Of course, Port Phillip celebrated Christmas on 25 December, along with the rest of the British Empire. In 1841, 25 December was a Saturday, thus providing a two-day holiday. It’s a sobering reminder of the rarity of holidays in the nineteenth century, with no paid leave available until 1935.
Christmas Day falling on a Saturday gave two consecutive holidays to the labouring classes, in whose pleasures, as well as that of the residents at large, the unusual coolness of the weather at this time has greatly contributed (PPG 29/12/41)
[Casualization and barely-restricted retail opening today means that a proportion of workers no longer get paid annual leave, or indeed two consecutive days holiday. The traditional January-shutdown of industry is becoming a thing of the past, too.]
However, on 5 January a letter was published in the Port Phillip Herald by a Mr. J.R.M. of Douttagalla, praising the simple joys of a Christmas ‘pic-nic’ on the Salt River. It all sounds rather too wholesome and improving:
A PIC-NIC AT THE SALT WATER RIVER, CHRISTMAS 1841
“Here, for retreat in sultry hour
Some hand had formed a rustic bower;
It was a lodge of ample size
But strange of structure and device
Of such materials as around
The workman’s hand had readiest found”
I was repeating these lines as I entered “the sylvan shed” where our little party had laid out to pass the afternoon. But my attention was soon arrested by the exceeding beauty of the scenery around us. There, in the foreground, and only a few yards from our feet, lay a noble sheet of water, calm as “a cradled infant”, and margined with various specimens of the monoperigynae and monopetalae. Up the slanting sides of the ravine grew the tall and stately tea tree and cleagni, interwined with the teazles and woodbines of the corisantherae, here and there pushing out a pretty pale corolla, as if beauty and innocence had been engaged in decorating grace. Farther off in a deep recess, the gigantic gum-gree stretched forth its bare white branches, like a skeleton in a green house! Or like a dream of paradise after death had entered there! The field of view from the bower was such a picture of nature’s own beautiful embroidery as would have elicited and harmonized with the exquisite imagery of Claude Loraine.
The party consisted of no more than Mr and Mrs H____ with their six fine children and myself. The boys entertained us by reading and reciting in excellent style pieces selected for the occasion; and the little girls, playful and sportive as young fawns, went skipping about in all the happy enjoyment of domestic felicity…
The viands were in admirable keeping with this little family picture:- plain, substantial and elegantly laid on the greensward, canopied by wreaths of flowers and foliage, as if the Naiads and Limnades had consecrated this spot to retirement and primitive innocence…
On leaving this scene of rural and domestic happiness, I could not help reflecting on it with pleasure and admiration. There sat the fond father and mother in the bosom of their young amiable family, enjoying their pleasures, and participating their amusements. How truly rational these enjoyments! And how exalted they stand in contrast with other anniversaries I had previously witnessed of a Chrismas merry-making- where reeling riot and desecration had usurped the throne of intellect, and man- the lord of the creation- seemed to have forgotten dignity, abandoned reason, and trampled on gratitude to HIM whose name was announced at this happy season in “tidings of great joy to all the people,” and should fill the heart with love and joy, and ineffable glorification at a Christmas merry-making. J.R.M. Douttagalla, 27 December 1841.
Perhaps it was too much Christmas cheer, or the warm weather, or the increase in numbers of immigrants, but it seemed that the newspapers- most particularly John Fawkner’s Port Phillip Patriot – were especially conscious of unruly behaviour among the labouring classes.
Rowdy groups appeared to congregate around Little Bourke Street, which by 1855 was a centre of Chinese activity. Already in 1841 it was known as a slum area.
SABBATH BREAKING. A number of idle vagabonds are in the constant practice of openly profaning the Lord’s Day by congregating in Little Bourke-street and there amusing themselves by gambling with half-pence, playing at ball &c. On Sunday week we observed about thirty persons employed in these practices. The non-apprehension of the ringleaders in these sports evinces a very unpardonable negligence on the part of the constabulary; we trust, however, that this public notification of the nuisance will have the effect of preventing its recurrence. (PPP 27/12/41)
Nefarious activities took place off the street as well:
DISORDERLY HOUSE One of the greatest nuisances which has existed in Melbourne for some time past has been a house of ill-fame situated in a lane leading from Bourke-street. On Friday last, at the police office, two notorious characters named Peter and Elizabeth Toote, were fully committed to take their trials for keeping this nest of infamy. From the evidence for the prosecution, it appeared that scenes of the most revolting nature were there nightly carried on, and that it was also a receptacle for the most notorious thieves in Melbourne. (PPP 27/12/41)
On the 27th December there was a ‘riot’ in Brunswick Street Fitzroy (then known as New Town).
