Monthly Archives: October 2008

Port Phillip Apostle No. 8 John Maude Woolley

As part of my consideration of the financial crisis of the 1840s, you’ll be aware that I’m looking at the “Twelve Apostles”, a group of men who backed W. F. A. Rucker’s debt of 10,000 pounds to the Union Bank.  As part of this arrangement, they were committed jointly and individually liable for the debt.  This arrangement was ruinous to many of them personally, and seemed to exemplify the ricketty and precarious state of the Port Phillip economy at this time.

Among the Twelve Apostles that Garryowen listed, two seem to stand out from the rest.  One is Alexander McKillop, of whom there shall be more anon, and the other is John Maude Woolley.  They are the only two Apostles designated as “settlers”, as opposed to the “landholders” and “landowners”, merchants, solicitors and auctioneers who made up the rest of the merry band.  I find myself wondering how and why they found themselves embroiled in all of this.

Woolley in particular seems rather invisible in Port Phillip Society. According to Loyau’s Notable South Australians, he came to Port Phillip from England in 1839, bringing with him a large stock of general merchandise and set himself up in partnership with a Mr Bacchus of Bacchus Marsh.  Garryowen identifies him as a merchant located in Collins Street, but not the Woolley of the Campbell and Woolley firm which seems to have been much more prominent.

Paul de Serville lists him as a squatter and “a gentleman in society”, along with his brother Thomas Woolley, who is listed as a squatter and merchant.  Both belonged to the Melbourne Club (hence, presumably, their designation as “gentlemen”, as de Serville used membership as a basis for inclusion on his Appendix II category).  However, he is not listed as a voter for the Legislative Council elections in 1843, which had a property qualification of 200 pounds freehold or 20 pounds annual rental.  Moreover, so far I haven’t found him sitting as a juror either,  although I’m not sure what the qualifications for that were ( legislation passed in 1847 deemed 30 pounds annual income or 300 pounds property as a qualification).

In any event, things had turned sour by 1844.  On 31 January 1844 John Maude Woolley was declared insolvent, on the same date, interestingly enough, as Alexander McKillop.  Loyau describes it rather more delicately as a “retirement from business” in 1845.  Woolley returned to England, but reappeared in Sydney in 1848, where he brought horses, cattle and sheep overland to South Australia.  He joined the Customs Service in 1850, and in 1858 took up the appointment of Inspector of Sheep for three years.  In 1861 he rejoined Customs and was appointed Sub-Collector at the port of Blanchetown when it opened.

There’s photographs of him and his rather unprepossessing cottage at Blanchetown.

He later held a similar post at Morgan in South Australia, but resigned in 1883 due to illhealth.  He died in January 1885.

Is there an Entrepreneurial Lesson from John Maude Woolley? I don’t really know that there is. He had two bites of the cherry: once as a merchant, and then again as an overlander, but spent most of his life as a public servant.  And I’m absolutely at a loss to understand what could have motivated him to guarantee another man’s debts to the tune of about a thousand pounds.  I’m sure that there’s a lesson of some sort there.


  • George E. Loyau Notable South Australians, published 1885.
  • Finn The Chronicles of Early Melbourne (Garryowen)

Port Phillip Apostle No 2 Thomas Herbert Power

I must admit that T. H. Power isn’t exactly a household name to me, although he did die in Hawthorn so perhaps he is the namesake for Power Street Hawthorn?? (not sure)

It is thought that he was born in Carrick Waterford in 1801? and was Catholic.  His father was a merchant, although I have no further details about that.  He arrived in Melbourne from Launceston in 1839 and established himself as an auctioneer in Collins Street between 1839-1846, his firm becoming one of the three principal station and stock-selling houses in Port Phillip. Garryowen describes his auction rooms as a one-storey store-like structure facing Queen Street, but many of the auctions during the land boom took place in specially-erected tents, complete with champagne refreshments.

He owned property himself:  Mt Misery (!!) at Dandenong Creek 1841-1844 and again Feb 1853, June 1856; Portland Bay in 1842; Eummering 1846-53; Acheron 1848-9; Diamond Creek 1850 and Strathmerton 1856-60.

