Category Archives: This Week in Port Phillip District 1842

What happened in Port Phillip in 1842: May 1842 Pt.II

Feting the gentleman captors

Not a lot else happened in May, other than the excitement of catching the Plenty Valley bushrangers. So grateful were the good people of Melbourne to the ‘young gentlemen’ who  were feted with capturing them, that it was proposed to hold a dinner in their honour:

it is proposed to give the brave little band of amateurs who succeeded in capturing the bushrangers, a public dinner.  This is as it should be: no men more honorably deserve such a mark of public respect.[PPH 3/5/42]

A venerable list of Port Phillip Gentlemen put their names to the proposal (including Cavenagh, Arden and Kerr – the editors of the Herald, Gazette and Patriot respectively)


The Port Phillip Herald reported that

The Forthcoming Dinner for the captors will take place Thursday next 26th May at Royal Hotel, tickets 35 shillings each, can be obtained until Wed evening from the stewards. His Honor, Judge Willis, had signified his intention of being present, but has declined on account of the sentence not having yet been carried into effect upon the unfortunate men.   The partition wall between the large front room above stairs and an adjoining back apartment will be removed [PPH 24/5/42]

But then, as the night of the dinner drew near, the editors of the Press learned that the Stewards of the dinner had decided to omit a toast to ‘The Press’, the same insult that had been levelled at them at the Governor’s Dinner as well.  As a group, the editors decided to boycott the dinner.  They wrote to the guests of honour:

To Messrs Snodgrass, Fowler, Gourlay, Chamberlain and Thomson.  Monday 25 May 1842. GENTLEMEN As the absence of every one connected with the Melbourne Press from the dinner to be given to you tomorrow by your fellow-colonists cannot fail to be observed and commented upon, we are desirous that our absence should not be considered as indicating any want of respect for you, or any disinclination to join in a tribute we think you have well deserved. We feel it due to ourselves, however, as the representatives of the Press of the Province, to shew, by our absence from the dinner our sense of the indignity (a second time offered to us) in the exclusion of “The Press” from the list of toasts to be given, under the authority of the stewards, every other toast of a public nature which it is customary to give on such occasions, being inserted in the list which has been furnished to us.  We have the honor &c  Wm Kerr Ed. Patriot, Geo Cavenagh Ed. Herald, A.F.A Greeves Ed. Gazette, T. H.Osbourne, Ed. Times.

And the gentleman guests wrote back:

To Mr Kerr and the Editors of the Melbourne Journals.  Wednesday evening.

GENTLEMEN- In the names of Messrs Gourlay, Fowler, Thomson and myself, I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your communication, and to inform you that our position, as guests to the gentlemen who have tendered us so handsome a testimonial, prevents us interfering in any way with the arrangements they may have made with the Editors of the Melbourne papers for our entertainment.

Permit me to express our regret on our hearing, for the first time, your intention to deprive us of the pleasure of your society on the forthcoming occasion, which we were led to expect from having observed the names of Messrs Kerr and Cavenagh- two of your body- on the list of those gentlemen who offered us so flattering a compliment. I have the honor to be, Gentlemen, Your obedient humble servant, Peter Snodgrass. N. B. Mr Chamberlain being absent from town prevents his replying to your letter. P. S.  [PPP 26/5/42]

After the publication of the correspondence, there was a meeting of “a large number of gentlemen” who intended going to the dinner, who resolved that the toast would be proposed in defiance of the Stewards. Then the Stewards had a meeting behind closed doors on the afternoon of the day on which the dinner was to take place and they decided to propose the toasts themselves, and issued cards of admission to the reporters at 5.30 with the dinner to start at six. The editors returned the tickets with the intimation that “the Editors could not think of exposing their Reporters to an indignity, they were themselves staying away from the Dinner to avoid” [PPP 30/5/42]

And so, avoid it they did, but being newpaper men after all, the Port Phillip Herald  did publish a report of the dinner after all.

THE PUBLIC DINNER Pursuant in the previously notified general meetings at the Royal Exchange Rooms, as fully reported in the columns of the Melbourne Press, a public dinner was given on the evening of Thursday, to the gallant captors of the bushrangers now in the condemned cells awaiting execution – more especially to do well deserved honor to Messrs Fowler, Gourlay, Snodgrass, Chamberlain and Thompson, to whose heroic conduct the inhabitants of the province owe such deep gratitude for the early termination of the career of as desperate a gang of banditti as ever infested the Middle District. [PPH  31/5/42]

The Port Phillip Gazette wasn’t too impressed with this break in editorial solidarity:

 Our contemporary the Herald diminishes our regret at the inability to report the dinner, having published yesterday a full account of the proceedings, by its own reporter.  As the note to Messrs Snodgrass, Gourlay, Fowler, Chamberlain and Thompon, signed by all the Editors, commences with these words- “Gentlemen, The absence of everyone connected with the Melbourne Press &c“- we presume it was not read by the Editor of the Herald, or it is obvious that he neither could consistently attend the dinner, nor give a report of it, because he would not have exposed his reporter to an indignity he would avoid himself. [PPG 1/6/42]

But the celebrations didn’t finish with just a dinner.

MASONIC COMPLIMENT- On Wednesday evening last, at a meeting of the Lodge of Australia Felix, Mr Stephen proposed that a token of regard should be offered to Messrs Gourlay, Fowler and Snodgrass for their heroic conduct in capturing the bushrangers. It was consequently resolved, unanimously, that Masonic Medals, according to their rank held in the order, should be presented to the above named gentlemen upon which should be engraven an appropriate inscription. Although unusual for the Masonic body to take cognizance of [indistinct] circumstances, yet from the fact of there being no less than three out of four of the “intrepid band” freemasons, the [indistinct] deem it a fitting occasion, in no way opposed to the constitution or traditions of the craft, to mark their [appreciation?] of the service rendered to the community; and the public will learn from this …that whilst Masons acknowledge [?benefits?], the fraternity are ever ready to [indistinct] their lives in protecting…their country when duty calls them into action.  [PPH 28/5/42]


It was a rather propitious time for Peter Snodgrass to be revelling in all this public adulation, because there was the little matter of an appearance in the Police Court which might otherwise dimmed his lustre. I find it really strange to juxtapose boggy, unmade Collins Street, with its tree stumps still visible, and all the aristocratic geegaws of ‘cutting’ someone dead and challenging to a duel, as if they were in the streets of London.

