselves, we had nothing to complain about. During the short space of time that we had been at Eagle Hawk Gully, we had done as well as one in fifty, and might therefore be classed among the lucky diggers; but “the more people have, the more they want;” and although the many pounds weight of the precious metal that our party had “taken up” gave, when divided, a good round sum a-piece, the avaricious creatures bore the want of success that followed more unphilosophically than they had done before the rich “pocketful” of gold had made its appearance. They would dig none but shallow holes, and a sort of gambling manner of setting to work replaced the active perseverance they had at first displayed.

Some days before we left, Eagle Hawk Gully had been condemned as a “worthless place,” and a change decided on. The when and the where were fixed much in the following manner:

“I say, mates,” observed William on the evening of the Sunday on which I had paid my last visit to Harriette, “I say, mates, nice pickings a man got last week in the Iron Bark–only twenty pounds weight out of one hole; that’s all.”

“Think it’s true?” said Octavius, quietly.

“Of course; likely enough. I propose we pack up our traps, and honour this said gully with our presence forthwith.”

“Let’s inquire first,” put in Frank; “it’s foolish to change good quarters on such slight grounds.”

“Good quarters! slight grounds!” cried William; “what next? what would you have? Good quarters! yes, as far as diggings concerned–whether you find anything for your digging is another matter. Slight grounds, indeed! twenty pounds weight in one day! Yes, we ought to inquire; you’re right there, old boy, and the proper place to commence our inquiries is at the gully itself. Let’s be off tomorrow.”

“Wait two days longer,” said Octavius “and I am agreeable.”

And this, after a little chaffing between the impatient William and his more business-like comrades, was satisfactorily arranged.

Behold us then, on Wednesday the 13th, after having sold all our goods that were saleable, making our way to the Iron Bark Gully. William enacted the part of auctioneer, which he did in a manner most satisfactory to himself, and amusing to his audience; but the things sold very badly, so many were doing the same. The tents fetched only a few shillings each, and the tools, cradles, &c., EN MASSE, were knocked down for half a sovereign.

The morning was rather cloudy, which made our pedestrian mode of travelling not so fatiguing as it might have been, had the sun in true colonial strength been shining upon us. This was very fortunately not the case, for we more than once mistook our way, and made a long walk out of a short one–quite a work of supererogation–for the roads were heavy and tiring enough without adding an extra quantity of them.

We passed in the close neighbourhood of Sailor’s, Californian, American, Long, and Piccaninny Gullies before reaching our destination. Most of these gullies are considered ransacked, but a very fair amount of gold-dust may be obtained in either by the new comer by tin-dish fossicking in deserted holes. These deserted gullies, as they are called, contained in each no trifling population, and looked full enough for comfortable working. What must they have resembled the summer previous, when some hundreds of people leaving a flat or gully was but as a handful of sand from the sea-shore!

Before evening we arrived at the Iron Bark. This gully takes its name from the splendid trees with which it abounds; and their immense height, their fluted trunks and massive branches gave them a most majestic appearance. We paused beneath one in a more secluded part, and there determined to fix our quarters for the night. The heavy “swags” were flung upon the ground, and the construction of something resembling a tent gave them plenty to do; the tomahawks, which they carried in their belts, were put into immediate requisition, and some branches of the trees were soon formed into rough tent-poles. The tent, however, though perhaps as good as could be expected, was nothing very wonderful after all, being made only of some of the blankets which our party had brought in their swags. Beneath it I reposed very comfortably; and, thanks to my fatiguing walk, slept as soundly as I could possibly have done beneath the roof of a palace. The four gentlemen wrapped themselves in their blankets, and laid down to rest upon the ground beside the fire; their only shelter was the foliage of the friendly tree which spread its branches high above our heads.

Next morning William was for settling ourselves in the gully. He wanted tents, tools, &c., purchased, but by dint of much talking and reasoning, we persuaded him first to look well about, and judge from the success of others whether we were likely to do any good by stopping there. We soon heard the history of the “twenty-pound weight” story. As Frank and Octavius had at once surmised, it originated in a party who were desirous to sell their claims and baggage before starting for Melbourne. I believe they succeeded–there are always plenty of “new chums” to be caught and taken in–and the report had caused a slight rush of diggers, old and new, to the gully. Many of these diggers had again departed, others stayed to give the place a trial; we were not among the latter. The statements of those who were still working were anything but satisfactory, and we were all inclined to push on to Forest Creek.

Meanwhile, it is Thursday afternoon. All but Frank appear disposed for a siesta; he alone seems determined on a walk. I offer myself and am accepted as a companion, and off we go together to explore this new locality.

We proceeded up the gully. Deserted holes there were in numbers, many a great depth, and must have cost a vast amount of manual labour. In some places the diggers were hard at work, and the blows of the pick, the splash of water, and the rocking of the cradle made the diggings seem themselves again. There were several women about, who appeared to take as active an interest in the work as their “better halves.” They may often be seen cradling with an infant in their arms. A man and a cart preceeded us up the gully. Every now and again he shouted out in a stentorian voice that made the welkin ring; and the burden of his cry was this:

“‘Ere’s happles, happles, Vandemonian happles, and them as dislikes the hiland needn’t heat them.”

The admirers of the fertile island must have been very numerous, for his customers soon made his pippins disappear.

We passed a butcher’s shop, or rather tent, which formed a curious spectacle. The animals, cut into halves or quarters, were hung round; no small joints there–half a sheep or none; heads, feet, and skins were lying about for any one to have for the trouble of picking up, and a quantity of goods of all sorts and sizes, gridirons, saucepans, cradles, empty tea-chests, were lying scattered around in all directions ticketed “for sale.” We quickly went on, for it was not a particularly pleasant sight, and at some distance perceived a quiet little nook rather out of the road, in which was one solitary tent. We hastened our steps, and advanced nearer, when we perceived that the tent was made of a large blanket suspended over a rope, which was tied from one tree to another. The blanket was fastened into the ground by large wooden pegs. Near to the opening of the tent, upon a piece of rock, sat a little girl of about ten years old. By her side was a quantity of the coarse green gauze of which the diggers’ veils are made. She was working at this so industriously, and her little head was bent so fixedly over her fingers that she did not notice our approach. We stood for some minutes silently watching her, till Frank, wishing to see more of her countenance, clapped his hands noisily together for the purpose of rousing her.

She started, and looked up. What a volume of sorrow and of suffering did those pale features speak!

Suddenly a look of pleasure flashed over her countenance. She sprang from her seat, and advancing towards Frank, exclaimed:

“Maybe you’ll be wanting a veil, Sir. I’ve plenty nice ones, stronger, better, and cheaper than you’ll get at the store. Summer dust’s coming, Sir. You’ll want one, won’t you? I havn’t sold one this week,” she added, almost imploringly, perceiving what she fancied a “no-customer” look in his face.

“I’ll have one, little girl,” he answered in a kindly tone, “and what price is it to be?”

