Bernard and Arthur Baker were good friends of Billy from school days. Arthur spent a couple of years working as a cabin steward on the Orient, a passenger steamship plying the London to Australia route. In 1895, he and another Horsham mate, Tom Bradford, decided to try their luck in the Coolgardie gold rush. Arthur wrote regular letters home to his friends but it seems that Billy was his most dependable correspondent. Billy kept Arthur’s letters and one or two that were passed on by Bernard. This first letter in the series was a copy Billy made of Arthur’s first letter to his brother on arriving at Coolgardie.
(that’s our tent – 8 ft by 10 ft)
c/ G.J. Warren Esq
Tuesday 28th January 1896
My Dear Bern,
In my last letter we were at Fremantle. We stayed there five days and had a very enjoyable time “crab fishing” up the Swan River. Went to Perth on the Thursday morning and left Perth by the 3.30 train for Northam (85 miles) [away]. Arrived there about 8 p.m., stayed there until the next afternoon (Friday) and left again for Southern Cross (140 miles) arriving at midnight where they “kindly” gave us a “sleep” on the floor in an hotel for 3/- each and a steak etc. for breakfast for another 3/-. Here the line is in the hands of the contractors as it’s not completed. Took contractor’s tickets to Woolgangie (86 miles) and arrived Saturday afternoon 5 p.m. This was as far as the line is down and the scene is one of utmost confusion, thousands of men clearing trees and laying the line and thousands of camels carrying provisions and water to the fields. It was impossible to get a seat on any coach so we had to start to walk. The road is something awful, sink over your shoes in loose sand. Anyway, from 5 that night till quarter to 12 we walked 22 miles and arrived at “Bulla Bullin”. Meals here also were 3/- and a sleep in the old man’s tent 3/-. Started on the road again Sunday morning 9.15 (19 Jan ’96) and walked in to Coolgardie in the afternoon about 5 thoroughly done up. Forty one miles from Woolgangie, we were nearly black. Stayed at an hotel for a day or two then bought a tent and are at present living in same.
Bryley Street, Coolgardie, 1896, National Archives of Australia, Photo link
We are only about a mile from the famous “Bayley’s Reward” and “Londonderry” Mines. Water is 5d and 6d a gallon for whatever purpose so we have to be very careful. See us up in the morning collecting sticks and boiling our “Billy” (can) for making the tea while Tom prepared his famous “Irish Stew”. We wash in a saucepan lid. I wash my hands and face and perhaps feet then pass it on to Tom to clean his teeth in then stand it outside the camp to settle down for “drinking” purposes! Anyway, there is not enough here to waste. If a man wants to give his horse a drink, he’s got to pay at the same rate. We carry our water in canvas bags. It will be a good thing when the railway comes up here then shall get provisions and water cheaper. Butter we have not seen here, bread 10d a loaf, oranges and lemons 6d each. A drink of any description in a hotel 1/-. All previsions have to be carried by camel trains from Woolgangie, the charge for such carting being £12 per ton.
It was a good thing we filled our water bags before starting to walk for when we arrived at about 12 miles from Coolgardie (called 12 mile Soak) expecting to find water there, it was dried up. There’s not a blade of grass, sand plains all the way, and on the rail, the train would stop and men get out to pick up wood for the engine fire – no coal. We have to wear fly nets over our face and necks. There are plagues of flies and they make for your eyes. If they bite you it’s a caution. Evening is pleasant here as the flies knock off about sunset. A few days ago we had the heat 145° in the sun and 120° in the shade. That’s too hot for any white man. Plenty of natives here running wild, also Afghans for camel driving. They have a camp to themselves and are very orderly as a rule. Teams of camels are constantly passing all day loaded up. Horses cannot live on the road. I don’t know how many skeletons of horses we passed walking from Woolgangie. The dust storms here are enough to smother anyone occasionally. Put on a clean shirt and it’s dirty in twenty minutes. We often say what would some English people say if they were dropped down into this place. There is no doubt but what there is business to be done here for a while if a man can “stick” the life and climate, but it’s no place for anyone to come to without cash. I would not advise anyone from home to come here without a few pounds clear when he arrive up here.
I’m sure Tom and I are already brown enough for born colonists and being used to hot weather we get on as well as the best of them. In fact we are A.1 or “Class”. I am in Mr Warren’s office at present (the Managing Director of the Hands Across the Sea Gold Mining Coy) and am getting on alright with him. We found him the first night we arrived here. He came round and saw me in “bed”. Tom starts also in a day or two’s time. We may both go out to one of the mines Mr Warren is managing before very long. Of course wages are very good. Miners get £4 a week and some are found with water which is a great consideration. We went out to see Bailey’s Reward Mine the other day. You would like to see some of the quartz all shredded with gold veins running through the stone. Kindly let the clique know my address. I have only time to drop you this letter by this mail but will write Nel, Sam, Billy, Fred and all in turn. Shall be very glad to hear from all so hurry them up.
Tom and me (by advice from Mr Warren who also bought a 100) bought a hundred shares in a gold mine the other day and we have good authority that they will “run up” in price. The we shall “sell out”. That kind of business would be just in old Sam Chriss’s handwriting if he was here. There are plenty of men here who have made their fortune I can assure you. We don’t expect to do that, but if we can save enough to start us in a cosy little business in England, that’s good enough for us. Tom says if you could send us a drop of good Horsham water ’twould be a good present or call on Jack Young at Michell’s Brewery and tell him to send us a cask for the use of the Baker and Bradford tent. We shall soon be first class cooks. See me with the fry pan cooking at the back of our camp. You would all do a quiet laugh if you could see us here. Will endeavour to get a few photos bye and bye and send home. You will then see what sort of a palace it is. I hope you have had a pleasant winter (it’s far from winter weather here) and also that you had a pleasant time on the ice. I suppose the Gym is doing a lot of work now that the cold weather is on. Must excuse a pencil letter, I didn’t have time to write up the office today and I’m writing this on my knees in the tent. Think I have told you all the news at present (My Birthday yesterday – the 27th) so with my very kind regards to yourself, Fred and Nel and my best wishes to you also and accept exactly the same from Tom, kindly remember me to Billy, Sam and all other old chums and
Believe me ever
Your Loving Brother
Arthur J Baker
(Copy made 7th March 1896 by WJH)