A Sydney-Side Saxon

Chapter IV

At Sea for the First Time

Rolf Boldrewood

ONCE we were fair on board ship it wasn’t so bad. All the journey to Liverpool passed like a dream, and the crowd of people, the sailors, the ships, and the bustle of boats, and friends, and idlers, at starting, was enough to put quiet people like us, that had never seen the sea before, off our heads. But Jane said ‘plenty of other people have had to do the same. We must keep a stout heart, and trust in God. I suppose we’re made of the same flesh and blood. All we have to do is to wait and look about us quietly; we shall soon find out more about things.’

She was right. Generally she was, I found. After the first few rough jumbled-up days everything went smooth enough. Then we saw what a wonderfully made, well-managed piece of machinery a good vessel is. We made friends with some of the officers and crew. There was nothing to do, but Jane—she’d brought a small box of books—insisted upon my doing the same as she did, which was to keep up our schooling, and read, and practise a bit like, every day.

‘Depend upon it, Jesse,’ she said, ‘it will be a long time before we have another three months like this, with nothing to do, plenty to eat and drink, and everything provided for us.’

I’d got a way of always doing what she told me, so I kept level with her, and we got through a deal of reading and such like. Some of the young ’uns asked me if we were going to keep school when we got out to Sydney.

I said perhaps we might. There was no knowing what emigrants have to take to.

We practised ourselves with geography as much as anything. I was always fond of maps, after a fashion, and once got a prize for drawing them neatly. So I kept the ship’s course marked upon a chart every day, and copied out the boundaries of the different colonies. After a while I knew the ins and outs of them by heart. We read through a lot of the little books which are written for emigrants, and found a deal of useful knowledge in them—I mean, that came in useful afterwards.

Jane was that steady and solid in all her ways that she began to be taken notice of as a well-conducted, good young woman on board. One day she was asked by the doctor if she would help the matron and be her assistant, as some of the girls and younger women gave them a good deal of trouble. Jane agreed, more in the hope of doing good than anything else, and was quite surprised at being told that she would get five pounds for her services as soon as she landed. We thought it quite a large sum, and Jane expected to do wonders with it.

We had a good passage luckily, and next to no illness or disease on board. Everything went well, and as we had both been working pretty hard and regular all our lives, we enjoyed the rest and the feeling of having nothing to do when we woke in the morning—more than we could say in poor old Applegate.

Of course we hadn’t things all made a’purpose for us. Some of the men were fools enough to gamble, especially the young ones, and so lose money that they couldn’t well spare.

Amongst the girls and women some were fond of gossip, and listened to foolish stories from the sailors about Australia—things which we were quite sure were not true. Out there they believed there was no differences of rank—that they would be quite on a level with their masters and mistresses, and with everybody else. That there would be such a rush to bid for their services that good servants might ask any wages—two or three pounds a week if they liked. Also, that all the good-looking ones could be married to rich squatters directly they landed. That the work was light, and often as not halfdone, with a lot of other rubbish which made the inexperienced girls fancy they were going out to be treated like ladies, and that household service was done away with in the new country.

Jane and I agreed that all this seemed very unlikely. Mr. Buffray was very simple and straightforward in his ways, and would speak to anybody, but there was a something about him that prevented people from being too familiar, and none of his servants or the village people had any encouragement to put themselves on an equality with him any more than with any other strange gentleman that came there to hunt, though everybody knew he was old Stephen Buffray’s son.

I asked him once whether people worked as hard in Australia as they do in England.

He considered for a bit, and then said, ‘I should say that they worked harder, for this reason, they’re paid higher wages and better fed. Masters try to do with as few working men as possible, and expect them to keep up good pace all the time. Here they’re badly paid, badly kept, often not up to a hard day’s work at the long hours they keep, on which account there’s a good deal of what we call in the colonies “Government stroke.” The farmers and gentry here are obliged to put up with it, as they don’t send the labourers out of the parish. With us, if a man’s not up to the mark, he’s “sacked.” There’s no parish settlement, and nobody knows or cares where he goes.’

‘And the women?’

‘Well, there’s no field-work. But in the house one servant does the work of two—sometimes, indeed, more. I think the Australian girls—when they’re good, mind you—are quicker, smarter servants than yours, and put more heart into their work.’

‘And there are masters and servants, and gentlemen and ladies, and rich people and poor people, just as there are in England?’ I asked.

‘Very nearly the same. The only difference is that men get more quickly rich, and sometimes more quickly poor, than at home. But, make no mistake, Jesse, people have to work and save in Australia, just as they have everywhere else, if they want to get on in the world. If they only want to live, perhaps it’s easier there for the present.’

