This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 16-23 June 1841


On the 18th June the Port Phillip Herald carried a verbatim report of Governor Gipps’ address at the opening of the Legislative Council session in Sydney on 8th June. Among other things, he talked about the opening up of Port Phillip and its contribution to the economic life of the colony.  It was the only bright spot in what was looking to be an increasingly gloomy economic report. We know, as they didn’t at the time, that this was just the start of the 1840s Depression, which was to shake out the speculators from the Port Phillip financial scene.  He noted that the revenue of Port Phillip had more than doubled on that of the preceding year  (from £14608 in 1839 to £29799 in 1840), and the District had contributed a  large amount to the general Land Fund (£217,127):

thus affording to the older parts of the colony, the means of replacing the labour and capital, which the opening of Port Phillip had drained from them. Aided by the resources of the Older Settlement but unassisted with borrowed money; the district of Port Phillip has risen rapidly to a state of wealth and importance which cannot but be highly gratifying to the entire colony.

This was to be an ongoing source of tension between Port Phillip and the old colonies. The residents of Port Phillip felt that they were the ones drawing in all of the money, and that therefore they should be entitled to a greater share of it, especially as it was a new district with large infrastructure needs.

Gipps went on:

The pecuniary difficulties under which many interests in the colony are still suffering must naturally be expected to affect the revenue of the present year, and of probably the next succeeding one; the falling off however is as yet only sensibly felt in the branch of it which is derived from the sale of land, and in this even the deficiency may in part be ascribed to other causes.

These pecuniary difficulties may safely, I believe, be said to have arisen from excessive speculation and an undue extension of credit; they seem to be of the nature of  those which frequently, and almost periodically occur, in all places  where commercial adventure is eager, and the remedy is, I think, to be looked for in the natural course of events, rather than to be sought in any Legislative enactments.

A few of the circumstances which have contributed to bring about these embarrassments in our commercial relations, may perhaps, without much risk of error, be pointed out, though it is very necessary to bear in mind, that in seeking to discover such agencies, we are very likely to mistake effects for causes.

The scarcity of 1838 and 1839 caused a great drain from the colony for the first necessary of life and produced excessive fluctuations in the price of every description of grain.  The decline in price of our chief staple commodity, wool, lessened the value of our exports in the home market.

The excessive consignment of goods to the colony, mostly on speculation by mercantile houses in England produced a  depreciation in value of nearly every species of merchandise, circulated to affect more or less the transactions of the whole commercial body.

The  necessity of disposing of these goods contributed to the undue extension of credit;  whilst the  rapid influx of capital into the colony may have had a tendency to  encourage hazardous speculations and the employment of money in investments, not yielding any immediate return.

A more abundant supply of labour is undoubtedly the one great thing wanted in the colony, for without labour no wealth can be produced, no capital can be profitably employed.(PPH 18/6/41)

If only he knew:  there were boatloads of bounty migrants on the way, many of whom would be unemployed when they arrived at a colony by then in recession.

The following week, the Port Phillip Herald had its own commentary on financial conditions in the District.  At this stage, there was confidence that Port Phillip could ride out the financial storm, even if the other colonies could not:

“THE SISTER COLONIES AND THE PANIC. When we attentively consider the state of the surrounding Colonies, as ascertained both by public statements and private communications, we have indeed much reason to rejoice in our own condition.  It is true that we are not altogether free from the evils which press so heavily upon of neighbours, but whilst our monetary affairs are not in the most healthy state, and our mercantile transactions occasionally dull, they bear no comparison whatever with the alarming state of others.  The depressed, if not altogether ruined condition of South Australia has long been know; in Sydney we are informed, and are convinced by experience, “all things are going on as badly as may be, short of bankruptcy”; whilst in Van Diemen’s Land, the general insolvency expected in other places has for some time actually commenced.  The papers we have received by the last arrivals are absolutely filled with notices to creditors; by private communications we learn that insolvencies are the general subjects of discussion, and everyone is so suspicious of his neighbor, that nothing but absolute necessity compels him to dispose of his goods, trusting to the possibility  of payment to meet his own engagements. (PPH 22/6/41)

Ah. If they only knew what was to come.


One of the court cases that came before Judge Willis during this criminal sessions was that of young Eliza Jennings, sixteen years old, who had been charged with stealing from her employer, Rev. Joseph Orton.  Joseph Orton was a Wesleyan Methodist missionary, who had earlier fallen foul of the Jamaican magistracy through his strong advocacy for the slaves.  He had arrived in the Australian colonies in 1831, where he travelled between Parramatta, Sydney, Hobart, New Zealand and then Port Phillip. He was the first clergyman to preach in Port Phillip, and he was a driving force in the establishment of the Buntingdale Mission near Geelong.  Known amongst Methodists as “The John Wesley of Australia”, perhaps it was his desire to rescue lost souls that led him to employ Eliza Jennings, who was known to be “light-fingered”.

Eliza Jennings, aged 16, was indicted for stealing three sovereigns, ten half sovereigns, one  pocket-book and a child’s nightcap, the property of Rev Joseph Orton, at Melbourne, on the 11th June.

Prisoner, who came to the colony in the [?] ship Theresa about ten months since, was employed as a general servant in the family of the Rev. Joseph Orton, in whose house she had resided [?] or ten days.  At the time of entering upon this service she was known by her mistress to be light-fingered, and consequently not permitted to enter her bed-room in which Mr Orton kept a cash-box; from this box were missed, on the [?] laid in the information, three sovereigns and ten half sovereigns; the key had been left in the cash box; suspicion alighted on the prisoner and [?] her room was searched, and a pocket-book and a few articles of children’s under-clothing were found.  Upon a second search taking place, a small work box belonging to prisoner was closely  searched […] in a pin-cushion artfully concealed so as to defy detection, were found three sovereigns and ten half-sovereigns. The money had been evidently put inside the pin-cushion by one of the sides, which were of wood, being forced out, and then glued together again, so that the top, which was a piece of silk, was not disturbed.  The girl had been asking for some glue to mend her pin-cushion.

