previous
next

Chapter V. A Good Climate.

A FAVOURITE walk with the two old Indian friends was up Davey Street, and by the Soldiers' Barracks, to Battery Point.

‘Not much of fighting display,’ remarked the Captain, after his inspection of the Battery.

‘That may be; though to hear some of our young volunteers, one might imagine that the invader of colonial hearths would meet with a terrific reception. If none but the brave deserve the fair, there ought to be plenty of warriors amongst us, for there are lots of pretty girls to fight for.’




  ― 32 ―

‘This is not a good harbour for defence, Roberts.’

‘You are right. I do not fancy these guns will ever be used but for salutes. It is a long way for a European enemy to send a fleet: what ships they have would surely be wanted nearer home for the worrying by British bull-dogs.’

‘Then you have no fear of an attack?’

‘Not I. They might get a good stock of apples by landing. But should any foes reach the shore, and go fruit gathering, their digestion would suffer; for no better hiding places for bush fighting can be had than about Hobart Town, and our youngsters could handle a gun well in the forest.’

The Captain got quite excited at this idea, and felt how glad he would be to head a troop of bush lads on such an occasion.

‘Come, come, Captain Douglas,’ exclaimed his companion, ‘those fierce looks of your's are unbecoming a retired gentleman. It is necessary to give you more Christian sentiments; so let us turn into the cemetery hard by.’

The position of this city of the dead was well chosen. Formerly, though near the sea, it was far out of the town. Now it is being rapidly enclosed by houses. The view from the ground is much admired. As a cemetery, it has not the attractions of a Pere la chaise, nor the dinginess of a London burial-ground. The paths are neatly laid out, and a good number of trees and flowers are scattered about.




  ― 33 ―

Two governors were interred within its limits. The founder of the colony, Colonel Collins, was laid in his earthen bed in 1810. The tomb got into a sadly neglected state, and was the subject of public scandal. But Sir John Franklin, when governor of Van Diemen's Land, erected a handsome monument to his brother sailor. Sir Eardley Wilmot was the last governor who died in the colony.

Another burial-ground lies higher up in the town, and has been preferred by Presbyterians and other Protestant bodies outside the Episcopalian Church. The Roman Catholics have their interments in ground more elevated still. The wall was mainly constructed in the primitive days of penance-yards of masonry. The priest was poor, and his people were naughty. The use of their muscles provided him with an enclosure, and served as some expiation for their offences. It is observed, however, that the sulky fellows had no real pleasure in their work, for it is sadly scamped. Convicts had no reputation, at that period, for fine work. Tailors, actors, and weavers do not make effective masons all at once.

The hospital in Liverpool Street sent many a poor victim of his own vices to the cemetery. Another hospital, established by private subscription, has been the resort of the free class more particularly, though closed against none.

Doctors in Hobart Town have seldom the gratification of having an epidemic. It was once a saying,


  ― 34 ―
that nobody died except when he was killed. It is certain that drink has produced more sickness and accidents than any other cause there. With such a temperate climate, with so little extremes of heat and cold, with good air, and with the comforts of good living, there is not much occasion for the sober to call in the doctor.

Malformation and crime go so uniformly together, that among the convict population there was a large proportion of deformed bodies and diseased brains. Cases of mania, from unrestrained passions, and from the provocation of liquor, were frequently known in former times, though rare enough now. The asylum at New Norfolk is well managed. Most of its inmates are old and wretched tenants of many years' residence. Good care and an inspiriting atmosphere have lengthened their days.

Old folks are the great institution of Hobart Town streets. The Captain was taken to an old lady off Melville Street who had landed in the colony nearly sixty years before; and even then she was the mother of a large family.

