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The Diary of
Frederick William Hurst

1852-1853
Well, after a weary voyage of three weeks, during which time we did not have half provisions enough to eat, or water to drink, in fact the last three or four days we were on board there was nothing served. We were 224 passengers on board the Barque Tary, a 342 ton vessel, she was a very old vessel, and every time the wind blew a little fresh, something or other would be carried away. We landed in Melbourne, about the 1st of October most famished.

The first thing that occurred worthy of note was the following little circumstance: As we were landing our baggage on the wharf, an elderly gentleman came and stood in the wharf waiting for the steamboat. Soon after, two well dressed and to all appearances, gentlemen, came and stood beside him. Suddenly one of them put his hand into the first gentleman's pocket, extracted his purse therefrom and took to his heels followed by the gentleman he had robbed. When he found the latter was gaining on him, he suddenly stooped down and threw his pursuer over his head, and when he fell he knocked the cap off his knee, but the bystanders pursued the two villains and caught them in a swamp or marsh nearby. I thought to myself, if this is a specimen of what we will see in the mines we shall have lively times, and will not lack items for a journal.

After strengthening the inner man we took a stroll around town. The city was literally crowded with people. It seemed to me they were from all nations. All was hustle and confusion. Large nuggets of gold were to be seen in the Broker's windows, also large piles of souvenirs and bank notes, specimens of gold quartz. All kinds of reports were in circulation respecting the mines. We put up at a boarding house and I was very much amused at the different accounts men would give in respect to the gold diggings.

Next day we started for Forest Creek. First day we made 20 miles, we were very much fatigued owing to the heavy load we packed on our backs, my load weighed between 40 and 50 pounds consisting of provisions, shovel, pick, clothing, and blankets, etc. We were really very much diverted in the night as one man named Simeon roared out, "Oh my back, oh my back." Of course we all arose thinking he was being murdered, some examined him while others ran outside, but could see nobody. At length Duncan said, "Oh I don't think I'll be able to go any further for I gave my back such a devil of a wrench lifting a cup of water off the fire." There was another bright youth who calculated to get nuggets as big as a horse's head by daylight next morning; by daylight his courage calmed down considerably, and being very much afraid that Duncan would get robbed if he went by himself, he concluded to accompany him, with a number of others; the roads were very muddy. We would meet people all day long, they would say, "Oh, it is no use going, all the gold is dug." Others would say, it was all a hoax, they had been to see for themselves and had worked for weeks and spent all they had. Again others more fortunate would say there was plenty of gold, they had worked so many weeks or months and had made money hand over fist. One of our party turned back, however, I was determined to go on if I went alone. The roads were lined with teams of all kinds, people of all nations and colors and grades, some few respectable, but the more part escaped convicts, cutthroats, murderers, thieves, gamblers, blacklegs; in fact to make a long story short, the scum of the earth were there. To use a common expression, "all hell let loose".

After a long and extremely weary march of over seventy miles, we arrived at Forest Creek Mines, Victory Colony, October 1, 1852, Saturday afternoon. We pitched our tent by the side of Jackass Valley, in the midst of a patch of the prettiest wild flowers I ever saw. I was so very much fatigued I could scarcely walk around. My feet were dreadfully blistered. Everything was all hustle and bustle; it was every man for himself and the devil for his own. Heard tales of the most atrocious, cold blooded murders and robberies. As far as the eye could see, the earth was dug up. At a distance the diggings looked more like newly made graves than anything else. It took us till dark to get our tent fixed.

From early evening until midnight, in fact all hours of the night, guns and pistols were being fired. If there had been no danger of thieves, there was great danger of being shot, for bullets were flying in all directions. Next morning, Sunday, October 2, some of us took a walk up the creek and met with a young man, David Cutting. He told us we had better move up farther, so the next day we moved up about two miles. Tuesday, we could not be united, some wanted to go one place and some another, one place would be too deep, and another too shallow, or too wet, however, we commenced operations.

