From Letters and Journal of W. Stanley Jevons (1886)

Economist and logician William Stanley Jevons was nineteen when he arrived in Sydney in 1854 to take up the position of assayer at the new Sydney Mint. During his five years in Sydney, his work left him time to pioneer meteorology, geology, photography and political economy in Australia. His letters to his family give an insight into daily life in the young colony:

Petersham, N.S.W., 18th January 1856.

I know that at any time you will be glad to have a letter from me, and so, without any particular prospect of a mail, I am going to write you a few pages. I have been much occupied the last twenty-four hours with an incident that occurred to me last night, and which I shall not easily forget. On going upstairs to bed about 10.30 p.m., with a candle, I had got but a short distance into the room when I saw a long irregular black thing lying on the floor. I was puzzled at first to think what it was, but a very few moments of examination were required to decide the question, for it was without doubt a black snake, and still further to convince me, the thing began to move and to hiss! To tell the truth, I then went out of the room quite as fast as I came in (as people say), and, to have him in safe keeping, shut the door. On returning with Mr. O’Connell, provided with sticks, etc., for his destruction, we could see nothing of him, but ultimately discovered him hidden in a corner under the bed, from which being displaced, Mr. O’Connell soon killed him with a few good knocks, but not before he had made a great display of his wide-opened mouth and forked tongue. The fellow was then found to be over a yard long, but though he be no wonder himself, everybody acknowledges it to be the most singular fact they remember of a snake getting into a house, for besides crossing the yard, he had to go up several stone steps into the lobby, and then up long, steep, and rather awkward stairs into the room. Everybody says, too, that he is a regularly poisonous rascal. It is well, however, that it was as it was, for if he had simply moved under the bed before I came in, I should have probably gone to bed with him under me—a very disagreeable thought. I have thus been giving you an account of the affair as lengthily as if I had been talking to you, and I do not know what for, unless for my own satisfaction and amusement, but I hope not to your alarm. It is singular that this is the first snake of any size that any of us have met this summer, and in all probability I may go to bed every day of my life and not meet a second.

The drawing room at the house where Jevons lived in Double Bay [John Rylands University Library, the University of Manchester]

…Though often rather tired with assaying in the midst of hot winds and the present awfully close weather, I am very jolly and well. Last Monday I went a long walk through the bush and swamps to the shores of Botany Bay, but it is rather an uninteresting place, except for its associations, and I got back without anything worth relating. …

Portrait of Jevons holding cupels and tongs – some of the assayer’s tools, 1857 [John Rylands University Library, the University of Manchester]

Sunday, 27th January.

In many of your letters, some months since, you noticed my having been to a déjeûner at Dawes Battery last year, and seemed to take pleasure in it. The same thing came off yesterday again, being a general holiday for the anniversary of the foundation of the colony; but as Captain Ward, of course, knows ten times as many people as he did then, it was on a much more extensive scale. It was most excessively formal; but I found it easy to get on without being noticed for any peculiarity among the number of people, and I was somewhat pleased to have an opportunity of observing the Australian aristocracy. That you may understand the occasion of the whole affair, you must know that the Sydney people, liking holidays, make the anniversary day a good excuse for one, and the whole town turns out in a way unknown in England, unless it be a Good Friday or a Fast-Day. The chief attraction is the regatta, the principal one of the year, and the points at Fort Macquarie and Dawes Battery are crowded with people, as well as all other places within sight. Captain Ward’s house, on the top of the point, has the best view of the whole; and from the pictures you have of the harbour you can imagine what a really beautiful scene it is to see it covered with different yachts and sailing boats, innumerable row boats, many of the large coasting steamers strolling about with bands, and full of visitors, and all the shipping and flag-poles fully decorated with flags. Any one arriving from sea on a regatta day must indeed think Sydney a fine place.

View from Dawes Pt, Sydney 1859, looking east, Captain Edward Wolstenholme Ward, Deputy Master of the Sydney Branch of the Royal Mint [Historic Houses Trust of NSW]

William Stanley Jevons, English, 1835–1882

 

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From Kangaroo (1923)

D. H. Lawrence visited Australia in 1922, staying for a time at Thirroul, south of Sydney:

The train ran for a long time through Sydney, or the endless outsides of Sydney. The town took almost as much leaving as London does. But it was different. Instead of solid rows of houses, solid streets like London, it was mostly innumerable detached bungalows and cottages, spreading for great distances, scattering over hills, low hills and shallow inclines. And then waste marshy places, and old iron, and abortive corrugated iron “works” – all like the Last Day of Creation, instead of a new country. Away to the left they saw the shallow waters of the big opening where Botany Bay is: the sandy shores, the factory chimneys, the lonely places where it is still Bush. And the weary half established straggling of more suburb.

Como” said the station sign. And they ran on bridges over two arms of water from the sea, and they saw what looked like a long lake with wooded shores and bungalows: a bit like Lake Como, but oh, so unlike. That curious sombreness of Australia, the sense of oldness, with all the forms worn down low and blunt, squat. The squat-seeming earth. And then they ran at last into real country – rather rocky, dark old rocks, and sombre bush with its different, pale-stemmed, dull-leaved gum-trees standing graceful, and various healthy-looking undergrowth, and great spiky things like yuccas…

 

The Travellers by Gary Shead, 1996 (Savill Galleries)

The Travellers by Gary Shead, 1996 (Savill Galleries)

“Your wonderful Australia!” said Harriett to Jack. “I can’t tell you how it moves me. It feels as if no-one had ever loved it. Do you know what I mean? England and Germany and Italy and Egypt and India – they’ve all been loved so passionately. But Australia feels as if it had never been loved, and never come out into the open. As if man had never loved it, and made it a happy country, a bride country – or a mother country.”

“I don’t suppose they ever have,” said Jack.

“But they will?” asked Harriett. “Surely they will. I feel if I was Australian, I should love the very earth of it – they very sand and dryness of it – more than anything.”

–D.H. Lawrence, English, 1885-1930