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Australian Scenes and Adventures,

from Lippincott's



People who go to Australia expecting every other man they meet to be a convict, and every convict a ruffian in felon's garb, will assuredly find themselves mistaken. And if contemplating a residence in Sydney or Melbourne they need not anticipate the necessity of living in a tent or a shanty, nor yet of accepting the society of convicts or negroes as the only alternative to a life of solitude. Neither will it be necessary to go armed with revolvers by day, nor to place plate and jewels under guard at night. Sydney, the capital of the penal colony, is a quiet, orderly city, abounding in villas and gardens, churches and schools, and about its well-lighted streets ride and walk well-dressed and well-bred people, whose visages betray neither the ruffian nor the cannibal. Some of them may be convicts or "ticket-of-leave-men," but this a stranger would need to be told, as they dress like others, their equipages are quite as stylish, and many of them not only amass more property, but are really more honest, than some of those never sentenced, because they know that the continuance of their freedom depends on their reputation.


The city, built on the south side of a beautiful lake, is perfectly unique in design, being composed of five broad promontories, looking like the five fingers of a hand slightly expanded. All the important streets run from east to west, and each terminates in a distinct harbor, while clearly visible from the upper portion of the street is a grand moving panorama of vessels of every description, with masts, sails and colors that seem peering out from every interstice between the houses. Each day witnesses the arrival and departure of eight or ten steamers, ferry-boats leave every half hour all the principal landings for the various sections of the city, and the wharves are lined with the shipping of every nation, many of the vessels ranging from fifteen hundred to two thousand tons burden. On a huge rock in Watson's Bay stands the lighthouse at the entrance of Port Jackson. The sea lashes the black rock with ceaseless fury, the light from the summit rendering even the base visible at a great distance. The light is 350 feet above the level of the sea, yet it was almost under its very rays that the good ship Dunbar came to grief. Missing the passage, she was engulfed in the raging sea, and her three hundred and ninety passengers perished in full view of the homes they were seeking.

Orange and almond trees, with other tropical plants, loaded with blossoms and fruit, beautify the lowlands, while in more elevated localities are found the fruits and foliage of the temperate zone, very many of them exotics brought by the settlers from their English homes. Down to the very water's edge extends the verdure of tree and shrub, overshadowing to the right Fort Jackson, and to the left Middle Harbor. The Government House commands the bay with the imposing mien of a fortress, and the magnificent reception-rooms are worthy of a sovereign's court. The garden surrounding it occupies a beautiful promontory, its borders washed by the sea, the walks shaded by trees imported from Europe, and the whole parterre redolent with tropical beauty and fragrance. On the promenades are frequently assembled at evening two or three hundred ladies and gentlemen in full dress, while military bands discourse sweet music for the entertainment of the brilliant throng.

Ballarat may be called the city of gold; Melbourne, of clubs, democracy and thriving commerce; Hobart Town takes the premium for hospitality and picturesque beauty; but Sydney bears the impress of genuine English aristocracy, in combination with a sort of Creole piquancy singularly in contrast with English exclusiveness, yet giving a wonderful charm to the society of this city of high life, so full of gayety, brilliancy and luxury. Who would recognize in the Sydney of to-day, with its four hundred thousand inhabitants, its churches, theatres and libraries, the outgrowth of the penal colony of Botany Bay, planted only eighty-seven years ago on savage shores? It was in May, 1787, that the first colony left England for Botany Bay, a squadron of eleven vessels, carrying eleven hundred and eighteen colonists to make a lodgment on an unknown shore inhabited by savages. Of these eleven hundred and eighteen, there were six hundred male and two hundred and fifty female convicts, the remaining portion being composed of officers and soldiers to take charge of the new penal settlement, under the command of Governor Phillip. From so unpromising a beginning has grown the present rich and flourishing settlement, and in lieu of the few temporary shanties erected by the first colonists there stands a magnificent city of more than ordinarily fine architecture, with banks and hospitals, schools and churches—among the latter a superb cathedral—all displaying the proverbial prodigality of labor and expense for which the English are noted in the erection and adornment of their public edifices. Among the educational establishments are the English University, with a public hall like that of Westminster; St. John's College (Catholic); and national primary and high schools, where are educated about thirty-four thousand pupils at an annual expense to the government of more than three hundred thousand dollars. From the parent colony have sprung others, while the poverty and corruption that were the distinguishing features of the original element have been gradually lost in the more recent importations of honest and respectable citizens.

