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Chapter IV. The Boating Excursion.

THE party gathered. Each family owned a boat, and each boat had now its merry group.

What a glorious scene for a sail or row! Such a landscape of wood and farms, of hill and dale! Then, as to the water,—it was just the very thing. The river Derwent was no narrow Cam, no tortuous mud-flat Thames. There was a splendid expanse, and deep water. One could row from bay to bay of charming pic-nic suggestions, or let out the flowing sheet before the breeze. There was no danger of getting foul of a steamer or a barge, no dread of a stick in the mud, no call for frequent tacking.

‘This is just the very thing for old folks,’ said the captain, as he lounged backwards in the boat, now slipping through the water. Then, turning to his son, who was that moment fancying it the very thing for young folks, he said,

‘When I was a youngster like you, Horace, I used to have a sail on the Scottish lakes, and thought it mighty fine too. But I had many a drenching and chill that took off the keen edge of the enjoyment.’

‘Yes, pa, I fancy I should prefer the Derwent, having a wholesome dread of coughs and colds after my taste of a British climate. Here, as I float along under this bright blue sky, with old Wellington and


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the Dromedary looking down upon the river, I am half disposed to believe myself the dreaming Shelley luxuriating in a boat on the romantic lake Leman.’

The jolly youngsters in the other craft were shouting and coo-eying to their heart's content. As the wind slackened, the sails were lowered, and the oars were plied. Again and again the two companies drew near for a chat, and a lazy drift with the stream. A song was struck up, with a merry chorus at the end.

But the young folks were impatient to begin their fishing. All the apparatus had been thoughtfully stowed away before starting.

‘Who will catch the first fish?’ was the challenge.

A little lassie had the honour of drawing up the first. It was a Flathead, and properly so called. Sweet enough, it was rather slighted because it was common, and on account of its bones, which were awkwardly distributed for the eater.

‘Just the thing,’ cried out her brother Bob. ‘Hand it over, Bessy, we want it for bait.”

In vain did the girl assert her right to possession; public necessity must rule over private rights. Besides, it was the regular thing to cut up the first fish for bait. Then, everyone knows that sisters must yield to their impetuous brothers; theologians assert that it is one of the consequences of the Fall. Bessy with a sigh resigned the Flathead.

A regular run of good luck set in for the Latham fishers, and a corresponding ill turn for their friends.


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There were a dozen Flatheads, and quite as many Rockcods. The latter, not bigger than their mates, being less than a foot long, were thought much nicer. Their flesh was firmer, and the bones were more complacent. If larger specimens of the finny tribe were wanted, the fishermen had to go to the mouth of the river or down the channel.

The colonial waters are rich in fish. Names have been imported, but are absurdly applied. The cod is not a cod, nor the salmon a salmon. The latter is about the size of a mackarel, but is of better flavour. The perch and bream are first-rate. The latter broad-backed fellow is ever welcome. Mullets are not to be despised any more than the flounders. The mullets are plentiful enough in the rocky rivers, and have the reputation of rising to the fly as easily as trout in the old country. The period of perfect taste is in the summer, from spring October to autumn March. The sweet little black fish may be caught in the small creeks of the interior. Lakes and larger streams furnish magnificent eels. As to oysters and crawfish, they are excellent in quality, and ready to hand.

There is no want of foes, besides man. The shark is busy enough in the seas around the Island, and will venture up the Derwent itself. Sailors love to catch a shark, and fishermen have an especial down upon the fellow. Now, in the South seas, the creature was worshipped as a god, because in his benevolent voracity he drove the timid fish in-shore, and gave a


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haul to native catchers. A singular specimen of the family, though not so much to be dreaded, is gathered in Tasmanian bays. It has the form of the shark, though only two or three feet in length. The jaws are not on a corresponding scale of development, and its teeth are not prehensile, as in the mouth of its rapacious relative. On the north side of the Equator the Chimera, as it is called by naturalists, is recognised as the king of the herrings. The colour of the Derwenter is of ever-changing splendour. Underneath it is of a bright silver, and elsewhere of a golden hue. On the front of the head there is a bright black spot, of a metallic lustre. The upper surface generally has this dark lustre. The iris is brown, and the pupil orange. A raised line runs from head to tail. The fins are large for its length, and the pectorals particularly so. The abdominal fin is roundish and not extensive. Behind the caudal fin it possesses the shark's fin on a cartilaginous piece. There is a curious vascular structure of fine network, between the posterior rays of the dorsal fin and the spinal column, which is the air bladder of the creature; other fish rise and fall by the action of the air bladder within the body. This machine is worked by the fin, which rises to allow the expansion of the gas, when the body of the chimera becomes lighter to rise.

The fish has every opportunity to make its way in the world. Its particular delicacy lies with the testaceous mollusca. These require to be cracked; and


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the operation is capitally managed by the crushing order of teeth. Two huge ones are fixed in the under jaw, and the upper is paved with four others. The gullet is wide and short, so that there is an easy and rapid passage of the food into the stomach, to the great convenience of the fish, which thus extracts the needful nourishment at once, without the formality of detention in an alimentary canal. The spinal column is of one entire piece of tough and elastic cartilage. As the chimera has a particular delight in rapidity of motion, the flexibility of its tail is a decided convenience.

