Sir Thomas Mitchell encounters rural poverty, 1844-45

The journal from which this extract is taken is an account of Sir Thomas Mitchell’s 1844-45 expedition to the North in connection with his scheme of communication with India. Mitchell was a senior figure in the Colonial administration, serving as Surveyor-General from 1828 to 1856.

The incidents recorded here occurred early in the expedition, in the Wellington district. They provide a first hand account of the hardship and poor living conditions experienced by those of limited means in rural districts of the Colony, in stark contrast to the substantial homesteads and extensive holdings of the more affluent squatters. It is interesting to note that Mitchell took the trouble to record one of his conversations word for word.

Source: NRS 906 Col Sec Special bundles – Sir Thomas Mitchell’s journal of his expedition to the North in connection with his scheme of Communication with India, 1845-46. Extract re example of rural poverty [SZ762 pp.6-7] Reel 3038


17th December – Set off about 7 A.M. and
travelled along a good road for about six miles.
Then, at a sheep station we crossed the Chain of
Ponds, following a road leading to Dr Ramsay’s
head station called Balderadgery* – Leaving that
road, and taking to the left at seven miles, we fi
nally encamped on Spring Creek after a journey
of about 9 miles – We had paused over what I
should have called a poor sort of country, but
everywhere it was taken up for sheep, and these
looked fat, not a blade of grass seemed left
and but for the late timely supply of rain, it
had been in contemplation to withdraw these
flocks to the Macquarie.
Calling at a Shepherds hut to ask the
way, an Irish woman appeared with a child at
her breast, and another by her side – She was
hut keeper – She had been there two years – had
not seen a Priest during that time, and only
complained that they had never been able
to get any potatoes to plant – She and her
husband were about to leave the place next
day and they seemed uncertain as to where they
should go. Two miles further on, a
shoemaker came to the door of a hut, and ac
companied me to set me on the right road – I
enquired to how he found work in these wild parts,
he said he could get plenty of work, but very
little money – That it was chiefly contract
work he lived by – He supplied sheep-owners with
shoes at so much per pair – His conservation
was about the difficulty a poor man felt to pro
vide for his family – He had once possessed
about forty cows, which he had been obliged to en
trust to the care of another man at 5/- a head –
This man neglected them – they were impounded
and sold as unclaimed cattle under the new Re
gulations – “So you saw no more of them?”
Oh yes, Your honour, I saw no use of them after
they had been sold at the pound”. “I wanted to
have had something provided for a small
family of children and if I had only a few
acres of ground, I could have kept my cows” _ This
was merely a passing remark as we walked
along, for he was one of the race _
“Who march to death with military glee.”
* From a Geographical Dictionary or Gazetteer of the Australian Colonies 1848 By William Henry Wells. Balderigeree – The station of D. Ramsay in the district of Wellington, NSW, on the Little River, thirty miles from Montefiores.

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