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evening I walked through the town, and returned full of admiration
at the whole scene. It is a most magnificent testimony to the power
of the British nation. Here, in a less promising country, scores of
years have done many more times more than an equal number of
centuries have effected in South America. My first feeling was to
congratulate myself that I was born an Englishman. Upon seeing more
of the town afterwards, perhaps my admiration fell a little; but
yet it is a fine town. The streets are regular, broad, clean, and
kept in excellent order; the houses are of a good size, and the
shops well furnished. It may be faithfully compared to the large
suburbs which stretch out from London and a few other great towns
in England; but not even near London or Birmingham is there an
appearance of such rapid growth. The number of large houses and
other buildings just finished was truly surprising; nevertheless,
every one complained of the high rents and difficulty in procuring
a house. Coming from South America, where in the towns every man of
property is known, no one thing surprised me more than not being
able to ascertain at once to whom this or that carriage belonged.

I hired a man and two horses to take me to Bathurst, a village
about one hundred and twenty miles in the interior, and the centre
of a great pastoral district. By this means I hoped to gain a
general idea of the appearance of the country. On the morning of
the 16th (January) I set out on my excursion. The first stage took
us to Paramatta, a small country town, next to Sydney in
importance. The roads were excellent, and made upon the MacAdam
principle, whinstone having been brought for the purpose from the
distance of several miles. In all respects there was a close
resemblance to England: perhaps the alehouses here were more
numerous. The iron gangs, or parties of convicts who have committed
here some offence, appeared the least like England: they were
working in chains, under the charge of sentries with loaded arms.
The power which the government possesses, by means of forced
labour, of at once opening good roads throughout the country, has
been, I believe, one main cause of the early prosperity of this
colony. I slept at night at a very comfortable inn at Emu ferry,
thirty-five miles from Sydney, and near the ascent of the Blue
Mountains. This line of road is the most frequented, and has been
the longest inhabited of any in the colony. The whole land is
enclosed with high railings, for the farmers have not succeeded in
rearing hedges. There are many substantial houses and good cottages
scattered about; but although considerable pieces of land are under
cultivation, the greater part yet remains as when first discovered.

The extreme uniformity of the vegetation is the most remarkable
feature in the landscape of the greater part of New South Wales.
Everywhere we have an open woodland, the ground being partially
covered with a very thin pasture, with little appearance of
verdure. The trees nearly all belong to one family, and mostly have
their leaves placed in a vertical, instead of as in Europe, in a
nearly horizontal position: the foliage is scanty, and of a
peculiar pale green tint, without any gloss. Hence the woods appear
light and shadowless: this, although a loss of comfort to the
traveller under the scorching rays of summer, is of importance to
the farmer, as it allows grass to grow where it otherwise would
not. The leaves are not shed periodically: this character appears
common to the entire southern hemisphere, namely, South America,
Australia, and the Cape of Good Hope. The inhabitants of this
hemisphere, and of the intertropical regions, thus lose perhaps one
of the most glorious, though to our eyes common, spectacles in the
world - the first bursting into full foliage of the leafless tree.
They may, however, say that we pay dearly for this by having the
land covered with mere naked skeletons for so many months. This is
too true; but our senses thus acquire a keen relish for the
exquisite green of the spring, which the eyes of those living
within the tropics, sated during the long year with the gorgeous
productions of those glowing climates, can never experience. The
greater number of the trees, with the exception of some of the
Blue-gums, do not attain a large size; but they grow tall and
tolerably straight, and stand well apart. The bark of some of the
Eucalypti falls annually, or hangs dead in long shreds which swing
about with the wind, and give to the woods a desolate and untidy
appearance. I cannot imagine a more complete contrast, in every
respect, than between the forests of Valdivia or Chiloe, and the
woods of Australia.

