Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1838/02/24)

At David L. Waugh’s, Esq., near Goulburn,
24th February 1838.

My dear Malcolm,—I received your letter of the 1st October a week ago, and lose no time in writing to you. Most sincerely do I sympathise with you in your affliction. I feel much for your receiving such unexpected news at a time when you looked forward to a meeting with your dear brother. I am glad to see that in the midst of your grief you do not sorrow as those who have no hope, but take all the consolation which the Gospel gives to those whose friends in Jesus fall asleep. Man was never meant by his Creator to enjoy anything like unmingled happiness here on earth, or how would he ever look forward with joy to a removal to heaven? So let us consider that all sorrows are meant by God to give us a distaste to this life, and a greater desire to be removed to that world where there will be no more tears or sorrows, no more partings of dear brothers and friends, but where all will be eternal, fixed, and everlasting. Forgive me, dear Malcolm, if in officiously reminding you of these things you know so well, I may, instead of comforting, have only hurt your feelings, and opened afresh the fountains of your grief, which, when you get this letter, time may have in some measure allayed. It is now a year since I saw you at Cambridge; how much has happened during that year! Little did I then expect to be, in a twelvemonth, on the opposite side of the world. Perhaps by the time you get this letter, you will be interested by a little account of what has befallen me since you last heard from me previous to our sailing from Greenock, which we did on the 24th of July. We were six weeks to the Line, four more to the Cape, which we passed 300 miles to the southward; five more weeks to King George’s Sound, a settlement on the south-west corner of New Holland, where we were obliged to call for refreshments. The scurvy had broken out, and we had fifty people laid up, twenty of whom would not have reached Sydney alive. Two weeks’ stay at this place so recruited them that we were enabled to proceed on our voyage, and in two weeks more, arrived at Sydney on the 3d of December, exactly nineteen weeks from Greenock. We lost during the passage twenty-five children and five grown persons; but notwithstanding the saddening effect of witnessing so much distress as these losses occasioned, I considered the passage a pleasant one. There was a great variety of society on board, and amongst eleven reverend gentlemen we mustered a very good library, and we used to have worship in the cabin every morning and evening. I used to assist the captain in taking his observations, and walk the deck for sundry hours daily, to the astonishment of the rest of the passengers. 

The time passed very quickly, and I was almost sorry to bid adieu to the ship. She seemed the last link betwixt this distant land and Scotland, where we stepped on board.

On landing, I proceeded to get lodgings for my brother and myself, and then to deliver a few letters of introduction with which I had been furnished. I was a good deal hurt by the chilling coldness with which I was received by some, but others were kind. Every one whose opinion I asked advised me not to set up by myself as a settler, until I had obtained a sufficient knowledge of the customs of the country, and acquired the necessary experience in the management of sheep and cattle, and for this purpose they advised me to join myself, for a couple of years, with some respectable person who had been several years in the colony, and after that time I might set up by myself. The difficulty was to find a suitable person willing to enter into this arrangement. Fortunately a young man, son of Waugh the bookseller in Edinburgh (you may have noticed religious publications by Waugh and Innes), who has been four years in the colony, and to whom I had letters, was willing to allow me to join him, and take up my residence in his house, and lay out my money in sheep and cattle, to be joined with his for two years, when I shall set up for myself.

I was much puzzled what to do with my brother David, whom I had brought out with me, understanding I could set up for myself at once, and that he could live with me and assist me. Mr. Waugh objected to his living with him, as he would be quite idle, he not having employment for so many. Fortunately Colonel Mackenzie, to whom we had letters, introduced him to a Mr. Howe, a man of immense wealth, who took a fancy to him, and was desirous of making him his agent in Sydney for the disposal of the produce of his estates, which are about thirty miles from Sydney. I told Mr. Howe that he was only nineteen years of age; but he thought he would do very well. And as David himself was very desirous, I at last gave my consent to this arrangement, although I did not much like leaving him in the town of Sydney. He has a salary of £150 per annum, a nice little cottage belonging to Mr. Howe, and, as his assistant, a very respectable man who came out in the ship with us, whose wife acts as David’s cook and housekeeper. He has now been there upwards of two months, and is doing very well.

