This Week in Port Phillip 1841: May 1-7


On the 4th May, the butcher, George Jackson, advertised that he would be opening up his premises in Queen Street:

The undersigned begs respectfully to inform the inhabitants of Melbourne that he will commence business This Day, Tuesday the 4th Inst as a Butcher in that new shop, next to the stores of Messrs Thomas Enscoe and James in Queen Street, where he hopes by strict attention to business and always keeping the best of meat on hand at the lowest renumerating price to merit a share of public approval’ GEORGE JACKSON. (PPH 4/5/41)

According to the editorial of the very same paper, there was no more lucrative time to be a butcher, although the editorial writer characterized it more as price-gouging than ‘agility’. Sheep averaging 60lbs in weight could be purchased at 12/6d a head, and after deducting the value of head and pluck, suet and skin at 2/6d, the cost would be 10s.  The meat was retailed at 5d per pound, the whole carcass thereby producing 25s or 150% profit.   Likewise cattle averaging 700lbs could be purchased for £8/15/- and retailed at 6d per pound of £17/10/- thus leaving a net profit of £8/15/- or 100% profit.

But what about expenses? The Port Phillip Herald editorialist estimated the staffing and ongoing costs of a butchering establishment to be:

  • 2 butchers; one for slaughtering the other for cutting up or serving in the shop at £2 5s a week or £117 each per year
  • One clerk/collector and one overseer/stockman at £150 per week
  • Expenses of horse, cart, driver &c £120 per annum
  • Rent £200

Mr Jackson seemed to make a go of it.  There was still a George Jackson, butcher, in Queen Street in 1847 (although its not clear from the Victoria before 1848 website whether it’s the same George Jackson or not).


Mr John Dight from Campbelltown in Sydney arrived in Port Phillip in early May and announced that he would be building a water-driven mill at what is now known as Dight’s Falls. He had purchased land in the district in 1838 and had already established a successful milling operation in Sydney.  He used the same name, Ceres, for the Port Phillip mill. Construction of the mill from bricks from Van Diemen’s Land also involved the construction of an artificial weir which forms the ‘falls’ today.

Mr Dight who arrived in Melbourne on Hans from Sydney, a few days since, intends erecting a water flour mill on the banks of the Yarra Yarra at “Gardiners Falls” about two miles from town.  At starting, two pairs of stones will be worked, but an extra pair may be added should it be found necessary. A mill of this description has been long wanted, and will be found a valuate acquisition to the town. Operations are to be commenced forthwith.

Falls of the Yarra  at Dights Mill.

Fall of the Yarra at Dight’s Falls by Charles Norton 1855, State Library of Victoria


In the Supreme Court sitting at the end of April, Judge Willis announced that he wanted to clear out the jail of unresolved cases that had been in abeyance waiting for his arrival. His attention fell on two indigenous men who had been held in custody for murder since August 1840, awaiting the transmission and return of depositions to Sydney. By this time, both men were gravely ill. Willis read to the court a despatch from the Secretary of State to Governor Gipps dated 31 December 1839 relating to the treatment of Aborigines, and read extracts from the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons 1837. Willis attributed their illness to their long period of confinement and pointed out that there was as yet no evidence and there had been no cross-examination of witnesses. He asked that the men be taken to hospital and put under the care of the Aboriginal Protectors. (PPH 30/4/41)

It was too late:

Yesterday another inquest was convened at the Lam Inn, Collins-Street, upon view of the body Kongho Marnee, an aboriginal, who died in the Government Hospital on Saturday last. The deceased was one of the blacks committed in August last year, on suspicion of murder. The unhappy creature, from the time of his commitment, appeared labouring under an impression that he would be hanged, and had been pining away from the time of his commitment until the period of his death. Dr Cussen who examined the body, gave it as his opinion, that deceased had come to his death from the confinement he had undergone, combined with a broken spirit. The body exhibited no tangible disease.  The Jury returned a verdict of “Died by the visitation of God.”

And then, days later another death:

On Monday night an inquest was held at the gaol, before Dr Wilmot, Coroner, on view of the body of an Aborigine, named We-na-baer-nee, brother of Kohoga Marnee..who died at the hospital on Sunday morning, almost immediately after hearing of the death of his relative: the sympathetic affection even in the bosom of this savage appeared too finely strung to bear up against the loss.  The Jury returned a verdict of ‘Died by the visitation of God.”