At sunset, a party of a score of the black aborigines passed by,
each carrying, in their accustomed manner, a bundle of spears and
other weapons. By giving a leading young man a shilling, they were
easily detained, and threw their spears for my amusement. They were
all partly clothed, and several could speak a little English: their
countenances were good-humoured and pleasant, and they appeared far
from being such utterly degraded beings as they have usually been
represented. In their own arts they are admirable. A cap being
fixed at thirty yards distance, they transfixed it with a spear,
delivered by the throwing-stick with the rapidity of an arrow from
the bow of a practised archer. In tracking animals or men they show
most wonderful sagacity; and I heard of several of their remarks
which manifested considerable acuteness. They will not, however,
cultivate the ground, or build houses and remain stationary, or
even take the trouble of tending a flock of sheep when given to
them. On the whole they appear to me to stand some few degrees
higher in the scale of civilisation than the Fuegians.

It is very curious thus to see in the midst of a civilised people,
a set of harmless savages wandering about without knowing where
they shall sleep at night, and gaining their livelihood by hunting
in the woods. As the white man has travelled onwards, he has spread
over the country belonging to several tribes. These, although thus
enclosed by one common people, keep up their ancient distinctions,
and sometimes go to war with each other. In an engagement which
took place lately, the two parties most singularly chose the centre
of the village of Bathurst for the field of battle. This was of
service to the defeated side, for the runaway warriors took refuge
in the barracks.

The number of aborigines is rapidly decreasing. In my whole ride,
with the exception of some boys brought up by Englishmen, I saw
only one other party. This decrease, no doubt, must be partly owing
to the introduction of spirits, to European diseases (even the
milder ones of which, such as the measles, prove very destructive),
and to the gradual extinction of the wild animals. (19/1. It is
remarkable how the same disease is modified in different climates.
At the little island of St. Helena the introduction of
scarlet-fever is dreaded as a plague. In some countries foreigners
and natives are as differently affected by certain contagious
disorders as if they had been different animals; of which fact some
instances have occurred in Chile; and according to Humboldt in
Mexico "Political Essay New Spain" volume 4.) It is said that
numbers of their children invariably perish in very early infancy
from the effects of their wandering life; and as the difficulty of
procuring food increases, so must their wandering habits increase;
and hence the population, without any apparent deaths from famine,
is repressed in a manner extremely sudden compared to what happens
in civilised countries, where the father, though in adding to his
labour he may injure himself, does not destroy his offspring.

Besides these several evident causes of destruction, there appears
to be some more mysterious agency generally at work. Wherever the
European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal. We may
look to the wide extent of the Americas, Polynesia, the Cape of
Good Hope, and Australia, and we find the same result. Nor is it
the white man alone that thus acts the destroyer; the Polynesian of
Malay extraction has in parts of the East Indian archipelago thus
driven before him the dark-coloured native. The varieties of man
seem to act on each other in the same way as different species of
animals - the stronger always extirpating the weaker. It was
melancholy at New Zealand to hear the fine energetic natives saying
that they knew the land was doomed to pass from their children.
Every one has heard of the inexplicable reduction of the population
in the beautiful and healthy island of Tahiti since the date of
Captain Cook's voyages: although in that case we might have
expected that it would have been increased; for infanticide, which
formerly prevailed to so extraordinary a degree, has ceased,
profligacy has greatly diminished, and the murderous wars become
less frequent.

