Overlanders #1: Watson and Hunter (A)



OVERLANDERS
Drovers and Dealers 1835-1850
Watson and Hunter (A)

This series complements Bass Strait Traders, in the sense that the livestock introduced to the Western District plains by the squatters, either came over the Strait in ships from Van Diemen's Land, or were walked overland from the settled districts of New South Wales. In the earlier series it was predominantly sheep in sailing ships like the HENRY and the NORVAL that were especially fitted out with pens and tanks to make the passage. In this series the main stock brought overland, at least in the early stages of migration, were cattle and horses.

The interlocutors for this first post on the overlanding firm of Watson and Hunter are two young men: an 18 year old Edinburgh youth, Alexander Hunter (Alick), and his London acquaintance Edward Bell. Both were as green as grass when they first came out, both quickly learnt to be accomplished bushmen, and both failed to learn sufficient business skills to make good of their opportunities. 

Bell (arrived 1839): "Before 1839 ended Bell was on the overland track, herding stock and adventuring with the hard-riding Hunter brothers..."
Hunter (arrived 1839, joining cousin John who arrived 1838, and later joined by younger brother Jimmie who arrived 1840): Gallant fellows without a doubt but like many another of the same kidney, not adept in the business of money-making. ['Bendleby', The Australasian, 8 February 1913]. 
Watson and Hunter (representing the Marquis of Ailsa and Company): "The company got into difficulty in the crisis of 1841-42 and shrivelled under the pressure of costly law suits."

The voyage out - Boldness and Ignorance

Alexander MacLean Hunter (1821-1892)
State Library of Victoria, MS 10300, MSM 151 (Sea Log and Journal of Alexr McL Hunter 1839-40)
16 April 1839 (mid-Atlantic): "I got down my chest from the hold and got my gun and my sword up to give them a scrub their was very little rust on them. I have shot with the pistols several times they are excellent by far the best in the ship."
26 September 1839 (Sydney): "Started at 4 and drove up to Martins Cross rode my horse buckjumped for 1/2 hour before starting I knocked him down with a heavy mounted whip I had he went quiet afterwards."

Edward Bell
TF Bride & CE Sayers (eds), [1898] 1983, Letters from Victorian Pioneers, pp. 281-300 (Letter addressed to Lieut-Gov Charles LaTrobe, dated 12 Aug & 15 Sept 1853)
"I arrived in Sydney from London in the latter end of September 1839...I had read the treatises on sheep and cattle in the 'Library of Useful Knowledge', and had endeavoured to gain some information respecting colonial life from Major Mitchell's 'Travels in Australia', Mr Waugh's 'Three Years' Experience', and Dr Lang's 'New South Wales', all which works I had industriously perused on the voyage. Beyond this, my general knowledge regarding live stock was limited to a confused knowledge of sheep by their distinctive titles of rams, wethers, and ewes; and a vague idea of cattle as heifers, cows, bulls, and oxen, and as beasts that had horns, and made a great bellowing; but I am not sure that I could have distinguished any of either description of animal on view. I had, however, acting under the advice of certain prudent relatives in England, fully determined on entering pastoral pursuits, or what I found was called in the colony 'going into stock'..."

The first journey overland - Gaining Experience

Alick Hunter and Edward Bell (references as above)
1 October 1839: "Started with 46 horses and 2 drays got on 12 miles...Mr W [James Watson, the manager] back to Sidney...
17 October: "Mr W and the others arrived we took the delivery of 400 head of cattle bought at Sidney...
24 October: "Started with horses and cattle for the Tumut rises where Mr W has some cattle...
28 October: "...went over to Mr Shelby on the Tummut who has the charge of the cattle [Mr W] has bought...Shelby is no gentleman a convicts sun a low sensual brute.
        In this neighbourhood I bought about 300 head of cattle, and made an agreement with Mr Watson to run them with his stock, giving half the increase for two years, and the benefit of my services during that time.
        Here I added to my fortunes 100 picked heifers, which were strongly recommended by the vendor, Mr Shelley, and also by Mr Watson, whose interested motives in advising the purchase of female stock I was too 'gullible' to see through at the time.
29 October: "Mustering the cattle...666 head...
8 November 1839: "Took up our abode in a hut on the T. run which belongs to us...
15 November: "Left [Tumut] with 708 cattle 5 men. the light cart Tullock and Kennedy the cattle got on...12 miles but the cart stuck in the Adelong creek...
18 November: "...the fed here is good on the banks of the Murrainbidge [Murrumbidgee River]...
19 November: "...we found the yard was occupied by another mob of cattle Bound for the port We had to camp out ours and take watch on watch.
20 November: "Found a good many of the cattle missing in the morning so the stockman (for I had only one regular one the rest were know nothing emigrants) Went out and found them 4 miles off...
         We had, also, about 400 cattle bought from a Mrs Barton, at Berrima, with which we fortunately got a stockman 'given in', named 'Little Sam', which considering our intense 'greenness', and the uselessness of most of the convict servants, who were just 'turned out of Government', was of great consequence.
23 November: "The horses nowhere to be found the blackfellow brought them home about 12 oclock having found them 8 miles off He had tracked them all the way.
25 November: "Got to the Murry [Murray River] 20 miles found 2 mobs of cattle The river being so high they could not cross or rather the cattle would not face it."
         On arriving at the Murray we overtook several expeditions which were waiting for a favourable opportunity to cross. There were said to be 10,000 cattle on its banks, in various 'mobs'. Messrs Bolden had crossed several hundreds that day, and at night we camped with their party.
26 November: "Tried our cattle but they would not take it so We clubed together to put up a small yard Where we could force them in.
28 November: "Busy with the yard get on slowly as we have no good workmen.
4 December 1839: "Got to the Ovens river and crossed it had a great deal of trouble forcing the cattle in I was up to my neck and swimming among the bullocks for 2 hours men all drunk.
        On the Ovens we overtook others. The natives had attacked some parties in this neighbourhood during the previous summer, and the places were pointed out to us where Faithfull's men were murdered, and where Snodgrass had a 'stand-up fight with the blacks'...On the Ovens, however, we saw none.
8 December: "...at the 7 creeks (owned by Mr W) John met us...and glad I was to get to the end of my Journey."

