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2-049 (Raw)

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author,male,Dawson, Robert,un addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Dawson, 1830
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You will probably have heard, before this reaches England, that we had a favourable passage, and that our stock arrived well and in fine condition, with the loss only of eighteen sheep out of seven hundred and thirty. Our seven horses and twelve cows and bulls were landed in good order. This good fortune added much to the interest of the voyage, for though greatly favoured by the weather, no little anxiety was experienced in keeping the interior of our ark in order, to preserve the lives of our precious cargo; you may therefore imagine that I felt in no small degree relieved when we anchored in Sydney Cove. [46]
To those who have never been on long voyages, it is not easy to describe the feelings on first seeing the land which you are destined to inhabit, after all the tossings and rollings you have suffered for many months on the dreary and trackless ocean.
From the beads (adjoining the sea) of Port Jackson to Sydney, the distance is about seven miles: the land on both sides is composed of moderately elevated hills covered with wood. The sun shone brilliantly as we glided on towards the town; the distant roll of the drumto which the soldiers were marching from church-struck upon our cars; and the Garden of Eden, to our first parents, could not have been more enchanting than the scene was to me, heightened no doubt by the joyous feelings of a sea-worn prisoner, about to be liberated from his five months' confinement.
There had been no arrival at Sydney before us for three or four months. The inhabitants were, therefore, anxious for news. Parties of ladies and gentlemen were parading on the sides of the hills above us, greeting us every now and then, as we floated on; and as soon as we anchored, (which was on a, Sunday,) we were boarded by numbers of apparently respectable people, asking for letters and news, as if we had contained the budget of the whole world. In a short time I was on shore, pleased enough, you may imagine, with the firmness of my position on earth, and with the idea that I should be able to sit down to my dinner without lashing my chair to the table, or being so often reminded of the regions between which I had sometimes imagined myself suspended.
Sydney, from the Cove, has the appearance of a considerable town standing upon an eminence. [47] The buildings, streets, &c. do not in general remind a person of its recent origin; nor is there any deficiency of accommodation and comforts there more than in a country town in England. It is increasing very fast. The small houses that the first settlers erected are every where giving way to larger structures of hewn stone, and warehouses of considerable magnitude are rising up near the water-side, indicating the prosperity of the merchants as well as the rapid increase of population. On every side of the town houses are being erected on new ground; steam-engines and distilleries are at work; so that in a short time a city will rise up in this new world equal to any thing out of Europe, and probably superior to any other which was ever created in the same space of time.
The less I say of the society the better. As in all small communities there is a jostling of interests, and a contention for precedency and power, that generate parties, which are kept alive by unprincipled individuals, who having sprung from nothing, and having no characters to lose, delight in reducing others to a level with themselves. Let it not, however, be supposed that I allude, exclusively, to those who have been involuntary exiles, some of whom, both in their dealings and general conduct, are highly respectable. The greater share, I believe, of the convertible property of the colony, rests with this class; and they therefore possess, in the various transactions of life, that degree of influence, both good and bad, which property may be supposed to give them in such a situation, and which too frequently renders them the objects of the envy and jealousy of certain of the voluntary exiles, whose principles and conduct leave them little to boast of in any state of society. [48]
This country differs in some degree from the ideas I had of it from the representations made to me in England. It is not, in general, that picturesque and romantie country so much talked of there, although the scenery is sometimes very fine. A traveller may go many miles in a wood, even in the located districts, without seeing any traces of human habitations; and when he approaches a settler's place, he sees a house and a few straggling buildings in the centre of fifty or a hundred acres of cleared, or, more generally, of partially cleared land, surrounded by an apparently interminable wood, or trees without underwood. Occasionally houses of more important consideration are met with, surrounded by farm and other buildings, as in England, and placed in fine situations, which command views beyond the surrounding woodland ; but there are not many of these above twenty miles from Sydney. There is seldom, if ever, any brushwood to be seen. Where the soil is pretty good it is lightly timbered, occasionally resembling a gentleman's park; but the traveller soon loses this idea, from finding no mansion at the end of the scene. He plods on from park to park, as it were, all day, and rests at night, with his horse tethered beside him, near some pool of water. He then strikes a light, and makes a fire to boil his kettle and fry his bacon. If he can afford a tent with a pack-horse, he will of course have one; if not, a blanket and the hard ground are his bed and covering. If it rains he strips off a sheet of bark from the nearest tree, and lies under it secure from harm. Should he get wet, he rarely takes cold, or experiences any other than a momentary inconvenience on awaking in the morning.