Visitation of God indeed.


My, my- I think that there’s mischief afoot between the Captain and young Eliza:

Eliza Baynes or Collin, assigned to Captain Passmore of the Samuel Cunard, store ship, was charged by her master with entering the cabin of that vessel on Sunday night about eight o’clock, having between her lips a short dudeen   [a short tobacco pipe made of clay], the fragrance from which rose in mimic clouds and penetrated to the most secret recesses of the cabin, rendering it anything but pleasant to the nostrils.  Captain P. not approving of this course of proceeding, requested she would proceed on deck, and there inhale the perfume and bestow its fragrance on the desert air; no sooner were the orders given, that Eliza seized a tumbler from the table and discharged it at the head of Captain P. who fortunately avoided the missile by a dexterous shifting of his position- his starboard whisker only being grazed as it whizzed by.  The interesting Eliza, not satisfied, danced a pas scul on a wash-hand-basin, which was quickly reduced to fragments, upon which she was given in charge.  In defence the virago hinted something about “the Green Eyed Monster: but took nothing by her motion

The Bench expressed surrpise that, being an assigned servant, she had been allowed to come to Port Phillip contrary to regulations. After all, Port Phillip was ostensibly not a convict colony, but there were in fact many assigned servants attached to settlers who had come from Sydney or Van Diemen’s Land.   Capt P replied by Mr Eyde Manning had signed the permission and that the prisoner had come down with Mrs P in the Clonmel (you’ll remember that the Clonmel was later wrecked on the Gippsland coast)

Captain Passmore would not have to put up with her smoking in his cabin in future.  She was returned to the Female Factory in Sydney at Capt. P’s expense. (PPH 7/5/41)


On Friday a drunken drayman named Welsh, while in a state of intoxication and seated upon his dray, flogged his horse most violently; the animal started off down Williams-street at the top of its speed, and in its career narrowly escaped running over the Rev Mr Orton and two other gentlemen; rounding into Flinders Street, at the wharf, the draw came in contact with a large stone and was capsized, jerking the driver within a few inches of the Yarra Yarra.  Upon being brought before the Police Magistrate the following day, he was fined 20s for the furious driving  (PPH 7/5/41)


The highest temperature for the week was 78 (25.6) and the lowest 41 (5 celsius). There were light winds on 1st and 2nd and a gale on 3rd. [Odd- this sounds very much like this week in 2016, which also had a gale on 3rd and temperatures this week of 25 degrees] The weather was damp and cloudy until 4th, afterwards bright and clear.

Movie: Son of Saul

I normally find Holocaust films too difficult to watch, but this film received such glowing reviews that I decided to see it.  In the opening scenes, the camera focuses on Saul Auslander, a Sonderkommander at the Auschwitz crematorium. It remains focussed, intently and intensely, on Saul while everything around him is blurred.  When the camera isn’t trained on him, it shifts behind him, as if you’re looking over his shoulder, seeing through his eyes.  The noise is deafening; the shouted orders to keep hurrying are relentless, and the moral enormity of what he is being asked to do is overwhelming. The blurred vision is a protection for Saul and for us as viewers.  I must confess that I came out not really knowing whether Saul’s claims were true or not, and whether he was mad or not – I suspect that he was.  The real power of this film is the way it locates you as a viewer in a bleak and confronting nightmare. I can’t at all say that I ‘enjoyed’ it, but it is utterly memorable.

‘Blockbuster: Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab’ by Lucy Sussex


2015, 257 p. & notes,

Fergus Hume’s book The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (my earlier review here) has the dual ‘honour’ of being both the best selling detective novel of the nineteenth century and the ultimate one-hit-wonder in a career that generated over 130 novels and numerous stories and articles. Self-published in 1886, it became an instant best-seller both locally – and more importantly for an Australian book at the time- internationally.  Lucy Sussex’s book Blockbuster is a book about the book.  You don’t even have to have read The Mystery of a Hansom Cab because Sussex’s work is far more focussed on the author and his milieu, the commercial trajectory of the book and the provenance of the remaining copies, rather than the book itself.

