Monthly Archives: April 2017

This Month in Port Phillip 1842: April 1842 (Part II)

Marry in haste, repent at leisure….

Assigned convicts in Port Phillip might only have had to attend one muster every New Year’s Day, but they were still convicts.  This was reinforced by the regulations involving marriage.

THE CONVICT SYSTEM — To prevent bigamy, and also to secure the government against being burdened with the support of the families of convicts, it has long been a standing ordinance of the government that no convict shall be married without leave first had and obtained from the Governor, and any evasion of this law is punishable as a misdemeanor. On Thursday last, a convict named William Beresford, who is assigned to Mr. W. H. Dutton, one of the largest importers of this detestable species of labour, was brought before the Melbourne bench, charged with offending against this law by marrying one Mary Hall, without the sanction of the Governor. The prisoner, it appeared, was married in February last, by the Rev. Mr. Forbes, of the Scots Church, to whom he represented himself as a free immigrant by the Thomas Laurie. The prisoner admitted his guilt, but alleged he had the consent of his master, who had advised him should any questions be asked, to pass himself off as a free man. Mr. Dutton when examined, admitted that he had given his consent to the marriage, but he denied altogether having advised the prisoner to deceive the clergyman. Mr. Simpson, who was on the bench, expressed in strong terms his disapprobation of the conduct of Mr. Dutton, who, as a magistrate, and for many years an assignee of convict labour, could not be ignorant of the enormity of the offence of which the prisoner was guilty. Beresford was informed that his marriage was a nullity, and sentenced to expatiate his offence by working for six months in irons. During the examination it transpired that on a previous occasion Mr. Dutton had given his assent to the marriage of another of his assigned servants named Spicer, but that worthy having been insolent to the clergyman who was to have united him to his ‘cara sposa’, the ceremony did not take place. The bench directed Mr. Dutton to bring Spicer before them forthwith that he might be dealt with also. Mr. Dutton’s conduct in this affair is altogether so inexcusable that we think the bench scarcely did their duty in failing to deprive him of the whole of his assigned servants. — Ed. P. P. P.  [Port Phillip Patriot, 11/4/42]

It was no doubt to warn young women about the dangers of hastily and ill-advised marriages to convicts-under-cover that the Port Phillip Gazette issued this warning on 20 April, directed particularly to female immigrants, new to the colony:

CAUTION TO FEMALE IMMIGRANTS.— The facilities for concealment which the free state of society in this district holds out to prisoners is often an inducement to runaway convicts to settle under the guise of emacipated or originally free characters. Bolters from Van Diemen’s Land and Sydney make their way to Port Phillip, and seduced by the means of earning an independence, are so incautious as to take up with some pursuit in towns or their vicinity, where contact with the police is certain to lead sooner or later to their detection. In some instances these men have the folly to marry, and thus entail misery and disgrace upon the unfortunate women with whom they become connected. Examples have come within our knowledge in which a “Bolter” at the time of his re-capture was to all appearance in the virtuous enjoyment of a livelihood industriously acquired and pursued. In such cases the question whether Government should not let them remain undisturbed so long as they continue good and useful members of society, has been sometimes raised, but so dangerous might the precedent prove, to the control of the convict population of neighbouring colonies that severity becomes unavoidable. Where free women have had the misfortune to be deceived into linking their fate with runaway convicts, the hardship of their position is extremely distressing, and should be a caution to them to avoid hasty marriages, and particularly with men, who, acknowledging that they have been prisoners are unable to produce their certificates of freedom. We have been led into these remarks by learning that two men are now in custody at the Eastern watch-house, one suspected to be a “bolter” from Van Die-men’s Land, the other a runaway convict from Sydney, both are married, and the unfortunate women are in great tribulation on account of the arrest of their husbands. If the suspicion be verified, the marriages are illegal, the children illegitimate, and any property acquired by their joint industry becomes forfeited to the crown. The women will be cast adrift under the stigma of having formed bad connections, and their fortunes; in all probability, will be for the future under a cloud. It is not without reason, then, that female immigrants should be careful of using the facilities which the state of society holds out to an early marriage. [PPG 20/4/42]

 

