A settler's life

Donation from Valerie May, Volunteer with National Trust Queensland and organiser of High Teas at Wolston House.

Letter from early Queensland settler Dr Stephen Simpson to John Ommaney's mother in England

Moreton Bay NSW
April 20.54

My dear Capel Ommanney

I fear you will think me remiss in not answering sooner your letter of July last – as however you would be advised by John of his safe arrival in these parts I thought it better to postpone writing till I should be able to form some judgement of his aptitude for a settler's life.

You already know that he did not reach Woogaroo, my present place of abode till about a week before Christmas. He seems to have gotten through his voyage with considerable address and to have gained the good will of all he came in contact with. I am happy to say his conduct since he has been with me has been equally satisfactory. He is attentive, gentlemanlike and remarkably cautious for so young a man. Which is by no means a bad quality in this sharp-witted country, when what in current phrase is termed 'Colonial Experience' means little else than to impose upon newcomers.

As yet his working capabilities have not been much tested as my new farm is situated nearly three miles from my present residence and he has consequently little to do but ride about the country. In two or three months time, I hope to have a house ready to receive us at Wolston, when we shall be close to our work and then if he has a taste for farming, gardening, horse-breaking or carpentry he will have ample scope for his exertions.

The price of labour is now so expensive in this country as to leave none of us to be idle. The commonest labourer now costs from 30/- to 40/- per week. Ordinary carpenters from 3 to 4£ ditto and wages are still on the rise. Flour, meat, provisions and forage of every description (has) doubled over 12 months ago. Fortunately, I completed some of my improvements before the great rise in prices took place, but still I have others that must be done before I can work the farm to advantage. 'Coute qui coute' (at all costs) therefore I must go on to a certain front, though I shall be obliged to leave many things undone (until labour) becomes more plentiful.

John has already made some progress in riding, though he has had one or two falls. As he seems to like it, I have no doubt he will learn to [trek] in time. He is already of much service to me in looking after the horse-stock and stables and occasionally carrying our rations to the farm. For I give him fairly to understand that he must, like myself, put his hand to anything that is going on and not be afraid of a little dirt. There are no gentlemen farmers in this country and the most successful settlers are those that have worked the hardest and had the least to begin with.

A young man, whom I saw ten years since tending himself his solitary flock of sheep, when he was scarcely able to give me a pot of tea or a piece of damper, has just sold his stock and stations and gone home with 80,000£ in cash. I could name some 20 men who have been almost equally successful. These rapid fortunes are, however, not to be made now, at least in the same way; as a thousand pounds now will scarcely go so far as two hundred some months ago. Still, an industrious, well conducted young man with good common sense cannot fail to make a comfortable independence. In fact, intelligence and energy were never more valuable than since the discovery of gold – and even the drones need want for nothing.

I believe my stud is thought to be the best hitherto; however, I have sold almost none and as I have few over 4 or 5 years old I am not anxious to sell with a rising market. I shall take care to give John a quiet horse to begin with but I have no doubt by constant practice he will in a few months be able to ride anything. His main occupation will be with the horse-stock and when he thoroughly understands it I shall take a little repose for I begin to find I have neither so firm a seat nor so steady a hand as I had some few years ago. But I must be drawing my letter to conclusion as it is past eleven and we breakfast soon after six. Some of my friends complain that we breakfast in the middle of the night. I believe my early hours sometimes frighten people from calling here.

My kind regards to your husband and tell him I will reply to his letter after John's arrival.

My kindest love to Mrs Chapman and tell her that the money has safely arrived in Sydney – also her letter with the Bill of Lading which I will answer shortly. Not forgetting dear Harriet and my numerous grand-nephews and grand-nieces and with blessings on you all believe me in great haste.

Your Affectionate Uncle
S Simpson

I forgot to say that all your letters have been duly received but I deferred answering them when I heard your final arrangements. The Peking beat John's [by] a month – the steamers are not to be depended upon.

It is probable that I may shortly give you a commission to get me a stock of good tea in Calcutta, as here it is almost impossible. I am expecting some shortly and if it turns out bad you will hear from me soon. I cannot live without good [tea], having been spoiled in Russia. I mix three kinds – Congan, Souchang and Pekoe – all of the best I can procure, without asking the price.

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