An Australian Parsonage/Chapter XI


Winter a favourable time for exploring parties—Explorers turn back for want of water—Second expedition—Excitement at setting out—School copies—Second disappointment—Wild puppies give great umbrage—Bushrangers—Impassable bush serves as prison wall—Fire-arms indispensable to bushrangers—Fatal occurrences—Native trackers—Chain-gang—Conditional pardons—Fact of having been in Western Australia suppressed by immigrants in Adelaide—Tale of escape—Discontent of ticket-of-leave men on cessation of conditional pardons—An oppressive state of law—Truck system—Anecdote of shoemaker—Benevolent master—Tendency of truck system to destroy gratitude—Archdeacon Paley's opinion of paying ready money—Girl thinks it high time bucket should be worn out—Reckless expenditure of wages—Savings' bank discouraged, and why—French convict saves money—Barter—Paying one's creditor with eggs—Dressmaker paid with melons and almonds—Hospital admission—Nursing the sick—Presents to patients forbidden—Hospital orderlies—Dentists—French Colonel—Ophthalmia—"Bunged" eyes—Squints—Measles and hooping-cough—Mortality from measles amongst natives—A "corporal act of mercy"—Native hops and tea—Holloway's pills—Woman severely burnt—Broken leg—Dislocated hip—Answer to coo-ee—Finding of human bones—Lost child—Discovery of relics—Reasons for easily losing one's way in bush—Anecdotes of Irish neighbour and the poor maid-servant—We spend a night out of doors—Silence of bush at night—A perplexing adventure—Horse brought back by Khourabene—A "dropped hip"—We are thrown out of cart and feel injured by horse's indifference to what has happened—Traces repaired with knitting-cotton.

During the long hot summers of Western Australia the bush was gradually denuded of the dried-up grass and herbage which forms the food of both sheep and cattle at that season, and by the time that the first showers of rain fell but little was left to supply the wants of the flocks and herds except the curious foliage of the Xanthorrhoeas, usually called "blackboy grass." The mid-winter months, however, reinforced the country with fresh stores of both grass and water, and though, as I have said in the last chapter, the time was not favourable for making excursions of mere pleasure, there was no other so suitable for the dispatch of exploring parties in search of new sheep-runs, or in pursuit of still more important objects of discovery.

We were present at the departure of one such expedition, which was sent out in order to complete certain promising discoveries to the eastward which had been commenced the year before. On the former occasion the leader had succeeded in carrying his party across a rugged belt of rocky waterless ground, and through a wide track of almost impervious scrub, to a plain which had been described by the natives beforehand as abounding with emus and kangaroos. As the presence of these animals on any considerable extent of country is a certain proof of the existence of both grass and water, great hopes were entertained that the small plain of pasture land, upon which the adventurers had succeeded in arriving, would prove to be the commencement of a really valuable district.

Unfortunately the season was one of great drought, the winter rains had been confined to the country near the coast, and had not extended to the interior; the surface water had nearly all been dried up by the sun, so that at each water hole that could be discovered the supply was so scanty as to be barely sufficient for their wants. The plain itself seemed to be well watered in ordinary seasons, and the indications of the country around all seemed favourable, but after the most careful search not a single spring or well could be discovered, and all hope of farther progress that season being at an end, the party contented themselves with naming their discovery the "Hampton Plains," in honour of the Governor, and turned back to await a kindlier winter.

The second expedition of which we witnessed the departure was composed of three gentlemen as leaders, and a mixed party of pensioners and convicts to act as road-makers and well-sinkers. The intention of the Government in sending out so strong a body of men was to open a fairly practicable track, over which sheep and cattle might travel in safety, leading to the country which had been discovered on the previous occasion. Having reached this spot, and having marked out the road and planned the wells, the larger number of the convicts were to be left to finish the works, under supervision of the pensioners, whilst the leaders, with a much smaller party, should prosecute the search to the eastward, and also in a southern and northern direction.

Much curiosity had been excited by the promising character given of the Hampton Plains, and some persons were even so sanguine as to hope that they would prove the commencement of a line of country stretching away so far to the east and south as at length to join some portion of the territory of South Australia. The wish for such a communication with the sister colony was devoutly expressed by all the settlers, but the hope of really finding it had long since died out of most people's minds.

The mere starting of so large a party of riders and sumpter horses, increased also by the company of many persons who wished to see the safe beginning of the march, and to accompany the explorers as far as their first night's halting-ground, caused much stir and bustle in Barladong; everyone turned out of doors to wave a farewell, and even in the schools "expedition" became a favourite word to set as a copy in the writing lessons of that week. But the season was neither propitious nor well selected, and, as there had lately been a series of rather dry winters, the supply of water in the bush proved scantier than ever, justifying the forebodings of experienced persons, who had feared that the time was inopportune for making fresh discoveries.

In some places it was evident that no rain had fallen for two years, and it soon became equally plain that, unless water could be found, the lives of all would be sacrificed by any attempt to penetrate the interior to a greater distance. It was therefore agreed that the idea of investigating the grass plains must be once more abandoned, and the baffled expedition retraced its steps, bearing a heavy load of disappointment, as well as a few bush curiosities picked up in the course of the march.

Two little puppies of the wild dog or dingo were amongst the live-stock of the return party, much to the disgust of the country settlers, who seemed to think that the explorers in their character of bearers of ill news needed not to have added this aggravation. "Was it not vexatious enough," they said, "that the expedition had failed to find new land, without bringing back native dogs to eat up people's sheep on such land as was there already?" Considering, however, that the Hampton Plains were dependent on surface-water only, the fact of their continuing a terra incognita might possibly have been a fitter subject for rejoicing than was dreamt of in the colonist's philosophy. A successful survey of the plains would have been followed by the dispatch of men and sheep to take possession of them, perchance but to meet the same fate that befell the flock-owners of the riverless northern districts of South Australia, where, after a long continuance of drought in the deadly season of 1865, the stock entirely perished, and the proprietors narrowly escaped with their own lives.