Entrepreneurial Lesson #1 from T. H. Power: find the silver lining in every cloud.  He formed a depot for cattle awaiting sale and started boiling-down works during the 1842-3 depression. Do not under-estimate the importance of boiling-down: it was the development that pulled Port Phillip out of the 1840s depression.  The process was pioneered by the squatters William Wentworth and Henry O’Brien, who found that a previously unsaleable wether weighing 25kg could be boiled down to 12kg of tallow, which could be sold for 5-8 shillings. Wealthy landowners e.g. Bolden, Ryrie, Curr and Dr Thompson at Geelong soon moved into the industry as did our Thomas Herbert Power.  Tallow works were established along the Yarra, Salt Water (Marybyrniong) and other waterways, regularly swept away by floods and contributing no doubt to the piquancy of the Port Phillip air.  Tallow exports from Port Phillip increased enormously from 56 tons in 1843 to 480 tons the following year, reaching a peak of 1506 tons in 1848.

He doesn’t appear to have had great social visibility in Port Phillip, at least compared to some of the other “apostles”.  He inserted an advertisement in The Port Phillip Herald of March 25 1842 notifying of a reward for the return of a bundle of notes- three five-pound notes and twelve one-pound notes (fat chance, I’d say).  He attended the Separation Ball to mark Victoria’s separation from NSW on 28th November 1850, but “did not hand in the descriptive card” (whatever that means).  At the Victorian Industrial Society Exhibition of 1851, he won a prize for the best hog and the colonial best mare.

His civic contribution was more substantial- indeed, as Garryowen points out, he was one of the few “Knights of the Hammer” who were involved in public life.  He was on the Richmond Bridge Committee of 1850, and served on the National Board of Education.  He was a director of the National Bank 1860-66 and a Commissioner of the Savings Bank of Victoria.  He served as a member of the Legislative Council between November 1856 and September 1864.  He died in Hawthorn on 28th November 1873.


  • Re-member: a database of all Victorian MPs since 1851
  • A. S. Kenyon ‘The Port Phillip Boom and its Results’ The Royal Australian Historical Society Journal and Proceedings Vol XII, IV, 1926 p. 202-223.
  • Finn, Edmund  The Chronicles of Early Melbourne
  • Billis, R. V. and Kenyon A. S. Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip

The Long and Winding Footpath

How wonderful!  Banyule council is replacing the footpath outside my house where the tree roots have broken it, and has created a meandering promenade, curving around the trees!

I’m really pleased that they’re keeping the trees in the nature strip, despite their unfortunate similarity to broccoli.  So many trees have been pulled down recently for higher density housing- and yes, we’re guilty here too because we  knocked down a beautiful Japanese maple when building our dual occupancy houses.  But we did manage to save one of them.

The drought has taken its toll too: we have a large maple in the back yard which is looking decidedly unwell. Many trees were lost during the storm earlier in the year, and people who had been eyeing large trees with some trepidation have taken them out for fear that they will fall one day.

All this year the magpies have brought me much pleasure with their warbling and carolling. They’ve taken to our large (sick) maple because a huge tree next door was pulled down for development.  One of the things I love most about my suburb (next to its 1960s-oldfashionedness) is the trees, and I’m pleased to see the council doing its bit!

‘Infidel’ by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

2007, 350p.

I wasn’t really sure whether I wanted to read this book.  I’m aware that the author ended up working in US for the American Enterprise Institute, a group whose philosophies I abhor and methods I distrust.  I knew that she was an outspoken critic of multiculturalism and Islam, and I didn’t particularly want to expose myself to all that.

Having finished the book, I still feel much the same way.  I think that she is naive in aligning herself publicly and politically ,on the basis of her one-issue world view, to organisations and people whose agendas are inimical to her own and are happy to use her own stance to further their own broader purposes.

Her campaign against what, no doubt, Peter Costello would characterise as “mushy multiculturalism” feeds right into right-wing extremism and white/European supremist ideologies, but is confounded and complicated by the fact that she herself is a Somali immigrant. But she is not, however, Islamic any more, and in her atheism she is just as strident and divisive as Richard Dawkins.  I’m not sure that her calls for an Islamic enlightenment are going to be heeded within Islam when she has placed herself so prominently and aggressively outside it.

There is also an impatience and ahistoricity in her exhortations for an islamic Enlightenment.  She holds up the Reformation and Enlightenment as her beacons but these were long, drawn-out, contested movements and reactions across centuries.   There’s an impatience and ahistoricity in her beliefs about immigration as well:  the newest immigrants “won’t” assimilate; “they” won’t let go of their customs and be like “us”.  Perhaps this is different from other waves of migration, but that’s a judgement that can’t be made after ten or twenty years: maybe after 100 and maybe not even then.

There are aspects of exceptionalism that run through her whole life story.   She was the daughter of an activist and exile from Siad Barre’s dictatorship, who had himself lived in America and rejected many aspects of Somali upbringing and practices. ( It was her grandmother who organised the genital mutilation of Ayaan and her sister. )  They lived as refugees in  Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya .  She portrays her flight to Germany and Holland as a spur of the moment decision, and can barely believe the ease with which she gains refugee status and housing and income support in Holland. Apparently the policies have changed since, but she doesn’t seem to acknowledge that her experience may have been the exception then, and even more now.

