The Miner’s Right

Chapter VI

Rolf Boldrewood

AFTER SINKING in every claim to the bed rock, on the imaginary course of the lead, not only is no gold found, but, from the depth and character of the strata, it is evident that the lead or ancient river-bed cannot possibly run in that direction. Then, after due application to the Commissioner, the base line is altered or ‘swung,’ i.e. freshly marked on another imaginary course, and the registered claims only, of equal size and number of men—of precisely the same rotation—are marked out afresh on the new base line. All previous markings and occupations are thereby annulled. Only the new ones are valid.

This mode of procedure, originally framed by officers thoroughly versed in all mining law, had stood the test of experience. If not the fairest mode of distribution of risk, it was the best compromise that could be effected between opposing interests. Still curious contretemps were continually occurring. When No. 6, let us say, was measured off and allotted on the new line, it would be found, perhaps, that No. 5’s shaft, seventy feet deep, the last twenty through basalt, and a highly expensive exploration, was now situated in No. 6 claim.

Thereupon the No. 5 men would come to the Commissioner and represent that they were all married men with large families, and that they had spent their last shilling in sinking the said shaft, and if No. 6 were allowed to have it what a hard case it would be; and wouldn’t his honour allow them to work it still, and drive (or tunnel) into No. 5 their present claim?

A Commissioner who was soft-hearted or philanthropical would probably be disposed to assent to this very feasible suggestion. Thereby he would straightway complicate matters, and get the whole lead into confusion, inasmuch as if No. 5 got gold in No. 6’s claim, there would be a very nice bit of work cut out as to the distribution of it.

Of course, Captain Blake, after years at the Meroo in the early days of Louisa and Lambing Flat, had seen far too much of that kind of thing to be taken in. He would simply tell them to ‘go to the devil’ and read the regulations. He and they alike were bound by what they saw there. They were clever enough to read them, underline them, and worry the life and soul out of him, William Deveroux Blake, by taking technical objections, God knows. Then let them obey the law whatever it was, and not come bothering him with ridiculous applications. It was as fair for one as another. As to wives and families, and such like rubbish (in the way of argument he meant), it was waste of time to introduce such matter into the question. Lose their shaft? Of course they must lose their shaft. And any block claim that the new base line, as newly surveyed, took in, must stop work till the frontage line was proved. How were men to expend capital, and develop the deep lead properly—answer him that—unless they were defended in the possession of their duly registered frontage claim, he asked? They must be protected in following the registered claims on the lead wherever they were found to go. Much grumbling was occasionally heard, and threats were now and then used. But a commissioner of goldfields should know how to put down his foot, and when once planted in accordance with his reading of the law, should never raise it. Firmness invariably, in the long run, succeeds, with large bodies of men.

As I said before, we had the base line altered over and over again at Nova Scotia Gully, until the south claim levels were nearly turned into the north and vice versa. The old shareholders in the prospecting claim were quite contented. They, of course, did not budge. Their claim was central, measured off by the mining surveyor. It was daily turning out loads of wash-dirt from half an ounce to an ounce to the ton. It seemed inexhaustible too. The stratum of wash-dirt was the thickest ever known in an Australian goldfield. It was in some places of the unparalleled—well—nigh incredible—depth of forty feet. Think of that, said all the experienced miners; years and years of work. When would it come to an end? But, jammed between the fossiliferous gray limestone walls of a tremendous ‘crevasse,’ it seemed to be only what the diggers called a pothole. It apparently came from no other ‘run of gold,’ led to none, certainly. Hence was the disappointment deep and bitter in proportion amid all the unsuccessful comrades of the hero of this wonderful discovery, Gus Maynard.

Again we were disappointed. Not for the first, not for the tenth—the twentieth time! We had simply, failing to find gold in our claim, known as No. 7 North Nova Scotia, lost our time, our labour, and every shilling which we had been compelled to disburse for what are called in mining phrase ‘expenses,’ that is rope, tools, iron work, wax candles (for working below), and any other matters without which ‘sinking’ cannot be carried on. We had gone more deeply still into debt to our good friend and backer, Mrs. Mangrove; and really, I felt quite ashamed to face that truly generous and estimable woman.

