|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||The Misfortunes of Beilby Boolger|
The Misfortunes of Bellby Boolger.
THE weather was fine, the wind for a time favourable, the sea calm, and with the help of her square sail the old tub meandered along at the rate of about six knots an hour, making
more noise in so doing than a line-of-battle ship. During the night the wind hauled to the south-east and a bubble of a sea arose. De prived of the assistance of her sails, the rate of speed fell to two knots per hour. At daylight the wind freshened, and the gallant barque came to a standstill. Firing-up was of no use, the screw squirmed and creaked and rattled, making about the same disturbance in the water as a good-sized churn-dash, but progress she would not; on the contrary, she showed a disposition to imitate the crab in her move ments. As there was not sea room enough to allow of her indulging in such vagaries, the skipper ran her under an island and dropped the anchor. They remained there the rest of the day and night In the morning an effort was made to make some progress in the wished direction, and five miles were laboriously gained, when the anchor was again in requisition. There she remained for that day and a part of the next. Another few miles, and anchor again; and so matters stood for five days, when it was discovered that the stock of coals was wot ully diminished; worse still, that, as Jack says, there was a southerly wind in the bread barge—in other words, that famine stared the miserable voyagers in the face. Under these circumstances the skipper called for volunteers to go ashore and cut wood. The crew consisted of the skipper, the mate, two seamen, two engineers and firemen, and an unhappy indivi dual who filled the dual office of cook and steward. The passengers were eight in number, all bushmen, and accustomed to roughing it. There was no difficulty as to the necessary labour, but when the axes were called for only, two were forthcoming—one more fitted for, bruising than cutting. As plenty of wood was to be bid, such as it was, by night there was a decent pile on the steamer's deck. An over powering expression of satisfaction was hardly to be expected from the passengers, who had paid a high price for the privilege of just work ing their passages. Matters seemed infinitely worse, however, when the cook announced on the next morning, as he deposited some badly cured beef and questionable bread on the apology for a table, "That is the last of the grub, sir." A volley of curses both loud and deep followed the announcement. Dire was, the abuse showered on the unfortunate cook, the skipper insisting that the provisions must have beon wasted. The cook retaliated that the skipper was too blessed "hungry" to furnish a sufficiency ; that it was the first banyan day he had seen on board the old hooker: for aboard that there ship the hands were "demming" half their time, and so on. It was not the cook's fault that a three days' passage was pro tracted to more than double that time; he was. absolved on the spot : "Whereabouts are we, skipper?"asked one ©f the passengers. They had called him " captain" previous to this unkindest cut of all. " AbreastofShoalwaterßay,"wastheansw«r. " Have you any fishing lines?" "Oh, yes, plenty; but I don't know about hooks.* A search was instituted, and the "plenty" resolved itself into two lines; no hooks save those on the lines. " Have you any guns and ammunition ?" Yes, there was a gun, but no caps. Most of the passengers had revolvers and cartridges. There seemed to be no game, however. They set to work by turns to fish, using red flannel for bait, but very little success attended their1 efforts. "Lotus go on shore and hunt,"said WilL "If we fail to find game we must eat the cook, that is alt" "I bar that," said one. "He has not a decent feed on his carcase. I propose the skipper as his substitute; there's some beef on him. Besides^ he is the primary cause of our forlorn condition." This was assented to, with the observation that it was only natural justice. The skipper objected to his being made a barbecue of; the very proposition was mutiny on the high seas, he said. Why could they not eat Jim ? But for his part he did not see why they talked of eating anyone when there were plenty of oysters to be had. "Oysters! Where ?" was the cry. Why, all along on these 'ere rocks." ; "In that case we cannot starve, so put us ashore with as much speed as possible." The cockle-shell called a boat was pushed to the rocks, and the party were soon busy knock ing off clusters of oysters and passing them on board to be cooked, but the oysters were so very small that an immense quantity was re quired to ffive even a sensation of fulness. One had hardly eaten before he was ready to com mence again. However nice oysters may be with the adjuncts of bread and butter, alone they are by no means satisfying to a ravenous appetite. , The old tub continued