You may be aware that Melbourne is undergoing a heatwave at the moment- in fact, a record breaking heat-wave with three consecutive days of temperatures over 43 degrees (that’s 113 degrees, folks). We’re having electricity brown-outs, bushfires and the public transport system has collapsed completely. And boy, are we complaining!
So it was rather fitting that last night I should be sitting reading through the Port Phillip Herald for 24 January 1843, when I found this little snippet in the court report:
McLaren v Chisholm.- His Honor, on this case being called, enquired if it would be long, for he was so overcome with the heat, dust and wind, as to doubt whether he could bestow upon it that strict consideration which its importance required.
This is one of the very few newspaper references that I have seen to extreme heat, which surprises me somewhat. There was a mention that the courthouse in early Port Phillip (seen at the top of the page) was stiflingly hot in summer and freezing in winter, but rather more was made of the brazier resembling a chestnut stall that Judge Willis used to warm himself by than any attempts to alleviate the extreme heat. Much attention is directed towards flood and mud, which seems to be a constant topic of conversation. But heat, which surely must have been unfamiliar to many emigrants, does not seem to be particularly noteworthy.
The early newspapers do not have a regular weather report, and meteorological records only began to be kept in 1855. The tides and phases of the moon are given in the newspaper and would have been more useful information in a port-based town with no street lighting beyond that outside hotels.
Diaries, on the other hand, seem to be an ongoing chronology of the weather. Georgiana McCrae, for example, gives us a running commentary of the temperature which she could obviously measure by thermometer:
November 1st 1841. A fine clear day. Completed my small needlework.
2nd. Hot wind- then thunder with rain. At noon thermometer 85 degrees, and all night at 72 degrees. The closeness of the house and the heat of its wooden walls quite stifling.
However, perhaps this interest in the temperature had a novelty factor for her in 1841 as a newly-arrived immigrant that had worn off by 1843. She doesn’t mention the weather at all on 20th January 1843, the day that Judge Willis complained of, but she did note “A hot wind” on the 17th, and noted that the 21st was an “oppressively warm day” with “a hot wind” again on the 25th.
Were people more stoic then? They must have been. Judge Willis was sitting there in his wig and gown; no doubt his bar was similarly attired; women were covered and corsetted. Yet the weather- or more properly, hot weather does not seem to be newsworthy. Try telling that to our newspapers- particularly our more tabloid Herald-Sun that somehow managed to make a whole front page out of this picture with 43 degrees superimposed over it!
Yep, that’s news.