Apart from the wealth and gayety of Sydney, there is much in its various grades of society to interest the average tourist. The "ticket-of-leave men"—that is, convicts who, having served out a portion of their term and been favorably reported for good conduct, are permitted to go at large and begin life anew—form a distinct class, and exert a widespread influence by their wealth, benevolence and commercial enterprise.


Very many of the better class are talented and well educated, with the manners and appearance of gentlemen; and in some cases there has been perhaps but the single crime for which they suffered expatriation and disgrace. Such as these, as a rule, conduct themselves with propriety from the moment of being sentenced; never murmur at their work or discipline, be it ever so hard; and probably after a single year of hardship are favorably reported, and permitted to seek or make homes for themselves. Many of them own bank shares and real estate, and some become immensely rich, either by ability or chance good-fortune. The property is their own, but the owners are always watched by those in power, and are liable at any moment to be ordered back to their old positions. These "remanded men" are treated with the greatest severity, and few have sufficient power of endurance to live out even a short term with its increase of rigor and hardship. Yet to the energy and enterprise of the liberated felons is probably due, more than to any other cause, that increase of prosperity which has long since rendered these colonies not only self-supporting, but a source of revenue to the Crown.


Another and the most dangerous class of convicts are those known as "bushrangers." They are desperate fellows, composed of the very lowest scum of England, have ordinarily been sentenced for life, and, having no hope of pardon or desire for amendment, they escape as soon as possible, often by the murder of one or more of their guards, and take refuge in the wilds of the interior. Some of these bushrangers are associated together in large hordes, but others roam solitary for months before they will venture to trust their lives in the hands of other desperadoes like themselves. There are hundreds of these lawless men prowling like wild beasts for their prey in the vicinity of every thoroughfare between the cities and the mines, robbing and murdering defenceless passengers, plundering the mails, and constantly exacting the best of their flocks and herds from the stockmen and shepherds, who in their isolated positions dare not refuse their demands. So desperate is the character of these outlaws that they are seldom taken, though thousands of pounds are occasionally offered for the head of some noted ringleader. They may be killed in skirmishes, but will not suffer themselves to be taken alive. A man calling himself "Black Darnley" ranged the woods for years, committing all sorts of crimes, but at length met a violent death at the hands of another convict, whose daughter he had outraged.

A curious memento of the first theatre opened in Sydney and the first performance within its walls has come down to us from the year 1796, about eight years after the establishment of the penal colony. It was opened by permission of the governor: all the actors were convicts who won the privilege by good behavior, and the price of admission was  one shilling, payable in silver, flour, meat or wine. The prologue, written by a cidevant pickpocket of London, illustrates the character of the times in those early days of the colony:

From distant climes, o'er widespread seas, we come,

Though not with much éclat or beat of drum,

True patriots all; for be it understood,

We left our country for our country's good:

No private views disgraced our generous zeal;

What urged our travels was our country's weal;

And none will doubt but that our emigration

Has proved most useful to the British nation.

But, you inquire, what could our breasts inflame

With this new passion for theatric fame?

What in the practice of our former days

Could shape our talents to exhibit plays?

Your patience, sirs: some observations made,

You'll grant us equal to the scenic trade.

He who to midnight ladders is no stranger

You'll own will make an admirable Ranger,

And sure in Filch I shall be quite at home:

Some true-bred Falstaff we may hope to start.

The scene to vary, we shall try in time

To treat you with a little pantomime.

Here light and easy Columbines are found,

And well-tried Harlequins with us abound.

