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.
- I arrive in Australia
- Join my two Sons at their Sheep-station
- Return to Melbourne and Remove to Ballaarat
- Visit to Mr Skene
- My son studies Surveying
- His rapid proficiency
- Appointed to take charge of a Party
- Letters on various Subjects to his Mother and Brother at Home
In the month of August, 1853, I reached
Melbourne, after a good voyage, having obtained an appointment as
superintending surgeon of a government emigrant ship, commanded
by Captain Young, a perfect sailor, and a gentleman I shall
always remember with pleasurable feelings. More than two months
elapsed before I could discover where my sons were. Having, at
length, ascertained their locality, I purchased a horse and
performed the journey in four days, resting one day on the road,
at the station of Mr Jefferies, on the Campaspe. I started at
daylight, and made my fifty miles before halting, as I generally
did about two PM. I arrived at the shepherds' hut at five o'clock
on a beautiful summer's evening, having remained two hours at the
hotel at Deniliquin to refresh.
Robberies on the road--stickings up as they are called--were rife at this period. Thefts also were common at the resting-houses. A gentleman who arrived at this hotel, not long before I was here, took the saddle off his horse, and placed it under the verandah: when he returned, after leading his animal to a paddock hard by, he missed the saddle, which he supposed had been removed by some person belonging to the house, and threw down his bridle on the same place. After taking something to drink with the landlord he said, "You have got my saddle."--" No." "I left it under the verandah, where I have just placed my bridle." On going out to show the spot, the bridle also had disappeared: both stolen. A good saddle and bridle at that time would fetch twenty pounds readily.
At the station I took a native black for my guide. He brought me to a place where my horse had nearly to swim across the creek, pointed to a dry path, exclaimed, "There," then turned his own animal and rode off. I followed the track for about three miles, and found myself in front of the hut. My sons were both at home. Tom called the attention of his brother to my approach. They appeared as much astonished as he describes the blacks near the Gulf of Carpentaria to have been at sight of himself and companions. Presently came the recognition, a shout of joy, and a greeting such as may readily be imagined, on the part of two boys on seeing the father they had not long before supposed to be separated from them by some sixteen thousand miles.
A few days after, we all left Deniliquin, each mounted on a horse, my sons having first disinterred their money, buried at the foot of a gum tree on a hillock which they considered as a safe bank of deposit. It was their intention to have made a present of the greatest part, £100, to their mother, on the first eligible opportunity of forwarding it. On our way back we paid a visit to the Bendigo diggings. William here evinced his skill as an explorer by leading us, with the aid of his compass, through a trackless bush, by which we saved a circuit of several miles. At Matthison's hotel, on the Campaspe river, where we halted for the night, an amusing conversation occurred. In the evening there was a great gathering of all nations in the parlour. I undertook to tell the different parties of English, by their dialect, from what particular quarter they came. A person present, who articulated with much difficulty from having nearly lost the roof of his mouth, declared that he would defy any one to identify him by his speech. We all agreed that it exceeded our powers, when he informed us with a great effort that he was "a Kashman," meaning Scotchman.
On our return to Melbourne, we made preparations for a removal to Ballaarat. William remained with me at the latter place for twelve months, attending to any patient that might come in my absence. He also opened a gold office adjoining my tent and did very well. Here he perfected a plan of his own for weighing specimens containing quartz and gold, in water, so as to find the quantity of each component. But he was ever pining for the bush. The "busy haunts of men" had no attraction for him. He preferred the society of a few to that of many, but the study of nature was his passion. His love was fixed on animals, plants, and the starry firmament. With regard to medicine, he used to say that it was not clear and defined in practice. He wanted to measure the scope of a disease, and to supply the remedies by mathematical rule. He saw, too, that medical men were less valued for their real worth than for their tact in winning confidence through the credulity of the public. This was particularly exemplified in a gold-field, where the greatest impostors obtained credit for a time. His thoughts and conversation also constantly reverted to the interior, and to the hope that he would one day undertake the journey to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He was anxiously looking out for a movement in that direction, then often talked of.
