previous
next



  ― 20 ―

2. Chapter II Further Experiences

Land boom and bank smashes—Sydney—Sir Henry Parkes—W. H. Holman—The New Australia experiment—I go to New Zealand—The voyage—A wonderland—Sir George Grey—Need for immigrants—Storm at sea—South Australia—C. C. Kingston—Ostriches—I see an outlaw shot.

I

MY stay at Casterton was useful to me and pleasant. I wanted to learn further about Australia. I resigned and went to Melbourne, where there had been a remarkable land boom. Fortunes were made in a few months, but the fortunes were in paper. Blocks of land rose rapidly in price. People lost their heads, and thousands were seized with a mad frenzy for speculation. The boom had burst just before my arrival in Melbourne. It was followed by the historic financial crisis of 1893. The crisis was felt all over Australia. It was by no means a sudden crash. The bank failures were spread over a period of sixteen weeks. Melbourne suffered most. I was only a few weeks there when I went to Sydney. It was a common sight in Melbourne and Sydney to see the banks mobbed by struggling, excited crowds desirous of withdrawing their deposits. Men and women were in a state of intense fear of losing what money they had. Those with but a little money were more panic-stricken than persons who had fortunes to lose.




  ― 21 ―

Great confidence was felt in the Government Savings Banks. In Sydney, as the money withdrawn from one of the private banks was deposited in the Government institution, it was promptly despatched by a back way and returned to the bank from which it was taken. This particular bank was one of those that remained open during the crisis. Banks having a paid-up capital and reserves of £5,000,000 and deposits of £53,000,000 closed their doors. Wages and rents fell precipitately, there were innumerable bankruptcies, and there was much unemployment. Many families were reduced from affluence to poverty. Huge mansions built in the boom days became untenanted or were let as lodging-houses with several families in each building. The crisis gave a rude shock to a young and hopeful community. My money was fortunately in the Union Bank, one of the banks that weathered the storm. Otherwise my financial position might have been very awkward. As it was, the trouble did not affect me personally.

In Sydney I attended a lecture on federation delivered by the then Grand Old Man of Australia, Sir Henry Parkes. I had heard much about him. I read that he was the son of humble parents in Coventry, Warwickshire, that he was put to work when he was eight, that he managed to educate himself, that he became a supporter of the Chartist movement, and that in 1839, when he was twenty-four years old, he had the courage and enterprise to migrate with his wife to New South Wales, where he got work as an agricultural labourer. Later, he followed numerous


  ― 22 ―
occupations, and ultimately became an ivory turner. Fifteen years after his arrival he was elected to Parliament. Finally, he was Premier of five different New South Wales ministries. All this caused me to wish to see him and hear him speak.

The lecture was advertised to be given in a hall in one of the suburbs. I had difficulty in finding the hall. When I reached it I found that it was comparatively small and ill-lighted. The attendance was sparse.

Sir Henry was not in as much public favour as he had been. He was tireless in furtherance of the federal union of the six Australian colonies and was ever ready to advocate it by voice and pen. It was the daydream of his later years. He was seventy-eight years of age.

When he began to speak he created a distinctly bad impression. It was disappointing to hear him misplace his aspirates in a marked way. As he proceeded the listener got accustomed to this mannerism and forgot it. He had a good choice of words. It was not, however, the accent or the language that were thought of as he went on, but the excellence of his matter. He dealt with the need for Australian unity, federations past and present, the differences in outlook between the various Australian colonies and how these differences might be reconciled by an all-round spirit of compromise. As he elaborated his ideas, his breadth of view and broad statesmanship as well as his great fund of knowledge were discernible. This, combined with his striking appearance, his masses of white hair and beard and his leonine head, could not fail to command the respect and admiration of any audience. I felt he was wise, far-visioned and indeed a truly great man.




  ― 23 ―

Some three years later he died. It was a pity he did not live a few years longer to see his dream of Australian Federation realised. He has been rightly called “The Father of the Australian Commonwealth.”

