Part 3 out of 10
fourteen per cent. in London and is still rising."
"Oh, in-deed? Now then, I've got you! Such a thunderbolt as you have
just let fly ought to have made me jump out of my chair, but it didn't
stir me the least little bit, you see. And for a very simple reason: I
have read the morning paper. You can look at it if you want to. The
fastest ship in the service arrived at eleven o'clock last night, fifty
days out from London. All her news is printed here. There are no
war-clouds anywhere; and as for wool, why, it is the low-spiritedest
commodity in the English market. It is your turn to jump, now . . . .
Well, why, don't you jump? Why do you sit there in that placid fashion,
"Because I have later news."
"Later news? Oh, come--later news than fifty days, brought steaming hot
from London by the----"
"My news is only ten days old."
"Oh, Mun-chausen, hear the maniac talk! Where did you get it?"
"Got it out of a shark."
"Oh, oh, oh, this is too much! Front! call the police bring the gun
--raise the town! All the asylums in Christendom have broken loose in the
single person of----"
"Sit down! And collect yourself. Where is the use in getting excited?
Am I excited? There is nothing to get excited about. When I make a
statement which I cannot prove, it will be time enough for you to begin
to offer hospitality to damaging fancies about me and my sanity."
"Oh, a thousand, thousand pardons! I ought to be ashamed of myself, and
I am ashamed of myself for thinking that a little bit of a circumstance
like sending a shark to England to fetch back a market report----"
"What does your middle initial stand for, sir?"
"Andrew. What are you writing?"
"Wait a moment. Proof about the shark--and another matter. Only ten
lines. There--now it is done. Sign it."
"Many thanks--many. Let me see; it says--it says oh, come, this is
interesting! Why--why--look here! prove what you say here, and I'll put
up the money, and double as much, if necessary, and divide the winnings
with you, half and half. There, now--I've signed; make your promise good
if you can. Show me a copy of the London Times only ten days old."
"Here it is--and with it these buttons and a memorandum book that
belonged to the man the shark swallowed. Swallowed him in the Thames,
without a doubt; for you will notice that the last entry in the book is
dated 'London,' and is of the same date as the Times, and says, 'Ber
confequentz der Kreigeseflarun, reife ich heute nach Deutchland ab, aur
bak ich mein leben auf dem Ultar meines Landes legen mag'----, as clean
native German as anybody can put upon paper, and means that in
consequence of the declaration of war, this loyal soul is leaving for
home to-day, to fight. And he did leave, too, but the shark had him
before the day was done, poor fellow."
"And a pity, too. But there are times for mourning, and we will attend
to this case further on; other matters are pressing, now. I will go down
and set the machinery in motion in a quiet way and buy the crop. It will
cheer the drooping spirits of the boys, in a transitory way. Everything
is transitory in this world. Sixty days hence, when they are called to
deliver the goods, they will think they've been struck by lightning. But
there is a time for mourning, and we will attend to that case along with
the other one. Come along, I'll take you to my tailor. What did you say
your name is?"
"It is hard to remember. However, I think you will make it easier by and
by, if you live. There are three kinds of people--Commonplace Men,
Remarkable Men, and Lunatics. I'll classify you with the Remarkables,
and take the chances."
The deal went through, and secured to the young stranger the first
fortune he ever pocketed.
The people of Sydney ought to be afraid of the sharks, but for some
reason they do not seem to be. On Saturdays the young men go out in
their boats, and sometimes the water is fairly covered with the little
sails. A boat upsets now and then, by accident, a result of tumultuous
skylarking; sometimes the boys upset their boat for fun--such as it is
with sharks visibly waiting around for just such an occurrence. The
young fellows scramble aboard whole--sometimes--not always. Tragedies
have happened more than once. While I was in Sydney it was reported that
a boy fell out of a boat in the mouth of the Paramatta river and screamed
for help and a boy jumped overboard from another boat to save him from
the assembling sharks; but the sharks made swift work with the lives of
The government pays a bounty for the shark; to get the bounty the
fishermen bait the hook or the seine with agreeable mutton; the news
spreads and the sharks come from all over the Pacific Ocean to get the
free board. In time the shark culture will be one of the most successful
things in the colony.
We can secure other people's approval, if we do right and try hard; but
our own is worth a hundred of it, and no way has been found out of
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
My health had broken down in New York in May; it had remained in a
doubtful but fairish condition during a succeeding period of 82 days; it
broke again on the Pacific. It broke again in Sydney, but not until
after I had had a good outing, and had also filled my lecture
engagements. This latest break lost me the chance of seeing Queensland.
In the circumstances, to go north toward hotter weather was not
So we moved south with a westward slant, 17 hours by rail to the capital
of the colony of Victoria, Melbourne--that juvenile city of sixty years,
and half a million inhabitants. On the map the distance looked small;
but that is a trouble with all divisions of distance in such a vast
country as Australia. The colony of Victoria itself looks small on the
map--looks like a county, in fact--yet it is about as large as England,
Scotland, and Wales combined. Or, to get another focus upon it, it is
just 80 times as large as the state of Rhode Island, and one-third as
large as the State of Texas.
Outside of Melbourne, Victoria seems to be owned by a handful of
squatters, each with a Rhode Island for a sheep farm. That is the
impression which one gathers from common talk, yet the wool industry of
Victoria is by no means so great as that of New South Wales. The climate
of Victoria is favorable to other great industries--among others,
wheat-growing and the making of wine.
We took the train at Sydney at about four in the afternoon. It was
American in one way, for we had a most rational sleeping car; also the
car was clean and fine and new--nothing about it to suggest the rolling
stock of the continent of Europe. But our baggage was weighed, and extra
weight charged for. That was continental. Continental and troublesome.
Any detail of railroading that is not troublesome cannot honorably be
described as continental.
The tickets were round-trip ones--to Melbourne, and clear to Adelaide in
South Australia, and then all the way back to Sydney. Twelve hundred
more miles than we really expected to make; but then as the round trip
wouldn't cost much more than the single trip, it seemed well enough to
buy as many miles as one could afford, even if one was not likely to need
them. A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing
than he needs.
Now comes a singular thing: the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the
most baffling and unaccountable marvel that Australasia can show. At the
frontier between New South Wales and Victoria our multitude of passengers
were routed out of their snug beds by lantern-light in the morning in the
biting-cold of a high altitude to change cars on a road that has no break
in it from Sydney to Melbourne! Think of the paralysis of intellect that
gave that idea birth; imagine the boulder it emerged from on some
petrified legislator's shoulders.
It is a narrow-gage road to the frontier, and a broader gauge thence to
Melbourne. The two governments were the builders of the road and are the
owners of it. One or two reasons are given for this curious state of
things. One is, that it represents the jealousy existing between the
colonies--the two most important colonies of Australasia. What the other
one is, I have forgotten. But it is of no consequence. It could be but
another effort to explain the inexplicable.
All passengers fret at the double-gauge; all shippers of freight must of
course fret at it; unnecessary expense, delay, and annoyance are imposed
upon everybody concerned, and no one is benefitted.
Each Australian colony fences itself off from its neighbor with a
custom-house. Personally, I have no objection, but it must be a good
deal of inconvenience to the people. We have something resembling it
here and there in America, but it goes by another name. The large empire
of the Pacific coast requires a world of iron machinery, and could
manufacture it economically on the spot if the imposts on foreign iron
were removed. But they are not. Protection to Pennsylvania and Alabama
forbids it. The result to the Pacific coast is the same as if there were
several rows of custom-fences between the coast and the East. Iron
carted across the American continent at luxurious railway rates would be
valuable enough to be coined when it arrived.
We changed cars. This was at Albury. And it was there, I think, that
the growing day and the early sun exposed the distant range called the
Blue Mountains. Accurately named. "My word!" as the Australians say,
but it was a stunning color, that blue. Deep, strong, rich, exquisite;
towering and majestic masses of blue--a softly luminous blue, a
smouldering blue, as if vaguely lit by fires within. It extinguished the
blue of the sky--made it pallid and unwholesome, whitey and washed-out.
A wonderful color--just divine.
A resident told me that those were not mountains; he said they were
rabbit-piles. And explained that long exposure and the over-ripe
condition of the rabbits was what made them look so blue. This man may
have been right, but much reading of books of travel has made me
distrustful of gratis information furnished by unofficial residents of a
country. The facts which such people give to travelers are usually
erroneous, and often intemperately so. The rabbit-plague has indeed been
very bad in Australia, and it could account for one mountain, but not for
a mountain range, it seems to me. It is too large an order.
We breakfasted at the station. A good breakfast, except the coffee; and
cheap. The Government establishes the prices and placards them. The
waiters were men, I think; but that is not usual in Australasia. The
usual thing is to have girls. No, not girls, young ladies--generally
duchesses. Dress? They would attract attention at any royal levee in
Europe. Even empresses and queens do not dress as they do. Not that
they could not afford it, perhaps, but they would not know how.
All the pleasant morning we slid smoothly along over the plains, through
thin--not thick--forests of great melancholy gum trees, with trunks
rugged with curled sheets of flaking bark--erysipelas convalescents, so
to speak, shedding their dead skins. And all along were tiny cabins,
built sometimes of wood, sometimes of gray-blue corrugated iron; and
the doorsteps and fences were clogged with children--rugged little
simply-clad chaps that looked as if they had been imported from the
banks of the Mississippi without breaking bulk.
And there were little villages, with neat stations well placarded with
showy advertisements--mainly of almost too self-righteous brands of
"sheepdip." If that is the name--and I think it is. It is a stuff like
tar, and is dabbed on to places where the shearer clips a piece out of
the sheep. It bars out the flies, and has healing properties, and a nip
to it which makes the sheep skip like the cattle on a thousand hills. It
is not good to eat. That is, it is not good to eat except when mixed
with railroad coffee. It improves railroad coffee. Without it railroad
coffee is too vague. But with it, it is quite assertive and
enthusiastic. By itself, railroad coffee is too passive; but sheep-dip
makes it wake up and get down to business. I wonder where they get
We saw birds, but not a kangaroo, not an emu, not an ornithorhynchus, not
a lecturer, not a native. Indeed, the land seemed quite destitute of
game. But I have misused the word native. In Australia it is applied to
Australian-born whites only. I should have said that we saw no
Aboriginals--no "blackfellows." And to this day I have never seen one.
In the great museums you will find all the other curiosities, but in the
curio of chiefest interest to the stranger all of them are lacking. We
have at home an abundance of museums, and not an American Indian in them.
It is clearly an absurdity, but it never struck me before.