The only way in which prisoner endeavoured to account for the possession of the gold was, that it had been given to her by her father.

His Honor in summing up remarked, that in this case, there was more than mere presumption. He thought the presumption of law that the prisoner had come honestly by the sovereigns was against her, other stolen property having been found in her box for which she could not account. It had been said that the sovereigns were given to her by her father previously to leaving home. It was probable a child like her, leaving home for a distant country, that her friends might scrape together a small sum of money, and that most likely would be in gold.  It was a matter of notoriety that emigrants coming to the colony were in the habit of concealing money about their persons, and in boxes &c.; a work-box was therefore not an improbable place in which a child like her should conceal her money if she had any. The presumption of law was, however, against her in consequence of the other property being found. From the evidence of Mrs Orton, it was clear that in law she was doli capar , or capable of committing the offence, as she was known to be light-fingered before she entered her service.  They would give the case their most careful consideration, and if they could find anything in her favour, arising in the case as in the ordinary course of life, they would give her the benefit.

The Jury, after the absence of a few minutes, found the prisoner guilty, but recommended her to mercy on account of her youth, and the incautious manner in which the money had been taken care of.

Eliza had arrived on the migrant ship Theresa that landed in Port Phillip in July 1840.  As Judge Willis noted, she came out by herself and her religion was registered as Roman Catholic.  It was quite common for juries to reach their verdict within minutes: in fact, they sometimes did not even leave the courtroom.

It was up to Judge Willis to pronounce the sentence. I really don’t know quite how to read the next part.  I’m hoping that his comment that “he had found a place in which she would not be enabled to indulge her vicious propensities” was not a grim joke, but I’m not sure.

Having been called up for judgment, his Honor remarked, that the Jury had returned a very proper verdict, they could not have arrived at any other conclusion. He felt great pain that a girl of her age should be placed as she was; she was, however, old enough to know better.  The Jury had mercifully taken into consideration her age and the improvident manner in which the property was secured. He, Judge Willis, had been making inquiries, and had found a place in which she would not be enabled to indulge her vicious propensities.  A clergyman of her persuasion would visit her, by whose instruction he hoped she would benefit so as, in after life, to become a useful member of society.  The sentence of the Court was, that she be imprisoned in Her Majesty’s gaol, Melbourne, for 12 calendar months, and be kept to hard labour.  He mentioned hard labour, that she might be kept employed during her imprisonment. (18/6/41)

I’m relieved to find that, according to family historians, she might have travelled to the goldfields and ended up on Kangaroo Island by 1847, married, had several children and lived until 1880.


Actually, it was a busy time for Rev. Orton.  On 24 June the new Wesleyan Methodist Chapel opened on the corner of Collins and Queen Streets.  It was 47 ft x 57 ft, and its organ, installed in 1842, is apparently still in the present Wesley Church in Lonsdale Street. You can see a picture of the Collins/Queen Street church here.  The church was opened on a Thursday (which seems an unusual choice of day to me) with Rev William Waterfield presiding over the 11.00 a.m. service, and Joseph Orton preaching at the 6.30 service. On the following Sunday 27th Rev Tuckfield preached in the morning; Rev James Forbes in the evening.  This is all rather ecumenical: Rev Waterfield was a Congregationalist;  Rev James Forbes was Presbyterian and  Orton and  Tuckfield were both Wesleyan Methodists.

Actually, in these early days at Port Phillip there was much more cooperation between the denominations than was apparent some five years later (with the exception, perhaps of the Roman Catholics). At this stage, the Protestant ministers contributed to each other’s building funds; marched together in public occasions and, as we see here, gave sermons at each other’s churches.


You might remember Mr Liardet, who drew the pictures at the top of this blog.  We also encountered him in April, when his daughter was the victim of a sexual abuse crime.  He had the Pier Hotel in Sandridge (later Port Melbourne) (image here) which he rather confusingly called Brighton on the Beach. From the hotel he ran a carriage service into Melbourne.

Pier Hotel, Brighton on the Beach and ferry House. BY W.F. EVELYN LIARDET. Superior accommodation for families and gentlemen Carriage conveyance to and from Melbourne; carts and drays; conveyance for luggage. Saddle horses and good stabling. Boats to be had at all hours, on application at the bar; fishing parties attended with lines and nets. An ordinary on Sundays at half-past two o’clock. N.B. The Pier Hotel is the right hand house on approaching the shore from the shipping. A stockyard for cattle and every requisite accommodation.


Top temperature for the week 60F (15.5) and a low of 38F (3.3). Wind generally fresh and strong. Rain on 17th, 18th and 20th and fresh breezes on 22nd and 23rd.

Movie: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Oh NO!! I thought as I settled into my seat, looked around, and realized that I’d just paid good money to go to a kid’s movie, and worse still, there were kids sitting all around me. When did I become so ageist?

Well, as it turned out, one of the real pleasures was watching the little boy sitting next to me (kicking the back of the seat in front the whole way through) become increasingly involved in this delightful, engaging story (and even stop kicking).   The scenery is beautiful and it’s pure New Zealand gothic.  Ward-of-the-state and misunderstood ‘bed igg’ (it IS New Zealand) Ricky Baker worms his way into the affections of his foster-uncle as they set off on a escape from the Miss Truchball-esque welfare officer. I admit to a little tear in the eye and felt thoroughly satisfied by this feel-good family story.  In fact, if pressed, I felt so warm and squishy that could even extrude a grim smile at the little boy sitting next to me if I really had to.

This Week in Port Phillip in 1841: 8-15 June 1841

Oh dear, I’ve fallen so far behind with all of these. House renovations and conferences seemed to get in the way and I’m quite embarrassed by my tardiness. Apologies.


And we’ve all been waiting so long for the Dignity Ball- and here it is! As you might remember, the Patriot and Gazette railed against the elitism displayed by the ‘gentlemen’ of Port Phillip wanting to distance themselves from the ‘common’ (sniff) Queens Birthday Ball.  But apparently the stewards had a change of heart, and decided to include some people who had been previously excluded.

