I have finished my journal to Sydney but as it may not be uninteresting to my friends who may see this I shall just give a few lines of my first steps in the Colony.
I first then enquired as to land, where to be got &c - when Mr Morris informed me that he had been to see a small farm about 6 miles from Sydney and he thought it might do for me. Accordingly on the next Tuesday I, with Mrs F., Emily and Mr Morris, went up to see it and we were all enchanted with it at first sight but upon examination I found a great part of the land was so very rocky as to be useless tho' the rest appeared excellent.
After a very pleasant day, we returned to Sydney and on the next day I consulted Capt. Livingstone, a Gentleman of great kindness and also of some experience, having been 16 years here. He said after going up with me that he thought I could find many places where I might do much better, altho' he had little doubt of my succeeding here. He told me of a mill up the Williams River where a great trade had been done, but the man did not understand it and consequently the place had got very much out of order; that it was for sale and he thought it might be bought a bargain.
Accordingly, not wishing to lose time, on Thursday evening I got into the "Tamar" Steam Packet and left Sydney 8 p.m. We continued our course till near the heads, when finding a fresh wind ahead and likely to increase, we came to anchor in Watsons Bay inside the heads till it might abate. Truly characteristic of the colony, we had a very violent night of thunder, lightning and rain, which subsided before morning. At about 4 a.m. we again got our anchor up and prepared to face the great swell the wind had left. We were till 2 p.m. before we reached Newcastle, a distance of about 70 miles by the sea, and by the time things were discharged here & we were ready again to go, it was 3 o'clock.
The entrance to Newcastle, which is just on the mouth of the Hunter, is very dangerous, a shoal of stones, sand etc. extends from the mainland to a sort of island or rock, and over this appears to be the true channel, but it goes round thro' a very narrow passage with shoal on one side and rocks on the other. At Newcastle, the water spreads out wide and is consequently shallow, and after leaving Newcastle about ½ an hour we stuck upon the flats which we could not get over and were obliged as the tide had about 2 hours to ebb, to wait till it should again rise high enough to float us over. I was much amused by the numbers of pelicans and cranes of immense size fishing in the river; I have never seen any in the shows half so large, the cranes I should say some were 4 ft. to the top of the back, standing.
At about 7 we got afloat and by dint of urging the steam to its uttermost power, we were dragged over and went on up the river. Upon deck were several horses, a cow etc. and these poor creatures had nothing to eat since they left Sydney: it is usual to arrive early in the morning at the Greenhills. I was so worn out by the excitement and bother that I went to bed and soon fell asleep and hoped to wake at the end of my journey, but at about 10 o'clock I went again upon deck and found that the mainshaft of the engine was broken and therefore it could not be used. We had now about 1 hour more flood tide in our favour and with the boat ahead towing, we contrived to get to a place about 15 miles from our destination called Raymond's Terrace.
Our lengthened passage had expended all our provision and the inn here had nothing to offer us. As the steamer must wait till the next from Sydney arrived to tow us up, I determined, together with Capt. Hindson (the brother of my fellow passenger) and two others, to go on in the boat, which was to be despatched with the mail bags. After a dreary pull for two hours, we arrived at Hinton, my destination, and walked off to the house of my friend, Mr. D.
Capt. Hindson lives in the farm adjoining, and therefore conducted me to the house thro' the bush in safety. We called at the side of a log hut (made by slabs put side by side, driven into the ground, and leaving openings thro' which you might put your arm easily) and were answered by a man who directed us to call at the next hut to Jacky. We did so and Jacky in his shirt came out and took me to the door of Mr. D's house. I soon gained admittance and a man, who had been sleeping on a bed laid upon the ground by the fire, soon made a good fire and I was ushered into the master's apartment. Here was a fire tho' 2 o'clock in the night, and in a corner near it was a stretcher for a bedstead. The overseer's wife got up and made me tea, which was very refreshing and afterwards I went to bed upon the stretcher and my friend lay down upon the floor wrapped in a blanket.
In the morning, we got our breakfast, ordered our horses and set off to see the mill in question. We called upon the surgeon who also accompanied us: he is a young man from Frome and tho' not known to me, he knows many with whom I am well acquainted. Our journey was thro' the bush about 16 miles, and I only wonder how anyone could find their way, for there is not the slightest track in some parts for a long way. We however arrived at Clarence Town in 4 hours and called upon a friend of Mr. D's; he was out, but we put our horses into a yard, fed them with cobs of maize and were just getting a crust of bread, the only thing left in the way comestible, when the mistress returned and we were soon made very comfortable.