Another public meeting that I attended was held in the largest hall in Sydney and had reference to the unemployment difficulty. Many distinguished citizens of Sydney were on the platform, the various institutions and sections of the people were represented, and the vast building was packed to overflowing. Influential men delivered rather ponderous addresses. The meeting was non-party in character. Before its close the chairman intimated that the Trades and Labour Council had by invitation sent a representative whom he called on to speak. At that time the Labour Party counted for little in politics. The representative who came forward in response to the chairman's call looked a mere boy. He was dressed in ill-fitting clothes, and the audience at first did not know whether to laugh or feel indignant at the youngster's impertinence in obtruding himself into the company of speakers on the platform. He had not completed more than a few sentences before they changed their minds. His voice was clear, his language perfect, the gestures those of a practised elocutionist and the matter of the speech capital. He spoke for only ten minutes, but in that ten minutes he had aroused the audience to the wildest pitch of excitement. The tenor of his remarks was that the meeting had been discussing proposals that would be merely temporary in their results, that the cause was left severely alone, that prevention was better than cure, and that it was for Parliament to take steps to prevent unemployment by effecting certain


  ― 24 ―
radical reforms that he outlined. Once the chairman tried to stop the young orator, but he had the meeting overwhelmingly with him, and in response to the demands of those present went on and finished his speech. When he sat down the audience rose and again and again thundered their approval. The young man, then but twenty-two years of age, was W. H. Holman, who more than twenty years later was known throughout Australia and the Empire as Premier of New South Wales.

II

When I was at Sydney the Royal Tar was in the harbour awaiting to take a party consisting of numerous families from Australia to found in the South American republic of Paraguay a socialistic colony to be called “New Australia.” It was an Utopian experiment. The leader of the movement, Mr. William Lane, was an idealist, and as editor of the Queensland Worker he had preached the doctrines of socialism. He evidently grew tired of theory and decided to put his principles to the test of practice. The people who joined realised all their assets and put their money into a common fund. The contribution of each was fixed at £60, though some gave more. The highest amount given was £1,500, and it was estimated at the time that there was an average of £100 a man. Most of the men who left were bushmen. Many of them had taken part in the disastrous shearers' strike in Queensland in 1890-1, which had left them sore and bitter.

It was pointed out that it was absurd to leave the free conditions obtaining in Australia for a country crushed


  ― 25 ―
by the burden of a big debt and heavy taxation; where the danger of civil war or conflict with neighbouring countries was ever present. But Lane had received a concession of some hundreds of thousands of acres from the Paraguayan Government, and he and those with him were deaf to all warnings.

The scheme, like so many similar projects, did not make sufficient allowance for the weaknesses of human nature. Quarrels and misunderstandings are the inevitable outcome of such enterprises.

I met and became friendly with a man who was sailing with Lane's party. He, too, was an idealist. I could not help liking him. I talked to him about such natural laws as the survival of the fittest and the struggle for existence. I asked him if his leader could change human nature. My friend would not listen. He and I agreed to differ. He was enthusiastic about the venture's future prospects.

“Every detail has been carefully examined and there is no chance of failure.”

He went on to say: “Three experienced men were sent to Paraguay. They carefully selected land which is good for agriculture and grazing.”

The society, of which Lane was the head, was based on common ownership of property, also common control of the means of production, exchange and distribution, as well as equality of the sexes and the maintenance of children by the community under the guardianship of the parents. It was a reversion to the old Australian tribal system. Private property is unknown amongst the Australian aborigines. Individuals possess nothing: everything that each member of the tribe uses belongs not to him but to the tribe.




  ― 26 ―

I tried to dissuade my friend from going to Paraguay, but nothing could turn him from his purpose. He assured me there was no need for concern.

The Royal Tar was a sailing ship of some 600 tons. It was purchased for about £2,000. Lane had received a total of £30,000 as contributions towards the scheme, which could not therefore fail through lack of funds. That was what my friend told me.

“We will go away,” said he, “where liberty, fraternity and equality will prevail.”

