previous
next



  ― 340 ―

Chapter XI.

OPHIR—A GOLD POACHER—A BULLY CHECK-MATED—A MOTLEY COMPANY DINNER AT THE DIGGINGS—EARNINGS—SLY GROG-SELLING—A WILD LANDSCAPE—NAUTICAL MINERS—THE MACQUARIE FLOODED—THE HUNDREDWEIGHT—DR. KERR'S RIDE—ADVENTURES OF THE HUNDREDWEIGHT—RIDE TO THE TURON—A VOICE OF THE MINES—A GENTLEMAN BUTCHER—CHEERFUL SCENE.

THE aspect of Ophir, viewed from across the creek, although eminently picturesque, was by no means cheering. Two-thirds of the wretched temporary huts and shielings of the miners were deserted and in ruin. Many of the fires, in front of the sheds still tenanted, had been extinguished by the rain, and the people still at work looked as if they had slept all night in a wet ditch. Not far from the Commissioner's camp I fell in with a party of three men more comfortable-looking than the majority, and, attracted by the solid and cozy appearance of their abode, I asked if they intended to remain at Ophir. They told me that they had purchased their domicile, which was built of stones, roofed with bark, a large burning tree forming their kitchen range and parlour fire at once, for five shillings, from a company who had taken


  ― 341 ―
ten days to construct it, and had gone off in sudden disgust. They had got their cradle for 3s., other implements as cheaply, and a store of flour at less than Sydney prices. They had not done much as yet, but intended to await with patience and hope the falling of the river. The accompanying plate will save verbal description of the scenery around the diggings. The Commissioner's Creek, or Eau de Cologue Gully as it was called, a non redolendo, enters the creek on the left of my sketch. Under the flattish hill in the distance, called Church Hill, where divine service is performed, and where the Bathurst mail stops, is seen the junction of the Lewis Ponds with the Summerhill Creek, rendered famous as the spot where Mr. Hargraves first discovered gold in Australia, and which, until the floods set in, still continued rich in ore. A company, I understand, is in process of formation, with a view to attempt the drainage of the pool by pumping. If the trial succeed, there can be little doubt that an immense deposit of the precious metal will be found in the bed of the stream. The undertaking may be expensive; but it is encouraging for those engaging in it to know that in California many of the dams constructed to lay bare the water courses for mining operations, cost 10 and 20,000 dollars before a single cradle was rocked.

The hill trending downwards from the right of the plate is occupied by the township—so called by courtesy. Scarcely a tree remains on its bald front. Every stick


  ― 342 ―
has been cut down for building or firewood. This declivity and the precipitous bank immediately facing it present one of the natural features which act as guides to gold-seekers in their choice of a likely location. A tongue of land, sloping gently to the stream opposite a rocky bluff—the two being commonly attended by a sharp bend in its course—rarely fails to be highly productive.

Round the entire margin of this bend—the best spot of which is called the Fitz Roy Bar—extends a continuous series of mining works; or rather they did extend before the partial desertion of the miners had taken place.note Not only had the whole of the gravelly bed of the stream been turned up and ransacked, but great caves had been worked horizontally into the foot of the hill. The space so treated varies in width from twenty to fifty yards. It looks, on a large scale, precisely as though it had been burrowed by the unringed snouts of a thousand swine searching for some tasty root —“the root, indeed,” observes some penniless moralist,—“the root of all evil!”

In the afternoon, accompanied by Mr. Green, I got down among the diggers on the Creek. Very few were actively employed. I suspect many were suffering every hardship short of actual starvation. Some were groping


  ― 343 ―
with their knives among the crevices of the slate rocks, or “pockets,” as they are technically termed by the miners. In this simple manner, the nuggets, pepites, or large waterworn lumps of gold, for which Ophir is famous, have been got out. We came, as it happened, plump upon a hangdog-looking fellow thus engaged, whose averted face proclaimed him as a poacher on Her Majesty's gold manor.

“Have you got a licence?” asked the Assistant Commissioner.

“No, Sir,” said he, with a look of ague and impecuniosity combined. “I have neither health to work, nor money to buy a licence.”

“Then get out of the creek. You have no business there,” was the inexorable rejoinder.

The man slowly and unwillingly obeyed the order, but did obey it.

The facile establishment of a new code of regulations among a heterogeneous mob of well-armed men congregated in these wild mountain glens, far from the seat of the law and apparently beyond its reach, struck me as a wonderful proof of the love of order inherent in Englishmen. There is at this moment not a soldier nearer than Sydney, and the force there is barely sufficient for the duties of the capital. The Commissioner and his assistant have no more than fifteen policemen to support them in the execution of their unpopular office, yet no open defiance of their authority has hitherto occurred.


  ― 344 ―
The ill-disposed and unruly are well aware that a word from the Government officer could, in case of need, recruit into the service of peace and order a formidable body of gentlemen and respectable persons, fully as resolute, and better armed, than the anarchists.

