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Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter XVI

page 132

Chapter XVI.

Once more in Melbourne—I start in the coaching business—On the Geelong-Ballarat Road—A disastrous accident—I relinquish the life of a Jehu—I regain possession of the Indian boy—Total Wreck of the Brig "Jane," my Whaler—A terrible loss—Down on my beam-ends once more—I start butchering at Ballarat—The "Saveloy Boom"—Gold tempts me again—Our reefing spec. at Brown's—An ugly Quarrel—A Second Edition of the Ballarat Riots narrowly averted.

I rambled about Melbourne for some time, but could see nothing suitable to go into. During my peregrinations one day I fell in with a man named Seward, whom I had known in San Francisco at a time when he was in a large way of business, and reputed to be very wealthy. But now a sad change had come o'er the scene. Poor Seward was very shabby, and actually without a shilling, as he himself informed me. By a series of misfortunes in business he had lost all his wealth. I was very sorry for him, and handed him a pound-note, and told him to go up to my hotel and I would see what could be done for him when I returned. I went at once to Mr. Thomas Labey, and asked him if he could find him employment in his office. I recommended him as a first-class business man and a clever accountant, and Labey told me I had better send him down to the office.

I found Seward waiting for me when I returned, and he was overjoyed to hear of the chance of employment. Next day I gave him £20, and he got himself a good fit-out of clothes, etc., of which he stood much in need, and I accompanied him to Mr. Labey's, who, after a few inquiries, installed him as clerk, and I left him an altogether different being from the day before.

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I now grew tired of inactivity, and decided to take a trip to the goldfields. I sold my horse and went to Geelong, en route for Ballarat; but in Geelong I met an old friend of my early days, named Harry Dewing, who, in company with a partner named Harry Lascelles, was running a line of coaches to the goldfields. I found there was an opening here, and I gave £1000 for a share in the business. Coach-driver's wages were then £12 per week, and I thought, being a tolerable whip, that I might as well earn that amount myself, and accordingly mounted the box of the Ballarat coach. Thinking I was settled now for a time, I sent to Sydney for my wife and child.

I had been driving for some time, when at last, by an unlucky accident, my career as a "Jehu" was cut short. I used to drive through Steiglitz, a diggings township on the road from Geelong to Ballarat; and about five miles from this place there was a very long and steep hill to descend. One day, in going down with a load of twenty passengers, the wheel broke, gave way, and the horses getting frightened, bolted. My nerves were pretty steady, however, and I held on to the leaders until near the bottom of the hill, when the coach capsized, and my freight was scattered in all directions. One woman and a little girl were killed out-right, and a young man had his leg broken, several other passengers being slightly injured. One of the pole horses had his leg broken, and I had to shoot him. An hour afterwards the down coach arrived and took the wounded passengers back to Geelong, and another was sent up to continue the journey so unhappily interrupted.

It was an accident which might have occurred to any driver at any time in the same place, and I could not lay any of the blame on myself, but when I got back to Geelong I told Dewing I would drive no more. Of course there was an inquest, and as there was considerable rivalry and opposition in the coaching business at this time, there was a clamour about furious driving, etc.; but it was held to be an accident, and one for which no one felt more regret than myself.

After this I was employed principally superintending our yard and the line on the road. My wife arrived from Sydney, and we took a house at Newtown, furnished it, and lived for some time in contentment, and Mrs. Barry grew to like Geelong as a place of residence better than any place we had been in as yet. My usual luck about this time again showed itself. My two part-page 134ners began to grow careless, neglected business, and drank heavily. I offered to sell out to them, but they declined, and in six months my £1000 was a dead letter, the firm had to seek the protection of the Insolvent Court, and I found myself once more on my beam ends almost, with only about £400 in cash remaining.

However, there was the whaling brig, which might soon be expected in port with a full cargo, so I looked on matters philosophically and thought they might have been much worse. I told my wife one day I thought I would go back to Sydney and await the arrival of the "Jane," and at this, for the first time, she showed a little temper, and turned restive, telling me that we had done nothing but travel since leaving California. Of course, I could not deny the fact, and remarked that we would have still to "move on," I immediately called an auction sale, sold off all the furniture, and we went up to Melbourne direct, and put up at my old quarters with Mr. Lake, in the North Melbourne Hotel. I informed Lake of all that had transpired since I left him; and when the recital was concluded he advised me to go into a better speculation than coaching, or the chances were I would soon "go broke," myself, and I agreed with him.

