Overland Journey to the Ovens and Melbourne No 1

22 October 1853 The Sydney Morning Herald

As this is a subject of some interest at the present time, I have thought it advisable to lay before your readers a few memoranda of an expedition in which myself and three others were concerned, in the months of February and March of the present year.

To those who have not travelled the road the little incidents and adventures of a party of gold-diggers must necessarily possess some interest, if not information; whilst to those who   have travelled the road, the subject will be fraught with recollections of an agreeable and amusing character.

Having purchased a horse and cart, together with the necessary supplies, myself and three worthy companions left Sydney on the 16th of February, for the purpose of trying our fortune at the Victoria gold fields.

Like most others in the same situation, we indulged in very pleasing anticipations as to the novelties we were about to witness, and were full of high hopes as to the result of the expedition. 

This was, perhaps, more particularly the case with my- self, as I was the only one of the party who had not been at the diggings before, and to me, therefore, the prospect of seeing and mixing in those scenes which had so revolutionized society during the last two or three years afforded peculiar and inexpressible delight.

Amidst all our sanguine expectations, however, we had still a vivid if not a clear sense of the difficulties we were about to encounter, and it is very likely that we should never have prosecuted our journey had we not been nerved by confident and brilliant hopes of future success.

As the weather was very warm, and the roads dreadfully dusty, we did not feel disposed to go far the first day, particularly as it was late in the afternoon when we started. 

It so happened, moreover, that we knew very little of the horse, having purchased him only two or three days previously, and we were anxious therefore to initiate him as gradually as possible into the arduous work which  he had to perform.

Having travelled rather slowly until seven o'clock, we camped in an accommodation paddock at Irish Town, a place distant about eight or nine miles from Liverpool.

During this day nothing of interest occurred.

The scenery or appearance of the country between Liverpool and Sydney is by no means romantic, as most of your readers are doubtless aware, and we consequently found very little to relieve the tedium of travelling in warm weather, and in one unbroken cloud of dust.

Our first business when we camped was to attend to the feeding and hobbling of the horse, and it was not always that this could be done to our satisfaction, owing to the scarcity of grass, especially in the accommodation paddock.

At this place both the water and the pasturage were bad the latter in fact could hardly be used, and this we found was a difficulty which attended us throughout the journey.

Fortunately however we had provided ourselves with a very simple remedy in the shape of a supply of alum.

Even the muddiest water can be made as clear as crystal by mixing with it a small portion of this mineral pounded very fine, say a pennyweight to the bucket.

In less than a minute after the alum is applied all the clay and other impurities held in solution coagulate and fall to the bottom, leaving the water above perfectly clear. 

We found this in all cases a very effective remedy, except where the water had the taste of the gum leaf or some other vegetable substance - a circumstances which but too frequently occurred.

Still it was very consolatory to know that we could procure clear water on all occasions, and I am disposed to think that if this remedy were generally adopted and practised at the diggings, dysentery and other diseases of that kind would not be more prevalent among the diggers than among any other class of the community.     

With respect to camping, our usual custom was to sleep under the cart, with the tent thrown loosely over it.

In the summer time this mode of camping is comfortable enough, but in the winter season, when the ground is wet or damp, it is attended with very serious inconveniences.

The business of cooking was, of course, very simple, and devolved upon each member of the party in rotation.  

In the morning we resumed our journey, and reached Liverpool about mid-day.

Here we stopped for about half an hour to purchase supplies.

We always made it a point (with a view not to burden the horse more than we could help) to purchase at one township only as much provisions as would last us until we reached the next.

This, although the most convenient method for us, turned out very expensive, as the prices of nearly all articles of consumption rose higher almost every mile we advanced.  

Liverpool is usually a very dull and sombre looking place, but at the time I speak of it appeared to be all life and activity.

The number of persons constantly passing through it, bound either for the Ovens or Sydney, had occasioned a very large increase of traffic, of which the inhabitants were all eager to avail themselves.

The township itself did not exhibit any signs of improvement.

Its appearance, then, was much the same as it was ten or twelve years ago; but I believe there were several parties about to build, and were only waiting for the necessary supply of labour. 

Should the existing traffic to the southward continue, there is every probability that Liverpool will yet become a very flourishing and important township.

It already contains some brick buildings of a very superior character, among which the old Government Hospital unquestionably takes preeminence.

On leaving Liverpool the appearance of the country begins to improve, and you gradually lose sight of the sandstone formation.

Instead of the dull thickly-wooded forest, which prevails along nearly the whole line of road between Sydney and Liverpool, a fine open undulating country, adapted to every kind of agricultural purposes, gradually rises into view, and increases in beauty and grandeur as it approaches the dividing range.

On both sides of the road you behold the evidences of former cultivation; but in many cases you look in vain for the traces of produce having been raised from the ground at a recent date.

Long grass and weeds had usurped the place of wheat and corn, and there was nothing but the furrows and the circumstance of the ground having been cleared of trees to indicate former cultivation.

Upon making enquiry into the cause of this apparently retrogressive state of things, I found that it was attributable, almost exclusively, to the gold discovery.

Many of the small farmers had abandoned the pursuit of agriculture for that of gold digging, and those who had not done so were unable to procure labour from the same cause.

Thus a very large quantity of the richest and most available land in the colony was allowed to lie idle, and hence the anomalous state of things that whilst all kinds of grain realised the highest prices, but few thought it worth their while to embark in the business of agriculture - a pursuit which in all other countries is considered the chief source of national wealth and greatness.

As one of our party took ill in the course of this day we were obliged to camp early in the afternoon, on the banks of a small streamlet about six or seven miles the other side of Liverpool.

Fortune was more favorable to us this evening than on the previous one, for we had not only plenty of pure water, but also plenty of good pasturage for the horse; and the place where we camped was private property, at that time occupied by a blacksmith, who, also, made a little money by selling fruit.

The charge for the use of the paddock was only sixpence, and as we considered this very reasonable, we determined to patronise his grapes, for which effort of generosity he thanked us very cordially, and expressed a wish that we might all return with fortunes.

During the same day we met several return diggers from the Ovens diggings, all of whom gave widely different accounts, which, as is generally the case, did not tend to enlighten us, or in any way to alter our previous notions. 

From all we could learn, however, it appeared that the majority had been at Reid's Creek, and had done remarkably well, but they contended that they had taken the last of the gold away, and that it would be folly for anyone to go thither after them.

Others, again, who had evidently been unsuccessful, denounced the place as a miserable failure, and insisted that all the brilliant accounts which we had heard were promulgated by interested and designing parties.

We were of course prepared for these conflicting statements, and were therefore determined that nothing we might hear on the road should deter us from our original design.

A Gold Seeker.

(To be continued.)