This Month in Port Phillip in 1842: April 1842 (Part 1)

On 6th April the Port Phillip Gazette published an article about the various denominations present in Melbourne at the time and their relative strength. I’ve never thought of Melbourne as being a particularly Catholic city, although even as I write this, I think of the prominence of Archbishop Mannix, and the Catholic-Protestant riots that were about to break out in Melbourne in 1843. I’ve always thought of Melbourne being more Presbyterian or Anglican, perhaps because of the more visible presence of their large city churches in Melbourne today. Nonetheless, it’s interesting that during 1842, the Catholic church was the most prominent in Melbourne with the Church of England coming a poor fifth. According to the Gazette, in order of size the churches were:

1. The Roman Catholics

The junction of Elizabeth Lonsdale Sts Melbourne

Edmund Thomas The junction of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets, 1853 (some ten years later). St Francis’ church is on the right hand side. Love the emu in the front garden (as if!)  Source: State Library of Victoria

http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/223224

I. — The Church of Rome, first formed under the Rev. Mr. Geogheghan, in 1839, now under the spiritual charge of the Rev. Mr. Stevens, has the largest number of communicants among the churches of Melbourne ; the attendance varies from seven hundred to a thousand souls; the permanent place of worship standing in Elizabeth street, is a neat gothic Chapel, constructed of brick; and calculated to hold a thousand sitting when completed; occasionally an assistant priest or deacon, is sent from Sydney, but no estimate has yet been allowed by Government for the stipend of a second priest.

 

2. The Wesleyan Methodists

Wesleyan Chapel with a view in Queen Street

Henry Gilbert Jones (1804-1888) Wesleyan Chapel with a View in Queen Street  Source: State Library of Victoria

http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/13069

II. — The Wesleyan Church ; the members of this society who are the followers of the celebrated divine Wesley, have fulfilled the observances of congregational meetings from the earliest times of the settlement, but were not provided, until lately, with a resident minister. The branch in Melbourne was at one time attached to the Church in Van Diemen’s Land, but has since been placed under. the charge of the Chairman in Sydney; the Rev. Mr. Orton, a Wesleyan Missionary, having resigned his duties in New South Wales, was induced to supply the urgent want of ministerial labour, but was lately relieved by the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson, appointed by the proper authorities at home ; their chapel which is situated in Collins-street, is attended by eight hundred people, and will require shortly to be enlarged to give more accommodation ; great pains have been bestowed on the vocal and instrumental music in the Wesleyan chapel and the exhortations of the minister, the prayers of the congregation, effectively blend with the innocent and harmonious attractions of the choir and organ; there are also ten local preachers attached to the congregations whose talents are a powerful aid to their spiritual ends.

3. Presbyterians

Elevation and Ground Plan of Presbyterian Church. I.e. Scots Church Collins Street Melbourne

Samuel Jackson 1807-1876, architect, Elevation and Ground Plan of Presbyterian Church (i.e. Scots Church, Collins St, Melbourne) (Technical Drawing) 1841. Source: State Library of Victoria

http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/120261

III. — The Presbyterians are a body in connection with the established Church of Scotland, the ministers of the provincial congregations acknowledging the superin- tendence of the synod of New South Wales whose place of convention is in Sydney. ‘The attendants at the Kirk in Melbourne are about equal to those of the Wesleyan body, and are under the zealous ministry of the Reverend Mr. Forbes, whose great desire has been to obtain as many assist-ants as possible for the religious instruction of the neighbouring districts; the Committee for Colonial Churches of the General Assembly in Scotland, has granted considerable assistance, by providing, no less than four ministers who are either forming congregations, or, have already received a call. The Reverend Mr. Clow, a private settler in Port Phillip, and formerly a chaplain on the East India Company’s establishment for the Kirk, in Bombay, was the earliest ministering clergyman to the Presbyterians of Melbourne, Mr. Forbes, the present incumbent, having having taken charge in 1838. This gentle man has signalised his ministry by his care for the advancement of education; and of the construction and character of the Scots’ School, we shall have much to say in the notice we shall devote hereafter, to the Schools of Melbourne; the permanent place of worship known as the Scots’ Church, is built on the Eastern Hill, or Collins-street East, and has been open for some time to congregational purposes, but is not quite finished in its interior arrangements.