About this period he made a pedestrian excursion to the Wannon, to sojourn for a short time with a Mr Skene, a most worthy gentleman, now no more. He was actively employed at that place, and wrote to me frequently, describing the family, to which he was much attached, the whimsicalities of his landlord--a thorough old Scotian, who amused himself by waking the echoes of the wilderness with the bagpipes,--the noble fern trees and the fine black cockatoos. He also continued his practice in surgery, but I believe he made no charge, as, not being duly licensed, he considered he had no right to do so. He returned to Ballaarat in consequence of a communication through me, from an American gentleman named Catherwood. On receipt of my letter he lost not an hour, shouldered his swag (blankets, kit, etc.), took leave of Mr Skene and family, and walked to Ballaarat, sleeping one night in the bush, by the way. On the 22nd of April, 1855, he wrote thus to his mother:
My dear Mother,
I had the pleasure of receiving a letter from you a fortnight since. I was at Moora Moora then, as you will see by a letter I wrote just before I came down here, in the hope of joining a party that is spoken of as about to explore the interior of the country, which you appear to have such a dread of. It seems uncertain whether they will go at all. As to what you say about people being starved to death in the bush, no doubt it would be rather disagreeable. But when you talk of being killed in battle, I am almost ashamed to read it. If every one had such ideas we should have no one going to sea for fear of being drowned; no travellers by railway for fear the engine should burst; and all would live in the open air for fear of the houses falling in. I wish you would read Coombe's Constitution of Man. As regards some remarks of yours on people's religious opinions, it is a subject on which so many differ, that I am inclined to Pope's conclusion who says:--
Ever your affectionate son,
The expedition he here speaks of turned out a mere venture to obtain cash, and nothing came of it. He remained but a short time at Ballaarat, and never idle. In a month he completed a wooden addition to my residence, building the sides, and shingling the roof in a most workmanlike manner. It was perfectly weatherproof, and stood good for some years, being only taken down when an alteration in the line of the street rendered its removal necessary. He now wished to study surveying. My acquaintance with Mr Taylor, district surveyor at Ballaarat, obtained for him an admission as an amateur into his office. He there set to work with his characteristic industry to perfect himself in trigonometry and Euclid; drawing and mapping in the office by day, and working hard in his own room by night. On rising from bed in the morning, I have found him sitting as I had left him, working out his point, for he never deserted anything he had once taken up until he mastered it. At the expiration of a few months, Mr Taylor promised me to introduce him to a gentleman in the survey department named Byerly, with a view to reciprocal services. On the 20th of August, 1856, he speaks for himself in a letter to his mother from Glendaruel:
My Dear Mother,
I have at length found time to write to you. You will no doubt expect a long letter after so much delay, but I am afraid you will be disappointed, as long letters are not my forte. In your last, you asked me to send Bessy any information I could. I can assure you I shall be most happy to do so, and to encourage her taste for knowledge as much as lies in my power. I send her Bonwick's Geography of Australia, which is a very useful little book, and in most instances correct.
You must not look upon it as infallible. For instance, he says Lake Burrambeet is in the Pyrenees, whereas it is more than twenty miles from those mountains. But this may be a misprint. I would recommend you to let the children learn drawing. I do not mean merely sketching, but perspective drawing, with scale and compasses. It is a very nice amusement, and may some day be found extremely useful. There is another thing would do them much good, if they shouldhappen to have a taste for it: this is Euclid. Not to learn by heart, but to read so as to understand it. Mathematics generally, and Euclid, and Algebra in particular, are the best studies young people can undertake, for they are the only things we can depend on as true, (of course I leave the Bible out of the question). Christian and Heathen, Mahometan and Mormon, no matter what their religious faith may be, agree in mathematics, if in nothing else. But I must now tell you something of your undutiful son. I am learning surveying under Mr F. Byerly, a very superior man indeed. In fact I could not have had a better master had he been made to order, for he is a first-rate surveyor, and we are exactly suited to each other in our general ideas; and this, to tell the truth, is a rare chance for me. I am getting 150 pounds per annum, and rations, but I hope in twelve months to have a party of my own. It is just the sort of life for me, nearly always in the bush marking out land for sale, or laying down unknown parts. It is quite a different thing from surveying in England. Glendaruel is fifteen miles from Ballaarat. I saw the Doctor and Tom a few days since. They were quite well; I hope you are so also.
Love to all.
He was appointed to the charge of a field party before the time he expected. I was anxious to give him a set of surveying instruments, and requested him to send me a list and an order to the best London maker for such as he wanted. He transmitted the following letter, which marks the progress of his knowledge, to be forwarded to Messrs. Troughton and Simms, Fleet Street. I obtained it very recently from that house:
March 20th, 1857.
