State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 33 April 1984


Manuscript: Thomas Pierson's Journal

On 30 September, 1852, Thomas Pierson, his wife, Frances, and son, Mason, departed from New York on board the Ascutna, bound for Port Phillip. Arriving on 15 February, 1853, they pitched their tent on the beach at Sandridge and thus began their adventure in the Antipodes.
The two-volume diary from which these extracts have been taken describes the life of the Pierson family from Thomas’ initial employment in Melbourne as a paper ruler until the death of Frances, reported in the last entry on 2 December, 1864. Most of the diary, however, portrays life on goldfields from the Mclvor to the Ovens and finally at Ballarat, where the family settled.
Thomas Pierson began his sojourn on the goldfields as a storekeeper, but soon fell prey to the lure of gold. Together with Mason he dug numerous claims, with only limited success, and at various times took up employment as a storekeeper and finally as a bookbinder. Mason eventually left for the goldfields of New Zealand, where he had no more success than in Victoria. The centrepiece of the diary is Pierson's description of the burning of Bentley's hotel and the Eureka uprising, or “Battle of Ballarat” as he would have it. The extracts presented here concern the period which leads up to Eureka; they are best introduced by Pierson himself:
It may be this nonsensical Scribling may fall into the hands of some one when I am gone — if so I wish to state that — generally in a hurry I would write a line concerning things that happened around us — simply as a reference for myself some future day and in doing this I put it down in the easiest way not unfrequently using figures where the word should be spelt — abruptly disconnecting &c. &c. &c. — regardless of Grammar punctuation and so on.
Pierson's own punctuation and spelling have been retained; omissions are indicated by ellipses.
Sunday morning Oct. 31 1852 morning about 1/2 past 7 o'clock just about to get up when we heard that there had been a fight with knives in the steerage we hastened upon deck and found the mate just putting a man in irons — it appears that a dispute arose between two — and one who is an Irishman struck his antagonist twice with a knife in the breast hurt him severely although not dangerous — and also stabed the first stewart in the arm not intentionally, while he was helping to arrest him — however they soon overpowered him and he is now in irons a prisoner and will be delivered over to the American consol when we arive at the cape of god hope — …
Monday Nov. 8th 1852 to day our Prisoner handed to the captn a petition for his liberty …
Now Captn Pepper I hope you'l be so kind as to look on me with pitty & my hands unbind under despotic rule our American blood did boil
And I am an alien adopted to that soil Although I acted wrong on sabath day Now for my Liberation I fervently do pray During the remainder of the voyage I'le give little trouble
To govern my passions diurnally Il'e struggle
Signed John Kelly …
Tuesday Jan. 25th 1853
… I would say that there is on board 200 souls … all appear to be disposed to keep peace and order and very forbearing — but I have most decidedly come to the conclusion that Americans or yankeys are superior in all respects appertaining to gentility and good behaviour than those of some other nations, we have among our company several Germans who are decidedly Gentlemen — and some decidedly most any thing else and so with the
french canadians and other nations — but as for the English who compose a large proportion of our company, without an exception, according to my cool best judgement I do pronounce to a certain degree at least nearly allied to a particular Long faced namely Brisselly quadrupe — they certainly as a general thing are agreeable and communicative in conversation and some equally as accomplished as their betters except when we meet at the Table, where they utterly fail — for I do most sollemnly aver that so far as our company is concerned there is not one Englishman or Woman ever satisfied unless they can always be served first — a plate or sauce dish or any article eatable once in their hands whitch always happens to be first is always emptied before it leaves them …
Friday Feby 11
quit calm but after part of day quit a good breese saw the distant Shores of Australia— … and at just dusk we were close under the rocky Shores of Australia anxiously awaiting a pilot but none came so we had to put to sea for the night …
Monday Feby 14