Like Lane, he thought that socialism and patriotism were incompatible and that to the poor toiler one country was no more than another.

About the middle of 1893, after various delays, the Royal Tar sailed with over 200 passengers and a crew of 32, all of whom were members of the association. Several shipments of emigrants followed.

Lane sailed with the first contingent. Trouble arose even on shipboard. There was opposition to an edict of his that no women were to remain on deck after nine o'clock at night. This was regarded as a gross infringement on personal freedom and contrary to the idea of liberty which they expected to enjoy.

As a student, a great reader, a deep thinker and industrious writer, Lane was much of a recluse. His head was in the clouds and he was somewhat autocratic. There were mutterings, amongst men and women whose allegiance to him was weakening, that he was the type of socialist leader whose notion was, “Let us all be equal and I'll be your king.”

The country that had been granted to them proved delightful. It was everything that it was represented to be and equalled the settlers' brightest expectations.


  ― 27 ―
It was fertile, well-watered and well-wooded, and no fault could be found with any of the conditions. Still, New Australia proved a miserable failure because of jealousies, suspicions and bickerings. There were disputes over who should ride round and herd the cattle and who should do the hard, disagreeable and dirty work of the settlement. One of the disillusioned idealists said that whilst it was Nature's paradise it had been made by man into “a hell upon earth.” Lane had to call in the Paraguayan police to restore order.

Groups of settlers seceded from the main body and formed distinct colonies. A spirit of selfishness prevailed, and what a colonist described as “an atmosphere of gross materialism.” Most of the settlers managed to get back to Australia, sadder and poorer, but wiser than when they left.

Finally, amongst the few remaining settlers in Paraguay, the position became utterly hopeless. The Government withdrew the original grant and divided some blocks of the land among the survivors, a few of whom then began to restore their shattered fortune by means of their individual efforts, working for wages when occasion offered.

Lane was in many respects remarkable. He was born in England, went to America when a boy, became a compositor, was promoted to the literary staff of a paper on which he was employed, showed that he was richly endowed with all the qualities of a writer, wandered as a journalist over the United States and Canada, and came to Australia, where he became interested in the labour movement.

After the New Australia failure he was a broken


  ― 28 ―
man. His ideals had been shattered. He wrote leading articles, abandoned the greater part of his socialistic ideas, and during the war was fervently imperialistic. He was editor of the New Zealand Herald until his death in 1917 at the age of fifty-six.

To the last his capacity for work and his courage were amazing. Many who had paid money into his Paraguay scheme demanded it back. He gallantly tried to let them have it, and was honestly returning what he could when the end came.

I never learned what became of my enthusiastic Sydney friend who went with Lane's followers to Paraguay.

III

The bank failures created a state of depression which I felt would check Australia's progress for years. I determined to go to New Zealand to see what things were like there.

There was not much of interest on board the Waihora during the five or six days' voyage between Sydney and Auckland. There was the ever-changing sky, the moving waste of waters and the sea birds that escorted us most of the way; but the weather was rough, many on board were too ill to move about, and, in any case, the journey was not long enough for passengers to become friendly. There was an irrepressible German who sang stirring patriotic songs in his own language. His example unfortunately inspired a big, strong-looking major in the English Army, on a year's furlough from Hong-Kong, to distinguish himself by singing with a banjo accompaniment catchy soldier


  ― 29 ―
songs, and a couple of Rudyard Kipling's imperialistic ballads.

Before leaving Sydney I had picked up in a bookshop a copy of Richardson's “Clarissa Harlowe.” It strangely contrasted with my surroundings, but notwithstanding that—perhaps because of it—I became absorbed in the quaint old-fashioned production. I lived for the time in the period when men wore knee-breeches, shoes with sparkling buckles, three-cornered hats, swords and pigtails, fought duels and took snuff.

One morning we passed North Cape, a high, stern, wind-swept and wave-washed promontory, the most northern point of New Zealand. To this place the ancient Maori chiefs were brought when dying, in order that they might take their leave of this world from there. Then down the coast, passing the entrance to the Bay of Islands, we steamed all day, and rocky and barren the land looked, broken as it was into innumerable islands, bays and headlands.