The Ball is in preparation to come off on the 8th instant. The Stewards may be congratulated upon the wisdom they have shewn in acting after the suggestions of the press, by modifying their senseless exclusionism, and extended the issue of their tickets. This policy, which we learn from the Stewards has been thus tardily adopted , will certainly bring the fete off with greater credit to themselves and the character of the population.  (Port Phillip Gazette 5 June 1841)

Notwithstanding this change of policy, the Port Phillip Patriot predicted a poor turnout:

The famous ‘Dignity Ball’ postponed in the first instance till the races, then till Her Majesty’s Birth day, then till the 4th June and then till the 8th instant, will eventually, it is expected, come off tomorrow night, but the attendance it is expected will be as poor as unpopularity can make it.  A bold manoeuvre was made by the Stewards at the eleventh hour to retrieve their original blunder by issuing invitations to the parties previously passed over as unfit for admission, but it has very properly failed.  Our contemporary, the Gazette has, we regret to observe, taken this manifestation of a defeat as an evidence that the stewards have had the good sense to modify their “senseless exclusionism” but we know them better.  Nevertheless we are sorry that it is so, for it is not in our nature to war either against the men or the amusement, though we have warred, and will war to the death against them, or any other set of men who, like them, attempt to set themselves up to decide automatically as to the eligibility or non-eligibility of their fellow-colonists for admission to society(PPP,June 7) p. 2

And sure enough, its report of the ball portrayed it as a drab affair:

The far famed  and long expected “Dignity Ball” came off on Tuesday night, and a very dull affair it proved.  The attendance was but thin and few of the ladies of Melbourne honoured the assemblage with their presence in consequence of certain doubts which had got about touching the reputation of one or two fair dames expected to be present.  The only really good part of the evening’s entertainments was the supper, which , as we are told, did great credit to Mr Meek’s knowledge of the science of gastronomy. (PPP June 10)

And so we need to turn to the Port Phillip Herald, regarded as the newspaper of choice for ‘better’ society to give us a more positive report

THE BALL- This private entertainment took place at Mr Davies’ long room, on Tuesday evening, and went off with much spirit.  There were forty-four ladies and sixty-seven gentlemen present, His Honor, Mr La Trobe and Lady, amongst the number, who seemed highly delighted with the evening’s festivities.  The Stewards had provided a most magnificent supper, which was done ample justice by the guess. The party did not finally separate till five o’clock. (Port Phillip Herald 11 June 1841)

It is the presence of Superintendent La Trobe and his wife Sofie, that marks this Ball out as ‘respectable’, in a way that the earlier Queen’s Birthday Ball was not.  And the stamina- kicking up their heels until 5.00 a.m. (and we thought all-night dance parties were a new phenomenon!)  And was Judge Willis there? No!   Fourteen years ago in Upper Canada he had been a bit of a socialite with his first wife, but there’s little evidence of party-going antics in British Guiana or New South Wales.  Perhaps he’d learned his lesson in Upper Canada; or maybe his second wife (who was expecting a baby in September) was reluctant to go. One way or another, he wasn’t there.


Things were really starting to move in Port Phillip. Early buildings of canvas and wood were giving way to more substantial constructions as a very physical demonstration of progress in the District.

PUBLIC BUILDINGS: We feel a pleasure in recording the fact, that the public buildings in Melbourne, in the progress of erection, are going ahead in a steady and praiseworthy manner, when the limited mechanical force employed is taken into consideration. The Custom House “where merchants most do congregate”, a building in all extensive mercantile communities of the utmost importance, is now ready for slating, that description of covering being preferred to shingles.  The Bonded Store beneath may be found too small for its legitimate purpose, if so the plan of licensing stores, belonging to private individuals in the town, may be continued as an present.  The Post Office, at the junction of Bourke and Elizabeth-streets, is progressing rapidly, and in a couple of months, if nothing intervenes, may be in possession of the proper officers, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” The New Watch-house, on the Eastern Hill, has been completed, and taken possession of within the last few days.  It is a stone building, conveniently designed, and well executed, and will be appropriated to the reception of the idle and disorderly in the vicinity of New Town, instead of their being dragged upwards of a mile to the Melbourne receiving house, as heretofore.  The foundation of the Jail has been excavated, and one wing of the building already commenced, which will be completed before any further portion of the building is proceeded with. This wing will be appropriated solely to the reception of convicts, or parties committed for trial.  The plan of the building is that of the wings of the new Sydney Jail, and will contain forty-two cells upon the ground floor, and in the upper stories it is to be three in height, rooms 12 by 6, for the purpose of classification.  The second wing is for a House of Correction, and Debtor’s Prison. When completed, the whole building will consist of two wings, facing Swanston Street, in a line with the Caledonian Hotel, having the Jailer’s house etc. in the centre.

The Customs House mentioned here is not the one that stands in Flinders Street today. The picture below, by Robert Russell in 1844, shows the brownstone Customs House described here. It is, nonetheless, one of the most impressive buildings in Melbourne.  It was replaced by a second Customs House from 1858 onwards.

Melbourne from the falls 1844

Melbourne From the Falls, Robert Russell 1844, SLV

The jail mentioned here is the Old Melbourne Jail, but it is not the bluestone cellblock that still stands today, which was commenced in 1853. Earlier buildings were demolished in the 1930s, so presumably the buildings described here would have been removed at that time.  The Eastern Hill watch-house described here, according to Robyn Annear’s Bearbrass was on the corner of what we know as Exhibition and Little Collins Street.  Its proximity to ‘Newtown’ (i.e. Fitzroy) would be along Exhibition Street.


Actually, this occurred on 6th June, but wasn’t reported for a few days.

