RULES OF THUMB
This chapter has been headed as above because a number of the rules
and recipes given are simply practical expedients, not too closely
scientific. My endeavour has been to supply practical and useful
information in language as free from technicalities as possible, so as
to adapt it to the ordinary miner, mill operator and prospector, many
of whom have had no scientific training. Some of the expedients are
original devices educed by what we are told is the mother of inventions;
others are hints given by practical old prospectors who had met with
difficulties which would be the despair of a man brought up within reach
of forge, foundry, machine shop, or tradesmen generally. There are many
highly ingenious and useful contrivances besides these I have given.
The health of the prospector, especially in a new country, depends
largely on his housing—in which particular many men are foolishly
careless, for although they are aware that they will be camped out for
long periods, yet all the shelter they rely on is a miserable calico
tent, often without a "fly," while in some cases they sometimes even
sleep on the wet, or dusty, ground. Such persons fully deserve the ill
health which sooner or later overtakes them. A little forethought and
very moderate ingenuity would render their camp comparatively healthy
In summer the tent is the hottest, and in winter the coldest of
domiciles. The "pizie" or "adobie" hut, or, where practicable, the
"dugout," are much to be preferred, especially the latter. "Pizie" or
"adobie" is simply surface soil kneaded with water and either moulded
between boards like concrete, to construct the walls, or made into large
sun-dried bricks. Salt water should not be used, as it causes the wall
to be affected by every change of weather. A properly constructed house
of this material, where the walls are protected by overhanging eaves,
are practically everlasting, and the former have been standing for
centuries. There are buildings of pizie or adobie in Mexico, California
and Australia which are as good as new, although the latter were built
nearly a century ago.
Adobie dwellings are warm in winter and cool in summer, and can be kept
clean and healthy by occasional coatings of lime whitewash.
The dugout is even more simple in construction. A cutting, say ten feet
wide, is put into the base of a hill for say twelve feet until the back
wall is, say, ten feet high, the sides starting from nothing to that
height. The front and such portion as is required of the side walls are
next constructed of pizie or rough stone, with mud mortar, and the roof
either gabled or skillion of bough, grass, or reed thatch, and covered
with pizie, over which is sometimes put another thin layer of thatch to
prevent the pizie being washed away by heavy rain. Nothing can be more
snug and comfortable than such a house, unless the cows, as Mark Twain
narrates, make things "monotonous" by persistently tumbling down the
When the Burra copper mines were in full work in Australia, the banks of
the Burra Creek were honeycombed like a rabbit warren with the "dugout
homes" of the Cornish miners. The ruins of these old dugouts now extend
for miles, and look something like an uncovered Pompeii.
When water is scarce and the tent has to be retained, much can be done
to make the camp snug. I occupied a very comfortable camp once, of which
my then partner, a Dane, was the architect. We called it "The Bungalow,"
and it was constructed as follows: First we set up our tent, 10 ft. by
8 ft., formed of calico, but lined with green baize, and covered with a
well set fly.
Next we put in four substantial forked posts about 10 ft. high and 15
ft. apart, with securely fixed cross pieces, and on the top was laid a
rough flat roof of brush thatch; the sides were then treated in the same
way, but not so thickly, being merely intended as a breakwind.
The tent with its two comfortable bunks was placed a little to one side,
the remaining space being used as a dining and sitting room all through
the summer. Except in occasional seasons of heavy rain, when we were
saved the trouble of washing our dishes, the tent was only used for
sleeping purposes, and as a storehouse for clothes and perishable
provisions. I have "dwelt in marble halls" since then, but never was
food sweeter or sleep sounder than in the old bush bungalow.
A BUSH BED
To make a comfortable bush bedplace, take four forked posts about 3 ft.
6 in. long and 2 to 3 in. in diameter at the top; mark out your bedplace
accurately and put a post at each corner, about 1 ft. in the ground.
Take two poles about 7 ft. long, and having procured two strong
five-bushel corn sacks, cut holes in the bottom corners, put the poles
through, bringing the mouths of the sacks together, and secure them
there with a strong stitch or two. Put your poles on the upright forked
sticks, and you have a couch that even Sancho Panza would have envied.
