Category Archives: Port Phillip history

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 24 -31 December 1841

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.]

Christmas celebrations

I’ve written about Christmas in Port Phillip in 1841 here and about Christmas in Port Phillip during the early 1840s here.

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:


“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.

Getting rowdy

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.


“.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!)

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]

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 1-7 December 1841

The Indigenous Question blows up

[Warning:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this posting contains the names of deceased persons.]

I hadn’t realized until looking through the papers for this week that there were two court trials involving indigenous people running concurrently in Port Phillip during these first weeks of December.  They were very different trials.  The first, involved the ‘VDL Blacks’ or ‘The Tasmanians’, the group of Tasmanian aborigines that George Augustus Robinson had brought over with him when he took up the role of Chief Protector of Aborigines for the district of Port Phillip. I’ve written about Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener on several occasions previously (see here, here, here and here ) They were accused of ‘outrages’ and murder, and had finally been captured and brought to Melbourne.  During this first week, initial hearings were held in the Police Court before a bench of magistrates.

The second trial involved a settler, Sanford George Bolden, who was indicted for shooting with intent to murder an aboriginal native called Tatkier on his squatting run near Layton, down near Portland.

So, we have two trials: one of a group of  indigenous people for murdering a settler, and the other of a settler for intending to murder an indigenous man.  Add to this press outrage, an equivocal government response, the fanning of controversy by a missionary- and the authorities had a problem on their hands.

The ‘Tasmanians’

On Wednesday 1 December the Port Phillip Gazette reported that large benches of magistrates had sat in the Police Court since the preceding Friday to hear evidence on the case.  They sat on Friday, continued on Saturday, resumed on Monday and proceeded on Tuesday, before a large audience.  The Port Phillip Gazette had pretty much made up its mind:

The crimes alleged against them have been too clearly made out to leave any chance of acquittal, and their employment under Mr Robinson for such a number of years, precludes any hope of mercy on the plea of ignorance.  The case, therefore, is one of peculiar and distressing interest: and the only door of escape, or alleviation of guilt, rests in the fact of their having been deprived of their liberty, and enslaved under British authority.

Their conclusion was:

First, the prisoners are civil subjects of the Crown, by the most indubitable proofs of international law; they belonged to a people who were conquered by arms, and who subsequently yielded their independent rights by treaty to the Government of the country.  Secondly, they have a knowledge of British jurisprudence, are acquainted with the moral as well as civil law of the country, and can neither plead ignorance nor self-defence; they are, in fact, condemned under that very exposition of the law which the Resident Judge (from humane motives, but on mistaken principles) laid down in the case of Bon Jon.

So what did the Port Phillip Gazette think should be done? Their prescription was that they should

consider…them as they are- the wildest children of nature, without laws, religion, or obligation- and by taking them under our protection, with a view at once to curb their evil propensities, and instill into their minds the rudiments of our social order; in one word, by introducing a separate system of legislation for the Aborigines

The editor’s reasons for this stance, however, were steeped in the language and philosophy of the 1840s (however unacceptable it might be to us today):

We do not wish it to be understood, however, that these prisoners are, in consequence of such an issue, to be discharged; their conduct is far too dangerous to authorize so rash a proceeding; they must be placed under restraint; they must no more be considered free or irresponsible agents; civilization, it is proved, has no effect on their savage spirit of destruction. Like the tameless hyena, they are irreformable; they must be placed beyond the means at once of mischief and of want. A similar course should be pursued with all adults: and it is upon the sucking infant only that any complete system of education should be commenced, and progressively practiced. It is in their case only that success can be looked for; and while the present generation remains, specific treatment, distinct legislation, should be enforced  [PPG 1/12/41]

The evidence given over these days to the Police Court  was reported in full in the newspaper.

At the same time the Gazette ran a two-part series giving the history of aboriginal-settler relations in Van Diemens Land, describing the Black War and Robinson’s ‘friendly mission’. The article criticized Protector Robinson in particular on the grounds that once the Blacks had surrendered themselves to him, they never attempted to leave him and that he left them completely to their own control, seemingly taking little notice of them. [1/12/41; 4/12/41]

The trial was set for the next session of the  Supreme Court.  We’ll read more about this case later.

