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3-035 (Raw)

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addressee,male author,male,La Trobe, Charles Joseph,51
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Government English
Imperial Correspondence
Clark, 1975
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3-035-raw.txt — 10 KB

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At the close of the year a great number of the inhabitants of the colony itself who had rushed to the Gold Fields in the first instance, and had met with so much success, had returned temporarily to their homes and even to their ordinary occupations, many of the farming class, with a view to secure their harvest, which I am glad to state has been after all very generally reaped throughout the colony, and others with the purpose of awaiting the season when the search for gold could be prosecuted with less labour, hardship, and risk. It was reported to me that in this manner above 6,000 men left the workings in the ten days preceding the 1st January. The large and continued influx of adventurers from without, however, prevented any actual decrease in the numbers on the ground itself. The field now became the general rendezvous of a mixed multitude, amongst which the expiree population of Van Diemen's Land, returned Californians, and the most profligate portion of the inhabitants of this and the adjacent colonies, became broadly conspicuous. [31] A marked change for the worse has been observable since the beginning of the year in the character of the people, in certain divisions of the Gold Fields more especially. At the outset the bad characters bore but a trifling numerical proportion to the general population, but now, although the preponderance of the well disposed, and of those who are friends to law and good order, is still overwhelming, the number of thoroughly hardened and dissolute characters has greatly increased. It notoriously includes a number of the most determined and desperate ruffians in any community; and this fact, taken into account with the great increase and almost general prevalence of the illicit sale of spirits, is sufficient to account for any amount of crime and disorder which may really be found to exist in such a mass, congregating under such extraordinary circumstances, and subjected to so little moral or physical restraint. Violent quarrels, thefts, both by day or night, amongst the huts, tents, and workings, where the auriferous earth collected during the day may remain unremoved for washing, have been of common occurrence, either amongst those associated together, or by the professed plunderers and thieves. The "Friar's Creek" workings, more especially, have been signalized by these infractions of the law, and by disorder arising in "sly grog selling," and no exertion of the police or Assistant Commissioner, or magistrates, on the ground, could suffice in every instance to secure detection, conviction, and punishments I am satisfied, however, that in all instances in which charges were properly brought forward and supported, which is comparatively seldom the case, every effort has been made to meet the evils complained of and to render justice.
With regard to the statements of the universal unchecked prevalence of crime and disorder at the workings, detailed with such effrontery and recklessness in the profligate public prints of this colony itself, or greedily retailed and commented upon for evident purposes in the New South Wales press, all I can say is, that they are not true, the greater part totally false, and in so far as there may be foundation for this or that statement or circumstance, so grossly exaggerated as to be unworthy of credit. Your Lordship will allow me to state, that viewing the position and character of no inconsiderable number of persons frequenting the workings, a far greater amount of crime might prevail without the Government of the colony, - circumstanced as it has been, - being in any degree justly blameable. In such a crowd, one half utter strangers to the other and to the colony, met together in a wild tract of broken forested country, full of secluded hollows, honeycombed with hundreds or thousands of ready-made graves, under such strong inducements to cupidity, disorder, and crime, the imagination is free and unrestrained to picture the extent to which crime may, however improbable, prevail in secret without the possibility of discovery or chance of detection. [32] Many a murder may take place, of the existence of which no evidence will ever transpire or record exist; but I can assure your Lordship that whatever crimes may really be perpetrated, no indifference to it on the part of the authorities could have existed, and that no such general disorder and rejection of law and constituted authority as these statements would represent has ever been observable. On the contrary, notwithstanding the extraordinary circumstances under which the multitude finds itself brought together, the passions and temptations of the hour, the acknowledged insufficiency of the police force to oppose physical force to any really serious outbreak or general disturbance, the inability in every instance to afford prompt justice, the but partial carrying out of the regulations, which must be admitted as a grievance by the well disposed, the occasional agitation got up by a knot of well-known advocates for change, and I may, lastly, justly remark the evident disposition manifested from the very outset of a portion of the colonial press, for its own purposes, to induce political excitement, and pander to the passions of the mob, spread a spirit of disaffection, and induce a want of confidence in the measures of Government by a systematic distortion of facts and of statements, pointing out, not only what the mob actually do or meditate, but what they might do. The orderly bearing and conduct of the great proportion of the people on the ground is undeniable, and the subject of surprise to all who have an opportunity of personally ascertaining the real state of the case.
