Monthly Archives: June 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841″ 1-7 June 1841


Are you all on the edges of your seats, waiting for the Dignity Ball scheduled for 4th June? Well, you’ll need to wait another week because it was rescheduled from Friday 4th to Tuesday 8th June at the request of several Presbyterian families who would not otherwise have been able to attend.  Stay tuned.


Two small snippets in the Port Phillip Herald during this week allude to the multicultural nature of early Port Phillip, an aspect often overlooked in the emphasis on Scots, Irish and English immigration to the colony.

On 4 June mention was made of a Muslim (or ‘Mahometan’) witness who was unable to swear on the Koran, because one was not available.   Redmond Barry, who had called the witness, suggested that in future a Koran should be available for that purpose. Judge Willis told him that it would be counsel’s responsibility to ensure that one was provided.

A few days earlier on 1 June, a light-hearted article reported on an interchange in the court between a Chinese witness, his hastily-improvised interpreter and the court. Historian Nadia Rhook has written about Charles Powell Hodges who was appointed the Chief Chinese Interpreter in 1871 (library login required) but this case arose during the earliest sittings of the Supreme Court in Port Phillip, long before the influx of Chinese  during the Gold Rush of the 1850s.

CHINESE LANGUAGE- At the last Criminal Court it was necessary that an interpreter should be sworn to elucidate the language of a native of the Celestial Empire who talked Chinese. After a little stir in the court, a gentleman who had resided both in Penang and Canton, was installed, when the following amusing dialogue ensued, being a very novel specimen of oral Chinese:

Gentleman:- How ya, how can do; what you see?

Chinaman:- Me see him sun, him moon, him star

Gentleman:- You see many use bayonet?

Chinaman:- No me see man use pin; ‘tick woman in him breast, like one turkey.

Gentleman: Hi ya. What for ‘tick him in the breast?

Chinaman:- Just like tickle; all over funny

Gentleman:- When woman die?

Chinaman:- Six- eight moon ago- she nice woman, make he so so – all one dress like not’ing

Gentleman:- You good witness

Chinaman:- He yaw

Here ended the scene.

The case during which this interchange occurred was the murder trial of Thomas Leahy on 15 May, who plead not guilty to the charge of murder of his wife.  In Paul Mullaly’s analysis of the case found on the RHSV Judge Willis site, the Chinese witness was John Horn, a ‘Chinaman’ who lived at Portland, where the murder occurred. Prior to accepting Horn’s evidence, Willis tested his competence as a witness by asking whether he was a Christian and whether he understood the difference between truth and a lie. Willis then asked how Horn would have been examined in his own country. Horn replied that he would break a saucer to represent what would be his fate if he did not tell the truth.  As the Port Phillip Herald of 25 May had reported it:

A CHINAMAN’S OATH: A Chinaman named Horne [sic] having to be sworn in the Supreme Court the other day, was handed a blue and white earthernware soup plate, which having looked on with becoming reverence he dashed to pieces upon the floor of the witness box, the the astonishment of the uninitiated in such matters. Upon being called upon to explain how that ceremony was binding upon his conscience, he exclaimed “Me no speakee truth, then me fall pieces all like one plate.” (PPH 25/5/41 p.3)

The case continued. Leahy was not represented by counsel, and so Willis asked barrister Edward Brewster to act for him. When Brewster complained that the Crown Prosecutor, James Croke, was leading the witness, it was decided that an interpreter was needed.  The Justice of the Peace Robert Martin, who had lived in Penang and Canton, was called upon to act as a makeshift interpreter, leading to the interchange reported above.

In the end, Leahy was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, when the case was sent up to Sydney, doubts were raised about whether the Supreme Court could sit in both Sydney and Melbourne simultaneously.  By the time it was decided that it could, Willis and La Trobe had sent up a recommendation for mercy, and Leahy’s sentence was commuted to transportation for life.