It is as well to fix stretchers or cross stays between the posts at head
In malarial countries, sleeping on the ground is distinctly dangerous,
and as such districts are usually thickly timbered, the Northern
Territory hammock is an admirable device, more particularly where
NORTHERN TERRITORY HAMMOCK
This hammock, which is almost a standing bedplace when rigged, is
constructed as follows:—To a piece of strong canvas 7 feet long and 2
1/2 feet wide, put a broad hem, say 3 1/2 inches wide at each end. Into
this hem run a rough stick, about 2 feet 8 inches by 2 inches diameter.
Round the centre of the stick pass a piece of strong three-quarter inch
rope, 8 to 10 feet long and knot it, so as to leave a short end in
which a metal eye is inserted. To each end of the two sticks a piece of
quarter-inch lashing, about 6 feet long, is securely attached.
To make the mosquito covering take 18 feet of ordinary strong cheese
cloth, and two pieces of strong calico of the same size as the canvas
bed; put hems in the ends of the upper one large enough to take
half-inch sticks, to all four extremities of which 8 feet of whipcord is
to be attached. The calico forms the top and bottom of what we used to
call the "meat safe," the sides being of cheese cloth. A small, flapped
opening is left on the lower side. When once inside you are quite safe
from mosquito bites.
To rig the above, two trees are chosen 7 to 8 feet apart, or two stayed
poles can be erected if no trees are available. The bed is rigged about
3 feet from the ground by taking the rope round the trees or poles, and
pulling the canvas taut by means of the metal eyelet. Then the lashings
at the extremities of the sticks are fixed about 3 feet further up the
trees and you have a bed something between a hammock and a standing bed.
The mosquito net is fixed above the hammock in a similar manner, except
that it does not require the centre stay.
An old friend of mine once had a rather startling experience which
caused him to swear by the Northern Territory hammock. He was camped
near the banks of a muddy creek on the Daly River, and had fortunately
hung his "meat safe" about four feet high. The night was very dark, and
some hours after retiring he heard a crash among his tin camp utensils,
and the noise of some animal moving below him. Thinking his visitor was
a stray "dingo," or wild dog, he gave a yell to frighten the brute away,
and hearing it go, he calmly went to sleep again. Had he known who his
caller really was, he would not have felt so comfortable. In the
morning on the damp ground below, he found the tracks of a fourteen foot
alligator, which was also out prospecting, but which, fortunately, had
not thought of investigating the "meat safe."
There is not a more fertile disease distributor, particularly in a new
country, than water. The uninitiated generally take it for granted that
so long as water looks clear it is necessarily pure and wholesome; as
a matter of fact the contrary is more usually the case, except in very
well watered countries, and such, as a rule, are not those in which gold
is most plentifully got by the average prospector. I have seen foolish
fellows, who were parched with a long tramp, drink water in quantity in
which living organisms could be seen with the naked eye, without taking
even the ordinary precaution of straining it through a piece of linen.
If they contracted hydatids, typhoid fever, or other ailments, which
thin our mining camps of the strong, lusty, careless youths, who could
The best of all means of purifying water from organic substances is to
boil it. If it be very bad, add carbon in the form of the charcoal from
your camp fire. If it be thick, you may, with advantage, add a little of
the ash also.
I once rode forty-five miles with nearly beaten horses to a native
well, or rock hole, to find water, the next stage being over fifty miles
further. The well was found, but the water in it was very bad; for in
it was the body of a dead kangaroo which had apparently been there for
weeks. The wretched horses, half frantic with thirst, did manage to
drink a few mouthfuls, but we could not. I filled our largest billycan,
holding about a gallon, slung it over the fire and added, as the wood
burnt down, charcoal, till the top was covered to a depth of two
inches. With the charcoal there was, of course, a little ash containing
bi-carbonate of potassium. The effect was marvellous. So soon as the
horrible soup came to the boil, the impurities coagulated, and after
keeping it at boiling temperature for about half an hour, it was removed
from the fire, the cinders skimmed out, and the water allowed to settle,
which it did very quickly. It was then decanted off into an ordinary
prospector's pan, and some used to make tea (the flavour of which can be
better imagined than described); the remainder was allowed to stand
all night, a few pieces of charcoal being added. In the morning it was
bright, clear, and absolutely sweet. This experience is worth knowing
as many a bad attack of typhoid and other fevers would be averted if
practical precautions of this kind were only used.