Since my arrival I have spent a good deal of my time in the woods, or bush, as it is called here. For the last five months I have not entered or even seen a house of any kind. [49] My habitation, when at home, has been a tent; and of course it is no better when in the bush. I have now at this place about two hundred and thirty souls lodged in bark huts, till we can get better buildings constructed; but in this climate they are comfortable enough for people who are not very fastidious. When I take an excursion in the bush, I am generally pretty well attended, and never enjoy myself more than at such times. I have several pack-horses, with tents for myself and companions when I have any, and men sufficient to accompany us, if on an expedition of importance, and where difficulties in travelling 'g are anticipated from rivers, rocky mountains, and creeks; and two or three natives always attend as guides and interpreters. We carry as many conveniences as we can; but we have only salt provisions, unless we kill a kangaroo, an emu, or a duck. The kangaroos are too subtle and shy for us to get near, and frequently the natives will return from their sporting excursions without game, although they are as subtle as the game itself. The climate is so fine that we experience no inconvenience in travelling; and the constant change of scenery in this part of the country, and the interest kept up in expectation of making discoveries at every step, render journeys of this kind pleasant beyond description.
If we could get rid of two annoyances, and introduce two European enjoyments in lieu of them, this would be the most agreeable climate in the world. The exportation would be the musquitos and the locusts; (the latter inhabit the trees in swarms, and during summer make the most disagreeable singing noise imaginable;) the importation would be your singing birds and cool streams. [50] We have our singing birds too, but not like the nightingale or the blackbird. We have the thrush, very much like yours in plumage and note; and a bird, the concluding note of which is like the of the nightingale ; but they are shy singers. We have the magpie not unlike yours: it is the most constant singer, or rather whistler, of an agreeable nature, and particularly in the morning early. Parrots and parroquets, as well as black and white cockatoos, are innumerable; and the crow is here, exactly as in Europe, with a similar " caw," only rather hoarser and longer in its call.
The game consists of quails in abundance, the kangaroo, and emu. We have at this port great quantities of wild fowl, such as ducks, teal, &c. ; also pelicans, cranes, herons, native companions, black swans innumerable, and other more curious birds, which I can neither name nor describe. Fish also abound here, including turtle, oysters, craw-fish, crabs, eels, &c. I believe we can produce every European fruit and vegetable in perfection, and most, if not all, of the tropical vegetables and fruits, more particularly in the neighbourhood of this port.
I am now writing in the midst of winter, in my tent, with a fire in front of it. The sun has risen seven mornings at least out of ten without a cloud in the horizon, and has set the same. About four, P. in. it begins to feel cold. much the same as the shutting in of a very fine clear day in England, in November. The stars twinkle at night as in a frost, and the cold reminds you that a fire is necessary for your comfort. Notwithstanding this, I have not yet seen ice, although I am told that water has sometimes been very slightly incrusted during the night. [51]
We are near the sea here, and consequently milder in winter and cooler in summer than if further from the coast, while at the distance of twenty miles I have seen ice as thick as a dollar. I have peas now in my garden, in blossom ; and the bills about my tent are bespangled with violets, and a delicate white flower that reminds me of the snow-drop: so you may judge what the climate must be. Still the weather in winter is cold enough to the feelings to remind us, occasionally, of your fine dry weather in March and November with a moderate east wind, though it more frequently has the mildness of May with a clear sun. Sometimes we have refreshing showers, or heavy rains, succeeded always by fine clear weather; and, as I have said before, seven days at least out of ten, exhibit - the blue etherial sky without a spot.
I have now seen three seasons in this country - summer, autumn, and winter. The summer is a little too hot; but I have felt more inconvenience from hot weather in England than here: it lasts longer in this country, but you are sooner cool after exertion, and less liable to be chilled. The weather in autumn and winter is truly delightful, neither too hot nor too cold. I am told that the spring is equally agreeable; and that, although the winters are so mild, still nature appears to undergo an invigorating change, as in colder regions. Animals lose their long coats ; flowers spring up in the gardens and fields ; birds begin to sing more generally; and the trees, although evergreens, change their somewhat faded hue for the more refreshing green of spring.
