The Present State and Prospects of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales/Chapter 5


CHAPTER V.

AGRICULTURE—VALUE OF THE COLONIAL MARKET FOR GRAIN—GEELONG—PROSPECTS OF EMIGRANTS—CLASSES LIKELY TO SUCCEED, AND THE CONTRARY—COLONIAL SOCIETY—LABOURING CLASSES—OLD HANDS AND EMIGRANTS—STATE OF CRIME—TABLES.

The natural wish of every man is to establish himself in some place which he can call his own, where he can feel that in gathering round him civilization and comfort he is not throwing his money away, but is improving a property which he may leave to his children after him; and it certainly is much to be regretted that he must sacrifice this feeling if he wish to engage in sheepfarming, which is the most profitable business in the colony. For I conceive that it is a piece of very doubtful wisdom for a man who is not thoroughly acquainted with the thing himself, to leave his station in the hands of an overseer. There is no place where good or bad management tells more decidedly than on an Australian sheep station; and we know from authority that "the eye of the master maketh the beast fat." A man who thoroughly understands sheep, and who lives within a moderate distance of his station, may indeed keep it under proper control, as he can visit it constantly, and see in a very short time whether things are going right or wrong; but even this is not as satisfactory as living on the spot; it also takes a man constantly from home, and the surveillance is a laborious duty instead of being just sufficient to give him a little interesting employment each day, while he is enjoying all the pleasures and comforts of home. These objections do not apply with the same force to a distant cattle station.

If a man be discouraged by the foregoing considerations from embarking in sheep farming, he may turn his attention to agriculture; for engaging in which there at present exist great facilities. Many sections of land, with cottages and out-buildings, and with gardens stocked with vines, fig-trees, peaches, &c. may be at present purchased within ten or twelve miles of Melbourne, on very low terms, probably not more than half what was expended in making those improvements in the dear times; and land still better for the purposes of cultivation, within twenty miles of Geelong, and on the banks of the Barwan river, may be purchased in its unimproved state, from private individuals, for about twelve shillings per acre. In this part of the country there is already a considerable quantity of cultivation, and the crops seem certain; about twenty-five bushels of wheat per acre is, I am told, an average crop, and as much as forty bushels is sometimes yielded. It seems to be the opinion of persons, the best informed, that, when wages come down to twelve pounds per annum, it will pay very well to grow wheat, barley, and potatoes for the Sydney and Melbourne markets—some idea of the value of which may be formed from the following tables:

Showing the Import of Wheat and other Grain, Flour and Potatoes, into New South Wales, From 1836 to 1842

By this table, which is constructed from official returns, the total import of wheat and flour for the seven years, ending December 31, 1842, appears to be 1,322,306 bushels of wheat, and 19,517 tons of flour, giving an annual average of 188,900 bushels (equal to 23,612 quarters) of wheat, and 2,788 tons of flour. In addition to this are the other articles specified in the tables, the total amount of which, together with the wheat and flour, is valued at £1,088,343, giving an annual average of £155,477; but striking off about one-third for the high prices of those years, and as an allowance for the rice and maize, which must still continue to he imported from foreign parts, there is an annual consumption to the value of about £100,000 a year for the agriculturist to supply.

But whether agriculture yield a large per centage on the capital embarked or not, there is one thing of which a man may be certain, which is, of having every comfort and many luxuries on the cheapest terms. In every part of New South Wales living costs a mere trifle. I have before given the prices of the mere necessaries of life—flour, sugar, tea, and meat, in January, 1844: flour, at £10 per ton, or ten pounds for a shilling; brown sugar, £16 a ton, or seven pounds for a shilling; white sugar, 4½d. a pound; tea, £5 5s. per chest, or 1s. 7½d. per pound; mutton and beef, l½d. per pound;—of course when purchased by retail these things cost something more. In Melbourne house-rent is very low; excellent brick cottages, with five or six rooms, can be had for from forty to fifty pounds per annum. So that a man may remain for six months or more if he chooses in the town, and may judge for himself the course most proper for him to pursue, without being driven, as people formerly were, to decide in a hurry, from the feeling that every day they deferred doing so, they were at an enormous expense. And, although every person who emigrates is naturally anxious to settle himself at once, it is a much wiser plan to wait for some time.

