Will Jones and the Blue Dog by Greg Barron
In Gorgonzola Hall, in London Town, Reginald Sutton watched the chalkboards in that maniacal room, where jobbers scrambled, brokers shouted to be heard above the din, and the faces of men showed despair or triumph depending on the proceeds of the day. It was a strange leveller, the stock exchange, where Rothschilds rubbed shoulders with Whitechapel scrappers who had worked themselves out of the gutter and stayed out only by the progress of trade from day to day.
‘Lyver Hills Mining Company, the latest thing from the colony of Queensland,’ shouted a jobber in a high voice that rose above the chaos. ‘Eight shillin’s a share, for a total market capitalisation of one million pounds.’
Reginald was feeling pleased with the progress of the float so far. Subscriptions had opened some nine days earlier, and the offices of Grace, Quinn and Donald at Cheapside had been busy with a tide of mail-in requests and small investors arriving in person. Mining companies were hot property on the London Stock Exchange, and the Australian colonies were seen as ‘safe’ options compared to the likes of Argentina or Mexico.
Shouts of ‘Buy ten thousand at four-fifths, and ‘three thousand at par,’ filled the room, and Reginald watched as the remaining, unsubscribed shares sold off, and the real trade began—some early buyers taking a profit by releasing some shares back on to the market.
This started to drive up the price—ten shillings, then fourteen. By dinner time the shares were nudging eighteen shillings and now came the time in which Reginald had to use every ounce of his experience and instinct.
He walked up to a broker he used, not from his own firm, and whispered in his ear. In so doing he released a block of fifty thousand shares that were registered in his own name. These were snapped up, with no shortage of buyers calling for ten or even twenty thousand.
And through that afternoon’s trade, Lyver Hills Mining Company shares were the most sought-after issue at the exchange, with buy orders going unfulfilled and the price rising so steadily that Reginald took a gamble and waited until nearly four pm to start releasing the rest of the shares held in his own name and that of his brother Henry.
The influx told on the price, and by the time the market closed the price had dropped back down to fifteen shillings. It didn’t matter. Brothers Reginald and Henry Sutton had made a profit of more than a hundred thousand pounds each, all for the relatively modest investment of around ten thousand, and two years of work.
A hundred thousand pounds was enough for a man to live a life of relative luxury without an iota of work, for the rest of his life. It was enough to buy twenty or thirty houses and live off the rent. More exciting still, it was enough to provide serious investment clout, and to offer opportunities to make more money still.
Reginald could scarcely contain himself on the way to the telegraph office, whistling and swinging his umbrella lustily. Then, breezily fronting the clerk, he took the proffered pad of paper. He wrote:
DEAR BROTHER SUCCESS IS OURS STOP ALL SHARES SOLD CONGRATULATIONS TO US BOTH STOP RICH REWARDS FOR HARD WORK AND PLANNING ENDS
The telegram paid for, and flashing its way across the world to Clermont, Queensland, Reginald hailed a hansom cab and sat up behind the driver.
‘Where to, fine sir?’ asked the driver.
‘Wiltons in Saint James,’ replied Reginald. It was one of London’s oldest and most expensive restaurants. He’d had the foresight, and confidence, to book a table for he and some of his best friends, for the celebration he’d hoped to have. One of those friends, a senior clerk at Barings, had a daughter, just turned nineteen, who would be a fine adornment if he could only turn her head. Being a very rich man, still with relative youth, was a good start.
Far away, in Queensland, on the very diggings that had just been the subject of that frenzy on the Stock Exchange, Jim was responding to rest and good food, regaining his good humour and vitality.
Will calculated that Jim had ridden more than a thousand miles in thirteen days, eating only bush tucker on the way. He was permitted no work, in those early days, and Will and the others listened breathlessly to his stories of Tom Brody, the death of Long Douglas, and the shooting that made his return so painful.
Within a week, however, the scar on Jim’s gut had fully closed, and he had gained a little weight. His attitude to the mining work had not changed, and he would not set foot underground, but he was happy to assist Sam with the garden, and cart spoil ready for loading.
‘So long as the sun is on my shoulders I’m happy,’ said Jim. ‘But I won’t crawl in the earth like a snake, no matter how much I earn for doin’ it.’
One day there came a rider into the diggings, on a horse still frothing from the gallop. Will had just been to the mine office to collect the weekly cheque from Henry Sutton, and he could tell at a glance that the manager was watching and waiting for someone, glancing constantly out the window.
They were both out the front, their business complete when the rider came, and Will watched as Henry strode out to meet him, taking a white envelope from the man’s hands. He wasted no time in tearing the envelope open and reading the message, then throwing his hat in the air and giving a shout of excitement.
Johnson, by then, had come running from inside the battery shed, so fast and unexpected that Little Blue, who had waited for his owner while the business was transacted, gave a bark and started forward. Will leaned down to restrain him.
‘We did it!’ called Henry.
Holding Little Blue back with a gentle hand on his chest, Will watched, bemused at what happened next. A wagonette was brought up from a shed and two horses put in the traces. The battery went unattended and the boiler cooled as the workforce set to work carrying Henry Sutton’s belongings in trunks and crates from inside his cottage.
Scarcely an hour passed from the arrival of the telegram to when Henry Sutton rode off on his thoroughbred stallion, the wagonette trundling along with two men on the box. By now every digger from the fields had gathered ‘round to watch, passing jars of rum, most quite dazed by this turn of events.
A short while later Johnson called them together. ‘Now listen here boys. I’m going to tell you like it is. I’m now the manager here, and the Lyver Hills outfit is, as of a few hours ago, owned by a public company. There ain’t much in the way of gold left here, as most of you know. We’ll keep the battery going for a week or two, but as soon as the company in London learns the truth I’d imagine that a liquidator will be appointed and the machinery sold off.’
‘Where’s Henry Sutton gone?’ someone called out.
‘On his way to Brisbane. By the week’s end he’ll be on a steamer bound for London. There’s no gold. There’ll be no more payments. You might as well all cut your losses and shove off somewhere better.’
Will was glaring back at Johnson, the taste of this whole affair bitter in his mouth, despite the fact that only he knew how valuable this property was. The new manager must have noticed this, for he walked across and glared down at Little Blue, who was sitting at his master’s feet.
‘Now that I’m in charge,’ said Johnson, ‘I won’t tolerate animals that can’t be controlled. If I see that dog anywhere near my Rossie I’ll shoot the bastard.’
© Greg Barron 2022
New chapter next Sunday.
Photo courtesy of Museums Victoria