Interview with a returned Westralian: Interesting chat with Mr. E. G. Murphy [17 September 1899]

[Editor: An interview with “Dryblower” Murphy, published in The West Australian Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 17 September 1899.]

Interview with a returned Westralian.

Interesting chat with Mr. E. G. Murphy.

About Westralians in London — London Stock Exchange tactics — Westralians at Klondyke — The De Rougemont exposure.

The Great Arctic and Antarctic Explorers; meets and chats with both — The British Expansion Theory.

Dreyfus — The Federal feeling at Home.

Mr. E. G. Murphy, who was connected with mining and journalism on the goldfields when they were both in their infancy, and who made a “pounch” by means of the former, has just returned from England, where he has been spending the last four years, mostly in the metropolis. Prospecting to promoting are circumstances not very wide apart, but it is rare indeed that the same individual attempts, much less succeeds, in carrying both through. Mr. Murphy has done both, with some success. But it was not perhaps so much of his mining knowledge that we sought out this gentleman on hearing of his return, more maybe for the sake of his wide knowledge of men and other things. But to make this introduction clearer to old goldfielders of the bob-a-gallon days we may remark that the subject of our interview is “Dryblower,” the poet laureate of the early days, whose versified and diversified writings in the early goldfields press, and whose contributions to the “Bulletin” were so eagerly looked for. Having discovered our prey, we endeavored to extract in the smallest space of time the greatest bulk of information.

“Glad to see you back, Mr. Dryblower.”

“I can’t say that I am displeased myself at the circumstance, for let me assure you forthwith that there are many golden kings, princes, and dukes, who made ‘rises’ in the good days, who are now absolutely stranded in the Big Smoke, and who would be glad of the opportunity of returning to the West to search for another lift.”

“Quite a colony of Westralians exists in London, I understand?”

“Quite; and unlike an ordinary community, among these mining exiles there is absolutely no organisation or esprit de corps by means of which they might successfully steer through London sharkdom.”

“And are there cases where men from other parts of the world have that advantage?”

“Yes; in the case of men from South Africa there are top-notch houses in London whose chief interests are focussed in Kaffir Land, and whose principals are always ready — for a consideration — to advise, guide, and generally help the stranger who has something good in his valise. The want of backing is felt very severely by Westralians in London; also by Australians generally.”

“And how is a newcomer treated that is a man who is known in the mining world?”

“The appearance in Throgmorton-street of a well-informed man from ‘down under’ is the signal for the mobilisation of the insidious forces of Bull, Bear and Co., who naturally resent the appearance of a probably successful tipster amongst their clients. A new-comer may possibly manage to hold his own for a certain time, but sheer force of numbers, combined with capital generally hammers him flat, and the colony of dry-lemons receives a further addition.”

“But are there not certain clubs in London, the members of which are almost exclusively Australian, and many of them men of wealth and influence?”

“Most decidedly; but for the most part they are fossilised greybeards of the wool-and-mutton variety, who gaze down from their respectable pinnacles upon the Anglo-Australian mining speculator as something to be avoided, likening him to the rocket-stick, which eventually shares in the general extinction and the dull sickening thud.”

“Is there any reason for this disinclination to assist the struggling Australian exile?”

“Most certainly there is. You see, almost every Australian came over in the earlier time with the taste of his send-off champagne scarcely gone off his palate, and the ‘jolly-good-fellow’ chorus still ringing in his ears, and lumping these together with his farewell notices, etc., he usually arrived with a colossal stock of self-assurance and a pre-conceived notion of the gullibility of London generally and the Stock Exchange in particular.”

“With what result?”

“With the result that the unwinding process took so long that experience came too late, and the winder, as a rule, collapsed under the set-back.”

“Do you suggest that London finance could do with a little soap and water?”

“Most certainly; and the most lavish use of financial disinfectant would be necessary to quell the odour which still clings to the sty of Guinea Pig and Co., although the Hooley disclosures have done some service in that respect.”

“I suppose Klondyke attracted a great deal of attention in London?”

“To a moderate degree only: for the amount of English capital which has been sent there does not count for much. The speculator was clever enough to see that in placer mining the odds against the gold reaching its absentee owner were a trifle steep. A number of Westralians went over, amongst them Harry Cecil, Sailor Bill Partridge, Archie Smith, and others of the rag-tag and bobtail variety which infested the Coolgardie goldfields in the early days.”

“With what success?”

“None whatever in the clean-up. They found the best ground staked, and instead of going further afield they rushed back to London with quartz leases, real or alleged, up their sleeves, the same being named for the greater part ‘Mother Lode,’ ‘Source of Gold,’ etc. John Bull received them politely, listened to their golden eloquence, and as graciously bowed them out across the door mat. By the way, a story: A Westralian was sent to the African Gold Coast to report on a big concession. On his return he had recourse to a mining journalist to write his report, and carefully instructed him to mention a big quartz blow which existed on the concession, the same being 400ft. high! Next day the journalist inquired the width of the outcrop. Said the expert, ‘Same width as the reef — about 4 or 5 feet.’ ‘Resembles a sheet of paper on edge,’ remarked the scribe. ‘Well, said the expert, ‘knock a few hundred feet off it, if you like.’ ‘Very good; I will take care to knock it off so that it will fall upon the side nearest the battery; save trucking, you know.’”

“Did the report go down?”

“Yes; and the expert with it.”

“As to yourself, Mr. Dryblower, and your transition from a company promoter to London journalism?”