NB. I should wish the theodolite and circles to be packed very differently from the usual way, as many instruments are seriously injured by the box warping either inwards or outwards; in the one case pressing too much on the instruments, and in the other, which is worse, leaving them too much space, so that they shake about whenever the box is carried. The consequence is that the screws loosen, the glasses fall out of the telescopes, and the instruments become unfit for use just when they are most wanted. I think these evils may be avoided by having the parts of the box which touch any instrument well padded with the most elastic materials, and for it to be supported entirely on steel springs, strong enough to keep it firmly in its place, and with sufficient play to allow the box to warp without injury to any of the contents.
I also wish an improvement in the stand of the theodolite, which ought not to be smaller than that of the five-inch one, and the joints made of the metals least likely to sustain damage from friction. The cap-piece should be nearly twice the depth, vertically, and cut out of one solid piece of metal. I subjoin a sketch of it, with the dimensions. It may be made of whatever metal you think proper. There is no harm in having iron about it, because we seldom require to use the needle. My reason for wanting this improvement is, that the legs get loose so quickly from the wearing away of brass, and that the many small surfaces in contact are too disproportionate to their length. Strength and durability are of far more consequence than lightness, as we have not the facilities for getting things repaired here that you have in England.
The figures I have placed opposite to the instruments described are not supposed to be the exact prices, but merely suggested as guides.
I hope you will do the best you can with the improvements mentioned, especially in the mode of packing the larger articles.
Please also to insure them to the full value.
I have the honour to be,
He then in a postscript makes some suggestions as to the graduation of the scales. The instruments were sent out in the shortest possible time and gave great satisfaction. On departing for his last fatal expedition, he requested me, should he not return, to give all his remaining instruments to his friend Mr Byerly, for whom his high estimation never abated. This injunction I fulfilled as far as in my power. Any person who may happen to be in charge of some that I had not, will I trust deliver them to their lawful owner, Frederick Byerly, Esquire, Surveyor, Melbourne. About the time I am now referring to, I was often congratulated by gentlemen of the Surveying Department, who were acquainted with my son, on his rapid progress in the difficult branches of the science. One, in particular, said:
I consider it wonderful that your son should have mastered this business almost by his own exertions, whilst I have cost my father nearly a thousand pounds in England, under first-rate teachers, and am glad to go to him for information on many points.
Mr Byerly too, who is not given to flatter, when I thanked him for having so ably instructed and brought my son forward in so short a time, replied:
Don't thank me; I really believe he has taught me quite as much as I have taught him.
In my own experience, his queries and suggestions led me to investigate many things, which I had slightly considered, without thoroughly understanding them. He had a rare gift of ascertaining in a very short time the use of any instrument put into his hands, and could detect at a glance its defects, if such existed. In the early part of 1858, a gentleman who had made errors in his surveys asked him to look over some of his instruments. William, on taking one into his hand, said at once, with a smile: 'If you work with this, you will find many errors.' 'That is why I asked you,' replied the owner. 'I have been surveying with it, and have committed nothing but mistakes.' So much were people in the habit of praising him, that it carried my thoughts back to my Latin Grammar, and the quotation from Terence:
Bona dicere et laudare fortunas meas,
Qui gnatum haberem tali ingenio praeditum.
[All the town]
[heaped congratulations on me and praised my good fortune]
[in having a son endowed with such a character]
For himself, he was perpetually lamenting to me that at school he had not received more mathematical instruction; that the time spent in classics exclusively, was, for many, time thrown away. But I must do his late master the justice of saying, that when he first received him under his tuition, he showed little fondness for mathematics in general, although he had a taste for algebra. The two following letters, to his brother and mother, bearing the same date, in the spring of 1858, were despatched from the out-station where he was engaged in a survey.