One morning my wife and I were walking towards the cattleyards, when she cried, "There is Peter;" and, sure enough, there was Peter, the Indian boy I had left with Tom Jones, riding to the yards. We walked towards him, and immediately he perceived us he jumped off and ran to us with tears in his eyes, asking us to take him back, and he would never leave us again. When he got a little quieter, I asked him where his master was, He said he thought he was at the paddock some distance off, where he had a lot of fat cattle ready for the market. He told me that he was worked very hard, and would like to get back into my service. We took him to the hotel with us, and I got a horse from Lake, and accompanied the boy to the paddock, which was about six miles out. Peter was very much afraid Jones would beat him for not returning sooner. I was sorry to see that the lad had evidently been cowed, and determined, if possible, to put an end to the system.

At the paddock there was a house at which Tom Jones lodged. Peter knocked at the door, which was opened by a young woman, who said that Jones had not returned yet. A man also came to the door, who asked my business, and said that Jones was away page 135looking for Peter, and when he came home he would very likely give him a good flogging. My blood boiled at this remark, but I said nothing as yet, merely telling Peter to come over to the paddock with me. The man accompanied us. He told me that he had charge of the ground for the owner in town, and collected fees for pasturage of stock left there. On the road he told Peter to go and put a saddle on his horse, and the lad seeming adverse to doing his bidding, he told him he would lay the whip over his shoulders if he was not smart about it. I asked him if he had ever flogged the boy. He said he had not done so yet, but Jones frequently gave it to him pretty sharp. I concluded from this that the poor lad was being hardly treated, and determined to remove him at once.

I had waited for an hour, and there was no appearance of Jones, so I told Peter to get his horse and accompany me back to Melbourne. He went to the stable for the purpose. When the man in charge saw him going, he told him to stop, for he was sure Jones was looking for him. I said, "Never mind Jones, if he is always flogging the lad it is time he got into better hands," and I told him to come away, whereupon the man seized the bridle and pulled the boy off the horse. He fell heavily and seemed hurt. I dismounted, and asked the inhuman brute what his name was, he replied, Foxon. Whereupon I told Mr. Foxon I would summon him to Court next day for assaulting the lad. Peter made some remark, and Foxon turned and struck him on the head and knocked him down. My patience was now quite exhausted, and I at once felled the ruffian and kicked him soundly. He got up and pitched in, and, being a big strong fellow, we had a pretty severe tussle. However, I got the best of him, and gave him a good well-deserved thrashing.

We were thus engaged when Jones rode up, and, as I was bleeding pretty profusely, he did not know me at the time, and asked, in some astonishment, whatever was the matter. Foxon began to enlighten him, and said I was stealing the boy, when he interfered, hence the present row. I went over to the stable, and Jones followed. He asked me what was my business with him or the boy, and as soon as I had spoken, Jones said, "Is that you Barry?,' It is, said I, "what is left of me." He said, "What a pity you did not tell Foxon who you were, and this unpleasant affair would not have happened. I told him I kept quiet, as I wanted to find out how the boy was being treated, page 136and had found out from Foxon, previous to the fight, that he, Jones, had been in the habit of horsewhipping him. He denied this strenuously, and when we went to the house and confronted Foxon, he denied having ever told me that Jones had been guilty of illusing the boy, and he further denied pulling the lad off the horse. This was more than I could stand, and I raised the whip I held to strike him, when Jones interfered, and saved him another well-merited drubbing.

We then left Jones, Peter going back with me to my lodgings, and I found that beyond working the lad sometimes excessively, Jones had never illtreated him, but had threatened to flog him sometimes, with a view of enforcing his wishes. However, I had got at the right party in Foxon, and I was satisfied. Jones wanted me to join him in business, saying he had done extremely well, and, stock-dealing was a paying game, but I declined, as I intended to go to Sydney to see about the "Jane," and my whaling venture. Peter left his service that night, and Jones was very sorry to part with him. He gave him £100, a gold watch, and a fine lot of clothes, for, as he told me, he had really been very faithful and useful to him in the business. Mrs. Barry was very glad to get poor Peter back again.

