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1-206 (Original)

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author,male,Dixon, James,un addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Dixon, 1822
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The settler, at such an immense distance from home, begins now to feel the difficulties of his situation, especially when every kind of useful thing is enhanced three times its real value, by the avarice of the merchants; who, however, it must be admitted, certainly run great risk in selling their goods; but if they get half they charge they are well paid.
I shall now attempt to describe the river Derwent, from Hobart Town upwards. This river, in a nautical point of view, is of the greatest value, as there is plenty of water for any vessel, six or seven miles above Hobart Town, and I think there are at least 14 feet at high tides, up to New Norfolk, the first settlement of any consequence situated on the banks of the river. New Norfolk is about 22 miles by water, and much the same by land. The scite of a new town is marked out on the left side of the river, on an eminence called Richmond Hill. The town is to be named Elizabeth Town. The situation is well chosen; and when it is considered, that it will be the shipping place for all the settlements at new Norfolk, it will most likely in a few years become a town of some note; at present there are not more than 23 or 24 houses. [34] Government intend, to erect a school, and other buildings, as they may be required.
It is not until you come up to New Norfolk, that you discover the value of Van Dieman's land in an agricultural point of view. You there observe corn, barley, &c. thriving well, under the management in general, of only very indifferent farmers, who with confined means contrive to get a few acres of wheat sown. The agriculturists are completely kept down by the merchants, and political causes. Government is the principal purchaser; and it only takes off a limited quantity, for the purposes of feeding the convicts that are employed at public works. That demand has lately increased, owing to the immense number of persons sent out, more particularly to Van Dieman's Land, which colony has proved itself the granary of New South Wales.
Those parts I visited, present a complete belt of mountains encircling plains, something similar to the downs we have in England. [35] On the slopes of these lands are many fine situations for arable and pasture farms. The country is peculiarly adapted for sheep; and that animal thrives uncommonly well, and increases astonishingly. The wool, at present, is of little value, being coarse and hairy; but this is not natural to the climate, as its wool has decidedly improved. The attention of the proprietors is directed to produce fine wool; several merinos, from the flocks of John M'Arthur, Esq. and other gentlemen, having been sent to this colony; and, in two or three seasons, there is no doubt the flocks will improve in quality. The country is not particularly well watered; yet, taking its climate into consideration, it is much superior to Australia, where the burning heats in summer dry tip every thing. At present, few attempts have been made either to sink wells or form tanks, which will be the case when the country is more fully peopled.
The wheat of this colony is uncommonly fine. Hitherto barley and oats have not been cultivated, excepting small quantities of the former for brewers, which trade, at present, is at a very low ebb. [36] A brewery is about to be begun by a gentleman, which will most likely supersede the necessity of importing malt liquors, by making beer, &c. of a good quality. This gentleman has advertised to give 7s. per bushel for barley. Any person would naturally think this would encourage agriculture; but the facility of procuring the necessaries of life being great, and little energy in the agriculturist, improvement does not increase in the rapid way it would, were industry the order of the day. Under the present Governor the country is likely soon to become of importance, as every exertion is making towards improving and making roads, and also laying the foundation of such public works as will be of great use to the community.
The executive is much cramped, by orders of rigid economy from home; yet if England has a colony which will be of great importance, this is one; to which, under proper management, she ought to extend a liberal hand. I have no doubt but the returns from these settlements will, by good management, and with reasonable advantages, become of great value. [37] 
This colony has for some years supplied New South Wales with grain, as well as with great quantities of animal food, such as salted beef, mutton, and pork.