The Reverend J. Williams, in his interesting work, says that the
first intercourse between natives and Europeans "is invariably
attended with the introduction of fever, dysentery, or some other
disease which carries off numbers of the people." (19/2. "Narrative
of Missionary Enterprise" page 282.) Again he affirms "It is
certainly a fact, which cannot be controverted, that most of the
diseases which have raged in the islands during my residence there
have been introduced by ships; and what renders this fact
remarkable is that there might be no appearance of disease among
the crew of the ship which conveyed this destructive importation."
(19/3. Captain Beechey chapter 4 volume 1, states that the
inhabitants of Pitcairn Island are firmly convinced that after the
arrival of every ship they suffer cutaneous and other disorders.
Captain Beechey attributes this to the change of diet during the
time of the visit. Dr. Macculloch "Western Isles" volume 2 page 32,
says "It is asserted that on the arrival of a stranger (at St.
Kilda) all the inhabitants, in the common phraseology, catch a
cold." Dr. Macculloch considers the whole case, although often
previously affirmed, as ludicrous. He adds, however, that "the
question was put by us to the inhabitants who unanimously agreed in
the story." In Vancouver's "Voyage" there is a somewhat similar
statement with respect to Otaheite. Dr. Dieffenbach, in a note to
his translation of this Journal, states that the same fact is
universally believed by the inhabitants of the Chatham Islands and
in parts of New Zealand. It is impossible that such a belief should
have become universal in the northern hemisphere, at the Antipodes,
and in the Pacific, without some good foundation. Humboldt
"Political Essay on Kingdom of New Spain" volume 4, says that the
great epidemics at Panama and Callao are "marked" by the arrival of
ships from Chile, because the people from that temperate region
first experience the fatal effects of the torrid zones. I may add
that I have heard it stated in Shropshire that sheep which have
been imported from vessels, although themselves in a healthy
condition, if placed in the same fold with others, frequently
produce sickness in the flock.) This statement is not quite so
extraordinary as it at first appears; for several cases are on
record of the most malignant fevers having broken out, although the
parties themselves, who were the cause, were not affected. In the
early part of the reign of George III, a prisoner who had been
confined in a dungeon was taken in a coach with four constables
before a magistrate; and although the man himself was not ill, the
four constables died from a short putrid fever; but the contagion
extended to no others. From these facts it would almost appear as
if the effluvium of one set of men shut up for some time together
was poisonous when inhaled by others; and possibly more so, if the
men be of different races. Mysterious as this circumstance appears
to be, it is not more surprising than that the body of one's
fellow-creature, directly after death, and before putrefaction has
commenced, should often be of so deleterious a quality that the
mere puncture from an instrument used in its dissection should
prove fatal.

JANUARY 17, 1836.

Early in the morning we passed the Nepean in a ferry-boat. The
river, although at this spot both broad and deep, had a very small
body of running water. Having crossed a low piece of land on the
opposite side, we reached the slope of the Blue Mountains. The
ascent is not steep, the road having been cut with much care on the
side of a sandstone cliff. On the summit an almost level plain
extends, which, rising imperceptibly to the westward, at last
attains a height of more than 3000 feet. From so grand a title as
Blue Mountains, and from their absolute altitude, I expected to
have seen a bold chain of mountains crossing the country; but
instead of this, a sloping plain presents merely an inconsiderable
front to the low land near the coast. From this first slope the
view of the extensive woodland to the east was striking, and the
surrounding trees grew bold and lofty. But when once on the
sandstone platform, the scenery becomes exceedingly monotonous;
each side of the road is bordered by scrubby trees of the
never-failing Eucalyptus family; and with the exception of two or
three small inns, there are no houses or cultivated land; the road,
moreover, is solitary; the most frequent object being a
bullock-waggon, piled up with bales of wool.

In the middle of the day we baited our horses at a little inn,
called the Weatherboard. The country here is elevated 2800 feet
above the sea. About a mile and a half from this place there is a
view exceedingly well worth visiting. Following down a little
valley and its tiny rill of water, an immense gulf unexpectedly
opens through the trees which border the pathway, at the depth of
perhaps 1500 feet. Walking on a few yards, one stands on the brink
of a vast precipice, and below one sees a grand bay or gulf, for I
know not what other name to give it, thickly covered with forest.
The point of view is situated as if at the head of a bay, the line
of cliff diverging on each side, and showing headland behind
headland, as on a bold sea-coast. These cliffs are composed of
horizontal strata of whitish sandstone; and are so absolutely
vertical, that in many places a person standing on the edge and
throwing down a stone, can see it strike the trees in the abyss
below. So unbroken is the line of cliff that in order to reach the
foot of the waterfall formed by this little stream, it is said to
be necessary to go sixteen miles round. About five miles distant in
front another line of cliff extends, which thus appears completely
to encircle the valley; and hence the name of bay is justified, as
applied to this grand amphitheatrical depression. If we imagine a
winding harbour, with its deep water surrounded by bold cliff-like
shores, to be laid dry, and a forest to spring up on its sandy
bottom, we should then have the appearance and structure here
exhibited. This kind of view was to me quite novel, and extremely
magnificent.