This settlement, which is called Port Stephens, lies about one hundred and twenty miles north of the town of Sydney by water, and by the present track about two hundred from it by land. [52] We hope soon to find a nearer road; but I never expect to reach Sydney with less travelling than a hundred and fifty miles.
The harbour at Port Stephens is very capacious and beautiful : there is water enough to admit ships of the largest tonnage. From the entrance of the harbour to the place where I have formed this establishment, on the north shore, it is not less than eleven miles. I subjoin a bird's eye view of it.
The spot I have fixed upon for my house commands as fine views of wood and water as can be imagined: the scenery is quite Italian. As I am forming stations up the river Karuah, which is navigable about twenty-five miles from the harbour, my business will be performed in that quarter by means of boats, which will save much fatigue and jolting on horseback, besides making the excursions matter of pleasure as well as business ; for in this climate nothing can be more delightful than water excursions, particularly when such fine scenery as we have about the river is constantly in view, varied at each turn of the river in a manner somewhat resembling the banks of the celebrated Wye.
The hills are every where clothed with wood to their summits, with eternal verdure beneath them, in their natural state, unaccompanied by brush or underwood, so that we are often reminded of gentlemen's pleasuregrounds seen from a distance; but we look in vain for the comfortable porter's lodge when we approach the solitary domain. "Ah! there's the rub!" What is fine scenery, or all the beauties which these forests present in a state of nature, when deprived of the society of those so dear to me? I often repeat to myself the lines of Alexander Selkirk: [53] "I am monarch of all I survey," &c. I fancy my feelings may be sometimes similar to his, though my situation is so very different. I seldom, however, look long on the gloomy side of the picture. My time is fully occupied on matters of business which are congenial to my taste and habits, and I endeavour to lay hold of every passing event with a view of turning it either to pleasure or profit; and it is astonishing what a man may do, in such a situation, towards his own happiness and that of others, if he can command his feelings, and reason fairly on man and things around him. I am surrounded here by the very dregs of civilized society, from the most civilized country in the world, intermixed by another race of beings not civilized at all; so that between these extremes and the respectable portion of mankind that left England with me, I am in a good school for the study of my own species. I have at present about a hundred and fifty convicts and emancipists, besides about eighty souls brought from England; and I trust I shall soon have a considerable accession to the different classes, as I could find employment for some hundreds if I had them.
Our sheep and cattle are thriving very well, and we are constantly making additions to them by purchases and importations of sheep, which occupy, directly and indirectly, a very large proportion, and all the best of our hands. I have every reason to believe that this undertaking will be a flourishing one, provided I am well supported. I cannot see any reason why it should not, for there are no individuals in the colony who have not succeeded in the same line, where their affairs have been conducted with common prudence and judgment. Many failures, I know, have taken place ; but these have occurred to people who have begun and continued upon a plan not adapted to young colonists. [54] People who come here generally imagine that they can do as in England. They take lodgings in Sydney, which is a most expensive place; linger there to make connexions which generally end, sooner or later, in mischief; and their money goes, they know not how. At last they fix upon a grant of land, and remove to it with inadequate means; and before returns can be made, they have spent all their money. They then become disgusted and alarmed, mortgage their grants, and are at length disembarrassed of their little remains of property, by the connexion they lost so much valuable time in making at Sydney.