The Bolden case

At the very same time that the magistrates at the Police Court were committing the Van Diemens Land black to trial, the case of Sanford George Bolden was being heard before Judge Willis in the Supreme Court.  I’ve written about this case in Law & History Vol 3, which has recently been issued.  As Willis said several times during the hearing, the Boldens were neighbours of his in Heidelberg, and he was at pains to say that this had not influenced him in the slightest. (I think the Judge doth protest too much.)

Mr Sanford George Bolden was indicted for shooting at with intent to murder, an aboriginal native named Takier [Tatkier], with a pistol loaded with powder and a bullet at Layton, on 1st November. The second count charged it to have been committed with power and shot.  And the third with powder and slugs. [PPG 4/12/41]

Reading through the trial reports – and there is a very full account of the trial in the Port Phillip Patriot of 6 December (see here) – you’ll see that Judge Willis took a very active part in this case.  He usually did, but it is particularly marked in this case.  Much of the case revolved around the failure of the Assistant Protector Charles Sievwright to follow proper procedures in taking evidence. Willis certainly had cause to criticize. Sievwright indicated to Bolden that the body of Tatkier had been found, when this was not the case. Moreover, Sievwright was the object of rumour about his domestic arrangements and strongly criticized by the settlers.  Willis certainly didn’t hold back, and this criticism at a time when the Chief Protector, George Augustus Robinson, was being held responsible for the Tasmanian added to a generalized attack on the Protection policy as a whole.

La Trobe was blamed by the settlers, too. In an editorial on 11 December, the Port Phillip Gazette complained that Willis said that he can act against natives for depredations on the whites but La Trobe discountenanced the practical amenability of the natives to that law. Willis said that a settler who had the privilege of a run from the Government had a right to exclude the intrusion of the natives but when settler brought complaints before La Trobe, he intimated that they must abide by the consequences of coming to a country infested with savages. [PPG 11/12/41 p.2]

Most importantly in this case, Willis clearly stated that leaseholders had the right to turn aborigines off their land.

“ I wish it to be distinctly understood from this bench, that if a party receives a licence from Government to occupy a run, and any person white or black come onto my run for the purpose of stealing my property, I have a right to drive them off by every lawful means in my power. … The blacks have no right to trespass unless there is a special clause in the licence from the government  [PPG 4/12/41]

This statement was received with alarm by both La Trobe and Gipps, who feared that this would encourage settler violence even more.  The settlers, however, warmly embraced Willis’ opinion. It took the Colonial Office until 1848 to definitively state that pastoral leases were

not intended to deprive the Natives of their former right to hunt over these Districts, or to wander over them in search of subsistence in the manner to which they have been heretofore accustomed… [Earl Grey to Fitzroy 11 February 1848]

By this time, of course, Willis was long gone from the colony and the Port Phillip frontier completely ‘pacified’.  But back in the courtroom in 1841, Willis instructed the jury that

you can find no other verdict than an acquittal of the prisoner… I tell you again and again, the prisoner must be acquitted.”  [PPG 4/12/16]

And Bolden was, too.  Although his acquittal was not without some dissension.  Edmund Finn, writing as ‘Garryowen’ felt that Willis’ charge to the jury was “so favourable to the prisoner as to amount to marked partiality”(p. 350).  One of the jurymen stood up in court to declare that Bolden left the court “without the slightest imputation on his character”, but he was contradicted by the foreman of the jury who said that that was not the unanimous opinion of the jury.

A missionary has his two-pennethworth

Just to add to the controversy, the Wesleyan missionary repeated to a Wesleyan meeting in Melbourne comments that he had previously made in Launceston where he had accused some Portland settlers of parties of going out on the Sabbath with guns, ostensibly to shoot kangaroos, but in reality to hunt and kill blacks. Because the evidence of the native was not admissible in court, he claimed,  the white murderers had escaped with impunity.  [PPP 6/12/41 p.2]  The settlers of the District published a letter in the newspapers denying his claims and stating that

the information by which you seem to have been guided is false and calumnious… we would call upon you to justify yourself for having made such statements by attempting to prove at least some of your many and heavy charges. [PPG 8/12/41]

One of the signers was Sanford George Bolden.

Wreck of the William Salthouse

During the first week in December, the Port Phillip Gazette reported the loss of the William Salthouse, the first vessel to be wrecked within the bay of Port Phillip itself. A 260 ton vessel, bound to Port Phillip from Quebec, it was laden with timber, flour saltfish, beer, cider and vinegar. It was wrecked at the Heads on the reef that runs out from Point Nepean.

