This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 15-23 December

The Tasmanians, ‘the Van Diemen’s Land Blacks’, ‘Robinson’s Blacks’

The newspapers during this week were dominated by the trial of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener which was heard before Judge Willis on 15 December 1841.  The women were acquited, leaving just the two men to face punishment. I will soon review Kate Auty and Lynette Russell’s book on the trial, and will no doubt say more about the case there. After my frequent mentions of this case on this blog, I’m sure that the outcome is no surprise. (See  here, here, here and here  )

Suffice to say, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were found guilty by the jury, with a recommendation to mercy on account of the “peculiar circumstances” of the prisoners’ situation. The Port Phillip Gazette thought that the jury’s recommendation would prevail:

…the verdict of condemnation was delivered a recommendation to mercy on account of the good character given of the condemned by the Chief Protector, and of the peculiar circumstances in which they stood. This rider is the most important point for our consideration and whatever may be the amount of dissent, we heartily rejoice that the province has thus been saved the disgraceful exhibition of a legal murder; for there can be little doubt that the recommendation of the jury will be attended to, so far, at least, to gain a respite for the criminals until the pleasure of the Queen in Council shall be known; and should, even then, that last decision be unfavourable to the principle of leniency, the long suspense endured by the prisoners and the [??] taken by lapse of time from the “force of example” will plead in favour of its practice  [PPG 22/12/41]

Then the Port Phillip Gazette reverted to a more familiar trope. Noting that the jury had pointed to “peculiar circumstances in which the prisoners stand”, the editorial went on

Wild and untameable from their nature, silent in their resentment, quick in their [indistinct] and fearful in their revenge, who can presume to say what notions slumbered in their untutored minds, ready to burst forth on the earliest opportunity that presented itself to their desires?  [PPG 22/12/41]

For now, the Port Phillip Gazette, along with the people of Port Phillip had to wait until the case reached its final conclusion in January.

To market, to market

The Melbourne Market opened on 15 December. There were, in effect, three locations of the Market:

  1. The General Market, situated between Williams and Market-streets, adjoining the Custom House and Police office, and facing the river was appropriated for the sale of 1. Fruit and vegetables. 2. Potatoes, 3. Dry goods 4. Poultry, butchers’ meat and fish
  2. The Hay and Corn market, situated in Flinders and Swanston-streets, was established for the disposal of hay, corn, fodder, straw, grass, grain and pulses.
  3. The Cattle Market, intended ultimately to be erected and opened for the sale of horned cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, mules and asses; would for some time be held at the place known as the Auction Company’s yards which were leased for 6 months for the purpose.

Yesterday being the day appointed for the opening of the General Market; at an early hour drays loaded with vegetables &c. began to make their appearance, and shortly after the “gudewives” followed by little “gelpies” carrying the market baskets made their appearance.  The day altogether was an eventful one at the west end of the town, and created almost as much stir as would a coronation, an execution or even a Lord Mayor’s day in London.  [PPP 16/12/41]

The market provided a service, but it also sidelined small-time vendors who sold goods on the street.  In the Port Phillip Gazette of 25 December (yes- on Christmas Day), James Simpson J.P., Chairman of the Market Commissioners warned that

In pursuance of Section No 23 of the 3rd Victoria 1, No 19- Notice is hereby given, that any person or persons selling or exposing to sale any butchers’ meat, poultry, eggs, butter, vegetables, or other provisions usually sold in markets, in any of the street, lanes, entries, or other public passages, other than the market places appropriated for such purposes by the commissioners, shall, on conviction thereof before a justice of the peace, for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of five pounds. [PPG 25/12/41]

Steam away!

The vast majority of communication between the various Australian colonies took place through steamer rather than roads.  The regular schedule of steamer voyages was as follows:

Steamers plying between Melbourne and various parts of the colony: The Seahorse– weekly to Sydney; the Corsair, three times a fortnight to Launceston; the Aphrasia, twice a week to Geelong; the Governor Arthur daily to Williams Town; and the Fairy Queen (which is now laid up undergoing repairs) daily to the shipping at Hobson’s Bay. [PPG 18/12/41]

Actually, the Governor Arthur wasn’t to ply between Melbourne and Williams Town for long, because a fire on the 23 December destroyed the craft at her moorings at Queen’s Wharf at 5.00 am.   Some bark had been placed on board near the boiler the previous evening in order to light the fire in the morning and the vessel burst into flames at 2.00 a.m.  Although the steamer was damaged, all the property on board was saved. The whole of the property on board has been saved. [PPP 23/12/41]

A grisly find

In the first week of December, the Port Phillip Gazette reported:

“MYSTERIOUS- On Thursday last, in consequence of the burial ground being found disturbed in one or two places, it was examined by the sexton who found the bodies of three infants.  They were surgically examined, but nothing found in the appearance of the bodies led to the supposition that anything unfair had caused death. They were again consigned to the earth. There is no doubt that the bodies were those of the children of poor people who could not pay for a more regular interment. This course is however fraught with danger, and might bring parties, although innocent, into serious difficulties.” [PPG 8/12/41]

The Port Phillip Patriot reported the discovery of another infant’s body the next day, making a total of seven children buried clandestinely during the previous two years.

…decency revolted at the bodies of infants being placed only a few inches below the surface, without any coffin, liable to be torn up by dogs and to become offensive and obnoxious in the burial ground. [PPG9/12/41]

Was it infanticide?  Or poverty?