EARTHQUAKE: An Sunday last, during the hours of divine service, a rumbling noise was heard in the earth, supposed to be the fore-runner of an earthquake. In the Church it was distinctly heard, and the congregation alarmed; also, in several parts of the town, giving rise to various speculations. (PPH June 11)

It often strikes me that, for these early settlers, everything was still new.  Were earthquakes common?  They didn’t know.


A high of 18 (64F) and a low of 4 (40) for the week. Fresh breezes on 9th, 10 and 12th. Weather mostly dry but cloudy.







‘Fractured Families’ by Tanya Evans


Tanya Evans Fractured Families: Life on the Margins of Colonial New South Wales,

2015, 252 p & notes

When I picture a ‘Benevolent Asylum’, I have a mental picture of  greyness, thick walls, lancet windows and forbidding ecclesiastical air. It came as surprise, then, when I found this image (below) from the 1840-1850s which did not appear quite as funereal as the name of the institution suggests.


Sydney Benevolent Asylum Artist disputed c. 1840-1850, State Library of New South Wales

The Sydney Benevolent Asylum was Australia’s first (and oldest surviving) charity, founded in 1813, with the avowed intention NOT to operate like the Poor Laws back in England.  The Poor Laws in 1813 were still based on the old parish system, where the indigent and needy were shuttled back to their parish of origin, to be supported grudgingly by the parish. There were workhouses, but the truly punitive workhouses of our Dickens-tinged consciousness arose out of the Poor Law Reform of 1834, some twenty years after the establishment of the Sydney institution. Unlike in England, there was an acceptance that the State “was responsible for moulding the structural circumstances of the poor in early New South Wales” and without a tradition of elite obligation to the poor, it could be said that New South Wales was ‘born modern’.

Continue reading

AHA Conference 8 July 2016

When I woke at 4.30 a.m. this morning, I decided that I may as well get up, leave even earlier and catch the first paper for Session 1, as I’d arrived late the other days. So, for the 99.9% of the world who are not likely to catch the 5.20 a.m. train from Macleod to Southern Cross, I can tell you that, unlike the 6.33 Macleod train which has many slightly sleep-befuddled office workers, the 5.20 carries a healthy contingent of construction workers in high-viz jackets. I just thought you might like to know.

Many of the sessions and morning teas/lunch were held at the Mechanics’ Institute.

The inside of the hall has been recently renovated. I can only assume that the paintwork is using original colours because it’s -um- an ‘unusual’ colour selection:

 Environmental histories (things that swim, scurry and fly)

There has been a strong environmental history stream running throughout the conference and so I decided to room-hop between adjacent rooms where presentations dealt with different creatures and their environments.

First, David Harris gave his paper “At a Brisk Simmer: Commercial Fishing in Nineteenth Century Victoria 1860s-90s.” As he pointed out in his introduction, this is only a sliver of time within the longer history of the Gippsland Lakes area, which had long been a fishing site for the Gunaikurnai people (albeit a relatively recently formed area, given that Bass Strait did not exist until 8000 years ago). Within the long term, the decline in fish numbers post-settlement could be seen as a slow catastrophe, or as historians have described the collapse of the Newfoundland fisheries “managed annihilation”. However, focussing on this small time period of 30 years provides a context for political decisions, enlarges the scope for considering individuals, and reveals complexities in what might seem a relatively benign period during the nineteenth century. During this time, there was the influence of the acclimatization movement, the rise of commercial fishing and the development of the fresh fish trade. But it was also a time in which fishing became less diverse as indigenous and Chinese fishers were excluded and the market shifted from dried fish- as happened elsewhere in the world at this time. He reminded us that even the ‘old timers’ amongst white settlers and fishers had only been there for thirty years. The cyclical appearance of the pilchard shoals was not yet understood, leading to anxieties about shortages and abundance. These anxieties prompted a political response as the government introduced commissions and regulations, thus privileging political approaches over scientific ones.  Reminding us of the influence of individual people within this political context, he  gave the example of William Carstairs, a Scots immigrant who had shifted to the Gippsland Lakes and often served as a spokesman for the fisher in government inquiries before he died, fittingly enough, in a fishing accident.


At this stage I went next door, into a room that seemed to be serving up its own environmental context with a heating system that delivered warmth but only at the cost of a noisy, escalating whirlwind. I arrived to hear the end of Andrea Gaynor’s presentation “Taking Locust Country” where she noted the use of military metaphors in the “war on locusts”, including defensive action against a hostile invader, coordinated surveillance and mobile strikes, and in a 2010 outbreak, adopting the language of the war on terror and exhortations to be ‘alert’ (and although they didn’t say it) alarmed.

Katie Holmes’ presentation on “Mallee Mice” had many in the audience squirming, which verified her contention that mice, despite their size and furriness, often evoke a strong emotional response  and unsettle the human psyche. She focussed on the 1917 plague in the Mallee, where mice thrived in the well-drained soil, the cleared land and the rainfall after a period of drought. Mice were fierce competitors for the much-celebrated bumper wheat harvest that year, but they have a material presence: not only do they yield underfoot (shudder) but they disrupt the human order as they collapsed wheat stacks and invaded houses. She noted the gendered response to the plague as men in Mallee towns competed over the size of the piles of dead mice, and as women despaired of the domestic invasion.

She shared this vision of the 1993 mouse plague with us. During this plague the density was five times the official definition of plague- i.e. 2500 mice per hectare, when the plague definition is 500 per hectare.