Some time and some revenue have unquestionably been lost by the necessity of collecting the licence fees rather by humouring and even temporising with the workmen, than by the more summary process which comes natural to the collector who knows that he is backed by “the strong arm of the law;”—the strong arm of the military, I, as a soldier, of course assert to be the true meaning of that hackneyed term. The sentence of the law may be fulminated, indeed, from the bench; but trace to its source the power to inflict it,—and will it not be found in the standing army?

In New South Wales, at this moment, the civil power, physically considered, is civil impotence. The constabulary—land and water police—are throwing down their truncheons at the end of every month, and starting off by dozens to the diggings.

One has only to compare the population now assembled at the mines with the amount of licence money collected to arrive at the conclusion that the impost is not effectually enforced. Nor do I believe it ever will be, until a strong military detachment—say half a battalion—shall be stationed at Bathurst, as a fulcrum for the authorities to work upon.




  ― 345 ―

On the night of the first arrival of the Commissioner at Ophir, the diggers amused themselves—just as a tribe of New Zealanders might have done under similar influences—by squibbing off some thousands of musket-shots. Intimidation could hardly have been intended; if so, they mistook their men very egregiously, One burly fellow, indeed, confiding in his superior strength and old habits of bullying, refused either to pay his licence or quit his ground. Mr. Hardy, a man of excellent temper and highly conciliatory manners, thought this opportunity a good one to assert his authority by other means than the soothing system. He jumped, therefore, into the hole where the recusant was working, and putting a pistol to his ear arrested him in the Queen's name, and the blusterer was quietly handcuffed and removed by the tipstaff. I was glad to hear subsequently that the officers had made some successful as well as determined onslaughts upon notorious gangs of illicit diggers. In many cases the enemy escaped, but their baggage, in the shape of cradles, was captured, and these being immediately smashed their means of future gold mining were cut off.

The right to carry fire-arms and other offensive weapons so largely exercised by the miners, can hardly at present be interfered with. This un-English practice is, I think, curing itself. Public opinion has hitherto been sufficiently executive and protective at the diggings. It will continue effective so long, and so long


  ― 346 ―
only, as the public sense of right is not demented by the indiscriminate introduction of ardent spirits into a society so questionably constituted as a New South Wales mining multitude.

In strolling down the works—if the term strolling can be applied to scrambling among jagged slate rocks in the river bed and slipping over the loose shale on the hillside—I found it no easy task to get into conversation with the diggers. Some appeared sullen from disappointment, few communicative on the subject of their gains, and all apparently imbued with that spirit of independence and equality natural in a community where, whatever might be the real distinction in the station and education of individuals, all were now living and labouring on the same terms.

If ever there was a pure democracy, it now exists at the Bathurst gold mines—pure as the most penniless possessor of nothing could wish—purer by far than any spouter of socialism, having anything to lose, ever truly desired; and infinitely too transcendently pure for the views of those who believe that human society, like a regiment, should be a graduated community.

The present state of affairs will not last long. In another year or two three-fourths of the men now working on their own account will be the hired labourers of capitalists or companies, and the social equipoise will be again restored.

At present, here are merchants and cabmen, magistrates


  ― 347 ―
and convicts, amateur gentlemen rocking the cradle merely to say they have done so, fashionable hairdressers and tailors, cooks, coachmen, lawyers' clerks and their masters, colliers, cobblers, quarrymen, doctors of physic and music, aldermen, an A.D.C. on leave, scavengers, sailors, shorthand-writers, a real live lord on his travels—all levelled by community of pursuit and of costume. The serge shirt, leathern belt, Californian hat, and woollen comforter, with the general absence of ablution and abrasion, leave the stranger continually in doubt as to which of the above classes he may be addressing himself.

“What luck, my good fellow?” said I to a rough unshorn, clay-slate complexioned figure, clad in a zebra-coloured Jersey, with beef boots up to his middle. “What luck?”

“Why, aw!” replied my new friend, with a lisp and a movement as if he were pulling up a supposititious gill, “only tho-tho at prethent. Our claim was tolewably wemunewative owiginally, but it has detewiowated tewibly since the wains set in!”

Diavolo! thought I, what euphuist in a rough husk have we here?

I learnt afterwards that this gentleman is a member of the faculty, and was turning over more gold as a miner than he had ever done as a medico. I recognised many familiar faces without being able to put names to them, so much were their owners disguised. Some


  ― 348 ―
gave me a knowing smile in return for my inquiring looks; others favoured me with a wink.

My perrukier, Mr. R——, was doing well; he had served his time in California. My saddler, Mr. B——, looked half-starved. It was clear he had better have stuck to the pigskin—a thing, by the way, often easier said than done.

The Sydney counter-skippers generally made but poor quarrymen; many of them longed, no doubt, to be measuring tape again, and, perhaps, would have long since taken measures for resuming their old and proper trade, had they not felt sure that the employers, whom they had deserted at a day's notice, would probably refuse to engage them again.

