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CHAPTER V.


A GOLDEN CITY.


SANDHURST, THE GREAT CENTRE OF QUARTZ MINING—AN INVADING HOST OF DIGGERS—INDIGNANT REMONSTRANCES AGAINST OFFICIAL TYRANNY— THE BANNER OF THE IRISH DIGGERS—"BENDIGO MAC"—HOW HE AVERTED A REBELLION—AN IRISHMAN WHO LITERALLY ROLLED IN WEALTH—AN IRISH DIGGER'S TENT—HIBERNIAN PERSEVERANCE REWARDED—TIPPERARY GULLY—THE "SHAMROCK"—AN ENTERPRISING IRISHMAN— SOME PROMINENT SANDHURST IRISHMEN, AND WHAT THEY HAVE ACHIEVED.


Much that has been said about Ballarat is equally true of the city of Sandhurst, the second great gold-fields centre of Victoria. Distant 100 miles from the metropolis, in a north-westerly direction, it is surrounded on all sides by an abundance of mining wealth that will ensure the prosperity of the place for many a year to come. Indeed, some scientific experts have given it as their opinion that the quartz reefs of Sandhurst are practically inexhaustible. Without acquiescing in that professional prediction, there is no denying the fact that the production of gold from the Sandhurst mines during the past thirty-five years has been something marvellous, and the immense depths at which the golden stone continues to be procured at this day strengthen the belief that it will take at least half a century to extract all the gold from the available quartz. The first great "rush" to Sandhurst or Bendigo, the name by which it was known for many years, happened soon after the discovery of Ballarat, and in a few weeks' time the gold-seekers were tramping from Melbourne in their thousands. They occupied the field in force, and lost no time in turning up the soil in all directions, and washing out the golden grains. To quote the words of the genial Hibernian historian of Sandhurst, Mr. John Neill Macartney, who was the government mining registrar of the district for many years, "all around resembled ant-hills with their teeming numbers, and the diggers' tents reminded one of a serried and invading army." The license-fee, or rather its mode of collection by the insolent Crown officials, soon became in Bendigo, as in Ballarat, an insupportable grievance, and it was only by a lucky chance that hostilities were at one stage averted. As Mr. Macartney very truly says, many a scholarly and polished gentleman's heart was beating under the blue shirt of many a digger, and it is not difficult to understand how men of that stamp were wrought into a dangerous state of exasperation by the wanton insults of brutal and ignorant troopers. Bendigo, at that time, numbered a considerable proportion of honest Hibernians amongst its tent-living population, so it is not surprising to read in the contemporary records of a great diggers' demonstration held towards the close of 1853, that "flags of all nations were present, but a splendid Irish banner was most conspicuous in the van."[1] Deputies from mass meetings of the diggers were sent down to Melbourne to remonstrate with the governor in person, and to point out the inevitable consequences of denying the gold-fields' population the rights of freemen, and of leaving them at the mercy of a ruffianly police. But His Excellency turned a deaf ear to all remonstrances, and insisted on ruling in quarter-deck fashion. If the peace was preserved in Bendigo at the time that the diggers of Ballarat were in armed rebellion, it was not the Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham, who was to be thanked, but the newly-appointed resident magistrate, Captain McLachlan, who arrived just in the nick of time, and, with the shrewdness of the Scotchman, took in the situation at a glance. He saw the imperative necessity of conciliating the exasperated diggers, and, by his first administrative act, he won their confidence and appeased their indignation. That act was the instant dismissal of a number of the black sheep amongst the police force—scoundrels who had been transported from the mother country for their crimes, and, by a strange irony of destiny, were afterwards placed in a position of authority which enabled them to tyrannise at will over men of birth, breeding, education, and honesty, to whom their touch was contamination and their very presence an insult. This in itself was one great stride in the direction of reform, and Captain McLachlan followed it up with a distinct and deliberate refusal to carry out the governor's instructions to collect the diggers' license-fees at the point of the bayonet. By this disobedience he jeopardised his position and rendered himself amenable to a court-martial, but he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had saved Bendigo from the bloodshed and loss of life that resulted from obeying the governor's instructions at Ballarat. When affairs cooled down a little, and the diggers were granted those rights that should never have been denied them, every one admitted that the captain was in the right and the governor stupidly in the wrong. So far from suffering any official degradation for declining to enforce an order by the representative of the Queen, which he knew meant precipitating a civil war, he was continued in his office and applauded on all sides for the sound common sense, tact, and discrimination he had displayed under most trying and exceptional circumstances. "Bendigo Mac," as he was ever afterwards familiarly and affectionately called, presided as stipendiary magistrate over the Sandhurst court for the succeeding seventeen years, and when he retired into private life, all classes of citizens combined to present him with a large monetary testimonial.

