Past and Present, and Men of the Times.
Early Reminiscences—My First Voyage—Off to Australasia in the "Red Rover"—Sydney in 1829—Home-sickness—Queer Lodgings—"Butcher" Smith, the ex-convict.
I was born in England, at the village of Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, in the year 1819. My father was by profession a veterinary surgeon, his practice mostly lying among the nobility and gentry by whom he was well known and respected. He took me to travel with him in his gig, at the age of six years, and up to nine years I had visited nearly all the principal counties of England. At this age we were staying at Lord Braybrooke's, Saffron, Walden, in Esses, and one of the guests, Sir John Alcock, taking a liking to me, asked my father to let me enter his service, and he would do well by me, and forward my prospects in life. My father consented, and I was handed over. My employer was about to undertake a voyage round the world, a very considerable feat in those clays of slow sailers and defective navigation. Although so young, the love of novelty common to all youngsters spurred me on to leave my native land and go with him.
In June, 1828, Sir John secured passages in the "Red Rover," commanded by Captain Davis, which was to sail for Sydney, New South Wales. We left the London Docks that month, with a fair wind down Channel. We had 250 passengers on board, and these were the first free emigrants who had left page 10London for New South Wales; those who had gone before being mostly convicted felons, having, as it was said in those days, "left their country for their country's good." We had a great deal of hardship to put with on the voyage. First, our water supply ran short; then sickness broke out among the passengers; and, to crown our misfortunes, the vessel sprang a leak, and we had to put into the Cape of Good Hope for repairs, with three feet of water in the hold. The passengers were sent on shore during the time the ship was being repaired, which was three weeks. Sir John Alcock and I also lived on shore, and saw whatever there was to be seen of the country and its inhabitants. As far as my recollection serves me, I did not like either, and was very glad when the "Red Rover" was ready for sea.
The ship being ready, we all re-embarked and continued our voyage. We were not long out of port when typhus fever broke out in the vessel, and raged more or less until we arrived at Sydney, in January, 1829. During this time twenty-four deaths occurred, amongst them that of the chief mate. We lost many aged people and females, and several of the children on board became orphans through this calamity. It was a sorrowful sight to see, almost daily, some of our companions sewn up in canvas and put over the ship's side. I have seen death in every shape since, but nothing ever impressed me so deeply as this, my first acquaintance with the grim old tyrant.
On arrival in Sydney Harbour we were quarantined for six weeks, and the ship and all passengers' luggage thoroughly fumigated. The quarantine station consisted of six barn-like structures, built of saplings, on long poles, and mud, the discomfort and misery of living in which gave me the first taste of home-sickness, and I heartily wished myself back again in the Old Country. However, the weary time came to an end, and we sailed up to Sydney, nine miles or so further up the harbour, and the passengers were duly landed. No one seeing the magnificent city of Sydney of to-day would recognise in it the small, ill-built town of that period, With some difficulty Sir John Alcock secured lodgings, but apparently he was not much impressed with Australia, as he had made up his mind to leave in three weeks. He booked our passages in a vessel leaving for Buenos Ayres, but I had made up my mind that I had had enough of the sea at that date, and determined to remain behind.page 11
Late in the afternoon of the eve of departure, I was following Sir John Alcock down to the vessel, and carrying his carpet bag, part of hie luggage. A sudden fit of determination seized me; I threw down the carpet bag, and cut and run. I found a tank convenient, and clambered into it, and took up my lodgings therein for the night. In the morning I was half dead with cold and misery, and scrambling out I was collared by a watchman, who took me before a magistrate. I invented some story of having lost my way the night before, and he let me go about my business with a recommendation to get home at once. Home, indeed! My reflections on that score were upon that morning bitterer than I have since experienced during my life. I at once looked about for employment, and was lucky enough to fall in with an old acquaintance of my father of the very common name of Smith. He was a very wealthy man, carrying on a large business in Sydney as a butcher. I may as well state here that Mr. Smith had been transported from England, at an early date in the history of the colony, for seven years, but he got a free pardon on arrival. It was a curious system of assisted emigration, but it appeared that people were sent out to the penal colonies in those days for very trifling offences. Smith had been thirteen years in the colony, and had made a large fortune, so that punishment in his case had turned out a real blessing. Having been, as I before stated, a friend of my father, he became one to me, and I have to thank him for many good services and acts of genuine kindness. I was now about ten years old, and one day I met the captain of the "Red Rover," which was still in port. He wanted me to go on board and sail with him. On mentioning it to Mr. Smith, he advised me to stop, telling me that he would shortly send me to school and make a man of me. It is needless to say I took his advice and remained in Sydney.