‘So you’re “duffered out” again, Harry!’ she said, in her usual cheery accent; ‘well, you are an unlucky beggar, I must say. I don’t think that young lady of yours will have any great catch of you. And the Major, he’s just as bad. He generally buys a few yellow books after he’s had a regular march down like this, and lies on his back and reads for a week. Your mate, Joe Bulder, he always seems to me to take it to heart too much; he sits, and smokes, and grizzles about it, no end. And that Hawkesbury chap, he never takes on at all; he’s too careless to fret about anything: he leaves all that to the poor little wife— just like you men, that is. But you are an unlucky crowd, and there’s no use saying you ain’t.’

‘I’m afraid we are, Mrs. Mangrove,’ I said sadly, for my heart was low enough, I confess. ‘If I hadn’t sworn an oath to keep on till the end of the year, I’d throw the whole thing up. As it is, I don’t know what we shall do, for I can’t think of asking you for more credit.’

‘You needn’t ask for it, Harry, my boy; you shall have it without asking, to the end of the year, as you’ve sworn such a big oath about it. My word! I haven’t followed the diggings all these years, me and John, without having to put the pot on now and then. We’ll chance it till your time’s up, just for the luck of the thing. Perhaps you’ll make a rise, and pull us through, and something over.’

‘And suppose we don’t?’

‘Then we can “blue the lot,” and your tucker account can go with many another good pound as we’ve seen the last of. But mind you, it ain’t all losings, not by a long way. Didn’t Joe Hall put us into that Mary Jane reef, as we’re drawing good divs. out of to this day. And German Harry gave us a half share in the Fatherland. It was down a bit to be sure, but we got eight hundred pound for that, and four good washings up, too. So you go and fossick out another good show, and I’ll stand to you, whether the old man likes it or not. Take a nip, won’t you; it’ll keep your pecker up. No? Then have a glass of beer—it’s only she-oak, but there’s nothing wrong about it, or we should have had a funeral or two by now, this hot weather.’

I accepted the table-ale of the colony, said ‘God bless you, old woman,’ to my kind and generous, if somewhat unrefined, friend in need, and walked back to Nova Scotia Gully.

There I found the whole party so nearly posed in the different conditions that Mrs. Mangrove had predicted of them, that I burst out laughing in the Major’s mildly-inquiring face. That calm warrior was never truly and unaffectedly surprised—if outward appearances were to be considered—at anything.

He looked up from a cheaply-published ‘yellow-back’ novel of the period, which he had apparently borrowed since I left in the morning, and which, lying flat upon its back, he had been engaged in assimilating.

‘Been drowning atra cura in the flowing B. and S. Harry?’ he said. ‘It’s a terrible temptation when fellows have just “duffered out,” I admit. A debauch of light reading I find, however, has less reactionary vengeance about it. I don’t seem to mind drinking so much, but I can’t stand the repentance. That’s what keeps me so virtuous.’

‘I am not “on,” most noble centurion,’ I made answer; ‘but I have just had a great yarn with Mrs. Mangrove—God bless the dear old woman—and she described so exactly the way you all took bad luck, that, when I found you with your yellow-back, whatever it is—’

‘The Count of Monte Christo, my dear boy. Of course, I’ve read it before; but it’s a fine, long, solid romance, and I thought this the most appropriate time for a big read, so I went and borrowed it from Burton—but go on.’

‘Well, there’s poor Joe, smoking and looking like a man who, having made up his mind to hang himself, is now devoting all his mental powers to fixing upon a suitable tree. She says, truly, that he feels it too much, and that Cyrus, who has gone fast asleep, leaving his wife at the water-tub, and all the plates and dishes to finish before she goes to bed, doesn’t feel it half enough.

‘“To each his sufferings: all are men
        Condemned alike to groan.
The tender for another’s woes (that’s me).
        The unfeeling for his own (that’s you),’

quoted the Major with emphasis. ‘I am at present so deeply penetrated with the scoundrelly ungrateful way in which his monde has treated the deserving Edmund Dante, that I have no tears to spare for our own apparently real misfortunes; but I do no mind quitting the “Château d’If” for a few minutes to inquire whether or no we are to starve, or whether we have eaten our last, or rather Mrs. Mangrove’s last, beef and bread.’

‘That admirable woman has pressed upon us a whole elysium of “tick,” ‘I say, ‘that is until Christmas, when she will probably withdraw, leaving us to perish financially if we continue to be the prey of the gods.’

‘But not until then?’ the Major inquired, with a certain air of indifference, returning to his romance.

‘No,’ I said; ‘our existence literally, and as a mining party, is secured until then. If we don’t make a rise before that time, we shall have to become wages men, bush-rangers, or knock-about-men on a station—farm-labourers.’

