Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 10
CHAPTER X. "ADVANCE AUSTRALIA."
TN 1875, my health having broken down, I was advised to take a long sea-voyage, and accordingly embarked for Australia, being fifty-six days on the way. Since then I have been four times; having gone via, the Cape of Good Hope twice, and three times through the Suez Canal. On one occasion I returned by way of New Zealand and the Pacific Ocean, crossing America; and on another, from New Zealand around Cape Horn, calling at Rio Janeiro.
One voyage to Australia has become very much like another since the era of swift steamers commenced, the luxurious life on board, and the constant change of passengers at the various ports of call, closely resembling life in a busy hotel. But still to the observant eye, every voyage furnishes incidents sufficiently interesting to prevent it becoming wearisome; for although the Arabs at Port Said and Aden, and our fellow-subjects in Ceylon, all seem alike both in feature and in manners, there is a wonderful variety amongst our fellow passengers. Here we see judges returning to their duties after a holiday all too short; Colonial statesmen, with sufficient time on their hands to allow of their formulating a policy to meet every conceivable combination amongst their parliamentary opponents; and squatters and merchants returning to the Colonies to look after their property or their business; while another class is composed of clergymen and professional men taking a holiday, and generally speaking with every sign of great enjoyment. Two other classes are also largely represented; viz.: invalids in search of health, and young ne'er-do-wells sent to the Colonies under the mistaken idea of their being more likely to reform in a new country.
Occasionally, too, to vary what little monotony there may be, the winds and waves arise, causing those who are not accustomed to "go down to the sea in ships," to look serious and to retire to their cabins. The first time I went through the Bay of Biscay was in the month of November. We had got well into the Bay, and were flattering ourselves that we should get well through, when a strong nor'-wester sprung up, accompanied by heavy seas and torrents of rain. Our ship was a duplicate of the ill-fated London, and the officers comforted us with the information that we were just on the spot where that ship had gone down a few years before. The wind and the seas continued to increase, until just as we were sitting down to dinner, a heavy sea burst 'tween decks with a great uproar, breaking through the doors leading from the main-deck to the saloon, swamping the nearest cabins and completely scattering the dinner, dishes and all.
We retired to our berths; but presently another sea was shipped, smashing the skylights, and again deluging the saloon and our cabins, leaving us in perfect darkness. The noise of the sailors tramping overhead, the breaking of crockery, and the falling of blocks and ropes, the shouts of the officers, and the ceaseless roar of the storm, effectually banished sleep for the night. But although "weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning;" and so it was with us: for during the night we had passed through the storm, and had got into delightful summer weather.
Soon after entering the Tropics on one of my voyages, one of the passengers was taken ill, and died in a few hours: he had been suffering from delirium tremens. The funeral was arranged to take place early next morning; and at the appointed time, the body, which had been sewn up in sail-cloth, was placed on trestles on the main-deck, opposite a port-hole, the "Union Jack" covering it. Presently the bell began to toll, while the clergyman and captain read the service for the dead, and at a given signal the sailors loosed the corpse, which was weighted with iron, and in a moment it was "In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."
The day following was Sunday, and the weather being glorious, the "service" was held on deck. The water was of a beautiful purple colour, and the sky a deep blue; and some large white birds were lazily flying around the ship. Under these unusual circumstances, and with the solemn incident of the burial of the poor drunkard on the previous day, we were prepared to listen to an impressive sermon. Judge, then, of our surprise when the parson began talking to us about geology! Nor did he make the slightest reference to the scene around him during the whole sermon.
On another occasion a discussion arose as to the best course to be adopted to ensure the attendance of the working classes at church. The reverend gentleman assured us that he had no difficulty in getting people to attend his church,— all classes and conditions of people came to hear him, and yet he took no special means to secure their attendance. Not being impressed by the parson's eloquence, we were at a loss to understand how it was that he was so successful; but on arriving at the colony the explanation was forthcoming, for I found that our reverend friend was chaplain to a cemetery.
