Under the Southern Cross
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It was mid-winter in Tasmania, and yet ploughing, sowing, and harrowing were going on at the same time along the route, – an agricultural anomaly rather puzzling to a stranger. The road passes through many pleasant though small villages. Ben Lomond, with its white crest, overlooks the scene for many miles after leaving Launceston. This grand mountain is in the north of the island what Mount Wellington is in the south, – the pride of the residents who live beneath its shadow. It is prolific in mineral deposits, including gold and coal; but at the present time mining operations are only prosecuted for the purpose of producing a domestic supply of the latter article.
About thirty miles from Launceston the traveller arrives at Campbelltown, which is the centre of a pastoral district. The place lies embosomed in hills, the highest point being Mount Campbell, – an elevation rising twenty-three hundred feet above sea-level. Next the town of Ross is passed, – a pretty little village, beautified by ornamental trees, and having a long arched stone bridge and lovely rural surroundings. Tunbridge, which follows, is half-way between the two cities, and seemed to be a very thrifty settlement. This, as we were told, was the nearest point to what is known as the Lake District of Tasmania, where a series of large and permanent deposits of water, lying three thousand feet above the average inhabited portions of the island, form a centre of considerable interest. It is proposed to tap these lakes in the best engineering style, for the purpose of irrigating hundreds of square miles of soil, – the country here, as upon the mainland, being subject to occasional droughts.
As we proceeded southward the picturesqueness of the scenery increased, now winding through valleys or creeping over mountain passes. Wherever the valleys widen into plains there are seen numberless rural homes, substantial and attractive, surrounded by fertile fields, cultivated gardens, and large fruit-orchards, – the latter leafless at this season, though the general foliage of the country is evergreen. Thrifty gorse hedges are prominent everywhere, blazing with yellow blossoms which lighted up and warmed the landscape like sunshine. Oatlands, Jericho, and Melton Mowbry follow one another, – each a thriving town graced with substantial buildings, often constructed of white freestone wrought from neighboring quarries. All the way the tall mountain ranges are in full sight, with patches of snow here and there high up on their sides. At the town of Brighton the river Derwent is first seen not far away, shining under the sun's rays like silver; after which Hobart is soon reached, and we are relieved from the imprisonment of the uncomfortable cars.
Hobart was so named by Colonel Collins, its founder, in 1804, in honor of Lord Hobart, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies. It is surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides except where the Derwent opens into lake form, making a deep and well-sheltered harbor, whence it leads the way into the Southern Ocean.Among the lofty hills in this vicinity Mount Wellington towers grandly forty-two hundred feet above the others, so close to the city on the northwest side as to seem almost within rifle-range. The shape of the town is square, built upon a succession of low hills, being very much in this respect like Sydney. It has broad streets intersecting one another at right angles, lined with handsome well-stocked stores serving an active and enterprising population of thirty thousand or more. Of these shops, two or three spacious and elegant bookstores deserve special mention, being such as would do credit to any American or European city. Their shelves and counters were found to contain a remarkably full assortment of both modern and classic literature. There must be many cultured and intelligent people here to afford sufficient support to such admirable establishments.
Many fine public buildings were observed, with elaborate fa?ades, nearly all built of light freestone; while quite a number of handsome edifices, both for public and private use, were noticed as in course of construction of the same material. Churches, banks, insurance offices, and the like, all in this bright cheerful stone, give not only an imposing aspect to the thoroughfares of the city, but one always pleasing whether viewed under cloud-shadows or in the rays of the sun. And yet Hobart has hardly outlived the curse of the penal associations which clustered about its birth. Thirty or forty years ago the British Government expended here five thousand dollars per day in support of jails and military barracks. The last convict ship from England discharged her cargo at Hobart in 1851, since which year the system has gradually disappeared. The loss of a large, profitable, and regular business incidental to a penal depot, however objectionable in some of its associations, gave the place a check from which it has taken a series of years to recover; but its far more legitimate and agreeable growth is now one in which the citizens may and do take a commendable and natural pride. The past history of the place, so characterized by official cruelties, brutalities, and crimes, will not bear recall or exposure to the light of day. What Cayenne was to France, Hobart was to England; namely, the convict's purgatory, where order was maintained only by the lash, the halter, and the bullet; where official murder formed a part of the daily routine. What a broad contrast exists between that picture of the past and the surroundings of the present; between the penal life that reigned here in 1840, and the healthy, contented existence characterizing the Hobart in which the author is writing these notes!
