State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 60 Spring 1997

The Lure of Gold: Boy's Adventure Stories and the Australian Gold Rushes

The Australian gold discoveries in the 1850s provided a wonderful subject for boys’ adventure stories. Stories about the Californian gold rushes had already seized the imagination, and soon interest included tales of the Australian discoveries. The first story about the goldfields to appear in print, if not in book form, was Frank Layton, by George Sargent. The family magazine The Leisure Hour began publication in 1852, and included in the early issues a series of anonymous articles on emigration to the Australian colonies. Suddenly, once the first gold was discovered in New South Wales in 1851, everyone was discussing the topic, and in 1854 Frank Layton appeared in the journal. (Figure 4) George Sargent had long been a tract writer for the Religious Tract Society, and two of his books were among the most famous of Victorian children's books — The Story of a Pocket Bible, and Roland Leigh, the Story of a City Arab. Frank Layton, was written as a serial and is episodic in structure; its 26 weekly parts were headed with large and effective illustrations, only some of which were reproduced in the book which followed. There were many later editions with updated illustrations, some even in colour. Reading Frank Layton one would think it was an eyewitness's account of Australian life. It is crammed with facts and the scene is so graphically described, but Sargent was a thoroughly professional writer and admitted drawing on other published works, especially those of Samuel Mossman.
Frank Layton is a young man of twenty-two, well-brought-up, but forced to seek his own way in the world when his father dies penniless. He emigrates to Australia, accompanied by an older countryman, Simon Barnes, who had worked on the family farm from time to time. On their arrival at Port Melbourne they notice a dray heavily-laden with wool just arrived from a station named Hunter's Creek Station. Frank learns that the owner, Mr Bracy, is short of hands, and obtaining directions he and Barnes make their way there on foot. They stop at a bush tavern for a meal, after a weary day's walking, and the following day, push on, spending the night at a stockman's hut before reaching the station. They are favourably impressed by the handsome vista presented by the station and its surroundings, and are happy to be taken on as stockmen by the owner, who provided them with horses. Next day they set out to accompany Mr Bracy to an out-station. They have an unexpected introduction to one of the sports of the new country when they suddenly find themselves willy-nilly taking part in a kangaroo hunt down a precipitous slope where their horses gallop. After this excitement they are shown their hut, and the stockyard large enough to contain a thousand head of cattle. Mr Bracy leaves them, telling them the head stockman would shortly return and instruct them in their duties.

Figure 4: ‘Hunter's Creek — A Kangaroo Chase’ From The Leisure Hour 19 January 1854. Illustrator unknown

The writing is crisp and lively, and both the descriptions of the countryside and of the interior of the hut they share with the stockman are vivid and interesting. The subject is strikingly novel to an English reader, whetting his appetite for more. Incidents follow in quick succession. Frank and Barnes are both alert and active, able to assist in a sudden crisis they meet in cattle mustering when accompanying Mr Bracy. The book has the advantage of describing incidents which later became the stock subject matter of bush adventures. Outwitting cattle duffers, finding the remains of a solitary traveller lost in the bush, floods, bushfires, rough and dangerous riding in the dark after straying cattle — all this is exciting for the stay-at-home reader in England. Sargent wrote vividly and managed to keep the reader's interest in his hero, who avoids being a prig, though depicted as clean, hard-working and honest. His quick responses to danger and his courage, as well as his general intelligence and physical skills, gain the reader's support. As a hero should, he fights the bushfire, and it is Frank who swims his horse across the swollen river to rescue a traveller whose horse is exhausted, and both are in danger of being swept away. Then later when the flood worsens he helps Mr Bracy's family evacuate their house. The mustering and branding of the cattle occupy another couple of exciting chapters in which both Frank and one of the unsavoury characters figure, each coming to the rescue of the other in the heat of the action. Although the scene involves the brutality associated with such activities, the furious, dangerous action makes exciting reading.
