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Chapter VII. The Regatta.

REGATTA day is the very carnival of Hobart Town. It is anticipated by young folks months beforehand. Every girl must have some extra bit of finery by that day, and every lad of the place is either hard at his oar, or a hard student in general naval affairs.

And yet it is not a carnival after the Italian type. The fun does not consist in the throwing of bonbons, or the scattering of lime-powder. The sport is not in a street race of horses, cruelly barbed to make them run. It is a Saturnalia without its vices. It is not a Cashmere Feast of Roses, in which woman is the toy or slave. It has not the solemn grandeur of the Doge's annual wedding of the Adriatic, when all eyes are fixed upon the gilded Gondola and the richly robed president of the awful Ten.

Fun there is, but that in which children and old men take their share. It is, nevertheless, a Feast of Roses, for flowers at the beginning of gay December are in their height of glory. The June of England is far less brilliant than the Tasmanian December. Gardens are crowded with floral favourites, and the bush is a very carpet of flowers. It is no street festival, for the town is emptied of people. All are thronging to the adjoining public pleasure-ground, the undulating and verdant Government domain. There is room, and


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to spare; for lots of couples find ample opportunities to stray beneath the shade of the forest, or wander along the shore, without fear of eavesdroppers.

Tasman's discovery of the island, in 1642, is kept in the memory of the juveniles by this festive occasion. The Dutchman, as he listened to the strange coo-ee of the sable tribes, and as he looked upon the strange Flora of the new lands, little thought that hearty lads and bonnie lassies of his own colour would laugh in those bright glades, and sing songs in honour of his enterprise.

And what sport was so suitable for the sons of Britons as that upon the main Britannia rules so long! What more agreeable to the ghost of the worthy Dutch navigator than deeds of oar and sail!

All the Douglas family were there. The day was as bright as a first of June in the old country. The sun came forth as if personally interested in the affair. How determined every one seemed to be as gay as Nature herself on the occasion! What a day of days it was to the dear children! They verily believed the regatta was instituted wholly on their account. How they did laugh and chatter! And how those merry cicadæ in the trees trumpetted their very loudest from their insect instruments! The wind neither sighed nor blustered, but danced along with a lively briskness, as if it quite understood it had its work to do, and that thousands of bright eyes were looking for its performances upon the spreading sails.




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The new arrivals were charmed with everything. It was the very place for a boat race. There was plenty of room at the Cove. The River Derwent was three miles across. Tacking room could be had, and yet the crafts keep in sight all the way. Sailing was not without its danger there, as sudden gusts rush down the mountain gullies, and sweep across the waters, with a violence that calls for skill and courage.

But what a panorama! To the right was the picturesquely situated Hobart Town. Before one was the broad stream, bounded by farms, by pastures, by woods. Bays stretched hither and thither, as if nestling under romantic cliffs, or seeking the reflected beauty of the shore. Mountains reared near and afar, the circumscribing ornaments of the landscape. But high above all mounted the head of Wellington, the colossal genius of the place, calmly regarding the sports of that day as it had beheld unmoved the evershifting scenes of rolling centuries.’

‘The band—the band!’ shout the boys, who dart through the trees to greet the military music.

‘Ain't they going to start yet?’ asks an impatient little fellow.

But though all came on purpose to see the regatta, there were numbers so happily engaged that time did not hang heavily for them. There were swings in the trees, balls on the green, gambols up in the foliage, fruit and provender in exposed baskets, and tricks and fun everywhere, for children. The old folks were


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seated more tranquilly on the grass, chatting about the times when they were young, and feeling nothing like so old that day. Married pairs had all the responsibility of heaps of tarts, of sandwiches, of oranges, &c., &c., together with the pleasing worry of their little ones.

There was another class not less happy. They were not so flurried as the responsible parties, not so excited as the noisy youngsters, and not so placid as the old folks from home. But they were busy in their way, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. A considerable portion had paired themselves off, even though grouped together. Amusements were more agreeable for the particular presence of the particular other one by the side. There were some young fellows who herded together, as if disdaining to be ‘always with those girls.’ And there were sundry parties of merry lassies playing apart, though casting quizzing, if not longing, glances at the wandering and really discontented young fellows.