The view from Mount Wellington is justly famed for its varied and comprehensive character. The city with its gracefully undulating conformation, lying at the visitor's feet, is framed by a three-quarter circle of tree-covered hills, relieved by the river Derwent, which conducts the eye seaward by its bright, sparkling, and winding stream. Turning to the view inland, there lies beneath a beautiful blue sky, just touched here and there by fleecy clouds, a fair and lovely land diversified by rivers, lakes, forests, villages, and towns, – some of the latter in the valleys, some on the open plains, some perched on the mountain-sides, and all together forming a most fascinating, far-reaching picture of the fairest section of Australasia.
Hobart also has its Botanical Garden, covering an area of over twenty acres near the centre of the town. It is filled with ornamental trees, flowers, and fruit-trees from every part of the world, the sweet-scented shrubs rendering the dewy morning atmosphere fragrant even in mid-winter. Geraniums, cacti, tiger-lilies, and many creeping plants were flowering as though in a tropical climate, not at all abashed by the snow-caps upon some of the mountain ranges in sight. This garden slopes down in beautiful form to the waters of the harbor, and is washed by the blue Derwent. The city is supplied with good drinking-water from a copious, never-failing crystal spring, situated half-way up Mount Wellington. The street scenes have the usual local color; like those of Launceston, they embrace the typical miner, with his rude kit upon his shoulder, consisting of a huge canvas-bag, a shovel and pick. The professional chimney-sweep, with blackened face and hands begrimed, whom we lost sight of years ago in Boston and London, is seen here pursuing his vocation. Market-men have the same singular mode of delivering purchases to their customers as we noted elsewhere, and are seen constantly galloping upon little wiry horses, bearing upon their arms large well-filled baskets. Women with scores of slaughtered rabbits cry them for sale at sixpence a pair, besides which they realize a bounty for killing the pests. Let us not forget to mention the lovely, rosy-cheeked children and handsome maidens met at every few steps going to or coming from school, with their glowing promise of health and beauty.
It is remarkable how certain communities are characterized by handsome girls and boys, together with lovely children, while another locality, either far away or near at hand, is notable for the almost painful plainness of its rising generation. Such experiences are sure to force themselves upon the notice of the traveller in foreign lands, personal beauty being oftenest encountered where least expected, and usually under such circumstances as to be the more impressive. The same inclination to cut the hair short like that of boys, which we had noticed among women single and married still farther north, prevails here to even a greater extent. Though it was so common, it nevertheless repeatedly suggested their late possible recovery from some serious and depleting fever.
The river Derwent, which rises far inland where the beautiful lakes St. Clair and Sorell are embosomed, itself broadens into an inland lake six miles wide, where it forms the harbor of Hobart, famous for the summer regattas that are rowed upon its surface. Here the largest maritime craft that navigates these seas can lie close to the wharf and the warehouses to discharge cargo, while the fine large stone Custom House is within pistol-shot of the shore. Let us emphasize the importance of a visit to the Lake District of Tasmania, where the lakes just referred to lie in their lonely beauty, – now overhung by towering cliffs, like those bordering a Norwegian fjord, and now edged by pebbly beaches, where choice specimens of agate and carnelian abound. They are dotted here and there by verdant isles with sedge-lined shores, and present sheets of a glassy surface unbroken for miles in extent. The neighborhood is one of primeval loneliness, invaded only by an occasional traveller; but a brief visit to Lake St. Clair and Lake Sorell leaves a delightful picture upon the memory not soon to be obliterated.