This reef we may observe was never properly laid down, it is represented as terminating abruptly at the last rock which shows itself above water, whereas the dangers continue under water at various depths, to the length of a cable or about 110 fathoms. [PPG 4/12/41]

The ship was boarded by one of the pilots from Shortland’s Bluff but she was unmanageable; the pilot gave her a second anchor but it snapped and the barque ran onto the sand known as the Pope’s Eye.  The water was rising.

The captain and the sailors succeeded in saving the ship’s boats and the sails of the ship, together with the ships papers, and some portion of their own clothes, but as the vessel was rapidly settling down in the water, they were speedily compelled to abandon her and take refuge on shore until assistance came to their aid. [PPP 2/12/41]

The owner of the consignment, Mr Ashurst, sailed down to render every assistance in his power.

On reaching the wreck, it was seen that no hope remained of saving the vessel or the cargo- she had fallen off the shoal into deep water…It is expected that she will go to pieces in a short time, especially as the weather has been very rough and the window blowing hard from seaward since the hour she sank.[PPG 4/12/41]

And sure enough, within a week there was an advertisement in the papers advertising that James Cain had purchased the wreck and cargo:

The undersigned having purchased the above wreck with all her cargo, hereby cautions all persons from appropriating any portion of the same.  Any person picking up any part ashore or afloat will be paid a salvage on delivery to JAMES CAIN, Queen’s Wharf. [PPG 11/1241 p 2]

The William Salthouse is now one of Victoria’s most important shipwrecks and is on the Victorian Heritage Database.  But at the time, as the Port Phillip Patriot pointed out:

The William Salthouse was, we believe, the first vessel excepting the prison ship Buffalo with the Canadian rebels, that ever came direct from British North America to any of the Australian Colonies, the catastrophe is therefore doubly to be deplored as likely to case of damp upon an opening trade which might have proved highly advantageous to these Colonies.[PPP 2/12/41]

And how’s the weather?

Obviously it was typical early-December weather, with all the changeability we Melburnians have come to love (?!) The highest temperature for the week was recorded as 88 (31C) and the lowest 45 (7.2).  It was notable enough for the Port Phillip Gazette to devote a long paragraph to Melbourne’s Favourite Topic:

The Weather. – The variations of temperature which have marked the past week are worthy of notice — the extreme of heat during the season has probably taken place, and the most sudden alteration which we may experience has accompanied it. For several days previously, the weather showed all the indications of gloom, storm, and heat. On Saturday,fitful gusts of wind swept over the town,and caught up columns of dust and sand into the air, which were carried away in whirlwinds, that gave a miniature idea of the horrible simooms of the Eastern dessert. One of these, particularly large and well defined, was traced from the river bank across the western end of Flinders and Collins-streets, through the opening in the Church-square ; hence it took the direction of Bourke-street, and enlarging as it proceeded, shot up a column of sand, the ruddy colour of which was strongly contrasted against the blue sky and rarified atmosphere ; the gyrations of the whirlwind, accompanied by a progressive motion carried it diagonally across the Eastern end of the town down to the river bank again, where crossing, it was dispersed on the opposite bank. Sunday was remarkable for its stormy character, the sand flew in broad clouds with a piercing force, that drove the pedestrian from the street, and the squalls raged round the building occupied as the New Church, that the congregation was obliged to disperse without the performance of divine service. One or two heavy thunder showers succeeded, which falling on the shingled roof of St. James’s Church, succeeded in penetrating, those parts where the heat had made the timber covering shrink, and threw down such a shower bath upon the inmates, as compelled many to change their seats. Monday and Tuesday were both sultry and oppressive, and the heat on Wednesday had arisen to a degree that rendered It almost insupportable. Towards the evening, the bush in every direction took fire,and from the signal hill a semicircle of burning forest was visible, through the darkness of the night, for twenty miles in the direction of Geelong. While the sun remained above the horizon the air was perfectly breathless, but at dark a hot northerly wind set in, that drove the fires nearer to the site of Melbourne, and carried with it a smoke that at daylight was descried hanging like a vast pall over the town, and spreading the panic of a conflagration. During this period the thermometer stood at 75 degrees, or nearly the same average temperature as at Calcutta through the year. With the additional stimulus of the sun’s rays the column nearly reached 90, when a sudden shift of wind took place— the sea breeze came up, swept away in the “twinkling of an eye” the superincumbent smoke and brought to the gasping inhabitants the long looked for relief. The mercury shortly fell to nearly 10 degrees below its former mean range, on about 18 degrees in as many minutes. The remain der of the day (Wednesday) was clouded and threatening. On Thursday it rained heavily ; the weather has now resumed its usual tranquility. [PPG 8/12/41]

