Frederic C. (Frederic Chambers) Spurr.

Five years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions online

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abusive language, was sentenced to receive nine hun-
dred lashes. On the other hand, discipline was as
lax as possible. The convicts were required to work
for a certain number of hours per day for the Govern-
ment. These tasks completed, they were turned out
to shift for themselves, which they did with amazing
energy. The desperadoes amongst them immediately
returned to their old ways. Robberies with violence
and burglaries were of frequent occurrence. The
streets at night were quite unsafe for pedestrians.
Some of the convicts escaped from their captors and
took to bushranging. When the settlers arrived and
began farming, the bushrangers immediately attacked
them, with others, as their legitimate prey. At one
time the colony was in a state of practical anarchy.
Morality was unknown. The most amazing trans-
actions took place. The open "sale " of wives was
common. There is upon record a "deal " in which a


Five Years under the Southern Cross

man sold his wife for a five-pound note and a bottle
of rum. And nobody protested. And all this less
than a century ago, and under the British flag. Yet
there are men in our time, adepts at misreading the
prophetical books of the Bible, who continue to assert
that the world is growing ever worse. They do not
know the history of that world which they so piti-
lessly condemn.

The transportation of convicts and the importa-
tion of settlers to Tasmania speedily created another
problem that of the aborigines. The natives of the
island had to be met and dealt with. Numerically
they were not an important people, but they were the
proprietors of the territory, hence some terms bad
to be made with them. The Tasmanian native offered
to anthropologists a knotty problem. Here was a
pure savage of the most degraded type known. In
no way had civilisation touched him. He belonged
to an ancient age, so it was said. Cut off from the
mainland, he had experienced no contact with the
aboriginal of the great continent beyond. He pos-
sessed no stone weapons. His instruments of killing
were fabricated of wood. He had never learned the
art of fastening a sharp stone head to a piece of
wood in order to increase his power of smiting. His
spears were pointed, but not with if on. He had no
domestic animal for friend. The dog was unknown
to him. His social habits were primitive and dis-
gusting. He lived upon shell fish, birds and eggs,
and he was expert in spearing fish. He treated his
women folk badly. He never practised the delectable


The Romance of Tasmania

art of kissing. And he was a polygamist. Of
clothing he was entirely innocent. Faint traces of
religious belief were found in him. He burned
his dead and smeared his face with the ashes of the
calcined corpse. Authentic portraits of the aborigines
in the museum at Hobart represent them as exceed-
ingly gross and repulsive people. The chiefs culti-
vated their hair in a peculiar style; it fell into
ringlets, like ram's wool, over their faces. The wives
of the chiefs had little trouble with their hair. They
disposed of it all by the simple process of clean
shaving. Their heads were as smooth as a billiard

Now, whence came these people? The theories
concerning them are innumerable. One claims them
as perfect specimens of primitive man of the Palaeo-
lithic Age. Another deduces evidence which shows
them to be degenerates. The truth is that all the
theories are echoes of previous prejudices. The
Tasmanian savage will ever remain a mystery. No
man really knows his history. All that is really
certain is that when civilisation discovered him he
was a filthy savage, more likely a degenerate than a

The inevitable conflict came, provoked, one is
ashamed to say, not by the savages, but by the
cruelty of the early settlers. Mr. Bonwick, in his
history of Tasmania, tells some horrible tales of the
devilry of those early white men. Two gentlemen of
Hobart told me that they well remember, when boys,
how white men would go into the bush on a Sunday


Five Years under the Southern Cross

morning " blackbirding " that is, shooting down the
natives for "sport." It was considered a grand

The natives, themselves savage and cruel, re-
turned the insult, and for years there was a deadly
feud between whites and blacks. Then came a war
of extermination, mingled with a mission of concilia-
tion. The Government issued pictorial proclamations
setting forth the character of official British justice.
A black and white boy were represented clothed,
and standing with linked arms. Underneath the
Governor was seen shaking hands with a black ; while
at the bottom a black man was shown shooting a
white man and being hanged upon a tree for the
offence. This was completed by the representation
of a white man shooting a black and being hanged
for the crime. These rude pictures, which conveyed
British ideas of justice to the blacks, were affixed to
trees in the bush.