to bundle along at the rate of about four miles in the hour, but soon the supply of wood was exhausted, and though the wind was fair they had to stop for the pur pose of procuring more fueL Worst of all, the fresh water was nearly gone. As the men said, " We can hold out as long as the tobacco and the water last, but without the latter we are ruined." The skipper said he knew where to obtain plenty of water in two places. Luckily some fish were caught, and devoured without question as to their Kind or quality; they were all of them heartily sick of oysters. At length after enduring many days of this misery Great Keppcl Island was seen, and in twenty-one days from leaving Bowen they reached Rock hampton, heartily glad to carry their bodies intact out of the old barge. How it came about was a mystery, but before Boolger had been many hours on shore he found himself an object of interest to sundry folk, who seemed to watch his movements closely. He had been very reticent about himself or his business, but that very fact had aroused their
suspicions it would seem. A rumour was afloat that he was a lucky digger, and it appeared likely that when he returned to his mate he ; would not be alone. . ; A long time having elapsed since Booker's departure from Bowen, ana having received no intelligence concerning him, Scoles was in- < dining to the belief that Will had levanted I with the proceeds of the gold. The latter, seeing, that it would be impossible to keep secret their discovery, resolved to sell the gold and return , at once. He therefore disposed of it at a bank t in the town, requesting the manager to keep' silence on the subject for a fortnight. Whether the latter adhered to his promise or not, Will never knew. The proceeds of the gold, amount ing to over a thousand pounds, he banked in; the joint names of Boolger and Scoles. much to his regret afterwards. The Australasian Com pany having laid on a boat for the Northern Ports, he engaged his passage by her to Bowen. On going on board he found his anticipations correct; a number of men, unmistakably gold diggers, were already there, some of whom he recognised as the men who so persistently dogged his movements about the town. The watch which he knew to be kept on all his movements was irksome in the extreme, but until he had seen his mate he would give no information; they might follow him if they pleased. On his arrival he went at once to the camp. : much to the joy of Scoles; and, having narrated the particulars of his trip, said he thought they would do wisely by taking the leaders of the party into their confidence, so far as admit ting the fact of their having discovered gold, but not informing them as to the precise locality. Ned agreed with him, adding that there was more than enough for all of them, and that they would make a virtue of their necessity. Boolger strolled into the town, and on his way he met a party of four men whom he had noticed particularly on board the steamer, and had considered them to be respect able men. Accosting them he invited them to camp close to where Ned and he were located, adding that his mate and he wished to have a yarn with them. The proposal was willingly accepted. After the evening meal was over, Ned said: "Well, mates, my mate and I have been, talking over this matter, and have concluded to come to an understanding with you chaps. You seem to be on the same lay as we are. The truth is, we have had a bit of good luck, and Me do not want to be greedy over it, on the one' hand ; nor, on the other, will we say a word to induce you or others to follow us, for fear of a disappointment, though I must say I do not. fear it. We don't want to send the bellman round. We have decided to let you stand in with us. You shall journey up in our company;, we will show the ground; we will even tell you what we have taken out of the place ; but not a word as to where the spot is Before we land you there. It is a good stop from here. Do you: agree to this?" ; The spokesman, whom the others called Bhee han, said that what he proposed was fair and' reasonable, and they would abide by it j " Now," said Ned, " how about horses r We brought two up with us. I dare say we might procure a couple more in the town. If not.' we will pack them and tramp it; I will go ana seek for a beast or two in the morning." j "We shall have to carry rations," said WUL' "It is a wild unsettled country. You are armed.' of course?" i "Yes," said Sheehan, "we have a shot gun' and revolvers." '' We don't mean to delay longer than is abso lutely necessary," said Ned, "or w4 may find the ground occupied. I cannot say as to that ;i I ddn't think any one knows in what direction' the ground lies, out there are a score or so on the lookout" " They might run your tracks and thus find it out," said Sheehan. ' " We must risk all that." "Do you know any of the others Tasked WilL . ( "No; we are strangers in this part of the country. We have only