I soon found that in so earnest a quest as that of gold-hunting, those pursuing it are averse to the impertinent interruption of strangers. The Jew speculators and others, who were beginning to traffic at the mines, had however introduced one initiative question, seldom failing to open a dialogue in which some information might be picked up. “Will you sell your gold?” was that query. I resolved, therefore, to become a purchaser on a small scale. Had the idea sooner occurred to me, I might have made an excellent speculation, for the gold rose in price several shillings per ounce soon after my visit to the mines. At Ophir, I could have bought any quantity at 3l. to 3l. 1s. an ounce, and, conveying it myself to Sydney, could have at once sold it for


  ― 349 ―
3l. 7s. 6d. At present, however, I had made no arrangement for the necessary outlay.note

After a long ramble over the ranges, I was not sorry to get back to the Commissioner's tent, where, seated at a little table in its entrance, our feet on a carpet spread over sheets of bark, with a huge fire of logs blazing in front, we were ministered to by an old soldier, one of the troopers, in a rough, but wholesome and welcome repast.

Whilst engaged in the discussion of tea in a tin pot, damper, and grilled mutton, seasoned with pickled onions, several men came up to camp for the purpose of getting their gold weighed by Mr. Green, for they distrusted the weights of the storekeepers in the township. In some instances, they had, indeed, been sadly imposed on; but the cheating was not entirely confined to one side, for on a certain occasion, a miner, presenting a nugget for sale at the counter of a store, was offered 2l. for it, which, after solemn consultation with a comrade, he accepted. The nugget turned out to be a piece of a brass candlestick, battered into a rough form, with bits of quartz intermixed. The imposition was soon discovered, but the seller's position was impregnable—he had never said it was gold. The “sold” party could hardly afford to complain, for had it been gold, 5l. would have been the lowest equitable offer for it.




  ― 350 ―

The Commissioner, being instructed to receive the tax in dust from parties not possessing coin, has his scales always at hand. It was amusing to watch the painful anxiety of some, and the careless indifference of others as they produced their respective earnings for valuation. It was pleasant to mark the perfect confidence all had in the Government functionary, many of them requesting him to take charge of their gold unweighed, and leaving it for weeks in his tent, although he was by no means responsible for any loss that might happen. Leathern bags, tobacco pouches, old handkerchiefs and dirty rags, were pulled out, and the glittering ore was poured upon a venerable newspaper for weighing. The common wooden lucifer box, however, seemed to be the favourite receptacle for the gold dust—the penny match-box holding about 40l. worth of its new contents.

One man, a poor shoemaker of Sydney, had left in charge of Mr. Green the finest specimen of a “pepite” I had yet seen. I counted on buying it; but he came to-day for it, and refused 39l. which I offered him, because, as he said, he wished to show it to his wife before he turned it into cash. The specimen, in form like a thick stick of sealing-wax, and wholly free from quartz, weighed 1 lb. 16 dwt. 12 gs. The little cobbler, who had by no means the appearance of a hardy digger, told me that the day after he had ledged his great nugget with the Commissioner, he had made 20l. worth of gold in a few hours' work. The freshet of the creek


  ― 351 ―
had, however, filled up his “claim,” and he resolved to return home with his present gains. He departed this evening accordingly with a comrade—evidently a sleeping partner only—who looked both willing and able to rob him on the road. This man sold me a few smaller pieces; and a party of three, who had made 57l. worth since the beginning of the month, let me have a perfect picture of a small nugget at 3l. 1s. per ounce. It weighed about 2½ ounces.

Another company, who intended to return to the mines when the weather improved, had earned 112l. in three weeks. A few days before they had found a handsome lump of 9 oz. 9 dwts. It was nearly perforated with a blow of the pick. A party of five gentlemen, two, at least, of whom were magistrates, had worked for a fortnight, and had made 6l. a day each during that time. One of them, a fine able young man, told me they had laboured really hard. He was arranging a joint-stock company for the Turon when I saw him, and had purchased tent, cradle, and other materials, from some disappointed party for one-fourth of their value.

Such was at this juncture the depreciation of stores at Ophir, that a fine tent, 20 feet by 10, constructed at a cost of 35l., for the use of the superintendent of the intended colony of North Australia, was sold for two ounces of gold.

The following is a singular instance of success, where success was most improbable: Three lads from Sydney,


  ― 352 ―
the eldest seventeen, the others many years younger, with that precocious spirit common in “currency” juveniles, had taken leave of their mothers, and, as the respectable parent of one of them told me, had commenced by purchasing for 5s. at Ophir a cradle which had cost 40s. in Sydney. In three weeks they had made and sold 5l. 15s. worth of gold each, and had brought back to Sydney 5l. worth in dust, all expenses cleared, a fact sufficient to depopulate all the schools, and to break all the indentures of 'prenticeship in the capital.

The miners, I observed, looked haggard and weatherworn about the face; but I fancy this jaded look proceeded rather from intense mental excitement than from bodily hardship. More than one almost started when I asked them if they did not dream of gold at night, and admitted, with apparent shame, that not only did gold form the main subject of many a troubled nightmare, but that, in spite of excessive fatigue, involuntary waking ruminations on the same absorbing theme robbed them of the rest absolutely necessary to recruit their strength for the morrow's labour. The general health of the mining population has been excellent throughout—none of the fever, ague, and dysentery, which decimates the diggers of California, having been heard of at Ophir or the Turon.

