Journal of a journey over the Blue Mountains in the year 1851
(transcribed by Grace Marsh 1893)
Gorses Inn near Penrith. “We parted with all dear to us at Parramatta this morning (and except for Baby who liked the bustle and confusion of departure) there was not one who did not regret us. We soon gained confidence in our horses, and found the Dog Cart light and easy. And whilst thinking over the difference between the commencement of our journey for the South, and this one for the West we met the Commissioner (Mr H ) on his way to Parramatta. He has been ordered down to give his opinion on the best method of “working the quartzy veins,” and we heard from him the same account he have had before, that it was very difficult to estimate the extent of the Gold fields and that indeed we had but commenced on discoveries in that region. His is in high spirits himself and says he never was so happy before. Mr H’s brother is to meet us soon after we arrive in Bathurst and is making plenty of money by his quicksilver machine. We had a long talk on the road side, or rather we all asked questions, he about the civilized world, we about the “Diggings” and when we parted we began to remember in our anxiety to hear much we had gained little knowledge. The rest of our journey was uneventful, and on reaching the “House Accommodation” here, we wrote letters and went to bed. We did not get much to eat, for the “License” had been just taken from the House, and except for a few eggs and some bad green tea, we had nothing else to refresh us. I found my forehead dreadfully burnt and on saying to my maid I wondered “what I should do with it,” the landlady observed “she had heard tell, that if one could get anyone to lick it the part with his tongue, the place would be all right.” I am sure this receipt had never yet been tested, and therefore we may conclude it an invaluable remedy! Captain B had written our route for us, and also requested the Inn Keeper to be attentive as we were his friends. It seems odd not to know all the stopping places and people as we do on the Southern Road. The only familiar objects are the books and pictures. I find the same old journals, and “Monthly Magazine,” a stray volume of Byron, “remarkable (crimes?)” and Mrs Ellis’s Works, which have amused me before at Berrima and Marulen (South) and the pictures hanging from the walls of grooms and jockeys and stage coaches climbing up difficult ascents and monstrous overdone chops for supper.
“Barrenfels” We have had a fatiguing journey today of 37 miles, over the worst road I ever travelled in this county, one perpetual ascent but only that, the sand so deep that the horses could hardly pull, and the ruts and holes made by the numberless Drays so frequent that we were five hours gong 18 miles! We breakfasted at Blackheath. Up to this point there was nothing in the country different from what I have seen before. I could have fancied myself far North before ascending the “Dividing Range” at Moreton Bay or due South a few miles from “Razor Back” never ending tracts of Gum Trees and heavy cut up roads but there was one feature in the landscape which made me feel I was in a new country! There were no longer the silent monotony of our bull tracts, the dead solitude of the Darling Downs, on the quiet business like look of the South Road Inn where we would, there were human beings of all ages and sexes, most conveyances from a wheel barrow to a carriage crowding out each other, and all seeking the one goal to fortune or misfortune as providence may decide for them. Groups of men in red and blue flannel shirts, with heavy packs upon their shoulders (occasionally a woman and her infant following). Drays laden with provisions and followed by parties varying from two to six in numbers. Carts of every kind, and pack horses travelling under their load were (over?) before us, and the lonely tracts seems so suddenly people that I felt as if I had grown old, and Australia was, as we might have hoped it would be in 1870! We had many a word in passing the people all thronging to one point, and generally speaking they seemed of the respectable class. Patient, I am sure they must be, for the horses constantly refused to pull their loads and many a cart we saw unpacking by the road side, and among them here and there a group camped with the remains of furniture, kitchen utensils and tin dishes, whilst the stronger ones of the party with the “cradle” for gold washing proceeded. In one spot I noticed a few children who looked quite contented with no covering over their heads, and a deal(?) table and one or two chairs left with them as “rubbish” that could follow in time. I have said there was nothing to admire in the scenery till we got to Blackheath. Here a gradual change takes place, and sudden glimpses of distant chains of mountains prepared me for the next stage to Hartley. It had been raining all the morning till we got near the pass