Daily Archives: November 29, 2008

Port Phillip Apostle No. 5 John Moffat Chisholm


Ah, now THIS Port Phillip Apostle seems well connected with some of the other ones.  As you’ll remember, I’m trying to work out the connections between this group of 12 men who agreed to become liable “jointly and severally” for the debts of one of their number, W. F. A. Rucker.  I’ve been surprised so far by how most  of them had traceable connections with  only one or two of the other men, which seemed strange given that they were throwing their lot altogether.  But, unlike the others, our John Moffat Chisholm seems to have links with several of them.

He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland (no date) and arrived in Melbourne in 1838 and set up business quickly as a merchant.  He married a Miss Osbourne in 1838, and purchased ‘Maryvale’ at Moonee Ponds in 1841.

His business was located in Collins Street, but in 1839 was burnt down. Garryowen hints at ‘mysterious gossip’ over the origin of the fire.   He was well insured, and rebuilt on the same frontage.  He joined with the other drapers in February 1841 to announce their agreement to their shop-assistants’ demands to close by 8.00p.m. except on Saturday nights.  He also made an appearance as employer when he took his servant to the Police Court, presided over by the police magistrate St John, over forfeited wages, and as was common at the time he handed the proceeds over to the hospital building fund.  The Master and Servants legislation of the time, which initially was used mainly against employees when times were good, worked more to the advantage of employees once the depression started to bite.   In April 1841 he sold his business to C. Williamson, then moved his office a month later to Hind and Co.  In January 1842 he bought land at a forced sale in Bourke Street at the very cheap price of 4 guineas per foot.   He fell victim to the “swindler” Barrett   who was execrated by many for skipping off to New Zealand rather than face his creditors.

He also had a property somewhere along the Plenty River where the Plenty Valley bushrangers moved freely, terrorizing the settlers in April 1842, but the exact location has not been determined.

He attended Debating Society meetings, where he signed a letter of support for George Arden when he was facing Judge Willis over libel charges.

He posted bail for H.N. Carrington when he, too,was confined to ‘the rules’ on Willis’ orders but when he found that Carrington was intending to break bail to travel to Sydney, he and his fellow guarantor Peers surrendered their bail, no doubt anxious that they were going to have to pay the penalty.  So here’s a connection with one of the Twelve Apostles- Carrington.

He was on the Committee of Management of the Mechanics Institute, and here we see a further strand of connections with other Twelve Apostles.  William Highett, who was fundamental to Rucker’s arrangement with the bank, was the Treasurer of this organisation, and Alexander McKillop and P.W. Welsh were fellow committee men and, more significantly, fellow Twelve Apostles.

He appeared in court, along with Fawkner and Purves as part of the court cases that fell out of the arrangement with Rucker in February 1843.  The other Apostles seem to have submitted quietly to their fates.

The Kenyon Index has entries showing that there were reports in the Port Phillip Gazette of his insolvency in May 1843, November 1844 and July 1845.  I have another date of 14 March 1843 for his insolvency- so who knows.  He was no stranger to the court- he’d appeared as defendant in six cases between 1841 and 1843 (i.e. in Judge Willis’ time).  He wasn’t alone in that though- when you read through the court lists, nearly every public person appeared in court one way or another.  Quite apart from the financial turmoil of these years, there was also the aspect of the court being the protector of reputation, as Kirsten McKenzie points out:

If personal status was protected and attacked in diverse ways, the law carried the most weight as a weapon against scandal.  For those who could afford it- and were undeterred by the publicity it inevitably involved- it was the final line of defence…  Kirsten McKenzie ‘Scandal in the Colonies’ p. 70

(Actually, I find myself wondering whether EVERYBODY, even today, has a court appearance of one sort of another in their life?  I haven’t yet….  Perhaps the establishment of bureaucracies to do the tasks of fining and penalizing as mere administrative acts have reduced the need to appear in court?)

So what happened to John Moffat Chisholm for the rest of his life, I wonder?  He was obviously in Melbourne in 1872 to have his photograph taken by T. F. Chuck, and he died in Melbourne in 1874.

So, I’m really none the wiser.  He seemed to have social connections with Carrington, McKillop and Welsh.  He resisted the fallout from the Rucker arrangement, but had to declare himself insolvent in any event.  He must have recovered financially enough by 1845 to recommence business, and he breathed his last in Melbourne.


  • Kirsten McKenzie Scandal in the Colonies
  • Edmund Finn The Chronicles of Early Melbourne  1835-52:  historical, anecdotal and personal by ‘Garryowen’