Morrison's agent in the mining townships is, indeed, said to be “doing a good stroke of business” at 1s. a pill; but excessive health is one of the maladies,


  ― 353 ―
perhaps, which the professor professes to cure. The diet is the real promoter of the general salubrity. A regimen of meat, bread, and water, without vegetables, fruits, or fermented liquors, braces the frame to the utmost pitch of hardy and wiry strength. At the diggings, contrary to the forebodings of the dismalites, the supply followed so quickly on the heels of the demand, that, after the first fortnight, provisions were as cheap as at Sydney. No licences for retailing liquors had been issued, for it was justly apprehended that drunkenness might in a moment convert a well-ordered, though mixed community into a perfect social chaos. Sly grog-selling was attempted on a large scale, and in the most impudent manner, by one or two of the richest storekeepers; but the Commissioners were on the alert, and contrived to seize and confiscate considerable quantities. An example being required, two policemen, disguised as miners, and furnished with a parcel of gold dust, visited the store of the chief grogseller, who traded largely in gold, and offered their gold for sale. The shopkeeper purchased the lot, and at the request of the sellers, supplied them with a dram of rum each at a good round price. The information obtained by this ruse enabled the officers to swoop upon the peccant Israelite, carrying off eighty gallons of spirits and inflicting a heavy fine.

In discussing with infinite gusto a tumbler of the Commissioner's cognac, hot and sweet, while the rain rattled upon our tent roof, and the wind drove the


  ― 354 ―
smoke of the wood fire in our faces—I could not help thinking that the diggers, likewise, might relish, and, as free men, had a right to, their spirituous comforts in their damp bivouacs this cheerless night. I marvelled at their forbearance under so mortifying a restriction; but on reflection, I felt satisfied that, despite the Commissioner's vigilance, wherever gold was plentiful, grog would be forthcoming. This all-potent agent could, doubtless, summon spirits from the vasty deeps of the Summerhill gulleys. Licences will, of course, in due time be granted to a few respectable persons to lay in and retail wine, beer, &c.

It was rumoured that hard drinking, gambling, and fighting, were rife in the recesses of the tents and huts of the nomadic township, and that a noted thimble-rigger had been seen plying the delusive pea on the stump of a tree by the light of the moon, and had plyed it to some purpose. All this might very well be, but at any rate it was not apparent to the eye of the mere traveller.

Sunday, 20th July.—OPHIR.—I had hoped to have attended divine service at the mines, but the inclement weather prevented the arrival of the minister from Carcoar, a distance of about thirty miles. He generally has a tolerably numerous congregation under the green gum-tree.

Mr. Green guided me by a short cut across the ranges


  ― 355 ―
to a part of the creek called by the diggers Newtown and Paddington. Something like a street had sprung up; a lodging-house at two guineas a-week was in progress of erection; the butcher's shop was doing a smart business, and a crowd of blacks were disputing with the dogs the heads and offal of the slaughtered sheep.

Some of the more intelligent of the Aborigines made themselves very useful at the mines, especially in cutting bark. They got 10s. for forty or fifty sheets. I heard cradles going in some of the secluded gulleys, but in general a rest from work seemed to be observed by the diggers. The people were quiet, civil, but singularly—almost unpleasantly—silent. I saw a few instances of contused eyes, suggestive of Saturday night's recreations.

Lang's Point is at a short distance from Paddington. The river here takes a singularly serpentine course, driven as it is from the straight direction by successive bluffs on either bank. The low points opposite them have been found rich in ore, a fact attested by the knots of miners gathered upon them, and the numerous little rough-and-ready hamlets erected on their slopes. In this wild recess of the sterile mountain region, where the eye of the spectator is lost in folds beyond folds of the hitherto unpeopled hills—where a few weeks ago the aboriginal black and his quarry, the kangaroo and wallabi, alone disturbed the solitude of the desert—it was strange to see crowds of white men, many of them educated persons and nurtured amid the comforts and


  ― 356 ―
amenities of life, thronging the dreary ravines, burrowing among the dismal rocks, and enduring, not only without murmur but with all the zest of intense excitement, the rigours of winter, and every hardship short of actual starvation. What wonder! the ardent sportsman courts cold and wet, fatigue and hunger, with the chance of a broken neck, in pursuit of the grouse, the stag, or the fox. Here GOLD is the game!

Many marvellous stories of the earnings of the miners were current, and found their way into the papers. I believe most of them had no foundation. Their effect was to unsettle the minds of credulous hearers and readers, who, believing that Aladdin's lamp was only waiting for them to rub it, gave up steady employments for gold-hunting, and thereby too often abandoned solid substance for a vain shadow. It is impossible to form a correct idea of the earnings at Ophir. Ten shillings a-day was pretty generally named as the average, which I cannot but think much too low. The search for nuggets is detrimental to steady work, causing a less careful washing for the smaller atoms, which after all pay better. At the Turon, pepites are less common. It is this, perhaps, that renders the gains there more uniform, and the instances of complete failure less frequent than on the Summerhill. A few days after I left this latter place a lump of pure gold, weighing fifty-one ounces, was dug up by a party of sailors, and sold by them to Captain Erskine, of


  ― 357 ―
H.M.S. Havannah, who will have the pleasure of displaying in England, for which place he sailed shortly afterwards, the largest waterworn piece yet discovered in Australia.

