Daily Archives: June 28, 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 http://www.slv.vic.gov.au

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.