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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Chapter XIX

page 77

Chapter XIX.

Muster of Outraged Victims—A Day's Appropriation by the Bushrangers—First Precursory of an Urban Centre—Exchange or Barter, and its Modes—A Novel Consignment of Merchandise—Jock Graham's Cats.

On mustering the party after the incident related it was found to number ten, exclusive of Sam. Reckoning up their losses, it was ascertained the total amount of gold appropriated was close on four hundred ounces, which was not a bad day's work for the bushrangers. Their swags being left otherwise entire, they had no difficulty in providing the means for passing the remainder of the night comfortably.

Next morning Sam, in company with another of the party, who, now that he had been deprived of his earnings, elected to return to his work in preference to continuing his journey to Dunedin, proceeded en route for Gabriel's.

Crossing the saddle,186 they got on to the Waipori Flats,* from whence, after fording the river,187 they traversed the Weather-stone Ranges, reaching Gabriel's, by way of the Blue Spur,188 late in the evening. The two-mile stretch of gully from thence to the Junction189 resembled a perfect beehive in full working order.

The Gully stream, tortuous in itself, had been twisted and turned into a thousand different shapes, so as to get the ground taken out at such points along its course as the diggers happened to think would pay best. Then, again, it was tortured and turned about so as to bring the water on to the workings at the most advantageous points. In that way the stream was made to look as if it had lost all control of itself, page 78and meant to make the rest of the journey up-hill, or else turn tail on it and go home again to its original source. The only machinery in use was the cradle, the short whizzing sounds set up by which struck monotonously on the ear.

At the mouth of a tributary gully halfway up the main stream a canvas town, the first precursory of an urban centre on the goldfields, had begun to rear its modest head. The building-material mostly in use was corrugated iron and rough-sawn timber, supplemented by canvas, tarpaulin, and sacking. These were adjusted on light wooden frames standing end-on to the bank, which, besides being economized as a gable wall,190 was in some instances scooped out so as to form a rude but convenient fireplace. It was altogether a rag, tag, and bobtail town,191 such as rude Boreas192 would have experienced no difficulty in sending kite-high.

These "tenements" were chiefly occupied as grog-shanties,193 general stores, &c., with a billiard-table in full swing under one of their awnings. Here, of a night, after work was knocked off, the denizens of the Gully gathered in strong force, some to replenish their stores, others to retail gossip, and not a few to dissipate and drink their day's earnings. Coined money there was none, the trade being conducted on the exchange or barter system. A man gave so much gold-dust for so much flour, the relative proportions of each being regulated by weights and measures.

Business at the grog-shanties was conducted quite openly, not the slightest attempt being made to regulate the same either as respects days or hours of traffic. Two or three liquor-barrels with rough boarding atop served the double purpose of a bar-counter and a line of demarcation between the bar-attendant and his customers. The latter were the usual motley crowd peculiar to the publichouse, only, being relieved from restraints imposed by Licensing Benches, and having at their command an extra supply of the needful, their debaucheries were more deep and degrading. Differing in degree, there was, however, very little difference in effect. The immediate consequences were boisterous merriment on some and quarrelling and fighting on others, while, as a more remote consequence, poverty, shame, and suffering followed in the wake.

page 79

Housed as the digger then was, under canvas on the sides of the hill, the scene at nights, when all was lit up, was singularly impressive. Viewed from the neighbouring heights, it looked like stars in the firmament, with this difference: that the firmament looked as if it had been turned upside down.

Teams were arriving daily, freighted with all manner of miscellaneous goods, many of these being all the more welcome that they afforded relief to apprehensions of a threatened famine.

Sam Perkins having witnessed similar tussle and turmoil on many occasions during his Californian experiences, they took but slight hold on his mind. One dray-load of merchandise, however, rather tickled his fancy, and brought him to a pause in his look-round for something to strike in at. It was a large consignment of cats, assorted, and secured in gin-cases, with bars in front to afford the imprisoned feline sufficiency of air and light.

The Gully and neighbourhood at this time had become overrun with rats—so much so that, no matter how cunningly the digger contrived to secure his tucker, the rodent proved more than a match for him, and the most oppressive levies were made upon his stores. Occurring as this did at a time when supplies were precarious, nothing could have been more vexatious. There were a few diggers' curs about, but, both as regards number and enterprise, they were quite unable to cope with the evil.

A novel speculator—Jock Graham194—came to the rescue. He ransacked Dunedin for cats, and, having made up a large consignment, in the order indicated, marched into Gabriel's Gully amidst all the pomp of music such as cat-calls are able to produce. The noise soon brought the entire population around, and without loss of time the bidding became so brisk that Jock resolved upon putting the cats up to public competition. Sam Perkins now saw his opportunity. He had practised the Dutch auction when following the trade of travelling merchant in the employment of Josiah Begg, and, being to the manner born, his services were forthwith engaged. Keeping an eye on the main chance, Sam entered with spirit into the humour of the proceeding. "I have, gentlemen," he would say, "to offer you the striped tiger, an animal whose pluck page 80and perseverance is not to be questioned. He is half-cousin three times removed to the celebrated Kilkenny cats195 that fought at the Battle of the Boyne196 until nothing was left but the tails. If you doubt my word, gentlemen, take a look at his tail, and you will find abundant evidence of the fierceness of the conflict in which his historical ancestors were engaged." Amidst such banter the cats were run up to fabulous prices, and Jock Graham admits to the present day the cat speculation was one of the most profitable transactions of his life.

186 The lowest point between two peaks of a particular mountain or range.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

187 Crossing the river by following a naturally formed shallow place.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

188 A small township leading towards Gabriel’s Gully.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

189 The small township now known as Cromwell.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

190 The triangular portion of a wall between intersecting roof pitches.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

191 A town populated by ‘plebeian’ commoners.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

192 Greek god of the North Wind.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

193 Unlicensed bars.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

194 John Graham was the first postman to work in the Otago gold-mining areas, later becoming a butcher and operating his own meat store with the money raised by the cat-sales.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

195 The name given to the vicious human warriors of Kilkenny.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

196 A battle in 1688 across the River Boyne in Ireland.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

* See Appendix, Note 26.