through the Interior of Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
|From the Journals and Letters of William John Wills, edited by his father, William Wills.|
London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street.
- My two sons leave England for Australia
- Incidents of the Voyage
- Extracts from Journal
- Arrival at Port Phillip
- Employed as Shepherds in the Interior
- Mode of Life
- Melbourne in 1853
- Advice to Immigrants
- Descriptive Letters from the Bush
During the summer of 1852, I formed the intention
of joining the exodus, then pouring out from England to
Australia. I had been in treaty with the 'Melbourne Gold Mining
Company,' recently started, in which promising speculation, on
paper, I held some shares. The late Earl of Devon was chairman. I
was to go in the Sarah Sands, in my professional capacity. My two
sons, William John, and his younger brother, were to accompany
me; but on further investigation of the modus operandi, I gave up
all idea of attaching myself to the scheme, sold my shares at a
slight discount, and engaged as medical attendant on the
passengers, taking my two sons with me, in a fine new ship, the
Ballaarat, on her first voyage. This arrangement I considered
final. But a few days after William returned home, he came to me
when I was sitting alone, engaged in writing, and with that
expression in his countenance so peculiarly his own, said;
'My dear father, I have a favour to ask of you.' 'My
dear boy,' I replied, 'there is nothing you would
venture to ask that I could possibly refuse.' 'Then,'
continued he, 'it is this. I see my mother is grieving,
although she says nothing, at our all leaving her together. Let
Tom and I go alone: I will pledge myself to take care of
him.' After a consultation with my wife this new plan was
agreed upon. I released myself from my engagement with Messrs.
Simpkin and Marshall for the Ballaarat, and secured two berths
for the boys in one of Mr W S Lindsay's ships, which at that time
were conveying living freights to Melbourne, their Channel port
of departure being Dartmouth.
By the advice of Mr Lindsay himself I took steerage passages for them. He shrewdly remarked, 'They will be there as soon and as safely as the cabin-passengers, and their money will be saved.' This sounded so like an axiom in practical economy that my dear boy never attempted to argue the question. Having obtained permission to knock two cabins into one, my sons considerably diminished their expenses, and had quite as agreeable a voyage as if they had paid sixty guineas each; for I have lately learned by experience, in a homeward passage, that you have to put up with companions in the cabin, as objectionable as can be imagined in almost any situation of life.
At Dartmouth, a day or two before the ship started, I found that William had expended some money on a quantity of stuff rolled up like balls of black rope yarn. I exclaimed with astonishment, 'In the name of goodness, are you going to chew or smoke all the way to Australia?' for the commodity was the good old pig-tail tobacco. He said, smiling, 'This is to make friends with the sailors: I intend to learn something about a ship by the time we reach our destination.' I dare say the worthy skipper of the good ship Janet Mitchell, should he be still alive, has some recollection of him. His mode of proceeding, as he told me, was first to secure the good graces of the crew through the persuasive medium of the pig-tail; then, to learn the name and use of every rope, and of every part of the ship's tackle from stem to stern. He soon acquired the art of plicing and reefing, and was amongst the first to go aloft in a storm, and to lend a hand in taking in topsails. When I arrived in Melbourne at a later period, several of his fellow-passengers spoke to me with praise and wonder, referring to his activity, and readiness to leave an unfinished meal, on the slightest indication of danger or difficulty. His journal of this voyage, is now before me, from which I extract a few remarks:
1852. October 1st.--Left Dartmouth--Slightly sick for the first few days--My brother much more so, but got right again--Foretopmast carried away by a squall, just at the crosstrees, bringing down with it the main top-gallant mast - 'We look a precious wreck! ' - Remember the Honourable Michael de Courcy, brother of Lord Kingsale, saying to me on the quay at Dartmouth, the day before we sailed, that the first gale would carry away the fore-top-gallant mast--I believe the Janet Mitchell is quite a new ship, on her first voyage--The remark speaks well for the judgment of a young officer.
19th.--Sailors prigged some spirits in the hold and got very drunk--A passenger so drunk that he became mad, and was put in irons.
20th.--Sailors not yet recovered from their drunkenness--A naval captain, passenger on board, insulted by one of them; struck him with his fist and cut his face open.
