The Vagaries of
Nature seems to have her fitful, frightful, and funny moods, as well
as all her children. Now she gets up a stone bridge, the gigantic
proportions and the symmetrical development of which attract great
attention from all tourists and historians who venture into or speak of
old Virginia. The old dame goes down far into the bowels of Mother
Earth, in Kentucky, and builds herself, silently and alone, a
stupendous under-ground palace, that laughs to scorn the puny efforts
of man in that branch of business. She gets up sugar-loaf mountains,
pillars of salt, great granite breastworks, and stone towers; hews out
figure-heads, old men's noses on the beetling cliffs of New Hampshire,
and throws up rocky palisades along the Hudson, that win wonder and
delight from the floating million. Instances out of all number might be
raked up, home and abroad, to show how the old dame has cut didoes
in the prosecution of her manifold duties. But in Australia, it would
seem, nature has taken most especial pains to appear slightly
ridiculous or very eccentric.
Old Captain Rocksalt informs usand there is always wit, wisdom,
and truth in the old man's storiesthat he made voyages to Australia
many times within the past thirty years, and having visited about all
the sea-ports of the Continent, lived and almost died in Australia, his
notes are worthy of attention. Capt. Cook discovered and named
Botany Bay, the name originating from the fact that the land was
covered with a luxurious growth of Botanical specimens. The Dutch
discovered and named Van Diemen's Land. The English at once
concluded to make Botany Bay a penal colony, and the first living
freight of criminals and soldiers sent out, was some 700 in number, in
1788; but Capt. Phillip, the commander of the fleet, being dissatisfied
with the looks of Botany Bay, hunted up a better place, and sailed to
it. When Capt. Cook was cruising off there, one of his sailors, on the
look out, cried, Land ho!
Cook was over his wine and beef, in the cabin, and it took him some
time to tumble up on deck.
Where the deuce is your land, eh? bawls the old cruiser.
Larboard beam, sir! responds the lookout; and, sure enough, a
long, faint streak of land was visible from deck. The lookout
announced a harbor, head-lands, &c.; but the rum old captain, not being
able to see any such indication, with a chuckle, says he
You booby! harbor, eh? Ha, ha! well, we'll call it a port, you
powder monkeyPort Jackson!
And faith, so the lookout, Jackson, became sponsor to the finest
harbor in all Australia; for Capt. Phillip, upon rediscovering the
harbor, took his fleet into it, and then and there began the now
flourishing city of Sydney.
Australia is an Island, lying opposite anotherNew Zealand. It is
on the Indian Ocean, south side, while the east opens to the Pacific.
Australia claims to contain a superficial area of over three million
square miles, part desert, rather mountainous, and all being in one of
the finest climates on the face of the earth. The air is dry, the soil
light and sandy; the high winds stir up the dust and fine sand, and
make ophthalmy the only positive ill peculiar to the country.
Sheep-grazing, wool-growing, and boiling down sheep and cattle for
tallow was the great business of the country from its earliest
settlement up to 1851, when the gold fever swept the land.
Australia was inhabited by over 100,000 natives, black cannibals of
the ugliest description; but at this day not a hundred of them remain.
The natives were exceeding stupid and useless; the first settlers, who,
as Capt. Rocksalt observes, were jail-birds and scape-gallows, were not
very dainty in dealing with the obnoxious natives; so they determined
to get rid of them as fast and easy as possible. For this purpose, they
used to gather a horde of them together, and give them poisoned bread
and rum, and so kill them off by hundreds. It was a sharp sort of
practice, but the ends seemed to justify the means.
Gold, laying around loose, as it did, was, no doubt, discovered
years ago; but not in quantities to lead the ignorant to believe money
could be made hunting it. People may be stupid; but it requires a far
greener capacity than most of them would confess toat least, ten
years agoto make them believe gold could be picked up in chunks out
in the open fields.
