AGILITY AND DISRUPTION ON THE RIVER
Even in these days of international jet travel, we always tend to under-estimate the time that it takes to get from the point of disembarkation to our actual home or hotel. Sometimes it takes almost as long to traverse the last thirty kilometres as it did the previous thousand.
Emigrants and travellers to Port Phillip found a similar problem, although no doubt after the weeks spent on board ship from Britain, the messiness of the final leg of the trip was less noticeable and frustrating. Nonetheless, it was not possible to gaily trip down the gangplank of an incoming ship onto the streets of Melbourne. Ocean-going ships could not navigate the shallow tidal Yarra River and so they moored out in the Bay or at Point Gellibrand near Williamstown. From there, there were several options. Passengers and their cargo could be brought to Williamstown by boatmen, or could be ferried across directly to Sandridge (later Port Melbourne). From Williamstown they could catch a ferry to Geelong, Melbourne or Sandridge, or could travel by road up through Footscray to Melbourne. If they took the Sandridge option, they could take a shallow-hulled steamship up the Yarra, or could walk or drive across the drained swamps along St Kilda Road. The steamships and lighters would tie up at the wharves at Queens or Coles Wharf at Queens Street, where access further up the Yarra was blocked by a rocky outcrop generously called ‘The Falls’.
The early settlers of Port Phillip didn’t need Prime Ministerial encouragement to be ‘agile’ or ‘disruptive’ : anyone who had a small boat could see the opportunities to be had in offering their services to take weary travellers straight up the river to the wharf. The Yarra River was lit by beacons and stakes that marked the deepest channels in the river. The larger steamships relied on them to navigate the river but smaller ‘agile’ boats steered by water-men had little need of them. The Port Phillip Herald fulminated at the pushiness and competitive trickery of the water-men, calling for the Water Police to control the Uber-Taxis of the day.
As respects the beacons in the river and on the bar at its mouth, self interest on the part of the lighter and barge men often operates seriously upon the trading vessels which have to proceed to the Queen’s Wharf. Scarcely a vessel comes up the river that does not experience detention owing to the destruction or removal of the stakes which have been inserted to mark out the proper channels and although it is well known that there is a heavy penalty for the offence, yet interested motives and the uncertainty of detection and conviction encourage the continuation of the practice. If it be known by masters or agents that these beacons are either removed or misplaced they will not run the risk of bringing up their vessels, and the small craft trading between the Queen’s Wharf and the shipping in the bay will consequently reap the advantage; or should masters venture up and get aground, a thing of almost daily occurrence, they must perhaps have to the discharge part of their cargo, and thus in all probability pay the very men who were the cause of their misfortune, thus holding out a bribe to treachery. (PPH 2 April 1841)
This article was issued as a caution to unwary benefactors, but it serves just as well as a caution not to approach the church for charity:
For the last few days a female representing herself as the wife of a man called Boucher, now confined in the Gaol for sly grog selling, has been travelling through the town and extorting sums of money from our generous fellow townsmen, on the plea of extreme destitution. She yesterday morning called on the Rev Mr Thomson, who immediately had her taken before the Police Magistrate, who severely reprimanded her, and cautioned her how she followed such courses in future. To add to the grossness of her offence, it was proved that the wretched woman was Boucher’s concubine, and not his wife. (PPH 2 April 1841)
THE FIRST CORONER
One of the very first things that Justice John Walpole did in his legal capacity was to officially swear William Byam Wilmot as Coroner. Wilmot, who had a small dispensary in Collins Street called the Melbourne Medical Hall, had applied for the position in 1840, and was appointed, on La Trobe’s recommendation to Gipps, on 1 February 1841. The position of coroner combines both legal and medical aspects, and so Willis swore Wilmot in as Coroner immediately, even before Willis’ own court was open. For that momentous occasion, we’ll have to wait for the following week.
AND THE WEATHER…
A wet week, with 4.7 inches of rain. The total for April was 5.8, so it seems that nearly all the rain for the month fell in this first week. The 1st April was the hottest day for the week at 78 degrees (or 25.6 C)