Truth is stranger than fiction--to some people, but I am measurably
familiar with it.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to
stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
The air was balmy and delicious, the sunshine radiant; it was a charming
excursion. In the course of it we came to a town whose odd name was
famous all over the world a quarter of a century ago--Wagga-Wagga. This
was because the Tichborne Claimant had kept a butcher-shop there. It was
out of the midst of his humble collection of sausages and tripe that he
soared up into the zenith of notoriety and hung there in the wastes of
space a time, with the telescopes of all nations leveled at him in
unappeasable curiosity--curiosity as to which of the two long-missing
persons he was: Arthur Orton, the mislaid roustabout of Wapping, or Sir
Roger Tichborne, the lost heir of a name and estates as old as English
history. We all know now, but not a dozen people knew then; and the
dozen kept the mystery to themselves and allowed the most intricate and
fascinating and marvelous real-life romance that has ever been played
upon the world's stage to unfold itself serenely, act by act, in a
British court by the long and laborious processes of judicial
When we recall the details of that great romance we marvel to see what
daring chances truth may freely take in constructing a tale, as compared
with the poor little conservative risks permitted to fiction. The
fiction-artist could achieve no success with the materials of this
splendid Tichborne romance.
He would have to drop out the chief characters; the public would say such
people are impossible. He would have to drop out a number of the most
picturesque incidents; the public would say such things could never
happen. And yet the chief characters did exist, and the incidents did
It cost the Tichborne estates $400,000 to unmask the Claimant and drive
him out; and even after the exposure multitudes of Englishmen still
believed in him. It cost the British Government another $400,000 to
convict him of perjury; and after the conviction the same old multitudes
still believed in him; and among these believers were many educated and
intelligent men; and some of them had personally known the real Sir
Roger. The Claimant was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. When he
got out of prison he went to New York and kept a whisky saloon in the
Bowery for a time, then disappeared from view.
He always claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne until death called for him.
This was but a few months ago--not very much short of a generation since
he left Wagga-Wagga to go and possess himself of his estates. On his
death-bed he yielded up his secret, and confessed in writing that he was
only Arthur Orton of Wapping, able seaman and butcher--that and nothing
more. But it is scarcely to be doubted that there are people whom even
his dying confession will not convince. The old habit of assimilating
incredibilities must have made strong food a necessity in their case; a
weaker article would probably disagree with them.
I was in London when the Claimant stood his trial for perjury. I
attended one of his showy evenings in the sumptuous quarters provided for
him from the purses of his adherents and well-wishers. He was in evening
dress, and I thought him a rather fine and stately creature. There were
about twenty-five gentlemen present; educated men, men moving in good
society, none of them commonplace; some of them were men of distinction,
none of them were obscurities. They were his cordial friends and
admirers. It was "Sir Roger," always "Sir Roger," on all hands; no one
withheld the title, all turned it from the tongue with unction, and as if
it tasted good.
For many years I had had a mystery in stock. Melbourne, and only
Melbourne, could unriddle it for me. In 1873 I arrived in London with my
wife and young child, and presently received a note from Naples signed by
a name not familiar to me. It was not Bascom, and it was not Henry; but
I will call it Henry Bascom for convenience's sake. This note, of about
six lines, was written on a strip of white paper whose end-edges were
ragged. I came to be familiar with those strips in later years. Their
size and pattern were always the same. Their contents were usually to
the same effect: would I and mine come to the writer's country-place in
England on such and such a date, by such and such a train, and stay
twelve days and depart by such and such a train at the end of the
specified time? A carriage would meet us at the station.
These invitations were always for a long time ahead; if we were in
Europe, three months ahead; if we were in America, six to twelve months
ahead. They always named the exact date and train for the beginning and
also for the end of the visit.
This first note invited us for a date three months in the future. It
asked us to arrive by the 4.10 p.m. train from London, August 6th. The
carriage would be waiting. The carriage would take us away seven days
later-train specified. And there were these words: "Speak to Tom
I showed the note to the author of "Tom Brown at Rugby," and be said:
"Accept, and be thankful."
He described Mr. Bascom as being a man of genius, a man of fine
attainments, a choice man in every way, a rare and beautiful character.
He said that Bascom Hall was a particularly fine example of the stately
manorial mansion of Elizabeth's days, and that it was a house worth going
a long way to see--like Knowle; that Mr. B. was of a social disposition;
liked the company of agreeable people, and always had samples of the sort
coming and going.
We paid the visit. We paid others, in later years--the last one in 1879.
Soon after that Mr. Bascom started on a voyage around the world in a
steam yacht--a long and leisurely trip, for he was making collections, in
all lands, of birds, butterflies, and such things.
The day that President Garfield was shot by the assassin Guiteau, we were
at a little watering place on Long Island Sound; and in the mail matter
of that day came a letter with the Melbourne post-mark on it. It was for
my wife, but I recognized Mr. Bascom's handwriting on the envelope, and
opened it. It was the usual note--as to paucity of lines--and was
written on the customary strip of paper; but there was nothing usual
about the contents. The note informed my wife that if it would be any
assuagement of her grief to know that her husband's lecture-tour in
Australia was a satisfactory venture from the beginning to the end, he,
the writer, could testify that such was the case; also, that her
husband's untimely death had been mourned by all classes, as she would
already know by the press telegrams, long before the reception of this
note; that the funeral was attended by the officials of the colonial and
city governments; and that while he, the writer, her friend and mine, had
not reached Melbourne in time to see the body, he had at least had the
sad privilege of acting as one of the pall-bearers. Signed, "Henry
My first thought was, why didn't he have the coffin opened? He would
have seen that the corpse was an imposter, and he could have gone right
ahead and dried up the most of those tears, and comforted those sorrowing
governments, and sold the remains and sent me the money.
I did nothing about the matter. I had set the law after living lecture
doubles of mine a couple of times in America, and the law had not been
able to catch them; others in my trade had tried to catch their
impostor-doubles and had failed. Then where was the use in harrying a
ghost? None--and so I did not disturb it. I had a curiosity to know
about that man's lecture-tour and last moments, but that could wait.
When I should see Mr. Bascom he would tell me all about it. But he
passed from life, and I never saw him again.. My curiosity faded away.
However, when I found that I was going to Australia it revived. And
naturally: for if the people should say that I was a dull, poor thing
compared to what I was before I died, it would have a bad effect on
business. Well, to my surprise the Sydney journalists had never heard of
that impostor! I pressed them, but they were firm--they had never heard
of him, and didn't believe in him.
I could not understand it; still, I thought it would all come right in
Melbourne. The government would remember; and the other mourners. At
the supper of the Institute of Journalists I should find out all about
the matter. But no--it turned out that they had never heard of it.
So my mystery was a mystery still. It was a great disappointment. I
believed it would never be cleared up--in this life--so I dropped it out
of my mind.
But at last! just when I was least expecting it----
However, this is not the place for the rest of it; I shall come to the
matter again, in a far-distant chapter.
There is a Moral sense, and there is an Immoral Sense. History shows us
that the Moral Sense enables us to perceive morality and how to avoid it,
and that the Immoral Sense enables us to perceive immorality and how to
-Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Melbourne spreads around over an immense area of ground. It is a stately
city architecturally as well as in magnitude. It has an elaborate system
of cable-car service; it has museums, and colleges, and schools, and
public gardens, and electricity, and gas, and libraries, and theaters,
and mining centers, and wool centers, and centers of the arts and
sciences, and boards of trade, and ships, and railroads, and a harbor,
and social clubs, and journalistic clubs, and racing clubs, and a
squatter club sumptuously housed and appointed, and as many churches and
banks as can make a living. In a word, it is equipped with everything
that goes to make the modern great city. It is the largest city of
Australasia, and fills the post with honor and credit. It has one
specialty; this must not be jumbled in with those other things. It is
the mitred Metropolitan of the Horse-Racing Cult. Its race-ground is the
Mecca of Australasia. On the great annual day of sacrifice--the 5th of
November, Guy Fawkes's Day--business is suspended over a stretch of land
and sea as wide as from New York to San Francisco, and deeper than from
the northern lakes to the Gulf of Mexico; and every man and woman, of
high degree or low, who can afford the expense, put away their other
duties and come. They begin to swarm in by ship and rail a fortnight
before the day, and they swarm thicker and thicker day after day, until
all the vehicles of transportation are taxed to their uttermost to meet
the demands of the occasion, and all hotels and lodgings are bulging
outward because of the pressure from within. They come a hundred
thousand strong, as all the best authorities say, and they pack the
spacious grounds and grandstands and make a spectacle such as is never to
be seen in Australasia elsewhere.
It is the "Melbourne Cup" that brings this multitude together. Their
clothes have been ordered long ago, at unlimited cost, and without bounds
as to beauty and magnificence, and have been kept in concealment until
now, for unto this day are they consecrate. I am speaking of the ladies'
clothes; but one might know that.
And so the grand-stands make a brilliant and wonderful spectacle, a
delirium of color, a vision of beauty. The champagne flows, everybody is
vivacious, excited, happy; everybody bets, and gloves and fortunes change
hands right along, all the time. Day after day the races go on, and the
fun and the excitement are kept at white heat; and when each day is done,
the people dance all night so as to be fresh for the race in the morning.
And at the end of the great week the swarms secure lodgings and
transportation for next year, then flock away to their remote homes and
count their gains and losses, and order next year's Cup-clothes, and then
lie down and sleep two weeks, and get up sorry to reflect that a whole
year must be put in somehow or other before they can be wholly happy
The Melbourne Cup is the Australasian National Day. It would be
difficult to overstate its importance. It overshadows all other holidays
and specialized days of whatever sort in that congeries of colonies.
Overshadows them? I might almost say it blots them out. Each of them
gets attention, but not everybody's; each of them evokes interest, but
not everybody's; each of them rouses enthusiasm, but not everybody's; in
each case a part of the attention, interest, and enthusiasm is a matter
of habit and custom, and another part of it is official and perfunctory.
Cup Day, and Cup Day only, commands an attention, an interest, and an
enthusiasm which are universal--and spontaneous, not perfunctory. Cup
Day is supreme it has no rival. I can call to mind no specialized annual
day, in any country, which can be named by that large name--Supreme. I
can call to mind no specialized annual day, in any country, whose
approach fires the whole land with a conflagration of conversation and
preparation and anticipation and jubilation. No day save this one; but
this one does it.
In America we have no annual supreme day; no day whose approach makes the
whole nation glad. We have the Fourth of July, and Christmas, and
Thanksgiving. Neither of them can claim the primacy; neither of them can
arouse an enthusiasm which comes near to being universal. Eight grown
Americans out of ten dread the coming of the Fourth, with its pandemonium
and its perils, and they rejoice when it is gone--if still alive. The
approach of Christmas brings harassment and dread to many excellent
people. They have to buy a cart-load of presents, and they never know
what to buy to hit the various tastes; they put in three weeks of hard
and anxious work, and when Christmas morning comes they are so
dissatisfied with the result, and so disappointed that they want to sit
down and cry. Then they give thanks that Christmas comes but once a
year. The observance of Thanksgiving Day--as a function--has become
general of late years. The Thankfulness is not so general. This is
natural. Two-thirds of the nation have always had hard luck and a hard
time during the year, and this has a calming effect upon their
We have a supreme day--a sweeping and tremendous and tumultuous day, a
day which commands an absolute universality of interest and excitement;
but it is not annual. It comes but once in four years; therefore it
cannot count as a rival of the Melbourne Cup.