‘Well, my dear,’ said Mrs Douglas, ‘I am delighted to see so many happy people here. And how nicely they are dressed!’

‘Yes,’ rejoined the husband, ‘and how well behaved! I am sure no holiday in Great Britain could be kept like this. No rude pushing, no coarse swearing, no vulgar drinking, as in the old country.’

Just then their friend, Mr Roberts, walked up, and shouted forth,

‘What do you think of us convicts of Van Diemen's


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Land now, old fellow? Are we not a pretty set of blackguards?’ At this he laughed out right heartily.

‘Indeed, Roberts, I was remarking to my wife that the old country couldn't match them in manners. I am as surprised at the turn-out of pretty faces as she is at the pretty dresses. The children swarm out like rabbits, and are the very pictures of healthy good humour.’

‘Then, if ever you should write to the “Times,” as every respectable old gentleman threatens to do every day, don't forget to give us a character. I'll be bound some of your Indian friends sighed over your sacrifice of good taste in going to a land ‘where every man is vile.’

‘Ha! ha!’ laughed out the Captain. ‘I was assured that there was a satisfactory reason why the animal called the Devil should be found only in Tasmania.’

‘But did you know,’ put in the friend, ‘that this fellow never shows his ugly face in the day, and will never look at anything but a sheep or rat at night?’

All were ready at last. The several races were set forth in the programme of the occasion. Of course there was a Publicans' Purse for one prize. There were others given by the officers, the governor, the people. There were crafts of this tonnage and that. There were boats of four oars and six oars.

What a roar of voices rose as the cannon boomed for the start! How the youngsters left off their individual


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sports for the great sight, the old folks dropped the yarning, the responsibles forgot their cares, and sweethearts turned from sparkling eyes to sunlit waters!

How intently the vast throng watched for the strengthening of the wind as crowded canvas yearned for its salute! How sympathy was felt for the cutter that dropped astern! And how eager were the hopes that their own peculiar favourite might win!

The rowing was the most exciting part of the whole. The boats were not frail canoes, or dandy river wherries. They were substantial whale-boats, made for use, and fitted for rough seas and rough work. Head and stern alike, they went either way with equal ease. They were heavy to pull along, and the oarsmen had their muscles well tried.

Excitement grew apace after the passing of the buoy with its floating flag. Round the boats came, and new energy sprang them forward homeward. The rowers strained for the goal. They saw not the crowd, they heard not the shouts, for sight and hearing were unheeded then. They knew nothing, they felt nothing, but the oars they pulled. Spectators all cheered, and cheered all. Arms were spasmodically moving, and chests were heaving, in sympathy with the rowers. Women waved handkerchiefs, gasped hysterically, wept unconsciously, laughed wildly, and screamed they knew not what. But higher rose the shouts, and more excited grew the crowd, as the winning post was neared, till, in a perfect hurricane of sounds from


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throats, from horns, from guns, the victory was gained.

Then was the press. Every one wanted to see the happy winners of the race. All longed to grasp the hand of brother, friend, or neighbour in the proudly exulting company. A joyous ring saluted them, and, hoisted on sturdy shoulders, they were borne in triumph to the prize-giver.

Thus the day passed on in a succession of excitements, varied by seasons of repose and hearty feeding. The youngsters ate every available chance, ate anything, and ate to any extent. How the dear, good housewife provider did delight in the rapid disappearance of glorious piles of viands! How she did enjoy the praises so gratefully and boisterously bestowed upon her bountiful supply, her capital pastry, her inimitable cheese-cakes! Many declared they never had such a pic-nic in their lives.

Then, while the contented matron was collecting scattered fragments of the feasts, counting forks and spoons, or calmly reflecting upon kitchen triumphs, the younger members were all abroad. Impromptu dances were got up. Any fiddle would do for the occasion, so long as it kept the toes in time. And pretty nearly any step would do, judging sometimes by the desperate plunges, the laughable collisions, the merry disorder, apparent in the maze. But no one was fastidious, and a jest was ready for each misadventure.




