Under the Southern Cross
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The first railroad in Australia was begun in 1850, but at this writing there are ten thousand miles of railroad in successful operation, owned by the several local governments. So favorable is the climate, that nearly the whole country might be turned into a botanical garden. Indeed, Australia would seem to be better entitled to the name of Eldorado, so talked of in the sixteenth century, than was that imaginary land of untold wealth so confidently believed by the adventurous Spaniards to exist somewhere between the Orinoco and the Amazon.
This new home of the British race in the South Pacific, surrounded by accessible seas and inviting harbors, inspired us at once with vivid interest. We say "new," and yet geologically speaking it is one of the oldest portions of the earth's surface, containing a flora and fauna of more permanent character than that of the European continent; for while a great part of Europe has been submerged and elevated, crumpled up as it were into mountain chains, Australia has been undisturbed. It is remarkable that in a division of the globe of such colossal proportions there was found no larger quadruped than the kangaroo, and that only man was a predacious animal. He, alas! was more ferocious than the lynx, the leopard, or the hyena; for these animals prey not upon each other, while the aborigines of Australia devoured their own species.
What America was to Spain in the proud days of that nation's glory, Australia has already been to England; and that, too, without the crime of wholesale murder and the spilling of rivers of blood, as was the case in the days of Cortez and Pizarro. The wealth poured into the lap of England by these far-away colonies belittles all the riches which the Spaniard realized by the famous conquests of Mexico and Peru. Here is an empire won without war, a new world called into existence by moral forces, an Eldorado captured without the sword. Here Nature has spread her favors broadcast over a land only one fifth smaller than the whole continent of Europe, granting every needed resource wherewith ultimately to form a great, independent, and prosperous nation; where labor is already more liberally rewarded, and life more easily sustained, than in any other country except America.
Among the most prominent advantages which at first strike the observation of the stranger in Australia are those of an extended shore-line indented with many noble harbors, a semi-tropical climate beneath bright Italian skies, a virgin soil of unequalled fertility, and a liberal form of government; while the hills, valleys, and plains abound in mineral wealth of gold, silver, iron, copper, and coal, inexhaustible in quantity and unsurpassed in quality. To the black diamonds of her coal-fields Australia will owe more of her future progress than to her auriferous products. They already have conduced to the grand success of various branches of manufactures, as may be seen in the many enterprises springing up in the neighborhood of Sydney.The coal-fields extend all along the seaboard from Brisbane to Sydney. Those at Newcastle are of vast proportions, having a daily output which gives employment to a large fleet of steamships and sailing-vessels. This coal is mined and put on shipboard, as we were told, at a cost of eleven shillings per ton. It is of excellent quality, admirable for manufacturing purposes, and very good, though somewhat dirty, for steamship use. Near these Newcastle coal-mines are ample deposits of iron ore of excellent quality, – two products whose close proximity to each other is of great importance in the economical production of manufactured iron and steel. Only immigration is now needed to develop these grand resources, and that requisite is being supplied by a numerical growth surpassed alone by that on the Pacific coast of the United States.
It is difficult to believe, while observing the present population, wealth, power, and prosperity of the country at large, characterized by such grand and conspicuous elements of empire, that it has been settled for so brief a period, and that its pioneers consisted of the overflow of English jails and prisons. The authentic record of life in the colonies of Australia during the first few years of their existence is mainly an account of the control of lawless men by the strong and cruel arm of military despotism, often exercised under the most unfavorable circumstances. Situated more than twelve thousand miles away from their base of supplies, famine was often imminent, and the unavoidable sufferings of officers and men, of officials and prisoners, were at times indescribably severe. The earliest shipment of criminals hither was in 1787, consisting of six transports with about eight hundred convicts, two hundred of whom were women. These were disembarked at Port Jackson, in Sydney harbor; so that the first settlement of New South Wales was strictly a penal one.
Before proceeding to take the reader from city to city, and to depict their several peculiarities, a few statistics gathered by the author on the spot will afford as tangible evidence of the growth and present commercial standing of the colonies of Australasia as anything which could be adduced.
