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Chapter XI. The Gallop across the Island.

‘I SEE you have no railroads yet,’ observed the captain to his friend Roberts.

‘Alas! we are in such a benighted state in Tasmania as to have none at present, although sworn to have before very long. We dash through the bush on horses, as the wild Indians roll over their rolling prairies with their snorting Mustangs. But I am free to confess privately my own degraded taste for Shank's Poney. I am of so mean and grovelling a nature as to admire the humble pace of a walk. I have, in some places, dropped down lower, and indulged in a crawl and a creep.’

‘And so have I,’ answered the first. ‘In fact, I am making here the discovery of a long lost faculty, the art of walking.’

‘You are not the only Indian fellow who has regained the use of his limbs by coming to Tasmania.’

‘I own my recovered powers. But who can help it here? The landscape is so inviting, and the air is so inspiriting, that one is irresistibly led on for a trial; and then the climate is so mild and bracing, that the sense of fatigue is not so depressing.’

‘You here forget to name the other thing, Douglas. Whether you will or no, if you want to get about this part you must walk and crawl. I would defy any

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circus rider clambering up our rocky steeps, or taking his horse up our forest-matted gullies. No, old fellow, you have to foot it here.’

‘Yes, and my wife, that could hardly walk a few yards in a garden under our Indian sun, with the atmosphere so charged with moisture, can do her three miles at a stretch now.’

‘I can see a wonderful change in your Horace.’

‘You may well say that. The dear lad eats like a real hunter. His love of flower-hunting leads him off into places that test his leg capabilities to the full. His lungs, too, have recovered tone. Besides all this, he has gradually been dropping that cynicism which our young chaps in ultra civilisation think it their duty to assume. He finds less fault, observes more excellence, smiles oftener, and is happier in himself.’

‘I see—he is forgetting himself in thinking of something outside of him. The self-complacent critic of men and manners has that amiable virtue drawn out of him here. First of all, he is put into good humour by a charming country and bright climate. Then, he lacks material for his agreeable criticisms; for artificial, simpering, namby-pamby human nature don't thrive here. When he comes in contact with honest, hearty, healthy subjects of his own sex, and honest, hearty, healthy subjects of the other sort, what is the poor wretch to do? He has to throw away his own artificialities, and laugh like the rest.’

‘Anyhow, Roberts, you enjoy yourself here.’

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‘And mean to, my lad. This brings me to what I was going to ask you to do. I have to go to Launceston on official business, and want you to go with me. You have about got things straight at home, and must humbly crave permission from the governess to have a slant for a few days.’

The arrangement was made. The country gentleman was to sleep in town at his friend's house, as the start had to be made at break of day.

The coach,—one of the old English genuine mail coach species, was being loaded up as the pair gained the office. Four splendid bays, of the true Tasmanian breed of horseflesh, were induced to go into traces. They were got up in a style that reminded the traveller of the glorious days of the road. The ostlers looked at the creatures' coats and harness as a triumph of art in general, and of their own powers in particular.

The coachman was of the real old sort, a solitary specimen of a fast dying out order of creation. He was not a Sam Weller, senior, however. Not that he was absolutely deficient in the swallowing capacity, nor wholly wanting in the wit of the stable; but he lacked a little of the rubicund rotundity of the English type, and had a slang of his own. There was more activity in his movements, and less of the touch-my-hat servility. He did not disdain a glass of something short, but gave the donor to understand that he could treat himself if he liked. While eminently civil, he left not the impression that his jokes and attentions

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were valued at the crown or half-crown, to be duly paid at the resignation of his whip.

Neither could he be mistaken for the Yankee driver on the Victorian side of Bass's Strait. He was not so tall and slim. He did not chew the tobacco, nor was he at all acquainted with the same vocabulary of oaths. He did not sit so lightly, nor handle his ribbons so carelessly. He thrashed his horses more, but shouted at them less. He was certainly not so taciturn, nor did he regard himself as a grade above his passengers. His jokes were broader, and his laugh was louder. But he was not equal in the quality of his wit, nor a match in information and argument. The Yankee, though a younger man, and having already taken part in half-a-dozen trades and professions, was apparently as experienced as himself in horseflesh, and a better driver under difficulties. To extricate a coach out of a bog, to tame half broken-in hacks, to mend a broken shaft or bit of harness, to rush a team through a swollen river, to take them up and down a precipice, and to thread a trackless bush amongst stones, fallen timber, arching boughs, and a wilderness of trees, there was no match to the Yankee in all creation. He is the tallest driver in the universe.

