The following is part two of two excerpts from ‘Records of the Pioneers‘. Both excerpts have been transcribed precisely as per the original text written by Henry Leversha in 1880.
– PART 2 –
Although gold was so plentiful, and any man who was able and willing to work could earn a very good living with only a tin dish, there were some who would rather steal than work. On one occasion, for instance, a man broke into a store owned by a Mr Steele, and was in the act of carrying away a bag of flour, when a boy, who had been sleeping inside, awoke with the noise, and, following the man outside, told him to put down the bag or he would shoot him. The boy fired, the man fell mortally wounded, and the poor lad, seeing what he had done, began to cry.
Fresh stores were being to put up every day, and at nearly every one of them “sly-grog selling” was carried on, the liquor being commonly known as “Tumble-up” or “Seidlitz Powder.” What with drunken men, the continual barking of dogs, and the firing of pistols and guns every night, the more peaceful portion of the community could scarcely sleep. The authorities now adopted a very unwise course to put down sly-grog selling. They selected a man named Armstrong for the purpose. This fellow would enter any store or tent scatter everything about in search of grog, and if any was found would destroy it, often burning the place down. I saw several places burned down, one poor old man’s in particular, who had a tent near Kampf’s store. Being confined to his “bunk” with rheumatism, he could not work. Everyone who went to his tent for a nobbler would help themselves, giving the money to the old man or putting it in his pannikin. Armstrong, getting to know of this, ordered two of his men to bring the old fellow out on his stretcher, which was done, and immediately the tent was set fire to. If Armstrong had not mounted his horse very quickly I think the diggers would have lynched him—as it was, several stones were thrown at him.
In December, 1851, water was very scarce, and nearly all the washdirt had to be taken to a big waterhole somewhere below where Johnston’s bakery is now. In a few days quite a township of tents sprang up, so I shifted down there and opened a small store with goods I bought from Joshua Bros. One day they were afraid Armstrong was coming to search their store, so they asked me to buy a cask of brandy (about 16 gallons) for which I gave six ounces of gold, and I took it home in a cart, the cask being covered with washdirt. Near my store lived a butcher named Conway, who brought many customers to my store but never paid for their grog. The following Sunday he wanted a bottle of brandy but I would not give it to him without payment, and the refusal put him in a great rage. So that evening he went to Pennyweight Flat to lay an information against me for sly-grog selling. The constable on duty was a shipmate of mine from England. Conway asked if Mr Armstrong was in. “Yes”, replied the constable, “What’s up?” “I have a job for him,” said Conway, “at the big waterhole; a sly-grog shop.” The constable then said “I think I know who you mean, they call him Fifer; he keeps a store.” Conway replied—“That’s the man.” The constable said further—“We have had our eyes on that place all last week,” which was true, for my shipmate had left my place pretty “tight” twice during the week. In a few minutes Mr Armstrong and Conway came out of the tent with orders to be ready very early next morning to make a seizure at the waterhole. The same evening, when it got a little quiet, my shipmate (the constable) came down and assisted me to put all the brandy away; two of us, however, had to escort him back to the camp at midnight, a long way out of the perpendicular. I should observe here that there was no camp in Castlemaine at that time. Early next morning, as I was carrying my billy to the tent, I was surrounded by three men—Armstrong, my shipmate, and another constable—who would not allow me to go inside, but kept me by the fire while Armstrong and my shipmate searched the premises. I heard them stamping on the floor and shifting my goods about, the officer saying to my shipmate:–“There’s a strong smell of brandy here, Wright.” “Yes, Sir,” said Wright, “but I believe he’s been too sharp for us.” I was then called to explain how the place came to smell so strong of grog. I said—“I don’t know any more than this man,” pointing to Wright, which was true, for it was he who had broken a bottle of brandy the night before. At this, Mr Armstrong got into a great rage, and threatened to handcuff me to the stirrup of his horse if I told any more lies. When I replied:–“It is not a lie,” I thought he would have struck me with his whip. He then thundered out:–“Do you mean to say there is not a strong smell of grog; don’t you smell it sir?” I answered—“No; I wish I could,” I must explain that I had entirely lost the sense of smelling, when a very young man, by an accident, so, if Mr Armstrong should read these pages, he will see that I was not telling a falsehood. However, they then left, vowing they would have me yet. I was saved the trouble of selling the rest of the brandy, for to use a colonial phrase, someone “sprung the plant,” and stole the lot.