‘I was one once,’ murmured the Major, with his eyes fixed on his book.

‘What, a bush-ranger?’ inquired I eagerly.

‘No; not so good as that. But Mayne and I—remittances being disgracefully long in coming—contracted to dig a lot of potatoes for an old buffer near Tenterfield. We dug away with great industry; it seemed an easy sort of game, but I couldn’t help cutting most of the potatoes in half. These I had to bury to avoid detection, which led to old Baggs (that was our master’s name), referring blasphemously to the smallness of the crop. I looked virtuously grieved.’

‘Heroic virtue,’ I said; ‘and how long did it last?’

‘More than a month, I assure you. One day our letters came—Mayne’s to the care of John Baggs, Esq., Bubbrah, and two addressed Major Blank, you know, late 77th Regiment. How old Baggs stared when I took mine from him. “These for you?” he said, gasping audibly. “Without a doubt they are, hand them here, Baggs—there are not two ex-majors of the 77th knocking about this beastly hot village of yours. Perhaps you’ll send for the spades, and let a boy bring our swags down to the village. We’re going there now. There’s hardly time to order dinner. Better drop in and join us? one o’clock sharp.” “No, thank ye, er, er, Major. Well, I’m blowed,” said he, and walked off.’

Let me strive to produce, as we are out of employment, a picture of that strange settlement, a mining community in its first inception, while the colours are fresh upon memory’s pallet. What should I have thought of it, familiar as all things are now, had I been suddenly deposited before the door of our tent, in the old happy, sleepy days, at Dibblestowe Leys.

For as eye can see, the area of settlement—several miles square—is denuded of timber, the felled or burned trees represented by unsightly stumps in all directions. Within this clearing every kind of building and tenement is carelessly strewed. Tents, log-huts, with the walls built American fashion of horizontal tree trunks; slab-huts of split heavy boards, Australian fashion, placed vertically, and for the most part not impervious to heat or cold; bark-huts, of which both sides, and sometimes doors, are composed of sheets of the flattened eucalyptus bark—this material composing the roof both of this and the previously described architectural edifices. The more ambitious buildings are of weather-board, sawn pine or hardwood boards, roofed with large sheets of galvanised iron. These are chiefly confined to the streets of the township proper. This is held to be the maximum of architectural solidity, elegance, and durability, from a digging point of view, beyond which no reasonable man could frame an aspiration.

To the untravelled European mind such a picture of household habitudes would doubtless present the idea of ugliness, squalor, and privation difficult to realise or exaggerate. As with most superficial conclusions, the idea would be erroneous. Among other factors of a beneficent nature the climate stands prominently forward. The interior of Australia, for the most part, enjoys seasons, mild, rainless, devoid of storms and tempests, rendering unnecessary the durable abodes of more northern regions. There is no want of space, land is cheap and accessible. The Miner’s Right—that talismanic document—in addition to conferring the potentiality of untold gold, had other powers and magic qualities. It provides the holder with a perfect title to an allotment of the earth’s surface, varying from a quarter of an acre within town boundaries, to four times the quantity in a suburban location, always supposing that ‘payable gold’ is not demonstrated to exist on or below the surface. In such case any fellow-miner may claim to dig thereon, previously compensating the householder, as may be fixed by arbitration, the Commissioner, as usual, being the final arbiter for the affront to his Lares and Penates.

It follows hence that the thrifty miner who possesses the treasure, not less common on Australian goldfields than in other places, of a clearly managing wife, is enabled to surround himself with ordinary rural privileges. A plot of garden ground, well fenced, grows not only vegetables but flowers, which a generation since were only to be found in conservatories. He has a goodly array of laying hens, occasionally evan a well-fed pig. On a rainy day, when the claim is off work, the domestic miner is often seen surrounded by his children, hoeing up his potatoes or cauliflowers, or training the climbing rose which beautifies his rude but by no means despicable dwelling.

Entering such a hut, as it is uniformly, but in no sense of contempt, termed—a hut being simply lower in the scale than a cottage—you will there find nothing to shock the eye or displease the taste. As in a midshipman’s cabin, economy of space may be the rule but untidiness is the exception. Not only is the earthen floor scrupulously swept and perhaps damped with sprinkled water every day, but the space to a considerable distance in the rear of the premises. All scraps and refuse are raked into heaps, and on Saturday, which is invariably a half-holiday and cleaning-up day, carefully burned. The meal to which the married miner sits down at mid-day is generally composed of excellent beef or mutton, roast or boiled, bread of the best wheaten flour, vegetables and tea, à discrétion, always supposing the claim to be ‘in full work.’ At less prosperous seasons, no doubt, there is occasional need for distinct but seldom for distressing retrenchment. Before that stage sets in the married miner generally betakes himself to hired work of some sort, for the neighbouring squatters or farmers, until he ‘gets a show again’ in a mineral point of view.