As she points out in the introduction, Hansom Cab is a thoroughly Melbourne book, starting as it does at the thoroughly respectable corner of Russell and Collins Street outside Scots Church,  passing the thoroughly respectable streets of East Melbourne and meandering its way through the slums of Little Lonsdale Streets and shabby-genteel St Kilda.  Its author, however, was not Melbourne-born but was originally from Scotland, having emigrated to New Zealand as a child when his father took up a position as a master of a lunatic asylum, a job he had also undertaken in Scotland.  Despite a yearning for the stage – a yen that both his sisters were allowed to fulfil-  Fergus was channeled into the law by his father, until he ‘escaped’ with his sisters ‘across the ditch’ so that they could further their stage careers. Once in Melbourne and freed from paternal oversight, he tried to get his scripts accepted for theatrical performance but to no avail.  He wrote The Mystery of a Hansom Cab as a novelistic attempt to get noticed in order to further his theatrical career.  It was an unintentional best-seller that somehow failed to make him a rich man, or substantially boost his theatrical profile.

I was surprised to learn that The Mystery of a Hansom Cab is one of a trilogy of Melbourne novels (the others being Madam Midas, a Realistic and Sensational Story of Melbourne Mining Life [1888] and Miss Mephistopheles [1890]).  The retailing and licensing of the book is a tawdry tale, with Hume selling in the international copyright for only 50 pounds to promoters who certainly promoted it well and made their fortune from it.  In trying to work out the numbers of volumes actually sold, it is hard to tell what is puffery and what is fact. I found the information about the provenance of the remaining collection of editions held here in Australia fascinating.

Although Hume’s books reflect the milieu in which he circulated, there is not a large archive of personal correspondence or autobiographical writing for Sussex to draw on beyond his book When I Lived in Bohemia. She looks, therefore, for resonances of his personal life in his writing and speculates about his homosexuality from the lives of men around him.

Even though I read a lot, I am a stranger to the world of Literary Studies (with capital letters) and I found myself nonplussed at times at the wide-ranging and digressive nature of Sussex’s writing.  Sussex has written on the previously-undiscovered Australian writer Mary Fortune, and at times I found myself lost as she turned her attention to other writers and theatrical figures of the time before returning her focus to Hume.  The historical parts of the book follow the usual historical conventions of footnoting and referencing but when she interviews present-day writers, their commentary is woven into the narrative as a source that she assumes you’re familiar with. It’s almost as if the reader is overhearing a conversation among a group of people who all know what they’re talking about together, but from which the listener is rather excluded.  Certainly one can enjoy the book without having read Hansom Cab but I felt rather short-changed in the frequent references to the other two Melbourne books which I (among many many others I should imagine) have not read.

The book has a large number of short chapters, which usually I would find annoying, but in this case the short chapters maintained the forward chronological thrust of the narrative. However,  I did find the ending of the book untidy, with a postscript, followed by epitaphs of the minor characters and reviews and opinions of Hansom Cab over time. I wasn’t quite sure where the book ended.

That said, though, I did enjoy the book- a lot.  I suspect that my reservations are grounded in my unfamiliarity with Literary Studies, rather than the book itself.  It was awarded the History Publication Award in the 2015 Victorian Community History Awards.and as a historian, I very much enjoyed the way she captured the theatrical and intellectual climate of boomtime 1880s Melbourne and the economics of literary publication within the colonial book-trade.

aww2016 This review has been posted in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

Movie: 45 Years

I have recently discovered the joys of Miserly Monday or whatever you call the cut-price day at the Nova Cinema in Carlton, along with the many other recently-retired baby boomers I’ve observed there over this past six months.  I certainly felt as if I was in musty company with this film, which is obviously aimed at an older audience; a cohort which no doubt will grow larger with the numerical bulge of retirees filling in their days at the cinema.  Is that a bad thing? No, says my Lunchtime Companion, but I’m not so sure. I don’t know if I like being demographically pegged and marketed to quite so blatantly.

Retired couple Kate and Geoff live a very quiet life in rural Norfolk, and the action takes place over the days preceding their 45th wedding anniversary celebration party, which had been postponed on account of Geoff’s illness five years earlier.  Theirs is a routinized, comfortable, intellectual,  quiet (I can’t emphasize how quiet!) relationship, with Geoff diminished because of illness and age. However, when news arrives from the past, Kate finds herself judging their time together with an unforgiving severity.

