SO this was Melbourne! At least the nearest that the Red Jacket could get to it, on account of certain natural obstacles. But it lay only seven miles off, that is by the river, of which they could trace the windings through high walls of the thick-growing, but slender ti-tree (melaleuca). Anchored now in a broad bay, a low sandy shore on the eastern side, on the west a green level promontory, with a few huts and cottages sprinkled over it, falling back to far-stretching plains, with a volcanic peak in the foreground and a mountain range in the hazy distance.
Without much delay comes a roomy lighter alongside the Red Jacket, in which the passengers mostly elect to embark.
Their luggage, an avalanche of bags, bundles, trunks, and boxes, is shot on deck. A puffing, vicious-looking tug, with the air of ‘a guinea a minute for my time,’ drags them off, through the shoals of the Yarra, and so bustles forward till that grand and wonderful structure, the Melbourne wharf, a rudely planked platform fringing an illimitable ocean of black mud into which the river flat, guiltless of macadam, has been churned. Here their goods and chattels are unceremoniously transferred to the unsheltered wharf. It had been raining. The passengers, surrounded by draymen, hotel and lodging-house keepers, look blankly at each other. A few of the women begin to cry. Thus for them, as for all the Red Jacket’s passengers, save the favoured few of the saloon, the hard schooling of colonial experience commences. If quarrels arise and animosities are generated on board ship, so also do friendships, true and permanent, spring up. Trevanion had made acquaintance with a young couple from the border of his own county. The man was a sturdy fellow, half miner, half farm-labourer, whom the hope of bettering his condition had tempted to the desperate step, as it appeared to all his neighbours, of emigration. His wife was a fresh-coloured, innocent, country villager, their one child, an engaging little button of three years old, one of the pets of the ship. The two men had arranged to go up to the diggings together, and Trevanion decided that in some respects he could not have a better mate. ‘Gwenny here can cook and wash for us, and if we get a share of the gold and Tottie doesn’t fall into one of their deep holes as they tell us about, we shall do main likely, Mr. Trevanion.’ So it was settled, Mrs. Polwarth was a little nervous about travelling through the ‘bush’ and living at a ‘digging,’ but where her man went, she, as an Englishwoman and wife, was bound to go too. ‘“For better, for worse,” pa’son he says, and I reckon, lad, I’ll stick to thee as long as we’ve bread to eat or a shed to cover us.’ Such was her simple creed.
‘It strikes me,’ said Trevanion, after the first few minutes of blank astonishment, in which the country-bred couple, and even he himself gazed around at the strange crowd and unfamiliar surroundings, ‘that we’d better hail one of these drays and get our luggage taken up to a lodging-house, till we can look around. The weather is rather cold to my fancy for camping out, though it is Australia. We mustn’t get laid up with chills, and fever, and ague, as that American warned us, to start with. So Jack, you take care of the boxes and the family—I’ll soon manage a conveyance.’
After a short but spirited engagement with a drayman, who seemed an educated person, to Lance’s astonishment, he compounded for a payment of two guineas, for which moderate sum the owner of this expensive equipage—worth a hundred and fifty pounds at ruling prices—covenanted to land them all in safety at a decent lodging-house.
‘You are in luck,’ said the drayman, as they were walking back to the wharf, ‘to find a place to put your head in to-night, I can tell you. Lots of your fellow-passengers will have to camp out under any shelter they can extemporise. But I happen to hear the people I am taking you to say they had one bedroom and a small attic to let, the occupants having started for Ballarat this morning.’
‘And how is it you are not there with all the rest of the world, if it’s as rich as they say it is?’
‘They can’t exaggerate the richness of it. I know so much of my own knowledge, but I happened to buy this old nag and the dray, which brings me in about a thousand a year at present. I’m not an avaricious man, so I’m waiting on here till I feel in the humour to tackle digging in earnest.’
By this time the wharf was reached, and the dray being loaded with their boxes and bundles, Mrs. Polwarth placed comfortably in the centre, the men walked beside the driver. Two long and very broad streets were traversed before they arrived at a neat weather-board cottage with dormer windows and an upper floor. The proprietor, a bronzed colonist, received them cheerfully, and immediately set to work to take in their luggage.
‘Mother,’ he said to a cheery, brisk little woman who now came up to the garden gate, ‘you take in this young lady and little gal, and make ’em comfortable. Mr. Waters says as they’ve just come out in the Red Jacket. They’ll be all the readier for their tea, I’ll be bound. We’ll see to all the boxes and things.’
‘Mr. Waters, you’ll just have time to do up the old horse afore the tea-bell rings. I wouldn’t let them beef-steaks get cold, if I was you.’
As they sat smoking over a snug fire in the kitchen, after a well-cooked and sufficing meal, Lance and his ‘mate’ came fully to the conclusion that they had been in luck in falling across their friend the drayman, and being guided to such good quarters. Here they were comfortably lodged at a reasonable charge, and, moreover, had the advice of two experienced and well-disposed men as to their future plans and prospects.
‘Yes. After stopping a week in Melbourne, I should certainly make tracks for Ballarat, if I were in your place,’ said Mr. Waters the drayman. ‘You’ve come all this way to dig. Jack has a wife and a child to work for, and the sooner you set about it the better.’
‘But what is the best way to get there? ‘asked Lance. ‘The road is bad, and it’s a long way there. We can’t carry our boxes. It’s too expensive to go by coach. I don’t see my way.’