The final work of conciliation was effected by a
Mr. Robinson, a Methodist, who did what the Gov-
ernment alone could not have done. This man, a brick-
layer, touched with the sorrows of the blacks, opened
his house to them and became their friend. He learned
their language, and then, aided by the Government,
went out into the wilds to preach glad tidings to the
natives. In a few years he succeeded in bringing into
Hobart the entire native population, to be protected.
Some of the horrible savages became Christians, and,
according to Mr. Bonwick, died with words upon
their lips of which no white Christian need be


The Romance of Tasmania

ashamed. The rest it is a sordid story fell into
civilised ways and took to drinking spirits. That
hastened the end the race speedily died out. In
1869 one male aboriginal alone survived. In 1864
he had appeared, of all places, at a ball given at
Government House. He was the last man of his
race a curiosity exhibited at a dance. From this
his decline was rapid. He was seldom sober, and
in 1869, after a drunken bout, he perished. Truca-
nini, the last aboriginal woman, died in 1876. The
race is now extinct. Our people have no cause to
pride themselves upon some of their history in
Tasmania. But a new generation has come, and it
is for them to maintain Tasmania at that moral, as.
well as commercial and social height, which it is the
glory of Britain now to maintain.




WHO in England does not know the Tasmanian
apple rosy, juicy, and expensive appearing about
Easter, and continuing until the English orchards
yield their own annual output? A foreign and de-
lectable fruit is this apple, welcome enough in the
off season "at home."

I am writing in the very heart of Tasmania, in
the midst of a wonderful valley, covered with huge
crops of hops and apples. We have done two days
of motoring, and in the aggregate have covered many
thousands of acres, yet never have we lost the view
of immense orchards and hop gardens. From a score
of heights, we have gazed upon plains and valleys
unsurpassed for loveliness and fertility. We are in
the true home of the apple.

The house in which we are now staying is a
roomy, old-fashioned farm-house, built after the
English pattern, with certain Tasmanian features
added, the whole being surrounded by an old-world
garden, such as is seen in small English country
towns or large English villages. We are playing
at an English holiday, and cheating ourselves with
the sweet illusion that the railway yonder really goes


A Paradise of Fruit

to London. Everything here is so English that it
would occasion no surprise to discover that this old-
fashioned railway is the branch of an English trunk
line to London.

To this place we came from Glenorchy, where
Dr. Benjafield, the Medical Officer of Health, has
one of the finest pear orchards in the southern hemi-
sphere. Two better centres of the apple and pear
industry than Glenorchy and Bushy Park it would
be impossible to find. All that can be known about
the cultivation of the apple and the pear we learn
here, from the very beginning of the process when
the bush is cleared and fruit saplings are planted
until the moment of packing for the English market.
Roaming over these enormous expanses of cultivated
land, it appears almost incredible that this fertility
is the work of a comparatively few years. In the
Old Land orchards very frequently have a history.
Here there has been no time for making history. A
few years ago this country was covered with a stub-
born scrub, surmounted with the giant eucalyptus.
To-day it has been brought under the dominion of
man, to whom it yields a marvellous profit. A
system of almost perfect irrigation has converted land
which aforetime was worth ten shillings an acre into
fertile orchards which to-day could not be bought
for two or three hundred times that amount.

No fewer than 200 varieties of apples are grown
in Tasmania, including all the best English fruit,
such as Ribstons, Cox's Orange, and the like. As
to pears, one grower alone cultivates seventy varie-


Five Years under the Southern Cross

ties, and he boasts, with pardonable pride, that his
fruit has graced the table of King George. An
afternoon spent on his estate was a perfect revela-
tion of the possibilities of the soil. We stood in
the centre of one of the largest orchards I have ever
seen, and gazed along avenues of fruit trees extending
half a mile in length. Pear and apple trees occu-
pied the ground, the former predominating. The
fruit was so plentiful that in scores of cases it com-
pletely hid the wood of the branches from view.
Enormous branches, bending under their healthful
weight, literally touched the ground, and here and
there was the spectacle of branches broken in twain
by reason of the excess of fruit they bore. Some of
the pears weigh eighteen ounces when fully ripe, and
Dr. Benjafield assured me that they fetched as much
as a shilling each, wholesale, in Covent Garden
Market. In this orchard, one of five owned by him,
were no fewer than 5,000 pear trees. Had the camera
been able faithfully to depict the fruit-laden trees,
I would have sent some photographs home ; but,
unfortunately, the protruding fruit is not so distinct
from the leaf in a photograph as to give the desired