of Mount Victoria and then the sun suddenly burst forth in the - - way imaginable and we saw the mountains and valley most perfectly. It is very difficult to describe scenery so as to convey a right-idea of a place to one who has not seen it. I felt this, for much as I had imagined it would be, I think you can best imagine what it is, if you recall to remembrance one of the boldest of views over the ‘Simplon” road. There is a mixture of the wild and the grand and the beautiful which can be rarely combined. The mountains seem to fall headlong over each other in magnificent confusion, and looking (from a mountain higher then any around us) it seemed like a valley of mountains, the sun’s light gilding the summits of some and the deep shade (falling?) on others, adding not a little to the variety and beauty of the view. The “Pass” itself is a sort of hanging rock (---ting?) two mountains and on either side a fathomless abyss, which it made me giddy to look down. “The Valley of Mountains” extending far as the eye could reach, and bright spots of cultivated land in the “Vale of Clewydd” looking like miniature parks with horses and cows about he size of those you have in a Noah’s Ark. I walked most of the way down the Pass for the precipitous rocks on one side and the precipice below, make me prefer a quiet walk and enjoyment of the scene to a nervous drive down. We rested a moment at “Rastley,” posted our letters and then drove on to “Bowenfels.” I wish I was here to sketch the view coming from the Inn door. A bold hill faces me while I write and a group of picturesque miners have lighted a fire and camped for the night just below it. I must not omit to tell you that on our way up the mountain today we met a man who I recognized as having been a clerk in an office in Sydney where six months ago he had been a poor man with £100 a year, he is now comparatively rich, and would not accept an office of less than £1000 a year. He was much excited by his success, and took out many of his beautiful lumps to show me. He looked carefully around him however, while he untied a leather bag and drew forth his treasures. I asked hi if he had no fear of being robbed, but he said “no.” These men was such a moral population in the World collected together on these roads, he had purchased a share in a “Quartzy Vein” and he feels sure that any one doing this may with certainty consider his fortune make. It is not a risk like looking for gold nuggets but a matter of certainty to any industrious men. It is not ascertained now but to work the quartzy vein, neither is it arranged how to let the land, but at present from £500 to £1000 is given for these and five miles of land in the Auriferous Region. Mr C also told us provisions were as high as ever and that 65 per cent was considered as fair profit. Near Bowenfels we met Captain S doing duty for our friend Captain B and he promised to take back word to Sydney of our safety.
28th September 1851, Sunday
We hoped there would be service at Bowenfels but as there was none, we came on here in the afternoon to “Durans Inn” 20 miles from Bathurst. We drove over Mount Lambie, this com- and again I wished for you dear E- Do you remember the description of the view from “Helvellyn” beginning “Mountains and lakes before me gleamed, misty and wide” now, if you put the word Valley for lakes, you will have a good idea of the scenery from that description, the same wild valleys and mountains filling them, (which though not a picturesque description is the best that I can think of) that I observed before on the Pass of Mount Victoria but we were higher still and the view more extensive and far as the eye could reach, there was mountain on mountain and lofty ridges tinged with the setting sun and looking so golden that both of us exclaimed together “this must be the Gold land.” The road is good in fine weather, but the ascent long, not however tedious for every fresh bend brings a varied view so wild and grand that we could have paused for an hour longer than we did with pleasure. There is only water wanting, and occasionally small streams with swamp oaks and primroses in full bloom on their banks wind like threads of silver below us, and give the last “touch of perfection” to the landscape. This is quite a Country Inn and there are about twenty miners here all more or less tipsy and reproaching each other as far as I can comprehend for coming “from the County Tipperary.” We met a Hackney Coach today, and you may suppose how we stared at it and wondered who could be inside. It was coming up the mountain so we had a good view and I saw about a dozen common men all apparently tipsy and I suppose successful as they had hired such a conveyance, and were certainly not of the class who drive in coaches. The Mail is crowded to such a degree that it put me in mind of a bit of sugar covered with ants, and the people have to hold on to each other to save their lives.