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 8-14 October 1841

Governor Gipps’ visit

I let slip last week that Governor Gipps was to visit the Port Phillip District in October 1841. There had been hints and rumours but now it had been confirmed: Governor Gipps was to visit for the first time.  He hadn’t been to Port Phillip, but he had already met the superintendent Charles La Trobe, who stayed with him in Sydney before coming down to Port Phillip.  The warmth of their relationship is reflected in the Gipps-La Trobe Correspondence, edited by A.G.L. Shaw.

The newspapers didn’t know whether to gush with excitement or to continue with their ongoing litany of complaint about the Governor and  New South Wales generally.  i.e “we provide all the money through land sales and they give us nothing back”; “why doesn’t Sydney give us more for infrastructure?” etc (not unlike the State Premiers in Australia today, come to think of it).  In the end the glamour of vice-regal ceremony won out and whole columns were devoted to the visit.

We’re not at that stage yet: they were still knee-deep in planning, and a public meeting was held at the Exchange Rooms to plan the visit. First question: how should he arrive? Mr Verner suggested that

the meeting should nominate a deputation to wait upon the Governor on board the steamer on her arrival in the Bay, and to request his Excellency to land publicly at the Beach at such time as might suit his convenience.  Mr Arden was of opinion that the better mode would be for the deputation to proceed in the Aphrasia to meet the Governor, and that His Excellency should be brought in the steamer to the wharf where the colonists could assemble to receive him on his arrival.  A lengthy discussion on this topic ensued, the one party maintaining that it was desirable that His Excellency should land at the Beach, because the approach to the town from that direction was calculated to give him a much more favourable impression of its beauty and extent that the approach by the river, and the other party insisting that if subjected to the necessity of wading through the swamp, His Excellency would scarcely have leisure or inclination to survey the opening beauties of our metropolis. (PPP 11/10/41)

In the end, it was decided to leave it up to the committee.  Next question- the public dinner. Who should be the chairman? It was decided that La Trobe should be asked to do the honours, to which he promptly agreed. And so, soon this advertisement appeared:


The social calibre of the stewards and the two-guinea-a-head ticket price indicated that this would be a thoroughly respectable gathering.  None the less, a correspondent to the Port Phillip Patriot (who, you may remember could well have been one of the authors of the Patriot itself) wrote to ask “is the Dignity Ball farce to be played out over again?” Certainly not, the Editor replied:

Character- not wealth or the fanciful distinctions of birth and station- is to be the test of exclusion from the dinner to the Governor, and that test no reasonable man can object to. [PPP p.2]

A night at the theatre


William Liardet’s depiction of the Theatre Royal (formerly The Pavilion) shown as it stood before its demolition in 1845 and  sketched from memory in about 1875. Source: State Library of Victoria

Not quite so respectable was the prospect of a night at the theatre. It’s easy to lose sight of how closely the theatre was scrutinized in early Melbourne. The Pavilion in Bourke Street, opened in April 1841 went through several name changes.  Edmund Finn, writing as Garryowen gives one of his typically colourful descriptions of the building:

Its dimensions were to be 65 feet by 35 feet, the sum of £11ooo was to be expended on its construction.Its dimensions were to be 65 feet by 35 feet, the sum of £11ooo was to be expended on its construction,…it was one of the queerest fabrics imaginable. Whenever the wind was high it would rock like an old collier at sea, and it was difficult to account for it not heeling over in a gale.The public entrance from Bourke Street was up half-a-dozen creaking steps ; and the further ascent to the ” dress circle,” and a circular row of small pens known as upper boxes or gallery, was by a ladder-like staircase of a very unstable description. Internally it was lighted by tin sconces, nailed at intervals to the boarding, filled with guttering candles, flickering with a dim and sickly glare. A swing lamp and wax tapers were afterwards substituted, and the immunity of the place from fire is a marvel. It was never thoroughly water-proof, and, after it was opened for public purposes, in wet weather the audience would be treated to a shower bath. (p. 451)