“Eighteen pence, Sir, if you’d please be so good.”

Frank put the money into her hand, but returned the veil. This action seemed not quite to satisfy her; either she did not comprehend what he meant, or it hurt her self-pride, for she said quickly:

“I havn’t only green veils–p’raps you’d like some candles better–I makes them too.”

“YOU make them?” said Frank, laughing as he glanced at the little hands that were still holding the veil for his acceptance. “YOU make them? Your mother makes the candles, you mean.”

“I have no mother now,” said she, with an expression of real melancholy in her countenance and voice. “I makes the candles and the veils, and the diggers they buys them of me, cos grandfather’s ill, and got nobody to work for him but me.”

“Where do you and your grandfather live?” I asked. “In there?” pointing to the blanket tent.

She nodded her head, adding in a lower tone:

“He’s asleep now. He sleeps more than he did. He’s killed hisself digging for the gold, and he never got none, and he says ‘he’ll dig till he dies.'”

“Dig till he dies.” Fit motto of many a disappointed gold-seeker, the finale of many a broken up, desolated home, the last dying words of many a husband, far away from wife or kindred, with no loved ones near to soothe his departing moments–no better burial–place than the very hole, perchance, in which his last earthly labours were spent. These were some of the thoughts that rapidly chased one another in my mind as the sad words and still sadder tone fell upon my ear.

I was roused by hearing Frank’s voice in inquiry as to how she made her candles, and she answered all our questions with a child-like NAIVETE, peculiarly her own. She told us how she boiled down the fat–how once it had caught fire and burnt her severely, and there was the scar still showing on her brown little arm–then how she poured the hot fat into, the tin mould, first fastening in the wicks, then shut up the mould and left it to grow cold as quickly as it would; all this, and many other particulars which I have long since forgotten, she told us; and little by little we learnt too her own history.

Father, mother, grandfather, and herself had all come to the diggings the summer before. Her father met with a severe accident in digging, and returned to Melbourne. He returned only to die, and his wife soon followed him to the grave. Having no other friend or relative in the colonies, the child had been left with her aged grandfather, who appeared as infatuated with the gold-fields as a more hale and younger man. His strength and health were rapidly failing, yet he still dug on. “We shall be rich, and Jessie a fine lady before I die,” was ever his promise to her, and that at times when they were almost wanting food.

It was with no idle curiosity that we listened to her; none could help feeling deeply interested in the energetic, unselfish, orphan girl. She was not beautiful, nor was she fair–she had none of those childish graces which usually attract so much attention to children of her age; her eyes were heavy and bloodshot (with work, weeping, cold, and hunger) except when she spoke of her sick grandfather, and then they disclosed a world of tenderness; her hair hung matted round her head; her cheek was wan and sallow; her dress was ill-made and threadbare; yet even thus, few that had once looked at her but would wish to look again. There was an indescribable sweetness about the mouth; the voice was low and musical; the well-shaped head was firmly set upon her shoulders; a fine open forehead surmounted those drooping eyes; there was almost a dash of independence; a “little woman” manner about her that made one imperceptibly forget how young she was in years.

A slight noise in the tent–a gentle moan.

“He’s waked; I must go to him, and,” in a lower, almost a deprecating tone, “he doesn’t like to hear stranger folks about.”

We cheerfully complied with the hint and departed, Frank first putting some money into her hand, and promising to call again for the candles and veils she seemed quite anxious we should take in return.

Our thoughts were as busy as our tongues were silent, during the time that elapsed before we reached home. When we entered, we found a discussion going on, and words were running high. My brother and Octavius were for going somewhere to work, not idle about as they were doing now; William. wanted to go for a “pleasure trip” to Forest Creek, and then return to Melbourne for a change. Frank listened to it all for some minutes, and then made a speech, the longest I ever heard from him, of which I will repeat portions, as it will explain our future movements.

“This morning, when going down the gully, I met the person whom we bought the dray-horses of in Melbourne. I asked him how he was doing, and he answered, ‘badly enough; but a friend’s just received accounts of some new diggings out Albury way, and there I mean to go.’ He showed me also a letter he had received from a party in Melbourne, who were going there. From these accounts, gold is very plentiful at this spot, and I for one think we may as well try our fortune in this new place, as anywhere else. The route is partly along the Sydney road, which is good, but it is altogether a journey of two hundred miles. I would therefore propose (turning to my brother), that we proceed first to Melbourne, where you can leave your sister, and we can then start for the Ovens; and as provisions are at an exorbitant price there, we might risk a little money in taking up a dray-full of goods as before. And as we may never chance to be in this part of Victoria again, I vote that we take William’s ‘pleasure trip’ to Forest Creek, stop there a few days, and then to Melbourne.”

This plan was adopted.

FRIDAY MORNING.–Frank stole out early after breakfast, for a visit to little Jessie. I learnt the full particulars afterwards, and therefore will relate them as they occurred, as though myself present. He did not find her sitting outside the tent as before, and hesitated whether to remain or go away, when a low moaning inside determined him to enter. He pushed aside the blanket, and saw her lying upon an old mattress on the ground; beside her was a dark object, which he could not at first distinguish plainly. It was her grandfather, and he was dead. The moaning came from the living orphan, and piteous it was to hear her. It took Frank but a few minutes to ascertain all this, and then he gently let down the blanket, and hastened to the butcher’s shop I have already mentioned. He learnt all that there was to know: that she had no friends, no relatives, and that nothing but her own labour, and the kindness of others, had kept them from starvation through the winter. Frank left a small sum in the butcher’s hands, to have the old man buried, as best could be, in so wild and unnatural a place, and then returned to the mourning child. When he looked in, she was lying silent and senseless beside the corpse. A gentle breathing–a slight heaving of the chest, was all that distinguished the living from the dead. Carefully taking her in his arms, he carried her to our tent. As I saw him thus approaching, an idea of the truth flashed across me. Frank brought her inside, and laid her upon the ground–the only resting-place we had for her. She soon opened her eyes, the quick transition through the air had assisted in reviving her, and then I could tell that the whole sad truth returned fresh to her recollection. She sat up, resting her head upon her open hands, whilst her eyes were fixed sullenly, almost doggedly, upon the ground. Our attempts at consolation seemed useless. Frank and I glanced at one another. “Tell us how it happened,” said he gently.

Jessie made no answer. She seemed like one who heard not.

“It must have been through some great carelessness–some neglect,” pursued Frank, laying a strong emphasis on the last word.

This effectually roused her.

“I NEVER left him–I NEVER neglected him. When I waked in the morning I thought him asleep. I made my fire. I crept softly about to make his gruel for breakfast, and I took it him, and found him dead–dead,” and she burst into a passion of tears.

Frank’s pretended insinuation had done her good; and now that her grief found its natural vent, her mind became calmer, and exhausted with sorrow, she fell into a soothing slumber.