Orcharding means fortune for the majority of
growers if they will attend to their business, clean-
ing their ground, pruning the trees, and spraying
against the dreaded codling-moth. One grower openly
admitted that, as a professional man, he had earned
nearly ,2,000 a year, but the fruit industry paid
him better. Year by year the output increases. One


A Paradise of Fruit

estate of 290 acres that I visited is only five years
old, and yet in that short time it has yielded 80,000
cases of apples, each case containing from forty to
fifty pounds weight of fruit. The ambition of Tas-
mania is to become the chief fruit-producing area of
the southern hemisphere. This year it is likely that
a million cases will be shipped from Hobart to Great
Britain, South America, and Europe.

These facts and figures show what a change is
passing over an island which a century ago was the
haunt of the most degraded aboriginal known. And
how easily it might have been Dutch or French
instead of British ! Pride of the flag is most naturally
engendered at the view of these wonderful conquests
of Britain's mind and toil.

Orcharding in Tasmania and, for that matter, in
Australia also offers certain hints which the British
"at home " would do well to heed. The Australian
and the Tasmanian understand the art of making their
fruit trees produce the maximum of yield with the
minimum of labour and expenditure. It is true that
the unparalleled climate has much to do with their
success. But I was a little astonished to learn that
poor soil third-rate soil produces the best results
in apples. The secret lies, not in the richness of
the soil, but in careful irrigation and in careful prun-
ing. The trees are what in England would be called
dwarfs. They rarely exceed eight or ten feet in
height. They are thus dwarfed so as to dispense with
the loss of time in the use of ladders. All the fruit
can be picked by men standing on the earth or upon


Five Years under the Southern Cross

small boxes, or by boys who leap into the fork of
the tree, and from that elevation gather the fruit.
This method makes an astonishing difference to the
time and expense of plucking.

Not only are the trees deliberately dwarfed, but
they are so pruned that all the fruit is thrown into
six or seven large branches, which are thick with
apples, growing as low down as a foot from the
ground. Thus, by the cutting away of all inner
branches, light and air gain access to every part of
the tree. It is a simple method of cultivation, but
it is highly successful. In addition to this, the
growers practise what is called "summer pruning."
Two or three weeks before the apples are gathered
all superfluous small branches and leaves are re-
moved, so that the sun can reach every apple on the
tree. The appearance of apple trees developed on
this system is rather curious at first, and it contrasts
unfavourably with the large and bushy aspect of trees
in an English orchard ; but, judged by results, the
Tasmanian and Australian system is far preferable
to the English system.

As I write, the picking season is in full swing.
We are following the entire process. Swarms of men
and boys invade the orchards, filling their bags with
the golden fruit. But oh ! the holocaust ! It is
enough to make a man weep to see the thousands of
"rejects." The tiniest speck in an apple, a little sun-
burn, or the merest suspicion of the codling-moth is
sufficient to cause the fruit to be flung upon the
ground. Only sound fruit, absolutely perfect, is


A Paradise of Fruit

allowed to be packed. Lynx-eyed inspectors open
each case of apples upon the wharf, and defect in a
single apple means condemnation for the entire case.
In the packing-sheds each apple is wrapped in a
separate piece of paper before being committed to
the case. Clever workers can earn as much as ten
or eleven shillings a day by wrapping up the fruit.
They are paid a penny a case of, say, one hundred
and fifty or sixty apples. Think of the rapid
manipulation of the fingers which, at this rate
of work, can earn eleven shillings a day ! It means
the handling of twenty thousand separate pieces of

