1838 - J. Horton James
The Misery of Adelaide
This is port Adelaide! Port Misery would be a better name; for nothing in any other part of the world can surpass it in everything that is wretched and inconvenient. Packages of goods and heaps of merchandise are lying about in every direction as if they had cost nothing. Stacks of what were once beautiful London bricks crumbling away like gingerbread, and evidently at each returning tide half covered with the flood; trusses of hay, now rotten, and Norway deals, scattered about as if they had no owner - iron ploughs and rusty harrows - cases of door-frames and windows that had once been glazed - heaps of the best slates half tumbling down - winnowing-machines broken to pieces - blocks of Roman cement, now hard as stone, wanting nothing but the staves and hoops - Sydney cedar, and laths and shingles from Van Diemen's Land in every direction; whilst on the high ground are to be seen pigs eating through the flour-sacks, and kegs of raisins with not only the head out, but half the contents; onions and potatoes apparently to be had for picking up. The sight is disheartening. What with the sun and the rain - the sand and the floods - the thieves with four legs and the thieves with two - the passengers hug themselves at the recollection that they have brought no merchandise for sale, glad enough to be able to take care of themselves. The sooner they get out of this horrid hole the better, so they enquire if there is any coach to the town - they are answered by a careless shake of the head, and so, like good settlers, they determine to set off and walk, carrying their light parcels with them, and leaving the heavy things with a friend who refuses to go any further. They ask for a drink of water before starting - there is not such a thing to be had; but the bullock carts are expected down every minute with the usual supply! "What, no water?" exclaims our passenger. "No, sir, but the Commissioners are sinking a well, though they have not yet found any but salt water; but they are going to dig in another place, shortly, we understand."
Away they start for the City of Adelaide, and after ten minutes of rough walking through the loose sand, which is fatiguing enough, they gain the firm and beaten road, with the cheerful hills before them, glad enough to have overcome their morning troubles. Though very warm the walk is agreeable, and out of a cloud of dust before them, they soon descry a dray or two, each drawn by a long line of bullocks. They perceive by the splashing of the water from the open bungs that the casks contain the daily supply for the port, and the drivers very cheerfully give them all a drink; this enables them to walk on with renewed spirits, over the naked plain, and, tired and dusty, in about seven miles more they reach another iron store, the property of the Commissioners, where they now begin to see a few marquees and huts, and people walking about. They step across the "Torrens," without knowing it, and enquire for the inn. They are directed to the Southern Cross Hotel, then kept by a German Jew of the name of Levy, considered the best house in this settlement, and here we will leave them for the present, hungry, thirsty, and fatigued -covered with dust and perspiration - and with feelings of shame and disappointment at being so taken in!
City of Adelaide. "When things are at the worst, they mend," is a common saying, and a true one; and so it was with our passengers. Though rough, dirty and uncomfortable, they enjoyed the Jew's dinner or table d'hôte, though it consisted merely of a baked leg of mutton at the top, with a baked shoulder at bottom and a dish of small potatoes in the middle - nothing else whatever - neither pie, pudding, or cheese; but they had given themselves a good wash, and a change of linen, and a bottle of Barclay and Perkins at dinner had now restored them to good humour.
They found that the company at the table was much better than the dishes, and that they had all gone through the same miserable landing at the Port, and some of them had even suffered considerably by falling down in the mud; so, as we draw comfort out of other men's misfortunes, and it is better to laugh than weep, our newly-arrived emigrants began to think the place was not so bad after all. They were, at any rate, great travellers, and were determined to make light of troubles and inconveniences, as all travellers do. They saw that the gentlemen at table were a very nice set of fellows, and as they had evidently had to rough it, much more formerly, than was necessary at the present day, they should make up their minds to think well of everything - to look only at the advantages of the Colony - and in their letters to any London friends, they were resolved decidedly to recommend the place - but not a word about the mud.
