Daily Archives: November 20, 2008

Port Phillip Apostle No 3: John Pascoe Fawkner


Now what on earth is John Pascoe Fawkner doing here?  He was probably Judge Willis’ most vocal supporter and yet here he is embroiled with some of  Judge Willis’ most vocal opponents in the guise of H. N. Carrington and J. B. Were.   The most plausible explanation that I can think of is that, given his propensity to be right in the thick of all things Melbourne, he became involved because other people were.  Perhaps there’s a proprietorial  element of protecting the civic reputation of  “his” Port Phillip?  Who knows??- but then again, there are many things that puzzle me about John Pascoe Fawkner- most of all,  the nature of the connection between Judge Willis and John Pascoe Fawkner,  a man who seemed to exemplify the things that Willis most strenuously derided.

The two Johnnies- John Fawkner and John Batman have contested the title of “Founder of Melbourne” for about the past 100 years, and I notice that this year Capt Lancey nudged his way into contention as well.  Bain Attwood has written a fantastic paper describing the creation of the “founding of Melbourne” narrative that saw Batman championed as the founding father by James Bonwick, only to have this status questioned in recent years and more prominence given to Fawkner instead.  Attwood points particularly to the gradual disappearance of statues and commemorations to Batman and the increased visibility of Fawkner in the narrative, exemplified the recent creation of Enterprize Park (named for Fawkner’s ship The Enterprize)  opposite the Immigration Museum beside the river.


Fawkner fits well into Ville’s “ex-convict and emanicipist” category of entrepreneurs, with their attendant desire for legitimacy, esteem and recognition.  He was the child of a convict and along with his free mother and sister, accompanied his father when he was transported for receiving stolen goods.   They were among the group of convicts and free settlers sent with Lieutenant Collins to establish a settlement at Sorrento until the struggling community was abandoned for Hobart Town instead.   John Pascoe Fawkner had his own brush with the law in 1814 when he was sentenced to 500 lashes and three years government labour for aiding and abetting the escape of seven convicts.  He returned to Hobart in 1816 where he opened a bakery, but shifted to Launceston a few years later after further problems over selling shortweight loaves and using illegal weights.  In Launceston he began anew as a builder and sawyer, then after some problems on character grounds in gaining a licence, opened a hotel and started the Launceston Advertiser newspaper.

Hearing positive reports of the coastal areas of Port Phillip, just across Bass Strait, he engaged a boat and launched an expedition of the area.  Well, that was the intention at least.  When the captain, John Lancey learned that he had violated a restraining order imposed on him because of debt, the ship turned back and deposited John Pascoe Fawkner back onto Van Diemen’s Land territory and sailed off without him.

Fawkner finally set foot on Port Phillip some two months later in October 1835, where he established a hotel, newspaper and bookselling and stationery shop.


Patriot office and Fawkner’s hotel  in Collins Street, later leased to the Melbourne Club

At the first government land auctions he purchased 92 pounds worth of land.  At the 1839 land sale he purchased 780 acres along the Sydney Road for 1950 pounds.  Within a fortnight he advertised that the land was available for tenant farms with seed provided, or a total of 85 acres for sale at 10 pounds an acre.  He confided to the Reverend Waterfield that he had gathered 20,000 pounds in four years.  He became a squatter in 1844, taking up a licence for 12,800 acres near Mt Macedon.

He obviously wasn’t always flush with cash, because in 1841 he approached Montgomery, the Crown Solicitor,  as guarantor for a loan to assist his friends Kerr and Holmes to purchase the newspaper and stationery businesses from him.  The money made available to him came from the funds of Judge Willis himself, who had placed his money in Montgomery’s hands for investment.  While this investment was, indeed, through a third party, and although Fawkner no longer owned (but did continue to contribute to) The Port Phillip Patriot, the paper’s unfailing and strident support for Judge Willis is notable.

His financial success came undone in the financial depression of the 1840s,  largely through acting as guarantor for so many bad loans.  He was particularly damaged by his involvement in Rucker’s scheme as one of the Twelve Apostles.   He fought the action strenuously in the courts, but finally declared insolvency in March 1845 listing liabilities of 8,898 pounds and assets of 3184 pounds and claiming to have been stripped of 12,000 pounds and ten houses. He vented his hostility to Rucker and Highett the bank manager through his letters to the Port Phillip Patriot.  Mr Rucker, he wrote,

although he has placed several gentlemen in most perilous circumstances, can yet ride into town and sport his figure as of the first water…

Mr Highett, the ex-manager of the bank

had helped to melt many a piece of worthless paper under the sunny side of the bank screw, so upon a crusade he goes, and by dint of cajoling he did succeed in effecting an arrangement whereby ten or eleven persons bound themselves to pay Mr F. A. Rucker’s debts.

But John Pascoe Fawkner was not to be kept down for long.  He retained his Pascoe Vale properties through a settlement on his wife, and his interest in the Patriot was signed over to his father.  He discharged his insolvency quickly and used his wife’s property settlement as a qualification to stand for a vacancy on the Town Council in 1845, a position he had had to relinquish when declared bankrupt.  He went on to serve for many years on the Legislative Council and died “the grand old man of contemporary Victoria” in 1869.

There were many reasons why Judge Willis might despise him: the ex-convict origins of his fatherand his wife and his own crime in facilitating the escape of convicts; his “fortuitous” financial arrangements during his insolvency which exemplifed the sort of trickery Judge Willis was determined to strike down; his involvement in the hotel trade,  and the rabid nature of his rhetoric in the Patriot.  He was viewed as a radical for many of his ideas:  his plans for a Tradesman’s bank and  schemes for a co-operative land society.  But yet, even though Judge Willis would protest it vigorously,  the two men have qualities in common.  They were both ambitious men.  Willis might have applauded Fawkner’s aspirations to improve himself:

One comfort I have which the falsely proud can never achieve, viz, I have not sunk below, but on the contrary, have raised myself above the rank in which at finding myself of years of discretion I was placed in, and I glory that I have thus passed them.

Both Willis and Fawkner took pleasure in “hunting high game”.  And both Fawkner and Willis seemed to exhibit a similar hot temper and vindictiveness that, at a stretch, might explain why such an otherwise mis-matched couple of men often acted as each other’s supporter.


Bain Attwood ‘Treating the Past: narratives of possession and dispossession in a settler country’  http://law.uvic.ca/demcon/documents/Attwood.pdf

Hugh Anderson Out of the Shadow: the Career of John Pascoe Fawkner

C.P. Billot  The Life and Times of John Pascoe Fawkner.

Simon Ville ‘Business development in colonial Australia’ Australian Economic History Review, vol 38, no 1 March 1998