The Irish in Australia/Chapter 1
A SURVEY OF THE SOUTH.
A NEW IRELAND IN AUSTRALIA-TWO STREAMS OF EMIGRATION-HOME RULE IN THE COLONIES—FOUR IRISH SPEAKERS—SUCCESSES OF IRISH-AUSTRALIANS IN SEVERAL SPHERES—FRATERNAL SYMPATHY WITH THE IRISH AT HOME—HISTORY OF COLONIZATION—BUCKLEY, "THE WILD WHITE MAN"—SIR RICHARD BOURKE, BEST OF COLONIAL GOVERNORS—THE AGITATION FOR HOME RULE IN VICTORIA—DISCOVERY OF GOLD—THE IRISH ARMY OF DIGGERS— COLONIAL PROGRESS.
"A new Ireland in America" is a familiar phrase to Celtic and Saxon ears, but a "New Ireland in Australia" will perhaps be a rather novel expression to many. Yet the words in the latter case convey the idea of an accomplished fact, equally as well as in the former. For more than thirty years two great streams of emigration have been flowing from Ireland, the larger shaping its course across the Atlantic and discharging its human freight on the shores of the Great Republic of the West, the smaller in volume turning to the South, and, after traversing half the circumference of the globe, striking against the sunny shores of Australia. As a consequence of the comparative proximity of America to the Old World, no difficulty whatever has been experienced in arriving at a true estimate of the position and prospects of the Irish transplanted to the West. Friends and foes alike have been enabled to closely follow their movements, to study their mode of life under altered conditions, to ascertain the opinion held respecting them by people of other nationalities, and to determine whether or not the virtues characteristic of the old land flourish on the soil of the new. And splendidly have the Irish-Americans as a body borne this crucial test. Not on the authority of friendly critics alone, but many foes of his faith and fatherland have been forced to acknowledge the genuine worth of the typical Irish-American. They have given, perhaps unwillingly, the most conclusive testimony to his value as a citizen, his fidelity as a husband, his devotion as a father, and though last, not least, his loyalty as a Catholic. The Irish at home are proud to know, from the mouths of independent and even hostile witnesses, that though a stormy ocean separates their exiled brethren from the land of their affections, they are still as Irish in heart and feeling as ever; they still cherish the memories of the historic past, and their aspirations for national unity and local self-government are only intensified by distance. The poor persecuted peasant, whom, with weak wife and helpless family, a brutal landlord or pitiless agent has evicted in the depth of winter from the hallowed home of his ancestors, is traced across the Atlantic, followed into a newly-settled district and there discovered—a respected resident, a good neighbour, and, very often, an independent man. The ardent young patriot, who employs his talents in the cause of his country's freedom, and pays the orthodox penalty for loving one's country "not wisely but too well" by a compulsory residence for a season amongst convicted criminals, is seen receiving a cordial welcome on landing in the Empire City, and soon his name is referred to as being the occupant of a distinguished and honourable position, won by the exercise of those abilities for which no scope existed in the land of his birth. And it has been a source of surprise to the host of individuals, whose knowledge of Ireland is confined to what they read in partisan books and newspapers, to find that the people, who when in their native land were described as senseless rioters and incorrigible landlord-shooters, are conspicuous in America for their quiet behaviour and respect for law and order. These facts have come out in the published evidence of foreign tourists in America, and are a splendid testimonial to the noble ingredients of the Irish character when developed under free and favourable conditions.