Sometimes the captain takes his dog on voyage with him. Once we had a splendid black retriever named "Zulu," who followed the captain everywhere on land or sea; and woe betide the man who interfered with Zulu's master! One day the captain was clearing his ship at Port Said before entering the Canal. The anchor was up, and the Agent's clerk was just about to leave, when taking up his bundle of papers from the captain's table, he ran to the side, and was just getting over, on to the rope ladder, when Zulu seized his clothes and held him fast. When he turned round the dog released him; but the instant he again attempted to leave the vessel Zulu caught him and held him fast until the captain came to his rescue.
This dog was fond of warm quarters, and in cold weather regularly visited the cabin occupied by the second and third officers. Immediately either of them got out of bed, in jumped Zulu, covering himself with the clothes, and putting his head on the pillow. Poor old Zulu! we had to bury him at sea too, for he was not a true sea-dog, and always pined for the land.
One of the greatest nuisances on board long-voyage steamers is the lady passenger who fancies she can play and sing. If she is young and tolerably good-looking, she will be encouraged in this idea by all the young men on board (and some of the old ones) and the result is too often, a ceaseless "strum" and scream from rosy morn to long past "dewy eve."
It was our misfortune on one occasion to have one of these ladies on board, who shrieked and raved and hammered away to our hearts' discontent. She was called the "voice-contortionist." So long as she confined her practice to the daytime, it was not of much consequence but unfortunately she would continue it through almost every evening, when the other passengers were compelled to be in the saloon. Everybody growled and grumbled sotto voce: but none had the courage to complain, until one evening a young man, honest and unsophisticated, hailing from very far north, finding it impossible to get on with his reading, rose up, and going to the centre of the saloon, called out to the lady at the piano in the gallery above, "Mistress L, Mistress L, you would varra much oblige me by shutting up that 'machine!'" The effect was instantaneous — the machine was shut up, and we had much less of it for the rest of the voyage.
On one of my voyages I went in a sailing ship which took ninety days on the way, never sighting land, after leaving Plymouth, till we reached Australia. In such voyages systematic arrangements are made for the prevention of ennui: concerts, dances, lectures and readings are frequently given. Occasionally a newspaper is started and the results of cricket, races, and other games duly chronicled. But almost every visitor to Australia now goes through the Suez Canal; and as, after leaving Plymouth, no less than seven calls are made before reaching Melbourne, there is no lack of interest and excitement.
On arriving at Port Said the vessel is anchored broadside on to the main street of the town, and within fifty yards of the shore. Soon the decks are crowded with a motley throng, and a wild jabber of English, French, Arabic, and Italian fills the air. Pedlars offer their wares, ostrich feathers, necklaces (made in Birmingham), Maltese lace, and Indian boxes and baskets; and the Greek money-changer astonishes the honest Britisher by offering him twenty shillings for a sovereign — the rate of exchange, however, leaving him a very good profit. On shore there is not much to be seen, but the donkey boys are amusing fellows, and their animals are very "good to go." On the last occasion that I was there, one of our party was importuned by an elderly donkey boy to take a ride. "Take yer chice, sah; I've three donkeys, sah— `Jubilee,' Two lovely black eyes,' and Scots wha' ha'e.' Which will ye have? No, you won't ride? Then give me glass beer. Oh yes! I may drink beer now, and eberyting, for I've been to Mecca!"
Mail steamers are now taken through the Canal at night, using their own electric light, which is fixed to the bows of the ship, illuminating all round for three- quarters of a mile, causing the banks to be clearly seen, and to look as if covered with snow. This is a very great advantage, as other vessels have to stop and make fast at sundown, and it is by no means a pleasant experience to have to pass a hot night in the Canal. Calls are also made at Aden and Colombo, Albany, and King George's Sound, the latter being the first point touched at on the Australian continent.
When we arrived there, on one occasion, it was dark, and signals were made for the Agent to come out but as he was a long time in coming, the captain, who was of a somewhat hasty temper, blew a terrific blast on the terrible "syren " whistle which fairly deafened everybody and wakened the echoes all round the bay. Just then the captain passed us, and asked what we thought of King George's Sound! We replied we had not heard it, but that there was no mistake about the "Orizaba" Sound! After calling at Adelaide we go on to Melbourne, where most of the passengers usually leave, many to stay there, and others to take train for various parts of the Colonies.