The Town of Adelaide, as depicted on the maps, is the very beau ideal of all possible cities - there is an elegance and vastness of design about it, that almost makes one blush for the comparative insignificance of London and Stomboul; of Paris and Canton; - but on going to the spot, like many other works of art and imagination, it resembles the picture very slightly - it is altogether on too large a scale; and of all the follies committed by the inexperience of the surveyor-general, who is, nevertheless, in every other respect a most gentlemanlike, entertaining, and intelligent person, next to its inland situation, this monstrous extent of Adelaide will turn out to be the most fruitful of complaints. You may lean against any tree in the City and exclaim, "This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods, I better brook than flourishing peopled towns."
And yet there are sprinkled up and down the place a few substantial buildings; one belonging to the Company, on an enormous scale - another good brick house to Mr. Hack - another to the enterprising Mr. Gilles - one to Mr. Thomas, and a couple of new taverns. The rest of the dwellings are made of very slight materials, and the number of canvas tents and marquees give some parts of the settlement the appearance of a camp. Most of the new-comers settle down on what is called the Park Lands, where they are handy to the little rivulet, and they run up a Robinson Crusoe sort of hut, with twigs and branches from the adjoining forest, and the climate being fine and dry, they answer well enough as temporary residences. The principal streets have been laid out in the survey of the town 132 feet wide, which is nearly twice as wide as Portland Place, and the squares are all on such a scale of magnitude, that if there were any inhabitants in them, a cab would almost be required to get across them.
Before any person has been ashore at Adelaide twenty-four hours, even the greenest and most inexperienced put these two very natural questions; First - Why did you make the plan of the future town so large? Answer - Because the land was of no value, and it was a pity to be crowded when there was so much room! And the second question is - Why did you select the town eight miles from the landing-place? Answer - Because we preferred being away from the nasty sailors, and thought it better not to be annoyed with the demoralizing influence of a sea port!
Unless this is promptly remedied, the "Wisdom of our ancestors" will not become such a favourite saying in South Australia, as it is in the Old Country, for the town, including the park lands, is already eight miles round, with 3,000 inhabitants only. This, from persons who are all for concentration, seems strange; and the consequence is as might have been expected, that in the daytime persons are constantly losing themselves in the midst of the city. Whilst at night it is impossible to move out of the house without company, unless you have any desire to sleep under a tree. This has happened to the oldest inhabitants, about whom many droll stories have been told. Some of the highest officers in the colony, after wandering about for hours in the dark, either running against trees, or falling over logs, or into holes, have chosen rather to give it up in despair, content to take a night's lodging beneath a tree, than run the risk any longer of breaking their necks although in the midst of the township, and when daylight appeared, not perhaps more than a pistol-shot from their own hut. It is hardly possible that such a blunder as this is, this Adelaide and Port Adelaide, can much longer be tolerated by the respectable parties about proceeding to the Colony, and there is not the remotest chance that the unnatural abortion can ever come to good. Another town of more modest and moderate pretensions will rise up in the land-locked basin of Port Lincoln, along the margin of the deep water, consisting of 640 acres, divided into building lots of one rood each, which will be enough for a population of 50,000 persons, which is as many as the most sanguine friend of the Colony can anticipate for a century to come. There, under the shelter of Boston Island, or in Spalding Cove, the merchant may leave his office and walk across a plank into the last ship that arrived from England, and all the hundreds of bullocks now employed dragging up waggon loads of rubbish and merchandise from Adelaide Swamp to Adelaide Township, may then be dispensed with and go a-ploughing, as they ought to have done long since, which will save £ 20,000 a year to the settlers in the item of land carriage alone, and by being employed on the farms instead of on the road the Colony will not require such frequent importations of farm produce from Van Diemen's Land, to the great impoverishment of the community. What, abandon Adelaide! I think I hear the carriers exclaim. Oh no, let Adelaide remain as before, it will always answer well enough for a country village, and stand a monument to the folly of the projectors, but let the Governor and Civil Establishment move their headquarters without loss of time, to Port Lincoln, before more money is thrown away. Every month that this measure is delayed it is made more difficult and therefore should not be postponed at all.
James, J. Horton
Six Months in the new Colony of South Australia