The healthfulness of the orchardist's life is appa-
rent to all. Dr. Benjafield, in presenting his annual
report as Medical Officer of Glenorchy, declared that
the health of the municipality, a district of one
hundred square miles, had established for the year
a world's record not a death from preventible in-
fectious disease; one case only of true consumption;
the death-rate nearly down to zero. Dr. Benjafield
is a medico trained in London and Edinburgh, and
he has been in Tasmania for thirty years. Besides
being Medical Officer of Health, he is an orchardist
on his own account, and he speaks of health in the
orchard thus :

"I have seen for myself the great things which
are included in life in a garden. I have seen many
babies born in the district, but never a mother died.
I have seen rollicking, toothless, fat babies munch-
ing away at red apples, or stuffing in raw straw-


Five Years under the Southern Cross

berries, and their mothers just laughed at the horror
on my face; and when the thermometer stands at
90 degrees or 100 degrees sunstroke never troubles

The much-lauded "simple life" is the general life
here " early to bed and early to rise " and then
the whole day in the sunshine pruning in winter,
digging and ploughing in spring, weeding and spray-
ing, in big apple and pear orchards, and picking small
fruits in early summer, and later on the harder fruits
as they come in, until the great autumn gatherings
close the season.

There is no hustle here a great thing that in
the battle of life. Each worker has own row to
hoe, and pretty well his own time that he takes
to do it.

In the next chapter I shall say something of the
orchards as a desirable investment for English

Meanwhile, let us follow the fruit to the end.
When all the sound fruit has been exported there
remain millions of "rejects," which are sent to the
jam factory and there converted to profitable uses.
At Hobart we inspected a large factory where every
kind of jam is made and many kinds of fruit pre-
served. The process is wonderfully clean, most of
the fruit being untouched by hand. A great deal
of "pulp" is sent to England, to be there treated
and converted into preserve, but the jam itself is
not exported, because English people have a great
prejudice against tinned preserves. This is a pity,


A Paradise of Fruit

and the prejudice is entirely without foundation since
the introduction of enamelled tins. If this prejudice
could only be overcome, Englishmen might taste a
new sensation at present denied to most of them
peach jam. Australia and Tasmania can supply this
delicacy, but not until the folk at home look with
kindlier eyes upon the despised "tin."




I FREELY admit that Van Diemen's Land greatly
fascinated me. Its varied scenery, its mountains, its
mild climate, its fertility, each left their impression.
I was fortunate enough to fall into the kind hands
of several gentlemen who have greatly helped in the
making of Tasmania, and they made my tour not
only a pleasure, but the means of acquiring a great
deal of information about the actual state of the
country and its immediate prospects. With two or
three motor-cars at one's disposal, driven by gentle-
men who know the country through and through,
and with authority to travel anywhere I chose on the
State railways, my way was made exceedingly easy.

I promised in this chapter to write about Tasmania
as a colony for the British people. Little Britain, in
the North Sea, does not know very much about its
possessions in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The
average Englishman knows practically nothing about
Tasmania. But he ought to know something about
it. Tasmanians are not a self-assertive people. They
do not advertise their country. Hence, for the many,
it remains a land in the mist.

The area of the island, including the small islands

The Outlook in Tasmania

to the north, is nearly seventeen million acres. About
one-third of this space is under cultivation. The
entire population is less than 200,000 about one-
third the population of the City of Melbourne. The
average population works out at six or seven persons
to the square mile. It will be seen at once that the
island is sparsely populated. The need of Tasmania
is population, though not nearly to the same extent
as Australia. Men who have the right to speak with
authority upon the matter declare that Tasmania needs
a population of one million persons in order that it
may be profitably developed. The railways at present
entail a loss of ,70,000 per annum. A Special
Commissioner has recently been appointed to try to
grapple with this particular problem. He has in-
structions to make the railways pay. But they cannot
pay until there is a larger influx of inhabitants.

Now, there are three things concerning Tasmania
that should be of interest to very many Englishmen,
both from the point of view of capital and the point
of view of emigration, i.e. fruit, power, and minerals.