I shall not soon forget my first visit to Melbourne, in January, 1876. The city is about forty miles from Port Phillip Heads, where the entrance to what is in reality an inland sea is very narrow. We landed at Sandridge at six a.m., and at once had our first experience of the heat of Australian summer weather. When driving to the hotel we were struck with the deserted appearance of the streets, as very few persons were seen during our three miles drive from the landing-place. It did not occur to us that this arose from the earliness of the hour; having forgotten, too, that we had been up for several hours making preparations for leaving the ship.
While waiting for breakfast I took up the newspaper, and had not proceeded far before I came to an article headed "The Black Death in Melbourne." The article gave a detailed and circumstantial account of the progress of the disease, which was stated to have been raging for four or five weeks. Among other things the article stated that the number of deaths had become so great that it was impossible to dig separate graves; that the bodies were placed in trenches, one being dug each day; that all who could leave the city had fled; and that the mob had surrounded the Town Hall, demanding to see the Mayor and Corporation, who, however, had already disappeared. We had seen no newspapers, and had had no news since leaving England, and were getting alarmed; but upon questioning the waiter he seemed to know nothing about it. He said there had been a few cases of measles and a whooping-cough or two, and that six people had died during the past week from these diseases. I began to suspect we had been "sold," and was about to pass the paper to him, when I caught sight of an asterisk placed against the heading, and, on looking at the foot of the column, saw that the article was a prediction of what would happen in Melbourne, within 100 years, unless sanitary matters were at once attended to. Since that time very great improvements have been made in the drainage of Melbourne; but much still remains to be done, the engineering difficulties in the way of a complete system being very great.
Melbourne has been well styled "the Magnificent" by Mr. Sala; and there are few cities in the world which are superior to it in the magnificence of its street architecture and the spaciousness of its public thoroughfares. Its public gardens are both numerous and extensive, being laid out with perfect taste and judgment, and without any regard to cost; while its free libraries, art gallery, natural history museums, and other institutions, will compare favourably with those of any old-established European city; and when it is considered that everything has been done within the memory of men who are not yet "threescore years and ten," the visitor is filled with admiration of the splendid achievements of the men who have wrought this veritable wonder of the world.
During the summer, Melbourne is occasionally visited by "hot winds." They blow from the north, and derive much of their arid character from coming over the great wastes of the interior. We were unlucky enough to experience a bad specimen of one of them, learning subsequently that the shade temperature had reached 117 deg., as high a point, I believe, as any that had been previously recorded in the city. It is no exaggeration to say that while exposed to the wind it felt like the hot blast from the cupola of a foundry when iron is being melted. One's clothing was little or no protection against its scorching influence; and to make the misery complete, the air was filled with choking clouds of dust, which penetrated everywhere.
A very pleasant change from Melbourne is Mount Macedon, one-and-a-half hours' railway ride from that city. The village stands about 1,500 feet above sea level, and is the favourite resort of the wealthy classes in Melbourne, many of whom have residences there. The soil is a bright red, and is many feet deep, and anything will grow with the minimum of trouble. Gladioli and a vast variety of other brilliant flowers meet the eye in every direction. We entered a "selector's" cottage, around which was a beautiful garden. The owner told us it had only been planted a couple of years; but it looked more like the growth of a dozen years, according to our English ideas.
Between Mount Macedon and Melbourne lies a vast estate owned by a gentleman, whose father bought it of the Government, forty years ago, for £30,000; but it is now valued at £2,000,000. It is divided into farms of from 200 to 500 acres, each having good farm houses and outbuildings, and all held on lease. The proprietor is deservedly very popular, and is a great patron of everything that tends to develop and improve agriculture in all its varied aspects. I was told an amusing story about this gentleman's father. When he was on his deathbed, a friend remarked to him that as he had gathered such an immense property together with infinite pains and labour, it would be very sad if his sons were to disperse it with equal energy. "Well," said the old man, "if they have half as much pleasure in spending it as I have had in getting it together, I am quite willing for them to spend it!"