The “spree” of gold-hunting became very popular among seafaring men. The papers teemed with trials of runaways from the shipping at Sydney. Most of them made a bad business, some never even reaching the mines, others losing all they had got by their own carelessness and the roguery of their neighbours. A friend of mine fell in with one of these fish out of water, who had been pillaged on the mountain road whilst lying asleep. He was trying in vain to mount a sorry nag he had bought for the journey. The poor seaman was fairly “took aback, for,” said he, “they've robbed me of a one pun' note, my' stifficate of discharge from the ship, three weeks' grub, and my port stirrup, and I'm blowed if I can get upon this beast without it!” My informant suggested the expedient of unrigging the starboard stirrup, and shipping it on the port side; and, moreover, performed this transfer for him. Jack, delighted with this somewhat obvious “dodge,” “shinned” up to his Rosinante's back, and proceeded on his journey with renewed spirits.

Late in August a nugget of fifty-seven ounces was dug up, and sold in Sydney. The general form of these lumps is flattish, with the edges, whether of metal or stone, smoothed off as though they had been battered


  ― 358 ―
by harder substances, and polished by the torrents of centuries. I brought home a nugget of about forty ounces, of a more spherical shape than common. It was not unlike the knob of a drum-major's stick. The gold was thinly veined with pinkish quartz. The dust is nothing more than the smaller particles broken from the larger and worn by trituration into miniature nuggets.

20th July.—In the afternoon, I took leave of my kind and hospitable friend Mr. Green, who furnished me with a mounted policeman as guide and escort, and rode back to Swallow Creek, overtaking on the road a continuous line of travelling miners, proceeding, like myself, to the Turon. Poor people! they had to wade the several roaring torrents through which I rode up to my saddle-girths.

21st July.—A bright hoar frost covered the face of the country when I arose this morning. The milk that was served at breakfast was frozen in the pitcher. I left Swallow Creek early, having there resumed my carriage. It was a beautiful sunny day, highly cheering after a week of rain and gloom. In Australia damp and cloudy weather is intolerable. It seems a kind of breach of promise. You feel inclined to sue the seasons for damages. In dear old England you are thankful for sunshine, and have nothing to urge in the way of complaint against so common an event as a rainy day, a cold or cough, or a wet skin!

The Summerhill and Turon rivers are alike tributaries


  ― 359 ―
of the Macquarie. The distance across the mountain region between the two gold-fields is probably not more than thirty miles; and a track available for baggage-animals will, doubtless, shortly be made to unite them.

My route took me round by Bathurst—the arc making the distance about sixty miles. In this town I had to wait three or four hours for the swollen Macquarie—(that capricious stream, which sometimes does not run at all for years)—to run down; and by 4 P.M. I found it fordable on wheels. My kind friend, Mr. W. Suttor of Brucedale, had invited me to his beautiful place, which lies in the direct route to the Turon diggings, whether from Bathurst or Sydney,—so direct, indeed, that for the last fortnight the road in front of his windows has exhibited the appearance of the line of march of a large army's baggage. The cavalcade was still passing during my stay there. A considerable sprinkling of scarlet serge-shirts and blankets, with a strong force of musketeers at the “slope” and “trail,” gave a martial feature to the movement. The spectacle was enlivening enough to the somewhat sequestered scenery of Brucedale. My worthy host might not quite relish the liberties taken with his property by the strangers; for they made their halts and their fires where they listed, and turned out their beasts where it suited them. Perhaps, however, on putting two and two together, the sagacious proprietor might compound with their trespasses in consideration of the famous market this


  ― 360 ―
roving population was bringing him for his flocks and herds on the neighbouring hills;—for he has sheep-runs absolutely astride on the Turon.

The discovery of the Gold Field on this river is due to a superintendent of Mr. Suttor, who found the precious ore on the first search, and on every spot where he tested the alluvium by the tin-dish. The discovery was promptly made public by Mr. Suttor; and in a few days the cabalistic word “Gold” had conjured into existence, among the wild fastnesses of these mountain pastures, a population at the least equal to the town of Bathurst itself.

At Brucedale I met the fortunate possessor of the monster lump, Dr. Kerr, who is connected by marriage with Mr. Suttor. It would have been wonderful indeed had not gold, and this particular morsel of gold, formed the main subject of discourse. The spot of the find, it appears, was by no means rocky, precipitous, or remarkably sterile. It was a gentle slope, in the midst of a favourite sheep-walk. The unconscious flocks must have a thousand times nibbled the herbage sprouting around the precious mass. The shepherd had, perhaps, used it as a pillow for his noontide doze, or as a prop for his back while he awakened the echoes with his oaten, or soothed his solitude with his clay pipe. But the destined day had arrived. The swarthy Corydon, sauntering with hands behind him and eyes bent on the ground, was suddenly attracted by the glitter of a yellow


  ― 361 ―
speck like the head of a pin on a lump of rock. His thoughts naturally turning to the bilious-looking dross about which the white men had been for some weeks past in such a rabid state, he drew from his belt his tomahawk and struck off a fragment from the block. What was his surprise to find it not only thickly veined with gold, but a mass of gold nearly pure. Away went this second Man Friday, over hill and dale, until he had found his master,—and the rest has been told. It is not unimportant to know that Dr. Kerr owes his good fortune to the uniform kindness of himself and his amiable lady towards the aborigines. The latter has been especially earnest in her endeavours to ameliorate the condition of this abject race.