29th September 1851, Monday
We left “Durnes” very early and after a pretty drive over wretched roads we reached Mrs (blank) Inn, Bathurst, to breakfast. She at first refused us admittance saying the house was quite full, as there is no other good place we were rather in despair and just as we were going away she murmured to herself the only rooms she had were the Commissioner’s personal rooms. We then told her we would take possession of them as he was our intimate friend and in a few minutes we did, and a delicious odour of tobacco when the door was opened proved beyond all doubt who occupied it last. W.H. and E. K. We found had just left which is very provoking as they came in to see us, but as we were later than they expected us to be they rode back to the Turon this morning. When Mr N returns he will find his rooms considerably purified. And now how can I describe Bathurst? Perhaps (firstly?) by what it is not. It is not like Goulburn and at least twenty years behind hand in everything except specimens which are displayed at small windows as carelessly as Sognottes(?) are in Sydney. There are no Inns like the delightful Royal Hotel in Goulburn, no public buildings except a hideous brick Church, and Court House which are put down on a white sandy square the intense glare of which blinds the eye. It is not a pretty village like Yass, but is rather more like Berrima than any other place I can recall to my recollection. There are no good houses nor shops, and before the gold put life into it, it must have been the most detestable place on Earth I should imagine. Now, there are lots of people riding past, all equipped in red and blue flannel shirts. Darling Downs original costume, and Drays which are paid for carriage £20 and £25 per ton. The price of washing is 4/- and 5/- shillings a dozen as a favour. Wine 5/- and 6/- shillings a bottle. The hire of a horse 12/- per night, meat in quantity 3d ½ per lb. No servants to be had. The ostler at this Inn is also the cook and we had beefsteak looking like a large piece of black earth served for breakfast. We have been trying to get at man and his wife at 60 a year. As soon as we had breakfasted we went to look for a house. We were dismayed at the appearance of the only apparently available habitation and began to entertain serious thoughts of returning to Sydney speedily, but the nuggets looked tempting and we had come determined to make our fortune or perish in the attempt, so at last we made up our minds to a dark dismal strip of building, like a poor house on a small scale containing many rooms and passages and our rooms, all rather dirty and in confusion but whitewash and scrubbing will do much towards purifying and cleansing. Our furniture will not arrive for a few days. he expense of the Inn is frightful and we can get no one to do any work. I offered a woman today any sum of money she pleased. She coolly asked me “What was she to do with her Baby?” Ladies are very scarce but those whose acquaintance I have made are most pleasant and superior. Everyone is engaged in the strife of getting on regarding(?) of the way as long as the result is attained. The price of Gold is very much lower than it was simply because there is no more money in the Country to buy it. Mr M. S. comes in every ten days with from £1000 to £2000 in his pocket of bought Gold. It is strange there are no robberies. The climate is perfectly delicious. There are frosts at night and Polyanthus and Cowslips in full bloom. We took a drive this morning round Bathurst. Not very interesting. The river is clear and must be a wide steam at some seasons of the year. Do you remember Ms G the half mad geologist you met at Hartley! He is here Editor of the Bathurst Free Press, and makes, he says, £10 a week he was delighted to hear I was here and said to G “He thanked God there was someone now he could meet with pleasure.” I can’t say I long for his society except to laugh at him. He is a regular Editor of an “Eatonswill(?) Gazette” and talks “leading articles” as he used to talk chemistry. We find the Inn very crowded and comfortless. Several Gentlemen have just arrived from Sydney and are in the adjoining room talking and smoking. We long to get into our house and have determined to make ourselves comfortable pro tem, with common kitchen chairs, at 15/- a piece and skeleton beds, such things, for which we have had to pay 2 a piece! The Commissioners are trying to get up a ball at the end of this month.
2nd October, 1851
Last night the Mail arrived from Sydney with many passengers and I heard them refused admittance. To my astonishment Miss P, walked in. She had come to try her fortune in Bathurst. She was not quite broken to pieces but very nearly so and as dusty as if she had been pulled through a flour bag. A few minutes after in came Mr J to whom we offered the use of our sitting room as there was no other vacant. He invited me to his pretty country seat only one days journey from here and in the course of the morning he and I agreed to drive over to the mines this morning and spend the day at the cradles and I drew 300 in notes from the Bank to spend in buying Gold during the day. In security I helped to tie them up in 10 packets. I never had so much actual money in my hands before as I have had lately and I seems marvelous to clasp a solid bit of pure Gold, and remember there is 150 in one’s grasp. I feel almost a disposition to steal, as I pass the shop windows. J and Mr I were off at 5 o’clock this morning taking a basket of provisions with them as the Commissioner’s tent is not always well provided. I walked about the town this morning with Miss P and we met some of her Mail companions, one Lady