As to the wild dogs, their race had been so carefully extinguished, in the vicinity of Barladong, that the only living specimen I ever saw was one of the before-mentioned puppies. It was black and sleek, with long pricked ears, and had an eager, restless look, which appeared to justify the sheep-farmers' animosity; moreover, the unlucky wretch, as if resolved to run headlong upon its fate, set to work killing chickens like an old hand at the first civilized tenement to which it was introduced. The origin of these dogs is quite a mystery; that they are not indigenous in Australia is universally allowed, and conjecture runs wild as to whether their progenitors swam ashore from a shipwreck, or were landed from canoes, in company with the persons by whom the continent was originally peopled.

There was another class of persons, unconnected with explorers, who chose the winter as the most favourable time for wanderings in the bush, and not a year passed without instances, more or less alarming, of prisoners running away from road parties and becoming bushrangers. The frequent recurrence of such events caused Binnahan to decide very confidently that an engraving in an illustrated almanack, which the artist had intended to be a representation of Shakspeare's arrest by Sir Thomas Lucy's gamekeepers, was "a picture of bushrangers."

To all outward appearance nothing is more probable than that a large number of convicts should escape at any moment. The convict depôts in the country districts are so unprotected that there seems no reason why the men should not walk away, without even the preliminary of knocking down a warder. Still more incapable than the depôt warder of retaining his so-called prisoners in custody does the officer in charge of a road party at first sight appear. His position, to the eye of a stranger, would present that of one who was abandoned to the mercy of sixteen or twenty desperate men, beyond sight or sound of aid except the chance passing of a teamster, whose own antecedents would probably be similar to those of the wayside gang. The truth is, that the detention of the prisoners, and consequently the safety of the free community in Western Australia, has depended mainly on the impassable and inhospitable character of the bush, which serves the purpose of a vast wall around a natural jail the inmates of which, as a policeman once said to us, "may escape from the prison, but cannot get out of the prison yard."

As a body the prisoners have sense enough to know that a certain amount of restraint upon their liberty is better for them than to become complete outlaws by attempting acts of violence, with the alternative of the gallows if captured, or a death by hunger and thirst in the bush if free. Nevertheless, as surely as winter filled the water holes, we used to hear of escapes from the road parties. Most of the fugitives were probably more anxious for change and adventure than anything else, while each individual secretly cherished the idea that he could succeed, though many had failed, in accomplishing a final exit from the colony. As a riddance of the prison dress must of course be effected without loss of time, the first act always was to enter some lonely house and seize upon clothes and such fire-arms as came to hand, and, when once possessed of these, the bushrangers, as they were thenceforth called, wandered about till recaptured, seldom committing worse violence than frightening people into giving them anything and everything that they demanded.

To inspire the degree of dread sufficient for levying supplies guns were absolutely necessary, and those householders who owned a fowling-piece or rifle were, on that very account, more liable than other persons to receive domiciliary visits in search of weapons. I have seen the mistress of a family oppressed with a sense of insecurity because it was "known" that there was a revolver in her house, and a call might therefore be looked for from the bushrangers who were then abroad, on any day that they had ascertained the absence of the master.

Compared with the number of prisoners who were at large, whilst we were in the colony, there were not as many cases of attacks fatal to life as might have been expected, but the encounter with the police, when the prisoners were once more apprehended, rarely took place without bloodshed, and two captured men were at different times brought in wounded to Barladong. One party of bushrangers deliberately murdered a former convict, in whose house they had taken shelter whilst evading the police, and also indirectly caused the death of another, by first making him excessively drunk, in payment for fetching them a keg of spirits from a cave where it had been hidden, and then leaving him lying in the bush exposed to the full heat of the sun. Late in the night the head warder of the convict depôt aroused my husband, and begged him to return with him to visit the poor creature in the hospital, to which he had just been brought, scorched beyond hope of recovery, although the summer was not fully begun or the heat yet very intense. He was barely able to relate what had occurred, and died in an hour or two afterwards.

In the task of searching for runaway prisoners the police are almost always assisted by native constables, whose keen sight and extraordinary powers of observation are capable of following a track even over the hardest rocks, a circumstance well calculated to excite our wonder, in spite of our knowing that the natives' familiarity with the bare ground dates from the time when it was his nursery floor.

Confirmed runaways, who had given much trouble to the police, were punished by being placed in the chain-gang at the "Establishment"; but there were some men who seemed to be proof against all impediments, and more than one escape, even from this heavily-ironed crew, occurred whilst we were in the colony. The fetters that they carried were of such size and weight that the first time I ever saw the gang I turned my head on its approach to look, as I supposed, at a jingling team of horses coming up behind us. I then perceived that the noise was caused by the irons on the legs and feet of fifty men who were walking, or rather shuffling along, in ranks of four abreast, and dressed in parti-coloured clothes. Before the prisoners marched soldiers with mounted bayonets, and behind, bringing up the rear, were other soldiers carrying revolvers on the full cock. The chain-gang was being thus escorted back to the "Establishment" after working on the road, and the sight was most painful, for though each individual had probably deserved hanging, one could not help feeling that the present condition of most of the prisoners was in all likelihood the inevitable result of bad early training.

When we first went to Western Australia it was customary for convicts who had served a portion of their sentence to receive what was called a conditional pardon, by which they were free to leave the colony, and to land in the ports of any part of the world, those of Great Britain and Ireland alone excepted; but this licence naturally causing a migratory flow of convicts to Melbourne and Adelaide, rendering necessary to those colonies a great and expensive police force, they, by their inter-colonial laws, have refused to recognize the validity of conditional pardons, and compel all persons who come from Swan River to show certificates of having entered the latter place as free men, before permitting them to step ashore.

Even when the passports are pronounced satisfactory the owners of them think it best to say as little as may be, after landing, of ever having been in Swan River. I learned this by reading a letter which an emigrant had received from a friend in Adelaide, warning him, in case he came there, not to speak of any acquaintance with Western Australia. The truth is, the neighbouring colonies are justified in suspecting that a good deal of contraband humanity is landed on their coasts in spite of preventive measures, and instances occurred under our own knowledge of men with conditional pardons having left Western Australia for Adelaide, and successfully running the blockade.