Apparently it was licensed to hold concerts and balls, but no ‘theatre’ as such and the violation of its licence conditions led to a rather rambunctious night :

THE PAVILION. There was a tremendous ‘flare up’ in this establishment on Monday night last. Major St John had countermanded the entertainments in consequence of ballet dancing being introduced, that being contrary to the express rules laid down for their guidance. Application was then made to His Honor the Superintendent, but without it being stated to him the decision at which Major St John had arrived. His Honor, in ignorance of this circumstance, said he had no objection to the performance taking place as usual.  The time arrived, the doors opened, and the house filled to the ceiling; the leader of the band flourished his bow, a crash followed and the overture was gone through in good style; the curtain rose, and a song by a lady succeeded. At this critical juncture the chief constable, Mr Falkiner, stepped forward and caused a halt, upon the order given by the Major; an awkward pause followed, which the audience filled up by smoking cigars and sipping from stone bottles; a gentleman in top boots, accompanied by a ruffianly looking groom,  cleared the orchestra at a bound, and commenced a reel; Mr Miller quickly served upon them a writ of ejectment, by propelling them into the pit. Thus passed about an hour, when Mr Miller came forward and announced that His Honor the Superintendent had forbidden the performance- and the curtain dropped again. Then commenced a scene which we never hope to witness again- the hubbub was immense- Waterloo was a fool to it. After the house was cleared, which was with considerable difficulty, in consequence of the demand of the auditory for their money, a servant of His Honor rode up and announced that the concert might proceed; it was however too late, the public had dispersed. The parties interested in the success of the pavilion may thank themselves for this failure, having broken the rules laid down by the police magistrate for their guidance.  Until this place is under the control of respectable parties it never can prosper.[ PPG 13/10/41]

Rude servants

Reading through the Police Court columns, it comes as a jolt to realize just how draconian the N.S.W. “Act for the better regulation of Servants, Labourers, and Workpeople”(1828) legislation was,  even exceeding  the English Masters and Servants legislation on which it was based.Not just content with dismissal, employers could (and did) take their employees to court where they could be imprisoned, sentenced to hard labour or fined.  And so we read in October 1841 of Captain Smyth of Heidelberg taking his servant Ruth Robinson before the court for gross misconduct in what Smyth clearly intended as an exemplary punishment. I haven’t been able to locate any information about the Hired Servants’ Act, but it seems to have restrained Captain Smyth somewhat – although the punishment was still harsh when servants’ wages were about £15 per annum.

HIRED SERVANTS. Ruth Robinson, a hired servant in the employ of Captain Smyth, of Heidelberg, was charged with the following gross misconduct.  The previous day she wished to leave his service, when Captain Smyth said he would go to Town, and when suited with another servant, she was at liberty. During his absence the conduct of the woman Robinson towards Mrs Smyth was most abominable. She gave her mistress to understand that, the master being absent, she should not obey orders.  Upon being requested to bring in the dinner, she said that she would not, until she had dressed herself, then she would bring in the dinner, after which it was her intention to walk into Town; and as she said, so she acted.  The woman also had put herself into so violent a passion that Mrs Smyth had reason to fear personal violence. Captain Smyth said, that he brought the woman before the Bench upon public grounds; here were a number of females coming to the colony, honest and well behaved no doubt, but totally ignorant of their duties as servants; when they had obtained the necessary degree of knowledge, they became insolent, and endeavoured by every means in their power to obtain their discharge.  They were however particularly cautious not to commit themselves before their master, fearing that he might appear against them, but taking advantage of his absence abused their mistress, well knowing the objection of ladies to come into a public Court. He hoped the Bench would make such an example of this woman as to deter others from offending in like manner.

The Bench regretted that under the 10th section of the Hired Servants’ Act, they were forbidden to imprison females for misconduct in their hired services. By the 8th section of the same act they were empowered to inflict a fine, and sentenced her to pay the penalty of £5; if not paid in a fortnight her goods would be levied upon. She was ordered to return to Captain Smyth’s house, and deliver to Mrs Smyth what articles had been placed in her charge.

How’s the weather?

Winds mostly strong; a gale on 12th, weather frequently cloudy, threatening rain at times but none fell. Top temperature for the week was 70; lowest 45.

