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Station Life in New Zealand

Letter II. Sight-Seeing in Melbourne

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Letter II. Sight-Seeing in Melbourne.

I have left my letter to the last moment before starting for Lyttleton; everything is re-packed and ready, and we sail to-morrow morning in the Albion. She is a mail-steamer—very small after our large vessel, but she looks clean and tidy; at all events, we hope to be only on board her for ten days. In England one fancies that New Zealand is quite close to Australia, so I was rather disgusted to find we had another thousand miles of steaming to do before we could reach our new home; and one of the many Job’s comforters who are scattered up and down the world assures me that the navigation is the most dangerous and difficult of the whole voyage.

We have seen a good deal of Melbourne this week; and not only of the town, for we have had many drives in the exceedingly pretty suburbs, owing to the kindness of the D——s, who have been most hospitable and made our visit here delightful. We drove out to their house at Toorak three or four times; and spent a page 11 long afternoon with them; and there I began to make acquaintance with the Antipodean trees and flowers. I hope you will not think it a very sweeping assertion if I say that all the leaves look as if they were made of leather, but it really is so; the hot winds appear to parch up everything, at all events. round Melbourne, till the greatest charm of foliage is more or less lost; the flowers also look withered and burnt up, as yours do at the end of a long, dry summer, only they assume this appearance after the first hot wind in spring. The suburb called Heidelberg is the prettiest, to my taste—an undulating country with vineyards, and a park-like appearance which, is very charming. All round Melbourne there are nice, comfortable, English-looking villas. At one of these we called to return a visit and found a very handsome house, luxuriously furnished, with beautiful garden and grounds. One afternoon we went by rail to St. Kilda’s, a flourishing bathing-place on the sea-coast, about six miles from Melbourne. Everywhere building is going on with great rapidity, and you do not see any poor people in the streets. If I wanted to be critical and find fault, I might object to the deep gutters on each side of the road; after a shower of rain they are raging torrents for a short time, through which you are obliged to splash without regard to the muddy consequences; and even when they are dry, they entail sudden and prodigious jolts. There are plenty of Hansoms and all sorts of other conveyances, but I gave page 12 F—— no peace until he took me for a drive in a vehicle which was quite new to me—a sort of light car with a canopy and curtains, holding four, two on each seat, dos-à-dos, and called a “jingle,”—of American parentage, I fancy. One drive in this carriage was quite enough, however, and I contented myself with Hansoms afterwards; but walking is really more enjoyable than anything else, after having been so long cooped up on board ship.

We admired the fine statue, at the top of Collins Street, to the memory of the two most famous of Australian explorers, Burke and Wills, and made many visits to the Museum, and the glorious Free Library; we also went all over the Houses of Legislature—very new and grand. But you must not despise me if I confess to having enjoyed the shops exceedingly: it was so unlike a jeweller’s shop in England to see on the counter gold in its raw state, in nuggets and dust and flakes; in this stage of its existence it certainly deserves its name of “filthy lucre,“ for it is often only half washed. There were quantities of emus’ eggs in the silversmiths’ shops, mounted in every conceivable way as cups and vases, and even as work-boxes: some designs consisted of three or five eggs grouped together as a centre-piece. I cannot honestly say I admired any of them; they were generally too elaborate, comprising often a native (spear in hand), a kangaroo, palms, ferns, cockatoos, and sometimes an emu or two in addition, as a pedestal—all this in frosted silver or gold. I was given a pair of these eggs before leaving England: page 13 they were mounted in London as little flower-vases in a setting consisting only of a few bulrushes and leaves, yet far better than any of these florid designs; but he emu-eggs are very popular in Sydney or Melbourne, and I am told sell rapidly to people going home, who take them as a memento of their Australian life, and probably think that the greater the number of reminiscences suggested by the ornament the more satisfactory it is as a purchase.

I must finish my letter by a description of a dinner-party which about a dozen of our fellow-passengers joined with us in giving our dear old captain before we all separated. Whilst we were on board, it very often happened that the food was not very choice or good: at all events we used sometimes to grumble at it, and we generally wound up our lamentations by agreeing that when we reached Melbourne we would have a good dinner together. Looking back on it, I must say I think we were all rather greedy, but we tried to give a better colouring to our gourmandism by inviting the captain, who was universally popular, and by making it as elegant and pretty a repast as possible. Three or four of the gentlemen formed themselves into a committee, and they must really have worked very hard; at all events they collected everything rare and strange in the way of fish, flesh, and fowl peculiar to Australia, the arrangement of the table was charming, and the delicacies were all cooked and served to perfection. The ladies’ tastes were considered in the profusion of flowers, and we each found an exquisite page 14 bouquet by our plate. I cannot possibly give you a minute account of the whole ménu; in fact, as it is, I feel rather like Froissart, who, after chronicling a long list of sumptuous dishes, is not ashamed to confess, “Of all which good things I, the chronicler of this narration, did partake!” The soups comprised kangaroo-tail—a clear soup not unlike ox-tail, but with a flavour of game. I wish I could recollect the names of the fish: the fresh-water ones came a long distance by rail from the river Murray, but were excellent nevertheless. The last thing which I can remember tasting (for one really could do little else) was a most exquisite morsel of pigeon—more like a quail than anything else in flavour. I am not a judge of wine, as you may imagine, therefore it is no unkindness to the owners of the beautiful vineyards which we saw the other day, to say that I do not like the Australian wines. Some of the gentlemen pronounced them to be excellent, especially the equivalent to Sauterne, which has a wonderful native name impossible to write down; but, as I said before, I do not like the rather rough flavour. We had not a great variety of fruit at dessert: indeed, Sydney oranges constituted its main feature, as it is too late for winter fruits, and too early for summer ones: but we were not inclined. to be over-fastidious, and thought everything delicious.