I stopped on with my old friend Lake for nearly three months, and Jones was a constant visitor. One night we were playing a game of cards, when Lake came in and handed me a Sydney paper to read. I saw something was wrong, and gave it to Jones, who read out the startling and unfortunate news that the brig "Jane" had been wrecked, on a coral reef, somewhere in Torres' Straits, during a heavy gale of wind. She had gone to pieces, and the captain and fifteen of the crew were drowned. This was a terrible blow. Nearly all I had to depend on gone at one stroke of misfortune. I could not rest, and at once set off for Sydney in the hope of finding the report untrue. I left my wife behind, and the lad Peter to keep her company, and arrived in Sydney in a few days, when I had my worst fears confirmed.

The news was only too true. I went out to the Glebe to see Mrs. Baird, and found the poor woman nearly out of her mind, and I almost forgot my own sorrows in thinking of hers. I had lost my money, but she had lost her husband, and was left, I was sorry to find, but poorly provided for, and she had six mouths besides her own to fill. Just at this time two whaling vessels arrived page 137in Sydney, which had been out in the same gale in which the "Jane" was lost, and a subscription was started for the widow and family of poor Baird, and in a few days the sum of £500 was collected and handed to her, which, doubtless, would in some degree lighten her sorrow.

I stayed on in Sydney for a few weeks, idling about. At last I thought it was no use indulging in unavailing regret. My money was gone beyond recall, everything was going out and nothing coming in, and it was time for me to try and climb the ladder once more. I was offered a vessel to go on a whaling voyage, but my taste for this pursuit was gone, and I proceeded back to Melbourne, where I rented a shop and started in the butchering business. The shop was in King Street, but, being a new-comer and almost unknown, I had a hard battle to fight, and after ten months' hard work, was unsuccessful and had to give in, as it was a losing game.

I thought, as I was apparently unfit for the town, I might succeed better in the country, and, taking my wife and boys, I went up to Ballarat, which was then a very busy place. Gold was then being got in large quantities, and it was a grand field for employment. Money was plentiful, judging from the number of hotels and places of amusement, which were crowded nightly.

I landed there with just £300, the only remaining portion of my accumulations. I placed £250 in the bank, and looked round for employment. I one day fell in with an acquaintance of my early days of Sydney, of the name of Sweeney, who was now a cattle-dealer and slaughterman, and was rapidly making a fortune at the business. He offered me a job to go up country and buy him a mob of cattle for the Ballarat market. I gladly accepted his offer, made my preparations, and left on my journey. I was away three months, and succeeded in buying cattle very cheap at the different stations, and got them safely to market.

The trip paid Sweeney well, and he was proportionately pleased, and paid me well for my efforts. On my return I heard of a chance to go into business at a place called Brown's Diggings,, about eighteen miles off. I at once got a horse and proceeded there, but at the time I did not like the look of the place, and returned to Ballarat and joined a man who was just starting in a retail butchering trade. We pushed the trade vigorously, and introduced a novelty to the pleasure-seekers of Ballarat, page 138which pleased their tastes and put a good deal of money into my pocket at the same time.

As before stated, the numerous hotels and places of amusement were crowded every night. I bought a lot of baskets, and hired twelve decent lads to carry them at night and hawk "saveloys" round those places. A slice of bread was given with the "bag of mystery," as some rowdies called the luscious saveloy, for which one shilling was obtained without a murmur, and I need not assure my readers it was a very profitable speculation. We kept on at this business for some time, and, by dint of hard work and energetic pushing, soon put together a tidy sum of money, in fact, things were once more looking up.

One morning an acquaintance came into our shop and exhibited a fine lot of quartz specimens which he had obtained from a reef at Brown's diggings. He wanted me to go out with him and look at it with a view to working it. I sent my mate with him, who shortly returned, very bad indeed with the quartz fever. He said the stone seemed to contain about one-half gold. We must sell out of the business and go reefing. I was very loth to give up the trade, which was now well established, and trust once more to the fickle goddess, but my mate's glowing description and picture of a fortune to be made in two years upset my prudent resolves, and we sold our business and proceeded to our new Eldorado.

I was well satisfied with the appearance of the reef, and we were not long in forming a company of ten to work the lode. Machinery was at once ordered, and I built a house close to the claim, and brought over my wife and family from Ballarat. During the erection of the crushing-battery we were employed in getting stone out, and raised about 100 tons, which we estimated, moderately enough, would yield six ounces of gold per ton. When our battery was ready to commence, we invited a lot of the neighbouring diggers and others, and held the orthodox ceremony of christening the machinery. Plenty of libations were poured out to our future success, and matters were started auspiciously.