Provisions were very high priced, $1.75 for one loaf, potatoes could scarcely be had at 75 cents, and half rotten at that. Everything else at about the same ration. We dug in the most unlikely places and of course got little or no gold, but I must confess it was our own fault. However, after two weeks of hard labor, we were $7.50 in debt, besides spending all our money. Our party got discouraged, said they would go back to Melbourne. I told them if we had kept united and gone to work properly I knew we could have done well, adding that they might go to town, as for me I was not going until I got something to go with. So Monday, October 10, our party broke up and sold their tent and tools, but I kept mine. I was left alone with but a sixpence in my pocket in the midst of strangers in a strange land. However, I didn't despond, I concluded I would hire out as a clerk, errand boy, lackey, or anything until I could get started again.

I walked to the Manchester Store, "Harker & Company", I was engaged at $60.00 per month. I got a situation in the same firm for Thomas Strache of our party, he having concluded not to go to Melbourne. I entered upon my new duties and it was not long until I gained the confidence of my employers and all in the firm.

It was not long until I was dispatched to Bendigo, 35 miles distant. They entrusted me with between two and three thousand dollars to invest. I made the trip without accident. In those days it was very dangerous to travel. Not a day or night passed but what some dreadful tragedy would happen.

For instance, I was at Moonlight Flat, one man armed with pistols met an elderly gentleman, stopped him in sight of hundreds of men in open daylight and demanded his money or his life. He handed over his money to the robber, walked on about twelve steps, turned and fired at the villain and shot him in the back of the neck and he fell in the road. The gentleman then returned to the body, got his money and left the fellow in his blood. Again, on Montgomery hill close by, two men quarreled, one seized a double barrel gun, fired at his partner and blew his mouth and one side of his face away, the blood and brains flew all over the wall of the house. Again, nearer still, close by our store a man was shot dead. He had robbed Mr. Steel's store of a bag of flour weighing 200 pounds. Mr. Steel watched him come out from the back of the store, fired at him and he fell dead in the public street. The young man who had stolen the flour was well off. Time would fail me to record even one hundredth part of what daily occurred.

I had some narrow escapes, for instance, I was required to go to a certain ranch. They called it fourteen miles, but I believe it was the longest twenty miles I ever traveled. Just as I began to get into the brush I met two men armed to the teeth, they stopped me. I was mounted on a very fiery horse. One fellow seized hold of the bridle, wanted to know if I would sell it. I said no. He said he would have it anyhow. I was just going to set spurs to him when I heard sound of horses feet on the keen air, I looked around and saw a man turn the corner of the road, put his hand in his bosom and draw out a long knife and gallop to the rescue. The fellows took leg in the brush. I thanked the gentleman and we rode on together for some few miles. I then turned off to the left alone and had not rode more than three or four miles when a whole herd of wild cattle took after me, a mad bull taking the lead, tearing up the ground and bellowing fast and furiously. I put spurs to my horse and ran up hill and down dale, first dodging under trees and then skirting a marsh or swamp. My horse being very fleet, I soon left them far behind and reached the farm without further accident.

I asked a man how they measured the miles in this country. He replied, "We pile a rope, mount a horse and put spurs to him, and when the rope is out we call it a mile." After supper we all sat around the fire telling stories when all at once our hostess came running, screaming and came near fainting. When she recovered a little she informed us that she had put her child to bed, and had just been in the bedroom and discovered a black snake coiled up. We all got up and crept to the door; breathless silence prevailed, one young man walked in on tip toes with the intention of catching the reptile by the tail and swing it across the room, everybody trembled for both the man and child; he at last, after sundry maneuvers, seized the snake by the tail and without receiving any harm swung it across the room. There the poisonous reptile lay apparently stunned with the fall. We all rushed in with sticks but instead of a snake as all had supposed it turned out to be a black belt. We enjoyed a good hearty laugh at the joke.