One of these adventurers had married an emigrant girl who sympathized but little in his desire to get away, and urged upon him that it was better to remain where his past life was already known, than to live elsewhere in continual dread of recognition. However, her arguments were no match for his determination, and, having contrived to land in Adelaide without detection, he sent for her to join him there, though not till after the lapse of so many months as made us fear that he intended to cut himself altogether adrift from his wife. A letter that he wrote us, full of joy on meeting her again, was a satisfactory proof of the injustice of our apprehensions.

The conferring of conditional pardons came to an end before our return to England, and, though their abolition was a matter of necessity if the other colonies were to be kept in good humour, yet it bore hard upon some individuals who wished to recover their respectability, and were now, as they said, deprived of all incitement to good behaviour by being compelled to remain for the full length of their sentence in no better position than that of prisoners released upon their ticket-of-leave, unable to be abroad after ten at night, or to carry a gun, or to remove into another district without a written pass which must be visé on reaching a police-station.

A conditional pardon, on the other hand, had invested its owner with a kind of status, which a man so much valued that it was a pledge for improvement in his conduct, despite the inconceivable difficulty besetting such an attempt on the part of a convict in Western Australia. His own class is continually robbing him or throwing temptations in his way; false swearing out of spite goes on to a frightful extent, and the man who wishes to live in peace and keep out of mischief can do so only by avoiding, as much as possible, all communication with his neighbours.

It may easily be imagined that, as so large a part of human sorrow springs from crime, there can be no place where misery, of one kind or other, comes oftener before the eyes than in a penal settlement; in fact we used to feel that, until we lived in one, we had never seen thorough wretchedness. But it was too unlike a "locus penitentiae" for a parallel with Dante's purgatory, even though the scene of the last-named place, by a strange coincidence, is laid in the southern hemisphere.

It was also a fruitful source of discontent that in case the employer of a ticket-of-leave holder brought a charge against him resulting in imprisonment, he might be, and sometimes was, mulcted of all wages that were due to him before committing the offence, besides being sent to jail—a state of law which offered a temptation to such masters as were needy and unprincipled to pick a quarrel with a convict servant, (when the work was completed which he had been hired to do,) in order to escape the payment of the wages due by accusing him of damaging property or neglecting his duties.

The crowning grievance, however, was the system, which universally prevailed in the colony, of paying wages by truck, every up-country settler keeping a shop or store for his labourers, and uniting in his own person the various callings of grocer, flour dealer, butcher, boot-maker, and seller of ready-made clothes to his own men. There is no need to point out the probability that this arrangement should be abused, or to say much of the evils of an institution which, at home, has been thought so intolerable as to be abolished by Act of Parliament.

Most things, however, are modified by change of locality, and the prominent feature that "truck" exhibits, in a penal settlement, is that of being the best scheme which ever was devised for disgusting rogues with honest labour. Whilst it chafes the free labourer it utterly disheartens the convict; and a disheartened convict is a hardened one, infinitely less ashamed to be drafted back to the "Establishment" than is a labourer at home to apply for outdoor parochial relief.

I remember that a ticket-of-leave man and his wife came to ask our help who had taken service upon a written agreement as to wages, though neither of them could read writing. On dismissal by the master they were paid nothing, as it appeared by the employer's reckoning that they had already received from him, whilst in his service, goods to the full value of all wages that they were entitled to demand. The man and his wife were utterly penniless, and begged us, besides the food that we gave them, to lend them a covering for the night. The pair ought, however, as the wolf suggested to the crane in the fable, to have felt thankful that they escaped so well, for the truck arithmetic is not famous for striking an even balance, being, on the contrary, much better adapted for finding a servant in his master's debt. When this discovery has been once made, the servant may calculate his chances of solvency by working the traditional question in arithmetic as to the time that it will take a frog to get out of a well who climbs two feet upwards every day, and falls three feet downwards every night, applying the answer to his own case.

It would, moreover, be erroneous to suppose that the truck system affects only the parties who are immediately concerned in it. For instance, a shoemaker brought home to my husband a pair of boots that he had ordered, and asked a sovereign for them, and when the price was objected to as being unreasonably high the shoemaker acknowledged that it was so, but said that he felt justified in asking it ever since learning that the same kind of boots with which he supplied a store at fifteen shillings the pair, were there retailed at the price of a pound. The shoemaker had gained his information by doing harvest work for the storekeeper and receiving, in part payment of it, a pair of these identical boots, which, when thus returned to their manufacturer in the form of wages, were considered to represent five shillings more than the sum at which he himself had originally valued them.

I often thought that there was a strong likeness between a system of truck and slavery, and one family feature, common to both, may certainly be found in the manner in which each is softened or made worse according to the circumstances and disposition of individual masters. We knew one who, so far from enriching himself at the expense of his men, supplied them with flour, when it was dear, at a lower cost than its real value; but benevolence of this kind, in the small thanks that it received, served less to redeem the character of "truck" than to render it odious from another point of view. A state of things that admits of the employer being general purveyor to his labourers is fraught with such obvious advantages to the principal, that, rightly or wrongly, he will always be suspected by his servants of making a profit on their wages, and this suspicion, in destroying all proper relations between the two parties, diminishes respect, and is incompatible with gratitude.

Another disastrous consequence of paying wages in goods is the improvident habits that it encourages in the families of labouring men. I think it is Archdeacon Paley of whom the anecdote is told, that he always made "his women pay ready money for all that they bought, because it was such a check to the imagination." Now the sprightly fancy of a working man's wife who, instead of receiving from the husband's pay a weekly sum to lay out and to make the best of, is compelled to have a running account at the master's store, has no such wholesome check, and as she seldom or never has the handling of money she does not learn its value.