These waters teem with fish. Whale fishing with nets was carried on near the coast. At certain periods “shoals” pass very close to the shore, sometimes almost grazing the rocks. To catch them, nets are placed with one end attached to the shore, and the other fastened to an anchor, the whole being kept by the aid of sinkers and floaters in the position of a huge tennis net. There are also narrow passages between islands and the mainland blocked by nets.

New Zealand is truly a wonderland of the South—a land of volcanoes, geysers and earthquakes, of snow-capped mountains, of ferns and mosses, kauri pines and kauri gums and greenstone, and the home of a noble Pacific race that has been victorious in many


  ― 30 ―
stubbornly contested battles with well-armed, well-trained and well-disciplined British soldiers. It may be that Macaulay was not far wrong, and that it will be thickly populated and prosperous when some traveller from there, “in the midst of a vast solitude, takes his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.”

During the months I spent in New Zealand at least one shower fell every day. I was told the weather was normal. My recollections of New Zealand are, however, of a beautiful country. I saw more skylarks singing in the sky at one time than ever I noted in the British Isles. The luxuriant foliage, the abundance of the flax plant, and the lilies everywhere growing wild appealed to me. I heard much of the Maoris, saw in the museum their grotesque carvings and a huge war canoe. I was told about the moa, the extinct giant bird of New Zealand, and how since the introduction of sheep, kea-parrots had developed the habit of eating their way with their long beaks through the wool and into the poor animals' entrails for the fat about the kidneys. I also had impressed on me that New Zealand has no marsupials or large native quadrupeds, but more especially that it was like Ireland in having no snakes.

Craters of extinct volcanoes are common. There are more than sixty points of eruption within a ten-mile radius of Auckland. It cannot be many centuries since these outbreaks took place, and similar occurrences may again occur. Vesuvius and Etna awoke to activity after slumbering for ages. As against the probability of this occurring at Auckland, I have heard it contended that there is a safety valve to the disturbing elements


  ― 31 ―
in the shape of an active volcano district some distance to the south of Auckland, where geysers abound and where there was an outbreak in 1886 which destroyed the famous pink and white terraces and killed more than one hundred persons.

A visitor finds some difficulty in pronouncing the place-names. There are many commonplace titles such as Birkenhead, Epsom and Thames, but there are also the characteristic Maori names. For instance, imagine a new arrival inquiring his way to Kaukapaka, Ngabauranga or Kibikibi!

I spent days amongst the excellent collection of books presented to the city of Auckland by that splendid imperial statesman, Sir George Grey. Besides containing copies of the standard works of the literature of all ages and countries, it had in addition some very valuable rarities. There was an original treaty concluded by Richard Cromwell; a copy of the “Early Years of Prince Consort,” presented by Queen Victoria to Sir George Grey; a first edition, dated 1590, of Spenser's “Faerie Queene”; several early editions of Shakespeare's plays; and an illuminated manuscript copy in Greek of the Gospels, and other literary treasures.

Grey's career reads like a romance. As a young Army officer he explored many parts of Western Australia; he was Governor of Cape Colony and later of New Zealand, and after that he was Premier of New Zealand. At the time of my visit he had been for many years living on an island near Auckland that he had purchased, and where he occupied himself planting trees, gardening and collecting books. The last four years of his life were spent in England, where he died.

Happily, New Zealand is not cursed like most of the


  ― 32 ―
Australian states with the evil policy of centralisation, a policy that has resulted in a huge proportion of the people living in the capitals. It is particularly undesirable that in new countries the majority should become city dwellers instead of residing in rural districts and opening up the land's undeveloped resources. If Parliament meets in the most populous centre, the consequence is that, apart from the capital's strong voting power, its influence on legislation is considerable. The environment of the members cannot fail to be of importance, and the tendency of legislation must be more favourable in such a case to the capital than to the back country. Auckland, though the most populous city in New Zealand, is not the capital. The Parliament Houses and Government offices were established in 1864 in Wellington, which occupies a central position on the strait which separates the North and South Islands. In 1933 the percentage of the population in the capital as compared with the rest of the country was 9.50, whilst in New South Wales it was 47.46, in Western Australia it was 47.56, in South Australia 53.76, and in Victoria 54.58. In Australia centralisation exists to a greater extent than anywhere else in the world.

