30 JUNE 1855, Page 25


HOWITT'S TWO YEARS IN VICTORIA.' ALTHOUGH disfigured by blemishes of temper and by errors in Colonial political economy, as well as encumbered by too frequent repetitions of substantially the same descriptions Two Years

Victoria is about the best book on the colony that in has appeared. William Howitt's examination of the Diggings is more thorough than that of his predecessors ; his observations upon them are broader and more penetrating; his account of the prospects they offer to the gold-seeker is fuller and more informing, and reaches a distincter if not a different conclusion. The pictures of the book are as attractive as its information is useful. The descrip- tion of Melbourne on the author's first arrival, with its mixture of dirt, squalidness, extortion, social disorganization, and enormous wealth or at least enormous prices, and his comparison of the same city, with its improved roads and its rising mansions, on his departure two years afterwards, form the completest picture of that extraordinary place we have seen. The feature of the de- scriptive parts of the book is the country pictures ; whether it be the pleasant places of the refined and wealthy colonists—sadly running to seed, however, for want of labour—the wilder scenery of the bush, the mountain regions, or the strange spectacle of the Diggings. In these sketches of rural life William's himself again. They exhibit the freshness of feeling, the genial love of Nature, and the power of picturesquely delineating her, which character- ized the earlier works of the author, without those somewhat operose attempts that occasionally imparted a heavy air to some of his descriptive pictures. Mr. Hewitt went out as a gold-seeker himself, with two of his sons ; and, either from literary judgment or impelled by the " auri sacra fames," adopted a very good plan for seeing the country and the Diggings. He arrived at Melbourne in the autumn of 1852 when the grand rush of the civilized world was directed toward the gold-fields, whose riches fame had magnified to fable' and all rule was at end, even on shipboard in the harbours of the Southern El Dorado. Mr. Hewitt and his sons joined some respectable persons going to the Ovens Diggings; but the starting was more readily projected than accomplished.. Such was the demand for labour, horses, waggons, and indeed everything which fell under the head of necessaries for conveyance, that Mr. l'Mfowitt did not get his stores on shore for a month, and could only start at all by great exertions. Meanwhile he occupied his enforced delay in looking about him, and made several excursions in the neighbourhood of Melbourne. If Mr. Hewitt gives a summary of his digging suc- cesses, we have overlooked it. His first attempts were not much to boast of; competition being as intense at the Ovens as in the heart of London. The known diggings, in fact, are everywhere crowded; and it is very difficult to keep a new place long unknown. The intending " prospector " is quickly detected by some of the numerous eyes ever on the watch, and his steps are dogged with as keen a pertinacity as by a Red Indian on a trail or Forrester after a criminal whom it is made "worth while" to capture. The experienced saunter off in a direction exactly contrary to that in which they really intend to explore ; but mostly in vain. Men as sly as themselves pursue them through their donblings, and are with difficulty thrown off the chase. Even if a man succeeds in discovering a rich and untouched spot without being tracked, he can- not keep it long to himself. There are so many diggers disappointed in their expectations, or with their present gains, if they are old hands, compared with their former successes when competi- tion was less than it is now, that numbers of experienced men are continually "prospecting." As the leading features of the gold regions are obvious, and places of promise distinguish- able- by a practised eye, the first discoverer is liable at any time to find an arrival at his side without tracking on the part of the new corner. Our adventurer himself was subjected to this mortification. Tired of the Diggings he had gone exploring, and discovered a creek, a scene of wild Diggings, beauty, and what was more to the purpose, with plenty of gold. His party were soon found oat; the rural beauty of the creek was destroyed, and the free range of digging checked ; for there is a certain rule, something between an authoritative regulation and the law of such sports as angling, by which a man has a right to a certain extent of soil so long as he occupies it, but" free trade "scouts the idea of any party monopolizing the whole of a place although he may have discovered it. Encroachments and a quarrel drove Mr. Hewitt from his own creek : the same causes or a liberal curiosity, took him in succes- sion to all or nearly all the diggings, with an intermediate visit to Melbourne ; so that he may be said to have traversed nearly the whole of the colony. He thus saw it in all its aspects both of Land, Labour, and Gold ; or Two Years in Victoria: with Visits to Sydney and Nan Dienien's Land, By William flowitt. In two volumes. Published by ideng- iusu mu Co, nature and society, if society it can be called—life at Melbourne, among the settlers, on the road, and at the Diggings. He saw it likewise at a most exciting time, between the autumn of 1852 and of 1854, when Victoria went through more social and economical changes than some jogtrot nations during their whole history. With his descriptions of nature, life, and his own adventures, Mr. Hewitt continually mixes comments on a variety of matters, but chiefly of two kinds—the conduct of the Government, and the system of land-sales. His vehicle gets stuck in a bog, and with difficulty pulls through ; he is fleeced at a private ferry. Forth- with he pours out a denunciation against the Government for not making roads and building bridges, and so on. That the rulers of Victoria were not equal to the difficulties of the situation, may be time; that as much was not done as could have been done by men of energy and practical determination, though not possessing the original genius of great statesmen, (which was the quality neces- sary,) is very likely. Mr. Howitt, smarting under the immediate inconvenience and even suffering, makes no allowance for the great difficulty of procuring labour, at least bard-working mus- cular labour, under the want of which he and every one was suffer- ing. Neither 'does he seem to have sufficiently allowed for the enormous and sudden increase of population. In point of material conveniences, comforts, and supplies of every kind, England is perhaps the best off of any country in the world ; but if the popu- lation were increased per saltum fourfold or fivefold, no govern- ment could prevent extreme pressure. Roads were made, or begun, at a later period, as Mr. Howitt notices. The form of letters, in which the book is written, has the advantage of giving the writer's feelings fresh at the time of writing, as well as of noting successive changes in the extraordinary place he was in. Letters, however, have the disadvantage of allowing first and im- perfect impressions to remain with the angry feeling at the moment, and likewise to induce repetitions. The questions of squatting and the plan of land-sales are con- tinually discussed; a large portion of present and prospective evils, which act and will act as drags on the prosperity of the colony, being attributed to the grudging spirit in which Government brings land into the market, and the method of selling land by auction. This Mr. Hewitt calls the Wakefield system, and bitterly denounces. In reality the Wakefield system was the very opposite of both these modes. On that system properly carried out, land should always be attainable by a purchaser. Sale by auction is quite contrary to the Wakefield principle, which is one uniform price, to be fixed according to the circumstances of the particular colony. What those circumstances are, is a practiced question, to be determined by the authorities on the spot; but a leading rule of the system is that the price should be high enough to prevent the undue dispersion of settlers, not so high as to offer any impedi- ment to settlement. It is another principle, that the money paid for the land should be applied to the free passage of young mar- ried labourers, so as to keep up a due proportion between capital and labour. The purchasers of the land, in fact, have their pur- chase-money restored to them in the form of immigrants. Except in one or two isolated cases, " the Wakefield system" has never been attempted, and never been carried out anywhere. The Ameri- oanj mode, with its uniform price of one dollar per acre, which Mr. Hewitt highly eulogizes, is the nearest approach to the Wake- field system. The difference is in not applying the money to the introduction of labour, which in a country like America is not a requisite. The American system does not, however, prevent mo- nopolizing speculation and that of a very fraudulent character : but in an advanced colony, speculation cannot be altogether pre- vented, especially when circumstances favour it. The following extract will show how little Mr. Hewitt is qualified to deal.with the complicated questions of political economy, still further com- plicated by unexampled circumstances. The passage farther con- tains a sketch of nature, a picture of the useful and nothing but the useful,. and some striking facts about price.