We had prepared to start before noon, but this incident delayed us a little. When Jessie awoke, she seemed to feel intuitively that Frank was her best friend, for she kept beside him during our hasty dinner, and retained his hand during the walk. There was a pleasant breeze, and we did not feel over fatigued when, after having walked about eight miles, we sat down beneath a most magnificent gum tree, more than a hundred feet high. Frank very wisely made Jessie bestir herself, and assist in our preparations. She collected dry sticks for a fire, went with him to a small creek near for a supply of water; and so well did he succeed, that for a while she nearly forgot her troubles, and could almost smile at some of William’s gay sallies.

Next morning, very early, breakfast rapidly disappeared, and we were marching onwards. An empty cart, drawn by a stout horse, passed us.

Frank glanced at the pale little child beside him. “Where to?” cried he.

“Forest Creek.”

“Take us for what?”

“A canary a-piece.”

“Agreed.” And we gladly sprung in. For the sake of the uninitiated, I must explain that, in digger’s slang, a “canary” and half-a-sovereign are synonymous.

We passed the “Porcupine Inn.” We halted at noon, dined, and about two hours after sighted the Commissioners’ tent. In a few minutes the cart stopped.

“Can’t take yer not no further. If the master seed yer, I’d cotch it for taking yer at all.”

We paid him and alighted.

Chapter XI.

FOREST CREEK

In my last chapter we were left standing not far from the Commissioners’ tent, Forest Creek, at about three o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, the 16th. An air of quiet prevailed, and made the scene unlike any other we had as yet viewed at the diggings. It was the middle of the month; here and there a stray applicant for a licence might make his appearance, but the body of the diggers had done so long before, and were disseminated over the creek digging, washing, or cradling, as the case might be, but here at least was quiet. To the right of the Licensing Commissioners’ tent was a large one appropriated to receiving the gold to be forwarded to Melbourne by the Government escort. There were a number of police and pensioners about.

Not many months ago, the scarcity of these at the diggings had prevented the better class of diggers from carrying on their operations with any degree of comfort, or feeling that their lives and property were secure. But this was now altered; large bodies of police were placed on duty, and wooden buildings erected in various parts of the diggings for their accommodation. Assistant Commissioners (who were also magistrates) had been appointed, and large bodies of pensioners enrolled as police, and acting under their orders. Roads were also being made in all directions, thereby greatly facilitating intercommunication.

But I must not forget that we are standing looking about us without exactly knowing where to turn. Suddenly William started off like a shot in pursuit of a man a little way from us. We could not at first guess who it was, for in the diggers’ dress all men look like so many brothers; but as we approached nearer we recognised our late captain, Gregory.

“Well, old fellow, and where did you spring from?” was Frank’s salutation. “I thought you were stuck fast in the Eagle Hawk.”

“I may say the same,” said Gregory, smiling. “How got you here?”

This was soon told, and our present dilemma was not left unmentioned.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed,” says the proverb, and William echoed it, as Gregory very complaisantly informed us that, having just entered upon a store not far distant, he would be delighted to give us a shelter for a few nights. This we gladly accepted, and were soon comfortably domiciled beneath a bark and canvas tent adjoining his store. Here we supped, after which Gregoryy left us, and returned with mattresses, blankets, &c., which he placed on the ground, whilst he coolly ordered the gentlemen to prepare to take their departure, he himself presently setting them the example.

“I’m certain sure the young leddy’s tired,” said he; “and that little lassie there (pointing to Jessie) looks as pale and as wizened as an old woman of seventy–the sooner they gets to sleep the better.”

We followed the kindly hint, and Jessie and myself were soon fast asleep in spite of the din close beside us. It was Saturday night, and the store was full; but the Babel-like sounds disturbed us not, and we neither of us woke till morning.

It was Sunday. The day was fine, and we strolled here and there, wandering a good way from Gregory’s store. As we returned, we passed near the scene of the monster meeting of 1851. The following account of it is so correct, that I cannot do better than transcribe it.

“The exceeding richness of the Mount Alexander diggings, and extraordinary success of many of the miners, led the Government to issue a proclamation, raising the licence from thirty shillings to three pounds. As soon as these intentions became known, a public meeting of all the miners was convened, and took place on the 15th of December, 1851. This resolve of the Governor and Executive Council was injudicious, since, in New South Wales, the Government proposed to reduce the fee to 15s.; and among the miners in Victoria, dissatisfaction was rife, on account of the apparent disregard by the Government of the wants and wishes of the people engaged in the gold diggings, and because of the absence of all police protection, while there appeared to be no effort made to remedy this defect. Indignation was, therefore, unequivocally expressed at the several diggings’ meetings which were held, and at which it was resolved to hold a monster meeting. The ‘Old Shepherd’s Hut,’ an out station of Dr. Barker’s, and very near the Commissioners’ tent, was the scene chosen for this display. For miles around work ceased, cradles were hushed, and, the diggers, anxious to show their determination, assembled in crowds, swarming from every creek, gully, hill, and dale, even from the distant Bendigo, twenty miles away. They felt that if they tamely allowed the Government to charge 3 pounds one month, the licensing fee might be increased to 6 pounds the next; and by such a system of oppression, the diggers’ vocation would be suspended.

“It has been computed that from fifteen to twenty thousand persons were on the ground during the time of the meeting. Hundreds, who came and heard, gave place to the coming multitude, satisfied with having attended to countenance the proceedings. The meeting ultimately dispersed quietly, thereby disappointing the anticipations of those who expected, perhaps even desired, a turbulent termination. The majority determined to resist any attempt to enforce this measure, and to pay NOTHING; but, happily, they were not reduced to this extremity, since his Excellency wisely gave notice that no change would be made in the amount demanded for licence.”

The trees up which the diggers had climbed during the meeting are still pointed out.

The “Old Shepherd’s Hut” was standing. It seemed a most commodious little building compared to the insecure shelter of’ a digger’s tent. The sides of the hut were formed of slabs, which were made mostly from the stringy bark,–a tree that splits easily–the roof was composed of the bark from the same tree; the chimney was of stones mortared together with mud. This is the general style of building for shepherds’ huts in the bush. As we passed it I could not but mentally contrast the scene that took place there on the important day of the monster meeting, to the deep tranquillity that must have reigned around the spot for centuries before the discovery of gold drew multitudes to the place.

The trees in this neighbourhood are mostly stringy bark; almost all are peeled of their covering, as many diggers, particularly those who have their families with them, keep much to one part, and think it, therefore, no waste of time or labour to erect a hut, instead of living in a comfortless tent.

On Monday morning we determined to pursue our travels, and meant that day to pay a flying, visit to Fryer’s Creek. It was a lovely morning, and we set out in high spirits. A heavy rain during the night had well laid the dust. On our way we took a peep at several flats and gullies, many of which looked very picturesque, particularly one called Specimen Gully, which was but thinly inhabited.

We had hardly reached Fryer’s Creek itself when we saw a vast concourse of people gathered together. Frank and my brother remained with me at a little distance, whilst Octavius and William went to learn the occasion of this commotion. It arose from an awful accident which had just occurred.

