Daily Archives: January 1, 2016

This Week in the Port Phillip District 1841: January 1-8 1841


Even though Superintendent La Trobe and the people of Port Phillip didn’t realize it, on 1 January 1841 Governor Gipps took up his pen to formally notify the Secretary of State at the Colonial Office in London that Justice John Walpole Willis had been appointed to Port Phillip as the first Resident Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW for the district. Gipps’ letter to La Trobe informing him of the appointment was actually written on 29th December, but it hadn’t arrived in Melbourne yet.  So, let the period of the Resident Judges begin!


The year started with a bang, literally, for the steam-ship Clonmel which ran aground on a sand spit at the entrance to Corner Inlet  200km south-east of Melbourne, at 5.00 a.m. on the misty morning of 2 January 1841.


See also: http://mapcarta.com/16688280

The five-year old Clonmel was a new addition to the shipping route   between Launceston, Port Phillip and Sydney, having only arrived in Sydney in October 1840. This importance of this intra-town communication through shipping at this time cannot be overstated.   A wooden-hulled, masted paddle steamer, it carried 75 passengers and crew, and this was only its second*  voyage on its circuit between the three ports.  Daybreak revealed that the beach was about half a mile away, and that a heavy surf was running. Several trips by whale boat initially, and then with the assistance of quarter boats, deposited every soul in safety on the beach by 2.00 p.m. that afternoon. Sail awnings were brought on shore and a camp of tents was established for the ladies.  Provisions sufficient for ten days were also brought from the boat, including livestock, hams, bread, flour, biscuit, rice, tea, sugar and wine.  A sketch by Robert Russell showing the huts of the Clomnel survivors can be seen here.  [Accession number: MS 9555]

Water was located, but found to be brackish.  Safely onshore, the Captain harangued the passengers about the need for discipline and the punctual obedience of orders. Two-hourly watches were posted and the provisions were securely stowed under a boat turned upside down to guard against petty depredations and the effect of the weather.

The next day,  two passengers Mr D.C. Simson and Mr Edwards and five unnamed seamen headed off to get help. First they inspected the wreck of the ship as they passed, and then headed towards Sealers Cove where they rested overnight. At 3.00 a.m. on 4th January, they awoke early to fill buckets with water to continue their journey when they observed “the natives coming down upon us.” They hurried on board and headed for Wilsons Promontory, which they sighted at about 10.00 a.m.  They arrived in a small bay at Westernport at 8.00 p.m. that night.  The following day they reached Port Phillip Heads by 2.00 p.m. but because there was a strong ebb tide, they needed to wait for a flood tide.  They were approached by a cutter The Sisters which towed them into Williamstown at 11.00 p.m. making a total of 65 hours since their departure from Corner Inlet.

All passengers were safe, although Mr Robinson lost the £3000 of Union Bank notes he had in his custody.  The newly-wed Mr and Mrs Cashmore lost a large quantity of goods that they were bringing for their new establishment to be opened on the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street.  (Source: Port Phillip Herald 8 January 1841;  http://perdurabo10.tripod.com/ships/id296.html )

See the Victorian Heritage Database entry for the wreck of the Clonmel (which still lies on the ocean floor) here.


Even though the people of Port Phillip prided themselves that they were not a ‘convict’ colony like Van Diemens Land or Sydney, there were convict gangs, ‘assigned servants’ and ticket-of-leave prisoners in Melbourne.

On New Years Day a general muster of the ticket of leave men of the district took place at the Police office. They presented the appearance of a clean and orderly set of men, and were each passed in review before the police magistrate; such of them as resided in the town were sworn in special constables, a very excellent and salutary arrangement (Port Phillip Herald 5 January 1841)

It’s hard to know what to make of the final sentence- sarcasm, most likely. Nonetheless, many of the early police in Melbourne were of convict background and many were quickly dismissed for drunkenness. Edmund Finn, writing as ‘Garryowen’ in his Chronicles of Early Melbourne describes the ordinary policemen of the first few years as “mostly convicts freed by servitude, with now and then a ticket-of-leave holder.” (p. 52)


On 1 January the new Independent Chapel was formally opened for Divine Worship. “The design of the Chapel is both neat and tasteful, and its internal fittings up render it extremely commodious.” Three sermons were preached on that day by Reverends Waterfield, Forbes and Orton.

A booklet called The Collins Street Independent Church (available here) shows a small brick church building 20 X 30 ft in size, erected at a cost of £231. It was later extended, but pulled down in 1866 to construct the current-day St Michael’s on the corner of Russell and Collins Streets.


According to the Port Phillip Herald, in the days between 29 December- 4th January, there was a fairly mild start to the year, with the first of January the warmest day with a top temperature of 86 degrees F (30 degrees C)


The Abstract of the Meteorological Journal kept at Melbourne, Port Phillip was reprinted in the Government Gazette at roughly monthly intervals. The January report is in Gazette 22, Friday March 19 1841.  It reports that in the week 1st-7th January, there was “dry weather, frequently cloudy” with “strong southerly winds”. The highest temperature recorded on this week was 92 degrees on the 7th.


*The Victorian Heritage Database and other sources say that it was its third journey. I can only find two.  The plan was for the Clonmel to run a circuit between Sydney, Melbourne, Launceston then return.  The first journey from Sydney was planned to terminate at Melbourne, but was extended to Launceston after all (which might be where the confusion lies between two and three journeys). The wreck occurred on the second journey from Sydney.


Port Phillip Herald 1, 5 and 8 January 1841





2015 in review and a new feature!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ah! The posting about the eggs of the conical sea-snail- the blog-post that keeps on giving! Who would have thunk that so many people wondered what the squishy jelly on the beach was?

I’ve been blogging since July 2008 and like any long-term endeavour, my blog has changed direction over those eight years. It started as a research blog to support my thesis on Justice John Walpole Willis, the first Resident Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW in the Port Phillip District. Hence the name,  “The Resident Judge of Port Phillip” which I must confess is rather cringe-inducing at times. The blog has since become a repository for book reviews and comments about films I’ve seen, the odd history-based discussion, and observations about life in Melbourne now.

I’ve decided as a New Years Resolution (and we all know how long they last!) to start a weekly feature looking back at what was happening in Melbourne and the Port Phillip District more generally 175 years ago. Why 175 years? Because that’s when the first Resident Judge was appointed, and a Resident Judge continued to preside between 1841-1852, when the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria was gazetted. That gives me eleven years of posts, should I not abandon the project (which may yet come to pass!): twelve if I want to extend it to the actual issuing of the formal commission.

Meanwhile, the book reviews and commentaries on film, history generally and Melbourne in particular will continue.