Last season, fifty thousand bushels of wheat were exported from the settlements of Hobart Town, Pitt Water, and Port Dalrymple, besides many tons of salted provisions. Indeed, without the Derwent, the settlements in Australia would be in danger of want; the heavy rains of 1820 having made the Governor in Chief afraid of a short supply, he gave a tacit permission to the captain of the Surry to import a cargo. That ship loaded at Valparaiso, and arrived in June 1821, with 15,000 bushels of wheat. The alarm which had been caused by the floods, however, proved groundless; yet wheat, at the time of the Surry's arrival, brought 12s. per bushel, particularly Van Dieman's Land wheat. The price of this article, in Sydney market, fell in consequence of this arrival. The high price which it commanded, shews that it was wanted. In so limited a market, in very abundant crops, there being no means of foreign export, the prices are exceedingly low; but Government always give 10s. per bushel for a certain quantity, taking it from every settler in proportion to the number of acres he has in cultivation. [38] When wheat is cheap, he of course swells the statement of his lands in cultivation, to as great amount as he can. These small matters of finesse are, however, too trifling to be of any very great consequence. As the country becomes more populous, the regulations of the Colony will be better attended to; and though the Governor, and persons connected with the Commissariat, are frequently accused of partiality in the distribution of the advantages to be derived from the sales of produce, or the gifts of lands, yet it may be believed, that they are as impartial as they possibly can be; considering that some power must be entrusted to them, and they ought alone to be judges of many acts which were, perhaps, highly expedient and necessary, either for the benefit of government, or the public weal. In small governments, and more especially in a government of the nature of that of New South Wales, the Governor being necessarily vested with arbitary [sic] power, is subject to much animadversion from private individuals; who, though they dare not openly express their ideas of his conduct, yet are still privately misrepresenting all his public acts. [39] These ideas necessarily suggest themselves from the common conversation which occurs in most parties. Perhaps it is natural for an Englishman to be dissatisfied with those who have the charge of affairs; and if such be the case, dissatisfaction and constant finding fault, do not lose by conveyance to a southern hemisphere; for men have their opinions and parties on political management there, as well as in the mother country. At present, there is only one newspaper published, which perhaps is fortunate for the future improvement of the Colonies; otherwise half of the time of the people would be employed in venting their party spleen. Though decidedly a friend to freedom of discussion, when it has a tendency to improve the real knowledge of mankind, I am an enemy to that freedom, so soon as it indulges itself in any other way, or becomes a mere vehicle of misrepresentation and abuse. [40] 
The River Derwent is capable of cultivation on both sides, except some particular parts where the mountains are very steep.
The district of the Coal River is perhaps as good as any land in the country. It is about ten to sixteen miles from Kangaroo Point, where you cross the river to Hobart Town. In fact, almost all the best parts settled, are on the opposite side to the capital. In the Pitt Water districts which I visited, there are as fine farms as any in England, and erections which have cost from £2,000 to £3,000.
Inclosures are, however, too much neglected; and those regulations with respect to this, which have been issued, should now be strictly enforced, so that the country may be fully equal to its wants, without the supply of materials from other countries.
Flour for exportation would answer very well in many parts; but that article is not at present of so much consequence, until the quantity of wheat land accumulates beyond the consumption of the island and New South Wales. [41] 
The rearing of horses in the present stage of the colony, is also very desirable, as they have not at present a sufficiency at a reasonable price to carry on any extensive operation of farming.
I was offered five hundred pounds to bring a good horse out for the improvement of the mares, to produce a race with more bone; those they now have being by no means deficient in blood. The horses are mostly of the Cape breed, and a few gentlemen have Arabs.
With respect to the production of the orchard, or kitchen garden, every thing may be grown in great plenty, and of exceeding good flavour, as good as in the counties near London. Hitherto some of our fine fruits have not yet been imported, but when they are, there is little doubt but the most choice wall-fruit will be produced; the raspberry and strawberries are excellent; cherries are as yet scarce, but they only want our best sorts to produce any quantity. In countries so thinly inhabited there is not much attention paid to the rarer sorts.
Gooseberries are at present scarce; [42] but this fruit, as well as red and white currants, will soon be very plentiful. The potatoes are also excellent, and every species of vegetables are in the greatest plenty with those families who take the trouble to rear them. The climate is similar to that of England, excepting that the nights are considerably colder in summer; so much so indeed, that it is not uncommon to have a fire in summer, in the evenings. There are only two ports at present in this settlement; viz. Hobart Town on the river Derwent, and Port Dalrymple, on the Tamar, a river not so safe as the Derwent, yet I am inclined to think it will be a very desirable situation, as the land on the banks of the river is much superior to the land in the immediate vicinity of the Derwent.
Port Dalrymple lies north of the river Derwent, and of course, somewhat warmer, from what information I could collect. The river Tamer has a rapid stream, and a flow of from 10 to 18 feet water, is navigable for 45 miles to Lanceston, for vessels drawing 10 to 12 feet water, and at George Town cove, five miles within the heads, is safe for vessels of from 12 to 19 feet water, where they can lay afloat at low water tide. [43] There is a bar about half a mile below Lanceston, which the vessels take the opportunity at high tide to cross, when they lay near the wharf. The tides here are slight.