In the evening we reached the Blackheath. The sandstone plateau has
here attained the height of 3400 feet; and is covered, as before,
with the same scrubby woods. From the road there were occasional
glimpses into a profound valley of the same character as the one
described; but from the steepness and depth of its sides, the
bottom was scarcely ever to be seen. The Blackheath is a very
comfortable inn, kept by an old soldier; and it reminded me of the
small inns in North Wales.

JANUARY 18, 1836.

Very early in the morning I walked about three miles to see
Govett's Leap: a view of a similar character with that near the
Weatherboard, but perhaps even more stupendous. So early in the day
the gulf was filled with a thin blue haze, which, although
destroying the general effect of the view, added to the apparent
depth at which the forest was stretched out beneath our feet. These
valleys, which so long presented an insuperable barrier to the
attempts of the most enterprising of the colonists to reach the
interior, are most remarkable. Great armlike bays, expanding at
their upper ends, often branch from the main valleys and penetrate
the sandstone platform; on the other hand, the platform often sends
promontories into the valleys, and even leaves in them great,
almost insulated, masses. To descend into some of these valleys, it
is necessary to go round twenty miles; and into others, the
surveyors have only lately penetrated, and the colonists have not
yet been able to drive in their cattle. But the most remarkable
feature in their structure is, that although several miles wide at
their heads, they generally contract towards their mouths to such a
degree as to become impassable. The Surveyor-General, Sir T.
Mitchell, endeavoured in vain, first walking and then by crawling
between the great fallen fragments of sandstone, to ascend through
the gorge by which the river Grose joins the Nepean (19/4. "Travels
in Australia" volume 1 page 154. I must express my obligation to
Sir T. Mitchell for several interesting personal communications on
the subject of these great valleys of New South Wales.); yet the
valley of the Grose in its upper part, as I saw, forms a
magnificent level basin some miles in width, and is on all sides
surrounded by cliffs, the summits of which are believed to be
nowhere less than 3000 feet above the level of the sea. When cattle
are driven into the valley of the Wolgan by a path (which I
descended), partly natural and partly made by the owner of the
land, they cannot escape; for this valley is in every other part
surrounded by perpendicular cliffs, and eight miles lower down it
contracts from an average width of half a mile, to a mere chasm,
impassable to man or beast. Sir T. Mitchell states that the great
valley of the Cox river with all its branches, contracts, where it
unites with the Nepean, into a gorge 2200 yards in width, and about
1000 feet in depth. Other similar cases might have been added.

The first impression on seeing the correspondence of the horizontal
strata on each side of these valleys and great amphitheatrical
depressions, is that they have been hollowed out, like other
valleys, by the action of water; but when one reflects on the
enormous amount of stone which on this view must have been removed
through mere gorges or chasms, one is led to ask whether these
spaces may not have subsided. But considering the form of the
irregularly branching valleys, and of the narrow promontories
projecting into them from the platforms, we are compelled to
abandon this notion. To attribute these hollows to the present
alluvial action would be preposterous; nor does the drainage from
the summit-level always fall, as I remarked near the Weatherboard,
into the head of these valleys, but into one side of their baylike
recesses. Some of the inhabitants remarked to me that they never
viewed one of those baylike recesses, with the headlands receding
on both hands, without being struck with their resemblance to a
bold sea-coast. This is certainly the case; moreover, on the
present coast of New South Wales, the numerous fine,
widely-branching harbours, which are generally connected with the
sea by a narrow mouth worn through the sandstone coast-cliffs,
varying from one mile in width to a quarter of a mile, present a
likeness, though on a miniature scale, to the great valleys of the
interior. But then immediately occurs the startling difficulty, why
has the sea worn out these great though circumscribed depressions
on a wide platform, and left mere gorges at the openings, through
which the whole vast amount of triturated matter must have been
carried away? The only light I can throw upon this enigma is by
remarking that banks of the most irregular forms appear to be now
forming in some seas, as in parts of the West Indies and in the Red
Sea, and that their sides are exceedingly steep. Such banks, I have
been led to suppose, have been formed by sediment heaped by strong
currents on an irregular bottom. That in some cases the sea,
instead of spreading out sediment in a uniform sheet, heaps it
round submarine rocks and islands, it is hardly possible to doubt,
after examining the charts of the West Indies; and that the waves
have power to form high and precipitous cliffs, even in land-locked
harbours, I have noticed in many parts of South America. To apply
these ideas to the sandstone platforms of New South Wales, I
imagine that the strata were heaped by the action of strong
currents, and of the undulations of an open sea, on an irregular
bottom; and that the valley-like spaces thus left unfilled had
their steeply sloping flanks worn into cliffs during a slow
elevation of the land; the worn-down sandstone being removed,
either at the time when the narrow gorges were cut by the
retreating sea, or subsequently by alluvial action.