The guard of the Tasmanian mail had his own peculiarities, distinguishing him, also, alike from the English and the American type. He was almost always a Colonial. He could ride fast and safely.

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He could handle the reins as well as the man on the box. He showed a celerity of movement, and becoming dignity. He was aware of the importance of his office, and quietly made others acquainted with it. While not wholly indifferent to bar practice, he drank but little, and was never seen the worse for liquor. If not remarkably obsequious to his passengers, he was careful of the interests of his employers. There was a certain sort of loquacity along with a measure of reticence. He knew more than he chose to tell. While quite at home with colonials of the island, he looked upon Victorians as flash, and English-immigrants as fools.

But the coachman is mounted, the cloths are moved from the restless steeds, the guard gives a merry blast with his horn, and the wheels are soon rattling over an unrivalled macadamized road.

Away the travellers went up Elizabeth Street, over the coal shale rise, passed the Race Course, and rapidly turned the grim features of Mount Wellington behind them. It was such a splendid road, that the coach seemed to be exultant rolling over it. The horses knew it too, and trod safely and pleasantly, little heeding the gentle incline, and gaily footing it down each graceful descent. There were plenty of curves, for Wellington had sent down its rocky roots toward the Derwent, and many a detour was made to round a promontory.

But the first hour was so joyous. The air was so

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crisp, the company so jolly, the pace so rapid, the motion so musical, the horn so lively in waking up echoes, that ten miles ran away as it were no time. Then, when the sun fairly rubbed his eyes to real wakefulness, and laughed upon the stern mountain, winked into private fern tree glens, and brought glad ripples upon the river that ran alongside by the coach, the merriment of the travellers was quite boisterous. Icy natures thawed, that would have remained in their cold crystallization for a century of railway shaking; and jokes were cracked and tales were told on the top, that could never have been heard behind a locomotive, or have been half lost in the booming, gnashing, screeching, grinding, and groaning of the way.

Then three cheers for a coach top on a Tasmanian road!

But the brave bays are fancying that they have had nearly enough of it by the time they reach Bridgewater. Not that they are tired—not they. The coachman and guard would have taken their solemn davey that they were not. Still it was not in human nature to give such fine creatures more to do than a splendid run for fun and exercise.

So these were tenderly extricated from their trappings, and got bright looks from the ladies, with pats and cheery words from the masculines all round.

‘Does any gentleman want any Epsom salts this morning?’ inquires the guard.

‘What makes you ask that?’ said Captain Douglas.

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‘Because there is plenty of it under the Dromedary.’

There stood that fine mountain, overlooking themselves and the Derwent, and presenting, from one point of view, the Dromedary humps.

But now the beautiful district of Bagdad was before them, laden with the perfume of wattles, which grew upon the greenstone and basalt, that had poured forth over a large space near.

‘Why, Roberts!’ cried his fellow traveller, ‘have you got the Caliph of Bagdad here?’

‘Poor fellow! If he be, it is in a very petrified condition. But I must confess our topography is curious. Bridgewater is intelligible enough for a crossing place. But this is Bagdad; the township beyond is Brighton; the river near you is the Jordan; while Jerusalem lies to the eastward, and Abyssinia is not far off.’

‘Well, that is a conglomeration.’

‘Further, let me tell you, Douglas, that though you might often have been told, in your troublesome boyhood, to “go to Jericho,” you will, on this passage, have the bliss of reaching the place.’

It was a journey of pleasure through so smiling a plain of farms and sheep pastures. What a pull that was up Constitution Hill! At the bottom, on the north side, was spread before the passengers the thriving township of Greenponds. But what was of much consequence just then, there was spread ready for them their breakfast, which, after thirty miles coaching, would be welcome enough.

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The substantial and extensive hotel at which they stopped astonished the new arrival. The market near, at Crossmarsh, the thoroughfare to Launceston, the country westward to Bothwell, and the rich farms of the neighbourhood, supplied it with visitors.