Unfortunately there was in New Zealand a narrow-minded opposition to immigration.

“I hardly think there is room for them here.”

This is a remark that was made to me by a well-meaning and well-educated New Zealander on my informing him, a few days after my arrival at Auckland from Australia, that the steamer by which I had travelled was crowded with both saloon and steerage passengers, including a goodly number of manual


  ― 33 ―
labourers and clerical workers desirous of obtaining employment. Advanced as New Zealand legislators and the country's political views were in some respects, they were short-sighted in other directions. They call their country “The Britain of the Southern Pacific.” It occupies a position that is analogous to and possesses perhaps even more advantages than the British Isles. It is but slightly smaller, has a better climate and probably as good coal, and is most likely superior in other mineral resources. For all this, New Zealand, when compared with the older nation, seemed to me small and insignificant indeed. And why? Because one country had then but 630,000 inhabitants while the other had nearly 40,000,000. And yet the newer country with its unoccupied tracts of rich agricultural lands lying idle or almost idle, with its mines that needed working, its forests to be cleared and swamps to be drained, had, mirabile dictu, hardly any room for more people!

This applies equally to Australia. In each case it is said that care must be taken that the country can absorb immigrants and that the existing standard of living must be maintained. During the forty-two years subsequent to the visit to New Zealand to which I have referred, the population of each country has more than doubled, but to-day (1935) the density of New Zealand's population, as indicated by the number of persons a square mile, is 14.8, and of Australia 2.2. The density of Japan and its dependencies is 362.8, and of Great Britain 492.9. Furthermore, Japan, with a population of 100,000,000, is increasing at the rate of 1,500,000 a year. Are not these figures highly significant?




  ― 34 ―

IV

When I went to New Zealand I was commissioned to write articles on the country for a number of Australian papers. I was but a few months there when the Port Augusta Despatch, a prosperous bi-weekly South Australian paper, sent me a cablegram asking me if I would take over the editorship. I replied accepting, and returned to Australia by the first available steamer.

From Sydney to Adelaide I travelled in a small coastal steamer called the Barrabool. We experienced extremely stormy weather. At times serious anxiety was felt for the ship's safety. She rolled in a most extraordinary fashion. There were but two other passengers. One was a lady, who was seasick all the voyage. The other was an old ship captain, who said he never thought it possible for a vessel to roll over so far and not turn turtle. At times the deck seemed almost at a right angle to sea level, and then there would be a second or so of dreadful suspense, but she always righted herself. The waves washed her from end to end. The captain, who was able and fearless, decided to pass between islands where the wind and seas were not so heavy. It required skilful seamanship, but we got through safely. He was a young man and seemed to glory in trying to maintain his equilibrium on deck. With his hands in his pockets he refused to hold on to anything, no matter how heavy or sudden was the roll. The old captain passenger warned him that he was foolish as he could easily go overboard, but the Barrabool captain only laughed. A few voyages after that, however, he was missed one wild night and never heard of again.




  ― 35 ―

From Adelaide I went by train to Port Augusta.

The proprietor of the Despatch, Mr. David Drysdale, was kind-hearted and made things pleasant. He was married to a lady some years younger than himself. She was the daughter of a farmer who lived in the district, but the father-in-law did not agree with the son-in-law. Perhaps it was because they were both bad-tempered.

I was the unconscious instrument of widening the breach. Soon after I arrived in Port Augusta I republished from an American paper an amusing skit on local government institutions in agricultural districts. I did not know that the father-in-law happened to be chairman of a local board, and by an unhappy accident the skit described a chairman whose appearance and defects in capacity as well as his mannerisms bore a remarkable resemblance to him. The father-in-law blamed his son-in-law for making him appear ridiculous, and immediately came to see him with fury in his eyes and blasphemy on his lips.