From durance vile our precious selves to keep,

We often had recourse to the flying leap,

To a black face have sometimes owed escape,

And Hounslow Heath has proved the worth of crape.

But how, you ask, can we e'er hope to soar.

Above these scenes, and rise to tragic lore?

Too oft, alas! we've forced the unwilling tear,

And petrified the heart with real fear.

Macbeth a harvest of applause will reap,

For some of us, I fear, have murdered sleep.

His lady, too, with grace will sleep and talk:

Our females have been used at night to walk.

Grant us your favor, put us to the test:

To gain your smiles we'll do our very best,

And without dread of future Turnkey Lockets,

Thus, in an honest way, still pick your pockets!

It was by the coral-bound Straits of Torres, reckoned by navigators the most difficult in the world, that the English government determined a few years ago to send an envoy to open communication between the Australian colony and the Dutch possessions of Java and Sumatra. The Hero was the vessel selected for this perilous mission—a voyage of twelve hundred miles through seas studded thickly with reefs and islands of coral, many of which lay just beneath the surface of the waves—hidden pitfalls of death whose yawning jaws threatened instant destruction to the unwary voyager. The splendid steamer Cowarra had been wrecked on these reefs only a few months before, but a single one of her two hundred and seventy-five passengers escaping a watery grave. Her tall masts, still standing bolt upright amid the coral-reefs, presented a gaunt spectacle, plainly visible from the Hero's decks as she threaded her way among the shoaly waters, while a similar though less tragical warning was the disaster that had overtaken two other vessels, the Astrolabe and the Zélée, which by a sudden ebb of the tide were thrown high and dry upon the sands, and remained in this frightful condition for eight days before the returning waters drifted them off. But the Hero was a staunch craft—an iron blockade-runner, built at Glasgow during our late war. She was of twelve hundred tons burden, manned by forty-two men, and had already weathered storms and dangers enough to earn a right to the name she bore. Right nobly she fulfilled her dangerous mission, threading her way with difficulty among whole fields of coral, that sometimes almost enclosed her low hull as between two walls; again seeming upon the very verge of the breakers or ready to be engulfed in their whirling eddies, but emerging at last into the open channel, a monument of the skill and watchfulness of her officers. Many of these for days together never left the deck, and the lead was cast three or four times an hour during the whole passage of these dangerous seas. Such is the history of navigation in coral seas, but if full of danger, they are equally replete with picturesque beauty. In the coral isle, with its blue lagoon, its circling reef and smiling vegetation, there is a wondrous fascination; while in the long reefs, with the ocean driving furiously upon them, only to be driven pitilessly back, all wreathed in white foam and diamond spray, there is enough of the sublime to transfix the most careless observer. The barrier reef that skirts the north-east coast of the Australian continent is the grandest coral formation in the world, stretching for a distance of a thousand miles, with a varying breadth of from two hundred yards to a mile. The maximum distance from the shore is seventy miles, but it rarely exceeds twenty-five or thirty. Between this and the mainland lies a sheltered channel, safe, for the most part, when reached; but there are few open passages from the ocean, and the shoals of imperfectly-formed coral that lie concealed just below the surface render the most watchful care necessary to a safe passage. The fires of the cannibals, visible on every peak all along the coast, shed their ruddy light over the blue waters, illumining here and there some lofty crest, and adding a weird beauty to the enchanting scene.


"America has no monuments," say our Transatlantic cousins, "because it is but two hundred years old." Well, Australia, with little more than three-quarters of a hundred, has already its monument—a beautiful bronze monument erected to the memory of the explorers Burke and Wills on a lofty pedestal of elegant workmanship, and occupying a commanding eminence in the city of Melbourne. The figures, two in number, are of more than life size, one rising above the other—the chief, with noble form and dignified air, fraternally supporting his younger confrere. The pedestal shows three bas-reliefs of exquisite design—one the return to Cooper's Creek,


where the torn garments and emaciated limbs tell with sad emphasis the woeful tale of hardship and toil through which the heroic explorers had been passing; another exhibiting the subsequent death of Burke;


and the third the finding of the remains.