When a person lands at Sydney it would be better for him to go to an inn, expensive as it is, and form no acquaintances of any kind till he has taken a little time to look about him. If he has a friend in the colony he can rely upon, it is fortunate for him; but if not, let him be cautious before he attempts to make one. He will soon learn, by enquiry, which of the settlers have more land than they can stock, and who are the most respectable of them. When he has ascertained these two things, let him purchase as many ewes as his means will enable him, before he attempts to settle, or even to select his land. Most of the latest settlers are always ready and anxious to receive sheep on their land, to feed and manage, upon their having one-third or one-fourth of the produce. Suppose they take one-third, the young settler has the other two-thirds, without a penny of expense to him; and he thus begins to increase his income in a greater degree than he could in any other way. Whilst he is selecting his grant, his flocks and herds (for he may do the same with cattle) are increasing beyond his personal expenditure, if he is prudent. [55] As soon as he has fixed up on the land for his farm, let him build himself a log or a bark house, which he may do very cheaply, and make it very comfortable too. Then let him clear some land for cultivation, make a stock-yard for his cattle, enclose as large a paddock as he can for a horse or two and working oxen, and have some hurdles made for his sheep. He must also purchase a cart, plough, and set of harrows, at Sydney, where he can get them better adapted to his purposes than from England: then three oxen (if he can afford no more) and harness. With these, and other necessary articles, he must proceed to his grant; and until the enclosure alluded to is fenced off, or he becomes intimately acquainted with the country about his farm, he must tether the oxen during the night. When his hut is built, and stock-yard and hurdles made, let him bring home his sheep and cattle, with their increase, that have been upon thirds, but not before, if he wishes to avoid trouble, vexation, and losses. By the time his grant is selected, his first crop of wheat harvested, and the measures pointed out effected, it may he eighteen months or two years. During this interval his sheep and cattle will have increased; he will have had some return, from the sale of wool, without any advances but the prime cost of his sheep; and he will probably, in point of property, be as good a man then as when he landed. Upon this plan, success is certain and comparatively easy, if his land be good and well chosen. But the young settler must take care not to spend too much in clearing for cultivation, before the increase of his flocks justify it; for it is here that he must look for his most certain returns. [56] Cattle will soon be sold for their skins; and the production of grain, much beyond his own consumption, will only answer to a capitalist who can afford to hold it for a market, unless the population at Sydney should increase considerably. The soil of Australia is generally poor: some rich patches are found on the banks of rivers and in more distant parts of the coast-line. These will pay to cultivate for a market, if one exist [sic] within a reasonable distance. Both the soil and the climate, however, as far as I have yet seen, appear favourable to fine wool, which I think will ever be the staple article of New South Wales. This wool is the only production from the soil that can render it a flourishing country ; and as the fine climate renders it a healthy and an agreeable one to inhabit, there is no doubt but that population will increase in proportion to. the quantity and quality of the soil that may be found in situations which offer facilities for transporting its productions to a remunerating market.
Let not those who wish to proceed to Australia deceive themselves in regard to its soil and agricultural productions. They must look to exportable articles for an income; and they will not find them either in flesh, timber, or grain. The population will not be sufficiently dense, for many years to come, to create a home market worth the attention of settlers behind the mountains so far distant from the metropolis, Sydney ; and the mere slip of country which lies between the mountains and the coast, and within distance of a market, contains but little, comparatively, worth cultivating for grain; and even this is already occupied. Fine wool must command the settler's attention, as the only exportable commodity from his domain, for many years to come; and if he entertains other views than this, he had better stay at home. [57]
Much has been said of venomous reptiles here. I believe they are not more common than in England. There are black and yellow snakes, whose stings are said to cause death ; but accidents are seldom heard of: and I think there is no greater liability to danger than from English adders and vipers. I have seen and killed several, and imagine they would, like the vipers at home, sting if stamped upon ; but they endeavour to get away from you, as any snake would in other places. One of our shepherds found a snake in his bed, which was supposed to have been attracted there by the warmth of his body,' when sleeping on the ground under a tent. It did not, attempt to sting him, and he killed it on the spot.
The wild dog, which is a kind of small wolf, is the largest carniverous animal known in Australia. They are, however, more of the dog than the wolf, as has been proved by the breed becoming intermixed, in some instances, with the European dogs that generally accompany the natives in the woods. The only mischief this animal has been accused of, is that of taking young lambs, and biting sheep, as dogs have often been known to do in England.
The natives are a mild and harmless race of savages; and where any mischief has been done by them, the cause has generally arisen, I believe, in bad treatment by their white neighbours. Short as my residence has been here, I have, perhaps, had more intercourse with these people, and more favourable opportunities of seeing what they really are, than any other person in the colony. My object has always been to conciliate them, to give them an interest in cultivating our friendship, and to afford them protection against any injuries or insults from the people on this establishment, or elsewhere, within my jurisdiction. [58] They have usually been treated, in distant parts of the colony, as if they had been dogs, and shot by convict-servants, at a distance from society, for the most trifling causes. There has, perhaps, been more of this done near to this settlement, and on the banks of the two rivers which empty themselves into this harbour, than in any other part of the colony; and it has arisen from the speculators in timber, who formerly obtained licences from the governor to cut cedar and, blue gum-wood for exportation, upon land not located.