In Great Britain and Ireland they have two great days--Christmas and the
Queen's birthday. But they are equally popular; there is no supremacy.
I think it must be conceded that the position of the Australasian Day is
unique, solitary, unfellowed; and likely to hold that high place a long
The next things which interest us when we travel are, first, the people;
next, the novelties; and finally the history of the places and countries
visited. Novelties are rare in cities which represent the most advanced
civilization of the modern day. When one is familiar with such cities in
the other parts of the world he is in effect familiar with the cities of
Australasia. The outside aspects will furnish little that is new. There
will be new names, but the things which they represent will sometimes be
found to be less new than their names. There may be shades of
difference, but these can easily be too fine for detection by the
incompetent eye of the passing stranger. In the larrikin he will not be
able to discover a new species, but only an old one met elsewhere, and
variously called loafer, rough, tough, bummer, or blatherskite, according
to his geographical distribution. The larrikin differs by a shade from
those others, in that he is more sociable toward the stranger than they,
more kindly disposed, more hospitable, more hearty, more friendly. At
least it seemed so to me, and I had opportunity to observe. In Sydney,
at least. In Melbourne I had to drive to and from the lecture-theater,
but in Sydney I was able to walk both ways, and did it. Every night, on
my way home at ten, or a quarter past, I found the larrikin grouped in
considerable force at several of the street corners, and he always gave
me this pleasant salutation:
"Here's to you, old chap!
"Say--Mark!--is he dead?"--a reference to a passage in some book of mine,
though I did not detect, at that time, that that was its source. And I
didn't detect it afterward in Melbourne, when I came on the stage for the
first time, and the same question was dropped down upon me from the dizzy
height of the gallery. It is always difficult to answer a sudden inquiry
like that, when you have come unprepared and don't know what it means.
I will remark here--if it is not an indecorum--that the welcome which an
American lecturer gets from a British colonial audience is a thing which
will move him to his deepest deeps, and veil his sight and break his
voice. And from Winnipeg to Africa, experience will teach him nothing;
he will never learn to expect it, it will catch him as a surprise each
time. The war-cloud hanging black over England and America made no
trouble for me. I was a prospective prisoner of war, but at dinners,
suppers, on the platform, and elsewhere, there was never anything to
remind me of it. This was hospitality of the right metal, and would have
been prominently lacking in some countries, in the circumstances.
And speaking of the war-flurry, it seemed to me to bring to light the
unexpected, in a detail or two. It seemed to relegate the war-talk to
the politicians on both sides of the water; whereas whenever a
prospective war between two nations had been in the air theretofore, the
public had done most of the talking and the bitterest. The attitude of
the newspapers was new also. I speak of those of Australasia and India,
for I had access to those only. They treated the subject argumentatively
and with dignity, not with spite and anger. That was a new spirit, too,
and not learned of the French and German press, either before Sedan or
since. I heard many public speeches, and they reflected the moderation
of the journals. The outlook is that the English-speaking race will
dominate the earth a hundred years from now, if its sections do not get
to fighting each other. It would be a pity to spoil that prospect by
baffling and retarding wars when arbitration would settle their
differences so much better and also so much more definitely.
No, as I have suggested, novelties are rare in the great capitals of
modern times. Even the wool exchange in Melbourne could not be told from
the familiar stock exchange of other countries. Wool brokers are just
like stockbrokers; they all bounce from their seats and put up their
hands and yell in unison--no stranger can tell what--and the president
calmly says "Sold to Smith & Co., threpence farthing--next!"--when
probably nothing of the kind happened; for how should he know?
In the museums you will find acres of the most strange and fascinating
things; but all museums are fascinating, and they do so tire your eyes,
and break your back, and burn out your vitalities with their consuming
interest. You always say you will never go again, but you do go. The
palaces of the rich, in Melbourne, are much like the palaces of the rich
in America, and the life in them is the same; but there the resemblance
ends. The grounds surrounding the American palace are not often large,
and not often beautiful, but in the Melbourne case the grounds are often
ducally spacious, and the climate and the gardeners together make them as
beautiful as a dream. It is said that some of the country seats have
grounds--domains--about them which rival in charm and magnitude those
which surround the country mansion of an English lord; but I was not out
in the country; I had my hands full in town.
And what was the origin of this majestic city and its efflorescence of
palatial town houses and country seats? Its first brick was laid and
its first house built by a passing convict. Australian history is almost
always picturesque; indeed, it is so curious and strange, that it is
itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer, and so it pushes
the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like
history, but like the most beautiful lies. And all of a fresh new sort,
no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises, and adventures, and
incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all
true, they all happened.
The English are mentioned in the Bible: Blessed are the meek, for they
shall inherit the earth.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
When we consider the immensity of the British Empire in territory,
population, and trade, it requires a stern exercise of faith to believe
in the figures which represent Australasia's contribution to the Empire's
commercial grandeur. As compared with the landed estate of the British
Empire, the landed estate dominated by any other Power except one
--Russia--is not very impressive for size. My authorities make the British
Empire not much short of a fourth larger than the Russian Empire.
Roughly proportioned, if you will allow your entire hand to represent the
British Empire, you may then cut off the fingers a trifle above the
middle joint of the middle finger, and what is left of the hand will
represent Russia. The populations ruled by Great Britain and China are
about the same--400,000,000 each. No other Power approaches these
figures. Even Russia is left far behind.
The population of Australasia--4,000,000--sinks into nothingness, and is
lost from sight in that British ocean of 400,000,000. Yet the statistics
indicate that it rises again and shows up very conspicuously when its
share of the Empire's commerce is the matter under consideration. The
value of England's annual exports and imports is stated at three billions
of dollars,--[New South Wales Blue Book.]--and it is claimed that more
than one-tenth of this great aggregate is represented by Australasia's
exports to England and imports from England. In addition to this,
Australasia does a trade with countries other than England, amounting to
a hundred million dollars a year, and a domestic intercolonial trade
amounting to a hundred and fifty millions.
In round numbers the 4,000,000 buy and sell about $600,000,000 worth of
goods a year. It is claimed that about half of this represents
commodities of Australasian production. The products exported annually
by India are worth a trifle over $500,000,000. Now, here are some
Indian production (300,000,000 population), $500,000,000.
Australasian production (4,000,000 population), $300,000,000.
That is to say, the product of the individual Indian, annually (for
export some whither), is worth $1.15; that of the individual
Australasian (for export some whither), $75! Or, to put it in another
way, the Indian family of man and wife and three children sends away an
annual result worth $8.75, while the Australasian family sends away $375
There are trustworthy statistics furnished by Sir Richard Temple and
others, which show that the individual Indian's whole annual product,
both for export and home use, is worth in gold only $7.50; or, $37.50
for the family-aggregate. Ciphered out on a like ratio of
multiplication, the Australasian family's aggregate production would be
nearly $1,600. Truly, nothing is so astonishing as figures, if they once
We left Melbourne by rail for Adelaide, the capital of the vast Province
of South Australia--a seventeen-hour excursion. On the train we found
several Sydney friends; among them a Judge who was going out on circuit,
and was going to hold court at Broken Hill, where the celebrated silver
mine is. It seemed a curious road to take to get to that region. Broken
Hill is close to the western border of New South Wales, and Sydney is on
the eastern border. A fairly straight line, 700 miles long, drawn
westward from Sydney, would strike Broken Hill, just as a somewhat
shorter one drawn west from Boston would strike Buffalo. The way the
Judge was traveling would carry him over 2,000 miles by rail, he said;
southwest from Sydney down to Melbourne, then northward up to Adelaide,
then a cant back northeastward and over the border into New South Wales
once more--to Broken Hill. It was like going from Boston southwest to
Richmond, Virginia, then northwest up to Erie, Pennsylvania, then a cant
back northeast and over the border--to Buffalo, New York.
But the explanation was simple. Years ago the fabulously rich silver
discovery at Broken Hill burst suddenly upon an unexpectant world. Its
stocks started at shillings, and went by leaps and bounds to the most
fanciful figures. It was one of those cases where the cook puts a
month's wages into shares, and comes next mouth and buys your house at
your own price, and moves into it herself; where the coachman takes a few
shares, and next month sets up a bank; and where the common sailor
invests the price of a spree, and next month buys out the steamship
company and goes into business on his own hook. In a word, it was one of
those excitements which bring multitudes of people to a common center
with a rush, and whose needs must be supplied, and at once. Adelaide was
close by, Sydney was far away. Adelaide threw a short railway across the
border before Sydney had time to arrange for a long one; it was not worth
while for Sydney to arrange at all. The whole vast trade-profit of
Broken Hill fell into Adelaide's hands, irrevocably. New South Wales
furnishes for Broken Hill and sends her Judges 2,000 miles--mainly
through alien countries--to administer it, but Adelaide takes the
dividends and makes no moan.
We started at 4.20 in the afternoon, and moved across level until night.
In the morning we had a stretch of "scrub" country--the kind of thing
which is so useful to the Australian novelist. In the scrub the hostile
aboriginal lurks, and flits mysteriously about, slipping out from time to
time to surprise and slaughter the settler; then slipping back again, and
leaving no track that the white man can follow. In the scrub the
novelist's heroine gets lost, search fails of result; she wanders here
and there, and finally sinks down exhausted and unconscious, and the
searchers pass within a yard or two of her, not suspecting that she is
near, and by and by some rambler finds her bones and the pathetic diary
which she had scribbled with her failing hand and left behind. Nobody
can find a lost heroine in the scrub but the aboriginal "tracker," and he
will not lend himself to the scheme if it will interfere with the
novelist's plot. The scrub stretches miles and miles in all directions,
and looks like a level roof of bush-tops without a break or a crack in it
--as seamless as a blanket, to all appearance. One might as well walk
under water and hope to guess out a route and stick to it, I should
think. Yet it is claimed that the aboriginal "tracker" was able to hunt
out people lost in the scrub. Also in the "bush"; also in the desert;
and even follow them over patches of bare rocks and over alluvial ground
which had to all appearance been washed clear of footprints.
