The New York Times, November 5, 1853, p.3:|
AUSTRALIA.INTERESTING FROM AUSTRALIA.
GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE COUNTRY.
GROWTH AND CONDITION OF MELBOURNE.
American Settlers in Australia.
THE GOLD DIGGINGS...
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE N. Y. DAILY TIMES.
ON BOARD SHIP ALBUS, PACIFIC OCEAN, Monday, Sept. 12, 1853.
DEAR SIR: After a passage lengthened by three weeks of calms and head winds, we are today about 100 miles S. S. W. from Callao [Peru]. We left Port Phillip Heads, July 15. I left Boston the 18th of February last, arrived in Melbourne May 20, and remained there until July 3--a little over two months.
Travelers and emigrants from the United States expecting a place like what San Francisco was in her infancy will be much disappointed. Melbourne is already a large town, with a population, including its faubourgs of shanties and tents, and its suburban villages, of not less than a hundred thousand. It is beautifully situated and laid out, and has much the air of an old commercial place.
It lies on Yarra Yarra, a narrow stream, navigable for vessels drawing nine feet, two miles inland from the north side of Port Phillip Bay--a circular bay, sixty miles across, with a narrow entrance, opening southward at the mouth of Bass' Straits. The Yarra curves north and east from its mouth, so that it is eight miles to the city from the anchorage, or Hobson's Bay, though only two across by land.
All discharging cargo is done by lighters, and there is great complaint of their slowness, and the want of wharf accomodations at the town. Lightering is very expensive, but it is so restricted, and there is so much competition that it is not nearly so profitable as it was in San Francisco. You will receive commercial news by the way of this from other sources, and the papers will give you the prices current.
There had been losses on shipments of flour, and all descriptions of building stuff, lumber, &c., were in demand at the highest rates. Everything is high, and it is hardly possible to get comfortable lodgings. The arrivals from England were constant, and brought thousands.
There were nearly three hundred sail, of mostly first-class ships, lying in the bay, the crews of most of which had run away; seamen were only obtainable at extraordinary rates,--£35 was paid by the run to Callao.
Business, generally, however, was not said to be active, except in local speculations, and the commission houses complained loudly of the want of accomodation--leave to build wharves, and other impediments to trade--the result, in great degree, of the inability of the Government to keep pace with the growth of the Colony.
But the town has got such headway that nothing can stop it. The gold continues to come down and emigrants to arrive, and however the markets may vary temporarily, where it is impossible that anything should have a fixed value--the wants of the city, particularly in the staple products of building material and breadstuffs, must keep in advance of the supply.
The mines are thronged with thousands and tens of thousands, and the chances of success in digging are considered small enough, yet there are many who succeed. The work is like digging wells from ten to sixty feet deep in very hard earth, then drifting underground, getting out loads of earth, carrying it two or three miles, and washing it out in muddy water. Sometimes the digger gets his earth from the surface and washes it.
Each miner pays for a license for a single "claim," twelve feet square, eighteen inches being allowed between the claims for wall. Some of the hill-sides in the diggings are completely honey-combed with "holes;" sometimes they cave in; and sometimes the digger gets killed and buried at the same instant.
The encampments of tents are like those of the great armies, and the country at night is starred with lights for miles. The miner has little fellowship with his "mate;" they work and dig, or live and die, within a few feet of each other, and are not neighbors.
There is little disorder among them to what might be expected. Grog-selling is not allowed at the mines. A very efficient mounted police enforces quiet. Gambling does not flourish. The miners generally, so far as I could learn, have to be wide awake to pay expenses. The labor and hardships cannot be endured but by the robust, who are accustomed to labor.
The climate is hot and dry, and wet and cold. The accounts of it which had reached America when I left made it appear infinitely more mild here than it is. It is not healthy for the consumptive especially. There were many on the ship I went in whoe went for health, and who would be glad to get home.
Indeed, out of more than sixty who went to the mines, I do not know of any who are not about to return, or who would not do anything to obtain a passage home. Of those who went to the nearest mines, most returned in a few days--nearly all before I left. I knew them all; they were passengers by the Plymouth Rock, from Boston, mostly from Maine. I believe that none of them have met with such success that they would not gladly return. Most of them were glad to get back to Melbourne, where they could do whatever comes to hand. Some came back barefoot, and begging; all were utterly and sadly disappointed, so far as heard from. They were at least an average set in point of resolution, perseverance, habits of industry and intelligence. I feel melancholy when I think what some of them will have to go through before they see their native land again.
At the mines, and in the town, if one lives within fifteen points of anything like comfort, a pound goes about as far as a dollar with us. Eating is about double; lodging, on narrow cots called "stretchers," in rooms full, on couches stuffed with fleas and what not, and curtained with mosquitoes, three shillings (75 cents nearly,) a night, and washing--they do not wash at all.
The streets are either muddy or very dry; the air was much like our October, and peculiarly drying and chilly. I liked it well enough, but then I did not have to camp out; I lodged like a lord, on a camp-cot in a garret. Canvastown, where hundreds were encamped, was in sight from the window in my roof...
Personally, my sojourn in Melbourne was not unpleasant, with all its discomforts. I found a town with broad streets--broader than those of New-York--thronged with English, Scotch, Irish, Jews, Germans, Americans--the strangest medley imaginable.
The town lies along a valley, and the principal streets follow its curves, and resemble Canal street in width. There are three large churches--Wesleyan and Prebsterian Chapels, and a Catholic Cathedral; a Mechanic's Institute, like our Mercantile Library, to whose Secretary, Mr. PATTERSON, and Librarian, Mr. MILLAR, I was indebted for many courtesies.