Geelong, which I have mentioned above, is situated on a bay called Corio Bay, which is part of the Port Phillip inlet. It is distant from Melbourne between thirty and forty miles, in a south-west direction. The town is divided into two parts, or, more properly speaking, there are two villages—South Geelong, or Geelong proper, and North Geelong, or Corio (as it is generally called). They are about a mile apart. The former, which is a straggling hamlet, is finely situated on a grassy slope, on the banks of the river Barwan, here a broad and deep river, having been joined by the river Marrabul somewhat higher up. Corio (which is a larger and more thriving place) is placed on the edge of the bay, upon a rising ground, which overlooks the sea, and its situation is very beautiful. Upon a guess, I should say that it contained about one hundred houses; and as all the settlers to the south-west ship their wool there, and draw their stores from thence, it is a stirring little place in the wool season. There is good anchorage in Corio Bay, but ships of a large class cannot come in close, on account of a bar—they lie at a place about five miles off. There is constant steam communication between this and Melbourne; the passage occupies from five to seven hours; the distance round by the road is fifty miles.

From the detailed account which I have given of the articles of export, and from what I have said of sheep, cattle, and agricultural farming an idea may be formed of what axe the means of profitable employment open to the emigrant. No doubt as the colony advances new modes of industry will arise, and new sources of wealth be discovered. Amongst those may be ranked the growing of wine, about which many people are very sanguine. At Sydney it succeeds very well; and the Tine thrives very much at Port Phillip; still it is too soon to pronounce an opinion, but raisins could, I should think, be made with profit.

Although, in speaking on this subject, I have endeavoured to do so with caution upon whatever seems problematical—and, where this is the case, rather to show the grounds for forming an opinion, than to announce one as already formed—yet I have no hesitation in stating what lines of life appear to me to afford but little prospect of success. Shop-keeping is one. Shop-keeping in general is overdone. There are far too many shops in Melbourne for the population of the district. Grocers and slopsellers seem to do the most business: the latter branch, as in many other places, being nearly altogether in the hands of the Jews. Ironmongery is an extensive business, but much overstocked—there are, I think, no less than six large shops of this kind in one street alone. The auctioneers, of whom there is ft great number, take a great deal of custom out of the hands of the regular trader, and I wonder how so many manage to live. Artisans and artificers, particularly those whose trades minister to luxury, obtain but little employment; and many of them find it more to their advantage to seek it in the bush, as farm-servants, if they are not encumbered with a wife and family. Coopers seem to get a good deal of business; and probably glue-makers, tanners, soap-boilers, and tallow-chandlers will be in demand before long. A large number of shoemakers find employment, but the trade is overstocked. But the most helpless class consists of young men without capital, who have received a tolerable education, and who would perhaps be qualified to act as clerks in merchants' houses: there is but little chance of their getting an appointment of this kind, and their only resource is to become shepherds or stockmen, and perhaps qualify themselves in time to act as overseers.

There are two classes of persons who are almost sure to benefit themselves, and others, by coming to the country. One consists of small capitalists, and the other of agricultural labourers. A sheep station, as I said before, should not be undertaken unless the proprietors start with a command of two thousand pounds. A small number of sheep does not pay; and there is this further drawback, that the run must be necessarily small, and consequently, when the sheep increase to any thing of a paying number, it is necessary to move to another—a step attended by great expense, risk of loss, and almost certainty of infection. Persons with much less capital might embark in agriculture, dairy farming, or some other branch of industry: the grand principle being to keep out of debt, and above all things never to get a bill discounted. If a man acts on this system, he can scarcely be much straitened, for. every thing is so very cheap, that he can go on living at a very trifling expense, until he derives some return from his capital. The second class consists of agricultural labourers, farm-herds and hut-keepers, which require little bodily strength, and in which men of all kinds soon become proficients, if they are honest enough to do their duty by their employers. The wages of this class of men are at present twenty pounds per annum, with the rations I have before mentioned; but I anticipate a fall to fifteen pounds, or even to twelve pounds, rations continuing of course the same. Under the present system of tenure, married people not being much in request from the difficulty of accommodating them, and from their being little work for women in the bush, a married I couple cannot expect at most more than five pounds above these rates of wages, and if they have young children not any thing more.