From reading Australian books and talking with the people, I became
convinced that the aboriginal tracker's performances evince a craft, a
penetration, a luminous sagacity, and a minuteness and accuracy of
observation in the matter of detective-work not found in nearly so
remarkable a degree in any other people, white or colored. In an
official account of the blacks of Australia published by the government
of Victoria, one reads that the aboriginal not only notices the faint
marks left on the bark of a tree by the claws of a climbing opossum, but
knows in some way or other whether the marks were made to-day or
And there is the case, on records where A., a settler, makes a bet with
B., that B. may lose a cow as effectually as he can, and A. will produce
an aboriginal who will find her. B. selects a cow and lets the tracker
see the cow's footprint, then be put under guard. B. then drives the cow
a few miles over a course which drifts in all directions, and frequently
doubles back upon itself; and he selects difficult ground all the time,
and once or twice even drives the cow through herds of other cows, and
mingles her tracks in the wide confusion of theirs. He finally brings
his cow home; the aboriginal is set at liberty, and at once moves around
in a great circle, examining all cow-tracks until he finds the one he is
after; then sets off and follows it throughout its erratic course, and
ultimately tracks it to the stable where B. has hidden the cow. Now
wherein does one cow-track differ from another? There must be a
difference, or the tracker could not have performed the feat; a
difference minute, shadowy, and not detectible by you or me, or by the
late Sherlock Holmes, and yet discernible by a member of a race charged
by some people with occupying the bottom place in the gradations of human
It is easier to stay out than get out.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
The train was now exploring a beautiful hill country, and went twisting
in and out through lovely little green valleys. There were several
varieties of gum trees; among them many giants. Some of them were bodied
and barked like the sycamore; some were of fantastic aspect, and reminded
one of the quaint apple trees in Japanese pictures. And there was one
peculiarly beautiful tree whose name and breed I did not know. The
foliage seemed to consist of big bunches of pine-spines, the lower half
of each bunch a rich brown or old-gold color, the upper half a most vivid
and strenuous and shouting green. The effect was altogether bewitching.
The tree was apparently rare. I should say that the first and last
samples of it seen by us were not more than half an hour apart. There
was another tree of striking aspect, a kind of pine, we were told. Its
foliage was as fine as hair, apparently, and its mass sphered itself
above the naked straight stem like an explosion of misty smoke. It was
not a sociable sort; it did not gather in groups or couples, but each
individual stood far away from its nearest neighbor. It scattered itself
in this spacious and exclusive fashion about the slopes of swelling
grassy great knolls, and stood in the full flood of the wonderful
sunshine; and as far as you could see the tree itself you could also see
the ink-black blot of its shadow on the shining green carpet at its feet.
On some part of this railway journey we saw gorse and broom--importations
from England--and a gentleman who came into our compartment on a visit
tried to tell me which--was which; but as he didn't know, he had
difficulty. He said he was ashamed of his ignorance, but that he had
never been confronted with the question before during the fifty years and
more that he had spent in Australia, and so he had never happened to get
interested in the matter. But there was no need to be ashamed. The most
of us have his defect. We take a natural interest in novelties, but it
is against nature to take an interest in familiar things. The gorse and
the broom were a fine accent in the landscape. Here and there they burst
out in sudden conflagrations of vivid yellow against a background of
sober or sombre color, with a so startling effect as to make a body catch
his breath with the happy surprise of it. And then there was the wattle,
a native bush or tree, an inspiring cloud of sumptuous yellow bloom. It
is a favorite with the Australians, and has a fine fragrance, a quality
usually wanting in Australian blossoms.
The gentleman who enriched me with the poverty of his formation about the
gorse and the broom told me that he came out from England a youth of
twenty and entered the Province of South Australia with thirty-six
shillings in his pocket--an adventurer without trade, profession, or
friends, but with a clearly-defined purpose in his head: he would stay
until he was worth L200, then go back home. He would allow himself five
years for the accumulation of this fortune.
"That was more than fifty years ago," said he. "And here I am, yet."
As he went out at the door he met a friend, and turned and introduced him
to me, and the friend and I had a talk and a smoke. I spoke of the
previous conversation and said there something very pathetic about this
half century of exile, and that I wished the L200 scheme had succeeded.
"With him? Oh, it did. It's not so sad a case. He is modest, and he
left out some of the particulars. The lad reached South Australia just
in time to help discover the Burra-Burra copper mines. They turned out
L700,000 in the first three years. Up to now they have yielded
L120,000,000. He has had his share. Before that boy had been in the
country two years he could have gone home and bought a village; he could
go now and buy a city, I think. No, there is nothing very pathetic about
his case. He and his copper arrived at just a handy time to save South
Australia. It had got mashed pretty flat under the collapse of a land
boom a while before." There it is again; picturesque history
--Australia's specialty. In 1829 South Australia hadn't a white man in it.
In 1836 the British Parliament erected it--still a solitude--into a
Province, and gave it a governor and other governmental machinery.
Speculators took hold, now, and inaugurated a vast land scheme, and
invited immigration, encouraging it with lurid promises of sudden wealth.
It was well worked in London; and bishops, statesmen, and all ports of
people made a rush for the land company's shares. Immigrants soon began
to pour into the region of Adelaide and select town lots and farms in the
sand and the mangrove swamps by the sea. The crowds continued to come,
prices of land rose high, then higher and still higher, everybody was
prosperous and happy, the boom swelled into gigantic proportions. A
village of sheet iron huts and clapboard sheds sprang up in the sand, and
in these wigwams fashion made display; richly-dressed ladies played on
costly pianos, London swells in evening dress and patent-leather boots
were abundant, and this fine society drank champagne, and in other ways
conducted itself in this capital of humble sheds as it had been
accustomed to do in the aristocratic quarters of the metropolis of the
world. The provincial government put up expensive buildings for its own
use, and a palace with gardens for the use of its governor. The governor
had a guard, and maintained a court. Roads, wharves, and hospitals were
built. All this on credit, on paper, on wind, on inflated and fictitious
values--on the boom's moonshine, in fact. This went on handsomely during
four or five years. Then of a sudden came a smash. Bills for a huge
amount drawn the governor upon the Treasury were dishonored, the land
company's credit went up in smoke, a panic followed, values fell with a
rush, the frightened immigrants seized their grips and fled to other
lands, leaving behind them a good imitation of a solitude, where lately
had been a buzzing and populous hive of men.
Adelaide was indeed almost empty; its population had fallen to 3,000.
During two years or more the death-trance continued. Prospect of revival
there was none; hope of it ceased. Then, as suddenly as the paralysis
had come, came the resurrection from it. Those astonishingly rich copper
mines were discovered, and the corpse got up and danced.
The wool production began to grow; grain-raising followed--followed so
vigorously, too, that four or five years after the copper discovery, this
little colony, which had had to import its breadstuffs formerly, and pay
hard prices for them--once $50 a barrel for flour--had become an exporter
The prosperities continued. After many years Providence, desiring to
show especial regard for New South Wales and exhibit loving interest in
its welfare which should certify to all nations the recognition of that
colony's conspicuous righteousness and distinguished well-deserving,
conferred upon it that treasury of inconceivable riches, Broken Hill; and
South Australia went over the border and took it, giving thanks.
Among our passengers was an American with a unique vocation. Unique is a
strong word, but I use it justifiably if I did not misconceive what the
American told me; for I understood him to say that in the world there was
not another man engaged in the business which he was following. He was
buying the kangaroo-skin crop; buying all of it, both the Australian crop
and the Tasmanian; and buying it for an American house in New York. The
prices were not high, as there was no competition, but the year's
aggregate of skins would cost him L30,000. I had had the idea that the
kangaroo was about extinct in Tasmania and well thinned out on the
continent. In America the skins are tanned and made into shoes. After
the tanning, the leather takes a new name--which I have forgotten--I only
remember that the new name does not indicate that the kangaroo furnishes
the leather. There was a German competition for a while, some years ago,
but that has ceased. The Germans failed to arrive at the secret of
tanning the skins successfully, and they withdrew from the business. Now
then, I suppose that I have seen a man whose occupation is really
entitled to bear that high epithet--unique. And I suppose that there is
not another occupation in the world that is restricted to the hands of a
sole person. I can think of no instance of it. There is more than one
Pope, there is more than one Emperor, there is even more than one living
god, walking upon the earth and worshiped in all sincerity by large
populations of men. I have seen and talked with two of these Beings
myself in India, and I have the autograph of one of them. It can come
good, by and by, I reckon, if I attach it to a "permit."
Approaching Adelaide we dismounted from the train, as the French say, and
were driven in an open carriage over the hills and along their slopes to
the city. It was an excursion of an hour or two, and the charm of it
could not be overstated, I think. The road wound around gaps and gorges,
and offered all varieties of scenery and prospect--mountains, crags,
country homes, gardens, forests--color, color, color everywhere, and the
air fine and fresh, the skies blue, and not a shred of cloud to mar the
downpour of the brilliant sunshine. And finally the mountain gateway
opened, and the immense plain lay spread out below and stretching away
into dim distances on every hand, soft and delicate and dainty and
beautiful. On its near edge reposed the city.
We descended and entered. There was nothing to remind one of the humble
capital, of buts and sheds of the long-vanished day of the land-boom.
No, this was a modern city, with wide streets, compactly built; with fine
homes everywhere, embowered in foliage and flowers, and with imposing
masses of public buildings nobly grouped and architecturally beautiful.
There was prosperity, in the air; for another boom was on. Providence,
desiring to show especial regard for the neighboring colony on the west
called Western Australia--and exhibit a loving interest in its welfare
which should certify to all nations the recognition of that colony's
conspicuous righteousness and distinguished well-deserving, had recently
conferred upon it that majestic treasury of golden riches, Coolgardie;
and now South Australia had gone around the corner and taken it, giving
thanks. Everything comes to him who is patient and good, and waits.
But South Australia deserves much, for apparently she is a hospitable
home for every alien who chooses to come; and for his religion, too.
She has a population, as per the latest census, of only 320,000-odd, and
yet her varieties of religion indicate the presence within her borders of
samples of people from pretty nearly every part of the globe you can
think of. Tabulated, these varieties of religion make a remarkable show.
One would have to go far to find its match. I copy here this
cosmopolitan curiosity, and it comes from the published census:
Church of England,........... 89,271
Roman Catholic,.............. 47,179
Bible Christian,............. 15,762
Primitive Methodist,......... 11,654
Christian Brethren,.......... 465
Methodist New Connexion,..... 39
Church of Christ,............ 3,367
Society of Friends,.......... 100
Salvation Army,.............. 4,356
New Jerusalem Church,........ 168
Protestants (undefined),..... 6,532
Confucians, etc.,............ 3,884
Other religions,............. 1,719
Not stated,.................. 8,046
The item in the above list "Other religions" includes the following as
Believers in Christ,
Church of God,
Followers of Christ,
Town (City) Mission,
About 64 roads to the other world. You see how healthy the religious
atmosphere is. Anything can live in it. Agnostics, Atheists,
Freethinkers, Infidels, Mormons, Pagans, Indefinites they are all there.
And all the big sects of the world can do more than merely live in it:
they can spread, flourish, prosper. All except the Spiritualists and the
Theosophists. That is the most curious feature of this curious table.
What is the matter with the specter? Why do they puff him away? He is a
welcome toy everywhere else in the world.
