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2-029 (Original)

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author,female,Felton, Sarah,un addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Private Written
Felton, 1832
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2nd Decbr 1829
To begin with the weather as an Englishman generally does, it is so mild and pleasant and the days so long that I have some difficulty in persuading myself that it is Xmas! More particularly as there are with me no internal and domestic indications to remind me of it.
I have seen many strange places but I never knew one where there was so utter an absence of hospitality as here. I hear of no friendly parties, no national merry makings - no social intercourse in any class of the society.
Indeed it may be said that there are but two classes here, the "elite" and the "canaille". Among the former it is all pomp, stiffness and formality; with the latter riot, revelry and drunkenness hold undisputed sway.
I admire Sydney as a town but I should be very sorry to live in it. In the country I believe the people are really kind and hospitable.
I have been this evening to visit the Botanical Gardens. It is very prettily laid out and contains a great variety of rare and beautiful flowers and shrubs. There are walks of perhaps 300 feet in length by 15 wide, enclosed entirely by vines trained over a Trellis. The effect is delightful, the shade most grateful and refreshing.
I shall be truly glad to get into the Bush. When I once take possession of my tent, I do not think I will live in Sydney again. The scenes of riot and debauchery one witnesses here, are dreadful; and to see the miserable wretches of natives, reeling about the streets, some stupid, some frantic from the effects of intoxication, is a most revolting spectacle. It is a melancholy fact and speaks volumes of the depravity of human nature, that these poor savages are apt beyond belief at imitating everything bad: drunkenness, swearing and every kind of vice they copy with the utmost facility - while the most laborious exertions have been found insufficient to impress them with a sense of right and wrong or to engraft on their brutal natures one single good quality. The faculty of speech alone seems to distinguish them from the beasts that perish.
Such they are here, among civilized men - I shall see them 'ere long in their primitive state, among their native wilds. There I shall find them at least uncontaminated by the vices of the white man.
A short distance to the left of the Parramatta Road and about a mile from the Town is the Burying Ground. It is almost filled with monuments, but is in a very neglected state. A great number of the Tombs are completely covered with Geraniums which quite scent the air with their fragrance, and has a very pleasing effect. Many of the graves are marked by no other Memorial than a plain wooden cross while some have a piece of board only, nailed to a post, and rudely painted with the words "Here lie the remains of" some poor wanderer from the Fatherland, whose dust lies unwept below.
A cemetery in a distant land, is the saddest truthteller, and to one who feels deeply the "amor pro patriae", there is no scene so full of melancholy, so natural is the desire: "bury me with my Fathers".
I walked some distance along The South Head Road and then struck off into the bush, to a rising ground which afforded me a completely Panoramic view of the whole country round with [a] great part of Sydney, The Cove, Botany Bay and the Blue Mountains in the distance. But how [to] depict the scene [NN] Imagine a succession of undulating sandy hills entirely covered with brushwood; no house or road to be seen. At a distance, the fine expanse of water called Botany Bay, with here and there intervening swamps looking green as meadows, or partially filled with water reflecting the deep blue of the sky. Beyond these, ranges on ranges of hills, rising one above the other until they "melt in the distance". Such is the country, and with a blazing sun fast setting in the west, forms a magnificent landscape.
The hills themselves afford very little variety, being composed entirely of sand, fine and white, but the profusion of shrubs, many very beautiful, and all curious, is very striking. I may describe one in particular, as most abundant, and very picturesque, and remarkable, it is a sort of rush, the long sharp leaves, spring in a tuft from a short stem or trunk exactly resembling a pine apple in size and shape, from the centre rises the flower stalk, very like a bulrush and reaching a height of 10 or 12 feet. These cane-like stems are used by the Natives as spears, having a point fixed at one end of some hard wood or a piece of shell or bone. The Aloe, tho not indigenous, is very common here, and grows to a great size. I see them in many cottage gardens, upwards of 30 feet high and the flower stem resembling a large fir tree. The blossoms are a pale delicate yellow. The leaves are enormously thick and large, often reaching 10 feet in height.