I was interested in the parallels between her increased devoutness as an Islamic adolescent and the experience of evangelical Christian adolescence (and yes, reader, I must confess to personal experience here).  Both have  similar struggles over sin and being worthy; in both there is the hero-worship of particularly devout and charismatic older role-models, and both provide an all-round intellectual and social experience.

The book also gave me a better understanding of clan-based society, and the web of expectation, support and obligations that run like warp-wise against the weft of nationality and party affiliation.

I was looking over some of the other book reviews that I’ve posted here, and I so often come over as conflicted and diffident about the books I read.  Probably it’s a symptom of my indecision about anything really, but sometimes it’s just so damned hard to know what you think.  I don’t know whether perhaps I am slow in coming to a reasoned stance, or whether other people are premature.  I think that’s why I resent Hirsi Ali’s flight to the American Enterprise Institute, whose fellows are so supremely confident of their opinions.  She herself recognises the complexity and contradictions in her position, and I think that she is aware that other people have difficulty with what comes over as her own rigidity and certainty.  I’m not sure that aligning herself with the AEI is going to help, though.

A poignant little postscript to J B Were

The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, from which I’ll be drawing much of my “Entrepreneur Watch” material  is really a fascinating book.  It comes in 2 large volumes and comprises 67 chapters.  It was written by the journalist Edmund Finn some thirty years after the events it describes, drawing on his own experiences and the newspaper reports he wrote at the time,  and the papers and memoirs of Port Phillip citizens still living in the 1880s.  It is witty, racy and, I suspect, rather prone to exaggeration, bluster and mockery.

It’s rather self-referential in places, where Finn discusses the process by which the material was collected and arranged.  As Finn himself tells it, when he was researching the chapter about the Twelve Apostles (which I shall discuss more when I get to Apostle No 1. Rucker), J. B. Were expressed his concern about  digging up the past, reminding Finn that some of the people were still alive and that their children and grandchildren might take action against him. When he enquired what sources Finn was going to draw his material from, he offered to write up his own recollections and construction of the events.  Finn did not, as he suspected Were wished him to, incorporate the material into his own narrative but instead attached it as an appendix.

I’ll let Finn tell the story from here on in:

The next time I saw Mr Were was our last meeting in this world, and it was caused by the receipt of the following communication:-

Wellington, 1st May 1885, Brighton Beach

Dear Mr Finn- I have been under the doctor’s care for the last six months, suffering from an attack of jaundice, and have become very emaciated with wasting and loss of appetite.  I am ordered to Riverina for change of climate, and I leave on Monday morning.  If you can see me this evening, or at any time tomorrow, I am gathering some papers which I desire to hand you, and to have the pleasure of a short conversation with you.  The terminus is within sight,  and a very short distance from my house.  Yours faithfully, J. B. Were.

After reading the foregoing I handed it to a friend sitting by me, remarking that the “terminus” mentioned therein was intended as a way-mark to point to my intended destination; but something seemed to foreshadow it as the terminus of the writer’s long and not unnotable terrestrial career…  In compliance with his desires, I visited Mr Were that afternoon, and noticed such a striking change in his appearance and manner as to leave but little doubt that if not absolutely in sight, the “terminus” was not far off….Shaking hands with Mr Were, we parted with mutual good wishes; but I never saw his face again. (p. 992)

So, poor old J. B.  The terminus was, indeed, within sight and a very short distance from his house.

Port Phillip Apostle No.10 J.B. Were

Is the name J. B. Were familiar to you?  It should be. Goldman Sachs JBWere is a large, multinational financial company, and prior to metamorphising into this splendid many-named creation, J B Were was a well-known Melbourne stockbroking firm.  In fact, come to think of it, my cousin worked there.

Although Garryowen places J. B. Were as No. 10 on his list of Twelve Apostles, I’ll start off with him because I have borrowed a book about him and he, of all of the twelve that Garryowen listed, most clearly evokes the term “entrepreneur” for me. The book, called “The House of Were 1839-1954” is an in-house publication.  It has a rather curious note on the title page:

This publication has not been registered as a book and is not available for sale because it has been issued by J. B. Were & Son for the interest and information of its clients, public companies, financial and other institutions with whom the prestige and business interests of the firm are identified.

Recipients of a copy of the publication are requested to regard the contents as for their information alone.  It is desired that no reference should be made to the publication in the Press.