Soon after leaving the Blackheath we descended from the sandstone
platform by the pass of Mount Victoria. To effect this pass an
enormous quantity of stone has been cut through; the design and its
manner of execution being worthy of any line of road in England. We
now entered upon a country less elevated by nearly a thousand feet,
and consisting of granite. With the change of rock the vegetation
improved; the trees were both finer and stood farther apart; and
the pasture between them was a little greener and more plentiful.
At Hassan's Walls I left the high-road, and made a short detour to
a farm called Walerawang; to the superintendent of which I had a
letter of introduction from the owner in Sydney. Mr. Browne had the
kindness to ask me to stay the ensuing day, which I had much
pleasure in doing. This place offers an example of one of the large
farming, or rather sheep-grazing, establishments of the colony.
Cattle and horses are, however, in this case rather more numerous
than usual, owing to some of the valleys being swampy and producing
a coarser pasture. Two or three flat pieces of ground near the
house were cleared and cultivated with corn, which the harvest-men
were now reaping: but no more wheat is sown than sufficient for the
annual support of the labourers employed on the establishment. The
usual number of assigned convict-servants here is about forty, but
at the present time there were rather more. Although the farm was
well stocked with every necessary, there was an apparent absence of
comfort; and not one single woman resided here. The sunset of a
fine day will generally cast an air of happy contentment on any
scene; but here, at this retired farmhouse, the brightest tints on
the surrounding woods could not make me forget that forty hardened,
profligate men were ceasing from their daily labours, like the
slaves from Africa, yet without their holy claim for compassion.

Early on the next morning Mr. Archer, the joint superintendent, had
the kindness to take me out kangaroo-hunting. We continued riding
the greater part of the day, but had very bad sport, not seeing a
kangaroo, or even a wild dog. The greyhounds pursued a kangaroo rat
into a hollow tree, out of which we dragged it: it is an animal as
large as a rabbit, but with the figure of a kangaroo. A few years
since this country abounded with wild animals; but now the emu is
banished to a long distance, and the kangaroo is become scarce; to
both the English greyhound has been highly destructive. It may be
long before these animals are altogether exterminated, but their
doom is fixed. The aborigines are always anxious to borrow the dogs
from the farmhouses: the use of them, the offal when an animal is
killed, and some milk from the cows, are the peace-offerings of the
settlers, who push farther and farther towards the interior. The
thoughtless aboriginal, blinded by these trifling advantages, is
delighted at the approach of the white man, who seems predestined
to inherit the country of his children.

Although having poor sport, we enjoyed a pleasant ride. The
woodland is generally so open that a person on horseback can gallop
through it. It is traversed by a few flat-bottomed valleys, which
are green and free from trees: in such spots the scenery was pretty
like that of a park. In the whole country I scarcely saw a place
without the marks of a fire; whether these had been more or less
recent - whether the stumps were more or less black, was the
greatest change which varied the uniformity so wearisome to the
traveller's eye. In these woods there are not many birds; I saw,
however, some large flocks of the white cockatoo feeding in a



Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 43 of 51)