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Frank Leward: Memorials

Frank to Bampton

Frank to Bampton.

Cocks Camp near Ballarat Australia, Christmas-day, '51.

Dear old Bam We've knocked off work on this broiling hot day and I'm sitting down to write a few lines at our beastly dirty rickety small table covered with pannikins and tin plates out of which we've just drunk our tea and eaten our Christmas plum dough. The other fellows are asleep outside the hut in the shade. It's so long since I wrote I forget where I was Frisco I suppose. We got to Melbourne in October and found a devil of a row going on worse even I think than they were in Frisco in some ways. I put in there once before in 39 I think on our way back from Van Diemens Land the first time. There was only a small bit of a place then which had been started a year or two before by a fellow named Batman from Launceston. Now its covered with buildings of all sorts and new ones going up as fast as they can put them up. The place is swarming with emigrants coming as fast as the ships can bring them, and the poor beggars don't know what to do when they get there most of them have nowhere to go to theres no page 198room for them anywhere, a good little merchant turned his store into a sort of sleeping-place and I saw I should think 50 families all huddled up together on straw anything for a night's lodging till they could get up the country you never saw such a sight in your life. I had lots of money so I got a bullock cart and six good bullocks and started over the bush for this. I managed to take two families just out and some young fellows only the women and children allowed to ride the rest had to walk. I had done something like it in California so it was nothing new to me, and we had lots of rations. At night we rigged up a tent and made a fire and damper and boiled our tea in a tin billy and got on splendidly. The men had to sleep under the waggon. Any man with a waggon and team of bullocks who knows how to get along a bush track such as it is can make a lot now. Its awkward when you come across a big gum tree over the track you must go round it if the scrubs too thick for that or other trees are in the road the only way's to stop and cut the tree up that takes a tremendous time.

Every one's off to the diggins. There are a lot of old chums about from Van Diemens Land and New Zealand so I'm quite at home. All Van Diemens Land seems here or coming even old baccy Edwards is speculating in land and lending money to the people in Melbourne to help them get up here at a hundred per cent he's making a tremendous lot of money, then he gets the gold from the diggers and stops the pay if they owe him anything till its cleared off and takes it down to Melbourne with page 199a lot of peelers and gets about 50 per cent on that but of course he's liable to be stuck up any day.

The diggins are carried on just about the same as in California. You shovel the dirt into what they call a cradle and throw the water on the top with a billy and rock the cradle and that washes the dirt out and the gold sinks to the bottom of the cradle. Sometimes you just put the dirt into a pan holding about twenty pounds and you let the water run over it and give a peculiar shake you can only get by practice a sort of roundabout lateral motion and you let the water wash away the dirt or if it's stony you throw away the stones and you find the gold at the bottom left behind in the pan. A pan of rich dirt will give as much as an ounce of gold. It's awfully exciting work going out prospecting sometimes you come on big nuggets and sometimes you dont find anything for days together.

Its a free jolly sort of life under canvas but awfully hot just now and all the grass is being dried up everything looks parched up and the dust when there's a hot wind by jove its fearful they call it a brick fielder it seems to blow red hot pieces of red brick nearly as big as a pea right into your skin and the dust in your eyes makes them swell up you can hardly see out of them. We shall be stopped soon I expect from want of water and have to shift our camp nearer the stream.

We're making a lot of money and most of them spend it as fast as they make it. The chief object with most is to get down to Melbourne to have a spree that means getting drunk till its gone then they come back and do page 200some more work. Australia's a wonderful country. I am going to get Edwards to send you off another lot of money to do the same with as before. I can't write any more now its so beastly hot and I'm so sleepy Yours old man