His life and books
In the summer of 1884 Nat Gould took the train to London, and after spending a few days with a friend in Croydon, he sailed on 23 July 1884 from Gravesend to Australia on the Orient Line steamship Liguria (1).
The voyage is described in the opening chapter of in his book Town and Bush: Stray Notes on Australia published in 1896, and included a call at Plymouth. Gravesend is not mentioned there as being the starting point, but instead Nat describes his feelings on seeing “the green fields of Plymouth” receding into the distance. Plymouth would be the last he would see of England for eleven years as he set out on his long voyage to Australia.
His old wildness returned and Nat Gould soon found like-minded boisterous company. “Some of the first-salooners put on a good deal of side, but we gradually levelled them down. There was a select band of practical jokers on board, and they are difficult to suppress.” Nat gleefully recounts that they collected the boots put outside first-class cabin doors for cleaning and then soaked them in a bath of salt water (2). On the positive side however, Nat includes descriptions of sights they saw on the voyage, including an eruption of Vesuvius during their call at Naples, a moonlight adventure at Ismailia, a dreadful passage through the Red Sea with three funerals, a picnic on the isle of Diego Garcia, and finally a lonely arrival at the Sydney quay, where Nat immediately and strangely felt at home. It was September 1884.
He found a modest lodging, where he was troubled by mosquitoes. Next morning he went around Sydney looking for work. In Magic of Sport, Nat baldly tells us that he wrote a letter in answer to an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for a chief reporter on the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper. But in his earlier book he had written in Town and Bush how his best friend on the voyage from England had been a man called Lewis John Lohr, who had been working for several years on sugar plantations and was later connected with the theatre. They shared lodgings, and it was Lohr that had brought the advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald to Nat’s notice.
Eventually a reply came from a George Woolnough, who interviewed Nat and asked what sort of press work he could do. “Any kind”, Nat boldly replied, “from the description of a hanging to the compressing of a long sermon”. Woolnough smiled wryly, for he was a clergyman! Questioning him closely, Nat’s credentials were examined and found satisfactory. He got the job. Woolnough wished him well, but (significantly) expressed the hope that he was not too fond of jovial pleasures.
His new friend Lohr happened to be sailing north that afternoon on the SS Leura, so Nat immediately booked a passage on the same ship as far as Brisbane. They nearly missed the sailing because of having “just one more” with agreeable Sydney friends. Another inauspicious start!
(1) In the National Library of Australia there is preserved the actual ticket of Nat Gould for the voyage from Gravesend to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, departing 23 July 1884 on the Orient Line Steamship Liguria; together with a list of passengers and a log of the voyage.
(2) The Magic of Sport page 119.