|Links in my life on land and sea |
NEW CALEDONIA AND THE LOYALTY ISLANDS
Port of France, a deadly hole - Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand - Faith in his own theories - Threatened duel ends amicably - Loyalty islanders - Unceremonious exit from the frigate - The Palolo : its marvels - More massacres - Blood, rum, and missionaries - A glimpse of bush life - Ravensworth - Une incomprise - Shipwreck of the Duncan Dunbar - A gold-field - Tasmania - A sympathetic Bishop.
FROM the New Hebrides we went to Port of France, the French penal settlement in New Caledonia. If it was not quite as bad as Norfolk Island had been it was not far off, and yet many of these poor wretches were not criminals but simply political offenders whose plans had failed.
A more deadly and depressing hole than Port of France cannot well be imagined, with all the added horrors of cruelty and brutality. It is true there were few guards to prevent the convicts from escaping, for in reality the governing powers were only too pleased when a convict, or a few of them together, could escape, by seizing a boat and making their way to Australia : a matter of frequent occurrence. But the chief guards of the island, and of Port of France in particular, were the sharks, who were so numerous and so bold that they had been known to dash in amongst men bathing on the
beach, capture some unfortunate individual and disappear with him into deep water.
The French officers entertained us very well, giving us a banquet in a big marquee, but by bad luck there was an unpleasant incident after it. The Frenchmen accompanied us down to the boat, when one of us, quite unintentionally, said something that gave offence ; whereupon one of the Frenchmen, over excited by wine, struck our man in the face, who simply picked him up in his arms and chucked him off the head of the pier into deep water, when the bowman of our cutter fished him out with a boat-hook. The Frenchmen were a good deal annoyed, more especially the man who had been in the water, who came out sputtering and spitting, and rushed to attack his enemy. But the more sensible of both sides intervened, and, with a formal challenge, given by the Frenchman and accepted by our man, the affair ended. Next day I accompanied this man ashore to settle things, but found the French officers quite disposed to view the matter in a sensible light. For neither party saw much fun in being cashiered, as the survivor doubtless would have been, had either of them been killed. So instead of fighting we sat down amicably, drank Bordeaux, and smoked the Havannah of peace.
A cousin of mine - on my mother's side - a French Marquis - was a convict in New Caledonia just then, but I did not come across him. His sister was, at the same time, wife of a Foreign Ambassador in London.
It was an evil day for our Antipodean Colonies when the British Government allowed France to lay hands on New Caledonia, which by right of discovery clearly belonged to England. It might have been one of the fairest possessions in the Empire, the biggest island in the South Pacific except New Zealand, and rather larger than Wales, with a very healthy climate and with
TYPES OF NEW CALEDONIANS
invaluable mineral deposits, gold, copper, cobalt, nickel, limestone ; in fact every metal needed by man. In the interior are mountain ranges, upwards of six thousand feet high, watered by countless streams and clothed with fine forests. The native inhabitants are of distinct races in different parts of the island. They were always peacefully disposed towards white men before the blessings of civilisation overtook them, but now, with the exception, perhaps, of tribes on the Congo, who come in contact with the Belgians, it would be difficult to find any with a worse reputation. But, like the Congolese, the New Caledonian is rapidly vanishing, shot down wholesale, driven from his home by convict settlers, or kidnapped into slavery for Queensland sugar plantations, whilst - as all the world over - the vices of civilisation, its diseases, drunkenness, and immorality, kill them off by hundreds.
I saw some of the aboriginal race, and they struck me as very like the Australian black ; flat noses almost flush with the eyes, frizzled hair and receding foreheads. But, in other parts, the men and women were of quite a fair-skinned type, well formed and rounded, and much more civilised in every way ; living in comfortable huts ; holding property in land and so forth. Their clothing is of the scantiest, but - as in Japan - they attach no sense of immodesty to nudity, which, like morals, is after all, much a matter of periods and geography.