Pity is for the living, Envy is for the dead.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
The successor of the sheet-iron hamlet of the mangrove marshes has that
other Australian specialty, the Botanical Gardens. We cannot have these
paradises. The best we could do would be to cover a vast acreage under
glass and apply steam heat. But it would be inadequate, the lacks would
still be so great: the confined sense, the sense of suffocation, the
atmospheric dimness, the sweaty heat--these would all be there, in place
of the Australian openness to the sky, the sunshine and the breeze.
Whatever will grow under glass with us will flourish rampantly out of
doors in Australia.--[The greatest heat in Victoria, that there is an
authoritative record of, was at Sandhurst, in January, 1862. The
thermometer then registered 117 degrees in the shade. In January, 1880,
the heat at Adelaide, South Australia, was 172 degrees in the sun.]
When the white man came the continent was nearly as poor, in variety of
vegetation, as the desert of Sahara; now it has everything that grows on
the earth. In fact, not Australia only, but all Australasia has levied
tribute upon the flora of the rest of the world; and wherever one goes
the results appear, in gardens private and public, in the woodsy walls of
the highways, and in even the forests. If you see a curious or beautiful
tree or bush or flower, and ask about it, the people, answering, usually
name a foreign country as the place of its origin--India, Africa, Japan,
China, England, America, Java, Sumatra, New Guinea, Polynesia, and so on.
In the Zoological Gardens of Adelaide I saw the only laughing jackass
that ever showed any disposition to be courteous to me. This one opened
his head wide and laughed like a demon; or like a maniac who was consumed
with humorous scorn over a cheap and degraded pun. It was a very human
laugh. If he had been out of sight I could have believed that the
laughter came from a man. It is an odd-looking bird, with a head and
beak that are much too large for its body. In time man will exterminate
the rest of the wild creatures of Australia, but this one will probably
survive, for man is his friend and lets him alone. Man always has a good
reason for his charities towards wild things, human or animal when he has
any. In this case the bird is spared because he kills snakes. If L. J.
he will not kill all of them.
In that garden I also saw the wild Australian dog--the dingo. He was a
beautiful creature--shapely, graceful, a little wolfish in some of his
aspects, but with a most friendly eye and sociable disposition. The
dingo is not an importation; he was present in great force when the
whites first came to the continent. It may be that he is the oldest dog
in the universe; his origin, his descent, the place where his ancestors
first appeared, are as unknown and as untraceable as are the camel's.
He is the most precious dog in the world, for he does not bark. But in
an evil hour he got to raiding the sheep-runs to appease his hunger, and
that sealed his doom. He is hunted, now, just as if he were a wolf.
He has been sentenced to extermination, and the sentence will be carried
out. This is all right, and not objectionable. The world was made for
man--the white man.
South Australia is confusingly named. All of the colonies have a
southern exposure except one--Queensland. Properly speaking, South
Australia is middle Australia. It extends straight up through the center
of the continent like the middle board in a center-table. It is 2,000
miles high, from south to north, and about a third as wide. A wee little
spot down in its southeastern corner contains eight or nine-tenths of its
population; the other one or two-tenths are elsewhere--as elsewhere as
they could be in the United States with all the country between Denver
and Chicago, and Canada and the Gulf of Mexico to scatter over. There is
plenty of room.
A telegraph line stretches straight up north through that 2,000 miles of
wilderness and desert from Adelaide to Port Darwin on the edge of the
upper ocean. South Australia built the line; and did it in 1871-2 when
her population numbered only 185,000. It was a great work; for there
were no roads, no paths; 1,300 miles of the route had been traversed but
once before by white men; provisions, wire, and poles had to be carried
over immense stretches of desert; wells had to be dug along the route to
supply the men and cattle with water.
A cable had been previously laid from Port Darwin to Java and thence to
India, and there was telegraphic communication with England from India.
And so, if Adelaide could make connection with Port Darwin it meant
connection with the whole world. The enterprise succeeded. One could
watch the London markets daily, now; the profit to the wool-growers of
Australia was instant and enormous.
A telegram from Melbourne to San Francisco covers approximately 20,000
miles--the equivalent of five-sixths of the way around the globe. It has
to halt along the way a good many times and be repeated; still, but
little time is lost. These halts, and the distances between them, are
here tabulated.--[From "Round the Empire." (George R. Parkin), all but
the last two.]
Port Augusta-Alice Springs...1,036
Alice Springs-Port Darwin,.....898
Port Darwin-Banjoewangie,... 1,150
New York-San Francisco,......3,500
I was in Adelaide again, some months later, and saw the multitudes gather
in the neighboring city of Glenelg to commemorate the Reading of the
Proclamation--in 1836--which founded the Province. If I have at any time
called it a Colony, I withdraw the discourtesy. It is not a Colony, it
is a Province; and officially so. Moreover, it is the only one so named
in Australasia. There was great enthusiasm; it was the Province's
national holiday, its Fourth of July, so to speak. It is the pre-eminent
holiday; and that is saying much, in a country where they seem to have a
most un-English mania for holidays. Mainly they are workingmen's
holidays; for in South Australia the workingman is sovereign; his vote is
the desire of the politician--indeed, it is the very breath of the
politician's being; the parliament exists to deliver the will of the
workingman, and the government exists to execute it. The workingman is a
great power everywhere in Australia, but South Australia is his paradise.
He has had a hard time in this world, and has earned a paradise. I am
glad he has found it. The holidays there are frequent enough to be
bewildering to the stranger. I tried to get the hang of the system, but
was not able to do it.
You have seen that the Province is tolerant, religious-wise. It is so
politically, also. One of the speakers at the Commemoration banquet--the
Minister of Public Works-was an American, born and reared in New England.
There is nothing narrow about the Province, politically, or in any other
way that I know of. Sixty-four religions and a Yankee cabinet minister.
No amount of horse-racing can damn this community.
The mean temperature of the Province is 62 deg. The death-rate is 13 in
the 1,000--about half what it is in the city of New York, I should think,
and New York is a healthy city. Thirteen is the death-rate for the
average citizen of the Province, but there seems to be no death-rate for
the old people. There were people at the Commemoration banquet who could
remember Cromwell. There were six of them. These Old Settlers had all
been present at the original Reading of the Proclamation, in 1536. They
showed signs of the blightings and blastings of time, in their outward
aspect, but they were young within; young and cheerful, and ready to
talk; ready to talk, and talk all you wanted; in their turn, and out of
it. They were down for six speeches, and they made 42. The governor and
the cabinet and the mayor were down for 42 speeches, and they made 6.
They have splendid grit, the Old Settlers, splendid staying power. But
they do not hear well, and when they see the mayor going through motions
which they recognize as the introducing of a speaker, they think they are
the one, and they all get up together, and begin to respond, in the most
animated way; and the more the mayor gesticulates, and shouts "Sit down!
Sit down!" the more they take it for applause, and the more excited and
reminiscent and enthusiastic they get; and next, when they see the whole
house laughing and crying, three of them think it is about the bitter
old-time hardships they are describing, and the other three think the
laughter is caused by the jokes they have been uncorking--jokes of the
vintage of 1836--and then the way they do go on! And finally when ushers
come and plead, and beg, and gently and reverently crowd them down into
their seats, they say, "Oh, I'm not tired--I could bang along a week!"
and they sit there looking simple and childlike, and gentle, and proud of
their oratory, and wholly unconscious of what is going on at the other
end of the room. And so one of the great dignitaries gets a chance, and
begins his carefully prepared speech, impressively and with solemnity--
"When we, now great and prosperous and powerful, bow our heads in
reverent wonder in the contemplation of those sublimities of energy,
of wisdom, of forethought, of----"
Up come the immortal six again, in a body, with a joyous "Hey, I've
thought of another one!" and at it they go, with might and main, hearing
not a whisper of the pandemonium that salutes them, but taking all the
visible violences for applause, as before, and hammering joyously away
till the imploring ushers pray them into their seats again. And a pity,
too; for those lovely old boys did so enjoy living their heroic youth
over, in these days of their honored antiquity; and certainly the things
they had to tell were usually worth the telling and the hearing.
It was a stirring spectacle; stirring in more ways than one, for it was
amazingly funny, and at the same time deeply pathetic; for they had seen
so much, these time-worn veterans, end had suffered so much; and had
built so strongly and well, and laid the foundations of their
commonwealth so deep, in liberty and tolerance; and had lived to see the
structure rise to such state and dignity and hear themselves so praised
for honorable work.
One of these old gentlemen told me some things of interest afterward;
things about the aboriginals, mainly. He thought them intelligent
--remarkably so in some directions--and he said that along with their
unpleasant qualities they had some exceedingly good ones; and he
considered it a great pity that the race had died out. He instanced
their invention of the boomerang and the "weet-weet" as evidences of
their brightness; and as another evidence of it he said he had never seen
a white man who had cleverness enough to learn to do the miracles with
those two toys that the aboriginals achieved. He said that even the
smartest whites had been obliged to confess that they could not learn the
trick of the boomerang in perfection; that it had possibilities which
they could not master. The white man could not control its motions,
could not make it obey him; but the aboriginal could. He told me some
wonderful things--some almost incredible things--which he had seen the
blacks do with the boomerang and the weet-weet. They have been confirmed
to me since by other early settlers and by trustworthy books.
It is contended--and may be said to be conceded--that the boomerang was
known to certain savage tribes in Europe in Roman times. In support of
this, Virgil and two other Roman poets are quoted. It is also contended
that it was known to the ancient Egyptians.
One of two things either some one with is then apparent: a boomerang
arrived in Australia in the days of antiquity before European knowledge
of the thing had been lost, or the Australian aboriginal reinvented it.
It will take some time to find out which of these two propositions is the
fact. But there is no hurry.
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three
unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience,
and the prudence never to practice either of them.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Mr. G. called. I had not seen him since Nauheim, Germany--several years
ago; the time that the cholera broke out at Hamburg. We talked of the
people we had known there, or had casually met; and G. said:
"Do you remember my introducing you to an earl--the Earl of C.?"
"Yes. That was the last time I saw you. You and he were in a carriage,
just starting--belated--for the train. I remember it."
"I remember it too, because of a thing which happened then which I was
not looking for. He had told me a while before, about a remarkable and
interesting Californian whom he had met and who was a friend of yours,
and said that if he should ever meet you he would ask you for some
particulars about that Californian. The subject was not mentioned that
day at Nauheim, for we were hurrying away, and there was no time; but the
thing that surprised me was this: when I induced you, you said, 'I am
glad to meet your lordship gain.' The I again' was the surprise. He is
a little hard of hearing, and didn't catch that word, and I thought you
hadn't intended that he should. As we drove off I had only time to say,
'Why, what do you know about him?' and I understood you to say, 'Oh,
nothing, except that he is the quickest judge of----' Then we were gone,
and I didn't get the rest. I wondered what it was that he was such a
quick judge of. I have thought of it many times since, and still
wondered what it could be. He and I talked it over, but could not guess
it out. He thought it must be fox-hounds or horses, for he is a good
judge of those--no one is a better. But you couldn't know that, because
you didn't know him; you had mistaken him for some one else; it must be
that, he said, because he knew you had never met him before. And of
course you hadn't had you?"