The railway ride to Sydney is now performed in about twenty hours, the best train leaving Melbourne in the evening, and reaching the New South Wales frontier town — Albury — about midnight, the river Murray dividing the two colonies. Unfortunately the colonies have imitated the mistakes of the mother country as well as her successes, for they have different gauges on their railways, necessitating a change of carriage. Here we take the Pullman sleeping car; but before going to bed we have a very decent supper in a good refreshment room—tea, coffee, cutlets, etc. There is also live meat on the snowy table-cloth, in the shape of large numbers of cockroaches of an inch long; and at what a pace they run!
While we are supping a man with paper and pencil comes round and takes our names, which is duly published the next day in the Sydney and Melbourne papers. Until my journey across, ten days before, I thought it was necessary to give our names; but as the man was nearing me I heard a gentleman decline to give his, and I was about to do the same; but before I could do so, the clerk said, "Oh, you are Mr. Richard Tangye, of Birmingham." I was surprised, and asked him how he knew. He replied "I saw your portrait in the Graphic last week, and recognized you at once!"
On a former occasion, when I was travelling from the Free Trade Colony of New South Wales to Protectionist Victoria, I had in my portmanteau a plum-pudding which a kind old lady had given me in Sydney for use on ship-board, and was somewhat surprised when the Customs' officer demanded twopence duty upon it! It seemed to me that this was carrying Protection to a very great length, and I wondered that the Victorian Government did not demand a duty upon "foreign grown" beards.
Albury is the centre of the wine-growing district, and is a charming place, with a thriving well-to-do look about it, the houses being well built, and the streets planted on both sides with acacias, poplars, and several varieties of pines. Continuing our journey the railway passed through Wagga-Wagga, where once lived that famous "wandering knight," the Claimant. On leaving Sydney station a Yankee-looking fellow asked us, "Where's that train from, eh, boss? " And on arriving at our hotel I asked the porter who showed me to my room to light the gas in the bathroom. His reply was, "Have ye no matches?" I said I had, "Then I guess ye can light it yersel'"
Everybody knows that Sydney is noted for its beautiful harbour; the citizens are justly proud of it, for it is one of the most beautiful sights on the face of the earth. But Sydney has other things to be proud of besides its harbour: the Botanical Gardens are lovely beyond description, and are kept in splendid order, forming a perfect Paradise for the refreshment of the citizens. There is also an excellent collection of pictures in the Public Gallery, and a Museum containing many objects of Natural History, and an interesting collection of relics of Captain Cook. There is a fine library of books, free for the use of the citizens, including a copy of the famous "First folio" of Shakespeare; but Sydney neither does itself justice, nor its collection of books, nor the loving care bestowed upon them by the worthy librarian, Mr. R. C. Walker, in the building which it has provided for their accommodation.
The drives in the neighbourhood of Sydney are numerous, and are all of them delightful. The excursions to Katoomba, Mount Victoria, and other health resorts are now almost indispensable to the jaded citizens, and furnish charming experiences for the visitor from other lands. The streets of Sydney are narrow, presenting a great contrast to those of Melbourne in this respect; but they look very home-like to visitors from the old country, and are full of interest and animation. A beautiful view of the harbour is obtained from the Observatory Hill, of which the Sydney people are very proud, for it can scarcely be equalled in any other part of the world. The harbour, with its numerous islands, lies spread out before the eyes, while the greatest animation is given to the scene by the large number of little steamers, yachts, and sailing-boats continually flitting about, for the youth of Sydney are truly British in their love of the water.
While we were admiring this panorama one morning, an old gentleman, observing we were strangers, pointed out the various objects of interest. Presently one of our party observing a strange cloud in the hitherto cloudless sky, called the old man's attention to it. At first he thought it was a bush fire away to the south, but in a minute he said, "Come on, we had better get under shelter, for it is a 'Southerly buster'" What the "Hot winds" are to Melbourne, the "Southerly buster" is to Sydney: it is a strong wind which comes up suddenly from the South, bringing clouds of dust from the brickfields lying an that side of the city. We had been desirous of seeing a genuine example, and here it was, with a vengeance! In less time than it takes to describe, the whole city and harbour were completely obscured by a tremendous cloud of dust, blown on at a great pace, roaring like a furnace, and carrying before it sticks, paper, and even small gravel, which struck with the force of hailstones. During the twenty minutes that the hurricane lasted umbrellas were perfectly useless, and every person and thing became completely covered and penetrated with dust.