But in New Caledonia the chief peril for peaceful inhabitants, native or European, is the evadé, the desperate convict who escapes to the almost impenetrable forests and there lives in pure savagery, so much so that it was then, and may be still, unsafe to venture alone in many parts of the country. At last, however, it became the custom for settlers to shoot these unfortunate wretches at sight, with the result of terrible retaliation ; farms being
burnt, men flayed alive, old women and children butchered, and young women carried off into the forest, where all trace of them was lost.
Whilst we were in Port of France, a trading schooner had picked up on the coast a white woman scarcely distinguishable from a savage, though speaking some unintelligible French jargon. She had been seized ten years before by an evadé, and had lived a frightful life. She was about ten or twelve when captured, but had now entirely forgotten who she was. As there was a great dearth of ladies in the Settlement, after being polished up a bit she found many admirers and married a French sergeant.
Port of France swarmed with sharks, and in this connection I may mention an example of a man putting his theories to a practical test. The celebrated Bishop Selwyn, of New Zealand, in entering the harbour in the Southern Cross - his missionary yacht - had touched a coral reef. It therefore became necessary to examine the state of the yacht's copper, but no one on board any ship in the harbour, including the Iris, and La Bayonnaise a French frigate, would venture into the water. So the Bishop, who held that if a man showed a bold front to a shark he would sheer off, went overboard himself, with a long sharp knife in his mouth for defence, and, diving under his vessel, ascertained the damage. He then came on board our ship and we arranged to careen the yacht sufficiently to enable him to nail on some copper sheets, which he did himself, again spending a long time in the water. For some curious reason not a single shark hove in sight all the time. The Roman Catholic chaplain ashore was so persuaded that the Bishop had been miraculously protected that he drew up a formal procès verbal and sent it to the Propaganda in Rome.
We next visited the Loyalty Islands, which lie about one
hundred miles east of New Caledonia, for them an unfortunate propinquity, for the French, with the idea, which seems general, of "rounding off frontiers," took possession of them, although England had partly occupied them. But, as usual, England took a back seat. There was much strife between the rival missionaries, Protestant and Roman, the French Commandant endeavouring to drive the former out of the island, and behaving altogether in a most outrageous manner, borne with the usual British pusillanimity, so that we came very near losing our Australian Colonies. For the Australians resented this disregard of their interests in earnest, until finally Downing Street was galvanised into some semblance of self-respect, and obtained protection for the Protestant mission.
The Loyalties are a curious group, some rising two or three hundred feet above the sea, others almost awash. They are very numerous : the natives of different islands of distinct types, yellow and black, and speaking different languages, although close to each other. This diversity of tongues amongst savages, whose requirements and habits are practically identical, is most puzzling. How can these differences have arisen ? In Maré, the chief island, the natives are of the yellow-brown type, with round limbs and straight or slightly frizzly hair. They crowded on board our vessel, bringing off yams, taro and bananas, and were with difficulty expelled even when the ship was under way and standing out of the bay. One after the other their canoes had cast off, afraid of being towed under water as our speed increased ; but still numbers of men and women remained on deck, apparently quite willing to go away with the vessel, and watching with wonder the great topsails bellying out in the wind, and the rattling of tacks and sheets as the courses came down into their places. We were already two or three miles out
of the bay before we had cleared the decks, which had been done by pitching the natives over the side into the water, many obstinately refusing to go by any other process. Of course they all swam like fish, and we watched their heads bobbing above the water until they reached the canoes, which had lain to to pick them up.