I heard somewhere that another intelligent black had stated that he remembered having seen, as a child, large quantities of the substance about which so much stir was now made. In vain he tasked his memory as to the spot where he asserted that many years back he had seen a block similar to those just found. It might possibly be the same, but his recollections pointed rather to some distant part of the mountain region.

The hundredweight was found, it appears, in three pieces, situated triagonally a few paces apart, detached from any vein of rock, and seated, as it were, on the clayey soil. Mr. Suttor took the trouble to convey down to the creek and to wash some pans of the surrounding earth, but not the smallest indication of


  ― 362 ―
gold was perceptible therein, although particles of the metal were readily found on the banks of the stream. I believe this instance of a heavy mass of gold found in situ and removable without the labour of the miner, to be quite unparalleled in mineralogical history. What wonder that such a discovery should cause uncommon—even undue—excitement amongst a people all classes of whom may be styled industrial, for all are labouring by mind or muscle for their daily bread, and none can afford to be idle!

It is impossible to argue others, or indeed to persuade oneself, into the belief that this particular mass, picked up within the first three months of Australia's golden era, is—in the language of sentimental poetry—“the lonely one.” Science cannot assert it. There is no precedent to guide probability. Everybody may find a similar jetsom; and the Bathurst Mountains will accordingly be rummaged for kindred lumps—to the discovery of others, perhaps, but to the certain disappointment of hundreds of “tall fellows” who might well be more profitably employed for the good of themselves, their families, and the public.

The ladies at Brucedale were obliging enough to make up, as a present for my wife, a pacquet of specimens of the different ores found in this richly metalliferous district—Mrs. Kerr contributing some beautiful atoms of the monster block which had been scattered from it by the sledge-hammer. They were all more


  ― 363 ―
or less intermixed with white quartz. Some grand combustion had evidently fused the metal and the rock, the soft and the hard, the precious and the worthless, into one common mass. The gold, thus released from, or exposed in its birthplace, was crystallized into innumerable sharp spiracles, and looked as though it had just come from under the chasing tool of some cunning sculptor. Cellini himself could not have produced more exquisite forms. I believe I shall be able to show my friends at home some of the most splendid specimens of virgin gold in the matrix ever seen—one or two of them obtained at considerable cost.

The Kerr Hundredweight had become, as I have hinted, a classical subject. Every detail connected with it was interesting to a stranger, and had, of course, become a household word at Brucedale. The little saddle-bags into which it had, in its fragmental form, been with difficulty crammed, were dignified into objects of curiosity worthy of a museum. It was amusing to hear that the worthy doctor, on his long ride homewards with the gold on his saddle, being compelled to halt at some human habitation for refreshment, had, in order to avert suspicion from his precious freight, lifted it with assumed ease from the horse's back, and flung it with forced indifference over a rail fence. “It seems heavy,” remarked a bystander. “Full of gold, of course!” replied the owner, with a smile, and with more truth than he desired to get credit for.




  ― 364 ―

July 22d.—Brucedale. Another specimen was added to my collection—as interesting to me as the others, although not so pleasing in its association. It was a jagged spear-head, about six inches long, just cut by Dr. Kerr out of the breast of one of Mr. Suttor's blacks. He was the bully of the tribe, it appears, but unluckily getting drunk, a rival took advantage of his weak moment, and, challenging him to a duel, transfixed him with his lance. The rude weapon had passed along the breastbone under the pectoral muscles, which the operator was compelled to lay open in order to release the serrated wood. No indication of pain was manifested by the manly patient under the surgical knife. He was a fine powerful-looking fellow.

This morning Mr. Suttor went into Bathurst to conclude the sale of the Kerr gold; and I, having entered into temporary partnership with one of his sons, proceeded to carry into effect the cold water care I had resolved to throw upon the nascent symptoms of the gold epidemic which I felt creeping in my veins. A day's “prospecting” was the prescription. By dint of a rough pony, a cold day, six quartz ridges jagged with slate, two or three flooded creeks, a pickaxe, a sledge-hammer, a tin dish, and—a total absence of gold, even the minutest speck, in reward of our united labours—the remedy was effectuated in five hours, and the disease eradicated for ever!

In the evening Mr. Suttor returned, having sold,


  ― 365 ―
after brisk competition, his brother-in-law's trouvaille—1,233 oz. 9 dwts.—for 4,160l. (being 3l. 7s. 6d. per oz.) to a firm in Sydney, the head of which had all along predicted, and did not the less continue to predict, that the discovery of gold would be the ruin of the colony! I mention this fact merely to add that this gentleman was not singular in his opinion. Scores of persons were speculating deeply in the ore, who looked with doubt and even with dismay to the result it might produce on the other interests of the country—especially on its paramount export, the wool. The public mind was indeed utterly upset by the novel and startling crisis. The keenest calculators could not look an inch into futurity.

