A Tour from Yass to the Ovens

The Sydney Morning Herald

15 January 1853

By our Special Reporter. No. II. Albury, January 8th.

My last communication was addressed to you from Yass, which place I left on Thursday last, after a weary and irksome sojourn there of four days.

I noticed in my last the injury this town was subjected to from the want of a bridge over the river at the entrance to the town on the Sydney side. I was not fully aware then of the extent of the evil, which, however, from personal observation I have since found to be very great. Hundreds of parties are daily passing by to the diggings without calling at Yass at all, and chiefly because they are averse to cross the river.

Another evil to which the town is subject, and which is productive of great disadvantage, is the want of tolerable schools, either public or private, competent to afford something like education to the rising generation. There are, it is true, two denominational schools, an Episcopal and Roman Catholic school, but I heard sad complaints of both as to the inefficiency of the teachers, and the amount of instruction imparted.

Some time ago so severely was this want felt that a subscription was set on foot to build a schoolroom, with a view to the establishment of a school on the national system, and 50 was subscribed, and is now in the hands of the treasurer; but the Yass people, although apprehensive enough to see the evils which surround them, do not seem to have energy and perseverance enough to carry out their projects to remedy them.

On Thursday, which is the weekly Court day; I strolled up to the Court-house, and al- though somewhat familiar with the mode of conducting the business of the petty sessions in the small inland towns, I was somewhat amused at the way in which it was transacted here.

There was one magistrate, Dr. Blake, and one attorney, Mr. Allman, who seemed to be quite as necessary an attendant at the Court as the chief constable or the clerk of the Court, and he seemed to have a brief for every case, either for the prosecution or defence - and a very goodly pile of papers they made. The last of the cases appeared to me a very long one, but when I understood how it was accumulated, this ceased to surprise me.

If the lawyer is paid, as in Sydney, for each appearance, he must draw a goodly revenue from the good people of Yass. The first case was a drunkard's, and the man having been admitted to bail did not appear, so that the case was postponed. Another drunkard was fined 5s., which was the only case I saw disposed of. There were charges of highway robbery and horse selling, forgery, arson, and assault, but these had all been pending for weeks and months, and were again postponed, some for want of witnesses, some for want of two magistrates, some because they had been initiated by another magistrate, who chose to be out of the way.

All shared the same fate, but the list was gravely gone through, and the lawyer heard almost in each charge, why it should or should not be remanded; but the whole having been comfortably disposed, and the Court having, as I before said, convicted one drunkard and mulet him in the sum of 5s., adjourned till the afternoon, when it was hoped, somewhat faintly, however, by those most interested, that one or two other of the worshipful gentlemen of the district might attend.

The mail from Yass is a vehicle designed to carry four persons, but which, in the exigency of the case, we managed to squeeze five. The passengers consisted of three gold seekers and myself, who had been left at Yass because the onward mail was unable to take us at the last trip. A new batch of arrivals from Sydney by the mail which came into Yass about 12 o'clock were also anxious to get on, but of course there was no room for them, so they were left to go through the ordeal of patience, through which we had so lately passed.

No doubt this system of detention makes what is called "a rosy game" for the publicans, but is very unfair on the part of the coach contractor towards the public. The coach contractor secures himself by booking only for short stages, but the credulous passenger is informed, of course, he will have the preference in booking at the next stage on. If however passengers in general knew that that mail to Yass carries ten passengers while that onwards carries only five, they would require some better security against delay.

The road from Yass possesses little to interest until you approach the banks of the Murrumbidgee. It is wooded with the same eternal iron bark and gum trees, which extends over the whole colony whether you travel north, south, or west. As we approached Jugiong, however, we began to witness the effects of the late tremendous rising of the waters of the Murrumbidgee.

The ground for miles round, though now for the most part covered with fresh vegetation, still showed the return of the waters - passing the Jugiong Creek a deep and yawning chasm, more than fifty yards across, and twenty or thirty feet deep, we found it dry and sandy, but not only was this a broad rushing stream at the time of the flood, but the waters overflowed for miles round.

As we passed along the banks of the river, now ten or twelve feet above the water, we saw the trunks of huge trees which had been carried away in all directions by the resistless flood. Some of these were caught high up in the branches of other trees growing on the banks of the river, showing the terrific extent the waters must have risen. Our driver pointed out to me places where rows of little cottages had formerly stood, but with the exception here and there of the ruin of a fence, the flood had done its work of destruction too well, and had left nothing behind to tell its tale of devastation.

At this spot the only house left standing near the banks of the river was Mr. Sheahan's residence, and part proprietor. We called at this house to tea, and the walls showed the marks of the water up ten or twelve feet high, only one man was drowned here, Sheahan happening fortunately to have a boat with which he rescued a number of parties. It struck me as somewhat singular, but the little slab-built chapel, with its rude grave yard attached, which stands on a little elevation of the land before you get to Jugiong had been very slightly injured by the flood.