22nd.--Fine weather--Getting hot--Latitude north 21, longitude west 36--The Great Bear getting low--Sunsets and risings very fine, particularly the former.
November 1st.--Shark taken, of which I had a large share and rather enjoyed the novelty of the feed.
5th.--Crossed the Line--Sailors shaved and ducked a good many--Tom and I got off very well. (Query--effects of the pig-tail?)
16th.--Stormy weather--Obtained some books on navigation and studied trigonometry.
20th and 21st.--Passed Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible and Nightingale Islands, about 37 south latitude, 12 longitude west. --Saw a great many whales, mostly sperm, thousands of birds, albatross, Cape pigeon, and many others, the names of which I am ignorant of.
23rd.--A shoal of porpoises passed us. A sailor struck one with a harpoon, but it got off again. They are of a salmon colour, no more like pigs than horses, just the shape of salmon, only much larger. In swimming they turn on their sides.
December 1st.--Smart breeze this morning which soon increased to a gale--Assisted in furling top-gallant sail--sailors only half dressed--After breakfast, had to double reef top-sails and main-sail. I like reefing very much.
2nd.--Waves not so high as I expected. It is amusing to see how the birds ride them.
27th.--Saw an eclipse of the moon last night, which lasted three hours; little more than three quarters were eclipsed--Some of the passengers discontented with the provisions--wonder that some of them ever thought of leaving home.
1853. January 1st.--Saw land this morning--Reached Cape Otway in the afternoon; much the appearance of Berry Head, with a slight haze on it--Coast to the west very like that about Dartmouth--Cliffs, high; could fancy I saw Rock Vale. [Footnote: The residence of a gentleman, near Dartmouth, with whom he had been on a visit a short time before his departure.]
3rd.--Dropped anchor--Captain and Doctor going ashore will post my journal and our letters.
His own was short:
Port Phillip, January 3rd, 1853.
We have this morning dropped anchor, just off Williamstown. There are a fine set of ships here: amongst them are the Great Britain, Cleopatra, Ballaarat, Aberfoil, and an immense number of others, great and small. The Great Britain leaves early to-morrow, so I cannot finish my letter. We have been ninety-five days on our passage. The Cleopatra has only arrived two days. There are a great many vessels coming in. The day before yesterday we overtook and passed the Jane, and Truth, of London, which left Plymouth a fortnight before we sailed from Dartmouth. I hear already that things are very dear in Melbourne. Our pilot says he gives 200 pounds a year for a small four-roomed cottage, two miles from the town.
To show how well prepared the young adventurer was for life in Australia,--notwithstanding letters of introduction and means of obtaining money if required--after remaining only a few days in Melbourne, and disbursing but a small modicum of the limited supply of cash he had taken with him, anxious to see the interior of the Island Continent, he obtained employment for himself and brother, a lad only fifteen years of age, at a large sheep station two hundred miles up the country. The following letter, dated February 12th, 1853, describes their proceedings to that date:
My dear Father,
We are at Deniliquin. And where in the world is that? you will
say. Well; it is about two hundred miles north from Melbourne,
on the Edward River, in the New South Wales district, and
nearly five hundred miles from Sydney. The station belongs to
the Royal Bank Company. We have engaged as shepherds at 30
pounds per annum each, and rations. We are very comfortable, in
a hut by ourselves, about four miles from the station. We have
between thirteen and fourteen hundred rams, by far the smallest
and easiest flock, under our charge. We take the hut-keeping
and shepherding in turns. The hut is a very nice one, built of
split wood, and roofed with bark. It is close beside a pleasant
creek or river, where there are plenty of fish and ducks. I
assure you we make ourselves quite snug here. One of us rises
almost as soon as it is light, gets some breakfast, and starts
off with the sheep; lets them feed about until ten o'clock,
then brings them slowly home, where they lie down until four;
after that, they go out again until sunset. The other stays
within to clean up the hut and prepare the meals. We can kill a
sheep when we like. [Footnote: Not the rams. There were a few
others kept for the purpose. I stayed a few days with them,
when I went out myself, at the end of the year.] The worst part
serves for the dogs, of which we have three--a sheep dog, and
two kangaroo dogs. [Footnote: They had a horse when I visited
them, but not, I conclude, at the time when this letter was
written.] The latter are good, and keep off the native curs at
night. The sheep dog was the only one the former owner had last
year, to watch a flock of five thousand sheep.