What with truck and barter the young people especially could scarcely be expected to know the real worth of any article which was procured from shops or stores. I heard a characteristic proof of this from a lady, who had unfortunately neutralized a lecture to her servant on the care which was necessary to save a wooden bucket from being spoiled by the sun, by specifying the number of years that she had had the same bucket in use. "If it is as old as all that," replied the little colonial damsel, "it is quite time it should be worn out."

If a "privileged class" can be said to exist in the colony, it is that of the shepherds, who receive their wages unabated by truck, and are paid from thirty to forty pounds a year with the addition of their food; nevertheless, the men's own folly, combined with other agencies, will often rid them of a twelvemonth's wages in a few days. A shepherd comes into a town for a holiday, after a year or two's solitary life in the bush, much like a sailor going ashore from a long voyage; he wants amusement, and in absolute default of anything better, goes into a public-house, and remains there, drinking and treating others, until the publican knows that his customer has no money left, and dismisses him to begin the world again. In this way, incredible and disgusting as it may appear, we have known of shepherds getting through two years' wages in one fortnight, without ever stirring from the public-house into which they first entered.

That the character of the tap-rooms in Western Australia is often very bad needs no stretch of the imagination to conceive, and, in such cases as these that I allude to, actual robbery has, no doubt, often assisted the drink in dispersing a man's money; but that there were publicans who would permit men to be drunk continuously for days together, was a fact not to be controverted. The duty upon spirits, which is something like a tax of eleven shillings upon each gallon sold in the colony, instead of being prohibitory has only helped to make the matter worse, having led, as might have been foreseen, to an excessive amount of adulteration, and to this cause, rather than to the climate, which is sometimes supposed to induce it, may be ascribed the frequent instances of insanity.

A benevolent person whom we knew proposed the establishment of a savings' bank for the shepherds, and endeavoured to induce an old colonist to assist him in the scheme, but only met the answer, "Teach 'em to save their money? that's not what we want; if they once begin saving they will be our servants no longer!" And the stupid old man, who had himself begun life as a day labourer in England, could not be brought to see that to improve the condition of individuals would help to enrich the community at large.

Good servants, however, who were bent on saving, could contrive to put by money in spite of all disadvantages; and a French convict, who afterwards bought land and did very well, once brought to my husband as much as thirty-eight pounds of his earnings, with the request that he would take care of the sum for him. I was glad when the Frenchman carried away his bank-notes a few weeks afterwards, for in Western Australia no one feels safe with money in the house or on the person, so that cheques are given for sums as low as half a sovereign.

Money, however, is so very scarce in the colony, that if we wanted change for a five-pound note we were generally obliged to take a part of it in little scraps of paper, on which were written "orders" upon different persons for the value of a few shillings; while labour was by no means the only commodity which was paid for by the primitive practice of barter. There was nothing uncommon in hearing of a dog being exchanged for a gallon of wine, or of a sempstress receiving a couple of fowls in return for needlework—an embarrassing mode of transacting business, even when people are ever so well disposed to pay what they owe, and their creditors willing to take an equivalent in any imaginable form. For instance, a man went to some persons of our acquaintance living in the bush to ask them for the payment of twenty-three shillings that they owed him—a sum of money which in England he would hardly have thought it necessary to take a cart and horse to bring away, as if he had been carrying bullion to the mint; nevertheless on the occasion of which I am about to speak, a tumbril of some kind or other would have been found extremely convenient.

Arrived at the house, and preferring his request, he was told by the inmates that it was impossible for them to pay him in money, as they possessed none; they therefore looked about for what they could give him instead, and the wealth of a bush lady consisting principally in her poultry, she proposed paying him in eggs, of which at the latter end of winter a prodigious number are laid by the unlimited number of hens which roam around the lonely dwellings, and roost upon the trees or roofs, according to their fancy. To this the man consented, seeing no other probable way of getting paid, and a basket being found which could somehow be fitted on his back, it was forthwith packed with eggs, a dozen for each shilling, which was one more egg than the current shillingsworth at that time, as the debtors were anxious to do the thing handsomely, and it was, no doubt, solely in mercy to their creditor's bones that they were not more generous.

With this freight it might be supposed that he would at once have gone, or rather staggered, to market; but amongst other hindrances to trade, markets have no existence in the colony, and there is no choice but to take farm produce to the stores, where goods only are given in exchange for it, unless the would-be seller is content to take much less than its value. At the nearest store therefore, which was seven miles off, being unwilling to take payment in kind twice in one day, he was fain to accept one shilling for sixteen eggs, instead of for eleven; but this was so disheartening that he tried hawking the remainder at private houses, and having thus disposed of some few dozen eggs on rather better terms, and broken a good part in the frequent shiftings, he ended by clearing fifteen shillings, and thinking that he had not made a bad day's work.

Perhaps a sort of payment even more mortifying than the last was one that I heard of from a woman who, in place of eleven shillings that were due to her, received a certain quantity of melons and almonds—an arrangement to which she agreed, like the man who took the eggs, because no better mode of settling her claim was forthcoming, but which rendered long hours of laborious needlework as unprofitable to her as if their sole object had been that of supplying her family with sweetmeats.

I adverted a few pages back to some of the social disabilities which the ticket-of-leave holders found so galling, but they had this one advantage over men who boasted conditional pardons, that the former were admitted into hospital without any difficulty, whereas the latter, if received as patients at all, were expected to pay five shillings a week, unless the charge was specially remitted through a representation to the stipendiary magistrate from the medical officer.

In nothing did the true character of the colony as a vast jail more strikingly appear than in the fact that the clergyman of a district had no discretionary power in such cases. A man, for instance, would present himself at the parsonage very ill, and wanting help immediately, but with no means of paying for it—more frequently than not he had journeyed on foot for a long distance—the doctor might be absent, (sent for perhaps to attend an accident a hundred miles away,) and, if the magistrate refused to admit the applicant into the hospital without the normal medical certificate, we either must turn the man away in his suffering condition, or take the course usually pursued by my husband, which was to nurse the man himself at our own home until the doctor's return, when if we succeeded in gaining the benefits of the hospital for the patient, well and good, but in event of the contrary we retained him under our own care.