The natives complained to me frequently, that " white pellow" (white fellows) shot their relations and friends ; and showed me many orphans, whose parents had fallen by the hands of white men, near this spot. They pointed out one white man, on his coming to beg some provisions for his party up the river Karuah, who, they said, had killed ten; and the wretch did not deny it, but said he would kill them whenever he could. It was well for him that he had no white man to depose to the facts, or I would have had him off to jail at once. Having, from my first landing here, done every thing I could to prove to these poor natives that I intended to be their friend and protector, a growing confidence has been the consequence between us ; till at length it has, from various circumstances, settled into a firm belief that I am, in reality, what I promised to be to them. The following circumstances will serve to show how it has been brought about, and throw more light upon their character than any thing, perhaps, that has been said of them before. [59] No person in this colony, has, I believe, ever had the same advantages for forming a correct judgment of the natives as myself, arising from my insulated situation, my authority as a magistrate, and the means at my disposal of employing and feeding them. It is possible, however, although I think and hope it improbable, that circumstances may occur to interrupt our good understanding; for they are savages in the common acceptation of the term, although they exhibit stronger traits of natural gentleness and good feeling towards their white brethren, and towards each other, than people under that denomination are generally found to do. It is impossible for me to relate one half the anecdotes between the natives and myself at this place. I will, however, detail as many as I can, in order to show what they are; and if I am too tedious, the interest I take in them must plead my excuse.
During a short residence at Port Stephens, in the month of January, and before I returned to the neighbourhood of Sydney to bring the establishment hither, I was visited by a considerable tribe of the natives, who were very friendly and desirous of further acquaintance, I encouraged this disposition, by giving them such food as we had, and also some tobacco, of which they are excessively fond. I presented to each man a tomahawk, (or mago, as they call it,) which they prize above all things. They are exceedingly fond of biscuit, bread, or flour, which they knead and bake in the ashes, in the same manner as they see our people do it; but the article of food which appears most delicious to them, is the boiled meal of Indian corn, and next to it the corn roasted in the ashes, like chestnuts: of sugar too they are inordinately fond, as well as of every thing sweet. [60] One of their greatest treats is to get an Indian bag that has had sugar in it: this they cut into pieces and boil in water. They drink this liquor till they sometimes become intoxicated, and till they are fairly blown out, like an ox in clover, and can take no more.
Having, before I went to Sydney, discovered those things which were most to their taste, I took care to be well provided with them on my return here. Before I left Port Stephens, I intimated to them that I should soon return in a " corbon" (large) ship, with a " murry" (great) plenty of white people, and murry tousand things for them to eat. Upon this they set up a great shout, and expressed the same boisterous pleasure that schoolboys do when a holiday, or any very agreeable treat is promised by the master. They promised to get me " murry tousand bark." " Oh! plenty bark, massa." " Plenty black pellow, massa: get plenty bark." " Tree, pour, pive nangry" (three, four, five days) make plenty bark for white pellow, massa." "You come back toon ?" " We look out for corbon ship on corbon water," (the sea.) " We tee, (see,) massa." " We look out." " We get it bark." After this they chattered among themselves, laughed incessantly, and appeared overjoyed at what was to come. I then gave them a sugar-bag with some sugar, and an iron pot to boil it in. They bore these off in triumph to their camp, a few rods only from my tent; and when their mess was prepared, they sent to inform me that they wished to have a corrobery (dance) if I would allow it. As soon as I signified to them that they might do what they pleased, they made an immense fire of dried wood, and set their pot of sugar-bag by the side of it. I observed them all to retire to their camp for a short time ; and when they returned, they had figured different parts of their bodies with pipeclay, in a very curious and even handsome manner. [61] They had chalked straight lines from the ankle up the outside of the thigh, which made them appear, by firelight, as if they had hussar pantaloons on. Their faces had been rubbed with red earth, like ochre ; and their breasts chalked with serpentine lines, interspersed with dots, &c. They were perfectly naked, as they always are ; and in this state they began to corrobery, or dance.
A man with a woman or two act as musicians, by striking two sticks together, and singing or bawling a song, which I cannot well describe to you: it is chiefly in half tones, extending sometimes very high and loud, and then descending so low as almost to sink to nothing. The dance is exceedingly amusing, but the movement of the limbs is such as no European could perform: it is more like the limbs of a pasteboard harlequin, when set in motion by a string, than any thing else I can think of.