In the entry for May 1-7, I noted the opening of John Dight’s mill on what is now known as Dight’s Falls.  Dight’s Falls may well have come to be known as Manton’s Falls instead, as three brothers Frederick, Charles and John Manton had planned to build a water mill there as well. However, when they were denied permission to do so, they built a steam saw and flour mill on land that they had purchased previously in Flinders Street. (See a summary of a speech ‘Give Us This Day our Daily Bread’ given to the Port Phillip Pioneers by Margaret Kaan in February 2012)

Charles and Frederick Manton 1872. Photographer: Thomas Charles Chuck. State Library of Victoria

Located opposite the wharf, it may well have been in a more advantageous location, and Manton Brothers established themselves as both mill proprietors and merchants. It was a short-lived enterprise, though, as the company was dissolved in 1843 in the wake of the economic depression.  There was no sign of this in June 1841, however…

MR MANTON’S STEAM MILLS. The Steam Mills on the Wharf are nearly completed.  The chimney has raised …to a height of seventy feet, and [shows?] much credit on the builder, for a more elegant structure is seldom seen at [home as?] the one alluded to presents. ..the sawing department is completed and will commence work immediately, and is capable of cutting up four thousand feet of timber in twelve hours.  The corn mill is being roofed in and will be at work in [?] weeks, grinding two hundred and fifty bushels of wheat per day. The whole of the machinery in these mills is of [?] order, and when in operation will be well worthy of inspection. (PPH 4/6/41 p. 2)


Our 21st century entrepreneurs had nothing on the 1841 entrepreneurs of Port Phillip, who managed to combine surprising, but quaintly logical, commercial endeavours within the one enterprise.  Take Mr Crook, for instance:


(PPH 4/6/41 p.1)


In a settlement with many newcomers, and where  financially-stable early settlers and their families were travelling back ‘home’ for a visit, this poem offers a salutary warning:





Not too bad, actually. The weather was “fine and clear” with the warmest day on 4th June when it reached 65 (18.3C), and a low for the week of 45 (7.2). There was no rain and the wind was generally light, although fresh on 1st and 2nd June.

Movie: Sherpa

Beautifully filmed, this documentary tells in real time the avalanche of 18 April 2014 that took the lives of sixteen sherpas and prompted their refusal to climb Chomolungma, the mother god of Earth that we know as Mt Everest. Big Western money was at stake here with customers ( because, let’s face it- this IS a business) paying big money to have Sherpas transport their every need from camp to camp so that they could cross ‘Everest’ off their bucket list.  Westerners crossed the treacherous and unstable Khumbu Icefall glacier just twice: the Sherpas crossed it twenty to thirty times, carrying heavy loads in the darkness because sunlight made the glacier even more treacherous and unpredictable.  There had been conflict in 2013 when a Westerner swore on the mountain, viewed by the Sherpas as a holy site, and after this avalanche the Sherpas were under government and commercial pressure to recommence their work.

You’re told in the opening sequence that the avalanche is going to occur, and I found myself holding my breath wondering just when it was going to happen. I felt angry at the manipulation exerted on the Sherpas, and the self-centredness of the disgruntled customers.  And, watching this in the knowledge of the death just recently of that young Australian woman on Everest, made me even more certain that there is no way, physically or ethically, that I would ever climb it!

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: May 24-31

“Melbourne” the Port Phillip Gazette announced grandly at one stage “boils over like a bush cauldron with the scum of fierce disputes.”  Of course, the Port Phillip Herald was often completely complicit in adding to the fire of disputes, but during this week in May, and the following weeks in June, we see the small colonial outpost of Port Phillip at full boil.

As I described in an earlier post, the King’s or Queen’s Birth-Day was (and still is) celebrated across the empire on different days at different times. In 1841 Victoria was on the throne, and her birthday was 24 May. The length of her reign really embedded that date on the colonial calendar.