Close to our house, and within the enclosure of our field, we had an empty cottage in which at different times we lodged several poor sick wayfarers, and though all of them were convicts, we never missed an article from our premises during four out of the five years that we spent in the colony. At the latter end of our stay, when transportation was drawing to a close, and the mother-country was availing itself of the last remaining chance to be rid of its worst criminals, we could not boast of such complete immunity from theft, but I do not believe even then that we were ever injured by any whom we had nursed in illness.

We used occasionally to make jelly for the men in hospital, until the doctor, at whose request we had done so, left the neighbourhood, and was succeeded by another, who begged us to discontinue our cookery, as without the most stringent rules against all presents to the invalids from persons without the walls, it was impossible to hinder the introduction of spirituous liquors concealed under one guise or another.

The patients in the hospital were waited upon by orderlies selected from the prisoners in the depôt, and there was an old fellow who so long filled the situation that one might have supposed he had been permanently elected to it, but the truth was, he could not be happy beyond the well-known prison walls, and if ever released upon his ticket-of-leave lost no time in trying to forfeit it, that he might be drafted back again to his accustomed home. He had been a sailor in his earlier days, and to live under some kind of discipline was, perhaps, become to him a second nature. However we lost sight of him at last, and a young prisoner replaced him who was as anxious to regain his liberty as the older one had been to part with it, and soon after his appointment very joyfully announced to us a remission that he had received of six months from the term of his original sentence, in consideration of protracted night nursing in various bad cases. On account of this man's kindness to the sick my husband took much interest in him, but we did not remain long enough in the colony to see how he would go on after liberation.

There are many persons who are fit for pupilage only, and one finds this eminently the case with convicts, some of whom, so long as they can work under another's eye, will fulfil certain allotted tasks exceedingly well, and show also much amiability of disposition; but the same men, if removed from control and allowed to become their own masters, will almost immediately be guilty of the most childish misdemeanours. Whether this would be the case with poor "Rother," we had not the opportunity of knowing, owing to our early departure.

Whilst serving as hospital orderly he had picked up some medical skill, and told us that he intended, when released, to turn it to account by following the trade of a dentist. In this he would then have been troubled with no competition but secure of an extensive practice, that is, if he knew how to supply false teeth, for, as far as tooth drawing is concerned, the dry climate pretty well supersedes the need of pincers and forceps by causing the teeth to drop out even though undecayed. It is sadly frequent to meet with comparatively young persons who have lost all their front teeth, and yet the profession of manufacturing dentist is scarcely represented in the colony, and if, now and then, a travelling one appears, forthwith a rush is made by old and young to obtain his services.

The most skilful of these itinerant dentists was a French Colonel of Zouaves, who had been so severely wounded, in winning his many decorations, that he could attain a moderate degree of health only by constant change of scene, and paid his expenses in journeying over the world by practising dentistry as he went along. The deplorable demand for an artificial supply of what the climate had removed, was a circumstance as lucky to himself as his accidental landing was to the inhabitants of Western Australia, and he carried off a rich harvest in fees, together with the pleasant consciousness of having retrieved to many youthful faces their lost good looks.

There is an old French saying that with fine eyes no one is thoroughly ugly and with bad teeth no one is completely beautiful; now the climate of Western Australia, as if determined to reduce good looks to their lowest possible level, is not only inimical to the teeth but to the eyes also. As far as regards healthfulness I have no other drawbacks to mention, but these are very decided ones, and interfere not less with comfort than with beauty.

Severe cases of ophthalmia are happily less common now than in the early days of the settlement; whilst on the other hand influenza, or colonial fever as it is sometimes more correctly called, has become a prevalent complaint, almost an annual epidemic. Nevertheless affections of the eyes begin from the cradle, and are so often repeated during childhood as much to diminish the size of the feature, and to render a fine pair of eyes of rather unusual occurrence. Grown people are by no means exempt from this kind of affliction, yet the children seemed to have the largest; share of it, partly, as I believe, from their eyes being nearer to the ground, off which, in summer-time, the radiated heat strikes like the hot breath of an oven.

Besides other predisposing causes, there is a species of fly which bites the eyelid in a most vicious manner, producing so much inflammation and swelling as to completely close up the eye—"bunging" it as the colonial phrase goes, an expression rather perplexing to a stranger when asked for the first time in a sympathizing manner, "whether he has ever been bunged?" With children the evil of a bunged eye does not always vanish with the subsiding of the swelling, but occasionally leaves a permanent squint.

As soon as the poor people found that we could compose eye-water it was in continual request, and though we had neither rose nor distilled water to improve its character, yet the old remedy of sulphate of zinc stood its ground and gave great relief. As a set-off to these attacks of sore and inflamed eyes from which the children especially suffer, they enjoy a complete immunity from measles and hooping-cough, unless, indeed, these should happen to be introduced into the colony through inattention to the laws of quarantine. On more than one occasion that these complaints have been thus imported, they have run rapidly through the colony, but, after a time have again died out, without subsiding into the position that they occupy in England of constant and chronic evils.

Measles were brought into Western Australia, in 1860, from a ship that entered King George's Sound and landed one person ill with the disorder. It spread widely and rapidly, assuming a very virulent character, more especially amongst the natives, of whom so many died that both they and the colonists in alluding to the visitation spoke of it in terms that would have been almost applicable to a time of pestilence.

A lady of our acquaintance told me that on getting up one morning, she found a native woman who had been suffering from measles lying dead outside the house. As my friend had relieved her on the previous day, and had afterwards assisted her in walking to a distance of about a quarter of a mile, she presumed that the poor creature must have found herself abandoned by the other natives, in terror of the infectious nature of the disease, and that she had therefore crawled back alone to the homestead in the night rather than die in solitude. It so happened that the two sons who composed the lady's family were both absent and that, with the exception of a convict man-servant who refused to touch the body, there was no one but herself to perform the last offices. This man consented, however, to dig a grave, to which she with her own hands conveyed the lifeless remains of her poor fellow-creature in a wheel-barrow, and, without his further help, laid her in the ground.

