This Week in Port Phillip 1841: February 8-15


During this week Mr Henry Dendy arrived from England, bearing an entitlement to select 5120 acres of Port Phillip land under the Special Survey legislation that had been enacted in England.  This legislation enabled prospective settlers, while in England, to pre-purchase a general entitlement to land at one pound per acre, pay for it in England, then come out to Australia to select the specific land that he wanted to buy.  When news of this scheme reached New South Wales (and particularly Port Phillip as its most rapidly expanding frontier), Gipps, La Trobe and local purchasers were horrified at the thought of the best land being gobbled up before their eyes. Gipps quickly passed regulations in March 1841 to restrict Special Surveys to land more than 5 miles from the closest surveyed township, and to limit waterfront purchases to only 1 mile of 4 square miles of purchases, to avoid whole riverbanks being monopolized by one purchaser. After Gipps severely criticized the scheme to the Colonial Office, it was abandoned in August 1841.  Nonetheless, in these short months eight Special Surveys were instituted, three in what is now suburban Melbourne: Frederick Unwin’s Special Survey in Templestowe, Henry Elgar’s survey in Box Hill, and Henry Dendy- whose arrival was noted on 12 February 1841- who snaffled what is now prime blue-ribbon residential land in Brighton.


Initially John Batman took care of the mail deliveries, but in 1841 a dedicated post office building was commenced on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, the site of the building that we still call the GPO even though it has been turned into shopping.   It included an eight room cottage for the postmaster (which seems rather generous) and a lobby and offices facing Bourke Street.  As time went on, it suffered from the frequent flooding of Elizabeth Street but in February 1841, the good people of Melbourne were very pleased with the building which they felt reflected credit on Mr Rattenbury, the Clerk of Public Works. They were particularly pleased at the design for the inward-mail post boxes:

 The plan adopted in America with so much advantage will be introduced of having a set of pigeon holes corresponding with the letters of the alphabet, which will be painted on the panes of one of the windows, so that any person going to the office may, by looking into the pigeon hole opposite the initial of his surname, be enabled to perceive whether there be any letters therein, and if none, of course he need not delay or trouble the postmaster by making enquiries.


The Port Phillip Herald applauded the decision by the magistrates that stray dogs should be killed, but didn’t like the way it was implemented:

A number of those quadrupeds, which were destroyed about a fortnight since, were thrown upon a heap at the bottom of Elizabeth-street and loosely covered with earth. The consequence has been that they were speedily disinterred by the pigs and the stench arising from the mass of putrefaction has been insufferable


Settlers traveling to New South Wales without the bonds of family and neighbours from ‘home’ were vulnerable if their plans for a new life were disrupted by death or illness.

We rejoice that it is seldom our duty to revert to cases of poverty in Melbourne, but an instance has come under our notice of pecuniary distress, under circumstances which irresistibly urge upon us the necessity of appealing to the public sympathy. By one of the late vessels from England there arrived a Mr McLean, his wife and seven children, and eight days after their arrival Mr McLean died, leaving his family totally unprovided for. Mrs McLean is an entire stranger, without a friend or the means of subsistence and to add to her distress she is on the eve of her confinement. She is at present in a wretched hovel, in the rear of Mr Ley’s the Watchmaker, and only prevented from starving by some slender support furnished by the neighbours. Under the circumstances we trust the feeling of humanity is too strong in the breasts of our fellow colonists to require greater excitement than that produced by the mere mention of the case to ensure some assistance. Even a shilling will be of service, and there are few amongst us who could not spare something to mitigate the suffering of an unfortunate stranger amongst us. (PPH 12 Feb 1841)


Hot, actually. It surprises me, given that many of the new members of Port Phillip Society came direct from ‘home’,that  there weren’t more complaints about the weather and particularly about the heat. Also, given that white settlement in Melbourne had only started six years earlier, there must have been a degree of learning still going on about the weather patterns.

But at this time in 1841, the weather was so exceptional that it attracted the attention of the Port Phillip Herald of 16 February:

During the last few days the inhabitants of Melbourne have experienced some of the most intensely hot weather that has ever been experienced by the settlers in Australia Felix; the atmosphere has been dry and oppressive, accompanied by heat so well-known and so much dreaded. We have been informed that on Saturday evening the thermometer stood at 100 degrees in the shade at Mr Mills’ brewery, and since Wednesday it has never been below 93 during the day. The want of rain has been severely felt in the interior; in some places we are informed, not a blade of grass can be seen, and the most fearful consequences to the stock &c is anticipated, if the ground does not receive timely moisture. A storm passed over the town on the afternoon of Thursday with successions of [most?] vivid lightning, accompanied by peals of the most startling thunder; the electric [fluid?] struck a tree on the summit of the Eastern Hill and deposited it in several parts of the bark; a man who was standing near narrowly escaped with his life.



2 responses to “This Week in Port Phillip 1841: February 8-15

  1. I love this series and was worried, unnecessarily it seems, that it might be curtailed by your travels (which I trust are proving enjoyable). Don’t you think they may have found somewhere a bit further out of town than the bottom of Elizabeth St, which is in any case a creek, to bury their dead dogs.

    • Thank you! I fell behind a bit because I was so busy blogging at the Increasing Sunshine site that I was too tired to compile a “This Week”. Pigs and dogs seem to be rather a theme in early Port Phillip!

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