Daily Archives: March 31, 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 23 March-31 March 1841

You might remember than in January  the Clonmel was wrecked along the Gippsland coast, necessitating a 65 hour rescue mission as D.C. Simson and Mr Edwards and some unnamed ‘men’sailed to Melbourne to raise the alarm.  Captain Lewis, who travelled to Gippsland to rescue the unhappy passengers, reported that he had observed what could be access to an inland sea.  On 3rd February the Singapore cleared out, bearing Dr Steward, Messrs Kinghorne, Orr, Rank, Brodribb, McLeod, Kirsopp and McFarlane to investigate this rumoured waterway and to assess  the pastoral potential of the country, which had already been designated ‘Gippsland’ by Count Streslecki in his overland explorations.

The Port Phillip Herald of 23 March 1841 carried a lengthy report of taken from Mr Orr’s notes on his return to Melbourne. John Orr was employed with the firm of Turnbull, Orr and Co, and exemplified the entrepreneurial spirit that drove these heady, pastoral boom days of the early 1840s.  He reported that it took seven days to get there (much longer than the 65 hours that Simson and Edwards had taken to return by small boat to raise the alarm), a reminder should we need it of the difficulty of negotiating the Heads and Bass Strait. Their first efforts were directed towards finding an entrance to Gipps’ Land (which was how it was written) from the north-west side of Corner Inlet, but they soon abandoned this plan.  By travelling along the beach they located the wreck of the Clonmel and noted and named two rivers: the Tarra River (named after their indigenous guide) and the Albert River (after Prince Albert). They erected a storehouse on the beach, and ensured that it was guarded at all times with a ‘sufficient’ number of men.

Then unfolds one of those beach-side encounters,  that liminal space so evocatively described by historian Greg Dening, that could have gone either way and for which we have only the settlers’ side of the story.

During these operations a tribe of natives approached the encampment, when only two of the men and Mr Orr were present, and commenced seizing upon the various articles landed.  Mr Orr, however, and the two men succeeded in driving them off by discharging their guns loaded only with powder.  While riding in the vicinity a few days afterwards, Charlie, the black native lately in Melbourne with Count Strezlecki, discovered the recent footmarks of a large party of natives in the direction of the encampment.  The party immediately galloped back but found that they had not then arrived. In the afternoon, however, two of the gentlemen perceived a spear moving at a short distance, when it was resolved to advance and ascertain their intentions.  To avoid creating unnecessary alarm, only one half of the party proceeded to meet them, and they were discovered to the number of about thirty drawn up ready to receive the advancing party with their spears, which they flourished in the manner customary upon such occasions. Charlie approached them, making at the same time all manner of signs of peaceful intentions, and inviting them to advance.

After a very noisy interchange of salutations they laid down their spears and accompanied the party to the encampment, at a short distance from which they kindled a fire and held a coorobora [sic]. They departed the following morning with a few trifling presents, and were not again seen or heard of until the day the Singapore sailed, when nine of them in three canoes again made their appearance seemingly anxious to get on board.  The ship, however, being then under way, they were obliged to return, but the party despatched a boat after them to their camp, and gave them a few articles of different descriptions at which they were highly pleased. (PPH 23/3/41 p.2)

Messrs  Stewart, Rankin and Orr returned by ship, while the other five gentlemen, accompanied by Charlie, returned home overland in an exploratory journey that took over a month. Highly enthused by the potential of the land, John Orr applied to purchase land on the west bank of the Tarra River in April 1841 under special survey, while John Reeve, a recent arrival in the colony, made an application for a special survey on the east bank.  You might remember that Henry Dendy had recently arrived in Port Phillip from England, bearing a special survey entitlement arranged from London. Not only was the local government fearful that special surveys would pre-empt the best land in the colony, but Gipps was concerned about the cost of administering (and more importantly, policing) settlement in such a remote area.  It was to take the local administration two years to gazette the special survey.

It was not a particularly successful undertaking and Gipps and La Trobe’s fears about the remoteness of the region were justified. By 1843 there were about 200 people in the region, living in five small scattered settlements.  On Orr’s survey, there were 17 men, 6 women and 13 children, while there were 29 men, 14 women and 23 children on Reeve’s survey at Tarraville.  The area did not prosper as much as they hoped. Five years later, there were only an extra hundred settlers, bringing the total to 300 and 75,000 animals.  (Shaw, A History of the Port Phillip District  p. 162)


The Port Phillip Herald of 25 March had some interesting statistics about the free settlers arriving in Sydney and Port Phillip respectively.  I’m not sure how they compile the figures or how heavily they can be relied upon.  Perhaps more significant is the sentence at the bottom of the table that indicates that almost as many bounty immigrants had arrived in Port Phillip in the months 1 Jan-25 March 1841 as had arrived during the whole of 1840.

Government ships
  Men Women Children Total
Sydney 444 412 481 1367
Port Phillip  58  51  44  153
Bounty Ships (i.e. commercial emigration schemes)
Sydney 1471 1611 826 3908
Port Phillip  541 628  99 1268
Unassisted (i.e. self-funded)
Sydney 824 285 188 1297
Port Phillip 299 114 130 543
Sydney 2739 2338 1495 6572
Port Phillip  898 793  273 1961

P.S. There have already arrived in Port Phillip since 1 Jan 1841, 1847 immigrants on bounty in addition to a large number who arrived on their own resources. [PPH March 25, 1841]


The highest temperature for the period was 86 degrees (30C) on 23rd and the lowest was 43 (6C). There were strong winds on 23rd and 26th, and the weather was dry but mostly dull and cloudy. The coldest days of the month were between the 27th and 30th March.