so pretty and delicate looking. She is from England and says it required a great deal of love to consent to marry a come here. I expect she must repent of her choice since the jolting over these roads. G and Mr J returned this morning after a fatiguing but most delightful day at Sofala. They are quite excited and when I asked G for a description of what he saw as to the quantity of Gold, his reply was “there is as much gold at Turon as there is dust here.” This certainly gives me a wonderful idea of the quantity as I never saw dust before as it is in Bathurst. They found a portion of the road dreadful, one hill perfectly precipitous but the good horses and the light Dog Cart overcame all difficulties and they reached the Commissioners Camp by 11. Mounted on transport horses and with an escort they went the tour of the Diggings, watching the cradles at work and met many old and familiar faces. I asked the usual question “What gains?” The reply was from one dissatisfied that day “That he had only made £25 and he often made £40 and sometimes £50 a day.” Mr W H had his pockets full of gold and in showing a handful to J he dropped a sovereign. J stooped to look for it. He said “Oh never mind, we don’t take the trouble to look for a trifle like that” and so it was quietly lost! Mr J is quite as delighted as J is and he said to me, “We cannot really talk on the subject, it is too much.” Mr J was just started for (Comby Park?) having left the Constables in possession of his Coachman! We have been laughing, and get much frightened by the State of Affairs here (at the Inn I mean) When I speak of every one being more or less tipsy you will think I exaggerate, but I do not. Fromm10 o’clock last night to the present hour and this afternoon there has been an endless Babel of noise and confusion. Screams of which you would think were the consequence of blows. An auction in the yard and a crowd and noise of another kind in front! Groups of people excited from the mines and two well dressed half-gentlemen acting the most extraordinary scene I ever witnessed off the stage. Neither are well able to stand! And yet they talk well enough or rather wickedly enough. One says “Well I spare you the (aceticedents?) I am a gentleman and you are a cur.” Then a feint at hitting him, then a sort of mutual staggering politeness which would make any one laugh. Another attempt at striking each other which ends in falling into one another’s arms, an embrace and a waltz down the street whence they vanish. The strange noises, the intense excitement, the wild scenes altogether are such that no description of mine will give you a correct idea. The Commissioner’s wife has called on me today. She is pretty and was expensively dressed, but such an abundance of flowers inside and outside her bonnet yet they looked well on her and a shaded silk skirt pricked and flounced to the waist. She had just come from “Ophis” where she rocked a cradle herself for five minutes for fun and the result was an ounce and a half of pure gold which the miners presented to her.
The Ball is on the 29th and there are twenty ladies ‘promised’ to gentlemen innumerable. Mr H and Major W are Stewards. J had brought me a native bear from the mines, such a pet and so tame. It is reposing on the sofa with milk and cabbage leaves beside it. Then two kind notes from the Commissioner saying “the Camp rejoice at my arrival” and a remark relative to gold which I copy “It is perfectly ridiculous to see the gold scattered about as it is here.” Mr W has just been here to ask me if it is worth while to count £600 notes out, if it will not be as well to take it in bulks. I write you these scraps of news as coming from head quarters they may interest you all much. The Policeman have brought in a quantity of gold this morning. I do not know why they should have done so as one of the Commissioners usually bring it in. We are getting comfortably settled at last. My drawing room is quite respectable and I flatter myself the interior of the house has already an “air” about it which I fear should fail in attempting to convey to the outside. I was somewhat amazed this morning to find a small room full of bread. The bakers wished to go to the mines for a week and so left an extra supply and there is no disputing with these people. This is a strange place and strange things and strange people do I encounter, but I must close my proceeds now.
4th September 1893 – Sydney
Since the date of this journal Bathurst has grown into an important city, the centre of a fine and prosperous agricultural district, with its Cathedral and its Bishop. The Turon Gold Fields are no longer the great attraction and at the present time the ‘Diggings’ are nearly, if not quite deserted. The beautiful range of mountains with its hidden (near?) of untold and varied wealth however remain doubtless to be developed in future ages when the selfish narrow-minded policy of the present day which would exclude all “aliens” * from our shores will have given way to a more enlightened state of things, when Inter-colonial federation at least, if not Imperial will have become an accomplished fact and labour and population which we need so much will be recognized as a necessity, if Australia is ever to attain the great position among nations which her sons and daughters already ascribe to her!
G E Marsh.
* By “Aliens” is meant all who are not native born.
Return to notes on John Augustus Milbourne Marsh 1819-1891
(1838 diary) (1840 diary) (1844 diary) (1845 letters) (1846 diary) (1847 diary) (1847b diary) (1848 diary) (1851 diary) (1859 diary) (1873 diary) (1885 diary) (1888 diary) (1889 diary) (1889b diary) (diary Lady Mary Ann Meek nee Grant)