"Yes, I had."
"Is that so? Where?"
"At a fox-hunt, in England."
"How curious that is. Why, he hadn't the least recollection of it. Had
you any conversation with him?"
"Well, it left not the least impression upon him. What did you talk
"About the fox. I think that was all."
"Why, that would interest him; that ought to have left an impression.
What did he talk about?"
It's very curious. I don't understand it. Did what he said leave an
impression upon you?"
"Yes. It showed me that he was a quick judge of--however, I will tell
you all about it, then you will understand. It was a quarter of a
century ago 1873 or '74. I had an American friend in London named F.,
who was fond of hunting, and his friends the Blanks invited him and me to
come out to a hunt and be their guests at their country place. In the
morning the mounts were provided, but when I saw the horses I changed my
mind and asked permission to walk. I had never seen an English hunter
before, and it seemed to me that I could hunt a fox safer on the ground.
I had always been diffident about horses, anyway, even those of the
common altitudes, and I did not feel competent to hunt on a horse that
went on stilts. So then Mrs. Blank came to my help and said I could go
with her in the dog-cart and we would drive to a place she knew of, and
there we should have a good glimpse of the hunt as it went by.
"When we got to that place I got out and went and leaned my elbows on a
low stone wall which enclosed a turfy and beautiful great field with
heavy wood on all its sides except ours. Mrs. Blank sat in the dog-cart
fifty yards away, which was as near as she could get with the vehicle.
I was full of interest, for I had never seen a fox-hunt. I waited,
dreaming and imagining, in the deep stillness and impressive tranquility
which reigned in that retired spot. Presently, from away off in the
forest on the left, a mellow bugle-note came floating; then all of a
sudden a multitude of dogs burst out of that forest and went tearing by
and disappeared in the forest on the right; there was a pause, and then
a cloud of horsemen in black caps and crimson coats plunged out of the
left-hand forest and went flaming across the field like a prairie-fire,
a stirring sight to see. There was one man ahead of the rest, and he
came spurring straight at me. He was fiercely excited. It was fine to
see him ride; he was a master horseman. He came like, a storm till he
was within seven feet of me, where I was leaning on the wall, then he
stood his horse straight up in the air on his hind toe-nails, and shouted
like a demon:
"'Which way'd the fox go?'
"I didn't much like the tone, but I did not let on; for he was excited,
you know. But I was calm; so I said softly, and without acrimony:
"It seemed to anger him. I don't know why; and he thundered out:
"'WHICH fox? Why, THE fox? Which way did the FOX go?'
"I said, with great gentleness--even argumentatively:
"'If you could be a little more definite--a little less vague--because I
am a stranger, and there are many foxes, as you will know even better
than I, and unless I know which one it is that you desire to identify,
"'You're certainly the damdest idiot that has escaped in a thousand
years!' and he snatched his great horse around as easily as I would
snatch a cat, and was away like a hurricane. A very excitable man.
"I went back to Mrs. Blank, and she was excited, too--oh, all alive. She
"'He spoke to you!--didn't he?'
"'Yes, it is what happened.'
"'I knew it! I couldn't hear what he said, but I knew be spoke to you! Do
you know who it was? It was Lord C., and he is Master of the Buckhounds!
Tell me--what do you think of him?'
"'Him? Well, for sizing-up a stranger, he's got the most sudden and
accurate judgment of any man I ever saw.'
"It pleased her. I thought it would."
G. got away from Nauheim just in time to escape being shut in by the
quarantine-bars on the frontiers; and so did we, for we left the next
day. But G. had a great deal of trouble in getting by the Italian
custom-house, and we should have fared likewise but for the
thoughtfulness of our consul-general in Frankfort. He introduced me to
the Italian consul-general, and I brought away from that consulate a
letter which made our way smooth. It was a dozen lines merely commending
me in a general way to the courtesies of servants in his Italian
Majesty's service, but it was more powerful than it looked. In addition
to a raft of ordinary baggage, we had six or eight trunks which were
filled exclusively with dutiable stuff--household goods purchased in
Frankfort for use in Florence, where we had taken a house. I was going
to ship these through by express; but at the last moment an order went
throughout Germany forbidding the moving of any parcels by train unless
the owner went with them. This was a bad outlook. We must take these
things along, and the delay sure to be caused by the examination of them
in the custom-house might lose us our train. I imagined all sorts of
terrors, and enlarged them steadily as we approached the Italian
frontier. We were six in number, clogged with all that baggage, and I
was courier for the party the most incapable one they ever employed.
We arrived, and pressed with the crowd into the immense custom-house, and
the usual worries began; everybody crowding to the counter and begging to
have his baggage examined first, and all hands clattering and chattering
at once. It seemed to me that I could do nothing; it would be better to
give it all up and go away and leave the baggage. I couldn't speak the
language; I should never accomplish anything. Just then a tall handsome
man in a fine uniform was passing by and I knew he must be the
station-master--and that reminded me of my letter. I ran to him and put
it into his hands. He took it out of the envelope, and the moment his
eye caught the royal coat of arms printed at its top, he took off his cap
and made a beautiful bow to me, and said in English:
"Which is your baggage? Please show it to me."
I showed him the mountain. Nobody was disturbing it; nobody was
interested in it; all the family's attempts to get attention to it had
failed--except in the case of one of the trunks containing the dutiable
goods. It was just being opened. My officer said:
"There, let that alone! Lock it. Now chalk it. Chalk all of the lot.
Now please come and show the hand-baggage."
He plowed through the waiting crowd, I following, to the counter, and he
gave orders again, in his emphatic military way:
"Chalk these. Chalk all of them."
Then he took off his cap and made that beautiful bow again, and went his
way. By this time these attentions had attracted the wonder of that acre
of passengers, and the whisper had gone around that the royal family were
present getting their baggage chalked; and as we passed down in review on
our way to the door, I was conscious of a pervading atmosphere of envy
which gave me deep satisfaction.
But soon there was an accident. My overcoat pockets were stuffed with
German cigars and linen packages of American smoking tobacco, and a
porter was following us around with this overcoat on his arm, and
gradually getting it upside down. Just as I, in the rear of my family,
moved by the sentinels at the door, about three hatfuls of the tobacco
tumbled out on the floor. One of the soldiers pounced upon it, gathered
it up in his arms, pointed back whence I had come, and marched me ahead
of him past that long wall of passengers again--he chattering and
exulting like a devil, they smiling in peaceful joy, and I trying to look
as if my pride was not hurt, and as if I did not mind being brought to
shame before these pleased people who had so lately envied me. But at
heart I was cruelly humbled.
When I had been marched two-thirds of the long distance and the misery of
it was at the worst, the stately station-master stepped out from
somewhere, and the soldier left me and darted after him and overtook him;
and I could see by the soldier's excited gestures that he was betraying
to him the whole shabby business. The station-master was plainly very
angry. He came striding down toward me, and when he was come near he
began to pour out a stream of indignant Italian; then suddenly took off
his hat and made that beautiful bow and said:
"Oh, it is you! I beg a thousands pardons! This idiot here---" He turned
to the exulting soldier and burst out with a flood of white-hot Italian
lava, and the next moment he was bowing, and the soldier and I were
moving in procession again--he in the lead and ashamed, this time, I with
my chin up. And so we marched by the crowd of fascinated passengers, and
I went forth to the train with the honors of war. Tobacco and all.
Man will do many things to get himself loved, he will do all things to
get himself envied.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Before I saw Australia I had never heard of the "weet-weet" at all.
I met but few men who had seen it thrown--at least I met but few who
mentioned having seen it thrown. Roughly described, it is a fat wooden
cigar with its butt-end fastened to a flexible twig. The whole thing is
only a couple of feet long, and weighs less than two ounces. This
feather--so to call it--is not thrown through the air, but is flung with
an underhanded throw and made to strike the ground a little way in front
of the thrower; then it glances and makes a long skip; glances again,
skips again, and again and again, like the flat stone which a boy sends
skating over the water. The water is smooth, and the stone has a good
chance; so a strong man may make it travel fifty or seventy-five yards;
but the weet-weet has no such good chance, for it strikes sand, grass,
and earth in its course. Yet an expert aboriginal has sent it a measured
distance of two hundred and twenty yards. It would have gone even
further but it encountered rank ferns and underwood on its passage and
they damaged its speed. Two hundred and twenty yards; and so weightless
a toy--a mouse on the end of a bit of wire, in effect; and not sailing
through the accommodating air, but encountering grass and sand and stuff
at every jump. It looks wholly impossible; but Mr. Brough Smyth saw the
feat and did the measuring, and set down the facts in his book about
aboriginal life, which he wrote by command of the Victorian Government.
What is the secret of the feat? No one explains. It cannot be physical
strength, for that could not drive such a feather-weight any distance.
It must be art. But no one explains what the art of it is; nor how it
gets around that law of nature which says you shall not throw any
two-ounce thing 220 yards, either through the air or bumping along the
ground. Rev. J. G. Woods says:
"The distance to which the weet-weet or kangaroo-rat can be thrown is
truly astonishing. I have seen an Australian stand at one side of
Kennington Oval and throw the kangaroo rat completely across it." (Width
of Kensington Oval not stated.) "It darts through the air with the sharp
and menacing hiss of a rifle-ball, its greatest height from the ground
being some seven or eight feet . . . . . . When properly thrown it
looks just like a living animal leaping along . . . . . . Its
movements have a wonderful resemblance to the long leaps of a
kangaroo-rat fleeing in alarm, with its long tail trailing behind it."
The Old Settler said that he had seen distances made by the weet-weet, in
the early days, which almost convinced him that it was as extraordinary
an instrument as the boomerang.
There must have been a large distribution of acuteness among those naked
skinny aboriginals, or they couldn't have been such unapproachable
trackers and boomerangers and weet-weeters. It must have been
race-aversion that put upon them a good deal of the low-rate intellectual
reputation which they bear and have borne this long time in the world's
estimate of them.
They were lazy--always lazy. Perhaps that was their trouble. It is a
killing defect. Surely they could have invented and built a competent
house, but they didn't. And they could have invented and developed the
agricultural arts, but they didn't. They went naked and houseless, and
lived on fish and grubs and worms and wild fruits, and were just plain
savages, for all their smartness.
With a country as big as the United States to live and multiply in, and
with no epidemic diseases among them till the white man came with those
and his other appliances of civilization, it is quite probable that there
was never a day in his history when he could muster 100,000 of his race
in all Australia. He diligently and deliberately kept population down by
infanticide--largely; but mainly by certain other methods. He did not
need to practise these artificialities any more after the white man came.