THE DUELLO. At the Police Office on Friday last, Messrs Peter Snodgrass and John Maude Woolley were bound over to keep the peace towards all her Majesty’s subjects, but particularly towards Captain George Brunswick Smyth. From the evidence of Captain Smyth, it appeared that one the previous day he met Mr Snodgrass in Collins-street, but not being desirous to rank any longer in the list of that gentleman’s acquaintances, he had given him “the cut direct”. In the evening of the same day Captain Smyth received a visit from Mr John Maude Woolley, whom he described as anything but sober; Mr Woolley announced himself commissioned by Mr Snodgrass to demand an explanation from Captain Smyth, touching his reasons for shunning Mr Snodgrass, and in the event of his inability to assign a satisfactory reason, to name a friend with whom to arrange the preliminaries of a hostile meeting on the following morning. Captain Smyth, however, declined acceding to either course, and hinted his desire to be freed from the presence of a visitant in Mr Woolley’s condition, whereupon Mr Woolley, threatening postings, horsewhippings and all the other numerous ills a club life is heir to, left the house. In the morning Captain Smyth brought the parties before Major St John, at the Police Office, and they were bound over to keep the peace [PPP 23/5/42]

Two views of the hospital

A temporary hospital was opened in Bourke Street when it became clear that the very first hospital in William Street, open only to convicts and new immigrants, was inadequate.  The Port Phillip Gazette was full of praise for the institution:

THE TEMPORARY HOSPITAL. On Tuesday last an opportunity was afforded the writer of inspecting the temporary hospital in Bourke-street, in the company of Dr O’Mullane, one of the visiting surgeons. This institution, it may not be generally known, is supported entirely on casual charity, and the funds are hardly sufficient to enable it to drag on its existence. It was originally proposed to build a permanent hospital, towards the maintenance of which it was intended to apply for the appropriation of certain revenues which are in like manner afforded to a similar institution in Sydney. A public meeting of its supporters decided that the building should not be opened until £800 had been collected by subscription; the great distress prevalent during the past hot season induced the same parties to consent to the establishment of a temporary hospital, which was placed under the control of an interim committee. The ministers of the various congregations in Melbourne, who were appointed on the committee, have been using the greatest exertions- especially, we are warranted in saying, the Rev Mr Thomson- to incite the charitable feelings of the more wealthy inhabitants in its behalf; but at various times the funds have run so short as to leave not enough even to defray the purchase of bandages and other trifling articles of daily use.  The object of our personal notice is both to record the public thanks which are due to the gentlemen in the management of the institution, and to raise more abundant means for the continuance of their services.  The professionalists who have charge of the patients are Drs O’Mullane, Wilkie, Meyers and Thomas; these gentlemen, as well as either of the resident clergymen, will receive the donations of the charitably inclined, and apply the receipts to their proper purposes  [PPG 11/5/42]

The Port Phillip Patriot was somewhat less charitable

Several worthless characters in town, keeperss of houses of ill-fame and persons of a similar description, have taken it into their heads that the temporary hospital (towards the maintenance of which they have never contributed a farthing exception in the shape of drunken fines) is quite at their disposal whenever any of their unfortunate inmates have become incapacitated by disease or sickness from following their loathsome trade. Some of these fellows will take no refusal, but will hurry the patients up to the hospital door, bundle them in and then off, and leave them. Some days ago a trick of this kind was played by a worthless fellow named Hyams, well-known in the police records, who left at the door of the hospital in a dying condition an unfortunate woman named Maxwell, who after running a career of dissipations for several years in Hobart Town, had come here to perish. On Wednesday week another worthless fellow of the name of Young who keeps a house of very questionable fame in Bourke street, nearly opposite the Southern Cross Hotel brought a young girl, one of the inmates of his house, who was suffering severely from erysipelas in the leg, and bundled her down at the door of the hospital in the midst of all the rain, and there abandoned her. The Committee would do well to being some of these worthies before the police, and Major St John we daresay would contrive to read them a lesson they would not forget for some time. [PPP 5/5/42]

Another indigenous execution on the way

The newspapers carried news that three indigenous men were being brought to Melbourne from the Port Fairy district to face the court. It was a rather indirect route to Melbourne from Port Fairy via Launceston.

THE ABORIGINES Three aborigines from Port Fairy arrived in town, via Launceston, on Tuesday evening last, having been forwarded by Capt Fyans, from Port Fairy in charge of a trooper of the Border Police. Their names are Rogers [sic], Cock Nose and Jupiter; the former is charged with the murder of Mr Clement Codd, in the neighbourhood of Port Fairy, about 18 months ago, and the two latter with stealing and spearing sheep and cattle. Mr Seivewright, the Protector, it is said, had thrown the shield of his protection around Roger, though there is abundant poof of his guilt, and Capt Fyans had actually to resort to stratagem to get the murderer taken into custody  [PPP 19/5/42]

This story has further to go.

How’s the weather?

I’m missing the first week of May, but for the rest of the month the warmest temperature was 65(17.8)  on 13th of May   and the coldest temperature was recorded on 24th May with a high of  48 (8.9) and a low of 39 (3.9)

This Month in Port Phillip: May 1842 (Pt.1)

In May 1842 the talk of the town was BUSHRANGERS!  There had been reports filtering into the newspapers from late April about a spate of holdups and invasions and by early May it was clear that the same gang was involved. They were dubbed the Plenty Valley Bushrangers.  I wrote about them at length here, (complete with map!) so follow the link and read about their spree and capture before coming back here to follow up with the trial.

Reenactment of a bushranger robbing some travellers on a country road

Re-enactment of a bushranger robbing some travellers on a country road. Photograph taken by J.W. Lindt 1845-1926, State Library of Victoria

Are you back?  On 3rd May an inquest into Williams’ death was held and the three surviving bushrangers were committed to trial.  Willis scheduled a special sitting on 11 May (even though the usual criminal session would be held on 16th anyway).

Rather controversially, Willis wrote to La Trobe immediately following the committal hearing but prior to the bushrangers’ trial, noting that should the death sentence be passed, “it would have a much more effectual example were that sentence carried into execution within a very short period instead of delaying it until the proceedings could be sent to Sydney and returned”. He suggested that La Trobe request permission from Governor Gipps to make the arrangements at the local level, and that Willis would announce the time and place from the Bench.[1] Governor Gipps in Sydney, however, would have nothing of it.  A terse letter reiterated the necessity, under the Queen’s instructions to the Governor, to bring every sentence of death before the Executive Council.[2]

The courtroom trial itself was unremarkable, beyond Willis’ alacrity in scheduling the  unnecessary special sitting on May 11.  His opening comments congratulating the captors for their services to the community do not seem to have attracted attention or criticism at the time. [3]  The three surviving prisoners faced twenty-four counts, all related to the shooting and wounding of Henry Fowler, the leader of the “gay and gallant Five”. There were other charges that could have been laid from the five-day outbreak of violence but only the charge of shooting with intent to maim, disfigure or disable carried the death penalty.  Given that the wounding occurred during a shoot-out, there was a heavy reliance on forensic evidence and crime reconstruction to prove that it was the bushrangers, and not the captors, who had fired at close range and at particular angle to cause the injuries sustained by Henry Fowler.  The prominence given to scientific evidence is striking, given the usual reliance on character evidence and eyewitness reports that was usually tendered to the courts. [4] The jury retired for an hour and returned with the guilty verdict.

