State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 10 October 1972


Manuscripts: A Letter from Melbourne

This is an isolated letter in the La Trobe's collection. The writer, John Hadfield, is in many ways typical of the migrants of the gold-rush period.
Apsley Cottage,
Gisborne Street

My dear Mother
I hope you are in receipt of the few lines I sent you by last mail. I felt great pleasure in being able to send you a favourable account so soon after my arrival, it would, I know, be a great relief to your minds, to hear that I had arrived safely and was doing well. You will also be glad to hear that I am still improving; my appetite is still good, and I feel that I am getting stronger.
After we had been at sea a few days, I was told that a weekly newspaper would be commenced in a short time, recording every incident of interest on the way, so I did not think it worth while to keep a journal; it was a month, however, before the first paper made its appearance; and near the end of the journey, a subscription was made to have it printed, but the expense was found to be too great, so it was abandoned, this being the case, you must be satisfied with a mere epitome.
Just before we left the Mersey, a Minister of the Religious Tract Society came on board, and gave an appropriate address, and a farewell present to each passenger, in the shape of a small Book on the Australian Colonies, and a packet of Religious Tracts, and he gave out the very hymn that our poor Jane was singing when she was killed, “Guide me oh thou Great Jehovah etc”, I cannot tell you how affecting and impressive I felt it under such peculiar circumstances. I felt sorry after Brother & Sister had left the vessel, that they did not accompany us and return with the pilot, as I afterwards learned that several relatives and friends of emigrants, were allowed to do so without charge; I think the pilot went about 40 miles. I fancy I told you in my last, that we never sighted land from Ireland to Australia, except the small barren island of Trinidada; Brother can trace out our route on the map, from the copy of the Ship's log subjoined. We had very fine weather in the Channel; it was a little rough skirting the Bay of Biscay, succeeded by nearly a week's calm off the northern coast of Spain. We were becalmed about a fortnight during the whole journey. A calm in the tropics is a grand sight, nothing could be more magnificent than the rising and setting of a tropical Sun on a dead calm sea; the effect is gorgeous in the extreme; at Sunrise, all the sea as far as the eye can reach is one mass of red liquid glass; and the sky is so beautiful too — such rich, delicate, and varieagated colours; I think it is the grandest sight I ever witnessed. The curtain of night falls very suddenly in the tropics. It was not so hot there as I expected, the maximum temperature being about 110 degrees in the shade. We had a good spree on crossing the line, the Captain gave the sailors permission to turn the water-hose upon the passengers. I got aware of it about an hour before they commenced, so kept between decks; those who happened to be on deck at the time caught it in style, as they had not time to change their clothes. The ship was almost drowned for about two hours. I thought all the passengers were gone crazy, those that would not go on deck willingly were carried up by force, without exception. Before things had got to this crisis, I thought I would just have a peep out of
the Hatches to see how they were getting on, and the moment I popped my head out, a bucket full of water came dashing about my ears like wild-fire so I thought it wise to retreat; there were only 4 or 5 escaped out of the whole lot (females & children of course excepted). You may form some idea of the row, by imagining about 50 or 60 persons with the force pump hose, water buckets, cans, or any kind of vessels they could lay hold of, dashing water upon one another with the greatest fury, for about two hours; the water ran down the Hatchways to that extent, that my Boxes stood in about 6 inches of water when it was over, and there were other Rooms much worse than ours. We had no really rough weather until we came to round the Cape, from which we were distant about 600 miles; (I think I said 300 miles in my last) here, it was very squally, we had a little of all kinds of weather in fact — heavy rains, snow, hail, lightening and thunder, alternately. We had a deal more cold weather than I anticipated, it was very cold from the latitude of the Cape, all the way to Melbourne. You will see by the log that we ran between 43 & 44 degrees south. We had first rate sailing from the longitude of the Cape, having made the passage in 24 days — a distance of about 6000 miles. Upon the whole it was a fine voyage, more like an excursion trip than anything else. There was a good deal of excitement evinced when