Diary of ten years eventful life of an early settler in Western Australia and also A descriptive vocabulary of the language of the aborigines/The colony (5)
SWAN RIVER FARE—SERVANTS' WAGES—PRICE OF CLOTHING, PROVISIONS, ETC.—COSTUME—SINGULAR PHENOMENA—APPROACH OF SPRING—CONSTANT SUCCESSION OF FLOWERS—PROJECTED JOURNEY WITH MR. DALE—AGRICULTURAL MEETING—THE GOVERNOR'S BALL.
Hermitage, Western Australia,
August 19th, 1831.
My last letter was dated from Perth, where I then was. Nothing remarkable has occurred within the last two days, except the appearance of seven spermaceti-whales from Fremantle, and that the people have been smitten with the mania for whale fishing; but, unfortunately, there is no suitable fishing-tackle for an attack on these monsters of the deep, which would otherwise (and will at a future time) have a successful result. I have been in vain endeavouring to obtain a Perth newspaper for you, containing an account of our last agricultural meeting. I returned home, partly by boat and partly on foot, and found all well: but my young cow has become plaguy restless, and has broken away repeatedly into the bush: we have her, however, in the cow-house now.
20th.—The weather is still very fine, the temperature delightful. At this moment I am very much annoyed, and am actually writing from my bed to tell you how uncomfortable I am from an incursion of blow-flies, which have taken a fancy to my new blankets, that have been so covered by them as to require fumigation with brimstone to effect their dislodgment, and I am now bewailing the absence of my comfortable clothing.
22nd.—Dined after church service yesterday on delicious kangaroo soup, a fine haunch of ditto, lamb, a pair of fowls, ham and sausages, turnips, lettuce, onions, fruit-pies, and plum and custard puddings. Just think of such fare on the Swan River, and confess whether your organs of taste can resist an extra humidity "from bare imagination of the feast." You know, however, that I care little for these things, and detail them merely to show that we have not always hard fare.
It falls frequently to my lot to settle disputes about boundaries: the Dii Termini are very troublesome divinities to me; this day I have been arbitrator in a case of this nature, besides one on a disputed point concerning a sale of horses.
I have to finish a certain memorial to the Home Government, to attend an agricultural meeting on the second of next month, and to prepare for an exploring expedition over the mountains on the fourth, and have just written for Mrs. Tanner a song about this colony, of which she wishes to send her friends a copy; but I have not time now to transcribe it, but must do so at some other time.
I have a song in my mind, suggested by that of a bird's notes; and if I can get my flute mended, shall set it for you. I mean to try the system of robbing my own potatoes—viz., taking away the large ones from the roots, which is practised here with good effect.
23rd.—You will think me a most dissipated dog when I tell you that I have dined with the same large party three successive days!
Servants' wages are extremely high, and all work proportionably so; £2 10s. per month for inside servants; from 5s. to 7s. per day (without diet) for labour. At present the cultivation of new ground will not pay where there is any difficulty beyond mere ploughing, and that can only be performed in cleared flat meadows. The quantity of stock is still insufficient to support a shepherd. There are not yet more than a dozen persons possessing large flocks, but we are in daily expectation of arrivals of sheep from Van Diemen's Land. I am within the limit when I tell you that for even a small establishment like mine, where everything is to be purchased, it is necessary to have between £200 and £300 a year.
Our means will be greater and our wants less as our gardens and crops become productive. My stock of shoes for myself and people is already exhausted, and the price is 18s. per pair. Clothes and provisions, as in all infant societies, are of course our chief wants, but in some things money goes a great way. Wine, tea, and sugar are cheap. F— talks of sending goods here on commission—an excellent speculation; in shoes alone a profit of 150 per cent. might be effected.
As to clothing, black and blue clothes are the most saleable. Our medical men, lawyers, clergymen, and those in mourning, as among you, wear black; and there are persons here of each of the learned professions. The Government officers and naval and military men wear blue cloth coats with gilt crown buttons, and blue frocks and trousers—on great occasions, white duck trousers; but there is some hazard in this speculation, unless on a small scale.