What an odd statement. Well, they don’t say anything about blogs or the internet…..

Jonathan Binns Were was born in Somerset on 25 April 1809, the third of four sons to a landed gentry family.   The House of Were states that according to Burke’s Dictionary of Landed Gentry, the original family name was Giffard and the Weare-Giffard family is documented back to 1411 during the reign of Henry IV.  His father inherited from his father and grandfather three estates in Somerset: Landcox, Osmonds and Penslade.

De Serville, however, is rather equivocal about his social status.  Were is not found in De Serville’s Appendix 1 Gentlemen by Birth (“Gentlemen colonists from titled, landed or armigerous families”), but instead in Appendix III Colonists Claiming Gentle Birth (“A list of colonists whose claims to gentle birth have not been fully established. Those who were members of good society are also listed in Appendix II”).  Under the entry for Were, De Serville writes:

Were, Jonathan Binns. Merchant.  Son of Nicholas Were and his wife Frances Binns.  It is difficult to know whether to place him in Appendix I or III. His family were landowners in Devon and Somerset (especially his great-grandfather). However, after appearing in Burke’s Commoners, the family was dropped from the first and subsequent editions of Burke’s Landed Gentry.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that they were an ascendant family who gained the capricious attention of the Burkes and then lost it.  Were was prominent in the commercial and public life of the colony, where he died in 1885.

After finishing school Were received business training in the house of Collins and Co in the port city of Plymouth. Collins and Co. were involved in trade with the colonies where, no doubt, Were would have heard from colleagues and  clients about the commercial opportunities abroad.  Such contacts would place him in Ville’s third category – i.e. colonial merchants with experience in Britain or the colonies.

His father and older brother broke the entail on the Were estate and Jonathan received 9000 pounds from the sale of the family properties.  With this he purchased goods that netted him 70,000 pounds on resale in Australia.  (The ADB cites lower figures for this). Nonetheless, Entrepreneurial Lesson from J.B. Were #1: use your capital to buy cheap, sell dear.  Or perhaps there should be a lesson before that: have capital.

In fact, when he arrived in Melbourne on the William Medcalfe, most of the cargo in the hold belonged to him, including a demountable house, and a consignment of port wine that he picked up at Oporto en route. He, his Quaker wife, 4 year old daughter and baby son, his brother-in-law and two servants arrived in Melbourne on 15th November 1839 after a journey of 113 days.  Garryowen lists the other first and intermediate class passengers on the ship, including Mrs C. Liardet and five children in the intermediate berths, the wife of Liardet who painted the picture on my blog header.  There were also 230 assisted immigrants on board – I’m not sure whether they were ‘his’ bounty migrants or not, but he was certainly an immigration agent later on.

Entrepreneurial lesson #2 from J. B. Were: get cracking! Six weeks after arrival, Were assembled his house on the south-west corner of Collins and Spring Street (where No. 1 Spring Street is now?) which he purchased for 3 pounds 10 shillings an acre and named the property “Harmony Lodge”.  At about the same time he commenced trading as a general merchant advertising tents for sale on 1 January 1840- a highly sought after product.  By February, he had established himself as a general merchant, shipping and commission agent and advertised 200 rams due to arrive from the Murrumbidgee.  In March he formed Were Bros. and Co with his brother-in-law Robert Stevenson Dunsford (who had journeyed out with them) and his younger brother George Were (who must have made his own way to Melbourne separately).   Forming networks with family members like this, as Ville pointed out, was advantageous in a low-trust environment. By April 1840 he was advertising to buy wool from pastoralists, make advances against it, then ship it to London.  He was involved in the exchange business early- discounting bills for customers and arranging drafts on London, Sydney, Hobart and Launceston businesses.  He became involved in importing prefabricated houses (including a teak house!) and refurbished sailing sailing ships.

Entrepreneurial lesson #3 from J. B. Were: network! He was one of the directors of the Melbourne Auction Company, a successful venture which was ultimately thwarted by legislative red-tape.  He was also a director of the Melbourne Bridge Company which, although it had plans for a splendid iron suspension bridge, settled for a humble wooden bridge across the Yarra because of uncertainty about government plans to build Princes Bridge.  He was Chairman of the Temporary Exchange, a gathering of merchants who met daily at 12.00 noon in the rooms of the Melbourne Auction Company. He was a director of the Union Bank in 1841, a Lloyds Insurance Agent in 1842 and an agent for Alliance Fire and Life Assurance Company in 1843.  He joined the Shipping and Steam Packet Association in 1842 and was one of the five members of the the Steam Navigation Board which licensed and supervised steam ships.

