State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 2 October 1968


A Squatter's Reaction to the Gold Rushes

The author of this letter, William Forlonge (1811—1890), was a pastoralist and politician who was an extreme exponent of squatter claims under the 1847 Order-in-Council. He is writing to England to Charles Barnes from whom he had just purchased the Seven Creeks run at Euroa. The La Trobe Library holds a copy of this letter. The original is owned by E.L. Cook Esq., M.B.E., to whom we are grateful for permission to publish. For Forlonge, see Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, and Nancy Adams, Saxon Sheep (Melb., 1961).
My Dear Barnes,
I embrace the opportunity of our first wool ship being about to sail to commence a correspondence which I hope will be kept up notwithstanding the distance by which we are separated.
A revolution has occured since you left the consequence of which it is impossible to foresee. The people in this place now? and having their being in a constant whirlwind of excitement in consequence of the unheard of undreamt of success of gold digging. The accounts of success are really beyond belief were it not for the tons upon tons of the precious metal which is finding its way to Melbourne. It is now talked of by the hundred weight and pounds, ounces are altogether out of the question. It is almost viewed in the same light as wool or tallow so far as weighing is concerned.
All letters you may have received for the last month or which you may receive for some time to come label them as “Letters received from Victoria from persons labouring under temporary insanity”. No one seems to know what to do. Government, Bankers, Merchants, Squatters, all, all seem in a maze of bewilderment. There does not appear to be any Master Spirit in the place to guide either the political or commercial? They trust to providence and exclaim “Who would have dreamt of such a state of things”. What the result may be it is hard to tell although a country is seldom ruined from having too much money.
Some (in whom the wish is father to the thought) predict the extinction of the genus “Squatter” and are prepared
to sing a requiem over the grave of the last of the race who have (as they are pleased to assert) held the country in a state of thraldom & uselessness.
Others again assert that the brightest days the squatters have ever seen will be as nothing compared to those about to dawn on the country teeming (as it undoubtedly does. with unheard of yesterday of gold.
Their argument is as money becomes more plentiful property will rise in value and that where we have now hundreds to consume our fat stock we shall have thousands and tens of thousands. God send it may be so.
You will see by the papers (and the accounts are not exaaggerated) of the wonderfully prolific nature of the Mount Alexander Gold Fields. As far as my own personal experience goes I can only say that every one of my tenants and others about here have been ridiculously fortunate. These that not more than six weeks ago were not worth one shilling, who had much difficulty in meeting their rents of £10 and upwards, are now worth from £500 to £1000 each. I have not heard of a single instance of any one being unsuccessful. An ounce a day is the lowest I have heard of. The Gold fields extend over a Country of 300 square miles in fact Gold has been found in almost every locality in the Colony. It has been found in six different places in the neighbourhood of Seven Creeks also at the Buffalo and likewise near Mount Buller — What? to be the destiny of this Colony? If you were to revisit us this year you would find a mighty change—the people in England will not believe in our wealth. Facts are however stubborn things and when they see ship after ship taking from £100,000 to £300,000 in Gold it must stagger them.
As you may suppose we are hard up for Shepherds,—as the mens times expire they all slope for the Diggings. £50 is now being given for Shepherds when they are to be got—V.D. Land, Adelaide & Sydney are all flocking here. There is one comfort for us. Wheat may be imported but fat stock can't. The Diggers must eat and I have little doubt we shall ere 12 months passes be getting 20/- for fat wethers. Our exports of gold, wool & tallow for the next twelve months will not be less than £5,000,000 five million Sterling. Only fancy this poor Port Phillip with a population of only 80,000. What will our exports be when hundreds of thousands are added to the population, either Gold must fall in price or this become the largest exporting country in the known world as from what all parties who have been at the Mines say there is no limit to the gold fields. The same proportionate results may be expected from millions, as now from thousands. One of my tenants retired a few days since suffering from Dysentry, he had only been five days on the ground and cleared £200. A man from Edinburgh who came out about a month ago was digging in an adjoining hole. He got £900 in four weeks and is off home again with what he considers a competency for life. One