DISGRACEFUL RIOT – A most disgraceful scene took place on the night of Monday last, in the neighbourhood of Brunswick Street, New Town. Some vagabonds of both sexes, principally Irish, had congregated together and were engaged in fighting each other with sticks, tomahawks, stones or any other missile which they could conveniently obtain, accompanying their efforts with vollies [sic] of oaths and imprecations; nor was peace and good order restored the whole evening. As the constabulary force is to be increased by twelve men at the end of the present year, we trust that the authorities will see fit to station at least two of that number at New Town where they are much required. (PPP 30/12/41)
It was a shame really, as the Police Magistrate had just that day acquitted all but one of the revellers arrested over the Christmas/Boxing Day holiday:
VOTARIES OF BACCHUS. On Monday last, the Police Magistrate discharged all the parties, with one exception, who had been taken up during the Christmas holidays for drunkenness, the exception was that of an old offender, who has accommodated with a seat in the stocks for four hours. PPP 30/12/41)
Concert and Tradesmen’s Ball
There was more to do than brawl on Monday 28th, because it was the night of the Tradesmen’s Ball. It was held at the Pavilion Theatre, which I have described previously.
CONCERT AND BALL. By PHIL GARLIC
“.Past ten o’clock” sang out the watchman, as we were wending our way homewards through Great Bourke-street. “Past ten o’clock,” and the information came to us unexpectedly for we had been engaged in ” counting hours for minutes,” we had, in fact, been Romeo and Julietizing; the scene in Capulet’s garden was fresh in our remembrance, and as we soared along we repeated to ourselves
“The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As day light doth a lamp : her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright .
That birds would sing, and think it were not night.”
How far we would have gone on in our rhapsody is uncertain, had not the Pavilion presenting the unusual aspect of an illuminated front burst upon our view, and we paused to inquire the meaning of such an appearance. Mr. Hodge informed us that the tradesmen of our infant city were celebrating Christmas by holding a concert and ball, and his kindness politely afforded us admission to the scene of festivity.
We will not say that our eyesight was dazzled by the beauty and splendour of the scene, but we must say that we were charmed by the neat dresses and happy faces every where visible. Many of the ladies were in “full dress” in honour of the occasion ; one in particular, who had arrayed ” the temple of her thoughts” (a very handsome little edifice it was) in artificial roses bound up with pearl white satin ribbon, we admired exceedingly. On the other hand, we will not deny that we experienced sincere emotions of pity for several of the dear creatures, who were compelled to hold their bonnets on their knees to avoid their being crushed, and were thus kept in a fidgety state, the whole evening; others very wisely tied theirs on the pillars, which had the double effect of putting them out of harm’s way and adding to the ornaments of the building.
We had scarcely taken a hurried glance at these arrangements when a gentleman in very ” dickey” apparel appeared and sang ” Sich a gettin’ up stairs,” which was received with great applause and encored. Then a little boy with a shrill voice sang “Isle of Beauty,” and after that a gentleman splendidly attired in a blouse, with a red button-up waistcoat, and light trousers announced that “as soon as the feenarly was over the ball would commence.” And accordingly we had the finale ” God’ save the Queen'”- but nobody seemed prepared for the ball.
On the contrary, the company, many of whom, to judge from the incessant popping of corks, were enjoying themselves exceedingly, were by no means satisfied with the banquet of sweet sounds dished up by the careful Hodge. Loud calls were heard for “Jack Rag,” and ” Jack Rag”, became with the rougher sex an almost universal cry, till at last we in our simplicity imagined that Jack Rag was a very boorish sort of person not to come forward and speak to his friends, seeing that they were so clamorous for his appearance.. ” Jack Rag” however, turned out to be an epithet conferred on the gentleman who sang ” Sich a gettin’ up stairs,” but he with a proper spirit disdained to appear when called upon so disrespectfully.