According to the Port Phillip Gazette (PPG 8/5/41 p.3) the idea of holding a Birth-Day ball for the first time in Melbourne was mooted at the Caledonian Hotel, where a number of squatters decided that there should be a Race Ball to close the race carnival.  The stewards, however, decided that it should be held on the Queen’s Birth-Day instead, and that it should be a Private Ball rather than a Public Ball. Expenditure of 500 pounds was approved and 180 tickets put aside.

However, as the Port Phillip Patriot reported, when Mr G. G. Sullivan R. N. approached Redmond Barry and asked to be put onto the list of subscribers, he was referred to one of the stewards, William Meek.  Meek, who did not want such people to lower the tone of the gathering,  told him that the list was already full, which Sullivan disputed as he named several people who were going whose names were not yet on the list. Meek agreed to put Mr Sullivan’s complaint before the Stewards, who noted his letter but said that there was no need to comment further on it.

In the resulting furore it was decided that ball planned for the 24th May at Yarra Yarra House  would be opened up to a more ‘general’ admission with new Stewards appointed (Messrs Abrahams, Langhorne, Kerr, Connolly, Sullivan and Urquhart). The original Stewards ( Messrs Simpson, Powlett, Meek, James McArthur, Lyon Campbell, Verner, Major St John) would conduct a Private Ball instead (sneeringly characterized by the Port Phillip Patriot as the ‘Dignity’ Ball) at Mr Davis’ Exchange Rooms at a later date.

Underpinning the clash of these two Balls lay the question of colonial respectability.  Quaint as it might seem to us today, it was a question of fundamental importance to a large social stratum within Port Phillip Society, as historians Kirsten McKenzie and Penny Russell have so clearly shown. As ‘Perpateicus’ wrote to the Port Phillip Patriot on May 17

It is impossible, indeed, that society should long exist without distinctions; a line must be drawn somewhere; where choice is afforded, men will be guided by some rule in their selection.  In the colonies more especially, circumspection is needful, from the obscurity which surrounds private individuals, not to mention that many came abroad expressly for the purpose of taking up new characters, alien alike to their birth and their former habits.  In this point of view, colonial life is a grand masquerade, in which some assume stations to which they have no pretensions, while others sink those to which they justly entitled.  In such a medley, who is to judge? The members of the Club very naturally conclude that all beyond their pale are unworthy of regard.  The country settler repudiates the friendship of the Melbourne merchant. The nouveau riche derides the pretensions of his less fortunate neighbour. Latterly we have seen even the Bench itself reviving obsolete statutes for the purpose of distinctions which might better have been left to the judgment of society….[For]any man to submit his pretensions to a clique of individual who, besides being self-constituted and blessed by Club notions, have committed themselves to the egregious sentiment that gold is the correlative of gentility, would be an act of sheer folly, and a downright dereliction of self-respect. Though favourable to the distinction of society, it is important that such distinctions should be founded on some merit real or presumable. (PPP 17/5/41)

Others, like George Arden in the Port Phillip Gazette (who was highly critical of the ‘Dignity’ Ball) embraced the opportunities to do things differently in a new land:

In a new world as we may term Australia, one of the first and most important steps to greatness, is to shake off the prejudices that have so long fettered society in the father land, and in assigning any member his relative position with the mass, to be guided by character, either past or present. Birth and rank if inherited are enhanced by merit, without it these possessions are desecrated.( PPG 8/5/41)

Of course, a ball was a good opportunity to frock up with new clothes and Michael Cashmore the grocer was quick to capitalize on it as this advertisement from the Port Phillip Herald of 14 May shows:


And so how did it go? According to the Port Phillip Gazette

Her Majesty’s Birth Day was celebrated on Monday by a Public Ball held at Yarra House, which had been given up to the Stewards by the proprietor for the occasion.  The rooms, which are admirably adapted for a large party of this description, were arranged with every consideration to the comforts and convenience of the assembly.  The two drawing rooms were set apart for dancing, and the band being placed in the hall, enabled the votaries of Terpsichore to form separate sets in each room, whilst the suite of apartments in the left wing of the building was retained for cards.  The large room in the rear was appropriated to refreshments, which were supplied in the profusion throughout the whole evening. The unfavourable state of the weather precluded a great number from attending, especially those in the country; a dark night and the almost impassable state of the roads and streets, being sufficient to deter any but the most loyal from making the sacrifice necessary to evidence those feelings of respect to Her Majesty. Those, however, who set those considerations at nought, seemed to meet a recompense in the general hilarity of the assembly nor suffered their spirits to droop until the approach of morning warned them of the period for departure. (PPG 26/5/41)

