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

BAD TIMES A’COMING

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.

THE TROUBLE WITH YOUNG ELIZA

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.

WESLEYAN METHODIST CHAPEL

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.

AN ADVERTISEMENT

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.

AND THE WEATHER….

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.

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2 responses to “This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 16-23 June 1841

  1. All quite fascinating. I can’t help but think that economically, we just continue to repeat our mistakes over and over again. Bubble, burst, bubble burst. At which stage are we now? Scary. It looks like a bubble to me.

    • residentjudge

      Yes, I think so too. I’m disturbed by the way that the news lists a whole lot of things that we REALLY should be worried about, then the finance report comes on saying that the share market has risen again. It just doesn’t make sense.

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