I have said that two-thirds of the land is not
yet under cultivation. It is only right to say that at
present there is little prospect of this territory being
explored and subdued, and even if there were, it is
doubtful if a great part of it is arable land. The
forest is exceedingly dense, and men soon become
"bushed." When it is cleared it may turn out to
be very valuable property, or it may not. But it is
believed that part of this hidden country is rich in
minerals, if not in soil. And, further, it is as likely


Five Years under the Southern Cross

as not that the land may bear apples, since it is
demonstrated that an inferior soil can produce prolific
crops of apples. Leaving aside, then, all that is
doubtful, and dealing only with the Tasmania that
is known, the possibilities of a great development of
the country are bound up with fruit, power, and

Fruit, first of all. An immense development can
take place in this direction. There are hundreds of
thousands of acres of "bush" awaiting the coming
of the farmer. We had a striking illustration of
what may be done in an excursion to the Russell
Falls. After leaving the fruitful Derwent Valley, and
bidding farewell to the railway at Russell, we plunged
into the bush. In every direction stretched out the
scrub. Few people beyond tourists ever pass along
this way. So quiet is the road that serpents come
forth from the undergrowth and stretch themselves
in the sunshine which floods the dusty route. We
ran over two of these reptiles, one of them measur-
ing five feet in length. Here and there we espied
huts in which settlers were residing; from various
points rose wreaths of smoke, an indication that the
work of "burning off" was in progress. At the en-
trance to the Russell Falls we encountered a typical
settler, who speedily showed us how quickly an
energetic man can subdue the bush and make it
fruitful. Eighteen months ago this man purchased
seventy-two acres of land. Including the fees for
survey, the land cost him ^39, and he was allowed
fourteen years in which to pay the money. A day


The Outlook in Tasmania

or two ago he was offered ^2,000 for the property.
Wisely he declined the offer, for the prospects of his
investment are worth more to him than ,2,000. He
is comparatively a young man, with a family of small
children. Given health and strength, his future is
secured, and all for an outlay of 39. The rest
depends upon his toil. Already, in this brief period,
he has planted 115 apple trees, and has made the
ground bear a healthy crop of strawberries, rasp-
berries, peas, hops, and potatoes. Past his door
runs the river, in which, the night before our visit,
over three hundred trout were caught by some fifteen
fishermen, our settler himself being responsible for
forty of these. Birds, fish, rabbits, and hares are
all in the neighbourhood. The property contains
about three thousand eucalyptus trees, which will all
be felled and used for firewood. In two years' time the
railway will pass through this estate, and of course
increase its value. At present the homestead is
isolated. The nearest pillar-box for the reception of
letters is some distance away on the roadside, and
consists of an old candle-box secured to the stump of
a tree. In a few years all this will be changed as
the land is rendered fertile. What this man has done
others are doing and others may do. This sub-
jugation of the soil is one of the most healthful and
lucrative of employments. It should attract a number
of the right class of Englishmen.

At Moonah I saw the prospectus of a scheme for
planting and developing orchard land. In the place
named in the prospectus land is offered, right out,


Five Years under the Southern Cross

by the Government for ten shillings an acre. It
carries 200,000 tons of firewood, and in ground crops
and orchard would yield very speedily an amazing

The fruit industry, then, I place first of all.

Next to this is the development of power. Tas-
mania is noted for its lakes, all of which are situated
amongst the mountains at an altitude of 3,000 or more
feet above the sea. A great scheme for utilising this
water in the production of electric power is now actu-
ally in progress. Hobart can be supplied with power
for lighting, heating, and locomotion, and the
country en route from the lakes can all be opened up
to the magic wire. This means a great thing for the
island, and holds the promise of great developments.
Tasmania may yet be able to show civilisation that
smoke is entirely unnecessary in commercial and
domestic life. Certain it is that the future of Tas-
mania will be materially affected by the introduction
of electric power on the scale proposed. And Mel-
bourne, which for a city under the Southern Cross
has far too much smoke, might condescend to learn
from Tasmania a lesson in sweetness and light.

And, finally, there is the development of minerals.

There are tin mines in Tasmania which have a
world-wide reputation the Mount Bischoff and the

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Online LibraryFrederic C. (Frederic Chambers) SpurrFive years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions → online text (page 17 of 18)