Phil McDermott and his hundred pounds [short story by Philip Durham Lorimer]

[Editor: This short story by Philip Durham Lorimer was published in Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, 1901.]

Phil McDermott and his hundred pounds

It was in the ’fifties, shortly after the golden days of Ballarat had broken their dawn and set, leaving behind them a happy and an everlasting belief that the bad times of want were for ever gone, and all that men had to do was simply to dig or gather gold in any quantity they required, and as soon as that was gone, there was an unlimited store behind. I had been a lucky digger at Specimen Hill, now called Ballarat East. Lucky not in thousands, but a few hundreds, and I deemed a visit to Melbourne would not be out of place after seven months on the diggings. Being a good bushman naturally, requiring neither roads nor direction, I started with my pile, £500, to reach the metropolis. Ballarat is about 78 miles from Melbourne, in an almost straight direction through the Gordons and Ballan ; and, armed with a fowling piece to get provisions, which were plentiful at that time in the shape of game, I eventually reached Melbourne, putting my traps in an hotel (now wiped out) in Flinders street, alongside of the Wharf. Melbourne at that time was a city full of life, merriment, and coarse, low iniquity ; dancing rooms and singing halls open all night, were the receptacles of men of all grades, from the lowest and penniless to the wealthiest merchant or gold digger. I went to one of the theatres that night, and at 2 a.m. retired to my bedroom at the lodgings I had secured. I was tired and half dazed at what I had seen, not having been accustomed to see the world so fearfully fervent in excesses of joy before. So engrossed were my senses in what I had seen, I did not notice a young man who was sleeping in the bed opposite to mine. Early in the morning I heard a voice, and turning round I immediately came to the conclusion that I had been dreaming, but after the lapse of a few minutes I heard the same voice again, saying—

“Is there any one here in this room?”

I immediately replied in the affirmative.

“How long is it to daylight?”

“It is now day dawn,” I said; “and may I ask why you ask?”

“Oh! how long the night has been! “ he replied.

“Not longer than the one preceding it,” I replied.

“Well faith,” said he, “I wish, if it is daylight, you would only light the candle, for I cannot stay here any longer.”

“All right,” and with that I struck a match and did what he required.

After I had done so, a tall, erect, and well-made young man tumbled out of bed, and advanced towards me. He had dark hair, and his open countenance told me at once that he was honest, while the map of Ireland was deeply engraved upon his face.

Coming close to me he told me that a few days previous to this he had been mining at Ballarat, and when he had secured £100 he thought it would be sufficient to give him a start in the world; and with that amount in his belt, and a good rifle, he left the above-named city, not wishing to incur the expenses of the mail coach and escort. After travelling the second day he was bailed up at night by a notorious gang of bushrangers, and robbed of the hundred pounds and his rifle, the only compensation given in return being three half-crowns and an old blunderbuss covered over with Chinese hieroglyphics, which the bushrangers had taken previously from some Celestials whom they had robbed, and they believed this annihilator would be sufficient to keep him alive with game until he reached Melbourne. This I readily believed; and as he arrived at the hotel the night previous, where meals and beds were 2s. 6d. each, I naturally came to the conclusion that, financially speaking, he was a ruined man, and I ventured to lend or give him a £1 note for the time being, to relieve him of present difficulties. He gladly accepted this, and wished me all the luck that heaven could ever bestow on a man.

The first bell had rung, preparatory to breakfast, and both of us were dressing. While standing before the looking glass (I cannot tell how many years it is since I’ve looked into one, they seem to me to have gone out of date along with soap at many hotels where swagmen pay for a night’s lodging, and then have to wriggle out of as best they can,) I saw this rifle or blunderbuss.

“Phil,” I said, “ is that blooming, hungry-looking muzzle open from a loaded stomach?”

“Faith and I could not tell you, mate.”
“Well, I said, “unscrew the ram-rod head, and see if there is powder and shot in it.”

“An’ sure I will,” said Phil. Accordingly the ram-rod went down, and the palm of Phil’s heavy hand went round and round until he had secured the top paper.

“Bring it out now,” and he did so, and on arrival of the muzzle it was a dirty looking piece of paper; but, on unfolding it, it proved to be a £100 note!

“Sound again,” I said, and no sooner said than down went the rod, and nine times after this it came up with the same amount — £100 each time, so therefore Phil got with this transaction with the bushrangers £1000 for his £100.

His joy was without bounds. His gratitude to me was as honourable as his joy, and his feelings of being able to return to his native country as an independent man were uncontrollable. — Southern Mail, October, 1893.

E. A. Petherick (editor). Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, William Clowes and Sons, London, 1901, pages 233-236

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