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Mackie's Journal

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: Jan 1854 [unknown]
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australiamap
Surnames/tags: Melbourne Quakers
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The following excerpt is from the journal kept by the Quaker Mackie (Nicholls, M (Ed.), Traveller under concern: Mackie. University of Tasmania: Hobart 1973, pp. 180-183). Mackie gives a first-hand description of Melbourne during their travels in the year following the arrival of Mary Ann Kingston and Henry Vaughan:

"Melbourne, Victoria - January 1854: "Monday 23 January - "Walking about the town, the heat and dust great, and a busy throng in every street. The country around Melbourne is flat and almost destitute of trees which have been cut down for firewood; no coal has yet been obtained in the colony, and the wood is becoming dear and scarce. The site of the town is gently undulating, and there is no elevated spot in the neighbourhood whence we can obtain a general view of it. The drought is severe having now lasted four months and the summer is hotter than for some years past. It is only the older houses that have gardens attached to them, the ground is now too valuable, and they are as sparing of room as in the midst of London. In this respect it forms a striking contrast to Hobart Town where every house has its garden, mostly presenting such a glow of colour from roses and scarlet geraniums as is seldom seen in England. Our kind hostess had a nice garden but it is now a wilderness, for a gardener asks £2 per day for his labour.

"Although the immigration has very much abated either from choice or necessity many are still living in tents and just across the river in view from our windows is ‘canvass town’ exposed to the full blaze of the sun, the power of the wind and the clouds of dust, not a tree or a bush is near it. Destitute immigrants have had large funds raised for their relief – nearly 10,000 Pounds have been voluntarily subscribed and placed at the disposal of the Immigrant Aid Society. Extensive barracks in different parts of the town have been built for their accommodation. Nor is this perhaps solely from benevolent motives, the prosperity of Melbourne and the comfort of its inhabitants depends so much on the continued influx of population, especially of female immigrants that they are looked for anxiously as each vessel arrives. Servants can hardly be obtained and for £20 to £30 per annum is frequently given them. Began family visits; few have any leisure till the evening and many have no private rooms so thickly are the houses inhabited.

"24th.January - "In a short walk about the town observed much building in progress, some of them large stone structures. The stone is dark coloured of volcanic origin much like scoria, being more or less cellular; it is hard to work, on this account the surface is left rough, and the buildings have a dull heavy unfinished look. Whole rows of iron and zinc houses and warehouses of the same material are common. The wind was high and vast clouds of dust were occasionally rising not from the roads only but from the broad surface of the land, completely obscuring the view. There is no air of finish about Melbourne, here and there is a good structure and a fine shop window or even several together, but no uniformity is observed and small one-storied temporary houses are mixed up with them. But that so much should have been done in so short a time, and is still doing at enormous cost must be without precedent. Conversed with some at their tent doors. One family was recently from London, the poor woman said that in England it would be thought a strange mode of living. Comfort is out of the question; rain they can keep out but dust they cannot; the heat is also great in them, but this is in measure obviated by having a double roof. Many a person delicately brought up in England is here living in a rude and rugged life. It has a singular effect to pass a man of rough exterior, a drayman or a labourer and hear refined tones and a clear enunciation proceeding from his lips. It is common to have the face enveloped in hair, mustachios and a bushy beard.

"25th January - "The weekday meeting is held in a small room at the Mechanics Institute for which friends pay 20/- a time. 12 or 14 of us were present. As we returned to our lodgings a large number, several hundred, female immigrants who had just landed were on their way to the Depot where they remain one night before they can be hired. Such is the demand for maid-servants that their wages are very high from £30 to £40 per annum. Two more visits. The amount of discomfort in which some of our friends is very great. This is chiefly owing to the excessive rents. The smallest and poorest cottages are let at 15/- to 20/- per week for each room, and those of a better description double that price. But it is apprehended by many that a revulsion is at hand and that house property at least will fall.

"26th January - "Walked to St. Kilda 4 miles from Melbourne. Our road lay through ‘Canvass Town’ a strange place. It is a village of tents. When the influx of immigrants was very great and dwellings could not be procured in Melbourne they were allowed to pitch their tents on this spot. Now there is no necessity for this, but many who took up temporary residences here are making it their permanent abode. Here are ‘Coffee Rooms’, ‘Dining Rooms’, and a variety of stores. It is now becoming the resort of vicious characters, and on this account it is expected it will soon be cleared away. We distributed tracts through the place which were agreeably received: and then pursued our way over dusty ground through the bush consisting of thinly scattered Gum Trees. The drought has now continued 4 months, so that the country is very brown and very dusty. The amount of dust about Melbourne is greatly increased, from the practice of not confining the vehicles to any particular track, the ground is all equally level and horses and carriages pass over it in any and every direction, so that nearly the whole surface of unoccupied land for a few miles out of Melbourne is roadway, and in many parts inches deep in dust.

"The gum Trees are of a different species to any I have seen before, the leaves are very long and narrow, the bark rugged and the stem crooked. They are frequently very picturesque. Noticed a large species of the swallow tribe, not much unlike our swift, but the wings are broader, and the body at the insertion of the tail white. Flocks of a small ash-coloured bird are common having a black crescent-shaped mark upon the throat.

"Called on Lucy Birchall who is keeping a boarding-house in St. Kilda, she was poorly; then on Jos. Sayce and on Edwd. Sheppard. St. Kilda is an agreeable neighbourhood on the shores of Port Philip, free from the dust of Melbourne and refreshed by the cool sea breezes. The vast forest of shipping in Hobson’s Bay is a conspicuous object. Houses spring up in this neighbourhood with astonishing rapidity, and two or three small townships will quickly be united and form extensive suburbs to Melbourne. Ten thousand persons are supposed to be located in this neighbourhood. Rents are monstrous. A single-storied cottage of four rooms will let for £300 a year. Small corrugated iron houses which cost about £200 to erect, will let for £2 per week. There is no water in St. Kilda, it is carted from Melbourne and costs from 12/- to 15/- a barrel and in the winter when the roads were heavy the enormous sum of £2 was paid. The water cart business is a very extensive one and long trains of carts may be seen going to the banks of the Yarra where numerous pumps are erected and the population of Melbourne – 80 or 100,000 are all supplied with this necessary article in this way, the cost in the town is 5/- a barrel, but waterworks are in contemplation by Government. As we returned in the evening the glow from the western sky was beautiful. The flat horizon was only varied with a dark fringe of trees and masts from the shipping in the bay.

"27th January - "Continuing family visits. It is not easy to find our way on the outskirts of the town. Names of places and streets are not known, nor can they be traced in many cases, so many are the vacancies not yet filled up, and no-one knows his neighbour. Wellington Parade is but a space cleared in the bush, furrows in the earth defining it; and houses scattered among the trees are the beginnings of long rows of streets. For about a mile through Melbourne the streets are completed and the houses are contiguous to each other, they are continued for another mile which is intended to be the same; they are then met by extensive suburbs, larger than the original town. Troops of immigrants, chiefly labouring men, are passing along the streets just landed from the Marco Polo – she brings between 6 and 700. Many vessels arrive daily with more passengers. 66,000 have been added to the population in 1853. [1]

  1. Nicholls, M (Ed.), Traveller under concern: Mackie. University of Tasmania: Hobart 1973, pp. 180-183

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