Willis then held sentencing over for two days until the following Friday, perhaps in the expectation that a reply to his request to announce the date and time for execution might arrive.  The audience for the sentencing was more than sufficient: the crowd rushed into the courthouse as soon as it was opened and “both ingress and egress were forcibly prevented”. In the tumult a window was broken, and Willis threatened to clear the court if a “more discreet and distinct silence were not maintained.” [5] He ordered the three bushrangers to remain in jail “until such day as His Excellency the Governor shall appoint for your execution”.

This, however, was not the end of Judge Willis’ involvement with the bushrangers. The Port Phillip Herald of 24 May carried a startling report that Ellis, Fogarty and the now-deceased Williams had planned to murder Judge Willis as he crossed the creek on the way into Melbourne, but had been dissuaded from the plan by their colleague Jepps.  News of this reached Judge Willis, possibly through petitions that were forwarded to him by three settler victims of the bushranger, each mentioning Jepps by name as instrumental in restraining his partners in crime.  No doubt relieved at his reprieve from the fate of being a kidnap hostage, Willis wrote to La Trobe, enclosing the petitions of the settlers and submitting them “for your serious consideration, and that of His Excellency the Governor.” [6]

But too late, too late – the report had gone up to Sydney and now everyone just had to wait until June when the bushranger story met its sorry end.


You can see an exhibition about Victoria’s Bushrangers, including the Plenty Valley Bushrangers at the Old Treasury Building Museum in Spring Street in the city.  It’s called Wild Colonial Boys:Bushrangers in Victoria and it’s on until August. It’s closed on Saturdays, but it’s open every other day of the week between 10.00 and 4.00 and entry is free.  While you’re there, check out the terrific ‘Melbourne Foundations of a City’ exhibition and the Melbourne Panorama- a display to spend hours looking at.




[1]Willis to La Trobe 3 May 1842, PROV 19 Unit 31 Encl to 42/1163

[2] E. D. Thomson to La Trobe 16 May 1842 PROV 16 Unit 31 42/1163

[3] Port Phillip Herald 13 May 1842

[4] Especially the evidence of Dr Charles Sandford, Judge’s notes enclosed in Willis to La Trobe 3 May 1842 PROV 19 Unit 31  42/1163

[5] Port Phillip Herald 17 May 1842.

[6] Willis to La Trobe 25th May 1842 PROV 19 Unit 31 42/966 enclosure to 42/1163.


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

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 Month in Port Phillip 1842: March 1842

Another month-long summary, in a vain attempt to catch up. I think I’ve been too ambitious with weekly summaries and unless I find myself with too much spare time, I think my summaries will be monthly from here on.

The mad boy in the watchhouse

You’ll remember that at the end of February we left the young editor of the Port Phillip Gazette, George Arden, cooling his heels in the Eastern Watchhouse, situated on the south-west corner of what is now Exhibition Street and Little Collins Street.  He had been sentenced to twelve months jail and a £300 fine for an article he wrote criticizing Judge Willis. Perhaps a comparable analogy might be Julian Assange cooling his heels in the Ecuadorian Embasssy in London.  In both cases, the men remained highly visible, despite their incarceration, through their untrammelled access to media outlets (in Arden’s case, his own newspaper the Gazette ) and through the support of other ‘friendly’ media outlets. The Gazette made sure to publish every bit of pro-Arden and anti-Willis commentary that was written in the newspapers of adjoining colonies.

Well, Arden’s still in gaol throughout March too, but the unanimity in criticizing this trampling of the freedom of the press had broken down amongst the three newspapers in town.  The Port Phillip Gazette and the Port Phillip Herald continued to publish articles supporting Arden, while the Port Phillip Patriot, owned by John Fawkner and edited by William Kerr broke away from the other two papers and turned on Arden. Now he was “the mad boy in the Eastern Hill Watch House” who “continued to belch from the  distance upon all who have opposed his mad career, his semi-weekly collections of watch-house filth…” [PPP 7/3/42]

Reflecting this largely media-driven controversy, two opposing petitions were drawn up. The first, more properly called a ‘memorial’ was a statement of support addressed to Judge Willis, circulated and promoted by John Fawkner and the Port Phillip Patriot. According to them, it was launched on a Thursday night and quickly signed by

magistrates, clergymen, merchants, professional gentlemen and settlers from all parts of the country; the remainder comprises the great majority of the respectable shopkeepers and tradesmen in town (PPP 21/3/42)

It was presented by William Kerr to Judge Willis in his courthouse, and Willis most conveniently had an eloquent speech ready to give off the top of his head.  I must admit that I find it hard to imagine a group of people trooping into the Supreme Court today to deliver a signed statement of support from the populace- but who knows?

Meanwhile, on the other side, there was a petition being circulated by Judge Willis’ opponents, spurred by articles in the Port Phillip Gazette and Port Phillip Herald. This petition, addressed to Her Majesty was scorned by the Patriot as being a ‘hole-and-corner’ production, and in fact it was held back for months before it actually saw the light of day.

Add to this a civil case brought by Fawkner against the publisher of the Gazette for posters designating Fawkner as being under pecuniary obligation to Judge Willis [a claim, which we will see, is not as far-fetched as it might seem]. Oh happy days!

18C in 1842?

It was in the context of George Arden’s imprisonment that the Melbourne Debating Society conducted its March debate on the question “Ought there be any restriction on the publication of opinion?”. This nineteenth-century version of our 18C debate [i.e. about ‘freedom of speech’ or, as our Attorney General put it ‘the right to be a bigot’] drew on similar arguments to the ‘debate’ to which we’ve been subjected recently  [i.e. the right to free speech- although the Port Phillip arguments pertained to British rights guaranteed through the Magna Carta rather than Human Rights], and both ‘debates’ were equally rarified and self-absorbed.

Mr Smith then opened the question, referring to the benefits accompanying the investigation of public men and measures, by promulgating and analysing their probable tendency and results; he then alluded to Magna Charta [sic] in illustration of his opinions; his address insensibly fell into the unavoidable channel of the press, which he brought forward as the best and ablest corrective of public abuses (hear, hear) and deprecated the suppression of freedom of discussion and public opinion as one of the most serious invasions of constitutional right.  The press contained the greatest “expression of public opinion” and to that source, therefore, would the debate insensibly tend…. The strongest argument brought forward by the speaker was that adducable from the precedent afforded by the House of Commons, where not only the public measures and conduct of the highest officers are fearlessly canvassed, but even their private character and domestic relations aspersed. Yet there the public good promoted by the guardianship of the press, which if objectionable on one point, amply compensated by its public benefits of the other.  The speaker’s sentiments were well received and drew forth merited applause.

