A Letter from John on Arrival in Melbourne

(Click on the small image to enlarge it. Courtesy of Victoria Dunlop)

Canvas Town


March 17th 1853

My Dear Father & Mother

I hope that this letter will find you and all at home in good health. I write this from the above denomination, which consists of about 3 or 4 thousand tents pitched on the banks of the River Yarra Yarra which are formed into regular streets in which are shops of all descriptions from the London M.D. to the commonest lodging house. No person can have the least idea of the state of society here except an eye witness. European clothes are here unknown, White shirts considered as a remnant of the dark ages. The dress universally worn from the Merchant to the Coal Heaver in no way differs except in quality - a coloured shirt, trousers in a material, the' generally leather or Moleskin, high boots reaching half way up the thigh, a blue shirt or a plaid one over all and a belt like a policemans round the waist and a Panama Hat. Beaver Hats are here unknown except amongst the new chums who before they are here a week soon discard them. It seems here as if the whole face of society were dislocated. You will see a carriage and four and its Master dressed in a blue shirt like a common sailor and a Lady beside him rolling in silks and satins. We arrived here on the 7th of last month without a single accident or death on board after a long voyage of 140 days. People may talk as they like about the healthy climate of Australia and sleeping out under trees but don't believe all that. I never had such sickness in my life as I have had since I came here - first I had a fortnights dissentery which nobody can escape then I worked for a fortnight and earned nine pounds. I left that place on account of the Gentleman I was working with going to the diggins. On the Monday following I went into the Herald Newspaper office & got [[sterling]]3/10 for the weeks work feeding the press, and it was risen to [[sterling]]4 the next week. I had to leave that on account of an accident I met with. I hurt my foot by a large weight falling from the 'scope pipe, and I don't expect to be able to go to work for another week. This is no place for any person to come to who is not determined to rough it. There is no employment here for clerks or shop men unless they choose to work with their hands. I found Mr. McLaren dead when I arrived here and Mr. Glass's letters not worth the time it would cost to deliver them - the only introduction a man wants here is himself. The people here are dying by scores of dissentery, fevers, and every other ailment that man is subject to; a more unhealthy place is not to be found in the known world not even excepting New Orleans. If a man lives say at Melbourne & then goes say 10 miles farther on so that he drinks a different kind of water he is sure to have the dissentery. I have drank water here as black as Ink and glad to get it. But there is no mistake - it is a great country for wages. A man here with a little capital is sure to realize a fortune in a few years with industry & prudence no matter in what branch of industry he engages. I intend myself to try my chance at the diggins about the beginning of May by which time I expect to have about [[sterling]]20 saved not including about [[sterling]]10 I have put by since I came which would be much more only for the sickness I have suffered. If the diggins turn out any way well I shall then set up a store in a small way which is the only sure way for a man ever to expect to make himself independent. If the diggins fall it will only be a few more months work and then I can set up again. Many is the fellow that came out with us wishes he was safe back in Ireland. But I am determined if my health stands not to go back as I came. Provisions are very high but not near so dear as when we first arrived. Bread 8d per 2 lb loaf Butter 2/6 pr lb Cheese do Tea 2/- Coffee 1/6 Meat 6d to 8d Milk 1/- per pint Eggs 6d each Sugar 4d p lb. A person that brings out a family here ought to be shot he has no place to bring them to. A room in Melbourne could not be obtained for love or money & you would pay [[sterling]]2 a week for a dilapidated old Tent not even water proof. The diggins are keeping up their fame. Several large nuggets have been found lately some of which I have seen in Melbourne. We have just heard that the Ministry are out & Napoleon proclaimed emperor - great changes since we left. Give my love to Grandmama and all at home. I hope all in Scotland are well & believe me

My Dear Father & Mother

Your most affectionate Son

Jno Hewat

P.S. The best place to direct a letter is to the Melbourne

Post Office to be left till called for