He developed political and cultural networks as well. By May 1840 he was appointed one of the committee of three to draft a Separation memorial, praying for separation from NSW. He was involved in the planning for the Melbourne Hospital, he was on the Botanic Garden’s committee, and involved in the British and Foreign Bible Societies and the Philosophical Society (later the Royal Society).

Entrepreneurial lesson #4 from J. B. Were: position, position, position. Henry Dendy arrived in Port Phillip with a signed and sealed certificate from London allowing him to select 5120 acres at a fixed price of one pound per acre (a definite bargain given that land was selling at 5 to 40 pounds an acre at auction!).  Not unsurprisingly, he found that La Trobe and locally-based settlers resented this method of land sale, and difficulties were placed in his way when he tried to buy land at Williamstown and near Heidelberg.  Dendy approached J. B. Were, who advised him to use his land voucher in what is now Brighton.  It is not known when it happened, but by April 1845 Were was in possession of half the original survey.  He built there “Moorabbin House” with stone walls three feet thick, with huge hidden doors across the front that could be pulled across to provide a barricade should the house be attacked- I assume by aborigines? bushrangers? The house was demolished in 1924.

He later built other houses in Brighton again, Toorak and East St. Kilda.

Entrepreneurial lesson #5 from J. B. Were: be careful helping out your friends. The whole circumstance by which he became one of the “twelve Apostles” was by joining with ten other colleagues to come to the financial aid of William Rucker (Port Phillip Apostle No. 1) when he ran into difficulties as part of the general financial upheaval of the early 1840s.  It seems that he, in particular, sustained huge financial loss from this agreement and even ten years later, there was an instability in his affairs that led to further financial problems in 1854-6.

And what about Were’s relationship with Judge Willis? Garryowen claims that, after initially cordial relations, the two men fell out over Judge Willis’ pursuit of William Lonsdale (another story for another blogpost) and Willis’ emnity turned on Were. The most colourful display of this animosity occurred when Were was sitting as a magistrate alongside Willis on the bench when his name arose during the evidence being tendered to the court.  Willis ordered Were into the witness box where, startled and unprepared as he was, he was rather unforthcoming.  Willis charged him with contempt of court, and when Were asked for a copy of the Judge’s notes, Willis sentenced him to jail, and with every squeak of protest from Were, upped the sentence a month at a time.   Were actually served only one night in jail before being confined to the Rules, and the verdict was overturned once Judge Willis was replaced soon after.  Certainly, J. B. Were appears regularly on the petitions urging Justice Willis’ dismissal.


  • The House of Were 1839-1954: The History of J. B. Were & Son and its founder Jonathan Binns Were, 1954
  • Finn, Edmund The Chronicles of Early Melbourne 1835 to 1852: historical, anecdotal and personal by ‘Garryowen’ Melbourne, Fergusson and Mitchell, 1888
  • de Serville, Paul Port Phillip Gentlemen and Good Society in Melbourne before the Gold Rushes Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1980
  • Ville, Simon ‘Business development in Colonial Australia’ Australian Economic History Review Vol 38 No 1, 1998 , pp. 16-41

Making a motza in Port Phillip

Let’s be quite clear about this: people came to Port Phillip to make money as individuals.  It wasn’t a penal colony like Van Diemens Land or Sydney. It wasn’t a philosophical-cum-evangelical political experiment like South Australia.  It was not a privately-run settlement scheme like Western Australia.  It was conceived in the pubs of Launceston, and talked over and gesticulated to by the pastoral overlanders of Sydney, by men out to make a motza and the government could just get stuffed.  And even more importantly, in the early years people came to Port Phillip from another Australian colony, rather than coming out straight from Europe.

As part of thinking about financial security in 1840s Port Phillip, I recently read Simon Ville’s article ‘Business development in colonial Australia’ .  He points out that New South Wales (of which Port Phillip was part) had strong entrepreneurial capacity:

1. There were the ex-convicts and emancipists who had been either pardoned or their sentences had expired, who, swept by fate onto the other side of the world were denied conventional routes to achievement, but had scope to forge their own, too.  Certainly some had only a poor education, and they often lacked institutional and infrastructure suport.  But some also had a strong desire for legitimacy, esteem and recognition.

2. There were the government officials, who had had access to higher educational levels, but were not motivated by the need for social elevation.  Because of their position in a penal colony, they had access to a means of overseas payment and free labour.  Particularly in the first decades, there was scope to indulge their entrepreneurial proclivities.  This was less true of Port Phillip than Sydney, but is nonetheless worth bearing mind when Judge Willis started castigating government officers for “speculation”.