It was here I first saw a dried specimen of that inexplicable marvel of nature, the Palŏlo, a fish which may vary from an inch to a foot long, and about an eighth of an inch thick. It appears, in shallows over coral reefs, during the months of October and November, and then only with certain phases of the moon, disappearing again as suddenly as it came, until the following year. For some inscrutable reason these fish keep accurate Solar time for their arrival, but, as the librations of the moon - through certain errors of motion and other complex conditions - do not give this time accurately when spread over a long course of years, an instinct, infinitely beyond human understanding, has taught the Palŏlo to divide these lunations into two cycles extending over twenty-nine years. Thus, by a process of calculation sufficient to turn the brain of a Senior Wrangler, they keep "on time" as an American would say whereas if they followed the lunations pure and simple, in a century or two they would be months out of their reckoning, and would not appear in these particular phases.
But every year they come exactly at the right time, and all this is not mere scientific speculation, but absolute fact based on observation. It is almost equal to the very highest branches of astronomical observation, and yet in the case of these invertebrates - very low in the scale of life - apparently without any structural development higher than an alimentary duct, creatures who live but one year and appear but for one day and then vanish - we have objects gifted with what
MIRACLE OF THE PALŎLO
amongst men would be genius. It is idle to dismiss the marvels of the Palŏlo as merely instinctive, according to the meaning we attach to the term. No theory - no science can explain why these creatures breed on a certain astronomically and mathematically calculated day, and only on that day out of the three hundred and sixty-five. Why ?
The fact that for probably millions of years the fish we now see have inherited this knowledge is marvellous enough, but it sinks into insignificance with the puzzle as to how it began and what particular fish first calculated how to hit off the third quarter of a particular moon. He may have lived before the moon had separated itself from the earth, and was still a bulge on the earth's surface. Something in connection with this bulge, or something it contained, was possibly necessary to, or connected with, the life of this fish, for as a heavenly body alone our moon could not have interested him. Slowly this mathematical genius was able to transmit the knowledge to myriads on myriads of his descendants that their reproduction on a given day depended on certain astronomical facts, which were regulated by the position of the Earth at Aphelion and Perihelion, the Precession of the Equinox, the Inclination of the Ecliptic, and others too complicated to describe.
Their mode of propagation is curious. On this day, the only day they are ever seen, the male and female both break up in pieces, the ova being thus fertilised in the sea. This embryo sinks to the bottom, and for a whole year is never seen. Then suddenly, on the appointed day, it rises, a complete fish, lives for an hour, breaks up and leaves others to follow. Truly these things are staggering.
* * * * *
THE HUNTER RIVER
It would be wearisome to describe the scores of islands in the Pacific which we visited during the next two or three years - New Caledonia, New Britain, the coasts of New Guinea, the Solomon and Louisiade Archipelagoes. Suffice it to say that we had one or two more expeditions to revenge the death of that eternal strife-breeder the missionary, the cause of more misery and bloodshed than any other class under heaven, but carrying out one behest of their Master, if no other ; namely, to bring the sword and not peace. I forget the name of the particular apostle who, about this time, got himself eaten in Erromango, but I know that we despatched dozens of savages who were not concerned in the feast, to accompany him to the shades below, and left a legacy of hatred that has never died out of these islands.
First the missionary, bringing bloodshed: then the beach-comber - with rum, gin, and disease.
* * * * *
On our return to Sydney, I got a fortnight's leave and went up country to Ravensworth, a station on the Hunter River, belonging to Captain Russell, father of the well-known General, Sir Baker of that ilk.
It was my first glimpse of a squatter's life, and it appeared to me fascinating beyond degree. But, alas ! how entirely one's ideas can alter, according to the point of view. From thinking Ravensworth a most pleasant place when visiting it as the guest of Sir Baker's eldest brother, William - a most charming man - I came in after years to know there almost the greatest unhappiness I have ever endured, and lived to shake its dust off my feet with feelings of elation which no one but a released convict could realise.