I explained how it happened, and rightly said that the proprietor never saw the article till it appeared.

Explanations were of no avail. Nothing would convince the infuriated father-in-law that it was not a cunningly devised attempt on the part of his daughter's husband to make him the laughing-stock of the district.

Whilst in Port Augusta I met some extremely interesting people. Mr. Charles Cameron Kingston was Premier. He came to Port Augusta, and as I had somewhat changed the policy of the Despatch so that it supported his Government, he publicly thanked me in the course of a speech at a crowded meeting for what he was good enough to call the “great services” I had


  ― 36 ―
rendered his Ministry. That was the beginning of an acquaintance that lasted until Mr. Kingston's death several years later. His brother, Mr. “Pat” Kingston, was practising his profession as a lawyer in Port Augusta. “Pat” was extremely able; he did not agree with the views of the Premier and was in the habit of talking of “that d——n fool Charley.” “Pat” was reckless. In Adelaide he accidentally shot a cabman—fortunately not fatally—as part of a joke. Ultimately poor “Pat” shot himself. That was not a joke, but a tragedy. Both “Charley” and “Pat” Kingston had much of a wild strain that they got from an Irish ancestor.

One Saturday night whilst in the office about midnight I had an uncanny experience. I was immersed in the reading of a book dealing with creepy ghostly happenings.

There was not a person in the building. The only light in the place was the one I was reading by. All was perfectly still and silent.

Suddenly in the composing room I heard a strange movement; every one of the thousands of pieces of type moved. It was in the days before linotypes. The noise was weird and unusual.

Then it struck me that it might be an earthquake.

And so it was!

The movement was slight and no damage was done.

My experiences in Port Augusta were amusing. The harbour is at the head of Spencer's Gulf, the waters of which were a source of great joy to me. Most of my


  ― 37 ―
week-ends were spent boating and fishing down the Gulf, where we had all sorts of delightful adventures.

Each evening we were in the habit of bathing from a part of the harbour where steps led to deep water. Sharks were frequently seen and caught in Port Augusta, but it was said they had never attacked a human being in the vicinity. However, we did not feel too certain that we were safe, and it was customary for a number of us to bathe together and to splash and shout a good deal and not go far from the steps. Occasionally we were more venturesome. One dark night four or five of us, despite warnings, swam to a buoy some fifty or a hundred yards from the steps. It was silly bravado, such as young men now and then indulge in.

It was difficult to see. Night swimming is not pleasant, especially in waters that are shark-infested. None of us could have felt too comfortable.

Suddenly came the cry, “Sharks! Sharks!”

We could dimly see the dark backs of two monsters.

Every second I expected my flesh to be torn and bones crushed by sharp powerful teeth whilst I was being drawn into the black depths below.

Close to me was a man who scoffed at sharks and had dared us to swim to the buoy. One of the brutes rose near his right hand and then disappeared. In a little time it came up on the other side of him. Dark as it was, I could see in his face a dreadful expression of fear and agony. It was horrible. Probably in my face there was an equally horrible expression.

We were striking out for the steps as fast as we could.

Finally we reached them and climbed out to safety nearly dead with fright.




  ― 38 ―

A calm investigation showed us that what terrified us were not sharks, but a couple of playful and harmless porpoises!

The show place of the district was the ostrich farm—one of the two ostrich farms then in Australia. I had seen another ostrich farm at Kerang, near Reedy Lake in Victoria, and it had a couple of hundred birds. The one at Port Augusta was larger, containing 600 birds and extending over 9,000 acres.

The ostriches seemed to thrive wonderfully at both these farms. Numbers of eggs were hatched by means of incubators, the eggs being collected from nests in the paddocks where the birds ran. The eggs took from thirty-eight to forty-two days to hatch.