Burke and Wills, to whom belongs the honor of being the first explorers that crossed the entire continent of Australia, extending their researches from the Australian to the Pacific Ocean, set out on the 20th of August, 1860, with a party of fifteen hardy pioneers upon their perilous mission. Burke was in the prime of life, a man of iron frame, dauntless courage and an enthusiasm that knew neither difficulty nor danger. Wills, who belonged to a family that had already given one of its members to Sir John Franklin's fatal expedition, to find a martyr's grave among the eternal icebergs of the north, was somewhat younger, and perhaps less enthusiastic, but was endowed with a rare discretion and far-seeing sagacity that peculiarly fitted him to be the friend and counselor of the enthusiastic Burke in such an undertaking. All Melbourne was in excitement: the government gave fifty thousand dollars, various individuals ten thousand, to aid the enterprise; and every heart was aglow with aspirations for their success as the little band of heroes waved their adieus and turned their faces outward to seek paths hitherto untrodden by the white man's foot. Besides horses, twenty-seven camels had been imported from India for the express use of the explorers and for the transportation of tents, baggage, equipments, and fifteen months' supply of provisions, with vessels for carrying such supplies of water as the character of the country over which they were passing should require them to take with them. Their plan of march divided itself into three stages, of which Cooper's Creek was the middle one, and about the centre of the Australian continent. At first their progress was slow, encumbered as they were by excess of baggage and equipments: then discontents arose in the little band, and Burke, too ardent and impulsive for a leader, was first grieved, and then angered, at what he deemed a want of spirit among some of his men. On the 19th of October, at Menindie, he left a portion of the troop under the command of Lieutenant Wright, with orders after a short rest to rejoin him at Cooper's Creek. It was the end of January before Wright set out for the point indicated. Meanwhile, as month followed month, bringing to Melbourne no news of Burke's party, the worst fears were awakened concerning its fate, and an expedition was fitted out to search for the lost heroes. To young Howitt was given the command, and it was his fortune to unveil the sad mystery that had enveloped their fate. On the 29th of June, 1861, crossing the river Loddon, Howitt encountered a portion of Burke's company under the lead of Brahe, the fourth lieutenant. Four of his men had died of scurvy, and the rest of his little band seemed utterly dispirited. Howitt learned that in two months Burke had crossed the entire route, sometimes desert, sometimes prairie, between Menindie and Cooper's Creek, and had reached the borders of the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the extreme north of the continent; also, that he was there in January, enduring the fiercest heat of summer, and men and beasts alike languishing for water, and nearly out of provisions. It was all in vain that he deplored the tardiness of Wright, and hoped, as he neared Cooper's Creek, for the coming of those who alone had the means of life for his little squad of famished men. Equally in vain that Wills with three camels reconnoitred the ground for scores of miles, hoping to find water. Not an oasis, not a rivulet, was to be found, and without a single drop of water to quench their parched lips they set out on another long and dreary march. Desiring to secure the utmost speed, Burke had left Brahe on the 16th of December with the sick and most of his provisions at Cooper's Creek, to remain three months at least, and longer if they were able, while he, with Wills, Grey and King, and six camels, pushed bravely on, determined not to halt till the Pacific was reached. Battling with the terrible heat, sometimes for days together without water, and again obtaining a supply when they had almost perished for want of it, having occasional fierce conflicts with the natives, and more deadly encounters with poisonous serpents, but with an energy and courage that knew no such word as failure, the indomitable quartette went bravely on. The wished-for goal was reached, and the heroes, jubiliant though worn and weary, then returned once more to Cooper's Creek, to find the post deserted by Brahe, and Wright not arrived, while neither water nor provisions remained to supply their need.