I had a delightful time, this first visit, joining in all bush occupations : with many days spent in visiting
neighbouring though distant stations, where naturally we were made most welcome. Our nearest neighbours were the Glennies, Langs, and MacDougals, all typical of bush society at its best. But smaller stations were also within reach, where life was distinctly primitive, the earliest conditions of squatting still prevailing. At one of these the family consisted of father and mother and three daughters ranging in age from fifteen to twenty ; the girls - having never been out of the bush - altogether unsophisticated. Their house was not less unconventional than themselves, the room I occupied - about eight feet by five - being separated from that of the three sisters by a partition of thin slabs of timber, whose widely-gaping joints had once been covered by strips of newspaper, which, however, time and the warping of the wood had rendered useless as far as obstructing a complete view of the interiors of these rooms was concerned. As both their beds and mine were against this practically invisible wall, I felt very much as I did in the cockpit of the frigate, with my hammock bumping against my neighbour's. For convenience' sake we all went to bed in the dark, but this did not prevent us keeping up much talk and chaff after we should have been asleep.
I went to stay two or three days with these people, and I was awakened one morning very early by thumping on the partition and being told to look sharp and get up as I was to go for a ride before breakfast with one of the girls. I lost no time in dressing, and the girl and I went down into the paddock, where she quickly caught two horses. After a brisk gallop, which took us up a high hill, we started a large kangaroo, which, bounding away over the loose stones at great speed, was soon out of sight. We then dismounted, tethered our horses, and sat down in the wiry grass, with stunted trees behind us. My companion was naturally clever, but as ignorant of every-
THE HUNTER RIVER
thing in the shape of books as a girl of Southsea beach, but she was very interested in anything I could tell her. She was very peculiar to look at - a broad Slav, or Bulgar type of face, with sullen-looking eyes that saw everything, mouth as firm as a rock; colour dusky red, and with extraordinary vitality. Her curious character revealed itself almost involuntarily: masterful, impatient, openly discontented with the monotony of life. I well recall what she told me of herself. She was, of course, femme incomprise, which, though often evidence only of mere morbid vanity, was, in her case, very genuine. No one understood her, no one had any sympathy in her passionate longing for a wider life; her thirst after knowledge, of she knew not what. Her mind was a mastless boat on a tossing sea of doubt, to sink or float according as to who should seize the helm. She had many perverted ideas of right and wrong, gathered doubtless from the few questionably desirable books she could find in her father's collection. I happened to see these books, lying about for his daughters to read or neglect as they pleased, mostly poisonous, such as "La Nouvelle Heloise " (in English), "Tom Jones," " Clarissa Harlowe," old Elizabethan plays (unabridged), with piles of erotic, trashy novels. She had never heard of Hans Andersen; of the "Vicar of Wakefield"; of Scott's novels; of the "Essays of Elia" ; of "Pride and Prejudice" ; of " Emma," or of any leading classic in English literature.
I hope I shall be pardoned for this sketch of a curious individuality, but to me the study of character has ever been of immense interest. Here in this out-of-the-way Australian home was a woman with an almost abnormal temperament, terribly awake ; an imagination so real that its ideas were hardly any longer subjective ; reckless courage and complete indifference to conse-
LOSS OF THE DUNCAN DUNBAR
quences ; body and soul unsatisfied. To this day I look back and wonder what became of her.
* * * * *
My leave over I returned to my ship, still lying in Sydney Harbour, and was in time to see one of the most terrible of shipwrecks. A large passenger ship, the Duncan Dunbar, had been hurled, in the middle of the night, straight against the cliffs at the entrance, where in three minutes she was literally dashed to pieces and sank in deep water, every living soul perishing : with one solitary exception. I forget how many passengers there were, but perhaps three hundred or more, amongst them numbers of well-known Sydney people - fathers, mothers, sisters, children, all hurried into eternity with positively not five minutes' warning. The master had evidently mistaken a place called the Gap - a low part of the cliff near the Sydney Heads - for the entrance. But the recklessness of attempting to run through the narrow entrance in a heavy gale at night was unpardonable.