Sargent, as an evangelical writer, had problems to overcome, but he managed to include some short, religious passages which are acceptable in the context. It would have been impossible to write an Australian story at this time in which part at least was not set in the goldfields. And yet it was not in keeping with Frank Layton's character to have him caught up by the gold fever. He is certainly tempted, especially when, taking a mob of cattle down to Melbourne, he meets two friends who have been successful. Sargent allows Simon Barnes to respond to ‘the magic sound of gold which produces its effect on the most unimpressed’. Simon joins a small party led by Percy Effingham, a weak new-chum who reforms after contracting an illness in the goldfields, and recovers through the care of a negro whom he has befriended. The pair have struck gold once, and try to persuade Frank to accompany them on a second visit. Barnes alone responds, and he too has good fortune. The story ends with Frank on his own property, working off his debt to his fortunate comrade. Barnes has lent his profits from his gold finds to Frank and continues to work for him. Frank establishes himself on ‘Fairy Meadows’, the former property of the shady ruffians who appeared at the beginning of the book. He has married the heroine, and Effingham and his Negro friend return to England.
There are several graphic and racy chapters on the diggings, such as the following:
Three weeks passed away with indifferent success. Descending day after day, deeper into the hole in which, for the present, his hopes lay buried, Effingham
toiled with pick and shovel till compelled, by sheer exhaustion, to stop and rest;… In vain, Percy, as he rested from his labour, cast eager eyes around on the various strata of gravelly mud, state and clay, through which he had wrought, in the hope of lighting on some rich pocket, stored with nuggets, to repay, in one magnificent moment, the labour and excitement of the search. Nothing of the sort; not a speck of gold was visible… Meanwhile, Effingham had looked around him. … In one of the cells of that honeycomb of earth were pointed out to him two colonial magistrates, who had doffed their dignity, and donned the scarlet serge shirt of the aristocratic digger; close by was a shepherd, once a convict perhaps, who had turned his pastoral staff into a pick. Clattering his cradle by the river side, and dabbling in real dirt…was a Sydney lawyer … while, trotting from hole to watercourse, might be seen a medical practioner in disguise, bearing buckets of soil…’
Sargent was not only the first to write of the goldfields in the form of a story, thus reaching a wide public, but he wrote vividly of the circumstances of daily life, revealing ironically the dingy reality behind the idle dreams of instant wealth which had beguiled so many victims. He also writes well on the noisy crowds and the dirt and discomfort of Melbourne. He successfully avoids long passages which delay the narrative, either those of a didactic nature or dwelling on the romance between Frank and the heroine. Women or girls play a small part in the story. The brisk tone and the exciting incidents were responsible for the book's continued success. The flavour and feel of the diversity of life in Australia is conveyed in this book as it is done in few others of this time.
William Howitt's A Boy's Adventures in the Wilds of Australia (1854) does not contain such thrilling material as Frank Layton, but there is a feeling of youthful exuberance which often suggests that it is in fact a boy's own account of his experiences. (Figure 5) Howitt and his wife Mary, were wellknown children's authors in England, Howitt writing often about nature. He claimed to have travelled through England on foot from Land's End to the Tweed, and in 1839 had published The Boy's Country Book, ‘full of the pleasure of life on his father's farm’, and, as a reviewer said, ‘told in a hearty way as one schoolfellow to another’. Then, when the English newspapers were daily publishing the news of the Australian gold discoveries, Howitt's imagination was stirred. His younger brother, Godfrey, had emigrated to Victoria years before, and was now established as one of Melbourne's successful doctors. Howitt himself was tired of the literary grind, and an opportunity to pick up a fortune in the goldfields was irresistible. Though he was sixty years of age and as a writer had led a sedentary life, he was physically fit and active, and enjoyed the challenge and adventure of travel, not only in England but also in Germany where he and his family had lived for two years. His sons, Alfred, 22, and Charlton, 15, were eager to accompany him, and a nephew in Melbourne, also 15, wished to be one of the party. The family embarked for the goldfields in June 1852, eventually

Figure 5: ‘Hunting Adventure’ From A Boy's Adventures in the Wilds of Australia by William Howitt. Illustration by William Harvey (London, 1854)

spending two years in Victoria. Though they discovered very little gold they enjoyed their experiences, and William wrote a novel, two descriptive books and this boy's book on their travels. Alfred remained in Victoria, becoming a renowned outback traveller, naturalist and anthropologist. In 1861 he was chosen to lead the expedition sent out to relieve or rescue the Burke and Wills party, and found King and brought him back to Melbourne; he then had to set out again to bring the remains of Burke and Wills to Melbourne for burial. The younger son, Charlton, the fictional author of A Boy's Adventures, later emigrated to New Zealand, leading an adventurous outdoor life until he was drowned in a boating accident at the age of 26.
