Monthly Archives: August 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 17-24 August 1841


At this stage, Melbourne was reliant on water carters for its water supply. Having recently spent some time in Nairobi where our house was reliant on tanked water for its domestic supply, I have a new appreciation for the angst caused by the non-appearance of the water delivery tank.

THE WATER CARTERS: Of late, several impositions have been attempted, and threats made by the carters who are in the habit of supplying the inhabitants of Melbourne with water. On Tuesday last one of these worthies was requested to bring a load to a resident in Bourke-street, which he willingly promised he would, and proceeded, as he said, direct to the pumps for the purpose. Hours, however, passed over, and no water cart made its appearance.  After waiting for so long a time, absolutely in the greatest want of the water, there was no other alternative left than to send through the streets and purchase a cask from another man. When a considerable period had elapsed after the so-much-required supply had been procured, the first carter arrived with his load, but as he had so disgracefully broken his agreement, and besides, as the water was not only then not required, but as there was no vessel for its reception, it was refused, and no payment of course would be made. Upon this announcement, the villain burst out into a violent storm of passion, discharged the water upon the path near the door, and threatened he would instantly have the person who had given him such offence summoned to the court.  Certainly there must, in a civilized colony, be some law wherewith to punish such vagabonds. It would be well for a case to be tried to solve the question. [PPH 17/8/41]


On 20th August the Port Phillip Herald reported a “hostile meeting” between “Mr B___ a gentleman of the bar” and Mr S_____.  These thinly disguised names would have been readily known to Port Phillip inhabitants: Redmond Barry (then aged 28) and Peter Snodgrass (aged 24).  As Edmund Finn, writing as ‘Garryowen’ described in his inimitable way:

In August 1841 occurred a hostile meeting, remarkable in consequence of the position attained in after time by the principals. Mr Peter Snodgrass was by no means the least pugnacious individual of an extinct generation, and it did not take much to get up a casus belli with him. Mr Redmond Barry was a gay and promising young Barrister, and the two were prominent members of the Melbourne Club. Barry had written a letter to a friend, who injudiciously showed it to Snodgrass, about whom it contained some reference, which was deemed to be personally offensive, and a challenge was the consequence.  The gage of battle was taken up, the preliminaries were quickly arranged, and in the rawness of a winter’s morning the meeting came off by the side of the “sad sea waves,” between Sandridge and the present Albert Park Railway Station.  Though the weather was the reverse of promising, Barry made his appearance on the ground done up with as much precision as if attending a Vice-regal levee.  Even then he wore the peculiarly fabricated bell-topper, which a future Melbourne Punch was destined to present to the public in illustrated variety; he was strap trousered, swallow-tail coated, white-vested, gloved and cravated to a nicety.  He even carried his Sir Charles Grandison deportment with him to the pistol’s mouth, and never in years after appeared to such grandiose advantage as on this occasion.  When they sighted each other at the recognized measurement, before Barry took the firing-iron from his supporter, he placed his hat with much polite tenderness on the green sward near him, ungloved, drew down his spotless wristbands, and saluted his wicked-looking antagonist with a profound obeisance that would do credit to any mandarin that ever learn salaaming in the Celestial Empire.  They taking his pistol and elevating himself into a majestic pose, he calmly awaited the word of command.  Snodgrass fussed and fidgetted a good deal- not from the nervousness of fear, for he was as brave as an English bull-dog, but rather from a desire to have the thing over with as little ceremonial nonsense as possible, for he was Barry’s antithesis as a student of the proprieties.  It was his over-eagerness on such occasions that caused his duelling to eventuate more than once in a fiasco, and unfitted him for the tender handling of hair-trigger pistols. By a laughable coincidence, the present “engagement” was terminated in a manner precisely similar to what happened at the duel of the year before, when a hair-trigger prematurely went off.  The same fire-arm was now in use, and just as the shooting-signal was about to go forth, the pistol held by Snodgrass, getting the start, was by some inadvertence discharged too soon, whereat Barry at once magnanimously fired into the air. Little could either of the duellers foresee what futurity had in store for both.  The one grew into the esteemed and popular forensic Advocate, and on to the eminent and universally-valued Judge; whilst the other, in the following year, was a gallant capturer of bushrangers, and ended his career as an active Member of Parliament, and a voluble if not eloquent Chairman of Committees in the Legislative Assembly.