"Just over the hill beyond the town, [of Melbourne,] there meets you an extraordinary spectacle. It is that of an immense suburb, stretching paral- lel with the town from the high land to the North down into the vale of the Yarra, some two Liles in extent. Standing on the hill, near the Bishop's palace, a new and heavy-looking erection of trapstone' the vale of Yarra lies at your feet. The opposite banks of the river, at half a mile distance or more, are somewhat elevated, and well wooded; and over the woods show themselves, at a distance of twenty miles, the blue ranges of the Dandenong hills, the last spurs of the Snowy Mountain chain in this direction. But the scene which arrests your attention, lies in the valley at your feet. It is that of an enormous extent of ground covered all over with thousands of little tenements, chiefly of wood, and almost every one of them of only one story high. These extend-as far as the eye can command the vale ; the upper portion being culled Collingwood, and the lower Richmond. These suburbs contain a population equal to that of Melbourne itself; and they have sprung up from the vast influx of population, chiefly since the gold dis- covery, and from the prohibition by the Town-Council of the further erection of wooden buildings in the city. "This is one of the first things whieh haa impressed me with the reality of the rapidly running torrent of immigration. Here is a new settlement in all its newness. The houses are some of them complete, others are just erecting. A balder and more unattractive scene cannot meet the eye of man. Every single tree has been levelled to the ground; it is one hard bare expanse, bare of all Nature's attractions, a wilderness of wooden huts of Lilliputian dimensions ; and everywhere around and amongst them, timber and rubbish, delightfully interspersed with pigs, geese, hens, goats, and dogs innumerable. The streets, so called, which all run in the true gridiron or rather hurdle style, are not roads but quagmires, through which bullock- drays drag fresh materials, with enormous labour ploughing the muddy soil up to their very axles. There is not the trace even of the idea of a garden amongst the whole of them. These diminutive tenements are set down on the open field, as if they were the abodes of a race of squatters, but they are all built on purchased allotments. "But why so small? why no gardens ? Simply because the ground is so preposterously dear. Here you have immediately a proof of that ingenuity by which men contrive to defeat the intentions of Providence. Providence has given vast new lands, on which the overflowing population may set- tie; but selfish and purblind governments immediately lay hold on that which was meant to be a free gift of God, and dole it out in such mo- dicums that the pressing necessities of arriving immigrants compel them to bid up at auction against each other, till the land of these new countries, lying with millions of miles of unoccupied soil, becomes far dearer than the dearest of that which they have left. "It is amazing to what a price this peddling and wicked system has forced up land round Melbourne. We think 10001. or 20001. per acre near London high, but here it fetches from 4000/. to 6000/.! Houses are fre- quently pointed out to me in the outskirts as having recently been sold, with a garden, for 10,0001. or 12,0001., which in the finest suburbs of Lon- don would not fetch above 20001. Little houses in the town, which in Lon- don, in good streets, would let for 401. a year, here let for 400/. My brother