The ignorance that we noticed amongst many of the colonists as to the commonest appliances for slight accidental ailments certainly bore testimony to the fineness of the climate, which, by rendering sickness rare, had caused homely remedies to be seldom studied; but, even if the "simples" which every cottage herb-bed at home furnishes had been in vogue, they could have thriven only in such spots as were moistened by underground springs. No doubt there must be native plants which, if their properties were known, might be made serviceable in illness; but beyond the red gum that flows from the tree of that name (Eucalyptus resinifera), which is useful in checking dysentery, I heard of no colonial specific. Neither, with the exception of native tea and native hops, did I ever hear of any plants which had been used for infusions.

The native hop is a little ground-plant, named by botanists Erythrea Australis, with which, on account of its intensely bitter taste, sugar-beer used to be flavoured when English hops could not be procured. As to the native tea, of which I never heard the botanical name, its qualities seem to be chiefly of a negative sort. It certainly did not "inebriate," and the only "cheerfulness" connected with it appeared to arise from the pleasure with which people reflected that they were now no longer obliged to drink it. They regarded it as a thing of the past, belonging to the hard old times when China tea was often beyond the reach of thirsty colonists.

The great medical authority of persons residing in the bush is Mr. Holloway, whose merits receive ample compensation abroad for being somewhat overlooked at home: His portrait is hung affectionately upon the parlour walls, and his advertisements, which set forth the suitability of the same medicine to a dozen different disorders, are swallowed with as much good faith as the pills themselves. All things considered, the bush folks might have a worse guide, for Mr. Holloway's system has at least the recommendation of simplicity, and as there appears to be no greater mortality amongst those who take the pills than those who leave them alone, the natural conclusion is that they must be harmless.

Nothing shows the perfection of the climate more than the impunity with which persons can sleep out of doors at all times of the year, and the extraordinary recoveries which take place after bad accidents, aggravated as they generally are by the great delay that necessarily occurs in a large and thinly-populated country before medical help can be procured. A proof of this postponement came under our own immediate notice. We were sitting one evening, reading quietly, when a rap at the door startled us, and on opening it we found a man standing outside, who begged us to tell him how he could procure admission into the hospital for a young woman who had been most dreadfully burnt many hours before. She was subject to fits, he said, and in one of them had fallen down close to the hut fire with one of her legs across the burning brands and had not been discovered until her thick leather boot was almost entirely consumed. She appeared to have had her baby of ten weeks old in her arms, and to have dropped it as she fell, for the child was on the floor near the fire, but had rolled itself out of danger. All this had happened in the forenoon, and the evening was now far advanced; much of the intermediate time having been unavoidably lost by the man in procuring the loan of a cart to convey her to the nearest town for help.

We scarcely knew what to do or what to advise; the convict hospital contained no accommodation for women, the reception of whom in such a place had never been contemplated, and, to involve us still further in difficulty, the colonial surgeon, who resided at the depôt, was from home. We followed the man to our slip-rail where he had left the woman lying in the cart, and when we came close to it we heard a low delirious voice talking about a baby, but the darkness of the night prevented our distinguishing the speaker for the first few moments, or perceiving that a good Samaritan was already there before us, in the person of a poor Irishwoman from a cottage over the way, who had previously directed the man to our door, and was now standing beside the cart trying to make the sufferer drink a cup of tea.

My husband decided that we must carry her into our own house, which we immediately did, and laid her in a bed as carefully as possible; both of her feet were burned, and on one leg so large a surface of skin was destroyed that it was but too evident that nothing less than amputation would be of any avail, as proved to be the case a week after, when the leg was taken off considerably above the knee. Also, though we did not discover the full extent of mischief on our first examination, the flies, those terrible accompaniments to neglected wounds in a warm climate, had already attacked the burns.

The presence of so young a baby served still further to complicate the whole affair, and Rosa, whose kind nature was always ready at suggesting help, sent off a messenger to her sister, begging that she would come and take care of it. As to the poor woman herself she was one of the lowest description, both in character and class, and to all appearance sufficiently contented with her calling to desire no change for a better; nevertheless she bore most intense pain with an unselfish courage which commanded our admiration, frequently through the night begging us all to go to bed, and, as she expressed it, "not to mind her."

But the hardest trial to patient endurance, on the occurrence of any bad accident in the bush, is not so much the time that is required to fetch a doctor as the solitary position of the sufferer, who lies helplessly awaiting the discovery of his condition by some chance passer-by. The bush is so lonely, even on its highways, that a poor fellow whom we knew lay upon the ground, with a compound fracture of one leg, from six in the morning until three in the afternoon before being found. His case was made worse by the cruelty of a fellow-servant, who was with him when the accident took place, and who left him, promising to procure help from a house which was but a few miles distant, but who neither returned nor sent assistance. The day was one of the hottest of that summer, and the miseries of the sufferer were further increased by the ants which swarmed upon him as he lay on the ground. Yet, wonderful to relate, he neither lost his life, nor even the injured leg; although at one time its preservation appeared so impossible that the day for its amputation was actually fixed, and my husband was asked by the doctor to be present on the occasion.

The history of another accident was told me by the settler's wife to whom it had occurred. Whilst driving a light cart alone, along a bush-track, it was overturned by one of the wheels striking against a "blackboy" stump, her hip being dislocated by the fall. She yet contrived, by crawling upon her hands and knees, to loosen the horse from the shafts, in the hope that his returning home without her would announce her disaster; but he disappointed her by stopping to feed, and she continued to lie upon the ground in solitude and agony for many hours, sadly aware also, as the day sped on, that her prolonged absence would excite neither surprise nor alarm amongst her own family, since they knew that she had left home with the intention of visiting a married son, and would presume that she had been persuaded to sleep at his house. An old native woman, a great-aunt of Binnahan, accidentally discovered her before night in this miserable condition, and treated her with the kindness that characterizes the behaviour of the aborigines in all similar circumstances, who, if they meet a white person lost in the bush, will invariably do their utmost to assist him.