Amongst the most interesting topics connected with a country which a man is about to adopt as his home, may be ranked the inquiry into the state of society, and the class of men with whom he is likely to be thrown, and with whom he must to a certain extent identify himself; and I think I may safely say, that there exist in the district of Port Phillip the materials of a very good society. Bachelors, however, predominate over married men; and such ladies as live in the bush are necessarily less locomotive than their husbands, so that they are but seldom seen in Melbourne, whither the latter are occasionally brought by the calls of business, and this circumstance also adds to the preponderance of male over female society. The loss, too, is much felt of some one to take a lead in society, of something in the shape of a government house, something in short to servants, or men willing to undertake the duties of shep- bring people together.[1] Subscription balls have been held every quarter, until within the last year, when the gloomy aspect of money matters rendered people indisposed for amusements of this kind, and indeed until a decided reaction takes place, it is neither to be expected nor wished that there should be much indulgence in gaiety. But while circumstances permitted their being kept up, they were of more importance in a social point of view than people at home may imagine, as enabling persons, scattered in different parts of the country, to become known to each other, who might have but few other opportunities of being acquainted. In this point of view, as far as gentlemen are concerned, the club is of great service. It is composed of the principal merchants, many magistrates, government officers, and a number of squatters. To the latter it is very useful, as it enables them, when they come in from their stations, to go to a quiet, respectable place, where they see all the recent European newspapers and periodicals, meet other settlers irom distant parts of the country, and become at once acquainted with all that is going on whether at home or abroad.

There is one feature in colonial society (at least in that of a new colony like Port Phillip,) which gives it a life and spirit which you do not find at home, except in the capitals of Europe. This arises from the variety of the materials of which it is composed, and from the different views, the different knowledge, and experience of men differently educated, whose lives have been passed in different scenes, in different professions, and in different parts of the globe. If you want to hear the particulars of some Chinese custom, probably your next neighbour can inform you; a second illustrates an argument on draught, by a description of the mode of harnessing dogs in Greenland; a third has personally inspected the isthmus of Panama, and can give you an opinion as to the practicability and expense of cutting it through; while from a fourth you may learn all the details of the Niger expedition. You see a pale and delicate, hut resolute-looking man—he was the first who made the dangerous experiment of taking cattle overland to Adelaide; he opposite you, with a quiet expression and mild blue eye, is one of the most determined and adventurous explorers and the nest bushman in the country; that other florid and rather effeminate-looking youth has gone through dangers and surmounted difficulties which would appal many a stout heart; and so on of the rest, for there are few who have not had occasions to try them when they had nothing else to depend on, for the preservation of their lives, hut their own courage and perseverance.