3.There were colonial merchants living locally.  They were usually from Britain; sometimes from India, and they brought with them their accumulated experience of previous success, capital, information and credit links of their overseas partners and agents.

I suspect that there’s a fourth group too. Jim McAloon speaks of settler capitalists, of lower middle class origins who brought with them the values of the British middle class: thrift, deferred gratification, self reliance and steady capital accumulation.  Although his research is based on the South island of New Zealand, he cites Paul de Serville’s work in Port Phillip  on the colonial elite which distinguishes one fifth of them as  gentlemen by ‘birth’ as distinct from gentlemen by education and profession and a large group of unclassifiable middle-class gentlemen.

Industries and opportunities draw on innovation for success (Ye Gods! I sound like a management textbook!). Innovation doesn’t just mean invention of the completely new- it also involves the modification of imported technology to local circumstances.  Often entrepreneurial decisions of this kind are made under conditions of great uncertainty and highly imperfect information- and you can’t get much more uncertain and imperfect than settlement in a new colony on a new continent in a different hemisphere.

Ville points out that vertical integration is common at the start of an industry’s life, and a signal of a low-trust environment, but that as an economy matures, vertical integration is replaced by specialization .  Vertical integration is a form of management control where all aspects of a product or process are under the control of a common owner.  For example, the Sydney merchant Robert Campbell was involved in whaling, shipbuilding, shipping, banking and farming.  Early NSW certainly qualifies as a low-trust environment: the convict origins of the colony were reinforced by mutual suspicion between convicts, officers and immigrant merchants.  Networks, bound by social, religious and kinship ties provided a high-trust organizational form based on common interests and propinquity.  Often individual entrepreneurs operated several distinct partnerships with different business associates. Certainly in Port Phillip, we can see that entrepreneurs were involved in diverse activities- e.g. general mercantile, shipping and commission agencies, wool purchase and consignment. Their ubiquity and prominence makes them particularly important when we consider who backed whom in the local politics of the district, and especially in relation to Judge Willis’ dismissal.

Edmund Finn (‘Garryowen’) speaks of the Twelve Apostles who were dominant in financial circles in Port Phillip in these early days. They are:

  1. William Frederick Augustus Rucker, Merchant
  2. Thomas Herbert Power, Auctioneer
  3. John Pascoe Fawkner, Landholder
  4. Alexander McKillop, Settler
  5. John Moffat Chisholm, Landowner
  6. John Hunter Patterson, Landowner
  7. James Purves, Landowner
  8. John Maude Woolley, Settler
  9. Abraham Abrahams, Merchant
  10. Jonathan Binns Were, Merchant
  11. Horatio Nelson Carrington, Solicitor
  12. Patricius William Welsh, Merchant.

I can tell you now without going any further, that this group of men, like nearly every constellation in Port Phillip was split right down the middle in relation to Judge Willis.  Fawkner was his staunchest ally, Carrington his most ardent enemy, and the rest are distributed between them (with perhaps, at first glance, more opposed to him than for him).

My task is to look at these 12 men.  Do they fit into Ville’s three categories at all? How does de Serville classify them?  What was their entrepreneurial story in Port Phillip? How did the 1840s financial meltdown affect them?  And what position, if any, did they take in relation to Judge Willis?


  • Ville, Simon P. ‘Business Developmentin colonial Australia’ Australian Economic History Review vol 38 no. 1 March 1998 pp.16-41
  • McAloon, Jim ‘Gentlemanly Capitalism and Settler Capitalists: Imperialism, Dependent Development and Colonial Wealth in the South Island of New Zealand’ Australian Economic History Review, Vol 42, No. 2, July 2002
  • de Serville, Paul  Port Phillip Gentlemen and Good Society in Melbourne before the Gold Rushes, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1980
  • Finn, Edmind, The chronicles of early Melbourne, 1835-1852: historical, anecdotal and personal (by “Garryowen”, Melbourne, Fergusson and Mitchell, 1888 p. 707

Good on you, Evan Thornley

Although I do often tune into News Radio, I generally only last about ten minutes listening to the Parliamentary proceedings before I switch stations in frustration at the raucousness, ratbaggery and inanity of it all. The weary tones of the Speaker remind me of  extras duty as a teacher, having to take a Year 9 class for the  last period of the day, say,  in mathematics. You don’t give a fig for these kids, or their work; you just want something less than absolute mayhem; you’re more concerned about the hubbub leaking out through the windows than anything else and you just want to get out of there with a shred of professional dignity intact.