A Boy's Adventures must have been devoured with enjoyment and intense envy by adventure-lovers in England, full of romantic longings for the free and easy life of the gold-seeker in faraway Australia. Following is an extract from Charlton's own family journal which his father must have drawn on for the book:
We are a very jolly company as we go travelling along through the wild woodlands of this country. … If anybody could see us on our journey we would seem a queer-looking, but picturesque set of folks; there is the respectable Pater in dark blue trousers, as wide as a Jack Tar's, a grey blouse or jumper as they are called here and a broad straw hat, very knowingly cocked up at the sides. People always take him for some great person on his travels, and diggers often ask if that grave gentleman is not a magistrate … And ours is always called the ‘Government Team’; I suppose because our horses look in such good condition and the cart is covered with a clean tarpaulin and we go along so much at our ease. Besides which we do things in style; when we camp we set down a pair of tressels, place on them apiece of stringy bark for a table and sit there with plates and cups and glass tumblers much to the astonishment of the diggers. We are first-rate, and what a jolly life it is … My business is to look after the first horse as the roads are very bad and one must be on the outlook because of stumps and stones and deep gullies.
As they travel along the two boys are sent off to seek for straying cattle and find it very jolly to be on their own, except when they think of bushrangers. When they are preparing for the night, as it will be cold they decide to make a ‘mimi’ (‘mia mia’?).
The two youths jumped up, and speedily had cut two forked poles, which they struck into the ground behind the spot where they were sitting, threw another pole across them, and against this leaned a mass of boughs, thick with all their leaves, so making a fence from the dew and the wind.
‘And now, good night!’ said Jonas, rolling himself up in his blanket, with his saddle for a pillow, and was speedily asleep, luxuriously protected by the mimi over him, and kept warm by the glare of the blazing logs at their feet.
Phineas did not sleep so quietly. Fears of bushrangers, and of he could
scarcely tell what in this wild, secluded place, kept him anxiously awake. Ever and anon, the dogs rose and barked, and walked growling behind the mimi, and every time Phineas jumped up and shook Jonas, whispering, ‘There is somebody about — there must be bushrangers or blacks.’
Jonas would jump up and listen, and then say, ‘Don't you know what it is? Don't you hear the yapping and howling of the wild dogs in the hills? That is what makes our dogs growl and bark so. Now don't wake me again, or I shall be very savage.’
Campfire tales of bushrangers, floods and the many hazards and misadventures of colonial life were tirelessly noted down by Howitt, seated in his own special travelling ‘arm-chair’ he had brought with him, together with his ‘iron-bed’. Howitt took as much interest and delight in the native animals and birds as did the boys, though he left the skinning and preserving of them to the younger members of the party. He described them vividly, noting their habits and the enthusiastic efforts of the young naturalists to capture them for observation and record their habits. The many squatters Howitt met and the homesteads he visited provided absorbing material, and his descriptions of the diggings, the miners, and detailed incidents of daily life were skilfully related to appeal to young readers. There is plenty of varied experience, well-balanced by anecdotes of interesting happenings. Of course there is no story, and to a reader today the book lacks the excitement of a sustained narrative, but the boys of the 1850s were used to reading long books with little or no plot. It is refreshingly free from moralising or pervasive piety. Howitt was a Quaker by upbringing and attitude and did not need to be explicit. The secret of the book's appeal was the air of great delight in outdoor activities in a faraway country. It went through at least ten English editions as well as three American, and was also translated into German. Howitt also used some of the material gathered on his trip for stories in other publications, such as Peter Parley Annuals, and his wife Mary also wrote several stories about the goldfields based on letters home from her husband and sons.