The pastoralist-oriented  Port Phillip Herald, which was derisive of the spurious and jumped-up ‘respectability’ of the Stewards of the Public Ball, did not describe the Ball in its columns (probably because they didn’t attend). Instead, it reported on the appearance of some worse-for-wear attendees in the Police Court.  The writing style with short phrases joined together with a dash was often used by all three papers in writing comedy. Unfortunately, it’s one of those narrative styles that doesn’t travel across time well: perhaps you just had to be there.

POLICE  INTELLIGENCE John Berry, a confoundedly rakish-looking youth, whiskers awry; hair matted with damp and brickdust; neckerchief disorganized and out of set; waistcoat denuded of primitive virginity and spotted with negus; Newmarket green coat, rent to the collar; pantaloons, “a world too wide for his shrunk shanks”; speckled socks cased in patent leather; an astounding display of Mosaic jewellery; and a crushed hat and opera cane, was ushered to the bar, charged with retiring to rest that morning in one of the lakes opposite Yarra House.

Bench- Were you drunk?

Berry- To be sure I was; but permit me to elucidate. But first let me invoke (here he turned up his eyes to the ceiling and ejaculated in a falsetto voice) “Muse of the many twinkling fee Terpsichore”. Now for the elucidation. Last evening, in honor of Victoria I did forty-two shillings’ worth of Yarra House, and found it a bad bargain.  Remarkably grand display- lights glittered- eyes flashed- [?] twinkled- soft music- strong negus- foolish- stewards- Health to the Queen- three cheers- one for piccaninny-Caterer “John” slaughtered ham and beef – no poultry- plenty cigars- plenty “FANCY FAIR”- Mohawks from bush – hobnailed boots – [?infutine?] elegance- young elephant – Tartan – highly approved – blacklegs chucked – dice rattled – cards shuffled – Goat in boots – talked Bob Short – devil of uproar – lady insulted – insulter floored- black eyes- bloody noses – tumble down stairs – evaporated – talk of duel – no apology – all smoke – negus operating – dancing unsteady – dozens in corners – napping – kissing &c – all up – room, lights, fiddlers, twist round – bid adieu- there I am – damn that Charley, too bed – score worse – tipped Traps, did it snug- “that’s ALL”.

Having finished his harangue, he was ordered to pay 5s. which having complied with, this sample of the Birthday Ball mob flourished his cane and departed, vowing it to be the dearest two guineas’ worth he had ever purchased.


Winter had really set in with gales and strong winds on 28th, 29th and 30th.  It rained on the 23rd (hence the wet roads on the night of the ball) and there were dense fogs on 24th, 25th and 26th.  The highest temperature for the period 22nd-31 May was 64 degrees (17C) and the lowest was 37 (2.7)



Missing in Action

Oh dear, my blog is falling apart.  I haven’t written a ‘This Week in Port Phillip 1841’ entry in weeks; I have half-finished reviews languishing in the ‘drafts’ folder for so long that I can barely remember the book and the 1000-post milestone came and went without fanfare.

Why? you may ask. This is why.



After the last little doggie died we decided to replace the carpet. We had had four little doggies in the house and the little gentleman dog (who- believe me- was NO gentleman!) had made his presence smelt.  To replace the carpet, we had to move all the bookshelves and if we were going to do that then we may as well have the house painted at the same time.  And get new downlights.  And buy  new blinds to replace the verticals leading out to the deck. And clean the other curtains. And wash the windows properly. And buy a new couch.