has built two good houses near his own, which would not let in London for more than 70/. a year each, or 1501, together; he lets the two for 1200/. And there is a single house near, worth in London or its environs perhaps 120/. a year, for which the modest sum of 2000/. a year is asked !—a sum that would purchase it at home."

With the price of land already disposed of, and houses actually erected, the Government could have nothing to do ; and if they had given away land to the first person who asked for it, the only result would have been to have put the price into that man's pocket. Here and there a person like Mr. Howitt might perhaps have built himself a cottage ornee and planned a garden under the new prices. The mass of mankind, certainly the mass of persons whom Mr. Howitt describes as then in Victoria, would have lotted out the land into the most money-making lots, and put it up to auction. It was not the demand for mere land that was the main element of price, but site—the proximity to the port and the city; the same principle which makes land in London city worth so many thousands per acre, and of comparatively little worth on "the Surrey side." It was the scarcity and enormous dearness of labour and materials that generally made the settlers build so badly, as well as their own lack of funds. These remarks are not in defence of the Government. Possibly they acted foolishly enough; but the case required, as we have already said, a genius who would not only have suspended the laws of political economy, but established a despotism if he could have found the working tools.

Enough of towns. Let us go with Mr. Hewitt to the Diggings, and accompany him on his " prospftting " adventures. The whole is a long narrative, but we will take part of the personal doings ; beginning with what the ancient military writers would have called a stratagem.

"When we had advanced a few miles, perceiving no one in any direction during this whole time, we took the opportunity at a hard, dry, stony place, suddenly to cut away from that track, and to point our course in the direc- tion of our new goal. After proceeding for several miles, we flattered our- selves that we had perfectly succeeded in giving the slip to every one, and that our track would not be likely to be noticed, as, from the hardness of the ground where we left the other, it ceased there to be at all visible. * • • "As we gazed on this valley, it looked wild and lonely enough. The stream was hidden in the bottom of a considerable valley, amid a dense green shroud of wattle and tea-tree, and bordered outside these with great swamps and jungles. We looked up and down : it was all the same, pro- foundly still and sombrely gloomy.. We had not seen hitherto a single hut, nor a single head of sheep or cattle. The natives had abandoned these parts; and the White man has scarcely, even in the shape of a solitary squatter, taken possession of them : but there is gold here, and the rushing tide of

men in pursuit of it is not fur behind. • • * "Morning came and cured all our ills. It was fine, and we were soon up, not a whit the worse for our previous day's drenching. We were camped on a pleasant knoll above the valley, under some huge trees. We had soon a roaring fire kindled at the foot of one of them ; the kettle boiling, and steaks frying. We spread out our wet clothes in the sun to dry ; and so warm was it now, that by the time we had breakfasted, they were ready to pack.