People who have plenty of money are often said, by a figure of speech, to be "rolling in wealth," but the expression was literally true in the case of a certain eccentric Irishman in the early days of Sandhurst. His name was Flanagan, and, finding that he had dug £3,000 worth of gold out of the earth, some demon prompted him to run down to the metropolis and enjoy himself for a season. On arriving in Melbourne he engaged a room in a hotel, and then proceeded to the bank, where he presented his draft. Instead of taking his £3,000 in notes, he insisted on having 3,000 sovereigns, with which he filled a sack that he had brought with him for the purpose. Returning to his hotel, he went straight to his room, locked the door, and emptied the sack of sovereigns on the floor. He then stripped himself stark naked, and spent the remainder of the day in rolling himself over and over upon his golden heap. Next day he commenced to get rid of his golden store as fast as he could by senseless drinking, dissipation, and extravagance of all sorts; and, before the end of the month, the foolish fellow was trudging back to the diggings without a solitary shilling to bless himself with.

Though the tragic element necessarily predominated in those digger-hunting days, the comic was by no means wanting at times. Mr. Macartney relates one amusing incident that came under his personal observation. "Early in 1854 two well-known diggers, John Murphy and Garrett Brennan, were rounded up by the police on a part of the diggings called Jackass Flat, and taken before Mr. Dowling, the police magistrate, their offence being not having their licenses upon them. Although they had paid for their licenses. Murphy, who was a droll dog, a rough Irish diamond, requested to see 'his honour's riverince.' Mr. Dowling replied, 'Well, my man, I am the man you want.' Murphy then asked, 'Would your honour's riverince order that fellow (pointing to the policeman on guard) to fire on a man who had paid for his license and had left it in his tent, if he ran away after being rounded up by the police?' Mr. Dowling replied, 'Certainly not.' Murphy exclaimed, 'Thin, be jabers, I'm off,' saying which, he knocked over the police guard, jumped the picket fence, and ran like a greyhound into the bush. His companion, Brennan, having proved that he had paid for a license, was dismissed with a reprimand."

Neither was conviviality of the old-land type unknown at the close of the day's gathering-in of the golden harvest. A contemporary eye-witness has given a graphic description of an Irish tent, in which an old fiddler is reviving fond recollections of a dear isle far away by playing the beautiful melody of "Erin-go-Bragh." "Hold a moment! He is resining his bow. Now he begins, and as the charming strain falls upon the ears of his sensitive countrymen, they here and there chime in with a part of the song and dissolve in tears from the warmth of their emotions. Of what a complication of joys and sorrows is the human heart made up! Listen. He now plays 'Paddy Carey,' and see—every face that was this moment suffused with tears is radiant with joy, and the tent, as a matter of course, being now no longer capable of holding its inmates, throws them forth to the open air to have a trip on the gravel, which here serves as a substitute for the bright green sod of their own native 'isle of the ocean.'"

In a community composed of so many inflammable elements, and gathered from all the nations under the sun, with every man desperately eager to build up a golden pile, and return home with the utmost speed to astonish his family and friends with the richness of his rapidly-acquired wealth, it was to be expected that there should be not unfrequently personal disputes as to the right of possessing particular pieces of coveted ground. As a rule the contending parties were allowed to fight the matter out for themselves; but occasionally their sympathising countrymen would appear on the scene of strife, hot words would be interchanged, and very soon, what was originally a purely personal quarrel would develop into a mélée between opposing nationalities.

Mr. C. R. Read, an official on the gold-fields, in a work describing his experiences in that capacity, narrates how, on one occasion, there was a dispute between a Tipperary boy and an Englishman about a piece of ground, and in the inevitable scuffle that ensued the Irishman fell headlong into a hole full of muddy water, and the Englishman partly so. This trifling incident a few hours afterwards led to a desperate fight between the Irishmen and Englishmen on the field. One Irishman was shot through the lungs and another in the head, whilst the leader of the Englishmen had his head split open with an axe.