The labouring population may he divided into two classes, the old hands and emigrants. The old hands are men who, having been formerly convicts, (or lags as they are generally termed,) have become free by the expiration of their sentences. Some of these men came over in charge of the stock originally brought from Van Dieman's Land and Sydney at the first settlement of the colony, and many have since followed them. As a body, they are a daring, energetic, hard-working class of men, with a considerable fear of infringing the law, or at least of the consequences of being made amenable to it, but at the same time requiring a strict hand to keep them in order, as it is part of their system to impose (or as they term it to try it on) whenever they have a chance of success, which of course is most likely with new settlers. If the first encroachment succeeds, they try another, thus trying it on until, if unchecked, they establish a system very much calculated for their own comfort and convenience, but by no means conducive to their masters' interests. They are generally well acquainted with splitting, building, fencing, and bushwork of all kinds; and from their experience in woodcraft, and their knowledge of the resources and expedients of which a man may avail himself, or to which he may have recourse in the bush, were of the greatest service, if not actually indispensable, to the first settlers in occupying a new country. With respect to sheep management, there is a great difference between the Sydney and Van Dieman's Land old hands. In Van Dieman's Land, the sheep are all reared in enclosed paddocks or fields as in England, and the sheep farmers there never attempt the thorough eradication of scab, contenting themselves with merely keeping it down, as it is called, and from the circumstance of the sheep not being enclosed in hurdles at night or fed in flocks during the day, it does not spread with the same rapidity or become so formidable a disease as when the contrary is the case. Hence the experience with regard to sheep, both of settlers and labourers from thence, was of little avail in a country so differently circumstanced as Port Phillip. In Sydney, on the contrary, the system, with regard to both these points, was the same as at Port Phillip; and it is from the settlers and old hands of the Sydney district that we have learned most of what we know with respect to the improved management of sheep and the eradication of scab. On the whole, the old hands have been of essential service to the country, and when kept in order by persons who understand what is their duty, and who make them perform it, they are useful servants. They are, however, a disagreeable set of men to deal with; rarely, if ever, identifying their master's interests with their own, but looking upon him as a person to be overreached and imposed on, and despising him when he permits them to do so. The person who excites their greatest respect is the man who is alive to their attempts, (or, as they express it themselves, who drops down to their moves,) and the highest encomium they can pass on such an one is, that there are no flies about him. They are very fond of change, wandering about the country generally in pairs, and rarely remaining more than a year in one service. They are to be found more at the distant stations and in newly-settled country where wages are higher, and there is more difficulty to contend with, than in the more civilized parts where the emigrants have in a great measure superseded them. Still, through the whole country the great mass of shearers, splitters, and even bullock-drivers are old hands. They have a strong esprit de corps, which is kept np by their speaking a language so full of cant expressions as to become almost a separate dialect. Their best trait is their liberality towards each other; and indeed when money was more easily made than at present, this was carried to a pitch of reckless profusion. When a man was paid his wages, or had made a good sum of money by shearing, splitting, or other job-work, he used to go to Melbourne and treat all his friends, and frequently keep open house at a public-house for a week or a fortnight together. In this way, I have known some of them to have spent upwards of a hundred pounds in that short time; they were, of course, extensively plundered by the publicans. Now, however, that money is not so easily earned, they are something less lavish, but still a large proportion spend all their earnings of several months', or even a year's hard labour in a few weeks' dissipation; and it is a common thing to deposit a sum with the landlord upon the understanding that he is to furnish drink while it lasts. When the money is out, they start away in search of new scenes and fresh employment, carrying on their backs their heavy packs, containing cloths and blankets or kangaroo rug. Two generally travel together, who are called mates; they are partners, and divide all their earnings.

Though amongst this class of men the standard of morality is very low, yet are they not without their rude notions of honour, modified, however, by a kind of public opinion amongst themselves, which exercises a considerable influence over their actions. They have a pride in fulfilling their engagements; and when they undertake a piece of job-work, they generally adhere faithfully to their contract, although it may turn out an unprofitable job. I have known several instances in which money has been lent to them to the amount of two or three pounds, and I have never known it not to be repaid; and in general, when a confidence is reposed in them for the performance of any particular service, they acquit themselves creditably, though, as this arises from that pride which urges a man to show himself worthy of being trusted, and as it is a feeling which, however creditable in itself, is inferior to that principle which prompts a man to do his duty irrespectively of all other considerations, it might not, perhaps, be safe to count on a prolonged exertion of this kind. A man guilty of crimes of a mean and unmanly nature is despised by them; and one who robs from his fellows, but especially from his mate, is regarded as infamous. On the other hand, drunkenness and debauchery of any kind are not regarded as crimes—indeed to omit an opportunity of getting drunk would be considered as a kind of breach of privilege; nor are they very scrupulous on the subject of honesty, if the person injured be not a poor man. Defrauding one not of their own class they seem to regard as a spoiling of the Egyptians. I have always considered the observation of the effects produced on these men by their peculiar position as a most interesting study; and although this effect may be modified by peculiarity of disposition, yet I think that I have correctly delineated the leading characteristics of the class.