The annual revenue raised by these colonies aggregates a larger sum than that realized by Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, and Greece united. Five hundred million dollars are annually paid for imports; and exports to a like amount are sent from the country. Up to the present writing Australia has realized from her auriferous soil over three hundred and thirty million pounds sterling. Her territory gives grazing at the present time to over seventy-five million sheep. This is more than double the whole number of sheep in the United States. When it is remembered that the population of this country is sixty millions, and that Australia has not much over three millions, the force of this comparison becomes obvious. The amount of wool exported to the mother country is twenty-eight times as much as England has received in the same period from the continent of Europe. The combined exports and imports of the United Kingdom of Great Britain are shown to be a little over one hundred dollars per annum for each unit of the population; in Australia the aggregate is a trifle over two hundred dollars per head. The four principal capitals of Australia contain over eight hundred thousand inhabitants. The railroads of the country have already cost over two hundred million dollars, and are being extended annually. New South Wales has in proportion to its population a greater length of railroad than any other country in the world, while there are some thirty thousand miles of telegraph line in the length and breadth of the land. In ten years, between 1870 and 1880, New Zealand doubled her population, having now some six hundred thousand; and the Australian colonies increased at nearly as rapid a rate, while the monthly immigration still going on gives constant and profitable employment to one of the best equipped steamship lines upon the ocean.
The steady and natural increase of population in Great Britain, taken in connection with the circumscribed limits of her territory, demands an outlet for the annual emigration of a large percentage of her people. There are no better lands for those who are thus induced, or compelled, to seek another field wherein to create a new home than Australia and New Zealand. There are several considerations that lead to this conviction. First, such immigrants will still be under the fostering care of their native government; second, the colonial authorities offer great inducements to immigrants, such as grants of land together with free transportation from the old to the new country; and third, there is here a climate far more desirable and healthful than that of England, Ireland, or Scotland. While the necessary cost of living is less, wages are higher, and many luxuries can be enjoyed which at home would not be considered within the reach of persons of moderate means. Bread, the staff of life, and meat, its strong supporter, are both very much cheaper in the colonies than in any part of Great Britain. These considerations enforce the conclusion that Australasia is the natural resort of emigrants from the British Isles, and that it will continue to attract thence a steady flow of population. Canada for the emigrant presents not a moiety of the inducements of these South Sea lands, nor can we understand what possible reason can lead British subjects to select it above the favored country of which we are treating.
While we were discussing the economical and political condition of the colonies with a government official at Sydney, he took occasion to express regret at the large debt of the colonies. We are glad to know, however, that these debts of the several divisions of Australia and New Zealand do not represent the cost of useless wars or expenditures for vain glory; on the contrary, the money has been invested in railroads and other necessary and substantial improvements, which form an ample security or mortgage for the same, and which is yearly increasing in value. Probably some of these enterprises have been premature, but their ultimate value is beyond all doubt.
Australia is divided into five provincial governments, – New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and West Australia. The island of Tasmania forms another province, and is separated from Victoria by Bass Strait, the two being within half a day's sail of each other. Sydney is the capital of New South Wales; Melbourne, of Victoria; Adelaide, of South Australia; Brisbane, of Queensland; Perth, of West Australia; and Hobart, of Tasmania. It may be remarked incidentally that South Australia might more properly be designated by some other title, as it is not South Australia at all. Victoria lies south of it, and so does a large portion of West Australia. The governments of these several divisions are modelled upon that of New South Wales, the parent colony of them all.
Though we are by no means attempting to write a history or make a geography of these great southlands, still an enumeration of certain important facts is not inappropriate, and will serve to make matters more clear to the general reader as he accompanies us through the following pages.
We have said that the several governments of these colonies are modelled upon that of New South Wales, which has a constitution and two Houses of Parliament. The first, or Legislative Council, is composed of a limited number of members nominated by the Crown, and who hold office for life; the second, or Legislative Assembly, is composed of members elected from the various constituencies, who are chosen by ballot. All acts before becoming law must receive the approval of the Queen of England, though this is said to be practically a mere form. There is a resident Governor in each colony, also appointed by the Queen. Educational facilities, especially as regards primary schools, are abundant, attendance upon which is compulsory. Where children reside at some considerable distance from school, free passes are given to them on the railroads to facilitate compliance with the legal requirement.