All this Howitt learned after his arrival at the rendezvous, where he observed cut in the bark of a tree the word "Dig," and on throwing up the earth found an iron casket deposited by Brahe, giving the date of his departure and reasons for withdrawal before the appointed time. Of far deeper interest were papers written by Burke, announcing that he had reached the Pacific coast, and retraced his steps as far as Cooper's Creek—that for two months the little party had advanced rapidly, making constantly new discoveries of fertile lands, widespread prairies, gushing streams and well-watered valleys. Occasionally they had found lagoons of salt water, hills of red sand, trees of beautiful foliage, and mounds indicating the presence at some unknown period of the aboriginal inhabitants. They had discovered a range of high mountains in the north, and called them the Standish Mountains, while at their foot lay outspread a scene so lovely, of verdant groves and fertile meadows, of well-watered plains and heavy forest trees, that they christened it the Land of Promise. Then they reached again more sterile lands, parched and dry, without a rivulet or an oasis. They suffered for water and food grew scarce, but, sure of relief at Cooper's Creek, they pushed bravely on, and reached the rendezvous to learn that the men who could have saved them had passed on but seven hours before! After having accomplished so much, so bravely battled with heat and hunger, serpents and cannibals, to perish at last of starvation, seemed a fate too terrible; and we cannot wonder that the little band fought their destiny to the last. Little scraps of the journal of Burke and his friends tell the sad tale of the last few weeks of agony. On March 6th, Burke seemed near dying from having eaten a bit of a large serpent that he had cooked. On the 30th they killed one of their camels, and on April 10th they killed "Billy," Burke's favorite riding-horse. On the 11th they were forced to halt on account of the condition of Grey, who was no longer able to proceed. On the 21st they reached an oasis—a little squad of human skeletons, scarcely more than alive.


Far and wide their longing eyes gazed in search of succor: they called aloud with all their little remaining strength, but the oasis was deserted, and the echo of their own sad voices was all the reply that reached the despairing men. Then, at their rendezvous, finding the word "Dig" on the tree where Howitt found it at a later day, they opened the soil, and so learned the departure of Brahe on that very morning. How terribly tantalizing, after their exhausting march and still more exhausting return, after having killed and eaten all their camels but two, and all their horses, after making discoveries that unlocked to the world the vast interior of this hitherto unknown continent, to find that they were just too late to be saved! Despair and death seemed staring them in the face: their long overtaxed powers of endurance failed them utterly, and the gaunt spectre of famine that had been journeying with the brave men for weeks threatened now to enfold them in its terrible embrace. Should they yield without another struggle? Burke suddenly remembered Mount Despair, a cattle-station about one hundred and fifty leagues away, and with his indomitable resolution persuaded his companions to start for it, depositing first in the little iron casket the journal of his discoveries and the date of his departure. As if to add the last finishing stroke of agony to the sad story, Burke and his companions had hardly turned their faces westward ere Brahe and Wright, who had met at the passage of the Loddon, and were now overwhelmed with remorse at their careless neglect of their leader's orders, determined to revisit Cooper's Creek, and see if any tidings were to be gained of the missing party.


Thoughtless as imprudent, they did not examine the casket, but supposing it had remained undisturbed where they left it, they turned their faces southward to the Darling, utterly unsuspicious of the recent visit of Burke and his unfortunate comrades. Within two days after the trio began their dreary march to Mount Despair both their camels fell from exhaustion, but still the poor weary travelers pressed onward, continuing their search till the 24th of May. Discovering no eminence above the horizon, they then gave up in despair and began to retrace their steps, leaving on a tree the date of departure. In one more day's march they would have reached the summit and been saved!