TO OBTAIN WATER FROM ROOTS
The greatest necessity of animal life is water. There are, however,
vast areas of the earth's surface where this most precious element is
lamentably lacking, and such, unfortunately, is the case in many rich
To the practical man there are many indications of water. These, of
course, vary in different countries. Sometimes it is the herbage, but
probably, the best of all is the presence of carnivorous animals and
birds. These are never found far from water. In Australia the not
over-loved wily old crow is a pretty sure indicator of water within
reasonable distance—water may be extracted from the roots of the Mallee
(Eucalyptus dumosa and gracilis)—the Box (Eucalyptus hemiphloia)
and the Water Bush (Hakea leucoptera). To extract it the roots are dug
up, cut into lengths of about a foot, and placed upright in a can; the
lower ends being a few inches above the bottom. It is simply astonishing
how much wholesome, if at times somewhat astringent, water may thus be
obtained in a few hours, particularly at night.
Hakea leucoptera. "Pins and needles."—Maiden, in his work "Useful
Native Plants of Australia," says: "In an experiment on a water-yielding
Hakea, the first root, about half an inch in diameter and six or eight
feet long, yielded quickly, and in large drops about a wine-glass full
of really excellent water."
This valuable, though not particularly ornamental shrub (for it never
attains to the dimensions of a tree), is found, to the best of my
belief, in all parts of Australia, although it is said to be absent from
West Australia. As to this I don't feel quite sure. I have seen it "from
the centre of the sea" as far west as Streaky Bay, and believe I have
seen it further West still. Considering the great similarity of much of
the flora of South Africa to that of Australia, it is probable that
some species of the water-bearing Hakea might be found there. It can
readily be recognised by its acicular, needle-like leaves, and more
particularly by its peculiarly shaped seed vessel, which resembles the
pattern on an old-fashioned Indian shawl.
If the water found is too impure for drinking purposes and the
trouble arises from visible animalculae only, straining through a
pocket-handkerchief is better than nothing; the carbon filter is better
still; but nothing is so effective as boiling. A carbon filter is a tube
with a wad of compressed carbon inserted, through which the water is
sucked, but as a rule clay-coloured water is comparatively innocuous,
but beware of the bright, limpid water of long stagnant rock
TO MAKE AN EFFECTIVE FILTER
Take a nail-can, keg, cask, or any other vessel, or even an ordinary
wooden case (well tarred inside, if possible, to make it water-tight).
Make a hole or several holes in the bottom, and set it over a tank or
bucket. Into the bottom of the filter put (1) a few inches of washed
broken stone; (2) about four inches of charcoal; (3) say three inches
of clean coarse sand (if not to hand you can manufacture it by crushing
quartz with your pestle and mortar), and (4) alternate layers of
charcoal and sand until the vessel is half filled. Fill the top half
with water, and renew from time to time, and you have a filter which is
as effective as the best London made article. But it is better to boil
your water whether you filter afterwards or not.
Clear the inside of the water-cask frequently, and occasionally add
to the water a little Condy's fluid, as it destroys organic matter. A
useful cement for stopping leaky places in casks is made as follows:
Tallow 25 parts, lard 40 parts, sifted wood ash 25 parts. Mix together
by heating, and apply with a knife blade which has just been heated.
CANVAS WATER BAGS
Are easily made, and are very handy for carrying small supplies
of drinking-water when prospecting in a dry country; they have the
advantage of keeping the water cool in the hottest weather, by reason on
the evaporation. The mouthpiece is made of the neck of a bottle securely
Medicine is also a matter well worthy of thought. The author's worst
enemy would not call him a mollycoddle, yet he has never travelled in
far wilds without carrying something in the way of medicine. First,
then, on this subject, it cannot be too often reiterated that if common
Epsom salts were a guinea an ounce instead of a penny the medicine
would be valued accordingly, but it is somewhat bulky. What I especially
recommend, however, is a small pocket-case of the more commonly known
homeopathic remedies, "Mother tinctures," which are small, light, and
portable, with a small simple book of instructions. Though generally
an allopath in practice, I once saved my own life, and have certainly
helped others by a little knowledge in diagnosing complaints and having
simple homeopathic remedies at hand to be used in the first stages of
what might otherwise have been serious illnesses.
Every one has heard, and most believe, that fire may be easily produced
by rubbing together two pieces of wood. I have seen it done by natives,
but they seldom make use of the operation, which is generally laborious,
preferring to carry lighted fire sticks for miles. I have never
succeeded in the experiment.
