MRS. MEREDITH'S HOME IN TASMANIA.* AFTER an experience of a settler's life in New South Wales, Mrs. Meredith and her husband departed for Van Diemen's Land, where Mr. Meredith's father had a large property : these volumes are a species of domestic autobiography for nine years, with observa- tions on natural phmnomena, vegetable and animal life, and sketches of Colonial classes rather than society,. The writer's first experience was as a resident at her father-in-law's, in the vicinity of Swan Port ; her second, as the mistress of a new settlement at a small distance from Cambria, the family place, which she saw transformed from the wilderness to the productive and ornamental farm, in spite of Tasmanian floods ; her third was as the wffe of a police magistrate of a North-eastern district,—a post which Mr. Meredith was induced to accept in consequence of the depreciation in the price of produce and the convulsion in the money-market; the fourth act opens with a return to their old home, dilapidated bj- neglect; and there the volumes close.
b-Daily life from a feminine point of view is the characteristic of the work. This sometimes runs into minute description or a re- petition of subject, but more frequently charms the reader from the actuality which it presents, though perhaps tinted too strongly with rose-colour. The roads of Tasmania, and the adventures of the travellers over them—the charming landscapes in the vicinity of Cambria, with their beautiful birds and, varied vegetation— the still more charming ocean, or rather ocean-shore, in the vi- cinity—with the pleasant excursions or picnics—are painted with rainbow tints, except the roads. The novelty of a new settle- ment, with the attractions and disagreeables that must be en- countered—hope, fruition, snakes, floods, domestic annoyances, with popular sketches of natural history—are pleasantly and truthfully handled. Then the neighbourhood, especially of the police magistrate, comes in for a share of delineation, besides some censure of the Colonial Government, and a defence of Tasmania ; for be it known, that the morality of the distant Van Diemen has been much calumniated, as well as its security touching life and property. The island is a veritable "school of reform," and many reformed " people " were continually turned out, till the scheme of probation and the abolition of the ticket-of-leave system. Upon one point of this disputed subject of transportation Mrs. Meredith's complaints are doubtless just enough—the mismanage- ment of convict labour. With the number of "hands" at the command of the Colonial authorities for sixty years past, both New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land might have had public works—roads, bridges, artificial lakes formed by dams for purposes of irrigation—such as might have rivalled Eastern or old Roman magnificence. The total cost of our transportation system, and the actual cost for the convicts alone after their arrival in Aus- tralia, with the per contra or work they have really performed, would be a curious subject of statistical exposition. Even what work was done is, according to Mrs. Meredith, often sheer waste, owing to the personal antipathies of the officials. The following account is a cogent reason for giving colonists more power over their own affairs.
"In the district around Hobarton, and on the direct route to Launceston, the roads are reasonably good; and when the probation system rendered the services of so many thousands of convicts available to the local Government for the execution of works of public utility, it was generally hoped that in time our colonial highways would be considerably mended : but such expect- ation has been signally disappointed. Gangs of many hundreds of men have been located about the island in various places, but, as it would appear, with the most careful determination on the part of their directors that their labour should not be beneficial to the colonists. Roads were begun, it is true, but generally in such directions as were rarely traversed ; and if one over a more frequented part of the country was commenced and carried on successfully for some time, the gangs were almost invariably removed from it when a little further labour would have rendered it essentially serviceable to the neighbourhood. I know positively of more than one instance where a road between two districts was in the course of formation, which, had it been carried through, would have greatly enhanced the value of certain large pro- perties; but because the owners of these were obnoxious, upon political ground; to the officer then in charge of the convicts, the work was stopped when within a short distance of the proposed terminus, (a portion of the road was left unfinished and wholly impassable,) the prisoners' barracks were dis- mantled and allowed to go to ruin, and the gang removed to a distance, most probably to be kept in idleness ; for, as the officer had uncontrolled power, and rather a lengthy list of private feuds, it became extremely difficult to plan a road, in any quarter, which should not either directly or indirectly benefit some of the objects of his undying and vindictive dislike : and hence the very small amount of good effected by a very large amount of power; hence the number of unfinished, almost useless roads and expensive stations and barracks, built at the cost of the Home Government, and left to go to ruin, all over the island; and hence the unpopularity and ultimate failure of the probation system.
Servants are an important feature in Tasmanian life, and Mrs. Meredith's particular sketches scarcely bear out her general pane-
• Prisoner women-servants are generally of a far lower grade than the
men, and at the time of which I now write Mrs. Bowden had not begun her admirable reformatory work among them. My first prisoner nurse-girl was taken at random by our agent in Hobarton, from among the herd of incor- rigibles in the female house of correction, or Factory,' as it is termed ; and was indeed a notable example : dirty beyond all imagining, she drank rum, smoked tobacco, swore awfully, and was in all respects the lowest specimen of womankind I ever had the sorrow to behold. Before I had time to pro- cure another she drank herself into violent fits, so that four men could not hold her from knocking herself against the walls and floor, then went to the hospital, and finally got married!