My father, who lives in our back unit, is away on a cruise so it seemed an ideal time to  get all this done. So we’ve moved into Dad’s unit temporarily and piled up all our furniture and books in the rumpus room in the middle.


Steve is looking a bit startled, working on his computer in the freezing cold, reflected in the dressing table mirror

And the cat is not impressed one little bit.


I think I might join her, actually.

‘From Rice to Riches’ by Jane Hutcheon


2003, 355 p

It’s odd how companionable one comes to feel with an ABC foreign correspondent who has been chatting to you from the television over many years. ‘Jane Hutcheon, ABC, Beijing’ sounds very familiar, as does ‘Barbara Miller, ABC, London’ or ‘Martin Cuddihy, ABC, Nairobi’ (and will I ever forgive my son for not introducing me to him when he was right there? Probably not.) I can remember feeling quite upset for Eric Campbell, seeing him so visibly distraught after the death of his camera man in Iraq in 2003.

Jane Hutcheon, with her cheeky smile, and respectful curiosity (on full display at the moment in her current program One Plus One) has long been one of my favourite foreign correspondents. I’ve been aware that this book was available some years ago, and I’m surprised (and rather disconcerted) to find that it was published thirteen years ago!

Jane was born and grew up in Hong Kong, the daughter of a Eurasian mother and an Anglo-Celtic father whose family had been involved in colonial trade in Asia since 1851. Both parents were journalists. As a young Asia Television (Hong Kong) reporter, she covered the handover of a captured Taiwanese China Airlines crew in 1986 and the first visit of a British sovereign to China later in 1986. By the mid 1990s she was the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s China Correspondent, covering the return of Hong Kong to China, the rise of Falun Gong and the Tenth Anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre.

Her appointment as the China Correspondent for the ABC, then, combined personal and professional curiosity and in the early chapters of the book she combs over her family history ties as a way of integrating her own family story with the larger narrative of Chinese history from the mid 19th century on.  As she says near the end of the book:

When I went to China as a correspondent I hoped to discover what the essence of ‘being Chinese’ was all about, to understand why my ancestors had been drawn to its shores more than one hundred and fifty years ago…Though the world is now a different, much more convenient place, I tried to live the adventures of my ancestors.  Eventually, I began to love living in china for less deep-rooted reasons. It was like discovering a rare, antique carpet. The first time you look at it, it appears old and dusty. But after brushing off some of the dust, you notice amid the wear-and-tear the incredible colours that have stayed vibrant, despite the passage of time. After admiring the colours, you notice intricate patterns that tell a story about where the carpet was made, the life of its owner, and how it came to survive to the present day.  Soon, the carpet doesn’t look so old and dusty anymore; it becomes intriguing. (p. 354)

Hutcheon has organized her book by food: Pig’s Face, Slippery Noodles, Shanghai Stir-Fry. The names are a (very) little pun on the more serious theme of each chapter. For example, she deals with her own family history, the Opium Wars and the history of Hong Kong in her chapter ‘Colonial Chop Suey’. She deals with China’s strained relationship with both Taiwan and Tibet in the ‘Renegade Dumplings’. In ‘Spiritual Dim Sim’ she examines Christianity, the Zhao Tianjun temple, Falun Gong and Qigong, while the ‘Big River, Little Fish’ chapter deals with the Three Gorges Dam and its influence on the villagers who used to live on its boundaries.

Each chapter introduces us to many informants, just as an extended ‘Foreign Correspondent’ episode might do.  Interviewing people who have a different perspective to the ‘official’ line often involves deceit and disobedience,  and recent events with Peter Greste and the emergence of Reporters Without Borders and PEN remind us that writing and reporting can be dangerous in a way that might not have been so much the case in 2003.  She is often tailed by not-very-intelligent intelligence, and the Cultural Revolution and  Tienanmen Square are palpable presences in the background amongst her interview subjects.  She speaks to many people, and in this regard the book has the feeling of being an extended documentary feature, with people speaking their piece before the interviewer moves onto the next angle.  Fortunately, where she refers back to a character she has mentioned before, she explicitly names the chapter where the character previously appeared.   There’s also an index, a generous and unexpected feature in a book of this type.