The variety and beauty of the insect tribe would delight an entomologist. More especially if he could claim, on the score of friendly acquaintanceship, an immunity from the attacks of the Mosquitoes and the Blowflies. The latter are most loathsome and disgusting. They will taint the meat on your plate, and pollute everything that has heat and moisture. Blankets and woollen clothing must be carefully examined, and even infants in the cradles must be carefully shaded with muslin to defend them from their disgusting propensities. As to the Mosquitoes, they are terrible pests. The eternal buz, buz, buz and irritating stings are destructive of all enjoyment in these lovely evenings.
The immense number and beauty of the grasshopper tribe is astonishing. They vary in size from a quarter of an inch to four inches in length, and some of the larger species have beautifully coloured wings, some bright yellow, with shades of dusky black. These fold closely to the body like a fan, and are concealed by a sort of sheath, but expand in their flight and appear as large as a butterfly's wings and the noise resembles the furling and unfurling of a fan. Others I observed with two pair of silvery gossamer wings more like those of the dragon fly. Their flight is irregular, and more like a long and extended leap than actual flying. They rise, expand their gauze-like wings and are borne by the air as it lifts, falling again, it would seem, without any aim or object.
I am surprised to see such a variety of tints in the foliage, for I had been induced to expect a dull, monotonous, everbrown tint pervading the landscape. But it is not so, at least in this part of the country, especially about Wooloomooloo; there seems to be a great variety of tint, and green of as lively a hue as any we see in England
It is impossible to conceive anything more delightful than the climate, so far as I have yet experienced. Fine, clear and just agreeably warm. Yet I am told that the winter is the most agreeable season (this is the height of Summer in this hemisphere). 
Christmas day - alone! at the Antipodes!
I attended St James' Church where the whole service was very satisfactorily performed by the Archdeacon (Dr Broughton). The Church was profusely decorated with a variety of evergreen and flowering shrubs, which in England would be esteemed rare and curious exotics, but which here are common as thistles. Beautiful as they are, they do not equal in my eyes, the rich luxuriance of the Holly, the Laurel, and the broad-leafed Ivy with its clusters of dark berries, all so much more lovely because so dear to the heart of the Exile.
The scene in the harbour is lively and pretty. We have the "Crocodile" Frigate, the "Zebra" Sloop of War, and upwards of 40 sail of other vessels, many of them fine, large Ships, all at anchor in the Cove. The harbour is confessedly the finest in the world. Fort Macquarie, a picturesque but not very formidable fortification which projects into the Cove, and forms, as it were, one arm of that part of the Harbour, has a very pretty effect at all times, and particularly now, from the "Crocodile's" men being encamped there; and the Flag is hoisted every day on the Tower, with the usual ceremonies.
Nature appears in this country to have indulged in most extraordinary fancies (if I may say so). Here are salt water Lakes 300 feet above the level of the Sea; rivers which rise near the coast and flow inland; fine cod are found in fresh water, and the Pike inhabits the ocean. Everything appears to be reversed, and calculated to set all speculation at defiance. The Botany, the Geology, the Ornithology, the ichtheology, etc. of the country are all different from any others, and form a separate study in themselves. General principles seem not to hold good, and all one's preconceived notions are continually at fault. It is certainly a wonderful country, and affords a fine field for any ambition.
Yesterday one of the Chiefs of these poor creatures, the Natives, brought me a spear for which I gave him a sixpence; at least, a piece of silver about that value, called a dump. The Spear is about 10 feet long the shaft of some very light wood, but the point is of a different nature and very hard and sharp. It is firmly fastened to the shaft by a sort of resinous gum which exudes in great quantities from the grass trees, and is fully two feet long.
Many of the Chiefs have a sort of badge, or ornament, of brass hung round the neck. It is in the form of a crescent with the name of the tribe inscribed on it. I was reading this aloud: "Chief of the Câttáyâh" when the whole party set up a shout, repeating the word "Cattayáh" with a long emphasis on the last syllable, apparently delighted with my mispronunciation.
Many of their words are soft and pretty, but to me the language is at present an unintelligible gabble. The few seen about Sydney are terribly debased and degraded by their association with the refuse of mankind planted on their shores, and have imbibed all the vices of civilisation, without any of its virtues.