I went to see the object of my visit and found it the most wretched I ever beheld, and yet for this the proprietor asks 900£. The house is a log hut and you may see into it from any part; the cracks left between the rough-hewn logs being wide enough to put your arm thro'. The mill had only one pair of stows and all the machinery so worn out as to require all new; and to crown all, the floods are so high as to completely cover the building.
I of course determined at once to think no more about it. We returned to Mr. Hillier's and sat down and by the time we had tea, it had grown so dark that I protested against going back that night, altho' the Doctor and Mr. D. wished to return. We stayed, and after breakfast in the morning, went back. This Clarence Town, built at the head of the navigation of the Williams River, consists of about ½ a dozen huts where it is quite impossible to buy anything either to eat or drink. We reached Hinton safely about noon and after dinner walked to see estates in the vicinity. The land is excellent, I cannot say as much for the houses: all are alike, miserable in the extreme to a new settler.
On Monday morning, I ran across to the river to meet the steamer which had left the place I ought to have been at, and succeeded in getting on board, almost too late. Going down the river, I saw upon the bank a tribe of natives, most of them in a state of perfect nudity, others women with an old blanket thrown over their shoulders. Some were fishing, others with their spears killing birds, at which they are very expert.
It seemed to be an unfortunate time I had chosen for this steamer; instead of reaching Sydney by 8 in the evening, did not on this occasion till 9 next morning. We had a very rough night and about 12 o'clock the Captain would have put back to Newcastle but for my advice.
I was for some time trying to get into a situation which for a time would provide me with an income till I might find something to my mind, but after repeated delays I gave it up and took the Figtree Farm which I first looked at: it consists of 110 acres, a house in the rough, and two cottages for the men, also unfinished. The garden, 6 acres in cultivation, is facing the north-east on a gentle declivity and extends down to the water, which is a cove running into Port Jackson.
The tide flows 5 miles above us, so we have plenty of sea fish, and the rocks are covered with oysters. This water is also very useful, affording me a cheap conveyance for whatever we have to send and, as there is no road without crossing the water, we always go to Sydney in a boat. I find it quite a luxury also to bathe in.
My intention is to supply the market with vegetables, for which the land is well adapted, and they are also very dear, as there is so little land near Sydney good enough, and those who have it do not take the trouble to cultivate it. Cabbages have been 1/- each since I have been here, peas are now 4/- a peck, strawberries 4/- a quart, and all things in proportion. I shall next year have near a ¼ an acre of strawberries, and by Xmas we shall have plenty of ripe grapes.
The garden had been laid out before I came and planted with all kinds of fruit trees: here are pears, apples, plums, apricots, peaches, quinces, lemons, oranges and all except the two latter are in full bearing. The vines are planted along the sides of the paths, and are laden with very fine fruit. I should say I shall have ½ a ton of grapes and if ripe early will sell at 2/- lb. The peaches too are heavily laden; they grow here, as indeed do all the fruit trees, like the apple in England, not against a wall, but standing by themselves, and most of them are very pretty shaped trees.
I have also a great quantity of wood on the land, which we cut and send to Sydney, and for which I get 5/- per ton; in the boat I have taken 5 tons at a time. Two men cut, and 1 in the boat takes 4 loads a week, and we get paid every Saturday; this keeps the pot boiling whilst the vegetables are growing.
I pay for this 40£ per annum and have a man given me into the bargain. I have taken it for three years with a condition that I can leave at the end of either year by giving 6 months' notice and also can purchase for 500£ at any time in that period if I should feel disposed so to do. I have endeavoured to sketch the house and cottages under the fig tree (from which the farm takes its name) and garden, but it looks a much prettier place than I have made it.
I have also sketched the wood boat and the little boat I sail in. She is a regular clipper, having won a prize at the Regatta at Sydney. She is only 13 ft. long and 5½ ft. beam, this enables her to carry so much sail. She has 5 cwt. of pig iron in her for ballast.
We are, except the wood men, very busy in the garden; all things are looking well. There had been, previous to my arrival, 3 months without rain and, for the next 2 after my arrival, it only rained one evening, a violent thunderstorm. Since, however, we have to be thankful for a succession of fine showers, causing everything to spring up and flourish.