The same official states that the Irishmen were generally the most fortunate on the diggings. The most unfortunate class of gold-seekers were those that came under the denomination of "swell" or gentleman diggers—members of the learned professions and younger sons of good families, who had never before handled a pick in their lives. But, whilst this was the rule, there were some exceptions. Mr. Read says he was personally aware of several instances of great success attending gentlemen who were digging. One with whom he was intimately acquainted cleared upwards of £3,000 in six weeks.

Perseverance was richly and deservedly rewarded in the case of a party of four Irishmen who sank eighteen holes in succession, and only got one ounce of gold each for their trouble. They did not lose heart, but sank nine more, with little better result, realising just one pound per man. They were naturally somewhat discouraged at such poor returns after months of labour, and believed themselves to be very unlucky indeed. Still, they were determined to make one effort more, and, on sinking their twenty-eighth hole, they struck a splendid patch of gold which yielded them £1,000 per man.

Mr. James Bonwick, the most industrious and voluminous of Australian authors, visited Bendigo in 1852, and, in his "Notes of a Gold Digger," he speaks of the Irish who occupied Tipperary Gully, near his tent, as consisting entirely of families conspicuous for their order, cleanliness, kind-heartedness and happiness.

Sandhurst is not to be compared with Ballarat for beauty of site or surroundings, but by means of various artificial embellishments and the almost universal planting of umbrageous trees along its thoroughfares, its civic rulers have in great measure succeeded in overcoming its natural defects of position, and introducing some of the elements of the picturesque. No doubt, on entering the city the observing eye is at first liable to be offended by the repulsive heaps of upturned earth that lie ruthlessly scattered in all directions—perpetual reminders of the early days when the gold was readily found near the surface, and diggers acquired enormous fortunes without much bodily labour or risk of life. But this is a prevailing characteristic of nearly all gold-fields, though Sandhurst, by reason of its low, flat situation, suffers in appearance more severely from this cause than its sister cities. But when the visitor leaves the outskirts of Sandhurst behind him and enters the city itself, the disagreeable impression produced by the sight of dreary wastes of torn and disembowelled earth will speedily be dissipated. For he will be ushered into a bustling and animated scene; he will see himself in the centre of a well-planned and well-appointed town; a long succession of handsome shops will spread out before his gaze, and all around he will discern indubitable evidences of material prosperity and intellectual life in a host of fine public buildings, imposing banks, numerous churches, and a variety of literary and educational institutions. That once popular Hibernian governor of New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson, was perfectly right when he declared that "Sandhurst surpassed all other districts in the marvellous wealth of its mineral resources." It has been of recent years the richest and most productive of Victorian gold-fields, and the auriferous quartz continues to be found so abundantly at enormous depths as to lead to the widespread belief that Sandhurst is in reality a series of goldfields, one underneath the other.

One of the great institutions of Sandhurst is the "Shamrock," a capacious and comfortable hostelry that, notwithstanding its aggressively Hibernian title, has been the head-quarters of visitors from every nation under the sun, and a favourite resort of successive generations of gold-diggers. Its founder, Mr. William Heffernan, was an Irishman of extraordinary enterprise, who made fortunes and lost them again with equal rapidity. To him Sandhurst is also indebted for a beautiful theatre and a commodious public hall. In the palmy days of gold-digging, he spared no expense in bringing up to Sandhurst all the musical and theatrical celebrities who crossed the equator into the Southern Hemisphere.

Sandhurst was constituted a bishopric by Pope Pius IX. simultaneously with Ballarat, and its first resident prelate, the Right Rev. Dr. Martin Crane, continues to rule the extensive diocese that was then committed to his charge. Prior to his arrival in Australia, Dr. Crane was long and intimately associated with the Irish Church, and was twice elected by his Augustinian brethren to the high office off; Provincial of the order. The handsome church of SS. Augustine and John that adorns the Irish metropolis, is a monument of his zeal and untiring energy. Bishop Crane laboured with great earnestness and success in his new Australian sphere until he was unfortunately prostrated by a painful affection of the eyes. His Lordship is now assisted in the administration of the diocese by a coadjutor- bishop, Dr. Stephen Reville, formerly president of the seminary of St. Laurence O'Toole, Usher's Quay, Dublin. There is at prosperous community of the Sisters of Mercy in the city of Sandhurst; and, in the town of Echuca, at the northern end of the diocese, the Brigidine nuns have recently established a convent. The members of both those orders devote themselves to the education of Catholic girls.