Over the years the lure of gold became the subject for many boys’ stories. One of the most readable of the later books was Stephen Scudamore the Younger, or the Fifteen-year-olds by Arthur Locker. It reads rather like a fictionalised account of the author's own experiences, and as he himself had visited Victoria, succumbing to the lure of the gold rushes of the 1850s, some of the story may well have been autobiographical. It was first serialised in Routledge's Every Boy's Annual for 1870, appearing in book form the following year. Stephen, writing in the first person, tells how when he was fourteen the accounts of the gold discoveries in California made a great impression on his mind. The following year his elder brother absconded from the office in Liverpool where he was working, leaving behind debts which almost ruined his father. As a consequence, Stephen had to leave school and go to
work. His father had formerly been a ship's doctor, and had retired to London when he became a modestly succcessful author. In his unworldly fashion he apprenticed Stephen to a plausible but second-rate shipping agent in Liverpool, and it was here, by coincidence, that Stephen got his opportunity to go to the Victorian diggings. When delivering some papers to one of the largest shipping firms he had to leave his signature, and his unusual name aroused the interest of one of the partners. Upon questioning the boy, the partner, Mr Hayward, learnt that Stephen was the son of the doctor who had once saved the life of his wife in Bombay. This eventually led to the offer of a passage to Melbourne on board one of his ships, the Ruth Hayward, as a purser's clerk. To help the boy on his way he also gave him a purse of ten sovereigns and a letter of introduction to his agent in Melbourne. When Stephen went on board, to his surprise he found there his friend and room-mate from his previous job, Johnny Prawle ‘in spick and span seaman's toggery’. This amusing and enterprising lad was determined not to be left behind and had contrived to speak to Captain Staunton who insisted he had no vacancy for him as a sailor. With characteristic luck and nerve Prawle persisted, and the Captain suddenly realised he had known his father years ago at sea and took him on to work his way, charging him a shilling a month for the passage. Prawle, just sixteen, had a jaunty confidence which made him a good foil for the rather serious young hero.
The charm of the book lies in the boyish high spirits of the whole story. The boys are not as gullible as they seem. When Stephen accuses Prawle of being suspicious, he replies: ‘My wits have been sharpened by the atmosphere of large towns. I matriculated at Greenwich, passed my little-to at Stratford-le-Bow, and took my degree at Liverpool. Behold me now a M.A. — Master of the Arts of cunning men.’ Nevertheless, their youth and inexperience involve them in many scrapes and encounters with rascals of different sorts. Prawle's quick wits and ready tongue help them in times of danger, while Stephen's observations are fresh and detailed. His honesty and youthful enthusiasm impress some of the older men who befriend them. After many disappointments they eventually succeed in reaching the goldfields and become established. Their claim begins to show them small but steady returns each day, but a disgruntled bullock-driver whom they had employed
spread exaggerated reports of our success, whereupon a party of a dozen strong — great, big, bullying fellows, — came and sank shafts all around us, and drove on every side into our tunnels. This rowdy party of twelve — Prawle christened them the twelve Caesars, because they were ready to seize everything they could lay their hands on — were always knocking off work for the sake of obtaining strong drink; for though the sale of ardent spirits was strictly forbidden on the mines, under heavy penalties, there were plenty of sly grogshops where liquor could be obtained. … Now Prawle and Jemmy and I, and Mr Skilbeck and his mates, never drank anything stronger than tea, yet we
were all well and hearty. Now for my anecdote. We were driving a tunnel, let us say, in a northerly direction, the party in one of the opposition shafts were driving in a southerly direction; so that before long our galleries would join. I was down the tunnel ‘getting', and I could distinctly hear the strokes of the opposition pick, which showed that our enemies were within a few feel of us. Presently the sound of the opposition pick ceased. I was curious to know the reason, so I came out under the mouth of our shaft, and asked Prawle why the twelve Caesars had knocked off work. “Because,” he replied, whispering down the shaft, “because Caligula” — this was a truculent-looking scoundrel with a black eye—because Caligula has just brought a bottle of rum, and Nero and Vespasian have gone to help him drink it.”