The history of the Hundredweight continued to be eventful. A libation of champagne was poured out between the parties concerned in the sale. The purchasing partner of the Sydney firm had got his gold safe in the bank at Bathurst, and had resolved, in order to save the one per cent. charged by Government for escort, to take his treasure under his own personal charge to the capital. The risk was small, for he had taken his place as a passenger in the mail, which travels in charge of a strong guard for the protection of the gold belonging to the Government and to persons willing to pay the per-centage. His foot was on the step—when lo! the Commissioner demanded the gold in the Queen's name! The astounded merchant


  ― 366 ―
refused to “deliver,” unless force was used. Force was used. Eventually, on the purchaser signing a bond to pay such royalty as might hereafter be demanded on behalf of Her Majesty, the gold was restored to him. The escort fee was, however, exacted from him; the Hundredweight reached Sydney in safety—was for some hours obligingly exhibited to the public by the new proprietor, and was, I believe, shipped the same evening, per Bondicar, for England.

With the chance of ten per cent. royalty hanging over him, the owner will in all probability have nine or ten months to reflect whether or not he has paid too dear for his golden whistle! Be it as it may, one of the greatest and most costly natural curiosities in the world—a curiosity worthy a place in an universal museum, if there were such an institution, and which seemed to have been discovered expressly to adorn the Great Exhibition of 1851, will, thanks to its barbarous treatment from beginning to end, be lost to the world for ever. I cannot tell what might have been the intention of the purchaser of the mass in its mutilated state, had he obtained tranquil possession of it; but harassed and justly irritated by the delays, and difficulties, and conditions attached to his acquisition, I have it from his own lips that the Hundredweight of Gold should go to the melting-pot an hour after it reached London.

Additional gold regulations were early in August issued by Government, limiting the privilege conferred


  ― 367 ―
by the licence to operations in the alluvium or beds of creeks, and instituting a royalty of ten per cent. on crown land and five per cent. on private property, upon gold found in the matrix or original place of deposit.

July 23d.—Mr. Suttor having kindly offered to accompany me on a two days' trip to the Turon Diggings, we started on horseback this morning on that expedition, with our “swag” at the saddle-bow. The distance might be from eighteen to twenty miles, which it took us four hours to perform. The country through which we passed was by no means rugged. There was no scarcity of well-wooded and well-grassed hills of easy acclivity, on the tops and sides of which were scattered at long intervals fine flocks of sheep; and here and there the dappled hides of great herds of cattle shone through the eternal olive grey of the gum forests, in cheerful contrast. Nor were there wanting—although these were scarce—occasional open alluvial flats, apparently of the richest soil.

The road, or rather dray-track, from Bathurst to Mudgee leads directly to the scene of the present mining operations. Indeed the position of the works was probably dictated by the existence of this sole path through the mountain region; and I mention it because it leads me to the conclusion that the Turon gold field is not confined to the twelve or fourteen miles on either hand of the point where the Mudgee road crosses the stream; but that, on the contrary,


  ― 368 ―
gold will be found equally plentiful, perhaps more so, in other parts of the river and its tributaries hitherto inaccessible to wheels or even pack-horses.

About halfway we came upon Wyagden—a grazing station belonging to the Suttor family, well situated on a fertile level with fine pasturing hills on every side. We overtook several formidable companies bound for the diggings; found others encamped or baiting where water was plentiful; and met a very few coming towards Bathurst, on foot or mounted, in twos and threes, with a certain conscious expression on their countenances, which to a “prospecting” bush-ranger would have been a sure indication of gold “in pockets.”

The road to the Turon—or Sofala, as it has since my visit, not happily, I think, been called, (for the native appellations are surely the best,)—the road to the Turon will be the grave of many an overtasked bullock and horse; for, although the hills are not generally of extraordinarily steep ascent, the passage of Lewis's Mountain is a tremendous obstacle for a laden dray. It has been overcome, however; and in time may be remedied or avoided. As we approached this pass a cart was climbing it, like a fly up a wall. The wain was empty, the men shouldering the packages, “like Britons” as they were, and staggering slowly but surely onwards. With gold a-head men do not stick at trifles. Vestigia nulla retrorsum, the motto of the 5th Dragoon Guards, is


  ― 369 ―
the gold-hunter's war-cry. Just beyond this hill we crossed a ridge of fine limestone. It must be very scarce in this country, for I do not remember noticing that species of rock before. In the Sydney district there is none of this valuable stone. The lime used in building is obtained entirely from sea-shells, of which fortunately there exist enormous banks.