Three brothers were working in a claim beside the stream, some way apart from the other diggers. The heavy rain during the night had raised the water, and the ground between the hole where they were working and the Creek, had given way imperceptibly UNDERNEATH. One brother, who was early in the hole at work, fancied that the water at the bottom was gradually rising above his knees; he shouted to his comrades, but unfortunately they had gone, one, one way, one, another, in quest of something, and it was some minutes ere they returned.

Meanwhile the water in the hole was slowly but surely rising, and the slippery sides which were several feet high defied him to extricate himself. His cries for help became louder–he was heard, and his brothers and some neighbours hastened to his assistance. Ropes were procured after some further delay, and thrown to the unhappy man–but it was too late. None dared approach very near, for the ground was like a bog, and might at any moment give way beneath their feet; the water was nearly level with the top of the hole, and all hope of saving him was gone. The brothers had often been warned of the danger they were running.

Shuddering at the thoughts of this awful death we turned away, but no change of scene could dissipate it from our minds–the remembrance of it haunted me for many a night.

Jessie seemed pleased to see us on our return–we had left her behind with Gregory to his great delight–we abstained from mentioning before her the fearful accident we had but witnessed.

That evening we wandered about Forest Creek. We had not gone far before a digger with a pistol in his hand shot by us; he was followed by an immense mob, hooting, yelling, and screaming, as only a mob at the diggings can. It was in full pursuit, and we turned aside only in time to prevent ourselves from being knocked down in the confusion.

“Stop him–stop him,” was the cry. He was captured, and the cry changed to, “String him up–string him up–it’s useless taking him to the police-office.”

“What has he done?” asked my brother of a quiet by-stander.

“Shot a man in a quarrel at a grogshop.”

“String him up–string him up–confront him with the body,” vociferated the mob.

At this moment the firmly-secured and well-guarded culprit passed by, to be confronted with the dead body of his adversary. No sooner did he come into his presence than the CI-DEVANT corpse found his feet, “showed fight,” and roared out, “Come on,” with a most unghostlike vehemence. The fury of the mob cooled down; the people thought the man had been murdered, whereas the shot, fortunately for both, had glanced over the forehead without doing any serious injury. Taking advantage of this lull, the fugitive declared that the wounded man had been robbing him. This turned the tables, and, inspired by the hootings of the now indignant mob, the “dead man” took to his heels and disappeared.

The diggers in Pennyweight Flat, Nicholson’s Gully, Lever Flat, Dirty Dick’s Gully, Gibson’s Flat, at the mouth of Dingley Dell, and in Dingley Dell itself, were tolerably contented with their gains, although in many instances, the parties who were digging in the centre of the gullies, or what is called “the slip,” experienced considerable trouble in bailing the water out of their holes.

Some of the names given to the spots about Forest Creek are anything but euphonious. Dingley Dell is, however, an exception, and sounds quite musical compared to Dirty Dick’s Gully. The former name was given to the place by a gentleman from Adelaide, and was suggested by the perpetual tinkling of the bullock’s bells, it being a favourite camping place for bullock drivers, offering, as it did, an excellent supply of both wood, water, and food for their cattle. From whom the latter inelegant name originated I cannot precisely tell–but there are plenty of “dirty Dicks” all over the diggings.

The current prices of this date at Forest Creek were as follows: flour, 9 to 10 pounds per hundred-weight; sugar, 1s. 6d. a pound, very scarce; tea, 3s.; rice, 1s.; coffee, 3s.; tobacco, 8s.; cheese, 3s.; butter, 4s.; honey, 3s. 6d.; candles, 1s. 6d; currants, 1s. 6d., very scarce; raisins, 1s. 6d.; figs, 2s. 6d.; salt, 1s. 6d. Picks, spades, and tin dishes, 10s. each. Gold 64s. per ounce.

TUESDAY, 19.–Before breakfast we were busily employed in packing the “swags” when Octavius suddenly dropped the strap he held in his hand for that purpose, and darted into the store. Thinking that we had omitted something which he went to fetch, we continued our work. When everything was ready and the last strap in its place, we again thought of our absent comrade, making all sorts of surmises regarding his disappearance, when, just as Frank was going after him, in he walked, accompanied by a stranger whom he introduced as his uncle. This surprised us, as we were ignorant of his having any relatives in the colonies. He then explained that a younger brother of his father’s had about eight years ago gone to South Australia, and that never having heard of him for some years they had mourned him as dead. After many adventures he had taken a fancy to the diggings, and had just come from Melbourne with a dray full of goods. He went to Gregory’s store to dispose of them. Octavius had heard them in conversation together, and had mistaken his uncle’s for his father’s voice. Hence the precipitation of his exit. The uncle was a tall sunburnt man, who looked well-inured to hardship and fatigue. He stayed and took breakfast with us, and then having satisfactorily arranged his business with Gregory, and emptied his dray, he obligingly offered to convey Jessie and myself to Melbourne in it. Accordingly after dinner we all started together.

Our new companion was a most agreeable person, and his knowledge of the colonies was extensive. With anecdotes of the bush, the mines, and the town, he made the journey pass most pleasantly. Before evening we reached the Golden Point near Mount Alexander. This term of “Golden” has been applied to a great many spots where the deposits have been richer than, usual. There was a Golden Point at Ballarat, and when the report of the Alexander diggings drew the people from there, they carried the name with them, and applied it to this portion of the mount. To the left of the Point, which was still full of labourers, was the store of Mr. Black, with the Union-Jack flying above it. It is a most noted store, and at one time when certain delicacies were not to be had in Melbourne they were comparatively cheap here.

We passed by this busy spot and encamped at sunset at the foot of Mount Alexander. It was a lovely evening and our eyes were feasted by a Most glorious sight. All the trees of the forest gradually faded away in the darkness, but beyond them, and through them were glimpses of the granite-like walls of the mount, brilliantly shining in and reflecting the last glowing rays of the setting sun. Some of the gorgeous scenes of fairy-land seemed before us–we could have imagined that we were approaching by night some illuminated, some enchanted castle.

That evening we sat late round our fire listening to the history which the uncle of Octavius related of some of his adventures in South Australia. The posts he had filled formed a curious medley of occupations, and I almost forget the routine in which they followed one another, but I will endeavour to relate his story as much as possible in his own words.

“When I started from England, after having paid passage-money, &c., I found myself with about 200 pounds ready money in my purse–it was all I had to expect, and I determined to be very careful of it; but by a young man of five-and-twenty these resolutions, like lady’s promises, are made to be broken. When I landed in Adelaide with my money in my pocket–minus a few pounds I had lost at whist and cribbage on board ship–I made my way to the best inn, where I stayed some days, and ran up rather a longish bill. Then I wanted to see the country, which I found impossible without a horse, so bought one, and rode about to the various stations, where I was generally hospitably received, and thus passed a few months very pleasantly, only my purse was running low. I sold the horse, then my watch, and spent the money. When that was gone, I thought of the letters of introduction I possessed. The first that came to hand was directed to a Wesleyan minister. I called there, looking as sanctimonious as I could. He heard my story, advised me to go to chapel regularly, ‘And for your temporal wants,’ said he, ‘the Lord will provide.’ I thanked him, and bowed myself off.