This trial-crushing yielded 1500ozs. of gold, and caused tremendous excitement. It so far exceeded our anticipations that I began to think my old luck had not deserted me after all. I was offered £4000 for my tenth share, and declined to sell. I stuck to the company for 13 months, and cleared £4800 to my share, and then sold out for a good price; and it was fortunate page 139I did so, for very shortly afterwards the stone became very poor, and eventually the lode ran out. My mate did not sell out when I did, although he had the opportunity; but very shortly after the reef failed he was again in luck, and made a lot of money.

At this time there was a deep alluvial lead of gold being worked on Brown's, about 120 feet sinking, which was in very wet ground, necessitating the introduction of steam-power for pumping, etc. I, with two others, went into the "furnishing" business: that is, we supplied the parties in the claims on the west lead with engines and necessary gear, receiving shares in return for payment.

This run was called the "North Britain Lead," the majority of the miners being "North Countrymen," and the rest principally Cornishmen. One of the Cornishmen, named William Maddren, and his party had applied to the Government for a mining lease of an extended area, such things being then unknown on the gold diggings, although a law authorising such applications had been passed, but was unknown to the greater body of miners generally. The notices, though posted on the ground in accordance with the regulations, had been placed in some place where they could not be observed, doubtless with a purpose, as if they had been seen, objections would never have been raised, The ground applied for was marked off in ordinary claims, machinery erected, and, in one which we had "furnished," gold was being obtained in large quantities. Just as we thought matters were looking bright, the. Government stepped in on behalf of Maddren and party, and stopped us by informing us that we were trespassing on leasehold ground granted to the "Great Britain" party, This was in 1858, when Mr. John O'Shannassy was at the head of the Government. During his reign many "shady" jobs of the kind were manipulated. However, we refused to surrender our ground, especially after the enormous outlay we had been at to develop it. So the Government placed an injunction on all our claims to desist from working until the matter was adjusted.

At the time there were over two thousand miners in the place. A very large public meeting was held to protest against the injustice of throwing all the rich ground into the hands of monopolists by the system of leasing large areas. In later years, as the easily worked ground gave out, the system has worked page 140well; but at this date we considered it was unnecessary and oppressive to the individual miner. I had to take a prominent part in the agitation, as indeed most of my lately acquired capital was invested in the very ground in dispute. The public meeting inaugurated a subscription to fee the best legal talent available, and in a few days the sum of £1800 was collected.

I was deputed to go to Ballarat and engage a lawyer, and I did so, and retained a Mr. McDermott. The lease party engaged a barrister named French. To distinguish the two parties, we were named the "anti-lease party." I was one of a deputation sent to Melbourne to confer with the Government on the matter, but we got very poor encouragement in that quarter. We were informed that the lease had been legally granted to the "Great Britain" party, and we would have to give up possession. We left, and determined in our hearts to give it up only to superior force.

While in Melbourne on that trip, a terrible affair happened. The convicts at the hulks at Williamstown, in Hobson's Bay, broke out and murdered Mr. John Price, the Inspector-General of the convict prison. The murder was committed under exceptionally brutal circumstances, and five of the convicts were executed for the commission of the deed. I have already alluded to Mr. Price in the story of my early career. I had met many men while travelling through the colonies, who had been at some period under Price's iron rule. They all spoke of him as a tyrannical taskmaster, and predicted such a fate as subsequently befell him, the wish of many of these instances being father to the thought. This feeling at length culminated in a horrible death, he being literally stamped out of existence by the ironshod heels of the ruthless murderers, and I think that in the annals of crime of all time the manner of it has no parallel.

To return to the reef question, on arriving back on the diggings, we resumed work in our claims, and refused to obey the Government in the matter of giving up our means of livelihood. We worked on—until finally stopped—for about five months, and obtained a very large quantity of gold. In consequence of certain rumours, I was despatched one day into Ballarat to see Mr. McDermott, our legal adviser, to get his instructions how to proceed. I found the town in a ferment; 250 troopers had arrived from Melbourne to enforce the majesty of the law, and put us out of our claims at Brown's. This force was just starting off when I arrived in Ballarat. I immediately sought out the law-page 141yer, and represented the case to him, and told him that our party were determined not to give up the ground, and it was quite possible there would be bloodshed, as the majority of the diggers on Brown's would support us. He replied that we were quite in the right, and that we were on no account to render up the ground or leave possession of it, unless by force of arms; and with this warlike message I returned.