The Bendigo diggings now broke out (December, 1851). I sold my store to a person who afterwards opened it as an eating-house; some present might recollect it as “Jones’ Eating-House.” I bought a horse and dray, and left Forest Creek for Bendigo, arriving there in Christmas week. The diggings were confined to a small patch of ground at the bottom of Golden Gully, near the Bendigo Creek. The gold was very smooth and water-worn. Higher up the gully the diggers could not sink their holes on account of the quicksand. They would peg out their claims and then start sinking outside the gully and try to drive straight for their claims. As they nearly all drove at a guess, few succeeded in reaching their claims in a straight line, which caused plenty of work for the Commissioner in settling disputes, and many a pitched battle between the diggers.
There was one large store, called “Barnett’s Post Office Store,” kept by a Jew of that name, where everything was much dearer than at Forest Creek. A few months after Bendigo was discovered I paid £20 for a sack of flour, £5 for a bushel of oats, £3 for a bushel of bran, and 5/- for a pound of salt, the carriage from Melbourne being 5/6 per pound on almost everything. In a few weeks the diggings were opened up in all directions. I then occupied part of a tent belonging to a Mr Balderson, about a mile on the Castlemaine side of the diggings. Water being very scarce the diggers had to take the washdirt a distance of eight miles to the sheepwash, or Bullock Creek. The teams had made a track by our tent, and as the dust, with constant traffic, was almost suffocating, we determined to make them keep further off. There were two trees growing near, which the teams passed between, and we cut them down, but, falling in opposite directions, did not stop the traffic. Mr Balderson therefore advised us to sink a hole on the track, which was done, and it had the desired effect, but not without many curses heaped upon us by the drivers, who had to go a good way around. We bottomed the hole at about ten feet and found very good gold, picking out 14 ozs, from the washdirt. I hold in my hand what I believe to be the first nugget of gold (over a pennyweight) that was found at Kangaroo Flat, then called “Yankee Boot Flat” from the fact of us wearing thigh boots. The Flat derived its name from an old man kangaroo coming down there one Sunday, which the diggers surrounded, and kept among the holes until it was captured.
When looking for my horse, which had strayed one Sunday, I found a wall of quartz from five to eight feet high. I climbed on to the top and sat down to have a smoke, when I noticed several specks of gold among the moss that covered the stone. I tried to pick them up but found that I could not move them, even with my knife. There was one piece of quartz (about 2 cwt.) loosely resting on the wall, literally covered with specks of gold, and I got a sapling and forced it off, but it broke into fragments in falling. I picked up the smallest piece and took it to my tent, where I smashed it up, and a young man who was looking on gave me an ounce of gold for a small specimen as a curiosity. My tent was besieged by people wishing to see the quartz. I returned to the spot in the afternoon where the quartz was, with Mr Silk, who is now a farmer at Tarnagulla, and brought away as much quartz as we could carry. From what I have since learned, I am under the impression that there were fully two pounds’ weight of gold in the loose stone. No one thought of working quartz reefs at that time. Long Gully, Ironbark, Eaglehawk and the first White Hill were soon afterwards opened up and all of these proved very rich. I do not think any escort had started at that time.
I have not said anything about the political or religious state of the country at this time as those matters did not trouble me. I would like some member better qualified to take those subjects up.
I have only written facts as far as I can remember them. Some future time I will continue my narrative from where I have left off, when I shall have some very thrilling incidents to write about.
– END OF PART 2 –