Redmond Barry in his later, more sober years.


The new post office had opened on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets week earlier, having vacated its former premises in Little Collins Street.


The Second Post Office by William Liardet. This post office in Little Collins Street was superseded by the ‘new’ post office on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, which opened in August 1841.  State Library of Victoria

[Actually, looking at this picture- is that a beggar sitting against the wall, receiving alms from a lawyer??]


The third post office, which opened in August 1841, is shown here in 1853, only six years before it was demolished for the first GPO which was built on the site. Note the deep gutter to the right of the image, built to try to control the unruly waters of Elizabeth Street. Original drawing by F. Thomas. State Library of Victoria

On August 17 the Port Phillip Herald praised the appearance of the letter-carrier, who seems to have cut quite a dash:

The scarlet coat, gold band on the hat, and leather case under the arm of the letter carrier, give a very gay appearance to the town of Melbourne, and to the gay lothario who sports them [PPH 17/8/41]


An arrival in port

There was a 62 ton schooner called Truganini that arrived from Hobart. Interesting that the the woman we know as Truganini (Trugernanner) was at this stage in Melbourne, having come across with the Aboriginal Protector George Augustus Robinson.  I wonder how and why the boat was named Truganini?

A caution

An interesting advertisement:

CAUTION.  The public are hereby Cautioned against giving credit or harbouring my wife, Agnes Brown, she having decamped from her home, taking with her a watch, tea caddy, box and bed quilt on Thursday last.  Any person found harbouring her, will be dealt with according to law; and persons giving me such information as will lead to conviction, shall receive Five Pounds Reward.  James Brown. X his mark.

Until the passing of the English Divorce Act in 1857, divorces could only be granted by an Act of the British Parliament: an avenue restricted to very wealthy people. Only one petition for divorce was ever made in New South Wales (and that, interestingly enough, was on the part of the wife). Although legislation to protect Deserted Wives and Children was introduced in NSW in 1840, the emphasis was on men deserting their wives rather than the other way around.  However, as the advertisement above makes clear, women did not have property rights to any family goods, when they left a marriage, an illegal act in itself. A watch, a tea caddy, a box and a quilt: possibly  the watch and the contents of the tea caddy were all the portable property the couple held, while the quilt seems a particularly female object to take. [Memo to self: must go see the Quilt Exhibition at NGV Australia before it finishes in November].

And another interesting advertisement:

STRAYED about a fortnight ago- a boy about nine years old, had on light trowsers, blue cloth jacket, rather large pair of old worn out boots, dark hair, freckled features, round plump face; a small dog following blind of one eye.  The boy has strayed in a similar manner before and went in a fictitious name. He is supposed to be in the vicinity of Melbourne. Whoever will give information where he may be found to Mr Henny, Irish Harp, will be thankfully received. [PPH 17/8/41]


Strong winds prevailing, weather cloudy or rainy.



‘Where Are Our Boys?’ by Martin Woods


Where Are our Boys: How Newsmaps Won the Great War Martin Woods

2016, 227p & notes

Now that I come to think of it,  maps don’t figure prominently in our graphic-rich environment much any more.  I’m old enough to remember wall maps strung up on a classroom wall, and I’m old-fashioned enough to still have a Melways in the car.  Our use of maps has become very functional and specific. Google Maps takes you right to where you’re looking and the  GPS in your car gives a one-dimensional snapshot of your immediate surroundings as you travel to your pre-selected destination. While there are still maps occasionally in newspapers and on television news – to pinpoint the sites of a specific event like an earthquake, tsunami or terrorist events, for example- I’m not particularly aware of maps that show a broad region and topographical features any more. Perhaps that’s why I’d be hard-pressed, I must confess, to tell you which countries border Syria- or even exactly where Syria is, even though it’s on the news every night.

However, few maps are completely neutral- or even accurate, as the ‘true size’ map makes clear.  Even that world map of my memory, with the pink Commonwealth countries, was an argument for Empire, and as the Worldmapper website shows, it is possible to revision the world according to different parameters, depending on the argument you want to make.  And as Martin Woods shows us in his book Where Are Our Boys? this was also true in the more map-oriented environment of World War I where Australian families, anxious about ‘our boys’ on the battlefields were exposed to maps in an unprecedented way.  ‘Newsmaps’, as Wood coins them, were newspaper maps that were placed in the news, often at the core of the commentary and became “the window through which most news was viewed and understood” (p. 1).  His book focuses on the production and reception of maps for an Australian readership during the years 1914-18 and thus reflects the narrative of the time  of ANZAC troops fighting within the bigger picture of a British war, and not the skewed nationalistic map of ANZAC commemoration-tourism that we hold today.