The banks of the river are generally low lands, sufficiently above the level of the sea. Boats can penetrate 10 miles above Lanceston. Such parts as are elevated, are generally iron stone, other parts mud. The Supply river, a small stream, which unites itself into the Tamer, runs from the western hills, is 16 miles above George Town. About a mile from its entrance there is fresh water. There are not many streams on the banks of the river; but that deficiency of water may be supplied by sinking wells. There are three wells at George Town, which give excellent water. George Town contains at present, including Military, Civil Officers, Prisoners, about 700 persons; Lanceston about five hundred. The latter place is more for merchants, settlers, &c. than the former. There are said to be many fine districts of land in the vicinity of Port Dalrymple; and it will no doubt soon be a thriving settlement. [44] It is the intention of Government, to form a settlement at an early day at Oyster Bay, on the east side of the island. It has a commodious safe harbour, and the land in the vicinity is considered good. From its situation, it will no doubt be a desireable settlement. In June 1821, the commencement of this settlement had not taken place. The south sea whalers frequently put in, as the black whale visits all the bays on this coast. Last year several whales were caught within sight of Hobart Town in the Derwent; and in Storm Bay passage, they were very common during the winter months. A great deal of oil is of course made from those whales and Basses Strait seals; where, as well as in the bays and rivers, these fish are very abundant. As their quarters, however, are getting much disturbed, it is likely that they will remove to where they may be less so. Great quantities of seal skins and oil are sent to Sidney, and shipped for England. But as vessels now go regularly to Van Dieman's Land, they will probably shortly send vessels home direct. [45] Van Dieman's Land was originally peopled from Norfolk Island; which place was abandoned eighteen years ago, it not having an anchorage where a vessel could lay with safety. The population at Van Dieman's Land has been increased since, by the most refractory and worst description of convicts, and lately by a good many settlers from England. The society, till lately was therefore on a very moderate scale, and crimes are very frequent. Men rendered desperate retreat to the woods; or, as it is termed, go a bush-ranging, and rob to supply their wants, and often commit worse crimes. There were executed in 1821, above 10 persons, besides a number sent to the coal works at Newcastle. This, in a small population of 6000 persons, is very lamentable. A number of free settlers, having lately gone with their families, will improve the colony, by setting a good example to those born of convict parents, many of whom are fast approaching to maturity.
The immoderate use of spirituous liquors is the great bane of these colonies; [46] a plentiful supply of that, and of Brazil tobacco is their summum bonum. It is, at the same time, gratifying to say, that a great proportion of the children of the first settlers are not so addicted to drinking; and would, with proper care, and having a good example before them, become useful members of society. A merchant told me, there was more profit to be made of a puncheon of rum, than of the best farm in Van Dieman's Land. That, however, can now no longer be the case, as rum is plentiful; and so perverse is human nature, that the desire will decrease in proportion as the facility of procuring a favourite indulgence is increased. The children born in those colonies, and now grown up, speak a better language, purer, more harmonious, than is generally the case in most parts of England. The amalgamation of such various dialects assembled together, seems to improve the mode of articulating the words. The children are tall and well made.
The Aborigenes of the country are not numerous, sometimes 60 to 80 men, women and children are met with. [47] They are perfectly harmless, more from ignorance than any other cause. A man with a single musket will make them run. There have, however, been instances of stock-keepers, at distant stations, having been murdered. They are a distinct race from the New Hollanders, having woolly hair like the negroes, whereas the New Hollanders have coarse lank hair, quite black. Both races are in the lowest scale of human beings.
As in all small societies, there is not so much of that liberal feeling which prevails in large cities, so in Hobart Town, the different families are not upon that footing of mutual good will, which would be productive of happiness to themselves, and of great advantage to the rising prosperity of the colony.
From what has been said, it may he necessary to give an opinion of Van Dieman's Land as a colony. It is certainly not a well watered country, (with small streams such as water our own country) but probably springs yet undiscovered may be found on the sides of those hills with which this island abounds. [48] It is mostly a woody country, except those large extensive plains found in different parts, which would maintain large flocks of sheep, as well as the hill sides themselves.