just come from the' south, having heard confidentopinions expressed' as to the richness of this part in minerals." I Sheehan laughed. "It was Tom there," saidj he, pointing to one of his mates, " who put us on first. He noticed that you were newly arrived, kept very dose, and seemed to have something on your mind: that you paid parti-' cular attention to a small valise. Finally7hel watched you to the bankand noticed what' things you were buying. We did not need to1 be told what your business in the bank was :| someone of the clerks let it be known that a quantity of gold had been sold to the bank. You' were the seller, we guessed, so wedetormined to follow you. We have been some time together, and have no secrets from each other on business matters." " Well, I thought I had been very careful," said WilL "I was almost inclined to think that, as Ned once said, you smetyed the gold." " No, not quite so keen of scent as all that!, We made a lucky guess only. We are quitej agreed as to what your mate says. It is only' fair that you should have a little time to your-' selves ahead of the rush which is sure to set in;' and if we do not know where the place is wel cannot blab. You will find us not a bad sort,! when you come to know us better. From what! you tell us, there must be plenty of the pewter' in the ground for us all. We will travel up with you. When we arrive we can decide as to future movements. Two of us are from the Hunter River, that is Charlie and I; Tom and! Jim are Victorians. We have been working together off and on for some time on the southern diggings, with the common luck; sometimes just making a livelihood, at others something more. A big thing has not come in our way yet Charlie and I had bad luck; we were stuck up by bushrangers and robbed of everything; but it shall not happen again, or our lives shall go too." Sheehan procured two horses in the town— in low condition, having just returned from the North-west—and furniture, and the party started immediately'for the Cape. At the camp fire at night the different members of the party beguiled the time by relating their experiences. Sheehan told how, when Charlie and he went digging first, they used to sleep on the wash dirt to preserve it from being picked over during the night or taken away entirely, or spent the night sitting at the shaft revolver in hand, to keep off the fossickers—fellows who would not work in a legitimate way, but prowled about at night, living on the labour of others. " Darned lazy wretches I" said Scoles. " Oh, no—not quite that, either. Theirs was a hard-working life in its way, and full of danger, taking into account the risk of accident
in descending shafts in tfie dark. There was always a chance of getting a revolver ball through the head on coming to grass—which has happened to many of them beyond a doubt. Theirs was a precarious subsistence at best. Some nice pickings were to be had now and then. In rich country like Louisa Creek and the Meroo—where I have seen the gold come up in buckets nearly clean—some pieces were sure to be left in the aides of the shaft. I knew of one fellow who went down a shaft in what was supposed to be worked-out ground, and picked out 90o«. with his knife, ft could not happen on a poor diggings. I have often known bodies to be found at the bottom of Bhafts which were never recognised. I was working on a claim at Bendigo once; the claim we had" was not very rich; the gold was dis tributed through the stuff. Two claims distant from ours a lot of chaps had a claim in which they were getting heavy gold—lfioe. and 20oz. nuggets. They did not say much about it, but as they lived fast we believed they were doing a stroke. They watched their shaft pretty closely; but one night there was a lot of grog in their camp, ana a number of the fellows from the neighbouring claims were there having a * sheevo.' One of the claim-holders, a wild sort of chap from the North of Ireland, went outside for some purpose, and thought he heard a noise about the shaft, so crept over and listened. The steps in the sides of the shaft were farther apart than visual, and he could hear the rasping of the fellow's boot as he felt for the next step in descending. At the foot of the shaft there was a load or two of stuff which they had not had time to haul up, and he heard the fellow mutter something as he landed on the heap. It would have been better for him to have passed that claim. Bed Mick stepped back—a light was burning below, and the fellow was employed in picking over the heag—took up a good-sized stone, and sent it crashing down, upon which the light dis appeared. He coolly went back to his drink, and said nothing of the occurrence. In the morning a body was found at the foot of the shaft; the skull was completely battered to pieces. There was no fuss made about it; in chose days a man more or less did not excite any attention. I had a narrow escape'myself onoe." [to be continued.]