He then proceeds to describe Melbourne, as it then was:
Melbourne is situated, as you know, on the
Yarra Yarra, [Footnote: A native term, which means "always
running."], which has not nearly so large a bed as the Dart,
although more navigable. It is narrow but very deep, and so far
resembles a canal rather than a river. The town, or city, as
they call it, is situated low, but laid out on a good scale.
The streets are very wide, and I think when filled with houses
it will be a fine place; but what spoils the appearance now is,
the number of wooden buildings they are throwing up, as they
cannot get workmen for others. When we were there, butter was
from two shillings and fourpence to three shillings per poun,
bread fourpence, milk eightpence per pint, vegetables enormous,
butcher's meat and sugar, as at home. Fruit very dear; a
shilling would not purchase as much as a penny in England. Beer
and porter, one shilling per pint in Melbourne, but from two
shillings to two and sixpence here. The town of Melbourne is
all on one side of the river, but on the opposite bank is
Canvas Town, connected with Melbourne by a good bridge of one
arch. Canvas Town takes its name from being entirely composed
of tents, except a few wooden erections, such as a
public-house, and the Immigrant's Home, where we had lodged. I
do not like Melbourne in its present state. You are not safe
out after sundown, and in a short time you will not be safe
during the day. There were some men taken out of the river
drowned, suspected to have been murdered, and several attempts
at robbery, while we were there. I sold my box of chemicals,
after taking out what I wanted, for 4 pounds, and the
soda-water apparatus for 2 pounds 5 shillings. I also sold some
books that we could not carry, but got nothing for them.
Scientific works do not take. The people who buy everything
here are the gold-diggers, and they want story books. A person
I know brought out 100 pounds worth of more serious reading,
and sold the lot for 16 pounds.
From your affectionate and dutiful son,
His subsequent letters were of the same kind, descriptive of his
management in his shepherd's life in the bush. He tells how he
converted legs of mutton into excellent hams by pickling and
smoking them; and how he also obtained preserves of melons, by
sowing seeds which produced abundantly. The flies and ants were
their greatest torment, particularly the former. The heat was not
great, as there was a constant breeze from one quarter or
another. Deniliquin is in between 35 and 36 degrees south
latitude. The trees are almost exclusively gum trees, but they
differ in appearance and leaves, according to age and locality.
This gives the appearance of variety, when, in fact, there is
none. The wood is hard and splits easily. The bark is tough and
thick, and can be converted into canoes by closing the ends of a
piece taken from half the circumference of a tree, and tying a
cord round the centre to keep it from spreading. The colour is of
a beautiful red. A moisture sometimes exudes from the leaves in
such abundance as to convey the idea of an animal having been
slain under the branches. It has the smell of carraways and is
agreeably sweet. "How it would delight Bessy and
Hannah," (his young sisters, then quite children), he says, "to go into the woods, picking up comfits under the
He then speaks of the blacks in that district; of their habits and ideas; but expresses a low opinion of their intellectual powers, and thinks little can be done with them. In May, he wrote to his mother and myself conjointly, fearing his former communications might not have reached us, and briefly recapitulating their purport. I afterwards heard at Deniliquin that he had successfully performed a surgical operation. A shearer had run the point of his shears into the neck of a sheep, and opened the carotid artery. My son having a small pocket case of instruments, secured the vessel and saved the animal. I remember when it was considered a triumph in practice to effect this on a human subject. The letter I am now alluding to concludes by hoping that we were all as comfortable at home as he and his brother were in the bush. He never tired of expatiating on the beauties of Australia and its climate. His next, in August, gave a more extended account of local peculiarities and features. Deniliquin is at this time (1862) a place of considerale importance, with a thriving population. The island on which my sons shepherded their rams is formed by two branches of the Edward River, which is itself a branch of the Murray.