At length the main features of the country became more decided in character. Amid a chaos of minor swells it was easy to trace two leading sierras, dominating and marking the direction of a long and tortuous valley. This valley forms the bed of the river Turon—the Pactolus of the Antipodes. Thin wreaths of bluish smoke indicated the position of the mines, far below us and as yet invisible. As we topped a ridge, the last of a series I thought interminable, my companion suddenly said, “Stop and listen.” I pulled up my horse, and heard as I imagined the rushing of some mighty cataract. “It is the cradles,” said he; and so it was—the grating of the gravel or rubble on the metal sifters of five hundred rockers! I shall not easily forget the impression made on me by this singular acoustic effect. Looking down into that wild mountain glen, it was almost incredible that this uniform and ceaseless crash could be produced by the agency of a crowd of human beings, not one of whom was visible, nor any sign of their existence. There was no pause nor the slightest variation in the


  ― 370 ―
cadence as it floated up to us on the still air; and I have no doubt that had we listened for an hour not the slightest check in the monotonous roar would have been detected. Presently as we descended upon the creek, tents and huts and every other kind of temporary tabernacle were described dotting the slopes and levels up and down and on either bank of the stream, in indiscriminate confusion.

We came upon the Turon at a spot where there is amply sufficient space for a considerable town, with frontage to the river. Indeed, the character of the country immediately bordering this river is less rugged and confined than that of the Summerhill Creek, the bed of the stream itself much wider, and infinitely more so than the present state of its waters, albeit flooded, requires. The torrents which brought the gold down must have been much greater than any that have lately occurred; yet, that there has been a modern downflux of the metal is proved by fine dust having been found in tufts of grass on the banks.

A tolerable road runs for several miles along the course, winding among the beautiful swamp-oaks that fringe it, and crossing frequently from one bank to the other in spots where steeps impinge upon the creek. In most places this track is passable for drays—an immense advantage over Ophir—or rather it would have been passable, but that some of the more unscrupulous diggers have burrowed across it in all directions, in


  ― 371 ―
many instances finding the most lucrative spots where the dray-wheels had passed over for years before, no one suspecting that the road was paved with gold! The Commissioners will, of course, put a stop to this practice.

The Turon—in summer often quite dry or merely a meagre chain of ponds—was now pouring along in a turbid, eddying torrent, far up the stems of the casuarinas, whose bark showed a still higher water-mark. Numberless were the flooded excavations and deserted diggings occasioned by the late rains. Crossing the stream, as we had to do half-a-dozen times, it was about two to one against our avoiding a dive into one of the submerged pits. We took the odds and the brook, however, without hesitation, and luck favoured us.

Our first visit on attaining the opposite bank, a long sloping hill lightly timbered and sprinkled over with various camps, was made to a gentleman—a relative of my host—who, having tried digging for a time and left that pursuit to be carried on by the rest of his party, had struck out the, perhaps, more remunerative one of wholesale and retail butcher. A fine handsome young man, with manners and address particularly pleasing, one might be tempted to doubt his taste in the choice of a profession. At the present juncture, however, no one could doubt the wisdom of the speculation, nor the sagacity of the family combination, by which Mr. —— slaughters (by proxy, of course) and sells the mutton which, in flocks of fifty or a hundred, is driven to his


  ― 372 ―
shambles from his relative's pastures, each thus getting a handsome profit. I heard that the fat wethers which, before the gold discovery, were selling for three or four shillings, were fetching on the Turon eight or ten shillings; and yet meat was not more than threepence per pound.

The shop consisted of an open shed, with a bark roof and a rank-entire of fat sheep depending from the eaves. Twenty or thirty others were biding their time in a rude pen; and a fine flock browsed, or would have done so, had there been a blade of grass left, on the hill-side above. Behind the shed the assistant was cutting innocent throats as fast as he could.

Hurrying hungry and thirsty to Mr. ——'s tent, which was just such an one as a gipsy tinker might inhabit at the corner of an English common, we were promptly supplied by the proprietor—in whom the amateur butcher does not extinguish the gentleman — with the ordinary breakfast, dinner, and supper of the miner and the bushman, viz. damper, grilled mutton, and tea boiled in a tin-pot with brown sugar and without milk. This is, undoubtedly, the best method of making tea. The boiling without a lid on the pot effectually destroys the astringency of the beverage, so nauseous when there is no milk to soften it. Attacking these viands with our pocket-knives, our appetites were soon appeased. The horses got nothing, for there was nothing for them. They had to feed upon the promise


  ― 373 ―
of hay and corn, which I made them conditionally upon our reaching the quarters of my old friends, the sergeant and troopers of the mounted police. Meanwhile we hung their despondent heads to a stump, and went down to the creek to inspect the operations of the miners. The weather was sunny and mild, and the works were going on earnestly on all sides.

Taking the state of the atmosphere into account, the scene was a much more cheering one than that presented at Ophir. I was not sorry to have viewed gold-digging under the opposite influences of tempestuous and fine weather. Nothing, surely, could have been more dispiriting and damping to mining ardour than the soaking showers, deep mud, and boisterous torrents of Summer-hill. Few things and scenes could have been more agreeable and enlivening than the beautiful and tranquil vale of the Turon, under a beaming sun and refreshing breeze, with the busy, healthy, and steadfast throng labouring along its banks.

The camps were not entirely deserted, for one of every company remains at the hut cooking, washing, and keeping guard in the absence of his mates. I saw no women, except a few “gins,” at the mines, one of the most odious peculiarities of the gold-digging population.

previous
next