When the field becomes so worked out that there is no longer hope of employment at his favourite occupation, the domestic miner generally sells his improvements and the good-will of his little holding to a more sanguine or more stationary comrade, and packing wife and children, furniture, pots and pans, shovels and picks, cocks and hens, upon his dray, catches the old horse, and migrates to the next promising ‘rush,’ whether fifty or five hundred miles distant. Arrived there, he selects an unoccupied allotment, and proceeds to levy on the adjacent forest for a fresh dwelling, which in a few days presents in all essential respects a striking resemblance to the home he had just quitted. This done, he attacks the green or gravelly garment which garbs the bosom of the Mighty Mother, with his old patient industry and a courage undaunted by a hundred defeats.

Among this class of miners, constituting a very large proportion of the mining population on every goldfield, it will be seen that the chance of lawless behaviour being supported is slight. Malcontents and criminals doubtless there were in due proportion to the exceptional circumstances which brought together the community, but the police being aided by the whole body of respectable miners, and still more strengthened by the propriety of public feeling, there was little probability of crime rioting and reigning unchecked, as (unless their own chroniclers are marvellously and unnecessarily mendacious) was the case on the American gold and silver fields.

Had such characters as Slade, and others, but presumed to have shown themselves in Yatala for a single day, they would have been hunted down and extirpated, I venture to say, with as little delay and compunction as the tiger which once escaped from a travelling showman in the neighbourhood of Dibblestowe Leys. Not a trace of sympathy would have been shown with their acts and braggart blood-deeds. I can fancy the speechless astonishment mingled with wrath unspeakable, with which Sergeant M‘Mahon would have received the astounding statement that the portly host of the Freemason’s Arms had been shot dead by Ned White or Bill Jinks, across his own bar. Hardly more surprise and incredibility would have been evoked had the news appeared in the Yatala Watchman that the Church of England clergyman, a Cambridge graduate, and a most highly respected personage, had been scalped by Bungarree, the black fellow, an aboriginal chieftain, who (when in liquor) was wont to assert his prior right to the whole goldfield, and his fixed determination to petition Queen Wikitoria for a share of the weekly gold escort.

The carrying of arms, that apparently natural and necessary habit in the United States of America, was here a monopoly enjoyed by the police. Even threatening to shoot was an offence punishable by law. A worthy Downeaster was, for that offence only, promptly apprehended and haled into ‘The Logs’, as the strongly timbered lock-up was usually termed, for merely using the threat of shooting. He was called upon to find sureties to keep the peace in the sum of one hundred pounds, and, to his dismay and mortification, retained a night in duress for the first time in his life, he averred, such sureties not being forthcoming. The Commissioner, with his usual good-nature, sent word to one of his countrymen, who appeared and tendered bail to the amount, so that the free and enlightened citizen was liberated.

The town of Yatala, where the houses, huts, and cottages were so close to one another that every foot of frontage had its value, was composed of two principal and seven or eight cross streets and lesser thoroughfares. The larger shops, especially when lighted up at night, were gorgeous with plate glass, and brilliant in display of all the wares requisite for a mining community. There were haberdashers, grocers, fruiterers, tailors, shoemakers, butchers, bakers, booksellers, not noticeably different in the appearance of the warehouses and wares from their city prototypes. Paint and calico, varnish and gilding, with the glare of well-fed oil lamps, made the outer presentment dazzling to behold. The tourist, walking down the main street at night, in the midst of a surging, stalwart, but most well-behaved crowd, must needs be struck with astonishment at the close resemblance of the mushroom town to the real, legitimate, accredited cities of an older world.

The back premises of these imposing structures would seldom bear close scrutiny, shading off as they did to bark and tin, and sometimes calico continuations. But commodious and weather-proof, they answered fairly well the purposes for which they were intended. The most prosperous establishments were naturally the licensed hotels and public houses. Of these there were a hundred and seventy in all. A very large number, doubtless, but any attempt to limit the licensing produced such a crop of ‘shanties’ or sly-grogshops, that the magistrates granted licenses to nearly every one who chose to apply The license fee, £30, was rather high. But, presumably, a demand for such entertainment existed, or persons would not be found willing to lay out their money on the speculation. Upon these establishments, which are generally suspected in rude communities of being seed-beds of disorder, a strong hand was kept. They were only permitted to have music with dancing at their saloons once a week. This permission was applied for in writing to the Bench, and liable to be promptly withdrawn at any time upon complaint by the police.