The variableness of this climate is very great and sudden. I have seen the thermometer fall 5 degrees in 10 minutes in the shade, and one day I remarked that it was 60 in the morning, 110 at noon, and again to 60 in the evening, and yet we do not feel it as we do a change half as great in England. Altho' each day it is above 80°, yet we can always bear a fire in the evening, which will appear strange, no doubt. The thunder and lightning here is very awful and comes on so suddenly that it is difficult to avoid being caught.
The hot winds are another nuisance and I understand are very frequent in the summer. I have experienced several and found them all they had been represented, they blow from the N.W. and are supposed to be caused by passing over large forests on fire. They continue for hours and are succeeded by a S.E. wind which is altogether as cold and both are violent, almost hurricanes. During the hot winds, people shut up all the doors and windows, the air then feels like being in a glasshouse before the mouth of the oven. The thermometer frequently stands 120° while it lasts. The wood or as they are called "bushfires" look fearful, especially when they come near to houses. I have seen acres all in a blaze at a time, and as the wind carries it, it spreads over miles of country, the greater part of which is covered with wood. In walking thro' the bush, the first thing that struck me was that the barks of nearly all the large trees are charred and look black and here and there a large tree upon the ground evidently having fallen by being burnt off at the bottom. There is the stump of one in the garden 10 ft. in diameter. Most of the large trees are rotten at heart and consequently fit for nothing but fire, for which they are used. Cedar grows very fine and sound in different parts, but we have none here; it is used as generally as deal at home, as it works easily and furniture made of it, few would distinguish from the best mahogany.
The seasons here are the opposite of those in England, it being midsummer here at Xmas. Indeed, in most things as regards climate, it is the opposite, for the sun is north at noon; the north is the hot and the south the cold wind; the east the most healthy and the west the reverse; the barometer is said to rise before bad and fall before fine weather. To these diversities may be added the swans are black, the eagles white, the cod fish is found in rivers and perch in the sea, the valleys are cold and mountain tops warm, the trees shed their bark annually instead of their leaves.
I have read that the native flowers are without scent, which I can contradict, as my farm abounds with some very beautiful ones, especially the lily (Doryanthis excelsa) bearing a most splendid crimson flower. We have others, also very sweet and fine. The birds are said to be without song, which is not true, for here is one which sings like our thrush in spring and many that make a chirping noise, but I must admit the squawk and clatter of the parrots predominates, which resembles the talk of those educated.
Insects are numerous of all kinds, ants are immense: I have seen a mound 4 ft. high and 5 or 6 ft. diameter at the base, the insects being full an inch long. Spiders are very large, also they look like crabs: I have seen them 2 inches. Locusts, a large caterpillar, or like the May beetle, but as large as half a dozen, makes a noise in the bush (in the hot sunshine) so loud that you can scarce hear anything else. It is not unlike the buzz of the hurdy gurdy the Italian boys carry about the streets at home, but louder by having thousands playing round you; they, however, do no injury. Grasshoppers I have seen 3 inches long. Mosquitoes and fleas as well as bugs and flies are the pest of the colony: we have plenty of the two former, but are not annoyed with the two latter, and the mosquitoes have not bitten us as they have many of my acquaintances in Sydney, which is the more astonishing as they abound near water and trees.
Reptiles are in some parts very numerous, we have a lizard about 6 inches in numbers running about the garden, but are quite harmless, looking like a stick. Snakes are not often seen near us, tho' the man saw one in the stable behind the house, about 8 ft. long, which has not been seen since by any of us.
Fish are numerous in the water below our garden. I have seen porpoises up here several times, playing and gambolling. I also saw some black fish (a kind of whale) one day going to Sydney in the boat, and the sperm whale is often taken just out of Sydney heads. The flavour of all the fish I have eaten is very indifferent.
The meat here is very good and, considering the drought, cheap. I pay for mutton and beef 4½d., pork 8d., veal 7d., and English bacon 1/- lb. Cheese and butter has been very dear, English salt butter of 1837 selling here at 4/6d. lb. retail and fresh butter 5/-, English cheese 2/- and colonial 1/-, which is little better than Dutch, being very hard, dry and insipid.
I may here suggest to anyone coming out that provisions are always a certain profitable article to speculate in, as butter, cheese, bacon, spirits, porter etc. And to those intending to go to farming, bring agricultural implements, as a plough for which you would pay 2£ 10 in England would cost 10£ here. Also bring several pairs of wheels to make drays with; they ask for a pair of clumsy colonial-made ones 6£. And all articles of furniture, if near London, had better be brought, as the freight here would be much less than the difference in the value. Crockery ware is very dear here; they sell blue dinner plates 10/- dozen and other things in a like proportion.