Actually, the question was a bit of a fizzer, because everyone agreed with the speaker and those speaking against the question “seemed little smitten with their side of the question”.   Unlike the 18C debate, the question kept coming back to freedom of the press in a political sense:

The members, as might have been anticipated, limited themselves to the sole consideration of the freedom of political discussion – one member certainly alluded to the promulgation of religious opinions, commenting on the various dangerous creeds existing in England, but like a bent bow the argument rebounded to its former political tendency.

No surprise, then, that when “at 10.30 the Chairman put the question to the vote, it was unanimously carried in the affirmative” [PPH 15/3/42]

A Day at the Races

The Port Phillip Gazette in particular was a hunting’ and racin’ paper, and so it expended many column inches to describing the March races which extended over several days. The first day seemed to be a rather rambunctious affair, exacerbated by the hot weather which in turn deterred the ‘gentle sex’ who might have been a moderating influence (or maybe not)

The first day was unhappily most ill-suited to the occasion- a hot wind set in at an early hour, and although deprived- owing to the lateness of the season, of much of the usual fierceness of our Australian Simoons [i.e. a dust-driven wind of the deserts of Arabia and North Africa], it could not but have a sensible-effect on the violent exertions of the horses, the excited motions of the men.  The heat and dust prevented the appearance of the usual number of carriages and of course of that fashionable attendance of ladies, to which we must admit the attracts of the fete owe half their grace.  At the hour for starting we may guess the numbers to have been at least three thousand, the mounted portion of which shewed appointments in horses and person of a decidedly good character.

The mounted portion, yes, but there was obviously a rabble there as well. Some of the earth-tethered individuals were soon the worse for wear and on being arrested, were tethered to a log in the sun.  Oliver Gourlay, riding past, expressed sympathy for the men shackled there, and ended up being arrested for his troubles. I’ve written about this in more detail previously. But I am interested in the sympathy that Port Phillip Gazette managed to muster for them, too (especially in the face of rather less sympathy extended to the indigenous prisoner Harlequin who was walked 153 miles while chained around the neck)

In the most public portion of that thronged area, a stake was driven into the ground, from which a bullock chain attached thereto by a ring was passed to a neighbouring tree; to this were dragged, as if with sacrificial terrors, the more unfortunate individuals who, earliest overcome with heat and exercise, were either drunk or noisy; handcuffed by the wrists, they were fastened on to the main chain and left to vent their ravings to the air under the rays of a sun, the heat of which on that that day attained the measure of 135 degrees! Picture to yourself, reader, a dozen human beings bound body and limb to a huge chain, their clothes rent, their faces begrimed with dirt and sweat, and streaked in many cases with the blood received in some previous fray- the beastly hiccoughs of intoxication mingled with the curses of brains maddened with drink and heat. The imagination can scarcely supply a more revolting scene. (PPG 5/3/42)

However, there were limits to the Gazette‘s sympathy and it recommended that the races be abolished completely unless they could be shifted to a location

[at] a distance, where the lower orders cannot so easily mix in their proceedings…. Race meetings should be encouraged, in order to encourage the breeding of horses, but if such scenes and such results destroy their advantages, LET THEM BE ABOLISHED.” [PPG 5/3/42]

People arriving: Sickness on the Beach at Pt Gellibrand

Even though  emigrant ships were flooding into Port Phillip, there was no formal quarantine station at this stage, and there would not be until the Point Nepean Quarantine Station opened in 1852.  When  the Manlius arrived on 16 February, Drs Patterson and Cussen embarked to inspect the ship, as was customary, only to find that 44 passengers had already died with fever. The surviving passengers were landed at Williams Town and taken by cart to Pt Gellibrand where they were accommodated in tents for two months [ a good report, about maritime infrastructure generally can be found here]. At first it was supposed that the disease had lost its virulence, but on 2 March, the Port Phillip Gazette reported that some previously healthy passengers had been taken ill, including the surgeon of the vessel.

A woman, otherwise in good health, left the tents to get water from the sea and was found, when her absence excited alarm, in a state of convulsion lying among the rocks. (PPG 2/3/42)

A further 17 passengers died, and were buried at Williamstown cemetery.

People leaving: Goodbye Rev Orton

In March 1842 the Wesleyan Methodists of Melbourne bade farewell to the Rev Joseph Orton when he returned to England.


Rev Orton had been in Australia for eleven years, working in both New South Wales and Van Diemens Land. Previous to that, he had served in Jamaica in 1825, where he fell foul of the law “through the arbitrary acts of certain magistrates, who determined to uphold the slave interest, sacrificed every other feeling of duty to that end”. (PPG 9/3/42) Refusing to obey an instruction not to preach the gospel at night to his slave congregation, he was imprisoned. The imprisonment broke his health, necessitating a return to England in 1829. After recovering his strength and “full of zeal for his avocation”, he sailed to  New South Wales, where he served for three years before his appointment to Van Diemens Land.  Learning of Batman’s excursion to Port Phillip in 1835, he visited Port Phillip the following year where, aware of the numbers of indigenous people there, he applied for and received orders to select a suitable reserve for the formation of a mission station. This was at Buninyong, near Geelong. Although he became increasingly critical of the running of the mission, he was persuaded to stay in the Port Phillip District to take over ministerial duties as first resident pastor until a replacement arrived. But by March 1842, in poor health, he had received permission to return home. The Port Phillip Gazette of 2 March reported that a sit-down dinner was held at the Wesleyan Chapel in Collins Street, attended by 150 people, followed by a religious service. Rev Orton was presented with a gold watch, but because he had lost his voice, he was not able to respond to the speeches given in his honour.(PPG 2/3/42) He didn’t have long to wear it, though,  because he died on the journey home. That was not the end of the Orton family connection with Australia, however, because his widow and children returned several years later.  Alex Tyrrell, who wrote a biography of Rev Orton, has written an interesting article in the La Trobe Journal (available here)

Speaking of ships…

I’ve long been aware that the ships moored out in the bay, unable to negotiate the shallows of the Yarra. Passengers either travelled out to the ocean-going ships by steamer or else by lighters.  I must admit that my imagination quails at the idea of unloading the cargo of ocean-going ships and their passengers onto such small craft. I was interested to see this scale of fees for transport to and from ships in the bay, Williamstown and Melbourne (PPG 9/3/42)


Suburban Melbourne begins

Modern Melbourne is characterized by its ‘urban sprawl’ spanning 9,900 km2 (3,800 sq mi), according to Wikipedia.  In 1842, the spread of suburbs was greeted with pride. In March 1842 the area known as ‘New Town’ was announced as Collingwood (although parts of New Town are also in Fitzroy):

