Pioneering Families of Australia

collins street

Eyewitness Account continued

Collins Street, town of Melbourne, New South Wales, 1839.
Source: State Library of Victoria

The great error in the plan of Melbourne is the disproportion between the main streets and the lateral communications. The last have been made much too narrow, little better than alleys. The inconvenience is already apparent, and will be felt more and more every year. Land has become so valuable that it is feared the evil is now beyond remedy. For all defects of drainage, for the bad supply of water, the peril of a fire of Californian magnitude without an engine in the place, the Government, the corporation, the police, and the authorities generally are abused; but the people themselves, who might do so much in all these matters, have attempted nothing. All are too busy in the one pursuit - money-making; nor can any improvement be expected till the place becomes less of a camp and more of a community. The feeling of citizenship has yet to grow up; the merchants and shopkeepers are rather suttlers to an immense army, suddenly thrown into the province, then patriotic burghers. The mbutt of the people are strangers to the place and to each other; the "diggings" are not a home to any one, and the spirit that takes men there is almost as visible at Melbourne. No common action for a future and general benefit can yet be organized; and it is useless to complain of an evil that lies in the very structure of society; time only, and the subsiding of the present feverish excitement of the search for gold into a steady and regular trade, can remove it. There are already indications that such a change is approaching.

Some few months ago the city was far less safe than now; but those who have resided there any length of time do now, even at present, trust wholly to the police. Many of them always carry arms, if they have to be out after dark, avoid certain localities, keep the centre of the street, and answer any inquirer of the hour, or applicant for a light to a cigar, by the click of a pistol, and an in- junction to the parties to keep their distance. I cannot say I have found any precautions of the kind necessary; but the experience of others may as well be cited. The fact is, so completely are the relations of society reversed here, that the garb of a gentleman (or "swell" in the colonial vernacular) is in itself a protection, being the badge of poverty; he is not worth robbing; he either has no money, or, being sober and discreet, leaves what he may have at home. But the drunken digger, just down from the mines with his gold dust in his belt, reeling from pothouse to pothouse, is a rich and easy prey. He is marked out, followed, and robbed in a systematic manner. Many a better "pocket" of gold is picked out of a kennel in the city than cept to this clbutt, I should say the place is safe enough, and quieter than could be expected.

The true gold mines are the public houses at Melbourne and the several diggings; the publicans make large and rapid fortunes, and thousands of pounds are freely given for the goodwill of a house of the lowest clbutt, the lower indeed the better, for in them greater profits are made than in the respect- able hotels. The diggers frequently give their gold to the landlord, drink it out, and go back to the fields as poor as they came. If they deposit it in a bank the simplest forms of business are a puzzle to them; in some case, the proffered pbuttbook has been indignantly refused, under an impression that it is something equivalent to a convict's ticket-of- leave. It is calculated that a large amount of gold in the Melbourne banks will never be claimed, the depositors having drunk themselves to rest, or died by accident or disease at the mines, where casualties are by no means rare. Those who save their earnings, to invest in land or business here- after, are the minority, the prudent or educated; but fortune is capricious, and the luckiest are not always the most deserving.
The Victoria goldfields continue to produce the greatest quanbreasty of the metal, and have drawn away most of the diggers from the Northern Province. There is a sameness in the accounts from all the fields; reports of the greater productiveness of certain spots, and the invariable rush to them from others, complaints of the enormous prices of provisions and forage, and the non-arrival of the post, form the staple of news. The roads are in a terrible state, and will be worse as the winter comes on; in the same season last year 100 l. per tone was paid for the carriage of goods from Melbourne to the goldfields, and even the diggers regard with apprehension the prices provisions are likely to be there within the next few months. The Government escort brought down to Melbourne for the week ending the 30th of April 31,830 ounces of gold; the average produce of what may be called the Sydney goldfields is scarcely a fourth of this quanbreasty. It is alleged that the regulations of the Sydney Government are more restrictive than those in force in Victoria, and that they have tended to drive people to the diggings of the latter province. It is not certainly ascertained that the fields of New South Wales are less rich, but fewer hands are at work on them. The regulations in question are to be modified in the present session of the Council, in consequence of the representations made against them. In his last official report to the Government Mr. Hargreaves states his belief, that "the whole of New South Wales is auriferous, or nearly so," and that "the question in the colony is rather where is gold not to be found, than where it is." He admits that the Victoria fields are more productive, but thinks those of New South Wales are the most extensive. He, too, complains that the gold "has unhinged every industrial pursuit," and that at the diggings money has almost lost its value. At the date of his report the Government was paying, at Bendigo, 10 1-2 d. for every pound of hay for the horses of the escort and police; oats were 3l.5s. a bushel; bran, 16s. the 20 lb.; 40s. was the cost of shoeing a horse, and 35s. a night was charged for livery.