The white man knew ways of keeping down population which were worth
several of his. The white man knew ways of reducing a native population
80 percent. in 20 years. The native had never seen anything as fine as
For example, there is the case of the country now called Victoria--a
country eighty times as large as Rhode Island, as I have already said.
By the best official guess there were 4,500 aboriginals in it when the
whites came along in the middle of the 'Thirties. Of these, 1,000 lived
in Gippsland, a patch of territory the size of fifteen or sixteen Rhode
Islands: they did not diminish as fast as some of the other communities;
indeed, at the end of forty years there were still 200 of them left. The
Geelong tribe diminished more satisfactorily: from 173 persons it faded
to 34 in twenty years; at the end of another twenty the tribe numbered
one person altogether. The two Melbourne tribes could muster almost 300
when the white man came; they could muster but twenty, thirty-seven years
later, in 1875. In that year there were still odds and ends of tribes
scattered about the colony of Victoria, but I was told that natives of
full blood are very scarce now. It is said that the aboriginals continue
in some force in the huge territory called Queensland.
The early whites were not used to savages. They could not understand the
primary law of savage life: that if a man do you a wrong, his whole tribe
is responsible--each individual of it--and you may take your change out
of any individual of it, without bothering to seek out the guilty one.
When a white killed an aboriginal, the tribe applied the ancient law, and
killed the first white they came across. To the whites this was a
monstrous thing. Extermination seemed to be the proper medicine for such
creatures as this. They did not kill all the blacks, but they promptly
killed enough of them to make their own persons safe. From the dawn of
civilization down to this day the white man has always used that very
precaution. Mrs. Campbell Praed lived in Queensland, as a child, in the
early days, and in her "Sketches of Australian life," we get informing
pictures of the early struggles of the white and the black to reform each
Speaking of pioneer days in the mighty wilderness of Queensland, Mrs.
"At first the natives retreated before the whites; and, except that
they every now and then speared a beast in one of the herds, gave
little cause for uneasiness. But, as the number of squatters
increased, each one taking up miles of country and bringing two or
three men in his train, so that shepherds' huts and stockmen's camps
lay far apart, and defenseless in the midst of hostile tribes, the
Blacks' depredations became more frequent and murder was no unusual
"The loneliness of the Australian bush can hardly be painted in
words. Here extends mile after mile of primeval forest where
perhaps foot of white man has never trod--interminable vistas where
the eucalyptus trees rear their lofty trunks and spread forth their
lanky limbs, from which the red gum oozes and hangs in fantastic
pendants like crimson stalactites; ravines along the sides of which
the long-bladed grass grows rankly; level untimbered plains
alternating with undulating tracts of pasture, here and there broken
by a stony ridge, steep gully, or dried-up creek. All wild, vast
and desolate; all the same monotonous gray coloring, except where
the wattle, when in blossom, shows patches of feathery gold, or a
belt of scrub lies green, glossy, and impenetrable as Indian jungle.
"The solitude seems intensified by the strange sounds of reptiles,
birds, and insects, and by the absence of larger creatures; of which
in the day-time, the only audible signs are the stampede of a herd
of kangaroo, or the rustle of a wallabi, or a dingo stirring the
grass as it creeps to its lair. But there are the whirring of
locusts, the demoniac chuckle of the laughing jack-ass, the
screeching of cockatoos and parrots, the hissing of the frilled
lizard, and the buzzing of innumerable insects hidden under the
dense undergrowth. And then at night, the melancholy wailing of the
curlews, the dismal howling of dingoes, the discordant croaking of
tree-frogs, might well shake the nerves of the solitary watcher."
That is the theater for the drama. When you comprehend one or two other
details, you will perceive how well suited for trouble it was, and how
loudly it invited it. The cattlemen's stations were scattered over that
profound wilderness miles and miles apart--at each station half a dozen
persons. There was a plenty of cattle, the black natives were always
ill-nourished and hungry. The land belonged to them. The whites had not
bought it, and couldn't buy it; for the tribes had no chiefs, nobody in
authority, nobody competent to sell and convey; and the tribes themselves
had no comprehension of the idea of transferable ownership of land. The
ousted owners were despised by the white interlopers, and this opinion
was not hidden under a bushel. More promising materials for a tragedy
could not have been collated. Let Mrs. Praed speak:
"At Nie station, one dark night, the unsuspecting hut-keeper,
having, as he believed, secured himself against assault, was lying
wrapped in his blankets sleeping profoundly. The Blacks crept
stealthily down the chimney and battered in his skull while he
One could guess the whole drama from that little text. The curtain was
up. It would not fall until the mastership of one party or the other was
"There was treachery on both sides. The Blacks killed the Whites
when they found them defenseless, and the Whites slew the Blacks in
a wholesale and promiscuous fashion which offended against my
childish sense of justice.
"They were regarded as little above the level of brutes, and in some
cases were destroyed like vermin.
"Here is an instance. A squatter, whose station was surrounded by
Blacks, whom he suspected to be hostile and from whom he feared an
attack, parleyed with them from his house-door. He told them it was
Christmas-time--a time at which all men, black or white, feasted;
that there were flour, sugar-plums, good things in plenty in the
store, and that he would make for them such a pudding as they had
never dreamed of--a great pudding of which all might eat and be
filled. The Blacks listened and were lost. The pudding was made
and distributed. Next morning there was howling in the camp, for it
had been sweetened with sugar and arsenic!"
The white man's spirit was right, but his method was wrong. His spirit
was the spirit which the civilized white has always exhibited toward the
savage, but the use of poison was a departure from custom. True, it was
merely a technical departure, not a real one; still, it was a departure,
and therefore a mistake, in my opinion. It was better, kinder, swifter,
and much more humane than a number of the methods which have been
sanctified by custom, but that does not justify its employment. That is,
it does not wholly justify it. Its unusual nature makes it stand out and
attract an amount of attention which it is not entitled to. It takes
hold upon morbid imaginations and they work it up into a sort of
exhibition of cruelty, and this smirches the good name of our
civilization, whereas one of the old harsher methods would have had no
such effect because usage has made those methods familiar to us and
innocent. In many countries we have chained the savage and starved him
to death; and this we do not care for, because custom has inured us to
it; yet a quick death by poison is loving-kindness to it. In many
countries we have burned the savage at the stake; and this we do not care
for, because custom has inured us to it; yet a quick death is
loving-kindness to it. In more than one country we have hunted the
savage and his little children and their mother with dogs and guns
through the woods and swamps for an afternoon's sport, and filled the
region with happy laughter over their sprawling and stumbling flight, and
their wild supplications for mercy; but this method we do not mind,
because custom has inured us to it; yet a quick death by poison is
loving-kindness to it. In many countries we have taken the savage's land
from him, and made him our slave, and lashed him every day, and broken
his pride, and made death his only friend, and overworked him till he
dropped in his tracks; and this we do not care for, because custom has
inured us to it; yet a quick death by poison is loving-kindness to it.
In the Matabeleland today--why, there we are confining ourselves to
sanctified custom, we Rhodes-Beit millionaires in South Africa and Dukes
in London; and nobody cares, because we are used to the old holy customs,
and all we ask is that no notice-inviting new ones shall be intruded upon
the attention of our comfortable consciences. Mrs. Praed says of the
poisoner, "That squatter deserves to have his name handed down to the
contempt of posterity."
I am sorry to hear her say that. I myself blame him for one thing, and
severely, but I stop there. I blame him for, the indiscretion of
introducing a novelty which was calculated to attract attention to our
civilization. There was no occasion to do that. It was his duty, and it
is every loyal man's duty to protect that heritage in every way he can;
and the best way to do that is to attract attention elsewhere. The
squatter's judgment was bad--that is plain; but his heart was right. He
is almost the only pioneering representative of civilization in history
who has risen above the prejudices of his caste and his heredity and
tried to introduce the element of mercy into the superior race's dealings
with the savage. His name is lost, and it is a pity; for it deserves to
be handed down to posterity with homage and reverence.
This paragraph is from a London journal:
"To learn what France is doing to spread the blessings of
civilization in her distant dependencies we may turn with advantage
to New Caledonia. With a view to attracting free settlers to that
penal colony, M. Feillet, the Governor, forcibly expropriated the
Kanaka cultivators from the best of their plantations, with a
derisory compensation, in spite of the protests of the Council
General of the island. Such immigrants as could be induced to cross
the seas thus found themselves in possession of thousands of coffee,
cocoa, banana, and bread-fruit trees, the raising of which had cost
the wretched natives years of toil whilst the latter had a few
five-franc pieces to spend in the liquor stores of Noumea."
You observe the combination? It is robbery, humiliation, and slow, slow
murder, through poverty and the white man's whisky. The savage's gentle
friend, the savage's noble friend, the only magnanimous and unselfish
friend the savage has ever had, was not there with the merciful swift
release of his poisoned pudding.
There are many humorous things in the world; among them the white man's
notion that he is less savage than the other savages.--[See Chapter on
Nothing is so ignorant as a man's left hand, except a lady's watch.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
You notice that Mrs. Praed knows her art. She can place a thing before
you so that you can see it. She is not alone in that. Australia is
fertile in writers whose books are faithful mirrors of the life of the
country and of its history. The materials were surprisingly rich, both
in quality and in mass, and Marcus Clarke, Ralph Boldrewood, Cordon,
Kendall, and the others, have built out of them a brilliant and vigorous
literature, and one which must endure. Materials--there is no end to
them! Why, a literature might be made out of the aboriginal all by
himself, his character and ways are so freckled with varieties--varieties
not staled by familiarity, but new to us. You do not need to invent any
picturesquenesses; whatever you want in that line he can furnish you; and
they will not be fancies and doubtful, but realities and authentic. In
his history, as preserved by the white man's official records, he is
everything--everything that a human creature can be. He covers the
entire ground. He is a coward--there are a thousand fact to prove it.
He is brave--there are a thousand facts to prove it. He is treacherous
--oh, beyond imagination! he is faithful, loyal, true--the white man's
records supply you with a harvest of instances of it that are noble,
worshipful, and pathetically beautiful. He kills the starving stranger
who comes begging for food and shelter there is proof of it. He succors,
and feeds, and guides to safety, to-day, the lost stranger who fired on
him only yesterday--there is proof of it. He takes his reluctant bride
by force, he courts her with a club, then loves her faithfully through a
long life--it is of record. He gathers to himself another wife by the
same processes, beats and bangs her as a daily diversion, and by and by
lays down his life in defending her from some outside harm--it is of
record. He will face a hundred hostiles to rescue one of his children,
and will kill another of his children because the family is large enough
without it. His delicate stomach turns, at certain details of the white
man's food; but he likes over-ripe fish, and brazed dog, and cat, and
rat, and will eat his own uncle with relish. He is a sociable animal,
yet he turns aside and hides behind his shield when his mother-in-law
goes by. He is childishly afraid of ghosts and other trivialities that
menace his soul, but dread of physical pain is a weakness which he is not
acquainted with. He knows all the great and many of the little
constellations, and has names for them; he has a symbol-writing by means
of which he can convey messages far and wide among the tribes; he has a
correct eye for form and expression, and draws a good picture; he can
track a fugitive by delicate traces which the white man's eye cannot
discern, and by methods which the finest white intelligence cannot
master; he makes a missile which science itself cannot duplicate without
the model--if with it; a missile whose secret baffled and defeated the
searchings and theorizings of the white mathematicians for seventy years;
and by an art all his own he performs miracles with it which the white
man cannot approach untaught, nor parallel after teaching. Within
certain limits this savage's intellect is the alertest and the brightest
known to history or tradition; and yet the poor creature was never able
to invent a counting system that would reach above five, nor a vessel
that he could boil water in. He is the prize-curiosity of all the races.