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Cricket, foot-ball, swing, hunt the slipper, touchwood, skipping-rope, hoop trundling, were all in vigorous exercise. Games of forfeits were being cried amidst mingled feelings of satisfied pleasure, anticipated pleasure, and postponed pleasure, as well as pleasure at the pleasure of others. But the time-honoured, never-to-be-forgotten, and ever-to-be-admired “Kiss in the Ring” was begun the first, and maintained without weariness or lack of interest. There was always somebody to be caught, somebody wanting to be caught, somebody to be caught again, and somebody wanting to be caught again. There was such a vehement denunciation against being caught, and yet such a resigned martyrdom when the hour of capture arrived.

There was no manna to be got under the trees then. The early comers had collected the sweet morsels as they dropped from the branches pierced by the busy, noisy beetles. The honey soon crystallized as white sugar plums upon the grass. But no sooner had the sun risen high enough to look under the bushes of the government domain than the honey evaporated.

But if no manna, there was the sweet cherry of the native cherry tree, or Exocarpus. Although it carried its stone outside, although it was only like a currant, and although but a wild fruit after all, it was none the less eagerly clambered after by boys, and swallowed by the girls.

There were groups of poor and home neglected


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children there. But these had been cared for by loving-hearted ones. Abundance of food had been provided for them, and bright glances of love from the donors had sweetened the gift. And if a song were required from them it was one they liked to sing themselves, and one that had been taught by their Sunday-school friends.

There were speeches delivered under the shades of gum trees by stout-hearted temperance men. Not that much drunkenness could be seen even on that idle day for idlers. But this very absence of reelers was justly attributed to the efforts of temperance advocates upon other than regatta days. Cordial was the invitation then given to meet in the Temperance Hall that evening to the tea festival, which was to close the day's festivities.

There were devotional meetings in the domain At any rate there were groups of men and women singing the hymns of praise, when their hearts were rejoicing in the God who spreads abroad his gifts.

They who strayed a little further had a peep at the grand Government House in the Domain. That a colony, boasting of a population only one-thirtieth part that of London, should erect so noble a palace for the residence of a governor, may be taken as an evidence of its wealth and loyalty, or of its folly and toadyism, according to the sentiments of the beholder.

As the Indian visitors expressed their surprise at such an outlay, their friend enlightened them a little.




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“This,” said he, “was erected as a monument of the past. We were wonderful people once, as this relic will prove. We had a dim vision at that time that Tasmania would draw gold enough from Victoria to pave the streets of Launceston and Hobart Town. We were, in short, disgustingly rich. As we have now grown modest by a fall of prices there is a little shame felt by some of us. But as a trophy of loyalty, there is nothing like it perhaps south of the Line.”

Wandering down by the water, they came to Carnelian Beach and amused themselves with gathering the pretty pebbles.

Here they entered the Hobart Town Government Gardens. The landscape-gardening was mainly effected by dame nature herself, but no pains have been spared to make this one of the most attractive retreats in the southern hemisphere.

The botanist here finds representations of not less than two hundred and thirty natural orders. The fruits are nobly set forth. Of apples, the glory of Tasmania, there are more than two hundred varieties; and of pears just one half that number. In vines they could not expect to be so rich as their neighbours on the sunnier side of the strait.

As to flowers, the delightful climate furnishes any amount of gems. Its garden boasts of two hundred and fifty sorts of roses, and eighty of fushcias.

The Royal Society of the island has exchanged plants and seeds with all the world besides, and so


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obtained a selection of no small educational profit to the young gum-suckers of the place. The latter may study the Flora of the neighbouring colonies without the trouble of a voyage. They will see, also, corresponding forms to those in their own forests; as the clematis from Australia, Japan, Spain, North America and New Zealand. Not less than fifty varieties of the Acacia are assembled there from the Australian settlements.

As the Douglas family returned from this pleasant trip they, one and all, declared that a jollier day they never spent than the Hobart Town regatta-day.

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