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- The Bushman - 6/51 -
enjoyment attached to the green foliage, the waving crops, and the gently heaving sea, that threw over this new world of ours a charm which filled our hearts with gladness.
Having returned to our ship, we saw the pilot-boat rapidly approaching. As it came alongside, and we were hailed by the steersman, we felt a sensation of wonder at hearing ourselves addressed in English and by Englishmen, so far, so very far from the shores of England. With this feeling, too, was mingled something like pity; we could not help looking upon these poor boatmen, in their neat costume of blue woollen shirts, canvass trousers, and straw hats, as fellow-countrymen who had been long exiled from their native land, and who must now regard us with eyes of interest and affection, as having only recently left its shores.
No sooner was the pilot on board than the anchor was weighed, the sails were set, and we began to beat up into the anchorage off Fremantle. Night closed upon us ere we reached the spot proposed, and we passed the interval in walking the deck and noting the stars come forth upon their watch. The only signs of life and of human habitation were in the few twinkling lights of the town of Fremantle: all beside, on the whole length of the coast, seemed to be a desert of sand, the back-ground of which was occupied with the dark outline of an illimitable forest.
It was into this vast solitude that we were destined to penetrate. It was a picture full of sombre beauty, and it filled us with solemn thoughts.
The next morning we were up at daybreak. Certainly it was a beautiful sight, to watch the sun rise without a cloud from out of the depths of that dark forest, rapidly dispersing the cold gray gloom, and giving life, as it seemed, to the sparkling waves, which just before had been unconsciously heaved by some internal power, and suffered to fall back helplessly into their graves.
How differently now they looked, dancing joyously forward towards the shore! And the sun, that seems to bring happiness to inanimate things, brought hope and confidence back to the hearts of those who watched him rise.
Flights of sea-birds of the cormorant tribe, but generally known as Shags, were directing their course landward from the rocky islands on which they had roosted during the night. What long files they form! -- the solitary leader winging his rapid and undeviating way just above the level of the waves, whilst his followers, keeping their regular distances, blindly pursue the course he takes. See! he enters the mouth of the river; some distant object to his practised eye betokens danger, and though still maintaining his onward course, he inclines upwards into the air, and the whole line, as though actuated by the same impulse, follow his flight. And now they descend again within a few feet of the river's surface, and now are lost behind projecting rocks. All day long they fish in the retired bays and sheltered nooks of the river, happy in the midst of plenty.
The river Swan issues forth into the sea over a bar of rocks, affording only a dangerous passage for boats, or vessels drawing from four to five feet water. Upon the left bank of the river is the town of Fremantle. The most prominent object from the sea is a circular building of white limestone, placed on the summit of a black rock at the mouth of the Swan. This building is the gaol.
On the other side of the roadstead, about ten or twelve miles distant from the main, is a chain of islands, of which Rottnest is the most northern. Then come some large rocks, called the Stragglers, leaving a passage out from the roadstead by the south of Rottnest; after these is Carnac, an island abounding with rabbits and mutton-birds; and still farther south is Garden island.
Fremantle, the principal port of the colony, is unfortunately situated, as vessels of any burthen are obliged to anchor at a considerable distance from the shore. Lower down the coast is a fine harbour, called Mangles Bay, containing a splendid anchorage, and it is much to be lamented that this was not originally fixed upon as the site for the capital of the colony.
The first impression which the visitor to this settlement receives is not favourable. The whole country between Fremantle and Perth, a distance of ten miles, is composed of granitic sand, with which is mixed a small proportion of vegetable mould. This unfavourable description of soil is covered with a coarse scrub, and an immense forest of banksia trees, red gums, and several varieties of the eucalyptus. The banksia is a paltry tree, about the size of an apple-tree in an English or French orchard, perfectly useless as timber, but affording an inexhaustible supply of firewood. Besides the trees I have mentioned, there is the xanthorea, or grass-tree, a plant which cannot be intelligibly described to those who have never seen it. The stem consists of a tough pithy substance, round which the leaves are formed. These, long and tapering like the rush, are four-sided, and extremely brittle; the base from which they shoot is broad and flat, about the size of a thumb-nail, and very resinous in substance. As the leaves decay annually, others are put forth above the bases of the old ones, which are thus pressed down by the new shoots, and a fresh circle is added every year to the growing plant. Thousands of acres are covered with this singular vegetable production; and the traveller at his night bivouac is always sure of a glorious fire from the resinous stem of the grass-tree, and a comfortable bed from its leaves.