“My first act was to burn my packet of introductory letters, my next was to engage myself to a stock-holder at 15s. a week and my rations. He was going up to his station at once, and I accompanied him. We travelled for about two hundred miles through a most beautiful country before we reached his home. His house was, in my ideas, a comical-looking affair–made of split logs of wood, with a bark roof, and a barrel stuck on the top of the roof at one end by way of a chimney-pot. His wife, a pale sickly little woman, seemed pleased to see us, for she had been much alarmed by the natives, who were rather numerous about the neighbourhood. There was only a young lad, and an old shepherd and his wife upon the station, besides herself. Before I had been there six weeks she died, and her new-born little baby died too; there was not a doctor for miles, and the shepherd’s wife was worse than useless. I believe this often happens in the bush–it’s not a place for woman-folks.

“I was here eighteen months–it was a wild sort of life, and just suited my fancy; but when I found I had some money to receive, I thought a spree in town would be a nice change, so off I marched. My spree lasted as long as my money, and then I went as barman to a public-house at Clare, some way up the country–here I got better wages and better board, and stopped about half-a-year. Then I turned brewer’s drayman, and delivered casks of good Australian ale about Adelaide for 30s. a week. The brewer failed, and I joined in a speculation with an apple dealer to cart a lot up to the Kapunda copper mines. That paid well. I stopped up there as overseer over four-and-twenty bullock-drays. Well, winter came, and I had little to do, though I drew my 30s. a week regularly enough, when the directors wanted a contract for putting the small copper-dust into bags, and sewing them up. I offered to do the job at 2d. a bag, and could get through a hundred and fifty a day. How much is that? Oh! 12s. 6d. a-piece. I forgot to tell you I’d a mate at the work. That was good earnings in those days; and me and my mate, who was quite a lad, were making a pretty penny, when some others offered to do them a halfpenny a bag cheaper. I did the same, and we kept it to ourselves for about four weeks longer, when a penny a bag was offered. There was competition for you! This roused my bile–I threw it up altogether–and off to Adelaide again. Soon spent all my cash, and went into a ship-chandler’s office till they failed; then was clerk to a butcher, and lost my situation for throwing a quarter of his own mutton at him in a rage; and then I again turned brewer’s man. Whilst there I heard of the diggings–left the brewer and his casks to look after themselves, and off on foot to Ballarat.

“Here I found the holes averaging some thirty feet–which was a style of hard work I didn’t quite admire; so hearing of the greater facility of the Alexander diggings, I went through Bully Rook Forest, and tried my luck in the Jim Crow Ranges. This paid well; and I bought a dray, and bring up goods to the stores, which I find easier work, and twice as profitable as digging. There’s my story; and little I thought when I went into Gregory’s store to-day, that I should find my curly-pated nephew ready to hear it.”

Next day we travelled on, and halted near Saw-pit Gully; it was early in the afternoon, and we took a walk about this most interesting locality. The earth was torn up everywhere–a few lucky hits had sufficed to re-collect a good many diggers there, and they were working vigorously. At dusk the labour ceased–the men returned to their tents, and for the last time our ears were assailed by the diggers’ usual serenade. Imagine some hundreds of revolvers almost instantaneously fired–the sound reverberating through the mighty forests, and echoed far and near–again and again till the last faint echo died away in the distance. Then a hundred blazing fires burst upon the sight–around them gathered the rough miners themselves–their sun-burnt, hair-covered faces illumined by the ruddy glare. Wild songs, and still wilder bursts of laughter are heard; gradually the flames sink and disappear, and an oppressive stillness follows (sleep rarely refuses to visit the diggers’ lowly couch), broken only by some midnight carouser, as he vainly endeavours to find his tent. No fear of a “peeler” taking him off to a police-station, or of being brought before a magistrate next morning, and “fined five shillings for being drunk.”

Early on Tuesday morning I gave a parting look to the diggings–our dray went slowly onwards–a slight turn in the road, and the last tent has vanished from my sight. “Never,” thought I, “shall I look on such a scene again!”

Chapter XII.

RETURN TO MELBOURNE

Before the evening of Wednesday the 20th, we passed through Kyneton, and found ourselves in the little village of Carlshrue, where we passed the night. Here is a police-station, a blacksmith’s, a few stores and some cottages, in one of which we obtained a comfortable supper and beds. A lovely view greeted us at sunrise. Behind us were still towering the lofty ranges of Mount Alexander, before us was Mount Macedon and the Black Forest. This mountain, which forms one of what is called the Macedon range, is to be seen many miles distant, and on a clear, sunny day, the purple sides of Mount Macedon, which stands aloof as it were, from the range itself, are distinctly visible from the flag-staff at Melbourne.

We had intended to have stopped for the night in Kyneton, but the charges there were so enormous that we preferred pushing on and taking our chance as to the accommodation Carlshrue could afford, nor did we repent the so doing.

The following are the Kyneton prices. A meal or bed–both bad–4s; a night’s stabling, one pound ten shillings per horse; hay at the rate of 9d. a pound; this is the most exorbitant charge of all.

Hay was somewhere about 20 pounds a ton in Melbourne. The carriage of it to Kyneton, now that the fine weather was setting in, would not exceed 8 pounds a ton at the outside, which would come to 28 pounds. The purchaser, by selling it at Kyneton at the rate of 9d. a pound, or 75 pounds per ton, cleared a profit of 47 pounds–NOT QUITE 200 PER CENT. If THIS is not fortune-making, I should like to know what is. It beats the diggings hollow.

Next morning we looked our last at “sweet Carlshrue,” and having crossed the Five Mile Creek, camped for our mid-day meal beside the Black Forest. Here a slight discussion arose, as to whether it would be more advisable to proceed on our journey and camp in the Black Forest that night, or whether we should remain where we were outside, and recommence our journey in good time the next morning so as to get through this most uncomfortable portion of our travels in one day. Frank and Octavius were for the latter plan, as the best and safest, but the rest (thinking that, having once travelled through it without encountering any thing resembling a bushranger, they might safely do so again) protested against wasting time, and were for entering those dark shades without further delay. The uncle of Octavius whom, in future, for the sake of convenience, I shall call Mr. L—-, was also of this mind, and as he was in some sort our leader during the journey, his advice decided the matter. Danger to him was only a necessary excitement. He was naturally fearless, and his merry laugh and gay joke at the expense of the bushranger fearing party gradually dissipated the unaccountable presentiment of danger which I for one had in no small degree experienced.