I was looking through James Curran’s book The Power of Speech and note that political speeches are not only delivered in parliament, but also at events like the Australia Day Council, launches of awards and celebratory events,  commemorations, party conventions and conferences.  Some of the anticipation that preceded Rudd’s “Sorry” speech in February was an awareness that something important was about to happen in Parliament itself, as the highest expression of national discourse. Quite beyond my own feeling of relief and pride that it had been said, I recognized the importance of the context and setting as well.

Of course, there are those curious parliamentary aberrations, the conscience vote, that seem to be exclusively centred on sex and particularly the consideration of sex and women.  Obviously there is no room for conscience and ethics in considering poker machines, going to war, climate change, treatment of refugees etc. but if we’re talking about abortion or RU486 then, well, every parliamentarian has a story. And they share those stories with us, each and every one of them, in more detail than perhaps any of us want to know.

The Victorian government recently passed legislation to decriminalize abortion in Victoria.  It went to a conscience vote, and there was plenty to say- especially from ‘no’ voters like Liberal Bernie Finn, who spoke for nearly six hours, and DLP member Peter Kavenagh who managed three hours.  The newspaper columns were full of letters on both sides, dominated, I perceive (I wish I’d kept a running tally) by angry male voices.

I was delighted to read this report in yesterday’s Age by Paul Austin about Upper house Labor MP Evan Thornley’s contribution to the debate- an elegant, succinct, powerful, aposite ten-minute speech.

It is simple as it is obvious: if men took as much responsibility for contraception as women did, the number of unwanted pregnancies would drop like a stone…How much courage or responsibility does it take for a bloke to walk into this place and pronounce moral judgement on women in a situation that he will never find himself in?… Mr Finn, Mr Kavenagh and others have asked, ‘Where are the men in this picture?’. I ask the same thing….If you walk into this chamber wanting to take some responsibility and wanting to show even the tiniest amount of courage compared to that which women must face when they have an unwanted pregnancy, then when you walk out of here you should take the lead in convincing men to take their share of responsibility for contraception.  If you are serious about the unborn and if you are serious about reducing the numbers of abortions, then get out there with your videos and your horror stores, get out there with your moral righteousness and self-importance, and walk into the pubs and clubs, the footy clubs and the construction sites, the high school halls and the army barracks, and tell the blokes to take responsibility for contraception.

If you do that, you will save thousands of unborn children from abortion.  If you do not do that, all you can do is parade around here in cowards’ castle excoriating women for making a decision- that you will never, ever have to make- for whatever you perceive to be their moral shortcomings.  If that is all you do, that is basically gutless and it raks being nothing more than political grandstanding and campaigning for votes.

I am up for it- and I hope you are too, boys! It’s time for men to show some leadership, to show just a tiny fraction of the courage that women have to have every day when they contemplate how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.  It is time for men to take responsibility for contraception and contribute to a massive reduction in the number of abortions and the suffering involved to the unborn, their mothers and their families.

Good one, Evan.

Alas poor debtor!

As part of my avowed intention to explore the experience of financial anxiety during the 1840s, my eye was attracted to this little morsel in the Port Phillip Herald of 10 May 1842:

SHARP PRACTICE. A rather novel mode of obtaining the payment of a debt from an insolvent, has just come under our notice.  A gentleman of our acquaintance, whose change of fortune from affluence to indigence occasioned him so much excitement as to materially effect his intellect, and to leave him at times in a state of perfect imbecility, was a few days since arrested by the Deputy Sheriff at the suit of a Sydney creditor.  Having found the necessary bail he was allowed to occupy a tenement within the Rules. He had not been many days in confinement before his spirits were so materially afflicted as to bring on the malady before alluded to, and under which, we regret to state, he still labours.  In this fit of nature he proceeded to the wharf, but in less than half an hour returned to his prison, thus stepping out of the limits laid down for his safe incarceration.  Having been seen outside the Rules, a party acting as agent for the Sydney creditor, forthwith instructed his solicitor to write to his bail, informing them that as the debtor had exceeded his limits he should hold them liable for the account of the debt and costs, which are very considerable.  Now, for the honor of the Province, we hope such a case will never be brought before a court of justice, for sharper practice we never, in the whole career of our colonial experience, heard of…. An application is about being made to the Judge to release the unfortunate man from confinement upon the score of insanity, and if his Honor has the power, who can doubt his will to extend such an act of mercy?

Well, I’m now mid-way through June 1842, and I haven’t seen any public applications of mercy to the Judge, but perhaps such things did not occur in open court.  I, at least, do wonder about his will to extend such an act of mercy.  Perhaps he’d decide that this was another case of dishonesty and dissembling that he had to “sift to the bottom”: but, then again, perhaps not.  It was exactly this unpredictability that made his courtroom even more anxious than it had to be.  Which Judge Willis would be sitting today?- merciful Willis? or avenger Willis?