This Month in Port Phillip: July 1841

Oh dear, all my good intentions of writing a weekly report have all turned to dust! I think I’ll just do a quick skate through July 1841 and then take up again in August 1841.

So what did happen in July 1841?


With our own emphasis on roads and across-land transport, we tend to overlook the steamers that plied their way across Port Phillip and Westernport Bays. In July 1841 the coal steamer Aphrasia joined three other regular steamers based in Port Phillip.

There’s a picture of the Aphrasia here.

The Aphrasia plied between Melbourne and Geelong, a 45 mile journey that took about five hours. When the service started in July 1841, it was planned to run twice a week to Geelong on Monday and Thursday mornings and return the following evening.  It was hoped that an extra service could be introduced shortly.  The Aphrasia was captained by Capt. Henry Lawler, and is commemorated in Geelong in Aphrasia Street.

Interestingly, in the last year or so, two new ferry services have commenced in Melbourne. One runs from Werribee South to Docklands, and the other which commenced last week goes from Portarlington to Docklands.


DUEL EXTRAORDINARY.  On Saturday night last, a hostile meeting took place between Mr S___ and Mr D’M_____ near the Flagstaff.  The quarrel originated after dinner, in consequence of a tumbler of whisky toddy having been thrown in the face of the latter gentleman, which not being taken in the Pickwickian scene as intended, a challenge was the immediate consequence.  Mr S. was attended by Mr B., and Mr D’M by Mr R. when by the full ‘light of the moon’ two shots each were exchanged, but happily without effect.  The parties then returned to the house where the quarrel took place, and spent the evening with much conviviality as if nothing had occurred. – It is only necessary to add, that the seconds, unknown to the principals, had adopted the necessary precuation of loading the pistols with powder only! (PPH 6 July 1841)

I assume that Mr S____ was Peter Snodgrass, who was rather fond of the odd duel here and there. Paul de Serville has D’M written as D.Mc____.


Judge Willis had only been in Melbourne since April, but already by July people were starting to grumble about him.  The barrister Edward Brewster and the Police Magistrate James Simpson both fell under his animadversion (what a splendid word!) and public opinion was very much on Simpsons’ side.  When Willis first arrived in Melbourne, there had been gossip about his ‘lack of dignity’ and ‘injudicious temper’ on the bench, but it was largely overlooked in the excitement of opening a Supreme Court in the district. But now, Willis’s “lamentable deficiency of that uniform temperament so desirable in all, but so absolutely important, and in fact indispensable in a Judge upon the Bench” came more clearly into view. (PPH 23/7/41)  The Port Phillip Herald wrote:

A very short period of the continuance of His Honor’s course will be sufficient to render it imperative upon our fellow-colonists, out of justice to themselves, to address His Excellency the Governor upon the subject, and although such petition may not have the direct effect of obtaining the removal of the judge, still the result will be indirectly the same, for it is not probable His Honor could feel comfortable in presiding in the court of a province after the public expression of the colonists’ dissatisfaction with his manner, and under these circumstances we may reasonably infer, that an immediate and voluntary resignation of his seat will be the necessary consequence. ( PPH 27/7/41)

As the good people of Melbourne were to discover, it wasn’t quite that simple….


Land was advertised on the corner of Lonsdale and King Streets. I hadn’t noticed advertisements for this part of town before.

Here’s a Google map street view of it today.

The situation of this valuable property is almost unequalled- being in the most beautiful, healthy and respectable part of the town, and within 150 yards of the telegraph, which is becoming a most FASHIONABLE PROMENADE. This part of Melbourne promises to become in a few years the most eligible part of the town, from the considerable reserves devoted to public buildings, the church, market and others; and this neighborhood has escaped being filled with a dense population, living in skillions, and congregated into rookeries, to the great detriment of public health. Gentlemen desirous of a site for a house in a respectable, quiet, airy and healthy situation are requested to attend this sale.  (PPH 6/7/41)

I don’t think that this was ever the most eligible part of town! However, I noted that ‘Anonymous’ in Graeme Davison’s article thought that the Flagstaff area should become a city square.  I’m interested that so early in Melbourne’s history – after only six years-  there is already being promulgated an almost Dickensian view of Melbourne as a crowded, unhealthy urban space.


It’s just as well that someone was still boosting the economy because prices are falling, land auctions are faltering and wages are being reduced.  And then two more ships arrived…

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.