Reflections after the second journey - Alick Hunter

"Febry 26th [1840] I am afraid you will not find my journal very interesting as I have no time to write it regularly being seldom 2 nights in the same place. On the 21 of February I arrived at Keilor From my 2 [second] trip with cattle I came down from the Tumurt in 20 days the rivers were all down and we had a much pleasanter trip I brought down nearly a thousand head of cattle and 23 horses...
Mr W allowed me to remain for the races we had nothing to run this year a pity as my own land trips have brought me into good racing condition when I left home I was 10 stone 3 I am now not above 8st 7lbs I have grown a good deal taller by the time Arthur comes all suffering roughly will be over it is a miserable life and not nearly so much to be made as people think...
I hope they will not send me for the rest of the cattle it is horrid work...
March 8th Tell any of your friends that are thinking of coming out that it is the most miserable life in the world for the first few years what it is after I have yet to learn but then you are making money & will not think of it as much, as yet it has been nothing but spending...
I remain Your affectionate son Alex. McL. Hunter."

Mr Waugh's misleading pamphlet - A warning home

Alick Hunter and Edward Bell (references as above)
13 October 1839 "I took a ride with Mr Kinghorn to see one of our passengers Mr Dymmock Who is staying with Mr Waugh who wrote The Book which you cannot say is all lies but things so much exaggerated That it is much the same he is quite down in the mouth about it now he says he wrote it to bring out his own friends...
        I had endeavoured to gain some information respecting colonial life from...Mr Waugh's 'Three Years' Experience'...which I had in industriously perused on the voyage [in 1839].
26 February 1840 "It is a miserable life & not nearly so much to be made as people think Mr Waugh's pamphlet has done a great deal of harm Mr Waugh is not worth as much money as he was when he came here...
        In 1941 I had a licence for a small station upon the south side of Devil's River, below Mr Waugh's station (the author of 'Three Years' Experience in Australia', a pamphlet which gulled half England and Scotland in 1839 and 1840...

Last journey from Tumut to Devils' River
Alexander Hunter, Letter, State Library of Victoria, MS 5402, MSB 41/1 (No. 11, 26 July 1841)

21 December 1840: "Cam & I started for the Devils River Watso of course cannot come up now but I expect to find John there.
25 December: "Arrived at the station to breakfast found John here he only arrived last night. He left the cattle with Bell & Jimmy on the other side of the Murray. Poor Jimmy put his arm out in swimming after I left the Tumut but he was all right before John left. They were kept a month longer at the Tumut by the cattle not being delivered at the appointed time.
27 December: "John left this for Melbourne to be back in a fortnight but that means a month or perhaps two...
6 January 1841: "Jimmy & Bell arrived with the cattle 1000 head they are both heartily sick of the Job.
9 January: "Jimmy & Bell started for Melbourne There is a Hurdle race to come off next week I was to have ridden but cannot get down...
19 January: "The two Arundels arrived with 250 head of Cattle that Godolphin Bought. Jimmy won the hurdle race & is pronounced one of the best riders here..."

Mounting doubts about the boss - 'Mr W'

19 January 1841: "Watson is putting off the mustering from day to day & then cattle are going to the Devil.
18 February: "The drays arrived from Melbourne & bring word that the party [James Watson and John Hunter] were to have been here today...
19 February: "Cam & Bill Arundel started yesterday to try and bring Watson up they did not care for the message that the dray man delivered to them and went on...
6 March: "Cam & Jimmy arrived this afternoon Watson & party to be here tomorrow...
7 March: "John, Watson, Bell & Arundel arrived Watson as usual is going to do wonders -- he will have 500 head of cattle a day by some new plan.
9 March: "Commenced Mustering Cattle...
19 March: "Watson started for Melbourne he is sick of it his plans having been altered 10 times at least & we are not a bit farther on than when he came up. The Muster is bad as wether has been wet & a good many of the Cattle are still in the ranges."

A woefully inexact report home to Father

13 May 1841: "I think [Jimmy] would have done better to have remained at home a Man nowadays must have a little fortune before he can make money & it is a very hard life I wish I could take a years spell I would come home & see you but I am affraid it will be many a year before I can afford to do that...
Now for your list of questions -- ...
(9) All the cattle that have been bought amount to about 3000...
No. 1 No. W & H have. 2. In Melbourne... 
No. 5 We are sometimes together and sometimes seperate but when at the Devils River we all live at the head station. 
6. There are about 15 stations in the Devils River country and there are four about Melbourne. 
7. There are three men at each sheep station There are about 50 in all at the Devils River."

The principals of the firm Watson and Hunter were James Watson and Alexander Hunter. The last named was Alick and Jimmy Hunter's father, a Writer to the Signet (or solicitor) back in Edinburgh. It is clear from this letter that his sons, despite their presence on the scene in Australia and their direct involvement in the movement of the firm's cattle, had little real idea of the business decisions being made in his name. As we shall see in the next post, this was a big mistake for the family's future prospects in the colonies. Admittedly Alick, 18, and Jimmy, 16, were very young when they came out. However a little less time being brilliant horsemen and a little more applied to acquiring knowledge about the business may have averted some of the disaster that followed. 





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