On we went, up hill and down dale, sometimes coming to a more open piece of ground, but more generally threading our way amid a very maze of trees, with trunks all black as the ground itself, whilst the dingy foliage and the few rays of sunshine that lit up those dark, deep glades served only to heighten the gloominess around.

After walking for about six miles–I preferred that mode of getting along to the joltings of the dray–we all felt disposed to rest ourselves. We selected a spot where the trees were less thickly clustered, and taking the horses out of the dray, tethered them by strong ropes to some trees near. The dray itself was turned up, and a blanket thrown over the up-raised shafts formed a most complete and cosy little tent.

A fire was next kindled, and a kettle full of water (with the tea in it!) was placed on to boil, some home-made bread, brought from Carlshrue, was placed upon the ground, and some chops were toasted on the ends of sticks, which are usually the impromptu toasting-forks of the bush. The old tin plates and pannicans, not quite so bright as once upon a time, but showing, despite sundry bruises and scratches, that they had seen better days, were placed upon the tea-table, which of course was the ground. Two or three knives and forks were on general service, and wandered about from hand to hand as occasion required. Altogether it was a merry, sociable party, and I think I enjoyed that supper better than any I ever tasted before or since.

“CHACUN A SON GOUT,” many a one will say.

The pleasantest moments must come to an end, and so did these. After having sat up later than usual, Jessie and I retired to our gipsy tent, leaving our guardian diggers smoking round the fire. They meant to keep watches during the night to prevent a surprise.

FRIDAY.–We were comfortably seated at our breakfast, discussing a hundred subjects besides the food before us, when a shrill “coo-ey” burst through the air; “coo-ey”–“coo-ey” again and again, till the very trees seemed to echo back the sound. We started to our feet, and, as if wondering what would come next, looked blankly at each other, and again the “coo-ey,” more energetic still, rang in our ears. This is the call of the bush, it requires some little skill and practice, and when given well can be heard a great way off. In such a place as the Black Forest it could only proceed from some one who had lost their way, or be a signal of distress from some party in absolute danger. We again looked from one to the other–it bewildered us; and again the cry, only more plaintive than before, came to us. Simultaneously they seized their pistols, and started in the direction whence the sounds proceeded. They were all too true Englishmen to hear a fellow-creature in peril and not hasten to their succour.

Jessie and myself could not remain behind alone–it was impossible; we followed at a little distance, just keeping our comrades in sight. At last they came to a halt, not knowing where to turn, and we joined them. Frank gave a “coo-ey,” and in about the space of a minute the words “help, help,–come, come,” in scarcely, audible sounds, answered to the call. We penetrated about thirty yards farther, and a few low groans directed us to a spot more obscure, if possible, than the rest. There, firmly bound to two trees close together, were two men. A thick cord was passed round and round their bodies, arms, and legs, so as to leave no limb at liberty. They seemed faint and exhausted at having called so long for help.

It was the work of a moment for our party to fling down their pistols, take out knives and tomahawks, and commence the work of releasing them from their bonds. But the cords were knotted and thick, and there seemed no little labour in accomplishing it. They were also retarded by the small quantity of light, for, as I said before, it was a dark and secluded spot. At length one man was released, and so faint and exhausted was he, from the effects of whatever ill-usage he had suffered, that, being a tall, powerfully made man, it required the united strength of both Frank and Mr. L—- to prevent his falling to the ground.

Jessie and myself were standing a little apart in the shade; we seemed as if spell-bound by the incident, and incapable of rendering any assistance.

The second was soon set at liberty, and no sooner did he feel his hands and feet free from the cords than he gave a loud, shrill “coo-ey.”

A shriek burst from Jessie’s lips as, immediately the cry was uttered, and before any one could, recover from the bewilderment it occasioned, four well-armed men sprang upon our startled party.

Taken thus at disadvantage, unarmed, their very knives flung down in their eagerness to untwist the cords, they were soon overpowered. The wretch who had been reclining in Frank’s arms quickly found his feet, and, ere Frank could recover from his surprise, one heavy blow flung him to the ground; whilst the other twined his powerful arms round Mr. L—-, and, after a short but sharp struggle, in which he was assisted by a fellow-villain, succeeded in mastering him.

It was a fearful sight, and I can hardly describe my feelings as I witnessed it. My brain seemed on fire, the trees appeared to reel around me, when a cold touch acted as a sudden restorative, and almost forced a scream from my lips. It was Jessie’s hand, cold as marble, touching mine. We spoke together in a low whisper, and both seemed inspired by the same thoughts, the same hope.

“I saw a little hill as we came here,” said Jessie; “let’s try and find it and look out for help.”

I instinctively followed her, and stealthily creeping along, we gained a small rise of ground which commanded a more extended view than most places in the Black Forest, and, but for the thickness of the trees, we could have seen our own camping-place and the part where the ambuscade had been laid. From sounds of the voices, we could tell that the ruffians were leading their prisoners to the spot where we had passed the night, and the most fearful oaths and imprecations could ever and anon be heard. Well might our hearts beat with apprehension, for it was known that when disappointed in obtaining the gold they expected, they vented their rage in torturing their unfortunate victims.

Meanwhile Jessie seemed listening intently. The time she had spent in the bush and at the diggings had wonderfully refined her sense of hearing. Suddenly she gave a shrill “coo-ey.” The moment after a shot was fired in the direction of our late camp. Jessie turned even paler, but recovering herself, “coo-ey” after “coo-ey” made the echoes ring. I joined my feeble, efforts to hers; but she was evidently well used to this peculiar call. On a fine still day, this cry will reach for full three miles, and we counted upon this fact for obtaining some assistance.

“Help is coming,” said Jessie, in a low voice, and once more with increasing strength she gave the call.

Footsteps approached nearer and nearer. I looked up, almost expecting to see those villainous countenances again.

“Women in danger!” shouted a manly voice, and several stalwart figures bounded to our side.

“Follow, follow!” cried Jessie, rushing forwards. I scarcely remember everything that occurred, for I was dizzy with excess of pleasure. There was a short scuffle, shots were fired at retreating bushrangers, and we saw our friends safe and free.

The whole, matter was then related to our preservers–for such they were–and I then learnt that when the bushrangers had marched off our party to the camping-place, they proceeded to overhaul their pockets, and then bound them securely to some trees, whilst one stood ready with a pistol to shoot the first that should call for help, and the others looked over the plunder. This was little enough, for our travelling money, which was notes, was kept–strange treasury–in the lining of the body of my dress, and here too were the gold receipts from the Escort Office. Every night I took out about sufficient to defray the day’s expenses, and this was generally given into Frank’s hands.

Enraged and disappointed, the villains used most frightful language, accompanied by threats of violence; and the one on guard, irritated beyond his powers of endurance, fired the pistol in the direction of William’s head. At this moment Jessie’s first “coo-ey” was heard: this startled him, and the shot, from the aim of the pistol being disarranged, left him unhurt.

“It’s that d—-d child,” muttered one, with a few, additional oaths; “we’ll wring her neck when we’ve secured the plunder.”

