The tavern was cosy, sure enough, but rough as befits a colonial venture of its kind. It was one of many servicing the fifteen hundred colonists of Sydney Cove, Robert McInnes had been to them all, and this one, generally known as Ryan’s Place, was his favourite. That’s why he’d made it the venue for his little business transaction tonight, that and the fact that he knew that the Commander of the Marines’ assistant habitually drank there and that meant a bit of security.
Robert was tough enough for most encounters, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars who’d taken his pension ten years earlier and headed to the colonies. He’d tried his hand at virtually everything since then from quarrying sandstone to accompanying survey missions and now market gardening. He’d put a bit of money into a fur seal skin expedition and reaped a fair sum back from it, enough to build himself one of the nicer houses up on Cumberland Street and finance a hobby collecting curiosities.
He counted out a pile of coins onto the table, under the stern gaze of the three whalers one of whom was the other half of this transaction. The seller was clearly the youngest of the three, and he looked to one of his older shipmates for a signal. The older man nodded, the young man produced a sack which he placed on the table. Robert knew he didn’t have to check its contents. He extended his hand to the whaler and they shook on the deal. Standing, nodding to the other two men, he took his leave and made his way to stand at the bar.
‘Ryan, rum if you please,’ he said, his Scots’ brogue resonating deeply. John Ryan poured as Robert pulled a handful of coins from his pocket and smacked them good naturally onto the bar. Ryan scowled at the small pile and picked through it. He picked out a couple of farthings and a Bengali pice, pushing aside Reals, quarter Stuivers, but taking the Brazilian 20 Reis he asked, ‘I assume you’ll be drinking awhile?’ Robert’s smile was all the answer he needed.
‘London can’t send real coins out here soon enough,’ the barman said as he slid the remainder back to McInnes with the back of his hand. The Scot smiled again, lift in this glass to Ryan with one hand, sweeping his coins up with the other.
‘To King George and his shillings,’ he piped, taking small mouthful of liquor. The currency crisis was a favourite subject of the Sydney Gazette and the Australian and dominated many mercantile discussions.
Ryan left him to serve a man further down the bar.
‘Rum,’ the man said, ‘and one for my countryman.’
Robert looked over, now, at the man and smiled, ‘A fellow Scot! Well here’s cheers to you, brother.’
He knocked back the remainder of his drink to make way for his next, which, once poured, he raised in salute to his new acquaintance before knocking it back in one shot.
‘Allow me to return the compliment.’
‘Perhaps in a minute,’ the other man said, indicating his two-thirds full glass.
‘Well you won’t mind if I do?’
The other man waved one arm expansively, and Robert tapped the edge of his glass.
‘My name’s Robert, by the way, Robert McInnes.’
‘William Fraser,’ the other man replied, meeting Robert’s outstretched hand with his own.