Page images

and supplying the early goldminers of New South Wales and Victoria with the necessaries of life.

But time permitted only a hasty view of these new discoveries. Our explorers had a long and weary row, up stream, before them. They were already on famine allowance, and even famine allowance would last them only on condition that they rowed up the stream in the same number of days in which they had rowed down. This they accomplished after great exertion and suffering, prolonging their journey into each night until they had reached their

former camping-ground. When relieved from Sydney, they had divided their last morsel of food, and, owing to privation and incessant toil at the oar, symptoms of insanity had already appeared among the men.

Wheat-lands and fresh waters had been the two wants of New South Wales. If they were not now brought to the very door, they were, at all events, near enough to relieve the colonists from serious apprehensions. Flocks and herds had increased with extraordinary rapidity, and all the available districts had already been taken possession of. Whether flocks and herds could be driven to the shores of the Southern Ocean was indeed questioned, for Captain Sturt reported portions of the banks of the Murray to be little better than a desert. But a new class of men, known as 'overlanders,' now appeared. The loud stockwhip of the overlander, and not seldom the sharp crack of his rifle, as some Murray tribe attempted to steal his cattle, now resounded through these dark woods. Many thousands of horned hoofs daily thundered over its bank, or plunged into its tide to cut off some tedious bend of the river. Down the Murray poured the overflowing flocks and herds of New South Wales, and spread themselves over the new pastures round Lake Alexandrina. * The fame of the new settlement reached Europe, and the English and the German emigrant were soon sowing their

* "The overlanders are, nearly all, men in the prime of youth, whose occupation it is to convey large herds of stock from market to market, and from colony to colony. The overlanders are generally descended from good families, have received a liberal education (Etonians and Oxonians are to be found among them), and, even at their first start in the colonies, were possessed of what is considered an independence. Among them is to be found a degree of polish and frankness rarely to be looked for in such a mode of life; and, in the distant desert, you unexpectedly stumble on a finished gentleman. The magnitude of the operations of the overlanders would scarcely be credited. A whole fortune is risked, and in the wilderness.' (Journals of Sir George Grey.)

wheat-fields and tending their vines on the shores of Spencer Gulf. In a few years more, the district was erected into an independent colony under the title of South Australia, and the foundations laid of the present City of Adelaide.

That the rich pastures of the present Colony of Victoria should all this time have escaped the notice of the colonists of New South Wales, is indeed matter for surprise. So early as 1824, two settlers, Messrs. Hume and Hovell, had crossed the Murrumbidgee, and penetrated to the shores of Port Phillip. Explorations undertaken by private settlers in search of new pastures were then kept as secret as possible. In general, the discoverer waited until he could get a sufficient flock to take possession of them himself. But it was whispered that a rich territory would yet be found to the south of the Murrumbidgee. Still, the opinion of the Surveyor-General was entitled to weight, and Mr. Oxley had assured his fellow-colonists that no rich territory could possibly exist to the south of the Murrumbidgee. It was reserved for another surveyor-general to lead the way to a colony, for its size and population certainly the richest and most flourishing under the British Crown. Major Mitchell had, succeeding Captain Sturt's trip down the Murray, conducted several expeditions to the northern and western portions of the colony of New South Wales, for the purpose of tracing the connexion between the river system of the colony and this new stream. In 1836, he placed beyond question the junction of the Murray and the Darling, a point which had been in considerable dispute; and then, crossing over to the left bank of the Murray, he struck into his Australia Felix, or Colony of Victoria, as we now know it. Nor did he proceed far before the great importance of the new district became apparent. Lying between Sydney and Adelaide, and within the bend of the Murray, it possessed the well-watered pastures and deep agricultural soil which the people of Sydney were only too glad to seek at the more distant mouth of the Murray. On his return to Sydney, the Colonial Government immediately made known the capabilities of their new province, and settlers from New South Wales, and from the neighbouring island of Van Diemen's land, poured, in a continued stream, into Port Phillip Bay, and spread their sheep over its broad plains. The government auctioneer came down from Sydney, and knocked down townbuilding allotments at unheard-of prices — such was the great promise of the new territory, and, within twelve months after the discovery of Sir Thomas Mitchell (who had received the honour of knighthood on receipt of the news in England), its new colonists were building the present City of Melbourne.

Thus were permanently occupied the three colonies of New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria — a group which fills the south-east angle of the continent. But we cannot proceed to the vast solitudes which yet lie behind this group without some notice of the great and long-continued services of a gentleman with whose name the history of these colonies must be ever associated. And we can here the more suitably enter into some explanation of the services which Count Strzelecki has rendered to the Australian colonists, inasmuch as he brings us to the very garden of the colony whose discovery and occupation we have just described. The Blue Mountains, whose dark abysses and sunless streams had so long shut in the settlers on Port Jackson, are but a portion of the immense chain which stretches from north to south of the continent, and which, from Cape York, the extreme northern point of Australia, to Wilson's Promontory, its extreme southern point, are known as the Australian Alps, the Snowy Mountains, the Warragong, the Liverpool Ranges, or, more generally, as the Great Dividing Range which separates the eastern seaboard from the interior. This immense chain, plunging into the Southern Ocean at Wilson's Promontory, and now and then rising to the surface of Bass Strait, at length emerges permanently from the ocean on Van Diemen's Land, and forms the chief feature of that island. Along this Great Dividing Range are displayed the chief geological and mineralogical elements which constitute the soils and subsoils of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land; while its several peaks, snow-clad summits, and immense richly-clothed tablelands exercise considerable influence over the climate, and over the drainage of the regions on either side of it. Immediately succeeding the explorations of Sir Thomas Mitchell, which we have just brought to a close, Count Strzelecki entered on an examination of these ranges, which extended over several years, and entailed an immense amount of labour and hardship. The various summits of the chain within the two colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land were named by him; their heights ascertained; their mountain streams traced; the geology and mineralogy, the terrestrial magnetism, the climate, the fossil and existing flora, the fossil and existing fauna, the state and prospects of agriculture, the physical, moral, and social condition of the aborigines investigated ; and the whole of this vast district brought within a geological map of great scientific value. All which may be found in the Count's

• Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen's · Land.'*

We have now to follow him into what we have not unfairly called the garden of Australia Felix. We have already seen that the Great Dividing Range runs from north to south of the East Coast, and buries itself in the Southern Ocean at Wilson's Promontory. Before, however, reaching Wilson's Promontory, it throws off a spur which traverses the whole of Australia Felix, or Victoria, from east to west, and on those slopes the rich goldfields of Bendigo, Ballarat, Mount Alexander, the Ovens, Omeo, McIvor, and several others now cluster. Coming down this spur from the Great Dividing Range, and on the slope of it opposite to that traversed by Sir Thomas Mitchell, Count Strzelecki found himself within a beautiful district, whose existence had not been even suspected. Enclosed between the sea and the snow-clad summits of this Alpine barrier, sheltered by it from the hot blast of the interior, and watered by numerous unfailing streams fed from its snows, a large districts, not many degrees from the tropics, possesses an almost English climate. Later tourists from Melbourne and Sydney are loud in their praises of the Arcadian beauty of Gipps' Land. Its lowlands are interspersed with some splendid lakes; while its rivers, navigable for sixty and eighty miles from their junction with the lakes, are the finest and most valuable within the Australian colonies. Flowers in endless variety, and of great beauty, form a widespread carpet. The tall fern-trees, with their gigantic leaves, droop into natural bell-shaped tents. A

* We cannot refrain from quoting the words of Sir George Gipps, with wbich he introduces the discoveries of Count Strzelecki within what was then the district of Port Philip. 'I cannot do so,' he writes, without making your lordship aware of the feelings of ' respect and esteem which have been incited towards him amongst “the people of this colony.' Similar tributes were also paid by the colonists of Van Diemen's Land, among whom we recognise the name of his brother in geographical discovery, Sir John Franklin, who was then Governor of the island. It is with surprise we notice that, up to the present, these tributes have been merely honorary, both on the part of the colonies and the Home Government. The researches of Count Strzelecki were conducted entirely at his own expense (thus differing entirely from all the explorations which come within the limits of our subject), and on them was expended by himself a very considerable sum. On the part of the Australian colonies, this is, we believe, a singular exception. We cannot call to mind any other Australian explorer with whom the colonists have not promptly shared the golden tide which has inundated them.

† The district of Gipps' Land contains about ten millions of acres. hundred deep pellucid streams display the crystal quartz, and sharp clean sand and gravel, which compose their beds. Everywhere the traveller comes upon opening glades, leading up to the ranges, and clothed with many varieties of flowering heaths and acacias. Nor is the soil less profitable than gay. All the productions of a temperate climate attain to absolute luxuriance here, and Gipps' Land, under a proper system of settlement, would in a few years become the granary of Australia.* From this garden, however, Count Strzelecki was obliged to make a hasty retreat, and found himself almost hopelessly entangled in the dense hedge which forms its north-west boundary. With provisions running short, and suffering from the fatigues of their previous labours, the Count and his men attempted to reach Melbourne by a short cut across the ranges. The skirts of these ranges are clothed with a dense and almost impenetrable scrub. They had to abandon their pack-horses and all the botanical and geological specimens collected on the way. For twenty-two days they literally cut their way through the scrub, seldom advancing more than two miles a day, and being in a state of complete starvation. Their clothes were torn piecemeal away, and their flesh, lacerated by the sharp lancetlike brambles of the scrub, was exposed to the keen air of these snow-crowned ranges. With difficulty Count Strzelecki and his men reached Melbourne, but the horses, with all his valuable collections, were never recovered. In his report of this expedition to Sir George Gipps, then Governor of New South Wales, we have the first official notice of the discovery of gold. It stands thus among an enumeration of the mineralogical specimens collected in the district, in the report, dated 1839, — the despatch of Sir George Gipps to the

Strange as it may appear, these solitudes have scarcely been interrupted since they echoed to the footsteps of Count Strzelecki and his men. Its exploration has been carried no further: some of its finest rivers have not yet been traced. The colonial land system threw it, at an early period, into the possession of some half-dozen flockowners; and the tide of settlement, turned from the very shore of Port Phillip Bay, spread to the north and west of Melbourne. Already, however, there are evidences of a change in this injurious system of land policy. Town and country allotments are now being sold within the Gipps' Land district; and Captain Cadell, who has successfully opened up the Murray, the Darling, and the Murrumbidgee to steam navigation, has proposed to the Colonial Government to introduce steam vessels also on the Gipps' Land lakes and rivers. Should these exertions be followed up, we may shortly expect to see Gipps' Land taking its proper place at the head of the agricultural districts of Victoria.

« PreviousContinue »