The harbour is infested with sharks and anyone falling into the water has a poor chance of getting out alive, unless there are boats in the immediate neighbourhood. While I was last in Sydney an enormous shark was captured, and on being opened it was found to contain a gold watch which it had not been able to digest.
In all the Australian cities there are frequent land sales, when new residential districts are opened up, and the custom is to run special trains to the places on the day of sale, and to provide luncheon for the visitors. While in Sydney during my last visit I saw an advertisement of one of these sales in the paper, the new suburb had been named "Paradise," and the auctioneer headed his advertisement with a quotation from Milton- "The spot to which I point is Paradise."
I have often been asked my opinion as to the most suitable persons for emigration to Australia, but it is not always easy to answer the question. I believe that Australia will long continue to present a great field for the surplus population of older countries; but I think it is a mistake to suppose that the upper grades of English artisans improve their position much by going there. Wages are higher, it is true, and eight hours make up a day's work. Animal food also is cheaper; but almost everything else is dearer than in England — house-rent indeed, enormously so. The artisan who in Birmingham would be well housed for 5s. to 6s. a week, would have to pay £1 for much inferior accommodation in Australia. This remark applies generally in Australia, the principal causes being the fatuous policy of early Governments in allowing the land to get into private hands, and also to the great lack of artisans in the building trade. Many, too, may consider the higher wages and shorter hours of labour as not too great a compensation for the exhaustion induced by the heat and dust, and the annoyances from insect life.
As a general rule, my advice to everyone who is doing fairly well in England, is, Do not emigrate. Of course there will be exceptions; but it may be taken as almost certain, that the majority of men going out to Australia with families, will find that while they are probably doing a very good thing for their children, they have by no means added to their own comfort or happiness. But perseverance, sobriety, and honesty are as sure of bringing their reward in Australia as in England.
When in Australia last, I met with a young man who had brought his wife and three children out from Yorkshire a couple of years before, and he told me his experiences. At the time he landed in the Colony, having come out as an assisted emigrant, he had just 1s. 6d. left. He quickly found a room about eight feet square, where he took his wife and family, and where they all slept. In the middle of the night his wife woke him, saying, "Jim, there is a lot of movement in the room!" He recommended her to go to sleep; but as she could not, he struck a light, and found that the whole place was alive with cockroaches, and only those who know what Australian cockroaches are, can appreciate his feelings as he looked at them.
Next day Jim went at 4 a.m. to where a new tramway was being made, and was fortunate in being put to work at once at pick and shovel at 8s. a day. He had never been accustomed to such work before, having been a factory hand; but he was determined to earn some money. Soon the blood was running down the pick handle as his hands were soft; but he kept on. After a few days the foreman complimented him on the way he stuck to it, and told him that he should have a job as long, as he liked. In a few weeks his good character procured him a better situation, which he has now held for four years; and he says that there is plenty of work for men who will do as he did, and wait their chance of something better turning up. And that is just what I have heard from everyone qualified to speak on the subject.
The drought is sometimes very great and long-continued, and often brings the wealthiest squatter into great straits; but two good seasons usually set him up again. Recently, there was a grand banquet given by the squatters up country, and among the toasts was one, "The Banks;" and the proposer said he was sure every squatter present would heartily agree with him in saying, that under the existing depressing circumstances of the Colony, on account of the drought, it was the bounden duty of all squatters to stand by the Banks. "And we will," said they all; which was very kind considering that probably the assembled company owed the Banks a million of money!
An amusing story was told me by an old resident of the great and well-founded confidence in themselves and their country, possessed by the youth of Australia. In one of the cities a number of young men had established a Debating Society, which met every Wednesday evening in a room in a narrow street. On the other side of the street was a church where service was held at the same time. The weather being hot the windows of both buildings were usually open, and the important deliberations of the young men were much interrupted by the preaching and singing in the church. With a delightful unconsciousness of what in slang phrase is called "cheek," they instructed their secretary to write to the minister of the church, requesting him to hold his service upon some other evening of the week!
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 9
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 11