It was interesting to note the response amongst the audience to her descriptions, pictures and videos of swarms of mice which, although they spread disease and attacked livestock, are a short-lived plague that does not have the same health consequences as malarial mosquitoes, which were discussed in Emily O’Gorman’s paper “Irrigation, Insects, Infection: Mosquitoes and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, NSW in the Twentieth Century”. During the period 1916-1945 there were five inquiries into mosquitoes in irrigation areas, three of which she described in this paper. Malaria is a medical phenomenon that challenges many binaries: it requires both humans as host and non-human mosquitoes as vectors for the disease to spread; it challenges the border between temperate and tropical climates, and it pushes the boundary between agriculture and nature as the dangers of the wetland came into the home. There was particular anxiety about soldiers, who were slated for settlement in the Murrumbidgee area, bringing malaria with them as they returned from overseas service; and the 1916 study looked at whether the area itself was malarial. It concluded that the danger of malaria from returning soldiers could be averted by careful screening.  Another study in 1919 found eggs of the anopheles mosquito in pools, and particularly noted the danger of small collections in water in hoofprints from cattle.  Although concluding that the prospect of a malaria epidemic was unlikely, the study recommended the elimination of small pools and their incorporation into flowing water instead. After ricegrowing was introduced, anxiety was again raised over such large bodies of water, especially with the return of the WWII soldiers onto soldier settlement blocks in the Murrumbidgee region. This time the study recommended the use of DDT.


PLENARY: JOSEPH BRISTOW “Homosexual Blackmail in the 1890s”.

This plenary was auspiced by the Australian Victorian Studies Association, and was very well attended. Joseph Bristow from UCLA (Los Angeles) is a prolific scholar, who has written and continues to work on Oscar Wilde, and is currently working on a reconstruction of the two trials that led to Wilde’s imprisonment. In his fascinating, witty paper, he described a police raid on a party hosted by John Watson Preston in his rooms at 46 Fitzroy Square, London, where twenty men were arrested, including two, Arthur Marling and John Severs, dressed in women’s clothes.It was not so much a party as a commercial enterprise  which extended over two days, to which tickets were sold.  Marling, along with two other attendees at the party, Charles Parker and Alfred Taylor, were later to play a role in later episodes which drew attention to the prevalence of homosexual blackmail, which was often concocted between groups of men against wealthy victims. At the Old Bailey in April 1895 thirty-three year old Taylor was charged with Oscar Wilde for conspiring to commit, and committing, acts of gross indecency, while Parker served as a witness to the Crown Prosecutor’s case against Wilde. A case belonging to Taylor contained incriminating letters that were used as evidence against Wilde, and during the trial Wilde was questioned about the Fitzroy Street arrests (even though he was not there himself). Although, as we know, Wilde paid heavily for his ‘crime’ neither Parker nor any of the other male sex workers were charged after admitting to committing the crimes of which Wilde was accused. Bristow drew on newspaper reports of the time, and noted that the provincial newspapers provided much fuller coverage than the London press.

A library interlude….

What a fantastic nineteenth century reading room there is in the Mechanics’ Institute! Although the institute opened in 1860, this reading room was apparently part of the trading floor of the Mining Exchange.

My last session

I had hoped to attend the ‘Negotiating Aboriginal Histories’ session, but it had been cancelled. I was starting to flag after my very early start, so I decided that this would be my last session for the conference. I again skipped between two sessions.

Tamson Pietsch spoke on “Bodies at Sea during the Migration Boom 1850s-1870s”, which was based on an article which she has had published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Global History (Journal of Global History / Volume 11 / Issue 02 / July 2016, pp 209-228). Picking up on Braudel’s observation that ‘the sea’ is not one monolithic entity but that different seas have geographies of their own, she also notes that there is a chronology of the sea as well, most particularly the shift from sail to steam and the attendant changes in labour and ship design. Using Foucauld’s work on disciplining and rendering docile the body, she draws on shipboard diaries written by eight passengers en route to Australia to argue that oceanic journeys disrupted and upended the land-based bodily practices that passengers embarked with.  There was the management of time, which passed slowly on board ship (at least for cabin and saloon passengers; steerage passengers had to work much harder just keeping body and soul together).  Indolence, especially in the tropical zones, evoked fears of idleness, and so ‘useful’ activities, including diary writing itself, were devised.  Then there were the bodily boundaries that were violated by the very close proximity with strangers and the noise and smells of human life, and the intrusion of lice and rats.  Finally, passengers on these journeys became conscious of the fragility of authority once the boat had left shore. Power was embodied in the Captain, who had the authority to punish in public, and to a lesser extent in the Cook, who could make life difficult if he so chose. She finished by asking what effect this disruptive experience of bodily chaos and breakdown of boundaries had on passengers once they landed – especially when considered against those they had left behind at ‘home’.

The final paper was not delivered by the author. “Revisiting Clunes: Race Riot or Fight for the Eight Hour Day” was written by Lynn Beaton, and delivered posthumously by a friend after Lynne died suddenly in June 2016.  The Clunes riot of 1873 has often been described as an anti-Chinese riot, but her paper argued that it was instead part of a campaign against scab labour.  The owners of the Lothair mine wanted their miners to work Saturday afternoons but the miners, who were contractors rather than wage employees, refused to do so (thus hurting their own hip-pockets, rather than the mine-owner’s). Ballarat, along with the rest of Victoria, was proud of the achievement of the Eight Hour Day, and working on Saturdays would have compromised that.  When the mineowners brought in Chinese to work on Saturdays, riots broke out and five miners were arrested.  She argued that anti-Chinese feeling was a component of the riot, but the issue was about protecting the Eight Hour Day.  Lynn’s paper was read by a friend, and her family was in attendance. You could not help but sense the sadness. It reminded me, as so many of the papers at the conference did, that history is- as Katie Holmes said in launching Tom Griffiths’ book- a collaborative, interlocking process. It’s what historians do, and why we love it.

So, with that, I headed for home.  And- hah!- as I headed for the station, the sun came out.

AHA Conference 7 July 2016

Another early start on a morning that seemed to promise warmer temperatures but by Ballan the fog had closed in, presaging yet another gloomy, cold day.

 Australia at War

What’s happening to me? After railing all through 2015 at the Gallipoli Centenary Extravaganza, I’ve found myself drawn to several sessions looking at WWI. Once again, I arrived too late to catch the first paper. In this case, Ian Willis spoke on “The Red Cross and ANZACs at Home”. I wish I’d caught more of it, alert as I am now to the industriousness and civic pride engendered through middle-class suburban Red Cross branches, as a result of writing my Hundred Years Ago column for the Heidelberg Historian. Unfortunately, though, I just caught the end of the paper.