The news of the wreck reached us at dawn as our ship was in a bay just the other side of this wall of cliff, and we immediately sent men with ropes to see what could be done. But there was nothing to do, for the ill-fated vessel was hundreds of fathoms under water, and the bodies of the drowned were dashing up against the cliff, torn and mangled beyond recognition, whilst for several days boats were picking up bodies that had found their way into the Port. But in searching along the cliff our men saw a man lying on a narrow ledge below, and lowered a bluejacket with a rope, who with great difficulty - as it was still blowing a gale - succeeded in getting into this mere crack, finding there, alive and unhurt, the only survivor of the wreck. He had been flung up by an extra high sea and had been deposited there in safety.
He was a seaman, by name Johnson, and his marvellous rescue excited much interest in Sydney, where a handsome sum was collected to start him in life. I heard afterwards that he very ill requited all the trouble taken about him.
* * * * *
About this time a new gold-field was reported as having been discovered in North Australia, at a place called Canoona beyond the FitzRoy River. Of course there was the ordinary "rush," but, the diggings proving a failure, there was soon a dangerous state of affairs amongst these always lawless, and now desperate, men, recruited, as usual, from the greatest rascals of all lands. For starvation stared them in the face, with no possible means of getting away from the place, as the first amongst them who had succeeded in reaching Keppel Bay - where they had disembarked - promptly seized on the small sailing ships lying there, deserted by their crews, and at once set sail, fearing the arrival of other famishing hordes, for whom the few provisions left in the ships would not be sufficient during the long voyage back to Brisbane or Sydney, a distance of two thousand five hundred miles. In the diggings horrible things were going on, men killing each other for a pound or two of biscuit : stores looted, whilst the police were powerless and compelled to remain bailed up in a laager of bullock wagons.
When news of this arrived in Sydney, the Governor requested our Skipper to go up to maintain order, for a number of sailing craft had already started for Keppel Bay, and it was important that they should have protection from over-crowding, as most of these rescue craft were ill-found, ricketty island schooners, coasting brigs, and that class of vessel. Arrived in Keppel Bay we established something like martial law, packing the
FORLORN AND OUTCAST
diggers on board each craft in the numbers we thought she might carry without actually going down, trusting them to the protection of that Providence whose chief concern seems to be the preservation of the most worthless. For a more cut-throat set of rascals never assembled anywhere; amongst them escaped gaol-birds of every nationality under the sun. There were women, too, in Keppel Bay, many of whom had tramped on foot all the way from the diggings, their shoes completely worn out, their petticoats or dresses, as the case might be, in rags. They were bivouacked on the beach, apparently knit by adversity in the bonds of common sisterhood, for, though all were not, still the bulk of them were outcasts - lures of Sydney and Melbourne bar-saloons. Who can tell how much was forgiven them for their acts of pitying unselfishness? Surely they stood nearer the Gate of Mercy than the murdering, fighting, selfish male-brutes around them, who the world still called respectable, doing nothing for each other in their hour of need !
We did what little we could for these unfortunate women, bringing them shoes, ship's duck and serge, with soap and such like gear. Their gratitude was certainly worth having. They were all shipped off in one craft, a barque, and landed in Sydney, and I may mention that, many months after, a woman stopped me in the streets and told me she remembered me at Keppel Bay, had never forgotten all our kindness, and that she was all right again and had a billet as housekeeper to a Roman priest near Paramatta. I had some difficulty in recognising her, but she told me I had given her a pair of evening shoes and some ship's flannel. But ablution and absolution had done so much for her that I thought her master might have chosen a much worse handmaid than this rosy Irish girl.
THE FITZ-ROY RIVER
But to return to Keppel Bay and the deserted goldfield.