One of the ruffians now attempted more persuasive measures, and addressing Mr. L—-, whom I suppose he considered the leader, expended his powers of persuasion much in the following manner.

“You sees, mate, we risks our lives to get your gold, and have it we will. Some you’ve got somewhere or another, for you havn’t none on you got no paper from the Escort–you planted it last night, eh? Jist show us where, and you shan’t be touched at all, nor that little wretch yonder, what keeps screeching so; but if you don’t–” and here his natural ferocity mastered him, and he wound up with a volley of curses, in the midst of which our rescuers rushed upon them.

When we came to talk the whole matter over calmly and quietly, no doubt was left upon our minds, as to the premeditation of the whole affair. But for the watch kept, the attack would most probably have been made during the night.

Our timely friends were a party of successful diggers returning, from work. They too had passed the night in the Black Forest–providently not very far from us. They accepted our thanks in an off-hand sort of way, only replying–which was certainly true–“that we would have done the same for them.” It was in endeavouring to assist assumed sufferers that our party fell into the ambuscade laid for them.

They waited whilst we got the dray and horses ready, and we all journeyed on together, till the Black Forest was far behind us. We saw no more of the bushrangers, and encamped that night a few miles beyond the “Bush Inn.” At this inn we parted with our gallant friends. They were of the jovial sort, and having plenty of gold, were determined on a spree. We never met them again.

On Saturday we travelled as far as the “Deep Creek Inn.” Some distance before reaching that place, we passed two rival coffee-shops on the road. We stopped at the first, to know if they had any uncooked or cold meat to sell, for our provisions were running low.

“Havn’t none,” said the woman, shaking her head. Then looking hard at William, and judging from his good-humoured face, that he was a likely one to do what she wanted, she said to him. “Now, Sir, I’m agoing to ax a favour of you, and that is to go a little farther down the road, to the other coffee-tent, and buy for me as much meat as they’ll let you have. They’s got plenty, and I’ve none; and they knows I’ll lose custom by it, so you’ll not get it if they twigs (ANGLICE guesses) you comes from me. You understand, Sir,” and she put sovereign into his hand to pay for it.

Laughing at the comicality of the request, and the thoroughly colonial coolness of making it, William set off, and presently returned with nearly half a sheep hanging over his shoulders, and a large joint in one hand.

“Bless me, what luck!” exclaimed the delighted woman, and loud and profuse were her thanks. She wanted to cook us a good dinner off the meat gratis; but this we steadily refused and purchasing enough for the present, we put our drays again into motion, and a little while after kindled a fire, and were our own cooks as usual. That night we camped beside the Deep Creek, about a mile from the “Deep Creek Inn.” The route we were now taking was different to the one we had travelled going up–it was much more direct.

We remained all Sunday beside the creek, and the day passed quietly and pleasantly.

On Monday the 25th we were again in motion. We passed the well known inn of Tulip Wright’s. How great a change those few weeks had made! Winter had given place to summer, for Australia knows no spring. We walked along the beautiful road to Flemington, gave a look at the flagstaff and cemetery, turned into Great Bourke Street, halted at the Post-office, found several letters, and finally stopped opposite the “Duke of York Hotel,” where we dined.

I shall leave myself most comfortably located here, whilst I devote a chapter or two to other diggings.

Chapter XIII.

BALLARAT

Ballarat is situated about forty-five miles from Geelong, and seventy-five nearly west of Melbourne. This was the first discovered goldfield of any extent in Victoria, and was made known on the 8th of September, 1851. The rush from Geelong was immense. Shops, stores, trades, all and everything was deserted; and the press very truly declared that “Geelong was mad–stark, staring gold-mad.” During the month of September five hundred and thirty-two licences were taken out; in the month following the number increased to two thousand two hundred and sixty one!

The usual road to Ballarat is by the Adelaide overland route on the Gambier Road; but the most preferable is per Geelong. The former route leads over the Keilor Plains, and through Bacchus Marsh, crossing the Werribee River in two places. Mount Buninyong then appears in sight of the well-pleased traveller, and Ballarat is soon reached.

The route VIA Geelong is much quicker, as part of the way is generally performed by steam at the rate of one pound a-piece. Those who wish to save their money go to Geelong by land. After leaving Flemington, and passing the Benevolent Asylum, the Deep Creek is crossed by means of a punt, and you then come to a dreary waste of land, called Iett’s Flat. Beyond is a steep rise and a barren plain, hardly fit to graze sheep upon, and at about twenty miles from Melbourne you come to the first halting house. Some narrow but rapid creeks must be got over, and for seven miles further you wander along over a dreary sheep-run till stopped by the Broken River, which derives its name partly from the nature of its rocky bed, and partly from the native name which has a similar sound

This creek is the most steep, rapid, and dangerous on the road, having no bridge and no properly defined crossing-place or ford, except the natural rocks about. The bottom is of red sand-stone and rocks of the same description abut from the sides of the creek, and appear to abound in the neighbourhood; and all along the plains here and there are large fragments of sand and lime-stone rocks. Two hundred yards from the creek is a neat inn after the English style, with a large sitting-room, a tap, a bar, and a coffee-room. The bed-rooms are so arranged as to separate nobs from snobs–an arrangement rather inconsistent in a democratic colony. The inn also affords good stabling and high charges. Up to this distance on our road there is a scarcity of wood and springs of water.

We now pass two or three huts, and for twenty miles see nothing to please the eye, for it is a dead, flat sheep-walk. About seven miles on the Melbourne side of Geelong, the country assumes a more cheering appearance–homesteads, gardens, and farms spring up–the roads improve, and the timber is plentiful and large, consisting of shea-oaks, wattle, stringy bark, and peppermints. Many of the houses are of a good size, and chiefly built of stone, some are of wood, and very few of brick.

Geelong, which is divided into north and south, is bounded by the Barwin, a river navigable from the bay to the town, and might be extended further; beautiful valleys well wooded lie beyond. Between the two townships a park has been reserved, though not yet enclosed; the timber in it, which is large–consisting principally of white gum and stringy bark–is not allowed to be cut or injured. There are several good inns, a court-house, police-station, and corporation offices. There is also a neat church in the early pointed style, with a parsonage and schools in the Elizabethan; all are of dark lime-stone, having a very gloomy appearance, the stones being unworked, except near the windows; the porches alone slightly ornamented. The road and pavement are good in the chief streets; there is a large square with a conduit, which is supplied by an engine from the Barwin. The shops are large and well furnished, a great many houses are three stories high, most are two, and very few one. The best part of town is about one hundred feet above the river. A large timber bridge over the Ballarat road was washed down last winter. The town is governed by a mayor and corporation. There is a city and mounted police force, and a neat police-court. A large and good race-course is situated about three miles from the town.