The residence of a celebrated colonial patriot was pointed out. The farm was called Mount Vernon, after the estate of the American patriot, Washington. Mr Kemp was engaged, when over forty years of age, in the rebellion against Governor Bligh, at Sydney, in 1807, and lived to have a share in political conflicts in Tasmania, against colonial governors and the Home Office, for nearly fifty years more.

The sheep walks of Lovely Banks formed a pleasing sight. The violence which scooped out the vallies of this Paradise was followed by a pastoral peace, well worthy of the Vale of Tempe itself.

But it is time to mount Spring Hill. Here the mountains closed in and confronted the travellers, giving a world of collar work to the plucky horses. Hell's Gates at the top were passed. Such a tough cutting through the Greenstone Plutonic rock made the convicts give it that name. The presence of patches of this hard deposit on the tops of hills is one of the marvels of Tasmanian geology. Go where you will, the feature is seen. Greenstone caps, as they are called, are of various ages of terrestial history, from coal times to later than chalk or London clay. As they rest there, mounted up above the head of the

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rambler several hundreds of feet, one is reminded of the tertiary limestone caps by the valley of Chamouni.

The peculiar interest of this formation in so unlooked for a position lies in the suggestion that, in ages long gone, some rough forces must have been at work in the vicinity. The deluges must have torn huge passages through the country, digging out the sandstones, limestones, and claystones of the Palæozoic period, after having quarried through a hundred feet or more of basalt and greenstone. High and dry peaks were made and left, showing the remains of their topmost story as isolated caps, though the hissing fiery fluid had once rolled evenly over the country, then the bed of the ocean.

‘Here we are at Jericho, at last,’ shouted Mr Roberts.

‘But where is the Jordan?’ asked his friend.

‘Why, we have a slight change here. Old Jericho was down in the hot valley of the Jordan, you know, and was liable to floods of that historical stream. We, in Tasmania, have shifted our Jericho among the hills. But we have not lost sight of the Jordan. There, three or four miles from you, are the sources of the colonial river.’

‘But what is that lake?’

‘That is Lemon's Lagoon, called after a noted Bushranger; a class of residents once well-spread and popular in the country. A few murders took place here in the long stand-up fight with the Aborigines.

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The reward of merit fell to the lot of the darkies, who received far more bullets than they threw spears.

‘A lively time, I should fancy. It suits my years to live in a screner condition of things.’

‘Yes, you have cast down your warrior shield, and retired to rural peace. But there is Oatlands.’

‘And high enough, in all conscience, for oats. The climate must be pretty sharp there in winter.’

‘It is, being 1300 feet above the sea level. It must have been sharp to poor Mike Howe, another of our unfortunate and duly lamented bushrangers. He had his hut by that swamp over there, and his solitude was partly consoled by ‘Black Mary.’ Mike Howe's Marsh was subsequently given to Mr Anstey, the father of the English politician of that name, and the best magisterial hunter of blacks and bushrangers of the aboriginal past.’

St Peter's Pass was now threaded. The bold acclivities, its strategic points, struck the old soldier, who thought that, with a company of his old regiment, he could here withstand a moderate army.

Antill Ponds came next, and the Tunbridge Township on the Blackman river was reached. The Salt Pan Plains extended eastward. The ponds, or pans, once gave the settlers a relish to their mutton. A little rise, Don's Battery, was the stronghold of a fellow surrounded by Blacks, who managed to hold his own against a host of spearmen.

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‘But whose is that magnificent house there?’ inquired the Indian officer.

‘That is Mona Vale estate, belonging to the Kermodes,—and a palace fit for a king. I guess, though, a king would hardly like to be pitched so far from civilization. It is a long way hence to balls and routs of town delight.’

‘Well, Roberts, it is my opinion that the man who has cash enough to set up such a pile as that, would have done more sensibly building elsewhere. But every one to his taste.’

‘What a mercy it is, then, that you and I are removed from the horrors of wealth, and the perplexities of knowing where to build our new barns!’

Ross and its fine bridge next appeared. The mountains of primitive rocks had receded, and the basaltic plains were once more to be seen. Whenever the volcanic formation came, farms and rich grass came with it. The banks of the Macquarie river were early settled from this geological cause.