The film is based on a short story and I can imagine that it would work very well in a more compressed format.  As it is, though, I don’t think that it sustained a ninety minute film which both actors- consummate and brilliant as they are- could have captured in a shorter film.( In fact, I’m surprised that it was only 90 minutes because it felt longer) The scenery while glorious, became rather laboured with such blatant pathetic fallacy treatment.  That said, though, the acting was first-rate and the emotional rendering subtle and adult. Just perhaps a bit too adult!


This Week in Port Phillip 1841: April 23 -30 1841


Now that all the excitement of the Supreme Court opening was over, the court settled down into its daily routine.  Well, not quite.  Even though the inconvenience of not having a Supreme Court for civil cases was cited as a major reason for sending a Resident Judge to Port Phillip, there were no civil cases reported until 30th April, and even then they were rather minor matters.

The Criminal side of the Supreme Court was more active, though. The Port Phillip Herald of 27 April reported two assault cases: one involving an ‘unnatural offence’ (i.e. homosexuality), and the other domestic assault, albeit with a twist.  The first case involved ‘assault with intent to commit an unnatural offence’ when William Gemmil (or Gemmel), whose status was ‘free by servitude’, came before the court for an assault on hut keeper Richard Bell. The offence allegedly occurred in a sentry box at Roadnight’s pastoral station near Geelong. Bell swore at the committal hearing that Gemmil

put his hand on my privates; I told him I would not allow that and he said “never mind no one else will know except you and me” He then got on top of me and did the same as if I was a woman, he had his trowsers off and put his privates between my thighs in front and remained about five minutes resting upon my person…The defendant came to me every night until the following Sunday and did the same to me, he held me…I complained to my master when he came to the station. (VPRS109 Unit 1 p.537) cited in Paul Mullaly Crime in the Port Phillip District p. 482

Willis jailed Gemmil for two years with hard labour, “being the utmost sentence which His Honor could inflict upon him”.

The second case was described as “as flagrant as one as ever came before a Court of Justice.” Henry (or Harry) Agnew, a former Van Diemen’s Land convict who was ‘free by servitude’ kept a brothel in the Little Bourke Street area. He induced Sarah Chant, who had recently emigrated on the Fergusson, to come to his house as a servant, stating that she would find it the best service in the Colony.

In about a fortnight he produced an agreement and wished her to sign it, thereby binding herself to remain for three months, upon her refusal the unmanly brute knocked her down, kicked her in the side, face, breast and various other parts of her body. This course of treatment was repeated several times, the discolouration arising from the kick in the face was visible at the time of her giving evidence. (PPH 27/4/41)

In her testimony, Sarah swore that:

I left about the beginning of this month from ill-usage- because I would not sign a paper to live there- I would not live there because it was an improper house- he knocked me down and kicked me in the face and side- I got out into the street.

Doctor Cussen testified that he saw Chant at the watchhouse and described her injuries, but swore that “I think she exaggerated her case“. Willis underlined these words in his Case Book, which indicates that he considered the information important. Agnew was found guilty.

His Honor, who designated the assault brutal and unmanly, sentenced the fellow to be imprisoned for six months, to pay a fine of £59 and be further imprisoned until the fine be paid. (PPH 27/4/41)


There was always much more mirth to be found at the Police Court than at the Supreme Court, although of course the stakes were higher for any case that found itself in the superior court.  More properly known as the Court of Petty Sessions, this court was overseen by honorary and police magistrates and dealt with summary offence and minor civil cases up to 20 pounds.  A seemingly unending stream of minor robberies, drunkenness offences and assaults found its way into this court.  Two of the cases that wound up before the court on Wednesday 21st arose from the Races the previous week:

Geo Dogherty, an old fool, was charged with ramming-down “Bullet” an Aboriginal native upon the Race Course on Wednesday until the Bullet was ready to go off without the aid of gunpowder.  The Bullet appeared mild and forgiving before the Bench, and said that Doghery was a murry, budggery-fellow. The Bench dismissed the case.  There is no doubt Bullet had been tipped, as he took the thing in such good part.