4. Independents

Collins Street East from the Independent Chapel

Henry Gilbert Jones (1804 – 1888) Collins Street East from the Independent Chapel. Source: State Library of Victoria.

http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/130647

IV. — The Independents are a highly zealous and respectable body, under the ministry of the Rev. Mr. Waterfield, an amiable pastor of their church, who arrived in Melbourne in 1838, and commenced the formation of the community, over which he now exercises his professional charge ; like the clergymen of other establishments he might be a stipendiary of the Government, but in strict obedience to the principles of his church, he receives his support from the voluntary contributions of his communicants and attendants. The Independent Chapel was the first permanent place of worship completed and opened in Melbourne ; it has a facial plainness which consorts well with the neat conveniences of the interior, it is built in Collins-street, and neighbours with the Scots’ Kirk; the sittings are capable of accommodating about six hundred which nearly approaches the total muster of its congregation.

5. Church of England

St. James Cathedral

Chas.S.Bennett (1869-1930) St James Cathedral. This image was drawn in 1881 when the church was in its original location near the corner of Little Collins St and William Street. It was shifted to the corner of King and Batman Streets in 1913-14. Source: State Library of Victoria

http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/72322

The Church of St. James on the English establishment is shewing a front which no longer leaves it marked with inferiority ; the structure is as far advanced as that of the Roman Catholic Chapel, although the difference of materials and interior fittings, will place it last in the race of competition..

V. — The Church of England is the oldest in point of foundation but the last in scope of attainments ; mismanagement of its temporalities has done much to retard its growth, but later exertions have given it an impetus that will, we anticipate, insure the recovery of its proper position. For some period after the formation of the settlement, such part of the church services as may be performed by laymen were industriously discharged by Mr. James Smith, who was relieved in 1838 by the Rev. Mr. Grylls. At that time subscription lists were opened in aid of the permanent church, and other steps taken for the accommodation of the adherents. The circumstances to which we have alluded, but upon which we do not wish to expatiate, retarded the growth of the congregation and the completion of the church ; the former now consists of about four hundred members, out of a return certified by the census of two thousand in the town and its vicinity ; the latter will be a handsome stone edifice, built in a durable and costly style; when finished, which may be looked for in three or four months, the accommodation afforded will be the means, we trust, of re-uniting a community at present scattered and neglected. The Rev. Mr. Wilson, who succeeded Mr. Grylls, now translated to the incumbency of St. Phillip’s in Sydney, is about to proceed to Portland with the view of founding another church, while the Rev. Mr. Thomson remains as the minister of St. James’s, in Melbourne.

6. The others

VI. — Besides these are small bodies of Quakers, Baptists, and Jews, but whose numerical strength is as yet severally too small for the formation of a regular community. union bank.

‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony Marra

constellation

2013, 400p

Reading the debut book of a writer whose second book you really liked is a bit of a gamble. What if s/he only found firm footing with the second book? What if the first was a dud?

I needn’t have worried. There are similarities between Anthony Marra’s second book The Tsar of Love and Techno in that both books have sections set in Chechnya (in fact, the whole of Constellation is set there) and they both have oblique titles,  but this book focusses more on a small group of people and is ‘straighter’.

It is set over five days, and the book is divided into three sections (The First and Second Day;  The Third Day; and The Fourth and Fifth Day). But within these three sections the narrative slides chronologically- and I use the word ‘slide’ deliberately because each chapter is headed with a timeline spanning 1999 to 2004 with the year in which the chapter is set marked out in bold type. In 2004, in a small snow-covered village in Chechnya, the good hearted Akhmed watches as his life-long neighbour Dokka is arrested and his eight year old daughter Havaa flees into the woods.  Akhmed finds her, and knowing that they will come back for her too, he takes her to a Russian doctor in the city, Sonja Rabina, who is struggling to hold together her bombed-out hospital.  There’s lots of backstory to be filled in: why Dokka has been arrested; who informed on him;  who this doctor Sonja is, the relationship between the villagers, and the tension between Chechnyans and Russians. I know very little Chechnyan history, but I feel that I know more having read this book- and what an easy, seductive way to learn it.