got under way at daylight & very light wind & anchored off Williamstown about 7 miles from melbourne at 11 o'clock … we found 250 to 300 ships &c at anchor here … next day went on Shore up to Melbourne could find no house or Board so we returned to the Ship where we remained for 8 or 9 days (Frances 2 weeks) Boarding @ $5 each per week — we then took our Tent & pitched it on the Beach at Sandridge where there were many hundred more — some dozen or 20 from our ship — we Sold some boots while in our tent got along pasibbely until a hot wind came whitch Blew a hurricane for about 14 hours — it blew most all the tents down and the sand flew in clouds thicker than I ever saw it snow — and so hot the perspiration run down our faces — the dust or sand is full of black lead and all our faces was so black you actually could not tell a Black man from a white one we concluded that this Location would not do so we rented of Mr. Gardner near by part of his store building not equal to a barn we paid him £1∗.10s per week — we remained there near 3 weeks and Mason & me got a Situation at Mr. Williams me paper Ruler & Mason Feeder — at Melbourne in Great Collins st — we then took 2 Rooms in Collingwood over a mile from Melbourne we had to pay £3 or $15 per week …
April 3rd 1853 Sunday afternoon
today 2 men were Buried from near by us died of Collonial fever one died 2 weeks ago from same place — we also saw several funerals pass our house today — there is a great deal sickness here — and all think here that this is a very unhealthy place — all a Lie that we were told in History or the papers concerning it — Mason and me have had the Dysentary & are not quit over it yet — Frances is not very well, no no escape hardly as to the climate I never suspisioned that there could be upon the face of the earth one so disagreeable some days so cold you cannot keep warm — next day so hot you cant hardly endure it some mornings cold enough for flannels & cloaks, middle of day hot enough to roast you — after 4 ‘clock in the afternoon cold enough for cloaks &c cold all night &c some hours cold some hot … I speak defferentially but I will say I think Australia i.e. the parts I have seen the most god forsaken accursed country I could conceive off … at Melbourne whitch now contains 80,000 Inhabitents they have no watter, they Buy it from 5 to 10 Shillings English, per load or cask it is got at the yarra yarra River that is part of the City of Melbourne Collingwood 1 1/2 miles from Melbourne we buy our watter, one morning the watter did not come, Mason & me went to work without either washing our faces or anything to drink … flour at this date is $16.00 per barrel — pork retails 25c per Ib ham 37 to 50c beef 8c mutton 8c butter 50 to 75c — clothing cheaper than in Phil. — boots & shoes more than tribble the price in the U.S … .
Apl 8 — 1853
to day Mr. Botteril & me bought a horse & cart for £90 and the shoeing feed &c altogether made our outfit cost £100 or $500 — I furnished $300 and at 5 O'clock we loaded up the cart with Boots, flour meat tent &c belonging to me and started for Bendigo diggins intending to keep store there with the understanding that Botteril should run the
cart & bring up the goods & Mason & I keep the store — …
Apl 12 1853
at sunrise we were under way again and by 10 o'clock we were at Mclvor diggings where all advised us to stop whitct we did pitched our Tent &c the load we had on the cart amounted to about 15 cwt. all belonging to me consisting of flour, Boots, sugar coffee, tea &c &c all of whitch I sold to a good advantage readily the place being a new one & could have made a fortune selling goods if I could have got them up but the roads were so bad that I despaired of getting up goods with our cart it requires about 6 yoke of oxen during the rainy season to bring up goods or one load & then they are some times a month getting up the 75 miles … I sold Boots @ 350 per ct. advance, salt 37 1/2C per Ib. sugar 25c flour 25c dried apples 50c per Ib coffee 75c tea 62c & a trunk of memorandum books at 300 per c advance on the things we took up I made $500 proffit …
Apl 18
we went to the diggins again worked a while for no good neither could we see any one getting anything some carrying dirt over a mile to wash & not clearing expences — on the whole the scene around is most disgusting, to see the immense labour & expence laid out for no purpose, and a great deal sickness from exposure, some holes so deep you cant see the bottom & the work to dig them the hardest kind, have to drive wedges in the ground to get down, the earth nearly as hard as a rock … this Mclvor during our stay 6 weeks was the place that the diggers were many rushing too as 2 or 3 large nuggets of gold was found there, and as forrest Creek, Bendigo & the ovens the other digging places was overun & not mutch made at the rush is here 2000 people arived in one afternoon — to give some idea what the diggins are I will say that I heard a person express himself thus that he had not believed for years that there was a place of punishment after death But when he saw the state of society at the diggins — he concluded if that was permitted it may be that a future miserable state of existance may exist too for it could not be mutch worse than at Mclvor diggins … and then the awful swearing of the colonists excede the lowest dregs of Yankeys, cant begin to compare with them — at all hours of the night you will hear men & women threatening in this way viz by the Holy G … t I will rip the Bloody G.ts out of you & all their swearing begins with Blooddy — and sounds most sickening … after Selling all we took up to the mines and trying the diggings and waiting for B to return with our Horse & dray 6 weeks & could hear nothing from him, expected he had either been stuck up or run off — I put my money into the Government escort, kept out $80 engaged a passage on a dray for our Lugage for £6 or $30 sold our Tent for $60 (cost at cape of G. hope 40$) and on May 20th 1853 8 o'clock we left the diggings for Melbourne 75 miles (some think it 100) (seems more like 500) …