Henry McDonald, who appeared well charged with Parkins’ compound essence of steam, was charged by Mr Michael David with calling him a Jew and then incontinently flooring him upon the Race Course, at the time there were a number of persons around Mr D, one of whom made a pull at his watch-guard but without effect.  While Mr D. was lying on the ground the fellow again struck him. The Bench sentenced him to pay a fine of £5 or be imprisoned two months.  (PPH 23/4/41)

Then followed a pig case. Ah- pigs! Not a week would go by without a mention of pigs in the newspaper and this week was no exception:

Robert Oman was fined five shillings for permitting a pig to walk about and breathe fresh air and look upon the scene in the town of Melbourne. Mr O said that the pig was of the feminine gender and shortly previous had a charming litter, which as soon as he could conveniently manage he removed to a neighbour’s, who was in the habit of luxuriating upon a sucking pig nicely browned. The mother of the pigs, having a presentiment that her progeny was to be tickled in the throat by the relentless butcher, spurned all soothing and buckets of choice mash, and with a perseverance worth a better cause, burrowed her way into the street and finding her little ones undergoing the operation of fattening in an adjacent yard, to which access was denied her, she set up a wail in that peculiar shrill key which can be only drawn forth from the Pigean bagpipes, which drew the attention of the informer.  The bench, however much they admired the maternal feelings of the pig, must inflict the fine.  (PPH 23/4/41)


The primative i.e. primitive Albion Hotel Great Bourke St. Melbourne

The Primative Albion Hotel Great Bourke St Melbourne by William Liardet. Source: State Library of Victoria.

A bench of magistrates and worthies assembled to hear the applications for Publicans’ Licences. Headed by James Simpson, the Police Magistrate, the bench included James McArthur, F. A. Powlett, G. D. Mercer, E. Brewster, W. Verner, A. Furlong and Doctors McCrae and Martin.  Here’s a list of existing licenses they approved:

COLLINS STREET Thomas Halfpenny ‘William Tell’ (conditional);  Thomas Anderson ‘The Lamb’; John Davis ‘Imperial’; Thomas Graham ‘Edinburgh Castle’.

LITTLE COLLINS STREET Benjamin Hancock ‘Freemasons’ Arms’; William Evans ‘Builders Arms’; John Bullivant ‘Waterloo’ (conditional); John O’Shaugnessy ‘Australasian Hotel’.

BOURKE STREET  James Dobson ‘Albion’; James Jamieson ‘Eagle’; William Sidebottom ‘Golden Fleece’

ELIZABETH STREET Francis Henry ‘Irish Harp’; (conditional); James Coulstock ‘Melbourne Tavern’; R. A. Roberts ‘Union’

QUEEN STREET  John Byng ‘Victoria’; John Shanks ‘Royal Highlander’

FLINDERS STREET William Coulson ‘Melbourne Hotel’; A Greaves ‘Yarra Hotel’

LITTLE FLINDERS STREET James Shaw ‘Shaw’s Hotel’; Robert Brottargh ‘Adelphi’, Lewis Pedranna ‘Dundee Arms’ (conditionally)

MARKET PLACE  William Harper ‘British Hotel’

LONSDALE STREET William Mortimer ‘Crown’, Robert Omond ‘Caledonia Hotel’

BEACH A Lingham ‘Marine Hotel’, W.F.E Liardet, ‘Pier Hotel’

They didn’t necessarily approve all existing licence-holders.  They knocked some people back if they were persons of bad character, or if their hotels were frequented by people of bad character or, as in one case, if the applicant was living “in a disreputable state”.

They approved new licences too, just to add to the proliferation of hotels


BOURKE STREET J. S. Johnstone, John Stevens (conditional)

ELIZABETH STREET Matthew Molony; E. Matthysons (Wine and Beer only)

LITTLE FLINDERS STREET. John Grant; Francis Hobson

COLLINS STREET  Philip Anderson; Henry Davis


LITTLE BOURKE STREET William Athorne; Matthew Cantling

ELIZABETH STREET William Smith (conditional)


They didn’t approve any licences for New Town (Fitzroy). It seems like the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) forces were already mustering in 1841:

There were three applications for New Town but these were strenuously opposed by Mr Montgomery, the Crown Solicitor as an inhabitant of the place, backed by a memorial signed by the most respectable of the inhabitants.  The Bench would willingly grant one Licence at New Town as they thought it hard that the labouring class, many of whom reside there, should be compelled to come into Melbourne to procure their beer but… there is no constabulary force to overlook, much less look after a publican at New Town. (PPH 23/4/41)


Although there were boats buzzing backwards and forwards along the coastal ports between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Launceston and Hobart, occasionally we are reminded that for some unlucky passengers, it could take a very long time to make the journey.