Another lady told me that, having once lost her way on horseback, she tried a coo-ee on the chance of making herself heard by a fellow-creature, when a native, unseen by her previously, appeared as suddenly as did Roderick Dhu's men at his call, and not only guided her into the right track, but also saw her safely to the end of her journey.

But to meet help in need thus quickly, was one unusually happy instance to set against many a tale of agonizing distress, and to contrast with other cases in which human bones are the only records of what has been endured. Twice whilst we lived in Barladong were such dismal relics brought in from the bush and given Christian burial, with none but mere shreds of circumstance to warrant a guess as to whose were the remains; and once my husband buried, as an unknown corpse, the body of a man who might have been recognized had any friend been near, and to whose identity the discovery of a bottle of medicine in his coat-pocket ought to have furnished an additional clue.

No histories of this kind are so full of misery as those which are told by parents whose children have perished in the bush. The details of such narrations vary but little, and one instance will serve as a specimen of them all. In most cases the home has been a lonely hut, erected, perhaps, near some spot where the father has been employed in felling and sawing the huge mahogany-trees, the place approached by a track almost invisible in summer-time, when the wagon wheels that come so seldom leave but little impression in passing over the dried-up flowering plants. The cleared space about a hut is as it were an island in the vast surrounding oceanlike wilderness, into which if a little child ventures alone death from privation is generally the consequence, even though so short a distance as a few hundred yards only may separate the sufferer from its heart-broken parents.

In an instance that came under our own knowledge, a child of three years old wandered away one morning from its home, and the mother, imagining that it was gone to watch its father at work in the saw-pit, felt no anxiety until her husband came home alone at dinner-time and asked for "little Tommy." It is impossible for words to picture the disordered state of a parent's mind at such a moment, nor will anyone doubt that the poor fellow spoke truth when he told us that those who had lost a child were far from fit persons to conduct the search for it. He and his half-frenzied wife examined, as they thought, every inch of ground for miles around their hut, and their search was continued through so many successive hours that, for a time, the father became blind with the strain upon his sight. In his despair he persuaded a shepherd to drive a flock over the ground near the hut, knowing that the appearance of any unexpected object amongst the brushwood will bring sheep to a sudden halt, and cause them to rush away hurriedly from the spot; but the instinct of the dumb animals and the untiring energy of the parents' love were alike foiled,—weeks grew into months and brought no trace, and the dreary consolation alone remained to them that the heat was so excessive, on the day the child was lost, that its sufferings could not have lasted many hours.

One evening, as the mother sat outside her door, in her own words to me "bewailing as usual," she saw a woman coming towards the hut with her apron thrown over a little box that she was carrying, and, instantly divining its contents, cried out in a distracted manner, before the visitor had reached the threshold, "Them's my Tommy's bones!" The sad little relics had been discovered by a neighbour in a thicket but three quarters of a mile from the child's home, and the father must, as he said, have often passed within a few yards of the very spot. The body appeared to have been devoured by either pigs or wild dogs, and the tokens were few to identify, but a part of a little boot, and some scraps of a plaid frock, enabled the poor parents to recognize the remains as those of their lost darling.

The same causes which render so difficult the finding of anyone who has been lost in the bush, help much to facilitate the occurrence of such catastrophes. The scenery possesses sufficient variety to please the eye but no strikingly distinctive features to remind a person that he has wandered from the way, or to help him to regain it. The trees shut out the distant view and seem to be endlessly repeated, and if the traveller fares along, either thinking of nothing, or too much absorbed in meditation to pay attention to the road, one quarter of a mile's aberration may place him in circumstances which, for utter loneliness and forlorn destitution, can find no parallel excepting on a raft at sea.

Those who retain their presence of mind when they find themselves going wrong, and who have the gift of what phrenologists call "locality," will generally be able by observing the sun or stars to strike into a right direction, and it was thus that a good Irish neighbour of ours contrived to return safely to the company of her fellow-creatures, after losing her way for six hours in an attempt to convey her husband's dinner to him in the bush. The purpose of her errand shows how short a distance is quite sufficient to bewilder the pedestrian in such a landscape, and a poor maid-servant, in undertaking a similar commission, got so completely astray as to be recovered only after a lengthened search that knocked up both men and horses. She owed her life to the perseverance of one of the party, who, when the others were for turning back and renouncing further search as useless, insisted, as a last chance, on exploring a little valley which they had not yet examined, and was rewarded by a faint answer to his loud coo-ee as he rode down the hollow. On entering the house the poor girl swooned away immediately, and the recollection of what she had undergone was so terrible, especially of the horror of the lonely nights, that her mistress told me she seldom summoned courage, after the first recital, to speak upon the subject.

Travellers are sometimes benighted on a road which they know well in daylight only; there is then nothing for it but to come to a stand-still, and to wait patiently for morning. It might naturally be supposed that a horse which was familiar with the way could be trusted to follow it; but his choosing to do so may possibly depend on the comparison that he draws in his own mind between the supper he is likely to get at his master's stable, and the one he can provide for himself in the bush. Under these circumstances an acquaintance of ours was much mortified at being compelled to spend the night under a tree, although his horse knew every inch of ground round about. With the reins thrown on his neck that he might follow the right course towards home, the animal elected to remain where he already felt himself completely so, and where he could enjoy the grass till daylight.

We once spent the night out of doors, when on our way to visit a friend whose house we had expected to reach early in the evening. Being ill acquainted with the road thither, we were unfortunate enough to alight upon a young misanthrope, keeping cows in a grassy place a few miles from what ought to have been the end of our journey, who, in answer to our question, "Were we on the road for Egoline?" gave a very confident though erroneous affirmative. The views were so picturesque that for a mile or two farther we passed our time in admiring them; but at last we began to think that, if we were on the right track, our friend's house was much farther off than we had been led to expect, and we looked out for it rather anxiously as the sun disappeared behind the woods. Once we fancied that we were near the place, and were sure that we could see upper windows with lights within them; but these soon resolved themselves into little patches of the red sunset latticed with the boughs of intervening trees.