Amongst the public men that Sandhurst has produced, the Hon. James Forrester Sullivan and the Hon. J. J. Casey (now Judge Casey) occupy a prominent place. Mr. Sullivan, a Waterford man, came to the front as a trusted leader of the diggers in the days of oppression, and was chosen as the president of the league they established for the defence of their liberties and the assertion of their rights against official insolence and tyranny. When the battle was over, and brutal officialdom was humbled in the dust, and the diggers received the rank and the privileges of freemen, they showed their gratitude to their champion by sending him first to the newly-created municipal council, and soon afterwards to the greater parliamentary council of the colony. Mr. William Kelly, the author of "Life in Victoria," visited Sandhurst in its early days, and he describes its town council at that time as being "generally composed of most intelligent and energetic men, but containing one master-mind in the chairman, Mr. Sullivan, whom I yet look forward to see occupying the highest positions in the infant state of Victoria." This prophecy received its full realisation in after years. In parliament Mr. Sullivan sat for many years and took office as Minister of Mines—a position he held for a lengthened period, and for which he was admirably fitted by the practical experience of gold-fields work which he acquired when a young man, his intimate knowledge of the wants and the wishes of the mining population, and the strong admixture of common sense in his composition. His administration of the Mining Department was most successful and satisfactory. As a leading member of the Victorian Board of Commissioners to the Dublin International Exhibition of 1860, he deserves a word of recognition for the devoted zeal and earnestness with which he laboured to secure a creditable display of the productions of his adopted home in the metropolitan city of his native land.

Judge Casey was also closely connected with the public affairs of early Sandhurst. His daily journal, the Bendigo Advertiser, rendered good service to the cause of the diggers, and it continues to be the leading newspaper of the district. After serving his apprenticeship in the local municipal council, Mr. Casey entered parliament in i1863, and held his seat almost continuously until his elevation to the bench a few years ago. As a Minister of the Crown, he is best known and remembered for his able and popular administration of the Lands Department. He succeeded, where most of his predecessors signally failed, in effectually checking the land-grabbing propensities of unscrupulous squatters. Taking advantage of the liberal land legislation of the colony, these wealthy pastoral princes were in the habit of getting their hirelings to personate bonâ fide selectors and take up land from the Government, ostensibly for the purpose of settling on the soil, but in reality to transfer the land to the squatters as soon as the Government regulations would permit them to do so. In this fraudulent manner several of the valuable large estates of Victoria were put together piece by piece, and their owners, so far from being ashamed of having acquired their possessions by such dishonourable and underhand practices, very often glory in their successful evasion of the law, and take much credit to themselves for their smartness. This baneful and illegal system of land-grabbing is known thoughout the colonies by the expressive name of "dummyism," the persons professing to be genuine selectors, desirous of establishing themselves on the soil, being actually the agents or the "dummies" of the adjoining squatters. So craftily was the system pursued, and so difficult was it to legally prove collusion between the parties, notwithstanding that the facts pointed unmistakably in that direction, that for years this baneful practice flourished like a noxious weed, and all the precautions of Government officers were powerless to check it. But when Mr. Casey came into power, he firmly grasped the nettle and saved the public estate from further spoliation. He instituted boards of inquiry at most of the principal pastoral centres, and so energetically were these investigations conducted that several lords of the soil were at last convicted of dummyism, and punished by the forfeiture of the selections they had unjustly acquired as well as the lands they had originally leased from the government. In thus making an example of some of the aristocratic dummy-mongers, Mr. Casey administered a salutary check to the pernicious practices that had previously prevailed, and rendered good and lasting service to the colony of Victoria. Another prominent Irishman long connected with Sandhurst was Judge Macoboy, who, in his early years, was an active promoter of the Tenant League of Ireland. The names of Edward O'Keefe, founder of the first society of Irishmen on the gold-field and chairman of the mining board of the district, and Patrick Hayes, the present popular mayor of the city, during whose reign many civic improvements have been effected, are also entitled to honourable mention amongst the civic worthies of Sandhurst.

  1. "First marched the Irish—always first in every agitation"—is the comment of Mr. William Howitt on this demonstration, in his "Two Years in Victoria."