As regards scenery, Geelong is far superior to Melbourne, the streets are better, and so is the society of the place; none of the ruffian gangs and drunken mobs as seen in Victoria’s chief city. There are various, chapels, schools, markets, banks, and a small gaol. The harbour is sheltered, but not safe for strangers, as the shoals are numerous. Geelong is surrounded by little townships. Irish Town, Little Scotland, and Little London are the principal and to show how completely the diggings drained both towns and villages of their male inhabitants, I need only mention that six days after the discovery of Ballarat, there was only one man left in Little Scotland, and he was a cripple, compelled NOLENS VOLENS to remain behind.

The road from Geelong to Ballarat is well marked out, so often has it been trodden; and there are some good inns on the way-side for the comfort of travellers. On horseback you can go from the town to the diggings in six or eight hours.

Ballarat is a barren place, the ground is interspersed with rocky fragments, the creek is small, and good water is rather scarce. In summer it almost amounts to a drought, and what there is then is generally brackish or stagnatic. It is necessary never to drink stagnant water, or that found in holes, without boiling, unless there are frogs in it, then the water is good; but the diggers usually boil the water, and a drop of brandy, if they can get it. In passing through the plains you are sure of finding water near the surface (or by seeking a few inches) wherever the tea tree grows.

The chief object at the Ballarat diggings is the Commissioners’ tent, which includes the Post-office. There are good police quarters now. The old lock-up was rather of the primitive order, being the stump of an old tree, to which the the prisoners were attached by sundry chains, the handcuff being round one wrist and through a link of the chain. I believe there is a tent for their accommodation. There are several doctors about, who, as usual, drive a rare trade.

It is almost impossible to describe accurately the geological features of the gold diggings at Ballarat. Some of the surface-washing is good, and sometimes it is only requisite to sink a few feet, perhaps only a few inches, before finding the ochre-coloured earth (impregnated with mica and mixed with quartzy fragments), which, when washed, pays exceedingly well. But more frequently a deep shaft has to be sunk.

Of course the depth of the shafts varies considerably; some are sixty or even eighty, and some are only ten feet deep. Sometimes after heavy rains, when the surface soil has been washed from the sides of the hills, the mica layer is similarly washed down to the valleys and lies on the original surface-soil. This constitutes the true washing stuff of the diggings. Often when a man has–to use a digger’s phrase–“bottomed his hole,” (that is, cut through the rocky strata, and arrived at the gold layer), he will find stray indications, but nothing remunerative, and perchance the very next hole may be the most profitable on the diggings. Whether there is any geological rule to be guided by has yet to be proved, at present no old digger will ever sink below the mica soil, or leave his hole until be arrives at it, even if he sinks to forty feet. So, therefore, it may be taken as a general rule, wherever the diggings may be, either in Victoria, New South Wales, or South Australia, that gold in “working” quantities lies only where there is found quartz or mica.

Ballarat has had the honour of producing the largest masses of gold yet discovered. These masses were all excavated from one part of the diggings, known as Canadian Gully, and were taken out of a bed of quartz, at the depths of from fifty to sixty-five feet below the surface. The deep indentures of the nuggets were filled with the quartz. The largest of these masses weighed one hundred and thirty-four pounds, of which it was calculated that fully one hundred and twenty-six pounds consisted of solid gold!

About seven miles to the north of Ballarat, some new diggings called the Eureka have been discovered, where it appears that, although there are no immense prizes, there are few blanks, and every one doing well!

In describing the road from Melbourne to Geelong, I have made mention of the Broken River. A few weeks after my arrival in the colonies this river was the scene of a sad tragedy.

I give the tale, much in the same words as it was given to me, because it was one out of many somewhat similar, and may serve to show the state of morality in Melbourne.

The names of the parties are, of course, entirely fictitious.

* * * * *

Prettiest among the pretty girls that stood upon the deck as the anchor of the Government immigrant ship ‘Downshire’ fell into Hobson’s Bay, in August, 1851, was Mary H—-, the heroine of my story. No regret mingled with the satisfaction that beamed from her large dark eyes, as their gaze fell on the shores of her new country, for her orphan brother, the only relative she had left in their own dear Emerald Isle, was even then preparing to follow her. Nor could she feel sad and lonely whilst the rich Irish brogue, from a subdued but manly and well-loved voice, fell softly on her ear, and the gentle pressure of her hand continually reminded her that she was not alone.

Shipboard is a rare place for match-making, and, somehow or another, Henry Stephens had contrived to steal away the heart of the ‘Downshire’ belle. Prudence, however, compelled our young people to postpone their marriage, and whilst the good housewife qualities of the one readily procured her a situation in a highly respectable family in Melbourne, Henry obtained an appointment in the police force of the same town.

Their united savings soon mounted up, and in a few months the banns were published, and Christmas-Day fixed on for the wedding. Mary, at her lover’s express desire, quitted her mistress’s family to reside with a widow, a distant relative of his own, from whose house she was to be married. Delightful to the young people was this short period of leisure and uninterrupted intercourse, for the gold mania was now beginning to tell upon the excited imaginations of all, and Henry had already thrown up his situation; and it was settled their wedding trip should be to the golden gullies round Mount Buninyong.

And now let me hasten over this portion of my narrative. It is sad to dwell upon the history of human frailty, or to relate the oft-told tale of passion and villainy triumphant over virtue. A few days before Christmas, when the marriage ceremony was to be performed, they unfortunately spent one evening together alone, and he left her–ruined. Repentance followed sin, and the intervening time was passed by Mary in a state of the greatest mental anguish. With what trembling eagerness did she now look forward to the day which should make her his lawful wife.

It arrived. Mary and the friends of both stood beside the altar, whilst he, who should have been there to redeem his pledge and save his victim from open ruin and disgrace, was far away on the road to Ballarat.

To describe her agony would be impossible. Day after day, week after week, and no tidings from him came; conscience too acutely accounting to her for his faithlessness. Then the horrible truth forced itself upon her, that its consequences would soon too plainly declare her sin before the world; that upon her innocent offspring would fall a portion of its mother’s shame.

Thus six months stole sorrowfully away, and as yet none had even conjectured the deep cause she had for misery. Her brother’s non-arrival was also an unceasing source of anxiety, and almost daily might she have been seen at the Melbourne Post-office, each time to return more disappointed than before. At length the oft-repeated inquiry was answered in the affirmative, and eagerly she tore open the long-anticipated letter. It told her of an unexpected sum of money that had come into his hands–to them a small fortune–which had detained him in Ireland. This was read and almost immediately forgotten, as she learnt that he was arrived in Melbourne, and that only a few streets now separated them.

She raised her face, flushed and radiant with joyful excitement–her eyes fell upon him who had so cruelly injured her. The scream that burst from her lips brought him involuntarily to her side. What will not a woman forgive where once her heart has been touched–in the double joy of the moment the past was almost forgotten–together they re-read the welcome letter, and again he wooed her for his bride. She consented, and he himself led her to her brother, confessed their mutual fault, and second preparations for an immediate marriage were hurriedly made.