He went to a sort of asylum for old men, outside of the town, near the domain. Here he heard some fine yarns from old soldiers who had served under Wellington in Spain. One who had reached the other side of one hundred was bed-ridden. But his intellect was vigorous and clear. His tongue was not only too loose, but too profane, even for his old scrupulous


  ― 35 ―
neighbours of a convict region. Complaints were made of his language, and a wish was expressed that the old sinner should be removed to a ward by himself. But he explained to the Captain that a lot of tales had been told of him by some of the youngsters (men of eighty), for that he was only repeating Scripture and hymns he had learned when a boy. Enquiries, however, satisfied the visitor that the citations were not so harmless, and that songs of unusual vulgarity were themes of address. A man had recently died there after reaching the age of 108. The Captain found the average of about an hundred of the inmates to extend above seventy years.

Captain Douglas came home quite full of the subject of longevity.

‘See here, my dear,’ said he to his wife; ‘there is no prospect of my getting rid of you, or you of me, for at least half a century more. If such old rascals as those can live on, in spite of rum, exposure, and a vicious course, what chance has a decent fellow to die at all in this country!’

The lady smiled. ‘I really begin to feel a great deal younger, I must admit,’ she said. ‘Pottering about that garden is more than amusement to me. I can walk better, eat better, sleep better, and——

‘Scold no better,’ added her gallant husband.

‘Indeed, I ought to scold when you persist going off such tramps with Mr. Roberts. You know he is younger than you, and he has no wife to make him


  ― 36 ―
careful of his health. To-day it has been quite a hot wind, and you have been in it for hours.’

‘And pray, have you kept yourself all day under a mosquito-curtain indoors?’

‘No—I am thankful to say mosquitoes don't visit us; and I have not kept inside either. It was not so very hot under the shade.’

‘Nor an injurious heat either, my dear. The thermometer stands close to the hundred under that verandah. In India, with our moist warmth, we should have been done up altogether long before the mercury got there.’

‘But don't you really think the hot wind bad?’

‘That I don't. It comes dry enough, so that the perspiration is rapidly carried off; there is not the clammy skin as in India and Queensland. Then it is unattended with the malaria so common in countries less windy than this.’

‘Why don't we have here the marsh and other low fevers so common even in England?’

‘Because, my dear wife, you are in another vegetable region. Here the botany reminds one of wood and not of juices. You complain sometimes that the trees here don't give the nice shade the English ones do. But did it never strike you that it is the decomposition of so much leafy matter which gives birth to malaria?’

‘I never thought of that. I see in our back paddock


  ― 37 ―
that trees which were felled, as I am told, nearly fifty years ago, lie there still as hard as flint.’

‘Yes, and will ring like metal when struck by the axe.’

‘But why don't they rot away like our English trees?’

‘I hardly know, unless it be that instead of being almost all carbon and the gases, they contain so much lime, flint, and other mineral substances, iron included. You know what a lot of ash you get from a wood fire. That is the stuff that keeps the trees from decaying so soon.’

‘Then that must have a great effect upon the health of the inhabitants.’

‘Certainly, my dear. And they say there is here an extra quantity of ozone, another element of health in the atmosphere.’

‘I know,’ said the lady, ‘another cause for longevity. People are not so silly in their dresses, and prefer parties out of doors to stuffed crowds in confined rooms. What dreadful folly that old-fashioned system of balls, routs, at homes, and receptions seems to be now! If I were a girl again, I should prefer keeping my good looks, by the simple manners and healthy amusements of this island, rather than lose them by late hours, bad air, and spoiled digestion.’

‘What a speech, madam! quite a speech! It is all true as gospel. And think how many a fellow in England, who haunts his club, is a martyr at parties, and gains an early acquaintance with a stomach and


  ― 38 ―
a swollen toe, to say nothing of nerves and renewed bills, might come out here, live longer, and enjoy the life while it lasts.

His wife had evidently not heard the whole of this. The handkerchief was to her eyes, and she sighed deeply.

‘What is the matter, my dear?’ said he anxiously.

‘I was only thinking of our poor girl, and how even her life might have been spared had she come here.’

previous
next