Daily Archives: March 25, 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 8-15 March 1841


It is often amusing to Australians just how scared the rest of the world seems to be of the dangers of the antipodes. Snakes, spiders- even drop bears! But the depiction of Port Phillip as a Place of Peril seems to have started early.

There were industrial accidents:

A few days ago a poor man named Johnson in the employ of Messrs Alison and Knight, incautiously placed his hand on a piece of timber which the steam saw was then cutting up, and before he was aware of his danger his hand was caught by the machine and dreadfully lacerated. Doctor McCrae was immediately applied to, who found himself under the necessity of amputating one of the fingers, we are happy to add that the sufferer is now fast recovering. (PPH 9/3/41)

Then there were stingrays (if only you had taken heed Steve Irwin!)

EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE “We regret that one of the officers of the Majestic now lies seriously indisposed from the effect of a severe wound which he received whilst that vessel lay at Geelong. It appears that he was standing in the water near Point Henry, when a large string-ray drove its sting into his thigh and dragged him some distance before assistance could be afforded. He was taken on shore and put under the care of Dr Clarke, the assistant colonial surgeon, who with much difficulty succeeded in extracting the sting which measures eight inches in length and nearly one [inch] breadth. (PPH 9/3/41)

Even walking down Elizabeth Street (above the ‘River Williams’ which ran under it) you put your life in peril:

This beautiful and picturesque piece of water was on yesterday near being the scene of the loss of human life. A man in a state of inebriety rashly attempted to cross it, near Collin’s –street, instead of going over at the only fordable place, near Messrs. Lovell and Co, the consequence was almost fatal, he fell into one of the many holes with which the river abounds, and had it not been for the humane exertions of a person who stood on the banks, who on seeing his perilous situation instantly jumped off and ultimately rescued him, he must have been drowned. (PPH 9/3/41)


It was just as well, then, that the good people of Melbourne turned their attention to the lack of hospital facilities in the town. It is a good example of the way that public institutions were formed from scratch in a new community. On 5 March a meeting was held at the Police Court, with Superintendent Charles La Trobe in the chair, conferring respectability and authority on the proceedings. Justice of the Peace Thomas Wills moved, seconded by the Anglican minister Rev. A. C. Thomson, that

It appears to this meeting that the rapid Increase in population in Melbourne and the surrounding country, naturally involving a proportionate increase of cases of sickness, accidents and distress, renders necessary the immediate establishment of a Public Hospital, for the purpose of affording to patients clean and comfortable accommodations, regular medical attendance and the means of attention to diet and regimen.

It was decided that subscriptions would be opened immediately and once contributions reached £800, an application would be made to the government for a site and financial assistance in erecting a building for what would be known as “The Melbourne Hospital”. A provisional committee of nineteen men was established and a quick glance at their names reveals a microcosm of respectable networks within Port Phillip Society, many of whom I’ve mentioned before in this blog. There were seven J. P.s : Brewster, Lyon Campbell, Kemmis, Lonsdale [who acted at various times as both Police Magistrate and Sub-Treasurer], Simpson [also a Police Magistrate for a time], J. B. Were and Thomas Wills. The clergy of the dominant congregations were prominent: Rev. Geoghegan for the Catholics, Rev Orton [Methodist], Rev Waterfield [Congregational] and the two secretaries of the committee were Rev A. C. Thomson from the Anglican Church and Rev James Forbes of Scots Presbyterian. Dr Patrick M. D. was on the committee, as were a slew of other Esquires: Robert Deane; J. W. Howey; F. Manton; A.M. McCrae; A. McKillop; D. C. McArthur (manager of the Melbourne branch of the Bank of Australasia), and J. H. Patterson. Once the board had been appointed, La Trobe vacated the chair to the Rev. A. C. Thomson who took over the meeting which then adopted 17 regulations for the role of directors and subscribers which had clearly been formulated beforehand. (PPH 9 March 1841)


Finally, and most importantly for this blog, Justice John Walpole Willis and his wife arrived on the evening of Tuesday 9th March by steamer from the Australian Packet which was moored out in the bay. The Port Phillip Herald welcomed him with some reservations

We hail the arrival of the first Judge with no small degree of pleasure, as the introducer of a new era into the monetary affairs of our province, and should he be the means of effecting as much good as is anticipated, his appointment will indeed be a blessing to our country of no small magnitude. He is generally understood to be an eccentric, learned and impartial Judge; and these three characteristics when united do not make up a bad mean. Every person has some peculiarity or deficiency of character, and those which would pass unobserved in a private individual appears of the first magnitude, when possessed and displayed by a Judge from his, in every sense of the term, elevated seat on the Bench. Hence it is, that Judge Willis’ eccentricities may not be greater or more numerous than those of many other men. In a Judge, ability and impartiality make up for many deficiencies, and, therefore, upon the whole, we have every reason to congratulate ourselves upon his appointment amongst us. (PPH 12 March 1841)


So what weather greeted our new judge? Pretty mild really, at about 65-mid 70s daytime temperatures (18-24 Celsius) . The warmest day was 15th March, with a morning temperature of 81 (27C)