Next day I rode back to Forest Creek. As soon as I began to get into the diggings a man shouted after me. I stopped and he came up, (it was an old man) "What", says he, "don't you know me, Fred." I soon recognized him. I had previously got slightly acquainted with him. He would have me stop and drink a cup of tea. While I was drinking it, someone felled a tree close by and my horse took fright and bolted and nearly threw me off, however, I reached home safely. Shortly after this I again went to Bendigo and stayed six or eight weeks. Shortly after I arrived there I took sick and remained so for six weeks. The Doctor gave me up two or three times. I at last recovered and as soon as I was strong enough I returned to Forest Creek. While on the road coming down a hill, my horse fell down. I escaped unhurt but the horse skinned its face and knees and right side and it was with some difficulty we got started again. When about ten miles from home there came on a severe thunderstorm accompanied by vivid lightning and heavy rains. The next day, December 25, 1852, we spent a very merry Christmas.

January 12, 1853, Thomas Strachon and I left the Manchester Store. Previous to my leaving, Mr. Smith the Manager, told me if I did not do well at the diggings to come back again and not spend all my money. I had $200.00 coming to me; I sent mother $100.00 and kept the rest. Mr. Smith gave Thomas Strachon a certificate of his for his good conduct, but told me he wouldn't give me any as my face was sufficient recommendation anywhere.

The Ladden and Fayers Creek diggings were just opening up so we went over there and pitched our tent. David Cutting also joined us. It took us two weeks to work our first claim, and we got but a very little gold out of it. It was very wet sinking, and numerous accidents happened each day. Numbers lost their lives, four men being killed in one claim one morning by earth falling in on them, and two were killed by foul air. Times were exciting. Men would quarrel and fight, sometimes with their fists, knives, pistols, picks and shovels, etc. One evening near our tent, some young men while playing at cards quarreled, and at last settled the dispute by fighting a duel. As we sat around the table, several shots were exchanged till one of the parties was shot dead.

We worked around German Gully and other places but hardly cleared expenses. At last toward the end of February, we moved to Bendigo. Previous to this, however, David Cutting left us. We prospected in Sporing Gulley. Found some of our acquaintances there, Francis Evans and others, who were doing well. Shortly after we arrived there, Thomas took sick and kept to his bed for a month. During this time I worked round by myself but got very little gold as there was no water to wash our dust. We spent all our money and had to borrow twenty dollars. At last I started sinking a hole in the gully, sunk it down as far as I could by myself, and as Thomas was getting a little better I got him to help me. The depth of the sinkings varied from twelve to twenty feet, but with his assistance I soon got to the bottom. The first four buckets paid $25 and the next between $40 and $50. This encouraged Thomas so that he soon got well and we worked hard and prospected till the rains set in. We made money hand over fist.

Sometime during the latter part of March I heard of the death of my father. He died the 1st of December 1852, at Wellington, New Zealand. Mother also wrote for me to come home as soon as possible. Shortly after this I left Thomas in charge of the tent and went up to the McIver diggings, stayed there two weeks and returned to Sporing Gulley just one hundred dollars out, not counting lapse of time. We stayed and worked until about the 21st of June. I went down to Melbourne on my way home to New Zealand with about $350 in my pocket. I deposited my gold in the Escort Office and sewed the script in the lining of my pantaloons. I walked forty-eight miles the first day and stayed all night at Sawpoint Gulley, a notorious place for thieves and murderers, however, I traveled alone. Next day I walked but eighteen miles, the roads were so muddy, however, I arrived on the fourth day at noon. I was astonished to see how the place had changed since I left there not quite one year before. A great and mighty city had arisen in the short space of a few months. I had to wait four weeks before I could obtain passage which cost me forty dollars. I spent most of my time in the auction rooms, where I bought quite a lot of presents for my mother and sisters and brothers.

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Pages 6 - 10 in the 1961 edition of the Diary of Frederick William Hurst