Not long afterwards it became quite dark, and we found our wheels running on very different levels while descending, through the ruts, on a hill so steep and stony that, having reached the bottom without an overturn, we thought it was best to leave well alone and to make up our minds to go no farther. We therefore came to a stand, and determined, in colonial phrase, to "bush it"; so we unharnessed our horse, for whom we had luckily brought a bag of corn, and, having seen him begin to eat it, we collected pieces of "blackboy" and lighted a fire, piling it up to a great size with dead wood. We took the carriage cushions for our pillows, and spreading out our cloaks and rugs lay down with our feet towards the blaze like the natives. It would have been thoroughly pleasant, had the accommodation included supper as well as bed; but what we most wished for was water, which of course it was impossible to procure. Nevertheless, I was glad for once to feel the solitariness of a night in the open bush, even at the expense of a little privation. A night bird was singing in a note something like a cuckoo, but with a hoarse foreign tone, and when he left off the silence was only once broken by a little opossum scampering up a tree near our fire. The picture was beautiful as we lay looking at the stars in the blue-black vault overhead, against which every twig and branch shone white as it caught the firelight, whilst the perfect stillness carried with it a sensation of awe.

We were awake soon after dawn, very glad to be stirring, and as we were quite out of our reckoning we retraced our steps towards the last house which we had passed. The poor horse was as thirsty as ourselves, and nearly overturned us in making an eager rush at a puddle near the wayside, but the spring when tasted was worse than nothing, being briny rather than brackish. About six miles from our sleeping-place we again espied the unlucky urchin with his cows; he did not wait to confront us, but dived amongst the trees as soon as we came in sight.

Our next adventure, although in the daylight, was even more perplexing. We had made a night's halt at the inn where we witnessed the execution of the black snake, and where not even the chance of meeting an incensed relation of the deceased could prevent our paying visits whenever we took a holiday, for, though only twenty miles removed from Barladong, a different soil produced an entire change in the aspect of the forest and such great variety of beautiful flowers that, provided I could book my return by the next ship, I would willingly make a second voyage for the sake of once more seeing their like.

On occasion, however, of the especial visit to which I have just referred our stay was unexpectedly prolonged, at the intended moment of departure, by the startling intelligence that our nag had slipped his halter in the night and disappeared from his stable. We were not many hours in suspense about him, for in the course of the afternoon Khourabene rode up to our inn, mounted on the runaway. It seemed that the horse had lost but little time in getting over the twenty miles which lay between the hostelry and our house, and having re-entered his own yard, with a flying mane and tail erect, was instantly laid hold of by our native, who desired no better task than that of compelling the deserter to return to his duty.

Khourabene passed the remainder of the day in great dignity, sauntering about the inn door in the character of our groom, as we were simple enough to imagine, until we were undeceived by overhearing him decline to fetch water when the landlady asked him to do so, on the plea that he was "gentleman fellow, all same master." However, with a nice distinction of what his rank could or could not permit, he did not refuse her next request, namely, that he should shoot some parroquets.

Now it so happened that our horse, in common with many that are foaled and reared in the bush, had a defect in the hind quarters which, in colonial parlance, is called "a dropped hip," that is, one hip stands lower than the other, having either been injured by a kick from another colt or by striking violently against a tree when a troop has been running wildly together. A dropped hip is no great disfigurement to an animal, nor does it tend very greatly to his prejudice unless he has had a very long gallop, or a very hard day's work, when the leg which has been hurt is apt to give way of a sudden and bring him down as if he had been shot.

We resumed our journey after waiting another night at the inn, thinking that we had thus given our horse sufficient rest, forgetting that, in addition to the exercise he had taken for his own pleasure, Khourabene, with a native's love for a gallop, was certain to have ridden him back at no slower pace, so that we must therefore be prepared for a downfall. Accordingly, when within a few miles of our journey's end and providentially at a very sandy place, without the least warning the dropped hip failed, and we were both thrown out of the dog-cart so instantaneously, that I could not help wishing it had been possible for us to have been spectators of our own speedy ejection as well as actors in it.

Our joy at finding each other unhurt was changed in a moment into a feeling of sad dilemma, as we beheld our poor horse lying on the ground like one completely flattened out on the road; it was, moreover, impossible to raise him except by first getting him out of the traces, and since he had fallen in such a position as to prevent these being unbuckled, it was evident that, if we could not cut him out of his harness, he would be obliged, like other over-worked creatures, to die in it.

Before leaving England my husband had received, as a parting gift from a relation, a knife which was supposed to meet every exigency of colonial or civilized life upon all occasions in which knives could be serviceable to mankind: I need not say that, whereas he had always carried this knife about him when it was not wanted, he had it not in his pocket at a crisis which would have put its merits to the proof. It was a mercy that he had a razor to fall back on (metaphorically I mean, of course), which we lost no time in taking from our portmanteau, and whilst he cut the traces I stooped down to the horse's head, encouraging him with fair words to lie still, until we could set him at liberty. But there was no need for any representations on my part of the prudence of his keeping quiet,—the affair had evidently no novelty for him, and an injured conviction grew upon us, as we worked at his release, that he was not only equal to the situation but thoroughly accustomed to it also.

We had no sooner helped him up than he showed a perfect indifference to what had happened by instantly commencing to eat "blackboy" rushes; and the fact being established that he was unhurt and could stand as well as ever, we were next met by the question, how to reunite the leather traces which we had done our best to cut? I proposed the tearing of our pocket-handkerchiefs into strips, but my husband recollected a pair of half-finished socks which I had been knitting, and rightly suggested that they would answer better; we accordingly twisted the cotton into a resemblance of twine, and, the traces being joined by this contrivance, we once more put our horse into the shafts and proceeded towards home; but our confidence in him, and in the strength of our own repairs, being about equal, we walked by his side for the remainder of the distance, and arrived at our own door in rather crestfallen condition, though luckily night had set in so that our misfortunes escaped the public gaze.