I had the good luck to be invited by Sir Maurice O'Connell, the Deputy-Governor of North Australia (which, with Queensland, then formed part of New South Wales), to accompany him up to the diggings, together with two other officers of my ship. A more picturesque figure than this gallant and courteous Irishman it would be difficult to find. Remarkably handsome - of a Spanish type - a perfect figure, charming, cavalier manner, witty, and well read, a fine seat on a horse, an excellent swordsman and shot, he was of a school that seems to have passed away. We had an escort of two or three of the mounted police, amongst them one by name Randal, who had been successful in capturing some notorious bushranger single-handed, and - only a year or two after - lost his life in endeavouring to apprehend another.
As the easiest way to reach the Canoona gold-field was up the River FitzRoy - navigable for a certain distance - and then across the bush, we embarked in a small steam launch, brought up at the first rush by some enterprising individual, and now lying derelict. A queer old Scotchman, who was called Sandy, was engaged as engineer, though knowing no more about an engine than a mandarin. He had become landlord of the leading grog shop of Rockhampton ; the late landlord's partner, a large-hearted lady from Poplar - inured to the ways of sailors and dockers - going with the business. We were told that her former partner had been knocked on the head by a thirsty digger whose pick he had refused to take in exchange for a drink which is not surprising, seeing that picks and all such tools lay derelict all over the place, whilst a bottle of beer was worth fifteen to twenty shillings, and of brandy about thirty. The ruffian had got off to a ship and escaped, but the landlady was so pestered with the attentions of other diggers who wished to come and
help her that she had been compelled to take on Sandy - a notorious fighting man - for self-protection. But he had now arranged with a pal to look after the business during his temporary absence with us as chief engineer.
It was late in the evening before we got under way and began steaming up the river, which was a broad, fine stream, but, higher up, difficult of navigation from sand banks and drifting wood. After a smoke, and many yarns, we lay down to sleep, but about midnight we were awakened by the boat bumping on to the bank, when, by the light of the moon, we saw old Sandy on the bank, his stoking shovel in one hand and his knife in the other, engaged in single combat with an alligator. He had seen the reptile lying on the mud as we passed, and sheering in had jumped ashore to attack it, and as he was between it and the water, with a steep bank behind, there was nothing left for the brute but to fight. But our appearance on the scene seemed to decide it to adopt different tactics, and, with a terrific swish of its tail, it flung Sandy back into the shallow water and then plunged out into the stream, when we saw no more of it. We fished Sandy out of the water, none the worse for the blow, though it seemed heavy enough to have felled an ox.
It was a typical night on an Australian river, the distant howl of dingoes, with the occasional plunge into the water of some river monster, as he slid off the bank terrified by the snorting and panting of our engine, adding to the weirdness of the scene. But romance had to give way to the fact that it was under the influence of gin that the worthy Sandy had been inspired to fight the alligator, and as he was rapidly becoming hopelessly drunk, I volunteered to steer, with Randal in the bows keeping a look out for snags, and sounding with a pole as we crept on. Sandy
THE FITZ-ROY RIVER
was not, however, too drunk to do some stoking, and, with a last effort, tumbled about amongst the pieces of wood and threw all he could lay hold of on to the fire. Having done which he banged to the door of the firehole, and lay down to sleep - soon snoring with the noise of a throttle valve. The rest of the party also settled down, and I continued to steer, until dawn appeared, and the sun shot up above the trees. By this time all hands were awake and began to look about for their boots and shoes, which most of them had pulled off before lying down. The police, sleeping forward, were successful in finding theirs, but all the other passengers - except Sir Maurice, who had kept on his long riding boots - hunted in vain. Not a boot or shoe was to be found, although they had been carefully piled up near the stoke hole to keep them dry from the heavy dew, which fell like rain. It began to be serious. Where, in Heaven's name, could they have got to ? At last, amongst the ashes under the fire was discovered an interesting collection of iron heel pieces, boot nails, and a heel or two that had refused to burn. For Sandy, groping about for fuel, had seized all the lot and had burnt them. I had, fortunately, kept mine on, but the predicament for the others was extremely awkward, for several of our party had no others, our luggage being limited. So they had to go about in their socks until we reached the diggings, where they were fortunately able to replace them in a deserted store. We were met some miles out of Canoona by more mounted police, having exchanged our steamer for horses, when navigation became no longer possible. A more hungry, murderous crowd of human beings can scarcely be imagined than we saw wandering about this Inferno. That they should be lean and hungry-eyed and clad in the most dilapidated garb, often nothing
