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CAMP-OVEN JACK

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Post  Guest Sun Jan 13, 2013 9:29 am

CAMP-OVEN JACK,

AN EARLY DAY BARRIER INCIDENT.

(From the Barrier Miner.)


Bendigo Bill, with exceedingly great deliberation, lifted his pot of beer from the shanty counter, drank it all at one gulp, placed the pewter back, wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. and spat three times at a huge yellow dog lying asleep under one of the bar forms.
Then he spoke. These were his words : " Boys !" (He paused awhile after the first word, to give the assembled miners time to turn and face him; he commenced again when all were listening.) " Boys ' The widder must be purtected '
No one ventured an opinion on this abstruse point, and Bill continued : " Were all straight, we are, and-and - the widder must be purtected." His tongue rolled round this phrase with extreme unction. "'This 'ere matter of the widder's oven who took it ? That's what we've got to find out. What white-livered skunk so far forgot hisself as to take down a poor widder Eh, what.
A peculiarity of Bill was his termination of a speech. Were he to address a sentence to a dumb man, he could be backed to " Eh, what?" at the end. A pal of his used to say that when Bill was married in Bendigo. in answer to the parson's " Wilt thou have this woman ?" he replied with his usual formula.
Ned White, in answer to Bill's oration, opine" that it was none of them present. " Who sez it was?" retorted Bill. " Did I . No, it wasn't none of us ; but it was some one on this ere field, and we've got to find out who it was. Eh, what? 'Taint the value of the oven," he proceeded ; "'taint its value, it's the principle of the thing. We're mostly honest men on this 'ere field. we are, and we ain't agoin' to let one dodgasted cur ablacken all our characters. Moreover, the widder must be purtected. Eh, what '
A ribald laugh had given cause for the query that time. "What d'ye prepose ."' asked a man who stood with hooked elbows, picking his teeth with a sheath-knife. " I prepose an inquiry. Widder Harton has agreed to give a reward for the man wot discovers him. None of us wants the reward, none of us ; but we wants a clean bill of health, we does. and, by the Holy Lamp, we'll have it! Eh, what.
No one spoke.
An inquiry an a Committee. If we don't catch him, in course we don't. If we does-if we does-"
The probabilities were too enormous for words, and the sentence was uncompleted. A little more talk. and Bill's suggestion was agreed to. The whole field knew the story of the camp-oven. and were almost unanimous in demanding that the " heart"of the affair be, if possible, brought to account. We ain't all angels," remarked a tall, black-bearded American on one occasion; no, not by tarnallong chalks. but if some of us are all-fired rogues we ain't mean-no, by Jupiter, we ain't. Some of us might swindle another man outer a fortune, but cheat a poor lone widdy outer a meastly couple of pounds. not much, by gosh, not much.
These were the sentiments of the majority. Mrs Harton managed a small store in the midst of the tents, in what would now be Argent-street-managed it on salary. Part of her instructions were that no tick was to be given to anyone. Having more faith in human nature than her employer, she some times broke this rule and allowed credit on a promise of payment by a certain date. New arrivals on the scene, who required a few stores and kitchen utensils, were generally the applicants for this favor. Up till the present occasion her generosity had not been abused. The field respected the little woman and helped her. Two months before, however, a miner had obtained on credit a camp-oven, some flour, tea, sugar, &c., giving his word to pay for them by such and such a day. This day had come and gone, and the promise had proved worthless. Mrs Harton could not remember the features of the purchaser, and had forgotten his name. A loss of a couple of pounds she could ill afford, so she complained to several of her customers, and they, with a blunt desire for justice, had moved in the matter. A meeting of the miners was held, and a Committee of Investigation appointed. This Committee was given full power, with the standing of Regulators. Bendigo Bill was appointed "leader." Yankee Joe was an unsuccessful applicant for the position. He had, he said, led a band of Regulators "over in Californy," and had shot his man in a goldfields row. These were his qualifications. The American, in spite of his bluster, was no great favourite on the field ; and the chairman of the meeting in refusing to consider his nomination, remarked that he was a man of peace and didn't love guns. As the chairman was a broadly-built Cornishman, 6ft 2in in height, and had downed every man within 20 miles who had uttered a contrary word to him. The chairman there upon leaned over to Bendigo Bill and whispered that he didn't mind if he did-a drop of the usual, please.
The Committee was allowed a week to make its inquiries. Sunday was the day of the meeting. The last resolution passed was so worded : '' That this Committee report to, a meeting to be held this day week, Christmas Day. If there is nothing to report they shall report, it ; if they find the mean hound that got the oven, they shall produce him for trial,"
Lawyer Steve, an old seaman, framed the resolutions. At the end of three days suspicion pointed towards one man, Jack Blundell, a young Australian from the Queensland side. Blundell was a popular enough man in his way, but one of those men whose presence is " allowed." You are friendly with him be. cause he belongs to your party, or lives near by, but his death would leave no gaping sorrow. Suspicion, however, is not proof, and the Committee had to stay its hand. This delay in itself provided the necessary evidence.