Gambling, in an open manner, was sternly repressed. Hotel keepers were fined severely if convicted, and every particeps criminis was similarly dealt with. Mr. Jack Hamlin, in spite of his engaging social qualities and latent nobility of nature, would have had a bad time of it at Yatala. Strictly under the surveillance of the police, Mr. Merlin’s cold gray eye would have been invariably upon him; and it would have been unsafe to have offered long odds that the sergeant did not eventually run him in for contravening some of the statutes which he knew and loved so well.

Although many of the miners could not have been described as religious persons, yet was Yatala, on the whole, a very church-going community. The Protestant denominations were well represented. The Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Wesleyans, and the Congregationalists had all built, without a sixpence of Government aid, very neat and commodious edifices in which service was held, by ordained ministers, twice on each Sunday regularly. Sunday school, visiting societies, and other allied associations were as plentiful and well kept up as in any settled parish. The Roman Catholics had perhaps the most imposing building, except the Wesleyans; but then Cousin Jack Tressider, an opulent Cornish miner, had given eight hundred pounds to the latter, which had enabled them to have stained-glass windows with varnished seats, and divers other decorative distinctions.

I was never done wondering at what struck me first as the chief characteristic of this great army of adventurers suddenly gathered together from all lands and seas—viz. its outward propriety and submission to the law. Closely applicable was the description of the mixed host at the leaguer of Valencia—

‘There were men from wilds where the death wind sweeps.
    There were spears from hills where the lion sleeps.
There were bows from sands where the ostrich runs—
    For the shrill horn of Afric had called her sons
                To the battle of the West.’

And, indeed, swarthy, grizzled Californians, red sashed and high booted, with great felt sombreros that took all kinds of fantastic shapes—jostled stalwart ‘Geordies’ and Cousin Jacks, whose fresh faces told that they had never before left the shores of old England. Frenchmen and Spaniards, Germans and Italians, Hungarians and Poles, Greeks and—Trojans? Well, I may not swear that any unit of that richly variegated crowd had quitted the windy plains of Ilium, or the banks of Simois for Yatala Creek—but if that once famous nationality was unrepresented at the great Yatala rush, it stood alone in disfranchisement.

The compatriots of Achilles and Ajax, though not of Hector and Paris, were sufficiently numerous, proving, as one marked their stately forms, their flashing eyes and chiselled features, that the modern inhabitants of Hellas have not relinquished the birthright of godlike strength and beauty, which witched the world, when ‘the fearless old fashion held sway.’

Yet, though the narrow streets actually trembled under the feet of the surging crowd of grand-looking athletes that thronged the well-lighted thoroughfares, and filled the shops and tavern bars after working hours, there was no lawless act, no wearing of deadly weapons, no foul language, no open drunkenness or offensive parade of immorality; far more decorous of demeanour and easy to thread than the ordinary crowd of a manufacturing town or a metropolis. What was the reason of this strange reserve, this almost unnatural decorum?

It was apparently a triumph of moral control! It was not wholly the spontaneous propriety of a highly intelligent, travelled, experienced community. Human nature, in the mass, though often unduly maligned, scarcely attains such results unaided or unrestrained.

A patent fact was, that the vast crowd was under the sway of a very smart officer of police, who, with two sergeants, a couple of detectives, and about a score of constables of the rank and file, about one man to each thousand, kept the whole of the great band of adventurers in perfect and admirable order.

Such, in other colonies, had not (vide Mick Hord, barkeeper, ex-miner, storekeeper, pugilist, etc.) always been the successful result under such circumstances. ‘Perleece, Mr. Merlin,’ he said one day to that officer, ‘talk about perleece, and call this a “rush.” I’ve known a rush of forty thousand men, and seen ’em kickin’ the perleece from one end of the town to the other.’

‘I was not at the Red Hills, my dear boy, nor Sergeant M‘Mahon either,’ said Mr. Merlin, smiling with that way of his that somehow did not tend to reassure people. ‘I should not advise any one to commence that kind of thing here.’

Whatever the reason, no one did apparently care to take the initiative in any kind of disturbance, though such was often threatened.