I want you to write and tell me if you have any taste for any particular profession, and if you have been making good use of your spare time, in reading useful works. You should remember never to waste a minute; always be doing something. Try and find out what things you have most taste for, as they are what you should study most; but get a general knowledge of all the sciences. Whatever else you learn, don't forget mathematics and the sciences more immediately deduced from them, (at the head of which stands astronomy,) if you have any love of truth--and if you have not, you have none of your mother's blood in you. Mathematics are the foundation of all truth as regards practical science in this world; they are the only things that can be demonstrably proved; no one can dispute them. In geology, chemistry, and even in astronomy, there is more or less of mere matter of opinion. For instance, in astronomy we do not know for certain what the sun or stars are made of, or what the spots are on the sun, and a few details of that kind; but the main mathematical principles cannot be disputed. The distance and size of the sun or of any of the planets can be proved; the length of their days and years, and even the weight of the matter of which they are composed. Such things will probably appear to you impossible, if you have read nothing of them; especially when you hear that the sun is ninety-five millions of miles off, and that the planet Neptune, which is the farthest known planet from the sun, is at such a distance that the light of the sun takes about five hours to reach it; that is, the sun is actually five hours above the horizon before the people there see it rise. Its distance is 2,850 millions of miles, and the sun as seen by them is not larger than Venus appears to us when an evening star. And although this planet is so distant that it can only be seen with large telescopes, they can not only compute its distance and size, but also the mass of matter of which it is composed. But you will find all this thrown into the shade by the way in which it was discovered. As I may be telling you what you know already, I will merely state, that from observed perturbations in the course of the planet Uranus, it was supposed that another planet was in existence beyond it; and two competitors set to work to calculate its size, situation, etc. The result was, the discovery of this other planet within a few minutes of the place pointed out by them, and its size, etc., not very different from what they estimated it at. But besides this, astronomy includes matters more intimately mixed up with our everyday affairs. In the Nautical Almanacs, which are constructed for several years in advance, the situations and nearly everything connected with the different planets are calculated for every day in the year, and can be found, if required, for any minute in any day you please, for 10,000 years to come. Also the eclipses of the sun or moon, with the exact moment at which they will commence or end, at any spot on the earth; the exact portion eclipsed, or, in fact, anything about it you like to mention for any given number of years in advance. Not only this, but you can find the eclipses of Jupiter's moons with the same precision. Now is there anything to be compared with this? But if astronomy led to no other end than the mere gaining of knowledge, or the assistance of commerce, it would take a far lower stand than it is really entitled to. As the great object of the science is the correction of error and the investigation of truth, it necessarily leads all those that feel an interest in it to a higher appreciation and desire for truth; and you will easily perceive that a man having a knowledge of all these vast worlds, so much more extensive than our own, must be capable of forming a far higher estimate of that Almighty Being who created all these wonders, than one who knows nothing more than the comparatively trifling things that surround us on earth. I send you 3 pounds, with which you are to get the following books for yourself and the girls:
Lardner's Museum of Science and Art is one of the best books that has ever been written. It includes a general knowledge of nearly everything you can think of; and will be as useful to Bessy and Hannah as to you.
Chambers' Mathematics, contain all that you are likely to
require in that branch, with the exception of Euclid and
Algebra, both of which you must get, unless you have them. You
will need some one to assist you and explain points in the
mathematics and algebra, otherwise your progress will be very
slow. But remember that whenever you have puzzled over a
problem for some time, and cannot understand it, do not give it
up altogether, but leave it for a few days or weeks and then
try it again. It will then, very likely, appear quite simple,
and you will be astonished that you did not make it out before.
You will find the Nautical Almanac very useful, not only in
giving you an idea of astronomical problems, but also for
ascertaining the particulars of any strange stars you may see,
or where to look for the different planets, etc. With the help
of the twelve maps you will soon be acquainted with all the
principal fixed stars.
If you write to Walton and Maberley, 27 Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row, they will send you a catalogue of books published by them, in which you will find descriptions of nearly all that I have mentioned and plenty of others. You can order those you want direct from them, or get them through a local stationer. I expect you to acquire some practice at printing, and ornamental writing, in the Bank. If you have a steady hand, you should exercise yourself at it as much as possible, and learn mechanical drawing at the same time. Draftsmen get well paid out here, and are greatly in demand. Being able to print neatly and evenly is the main point: all the rest is easily learned. My hand is very unsteady, as you may see by my writing; I do not think I shall ever be able to write a decent hand. One other piece of advice I must give you before I shut up; that is, never try to show off your knowledge, especially in scientific matters. It is a sin that certain persons we know have been guilty of. The first step is to learn your own ignorance, and if ever you feel inclined to make a display, you may be sure that you have as yet learned nothing.
I think I must write to mamma next time. Give my love to her, the girls, old Anne, Aunt M, Miss R, etc., and when you write, tell me what has become of Farwell, and any others of our schoolmates you may know about.