COLLINGWOOD. The suburb known as New Town, is to be, as already announced, properly laid out in the divisions of a town and streets aligned in a regular plan; opportunity has been taken of this act to give it a name, which displays on the Superintendents’ choice better taste than is usually adopted in colonial nomenclature. “Collingwood” is not only good, but singular and ejects at once the former commonplace designation. [PPG 9/3/41]

Later that month, the Gazette marvelled at the ‘villages’ surrounding central Melbourne:

VILLAGES AROUND MELBOURNE. In various directions the stranger may visit villages, which like offshoots from the town are springing up the beautiful suburbs of Melbourne. The oldest and largest of these, Collingwood, which from its proximity to Melbourne was long called New Town, will shortly be erected into a township. Continuing the course of the Yarra Yarra, in the direction that Collingwood lies, east of the town, Heidelberg presents, in its romantic name, an attraction which is enhanced by its pretty natural position, its productive qualities of soil, and its unobjectionable society. Pentridge lies to the north, on the line which is marked out for the principal road to Sydney- the small farms in the neighbourhood are numerous, and fill the fertile valley of the Merri Rivulet. To the south, on the seacoast of the harbour, Brighton has been lately founded, having been laid out on a portion of the first special survey taken in the province.  For invalids requiring the benefit of sea air and bathing this spot will possess qualities superior to inland localities. [PPG 30/3/41]

Stop thief!

My word- fancy robbing the Supreme Court itself!  It appeared that more than one daring thief forced open the window of the Judge’s chamber that overlooked the court yard of the Clerk of Works’ office.  They located the iron box of the Registrar, carried it through the court hose and made their exit by the folding doors in front, the key of which was inadvertently left inside. The safe was taken to Batman’s Hill and the cash taken, but not the documents. Unfortunately for Mr Pinnock the registrar, he had to make good the loss of about sixty pounds by this nefarious transaction (I wonder when it was deemed that employees no longer had to cover the cost of robberies?)  It appeared that the robbers had searched the Judge’s desk too, a half burnt tallow candle having been left close to the place where the judge sits.  (PPG 30/3/42)

Another robbery was perhaps less carefully thought through:

CURIOUS ROBBERY. On Monday night, between seven and eight o’clock some thieves walked into Mr D’Orme’s yard, the back of which runs upon Little Flinders-street and walked off with a tub full of dirty clothes put out there to soak before undergoing the regular process of manipulation. The fellows in their eagerness to secure the booty neglected even to run off the water, but succeeded in decamping without the smallest suspicion.  This is certainly the most curious instance of covetous taste that we have yet had to notice. [PPG 30/3/42]

Bedtime reading for the littlies

The Port Phillip Gazette of 2nd March carried an advertisement for the first children’s book written in the colony.

A MOTHER’S OFFERING. A copy of a little work, the production of a lady resident in Sydney, entitled “A Mother’s Offering” and intended for the use of children, was forwarded to this office by the Seahorse. Its chief merit is that it is the first attempt to write in the colony a work for children similar to those which in England are now looked upon with so much respect, as conducive to the cause of infant education. Its contents are in the shape of dialogues, and are well and easily supported between the mother and her family of boys and girls. Some natural phenomena peculiar to the colony are explained and a lively description of several shipwrecks which have happened on the Australian coast are detailed in an interesting style.[PPG 2/3/42]

It carried an extract from the book on 12 March which you can read here.  (The whole text, should you decide to read it, is here). It’s certainly a stilted way of writing for children, and the subject matter of shipwrecks and cannibalism seems a curious choice for children for whom any journey ‘home’ inevitably involved a long sea-journey.  For an absolutely fascinating account of the writing and authoress of this book, read Kate Forsyth’s blog post  about it (yes, the author Kate Forsyth). A great story on so many levels – probably better than the book itself, I should imagine.

And the weather?

The hottest day of the month was, as you might expect, on 1st March when the thermometer reached 90 (32.2), but it stayed warm right through March with 88 (31.1) being reached in the last week as well.

As the Port Phillip Gazette reported on 30th March:

After a long “spell” of delightful weather the falling season seems to have revived for a few days, and resumed all the heat of summer. On Friday last the atmosphere attained a degree of closeness which gradually increased through Saturday, Sunday and Monday, to a height of sultriness that was hardly exceeded in January; the north wind which blew during a great part of the time was not so intensely heated as in the earlier part of the season, but was equally oppressive. As it is now upon the verge of April, it may reasonably be calculated that we have fairly bid the Summer adieu and that the heat lately suffered is but the expiring gasp of his hot, unwelcome breath.


This Month in Port Phillip 1842: February 1842

The year is getting away from me and I’m so behind that I’m going to write just the one entry for February.

George Arden gets into trouble again.

George Arden, the young editor of the Port Phillip Gazette had a particularly ‘troubled’ relationship with the resident Judge, John Walpole Willis. You might remember that in September 1841 Arden had been ‘bound over’ against adverse comments about the judge prompted by a letter that he published signed ‘Scrutator’. Arden was required to stump up £400 in recognizances (i.e. a type of good-behaviour bond). Then Governor Gipps arrived in town, and as bonhomie spread throughout the town, Willis released Arden from his recognizances once Arden made a public apology.

But now it all flared up again when Arden published another very critical article, prompted by Willis’ commentary from the bench in a civil case involving the editor of the Port Phillip Herald and his solicitors. I’m finding myself thinking of Trump’s attacks on the press in recent weeks, and although I wouldn’t want to push the analogy too far, there are some parallels. Here we have a powerful judicial and (although he wasn’t supposed to be) political figure, determined to get the press under control.  However, we’re also talking about a colonial town, with an absent governor, no representative political bodies, and without a tradition of satire or a strong philosophical commitment to ‘freedom of the press’.  Nonetheless, following the analogy as far as it can take it, the Port Phillip Gazette and the Port Phillip Herald generally supported each other (and perhaps gave each other more overt support than segments of the U.S. media are giving each other today), while the Port Phillip Patriot generally remained strong in its support for Willis (the FOX news of Port Phillip, so to speak). So when Willis savaged George Cavanagh the editor of the Port Phillip Herald in court, George Arden’s editorial next day described Willis as an ‘infuriate’, suggesting that he was not of ‘blameless life and irreproachable character’ and there was crime past and present:

crime in married life and in single- of crime in office and at home- of prejudice, passion and pride… of violence of language, of bitterness of expression, and of thoughtlessness of carriage (PPG 12/02/41)

Not surprisingly, Arden found himself before Judge Willis again and was sentenced to twelve months gaol, a £300 fine and imprisonment until the fine was paid.  As a 21st century tweet might say: “Bad!”