But, whilst the western Irish exodus has formed the subject of much European investigation, the southern branch of the great emigration stream has not been traced and examined with the same attention. The reasons are obvious. It is only of late years that the Australian colonies have completely recovered from the delirium of the gold fever, and have begun to assume the recognised aspect of settled communities. Hitherto, it would have been unsafe to describe the evidences of possibly fleeting appearances as facts indicative of the future, or to draw elaborate conclusions in the absence of substantial information. Besides, the immense watery gulf of thirteen thousand miles that separates the Australian colonies from the great centres of Europe, and the anticipated difficulty of reaching the scattered settlements of a continent only partially explored, damped the ardour of adventurous travellers and inquiring students. Hence the number of literary tourists in Australia has, until very recently, been comparatively small. Now, however, the case is far different. The Australian "Empire of the South" has advanced to an important position; the slow and tedious voyage of several months' duration has been superseded by the fleets of fast-going steamers, that traverse the distance between London and Melbourne in little more than a month. The various colonies are no longer isolated settlements; all the leading cities of the Australian continent are connected by railway and telegraph, and the grand idea of an "Australian Federal Union," advocated for many years with all the earnestness of an eloquent Irish-Australian statesman, is rapidly approaching the practical stage of accomplishment. The Irish in Australia form a most interesting study. True to their national character, they have come to the front in all the colonies. In every colonial parliament, Irishmen will be found distinguishing themselves as political leaders. Responsible parliamentary government, or, in simpler words, Home Rule, is in operation in all the Australian colonies save one, and it is, therefore, not surprising that colonial legislatures should have a large proportion of Irishmen, when it is remembered that the choice of efficient representatives is left unreservedly in the hands of the people. As a striking proof of the signal political ability displayed by Irish leaders in Australia, it is worthy of note that, since the inception of parliamentary government in the leading colony, Victoria, all the Speakers of the Legislative Assembly have, without exception, been Irishmen. There can be no dispute about the nationality of gentlemen bearing such names as Sir Francis Murphy, Sir Charles MacMahon, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, and the Hon. Peter Lalor, the last mentioned being the present first commoner of Victoria. And it must be borne in mind that the selection of these gentlemen to fill successively so high and honourable an office, was solely on account of their recognised superiority, as, in every case, the majority of the assembly was composed of English and Scotch representatives. But it is not in politics alone that the Irish in Australia have made their mark. In colonial literature and art, not a few of the most distinguished names will be recognised as Irish; and, in humbler capacities, the great body of the Irish- Australians have done good service for their adopted land in a silent and unobtrusive manner. They were amongst the earliest pioneers in the development of the gold-mining industry; thousands of them wisely left the towns and, favoured by liberal land legislation, established homes for themselves in the bush, whilst hundreds, of scholarly attainments, found ready admission into the Government service. But, no matter what social position they may occupy, the Irish in Australia, no less than their American brethren, are thoroughly Irish and Catholic; and, if any proof of this were wanting, it is abundantly supplied by the munificent offering sent by Australia for the relief of the famine-stricken at home. When, a few years ago, the telegraph flashed the dire intelligence that the hideous pall of hunger was darkening the face of the old land, a simultaneous movement stirred the whole of the Australian continent. Local committees were everywhere organised, donations poured in from all ranks of society, and soon the magnificent sum of £94,916 16s. 8d. was raised by a population of less than four millions as a spontaneous gift of fraternal sympathy. The time has now arrived, I think, when the record of the Irish in Australia should be written, and I entertain not the slightest doubt that that record will not only be perused with patriotic interest, but treasured with national pride, wherever the sons and daughters of Hibernia have found a home. What other writers have done for the Irish in America, I propose attempting to do, in some measure, for the Irish in L Australia; and, by way of introduction to the subject, a few historical and descriptive details will be serviceable.
Australia is the great island-continent of the globe. It has an area nearly equal in extent to the whole of Europe, although its population falls short of four millions. Until very recently, its interior was a terra incognita, but the systematic efforts of explorers have succeeded in thoroughly opening up the central regions, so that it has been found practicable to run a telegraph wire across the continent from north to south—a distance of nearly two thousand miles. The mainland of Australia is politically divided into five colonies, which, in the order of their birth, are as follow:—New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland. There are also two insular colonies—Tasmania, or, as it was known in bygone days. Van Diemen's Land, an island of about the size of Ireland lying to the south of Victoria; and New Zealand, the "Great Britain of the South," a chain of islands in the Pacific at a distance of more than a thousand miles from the mainland in a south-easterly direction.
Though New South Wales is the parent colony of the Australian group, she has been outstripped in the race of progress by one of her youngest children—Victoria, the wealthiest, most populous, and most important of the antipodean states. Thirty years ago the present colony of Victoria was only the Port Phillip district of New South Wales, the latter geographical term being at that time synonymous with the whole eastern half of the continent. Victoria occupies the south-eastern corner of Australia, and comprises that small but rich strip of territory lying between the 34th and 39th parallels of south latitude, and the 141st and 150th degrees of east longitude, embracing an area of 88,198 square miles, or 56,446,720 acres. The noble Murray River is the northern boundary that separates young Victoria from old New South Wales; the boisterous Bass Straits lie on the south between the "tight little island" of Tasmania and the mainland,whilst on the western side. South Australia—the granary of the antipodes— displays her exuberant treasures. The first attempt to plant a settlement in this quarter of Australia was made in 1803, when Colonel Collins, a British officer, was placed in command of an expedition to found a new penal colony. Three hundred and sixty- seven male convicts were placed on board the "Ocean" transport, and, escorted by the "Calcutta" man-of-war, 18 guns and 170 men, were despatched from England in May, 1803. After a tedious voyage of six months, Colonel Collins landed his party on a point at the eastern entrance to Port Phillip Bay, the site of the present Sorrento, a fashionable sea-side resort in the summer months. Happily for the future of Victoria, the attempt to plant a penal settlement proved a complete failure, and the premier colony was spared the odium of ever having given a permanent abode to the scum of the English prisons. The reasons that induced Colonel Collins to abandon the settlement have never been satisfactorily explained, though the general opinion is that his inability to discover a permanent supply of fresh water was the principal cause. He could not have made a very diligent search for the precious fluid; for had he done so, it would have been found in abundance not many miles from his camp. However, after a stay of three months, orders were given to re-embark, and the two vessels sailed across the straits to Van Diemen's Land. In this lovely little island, on the site of its present capital—Hobart—Collins succeeded in planting his penal colony. Here he reigned as lieutenant-governor for a period of six years, until his sudden death on March 24th, 1810. Twenty-eight years afterwards. Sir John Franklin, the then governor, who afterwards perished in the frozen wastes of the Arctic, had a monument erected to his memory in the city whose foundation he laid.