On hearing this news, I set to work again, tunnelling harder than ever. In about an hour's time my pick seemed to enter the wall of stiff clay with extraordinary ease. I drew it out, and saw a faint ray of daylight beyond. I had driven into the tunnel of the Imperial party — the wall of clay was only a few inches thick! I now set to work to dislodge a stone which obstructed the passage. I was rather surprised to see the stone, for I had hitherto met with none at this depth — I had encountered nothing but tough, marly clay. I struck my pick against the stone, and it felt as if it made a dent in it. A moment later I perceived that the stone was of a yellowish colour! I now grew so excited that I almost lost my head; but I worked away, and in five minutes had the supposed stone in my hands. It was of a strange shape, more like a dumb-bell than anything else I could think of. I could scarcely believe the evidence of my senses; but there was no mistake about it, it was a large nugget of pure gold!. Carefully concealing it in the breast of my jersey, I bade Prawle lower the rope, for that I wanted to come up.
“You look pretty warm, Stephen,” he said; “but you don't mean to say you're tired?”
“Yes, I am; I want a spell. I have driven right into the Caesar's camp.”
“Hurrah!” added Jemmy. “Then we've won the battle of Philippi. Which was it, Philippi or Actium, Stephen?”
“I can't tell you,” I whispered in a low tone; “but if you and Prawle will sit down behind this bank of earth, I'll show you the spoils of victory.”
I leave you to conceive the astonishment and delight of my companions. In the course of the evening the nugget was weighed in Tom Prince's grocery-scales; it was far beyond the powers of his gold-weighing apparatus — and was pronounced to weigh eighteen pounds troy! It was worth, at the price then current on Bendigo, about £700. Now, on examining this nugget there was plainly discernible the mark of a pick-axe on the side opposite to that from which I had attacked it, clearly showing that it was actually under the very nose of our enemy Vespasian; and that if he had not been seduced away by that fatal bottle of rum, in two minutes more the nugget would have become the property of himself and his mates.
Boy readers would have greatly enjoyed this ludicrous account of finding such a nugget, and triumphing over their older truculent enemies. As well as such a lucky success it was also very funny, and the reference to the ‘twelve Caesars’ would have particularly amused boys swotting their Suetonius, especially if they were actually reading Stephen Scudamore when they should have been preparing their Latin! The description of their trials getting the nugget safely to a bank in Melbourne is also very amusing and keeps the reader on tenterhooks. As they distrust the escort, they resort to baking it inside a large damper, and despite their being bailed up by bushrangers, their ploy succeeds.