‘What Mr. Waters says is God’s truth,’ chimed in their host. ‘You can’t do nothing but spend money, and waste your time here, unless you was in a way of business, which ain’t likely. Your only dart is to buy a staunch horse with a tip-cart, and put a tent atop of your luggage. Take tea, and sugar, and flour with you, a little bacon and so on. Then you camp every night. It costs you little or nothing, and you’re as jolly as sand boys.’
‘And how about finding the road, Mister? ‘asked Jack, looking rather anxious. ‘It’s many a long mile, and mostly through the woods, as I’m warned. We might lose our way.’
‘A blind man could find the road night or day,’ said Waters, with a laugh. ‘It’s a mile wide, and there’s a string of carts and drays, men, women, and children, going along it, like a travelling fair. Night and day you can hear the bells on the horses and bullocks a couple of miles off.’
‘Won’t the turn-out cost heaps of money?’ asked Lance, thinking of the price of Mr. Waters’s horse and dray.
‘Not above seventy or eighty pounds altogether, and you can sell them for the same or more money when you get to the diggings. We’ll try and find you a decent turn-out with a canvas tilt to keep the rain off Mrs. Polwarth and Tottie. My friend Burnett knows half the miners that come here from Ballarat, and they often have a cheap lot, horse and cart, and a good many useful things given in, which they are in a hurry to sell before they leave for England.’
‘That will suit us down to the ground, eh, Jack, and then—this day week—hey for Ballarat and a golden hole.’
For the next week Trevanion devoted himself to exploring Melbourne, and seeing as much as he could of the strange world to which he had voyaged on the other side of the globe. It was to his British and comparatively untravelled idea a state of society utterly foreign and at variance with all his preconceived ideas.
In the first place there were no poor people, no beggars, no evidence anywhere to be seen that anybody lacked money, food, clothes, or amusement. It was distinctly Utopian in the evidences of material prosperity, which everywhere abounded. The diggings both at Ballarat and Bendigo (as Sandhurst was then called) had been sufficiently long established to have furnished a class of lucky diggers who dominated the urban population, and gave a tone of universal opulence to the community.
With all this, though men were plentiful who had made their ten or twenty thousand pounds each in a few weeks, there was but little disorder, and no lawlessness observable. A goodnatured extravagance, a defiant recklessness of expenditure were the leading characteristics of the mining aristocracy.
It was true that their wives sported expensive silk dresses, gold chains, and diamond earrings; that they entertained one another as agreeable chance acquaintances regale at the Criterion—a hostelry built in the most expensive period of skilled labour, every brick used in which was reported to have cost half-a-crown. The theatres and concert-halls were crowded every night with a fairly appreciative and orderly audience. The theatrical and musical talent was exceptionally good at that time. For the news of the abounding gold of Ballarat travelled far and fast, and, where the auriferous lure is waved, have ever been wont to gather the mimes and the sweet singers of the world’s best quality.
It was literally, and in many respects a revival of the golden age, a truly Arcadian time. A truce seemed to have been proclaimed to the world’s sad-faced task-workers, to the slavery of desk and plough and loom. Save the exciting labour of the mine—when, perhaps, each stroke of the pick brought down stone heavy with the precious metal, or dislodged ingots and gold dust—work was there none. So, at last, a strong, light boxcart, with a staunch and active draught horse, having been purchased at a reasonable price,—their new-found friend arranged that part of the business,—a start was made one fine morning for Ballarat—the El Dorado of the South. All their worldly goods were packed safely and snugly. There was a canvas tilt, under which Mrs. Polwarth and Tottie would be sheltered from sun and storm, and could sleep at night. There was a small tent in which the men could dispose themselves. The bay horse, led by Jack, stepped off cheerfully and briskly, and then, with the blessings, metaphorically speaking, of their landlord and Mr. Waters, the little expedition set forth. The latter gentleman accompanied them for a short distance, until fairly past the outskirts of the town, and on the broad highway marked by a thousand wheels which led to Ballarat. He volunteered a modicum of advice, limited in quantity, but valuable.
‘There’s plenty of gold there, never fear, and new finds every day. You may go home with a fortune next year, and in the Red Jacket too, if she keeps lucky and don’t get run down. You and that “Cousin Jack” are both workers, I can see it in all your ways. Stick together, you can trust each other, and don’t make more friends than you can help. You’ll find men by the score there that would cut your throat for a ten-pound note, and chuck Mrs. Polwarth and Tottie down a shaft for the same price. Keep a good look-out at night. Don’t drink or play cards with strangers. If you fall across a streak of luck, follow it up to the end, but don’t keep gold in your tent. If you don’t hit it just at first, persevere all the same. It’s bound to come. And now I’ll say good-bye, and good fortune to you. Look up Burnett when you come back; if I’m not with him, he’ll know my address.’
So their friend—a good and true one in every sense—shook hands with Jack and his wife, kissed Tottie, with whom he left a large parcel of sugar-plums, and departed. It was strange that he and the boarding-house keeper should have taken such a fancy to the party; but such was the fact, and in new countries and wild places outside the pale of ordinary society, sudden and chance-made friendships spring up and blossom into full fruition much more frequently than people in old countries would believe. They had nothing to gain from these emigrants. They only accepted the bare amount due for services rendered. They prevented them from being over-reached in the purchase of that vitally necessary equipment in gold-field days—the horse and cart. They saw, too, that unlike the hero in that exciting Anglo Colonial romance ‘It’s Never too late to Mend,’ they were put in possession of a horse that would pull down hill as well as up. In fact they acted with simple good faith, generosity, and gratuitous courtesy, all through.
This was not the conduct to be expected from perfect strangers in a ‘lawless community’ like Melbourne, vide the fiction of the day. But it happened to be true nevertheless.