labouring man shipped 91lbs by the “.Statesman” the produce of five weeks labor. Only fancy three Diggers placing £6000 in the hands of an Agent to purchase a Station. These are not solitary instances. Thousands of similar ones are of daily occurence. It is supposed there has been upwards of a Million Sterling dug from the bowels of the earth within the last two months. Thank God there is some prospect of a cessation of the cursed gold seeking for some time owing to the Creeks becoming dry. The rascals can't wash without water. They are returning to Melbourne in considerable numbers although those who have a horse and cart remain and cart the soil to the Lodden for the purpose of washing. Horses & carts are at a fearful premium. Any old rattle trap of a cart is worth £30to£40.
It is to be hoped it will not rain in sufficient quantity to enable the Diggers to go to work again until our necessities are relieved by immigration. What immense fortunes are now being made in finding Gold. It is selling at 55/- per ounce. This would do well for remitting although the banks are tuning us up pretty well too. Exchange is 10 per cent dist This is another sticker for the Squatters.
It is really ludicrous to see the feeling of indifference (not to say contempt) with which everything appertaining to Squatters or Squatting is now treated in Melbourne.
Our interests at present no doubt are ‘sub umbra’. The Melbourne people don't forget to let us know that they think so either. They will not always remain under a cloud. The profits of labor will be equalized in time while we have a monopoly of the land which with the help of God we will keep in spite of the Melbourne gold worshippers. Our time will come yet land will tell in the long run. No one can blame us useing any power circumstances may place within our reach. We are the victims at present let us hope we shall be the sacrificers by & bye.
So far as I am individually concerned I hope to rub along in some way or other. It is no doubt a time of difficulty but let us “trust to providence”.
I had a long conversation with Brown on my return from shearing. He seems to regret having so much money locked up in the hands of the Squatter. I don't know whether this was a hit at me or not. I have arranged with him that any balance there may be against me will be paid by Yuilles & McKenzie[?] bills. This will leave me clear to do the next best even should he wish to discontinue the accounts. I shall then have all my stations together with nearly 25,000 sheep subject only to Kirklands Mortgage which is quite represented by the balance of Yuilles Securities. It is devilish hard if under these circumstances I don't get along some way or other. There have more improbable things happened than that you may see 300 bales of the [Forlonge brand-mark] wool consigned to you next year. Of this however I shall say nothing until I have had a further explanation with A Brown as to whether he wishes to continue the account. The
Gold at present is so dazzling as to obscure all other interests.
It is to be expected that we shall have a number of new houses established—report says both Baring & Rothchild are likely to have branches here. No doubt immense amounts of capital & labor will find its way to this place, in fact it must do so, as when there are five millions of exports to come & go upon a goodly number of people will be likely to have a “finger in the Pie”. I suppose however we shall never see you here again—“Your place is empty” your “shadow darkens not the doorway, neither are your footsteps heard on the threshold thereof”.
I still keep up my old habits of going to see Phipps every time I am in town. We always have a long talk over matters in general. He is a fine youth & the makings of a good man.
I start with all my family for Euroa in the course of a month or six weeks. I find that my runs will graze well 70, to 80,000 sheep and this number I hope to have ere two years more if no disease should stop my progress.
My policy is now to go into Sheep to the utmost of my means. They will be purchased I have no doubt for 2/- to 3/-. Every one is frightened. All are getting out of sheep at any sacrifice. I may be wrong in doing so, but will “? the? ”.
Before twelve months there must be an immense amount of immigration to this place and I am sure you will do everything in your power to promote so desirable an end.
Let them come thousands upon thousands we have room for them all between Gold Digging & grazing. Do give as much publicity to our Gold fields as you possibly can either through the press or otherwise. So far as I yet can learn you cannot exaggerate. When you consider the small number which has been spared from our limited population (shearing has been accomplished at the same time have already dug up One Million Sterling I would ask is it possible to exaggerate.
Captain Godfrey of the “Statesman” has been to all the Diggings, if you should meet him he will be able to give a full & particular account of them. Phipps encloses this with his letters. I shall write you again in the course of a month or six weeks. Hoping to hear from you soon after you receive this and that the bright visions which you were constantly conjuring up in your imagination relative to old England may have been fully realized.
Believe me
My Dear Barnes,
Ever sincerely yours,
Charles Barnes Esq.

W. Forlonge.