The singing, too, was properly speaking over, and Mr. William Cooper, a son of Vulcan, who officiated as master of the ceremonies, stept forward and with it a few stamps a la Richard the Third succeeded one by one in extinguishing the lamps in front of the proscenium, which, as they were severally operated on, sent upwards a I gracefully picturesque cloud of smoke. Loud cries were ‘ now heard for “Mr Cooper’s song,” but Mr. C. was “no wocalist,” and so he assured the ladies and gentlemen. “Cooper’s song,” reiterated a mischievous wag in one of the boxes to the right. ” Lay down,” responded that worthy gentleman looking daggers at the disturber, but the clamour was not so easily subdued, and the noise and calls for the song continued.
The master of the ceremonies looked excessively angry and excessively puzzled.- “Leave them to me, I’ll manage them,” at last imploringly whispered a hanger-on of the establishment – ” Leave them to you!” indignantly replied the insulted gentleman; “No, I’m master here,” a demonstration which was received with loud applause. ” Ladies and gentlemen,'” continued Mr. Cooper, “but I won’t say the ladies, for they know how to behave themselves, but I say, gentlemen, I’ve come here to enjoy myself, and I hope you’ve done the same, so don’t let us have no rows.’
Order was then restored, and Mr. C. intimated, that ” as Mrs. C. didn’t feel inclined, he would feel obliged if any lady would lead him off in a quad-drilll.” No answer was made to this appeal, but a respectable costermonger at length succeeded in giving an impetus to the affair by promenading with a fair friend up and down the stage which would have been n delightful exhibition only that by keeping his hat on he somewhat, marred the effect. A country dance was soon arranged ; ” haste to the wedding,” was struck up, and “hands across” ” up and down the middle ” &c., &c., were gone through in beautiful style. One remark we feel bound to make— we hate egotism in every shape, and therefore we consider the conduct of the gentleman in top boots (” we mention no names,” but we believe him to be an ostler,) who danced in a corner by himself, highly reprehensible.
To conclude ; at eleven we were compelled reluctantly to leave the gay and be-witching scene of festivity, highly delighted at the exhibition of the happiness which prevailed throughout. We consider much praise is due to the getters-up of the affair, not only for the intention, but the successful mode in which they succeeded in carrying it out, and we therefore beg to wish them “many happy returns of the season.” (PPP 30/12/41)
A Christmas Box
I’m not sure about the receipt of Christmas boxes in general, but the apprentice working for the barrister Horatio Nelson Carrington certainly received a box around the ears two days before Christmas. It demonstrates how much physical punishment was condoned under the Master and Servant legislation then in force.
AN UNTOWARD APPRENTICE. — Mr.Carrington, the solicitor, had occasion on Thursday, to bring before the Police Bench an apprentice, for the most improper conduct. It appeared that the previous evening, upon Mr. C. going home and not finding preparations for dinner at five o’clock, as he had directed, he enquired of the boy the reason, when he coolly replied that he had better do it himself ; naturally irritated, Mr, C. gave him, both correctly arid legally, a box on the ears, when the young urchin turned round and seized him by the lappelle of the coat, some knives were lying on the table, and the boy made towards them, evidently with the view of stabbing Mr.C., who rushed him out of the room. Just as Mr. C. let go of his hold, the boy struck him a violent blow on the side of the head. A horse-whip being produced, Mr C. gave the boy a most judicious whipping, and then handed him to the care oft the police.
The Bench sentenced the boy to fourteen days in a cell, and Mr. Carrington said that he would give up the boy’s indentures and pay his expenses in the Seahorse to Sydney; he belonged to the Orphan School. Mr. C. said further, that the boy had the most vicious turn of mind when spoken to; he was constantly in the habit of replying,” My father was a lag, my mother was a lag, and I hope to be a lag myself.” No doubt the wish of this young gentleman will be carried out in due time. (PPG 25/12/41)
How’s the weather?
Southerly breezes ensured that the weather remained much cooler for this last week of the year. There was one day of 88 degrees (31 degrees) but the rest of the week was more temperate.
Fresh and strong winds or gales almost constant; weather cool for the season and much clouded but with little rain.
And with that- on to 1842!!! (and 2017!)