State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 9 April 1972


A Letter of 1843 by John Cotton

John Cotton (1802–1849) was a pastoralist and naturalist (see Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1) and the great-grandfather whom The Lady Casey mentions elsewhere in this issue. The following letter to his cousin, Robert Hudson, is one of two recently acquired by the La Trobe Library. It was written a few weeks after his arrival at Port Phillip, shortly before he took occupation of Doogallook in the Yea district.
Great Bourke Street,

My dear Robert,
The Bark Enmore being about to sail for England gives me an opportunity of sending a few lines to you, which I gladly avail myself of as it is the only way now open to me of showing my remembrance of kind friends in England and of endeavouring to keep alive that friendship. In my last I communicated the happy intelligence of our safe arrival in this colony in good health; thank God, we all continue well; and are anxious to hear from England the same grateful news. The state of these colonies is at present rather deplorable. Some few years back money was so easily made, that many persons were induced to enter into wild speculations far beyond their means, and the late depreciation in the price of land, house property, stock,
and every article of commerce has brought hundreds to ruin, many of whom have availed themselves of the insolvent act, and brought discredit upon the whole colony. It is by no means an inopportune time for persons with a little money to come out to Australia for bargains are to be picked up every day. Many town allotments and suburban allotments of land are constantly sold by auction at a remarkably low price, as well as cattle and sheep, houses, etc., etc. Sound sheep are now to be bought for 6/- or 7/- a head which but a year or two back would not have been sold for double the amount. Flour, meat, tea, sugar, and indeed every article of daily consumption are exceedingly cheap, and good brick houses are to be had at very reasonable rent.
The town of Melbourne, with regard to its external appearance, is rapidly improving. Many handsome, substantial, buildings are being erected, and in a year or two it will assume an altered appearance, the few wooden houses that still remain will soon be superseded by handsome shops. I trust that in the meantime the credit of the town will be re-established. You would be astonished to see the style of the government offices here—most of them are nothing better than barns or sheds, & indeed there are thousands of barns in England which bear a far more substantial and respectable appearance than do the treasury, the land commissioner's office, the surveyor's office etc. in Melbourne. Your poor tenants are more comfortably housed than some of the government officials here.
We have lately had an election here for representatives in the legislative council at Sydney. The noted Dr. Lang is one of the representatives for the district; & Mr. Curr late manager of the Van Diemen's Land Company's estate was defeated for the town by the mayor, Mr. Condell, a person much less qualified to perform the functions of a legislator. The Doctor will make our grievances known I have no doubt, but he is not much of a favourite here. Since my last I have paid a visit to Edward's station, & have seen a little of the bush, & of bush life, but not as it used to be; the days of rioting & drunkenness are passed. There is much, very much, exceedingly rich land on the Goulbourne river, & also between Melbourne & that river, capable of producing corn sufficient for the supply of England, without recourse to America or any other country, but capital & labour are wanting. Government should appoint a properly qualified surveyor to make known the capabilities of the country, & the kind of assistance that the colony wants to render it available to the mother country. Will you believe it credible, that the squatters, as they are termed, who are well educated men, & are engaged in the growth of the staple commodity of the colony; who moreover, by means of the numerous persons whom they employ on their stations, are the chief consumers of the exports from England to Australia, & whose commodity forms the chief cargo of the ships from these parts; who pay a considerable sum of money to the Government in the way of depasturing licenses & taxes on cattle & sheep; will you believe it credible that these persons have no political interest or responsibility; & that they are about to be taxed by district councils, when they have not a single vote for any one member of their councils; this appears to me rather unjust & contrary to the equitable construction of the Laws of England. Surely this matter should be enquired into & remedied immediately. It appears to me that the English Government are in great ignorance with regard to their colonies.
I was much pleased with the appearance of the country on my journey to the Goulbourne. The greater part of the way was through forests of Gum trees & of box trees. All the trees bear their leaves throughout the year. The white gum sheds its bark instead of its leaves during winter, & their lofty white stems show conspicuously amidst the lively green of the whattle shrubs & native cherry, a species of yew, and the charred wood of those trees that have been burnt. Fallen trunks lay scattered about on all sides, & the whole scene gives you a fine idea of primitive forest land. White cockatoos fly screaming high above your head, or congregate in flocks on the ground or on bare trees. The splendid king parrot & beautiful green parrakeets are seen in great abundance; the honeysuckers are numerous in species; & the laughing jackass chatters around you. Black swans and ducks are occasionally seen on the lagoons, & Eaglehawks are here & there observed. The splendid warbler is a beautiful little bird, about the size of & as familiar as our brown wren. There are not many song birds, but some of them have sweet melodious voices. The settler's hut is usually built of slabs split from the stringy bark, the bark of the same tree forming the roof, & an excellent roof too, rude indeed in appearance, but well adapted to & characteristic of the bush. Edward's station is very pretty but rather small, his sheep are good & well attended to. Mr. Green, to whom Edward brought out a letter of introduction from Mr. Pennington I believe was staying with him at the time. He was in partnership with a Mr. Powlet, now Crown Commissioner, but, like many others was unsuccessful.
I have purchased a station about 15 miles from Edward's which has the reputation of being one of the best on the Goulbourne. It is a sheep & cattle station. I hope to remove my family there in Oct. next. I have six miles river frontage with an extensive rich flat, & wooded ranges all around. The produce from the station will I expect pay all the expenses, & the increase will be profit. But of this I shall be enabled to say more at some future time.
I am anxious to know how my affairs stand in England. What have you done with the Gas shares? I should like to know whether anything has lately been published in London about the colonies. Here there are no book shops. I should like to have, if such a thing could be procured a list of all the known birds of this country. Has the volume on Sunbirds been published in the Naturalists’ library? or anything about the Honeysuckers “Melliphagidie” of Australia?
Any parcel you may have to send to me may be sent through the firm Griffiths & Borradaile of Melbourne but a letter will find me addressed Doogallook station River Goulbourne, Port Phillip N.S.W. The firm Griffiths & Borradaile has the reputation of being one of the most respectable in the Town.
I have not said anything about the natives. A few are always to be seen about the town clothed in blankets kangaroo & opossum rugs; all they ask for is brown or white money to buy a loaf of bread. I did not meet a single black during my journey to Edward's Station & back. The banks only allow here £5 pr. cent int.t on deposits. £10 & 12° percent are to be procured on mortgages. Let me hear from you shortly after the receipt of this.
& believe me, my dear Robert, to remain
Your affect, cousin
John Cotton
Remember me very kindly to all friends.