This sketch would he imperfect, did I finish it without mentioning the bullock-drivers, who are generally old hands, and are a wonderfully persevering and enterprising set of men. Driving bullocks in a hot wind, when there is much dust, and the road stony and difficult, can only be equalled by the same operation in cold, wet weather, when the ground is deep and swampy, when the wheel is constantly up to the nave in the mud, and the water frequently over the bed of the dray. These men generally curse and swear most awfully, to swear like a trooper being but a feeble image to any one who has heard an Australian bullock-driver.[2] I recollect once seeing a fellow stand on the edge of a small, but deep swamp, not very far from Portland Bay, and fairly curse his team through it. Whenever there was the least check, out would come a fresh volley, which seemed to produce a wonderful effect. Bad as this was, I overtook another on the same day who appeared to me even worse. The weather was very bad, and the road very much cut up. This latter driver seemed to have been drilled into not swearing; but he used to say " Bless your pretty hearts*' in such a bitter ironical tone, and then from his heavy whip would come such a cut, in which seemed concentrated the whole venom of his composition, that this mode of combining the "suaviter in modo" with the "fortitèr in ré," seemed to me more disgusting than the undisguised ruffianism of the other. Certainly driving bullocks does try the temper severely, and if a few strong observations do at times escape, there is great provocation. Many of them think also that the bullocks won't go without it. It is wonderful to see the places these animals go up and down with loaded drays, and the deep quagmires they will go through. As an instance of the expedients of an Australian bullock-driver, I will just mention that the common mode of dragging a very steep hill, where the ordinary contrivance for this purpose would be quite inadequte, is to cut a tree down at the top of the hill, and to tie it with a chain to the back of the dray, where it acts as a most efficient drag. This has always struck me as the sublime of bullock-driving. To give an idea of the difficulties to which these men are exposed in some parts of the country, I may state that, in one journey in November, 1842, I passed, within seventy miles of Portland Bay, seven bullocks that had been drowned in attempting to bring drays across the river Grange, one dray that had been plundered by the natives, and then shoved into a waterhole, and two others stuck in different swamps, with their axletrees broken. This was, however, a particularly wet spring, and in many places, for half a mile and more, the road lay through swamps, where the water reached up nearly to my saddle-skirts.

The emigrants, or new hands, contrast in some respects very favourably with the class which I have sketched. They are more easily managed, have fewer tricks, are less fond of change, often remaining for a long time in the same situation, seeming to become attached to their employers, and to take an interest in the property committed to their charge. They are less reckless about money, several of them having made considerable savings out of their wages. "When they were new in the country, the old hands, vain of their own knowledge, looked down on their inexperience, while the emigrants in turn despised them for being convicts: so that it seldom answered to have them on the same station; but now the two classes amalgamate better, for the emigrants have had time to gain experience, and are able to hold their ground—indeed some of them are in every respect as useful, even in those departments, which were at first exclusively in possession of the old hands.

The following tables show something of the state of crime. They contain returns of all white persons tried in the supreme court since its establishment in 1841:—

Returns of all white persons tried in the supreme court since its establishment in 1841 (The Present State and Prospects of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales).png
3 suffered the extreme penalty of the law.
42 transported for seven years.
4 transported for ten years.
3 transported for fourteen years.
18 transported for fifteen years.
21 transported for life.
71 Imprisoned for various periods.
162

Many people who left home formerly were apt to imagine that it was a matter of little consequence to them what might be the character of the population, or how society might he constituted ui the country to which they were about to emigrate—that they were to go there for a certain time to make a fortune, and then return to England to spend it. Nothing could well be more injurious to the colony than this idea, and the depression of the times has at least done this service, that it has totally eradicated this notion, so true is it that

"There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out."