"Again we proceeded on our way ; the journey being only a repetition of yesterday, labouring on amid scrub and fallen timber, sometimes involved in such labyrinths of it as brought us to our wits' end. We followed the course of the stream upwards, and as near to it as we could for the swamps. We had no doubt that there was gold in the creek here ; but the swamps and the volume of water presented difficulties which would be lessened higher up. We crossed a brook coming from the right hand, and falling into this, since well known as the Nine-mile Creek, and abounding in gold, but at this moment all intact in its native wildness, without a digger upon it. We were bound for a spot higher up, at the juncture of another small creek flowing from the left, where the ground was more elevated and the creek less swampy and scrubby. About noon we reached it, and were no little surprised and chagrined to find two diggers already encamped upon it. They had traced our scouts, beheld the marks where they had dug in pro- specting, made themselves certain of the presence of gold, and, having no- thing to carry but their light tent-sheets and a few tools, were there be- fore us!"

Well may Mr. Howitt exclaim, "Europe has nothing to compare for a desperate struggle of competition with that which the Dig- gings of Victoria present ! " Even at the outset, the great nug- gets, and other wondrous gains of which the world heard so much, were the exceptions—the large prizes in a lottery where there were many small prizes and no mean number of blanks. At pre- sent only small prizes seem to be drawn; while many of the diggers hardly earn colonial wages ; that is, their nominal gains may look

high, but the expense of living is so great that the money is ex- hausted in the labourer's support. The unlucky or the man un- fitted for hard work cannot make a living. The delicate, or the strong man stricken, often die and are buried without record.

"Human life in this chaos of strangers of all nations, rushing frantically from every quarter of the earth to enrich themselves, is, as may be supposed, held wonderfully cheap. Who is likely to care for any one but himself? The number of unrecorded dead, who are found and put into a lusty grave, without anything frequently being known about them, is something fright- ful.

"There have been instances of people entering a tent, and finding a soli- tary man in the last stage of illness, without a friend or any means of help, where he has lain for days or perhaps weeks, amid a busy multitude, all eager in the quest of gold, neither able to raise hand nor foot, nor cry for help, though there were people all round him. Others have been found dead in such a situation with every sign of destitution about them, and not the slightest clue to whom they were or whence they came. "Out of hundreds of thousands of adventurers, English and foreign, how many have friends who would give almost their own lives to learn news of them! But they never will ; for they either lie in those nameless graves, or in these sixty and eighty feet deep shafts, now deserted and their sides fallen in, burying their victims under many tons of clay."

And what will be the end of this terrible yellow fever, and of the fortune-making hopes of Melbourne and its extortioners P Mr. Howitt anticipates a smash. He saw indications of it when he was leaving the country. Prices were lower; dealers were getting civil ; competition as regards goods and the sale of them was be- ginning ; and then, says Mr. Howitt, "how with a fall of profits are rents far beyond the highest rents of London to be paid" Since his departure, everything he has heard is pointing in the same direction. It will be lucky if the break-down is confined to the colony, and does not reach the consigners here.

"The city is crowded with goods of all kinds to repletion ; the warehouses are choked with them ; the shelves of the shops are groaning, and you may see piles of goods, bales and packages, standing in the hack streets, before warehouses which are unable to take in more, and are there merely protected by a tarpaulin, and sometimes not even by that. I have seen loads and loads of such goods lately standing nearly a foot deep in mud, and exposed awfully to the weather, while the owners at home have perhaps fondly ima- gined them sold, or at least well housed. These goods, the product of 17,000,000l. of importation in one year, must be sold. • * • * •

"One of the first persons whom I encountered in England assured me that he had 46,000/. worth of property in the hands of agents in Melbourne, and the news which he received the same day was of the failure of these agents. Even the Argus, one of the most encouraging advocates of the soundness of mercantile affairs in this city, gives a list of no fewer than 295 persons sum- moned before the Court of Requests."

After quitting Victoria, Mr. Hewitt visited New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. His account of both is favourable, and, notwithstanding the number of books about them, fresh. He found them very English in appearance ; and evidently relished their quiet and established order, contrasting so strongly with the feverish struggles and perpetual "chiseling "—a cant word for gross extortion or imposition—of the colony he had left. With the substantial buildings, the splendid shops, and the large and attractive public parks or gardens of Sydney, he was more espe- cially taken.