Willliam Bramwell Withers remembers Christmas in History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences shedding some light on Christmas customs in years gone by. The first excerpt was a time in the 1850s when old friends got together, and the second tells of his journey to Melbourne just before Christmas in 1895.
In the gold discovery years of the 1850s Withers recalls:
‘One Christmas Eve, in the middle fifties I was sitting in my tent at the Red Hill, when a horseman rode up to a tent a few yards off, and shouted: “Hello, Hagan; have you got a fat goose?”
Hagan’s apparent avocations were hawking fish and fowl, wife-beating, and the anti-Father Mathewism and the hawking part of the business accounted for the Christmas Eve visit of the horseman whose voice fell upon my ear as the awakening of an old world echo. Looking out of my tent I saw that my ear had not deceived me, and that the horseman was Joseph Charles Byrne, a big, strong voiced Irishman, with whom I had in the first half of the last of the forties, drunk some sherry in his office in Pall Mall London. … Withers goes on to describe some of the antics of Joseph Byrne.
Withers Some Ballarat Reminiscences begins in the ‘young November’ of 1895 commenting how beautiful Ballarat is in the ‘first early days of Spring-tide’. He continues:
‘Towards the end of December, one hot day, luckless and mateless, I humped my swag back from Creswick’s Creek (now Creswick), a sadder, but, I fear, a not much wiser man. Bunked with my Natal chums in the camp that night, and in the morning breakfasted at the camp cook’s al fresco kitchen on the slope where Hill-street now runs up from Grenville-street to Camp-street. The cook was old Glover, who had acted as galley doctor on the Hannah. He was baking damper about a foot or so in diameter, and had hot coffee and mutton chops ready. It was open housekeeping in a very literal sense, and I set-to with a fool’s appetite, then shouldered my wallet and joined a digger who was passing with his swag, bound, like myself, for Melbourne.
Before I reached Warrenheip I was disabled by a rapid dysentery, the man left me as I crawled slowly on, and more dead than alive I reached Melbourne on Christmas Day after ‘putting up in hotels at Ballan, Bacchus Marsh and Keilor, being bundled out by the Ballan landlord in the morning, as “no sick men are wanted here” – and being robbed between Ballan and Bacchus Marsh by a band o f diggers with a dray returning to Melbourne, to whom [he] had entrusted his swag for carriage to the hotel at the Marsh. The heat and old Glover’s prog did for me, and at Keilor I had to give my name to a strange bedroom mate, as it seemed to me the end of my march had come. But I rode in a dray on the Xmas morning to Melbourne, and rest there soon cured me.’
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