As it was imperative I should reach Brown's before the body of police, I went to James Bull, at Earth's stables, and hired a thoroughbred in place of my hack. I made a contract with him, that if I injured the horse, during my flying ride, I was to pay Mm 100 guineas, the price he valued the animal at. I set off at a racing pace, and overtook the troopers at the Halfway House, where they were getting some refreshment. As I flew past, Captain Sheridan, who was in charge, called out to me to stop. I took some little time to pull up, and he and Captain Elliott rode up. Sheridan asked me if my name was Barry, and if I was not one of the "Anti-lease" party, and, in fact, the ringleader. I told him he was quite correctly informed in all these particulars; that I was largely interested in the ground in dispute, and others and myself had nearly our last shilling laid out in the claims; and said, was it likely we were going to give it up without a bitter struggle?

He replied that he wished to caution me, and to request me to repeat the caution to others to use no violence, or there would assuredly be bloodshed. He had his instructions to enforce the law, and turn us out, and he would do so. I said—"Be that as it may, we will not give up our rights unless compelled to do so by main force." Sheridan answered, "Well, I have cautioned you, and upon your heads be it."

With this I rode off at my original pace, and never drew rein until I arrived at the Black Swan Hotel, in the main street of Brown's Diggings, when immediately upon my dismounting, the poor mare fell dead as a stone. The pace had been too fast for her, and a vision of £100 to pay loomed up. However, there was no time to waste in regret. There were about 1000 men waiting in the street, all armed, for it seemed they had already got an inkling of what to expect, and they anxiously enquired what advice the lawyer had sent. I gave them the message, and reported my conversation with Sheridan, telling them that the police would probably arrive before six o'clock.

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On this intelligence being given, five delegates were despatched to Italian Gully, a neighbouring diggings, to "rouse up" the diggers there. Very little, in those days, was needed to stir up the mining population to resist oppressive measures, and the Government had had a lasting lesson in this matter at the riots at Ballarat in the early days.

The troopers, on arrival, were picketed at the police camp, where the crowd followed them, but made no demonstration. In the morning there were assembled about 1500 well-armed diggers, and we confronted the police. Captain Sheridan produced a document, and read it to the crowd, detailing his instructions which were to evict us from our claims, and [unclear: place] the ground in the hands of the applicants for the lease, the "Great Britain" party. When he had ended, I was called upon to mount a stump and explain our side of the question, which I did to the best of my ability, the crowd during the whole time keeping solemn silence.

After I had concluded my statement, Captain Sheridan said, "Barry, I recognise in you the ringleader of these misguided men. I ask you, once for all, will you give up possession to the legal owners quietly or not?" I replied that we considered the proceedings of the Government in the matter to be illegal and unjust, and we would not surrender one inch of the ground unless compelled to do so by force, and in this we were advised by our lawyer. At this reply, Captain Elliott, who was with the main body of police came forward and drew his sword, saying, "Barry, we arrest you."

I motioned him back, and told him to sheathe his weapon, or there would be instant bloodshed. Sheridan spoke of proclaiming "martial law," but the crowd stood firm, and only waited for the signal from me to fire, and few of the troopers would have been left to tell the tale. After some further parley, a kind of armistice was patched up, and Sheridan called upon me to disperse the crowd who quietly broke up to meet again in the morning.

I was not sorry when the movement took place, as I had been on the "stump" for over an hour, and if shots had been exchanged I should have stood a poor chance, being between the two fires. A large public meeting was held that night, and we at last agreed to allow ourselves to be carried off from the claims under protest, but not to stop working nevertheless.

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In the morning the scene of the previous day was repeated. There was the imposing array of police drawn up, and the crowd of earnest and determined diggers surrounding them. We stated our terms of surrender of our rights, which were accepted, and Maddren and party and Captain Sheridan went quietly to the claims and took possession A note was made of our protest, no one being allowed on the claims but those gentlemen.

This quiet method of settling the business proved the best in the long run, for the claim-holders all got compensation for what was evidently a Government blunder, indeed, some went so far as to say that it was a premeditated swindle, in which some of the members of Government were concerned; and with such a handsome prize in view as a large patch of extraordinarily rich alluvial ground to be had for a little straining of the law, it is possible that such was the case.

However, it was a fortunate thing the matter was got over without a serious disturbance. Had compensation not been faithfully promised and given, a second addition of the Ballarat riots would have occurred. I believe that had we been allowed to work the ground, we should each have realised about £30,000. As it was, I lost about £1000, and considered myself rather lucky I was not once more run aground.