If the chick did not make its appearance when due it was assisted out of its prison by the manager or some of his assistants cracking the shell at the space left for air by a sharp tap. In a state of nature this is done by parent birds. When a female ostrich that is hatching considers after examination that the process is necessary, she rolls the egg on which she desires to operate out of the nest and places it so that the air space is exactly uppermost. Then she kneels and presses a horny breast-plate with which she is provided upon the egg. Thus she breaks the shell and the chick comes out uninjured. This most intelligent act on the part of the ostrich is known but to few, whereas who has not heard or read that the bird when chased foolishly puts its head into the sand under the idea that it cannot be seen? In our childhood we were all told that. There are many who believe still that there is some truth in it, but it is


  ― 39 ―
not the case. When an ostrich is pursued and becomes thoroughly tired it will lie down and stretch out its head and neck on the sand. This it was that Mr. Rathbone, the manager of the Port Augusta farm, believed gave rise to the former, almost general, idea regarding the bird.

The amazing and proverbial digestion of an ostrich is not exaggerated. The first meal the young birds take after coming out of the shell is largely composed of crushed bones and pebbles, and to the end of their days they retain a voracious appetite for old nails and such like. Ostriches are prolific layers. By taking away the eggs from a nest as fast as they are laid and leaving three or four dummies in their place, a bird, instead of giving only fifteen or sixteen, may produce up to forty or sixty. One bird in a year has been known to lay as many as one hundred and eighty. During the breeding season ostriches become very savage. It is dangerous to enter their paddocks unless armed with a long forked stick, so that when a bird charges it runs its neck into the fork and is thus kept at a distance. They kick with terrific force and have been known to kill human beings.

V

Through my friendship with a sub-inspector of police I had some rather exciting experiences at Port Augusta. There was in the neighbourhood a dangerous character named Leach, who had been originally in the British Navy and had also at one time been outlawed as a sort of bushranger in the Flinders Ranges. He was employed as a gardener in a remote part of the district at the foot of the Ranges. His


  ― 40 ―
employer went one day to the garden, and as he did not find Leach at work he went to his camp and asked him why he was idling. Some difference occurred between them. Leach, who had a repeating rifle and was a dead shot, said that if the other did not clear out he would put a bullet through his hat, and if he didn't go then, he would put a second one through his head. No notice was taken of the threat, so Leach promptly put a bullet through the hat.

His employer left the camp in a hurry.

The police were sent for, and a couple of constables arrived many hours later. Meanwhile the camp had been barricaded by Leach, and when they attempted to enter he sent a bullet through one of their helmets, declaring that if they persisted he would shoot them both dead. Since they knew he would carry out his threat, they, too, thought discretion the better part of valour.

They reported to Sub-Inspector Field that Leach could not be taken alive without loss of life. He decided to go to the place with half a dozen men with rifles and invited me to accompany him.

After a drive of some ten miles we arrived on the scene. Leach was in a tent surrounded by a high, thick, circular collection of brushwood—a sort of brush fence. The entrance in the fence was barricaded. A good quick shot such as Leach could easily have shot a dozen policemen dead before they could force their way through the brushwood. There were on the spot eight or nine policemen who were careful to keep out of sight of the man in the tent.

From behind the shelter of an iron tank the sub-inspector called on Leach to surrender to the law.




  ― 41 ―

“You'll never take me alive,” cried Leach in reply.

He followed this remark with a long string of oaths and threats against the police.

The sub-inspector withdrew. The situation was difficult to handle.

After consideration he arranged for four of the police with loaded rifles to crawl to where they had a clear view of the camp whilst his party remained concealed.

Returning to the tank, the sub-inspector called out and said that he had the tent covered by police rifles and that he would order them to fire several volleys through the tent if Leach did not come out and give himself up.

Leach laughed loudly, the laugh of a maniac. “I'll get some of you yet,” he cried.

The sub-inspector endeavoured to reason with him, but, having failed, he told the man that his blood would be on his own head.

The officer then gave the signal, the four police fired, sending four bullets whistling through the canvas of the tent.

Leach laughed loudly as firing ceased.

