9th March - Hugh's Letter


An Earl’s Son
The Letters of Hugh Proby
Louise Neal

York Hotel,
5th June, 1851

My Dear Father,
I left off in my last letter just when we were all anxiety about seeing land; we had a little mishap after that which delayed us two days; our chronometer being wrong we did not in reality see land as soon as we expected, though a dark cloud which had the appearance of land was mistaken for it. This forced the Captain to lay to for the night as he did not see it till late in the morning. The next morning we steered as we thought for Investigator’s Straits, but the land proved to be Cape Flyaway, and the first land that was really seen was discovered by myself from the masthead and which was the Neptune Islands, two small rocky islands considerably west of Kangaroo Island. We then steered south east for Kangaroo Island but it appears a strong current took us too far south and in the evening just as the sun was setting we saw the west end of Kangaroo Island right ahead. It was a most fortunate thing that we saw the island when we did for we had not seen land, the Captain had intended again to lay to and had he done so the current would most certainly have drifted us upon the island, the coast of which was anything but inviting, being very steep and rocky with breakers and reefs a long way out. As soon as we saw land we stood away from the land with all the sail we could make but next morning found that the current had again drifted us so far south that there was very little chance of again beating back to the straits. We tried to do so, however until ‘breakers ahead’ made us again stand out to sea, and after much consultation and deliberation it was decided to try what is called ‘Backstairs Passage’ this passage is scarcely ever made as the South Coast of Kangaroo Island is very imperfectly known and it is dangerous on account of the reefs along the coast. It was however settled upon and we soon again saw the southern coast of the island, and towards evening we came quite close to Cape Willoughby, it was most exciting to see land again after nothing but water for so long. The coast was very picturesque and bold though it looked very barren; the rocks rose perpendicularly from the shore and the breakers as they dashed against the reef about a quarter of a mile from the shore were driven  an immense height into the air in one mass of foam. As always happened we again arrived at the crucial part of our navigation just as night was setting in, but as it was a fine night with a light breeze the Captain determined to try and beat back up the straits. We were all on deck until very late watching our chance of success, as the wind was dead ahead and had we driven beyond these straits we would have been afraid to go first to Port Phillip (Melbourne). The first tack we made but very little way but the second we got into the strait, and the third enabled us to round the point, to the great satisfaction of all and more especially the Captain who had been in a great state of anxiety ever since we went wrong. The next morning we were in the harbour and talking about waiting for the Pilot. Curious enough, there were two other vessels there just arrived as we did, the one the Briton which we spoke of off St Pauls and which we had passed and should have beaten by about three days had we not had these delays and the other the Ancient Briton which left London on the very same day as the Wellington but had not stopped at Portsmouth. The Briton got her pilot first and we immediately after, and away we went with a famous breeze into what is called the river, or which is more properly speaking, an arm about two miles long. This entrance to the port is exceedingly pretty. It is very narrow, about the breadth of the Thames at Richmond but quite deep up to the banks on both sides, which as far as you can see are covered with mangroves growing not only to the water’s edge but in the water and in the distance are seen the high hills of the Mount Lofty and Mount Barker range.

Everyone was on deck watching the land of promise, and to add to the excitement, we again passed the Briton and came in and anchored just before her.

The first thing on arriving we secured one of the tandem carts which ploy from the port to the town and set off with enough things for a day or two. The distance is eight miles over a perfectly level plain, without any beauty except the hills and such a road! It is lucky that Beppy was not in the cart or I think my name would have resounded far and wide. The man who drove seemed to take special pleasure in driving in every rut he could find, and such ruts nat as you see in an English road but such as prepare you for an upset every time you come to them. But somehow these carts seem to have a wonderful power of remaining on their wheels and in going through these ruts the only evolutions preformed are those of the passengers bounding up into the air some foot or so from the force of the shock. I once gave ourselves quite an upset, for we came to a part of the road where the men were working at the road; and had erected a barricade of stones to prevent vehicles passing; there was another way round which we recommended to the notice of our character but he, deaf to all our recommendations, declared he would be over it; touched up his horse accordingly and boldly went at it. Wonderful to say we found ourselves safe on the other side, though I had been congratulating myself on having clothed myself in water proof clothes, fully expecting that they would be put on trial in a puddle. On arriving in the town of Adelaide, we put up at the York Hotel; a very respectable place where one gets board and lodging for 30/- a week; there is a regular table d’hote here and we all have breakfast and dinner together which meals are held at the hours of half past eight and half past five, and the viands are very good. They seem to be here a very quiet and respectful set of people. I was recommended to it by Mr Montefiore before leaving the vessel as the best in Adelaide. I was rather agreeably surprised by the appearance of the Town. It is situated partly on the plain and partly on a small rising hill two miles from the chain of high mountains. The mighty Torrens (which by the by has a little water in it now) runs between South Adelaide which is the part on the plain, and North Adelaide on the hill; on each side of the river is park land which now is very pretty, but must have a rather dismal appearance in Summer, when everything is burnt up. It is well wooded with Eucalyptus, some of these trees are very pretty in form and have foliage which looks something like an ash tree towards the end of summer but they are all very much pulled about in the park by the natives who cut them about in order to make their dwellings; when such is the case the stem which at this time of year had shed its bark, looks rather forlorn.