The charming cloud-effects which hang over and about the lofty hills that environ the capital of Tasmania recall vividly those of the Lake of Geneva, near Chillon, and the Dent du Midi; while the Derwent itself, reflecting the hills upon its blue and placid surface, forms another pleasing resemblance to Lake Leman. We should not forget to mention that in ascending Mount Wellington, the lion of Tasmanian scenery, where the visitor reaches a height of about two thousand feet, the Old World ocean floor is reached and clearly defined, as we have seen it exhibited among the heights of Norwegian mountains. Here there are plenty of lithoidal remains of the former denizens of the ocean, – fossils telling the strange and interesting story of terrestrial changes that have taken place in the thousands upon thousands of years that are past. Hobart is one of the very few cities with which we are familiar whence Alpine elevations can be so easily reached. Its broad streets run to the base of snow-covered mountains at one end, and at the other terminate on the busy shore of the harbor.
A walk up the precipitous sides of Mount Wellington affords special delight to the lover of botanical science. The ferns to be found in the gullies and elsewhere are singularly attractive in their great variety and natural beauty of combinations. One spot is so marked and monopolized by them as to be called Fern-Tree Bower. The difference between this species of plant as found in Tasmania and those indigenous to the mainland is that the former maintain their entire freshness and summer colors all through the year, – though this is a characteristic in a general way of all Australian vegetation, as seen in the perpetual and vigorous freshness of the forests. On this mountain-side mosses, lichens, and blue-striped gentians are mingled in close companionship, with here and there dainty specimens of the white wood-sorrel, – lowly, but lovely examples of Nature's gardening. Here was also seen the cabbage-palm twenty feet high, imparting a marked tropical aspect to this cool region. Some delicate specimens of ferns were seen depending from the trunks of trees in damp and low-lying places, where they also lined the shallow water-ways.
On returning from an excursion from Mount Wellington we saw some domesticated kangaroos. This animal can easily be tamed, and will then follow a person about like a dog, evincing remarkable attachment and intelligence. One of those which we saw followed its mistress, the lady of the house, wherever she went, but would follow no one else. When she sat down, it came and nestled by her side with all the confidence imparted by a sense of perfect protection. The kangaroo has a wonderfully expressive face, more than half human, with a head and large plaintive eyes quite like those of a fawn of the red-deer species. The ears are long, nervously active and extremely delicate, seeming to be almost transparent when seen against a strong light. Tasmania once swarmed with kangaroos, but the hunters here, as upon the mainland, have nearly obliterated the species. Full-grown males sometimes measure six feet when standing upright, and weigh about one hundred and fifty pounds. The sharp claws of the short fore-feet are powerful weapons, and if brought to bay by the dogs when hunted, the male kangaroo will sometimes turn upon his pursuers and with his claws disembowel the largest dog. When unmolested, however, they use these fore-paws like a squirrel, holding their food and carrying it to their mouths with them as we do with our hands.
The fish-market of Hobart was to us quite interesting. The local denizens of the sea here seem to have a physiognomy, so to speak, all their own, differing in shape, colors, and general aspect from those with which we were elsewhere familiar. Long, slim, pointed fish are here a favorite; and others, so like young sharks as to make one shudder at the thought of eating them, found ready purchasers. The lobsters were quite unlike our New England species; indeed, they are here known as cray-fish, or craw-fish. They have, in place of a smooth, soft shell, a corrugated one, pimply like the red face of an inveterate toper, and so hard are they as to require a hammer to break out the meat that forms the body, while they are entirely lacking in the claws which form so prominent a portion of our common lobster. The oysters here seem to be equally uninviting, as the shells are so crumpled that it becomes a mystery where the knife should be inserted to obtain the very small quantity of edible matter forming the body of the oyster. How Wareham, Blue Point, or Shrewsbury Bay oysters would astonish people who are satisfied with these apologies for first-class bivalves!
About twenty miles from Hobart one finds a forest of the remarkable gum-trees of which we have all read, – trees which exceed in height and circumference the mammoth growths of our own Yosemite Valley, and fully equal those of Victoria. The immediate locality which contains them is known as the Huon District. A walk among these forest giants fills one with mingled emotions of wonder and delight. Surrounded by beautiful fern-trees nearly forty feet high, whose plumed caps tremble and vibrate in the breeze, one's eyes seek the lofty tops of these grand forest monarchs which are nearly lost in the sky to which they aspire; no church steeples, no cathedral pinnacle reared by the hand of man, but only mountain peaks reach so far heavenward. These forests are so abundant in their yield that local steam saw-mills are constantly engaged in cutting and preparing the lumber in various dimensions for the market. All the trees are by no means of the great size of which we have spoken, and yet all are extraordinary in this respect. The people of Hobart claim that they can show trees in the Huon forests taller and larger than any to be found in Victoria. We measured only one in the former District, which had lately fallen, the dimensions of which we can vouch for; namely, three hundred and thirty feet in length or height, and seventy-one feet in circumference. The average reader will not be able to realize the remarkable figures here given as applying to the trunk of a tree, except by comparison with some familiar object.