On the 20th of June it was evident that young Wills could not long survive, and on the 29th are dated his last words, a letter to his father full of tenderness and resignation: "My death here within a few hours is certain, but my soul is calm." Still, almost in the last agony he made another effort to escape his fatal destiny, and set forth to reconnoitre the ground once more if perchance succor might be found. Alone, with none to close his eyes, he fell asleep, and Howitt after long search found the skeleton body stretched upon the sands, the natives having compassionately covered it with boughs and leaves. Burke's last words are dated on the 28th, one day earlier than those of Wills: "We have gained the shores of the ocean, but we have been a band—" The last word is unfinished, as if his pen had refused to make the cruel record. Burke's wasted remains too were found, covered with leaves and boughs. By his side lay his revolver, and the record of his great exploits was in the little casket at the foot of the tree. King survived, and was found by Howitt, naked, famished and unable to speak or walk; but after long recruiting he was able to relate the details of suffering of those last few months, unknown to all the world save himself. Howitt reverently wrapped the precious remains in the union jack, and, leaving them in their lonely grave, retraced his steps to Melbourne with the precious casket of papers, the last legacy of the dead heroes. On the 6th of the following December, Howitt again visited the desolate spot, charged with the melancholy mission of bringing back the remains for interment in Melbourne. The chaste and elegant monument that marks the spot where the heroes sleep is a far less enduring memorial than exists in the wonderful development and unprecedented prosperity which mark the colony as the fruit of the labors, sufferings and death of these martyred heroes.

A pretty romance is associated with the discovery and naming of Van Diemen's Land. A young man, Tasman by name, who had been scornfully rejected by a Dutch nabob as the suitor of his daughter, resolved to prove himself worthy of the lady of his heart. So, while his inamorata was cruelly imprisoned in the palace of her sire at Batavia, young Tasman, instead of wasting time in regrets, set forth on a voyage of adventure, seeking to win by prowess what gallantry had failed to effect. On his first voyage he so far circumnavigated the island as to be convinced of its insular character, but really saw little of the land. In subsequent voyages he made extensive explorations, calling not only the mainland, but all the little islets he discovered, by the several names and synonyms of Mademoiselle Van Diemen, his beloved. When at length he was able to lay before the Dutch government the charts of his voyages and a digest of his discoveries in the beautiful land where he had already planted the standard of Holland, the cruel sire relented and consented to receive as a son-in-law the successful adventurer. Tasman, it seems, never very fully explored the waters that surrounded his domain, and the honor was reserved to two young men, Flinders and Bass, of discovering in 1797 the deep, wide strait of two hundred and seventy miles in width that bears the name of Bass. The scenery of Van Diemen's Land is full of picturesque beauty—a sort of miniature Switzerland, with snow-clad peaks, rocks and ravines, foaming cataracts and multitudinous little lakes with their circling belt of green and dancing rivulets bordered with flowers. The Valley of Launceston is a very Arcadia of pastoral repose, while the Tamar—which in its whole course is rather a succession of beautiful lakes than an ordinary river—with its narrow defiles, basaltic rocks and sparkling cataracts, picturesque rocks that cut off one lake and suddenly reveal another, is a very miracle of beauty, dancing, frothing, foaming, like some playful sprite possessed with the very spirit of mischief.


Hobart Town, the capital of Tasmania, is a quiet, hospitable little town, but a very hotbed of aristocracy—the single spot on the Australian continent where English exclusiveness can, after the gay seasons of the large cities, retire to aristocratic country-seats, to nurse and revivify its pride of birth, without fear of coming in contact with anything parvenu or plebeian. The town is prettily laid out, with a genuine Gothic château for its government palace, and elegant private residences. It seems tame and deserted when visited from Sydney or Melbourne, but offers just the rest and refreshment one needs after a season of exhausting labor in the mines of Ballarat.

The rapid growth of the Australian colonies, their remoteness from the mother country, and the vastness of the territory over which they are spread, naturally suggest the question whether they are destined to remain in a condition of dependence or are likely to follow the example of their American prototypes. On this point the opinion of the count of Beauvoir is entitled to consideration, as that of an impartial as well as intelligent observer. He had expected, he tells us, in visiting the country, to find it preparing for its speedy emancipation; but he left it with the conviction that, far from desiring a severance of the connection, the colonists would regard it as a blow to their material interests—the one event, in fact, capable of arresting their unparalleled progress. It can only occur as the result of a European war in which the power of England shall be so crippled as to disable her from protecting these distant possessions, casting upon them the whole burden of self-defence, and forcing them to assume the responsibilities of national existence.