For nearly thirty years after this unsuccessful attempt to colonize Port Phillip, no further effort was made to plant a colony on the southern shores of Australia. The blacks were left in undisputed possession of the province, though one effect of Colonel Collins's brief sojourn was the addition of a new chief to their ranks. During the three months that the colonel remained encamped on the shore, several prisoners succeeded in escaping into the bush, but, with the exception of one, the fugitives either perished miserably in the unknown land, or returned in an agony of starvation to the camp and begged for forgiveness. One, however, was determined to obtain his freedom at all hazards, and this man, who had been a soldier, and was transported for assaulting his superior officer, concealed himself in a cave, and managed to subsist for some time on berries and shellfish. Having observed from his hiding-place the preparations of Colonel Collins for leaving the settlement, he came forth, when the vessels were disappearing in the distance, and found himself a free man. In a weak and exhausted condition William Buckley, for such was his name, walked at random into the interior and soon came upon an encampment of aborigines, by whom he was kindly treated and subsequently adopted into the tribe. He was presented with two "lubras," or wives, and, acting in what he, no doubt, considered the most philosophical manner under the peculiar circumstances, he completely forgot the world of civilization, and, sinking to the low level of his savage companions, he led a merely animal existence for the long period of thirty-two years. This remarkable character lived to be useful in his latter days as a medium of communication between the whites and the blacks.
In 1835, Port Phillip was permanently colonised under the auspices of freemen. The leader of the successful expedition and the founder of the colony of Victoria was John Batman, a young farmer resident in Van Diemen's Land, and a man of energy, perseverance, and self-reliance. With twelve others he formed a colonising association, under whose auspices the country surrounding Port Phillip Bay was thoroughly explored, and the excellence of the soil, both for agricultural and pastoral purposes, was abundantly demonstrated. Twelve months after Batman's arrival, the incipient colony had a population of two hundred settlers, who were owners of fifteen thousand sheep. In March, 1837, the first representative of Royalty visited the new settlement in the person of Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales. Sir Richard won his spurs in the Peninsula, and, as one of the best colonial governors, his name will appear again in these pages. He was of course an Irishman, having been born in Limerick in 1778, and in the same city he died in 1855. Bourke remained in the infant colony for a month, and during his brief stay laid out the sites of Melbourne (the metropolis), Geelong, and Williamstown. The first place was named after the then English Premier, Lord Melbourne; the second was allowed to retain its native name, whilst the third received its title from the reigning monarch, William IV. At His Excellency's departure, the entire population of the settlement—five hundred souls—assembled to give him a parting cheer. These five hundred settlers were possessed of 140,000 sheep, 2,500 head of cattle, and 150 horses—a very satisfactory state of progress. In this year (1837) the first government land sale in Melbourne took place, and the event is worthy of note as showing how enormously the value of land may increase by unforeseen circumstances. A small allotment in Collins Street (the aristocratic thoroughfare of Melbourne) purchased originally for £S5 was afterwards bought for £24,000, and, at the present time, the average price of land in the same locality is £900 per foot. A gentleman was considered very foolish for having paid what was then regarded as the excessive sum of £80 for half-an-acre, but after the lapse of two years the same land realized £5,000, and twelve years later it was sold for £40,000. These are only two examples out of many that might be recorded.