All of this written with wisdom and compassion and with landscapes and people described so clearly that you can see it. Is this really only his second book and is he really only the age of my son? He’s good. Very good.

Delia Falconer wrote a very good review in the Sydney Review of Books.

My rating: 9.5

Read because: I so much enjoyed his second book.

Movie: ‘Loving’

Richard Loving, a white labourer, married Mildred Jetta  in 1958, in contravention of the miscegenation laws current in Virginia which banned inter-racial marriages. The American Civil Liberties Union took their case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

You’d never know that Joel Edgerton, who plays Richard Loving, is Australian because his monosyllabic utterances are just as incomprehensible to Australian ears as the rest of the dialogue in the film. Mildred Loving played by Ruth Negga, is a more nuanced character, although her doe-eyed sorrow became rather lugubrious by the end of what felt like a very long film.

I’ve been grizzling lately about films which purport to be ‘based on a true story’ that insert dramatic scenes that did not occur.  I don’t think that I need complain about such things here. The court action takes place off stage, because neither Richard nor Mildred wanted to attend, and whatever Richard Loving was thinking, he sure wasn’t saying it.  There’s no high drama in this film, and no knock-em-dead scene: just the sense of brewing trouble and festering injustice.  It’s a sobering story, and one that we should know. But, as I said, it did feel like a very long movie.

Consistent with my usual belated reviewing, ‘Loving’ is advertised as ‘Last Days!’ at Cinema Nova.

My rating: 3.5 stars

Movie: Alone in Berlin

This movie is based on a book by Hans Fallada (whose book Little Man What Now I read forty years ago but still remember) that fictionalizes the real-life story of Otto and Elise Hampel.

I was struck by how quiet this movie is.  Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson play Otto and Anna Quangel, whose only son is killed fighting for the German army. Their grief is so overwhelming that they cannot say it out loud. But Otto puts it into words, scratched out onto postcards, which he leaves to be found by others. His brief slogans of protest, signed ‘Free Press’ exhort people to rise up against Hitler. For all their simplicity and crudity, these postcards taken very seriously by the Nazis.

This is not at all an action movie.  It’s quiet, slow and imbued with a quiet, threadbare dignity. Writing these postcards was a small and very, very dangerous act of resistance. I’d like to think that I’d be similarly brave, but I know that I would not be.

My rating: 8/5/10

‘Billy Sing: A Novel’ by Ouyang Yu

Billy-Sing-front-cover-for-publicity

2017,  135 p. Transit Lounge

In my grave my spirit lingers, the undead, if you believe that sort of thing, which I think you ought to, you beings so materialistic you forget that life is not just one life but multiple ones, so that, for certain people not tied to possessions and property, life travels forward as it travels back, in time, one’s spirit interconnected to spirits of a similar persuasion, with a mind large enough to encompass all times, all places and all people. Still, as I lie here, I envisage that in some future time someone will stop by and put his ears to my heart, separated by cement and stone, and find himself whispering into the ears of my spirit. I shall listen. I have done enough sleeping in life to live death awake. Conversely, if you have not lived enough death in life, you’d better mind your own business. (p.36)

The voice is that of the dead Billy Sing, a real-life Gallipoli sniper nicknamed ‘The Assassin’ by his fellow soldiers. But it’s an imagined voice- and here the subtitle ‘A Novel’ is important – and it’s a voice that probably belongs more to Ouyang Yu than the character he has created.  In writing this review, I googled ‘Billy Sing’ because,  I admit, I had never heard of him. In the Wikipedia entry, mention is made of a television mini-series made about Sing, which cast him as European.  Queensland National Party member Bill O’Chee, a member of the Billing Sing Commemorative Committee criticized this decision to ‘white-out’ Billy Sing, saying “When a person dies, all that is left is their story, and you can’t take a person’s name and not tell the truth about their story.”  Ouyang Yu couldn’t be accused of ‘whiting out’ his Billy Sing. Instead Billy’s mixed race, in an Australia which saw the White Australia policy as a founding issue, is a fundamental part of his personality and story, permeating not just his reputation but also the language with while Ouyang Yu tells his story. The issues of racism and national identity bookend Billy Sing’s life, silenced only by his stint in the trenches at Gallipoli where he shucks off his humanity to become a disembodied killing machine.