• My Horne in Tasmania during a Residence of Nine Years. By Mrs. Charles Meredith. In two volumes. Published by Murray.
"Various fortune attended me after this memorable beginning ; but I never had such signal ill-luck again, and we have usually kept our female servants longer than most other families; and when they have left us mar- riage has been the usual cause. One, a Highland girl, I in my too charitable innocence believed to be really good, virtuous, and honest, and truly repent- ant of her former misdeeds : she was a kind nurse to our little boy,. and a cheerful obliging servant; she remained with us six months, professing the most devoted gratitude for our kindness to her; when, during an illness which confined me to my bed, she took from beneath my pillow the key of the store, and, with the assistance of the groom, drank and otherwise dis- posed of some six or eight dozens of wine and spirits. The effects of such extensive libations being soon evident, the worthy pair were dismissed ; the maid being sentenced to six months' bard labour at the wash-tubs' in the Factory, and the man to a 'chain-gang' on the roads for two years. My housemaid was at the time in the cells,' suffering fourteen days' solitary imprisonment, (or, as they term it, 'doing solitary,') for striking her fel- low-servant the nurse. She returned afterwards much improved' and re- mained with us until she married. The successor of my hopeful Highland protegee was a short, clever, brisk, good-tempered Yorkshire woman, who staid with us a year and a hltlf, and then married comfortably. With such chances and changes progressed my new household ; but I have never since detected any act of dishonesty in one of our servants, though all have been prisoners. The offices of 'cook' and 'kitchen-maid' are here generally filled by men, as cutting wood and carrying water were considered to be toe laborious for women."
The more English climate of Tasmania, with its snow on the lofty mountain-range, its occasional mists, its heavy rains, and its hawthorn hedges formed a delightful contrast to the drought and dust of New South Wales, although magnificent ferns and ge- raniuni bowers were still a sufficient contrast to England. There were further contrasts of a less agreeable kind, which rather peep out. We say nothing of floods, after our own autumnal visitation, for trees swept away, impassable fords and endangered lives, may be as exceptional there as the late disasters in this country : but there are mosquitoes in certain places, as well as insects and rep- tiles. Such neighbours as these one could hardly get accustomed to, though it is said to be done.
"One day as I sat at home sewing, with my eldest child playing about on the floor, our favourite cat jumped in through an open window, and began pawing and tossing something under a chair. Little George immediately went towards her, and seemed highly diverted, crawling nearer and nearer, and trying with his baby-talk to attract my attention to his playfellow: looking down, I saw what I supposed to be a lizard ; and being vexed with the cat for hurting the harmless little thing, drove her away, when' to my horror, there lay a snake, writhing and curling most actively : so, holding the child and the eat both away, I ordered the unwelcome guest to be very summarily despatched. "So many. 'narrow escapes' from snakes are related here, that the com- parative rarity of serious accidents is perhaps the most remarkable. Whilst at Cambria, my nurse-maid, a free girl from London, who had never seen a snake, was one day crossing the court-yard with the child in her arms, when she saw what she fancied was a large eel gliding along; and, calling to the cook that one of his fish had got away, was on the point of seizing it in her hand, when the man screamed out to her that it was a snake - and so indeed it was, a very large one.
• • • •
"The extreme coolness with which some persons will attack snakes is to me perfectly terrible. One of our men-servants had a peculiar talent in this way ; and would, after peeping into a snake's hole, thrust in his bare hand and arm, deliberately draw out the deadly inmate by the tail, and holding it up for a few seconds, swing it round, and dash its head to pieces against a tree or log, with as much sang froid as any one else would crack a whip !
"it is said that when a snake is held up by the tail, and gently swung round and round, it cannot turn up its head so far as to bite the hand. I can hardly imagine any one trying the experiment."
It would appear that the snake, in paroxysms of blind fury, sometimes attacks itself.
"The length of the venomous fangs in the head of a snake which Mr. Meredith destroyed a few days since was about the sixth of an inch. We were walking over a wooded rocky point above the sea-beach : I had lingered a moment behind, gathering flowers, and was hastening on again, when a very large diamond snake darted almost from beneath my feet ; when struck with a stick, and severely hurt, it turned fiercely upon us, with its hideous head flattened out, and its throat distended, looking as nothing but a snake can look ; unable to reach us, it seized its own body in its teeth, and held it tenaciously for some seconds ; then suddenly loosing, fastened on another part, and bit again in a most savage and determined manner."
The volumes are illustrated with capital wood-cuts, after sketches by the writer's friend the Bishop of Tasmania. The scenes look beautiful; but, as some one has observed, the things which are beautiful in art are sometimes unpleasant in nature—as a mountain-road, or a malaria district.