The second speaker, who was to give a paper on the Australian Nursing Corps and Conscription, did not appear, which was disappointing.

The final paper for the session was Effie Karageorgos who spoke on “War in a ‘White Man’s Country’: Australian Perceptions of Blackness on the South African Battlefield 1899-1902”. Australian men volunteered to fight in the Boer War when it commenced in 1899, fired up by press columns syndicated from England which characterized the Boers as “dirty Dutch” and “uncivilized”. In Karageorgos’ study of 126 letters and diaries of Australian Boer War soldiers, she notes that soldiers often replicated such comments when they first arrived, but over time began identifying more with the enemy than the British. Meanwhile, the British Army began using (black) Africans as manservants, support workers and even soldiers, roles that the Africans embraced because they had no great love for the Boer settlers and they needed the money and supplies that accompanied military service. This threw up an interesting situation for Australian soldiers who were imbued with the Social Darwinist and Protectionist views towards race relations with indigeous people at home.   Yet here they were, fighting a ‘white’ enemy, alongside African soldiers and assistants.  She notes that many of the Australian volunteers were rural workers, who may well have worked alongside Aboriginal stockmen, but in their letters and diaries,  where the African workers were mentioned at all, it was often (but not always) in a rather infantalizing mode, reflective of the particular Protectionist model in play in Australia at the time.

PLENARY: Robert Anderson “The Changing Nature of Museums: Booming, Busting or what?”

This plenary was rather a surprise. Robert Anderson has worked in National Museums in UK for the past 32 years, the last ten years of which was spent as director of the British Museum. Many of his observations, taken singly, I agree with: the emphasis on blockbusters and getting numbers through the door and the resultant triumphalism of attendance statistics; the dominance of publicity and fundraising and the incorporation of museums into the mass tourism circuit; the discordant architectural design of museum extensions and annexes; the brevity and simplicity of labels (both in language and conceptually) and the increasing governmental managerialism of museum administration.  These are all things that I have thought about at various times, but not all together. It was when he began defending the British Museum’s inflexibility over repatriation that I became uncomfortable, and his observations cohered into very much a ‘in the good old days’ lament.  Should a curator be in charge of a particular collection for thirty years? I wondered when he praised the work of such a person. Does his assertion that, legally, objects belong to the British Museum and his attitude that therefore no correspondence can be entered into, still stand in a post-colonial world? Is the ‘best’ place for an artefact only in London, Paris, Berlin or New York?  When questions were raised, for example, about the Gweagal shield that I saw in the temporary exhibition in Canberra recently, his answers were forthright, obviously well rehearsed and completely immovable.  It’s an attitude that could only come from a position of plenty. All of a sudden the world didn’t seem quite so post-colonial after all.


There’s been a couple of book launches while I’ve been here.  The first one, at morning tea on Tuesday, was for Kate Auty and Lynette Russell’s monograph ‘Hunt Them , Hang Them ‘ about Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener, the two ‘Van Diemens Land Blacks’ sentenced to death by Judge Willis. Naturally, I bought the book and no doubt sometime soon I’ll review it.  The second launch, today after lunch, was of Tom Griffiths’ ‘The Art of Time Travel’, a book about Australian historians which sits on my bookshelf. Katie Holmes gave a beautiful speech in launching the book, which I know will be written with Griffiths’ usual grace and perspicacity. I’m looking forward to it.

 Marginal Living and Dying

And so, to the final session of the day for me, because I needed to leave early. This conference is being held in conjunction with the Australian Victorian Studies Association, and this was the first of their streams.

Caitlin Mahar’s paper “On Life’s Margins: Procuring a Good Death in Nineteenth Century Britain looked at the medical management of the dying in Britain. Until about the middle of the nineteenth century, suffering was seen as an emulation of Christ, and a spiritual as much as physical phenomenon. The clergy were at the heart of the death scene, and it was felt that pain relief might numb the expression of faith that characterized the “good”death. However, during the nineteenth century the doctor became a more prominent figure at the death bed, and the family became more important. For some time doctors had caused more suffering amongst ill people with their ‘cures’ (cupping, bleeding, amputation), but with the rising use of pain relief, it was thought that instead of distracting the dying patient from the faith element of death, analgesics could make them more able to concentrate on it and facilitate, rather than hinder, a ‘good’ death. Almost immediately the problem of hastening death through overuse of analgesia was raised, and definitively rejected, but today doctors are actively encouraged to relieve suffering even if it shortens life. As for enabling the patient to make this decision…well, as we know, it’s an argument that still rages

The second paper “Outcasts of Melbourne: Representations of the ‘Underclass’ in Late 19th Century Melbourne” was delivered by Jenny Sinclair, who has published two books related to this topic and Melbourne generally. She looked at three authors: Marcus Clarke, J. S. James and ‘John Freeman’ who published sensational accounts of the less salubrious inhabitants of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’. All three authors focussed on the city rather than the suburbs; they conflated poverty and crime, and they maintained the point of view of the respectable reader.  They were often highly judgmental, although sometimes they turned their judgment back onto their readers. Yet, Sinclair argues, each of the writers had an agenda of social reform that can be traced back to their own origins.  Marcus Clarke had been sent as an impecunious orphan to the colonies by his family; James was an activist who worked in church organizations and institutions, writing in what we’d call ‘gonzo’ journalism today; and ‘John Freeman’ was in fact Edward Oxford, who had been incarcerated in asylums after an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Queen Victoria no less.