One of the first thoughts that dawned upon us after we had time fully to realize this state of affairs in these Antipodes was that as compared with our own country this is a land of curious contradictions. Here the eagles are white and the swans black; the emu, a bird nearly as large as the ostrich, cannot fly, but runs like a horse. The principal quadruped here, the kangaroo, is elsewhere unknown; and though he has four legs, he runs upon two. When the days are longest with us in America, they are shortest here. To reach the Tropics Australians go due north, while we go due south. With us the seed, or stone, of the cherry forms the centre of the fruit; in Australia the stone grows on the outside. The foliage of the trees in America spreads out horizontally; in this south-land the leaves hang vertically. When it is day with us, it is night with them. Here Christmas comes in midsummer; with us, in mid-winter. Bituminous and anthracite coal are with us only one color, – black, black as Erebus; but they have white bituminous coal here, white as chalk. We are thousands of miles north of the equator; they are thousands of miles south of it. The deciduous trees with us shed their leaves in winter; with them they are evergreen, shedding their bark and not their leaves, – the gardens of Alcinous being not more perennial than the length and breadth of this favored land.
In proceeding with our subject it is proper to begin with New South Wales, at whose capital we landed, this colony being also the oldest if not the wealthiest province of the entire country. Not only her mineral wealth and great agricultural facilities, but her commanding position and numerous admirable harbors will ever enable her to maintain precedence among her prosperous and wealthy sister colonies. As originally founded, New South Wales embraced the whole eastern seaboard of Australia; but in 1851 the southern part was formed into the province of Victoria, and in 1859 the northern part was divided into a separate colony, called Queensland, still leaving her an extensive sea-coast of eight hundred miles in length. When we say that New South Wales is twice as large as California, it will be realized that she is not greatly circumscribed in territory. The present population, in the absence of actual statistics, may be safely stated to amount in round numbers to one million.
Sydney, often called by her citizens the Queen of the Pacific, is built upon two ridges of land of considerable elevation, the valley between being occupied by the busiest portion of the population and containing the best shops in every department of trade. There are many fine large business and public edifices of stone, but these are only too often flanked by buildings of a very low and awkward construction, one story in height. There is no consecutive purpose or uniformity in the street architecture, a wild irregularity prevailing. George Street, which is the main business thoroughfare, is two miles in length, and contains many stores or shops furnished as well as the average of those in Vienna and Paris. These are really fine business edifices, having massive French plate-glass windows and being in all particulars admirably appointed.
The peculiar conformation of the town makes the lateral streets precipitous, so that a large portion of the city is composed of hilly avenues, to surmount which there is a constant struggle going on with loaded teams. Like the old streets of Boston, those of Sydney were the growth of chance, and were not originally laid out after a system, as in Melbourne, Adelaide, or Brisbane. Our Washington Street was originally a cow-path, while the present site of George Street in Sydney was at first a meandering bullock-track. The names of the streets are historic in their suggestions. George Street was named after George the Third, during whose reign the colony was founded. Pitt Street is named after the Earl of Chatham; Castlereagh, Bathurst, Erskine, and other streets recall familiar names of English statesmen. The higher thoroughfares, those upon the ridges, overlook the inner harbor and shipping, affording a constantly varying maritime picture. Thus from nearly opposite our hotel, on the day of our arrival, we saw lying upon the waters of the bay four large German men-of-war (the same which afterward visited and terrorized the simple natives of the Samoan Islands), and also an iron-clad belonging to Japan fully equal in nautical appearance to the German craft. All were dressed from their hulls to their topmast heads with tiny flags in gayest colors, as it happened to be Coronation day. A little nearer the heart of the town, in what is known as Farm Cove, Lord Brassey's famous yacht, the "Sunbeam," rode quietly at anchor, whose keel has cut the waters of all the notable harbors of the world, and whose significant name the late lamented Lady Brassey has rendered a household word by her delightful pen. The snow-white hull and graceful rig of the yacht was not unfamiliar to the author, who saw it six years ago at Port Said, and who then met its late mistress at Cairo, in Egypt. Excursion steamers, ferry-boats, men-of-war launches, racing-cutters, and a hundred small sailing-craft added life and interest to this impressive picture of Sydney harbor, as seen from the higher streets of the town.
The much-lauded bay is indeed charming, as the most indifferent spectator must admit; yet it did not strike us as so much more beautiful than others that we have visited in various countries. It is better, however, not to challenge the ire of all Sydney by speaking irreverently of the harbor, since the faithful worship of its alleged incomparable beauty is with the citizens a species of religion. It has the advantage of being but slightly affected by the tides, and in consequence has no shoals to spoil the view with their muddy aspect at various times each day, or to emit noxious fumes under the rays of a burning sun. Eight or nine fathoms of water in nearly any part of the bay make it accessible to ships of heaviest draught. It is seven miles from the entrance at the Heads up to the city proper. This capacious basin, with its countless nooks and windings, has a shore line of two hundred and fifty miles, the whole of which is so well protected and land-locked that in all weather it is as glassy and smooth as the Lake of Geneva.