Your affectionate brother,
My dear Mother,
My father sent me a letter of yours a few weeks ago, and I cannot say whether it most amused or pained me to see the extraordinary way in which you rush to conclusions. Your argument appears to be this: J. is acquainted with a Mr T another Mr T has taken out some Miss G G's, about whom there are scandalous reports (which are as likely to be false as true): therefore J. is sure to fall in love with one of the Miss G. G.'s. As it happens, J. has not had the pleasure of meeting any of the Miss G G's, and it is quite probable that he never may, as Australia is not a little place like Totnes; and I do not think he would have any wish to connect himself with the G family, or with any family in marriage, at present.
There is another thing, my dear mother, in that letter. You
talk about high and low people; I presume you use the words in
a very different sense from that in which I understand them. I
consider nothing low but ignorance, vice, and meanness,
characteristics generally found where the animal propensities
predominate over the higher sentiments. I have yet to learn
that there is anything high about the T's. Mr T is a jolly
little man, and lives more like a gentleman than most of the
people about the bush; but he has rather a tendency to the
animal development than otherwise, which makes it probable that
there may be some truth in the reports alluded to.
Give my love to Bessy and Hannah. I do not think it would do them any harm to write a letter sometimes. I expect Bessy was tired long ago of the algebra you were talking so much about. Does it ever enter your head that it would be a good thing for all of you to come out here in a few years, when the girls have finished their education? This country is undergoing great changes for the better. Now the rush to the diggings is over, people are beginning to live like civilized human beings. In a few years everything will be as settled as in England, and we shall be able to live much cheaper.
Believe me ever, my dear mother,
From a letter to myself of the 6th of June, which was rather a long one, I give only the following extracts:
What you say about this world I do not quite agree with; I think it a very good world, and only requires a person to be reasonable in his expectations, and not to trust too much to others. It appears to be almost equally divided into three principal classes--honest fools, foolish rogues, and honest rational beings. Some may add another class, but there are so few belonging to it--scarcely one in ten thousand--that I think it should be ranked amongst the phenomena of nature. I mean, the successful rogues--men who do things neatly, and escape being found out. The first and second are often useful to each other; the third benefit by the first and second, inasmuch as they learn by their experience, without paying for it themselves.
He then cautions me against certain money speculations. Another paragraph says:
I find I am likely to change my station, but have no instructions as yet. I do not care if they keep me here another month. I have first-rate neighbours, a Mr and Mrs M, who live just across the creek; very nice people, and no humbug. Mr M resembles you in many ways.
He then mentions a colt he had reared, called Nelly; says she goes in and out of the tent as if she had been born in it, shakes hands with any one as soon as asked, and carries Mr M's little boy Willie on her back with perfect gentleness. On his way back to Melbourne, he taught a colt of mine, in two or three days, to be equally docile, until it became the pet of the community. It was reared by hand, and I fear I lost it through the kindly-meant attention of one of my neighbours.
In the summer of 1858 he went down to Melbourne in consequence of a disagreement between Mr Byerly and the Chief Commissioner of Land and Works at that time, Mr Duffy. He was not then employed in the regular survey, but took occasional contracts, under Mr Hodgkinson, Deputy Surveyor General, who always expressed his admiration of his character. A letter to his mother at this date says:
My dear Mother,
I have just left the bush and am living, for the present, in town. The change is pleasant, after being so long in the bush. Melbourne is wonderfully altered since I last saw it. There are some very fair buildings in it now, and things are a little cheaper than they used to be. I am, of course, living in lodgings, and am fortunate in getting into a comfortable house; a private family with no other lodgers, and Mrs H takes almost as much care of me as you would. It is quite strange, and at the same time amusing to me, to see her anxiety about my eating, drinking, catching cold, and all that sort of thing, as I have been so long unaccustomed to these little attentions. I am sure if some of you who have never been away from home were to see how we live in the bush, you would not expect us to survive more than a few weeks, and yet it does us no harm whatever.
I passed through Ballaarat on my way down, and spent a few days with my father. He was looking better than he used to be, very healthy, and not so stout. It is astonishing how little he eats, and yet is always complaining of having eaten too much. I expect it will be the same with me. I have as good an appetite as ever, but I can live on much less food than other people can.
I hope Charley has the books I told him to get. I send you with this a Victoria News Letter, which will save me the trouble of writing what I suppose you will care little to hear, so I have no more news to tell you; and with best love to--etc. etc.,
Believe me, my dear mother,
As I shall have occasion to allude to this letter in a subsequent portion of my narrative, I wish the latter part of it, with regard to eating, may be borne in mind.