The Gem, for example, left Launceston on 4th April but did not arrive until 26th April. It was sighted by the Lady Emma on 17th April about 40 miles of Cape Liptrap, under gib and storm stay-sails.   Meanwhile, the Augustus, described as a “very dull sailer” took three weeks to sail from Sydney- so long that it had to be supplied with fresh water by the Australian Packet which ‘spoke’ it on the journey.


Well, in 2016 we’ve just had an unseasonably warm last week in April with three consecutive days over 25 degrees.  In April 1841 the highest temperature for the period 22-30th was 72 (22.2) and the lowest 49 (9.8). The wind was generally light. It was dull and wet on 22-24 April, with fine weather afterwards.

‘The Mystery of a Hansom Cab’ by Fergus Hume


1886. Re-released by Text in 2012;  e-book

I decided to read this in preparation for reading another book: Lucy Sussex’s Blockbuster which is next on the reading pile.  I’d seen the recent television adaption but, as is often the case when I watch crime shows on television, I am left with only fleeting impressions and no memory of detail at all.

This book very much lies within the 19-20th century detective novel genre, but what is significant here is that it predates Sherlock Holmes by a year and marks the cross-over from popular 19th century sensation fiction into what we now know as detective fiction.  Moreover, it was the first internationally-acclaimed novel set in Melbourne- a feat that has not really been replicated (I’m not sure that Kerry Greenwood’s Phrynne Fisher or Peter Temple or Shane Maloney’s novels have international standing?  I could, however, be wrong).  This is Marvellous Melbourne in all her 1880s glory here, before the 1890s depression blew its cold draught into her streets and houses.  As a Melbourne reader with more than a little affection for the town, I enjoyed reading about the Little Bourke Street slums, the somnolent stuffiness of the men-only Melbourne Club, the genteel Powlett Street surroundings of East Melbourne.

The story is typical nineteenth century detective fiction fare: mistaken identities, shameful disgrace, illegitimacy, reputation etc. with the requisite fragrant young lady love-interest, the decent but wronged young man, and the Dickensian hag who holds secrets.  I must admit that, as a historian, I found the descriptions of the slums and the cockney accents of the working-class characters the least authentic part of the book.  I know that buildings were densely packed into the lanes surrounding Collins and Bourke streets, but I felt that the descriptions and dialects owed too much to Charles Dickens’ foggy London.

[Actually, this has raised quite a question for me about the depiction and reality of working-class life in early urban Australia i.e. 1840s and 1860s. I sense that it should be different from England, given hot weather, dust and the relatively small size of towns surrounded by huge expanses of countryside even in Sydney and Melbourne.  I must look more carefully for it. Martin Sullivan looked at it in Men and Women of Port Phillip (my review here) but from memory, it was more an economic and political appraisal rather than an experiential one.]

The book commences with the quite modern touch of a newspaper report and at times combines notional non-fiction elements alongside the standard plot-driven narrative novel. The story moves along at a cracking pace, with a surprise or dangling thread at the end of most chapters.  There’s a chuckling, rather condescending omniscient humour that pervades the book, with its observations about Fate and human nature.  I enjoyed his observations of people- most especially the desiccated, crackling landlady Mrs Sampson. It’s all brought together with the written death-bed confession and everyone lives happily ever after with the truly deserving maintaining their respectability.  It is a nineteenth-century novel after all.

Sue at Whispering Gums also reviewed the book, which has been re-released recently.

Movie: Rams

The setting is often a powerful force in a movie and this is certainly the case in ‘Rams’, set in a small rural town in Iceland.  The local economy and community identity revolve around sheep. When scrapie is diagnosed among one of the flocks, it spells ruin for everyone, including two estranged brothers.  Although they live next door to each other, conscious at all times of each other’s movements, they have not spoken for decades. The bleak, unforgiving environment is an unlikely but memorable setting for an  unexpected love story.