The inspector, Mr. Merlin, was always extremely keen at knowing everybody and everything which it concerned him to know very thoroughly. Patient and calculating, too, always averse to use force when diplomacy would suffice. Yet utterly impartial and pitiless in the execution of his duty when need was. He was, therefore, respected by the miners generally, as a man of capacity, liked for his bonhomie, superficial as they knew it to be, and secretly feared by all those who recalled ‘sins unwhipt of justice,’ which were the precise traits of character needed by a man in his position.

Sergeant M‘Mahon, the second in command of this somewhat minute battalion—have I described that good old warrior before?—was a man to whom not less than to Mr. Merlin the peace of the goldfield population was mainly owing. He was truly an astonishing combination of natural sagacity and acquired wisdom, as recognised in the force. Emigrating from county Mayo in his youth, he had passed his earlier manhood and middle age in the ranks of the New South Wales police. To say that he was shrewd, active, rarely at fault, was to give but little estimate of the unerring half-instinctive accuracy with which he pounced upon a criminal, if wanted, like a lurcher upon a leveret. An immensely powerful man, with a fair share of activity, he was invincible at close quarters, armed as he was with the terrors and majesty of the law, which he had, so to speak, incorporated with his own personal presence, until no man could separate them. His air of authority and grave official dignity soared far beyond all vain attempt at description. Kings might be regal of aspect and Emperors unapproachably grand, but the sergeant’s majesty of demeanour was, perhaps, not exceeded by any crowned head in the universe.

A steady reader, he had mastered the intricacies and forms of ordinary police-court law to such an extent that few of the stipendiary magistrates, and none of the unpaid justices, could successfully contravens his legal dicta; while, in the matter of foresight and discretion, he possessed a fund which would have set up an ordinary Lieutenant-Governor, or a couple of chairmen of Quarter Sessions.

The old Adam—not to mention the eager tameless spirit of the Western Celt—occasionally displayed itself, lighting up the dark gray eye, and changing the quiet, unimpassioned tones. But rarely was such a manifestation descried by the laity. Respectful to his superiors, firm yet reasonable with his subordinates, carefully civil or humorously polite to the general population, sudden and startling in any coup d’état the hour for which had arrived, the sergeant was a man whose successful aim in life was to prevent minor revolutions, and who only needed a national one to have become a General of Division.

Like many of the generals of the empire, a slight solecism here and there might be observable in his speech. But the courage, coolness, and organisation were there, and a natural consciousness of power about the man effectually prevented any appearance of incongruity, bordering on ridicule.

Mounted troopers and foot constables composed the contingent. Their duty was to arrest, or cause to be summoned to the police court, all such as betrayed themselves ignorant of the statute law of Great Britain, as adopted in the colonies, by committing breaches thereof.

It might seem futile to punish such offences as ordinary drunkenness or evil speech in the streets of a mining township by fine or imprisonment. Nevertheless the thing was done, and done effectually. Every offence against the law was taken cognisance of instantly, dealt with promptly, and punished sharply. All knew what they had to expect. The administration of justice was entirely impartial, and the law was backed up by the whole force of genuine diggers. They knew full well—being, perhaps, the most intelligent, experienced, and, so to speak, cultured class of ouvriers in the world—that the strong arm of the law would only be weakened to the detriment of the whole society.

As for petty mining thefts, the stealing of small articles of value, of wash-dirt or auriferous drift—these offences were so manifestly contemptible as well as immoral, that the whole field, as one man, worked for the detection and apprehension of the offender, who had no more chance than a lurcher among a pack of hounds. There was no lynching, however,—the invariable result of a weak executive. Once handed over to the ‘secular arm,’ all were assured that justice would be done. Six months’ imprisonment, even in the case of the smallest value stolen, might be taken to be a sufficient deterrent penalty.

It was true enough that the whole population did not consist of industrious, straightforward miners. Every army has its fringe of camp followers, wretches who murder the dying and strip the dead. The great mining army of Yatala was not exempt from this ghoul-like accompaniment. Harpies of every length of beak and talon full surely congregate wherever gold is plentiful on this earth. There it was unearthed daily, to the value of thousands, of tens of thousands of pounds. Gamblers and thieves, men and women of the worst reputation, flock to a new rush. Among these there were men known to have committed one murder—suspected of more. But their persons were known, and their every act and word carefully watched. There was little chance of indiscriminate pillage or death-dealing at Yatala.

The Miner’s Right - Contents    |     Chapter VII

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