The opening chapter of the book places the WWI newsmaps into a longer cartographic tradition, springing from the late 16th century with the rediscovery of Ptolemy’s maps from c.90-179CE. and the expansion of printing techniques, particularly during the Dutch Golden Age, which enabled the production of maps to demonstrate exploration, urbanization and -especially- the bird’s eye view of battles and sieges. Maps were fundamental to military strategy, both for commanders and commentators.  However, these maps were separate artefacts to be unrolled and consulted alongside the news received either by despatch, word of mouth or, later, through the columns of newspapers.While the publication of maps as a separate product continued into the twentieth century, this book emphasizes the integration of the map into the newspaper itself as a ‘newsmap’.

As Chapter 2 ‘Remaking the Map of Europe’ shows, maps, generally imported from Britain, were popular with Australian readers.  Geography had been added to the school curriculum in the 1870s, and maps were used to track the progress of explorers across the Australian continent. Scouts and cadets learned map-reading skills, and the compulsory military training for men and boys aged 12-26 under the Commonwealth Defence Act of 1911 exposed more men to maps.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, newspaper consumption reached an all time high in Australia (p. 43). The first map produced in an Australian newspaper accompanied a report of the Crimean War in the Sydney Illustrated News published on 13 May 1854, and during the Boer War, maps were embedded into news articles or placed alongside correspondents’ reports.  This was a practice that continued with the Russo/Japanese War, the San Francisco earthquake and the Italo-Turkish war of 1911-12. In this way, Australians were exposed to a steady diet of maps to explain conflicts and risings in Europe during the first decades of the twentieth century.

The Balkans had been an area of concern in Australian newspapers from 1908 onwards, but for Australian readers on the other side of the world, the rapid transition to war came as a jolt.  At this stage, the whole world was the stage and Ch. 3 ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor’ demonstrates, the maps were big too, with large wall and billboard maps produced for shared consumption, like the large billboard map outside the the Argus office.  Commercial maps were produced for home use  by companies like Robur Tea, or by the newspapers as a special feature.  Many of these maps were cheaply produced and ephemeral, hence their relative scarcity today.  As attention focussed on the French/German frontier and Belgium, the maps became smaller in scale, moving from one battle front to another.  The German colonies now came into contention and war maps now often had a breakout box showing Australia’s proximity to the Pacific colonies.

With all this emphasis on Europe, France and Belgium there was initial disbelief when the ANZACs were sent to Egypt instead of the European front (Chapter 4). As 21st century Australians, we now know the layout of the Gallipoli peninsular better than Australian readers did at the time, (notwithstanding our relative cartographic ignorance).  The actual location of the soldiers was not divulged until mid-May and the Dardenelles were rarely shown on world maps at the time. It was not until September that a detailed map of the Gallipoli peninsula was issued. Shortly afterward, the ‘War Map of the Dardenelles and Bosporus’ was forwarded to schools, where it was intended that it form the basis of classroom discussion. A Robur war map was available for subscribers giving a bird’s eye view, unconstrained by detail and optimistically misleading, complete with little flags to pin onto the map to show progress. But of course, as we know, there was little progress, and little sense of orderly movement in the heavily censored letters home. Maps issued after the withdrawal were more detailed and provided the topographic detail necessary to make sense of what had happened, especially H.E.C. Robinson’s  map ‘ANZAC: Date of Landing April 1915: Date of Evacuation Dec 19-20 1915’ which was issued as a fundraiser in April 1916 in time for the first anniversary of the landing.

In Chapter 5 ‘Reading the Front’, Woods emphasizes that maps were just one part of the printed deluge that swept across Commonwealth readers. Australia was part of an Empire-wide publishing market, and there was lots of analysis, with special ‘War Issues’, technical articles, campaign diaries and maps, poetry, sheet music and novels.  Special collections of maps were marketed as gifts.  War films were shown at cinemas, and he notes in particular animated battle maps that were shown as shorts before the main feature, where using stop-motion animation, simple flag armies were shown moving across the screen (my- it was a simpler time!). The social aspect of map reading is emphasized, deepening our understanding of the homefront response to the war.

