Overland Journey to the Ovens and Melbourne (Letter)

29 March 1854 Empire ? (Sydney)

Sir- Having perused in the Sydney Morning Herald, of the 7th instant, an article headed No. 10 of "Notes of an overland journey to the Ovens and Melbourne," and observed in it some very erroneous remarks on the part of this very would-be cute traveller, I take the liberty of calling them to your attention.

The author of those "Notes,'' whilst describing, his passage through Gundagai, and the remains of devastation of the floods of 1852 and 1853, which were there exhibited, must have left his optics in Sydney, when he ventured to state –

"What struck me as being somewhat remarkable, was the fact that some of the places swept away by the flood, had been rebuilt, and were actually occupied as stores and residences.

One must have thought after the memorable catastrophe referred to, that the inhabitants would have profited by the lesson, and selected safer ground for their habitations.

The flood of the last year, which, I am told, rose three or four feet     higher than the previous one, must, I imagine, have convinced them of the folly and danger of adhering to the old site", also -

"Although as I have said, a few of the old habitations had been reconstructed, and were in actual habitation, still the majority of the inhabitants appear to have adopted a more prudent policy, for at the time we passed several new houses had been built on the slopes of the hills, and others were in course of erection.

It is strange, however, that some of the most populous business places were still on the old site, such  for instance us the post office, kept by a highly respectable storekeeper, and one of the most frequented and best conducted inns.''

Now, Mr. Editor, permit me to assure you and those who may have had the folly like myself to peruse these statements, that the re-constructions and re-occupations here mentioned, exist nowhere but in the erratic brain of the sapient author of these notes!

Gundagai is a place through which an immensity of travellers pass daily, and any one of the many of these arriving in Sydney can affirm personally to you that since the last flood, not one single soul is resident on the flats, where the devastation is described, not one building occupied, but on the contrary, the wrecks of buildings have been almost entirely carried away.

As for Post Office and inn being, as he states, on the old site, it must be supposed that he had occasion to require the aid of neither, or too much frequented some of the inns on the hill, if he fancied either the inn or the post office were on the old site on the flat, for both these establishments formerly on the old site have ceased to exist there since the last flood.

If, however these observations respecting Gundagai, as it was before the flood, and as it is now is, are so grossly inaccurate, some amends have been made for this by the traveller’s very proper notice of the abuses at the ferry of Gundagai, at the period of his crossing the Murrumbidgee there.

The author of these notes considers it to be a matter well worthy of consideration whether the government ought not to take the management of this Punt into their own hands, instead or it being "kept by a private party."

It affords me some satisfaction in being able to inform this author that, if we are to have the pleasure of seeing him again at Gundagai, he will find that the punt matters were under consideration when he crossed and wrote - and that now he will find a new and commodious punt - new and efficient gear, good new gangway, with civil and attentive new ferry Lessees and greatly reduced rates of fare, in lieu of the rotten old punt, with its extortion, incivility, and irregularity, by which he crossed the Murrumbidgee, last journey, at so exorbitant a charge. 

For this great boon the public may consider themselves very much indebted to the new Lessees of the ferry, Messrs. Gasse and Doyle, for the spirited manner in which they undertook the construction of a new punt, under the present state of the labour market, upon merely the chance of obtaining a lease of the ferry, and to the late Commissioner of Crown Lands, Mr. Mackenzie, for the assistance which he contributed in furthering their tender.

The superior accommodation and economy thus gained to the public can only be duly appreciated by those who have been condemned to the delays and other already-named almost unheard of abuses at the old punt, which now lies stranded below its former scene of spoliation, the jeer of all who, passing on the new one, call to mind, the abominations they have been made to suffer at the hands of the old lessees of the ferry, Mister John Spencer ex publican, and Mister Lindley, actual publican, late of the flat, but now of the hill.

Some queer doings might be told relating to this change of ferry lessees.

The old coves had violated their lease by a long series of abuses in breach of the lease of the ferry regulations; the new ones had obtained a lease in their stead, and the Government had directed that the old punt should therefore cease to ply.

This, Mr. Spencer and Mr. Lindley refused to comply with.

The new lessees applied to the present Commissioner of Crown Lands, Mr. Lockhart, for protection of their rights.

Of what avail such application in a matter contrary to the interests of Mr.Spencer?

Mr. Lockhart not only positively refused to carry out these orders of his Government, but actually told the new lessees that he should do all  in his power to prevent the consummation of their contract with Government, adding in the argument with them, when told that they must apply to Government for protection if he did not do his duty, "that he did not care for the Governor-General himself, &c."

Such a line of conduct may appear incredulous, but is a positive fact, and has been reported verbatim to the Governor-General.

Fortunately for the interests of the lessees and public, our new Police Magistrate arrived the following day, and at once took upon himself the task ordered by Government, and declined by the Crown Commissioner (the Police Magistrate also of the district).

The old lessees having refused to cease plying their punt, and the favour towards their cause by the Crown Land Commissioner, having induced the expectation of hostile opposition to its forcible removal, a reinforcement of police was sent for to the Tumut.

Upon their arrival, as Mr. Spencer still opposed compliance, the punt ropes were loosened, and the punt cast adrift, in the presence of a large concourse, assembled to witness the expected "fun."

Thus ended the vain boastings of the offenders against the law, and the iniquities hitherto practised at our ferry. 

Gundagai has long been notorious for the absence of proper magisterial interference in its doings, on the part of its neighbouring J.P.'s, and their indifference to the lawless acts occurring daily under their very noses; but, thank God, we have in this energetic specimen of our new Police Magistrate favourable augur of better days with some protection.

When magistrates residing so contiguous would not make it worth their while to form a Bench, and the New Crown Commissioner, sided with his protégés, it was high time that we should have a court always open, and a disinterested Magistrate willing to listen to complaints, and resolute in carrying out redress.  

The very extraordinary circumstances under which the new lessees of our ferry had to be put in forcible possession of their rights, and the very proper interest which you take in exposing public improprieties, will, I trust, excuse this long letter.

I remain,Sir,  

Your most obedient Servant,


Gundagai, March 15th, 1854.