CANOONA GOLD FIELD
but a tattered shirt and ragged trousers, one could expect, but their evil looks of mistrust and murderous intent were a sight not easily forgotten, and haunted me for weeks. Silent and starving, these sun-parched wrecks of humanity prowled about looking for food, like dogs in an Eastern city, hopelessly turning over empty cans for a stray ounce of meat, and peering into empty bottles, if, perchance, there might be a drop of liquor still in them. Shanties of every description and built of all kinds of material, with mounds of black-looking earth, around which some starving Chinaman might still be seen hunting for specks of the accursed metal, dotted the treeless plain. Overhead the tropical sun blazed down in unclouded power, the grass and the leaves of the low scrubby bushes cockling and withering in its fierce rays : the very sand almost too hot to lift in one's hand. Far away to the south a faint blue outline marked where the hills divided this country from Queensland, whilst a shimmering haze to the west spoke of the trackless wilderness of Central Australia.
The Governor's arrival created less stir than one would have expected, for these forlorn men were incapable of taking interest in anything but the procuring of food. A few gathered round our horses and asked what was going to be done for them, if drays of provisions were coming up, and what ships were in Keppel Bay. But they melted away when they heard that beyond that some sheep had been bought and were on the road, nothing was contemplated, and that all Sir Maurice had come to do was to make arrangements for shipping them back to Sydney. We saw men in twos and threes and some singly filing off down the barren and waterless track that led to the sea, faint and weary already at the outset of their desperate march, and it made one shudder to think that not ten miles off they would
THE FITZ-ROY RIVER
come across the whitening bones of others who had gone before them, probably only that morning. For in a very few hours the huge red ants, who smell their prey for miles and come like a devastating horde, settle on a fallen man or beast often before the breath is out of the body, devouring every particle of flesh.
On a slightly rising ground stood the police laager, consisting of three good tents, a shanty built of packing-cases and tarpaulin, the whole surrounded by wagons and one or two light carts. We were glad to get into its shelter, for apart from the intense heat of the sun, the attitude of the diggers and others was anything but reassuring. For small squads of armed and scowling men had already grouped themselves outside it, and the police thought it not unlikely they might try to rush the place. But as the few paltry ounces of gold that had been found had long before been escorted back to Rockhampton, there was nothing to gain by the attempt except securing a little food with the absolute certainty of some of them being shot.
We remained two days at Canoona, and then started back, going by road all the way. We heard that numbers of men and women, who had attempted that journey, had never reached Keppel Bay, having either died of hunger or wandered away beyond all trace of civilisation. There were a good many blacks about, and they were very hostile. We came across the body of a man whom we had met on our way up, tramping alone towards the sea. He was drunk when we met him, and had generously offered us a drink out of a bottle of gin he had with him. He had kept a bar-saloon, he told us, but it had been looted, he himself barely escaping with life. He said he was a Freemason, for we had a long talk with him, having halted near him for nearly an hour, and he wanted to initiate me in Masonic mysteries there and
EXPERIMENT IN TRACHEOTOMY
then. He mentioned an inaugural ceremony, which Masons have since assured me never takes place, but I leave it to Masons to say if it is true, as I believe it to be, though for sheer childishness it is hard to beat. This ceremony consists in making the novice dance over crossed swords in his shirt, the shirt being only a concession to more modern ideas of decency and by no means de rigueur. Where the unfortunate man now lay showed us he could not have travelled five miles after we had left him. His gin bottle was empty and so hot from the sun's rays that it blistered the fingers of one of our party who incautiously picked it up. His body was swarming with red ants, his face already an indescribably horrid spectacle.