We landed in a little bay on the southern bank of the river. The houses appeared to be generally two-storied, and were built of hard marine limestone. Notwithstanding the sandy character of the soil, the gardens produced vegetables of every variety, and no part of the world could boast of finer potatoes or cabbages. Anxious to begin the primitive life of a settler as speedily as possible, we consulted a merchant to whom we had brought letters of introduction as to the best mode of proceeding. He advised us to fix our head-quarters for a time near to Fremantle, and thence traverse the colony until we should decide upon a permanent place of abode. In the meantime we dined and slept at Francisco's Hotel, where we were served with French dishes in first-rate style, and drank good luck to ourselves in excellent claret.
In the early days of the colony, Sir James Stirling, the first Governor, had fixed upon Fremantle as the seat of government; and the settlers had begun to build themselves country-houses and elegant villa residences upon the banks of the river. These, however, were not completed before it was determined to fix the capital at Perth, some dozen miles up the river, where the soil was rather better, and where a communication with the proposed farms in the interior would be more readily kept up.
The government officers had now to abandon their half-built stone villas, and construct new habitations of wood, as there was no stone to be found in the neighbourhood of Perth, and brick clay had not then been discovered.
It was in one of these abandoned houses (called the Cantonment), situate on the banks of the Swan, about half a mile from Fremantle, that, by the advice of our friend, we resolved to take up our quarters. The building was enclosed on three sides by a rough stone wall, and by a wooden fence, forming a paddock of about three quarters of an acre in extent. It comprised one large room, of some forty feet by eighteen, which had a roof of thatch in tolerable repair. The north side, protected by a verandah, had a door and two windows, in which a few panes of glass remained, and looked upon the broad river, from which it was separated by a bank of some twenty feet in descent, covered with a variety of shrubs, just then bursting into flower. A few scattered red-gum trees, of the size of a well-grown ash, gave a park-like appearance to our paddock, of which we immediately felt extremely proud, and had no doubt of being very comfortable in our new domain. Besides the large room I have mentioned, there were two others at the back of it, which, unfortunately, were in rather a dilapidated condition; and below these apartments (which were built on the slope of a hill) were two more, which we immediately allotted to the dogs and sheep. This side of the building was enclosed by a wall, which formed a small court-yard. Here was an oven, which only wanted a little repair to be made ready for immediate use.
For several days we were occupied in superintending the landing of our stores, and housing them in a building which we rented in the town at no trifling sum per week. A light dog-cart, which I had brought out, being unpacked, proved extremely useful in conveying to our intended residence such articles as we were likely to be in immediate want of.
The two men had already taken up their abode there, together with the rams and dogs; and at last, leaving our comfortable quarters at the hotel with something like regret and a feeling of doubt and bewilderment, we all three marched in state, with our double-barrels on our shoulders, to take possession of our rural habitation.
We had providently dined before we took possession; and now, at sunset, we stood on the bank before our house, looking down upon the placid river. The blood-hound was chained to one of the posts of the verandah; Jezebel, the noble mastiff-bitch, lay basking before the door, perfectly contented with her situation and prospects; and little Fig was busily hunting among the shrubs, and barking at the small birds which he disturbed as they were preparing to roost.
One of the men was sitting on an upturned box beside the fire, waiting for the gently-humming kettle to boil; whilst the other was chipping wood outside the house, and from time to time carrying the logs into the room, and piling them upon the hearth. As we looked around we felt that we had now indeed commenced a new life. For some months, at any rate, we were to do without those comforts and luxuries which Englishmen at home, of every rank above the entirely destitute, deem so essential to bodily ease and happiness.
We were to sleep on the floor, to cook our own victuals, and make our own beds. This was to be our mode of acquiring a settlement in this land of promise. Still there was an air of independence about it, and we felt a confidence in our own energies and resources that made the novelty of our position rather agreeable than otherwise.
There was something exhilarating in the fresh sea-breeze; there was something very pleasing in the gay appearance of the shrubs that surrounded us -- in the broad expanse of the river, with its occasional sail, and its numerous birds passing rapidly over it on their way to the islands where they roosted, or soaring leisurely to and fro, with constant eyes piercing its depths, and then suddenly darting downwards like streams of light into the flood, and emerging instantly afterwards with their finny prey. The opposite bank of the
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