― 13 ―

Chapter III. Why Seek a Colonial Home.

THERE was a farm to let next to that where our Indian friends were living. Report came that a new arrival from England had been to look at it. A few days more passed, and then report came that the new arrival had taken the farm.

‘Who is he?’ ‘What is he?’ ‘Where does he come from?’ ‘What does he intend to do?’ ‘Is he agreeable?’ ‘Has he a family?’ ‘Are they agreeable?’ These were some of the interrogatives thrown into the ears of Captain Douglas as he came in from town.

There was no long trial of patience. The full intelligence arrived soon. Captain Douglas, who already felt himself quite colonial, was resolved not to follow English fashion, and give the neighbour a month to get straight before a call. On the contrary, he walked across on the very day when the goods were going in, and offered his neighbourly service. He was sure the good folks had no chance of preparing a meal, and his wife had sent him over to say they must all come to dinner.

The Englishman stared a little at this unceremonious visit, and his wife blushed at being caught in a comparative deshabille; yet the offer was made so frankly and kindly, that they could not but accept it,

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and went, accordingly. This was not all. Other little services were rendered, and due counsel was tendered, as the privilege of an older resident. The locality was described, the soil was criticised, and some improvements were suggested. The lady got many domestic hints from Mrs. Douglas, especially in relation to her children, for she had a full half dozen of all sorts, and of ages from two years to fourteen.

It was natural that the two families should be brought into contact. An increased acquaintance increased mutual confidence, and established a sincere friendship.

One evening, after a dish of tea together, Captain Douglas ventured to say how pleased he was to have such pleasant neighbours as Mr. and Mrs. Latham. They warmly expressed the reciprocity of feeling on their part; the gentleman adding,

‘The question of society was the only thing that troubled us when resolving to come here. Everything else about Tasmania was so attractive, but we sighed at the thought that we might have improper associations for our children. We knew it had been a convict colony, and must contain much of the old character of population.’

‘But still you will admit,’ observed Captain Douglas, ‘that Rome with as bad a beginning had a far more honest and noble character than could ever be boasted by Greece.’

‘True, sir; but the conversion took time.’

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‘That may be. But this country had some advantages. It was planted by British convicts, certainly. Yet these ever formed but a part of the population. The leaven of free immigration was perceptible soon after 1820. This new blood did not consist of the sweepings of workhouses, too commonly constituting the free emigration to portions of Australia; but it was of men of some capital, or educated in a profession. They had no assisted passage, though at one time favoured with grants of land, that they might relieve Government from the rations of men in their absorption as servants.’

‘Thanks for that intimation. Such a lesson was not without its influence; particularly, Captain Douglas, when so many retired officers made this their home, and when so large a proportion of free arrivals were from your northern land of the Mountain and the Flood.’

‘Your compliments to my nation and profession, Mr Latham, are gratefully appreciated. But I would have you take a less gloomy estimate of the convict population.’

‘O, I am sure the children of transported men here are in their general deportment, and their freedom from the gross vices of civilization, an ornament to society. I honour their progress, and respect their worth. My wife and I are very favourably impressed with the young people of the so-called lower classes.’

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‘Still, I would like you to take a charitable view of their parents.’

‘In what way?’ inquired Mr Latham.

‘By remembering that England fifty years ago was a very different place to what it now is, that her laws were then brutal if not unjust, and that many were sent out here for trivial offences, if not for political acts which were rebellion then, though now called patriotic.’

‘I understand you, sir.’

Captain Douglas resumed. ‘My own experience of life in India, and elsewhere, has taught me that men are to be judged not merely by what they are, but by the circumstances which have made them such. In coming to what had been so long a convict colony, I was prepared to see queer physiognomies, and hear of coarse crimes. But I was sure that many a wild fellow, and many an untutored one, by a change of scene, and with opportunities here afforded to make a good living and earn a good name, would reform. My observation has confirmed this impression.’

‘Yet you must admit, sir, that the moral agencies producing the present social order here, and social virtues, too, have been wisely directed.’

‘They have, indeed. I do not believe any country in the world can exhibit more remarkable evidences of moral action. The agents of this good may have been few, but their influence was extraordinary. The leaven was little, but powerful in its working.’

‘And few,’ added the English settler, ‘can feel

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more grateful than I do for their philanthropy and public spirit. My children have the moral atmosphere purified for them by the labours of those worthy men and women.’

The conversation then drifted into the reasons for the removal of the Latham family. The story was thus told:—

‘I was the younger son of a so-called independent gentleman, the reputed owner of many broad acres. Fairly educated in one of the public schools, and intended for some profession, I was, like other young fellows similarly situated, in no hurry to drop my gun and fishing-line, and was never urged by my father to prepare for the future.’

‘One of the great curses of England,’ interrupted the Captain.

‘And I found it so,’ rejoined Mr Latham. ‘Well, just as it became necessary to commence a profession, if intended at all, my father died. His affairs revealed a sad confusion. My brother succeeded to the encumbered estate, and I found myself possessor of a small farm. Distaste for town life, and an age too advanced for specific studies, induced me to take the farm in hand for my living. A farmer needs a wife. The most sensible and satisfactory thing I ever did was the choice of one.’

‘A very loyal speech of your husband's,’ observed Mrs Douglas, with a smile, to her lady friend.