In the final paper, Shale Preston took up an analysis of ‘John Freeman’ (Edward Oxford) in a beautifully written paper called “Bedlam and Beyond: John Freeman’s Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life.” Starting with the assassination attempt, she traced through Oxford’s twenty-seven years in Bethlem (Bedlam) and Broadmoor lunatic asylums, where he learned languages, became the in-house painter and generally kept himself aloof from his fellow inmates. He was released in 1867 on condition that he come to Australia and never return, and was given money by a philanthropist in order to do so. His book ‘Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life’ was not received well, with critics complaining that his sketches of the underclass could have been written in London rather than Melbourne. There is a remarkable lack of empathy or fellow-feeling in his writing, especially given his background. But, Preston suggests, perhaps it is symptomatic of his egotistical and jaundiced world-view that may have shaped his whole life. What a fascinating story- I’m going to follow this up!

And so ends Thursday- and what good timing, as the train is just drawing in to Southern Cross station!

AHA Conference 6th July 2016

Left bright and early for the second day at the AHA conference in Ballarat. Strictly speaking, I left in the drizzly dark at 6.30 a.m.  I don’t think that I’ve ever caught a train quite that early in the morning. The carriage was much quieter than it is later in the morning or in the evening, and there is an odd intimacy when you looking at your fellow passengers, knowing that just an hour before they were all asleep in bed, lying curled up and vulnerable.

The rain set in at about Bacchus Marsh and so the train drew into a Ballarat that was just as dismal as the preceding day.

 Remembering ANZAC

Over recent months I’ve taken over writing a column in the Heidelberg Historical Society’s newsletter which makes a summary of Heidelberg events one hundred years ago. Of course 1916 was in the midst of WWI and so I’ve developed an interest in the WWI homefront that I didn’t know that I had before. I missed the first paper in this session because I just couldn’t face the idea of a 5.30 a.m train but very much enjoyed the next two papers, especially as they intersected with my interested in the warfront at a very local level.

The first paper by Claire Greer was titled ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Exploring Homefront Hardship Through the Lens of the Great War’. In a work in progress, she is taking the Perth suburb of Subiaco and mapping out the enlistment and casualty information at a community, street by street and individual level. In particular she focusses on married men who enlisted at Subiaco at a higher level (32%) than elsewhere in Australia. Part of her work has involved identifying where and how often individual soldiers were memorialized on honour boards and through other acts of commemoration. How and why did a community claim particular soldiers as ‘theirs’? What were the networks that made that soldier part of the community? Moving down to street level, she mapped the enlistments in a particular street (Olive Street) and from there focussed on a particular family- that of John Monson. (????I’m having trouble reading my own writing!) In tracing through his story, the high level of married enlistment perhaps becomes clearer as we see the Monson family thriving in the goldrush town of Kookynie only to lose everything as the gold boom subsides.  The marriage founders, so when John enlists he puts down his son as next-of-kin rather than his wife.  I really liked this fine-grained use of the deluge of data generated by the ANZAC centenary to investigate the homefront rather than the warfront.

The next paper of the session was Bryce Abraham’s “An Affront to British Chivalry: Colonial Thought and the Cultural Clash at Surafend 1918”. I had heard of the Wasser Riots in the red light district of Cairo in 1915, but I had not heard of Surafend at all. On December 1918, after the war had finished, a detachment of the ANZAC Mounted Division converged at the then-Palestinian village of Surafend where, in order to avenge the death of a New Zealand soldier, they separated the women and children and massacred the men (there are no firm figures of the number of deaths) and torched the village. They then moved on to a nearby Bedouin village.  The Commander-in-Chief of the ANZACS, Edmund Allenby was furious and cancelled end of the war recommendations for the whole group. At investigations into the incident, the soldiers were uncooperative, finding themselves mysteriously unable to identify anyone who was responsible (although the NZ soldiers intimated that the Australians were responsible while the Australians suggested the opposite). The massacre took place beyond the war arena, in the transition to peace, to people they were supposed to be protecting.  Abraham notes that there had been incidents before, but that this was the pinnacle of racial conflict between the Palestinians and the ANZACS and was another manifestation of the racialized White Australia mindset that dominated turn of the century Australian political life.

Boom and bust in Australian and New Zealand History

As it happened, the WWI theme continued into the next session as well in what seems a bit of a grab-bag title. The third speakers didn’t turn up, and the two papers that were given fitted together quite well

Martin Crotty spoke on the poorly planned pilgrimage to WWI sites organized by the RSL in his paper ‘The RSL’s 1965 Gallipoli Pilgrimage: Botching it Up Again’. This was not the first pilgrimage back to the Peninsular organized by the RSL: there had been others in 1955 and 1960. But those pilgrimages were small, exclusive and expensive excursions, often involving people who had not even made the landing. This 1965 pilgrimage to mark the 50th anniversary was larger, shorter at 3 weeks, and with the injection of some funding from the government, cheaper (although it was still a sizeable 4000 pounds per head). The pilgrimage had two aims: first, to provide these Gallipoli diggers with a positive pilgrimage experience and second, to provide good publicity for the RSL which at the time feared that the ANZAC story would be forgotten. The historian Ken Inglis accompanied the pilgrimage, and Crotty has consulted Inglis’ exhaustive (if often illegible) archives which include the documentation on the pilgrimage. It was a debacle. The three hundred elderly men were flown over to the Middle East, put on a sparsely equipped Turkish ship, and rushed from one celebration to another when all they wanted was to be able to walk around the places they’d been and pay their respects to their fallen comrades. Three men died; others were sick for months afterwards.  But even if they didn’t achieve a positive pilgrimage experience, the RSL did get its good publicity, with many newspaper articles that said little of the dissatisfaction of the pilgrims. And, as we know, the RSL’s fears about ANZAC being forgotten were well and truly misplaced.

This paper was followed by Joanna Leahy’s paper “‘Knitting with a Will, Knitting for their Empire’: the World War One Knitting Boom.”  One of the things that I’ve noticed in compiling my Hundred Years Ago column for the newsletter is the mountains and mountains of socks that are being knitted by the good women and girls of Fairfield, Alphington, Ivanhoe and Heidelberg. As part of her study of domestic knitting and crochet in Australia 1840-1940, Leahy has examined these World War I  socks – all 1.3 million (at least) pairs of them.  There’s one in the Australian War Memorial, abandoned half-way through and still on the needles when Nellie Blain heard of the death of her older brother, for whom she was knitting.  The patterns for these socks were readily available in the newspapers and special pamphlets.  While acknowledging this huge effort, however, she notes that is it part of a longer tradition of domestic and charitable knitting.