In due time we reached a station owned by people - who have, I believe, since become millionaires - where we put up, and were most hospitably entertained. One of their stockmen, on the evening of our arrival, was seized with a choking fit - some obstruction in the throat. A surgeon, who shall be nameless, ventured to perform the somewhat risky operation of tracheotomy, but severed the carotid artery instead, so that the man died.
On getting back to the ship we found that a great number of the small craft had been sent off, and we left again for the South.
After this we made visits to Melbourne and Tasmania. The chief impression left on my mind by Melbourne - beyond the magnificence of the public buildings - was the expense of living, which made it impossible for us midshipmen to even order a cup of chocolate in a cafe, as it cost two shillings, with sixpence for a sponge cake and a shilling tip for the waiter.
In Hobartown - now Hobart - we found ourselves in another social atmosphere, Arcadian in comparison with Melbourne or Sydney, people more resembling our
home belongings in ideas, and lacking the go-ahead Americanism of the other Colonies. I was fortunate in having a distant connection in Hobartown, the wife of Bishop Nixon of Tasmania, and these people bestowed great kindness on all the mids of the ship. They were a large family, but only two of them at home at that time : both girls. The Bishop himself was a charming man, artistic and cultivated, with little or no Episcopal austerity, with a merry twinkle in his eyes and a pleasant smile. His wife was, perhaps, most Bishop of the two, severely kind, but one whose bony hands gave us midshipmen the impression that she would lay them on us, without Litany or Suffrages, if she caught us up to any pranks with her daughters. She seemed thoroughly to mistrust boys, especially of the naval variety, and we were proportionally shocked at the narrowness of her views : for she told some of us one day that she had seen a midshipman kissing a girl in the conservatory at the Government House ball, and that unfortunately she could not recognise who they were, or she would certainly have reported it to the Captain. I quite agreed with her that it was scandalous that fellows should come ashore and behave like libertines, and I learnt afterwards that she told one of her daughters how pleased she was to find that I had been so well brought up at home, and had not deteriorated in the demoralising atmosphere of a man-of-war. We laughed over this for nearly a week, for we both knew who were the culprits.
The Bishop himself was very fond of astronomy, that is, of having a good telescope, and with it gazing at the moon and stars, with such vague and reverent ideas as the contemplation of their stupendous meaning conveyed to his mind. But, as is often the case, pursuit of one science leads to discovery in another, and his investigation of heavenly bodies led to some unexpected
results. He had just then had a telescope - quite out of the range of ordinary optical instruments - sent to him as a present from England, and his delight at receiving it was great. He lost no time in unpacking it ; set it upon its tripod, and there being nothing astral to observe in broad daylight, turned his attention to things terrestrial. He adjusted it carefully until he might easily have seen a fly on a man's nose two miles away, and all being ready, began to sweep the landscape, when, into the field of his vision, came a patch of clearing in the bush, where trees seemed to form a pleasant shelter from the hot afternoon sun. An idyllic scene met his gaze ; a midshipman seated peacefully on the grass, with his arm round his youngest daughter's waist. But, doubtless reminiscent of his own youth, and still further being a sympathetic man of the world, he neither flew into a rage nor smashed his glass, but simply turned it in some other direction - for his other daughter was also walking about with a naval man. But, when an hour or two later the unconscious couple he had seen in the glade strolled casually home, he took them out on to the verandah, turned the telescope on to the spot where they had spent such a happy afternoon, and then left them. Then they knew; for the girl's handkerchief was still lying there, where she had forgotten it. Many years after, at Stresa on Lago Maggiore, the Bishop told my wife this story, but added a detail I had never known, that it was by the merest accident his wife had not looked through the telescope too, having only a moment before been called away by some row with the cook. Had she done so it is difficult to say what might have happened.
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