the light of Cape Otway was first seen, and when we were told that we should be at Melbourne the following day. We were all up early in the morning, rather glad to see land after so long and motonous a voyage, which was one continued succession of fiddling, dancing, quarrelling, fighting, & practical joking. You will see from the “Shipping Intelligence” enclosed that we spoke with a many vessels on the way; there were no fewer than ten or twelve in view at once, a little north of the line, the Captain said he never before saw so many at one time, so far out at sea. But we only saw one solitary vessel from the latitude of the Cape, to a short distance from Cape Otway, where we overtook the Sarah Dixon and several others as stated in my last. We beat all vessels we saw in sailing, except the Damascus, a fine trading clipper bound for Sidney. She passed close to us, and after getting a little ahead, the sailors threw out a rope for us over the ship's side. There is something very pleasing in coming in close proximity with a passenger vessel, far out at sea, when the passengers of each vessel can shout to, and cheer each other, in their own native tongue; we had several instances of this sort. The general health of the vessel was good, having had only one death on board —a child about 14 months old. My own health was moderate all the way. You would have been quite amused to see us make pies, puddings, and cakes. I asked an Irishman who had just put some dough in a tin to be baked whether he had greased the tin, he said no, I replied you must do so or the cake will stick and believe me, the fellow actually greased the outside instead of the inside, in perfect ignorance; there's a specimen of Erin's sons. On arriving in Port Phillip, I was rather favourably impressed with the country around, and the same with Hobson's Bay, but on hearing the reports of a many of the passengers who left the vessel on the Sunday at their own expense, eager to see Melbourne before the rest, my impressions were somewhat different. Some of the ladies debarked in silks and satins to wade ankle deep in mud, and sad and discouraging indeed were most of the accounts they brought, “I never before saw so dirty and miserable a place”, “O that I were in England
again”, “I would far rather stay in the vessel than leave it to go to yonder place”, “I should never have come if it had not been for so and so”, “Thousands are out of employ” and such like expressions could be heard from amongst the various groups of the ‘fair sex’. On arriving at Melbourne on the Monday. I felt half inclined to coincide in the unfavourable accounts I had heard; the town seemed so dull and uninviting, the streets were extremely dirty, owing to recent heavy rains, and things in general had anything but a pleasing appearance; almost every body had knee boots on, which are a deal wore here in wet weather, such as were not so protected, had their trousers rolled up, and all were dashing through it as a matter of course. The first thing we did was to hire a dray to take our boxes to a boarding house; about a dozen of us joined at the expense, which made it very reasonable, say six pence each. I remained at that house until I met with my present lodgings, but not without great efforts to get away I assure you, for besides having to pay 4/6 per day, there were so many as a dozen persons sleeping in one room, and I dont think the Bed Room floors had been cleaned for the last 12 months, and yet it was called a respectable place, even the Irish complained, there now, I'll leave you to form your own opinion. I endeavoured the next thing to find Mr. Hughes; the address stated that he lived at Williamstown, and was working at the new Houses of Parliament, I made enquiry and found that he had not worked there since last summer, and that he had removed from Williamstown, but could not ascertain where to; I then went to all the different places in town where Masonry was being carried on, and after walking Melbourne through and through, found him at work just outside the town; and now I was not a jot better off than before, for he told me that Mr. Kisby was ill six weeks on his journey, and was carried direct from the ship to the Hospital where he was then lying in a precarious state, and that as Mr. & Mrs. Crosby were living with him, he could not accommodate me, having but one room for them all; he was very kind, and put himself to a deal of trouble to get me comfortable board and residence but could not succeed, so I had to look out again, and on the Thursday after my arrival, met with this place, which is quite clean and comfortable; it is about quarter of an hours walk from the centre of the town, in a healthy, pleasant, and commanding locality; I engaged at 20/- per week, but after I had been a fortnight, she found she could not make it pay, and consequently raised us all to 22/6, and