No man should emigrate to a country which he does not intend to make his home; and before taking the most important step which he can possibly take in not only choosing a home for himself, but a country for his children, he should calmly and dispassionately consider with himself what it is he gives up, and what he is likely to gain by the change, and not fall into the mistake of imagining that because he is discontented in England, he must be content when out of it. If upon such a consideration he should find that the advantages are likely far to preponderate, he should form an unwavering resolution, from which he should allow nothing to divert him. There are sacrifices which he must make in leaving home, and there are things which no new country can supply, were it Paradise itself. He must sacrifice the friendships of his youth and the associations of his childhood, much of the pleasure of society, and the intercourse olished life. The past is, and must be sacrificed, and with it some of the most tender affections that adorn our nature, and tie us to our species; but in its place is afforded an easy independence at present, an unclouded prospect for his latter years, and, if he has faith in the destiny of mankind, a glorious future for his descendants. May I be excused for saying one word to those ladies whose husbands speak of emigrating. In leaving home a woman, no doubt, sacrifices more than a man. His feelings are of a sterner character, and he is by his constitution of a more selfish disposition. Consequently it is she who feels most poignantly the severance of natural ties; besides this, when settled in a new country, a man's more active occupations necessarily fill his time, and his plans engage his mind. She has, no doubt, her domestic duties and her household cares; but they are of an uniform and unexciting character, and there is little to substitute for the amusement and excitement of English life—no opera—no exhibitions—no popular preacher—no morning calls—nothing worthy of the name of shopping—rather seedy balls, and very few dinner parties. If it be thought too much to give up all this, in addition to the other sacrifices which must be made, let the battle be fought at once, and let her do her best to prevent her husband's leaving home; but when once this irrevocable step has been taken, let her make up her mind to these privations, which are necessarily attendant on their new mode of life, and let there be no complaints—"That although in respect that it is in the fields it pleaseth her well, yet in respect that it is not at the court it is tedious." One couple of cheerful, contented persons, of cultivated minds, but unsophisticated feelings, are worth whole shiploads of discontented people, who underrate every thing colonial because it is not English, and in whose minds the recollections of the exciting dissipations of a highly artificial state of society destroy all relish for those simple duties which a more natural one imposes, and for those purer enjoyments which nature so bountifully spreads out for such as are capable of appreciating them.

How many men possessed of capital sufficient to give them the means of profitable employment in the colonies, spend a wretched life in some English country town, or watering place, in that most miserable of hypocrisies—the attempt to keep up appearances, struggling perhaps to bring up an interesting family to all the wretchedness of genteel beggary. How many young men, too, with the same means waste the best years of their life, and fritter away their energies in frivolous pursuits, for want of some way of employing them with a fair prospect of remuneration. The life of such men is scarcely worthy of being called living, but rather a prolonged contrivance for the killing of time—"Verum enimvero is demum mihi vivere, atque animâ frui videtur, qui aliquo negotio, intentus, præclari facinoris, aut artis bonæ famam quærit." The colonies do not indeed afford a field for the performance of illustrious deeds; but they do open a path for useful and honourable employment; and it is well worth the while of such men as I have alluded to, seriously to take into consideration the prudence of at once taking a bold step, and their means of doing so.


  1. It is not to be expected that his honour the superintendent can occupy this position. His income, until this year, was only £700, and there is no house attached to the office. By the act, 5 and 6 Vic. c. 76, his income was raised to £1,500, but there has been a bill introduced into the legislative council to reduce it.
  2. This is a general sketch, and of coarse there are exceptions. One of the best men I ever knew in his station of life was a bullock-driver. He was, however, a free emigrant.