Better known and more popular, though far less amusing, was Tom's Nugget, published by ‘Professor’ J.F. Hodgetts in 1888, and illustrated by Gordon Browne. The author James Frederick Hodgetts had actually been a professor in Moscow at the ‘Imperial College of Practical Science’ and wrote and published a number of books after his retirement. His own life would have provided material for many books for boys, for after going to sea at an early age, he became ‘professor of seamanship’ at the Prussian naval cadets school in Berlin until 1860, and on its closure transferred to the Imperial College in Moscow. He had learnt Russian in India where he had served in the Indian navy. Later, he was shipwrecked and almost drowned off the Australian coast, but apparently did not visit this country. AH this information appeared in the Boys’ Own Annual where an announcement of the serialisation of one of his books was made. Instead of using such dramatic experiences in his books for boys, he generally wrote about the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons. Tom's Nugget is not autobiographical; it went through four editions and perhaps owed its appeal to the naively of the eight-year-old hero, Tom, who is incessantly asking questions. The book is set in the Victorian diggings of ‘Bendiggerat', and Tom is obsessed with the desire to see the ‘ornithorhynchus paradoxus’. When poking around the sandy bank of a creek he finds a large nugget, which he covers with sand until he can bring his father to help him move it. But when they reach the spot, it is gone, and Tom realizes a bushranger had been watching him and had stolen it. The story revolves around the attempt to recover the nugget and Tom's involvement with the bushrangers and the troopers. To the reader of today Tom seems a tiresome brat with his constant questions and smart observations, but apparently the young readers of the time found the book amusing as well as exciting, judging from its continued success.
Many books were written about the excitement of gold discoveries and the rush to the diggings, and some often introduced a chapter or two when the characters tried their tuck prospecting. An exciting book about an early prospecting adventure was The Yellow God by Reginald Horsley, published in 1895. The book is set in the 1850s, and when a twelve-year-old girl picks up a nugget at a picnic they believe her to be the first discoverer of gold in Australia. One of the characters, Ben Layton,
an experienced bushman, has just returned from prospecting in California, and recognizing the country as being probably gold-bearing, he has had his eyes open. As the party are congratulating themselves on their good fortune, a horseman rides up from a camp not far away and introduces himself as Edmund Hargreaves, and they learn that he has registered his claim and been officially recognised as the first discoverer of gold in Australia. He is working at Ophir, and he too had been to the Californian gold diggings.
This is a lively and entertaining book, full of coincidences and wonderful adventures in which Jack Flood, the magnificently built nineteen-year-old hero always seems to be present at any crisis! His father sends him out to a merchant friend in Valparaiso where he expects he can find adventure and observe the wild life in the tropical forests. But the ship founders in the Straits of Magellan, and Jack and his friend, Michael Smith, an apprentice sailor, escape from the sinking ship in a raft, together with a twelve-year-old girl passenger, Daisy, whose life Jack had saved earlier when she fell overboard. They are picked up by a ship and reach Sydney safely, but their adventures are far from over for the main part of the story takes place in New South Wales. The ship's owner befriends the boys and invites them to stay at his home, and Jack saves the life of his daughter and her fiancé, Major Woodward, stopping a runaway horse and preventing the upsetting of their carriage. Mr Arundel, their host, arranges a trip for the boys inland to Bathurst with Ben Layton, a young acquaintance who has just returned from California. They encounter some wild Aborigines on their way, and Mullinowool, whom they save from injury, attaches himself to them. Michael, who has a ready Irish wit, names him ‘Owl', and he and Michael provide much amusement with their high spirits and humour. The dialogue is constantly lively and well-sustained, and the hero-worshipping Daisy adds a novel note, being regarded with affection by the two boys.
As one would expect, they make a great find, but being inexperienced the boys betray their success to a plausible stranger when Ben has gone off to get a horse and cart and another companion to help them bring in their find to the township. They have to keep their gold in a friend's house overnight. They are attacked by a band of bushrangers, and after a violent struggle all ends happily, with Jack and Michael embarking for home with their riches, although with a strong hint that they may return to take up land in the colony. The book is as wildly improbable as most boys’ books of the time, but Horsley knew the country himself and writes convincingly; even the minor characters and their dialogue seem recognisably Australian. The advancement in the development of the boys’ adventure story can be clearly seen by comparing The Yellow God with Howitt's A Boy's Adventures, published forty years earlier. It is a much more exciting book even though the plot is unrealistic and highly-coloured.