new comers to 25/-, which is the usual price about Melbourne. There are seven of us at present, but she has accommodation for twelve — all twobedded rooms but one, which lets for 5/-per week more. I endeavoured to get lodging without board but could not succeed anywhere, in fact, I had great difficulty in getting a suitable place with board, for you know how particular you have made me. It cost me at the rate of 4/- per doz. to have all my things washed when I came; 5/- per doz. seems to be the general price. I would like to have lived at St. Kilda on the sea coast, but could not get good accommodation there under 30/- per week, as it is, I am about four miles from the sea. I went to St. Kilda the Wednesday after I arrived, and delivered Mr. Atkin's letter, Mr. Fletcher gave me an invitation to go over again. St. Kilda is one of the prettiest and most fashionable places about here. Whatever were my first impressions of Melbourne they are decidedly favourable now; I must certainly pronounce it a fine and wonderful place, considering that only about half a
dozen years ago, it was no better than a mean village, a disgraceful heap of low wooden huts and dirty narrow lanes, and considering also, that a little more than twenty years ago, it was a savage, solitary plain, undisturbed, except by the aboriginal native, and the Kangaroo. It will no doubt in a very short time be a magnificent city. It is situated inland, on a collection of eminences, from several of which, you have a splendid view of the whole town and surrounding country, and has a population, including the suburbs, of about 100,000. In a direct line, it is distant from the shores of Hobson's Bay, 3 miles, but the windings of the Yarra Yarra River make it eight; this River has more the appearance of a canal, being only about two chains broad. A many of the shops, Warehouses, and other Buildings, are very fine, and there are three splendid Banks being erected at the present time. The streets are all as straight as a ruler, crossing each other at right angles, and some of them are nearly a mile and a half long, the principal ones are a great width and look remarkably well, but all are at present unpaved; which makes it very unpleasant both in wet and dry weather, for in this country, you are nearly always either ankle deep in mud, or over head and ears in dust. The buildings are certainly very irregularly constructed both in height and appearance, but low and mean buildings are rapidly disappearing, to make way for lofty and noble ones. The town has recently been lighted with gas, and there are immense water-works in course of erection about 15 miles distant, it is at present supplied with filtered water from the Yarra. There is a Railway connecting Melbourne with Hobson's Bay, and another to St. Kilda, also one to Geelong—a distance of 40 miles (3rd class fare 6/-) and several telegraphs to different Gold diggings. Almost everything about here has such an English appearance, that I am apt to forget I am so far distant from home, there is scarcely anything to remind you of this, except an absence of long smoky chimneys, and an occasional sight of Carts drawn by oxen instead of horses, which seemed rather novel to me at first. There are not so many foreigners in Melbourne as I conjectured, I thought there would be a many Chinese in particular, but they are nearly all at the diggings, and I have only seen about half a dozen aborigines at present, you will see what sort of a race they are, from the above engraving [letter-head]. I believe the productiveness of the land is marvellous. The Vine and all kinds of fruit grow to great perfection, but fruit is now out of season. The middle of summer falls in January and mid-winter in July; the summer extends from the beginning of November to the end of February, the Spring months are short, consisting of Sepr. & Octr., the Autumn months are March, April, & May, and the winter months June, July and August. A many of the imported goods are almost as cheap as in England, but they are inferior in quality, just being got up for sale. It is very expensive to get anything done to order, on account of labour being so dear, for instance, you cannot get a pair of shoes soled and heel'd for less than 8 or 9/-, whilst you can get a new pair for nearly that amount, and the same rule applies to clothing and other descriptions of labour. We found business here very different from what we expected, hundreds are out of employ of all trades, in the vicinity of Melbourne alone, and I believe this is the case on all the Gold fields. The labour market is quite overstocked, still, immigrants keep pouring in from all quarters of the globe, and government is employing them to level ground etc. at 6/-per day, which is not equal to more than