Sometimes, however, it is almost a matter of life or death to be able to
produce fire. The back of a pocket knife, or an old file with a fragment
of flint, quartz, or pyrites struck smartly together over the remains of
a burnt piece of calico, will in deft hands produce a spark which can be
fanned to a glow, and so ignite other material, till a fire is produced.
Also it may not be generally known that he who carries a watch carries
a "burning glass" with which he can, in clear weather, produce fire
at will. All that is required is to remove the glass of your watch and
carefully three parts fill it with water (salt or fresh). This forms
a lens which, held steadily, will easily ignite any light, dry,
When firearms are carried, cut a cartridge so that only about a quarter
of the charge of powder remains. Damp some powder and rub it on a small
piece of dry cotton cloth or well-rubbed brown paper. Push a loose
pellet of this into the barrel, insert your half cartridge, fire at the
ground, when the wad will readily ignite, and can be blown into flame.
TO COPY CORRESPONDENCE
The prospector is not usually a business man; hence in dealing with
business men who, like Hamlet, are "indifferent honest," he frequently
comes to grief through not having a copy of his correspondence. It is
most desirable, therefore, either to carry a carbon paper duplicating
book and a stylus, or by adding a little sugar to good ordinary black
ink you may make a copying ink; then with the aid of a "yellow back"
octavo novel, two pieces of board, and some ordinary tissue paper, you
may take a copy of any letter you send.
TO PROVIDE A SIMPLE TELEGRAPHIC CODE
Buy a couple of cheap small dictionaries of the same edition, send one
to your correspondent with an intimation that he is to read up or down
so many words from the one indicated when receiving a message. Thus,
if I want to say "Claim is looking well," I take a shilling dictionary,
send a copy to my correspondent with the intimation that the real word
is seven down, and telegraph—"Civilian looking weird;" this, if looked
up in Worcester's little pocket dictionary, for instance, will read
"Claim looking well." Any dictionary will do, so long as both parties
have a copy and understand which is the right word. By arrangement this
plan can be varied from time to time if you have any idea that your code
can be read by others.
A SERVICEABLE SOAP
Wood ashes from the camp fire are boiled from day to day in a small
quantity of water, and allowed to settle, the clear liquid being
decanted off. When the required quantity of weak lye has been
accumulated, evaporate by boiling, till a sufficient degree of strength
has been obtained. Now melt down some mutton fat, and, while hot, add to
the boiling lye. Continue boiling and stirring till the mixture is about
the consistency of thick porridge, pour into any convenient flat vessel,
and let it stand till cool. If you have any resin in store, a little
powdered and added gradually to the melting tallow, before mixing with
the lye, will stiffen your soap.
TO CROSS A FLOODED STREAM
Take a half-gallon, or larger, tin "billy can," enclose it in a strong
cotton handkerchief or cotton cloth, knotting same over the lid, invert,
and, taking the knot in the hand, you have a floating appliance which
will sustain you in any water, whether you are a swimmer or not. The
high silk hat of civilisation would act as well as the can, but these
are not usually found far afield.
TO MAKE A HIDE BUCKET
At times when prospecting in an "incline" or "underlay" shaft,
particularly where the walls of the lode are irregular, a hide bucket
will be found preferable to an iron one. The mode of manufacture is as
follows: Procure an ox hide, "green," if possible; if dry, it should
be soaked until quite soft. Cut some thin strips of hide for sewing or
lacing. Now shape a bag or pocket of size sufficient to hold about
a hundredweight of stone, and by puncturing the edges with a knife,
marline-spike, or other pointed tool, sew together; make a handle of
twisted or pleated hide, and having filled your bucket with dry sand or
earth let it stand till the whole is quite dry, when it will be properly
distended and will maintain its shape until worn out.
TO MAKE A "SLUSH LAMP"
Where candles are scarce and kerosine is not, a "slush lamp" is a useful
substitute. Take an old but sound quart tin pannikin, half fill it with
sand or earth, and prepare a thin stick of pine, round which wrap a
strip of soft cotton cloth. The stick should be about half an inch
longer than the depth of the pannikin. Melt some waste fat, fill the
pannikin therewith, push the stick down into the earth at the
bottom, and you have a light, which, if not equal to the electric or
incandescent gas burner, is quite serviceable. In Australia the soft
velvety core of the "bottle brush," Banksia marginata, is often used
instead of the cotton wick.