The police are in uniform of blue, and consist in part of a detachment from the Metropolitan Police of London. The streets in daytime are orderly enough, but there were many reports of robberies--"sticking up," as it is called--in the dark streets by night.
There is a handsome stone bridge over the river, leading towards Sandridge, on the bay. There are concerts evenings as with us, and much better than would be thought--a theatre and a circus.
The streets constantly reminded me of some of our upper unfinished avenues towards Harlem or Bloomingdale. The higher parts of the town command wide views of level country, bounded everywhere, except towards the bay, by undulating mountains. Collingwood, an arm of the town, is spreading over a wide plain to the northeast; Richmond and St. Kilda are populous suburbs on the bay; indeed the whole vicinity swarms with life.
There are many spacious and even grand mansions of stone and stucco, in the English prison-like style of building--lofty, "castellated," with towers and narrow windows; hundreds of cottages, with brick walls nearly two feet thick; large stores, handsome houses, and temporary habitations of corrugated zinc, iron, wood, and canvas. It is as if some great torrent of human life were pouring and scattering its debris over the plains, and wide, open valleys.
There is a public botanic garden over the bridge. I wish New-York could boast one like it. Here may be seen specimens of the strange vegetation of New-Holland, whose prevailing expression is that of antiquity, and dark, solemn beauty. In the centre is a large marshy lagoon, filled with wild fowl; at one side, in a separate enclosure, are some black swans--such are often sold in the streets.
The gum tree, which constitutes the forest near Melbourne, has leaves like the willow, and is very grand at a distance and very ugly at hand. The forest is all open, and in the dry season they travel by compass to and from Sydney.
I heard the country on roads to the diggings described as resembling the Boston Common. The appearance at a distance is that of a grand park with clouds of verdure: near by, the trees look like half-decayed, crooked, sickly sycamores. Besides the gum tree are others, of whose wildness and dreariness I can give you no idea.
The country inland is much of it open, grassy plains, hundreds of miles in extent, sometimes sparsely grown with this park like forest. On the mountains, and in particular places, the woods are thicker, and the trees larger and more various; but none of them afford wood for building.
Firewood, even in Melbourne, costs three to five pounds for little conical loads of perhaps two cord feet. This is owing mostly to the state of the roads, which are almost impassable in Winter on account of the mud. Twenty yoke of oxen, or bullocks as they are called, are often seen in a single team, drawing one cart.
Let all who come to Melbourne bring, for their own use, nothing but what they need to wear. Let miners bring only a few pounds weight. Luggage can only be stored here at two York shillings a week per package, and is of no use. The hotels will not receive it without an extra charge--cannot receive it at all in most cases. A small carpet bag, or valise, was all that was of any service to me during my nine week's visit. Clothing can hardly be given away.
COLT'S pistols, and all sorts of Yankee notions, only so many drugs in the market. I could think of nothing in the way of manufactured articles but some of those conveniences peculiar to Yankee land, such as cheap cook-stoves and the like, which would sell at high profits. American cheap literature would sell well--there is no duty.
Of course the town is alive with excitement. The arrivals, the markets, the gold, the speculations, the losses and gains, are the staples of conversation. A new comer is called a "new chum;" these are looked down upon as so many pigeons flying into a net. They arrive, push for the mines--the nearest may be reached in three days--remain there long enough to see the kangaroo, a week or two more or less; some that I knew only staid two days, (one was satisfied with the first five miles out of town)--and then they came down again to work on the roads, or at trades, or doing odd jobs to keep from starving.
Those who have means and can get places often succeed. They become old chums in a few weeks, and are ready to initiate the ever-coming new; so that the whole population is in a state of perpetual effervescence. It is impossible to cure the gold fever in most cases, till it has passed its crisis.
But with all this the town is well governed. There are no street outages, no lawlessness, no lynching. Gaming is not heard of. About one house in every ten or twelve is a bar-room, but they pay heavy licenses, and drunkenness is fined without mercy.
Every evening the streets are almost deserted by 10 o'clock, and Sunday is observed as strictly as in any of our cities. The churches are fully attended; the public houses closed except for an hour between services, and people take the air in their Sunday suits. All is as it is at home, and the noise of ordinary days makes the quiet more remarkable.
There are two principal journals, the Argus and the Herald. The former has the more advertising. It is understood to be radical, and favor the views of those who would hurry the colony into separation from the mother country. The Herald has the Government advertising, and aims at Conservatism, without, however, being true to itself.
These papers are conducted in a grave, inflated tone that is quite amusing. As business journals, they are slow, if not sure. They are very well arranged, and very heavy and wordy--discussing local affairs like voices speaking out of empty barrels.
They have great difficulty procuring paper to supply their demand. Their extra advertising sheets often appeared on red and yellow. The Argus press is an old-fashioned rotary cylinder, which makes not less than four revolutions per minute!
I supplied the Argus with a full file of all our papers of the date of my departure, out of which it extracted one item of ship-news three days after. Several circumstances almost convinced me that there was intentional withholding and misrepresentations of American intelligence.
THOMAS WARNER, late of torpedo celebrity in New-York, is an assistant on the Argus.
The portion of the Melbourne population comprising the ex-convicts, or "lags," is unlike any we have in the United States out of the State prisons, and can produce worse looking faces than any often to be seen even in them. It is numerous and mixed with the rest, so that one cannot always distinguish those who, as the phrase is, "emigrated at Government expense," by their looks...
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