The Australian diggings attracted many American prospectors and even some authors. The most famous of these was Horatio Alger junior, one of the most successful writers of boys’ books of his time. Alger wrote In a New World, or Harry Vane towards the end of his career. He gained enormous popularity with his stories of poor city boys who achieved success through hard work and enterprise, the qualities most highly acclaimed by the society of the time. His skill as a storyteller and in catching the language of the street boys of New York appealed immensely to young readers. Most of the books were first published in serial form and anticipation gave an added appeal to each instalment. After many books on city life, his publisher encouraged him to seek new material, and he went west, writing several books set in California. After this it was not difficult to change the background to Australia. The story retained roughly the essential plot — the adventures of two boys and the machinations of villains, eventually overcome, and the achievement of wealth and fame by the young heroes. The boys are befriended by an eccentric Yankee, and Melbourne and the Victorian diggings are mentioned, but it is the action which matters. Alger was such a practised writer he knew exactly what his readers wanted; for their part they could rely on an Alger book being full of excitement and suspense. In a New World fulfilled all such expectations. The American journal Golden Argosy published first the earlier part of the story ‘Facing the World’ in the 1880s, and it was followed by ‘In a New World’ as a serial in 1885. It was published in book form in the United States in 1893 and in London as The Nugget Finders the following year. The book is much more didactic than most English boys’ books published at this time. The influence of the temperance movement also appears to have been strong in America, and the boys declare themselves to be total abstainers, as well as avoiding the evils of tobacco. In The Yellow God, for example, Mr Arundel and his older guests at least drink claret at dinner, and the sailor Michael and Ben Layton both enjoy their pipes and are always having to bribe the Aborigine Mullinowol with plugs of tobacco. Harry Vane and his friend Jack eventually return home with their Yankee protector, Obed, after an exciting and profitable three months in Victoria.
A short story, Fred Leicester, in a book entitled The Gold Diggers, evokes the Australian scene in mid-summer most powerfully, for Richard Rowe had lived in Australia. Fred Leicester was first published in 1889 towards the end of Rowe's career, and the Australian reader feels completely at home with such descriptions as the following:
The locusts kept up their monotonous chatter — ear-torturing on such a day. Buzzing insects made their more harmonious hum, but otherwise, save for the harsh scream of an occasional flock of parrots flashing athwart the blaze of sunshine, the fluting of magpies, and the croak of the crows … the bush was almost dreamily still.
Fred, on his way to the diggings encounters three bushrangers. The leader sounds the usual rough, powerful bully, but his companions are quite a novel type.
The two young men, almost youngsters, with him — slim, colonial striplings — were bush dandies; wore patent-leather boots beneath as well as belts over their parti-coloured moleskin trousers, gold chains, ear-rings, white linen, jauntily-tied black cravats, and jauntily-ribboned cabbage-tree hats. The harness of all three horses was first-rate.
They rob and tie up a wellknown gold-buyer, whom Fred subsequently rescues, and who in turn comes to Fred's rescue when he has foolishly gone off prospecting on his own. However, Fred succeeds well enough to return to England and marry his English sweetheart, with few illusions remaining about the pleasures of Australian bush life.
Over the second half of the nineteenth century many authors introduced the gold discoveries into their boys’ books. Indeed some writers like William Howitt and Arthur Locker had themselves come to Australia attracted by the gold rushes, and this firsthand experience gives their books great authenticity. The earlier books like Frank Layton and A Boy's Adventures seem a little more stilted, while Stephen Scudamore is exuberant and very amusing. The Yellow God, crammed with action — most of it exceedingly improbable — was the sort of story boys greatly enjoyed, but it is given some credibility by a more genuine Australian background. Many other tales of the gold period in Australia were written over the years by writers merely using the subject for an exciting tale. Frank Layton being the first story about the gold period retained its popularity for years, as did Howitt's book, though it lacked the readability of a good story. Stephen Scudamore, though relatively little known, was the best of all the boys’ books on the period of the Australian gold rushes.