Overwhelmingly, though, I found myself wishing that I was reading it thirteen months after it had been written rather than thirteen years later.  She foreshadows the insistence on ‘one China’ which is still asserted today and writes of the burgeoning and aspirational Chinese middle class that fueled the resources boom here in Australia in the decade after the book was published.  Less visible to her then was the military assertiveness of 21st century China, Muslim unrest in China in the context of a terrorist-nervous world, and the recent slowdown of growth in China that Australia seemed so blithely oblivious to.   None of this is Hutcheon’s fault, of course, but it does toss the ball back into my own court to find out what happened next.

aww2016 I have counted this towards my tally for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge.

Movie: Labyrinth of Lies

I went to see this (just before it ended, as usual) largely on the strength of the positive review in received in The Age. I was a bit disappointed.  Based on the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, it is set in 1958 when other prosecutors refuse to take up charges against an ex-Nazi now working illegally at a school after ‘de-Nazification’.  A young prosecutor feels compelled to do so even though he is completely unaware of the pervasiveness and nature of Nazi atrocities. I guess that this is where I couldn’t suspend disbelief sufficiently, as 1958 post-dated the Nuremberg trials, and while I acknowledge wilful forgetting, I find innocent ignorance harder to believe.

Even if I am wrong about this- and I’m quite ready to acknowledge that I might be- I found the film very predictable. So predictable, in fact, that I was correctly anticipating lines of dialogue before they were delivered, and anticipated most of the plot-turns in advance.

So, no glowing review from me.  And now that I look, the Guardian didn’t think much of it either.

‘The Arsonist’ by Sue Miller


2014, 304 p.

Sue Miller and Anne Tyler are my comfort food reads.  I must confess to occasionally confusing the two authors and their works, but I happily grab either of their new books when I see them on the shelves at the library. (Having said that, I realize that I haven’t read Anne Tyler’s Spool of Blue Thread which has probably received the most ‘literary’ recognition of any of her recent books in terms of its recent Booker Prize shortlisting).

Even though Sue Miller has a couple of years on me, I feel as if I have ‘grown up’ with her, right from the first book of hers that I read, The Good Mother (long before I started this blog). I’ve followed her characters through marriage separations, repartnerings, and more recently through her autobiographical book on watching a much-loved parent subsiding into dementia.  I like her domesticity, the leaving and returning to home, the regrets and anxieties and the lived-in-ness of her books.  Yes, there is a similarity between them all, set as they usually are, on the east coast of America amongst educated, progressive-leaning middle-class people who seem familiar.

This book follows the pattern. Set in 1998,  Frankie, a forty-ish aid worker has recently returned from Kenya (ah! snap! another synchronicity!  She’s obviously been to Lamu, as I have, too!). After yet another failed romance and rather jaded by the whole humanitarian aid phenomenon, she’s not quite sure what her next career move is to be, so she takes a few months at her parents’ home in Pomeroy, New Hampshire. Her parents, Sylvia and Alfie, have retired full-time to Pomeroy to what had been the family holiday home, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Alfie is sliding into a type of dementia. Meanwhile Frankie finds herself gradually drawn into the small Pomeroy community as it becomes increasingly edgy and brittle after a series of fires are lit in the empty, or darkened, homes.  She is attracted to Bud, another recent arrival to Pomeroy who has come to take over the ailing local newspaper, and her feelings are reciprocated.

I concede that many readers would find this soporific and banal (and a little part of me feels this at times). As with other Sue Miller books, these characters live very much in their heads. But perhaps this is why I enjoy her books so much: reassurance that other people have their own internal dialogues as well!  The question of the arsonist’s identity serves as a who-dun-it device to tie the book together, but really- I just enjoyed observing and vicariously living through the characters who seem familiar enough to be friends, but different enough to be interesting in a domestic, voyeuristic way.