THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
BROCKLEBANK’S TENT. A TALE OF UNFOUNDED ACCUSATION. “ Why don’t you go up, young man V ! says Mr. Mills one morning, as we stood cleaning our boots in the yard. (The landlord kindly provided brushes and blacking.) “ Because I’m waiting to hear where my friends are.” “Pooh, sir; never wait for friends in this country. Every day in town is a day lost. Every day there is so much gold subtracted from the soil, and every day, consequently, there is so much less left for new-comers. Why not go up next Thursday in company with Baldwin and Fry 1 They are going to walk up to Bendigo, where your friends are. ” I ventured to point out to Mr. Mills that I knew scarcely anything of Messrs. Baldwin and Fry. “No more do I,” he retorted. _ “Nobody knows anybody in this delightful country. Baldwin doesn’t know Fry, Fry doesn’t know Baldwin. I know neither of ’em, except as members of the Duke cf York Harmonic Society. I have heard Baldwin say that he was first counterman to a grocer in the Kingsland Road —on that topic I have no certain information ; but I do know tlrot he sings a good song. He throws a pathos into that popular ditty—- “ ‘ I had a dream, a happy dream,
I dreamt that I was free,’ which is worthy of a more refined atmosphere than that which usually exists in the parlor of the Duke of York. As for Fry, he is a Dickey Sam, as his tongue will inform you—father reported to be one of the first horse-dealers in Liverpool. Though reserved, and almost sullen in private life, Fry comes out well in a chorus. I allude especially to ‘ Landlord fill the flowing bowl,’ and ‘ A hunting we will go.’ Mr. Parker,” said this antipodean patriarch of thirty, as he laid a friendly blacking-brush on my shoulder, “ I recommend you to go up with Baldwin and Fry.” I think Mr. Mills was a good fellow, but too apt to judge human nature from the harmonic point of view. I shall not detail the history of that journey to Bendigo, whch occupied nearly a week, and which was full of adventures much pleasanter to talk about afterwards than to endure at the time. It is enough for me to state that Messrs. Baldwin and Fry soon began to quarrel with each other, and before the end of the journey was reached displayed towards each other sentiments of the most deadly hostility. I managed to keep on very good terr is with both, still it was scarcely pleasant to sit down to breakfast with two men who never opened their mouths except to snarl, and on one occasion proceeded to the extremity of hurling pannikins at each other’s heads. The hardships of hush-travelling lay bare weaknesses which a lengthened course of reunions might never discover. Upon the whole, I liked Baldwin better than Fry. To me he was exceedingly civil, whereas Fry was morose to both of us. As soon as we arrived on the outskirts of the famous Bendigo gold-fields, Mr. Baldwin announced his intention of parting from us, as he had friends in a gully hard by. He took me aside, and said that I (with an emphasis on the pronoun) had always respected his feelings and treated him like a gentleman, which it could he plainly seen I was myself, in spite of my blue serge shirt. Alone we should have been as cosey as could be together, away from that surly brute of a Liverpool horse-corser ; and could 1 oblige him with the temporary loan of thirty shillings ? he had miscalculated the expenses of the road, and his funds were in the Union Bank at Melbourne. I was such a confiding youth in those days that I lent Mr. Baldwin the money without a qualm. He copied an address, which I gave him, very* carefully in his pocketbook ; but though fifteen years have since elapsed I have never heard from him. Perhaps the perusal of this narrative may recall the circumstance to his memory. As for Fry, he was morose, horribly morose, but, I really believe thoroughly honest. After the parting with Baldwin, which he characterised as a good riddance of bad rubbish, we traversed numerous gullies and ranges in search of a man whom Fry knew. I may here observe that the aspect of the diggings was verydifferent to what I had expected. Except in the neighborhood of the Government Camp, where the storekeepers’ tents, with their gay flags, presented the aspect of a country fair, there was none of the crowd and bustle which I had anticipated. The whole area of the gold-field was as large, perhaps as the area of London, and the auriferous valleys or hollows, which lay paralell like streets, were separated by wide undulating tracts of forest country. At length, just as it grew dark, we reached Iron Bark Gully, wearied and hungry. It was here that Fry’s friend lived, and, after numerous enquiries at all the digger’s tents we passed, we