Ballarat, no doubt, possesses many of these precious pieces of antiquity hidden in obscure corners, but one especially was known, not only in the Golden City, but throughout Victoria. His name was Slivers—plain Slivers, as he said himself—and, from a physical point of view, he certainly spoke the truth. What his Christian name was no one ever knew; he called himself Slivers, and so did everyone else, without even an Esquire or a Mister to it—neither a head nor a tail to add dignity to the name.
Slivers was as well known in Sturt Street and at ‘The Corner’ as the town clock, and his tongue very much resembled that timepiece, inasmuch as it was always going. He was a very early settler; in fact, so remarkably early that it was currently reported the first white men who came to Ballarat found Slivers had already taken up his abode there, and lived in friendly relations with the local blacks. He had achieved this amicable relationship by the trifling loss of a leg, an arm, and an eye, all of which portions of his body were taken off the right side, and consequently gave him rather a lop-sided appearance. But what was left of Slivers possessed an abundant vitality, and it seemed probable he would go on living in the same damaged condition for the next twenty years.
The Ballarat folk were fond of pointing him out as a specimen of the healthy climate, but this was rather a flight of fancy, as Slivers was one of those exasperating individuals who, if they lived in a swamp or a desert, would still continue to feel their digestions good and their lungs strong.
Slivers was reputed rich, and Arabian-Night-like stories were told of his boundless wealth, but no one ever knew the exact amount of money he had, and as Slivers never volunteered any information on the subject, no one ever did know. He was a small, wizen-looking little man, who usually wore a suit of clothes a size too large for him, wherein scandal-mongers averred his body rattled like a dried pea in a pod. His hair was white, and fringed the lower portion of his yellow little scalp in a most deceptive fashion. With his hat on Slivers looked sixty; take it off and his bald head immediately added ten years to his existence. His one eye was bright and sharp, of a greyish colour, and the loss of the other was replaced by a greasy black patch, which gave him a sinister appearance. He was cleaned shaved, and had no teeth, but notwithstanding this want, his lips gripped the stem of his long pipe in a wonderfully tenacious and obstinate manner. He carried on the business of a mining agent, and knowing all about the country and the intricacies of the mines, he was one of the cleverest speculators in Ballarat.
The office of Slivers was in Sturt Street, in a dirty, tumble-down cottage wedged between two handsome modern buildings. It was a remnant of old Ballarat which had survived the rage for new houses and highly ornamented terraces. Slivers had been offered money for that ricketty little shanty, but he declined to sell it, averring that as a snail grew to fit his house his house had grown to fit him.