A century ago, before Tasmania was settled by the English, the whole country was covered with dense forests, remarkable for the size of individual trees. Even now the western half of the island remains mostly unchanged and unexplored, traversed by wild mountain ranges, full of deep, gloomy, and nearly inaccessible ravines shut in by giant precipices. Many of these districts were untrodden even in the days of the aborigines. The abundance of land already available to accommodate the present sparse population, together with the impenetrable nature of the forest growth of the west coast, have caused that region to remain unexplored.
Our hotel in Hobart was the Orient, which is situated upon high ground; and by ascending to its roof at night a grand, awe-inspiring view of the heavens was obtained, – the blue vault being thickly strewn with stars. As we stood gazing at them our thoughts wandered back to the period of the Nativity and the journey of the Wise Men. The surrounding hills terraced by dwellings which were brilliantly lighted, and which crept up to the sky line, made it difficult to decide just where the artificial lights ended and heaven's lamps began. It is marvellous how clear and bright the constellations and single stars shine forth in these latitudes presided over by the Southern Cross, – which was in the zenith, emphasized by the great stars in Centaurus pointing toward it, and accompanied by the mysterious belt of the Via Lactea and the illumined Magellan Clouds.
The tardy moon was somewhere behind the dark shadowy range of hills, but the stars filled the valley and plain with a soft, dreamy, exquisite light. Just at that moment a band of local musicians broke forth with the air of "Home, Sweet Home," as a serenade of welcome to the "Tasmanian Nightingale," Miss Amy Sherwin, who had returned that day to her native land from a foreign professional tour. A lonely, unheeded stranger was also there, under the deep sea-blue canopy studded with stars, whom those familiar strains moved to quickened tears. Presently, over the height of Mount Wellington a broad light was gradually developed, covering the mantle of snow with silver spangles, and the moon burst forth upon the scene with a calm, mellow radiance, sweeping grandly on its upward course. Then the vocalist came out upon a balcony, and in her clear contralto voice gave the words of the touching song, to the delight of the welcoming group below. But one may not delay for sentiment. "This world is a bog," said Queen Elizabeth, "over which we must trip lightly. If we pause we sink!"
This was our last night in Hobart. The next day we sailed for New Zealand. A state-room was secured on board the steamship "Mararoa," which had just arrived from Sydney, and which was bound for the east coast of the country just named. The ship sailed at mid-day, and as we steamed down the Derwent seaward we were followed by a myriad of Cape-pigeons, a small graceful bird of the gull family, with which we have not before chanced to meet.
The twelve miles of river between Hobart and the open sea virtually forms the harbor of this city, just as Sydney harbor begins when the "Heads" are passed seven miles below the capital. The undulating shore of the river on either side was beautified by rural residences and cultivated fields near the water's edge. But a little way inshore we could see a continuous range of elevations, backed by those still higher; and finally in the distance we descried a series of cloud-embraced mountains. As soon as the mouth of the river was reached the ship's course was laid a little south of east, the dull green of the water on soundings changing to the navy-blue of the broad ocean. We were then fairly launched on our twelve-hundred-mile voyage. The prevailing winds of the season blow from the west, which with the Australian current and the Antarctic drift were all in our favor, and so the good ship sped bravely on her way. The "Mararoa" is a fine vessel of twenty-five hundred tons' measurement, possessing most admirable passenger accommodations; so fine, indeed, were her appointments as to make her seem to us rather out of place upon a track of ocean so little frequented by travellers. It appeared on inquiry, however, that she was originally built for the route between San Francisco and Australia, but proved insufficient in freight capacity.
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