Mr. William Kelly, a contemporary eye-witness, states the following facts: "Innumerable small lots, making in their aggregate immense breadths of property, were sold at nominal prices in the early part of 1851, which, ere its close, were 'pearls beyond price,' translated into the seventh heaven of appreciation by the fortuitous discovery of the Ballarat shepherd. I know the particulars of numerous cases of constrained fortune. One I will relate which occurred in the person of an humble man from my native country, who accumulated a very modest competence in Melbourne under the old régime—first by manual labour and then by carting at the moderate rates of the day. He purchased a town lot in Swanston Street, and erected a wooden house upon it, in which during the progress of his industrial prosperity he opened a little shop for the good woman. His decent thrift was as remarkable as his industry, so that in homely phrase he 'got the name of having a little dry money always by him;' and at the period in question he was beset by importunate neighbours and friends, imploring him, as he intended remaining, to purchase their town allotments at his own price. In some cases he yielded, not so much with the view of benefiting himself as of helping a few friends on the road to fortune, and much against his own will or conviction he secured, for some £450, property which in less than fifteen months he sold for £15,000, and which was resold within the subsequent year for nearly three times that amount. Had my humble countryman purchased to the full amount of his means and held over like other stay-at-home townsmen, he might now be side by side in the Legislative Council of Victoria with another Sligo man who came to Port Phillip without any capital but his brains and his hands, but who is reputed at present as possessed of property worth half-a-million sterling."
I have now before me the official list of purchasers of land at the first government sale in Melbourne, and, as might have been expected, Ireland is well represented. Amongst the principal buyers I find the names of Michael Pender, Michael Connolly, John Roach, James Connell, John McNamara, F. R. D'Arcy, Patrick Cussen, Patrick Murphy and E. D. O'Reilly.
In 1841 the revenue derived from the Port Phillip district had increased to £31,799, and, consequent on increasing prosperity, the colonists became dissatisfied with their political position. They had a nominal representation in the New South Wales Parliament, the Port Phillip district being allotted six members; but owing to the distance of the capital and the expense of living there during the session, no local candidates, no men having a personal interest in the prosperity of the new province, would come forward. As a necessary consequence, the choosing of parliamentary representatives soon became a merely formal matter in which not the slightest public interest was manifested. The choice of candidates being practically limited to Sydney residents, members were elected and re-elected for the Port Phillip district on the most approved old-world pocket-borough principle. As a matter of fact, many of the electors, probably the majority of them, were in complete ignorance of the names of their parliamentary representatives. To put an end to this stupid farce, a novel expedient was hit upon. In 1848, when the time again arrived to send representatives to Sydney, an ingenious elector suggested that they would be quite as well represented by residents of London as by residents of Sydney, and therefore he moved that Earl Grey was a fit and proper person to represent the electors of Port Phillip in the Sydney Parliament. This ludicrous proposal was immediately adopted and acted upon, and it must be admitted that no better means could be devised of showing the home authorities the absurdity of giving the form of parliamentary representation without the substance. When the news reached England that Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies, had been elected member for Melbourne in the Sydney Parliament, the irresistible drollery of the situation compelled attention to the remonstrances of the colonists. The agitation for separation was carried on with renewed vigour, and eventually, on August 5th, 1850, an "Act for the Better Government of the Australian Colonies" and providing for the separation of the Port Phillip district from New South Wales, and its erection into a separate colony under the name of Victoria, passed the Imperial Parliament. The gratifying intelligence reached Melbourne in the following November, and it is needless to say there were considerable rejoicings, lasting several days. The Act came into operation on July 1st of the following year and the day has ever since been commemorated as a public holiday, under the title of Separation Day. Prominent amongst those who took an active part in directing the separation movement were Sir William Foster Stawell (afterwards Chief Justice, and now Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria), Sir Redmond Barry (subsequently Judge of the Supreme Court), Sir John O'Shanassy (three times Prime Minister of the colony), and Sir Francis Murphy (for many years Speaker of the Legislative Assembly)—four Irishmen to whom reference will again be made.
In the same year (1851) that witnessed the practical outcome of the separation movement—in fact almost coincidently with that historical episode, an event occurred that completely altered the destinies of the Australian colonies in general and Victoria in particular. It is unnecessary to state that the event alluded to was the Discovery of Gold. Victoria up to that time was only known for the richness of its pastoral and agricultural resources, and the idea that mineral wealth of untold value lay concealed beneath the verdant soil never once entered the minds of the simple growers of wool and cultivators of corn. In 1849 the accounts of the golden treasures of California attracted adventurers from all parts of the world, and amongst those who left Australia for the American El Dorado were two intelligent colonists, named Edward Hammond Hargreaves and James William Esmond. They were only ordinarily successful, but their visit to California gave them some valuable knowledge which they afterwards turned to good account. One thing they observed was the striking similarity in the geological formation of the two countries, and they rightly concluded that if the precious metal existed in the one place, it must also exist in the other. This conclusion they practically tested on their return, and were rewarded with immediate success. Hargreaves prospected the Bathurst district of New South Wales and found some nuggets and gold dust.