Certain Acts of Council passed in the recent session (15 Vic. no. 15, 15 Vic. no. 14, 15 Vic. no. 12.) [...] are found to have strengthened the hands of the authorities on the ground to a very great extent, giving on the one hand additional facilities in preventing the unlicensed search for gold, and on the other, greater power in checking gambling and the illicit sale of spirits, which not only leads to or favours the crimes actually known to be committed, but gives strength to the suspicion, just or unjust, that far darker villany [sic] may be perpetrated in connexion with it. In the month of January, weak as the police force notoriously was, no less than between fifty and sixty seizures were made at Mount Alexander. But with every exertion made, the evil is very difficult to grapple with, and evidently grows with the increase of population. The gains are so enormous that the risks are nothing when weighed against the chance of success.
Your Lordship may rest assured that every effort will be made to put it down; and, deeply as certain classes of the mercantile community in the towns are undoubtedly directly or indirectly interested in the traffic and sale of spirits, by whatever means effected, I cannot doubt the right feeling of the inhabitants of the colony in general, or of the legislative body representing it, with respect to it, or that the latter will not lend its further aid if called upon to do so. [33]
The health of the crowd at the workings, despite the habits prevailing there, the unwonted style of living, indifferent accommodation, and heat of the season, has been upon the whole good; low fever, dysentry, and inflammation of the eyes have been common, but no disease of an epidemic and more serious character has prevailed. If would be strange if, in a population of 30,000; there would not be at all times many cases of disease and death from natural causes and accident. There is apparently no want of medical skill amongst the adventurers.
Sunday continues, as heretofore, to be observed with outward decency, as a day of repose; and however little the majority may be disposed to attend to religious duties, and dissipation may be prevalent among certain classes, decency is rarely openly outraged before evening sets in. Divine service has been always performed by ministers of the several communions in different parts of the field; and I have considered myself justified in holding out to the heads of the four principal divisions of the Christian communion the offer of assistance in securing the services of ministers specially appointed to the duty within the limits of the Gold Fields.
A large proportion of the population is almost altogether furnished with their supplies and necessaries upon the ground, shop and store keepers being located at intervals all over the encampments. Meat (mutton) has always been procurable at a reasonable price but every other article is purchased at an advance of from 50 to 100 per cent, upon ordinary prices. 
It becomes a matter of speculation how so large a scattered multitude are to be provisioned, if they really are able to maintain their ground, in the wet season, when a certain portion of the lines of road, connecting this district with the towns, must become, as they always have been under former comparatively inconsiderable traffic, nearly impassable. With regard to Government supplies, steps have been taken to secure a certain amount of provisions and stores on the spot, as well as the necessary accommodation for the Government officers,' before the dry season closes; but with all Our foresight I am prepared to encounter many serious difficulties in carrying on the service of the Gold Fields efficiently and satisfactorily during the winter season.
The gold escort service has upon the whole been, despite all difficulties, very satisfactorily performed, as well as the receipt of gold on the ground, and delivery at the Treasury connected with it. No losses have taken place, and very few errors or mistakes, such as might easily occur under the circumstances, have been remarked. At the beginning the gold brought down by escort was deposited at once in the strong rooms of the local banks, and delivered upon a Treasury order to the owner or consignee, every facility being given by the respective managers to Government in this respect; but after a time it became evident that this accommodation could not be continued without subjecting these establishments to the greatest inconvenience, and steps had consequently to be taken to construct a gold-room at the Treasury office, and appoint proper officers specially for the receipt and delivery; I am glad to say that the whole arrangement, however temporary in the character of many details, works very satisfactorily. [34]