But Australia began to be populated; by convicts first; and then by
far better people; though the very worst felons sent out often became
decent and respectable men, which is indeed a great puff, we think,
for the healthfulness of the climate. A convict shepherd now and then
used to bring into Sydney small lumps of gold and sell them to the
watch-makers, and as he refused to say where or how he got them, it was
suspicioned that he had secreted guineas or jewelry somewhere, and
occasionally melted them for sale.
However, one day the thing broke out, nearly simultaneously, all
over Australia. Gold was lying around everywhere. The rocks, ledges,
bars, gullies, and river-banks, which were daily familiar to the eyes
of thousands, all of a sudden turned up bright and shining gold. Old
Dame Nature must have laughed in her sleeve to see the fun and
uproarthe scrabble and rush she had caused in her vast household.
It did beat all! exclaims the old Captain. In forty-eight
hours Sydney was half-depopulated, Port Phillip nearly desolate, while
the interior villages or townsBathurst, &c., were run clean out!
Stores were shut up, the clerks running to the mines, and the
proprietors after the clerks. Mechanics dropped work and put out;
servants left without winking, leaving people to wait on themselves;
doctors left what few patients they had, and bolted for the fields of
Ophir; lawyers packed up and cut stick, following their clients and
victims to the brighter fields of causes and effects. The newspapers
became so short-handed that dailies were knocked into weeklies, and the
weeklies into cocked hats, or something near itmere eight-by-ten
These discoveries wrought as sudden as singular a revolution in
men, manners, and things. As we said before, Australia was the very
apex of singularities in the way of Dame Nature's fancy-work, long
before the gold mania broke out; but now she seemed bent on a general
and miscellaneous freak, making the staid, matter-of-fact Englishmen as
full of caprice as the land they were living in.
Only look at it! exclaims the Captain: the day comes in the
middle of our nights! When we're turning in at home, they are turning
out in Australia. Summer begins in the middle of winter; and for snow
storms they get rain, thunder and lightning. About the time we are
getting used to our woollens and hot fires of the holidays, they are
roasting with heat, and going around in linen jackets and wilted
dickeys. The land is full of flowers of every hue, gay and beautiful,
gorgeous and sublime to look at, but as senseless to the smell and as
inodorous as so many dried chips. The swans are numerous, but jet
black. The few animals in the country are all provided with pockets in
their 'overcoats,' or skin, in which to stow their young ones, or
provender. Some of the rivers really appear, says the Captain, to run
up stream! I was completely taken down, says the Captain, by a bunch
of the finest pears you ever saw. Myself and a friend were up the
country, and I sees a fine pear tree, breaking down with as
elegant-looking fruit as I ever saw.
'Well, by ginger,' says I, 'them are about as fine pears as I've
seen these twenty years!'
'Yes,' says my friend, who was a resident in the country; 'perhaps
you would like to try a few?'
'That I shall,' says I; so I ups and knocks down a few, and it was
a job to get them down, I tell you; and when I had one between my teeth
I gave it a nipsee there, two teeth broke off, says the Captain,
showing us the fact; the fine pears were mere wood!
The country is well supplied with fine birds; but they are dumb as
beetles, sirnever heard a bird sing or whistle a note in Australia.
The trees make no shade, the leaves hang from the stems edge up, and
look just as if they had been whipped into shreds by a gale of wind;
and you rarely see a tree with a bit of bark on it.
But what completely upset me, was the cherries, sirfine cherries,
plenty of them, but the stones were all on the outside! The bees
have no stings, the snakes no fangs, and the eagles are all white. The
north wind is hot, the south wind cold. Our longest days are in summer;
but in Australia, sir, the shortest days come in summer, and the
longest in winter; and, says the Captain, I can't begin to tell you
how many curious didoes nature seems to cut, in that country; but,
altogether, it's one of the queerest countries I ever did see, by
And we have come to the conclusionit is. If the gold continues to
turn up in such boulders and nuggets as recently reported,
Australia is bound to be the richest and most densely populated, as
well as queerest country known to man.