My friend Cattayáh, has promised to bring me some more of their weapons, which are curious. The womerah or throwing stick, the ëlamán or shield and the sort of javelin or dart, thrown from a sort of sling.
My favorite walk is what is called the "Domain". This consists merely of a considerable tract of land, beyond Government House and attached to it as a Park, but left in its natural state with the exception of the Botanical Garden near the centre, and the numerous walks and drives, the principal of which terminate at the extreme point of a ledge of rock, the extremity of this neck of land jutting into the Cove. A large seat or alcove has been cut out of the solid rock with an inscription above it, intimating that for the design and execution of all these improvements, the public are indebted to Mrs Macquarie. She is the wife of the late Governor, and they are both much beloved and regretted. These walks and drives are disposed with so much taste and every peep of the Cove and its beautiful shores is so rich and so varied, that I find fresh beauties every time I visit it. My favorite "Stance" is a projecting ledge of rock which overhangs the shore about 30 feet high just over the Stone Seat I have described which is called "Mrs Macquarie's Chair". There, with the most lovely part of the Cove and the romantic "Garden Island" before me, I sit or stand. The gentle splash of the tiny waves beneath me inspiring a soothing melancholy, my thoughts insensibly turning to dear England. Here I have now been watching the full moon rising in cloudless majesty over the North Head. The scene is surpassingly lovely - no pen or pencil can do justice to it. So calm, so tranquil, so motionless except for the dancing of the rippling waves in the broad stream of moon-light and occasionally a white sail skimming as if by magic athwart the Cove. To the right is Garden Island and the deep bay called Farm Cove in front. Several other points project into the Cove, all wooded to the water's edge, and these, the bold, bluff, rocky headlands, called the North and South Heads, with the LightHouse, form the background. Beyond is the dark, unfathomable ocean, too distant to be distinguished. This magnificent harbour is not one large Bay only, but a continued succession of bays or coves, the shores of all beautifully wooded, and affording perfect shelter for shipping, from the Heads up to the town, and even beyond, for the Parramatta River nearly 15 miles up, is more like a deeply indented estuary than a river and has deep anchorage some miles beyond the port.
The country round is romantic and picturesque, though in point of fact sterile in the extreme. Hundreds of thousands of acres, composed of nothing but fine white sea sand, in which you would suppose it impossible for anything to vegetate, but which produces endless varieties of plants and shrubs (all evergreen) which in England would be accounted the most valuable rarities. I collected a most beautiful bouquet to adorn my little cottage. There are no trees of any height to be seen, excepting here and there, the scathed and blasted trunk of a gum tree. The hills are lofty, and the whole surface of this part of the country beautifully undulating. At a distance of six or seven miles, the waters of the far-famed Botany Bay stretch away to the westward like an inland sea, and the Range of Blue Mountains in the background, form altogether a very lovely landscape.
The foliage of the trees and underwood is by no means so "everbrown" as I had expected. The generally sombre tints are relieved and enlivened by many large masses of green, bright and vivid enough to do honour to old England. The climate, so far as I may yet form an opinion, is most lovely.
It is glorious to see the sun rise day after day, and travel through an almost cloudless sky. And there is continually a refreshing sea-breeze which prevents the heat from becoming oppressive. I walk in the very heat of the day without feeling any inconvenience. Not even the lassitude and weariness which is produced by exertion in very hot weather in England. I attribute this to the clearness of the atmosphere, and the peculiar lightness of the air. And then the mornings and evenings are so delicious, the air blows cool and refreshing without the slightest damp or chilliness; even the twilight, tho' shorter than in England, is most luxurious, for after the sun has set in one blaze of splendour, it is long ere the sky loses the bright influence of his beams. Then it becomes gradually, "fretted with golden fire", "thick inlaid with patinas of bright gold" - compared with which our northern skies are cold and splendourless (if I may coin such a word).
Of the town itself, little can be said, there a some pretty cottages, the residence of Government Officers, and the so called "streets" resemble the suburbs of London, small houses with little strips of garden in front, some in rows, some detached.