We left Jugiong at about 8 o'clock, and, as there was no moon, in half an hour it was quite dark. I must enter my protest against the folly and the danger of the mail travelling through the bush over roads like ours in the night time. It is most perilous to the traveller, and does not advance the journey one mile. The distance from Jugiong to Gundagai is 25 miles, and after groping our way about all night, we arrived at the latter place at 4 o'clock in the morning. If we had stayed and slept at Sheahan's till 3 o'clock, when day began to break, we could have been in by 7 o'clock, the hour at which the mail ought to start from Gundagai to Tarcutta.

Gundagai tells less of the recent flood than I expected, but that is because I never saw it before. The plain, which now looks a green flat, was, I am told, covered with houses and gardens, every vestige of which is now swept away. Eighty-seven people were doomed here, at least that number were actually missed, although it is probable that it was considerably increased by strangers who were in the vicinity, and who have been omitted in the calculation.

There are some very sad tales of the fate of these unfortunate people. One woman, a Mrs. Hunt, who, with 6 children and her husband, perished in the waters, made desperate endeavours to save some of them, and swam up wards of two miles in the effort to do so.

The body of her husband was never found, but as he was a very large man, it was supposed to be a body which was entangled in the boughs of a tree, on a little island in the river, and which, to the shame of someone or other, was left there a prey to the fowls of the air, and the bones of which are, I believe, still left to bleach - a melancholy memento of this great calamity.

The road to Tarcutta presented no novelty, except that we began more frequently to overtake parties bound to the diggings, with their implements and accoutrements, plodding along their weary march. What, however, the road wanted in natural interest, was made up for in the excitement kept up by the dangers to which we were exposed.

It would perhaps be unfair to judge too harshly of the contractors for this time, to be very severe on them before they have had time to complete their arrangements, this being only the second trip the mail had made: but I do not hesitate to say, that the danger of travelling on these roads, at all times great, is at present increased tenfold, by the employment of young and untried horses, the craziness of the vehicles, and the utter inefficiency of the harness.

On this last point too much reprobation cannot be expressed, as in the latter part of our journey, we never went a single stage without something giving way, and in many instances, serious accidents were likely to occur in consequence.

To all these difficulties in the distance between Gundaroo and Tarcutta, were to be added the reckless cruelly of the driver, who, whether his horses did their work well or ill, had evidently acquired a habit of flogging incessantly, and thus worked his horses into a state of desperation, which made them kick and plunge in a manner exceedingly dangerous to the passengers. I myself was severely bruised in the foot from a kick, arising from this cause.

We arrived at Tarcutta about noon, and having booked for Albury and dined, started about one o'clock. But we were not destined to get away so easily. Through the town- ship runs a narrow but pretty deep creek through which we had to pass, but on getting half through it, one of our horses refused to proceed, and after withstanding blows, coaxings, and threats for a few minutes, very quietly lay down - leaving us in the pleasant expectation of being momentarily plunged into the water.

By good luck, however, a youth who was riding by and saw our dilemma came and fetched us, one by one, to the bank, when thus lightened of its load, the obstinate beast refused to move, and two men had to go into the creek and unharness her before she could be got out. On again harnessing her to the mail she began to kick and plunge violently, and I after dragging the mail a few yards, again quietly lay down with a look of dogged determination not to go further.

The consequence was, we had to send back for another horse, and the one we had had come down the same stage that morning (25 miles) making its journey for the day 50 miles. Although this savoured strongly of cruelty to animals we got through it in good style, arriving at the roadside house, where we changed horses at about half-past six.

Here again a young horse was put in, and in starting at once began to plunge so violently that the mail was thrown over, breaking several bolts, while the dilapidated harness was rendered more dangerous than ever.

At last we got away about eight o'clock, and had to ride again all night running once up against a tree with such violence as to throw the driver completely off the coach. About seven o'clock we arrived at our last stage on the road to this town ; and we started this time it is true with steady horses, but with our harness so completely shattered that even the driver expected us to break down every moment. By dint of careful driving, however, we arrived here without further mishap, thoroughly tired, bruised, and exhausted.

Albury is a nice little town, prettily situated on the banks of the Hume, as the head of the Murray is called. There are a considerable number of houses, scattered over a considerable extent of ground, and there is a good deal of active business bustle in the place. This, perhaps, is increased to an unwonted degree by the number of diggers who flock here, and throng the public houses from morning till night.

The Hume River is here a fine broad stream, about ten feet below the level of its banks, but running with a strong and steady current. I looked with much interest on this, the head of the only inland water yet discovered on this continent, which is to any extent navigable for the purposes of traffic.

The head of the river is about 100 miles up, and it is supposed to be navigable to York- hill, about 60 miles from this place.

On the bank of the river stands the first marked tree in this district. It has fallen into a state of decay, but the government with greater respect than it usually evinces in such matters, has fenced it round. It bears the inscription - W. Hovell, November 17, 1824.

From the enquiries I have made, I find that to Spring Creek diggings is about 40 miles, and this distance I shall start off to walk tomorrow morning, as I see no other means of conveyance. My travelling companions go with me, for it is altogether unsafe to walk alone, as marauding parties are out everywhere, laying every struggler under contribution, and plundering even to the amount of five shillings.

The diggings, as I am informed, are very extensive, spreading over a district of more than 60 miles. In general they are turning out well, but some are richer than others. There are about 10,000 people reported to be on them.