The sub-inspector warned him that another volley would be fired.

A scoffing laugh came from the tent. A second volley was fired.

The laughter of Leach was louder than before.

A third volley was sent through the tent.

“You're rotten bad shots,” yelled Leach. “Fire away,” he added, “you can't hit me.”

It was assumed that he had dug a pit inside his tent and so escaped.




  ― 42 ―

The sub-inspector and the police retired, and a conference was held.

Two or three were in favour of rushing the tent. Wiser heads pointed out that it would be foolish to risk valuable lives. The suggestion was made that firesticks should be thrown at the brushwood, but there was no use trying it as the weather was damp and the wood would not burn.

It was finally decided that a lengthy ship's rope should be got from Port Augusta, that one end of it should be tied round a tree during the night and that part of it should be left slack on the ground round the brushwood. A team of horses would then pull at the loose end so that when it tightened it would draw the brushwood and tent into a heap and force the occupant to come out.

A couple of nights later the rope was placed round the brushwood.

At daybreak there were more than a dozen police assembled with their rifles. Everything was in readiness. The signal was given for the horses, which were behind a rise, to haul at the rope. They did so, and simply walked away with a slack rope.

Leach from his tent gave a wild shriek of delight. He had gone out during the night and cut the rope.

The sub-inspector was much troubled by the problem he had to solve. His difficulties were increased by telegrams from Adelaide. The Premier, Mr. Kingston, impetuously wired to know if one man was defying all the police of the north. It was decided that the rope scheme should be repeated with a wire rope, which would be difficult to cut and which would be watched at night.




  ― 43 ―

After a delay of some days all the arrangements were completed.

A wire rope was placed around the brushwood.

By this time the chief of the police in the state and an inspector as well as Sub-Inspector Field were on the ground. Over twenty police were present. They had an old cart made bullet-proof by sand-bags, and from behind the shelter of this they could approach close to the brushwood in comparative safety.

In the grey of the early dawn all was in readiness.

The word was given, the horses began to move. Leach fired a shot.

A black fellow in charge of the horses cried out, “Me no want to be shot.” He could be seen running over a rise as fast as his legs would carry him.

The horses, startled by the rifle shot, rushed on, and everything happened as expected. The brushwood was drawn on the top of the tent.

Leach could do nothing. He had to come out into the open. He was white-faced, keen-eyed, in his bare feet, a small, alert-looking man, carrying his rifle with the air of one accustomed and ready to use it at a second's notice. He was covered by rifles and revolvers. The officer in charge, pointing a revolver at him, said:

“Drop your rifle or you are a dead man.”

“Give me a minute and I will,” was the reply.

Leach stooped as if to put the rifle on the ground. He suddenly raised his toe to the trigger and, pulling it, fired, blowing off half his head.

We rushed up. He was dead, the hot blood flowing copiously from his wound. It was a dramatic, tragic scene.




  ― 44 ―

The police received some adverse criticism for the delay occasioned. An outcry would have been raised had there been further loss of life over the affair, and in view of the difficulty of the problem involved I think they deserved praise rather than blame.

About this time there was much talk about the Western Australian gold discoveries which were just then causing considerable excitement. Coolgardie was between one thousand and one thousand one hundred miles to the direct westward of Port Augusta, but communication was by a roundabout sea, railway and road journey. One party with camels left Port Augusta and succeeded in reaching Coolgardie after what was virtually an exploring trip. I decided to try my luck on the then new goldfields.

The papers had reports of new and rich gold discoveries, but they also gave sensational accounts of the want of drinking water, of deaths from thirst and privation, and asserted that for every one man who was successful in making a rich find there were hundreds of disappointed prospectors. The death roll from typhoid was enormous, and men were warned against going.

My friends urged me to remain.

“For God's sake don't go there,” they said. “Where men are dying like flies, your looks are such you can't last long.”

I told them I would chance it. I resigned my post.

I was given a public municipal farewell at Port Augusta, and I left for Adelaide. From there I sailed for Albany, Western Australia.

previous
next