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CHAPTER XI. AN AUSTRALIAN MERCHANT.




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WE must now introduce another character to our readers. We are certain in the following portrait of Captain Thomson; our readers will at once recognise one of the Australian speculators of the former times, whose name was Legion.

Captain Thomson said he was a merchant, but he had never had a store or an office. He did not import merchandise from any part of the world, nor did he speculate much in any article with the exception of wheat and sugar. He had no account books, his transactions were only recorded in memoranda which he had in his pocket-book. At different periods he had been a sugar speculator, a land-jobber, a farmer, a grazier, a houseowner; he had been always changing about and trying to accumulate a fortune by some lucky chance. He commonly resided in the town; but since the times had altered the prospects of the innumerable tribes of speculators that hovered about the Australian towns, he had been compelled to reside upon his station, which, more fortunate than many, he had managed to save from the crash.

He was at the door superintending the manufacture of ropes from cow-hides; and as Dr. Arabin rode up, he advanced and welcomed him to the Bush. We must say this for the squatters or settlers of the Colony,


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that whatever their faults are, their hospitality ought to cover them. The majority of them are delighted at the sight of a stranger; the solitude of the Bush is seldom enlivened with a stray traveller, and in many parts it is a momentous occurrence.

There exist a large tribe of unfortunate young men that have been in business for themselves—or, as the saying is, have seen better days. Having no occupation, they lead a peculiar life, wandering about the country, depending solely upon the hospitality of the settlers. So firmly are these erratic habits grounded, that it is next to impossible to eradicate them. Many, after exhausting the hospitality of the settler, will cast in their lot with the wandering tribes of aborigines, and degenerate into total barbarism. It is surprising to observe the latent talent which is in the Australian wilds: many keepers of cattle and bullock-drivers have emigrated with property and sunk from inexperience; a few years hence they get a little money, commence in a small way, and creep up by slow and painful gradation to independence.

Captain Thomson received Dr. Arabin as a friend, and entertained him with the utmost kindness. A messenger was despatched to Willis's station to find out if the owner had returned. The saddle was taken from his horse's back, and the animal was turned out into the paddock; the spirits were brought out, an unusual thing in the Bush, and a dinner was got up in the very best Bush style. The messenger returned with the pleasing information that Willis had been found that forenoon, and was at home and much better. Captain Thomson insisted that the traveller


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should partake of his hospitality for that evening, and as he wished for much information, he agreed to this at once.

The usual plentiful Australian meal passed over, the rum-bottle and the tea-kettle were at hand, and the captain, who was an excellent compounder of punch, set to work.

“I have had many engagements with the teetotallers, but nothing they can urge shall ever prevent me from taking my comfortable glass of grog.”

“I am not partial to it,” replied Arabin.

“You certainly will join me in this decanter of punch, which I can assure you is compounded upon the real West Indian principle.”

“I will take a single glass with you,” replied Arabin.

After the first was finished, he was prevailed upon to take one more. Beyond this he would not go, and sat attentively watching the gallant soldier, who swallowed glass after glass without being the worse. He related many adventures, which Arabin relished. From the way in which he spoke, it was evident that his life had been chequered with hard vicissitudes, and also by singular turns of good luck. Since he arrived in Australia he had been in good repute as a speculator, and soon after he lost all but the solitary station which he had lately made his home. He talked ambiguously of something which he had planned, and from which he expected to become more independent than he had ever been. Dr. Arabin, thinking this a favourable opportunity, suggested to him the probability of his becoming a purchaser of stock. The captain pricked


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up his ears at this intelligence, and began to expatiate on the superiority of his own stock.

“I must give you the history of these flocks, which I now mean to sell. About five years ago, I was in possession of a considerable sum of money, all of which had been accumulated by lucky speculations. I saw that money was abundant and property scarce, and I had little doubt but that money would be scarce in a few years and property plentiful. If I had sold everything off then, I should have acted right. I had doubts and fears at the moment, and determined to buy three hundred ewes, with lambs by their sides, of the finest breed in the Colony. I looked long before I could see anything to suit me, but at last I made a good purchase and put them upon this very station. Time passed on; I appeared to be accumulating, but all I had was invested in property; money became very scarce, and property declined. Most thought this was but a temporary depression, that it would wear away in a month or two. Property became unsaleable, and as speculators failed one after another, every kind of business was brought to a stand-still. I was involved, and lost all I had, with the exception of the little flock of sheep, which had by that time increased to seven hundred and fifty. I retired to this spot, thankful, in such fearful times, to have a house above my head, and more fortunate than many whom I had known in affluence. My creditors took my property, and allowed me to keep this little station, because it would have sold for almost nothing then. I have attended to them punctually, and now I have more than two thousand, the produce of the


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three hundred ewes. There is no question but that sheep are the best stock in the Colony. When wool is high, money can be made; and even when low, they are a good livelihood. I have always found the wool pay the expenses, while the increase is certain profit.”