fore part of June 1853
… on 5th of July we engaged Board for us 3 in Little Bourke st west at £5 or $25 per week — I called on Mr. Williams the Stationer whom I worked for before I went to the mines, he verry readily offered to engage me, and Mason, & Frances said if they would employ her to help tend store she would rather be there than sitting in the Boarding house I proposed this to him and he readily offered us all a Situation … about the 1st of August … we had again to look out for another boarding house, we then went to Board with Mr. & Mrs. Nichol who came here in same ship as us they let us have a Room to ourselves and charge us about $22.50 per week or £4.10 we are very well satisfied as it is a pleasant house they pay $11 or $55 per week rent they keep from 25 to 30 Boarders …
Aug 26th 1853
… Last Sunday Frances Mason & me went about 2 miles up the River Yarra Yarra to Government Gardens the river runs between 2 mountains and on one of these are the gardens, the gardens and scenery around is indeed Beautiful, the gardens has little lakes in them with many fish in them and over 300 wild ducks, though of the wild species they are not afraid of man, not any one being permitted to disturb them, likewise Black & white swans, on our way home we called at Payran a beautiful town near by we
contemplate begining the Brick makeing Business there … while at the diggins we saw many of the aboriganese or natives of this Country, they are very Black, tall & straight — have straight hair, they are very Lazy cant be hired to work, they used to come to our & other tents every day begging many of them can talk English, they are very degraded, the women Lewd, and almost entirely naked — have only a scarf around their Loins — some have robes made of oppossum skins — they dont even make a hut to live in but bend a small tree throw some branches over it when it rains or is frost, and lay down on the ground — they are given to theft otherwise inoffensive if not put up to be otherwise by whites, the Bushrangers get them for guides & then they will murder, they are very expert at throwing the Bumarang (a poisened spear) the can throw around a tree i.e. if a person whom the are persuing jumps behind a tree the can unerringly hit him if they cant see him if the know he is behind the tree …
Nov 2
… well after remaining about 4 weeks in Melbourne Mr Woodin a friend of ours, came down from Ballarat diggings, so Frances Mason & me Bundled up our things Bought one ton of groceries & went to the Ballarat diggings 75 miles from Melbourn we were 5 days on our journey and to day 18 of Dec 1853 we have been here twelve days, got up a snug tent 24 feet Long 15 feet wide 2 rooms and as well fixed as any one here and we will now try our luck here it cost us £26 or $130 to get here …
March 17th 1854
(St Patricks day in the morning) Yesterday afternoon while I was away, the traps as some call them or public Robers of the industrious portion of the community as others call them gave us a call — they call themselves Police, detectives, commissioners and his most Worshipfull honours &c &c a more proud, Lazy, ignorant, Tyranical set of vagabonds could not easily be found, all the Laws they enforce are in themselves contradictory, made by a set of Legislators as ignorant as themselves and quiet as unprincipaled … they passed a Law to tax storekeepers £50 a year or £15 for 3 months — the storekeepers held a meeting and determined not to pay it there are 300 stores at Ballaratt diggings and they have hauled up and fined 60 — among them us of course — they required of Frances £5 for my appearance at court to day — so at 10 o'clock I appeared before their most Worshipful honours at the court house whitch was crowded with spectators — they ordered me to stand up upon a platform and addressed me thus, you are charged with keeping a store without having paid the Lysense, do you plead guilty or not guilty — not guilty I replied for I could see no guilt attached to trying to make an honest Livelyhood, however from the evidence given in by these traps, they made it appear we were guilty so they fined us £5 and made us pay the Lysense … I am shepherding a hole — what is meant by shepherding is this viz we mark and stake out our hole as near as we can get to where they are getting a good deal gold sometimes we cant get a claim within near a mile of the rich holes — so we wait until the digging comes near us (if it does come), and we see it will come near our holes we dig them …
Thursday Augt 10th 1854