To clear the land requires great labour, There are two or three modes of clearing. One is, by cutting the tree down, and then stump-rooting it, as it is called; which is done by digging round the roots, cutting the various branch roots, and then completely drawing it out from the earth, The tree and its branches are then disposed as near each other as possible, a fire is made with dry wood, every 8 or 10 feet along the tree, which burns right through it; so that trees, 20 to 40 feet long are cut by fire, when they are more easily burnt by drawing them together, and with dry brush-wood completely burn them. Others again, cut the trees and branches down. and destroy them by fire, letting the stumps stand a season or two. They then raise a mound of turf around them, with a small vent, which being set fire to in the inside, burns like an oven. This mode completely burns the root, as well as most of the branch roots, the fire spreading under the surface of the earth. [49] An objection I have heard to that mode is, that it vitrifies the earth, and destroys vegetation. I do not know, however, whether that is proved by experience. At all events, the labour is immense in clearing land, as they neither turn the tree, ashes, nor the bark to any account. A great proportion of the trees have very slender roots. It is not uncommon to cut round, at a small distance, the root of a tree, and let the wind blow it down. That, however, is a practice dangerous to the cattle. The wood is of a heavy kind, frequently large. It is almost all straight timber. Planks might be cut of it to supply the wants of an immense navy. Crooked timber is scarce. A great proportion of the trees are also either heart-shook, or decayed. Still, a great proportion of the trees would make excellent planks. It may be cut in any quantity, and any length. The roads and labour at present, with the want of proper timber carriages, will prevent the wood from being made use of for a length of time; and whether the plank is worth the labour of cutting and conveyance to Great Britain is at present uncertain. [50] The natural grasses of this country are capable of maintaining large herds of cattle, as well as immense flocks of sheep. With artificial grasses and good cultivation, any quantity could be produced and fed. Wool will be the only export for some time to Great Britain, unless the plank would answer the British Navy. At present, the inhabitants get their living too easily to expect that they will turn their attention to the advantages of the Colony, except where an immediate profit is to be reaped. Two-thirds of the wool raised is either destroyed or wasted; and it is only this year that any attempt has been made to save it. From the census of stock, Van Dieman's land is stated to have upwards of 100,000 sheep, a considerable number more than New South Wales. That colony ships nearly 150,000 lbs. of wool yearly, and is greatly increasing. In Van Dieman's land, I am persuaded, they might ship much more; and although perhaps not so fine, would pay the growers equally well, from their having a larger quantity in each fleece. I think too, that if proper attention was paid to the wool, it would be as fine as New South Wales. [51] 
Any settler who leaves his home for these colonies, if he is a poor man, will get on much more easily in this settlement than in New South Wales, where the high prices of cattle will materially lessen his breeding stock to commence with. Horses are, however, dearer in Van Dieman's land. The climate is more natural to an Englishman; and neither the heats of summer, or cold in winter, will prevent the operations of agriculture, or impair or depress the physical powers of man. In the present state of the colony, the police, and safety of property is much inferior to New South Wales. That inferiority is, however, in these respects, likely to be remedied; as it is confidently expected, that a judge, and judge-advocate, will be appointed to preside in civil and criminal cases, which cases have generally hitherto had to wait those civil officers from Sidney, to the great delay and inconvenience of civil cases, as well as the bad consequences resulting from the long confinement of criminals. At present, the Courts in Van Dieman's land are confined to sums not exceeding £50. [52] The merchants, however, manage in their money matters to take notes for £50; say a debt of £500, take ten notes of £50 each, which brings them within the jurisdiction of their courts. Here, as in New South Wales, the trial is not by jury, but a bench of gentlemen of the colony, who settle disputes when within the above named sum. The criminal court consists of a presiding judge-advocate, with two officers of any detachment then in the colony. Van Dieman's land will more rapidly increase in value, than New South Wales, from its natural confined limits; and land is saleable now at from 5s. to 7s. 6d. per acre. There is generally too little attention paid to the qualifications of persons receiving grants of land. No person should receive it, unless he either employs a capital to improve it, or resides on it himself.
On the 5th January 1821, the Skelton having taken on board a quantity of the wool of the colony, and some provisions on freight, we proceeded to Sidney in Port Jackson.
The day after sailing, though a fine time of the year, the seasons in the southern hemisphere being opposite to ours, we experienced a strong gale from the northward, with a very unpleasant sea, which we had rarely experienced the whole of our voyage from Europe. [53] It only continued a few hours, when we got a fair wind. On the 10th of January we were off Jervis bay, and congratulated ourselves on reaching Sidney the next day, it being only about twelve hours sail distant. We were, however, disappointed. The wind came foul; and a strong current from the north also set against us; and instead of reaching Sidney as we expected, we did not get off the heads of Port Jackson until the 17th January. At the latter part of a southerly gale, and during the regular north-east wind, which blows nearly all the summer months, there is a strong current running along the coast, at the rate sometimes of two miles an hour. I think it runs from north by east, to south by west.