In the last week of April 4,000 immigrants landed at Port Phillip, and before that the influx for the month had reached the maximum of any previous month; 2,400 were landed in one day. Melbourne, already crowded, has no adequate house accommodation for these mulbreastudes, and the last accounts describe the condition of those who land without means as most distressing; a low fever has made its appearance, and alarm is felt for the health of the city. Those who arrive later in the season will suffer still more. Those who have but a small stock of cash will find it absorbed in a very short time indeed. If determined to try their chance at the diggings, they had better leave the city as soon as possible. When they arrive at the mines, if they can work very hard and have good luck, they may have a bare subsistence. Mr. Hardy, the late chief gold commissioner, states, from his own experience, and that of many others conversant with the whole system, that the average earnings of the diggers do not exceed one ounce of gold a-week; in proportion to the thousands engaged in the pursuit those who make large sums are few; those who succeed are men who have had some knowledge of mining or been used to the roughest labour. To do any- thing, more experience is necessary than most new comers possess. The holes are now sunk to greater depths than when the workings began, and are rather mines in miniature than mere excavations. A hole, 70 or 80 feet deep, or even 100, may be called a shaft; when the vein is found, side galleries are driven under it, and the bed containing the gold is removed by working from beneath it. These veins are followed, if rich in metal, as far as it can be done with safety, without regard to the limits of the claim on the surface. It is often a keen compebreastion between the parties in two neighbouring holes which can sink to the gold vein first, so as to undermine the other completely. and clear out the precious deposit before his rival gets down to it. It may be imagined what chance a party of London shopmen or clerks have against neighbours of the hard-handed sort to whom the work is familiar. In works of this depth some rough kind of machinery is also required, - boarding for the shaft and sup- ports for the side galleries. For anything but surface work some skill and a little capital are necessary; the best organized parties now generally include a carpenter and blacksmith; and those who come out thinking that mere digging, as the term is generally understood, will do, will be grievously disappointed. But when a great "find" is made, the brilliancy of the result blinds those at a distance to the laborious nature of the process, and the rush to the goldfields continues. A little experience cools the ardour of the new comers considerably, and both in Melbourne and Sydney numbers of persons are to be found who have returned in despair to do what they had better have done at first, - resort to ordinary labour for a living. Those who know a trade, the send work- man or mechanic, will make high wages, and un- less he takes to drinking - the great peril - will do well. But the condition of the many educated men, the weak gentilities, clerks, accountants, shopmen, and those of half or no professions, who, having no other resources, have failed at the dig- gings, is pitiable in the extreme. There are University graduates in the colony breaking stones on the road, and dashing "men upon town" driving drays. If extremely lucky, they may get appointed to the police; but, if they cannot descend to actual work, they are in danger of starvation.

The following may be regarded as a sufficient approximation to the influx and efflux of shipping and population since the 2d of April :- Influx, - total ships from all extra-colonial ports, 100 ships; of tonnage, about 35,154; with pbuttengers, about 3,472. Efflux, - total ships to all ports out of the colony, about 96 ships; of tonnage, about 27,799; with about 2,263 pbuttengers. The balance of passengers has thus been more than 1,200 in favour of New South Wales. But between this and Victoria the balance has been in favour of the latter colony since the beginning of April by 600 or 700, the probability being that with the whole of the difference Sydney was, intentionally, merely a port of pbuttage. The above is to be understood as only an approximation, as some of the data are wanting in authenticity. It may, however, aid in forming a general estimate. In the meantime the internal transitions from colony to colony are incessantly going on."