To all intents and purposes he is dead--in the body; but he has features
that will live in literature.
Mr. Philip Chauncy, an officer of the Victorian Government, contributed
to its archives a report of his personal observations of the aboriginals
which has in it some things which I wish to condense slightly and insert
here. He speaks of the quickness of their eyes and the accuracy of their
judgment of the direction of approaching missiles as being quite
extraordinary, and of the answering suppleness and accuracy of limb and
muscle in avoiding the missile as being extraordinary also. He has seen
an aboriginal stand as a target for cricket-balls thrown with great force
ten or fifteen yards, by professional bowlers, and successfully dodge
them or parry them with his shield during about half an hour. One of
those balls, properly placed, could have killed him; "Yet he depended,
with the utmost self-possession, on the quickness of his eye and his
The shield was the customary war-shield of his race, and would not be a
protection to you or to me. It is no broader than a stovepipe, and is
about as long as a man's arm. The opposing surface is not flat, but
slopes away from the centerline like a boat's bow. The difficulty about
a cricket-ball that has been thrown with a scientific "twist" is, that it
suddenly changes it course when it is close to its target and comes
straight for the mark when apparently it was going overhead or to one
side. I should not be able to protect myself from such balls for
half-an-hour, or less.
Mr. Chauncy once saw "a little native man" throw a cricket-ball 119
yards. This is said to beat the English professional record by thirteen
We have all seen the circus-man bound into the air from a spring-board
and make a somersault over eight horses standing side by side. Mr.
Chauncy saw an aboriginal do it over eleven; and was assured that he had
sometimes done it over fourteen. But what is that to this:
"I saw the same man leap from the ground, and in going over he
dipped his head, unaided by his hands, into a hat placed in an
inverted position on the top of the head of another man sitting
upright on horseback--both man and horse being of the average size.
The native landed on the other side of the horse with the hat fairly
on his head. The prodigious height of the leap, and the precision
with which it was taken so as to enable him to dip his head into the
hat, exceeded any feat of the kind I have ever beheld."
I should think so! On board a ship lately I saw a young Oxford athlete
run four steps and spring into the air and squirm his hips by a
side-twist over a bar that was five and one-half feet high; but he could
not have stood still and cleared a bar that was four feet high. I know
this, because I tried it myself.
One can see now where the kangaroo learned its art.
Sir George Grey and Mr. Eyre testify that the natives dug wells fourteen
or fifteen feet deep and two feet in diameter at the bore--dug them in
the sand--wells that were "quite circular, carried straight down, and the
work beautifully executed."
Their tools were their hands and feet. How did they throw sand out from
such a depth? How could they stoop down and get it, with only two feet
of space to stoop in? How did they keep that sand-pipe from caving in
on them? I do not know. Still, they did manage those seeming
impossibilities. Swallowed the sand, may be.
Mr. Chauncy speaks highly of the patience and skill and alert
intelligence of the native huntsman when he is stalking the emu, the
kangaroo, and other game:
"As he walks through the bush his step is light, elastic, and
noiseless; every track on the earth catches his keen eye; a leaf, or
fragment of a stick turned, or a blade of grass recently bent by the
tread of one of the lower animals, instantly arrests his attention;
in fact, nothing escapes his quick and powerful sight on the ground,
in the trees, or in the distance, which may supply him with a meal
or warn him of danger. A little examination of the trunk of a tree
which may be nearly covered with the scratches of opossums ascending
and descending is sufficient to inform him whether one went up the
night before without coming down again or not."
Fennimore Cooper lost his chance. He would have known how to value these
people. He wouldn't have traded the dullest of them for the brightest
Mohawk he ever invented.
All savages draw outline pictures upon bark; but the resemblances are not
close, and expression is usually lacking. But the Australian
aboriginal's pictures of animals were nicely accurate in form, attitude,
carriage; and he put spirit into them, and expression. And his pictures
of white people and natives were pretty nearly as good as his pictures of
the other animals. He dressed his whites in the fashion of their day,
both the ladies and the gentlemen. As an untaught wielder of the pencil
it is not likely that he has had his equal among savage people.
His place in art--as to drawing, not color-work--is well up, all things
considered. His art is not to be classified with savage art at all, but
on a plane two degrees above it and one degree above the lowest plane of
civilized art. To be exact, his place in art is between Botticelli and
De Maurier. That is to say, he could not draw as well as De Maurier but
better than Boticelli. In feeling, he resembles both; also in grouping
and in his preferences in the matter of subjects. His "corrobboree" of
the Australian wilds reappears in De Maurier's Belgravian ballrooms, with
clothes and the smirk of civilization added; Botticelli's "Spring" is the
"corrobboree" further idealized, but with fewer clothes and more smirk.
And well enough as to intention, but--my word!
The aboriginal can make a fire by friction. I have tried that.
All savages are able to stand a good deal of physical pain. The
Australian aboriginal has this quality in a well-developed degree. Do
not read the following instances if horrors are not pleasant to you.
They were recorded by the Rev. Henry N. Wolloston, of Melbourne, who had
been a surgeon before he became a clergyman:
1. "In the summer of 1852 I started on horseback from Albany, King
George's Sound, to visit at Cape Riche, accompanied by a native on
foot. We traveled about forty miles the first day, then camped by a
water-hole for the night. After cooking and eating our supper, I
observed the native, who had said nothing to me on the subject,
collect the hot embers of the fire together, and deliberately place
his right foot in the glowing mass for a moment, then suddenly
withdraw it, stamping on the ground and uttering a long-drawn
guttural sound of mingled pain and satisfaction. This operation he
repeated several times. On my inquiring the meaning of his strange
conduct, he only said, 'Me carpenter-make 'em' ('I am mending my
foot'), and then showed me his charred great toe, the nail of which
had been torn off by a tea-tree stump, in which it had been caught
during the journey, and the pain of which he had borne with stoical
composure until the evening, when he had an opportunity of
cauterizing the wound in the primitive manner above described."
And he proceeded on the journey the next day, "as if nothing had
happened"--and walked thirty miles. It was a strange idea, to keep a
surgeon and then do his own surgery.
2. "A native about twenty-five years of age once applied to me, as
a doctor, to extract the wooden barb of a spear, which, during a
fight in the bush some four months previously, had entered his
chest, just missing the heart, and penetrated the viscera to a
considerable depth. The spear had been cut off, leaving the barb
behind, which continued to force its way by muscular action
gradually toward the back; and when I examined him I could feel a
hard substance between the ribs below the left blade-bone. I made a
deep incision, and with a pair of forceps extracted the barb, which
was made, as usual, of hard wood about four inches long and from
half an inch to an inch thick. It was very smooth, and partly
digested, so to speak, by the maceration to which it had been
exposed during its four months' journey through the body. The wound
made by the spear had long since healed, leaving only a small
cicatrix; and after the operation, which the native bore without
flinching, he appeared to suffer no pain. Indeed, judging from his
good state of health, the presence of the foreign matter did not
materially annoy him. He was perfectly well in a few days."
But No. 3 is my favorite. Whenever I read it I seem to enjoy all that
the patient enjoyed--whatever it was:
3. "Once at King George's Sound a native presented himself to me
with one leg only, and requested me to supply him with a wooden leg.
He had traveled in this maimed state about ninety-six miles, for
this purpose. I examined the limb, which had been severed just
below the knee, and found that it had been charred by fire, while
about two inches of the partially calcined bone protruded through
the flesh. I at once removed this with the saw; and having made as
presentable a stump of it as I could, covered the amputated end of
the bone with a surrounding of muscle, and kept the patient a few
days under my care to allow the wound to heal. On inquiring, the
native told me that in a fight with other black-fellows a spear had
struck his leg and penetrated the bone below the knee. Finding it
was serious, he had recourse to the following crude and barbarous
operation, which it appears is not uncommon among these people in
their native state. He made a fire, and dug a hole in the earth
only sufficiently large to admit his leg, and deep enough to allow
the wounded part to be on a level with the surface of the ground.
He then surrounded the limb with the live coals or charcoal, which
was replenished until the leg was literally burnt off. The
cauterization thus applied completely checked the hemorrhage, and he
was able in a day or two to hobble down to the Sound, with the aid
of a long stout stick, although he was more than a week on the
But he was a fastidious native. He soon discarded the wooden leg made
for him by the doctor, because "it had no feeling in it." It must have
had as much as the one he burnt off, I should think.
So much for the Aboriginals. It is difficult for me to let them alone.
They are marvelously interesting creatures. For a quarter of a century,
now, the several colonial governments have housed their remnants in
comfortable stations, and fed them well and taken good care of them in
every way. If I had found this out while I was in Australia I could have
seen some of those people--but I didn't. I would walk thirty miles to
see a stuffed one.
Australia has a slang of its own. This is a matter of course. The vast
cattle and sheep industries, the strange aspects of the country, and the
strange native animals, brute and human, are matters which would
naturally breed a local slang. I have notes of this slang somewhere, but
at the moment I can call to mind only a few of the words and phrases.
They are expressive ones. The wide, sterile, unpeopled deserts have
created eloquent phrases like "No Man's Land" and the "Never-never
Country." Also this felicitous form: "She lives in the Never-never
Country"--that is, she is an old maid. And this one is not without
merit: "heifer-paddock"--young ladies' seminary. "Bail up" and "stick
up" equivalent of our highwayman-term to "hold up" a stage-coach or a
train. "New-chum" is the equivalent of our "tenderfoot"--new arrival.
And then there is the immortal "My word!" "We must import it."
"In cold print it is the equivalent of our "Ger-rreat Caesar!" but spoken
with the proper Australian unction and fervency, it is worth six of it
for grace and charm and expressiveness. Our form is rude and explosive;
it is not suited to the drawing-room or the heifer-paddock; but "M-y
word!" is, and is music to the ear, too, when the utterer knows how to
say it. I saw it in print several times on the Pacific Ocean, but it
struck me coldly, it aroused no sympathy. That was because it was the
dead corpse of the thing, the 'soul was not there--the tones were
lacking--the informing spirit--the deep feeling--the eloquence. But the
first time I heard an Australian say it, it was positively thrilling.