After making the entrance, near which, on the south head, stands a conspicuous light house, we got a pilot on board. The wind was down the river; we, however, having a flood tide, beat up to Sidney Cove, distant about seven miles from the entrance. [54] The only danger is a shoal, called the Sow and Pigs, which lies near the centre of the river; it is, however, easily avoided with a leading wind. This shoal is nearly dry, and is just abreast of the light, within the South Head. Near the entrance of the cove at Sidney, we were met by the naval officer, who took the ship's papers. On the next day, the passengers for New South Wales disembarked; and we proceeded to land the remaining part of our outward cargo. The town of Sidney contains a great number of good houses. We were, however, struck with the barren appearance of the sides of the river, which is mostly all rocks, covered with small trees and brush wood. The river has many coves, all of which are excellent harbours. Sidney Cove is perhaps as secure a harbour as any in the world. It would contain a large fleet of merchant ships moored close. It being rare to see more than 10 or 20 sail of vessels, they moor with two bowers, and swing.
The wharf at Sidney is tolerably commodious for landing goods. It would be, however, a great facility to business, if cranes were erected, which might easily be done, as there is plenty of hard timber, which would answer the purpose. [55] The price of iron is also much reduced. It is not more than £17 to £20 per ton. About eighteen months before, £80 to £90 were paid. The market for merchandize is at all times uncertain, and extremely fluctuating; as, in a small population, there is but a trifling demand for any one article. Mercantile speculation being directed that way, a glut of most articles of merchandize will most likely ensue.
The principal supplies for the convicts is sent from the mother country; it is therefore to be recollected, that the merchants' consumption is only among the free settlers, and the families of those who have become free. Sidney is supplied with rum, tea, sugar, &c. from China and Calcutta. Good green tea was worth, by the chest, 2s. 6d. per lb. and sugar, by the box of 11 cwt. about 5d. to 6d. per lb. The Isle of France also sends sugar and rum; and such articles as they have a surplus of from Europe are also sent, viz. French brandies, wines, &c. [56] 
The Isle of France being made a free port, all European goods will find their way, either from thence or from the Cape of Good Hope, independent of the direct supply from Great Britain.
To speak of the face of the country it is all covered with wood; and, till you get nearly 20 miles into the country, the land is in general very indifferent; more especially near Sidney, it is not worth the cultivating. The soil 20 miles back improves, and 40 miles inland is very good. The expenses of firing land effectually is from £5 to £6 per acre; and a strong bar fence, which is the best, costs about 3s. per yard. It is to be recollected, that these payments are often made in property, which is sometimes 100 per cent above the real value, thus materially lessening the expense. A person intending to clear land, either after receiving a grant, or purchasing, carries into the country, if he has capital, a chest of tea, half a ton of sugar, and slop clothing, which he pays away to his workmen at a considerable advance. With rum, tobacco, and all other articles he does the same. Therefore, a man who goes out with a full intention of settling, should take care to provide himself with as many of these articles as it would be advisable to purchase with the means he possesses. [57] England, at present, is decidedly the best market for spirits, clothing, and sugar; the latter article from Calcutta is at present very little higher in London than at the shipping ports. The high rate of freight which the small India vessels charge to Sidney, makes their goods quite as high as when exported from Great Britain. Good sugar from £40 to £45 per ton; Hyson skin tea, per chest, £7 to £8. Bengal rum, duty paid, 18s. per gallon. This is 3.3 per cent over proof, which of course reduces it to 12s. 6d. London proof.
It is likely that the Bengal rum will begin to get out of use, as the duties on spirits are to be levied on London proof, not on quantity as heretofore. This regulation took place 1st January 1822. Permission has also been given to distil. The advantages offered to distillers are very great. They are only to pay 2s. 6d. per gallon on home made spirits, whilst 10s. per gallon is charged on all imported. This permission has for its object the encouragement of agriculture; [58] but such is the apathy amongst the agriculturists, that I am doubtful whether grain in sufficient quantity will be raised in a short time to answer such demand as would be created by distilleries. That apathy in agriculture is however by no means general, as many gentlemen of liberal ideas have certainly done great good to the country, by shewing the capabilities of the soil, and the advantages to be derived from good management. It is, however, to be remembered, that these gentlemen have expended a large capital in these improvements, which will not perhaps make a return equal to their expectations; yet the prospect of gain from these improvements rests on a good basis; and as time rolls on, will ultimately enable them to realize a handsome return for the capital expended.