The plea of poverty, if such a plea were offered, is no excuse for conduct so very reprehensible, and so open to suspicion of guilt, for there is no such poverty existing in Melbourne, and even if it did exist, there would be no necessity for resorting to an expedient so revolting. [PPP 9/12/41]

On 23 December the Patriot reported on an inquest held on 21 December at the Crown Hotel in Lonsdale street on the body of yet another baby found that morning (bringing the total to eight, perhaps?) The newly born male child had been deposited in a box and laid in a newly dug grave in the Episcopalean burial ground.  The child was three or four days old and a medical examination found a large quantity of water on the brain.  The verdict was

died by the visitation of God, to wit, of congenital hydrocephalus and not by any violent means whatsoever to the knowledge of the said jurors.

These jurors, too, criticized the way that the baby’s body had been interred. Still, at a time when there was no compulsory registration of births and deaths (which didn’t occur until 1853- there’s a fascinating podcast by Madonna Grehan about the implemention of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1853 here) , and with no lying-in hospitals (or any hospitals for that matter at this stage, except for one for convicts) then it would be very possible for children to be born and die without a documentary trace.

Arrival of immigrant ships

The economy was becoming wobbly and after a much-publicized labour shortage for farm and domestic workers during 1840 and the first part of 1841, now wages were dropping and unemployment was rising.  And still the immigrant ships kept arriving, full of immigrants gathered either through privately-sponsored bounty schemes (which acted as a handy little earner for the immigration agent) or through government schemes.  Arrangements were made and departures had occurred months ago, at a time of economic optimism that was now rapidly fading.  I wouldn’t vouch for the accuracy of my transcription of these figures as the font on the newspaper is very fuzzy, but the almost simultaneous arrival of so many ships with so many immigrants must have been daunting:

Nov 4                    Diamond                             from Cork            336 imms

Nov 27                  Alan Kerr                             Greenoch            250

Nov 27                  Wallace                                Liverpool             320

Nov 29                  Francis                                  Liverpool             194

Nov 30                  Marquis of Bute                  Greenoch            234

Nov 30                  Mary Nixon                          Cork                       134

Dec 4                     Brackenmoor                        Cork                       136

Dec 16                   Ward Chipman                  Bristol                   370

Dec 16                   William Mitchell                Leith                      23

Dec 17                   Agostina                              Cork                       195

[PPG 22/12/41]

The Port Phillip Herald of  17/12/41 noted that the Ward Chipman had recorded 21 deaths, 19 of them children from dysentery brought on by the change of diet and want of nourishment  consequent on the long detention of the immigrants in Bristol.  I can only imagine the recrimination and sorrow among the families on that ship.

Picnic Time

On Tuesday 21st December Captain Cole held a picnic at Brighton. Obviously the ladies and gentlemen of Port Phillip were already in holiday mode on a Tuesday.

A splendid fete champetre was given on Tuesday last by Captain Cole of Melbourne, to nearly one hundred and fifty ladies and gentlemen.  Nothing could exceed the style in which it was got up; it is the first of a series of fetes to be given during the present season the fashionables of Melbourne.

Georgiana McCrae, whose sister-in-law Thomas Anne had become engaged to Capt George Ward Cole on the 11th, wrote about the picnic:

 Dr and Mrs Myer arrived in their carriage to take me to the picnic but on account of the wild-appearing sky, I elected to stay at home, and it was well I did because at three o’clock a southerly gale sprang up, which continued until five, with such a hurricane fore that the gentlemen of the party had to hold on to the tent with all their might to keep the canvas from being blown away.  Returning at dusk, there were upsets and bruises, even broken limbs…yet the Myers and our people escaped unhurt.[ Journal 21 December 1841]

Actually, it was just as well Georgiana didn’t go- a week later she gave birth to a baby girl.

How’s the weather?

The top temperature for the period was 92 degrees (33 C) but as Georgiana McCrae’s journal notes, it was pretty wild and changeable (as December can be, as we know)

Fresh and strong winds daily, variable and squally; very heavy squalls 15th and 21st, the latter accompanied by heavy rain, the weather otherwise fine. [15-21 Dec]

At a time when so many people were arriving – both immigrants and self-funded arrivals- it was no doubt fitting to give advice on how to cope with Melbourne’s weather. It’s rather amusing to see that obviously workingmen coped better with the heat, even though ladies, children and “parties who could escape from business for a couple of hours” benefited from a siesta.

THE WEATHER.  — Summer with all its sultriness is with us. The heat during several different days has been excessive; the drought, however, which usually accompanies its progress his not yet become so great, as to be a matter of Complaint. The supply of water, which for the want of a properly constructed weir  in the river to prevent the ingress of the salt tide from the bay -is commonly inferior, retains its sweetness. The sickness which was prevalent during the last season has been rarely witnessed in this; but the greatest caution should still be entertained in the matters of diet and exercise. The abundance of vegetables and fish will naturally make them common articles of consumption, but no article will be found so injurious as either of them when at all tainted or stale; and under any circumstances if eaten to excess diarrhoea will ensue. Exercise must consist of bathing, and riding or walking in  the cooler hours of morning and night ; exposure to the sun more than is necessary should be avoided, although it is certainly found that workmen may freely pursue their vocations during the greatest heat without apparent injury. Cleanliness and temperance are in such a season the greatest preservatives of health, and a residence, if it can conveniently be managed, by the sea is greatly preferable to the low heated atmosphere of the town. A siesta at midday for females,-children, and parties who can escape from business for a couple of hours, will be conducive to strength and cheerfulness. [PPG 18/12/41]

Mind you, gentlemen needed to be careful when bathing, lest they be fined up to one pound. Swimming was illegal:

within view of any public wharf, quay, bridge, street, road or other place of public resort within the limits of the town between the hours of six in the morning and eight in the evening. [PPP 20/12/41]

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