The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales HTML version

Elias B. Hopkins, The Parson Of Jackman's Gulch
He was known in the Gulch as the Reverend Elias B. Hopkins, but it was generally
understood that the title was an honorary one, extorted by his many eminent qualities, and
not borne out by any legal claim which he could adduce. "The Parson" was another of his
sobriquets, which was sufficiently distinctive in a land where the flock was scattered and
the shepherds few. To do him justice, he never pretended to have received any
preliminary training for the ministry, or any orthodox qualification to practise it. "We're
all working in the claim of the Lord," he remarked one day, "and it don't matter a cent
whether we're hired for the job or whether we waltzes in on our own account," a piece of
rough imagery which appealed directly to the instincts of Jackman's Gulch. It is quite
certain that during the first few months his presence had a marked effect in diminishing
the excessive use both of strong drinks and of stronger adjectives which had been
characteristic of the little mining settlement. Under his tuition, men began to understand
that the resources of their native language were less limited than they had supposed, and
that it was possible to convey their impressions with accuracy without the aid of a gaudy
halo of profanity.
We were certainly in need of a regenerator at Jackman's Gulch about the beginning of
'53. Times were flush then over the whole colony, but nowhere flusher than there. Our
material prosperity had had a bad effect upon our morals. The camp was a small one,
lying rather better than a hundred and twenty miles to the north of Ballarat, at a spot
where a mountain torrent finds its way down a rugged ravine on its way to join the
Arrowsmith River. History does not relate who the original Jackman may have been, but
at the time I speak of the camp it contained a hundred or so adults, many of whom were
men who had sought an asylum there after making more civilised mining centres too hot
to hold them. They were a rough, murderous crew, hardly leavened by the few
respectable members of society who were scattered among them.
Communication between Jackman's Gulch and the outside world was difficult and
uncertain. A portion of the bush between it and Ballarat was infested by a redoubtable
outlaw named Conky Jim, who, with a small band as desperate as himself, made
travelling a dangerous matter. It was customary, therefore, at the Gulch, to store up the
dust and nuggets obtained from the mines in a special store, each man's share being
placed in a separate bag on which his name was marked. A trusty man, named Woburn,
was deputed to watch over this primitive bank. When the amount deposited became
considerable, a waggon was hired, and the whole treasure was conveyed to Ballarat,
guarded by the police and by a certain number of miners, who took it in turn to perform
the office. Once in Ballarat, it was forwarded on to Melbourne by the regular gold
waggons. By this plan the gold was often kept for months in the Gulch before being
despatched, but Conky Jim was effectually checkmated, as the escort party were far too
strong for him and his gang. He appeared, at the time of which I write, to have forsaken
his haunts in disgust, and the road could be traversed by small parties with impunity.