This was the first plenary session that I have attended at this conference, having arrived too late for yesterday’s one. Each of the speakers adopted a different stance toward the topic. “Centering the City: Spaces of Practice in Australian Urban and Regional History. Louise Prowse’s paper wasn’t about the city at all- instead she looked at regional towns at how they have framed their identities. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they positioned themselves as separate settlements, in the fresh air far from the city, with their own local families and industries. This changed from the middle of the 20th century when, instead, regional towns prided themselves on their replication of city leisure facilities- the swimming pools, parks, shops etc. In this way, regional towns became more generic.  However, from the 1960s there was an explosion in the number of historical societies (in the city, but even more in country areas) which began marking and memorializing their own local and  particular history. Towns began reconfiguring their streetscapes to enhance their heritage features- although which particular era did they privilege?  She pointed to the recent phenomenon of local food-based regional tourism which, unlike the 1960s tourism, does not draw a distinction between visitors and locals.

Andrew May started his contribution quoting from a travel diary written by a Welsh tourist who visited North America, Australia and New Zealand (I can’t quite remember when- I assume late 19th/early 20th century). She was dismissive of Melbourne and its sanitation problems, but warmed immediately to Ballarat. A visitor to a city assesses a new place in terms of their storehouse expectations and experience, and this differs for us all.  Yet, he noted, the major national histories of Australia tend to disregard urban histories despite the oft-repeated claim that Australia is the most urbanized country in the world and not withstanding Graeme Davison’s hugely influential article ‘Sydney and the Bush: An Urban Context for the Australian Legend’ which highlighted the urban origin of the ‘bush’ stories and poets in the Bulletin.  He emphasized the international dimensions of the municipal movement of the 1840s which saw the Incorporation of both Melbourne and Sydney (pipped by Adelaide) and noted the significance and longevity of Town Clerks.

Lisa Murray is the young, very enthusiastic (and active!) City Historian employed by the City of Sydney. In a rather corporate presentation, she outlined the objectives of the City Historian position, the projects it had been involved in and its relationship with other individuals and groups in Sydney who might want to adopt a ‘history’ approach in their production of civic, artistic and planning endeavours. The program makes use of digital and multimedia platforms, and is not so much into marking memorials through plaques as in making  memories through oral histories and drawing on shared public memories. An interesting conundrum though- a mural in a park created in the 1980s had spawned a popular history of carnivals, elephants and balloons supposedly found on the site in the past, but the carnival was only there for six months and there was no elephant, and no balloon. A piece of artwork had in effect implanted false memories for the local residents.

Finally, Simon Sleight started his presentation with a picture of the Burke and Wills statue in Collins Street, before it started its peregrinations around different Melbourne sites until ending up in its present location on the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets. His interest was not so much the statue as the people loitering around it, which led to a discussion of walking and loitering around Melbourne during its years as a ‘walking city’ between 1860-1920 when people walked by choice, not necessity. There was walking The Block for respectable people; meeting under the clocks at Flinders Street, and the increasing perception of danger on Princes Bridge.  He noted parallels with other cities- the Monkey Parades in UK or New York’s Bowery.

Transnational Celebrity in the Twentieth Century: Australia, New Zealand, North America and Britain.

My final session for the day was a panel discussion of four celebrity women who visited Australia during the twentieth century.

Desley Deacon started with her paper “Celebrity, Empire and American Morals in 1927: Australia Rejects the Young Judith Anderson.” Judith Anderson (originally Francie Anderson) returned to Australia in December 1926, eight years after she had left Australia as a 21 year old. While in America, she had had great success on Broadway, and when she first arrived back in Australia, the press greeted her enthusiastically. However,  her performance in ‘The Green Hat’ was absolutely slated in reviews, so viciously that her eight-month tour ended in a physical and mental breakdown. She was hospitalized for six weeks, and left Australia quietly.  But perhaps it was not her, or her performance that caused the offence: instead, there was a strong rejection at the time of the Americanization of film and a suspicion of American culture as usurping British and Australian culture- and The Green Hat, with its ‘sordid’ plotline fed right into that hostility.

There was no hostility, however, for Guide Rangi (more properly, Rangitiaria Dennan), a 57 year old Maori guide from Rotorua, who arrived in Australia in 1954, just after she had shown Queen Elizabeth around the thermal area of New Zealand.  She was a household name in New Zealand, and exemplified the Maori guide in the public imagination. The guide was now the celebrity, and the press followed her visits to the Shrine of Remembrance, photographed her hugging a koala, and conducted meet-and-greets at the Tourism Agency. The press continued to lionize her, even when she made critical comments about the treatment of aborigines, at a time when few indigenous people in Australia had the same public recognition.

Finally, Cecilia Morgan spoke about ‘The Theatrical Tours of Two Canadian Margarets: Transnational Celebrity in Early Twentieth-Century Australia and New Zealand’. The two Margarets were Margaret Anglin, who visited beteen 1908-9 and Margaret Bannerman who followed her twenty years later.  Both women were Canadian, even though Margaret Anglin performed on the American stage, and Margaret Bannerman had a successful career in London’s West End.  Where Judith Anderson suffered from the hostility towards Americanization of stage and screen twenty years later, Margaret Anglin did not.  Both women were publicized for their stylish clothes; both were described as friendly and approachable, and unlike Judith Anderson, they both starred in plays and displayed a celebrity identity which emphasized cultural dominion affinities.

And by now, I had a bus to catch so I had to leave….


Several of today’s sessions were held at Federation Uni’s School of Mines campus. I’d seen it from the outside, but didn’t realize how lovely it is inside.  Actually, Federation Uni has a real presence right in the centre of town which it didn’t some years ago.