A number of things to remark on here:

1. The Port Phillip Herald is being particularly kind in their reportage of this case.  Certainly, they have not held back at all when insolvents have absconded, or indulged in their own “sharp practice” to avoid their debts.  Perhaps the key lies in that this is a “gentleman of our acquaintance” rather than a speculator, embezzler or rascal, as they could have just have easily designated him.

2. This is one of the first references I have found to insanity caused by insolvency.  There are certainly references to insanity and suicide:indeed, the very next issue of the Port Phillip Herald referred to the putrid bodies washing up against the wharf at the end of Elizabeth Street. (I wonder if it was, in fact, this gentleman? I haven’t seen any further mention of him.) There are many coronial inquests into women, in particular, throwing themselves into the Yarra. I wonder what stories lie there.

3. Although there was a strong belief in “British justice”, legislation particularly prior to the 1850s varied between colonies and was not necessarily the same as in England.  This was true of the Insolvency Act in New South Wales, which differed from the English insolvency laws in many fundamental respects.  The legislation was drafted by Justice Burton in 1841and allowed all debtors to take advantage of bankruptcy provisions.  Instead of imprisonment, as under the English act, debtors’ assets were distributed to their creditors, allowing them to resume business quickly.  Unlike the English law, the legislation did not emphasize morality- possibly because it was drafted at a time when many otherwise ‘moral’ people were facing insolvency. Imprisonment for debt was abolished in NSW in 1843 (i.e. after this vignette), predating similar changes to the English law by 26 years.  Justice Willis, however, was critical of Burton’s legislation (perhaps because it was Burton’s legislation and not his own???) and preferred the English approach.

4.  The ‘rules’ were instituted by Justice Willis almost as soon as he arrived in Port Phillip, initially in response to the severe overcrowding in the very small jail.  Rather than being sentenced to jail, minor offenders, bail applicants and insolvents, could be ‘confined to the rules’, which took up quite a large area of the built-up area of central Melbourne.

Bear in mind that at this time, the major development was located mainly along the Collins Street and Elizabeth Street area, rather than eastward along Swanston Street which, although probably regarded as the main thoroughfare through Melbourne today, was almost bushland in the early 1840s.  Confinement to the rules was often not a particular hardship: many people who were declared insolvent actually lived in the area, although it appears that our belaboured gentleman didn’t as he had to rent a ‘tenement’ specially.

5. Finally, we have to trust to our own empathy and imagination to flesh out this little vignette.  We can imagine him standing on the river bank, watching the river swollen with winter rains, weighing up his options, torn between loyalties and honour, then turning away and walking along the unpaved streets back into the rules again.

‘The High Price of Heaven’ by David Marr

1999, 287p.

This is a collection of David Marr’s Sydney Morning Herald essays from 1999, extended and revised into a collection that critiques fundamentalist Christianity and its attitudes towards sex, censorship, drugs and pleasure more generally.

It’s vintage Marr- witty, brittle, bitter and bombastic. He certainly doesn’t hold back at all on his dislike for John Howard, George Pell, Peter Jensen and the Sydney religious elite.

Of course, a book of “current” essays from 1999 becomes dated, and yet many things remain the same. Howard may be gone, but the religious influence is still with us- unchanged in the case of Jensen and Pell; dominant still with Rudd but somehow, I sense, taking a slightly different direction.  I haven’t read Marr’s latest book on the Hensen controversy, but I suspect that it takes up where this book left off.

So, I was interested in Juliette Hughes’ review of David Marr’s new book The Henson Case.  She writes, in an observation that is equally applicable to The High Price of Heaven:

Marr is as ever a pleasure to read even when you largely disagree with him about the subject, as I do. But it’s difficult when you disagree with much of the other side, too. The trouble is that most people are well meaning and the subject is incendiary. You’re either a pedophile voyeur or a prudish ignoramus; nothing in between…Marr’s fervid advocacy admits of no equivocation; this discussion begins mezzo-forte, crescendoing rapidly to fortissimo and stays there, attacking predictable targets, the dullard Christian right, the unspeakable Sydney shock jocks

Much of Juliette Hughes’ review resonated with my own uneasiness about the Henson controversy.  I was surprised that so many people so quickly adopted such clear-cut and definitive opinions.  Almost a year on, I’m still undecided- and think that I may remain this way- about the photographs, the dividing line between art and exploitation, and the contract (if any)  between the creator and the beholder.