“Then,” said Arabin, “you purpose selling your station?”

“I do,” replied the other: “I have been anxious to sell for some time, as I see a plan by which I might soon be made more independent than ever I have been hitherto.”

“And what do you want for them?”

“I want a long price, but the stock is fine. I ask fifteen shillings a-head for the sheep, and three pounds for one hundred cattle; but I would sell either separately.”

“That is far beyond my mark,” replied Dr. Arabin. “I have not so much money as would pay for them.”

“Well, to be plain with you,” said the Captain, “if you tell me about how much you have, I would be better able to advise.”

“The utmost I could muster,” replied Dr. Arabin, “would be a thousand pounds.”

“Now I will be frank with you,” said the Captain: “that sum would suit me. If I succeed, I shall want no more; if I fail, I ought to have something to fall back upon; and if you will allow three hundred maiden ewes to remain upon the station for me, and keep them and their increase for three years without any charge, I will give you the station for the sum you have; and I assure you it is the best bargain which has been given for a long time.”




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Dr. Arabin soon found out that he had some scheme in view which required both money and immediate attendance, and as it is very difficult in dull times to sell stock, or in fact any property, so he contrived to make a most excellent purchase of him. Captain Thomson was in high spirits, and after the bargain was fairly settled informed his guest of the undertaking he had in prospect. “A person has just been discovered in the Colony who is the lawful heir to a very extensive property in England; his father had been transported to New South Wales for forgery, and although of good family no notice had been taken of him, in consequence of a false report of his death having been circulated by a younger brother, who thus acquired his property by the dishonest deception. All the family having died, the property was thrown into Chancery, and the nearest of kin advertised for. By a singular chance the news reached the lawful heir in this Colony, who is a labouring man, and every inquiry has been made, and it appears that he may have the property by going home and putting the case in the hands of a good lawyer. I knew the man long ago, and he has offered to give me a third of the whole if I go home and recover it for him. The property is large, in fact it is nearly incredible, and if he recovers it I shall be a man of fortune and shall never return to claim the stock I leave with you. I have little doubt but we shall succeed, and many have offered to subscribe money upon condition that he repays them with a handsome present when he recovers his property. I have had great difficulty to subdue his impatience to be off for the last three


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months; indeed, I was afraid he might put himself under the protection of some other individual, and that I should lose the only good thing which ever fell in my way. You are now fully aware of the circumstances of my case, which have put me in the hands of almost any person of respectability with money. The sheep will be a sure income to you, if you keep them clean and manage them well. I think I shall give my small herd of cattle out on halves to some person, or take them down the country and sell them by auction. The sooner I can get away the better, as there is some danger of the property being claimed by other parties.”

Before the two retired to rest, the bargain was finally concluded. The settler prevailed upon his guest to partake of another glass of his punch, and he entertained him with many tales of Colonial characters, which were exquisitely amusing. At length a substantial supper made its appearance, which, however, was only required by the settler; the other was of too abstemious habits to eat at so late an hour, and soon after they took possession of sofas for the night. In the morning the settler had his inmate up at daybreak, and they went to see the sheep counted out to the different shepherds. We may remark, that the sheep are folded every night in hurdles, and that the hut-keepers watch them both summer and winter. There is commonly a watch-box, which resembles a bed to shut up, and so contrived that it can be moved with the hurdles. Even when the hut-keepers are married, they sleep in these machines with their wives, and often two or three children. It is necessary that


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the sheep should be watched, to prevent the depredations of the wild dogs. These scourges will attack the flocks at night, and often rush on them, and take several off before the hut-keeper can arrive on the scene of action. The hurdles are frequently shifted to keep the sheep healthy.

Dr. Arabin, although no judge of stock, was yet aware that Captain Thomson's little flock was of a very superior breed. The Captain showed him the fineness of the wool, and also informed him that wool marked with his brand of

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was in more demand and fetched a higher price than any other in the district. He then showed him the run, which was very fine. No scrubs or stony ground were visible. The soil appeared good, the grass luxuriant, and the country thinly wooded. The river ran the whole length of the run, and therefore no fear could be entertained of a scarcity of water. The huts were very comfortable, and a paddock, which was cultivated, added to the apparent comfort of the residence. After breakfast, Arabin was amused for several hours in looking over the run, and having partaken of an early dinner, he started for town, in the direction of Willis's station, where he intended to call.

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