Daily Archives: March 11, 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 1-7 March 1841

This first week of March 1841 was marked by comings and goings.


The arrival of the 700 ton barque Argyle from London via Plymouth after a journey of 120 days was big news. In reality, the ship had a rather inglorious entrance, limping into Hobsons Bay after becoming stranded near Swan Island near Queenscliff.  I’m perhaps particularly attuned to the experience of emigration after reading Roslyn Russell’s book High Seas and High Teas but this particular journey has been well-described, largely because of the presence of a number of notable female first-class passengers whose writings and work have added substantially to our knowledge of early Port Phillip society. Foremost amongst these was Georgiana McCrae and her four children. Brenda Niall has given an evocative account of the journey in her excellent biography Georgiana, drawing on Georgiana’s journal of the voyage. Also present on the journey was Susanna (Sarah) Bunbury, accompanying her husband Capt Bunbury with her two year old son, and she also conveys a lively picture of Port Phillip through her correspondence. (There’s a fantastic article by Trudie Fraser on the Bunburys and their time in Fitzroy ‘The Bunbury Letters from New Town’ available online through the Fitzroy Historical Society’s webpage at http://www.fitzroyhistorysociety.org.au/publications.php.)

As well as’ Captain Bunbury, Lady and Child’ and ‘Mrs McCrae and Four Children’, there were eight ‘intermediate’ passengers and 228 bounty emigrants (PPH 2/3/41). For a full list of the passengers, see http://www.oocities.org/vic1840/41/am41.html The bounty emigrants, selected and accompanied by Mr John Marshall, were particularly welcome.   Anne Drysdale’s journal in Bev Roberts’ book Miss D and Miss N refers often to the difficulties in obtaining labour during these early years of the 1840s. A list published in the Port Phillip Herald on 5 March listed the skills of the labour available, inviting parties desirous of engaging their services to apply to the Surgeon:

MARRIED Labourers 23; Carpenters 83; Brickmaker 1; Shepherd 2; Painter, Gardener, Butler, Stonemason, Stockman, Sawyer, Groom 1 each

SINGLE MEN Labourers 36, Shepherds, 10, Carpenters, Ploughmen and Gardeners 2 each.

SINGLE WOMEN Housemaids 23; cooks 2; farm servants 19; dressmakers 2, laundresses 2 and ladies’ maids 3.


Although most emphasis is placed on the people who are arriving in Port Phillip, there was a steady trickle of people leaving Port Phillip as well. Some went back to England permanently, others shuttled between ‘home’ and the colonies depending on family circumstances, while others moved to other colonies and settlements within Australia. Willian Henry Yaldwyn was one of the latter. He differed from many of the other settlers at Port Phillip in that he was an English landowner in his own right who emigrated to the colonies with his family. He was a leading member of Port Phillip Society in its earliest years and prominent as a magistrate, member of the Melbourne Club, committee man for the Melbourne Fire and Marine Insurance , the Proprietary College and the Melbourne and Port Phillip Bank. He was on the organizing committee for regattas and the Committee to Welcome Lady Franklin in 1839- a journey described by Penny Russell in This Errant Lady (which I reviewed here)



In March 1841 he left for NSW and Queensland, where he ended up a member of the Queensland Legislative Council. The people of Port Phillip gave him a good send-off from Melbourne:

DINNER TO MR YALDWYN. “On Friday evening the farewell dinner to Mr Yaldwyn came off with great éclat at the Adephi Hotel. The public room was laid out tastefully and redounded much to the honor of ‘mine host’. About a quarter to eight o’clock dinner was announced and fifty-three sat down to a sumptuous feast, consisting of all the delicacies the season could afford. After the cloth was removed Mr Powlett was called to the chair, when, after the health of the Queen the Royal Family &c had been drunk, and responded to with the innate loyalty of Britons, the chairman rose and proposed the health of their respected guest Mr Yaldwyn, which was drunk with the customary honours, and one cheer more. Mr Yaldwyn returned thanks in a suitable speech in which he expressed deep regret at his departure from among them. After several minor toasts had been drunk, the party broke up about two o’clock when every one present seemed pleased with their evening’s entertainment.” (PPH 2 March 1841 p. 2)


Education at this stage was not controlled by government regulation and was delivered through sectarian schools and private enterprise. There were frequent advertisements in the papers for schools, many of which opened and closed almost without trace. Mr James Smith advertised that term would begin on 8th March at his school which would be conducted in connection with the Independent or Congregational denomination of Christians in Melbourne. The curriculum would consist of English, Reading, Spellng, Writing, mental and slate Arithmetic, English Grammar, History, Georgraphy, Elements of Geometry &c.