learnt that Brocklebank kept the Royal Liver Store, near the head of the gully. It was almost dark, and I tumbled down several times among the tree-stumps from sheer fatigue and weariness, when we reached Brocklebank’s establishment. It consisted of a large tent with boarded sides, and was quite a mammoth edifice compared with the tiny residential dwellings which lay scattered around it. I felt very friendless and dispirited upon our arrival, for I could not reckon that Brocklebank would extend his friendship to me as well as to Fry, and I had no fancy for sleeping alone out of doors wrapped in my blankets, though in company I had done so for several successive nights. On hearing Fry’s voice, Brocklebank came to the door of his tent, and I was at once prepossessed by his quiet, gentleman-likel appearance. He was a young man of twenty-four, with a pale, handsome face, and large, dark, expressive eyes. “ This,” said Fry, in a most ungracious way, pointing to me as if I was a cur-dog, “is a chap I came up the road with. I don’t know anything about him,” he added, in an audible whisper. “ Have you no friends on Bendigo?” asked Brocklebank kindly. “ None that I can find to-night,” I replied, blushing like a school-girl, “but I hope to find them in a day or two.” Some whispered conversation took place between Fry and Brocklebank after this. “I must take the poor hoy in,” I heard the latter say. “ Well, don’t hold me responsible,” growled the former ; “ I know nothing of him.”
I don’t think Fry had any special animosity against me, it was merely his natural crustiness ; but I felt so angry with him that I could have rushed upon him and assaulted him on the spot. My wrath, however, was dissipated by Brocklebank saying in a pleasant voice—- “ Come in, Mr. Parker, don’t be afraid; I can give you a shake-down, and as soon as I get a pot of tea ready you shall have sardines and soft bread, which I daresay will be a treat after the rough fare of the road.”
I slept that night like a dozen humming tops. Only those who have lain for several successive nights under the cold sky of a Victorian September, and have woke up drenched, perhaps, with rain, can appreciate the delight of a roof overhead, albiet only a roof of canvas. Next morning, after breakfast, Fry rose, and addressing his fellow-townsman in his usual curt, morose style, said—- * I’m off to Eagle Hawk” (this was a guily some two miles distant) “ to look
after ray mates. See you again tomorrow. You’d best find your mates too,” he added, bestowing a parting glance on mo.
After the departure of surly Fry I breathed more freoiy, and felt less less an interloper. Nothing could be kinder than Brocklebank’s manner towards me; lie could not have treated me with more consideration if I had come recommended by bis most intimate friend, instead of being a mere waif and stray of the great Australian immigration. Although he was keeping a retail store, and selling glasses of lemonade, bottles of pickles, and digger’s boots to any chance passer-by, I learnt that he was a young man of highly respectable connections in Liverpool, the son of a Nonconformist minister, and that, like myself, he had been drawn out by a spirit of adventure. I presently asked him how I had better set about finding my friends. On hearing that I possessed no more special address than Bendigo, he shook his head, said that the diggings covered an enormous area, and that I might spend a month in visiting every gully in succession. I had better call at the post-office on the Camp, and ascertain if there was a letter awaiting me there. I went to the Camp, and enquired at the post-office. There was no letter for “Mr Frederick Parker, late of Watling Street, London.” I returned to Iron Bark Gully in rather a desponding frame of mind. I was heartily ashamed cf myself at the time for my low spirits, but I am not surprised now- that a lad of eighteen, who in London had been surrounded by attentive friends and relations, should feel rather lonely among the motley, selfseeking herd of gold-hunters. I told Brocklebank of my ill fortune, and asked him what I had better do. “ Do nothing to-day,” he said kindly. “ You are tired with your week’s travelling. Take it easy. You can make yourself useful by helping me in the store. ” I was delighted at these words, and fell to work with alacrity. Before two hours had elapsed I found myself dispensing slices of bacon at three shillings a pound, and assisting sturdy diggers, seated on a tree stump in front of the Royal Liver, to pull on refractory pairs of new boots. Our distinctive flag, bearing as its emblem the fabulous bird which forms the crest of the good town of Liverpool, waved gracefully overhead in the sunshine, and my spirits