2/6 in England. I have actually seen a many cutting thistles in the fields at 4/-per day. It is truly appalling to see persons enticed from their homes and families by misrepresentations in the manner they are. There are few that came out in our vessel, that have been able to get work, and very few (if any) that would not return home if they had the means, some are gone to the ‘diggings’, some into the Bush, and some are still walking the streets of Melbourne, not knowing what to do or where to go, two of my shipmates are gone into the Bush, and one to the ‘diggings’, none of them being able to obtain employment of any sort. I find there is but little chance of success at the ‘diggings’ now without capital, and I find too “it is not all gold that glitters” in Australia any more than it is in England or elsewhere, true, workmen of all descriptions can earn good wages here, but as a general rule, they only get partially employed, and there are many other drawbacks. You will find a list of wages & prices, so far as it goes, in the enclosed printed letter, which I wish you to keep. Shall probably send you a newspaper as well. I certainly advise every person of whatever trade or occupation, who can make a living in England, not to come out here at present by any means, for by doing so, they would stand but a poor chance of bettering their pecuniary circumstances, and at the same time, would deprive themselves of a many comforts. Trade will no doubt be better in a short time, as all the public works are now stopped, and it is generally dull at this time of the year. Finding things in this bad state you will not be surprised to hear that Mr. Chatterton is on his way back, having engaged for a free passage as under-steward, in the Suffolk, a London sailing vessel of the Blackwall line, which left here on the 4th inst. He wishes you to inform his wife that she may expect him home about Xmas; he was quite discouraged with the different reports he heard, and did not get up to any of the ‘diggings’ at all. He seemed wishful for me to return with him, but as I feel that my health is improving, I will stay about two months longer, to avoid getting home in very cold weather. I think I shall return by a London ship myself, the occommodation of London vessels seems to be so far superior to that of Liverpool vessels.
I have now to record the death of poor Kisby. I went to the Hospital on the 21st Sepr. to see him, and was told that he died on the 16th, I saw his ward, and was well pleased with the place altogether, it seems to be very well conducted. His mother will receive a letter from Mr. Hughes by this mail. You must not let this occurrence make you at all unhappy about me, as I have got quite over the change. We have great reason to be thankful that it has turned the right way with me. I would send you my photographic portrait, but cannot get it taken here for less than 20/- on plain paper. I wrote a letter to cousins directly after I came, directed to Melbourne Post Office, but have not yet heard from them, I think I shall advertize shortly. I took tea with Mr. Hughes on thursday last, and again on Monday; he has built a small house of his own at Richmond, about 1½ miles from here; he has only one room, and there are five of them and four children live together. Mr. Crosby says they were 120 days in coming; had they had as fair a passage as we, perhaps Mr. K might have lived, as he was taken ill about the time they ought to have landed. I have no doubt he had every assistance rendered him, medical & otherwise. Mr. Hughes had him disinterred and put into a new coffin and grave. Mr. Crosby accompanied me to the Cemetry on friday, to point out
the grave. There appears to have been no alternative but to send him to the Hospital, in fact, he would be far better attended to there, than he possibly could have been under the care of Mrs. Hughes, circumstanced as she was at the time. Mr. Crosby, like a many besides him, has not yet been able to get anything to do. The weather has been rather cold since I came, but is getting warmer; the thermometer ran up so high as 130 degrees in the shade, during the hot winds last summer; there is never any snow falls about here, though some of the mountains not far distant, are covered perpetually with snow. I understand we shall have the musquitos shortly, which I believe are very troublesome.
You generally blame me for writing short letters, but I think you will have no occasion to do so this time at all events. How happy I should be, if I knew you were all well and comfortable. I often wonder how and where you are situated. Separated from each other by a distance of 14 or 15,000 miles, and unaccustomed as we are to long partings, we cannot but feel anxious about each other, but we must moderate our anxiety, and leave all things in the hands of Divine Providence …
Sincerely trusting that this will find you all in good health —
I remain
My dear Mother
Yours most affectionately
Jno. D. Hadfield