After seeing him comfortably established, I came up here, which is 130 miles from Sydney. About three miles from this, coming through the forest, or bush, as it is called, the cart which conveyed my clothes and baggage was stopped by five bushrangers, who despoiled me of most of my wearing apparel, and retreated into the midst of the forest. Next day we hunted on their track with dogs and black natives and a party of the mounted police, but with no success. I have now been here six weeks. We live in a hunt made with upright pots, and roofed with sheets of bark. Our principal occupation is looking after our cattle and sheep, and cultivating enough grain and garden stuff for our own use. Fourteen miles from us there are a few straggling huts which they call the town of Goulburn. Here a Mr. Hamilton, who was assistant to Dr. Macfarlan of Greenock, has formed a congregation and commenced building a church. We ride down on Sundays. I like him much. His charge is extensive, having a radius of about fifty miles. He has been only about six months in the colony.

It is a fine climate, the sky blue and clear like the Levant, which it resembles in having a hot wind from the N.W., which is fully equal to the sirocco. During its continuance the thermometer stands at 114° in the shade. In the lower part of the country it frequently stands at 135° in the shade. We are 2000 feet above the level of the sea, and it generally gets cool in the evening, the thermometer frequently falling 40° in a few hours, in which case we feel so chilly that we are glad of a fire. It is only for four or five months that these great heats are prevalent. We live in the most Robinson-Crusoe style imaginable, all our conveniences being the work of our own hands. I made the table I am now writing on, and the bed in which I sleep. The river Wallondilly runs close to the house. It forms our bath. I had the pleasure of saving from being drowned in it, a few days ago, a young gentleman named Feild, whom I dived for and brought out in a state of insensibility. He was stopping a night here on his journey. He had been lately in the settlement of South Australia, and had been acquainted with William Malcolm there, your cousin. He said he was doing very well That settlement is quite in its infancy yet, but I hope it will do well.

In our neighbourhood the aborigines are not numerous. The Wallondilly tribe, consisting of about thirty, pay us a visit once a month. They live by hunting, and therefore keep constantly moving over a country of about forty miles square. They live on kangaroos and opossums. I went out kangaroo-hunting with them one day. They are very scarce, and after rambling over many miles we perceived one with its small head and ears erect among the underwood. The native, to whom Mr. Waugh had lent a gun, immediately fired and missed the kangaroo. 1 however, though a poor shot, managed to put a ball through him as he bounded away, clearing three or four yards at a leap. He was six feet high. The tails make good soup. The natives generally spear them by throwing at them when they come to drink, and it is only when they can procure a gun that they pursue them openly. They talk pretty good broken English, and go quite naked; but in cold weather they wear over their shoulders a cloak of kangaroo skin, which they sleep upon, with only a screen to keep off the wind, and seldom two nights in the same place. They have adopted most of the vices of the convicts; and on Christmas Day I was shocked to see a number of them lying like black pigs, dead drunk, with rum they had procured from some of the public-houses in the township. In this country, wherever there are three houses together, one you may be sure is a public, and in the township of Goulbourn, where there are about forty houses, there are eleven publics. In fact the great bulk of the population consists of those who drink rum and those who sell it.

We are fourteen miles from the nearest public, and our drink consists of milk and water, and great quantities of tea, which is very cheap. I have got a horse, and I ride into the town to church on Sunday. We have also a good deal of riding after the cattle, which range at large through the woods, and which gallop like wild deer, having so much liberty. The country consists of low ranges of hills, not very precipitous, like those in the south of Scotland; only these are covered with wood, sometimes for twenty miles without a gap. We have six convicts, three of whom go out with the sheep, and the others do farm-work. When properly treated they make very good servants, and prove faithful to their masters.

The contrast which this rural and pastoral life makes with my former way of life on board ship is very great, but I trust the season of meditation and repentance now afforded me will not be thrown away, and that my leaving the Navy will be for my spiritual good as much as it seems likely to be for my temporal,—as I see by the papers that Sir George Clerk, my only hope, has lost his election, and so could not have done much for me in the Navy. Mr. Waugh, I am happy to say, is a truly pious young man. He was brought up to the Law in Edinburgh, and has been only about four years from home. The Lord seems to have provided for me in a wonderful way. I am in the enjoyment of excellent health, and, excepting my separation from all my old friends, I have nothing to complain of. I hope your life at Cambridge will be very like what it was when I spent that happy week there. May God bless you in all things is my daily prayer. —Believe me ever, my dear Malcolm, your affectionate friend,

John Irving.

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