“The two are very closely connected in the world’s metropolis. For instance, it was my knowledge of Australia that made me the instrument — well paid, I may mention — by which the arch-liar, De Rougemont, was pilloried. Still, while the controversy was in full blast, when pros and cons were being hotly discussed by such eminent opposites as Carr-Boyd and Mick Cosgrove, the awful hair-raising experiences of men who had NOT published what they had gone through in the bush, incited listeners to the thought that if there were but one De Rougemont there were many colorable imitations.”

“Did you meet De Rougemont, personally?”

“Many times. As a matter of fact, after helping to demolish him, I felt sorry (of course being well paid again for my grief), and acting as his special representative, I took him on a lecturing tour as a living (not lying) curiosity. The whole thing is this, Grien — that is his right name — filched the bulk of his yarn out of a sixteenth century book in an old museum in Switzerland, which dealt with the savage aborigines of South America, and which he altered to suit.”

“Did you meet many other well-known men in your travels?”

“Yes, many. Among them Kipling, for a hand shake at Euston station, London; Mark Twain, for an argument on the Australian in general and his ‘slanguage’ in particular. Two celebrities with whom I had the pleasure of a chat were Dr. Nansen, the arctic explorer, and Borchgrevinc, who is now seeking the South Pole.”

“How did they strike you?”

“Well, after sitting at a Savage Club dinner with the former and putting in a whole day with the latter, I was surprised muchly. Considering that the one great aim of the two men has been, and is, the welding of north and south by means of the exploration of hitherto unknown lands and seas, the apparent difference in the mental compositions of the two is remarkable. Nansen, a blue-eyed dreamer, an idealist, a poet who hears the wild harp of Nature in the whistling wind; an artist who sees in the Aurora Borealis the palette of the Omnipotent, but at the same time a dreaming giant with the strength of an ox, the courage of a she-bear, a nerve of steel, and a decent brand of morality which has been handed down to him “right side up with care” from his sturdy and puritanical forefathers. And Borchgrevinc — strong, reserved, and pushful — seeing no beauty in the stars except for his ship’s guidance, more engrossed in the question of his sleigh-dog food than the contemplation of the expected finds of rare animal life at the South Pole, still an ideal explorer, brave, indomitable, even-tempered, and passionately attached to dumb animals, a man who looks upon the consummation of his great life-work as an athlete regards the last lap in a potato race. One story from Borchgrevinc: He engaged two Lapland Finns to look after the sleigh dogs, and one day at London Docks he was startled by a request from some ladies for a view of his strange dogs. He showed them. The ladies, however, were evidently disappointed, and asked where the other dogs were — the dogs with the fins! Another celebrity. I met him in the Tower of London, and interested him with stories of the Australian blacks, and was invited, if ever I chanced to be passing from the Cape to Cairo to call at his place and he would show me some untamed savages. He was Cecil Rhodes, map maker, empire-builder, and the most reviled and best respected man in the Queen’s ‘out-door employ.’

“Speaking of the expansion of the British Empire, what is the feeling amongst the Home folk?”

“The man in the street is for it. The Anglo-Saxon has discovered in Rhodes and Kitchener men who have worked and sweated for a certain something, and the Anglo-Saxon, as represented by the present Government, mean to hang on to the thick end of that something with a very very firm clutch.”

“Kipling represents the Imperialsts of course?”

“Yes; and so does Piper Findlater, of Dargai fame. The tune he played in that battle muffled the sound of John Bull’s large and comprehensive fist as it fell on the territory he was grabbing.”

“Concerning the Dreyfus case, what is the general sentiment in England?”

“In the Press, as you yourself have seen, the warm-hearted pity felt for the accused is only equalled by the loathing and contempt with which the administrators of France are regarded. But, nevertheless, while the test matches were on in England, the ‘Affaire’ became, temporarily, a back number.”

“About federation?”

“Rather a long-winded subject, I am afraid; but the unanimous voice of the great B.P. is that the colonies should be welded in one single-collar composite whole. And the success which has attended similar historical movements in the case of the German Empire, the United States, and the Canadian Dominion are frequently pointed to as worth of emulation, besides which it appeals to them as helping forward the greater cohesion of the scattered British Empire. According to the leading writers at Home, a federated Australia, which would be in a position once and for all to get on its own hind legs, and shout for what it wanted with one great comprehensive voice would be much better than the discordant piping of an out-of-tune organ, as represented in the existing divisions.”

“As to your future movements?”

“I intend to continue a dolce far niente so delightfully begun on the voyage from Liverpool on the s.s. Medic, and then run around the fields for a time until I have completed the business which has brought me back to the West.”

The West Australian Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 17 September 1899, p. 8

Editor’s notes:
B.P. = British People

dolce far niente = (Italian) “pleasant idleness”, or “sweet idleness” (literally, “sweet doing nothing”)

esprit de corps = (French) “spirit of the group”; a feeling of group consciousness and pride shared by members of a group, which inspires devotion, enthusiasm and loyalty, especially applied to members of a military unit

Kaffir Land = (also known as “Kaffraria”) the lands of the Xhosa people, situated on the east coast of South Africa (the term “Kaffir” was used in the 1800s to refer to the Xhosa; however, it later became predominantly used in a negative sense, and was used to refer to African blacks in general)
See: 1) James Stuart Olson and Robert Shadle (editors), Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, vol. 1, Greenwood Press, Westport (Connecticut), 1996, pages 187-188
2) James Stuart Olson and Robert Shadle (editors), Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, vol. 2, Greenwood Press, Westport (Connecticut), 1996, page 615
3) “British Kaffraria”, Wikipedia (accessed 25 January 2014)

pounch = [unknown] [a mistake, or an older spelling of “pouch”?]

[Editor: Corrected “amomg these” to “among these”, “collossal” to “colossal”; “pillioried” to “pilloried”; “cluch” to “clutch”; “Dreysus” to “Dreyfus”.]

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