Substantial clothing seems to be the taste of our sensible people, who are good judges of such matters. Blue striped shirts, shoes, boots, buskins, and corduroy trousers, meet with ready sale. We are in great want of light black beaver hats, which every one who can get them wears; but we can procure no male headpieces here, except some villanous-looking silk ones of an old-fashioned shape. In the country, or in undress, little attention is paid to mere ornament; but in company, or on state occasions, we are a very well-dressed and particular people.
As to the ladies—I suppose you have hitherto been in the habit of mistaking them for Hottentot dames, and consider them suitably appareled in linsey-wolsey, or "in druggets drest of thirteen-pence a yard;" but our fair ones of the upper grades are of a very different class indeed: but, alas! alas! I cannot enumerate any of the thousand articles which they may wish for, from the bustle (no allusion to the Hottentot ladies, I assure you) to every other appendage of the person:—pray interest yourself to have a well-selected cargo sent especially to them. Among the common necessaries which would sell well in this colony are starch, blue, candles of every kind, glass, flannel, and soap, which now brings (and sold as a special favour) 2s. 6d. a pound.
Masters here are only so in name; they are the slaves of their indentured servants. In my absence, * * * does nothing, and if I speak to him exit in a rage. I could send him to gaol, but I do not like this extremity, and yet I cannot afford to lose the advantage of his time, and pay £30, besides diet, to another in his place. Letty, however, continues faithful.
Yesterday, after the adjustment of a boundary line between neighbours at the base of the hills, a singular circumstance occurred, when the last two trees were struck with an axe, for the purpose of making a boundary mark—a jet d'eau issued from out of a blue gum tree, and continued running without intermission during the time of our stay—a quarter of an hour. This water had a strong chalybeate taste. On my return, we saw some native huts and graves; I picked up a man's under jaw, and looked for a skull, but in vain. These are the remains of the native who speared James; and the grave was dug soon afterwards by Corporal Fea, who shot him. I have despatched one of my people with a venture of vegetables to the market—a hamper of cabbages, turnips, and lettuces—may success attend this grand speculation!
26th.—No intelligence of the venture yet. My pigs have strayed away, old and young, without leave, for two days. On this day se'night, our next Agricultural Meeting will take place, on which occasion the Governor is to give an evening party, and I believe there will be some dancing. I had no notion there would be so much society here, so much gaiety, so much dressing, I thought, in my simplicity, that I had for ever laid aside my slight shoes, silk stockings, and kid gloves; but I have been most agreeably disappointed.
Spring is coming; I heard its herald, a cuckoo, last night. The weather has been very fine, with occasional showers, and this is our winter! It is really better than our summer in Ireland. Thermometer, 64°
27th.—No tidings of my vegetable servant yet; the pigs, however, have been found, after a long search. There is now a great profusion of beautiful flowering shrubs and flowers in full bloom. The succession of them is endless; among them I must particularly notice a flower called, I believe, Anigozanthus, which is very beautiful—it is of a greenish colour, issuing from a crimson stem; the green flowers at the top protrude like fingers or expanded honeysuckles. We have also abundance of the clematis, and another creeper of a brilliant blue. One of our grasses, now in bloom, bears a beautiful blue flower with yellow stamina, and reminds me of the star of Bethlehem, or spider lily.
28th.—James arrived here at three this morning; the venture produced 9s. 10d.; he got 2s. 6d. for twelve turnips, and a high price for cabbages; but my lettuces and radishes were not in demand, Captain Irwin's gardener having previously sent a boat-load of vegetables to the market. Potatoes would have sold well, if I had them,—mine have been fourteen weeks in the ground, and are now of good size, some of them weighing a pound; I shall send a small supply on Friday next to market, and hope to get one shilling per pound. They are unfortunately of the kind called cups,—not good for eating,—better for selling.
A letter has this day reached me from Mr. Dale, the officer who is to form the settlement at York. I intend to accompany him, and shall take a fortnight's provisions, a change of raiment, a hammock, and a cloak to sleep in. Our present intention is to make the site of York our head-quarters, and to proceed from that central point four day's march up the river, the same in the opposite direction down, and the same distance eastward to the interior.