The Tasmanian Barber is one of the Serrani, and has its relations living in the warm equatorial waters of the West Indies, being all alike destitute of elongated dorsal rays. The colour is reddish brown. A bright blue stripe runs round the eye, and along the side toward the tail. There are at least a dozen blue streaks on the lower part of the flanks and tail. The island salmon is a Centropristis. The apparatus which protects its gills, and which rests on four bones, has a covering of five rows of large scales.

The Gurnards come out strongly in the bays. Their square heads are covered with body plates, and their bodies are covered with small, rough, prickly scales. Some have these scales studded with minute spiny points. The sides of the head are finely granulated. One of these Tasmanian Gurnards has been also picked up near the Cape of Good Hope,


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and must have been a distinguished voyager. The Colonial Perch is a Gurnard, and has a bright silver colour, with dark spots. Another has, like the species in the northern hemisphere, eye-like marks on thin, large pectoral fins, somewhat similar to the ornaments on the wings of insects. One at Port Arthur has not only stiletto-shaped spines on its head, but a noble projection of one of these formidable horns on its snout.

There are plenty of odd-looking fish by Tasmania, worthy of being called devil fish, or any other ugly name. There is one peacefully subsisting upon seaweed. As this substance requires plenty of mastication, the teeth stand in eight or nine crowded ranks in the upper jaw, and in five or six in the lower. The teeth in the interior rows have the same shape as the outer guardians of the jaws, but are much smaller. The Hippocampus, or Sea Horse, from the shape of its head, is a curious creature, a few inches in length.

Some singular forms of the Saw fish are now and then found in the Derwent. There is one five feet long, with strong, pointed spines each side of the snout, while under these is a series of minute, and, perhaps, partially developed spines, of a flexible character. From the outer side of the snout there spring out two fleshy, pliant, and curly appendages, four inches long, like the two cords of the Sturgeon. The flesh is like that of the Dog-fish.

The colonial fishery is distinguished by possessing the representative of the oldest, if not the most respectable


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and admired, family of fishes now to be found in the world. It is of the Shark tribe, though of very moderate length, and is identical in structure with the most ancient fossil specimens of the order, and long believed to be quite extinct.

The bold fishermen of Tasmania pursue the ponderous Black Whale, and steal along the rocky shore to catch the soft-coated Seal.

Man is not the only fisher. The sea-birds are wonderfully numerous around the coast, especially on the rocky islets. The Mutton birds, of the petrel sort, fly in such clouds as really to darken the heavens. Young Tasmanian lads are not too proud to cat the flesh of the young birds, though rather fishy and oleaginous in flavour. When first caught, the small ones may be made to discharge a large quantity of oil. The feathers make good beds when well cleansed and dried. Some land birds, as the King-fisher, the merry Laughing Jackass, have a beakfitted for the grasp of the finny rambler in the streams.

The Penguin is a Tasmanian fisher, though chiefly feeding on crustacea. The feet are far back, and of little use for waddling. When ashore, gazing unmeaningly at the outer world, the Penguins can be readily knocked down, like nine-pins, by a stick. Their wings are very small, and of no practical advantage for flying. Having a sort of scaly fur over them, instead of feathers, they occupy an intermediate position between bird and beast. If to be


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called feathers at all, these are rigid and short enough. The bird lays its eggs in the sand. In the water, its real home, it paddles away with ease and comfort. The Jackass Penguin has a note not remarkably unlike the abused but useful quadruped.

Juveniles in the Southern Colonies have one source of amusement in watching the Water Flea.

This crustaceous animal is so nearly transparent that the heart can be distinctly seen beating, in spite of the shell-like armour. The two jointed antennæ are branched. The five pairs of branchiopods, by which it moves and breathes, appear to contract as the heart does. The eye is compound, as in spiders, there being a centre, with gems all round it. Such is the translucency, that the antennæ of the young, which are born viviparous, can be seen to move in the maternal home. The Water Flea is a splendid leaper, springing upon its tail after the lobster fashion. The creature thus dancing on the sands of the river side is no bigger than a good-sized dot.

The Tasmanian angler has the advantage of a larger share of fine weather than his brother sportsman can boast of in Britain. He is subject to less annoyance from competing crowds, and especially happy in being under no terrors of trespass. Private preserves of fisheries have not became an institution in Australia and Tasmania. It is true, that of late years the several legislatures have passed ordinances to restrain the foolish greed of some sportsmen, who do


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not know, or will not observe, the habits of animals as to the period of reproduction.

But the disciple of the venerated Isaac Walton has a quiet felicity in his favourite pursuit, when beside the laughing waters of a rocky streamlet in Tasmania, with the arching fronds of the fern tree shading him from the sun, and the rich, mellowing sound of the bell bird reaching his ear. If favoured with suitable human company, even if it be of the other sex, a chat or read together, or, perchance, a part song, will relieve the tedium of otherwise solitary hours, and beguile the weariness of a walk homeward through the bush.

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