The main thoroughfares of Sydney are not kept in a very cleanly condition, – a statement which even the residents must indorse; but the streets are full of the busy life which appertains to a great metropolis. Cabs and private vehicles dash hither and thither; heavily-laden drays grind their broad wheels over the rough pavements; pedestrians crowd the sidewalks; messenger boys, mounted upon wiry little horses, gallop on their several errands, some of them dressed in scarlet coats, signifying that they are in Government service; newspaper hawkers, boot-blacks, bearers of advertising placards, itinerant fruit-venders, Chinamen with vegetables in baskets slung on a pole across their shoulders, pass and repass one in rapid succession; omnibuses rattle furiously over the pavements, while the "going, going, gone," of the open sham auction-rooms rings upon the ear. Now and then one meets a beggar, blind or decrepit; but such are not numerous, and generally palliate their vocation as well as evade the law by offering some trifling articles for sale, such as pencils, shoestrings, or matches. In European cities, where professional beggary is so often resorted to as a regular occupation, one hardens his heart and passes these people heedlessly by; but here in Sydney he drops a trifle in the hat. Every street-corner has its bar-room, about whose doors are congregated a disreputable crowd of bloated faces and bleared eyes, among whom are seen only too many of the youth of the town, beginners in vicious habits, besides numerous idle but able-bodied representatives of the laboring classes. No part of London even is more numerously supplied with gin palaces and low tap-rooms than Sydney. The sad sight of intoxicated women staggering along the public way shocked the sensibilities, though this unfortunate exhibition was far less common than we have seen it in Liverpool and Glasgow. The demi-monde are fully represented upon the streets, – one of the sad but inevitable concomitants of a great city. Let us add, in all fairness, that this objectionable feature is certainly no more conspicuous here than in Chicago or New York, – a fact which is mentioned not to draw a comparison, but in order faithfully to depict the every-day aspect of a colonial capital.
Turning from these multiform scenes of human life, often ludicrous, but oftener painfully sad, we sought the Botanical Gardens; and after that at Calcutta, and the superb gardens of Kandy in Ceylon, this of Sydney is the next finest we remember to have seen. In round numbers these gardens embrace fifty acres of land, laid out in terraces and irregular elevations, so that many of the broad paths overlook portions of the city and harbor. The grounds extend on a gentle incline to the shores of the beautiful bay, forming a semicircle round what is known as Farm Cove, a picturesque indentation of the harbor. The several main paths are liberally ornamented with statuary representing Flora, Ceres, Commerce, Science, etc. One special charm of these delightful grounds is the fact that they are accessible by a walk of about five minutes from the centre of the city. It is not necessary to organize an excursion in order to reach them, as is the case with many similar resorts elsewhere, such as Sydenham in London, Central Park in New York, or the Bois de Boulogne, Paris. Here semi-arctic and semi-tropical plants and trees were found growing together, and all parts of the globe seemed to be liberally represented. The hardy Scotch fir and the delicate palm of the tropics jostle each other; the india-rubber tree and the laurel are close friends; the California pine and the Florida orange thrive side by side; so with the silver fern-tree of New Zealand and the guava of Cuba. China, Japan, India, Africa, Egypt, and South America, all have furnished representative trees and shrubs for these comprehensive gardens, and here they have become acclimatized. A thrifty cluster of the Indian bamboo, that king of the grasses, was seen here forty feet high, close by a specimen of the native Australian musk-tree, which attains a height of nearly twenty feet and exhales from leaf and bark a peculiarly sweet odor, though not at all like what its name would seem to indicate; it has broad, laurel-like leaves and bears a pale yellow blossom. There was pointed out to us a sheoak-tree, which it is said emits a curious wailing sound during the quietest state of the atmosphere, when there is not a breath of wind to move the branches or the leaves. This tree is almost universally found growing near the sea, and is said to have borrowed the murmur of the conch-shell. No reasonable cause is assigned for its mournful song, which has proved to be the inspiring theme of many a local poet.
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