Esmond tried his luck in Victoria near the site of the present flourishing mining town of Clunes, then a squatter's run, and succeeded in finding some rich specimens, with which he hurried to the nearest town, Geelong, and made his discovery known. The news caused the most intense excitement amongst all classes, and the "gold fever" rapidly spread throughout the colonies. All ordinary pursuits were abandoned, and everywhere parties for the diggings were in process of formation. The first discoveries soon paled before the brilliant digging results that were daily brought to the surface. It was soon ascertained that the whole cent nil portion of the colony was auriferous, and, as the various parties spread about in the hope of finding new and richer ground, the great goldfields of the colony became gradually opened up. Words cannot describe the delirium that ensued on reading the reports of the developments of the famous Ballarat, Bendigo and Mount Alexander mines. Not only were the other colonies literally drained of their population, but, on the wondrous intelligence being circulated at home, the old world sent thousands to swell the mining community at the antipodes. Ireland despatched a numerous contingent, whose members prospered in the main, invested their savings judiciously, and founded a patriotic and influential Irish-Victorian community. All the colonial towns were deserted, and people in the most reckless manner sold their houses and lands at an immense reduction on the cost price, and hastened away to the diggings. Hobson's Bay, the harbour of Melbourne, was a forest of masts; ships lay anchored in hundreds, unable to proceed on their voyages, the sailors having deserted in a body for the up-country goldfields. Every week a mounted escort brought down from Ballarat to Melbourne an average yield of 2,500 ounces of gold, and much larger quantities were sent away privately. But these astonishing yields were soon afterwards eclipsed by the discoveries at Mount Alexander, which proved to be literally and without exaggeration "a mountain of gold." The quantity sent from this mountain during the second week of December, 1851, was 23,650 ounces, more than one ton in weight. The influx of population consequent on the gold discoveries may be gathered from the fact that in the one month of September, 1851, 16,000 new arrivals appeared on the scene, whilst in the following month the number had increased to 19,000, and each succeeding month had to be credited with a similar rate of progress. At Bendigo, 25 miles north of Mount Alexander, 70,000 men were simultaneously seeking their fortune. The public revenue had jumped from £380,000 in 1851 to £1,577,000 in 1852. Melbourne, as the commercial centre on which the goldfields depended for supplies, and the principal point of departure for the up-country districts, had developed into an important city. Its streets were thronged with lucky diggers, some of whom were dissipating their easily-acquired riches in the wildest profusion, lighting their pipes with fifty-pound notes, purchasing gorgeous dresses for their female companions of the moment, chartering all the private carriages available, treating the floating population to unlimited champagne, and generally conducting themselves as if suddenly-acquired wealth had bereft them of their sober senses. But this high-pressure era in the colony's history was only of a temporary character. In a few years the rich alluvial deposits became exhausted, and a new and more scientific mode of mining had to be adopted. Companies were organised to crush the auriferous quartz that lay many hundred feet below the surface, and necessarily a considerable amount of capital had to be expended before the quartz rock was reached, before the crushing commenced, and before the shareholders received a dividend. But once the gold-bearing quartz was struck, the reef was worked systematically, and usually the promoters of the company received an immense profit on the capital they had originally invested. It is in this manner that mining as an industry is now carried on, and though the days of rich "nuggets" (solid masses of gold generally found near the surface) have apparently passed away, yet the auriferous resources of the colony are being successfully developed at enormous depths in the manner just described. The total amount of gold produced in Victoria from the time of the first discovery in 1851 to the year 1886 is no less than fifty-five millions of ounces, equal in value to more than two hundred million pounds sterling. From 1851 to 1861 was the most exciting time on the goldfields, and during that remarkable decade, the precious metal was raised to the surface at an average rate of £10,000,000 per year.
The unparalleled productiveness of her gold mines, principally, and the extent of her pastoral and agricultural resources, secondarily, have combined to place Victoria at the head of the Australian colonies, and have given her a lead that none of the others have yet been able to overtake. She is in the full enjoyment of Home Rule, having two chambers modelled on the principle of the British Constitution, the Legislative Council, corresponding to the House of Lords, and the Legislative Assembly, possessing all the powers and privileges of the House of Commons. Her capital, Melbourne, is a city, whose public institutions, principal churches and commercial buildings, will bear favourable comparison with those of the historic cities on the other side of the equator.
- Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, who has made "Australian Federation" the subject of several brilliant addresses.