The pupils will be instructed as far as practicable according to the system of the British and Foreign School Society, Mr S. being thoroughly acquainted with that system, having been regularly trained at the Normal Institution, Borough Road, London. Hours of teaching from 9 till 12, and from 2 till 4.30 p.m (PPH 5/3/41)

Meanwhile, Mrs Williams and Miss Casey advertised their establishment for the young ladies of Melbourne:

Mrs Williams and Miss Casey beg to announce to the inhabitants of Melbourne that they intend opening a Seminary for the instruction of young Ladies. The course of Education will comprehend French and English in all its branches, including Writing and Arithmetic. Mrs W. And Miss C in soliciting the patronage of the public, rest their claim for support on their determination to pay the most unremitting attention to the religious and moral instruction of those pupils who may be entrusted to their care, as well as on the experience they have already acquired, while engaged in many respectable Schools and Families in the south of Ireland, where they have had opportunities of studying and adopting the several improvements in the modern system of education. (PPH 5 March)


In the early years of Port Phillip, much of the area surrounding Melbourne was quickly combed by timber-gatherers. By 1841 they were having to range further afield:

FIREWOOD. In consequence of the extension of the town and the great increase of inhabitants, this necessary article has lately become very scarce and the price has risen in proportion. The persons who procure a livelihood by supplying the town with fuel have now to go out some distance into the bush before they can get wood of a proper description for burning- the clearances in the immediate vicinity of the town are in many places converted into pleasure gardens which though devoid of the sublimity attendant upon the “mighty monarchs of the forest” yet carrying a feeling more homely, remind us of the chastened features of our native land. (PPH 2 March p. 3)

But where there’s firewood, there’s fire:

FIRE “We have often observed with alarm the idiocy of some persons in lighting large fires in close proximity to their habitations and this too, regardless of the weather and the calamitous consequences that may ensure, and we have perused with astonishment the annals of Melbourne without finding, as the negligence of the inhabitants would lead us to expect, more than one conflagration since the foundation. On Saturday evening a fire broke out in the chimney of a house situation in the rear of Mr Rushton, Little Collins-Street. The strong wind at the time accelerated the power of the flames which rose to an alarming height; fortunately the rain during the day had left an abundance of water on the [stove? stone?] which some men present assisted to draw, and the fire was soon got under. It appeared it owed its origin to the usual carelessness, a large fire had been piled on the hearth, which coming in contact with the charred timber in the chimney soon ignited, and spread through the entire: had not assistance been at hand and the flames permitted to increase, the consequences might have been serious, as the house is situated amidst a cluster of others built in the same frail manner and situated immediately behind the principal thoroughfare of the town, Collins Street. (PPH 2 March p. 3)


Meanwhile, there were increasing complaints about the quality of the drinking water that was being drawn from the Yarra. A small natural waterfall at about the site of the present Queens St Bridge separated the fresh water of the Yarra from the salt water coming up from the bay. Water carters drew from the Yarra and delivered it to householders at a cost of 6 or 7 shillings per load. On 2 March, the Port Phillip Herald published a letter written Dr Clutterbuck to Superintendent La Trobe, complaining about the brackish state of the water. La Trobe responded:

I beg leave to assure you and the gentlemen who have added their signatures, that having been subjected during the whole summer to the same inconvenience as my neighbours, and believing, moreover, that the brackish water is one cause (though not the only one) of the sickness which has prevailed of late, especially among new comers, I could neither be indifferent as an individual or as a public officer.” (PPH 2/3/41 p.3)

It was popularly believed that the poor water and drains had contributed to the illnesses suffered by many of the recent immigrants who had arrived on board the Argyle. The Port Phillip Herald pointed out that it was the duty of government to apportion some of the general revenue

to the formation of sewers with drains through the marsh into the Yarra, below the fall, to carry off the filth and excretions, which are daily collecting in the lower parts of the town, putrefying and exhaling pestiferous miasmata in a climate where it is actually requisite to fight against nature to render it unwholesome…[Recently arrived immigrants] instead of recovering from any lurking symptoms of disease they might have contracted on board ship, immediately on landing and exchanging the pure breeze of the ocean for the stagnant currents of the back slums of Flinders-lane, were attacked with what has been emphatically termed the “Yarra fever”, for the results of which we refer to the destitute widows and orphans, whose husbands’ and fathers’ remains lay mouldering in our churchyard. (PPH 5/3/41)


The weather for the week was generally fine, with light winds freshening occasionally. The highest temperature for the week was 86 degrees (30C) on 5 March, with a little rain the following day.