It was a noble agricultural country for a dozen miles or more, this platform of the igneous rock. The real capital of the farming district is Campbell Town, on the Elizabeth, eighty miles from Hobart Town, and forty odd from Launceston. The building freestone of the hills about is of great service to the inhabitants. It will make a good grindstone. Miller's Bluff, the extremity of the Western Tiers, looks down upon the smiling corn fields of the plains, while an

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equally rugged range lies to the eastward, by the Township.

The driver then turned off from the direct northerly course, to avoid the hills, and entered Epping Forest, a heartless region of poor trees, thick scrub, and coarse gravel. But what a road the gravel makes,—so smooth and level! The stage between Cleveland and Snake Banks may be done at nearly twenty miles an hour.

The old coachman was proud of relating his deeds.

“Do you see this road?’ said he to the two gentlemen. ‘Well, it's a long while ago, but I run it to please a gentleman from India.’ Says he, ‘you talk too fast of what your horses can do in Van Diemen's land.’ ‘Not I,’ says I. ‘I don't swallow all you fellows say,’ says he. That put up my monkey. I was just a-going on for the seven mile stage,—short and sweet, you know. I knew what I had in hand, a pair of the nicest little dears that ever a man handled. ‘Just look at your watch, Sir,’ says I. Then I shook my ribbands, and shouted, ‘Off you go, my darlings!’ And didn't they go! Well, when I pulled up, and not a whip touch they had, I asked my box mate the time. How he stared! ‘Seven miles in eighteen minutes! It is wonderful!' Well, he was very civil after that to me. But I must give the end of the yarn. When he was coming back to Hobart Town, after a week or so, he gave me a gold watch, with my name and all

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about my driving done inside, and said not all the world outside could have done that run.”

The South Esk river came in sight. Here was another farming district. It stretched over the Longford Plains to the west, right under Dry's Bluff, and a long way to the eastward as well. But this time it was not the greenstone or basalt. It was a tertiary deposit of siliccous breccia, sand and marl, of which Cressy and Perth were the centres, so to speak. It extended right on to Launceston.

Now for some time the travellers had been delighted with the grand spectacle of Ben Lomond range. This vast pile has burst upwards with a solemn grandeur. It towers above five thousand feet, and shows off in the distance to great advantage. The top is greenstone, though the framework is Palæozoic rock of all sorts. The floor is granite, which has intruded also through the slates. The last great upheaval has mounted a portion of the carboniferous beds thousands of feet up one side of the range.

Behind Ben Lomond is the interesting coal district of the east. The mineral is a bright bituminous substance, though its deposits have been terribly shaken about by subsequent eruptions. The gold fields of Fingal extend southward of the range in question. The whole of the country of this coal and gold is at once picturesque, fertile, healthy and charming; but it is so shut in by wild and precipitous hills as to be nearly unapproachable. The produce of the

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fields and formations cannot be brought to market but at considerable cost. The want of a harbour on the coast side is another serious drawback to this delightful locality.

Perth has considerable pretensions, and boasts its stores, its churches, its schools, its temperance society, and other civilizing agencies. A capital bridge is thrown over the South Esk. Paterson's Plains, to the right, were named after Colonel Paterson, the early commandant of Port Dalrymple, now the town of Launceston.

The Cocked Hat Hill, so called from the shape, is as much the resort for Irish as Ross and Campbeltown are for Scotch settlers. The elements of progress are seen to most advantage among the sons of Scotia.

Launceston, over one hundred and twenty miles from Hobart Town, is its commercial rival, and the northern capital. It is seated on and around the beautiful Windmill Hill, at the junction of the North Esk and South Esk. The united waters run on thence, as the Tamar, to Bass's Strait.

Both these rivers are fed by the Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis ranges; but while the first glides peacefully into the harbour of Launceston on the eastern side, the more bold and rapid South Esk makes a sudden detour, and plunges down a basaltic cataract with noise and fury to the town at its western point.

A walk to these cataracts is the favourite one with the Launcestonians. While twitted with the swamp

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in front of their houses, though now drained and utilized, they point to the romantic crags of the cataract hills, and ask the southern tourist if he can show at Hobart Town so fine an Arthur's Seat, as grand a fall. It was by a shute, led along the rocky side, that the town was supplied with water from above the cataract, as the Tamar by the wharf is flavoured with ocean salt.