From Guildford to York is, I suppose, 50 miles; from York to Beverley 20 miles; near the latter place is my grant; so that I shall have an opportunity of seeing it, as well as so much of the interior. Expeditions, however, of this kind in perspective arrangement, are often attended with serious difficulties in actual execution. In the present case, thirty persons must be supplied for eleven days with gunpowder, shot, and clothes; and we can only muster three horses for us all. Thunder and rain—a good dramatic conclusion to one day's diary.
29th.—Worked hard in the garden, planting Indian corn transplanting mangel-wurzel, and preparing beds for rock and water melons, cucumbers and pumpkins, and sowing five different kinds of strawberry seeds, and as many sorts of gooseberry, which latter seeds will not, probably, succeed in this climate.
Letty has been preparing striped cotton shirts for my expedition, these being more suited than linen ones to our climate.
30th.—The pigs, confound them! are gone astray again.
This day I have been burning weed for ashes, and planting maize, of which I shall have half an acre, in drills one yard asunder; and the intervals, which will be perfectly cleared, are to be planted with turnips and cabbages.
Flax and asparagus are indigenous plants here. Of the former I have seen very fine stalks, which before the general use of cotton would have been valuable; the asparagus is not good. I have been actively at work this day, and shall be again to-morrow, in getting in the remainder of my maize, previously to my departure. These two days have been very warm, particularly so to James, who has been fruitlessly hunting for the pigs. We shall be roasted to-morrow, if this heat continues, and all the world here is going to the ball.
Perth, Sept. 3rd.—I must tell you all about the great doings since the last entry in my logbook.
Yesterday I came down here for our market, and meeting of the Agricultural Society, and for the Governor's ball.
The brig had just arrived, bringing the first Indian invalid to our shores. Quartermaster-General Colonel Hanson, and also Lord F. Beauclerk. All Perth was alive; upwards of fifty sat down to the Agricultural dinner, at which we had (as honorary members) Lord F. Beauclerk, Col. Hanson, and Capt. Parker, R.N. And at this dinner a memorial to the Home Government was read and approved of. It is now in course of signature, and will soon be sent home. In the evening, at the Governor's house, we had 180 ladies and gentlemen!!!
The ball was kept up with the greatest spirit until six in the morning; and the dancing almost without interval—contre-dances, quadrilles, Spanish dances, and gallopades. I never before witnessed such gaiety at a ball, nor ever before danced so much in one night; four rooms and an arcade were all filled, and connected with the verandah; a superb tent was fitted up, decorated and festooned with naval flags, and in this we had supper—an elegant and abundant one. The gentlemen from India were astonished, for they had heard the most gloomy reports; and the invalid confessed that when coming ashore he had been considering with the captain, the expediency of sending some provisions from the ship, as a preventive against starvation; his amazement at seeing ample supplies of butter, eggs, vegetables, poultry and butcher's meat, may be guessed at; he purchased freely and paid liberally; has rented a house for some time, and is now recovering; indeed he was actually frolicksome all the evening.That these gentlemen should have arrived here at this critical period, when the climate is delicious, is considered a fortunate circumstance for the colony.
5th.—The Cruizer goes on Wednesday to Trincomalee, and I shall send my letter by her; when you may get it, God alone can tell; but I shall go on as before, connecting as well as I can my very rambling journal, in which I scribble down every thing as it occurs–slapdash. Thinking of home gives me strange sensations; where is my home now?***
I am living at Captain Irvine's new house (a large brick one, with two stories and a tiled floor), which has been pretty well filled of late; its occupants being Lord F. Beauclerk, Captain Pickering, Mr. Gilbert, Dr. Littleton, the Messrs. Burgess, and myself. We hear of two vessels coming to England. I hope you have written, and perhaps sent me some shoes: for I am almost barefooted.
- The invalid recovered his health completely. A letter from him appeared in the Ceylon paper, which may be interesting, as it will show the impression made on Colonel Hanson and his party, by their visit to the Swan River.