The public buildings in Sydney are very paltry and insignificant. The Barracks are very extensive, and occupy a large portion of the best part of the town, but they do not possess any architectural beauty. The Military Hospital is in a similar style, and well situated. The Churches (there are two: St. Philip's and St James) are both plain, unpretending structures. The latter, the most modern, where all is new; it is built of brick, and is rather a handsome structure with a lofty spire surmounted by a ball and cross of stone, the interior is very neat, the fittings being of native Cedar, a dark wood resembling mahogany; but it is disfigured by two galleries, one appropriated to the convicts, the other to the Soldiers. There is a very fine Organ, and the manner in which the Service is performed gave one great satisfaction. St. Philip's is beautifully situated at the other extremity of the town, on a lofty promontory overlooking the harbour and has really some pretentions (in appearance) to antiquity, for it was the first place for public worship built in the Colony and is a curious specimen of Church architecture, it consists of a round tower built of unhewn stone and a low nave or chancel partly of stone and wood; the interior is also devoid of any attempt at ornament, and is dark and inconvenient. But what a delightful reflection it is that even here, in a penal settlement, a place appropriated to the reception of the very refuse of mankind, of wretches who have merited the gallows by a hundred acts of villainy, a settlement now which has only been established 40 years, our noble and glorious country thus extends her wise and holy institutions to the remotest quarters of the globe; and our holy Church holds forth her arms to recover the most hardened offenders, and offers to the most depraved of mankind the means of reconciliation with God and man. The Roman Catholic Chapel and the Government Stables are here considered the finest buildings in the Colony, but they seem to me very poor specimens of Architecture. The former is quite in an unfinished state and likely to remain so; but Popish Priests in the present day, like the monks of old, are very judicious in selecting their scites. The view from the back of the Chapel is the most beautiful I have seen.
There is nothing I have yet seen which so strongly excites my disgust and pity as these miserable natives. They are the most wretched and degraded class of human beings it is possible to conceive, in form and face more resembling the Baboon than anything human. They are attenuated with famine, for they care not for food, but spirits are their delight. Their limbs are mere skin and bone, their faces hideous beyond description; the forehead flat and prominent, the eyes small, the nose flat and wide, the cheeks sunken and chin projecting immoderately, their colour a sooty dingy black. The Government provides them with blankets and obliges them to appear in Sydney clothed, but they have no idea of the use of clothing, and it is generally put on in such a manner that they might almost as well be without it. The men all carry "waddies" or large clubs and with these will give and receive such blows on their heads as would certainly fracture the skull of an European. They have an immense quantity of coarse black hair, which hangs in thick pelts or tresses over their faces, like the threads of a mop. All that I have seen (both male and female) have lost the two front teeth of the upper jaw, which operation is performed by punching them out. I have witnessed some disgusting scenes of intoxication and consequent fighting among these poor creatures, who are so weak that the washing of a Rum cask, or even a sugar bag steeped in water produces that effect. I saw a woman belabouring a man with an immense stick over the head in a way which would have caused concussion of the brain in an ordinary skull, he sitting all the time with his arms folded, taking it as coolly as possible.
There were about 30 of them in the Street this afternoon, dancing, singing and screaming and howling in the most extraordinary manner. Their violent and uncouth gestures and strange wild, monotonous song interested me much; the perfect time they keep, jumping and raising the arms in different attitudes, sometimes slowly, then with gradually increasing vehemence and rapidity, the song becoming a dismal howl, in which the most obvious sound is something like "murra murra jaa, "murra murra fee", the last notes prolonged amazingly, is very curious. But it is a pitiable exhibition, as they are always more or less in a state of intoxication. They are very rapidly diminishing in numbers, and it is anticipated that a very few years more will see their entire destruction. This, their inevitable fate, is the less to be regretted, as every effort for their instruction and improvement has utterly failed. They have in this country been generally well treated, but I hear that in Van Dieman's Land there is terrible work. They are a more formidable race there than these poor creatures and the settlers have found them so determinedly hostile, that they actually go out in parties and shoot the Natives like mad dogs. A gentleman who has just come up from Hobart Town told me that he saw one man bringing the heads of twelve whom he had shot himself and whose heads he produced in Hobart Town lest he should not be credited. I know not which is the worst, destroying these poor creatures in this way, or murdering them more slowly and more painfully by the sure contamination of our vices. It is a painful reflection.