I have observed a great difference in the manners and accomplishments of English, Scotch, Irish and Colonials to the Americans i.e. takeing the same class or Grade of society of each, for instance Mechanics, Labourers, and often other classes of the above named — see no impropriety of takeing their Breakfast without washing their hands & faces, when they do wash whitch is not more than 2 or 3 times a week at farthest it is after they have had their Breakfast — and it is quiet common while they are eating and after eating to see them picking their teeth with their forks — and cutting off a piece of roast Beef or whatever it me be a mouthful at a time not useing their plates in many instances, the other day Frances & me was takeing our suppers and an Englishman (who seldom if ever washes before Breakfast, and who in England was occupied as an overseer of Labourers on a Railroad) asked Frances to let him have her fork — he said he only wanted to pick his Pipe with it and that it would not hurt it. — soon as they get through their meals they pull out their pipes throw the old dirty ashes that was in the pipe on
the table, fill it and still sit aside of those that may be eating and puff away enough to choke anybody …
Saturday Septm. 23rd 1854
… This morning went up to the court house to see the cases come off — about 15 were fined for being on the gold fields without a Lycense — one was a young man that come to the diggings some time ago and was unfortunate, expended all he had to live and not able even to buy a License so he went down to Melbourne got employment and made £40 he then left Melbourne for the diggings but on his way up was robbed of every penny soon as he arrived he was taken up and stuck in prison for not having a Lysense, when he was brought before the court he undertook to explain his circumstances to the judges, soon as he began to speak the judge & others of the court sung out to him silence & would not let him speak — but told him £5 fine and take out a lycense whitch together amounted to £7 or sentenced to one months Labour on the Public roads with convicts of all classes, guarded by a set of traps with Loaded muskets — then one followed who said he had lost his lycense and he said if they would refer to their books of a certain date they would find his name & number The court said they had seen enough of those doges sentence £5 & take out a Lycense or one month on the roads then followed a lot of cases all of whitch stated they were not able to buy a Lycense the court told them then they had no business to be on the diggings and ordered them all to take out a Lycense & pay a fine of £5 or one months Labour on the roads of course with convicts,
The next case was a young man whose habilments altogether was not worth four shilings he was on crutches had lost a leg, the court asked what he done for a liveing he said up to this time he could get nothing to do but that he thought he could get work with a Tent maker they told him seeing he had but once Leg they would not fine him this time but soon as he went to work he must take out a Lycense — or leave the diggings for I suppose they thought they could not drag out of him any proffit if they did put him on the roads —
another man was unable to buy a Lycense so he borrowed one of a friend, so he could go out and try to raise money enough to get one of his mates out of Jail who was put there for want of a Lycense, while at this Philentropic work it was found out by some means that he had borrowed his Lycense so he was taken up — to the court and by them sent down to Prison for Two months at Gelong 60 miles from here — and a still more heathenish part of the matter is this that the said Prisoner had a wife and 6 children liveing in a tent here and without any money and the Mother just confined to her bed by giving birth to her 6th child.
Now you cant pick up a paper or hear an Englishman or Scotchman talk hardly without their speaking of the horrors of American Slavery manifesting sutch wonderful Sympathy for the poor Slaves of the south & condemning the whole American people as most Barbarous and so on — while at the same time they themselves (as I often tell them) are actually all of them liable to become greater slaves that those of the southern States — for let a slave be ever so poor it makes him no more a slave — but let a man be poor here and he is a criminal and sent to Jail — English talk of freedom (nonsense) — their conduct in governing is a disgrace to any civilised nation — and would be looked on with horror by even Barbarians so mutch for a people that prefer being Governed, to Governing themselves …
25 DEC.
Christmas Day — and seems dull although thousands of people are thronging the long street that runs through the diggings, last christmas we wondered where we should be this christmas — well we are about 50 yards from where we were then — and think & hope that our prospects now are sutch that if our lives are spared we shall by next Christmas be home or on our way — however this we cannot now tell time only can …