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Chapter III.

A short digressive chapter.—Dawn of moral and social enlightenment. —The Great Panic.—The Bank Lottery.—The unlucky winner of the Grand Prize.

JOE STUBBLE arrived in New South Wales shortly before that welcome era in its history when transportation of convicts from Great Britain to Sydney was abolished. The best friends of the colony had long sought for that boon from the Imperial Government, and it was at length granted, to the delight of many honest hearts, who hailed it as the dawn of brighter days, when the jarring distinctions of class, which were so fruitful of animosity, should cease in this land for ever.

About the same time the privilege of representative government was ceded to us. Municipal institutions were also inaugurated in Sydney, and a steady current of free immigration was setting towards our shores. It was a rather curious coincidence, but that time was also remarkable for perhaps the most disastrous monetary panic that has ever distressed our community. It was the opinion of some casuists that the reaction of reckless speculation and extravagance caused that crisis; others blamed the ruling Governor and his new land regulations; some traced the cause direct to an unparalleled season of drought, when for a short time flour rose to £90 a ton, and other provisions were proportionately dear. It is needless to further enumerate the opinions on the causes of the wide-spread disaster and ruin; not many persons, however, were willing to blame themselves for folly or mismanagement. But whatever was the cause, it did not effectually admonish against subsequent commercial panics, for they have occurred in the Colony with almost septenary punctuality, though never with such severity as marked the one in question.

In order to remove the appearance of romance which my next chapter may present, I adduce the following startling incident, which is as true as history, of those exciting times when property changed hands so abruptly.

The Bank of Australia broke, as many old colonists have

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cause to remember. The principal assets of the bank were an accumulation of property, which had fallen into its hands through the failure of certain customers, to whom the old adage, that “they were better known than trusted,” did not apply.

In order to dispose of the said property, which it was not possible to do in an ordinary way, the trustees of the bank got permission from the government to have a lottery, or “partition,” as they ingeniously called it. Many thousands of tickets or shares were sold at four pounds each; and each one represented something tangible, if it were only a town allotment in a remote swamp. “All prizes and no blanks” was the enticing motto which drew the price of a ticket from many a hardly-earned hoard in the savings-bank. Several houses in Sydney and in country towns were placed on the programme in most attractive colours, to show that there was no mistake about it; and the bank agents throughout the colony were as innocently persuasive as ladies collecting for a fancy bazaar. The “Grand Prize,” which headed the list in fanciful type, was a very desirable homestead called “Underbank,” a significant name, by the way, for the former owner of it had been under bank pressure for some time before he became bankrupt. That fine estate, together with a station higher up the country, and all the stock upon it, was included in one lot, and every allottee naturally wished he might get it. For three months preceding the important day of decision, much excitement was manifested by the hundreds of persons who had invested their money in this novel speculation; and doubtless Underbank house and station often marred the nocturnal repose of many who were longing for the prize with an eagerness peculiar to great gamblers.

The much-envied winner of the grand lot was an honest Highlandman who rented a small farm on the Hunter River. He was induced to buy the ticket by a storekeeper in Maitland, and after paying for it, he went on with his usual work, and perhaps bestowed no more after-thought on his purchase than he would have done after planting an orange-pip in his orchard, for there was very little restless ambition discernible in poor Mack's nature. One day, as he was ploughing for his potato crop, the merchant aforesaid rode up and told him that “he had won the great Underbank prize, and was a rich man.”

He could not believe the news at first, but when his informant offered a large sum on the bargain, Mack began to feel glad. So he let go his plough and unyoked his bullocks, and

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then went to his house, where a host of friends had assembled to congratulate him. A few days afterwards the superintendent of the station, who had learned the whereabouts of the lucky allottee, got on his horse and rode down to see his new master, taking with him another horse for Mack to ride back with him and see his property. The next day Mack set out from his home, accompanied by several friends, to proceed to Underbank, and, sad to say, he had not ridden quite five miles from his own fence when he fell from his horse and broke his neck. His wife and family took possession of the property which had so strangely cost him his life.

The result of that “partition” was, in a pecuniary sense, very comforting to the bank trustees, and doubtless a few of the ticket-holders were highly gratified, but the majority of them were not uncommonly pleased with their prizes, for they were positive blanks, from a marketable point of view, although they certainly looked pretty on the surveyor's map.

How far we might have advanced as a community in the art of wholesale gambling is only to be surmised, for we were not permitted to indulge our bent. Other “partitions” were projected by enterprising colonists, who wanted to “clear out and go home,” but the Government solemnly demurred, so the schemes were abandoned. The gambling spirit was thus damped down, but even judicial opposition could not extinguish it; and though it has never since been so glaringly manifest as it was during the exciting months, when all the dead walls in the city were dressed in flaring placards inviting everybody to try his luck in a lawful lottery, it has never ceased to develop itself in various other forms which the law does not effectually check. We have had no more public partitions—the one alluded to was considered enough for us; but the gambling spark is still alive, and little circumstances occasionally show that it only requires a stimulating puff or two to kindle a flame, which fact will be borne out by many curious examples in the course of my story.

The “bad times,” which I have cursorily alluded to, proved good times for Joe Stubble and many others of his class—the “flood-tide in their affairs, which drifted them on to fortune.”