So we were not likely to believe these silly romancings, and warned the others not to mind them. But they would not listen to us. It would be, ‘Mr. Jackson, the quarter-master says, that there was a girl came out last voyage but one in his ship that married a merchant within a month, and drove down in her own carriage to hire a servant the next ship that came in.’

‘It may be true, but is far from likely,’ we told her. ‘You had better turn over in your own mind whether you would like to take a housemaid’s or a laundress’s place, which will be more to the purpose.’

But they couldn’t help taking the brighter side, so poor silly things they dressed themselves in their most fashionable clothes when the ship was passed by the health officer, and went ashore with great expectations of offers of marriage and a life of ease.

As for Jane and me, we kept out best clothes in our boxes—not that we had many, and made ourselves so as to be ready for a journey, never doubting but that we should not be long in town. Before we landed we had time to look at Sydney Harbour, of which we’d heard such a lot from the sailors and some of the passengers that had been out before, and, my word! it was worth coming a long way to see.

I’m not much of a man for minding about scenery and all that. I’ve had my work to do, and other things to think about all my life. I daresay there’s something in it, but it wasn’t in my line, nor Jane’s either much, but we couldn’t help wondering at what a beautiful place it was.

We had come in a little after sunrise, and it was a bright clear day with scarce a ripple on the sea. It was the month of May, a winter month like November, but Lord! what a difference there was. The air was mild; the whole way from the Heads to the wharf—where we lay close to and could have touched, only they kept the ship out a bit, not to let people on board—was like a lake. On the shore, and on the heights above the dozens of little bays, nice gardens and white-walled houses and beautiful pine trees looked like gentlemen’s parks and shrubberies in England. The sun seemed brighter, and the sky bluer, and the very sea-water clearer than on the other side of the world. Ships and steamers, yachts and pleasure boats, filled the harbour.

‘Oh! what a lovely land!’ said Jane, ‘it’s like a place in a story-book; I feel sure we shall have good fortune here, if we deserve it.’

So we said good-bye to the captain and the doctor, and the officers, who all wished us luck, and said we’d be sure to get on. We were quite fond of the old ship that had carried us so safe; and Jane got her five pounds, and so we went off in good spirits to the Immigration Barracks.

Here we were all called by name, and had to answer to them before the Immigration Agent, who was very kind. Then the matron, a nice motherly woman, told all the single girls to go into one large room; the single men and boys into another; the married people into another. The public weren’t allowed in till a certain hour, to prevent bustle and confusion. We were asked if we had friends expecting us. Of course we answered with the others. So Jane and I, and those that said their friends were to meet them, were put into a smaller room near the big outer gate.

Then a bell rang, and the friends were let in. How some of the immigrants looked and looked, as if they would know those they hadn’t seen for years—some they’d never seen! Some found their friends at once, and went away with them joyfully. Others waited and waited, but no friends came. They looked very miserable, and more than one poor girl began to cry when the hours passed and no one came.

We weren’t likely to do that. I had Mr. Buffray’s letter and the address of his agent in my pocket, so I knew I could find him, and knew how to get on; but I thought we would wait till dinner-time, anyhow.

About twelve o’clock, the big clock was just striking when a busy-looking man bustled into the Immigration Barracks where we were waiting. He looked sharply round. ‘Any one of the name of Jesse Claythorpe here?’ he said, ‘#8216+;also Jane Claythorpe.’

I walked forward. ‘We have been waiting for you, sir,’ I said. ‘Mr. Buffray told us that he would write to a friend to meet us.

He looked keenly at me, up and down, for a minute before he answered. ‘Yes, yes! should have been here before, but went out of town last night. Vessel not expected in before this evening. And this is your sister! Had a pleasant voyage? Think you shall like the country?’

‘I can’t say yet, sir,’ she answered. ‘I’ve not seen anything but the harbour, which is wonderful.’

‘Right to be cautious, quite right,’ said the gentleman. ‘Now I’m to send both of you to Mr. Buffray’s place up the country, a long way off. Think you’ll like that, eh?’

‘We’re used to the country, sir,’ I said. ‘I know Mr. Buffray pretty well. I was in his hunting stable at Applegate. When shall we have to start?’

‘Hunting stable, eh? Buffray’s doing it grand in England, I expect. Wool going down, too; but that’s not my business. Well, say to-morrow morning. Must have a day to look round, eh?’

‘We shall be quite ready, sir,’ said Jane. ‘One day will do for sight-seeing. How do we go? Is it very far?’