Mr Latham continued:—

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‘The wife and I jogged along very comfortably for some years, and saw one little one after another take a seat at our dinner-table. My farm was small, my capital was small, my profits were small. In Great Britain, as you may have heard, Mr Douglas, small farms are being swallowed up by great capitalists. My few acres were bid for by my richer neighbour. I should have held on had not a severe attack of illness laid me aside for months. This, unfortunately, induced a sort of partial paralysis. It was then I had to look round at my growing family.’

‘Indeed it was, John,’ sighed his wife. ‘Six children in England, and that in our position, became a source of anxiety.’

‘And that increased by the difficulty of keeping up appearances,’ said Mrs Douglas.

‘That was the real trouble. Food for our children we might get, but society for them in our altered circumstances was quite out of the question. A mother grieves to feel that her children are slighted by those not so well brought up as themselves.’

‘Yet that was not the worst, my dear,’ interposed her husband. ‘What puzzled us was this. I was not fit to continue the farm, through failing health. When selling the farm, what was to be done with the capital? The interest would keep us, but would not do more. How were the boys to be put out? They could not farm, having no capital. They could not enter professions, as I had little to spare them till

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they got a footing, which might be years and years. They could not hope for much in competitive trade without means. Then the wife often cried at the thought of their being snubbed by their more fortunate relations. It was the daily burden of her life, too, whatever could become of her girls. An alliance suitable to the dignity of our family connexion was not within our dreams.’

‘I declare,’ ejaculated Captain Douglas, ‘you have drawn a picture. And yet I am told it is often to be now seen in Old England.’

‘It is sadly too common. The mischief is, that the rise of manufacturers, and the general increase of wealth, have so developed the necessity of luxuries, and so excited the craving to be as good as one's neighbours, that living is enormously growing in expenses there, and shutting off the chances of saving for a rainy day.’

‘Then these things caused you to think of the colonies,’ the Captain observed.

‘Undoubtedly. I knew there must be elbow-room for the young folks there, and less scope for the triumphs of Mrs Grundy. I knew labour was honourable as well as remunerative there. In Great Britain my lads would lose social position by work; in the colonies they will not be less esteemed for it. Then, though I could not hope to do much myself on a bit of land, I could guide the boys at it.’

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‘Your capital, also, could be better invested, Mr Latham.’

‘I have found that out already. As the lads want education at present, I have put out my cash at interest. This little place suits my old country tastes, and the wife is happier with cows and fowls about her.’

‘That is my case, too,’ said Mrs Douglas. ‘I am not only healthier but happier. I don't know what I should do now, if I had not my dairy, garden, and poultry-yard to amuse me.’

‘Aye, and to pay the expenses of a family as well,’ added Mrs Latham, ‘besides giving us a famous table. Then, in this delightful climate, with lots of fruit and good things, the dear children do so enjoy themselves. I can never be thankful enough for the exchange.’

‘But you pouted a little about coming, my dear,’ the husband said, with a laugh.

‘I own I did not like parting with the old places and with old friends. I was frightened at the voyage, and I wondered what sort of society we might have there.’

‘Perfectly natural,’ cried Mrs Douglas emphatically. ‘These husbands of ours cannot comprehend women's fears, which are reasonable enough, as we know. And yet a mother is willing to encounter anything for her children, or a wife for her husband.’

Both husbands knew this to be a profound truth. If they said nothing they thought the more, it may be hoped.

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‘I suppose you are pretty well satisfied with your location at this distance from Hobart Town?’ asked the Captain.

‘It suits me admirably. The wife can get in to her shopping, the little ones can run about in a semibarbarous condition, the elder boy can ride to school on his pony, the girls can have a few lessons from a lady near, and I can learn the news by an easy trot.’

‘Then you don't regret not going upon a farm in the interior?’

‘By no means. It would have given me unnecessary anxiety and outlay, and deprived my family of educational advantages. I am quite satisfied with going on slowly, and enjoying life.’

‘Yes,’ Mrs Douglas said, ‘we, too, find the distance from town all that we could desire. There are a few nice neighbours, and we can always add to our society by a trip to the capital, or by having our friends down here. As to Sunday, it is a great satisfaction that the younger branches are not deprived of religious teaching, and that we elder ones can have a church so convenient to us. We Presbyterians have a very comfortable place of worship near, while you Episcopalians have the same advantages for yourselves. I certainly was not prepared to find so great an advance in this, the best part of civilisation.’

The other mother professed herself equally pleased.

‘I ought to be satisfied myself,’ observed Mr Latham, ‘for my health has undergone a wonderful

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improvement. That voyage was a capital start for it, and the residence here has advanced it. I have employment enough for exercise and pleasure, without any burden. Then this glorious climate suits my nervous state to admiration.’

‘Ah! my dear,’ remarked his partner, ‘there is another important reason for better nervous health. You have not the worry you had in England about keeping up appearances, and as to what would become of the children when you were gone.’

‘Rightly placed to the credit side, my thoughtful wife. A man can't help being better when he loses his morbid cares. It is something, also, to feel that our children, as they grow up here, will be less liable to those dreadful nervous evils which are now the curse of many an English household.’

‘Bravo for ourselves!’ sung out the Captain merrily. ‘Anyhow we are rowing in the same boat, my friend.’

‘Yes, and that puts me in mind of asking how many of you are going out with some of us boating this afternoon.’

‘Bravo! again, for ourselves. This is the place for boating. All of us will launch upon the deep with you.’