rose as I once more found myself of some use in the world. In those primitive days there was little coin current on the diggings. Miners paid for their stores in virgin gold just dug from the soil. Storekeepers made large profits by these transactions, for, owing to the insecurity of the roads, the value of gold was from five shillings to ten shillings an ounce lower on the diggings than it was in Melbourne. I forget the exact prices now, but I think that gold purchased on Bendigo in 1852 at three pounds five shillings and three pounds ten shillings an ounce, was worth three pounds fifteen in Melbourne. In these systematic days, when the smallest margin of profit attracts speculators to the most distant gold-field, such a difference seems almost incredible. Some of the storekeepers were sad rogues, and, not content with their fair profits, cheated the hard-toiling miners who visited their establishments by means of false weights and other devices ; but Brocklebank was, I am sure, thoroughly upright and honest in all his dealings. His plan of procedure when a gold transaction took place was at once business-like and simple. He weighed the gold carefully in his scales, and kept each parcel in a separate paper, with the name of the seller, and the date of the transaction, and the precise weight of the contents marked legibly upon it. All these packets were kept in a tin box, which at night was deposited in a little secret chamber under the flooring of the tent. I soon discovered that Brocklebank was much liked and respected by the surrounding population. Men would come in, and sell several ouuces of gold, take away only a few shillings’ worth of goods in exchange, and leave the balance in his hand to cover future transactions. “I can trust you Muster Brocklebank,” I heard a rough old digger say, “ and my gold’s a deal safer in your big store than in my bit of a shanty yonder.” As for myself, I felt highly pleased that Brocklebank should trust me—an entire stranger —so implicitly, and I resolved to work as zealously as I could in his service while under his roof, as a practical proof, of my gratitude. After the sun had set, and all work had been suspended for the day, three or four of the inhabitants of the adjacent tents strolled across to the Royal Liver Store, and sitting down in front of that establishment on a gigantic prostrate log, in one end of which a perpetual fire was burning, lighted their pipes, and proceeded to discuss tlie news of the day. The conversation was mostly of a monotonous character, and referred chiefly to mining topics. How Tom’s new windlass had given way, how Harry had picked up a half-ounce nugget out of his “ washdirt,” how Dick had tumbled down a thirty-foot hole while out ’pcssuming the previous night. I was much impressed with the decency and respectability of our visitors. Before I left England, and even after my arrival in Melbourne, I had pictured life on the diggings as an existence of wild excitement, where the perpetual anticipation of fabulous gains, and the sight of lucky gamblers shovelling out the yellow metal, would keep the brain in a state of fever. In actual fact, Iron Bark Gully was a most prosaic, sober place. Men worked from six to six, and took it as coolly as navvies on piece-work, that is to say, they went at it with a will. Work over, they made their dampers, washed out their shirts and socks, or lounged round an open-air .fire, discussing the local gossip. Brocklebank, however, informed me in the course of the evening, when we were alone together, that the little community gathered together at the head of the Iron Bark Gully consisted of exceptionally quiet and respectable people. Several of them came from South Australia, a colony which has always maintained a high reputation, and one or two of those standing by our logfire were substantial Adelaide tradesmen, who, having been smitten by the universal epidemic, had deserted their shops, and come to seek a speedier road to fortune.
One of these adventurers, a chemist and druggist from Rundle Street, Adelaide, took my fancy immediately, and we soon became very intimate together. He advised me to be in no hurry about beginning gold-digging. There was plenty of time, and plenty of gold left in spite of all the croaking one heard. Then, by way of consoling me for my loneliness, he hinted that if, in a few days, I should be unable to find my friends and he thought it very likely that I might never find them—he would try and introduce me to some respectable mates. (to BE CONTINUED.)
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 75, 18 March 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 75, 18 March 1880
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