Arden was well-connected within the networks of Port Phillip public life. Not only did he have his newspaper to report on his progress in jail and agitate for him during his imprisonment, but groups like the Debating Society signed a ‘testimonial of respect’ in Arden’s favour. An announcement was made at the theatre (especially as Arden was supposed to star in an upcoming play!); people talked on the streets.  A judge sentencing an editor for a newspaper column about himself was not a good look. And this time, all three papers were united in their condemnation, and even the Port Phillip Patriot, which usually leaned towards the judge lent its support in a letter signed by ‘Junius’ (a commonly used pen-name when criticizing the judiciary- a long story) even though it took pains to state that it was only printing it “to afford the utmost facility to free discussion”. (PPP 24/2/42)

Botanical Gardens….but not as we know them

. The government authorized Mr Hoddle to mark off as a reserve about 50 acres at Batman’s Hill for botanical gardens. The area was bounded by Little Collins to the north, the Yarra to the south, the east at the fence of the premises currently used as a survey office, and the west by the abrupt declivity into the swamp. It encompassed the whole of the hill and garden recently in possession by Mr Baxter. The land was set aside, but no one appointed to lay out the gardens, and nothing much was done with the site.

Not only was there to be a botanical garden on Batman’s Hill, but there was talk that La Trobe had plans for Batman’s cottage too, which he’d taken over as his own office  shared with the sub-treasurer.  It was rumoured that he wanted to turn it into a Colonial Museum and Library. That didn’t happen either.  It could have been quite a promising spot really. Batman’s Hill was later bulldozed for the Spencer Street (Southern Cross) railyard, but when the gradient was still there, it would have overlooked the water down where Docklands is today.

Dudding the wet-nurse

I’ve been interested in looking for hints about women’s experience of childbirth and motherhood in the Port Phillip newspapers. It is no surprise that these male-dominated papers are largely silent on the matter. But here’s an exception.

Elsewhere in my blog I wrote about Mrs McDonald, who gave birth to triplets on 30 December at the Crown Hotel, having had twins 18 months earlier.  Five under 18 months!! I wondered in that posting what happened to Mr and Mrs McDonald and the five little McDonalds, and here they are on 2 February back in the news!

A Wet Nurse, — On Wednesday a most respectable female, named Quigly, brought before the Police Bench a Mr. M’Donald, whose wife, it may he remembered, brought forth three children at one birth, at the Crown Inn, Lonsdale-street, on a demand of wages due for her services in attending his lady as a wet nurse. Mrs. Quigly had been engaged, it appears, for the sum of forty guineas. On the expiration of some weeks Mrs. M’Donald thought fit to discharge her; when she applied to Mr. M’Donald for payment of her wages, he told her to ” Be off” she went accordingly and summoned Mr. M’D., whose only defence was, that he did every thing in his power to persuade Mrs. Quigly to return, whose services were still urgently wanted, but that she refused. Mrs. Quigly said that although she had only agreed to nurse one child, yet she suckled two of the little strangers, from a wish to relieve the  mother. The Bench, after expressing their astonishment at the conduct of Mr. M’D., intimated their regret that Mrs. Quigly had not sued in the Supreme Court, when assuredly she would have recovered the forty guineas, which were justly her due. Mr. M’Donald was ordered to pay the sum sued for without delay. (PPG 2/2/42)

Public works

There was a flurry of public works activity during the early months of 1842, largely as a way of mopping-up all the emigrants who continued to flow into Port Phillip.  Although the emigration scheme was supposed to be self-funding, once the tap had been turned on, it was not easy to turn it off and those ships just kept arriving. Despite government squeamishness at public works (even then being strongly into entrepreneurialism and privatization), something had to be done with these displaced, unemployed new arrivals. As a new settlement, there was plenty to be done to ensure that the water supply was protected from sea-water contamination. A decent road was needed to facilitate easy travel from the beach to the town, and they needed a better wharf to unload goods that had been transported up the Yarra.  The gaol mentioned is the first section of what is now Old Melbourne Jail; Queen’s Wharf was at the end of King Street; the breakwater was level with Market Street and separated the salt and fresh water; the road was (I assume) City Rd  crossing the river at what was to become Princes Bridge, heading towards Bay Street Brighton.

Public Works. — The commencement of the year 1842 sees several fine and useful public undertakings progressing with ordinary despatch. The New Gaol built on the hill on the northern boundary of the town, near Latrobe-street, is in the course of erection of the most durable material, and of a size and convenience that will amply meet the wants of the district. The building at present used for the purposes of a gaol will be converted into a watch-house for the Western division. There will then be the central one near the General Market, another on the Eastern-hill, and a third at the opposite extreme. New Town will, we presume, now that the act for the alignment of streets has been extended to that suburb, be provided with a constabulary establishment and lock-up. The Queen’s Wharf enclosing the north bank of the Yarra Yarra, and extending from the head of the basin to the Steam Navigation Company’s Yard, is nearly complete; it is constructed with piles driven a considerable depth under water, and faced towards the river with pine hoarding. A platform of hardwood, placed on blocks level with the heads of the piles, and covered with hard woodplanks, affords, what was long wanted, a convenience for landing and keeping dry the cargoes discharging from the river. If we understand rightly, the space of ground stretching behind the wharf will be levelled up and metalled for the traffic of drays to the foot of the Custom-House door. The pier or breakwater is another most useful work, and is designed to form a barrier between the salt tides and the fresh water in the bed of the river; it is now being carried across the stream at the head of the basin on the north bank to the ferry house on the opposite side or south bank. When finished, the sea tide will be prevented mingling with the river water above, and the element will thus be kept pure for the consumption of the town’s inhabitants. The road to the beach has been lately marked out, and large gangs of immigrant labourers are employed in its construction; it will ultimately, we believe, be made a street, as the land on each side will be sold in building lots ; it will be, when complete, a safe and easy mode of conveyance or passage from the town to the beach, and will form the best mode of communication with the shipping. It will start from the south bank at the point where the government bridge across the Yarra Yarra is to be erected, and following a straight line to the lagoon near the sea, will diverge to avoid the impediment, and come out on the hill to the east of Liardet’s Hotel, where several parties have been accustomed to make their summer residences.

Eat your veggies…

As I write this is March 2017, our own garden here in Melbourne in 2017 is yielding cherry tomatoes by the bucketload, and it has bestowed a bounty of cucumbers and peaches upon us. Of course, with cold storage we can have any fruit or vegetable we want at any time of year, depending on how much we want to pay for it.  But in 1842, what was available in the market?


The Debating Society

You’ll remember that on 2o January two indigenous prisoners, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were executed. A fortnight later the Debating Society chose a very topical theme when they debated the amenability of indigeous prisoners to British law.  I’ve copied the whole report of the debate, which was dominated by two Reverends and Mr Smith. This, of course, is a debate performance, where the speakers do not necessarily need to believe what they are arguing. Nonetheless, I think that it’s interesting that, intellectually at least, people could argue that indigenous people had been dispossessed and had justification for resistance.