‘Only about two hundred and fifty miles.’ (Here Jane couldn’t help giving a start.)

I said, ‘That’s a long way, sir. I suppose it’s a little wild or so. But, anyhow, if it’s good enough for Mr. Buffray and his wife and children, it’s good enough for us, isn’t it, Jane?’

‘Of course,’ she said. ‘I was very foolish to think of the distance. But it seemed such a way off to English people. How do we travel?’

‘You’re a sensible girl,’ he says, ‘and you’ll find it all right when you get there. Well, I’ll send a cab for you and your boxes at six this evening to bring you to my house, where you’ll stay to-night. To-morrow morning at seven o’clock the train starts. It takes you most of the way. The rest you do by coach. I’ll arrange tickets, and all that. Now, good-bye till I see you again. My name’s Nicholls, Albert Street, Redfern. Here’s my card. Look at that if you’re lost.’

We felt quite cheered up and confident after seeing Mr. Nicholls, I remember. We ate our dinner in the big room with the others, and had a talk about those that had gone and those that had stayed. There was some fun, too, about the girls that wouldn’t take good offers at first, and wanted higher wages, or places as companions, or nursery governesses. People laughed at them, and passed on. Most of the best situations in the fine houses and gentlefolks’ places were filled up at once, and at last these silly girls had to take what they could get, and be content with lower wages and less comfortable places. But they all agreed it was a wonderful town for servants, and that what would be high wages at home was thought nothing of here. Very few questions were asked either as to whether they were good at this or that work. The great thing was whether they were willing, and would promise to do their best. This showed how scarce servants must have been compared to England.

After dinner we took a walk round the beautiful park, the Botanical Garden as they called it, which Jane said made her think of the Garden of Eden in the Bible. After that we walked down the main streets, George Street and Pitt Street, and looked at the shops and went into the fruit market, where we were surprised to see apples and pears, with oranges, bananas, pine-apples, and other strange fruits in piles and cartloads.

The shops, Jane said, must be nearly as fine as those in London—the drapers, and jewellers, and hardware very particularly. Then about four in the afternoon the street began to fill with carriages, with fine ladies, and coachmen, and footmen, going into the shops and walking about on the pavements just the same as at home. Some of the horses were grand, high-conditioned, and well turned-out. No wonder Mr. Buffray had learned to ride in a country so full of fine horses.

‘Why, Jane,’ I said, ‘this is England over again, isn’t it? though this is a different town from poor old Applegate or Westerham either. But look at the cabs, the omnibuses, the carts, the trollies—everything, talk and all, just like what we’ve left. Why do people make such a fuss about coming to a country like this?’

‘Because they don’t know any better,’ she said. ‘Oh! Jesse, think of what it might have been for father and poor mother if they’d had the luck to come here like Stephen Buffray?’

‘Or plenty of other people,’ I said. ‘But we can’t help it, Jane. We have got here ourselves, that’s something. But I’d live on bread and water for years to come if it would only put mother alongside of us in this beautiful bright country.’

‘I thought there were no beggars here,’ said Jane, wiping the tears out of her eyes; ‘but there’s one with a card round his neck, blind, poor fellow.’ So she dropped a penny into his plate among the silver that was there.

It made a great noise, and the beggar thought it was a half-crown or a florin, as he took it up and began, ‘Lord bless and keep ye, my pretty miss.’ He could tell it was a woman’s foot and voice. It’s wonderful how sharp blind people get. For the same reason he knew by the touch of the coin that it was a penny. His face changed, and he stopped in the middle of his blessing, and growled out something that sounded just the opposite.

‘There’s an Australian beggar for you,’ I said, laughing at Jane’s look of surprise and pain. ‘He doesn’t care for coppers. Look at the sixpences and threepenny bits in his plate. There’s a shilling, too. No wonder he thinks your penny spoils the look of it all.’

‘He’s an ungrateful old wretch,’ said Jane. She hated waste and extravagance, did sister Jane. ‘He deserves to want if anybody ever does in this rich place.’

Rich! well, it looked so to us. All the people—though, of course, there were rich and poor, as you might say—were well-dressed, happy, and prosperous looking. The horses were all well fed and with shining coats. You saw no people with patched clothes, and the look that poverty and uncertainty about to-morrow’s bread writes in large hand on people’s faces. No; every one seemed happy and contented. Even the blind man had a clean shirt, a warm coat, and new boots. No wonder he couldn’t afford to be civil for a penny.

A Sydney-Side Saxon - Contents    |     Chapter V - Mr. J. Roper, of Yugildah

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