The Town has a rather straggly appearance as it has been laid out for a large town consequently it is not half built over. There are most excellent shops here. I was quite surprised at the appearance of the principal street with its handsome shops with plate glass windows. In size I should say the Town was about the size of Peterborough (Cambridgeshire) without the cathedral. There are several quite imposing looking buildings springing up among them one which is that of my bank, though I cannot congratulate them on the architecture of the building. The south side of the town is Begravia and there we went to see Captain Bagot who has a house in that part. He was very obliging and asked us to dinner and sleep. I rather like him, he seems a very good natured man. Mrs Bagot has someshat of the housekeeper in her appearance, and requested us whenever we could to come up there and we would always find dinner. He recommends us to be in no hurry, but to look about us and see the country before doing anything, he also approves of our plan of going to Port Phillip. The Bishop has a house about six miles from the town, has also asked us to come and see him. He lives in a very pretty spot under the mountains.

We rode there on Monday 2nd June to deliver our letters of introduction but as he was not at home we prolonged our ride going first into the mountains. The mountains have a rounded appearance at a distance and they are covered with grass and trees up to the top, but when in them, you see some very fine rocky glens. We rode nearly to the top of Mount Lofty and were quite enraptured at the beauty of the scenery which I think is equal to nearly anything in Wicklow and there was something so striking in the contrast of the scenery, on one side lay stretched out before us the plains bordered by the Gulf and in the distance the high land of Yorke Peninsular again appearing, and in the middle of this plain the Town; on the other side mountain rose after mountain in a succession of rocks, glens forming in one place an open slope covered with cattle and in another the wildest scenery covered with wood growing from projecting rocks. There is most excellent turf for riding growing at the top of the hills, and though occasionally it is necessary to make a long round to avoid some precipitous glen, yet without difficulty you can go along on a most excellent cantering ground for any distance. I longed to have you all with me when riding here. I am sure that Fanny would be obliged to confess that even after Antra, this is not to be despised. To add to the novelty of the scene quantities of parrots were hopping about and screaming in the trees. We also saw a very handsome bird hovering over our heads called the Eagle Hawk; it was a large bird with beautiful plumage.

We dined with the Governor on Tuesday evening. Government House is in South Adelaide about the size of a smaller country gentleman’s house in England. There were two very good sized rooms, the dining room and drawing room. It is so built that further additions may be built if necessary. We met there Mr Maturin, a son-in-law of Captain Bagot and private secretary to the Governor, the Bishop, Judge Cooper and his sister and one or two older people. The gentlemen part of the colony seem much better than the ladies, if such they may be called. There seems to be here at present great difficulties for ladies to contend with, as servants are so difficult to be procured. Lady Young is decidedly the nicest person of the lady part of the population I have seen. She is very fine, handsome-looking person, and seems to have made herself a great favorite here. Sir Henry is quite the reverse, a mean vulgar-looking man with a red face and round stomach, rather shy and a little pompous; he is much older than his lady, she being about 22 – he about 50 years old, I suppose.

We wrote Chas. Hawker again on our arrival and he in reply wrote to invite us again to go up to his sheep farm and stop there as long as we like, which we are accordingly going to do, as soon as we can provide ourselves with horses that suit. It appears to be here and everywhere else rather a difficult matter to get good horses. We have been trying two but have decided that one of them is old and the other too small; but I hope that within the course of the next week we may be able to suit ourselves. The usal price here seems to be from 20 to 30 pounds for a good horse, that is, well broken. We left all our baggage at a store house belonging to one Mr Simpson which is at the Port. Captain Bagot gave us a letter to this man who acts as his agent and he was very civil and got all out things into his store without any trouble from the Custom House officers. I fear, however that we shall have to pay a good deal before we take them out as the duties appear to be rather heavy. I think that we have brought over rather too much gunpowder. Everyone who hears of it flies from it like the plague and I had difficulty getting Simpson to store it. I have decided to send it to Chas. Hawker at Bungaree without saying a word about it until it gets there and then if he does not like it I must build a little house for it near his. In reality it is quite safe for it is all done up in tin cases.

I have left a week pass since I have written this letter. We have got our horses and start tomorrow for Bungaree. I will write again from there and tell you what I have been doing in the meantime.

I must say Goodbye my dearest Father with love to all and a great many kisses to the sisters,

Your very affectionate son
Hugh Proby.