Debating Society.— According to previous notification the proposition involving the propriety of holding the aboriginal inhabitants of New Holland amenable to the same laws which govern the white population, was opened by Mr. Smith in the affirmative. The British laws had been pronounced by the most able commentator upon the jurisprudence of Great Britain as the “pe fection of reason,” an assertion which their various excellencies strongly merited : applicable to all sorts and conditions of men, justice was denied by them to none ; impartial in their administration, the poor equally with the rich derived a reciprocal benefit, and whilst the innocent were protected the guilty rarely escaped from punishment. Such being the nature and benefits derived by Britons from the exercise of those salutary regulations, it was perfectly consistent with justice and polity, that Europeans should introduce their observance along with their habits and customs, and that they should apply their enforcement towards the aboriginal inhabitants of any portion of the Globe, where the British standard had been planted and possession taken in the name of the Sovereign power. Here the speaker entered into a dissertation respecting the right of nations to found colonies, and seize upon the uninhabited territory of weaker powers, justifying the exercise of such right, by reference to national laws, divine permission, and imperative necessity, and in conclusion adverted to the present condition of the aboriginal population of this Island — their savage state, ignorance and ferocity, showed the absolute necessity of restraining their passions by punishment, and that, consequently, unless the British possessors of this colony, could revert to the state of barbarism in which the natives were now placed and could adopt those laws which were in use amongst them, they must in order to prevent aggressions hold the black offenders amenable to the British laws. In reference to the case of the two blacks who lately suffered the extreme penalty of the law, the speaker maintained that they richly deserved the punishment inflicted, and that, the power of recommending mitigation of punishment being vested in the hands of the presiding Judge, had the least doubt been entertained of the propriety of the sentence, their punishment would have been commuted.

The Rev. Mr. Forbes, in reply, could not refrain from an expression of dissent from the sentiments promulgated by Mr. Smith, he could not understand the propriety or justice of holding a savage amenable to a law which he could not understand ; first make him acquainted with the law before punishing him for breaking it. The natives of this colony, (the Rev. gentleman said,) looked upon the white population as intruders — in former times every aboriginal family possessed a certain portion of land which he considered his own, and which at stated periods he visited for the purpose of hunting — this inheritance descended from father to son, and continued as an heir loom to succeeding generations. The usurpation of the white man had, however, materially affected the happiness of the native, who, driven by force from his domestic enjoyments, brooded over the injuries which be had received and upon every fitting opportunity availed himself to wreak his vengeance upon the aggressors. Thus was the aborigine justified in resorting to means whereby he satisfied his vengeance at the expense of the oppressor, and nurturing within his savage breast, a remembrance of inflicted wrongs, sought to obtain satisfaction by wreaking his passions upon every European who came within his reach.The Rev. gentleman then explained his views regarding the treatment which an enlightened policy dictated, and expressed a confident hope that the time would soon arrive when the moral condition of the black would be greatly benefitted and improved.

The Rev. T. H. Osborne followed on the same side, expressing his pleasure at finding the society taking an interest in questions, which in his opinion were of the greatest importance ; he in common with the last speaker could not agree in the inference which Mr. Smith had drawn from his arguments ; no British law had as yet been framed, but, to use a homely simile, a coach and six could be driven through it, education must precede coercion, and until the native became instructed, it must be unjust to punish him with that severity which was used to European offenders ; until, therefore, some scheme was devised in order to ameliorate the condition of the aborigine, or by a wise and prudent application of the land fund, an adequate sum was devoted to their support, he could never be brought to sanction their being held amenable to the British laws. The gentleman concluded his very able address, by declaring that, in his opinion, if laws were necessary, our present system must be greatly modified and improved ere it could be made applicable to the circumstances of the New Hollanders.

It being past ten o’clock, Mr. Smith was called upon by the president to reply. The sentiments (he said ) expressed by Mr Forbes did credit to both his head and his heart ; but unfortunately they were impracticable to carry out, Ignorance was no excuse. Let man be ever so degraded, he must know that when guilty of theft, or murder, he was committing an offence which deserved punishment. It was absurd to suppose that he (Mr. Smith) meant to hold the aborigine amenable to the moral or civil law, it was only in cases of wanton aggression that he advocated punishment; kindness and conciliation had signally failed in inducing the savage to respect the rights of the white man, forcibly illustrated by the two men lately executed, and also by the fact that firmness and severity were more efficient protection than indiscriminate indulgence. Government had done all in their power to ameliorate the condition of the native tribes, reserves had been allotted, missionaries sent amongst them, protectors appointed, food, clothing, &c. supplied; but all had been found useless in inducing them to abandon their erratic mode of living, or to prevent their committing outrages upon the British settler, consequently it was consistent with justice and policy to hold them amenable to the laws. The society then divided, when the question was decided in the negative. The question for next evening’s discussion is — Are literary and scientific pursuits suited to the female character. The honourable Mr. Murray opens and is to be responded to by the Rev T.H. Osborne — the Rev. Mr. Forbes supports the proposer, and will he answered by Mr. Smith. An animated debate is expected. A Stimulant for Eloquence. [PPP 3/2/42]

How’s the weather?

I haven’t been able to find the monthly compilation for February in the Government Gazette, which is where it was normally published some two months or so after the event. I’ve only been able to find a weather report in the Port Phillip Patriot of 21 February which recorded between 13-19 February. It was pretty mild, with a top temperature of 76 (24.4) and a low overnight of 50 (10 C).

The Port Phillip Gazette said of the weather (and this doesn’t seem to tally well with the Patriot’s temperature readings):

The Weather has latterly been subjected to those violent changes of temperature which usually mark the height of the summer. On the whole, the season has been far less oppressive than that of last year, but still sufficiently hot to convince the new comer that he is in a new country, bordering on a tropical climate. The state ‘ of the river, the reservoir, from which the inhabitants of the town are supplied with water for consumption, has, with the exception of a few days, been uninfluenced by the sea water, which usually at this time of the year is forced up the bed of the stream, and imparts an unwholesome brackish taste to the river water. So mild have the few last weeks proved that people began to reckon upon the summer having past, when the wind suddenly re-visited them from the interior, and during three days drove them into the coolest recesses of their houses, there to feed on hope and lemonade. (PPG 19/2/41)




This Week in Port Phillip 1842: 24-31 January

Oh dear, I have fallen so behind with my weekly reviews of Melbourne 175 years ago! However, I am comforted by the knowledge that old news is old news, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s 175 years and 5 weeks instead of 175 years exactly.  Nonetheless, I’ll sit down soon and condense the whole of February 1842 into one posting, before March gets away from me.  But first, I’ll finish off January 1842, cobbled together from my incomplete jottings.