Blundell, when he saw how the land lay. thought the wisest course he could pursue was to take the bull by the horns. A man has often saved his life by walking fearlessly into danger. 'Tis just as the school book used to teach : " If you gently grasp a nettle," &c. Blundell, therefore, acted. He strolled casually into Widow Harton's store. and, after purchasing a fig of tobacco and a red herring, turned the conversation round to the theft of the oven. " What'll you give me if I tell you who got the oven ?"' asked the long-limbed Corn stalk, as he sampled a box of raisins left on the counter. " Do you know !" Tell me," eagerly replied the little storekeeper. " I know-yes. What'll you give me" Blundell was a hard man at a bargain. " I promised a reward, didn't I '" " Yes." " I'll give you 5s worth of stores."
" Done."
"Well, who got the oven ?
Is he still on the field '"
"Yes, oh. yes ! he's still here. In short, I'm him !"
The widow was so taken back at the announcement that she staggered a bit and nearly shook down a roll of twilling from the topmost shelf. Blundell had been a regular cash customer of hers for weeks, and had always appeared so straightforward. However, he now threw down the cash for his old score, and stood by demanding that his reward parcel of groceries be made up. Mechanically the widow got together the stores, and the miner departed. Mulqueen, of the Shamrock claim, was the first man to enter the store after Blundell's exit-Mulqueen, a hot-headed, red. haired Irishman. To him Mrs Harton unburdened herself. " Be th' mim'ry of blissed Saint Pathrick, but th' spalpeen desarves tarrin' and featherin'. Whroo ! An' is it while Mulqueen's on the Committee that he's agoin' to stand by and 'low this sort of thing '" The Irishman waved his right hand grandly and upset and broke a bottle of pickles. " I'll till the rist av us, and we will act," he added.
Bendigo Bill just then passed the door on his way to the pub, and Mulqueen, bursting with his news, rushed out. The whole field by night-time knew of Blundell's crowning act of meanness, and a meeting of the Committee was hastily convened. We have our proof," announced the "leader," rapping the table with his empty pot. " Eh, what !" "We have." chorused the members. "And we must act. The poor widder must be purtected." " She must," droned half a dozen voices. "Give the man a chance." advised Dick Bullocky: "he may be able to give an explanation." Dick had had his impetuosity knocked out of him by the hasty hanging of his mate in Nevada. " In course we'll give him a chance," answered the leader : " in course. No hurry, no botching, no bloomin' errors, but by the Eternal 'Possom of Noora, if he ain't got no explanation, he-he-eh, what ?" "Try him next Sunday," suggested the soldier. who had not yet spoken : "court martial him." The idea was received with acclamation, and it was agreed. Christmas Day the camp was all excitement. Towards 10 o'clock the whole community bent their steps towards Nolan's in front of which was to be held the court. Bendigo Bill, by general accord, was elected judge, officials were chosen, also a dozen jurymen. The court-table was an upended beer barrel, the tablecloth the red cover of a Bulletin. When the court was opened it was found that Blundell had not put in an appearance. A guard was quickly formed to fetch him.
As he would not come peaceably, he was forcibly seized and carried to where the crowd was, and heavily dumped down in front of the beer-barrel. What need to dilate upon the proceedings of that trial ? Are they not yet fresh in the memory of more than a few still working on the field ? A prospector, when a virtuous and indignant fit does strike him. is a paragon. He becomes more a subject for heaven-or a cold douche-than earth. So it was with the judges of Blundell (who preserved a scornful attitude from the start till near the finish). They exaggerated the enormity of his offence, and they talked and harangued so fiercely that one every moment expected the crowd to break out with the old, old cry, " Lynch him ! Lynch him !" But this they did not, a few sober and wise heads keeping the gathering in check. For two hours the court sat ; then it gave its decision : "This court finds the accused. Jack Blundell, guilty of contemptible and cowardly meanness, and orders him to quit the field within two hours." Blundell was staggered by the verdict. He fell on his knees and pleaded for leniency. He had a wife and family in Sydney, he groaned--a starving wife and family. So far he had struck only bad luck, and had no money to go away from the Barrier. Would they give him another chance : He prayed, he implored, he grovelled--until men felt inclined to kick him for his want of man hood. The court reconsidered its decision and remitted the expulsion order. From that day, however, there was no such person as Jack Blundell; as "Camp-oven Jack" the man was known by everyone, and the name stuck until he left the field. When he went West he bore the same name. When he dies his mates will mourn him only as " Camp-over Jack."

Kalgoorlie Western Argus
January 1897
http://newspapers.nla.gov.au/


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Post  piston broke Sun Jan 13, 2013 12:34 pm

Good story, thanks for sharing Very Happy cheers Pete.
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Post  Guest Sun Jan 13, 2013 3:22 pm

Thank's Pete yep i just love them yarns. cheers mate

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