The subtitle of this book is ‘a novel’. As it happens I finished reading this book just as I read Judith Armstrong’s  rumination on the relationship between facts and fiction in her own writing of what she calls ‘biographical novels’ of Sonya Tolstoy and more recently, Dymphna Clark (wife of historian Manning Clark). She describes both these books as  a “hybrid method of rigorous research coupled with intuitive interpretation”  but found that there was strong marketing and cataloguing resistance to accepting them as ‘novels’, even though that is what she insists they are. Hilary Mantel recently raised similar questions in relation to her own historical fiction, where she described fellow historical-fiction writers as ‘cringing’ when they attached a bibliography.

  You have the authority of the imagination, you have legitimacy. Take it. Do not spend your life in apologetic cringing because you think you are some inferior form of historian. The trades are different but complementary”

More than ‘fictionalized biography’, these novels – for they all clearly identify themselves as such – stake for themselves a place for imagination and supposition. The authors do not claim to be writing history or biography: it’s a novel. In Ouyang Yu’s case, he has tethered his narrative around a number of factual, documented fenceposts.  One is the author Ion Idriess’ diary entry about Billy Sing, another is Sing’s Distinguished Conduct citation.  These he cites in a small bibliography at the back.  Beyond these, however, the author has let his imagination play.

When an author is faced with a dearth of documented material, which is the case here, that very absence can be turned into part of the character him or herself, and this is certainly the case here. Billy Sing asserts that others may scribble, but he will not write.

Every time I saw him pick up a pen and put something down in his notebook, a green-covered one featuring a thin blade of corn across the cover, I’d wonder what that would lead to and if, in the writing of things the person vacated himself, a husk of a being, hollow inside and substance emitted.  It would be infinitely preferable to just go and dream and go on dreaming, in a sleep that never ended, and, better still, in  a sleep that was coupled with love or the act of it… If I had the ability to put it down, it would not amount to much, either. I’d just let it go as most things in my life would do. (p. 73)

I found this a difficult book to get into. The language was poetic, but strange and didn’t seem to go anywhere.  It may be the historian in me speaking here, but it was only when I reached those footnotes and realized that there was a factual basis, that I felt as if I were no longer scrabbling on gravel, trying to get a foothold. It’s the sort of book that I enjoyed more afterwards, once I found out more about the real Billy Sing.  The dream-like, insubstantial nature of his telling of his marriage mirrors the historical uncertainty over whether his wife ever came to Australia or not.  Dreams and a sordid, visceral reality are intermingled, and it’s a slippery book to read.

Did I enjoy it? I really don’t know how to answer. It is only short, and I was able to suspend my anxiety over whether I was ‘getting it’ over 135 pages, while I doubt that I could have done so had the book been 300 pages instead.  It’s the sort of book that I enjoyed more after finishing it, and once I’d established the ‘facts’ I was better able to appreciate the artistry and lyricism of the fiction. Somehow, I suspect that this is not the way the author intended his book to be read.

Lisa at ANZLitLovers, who has read a lot of Ouyang Yu’s work has reviewed Billy Sing here.

Source: Review copy

Movie: Jasper Jones

I’ve heard people speak about the movie Jasper Jones and felt quite bemused because it doesn’t sound particularly like the book I remember reading.  Parts of it – yes, but I don’t remember the strong emphasis on Jasper’s aboriginality. Looking back at my own blogpost about the book, I appear to be a bit underwhelmed and puzzled by the hype. I didn’t buy the basic premise of the plot – i.e. that Charlie would feel compelled to get involved – and I must admit that I still feel that way.

So I didn’t have great expectations of the movie (which was not my choice to see). But I was pleasantly surprised.  The acting was excellent, particularly Toni Collette as Charlie’s mother, who had slipped my memory completely from the book.  The small Western Australian timber town was captured faithfully, and it was a satisfying coming-of-age story that evoked shades of  To Kill a Mockingbird.  I really enjoyed it

My rating: 8.5/10