After the tumult surrounding the execution of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener during the preceding week, there were a few somewhat positive stories about Aborigines in the newspapers in the week immediately following.  This was unusual. On 25th January the Port Phillip Herald corrected the report from another of the Port Phillip newspapers that natives on Mr Bathe’s run at Westernport had fired four acres of barley.  Instead, the Herald reported, the ‘blacks’ had tried to extinguish the fire, and their ‘chief’, Gellibrand, had conducted himself in “the most praiseworthy manner”. (PPH 25/1/42)

Then, in the following issue was a report of the drowning death of an aboriginal man who, it would seem, was engaged in salvage work near the wreck of the William Salthouse, which had sunk the previous November near Point Nepean.

LOSS OF LIFE. Sunday last. Two aborigines, known as Jem and Pigeon volunteered to dive to recover a barrel of tar which had fallen overboard from the cutter Diana which was lying alongside the wreck of the William Salthouse. Jem dived several times but was unsuccessful; Pigeon followed him example but never rose to the surface. (PPH 28/1/42)

However, these glimpses of Aborigines working within the settler economy are leavened by a report about the Assistant Protector, Charles Sievwright, and his charges.

THE BLACKS AND THEIR PROTECTOR. Mr Seivwright has left the neighbourhood of Lake Killembeet, and pitched his camp on or near a splendid run belonging to Mr Cox, at Mount Rouse. We wish the settlers in that quarter joy of their new neighbour.  Before Mr Seivwright left Killembeet, the blacks under his charge paid a farewell visit to the flocks of Mr Thomson, and drove off one hundred and fifty sheep,the remains of which were found in the direction of Mr Seivwright’s.  A number of cattle, the property of Mr Ewen,in the same neighbourhood, were also speared.  The Corio, Colac and other blacks have had a regular fight with the Westward blacks; one woman got killed, the westward blacks were beaten. (PPP 27/1/42)

Draining the swamp…

The Flinders Street swamp, that is, not Washington. It wasn’t actually a swamp as such, although there were plenty of those in the immediate vicinity of Melbourne.  No, this was instead a boggy patch between the new Queens Wharf roughly at the end of King Street today and the customs house, which was on the allocated customs reserve, the site of the present day Immigration Museum (which is housed in the third Customs House built on the reserve).

 THE QUEEN’S WHARF. The wood work of the Queen’s Wharf is going rapidly forward, and if persevered in with the same spirit that has marked its progress hitherto, will be close upon completion in the course of five or six weeks from this date.  The style of workmanship, as well as the rapidity with which the work has progressed, so different from the dilly-dallying mode in which the public works of the province have heretofore been carried on, is highly creditable to Mr Beaver the contractor,  who certainly has spared no pains to turn his work out in a workman-like manner. There are no symptoms yet, however, of a commencement being made towards draining off and filling up the swamp between the wharf and the custom house, and as that is likely to prove a work of some duration, we are desirous of seeing government embark in it as early as is practicable, that the improvements on the wharf may be made available at once. (PPP 24/1/42)

The same issue of the Patriot reported a bushfire further down along the Yarra (towards the Bay), reminding us that although the grid of Melbourne and the brickfields opposite may have been denuded of trees for fuel and building, the bush wasn’t far away:

 BUSH FIRE. On Thursday last some person or persons not having the fear of Lord John Russell before their eyes, set fire to the bush on the south side of the Yarra Yarra, immediately opposite the long reach. The wind being high the flames raged furiously for some hours and would doubtless have completely extirpated the withered grass to which his lordship has taken such a fancy, together with the scraggy looking tea trees which adorn the riverbank in that particular locality, had not the rain which set in during the night put a stop to its progress. (PPP 24/1/42)

Temperance meeting

The dominance of hotels in Melbourne, the male-dominated immigrant population and the scarcity and insecurity of housing made Port Phillip a fertile field for temperance campaigners.  The Port Phillip Temperance Society, founded by Quakers James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, had been in operation since 1837.  However, the issue of whether ‘temperance’ meant ‘just a little’ or ‘total abstinence’ was a lively one, as seen in a Temperance Society meeting held in late January in the Scots School Hall and chaired by Superintendent La Trobe (thereby ensuring that it was a thoroughly respectable occasion).  The Patriot had a long report on it, no doubt reflecting the enthusiasm of the Patriot’s editor, William Kerr, who was mentioned by name for signing the pledge.  It seems that there were more speakers for temperance than abstinence- or perhaps the reporter just presented it that way:

Temperance Meeting.- A numerous and respectable meeting of the members of the Temperance Society took place in the Scots School on Tuesday evening ; His Honor C. J. La Trobe, Esq., in the chair. The business of the meeting commenced at 8 o’clock, and the Rev. W. P. Crook spoke at great length in favor of Temperance, adducing instances of families being saved by its healing influence from destruction. The Rev. gentleman also spoke of the success which had attended the Sydney Temperance Society, and stated that he was the first person who there signed the pledge, the second being Mr. Kerr of this office. A gentleman present spoke of the advantages of temperance. Mr Wade, whose speeches in behalf of total abstinence at recent temperance meetings have acquired for him the name of the Teetotal Champion, made a lengthy and able speech, in which he endeavoured to prove the superiority of the total abstinence principle to that of moderation, quoting largely from eminent writers on the subject. Mr. J. A. Smith, the next speaker, argued in behalf of temperance and against total abstinence, endeavouring to base his arguments on Holy Writ. Mr. Davies also spoke in behalf of temperance, and against total abstinence, and, to prove that the latter was injurious to the human constitution, quoted a written medical opinion purposely obtained by him from an eminent practitioner resident in Melbourne. The Hon. J. E. Murray then addressed the meeting; he congratulated the Society upon having their chief magistrate as their chairman, and also upon the support afforded by the attendance of the Rev Mr. Crook, who, he was happy to find, had lost none of that energy which distinguished him throughout his career in the South Sea Islands. Mr. Murray related a number of interesting anecdotes respecting the Irish peasantry, illustrative of the great benefit conferred upon them by the exertions of Father Mathew. The meeting was then addressed by Mr. Rogers in behalf of total abstinence. Dr. Wilmot advocated the cause of temperance, but said he was averse to teetotalism ; he also expressed his concurrence with the greater portion of the medical opinion quoted by Mr. Davies. At ten ‘o’clock, after thanks had been voted to His Honor for his presidency on the occasion, and a collection had been made, the meeting broke up, all present being highly pleased at the proceedings of the evening. [A pressure of other and more important matters precludes our giving more than the above synopsis of the proceedings of this meeting.]

How’s the weather?

A fairly typical summer pattern, with a high for the week of 95 degrees (35 C) on 24 January, then cooler. Once again, the nights were cool.  25th Jan: High 74 (23.3) Low 53 (11.7); 26 Jan High 72 (22) Low 49 (9.4C- that’s pretty cold for January); 27 January High 66 (18.9C) Low 53 (11.7); 28 January 65 (18.3C) Low 54 (12.2), 29 January High 65 (18.3C) and Low 51 (10.6).