With the shift to ‘Somewhere in France’ (Chapter 6) from 1916 onwards, readers were frustrated by the lack of detail about Verdun and and readers now were aware that lack of detail generally indicated enemy gains. Although the ANZACs landed in France in March 1916, little was noted in the newspapers for two months.  When maps for public consumption began being produced again,aerial photography added a new perspective to maps. Nonetheless, maps of the Western front were in themselves a form of fantasy which did not capture the obliteration of geography caused by trench warfare.   The London-based Daily Mail syndicated its birds-eye map across the world which showed villages and farms that were no longer there. Today – and especially during this and the next two years- Australians are aware of Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Passchendaele, but readers of the day saw them as part of the wider campaign and geography of ‘Flanders’.  There was genuine fear that Britain itself would be invaded, but by July 1918 the narrative had shifted. Instead of fear and gloom, there were more hyperbolic, nationalistic reports, and instead of the ebb-and-flow nature of the news, there were almost unalloyed good tidings.

By the latter half of 1918, as Ch 7 ‘Victory – In memorium’ shows, the newspapers displayed the discordancy of headlines urging victory, while the personal columns and lists of casualties revealed the ongoing sadness.  Henry B. Manderson (Melbourne) rather prematurely issued the ‘Victory Instant Reference Large Scale War Map of Western Europe and Australian Fighting Fronts’ in mid 1918, with an index of 7000 place names, and locations of Australian cemeteries.  The map came complete with British, French, Italian, Australian and American flags and instructions to

Cut the flags out, mount on pins, and from the information published in the newspapers each morning you may, by moving the flags, follow the movements of the various armies as they retreat or advance (p. 210)

Australian crowds anticipated the Armistice, with the Argus war billboard in front of the Argus building being torn down by jubilant crowds on 9th November.  Following the announcement of peace, maps were produced showing the reconfiguration of Europe, and local maps revealed Australia’s new interest in Germany’s Pacific holdings, especially Nauru. Within months the first battleground tourism maps were being produced, for Australians wealthy enough to make their own pilgrimages to visit the sites where their sons and husbands fell.

This is a clearly written,  beautifully produced book,with full colour maps on nearly every page. Its chronological approach presupposes a certain familiarity with the progress of WWI, but its emphasis is on the media depiction of the war and its homefront reception.   If I have one criticism, it is that I was not always aware that the map under discussion would be on the next page, and I would have appreciated a note in brackets, perhaps, indicating the page on which the map might be found if it was included.

I do find myself questioning, though, the subtitle “How Newsmaps Won the Great War”.  It’s a big claim, and not one that Woods addresses in detail. Certainly, as he notes:

The war of 1914-1918 was a modern, mechanised, media-fuelled global conflict, in which newsmaps were part of a campaign bolstering public confidence, punctuated by well-pitched moments of alarm… To a map- and news- literate early twentieth-century audience, the power of maps was undoubtedly more immediate and widespread than in any previous war (p. 224)

War maps did, as he claims, prove a template for reading the war as it unfolded, and military propaganda notwithstanding, “contemporary audiences were arguably better acquainted with the flow of events than most of us today, and more able to understand the context of the Great War.” (p. 227). They did, as he also claims, have an impact on the geographical imagination and educational curriculum and raised expectations of the possibilities of technology.  But newsmaps won the war? I’m not convinced. The war wasn’t won staring at the huge map on the Argus billboard, or moving the flag pins on a map on the other side of the world while Mother knitted socks- scenarios that Woods captures so well. As Woods has shown us, newsmaps did not drive actions, but instead were a commodity created for an audience  whose thoughts and prayers spanned the globe, unconstrained by geography.

Source: Review copy




‘Black Rock White City’ wins the Miles Franklin

In past years I’ve assiduously worked through the short list for the Miles Franklin, but it seems to have crept up on me this year. What was on the shortlist? Actually, I’ve read several of them without realizing it.

  • The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (my review here)
  • Hope Farm by Peggy Frew  (well, I did borrow it to read it, but didn’t get round to it)
  • Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
  • Leap by Myfanwy Jones (my review here)

and the winner

  • Black Rock, White City by A. S. Patrić (my review here).  And I’m quietly chuffed to see that I thought ‘Miles Franklin material’ right back in August 2015, when I read it.

Movie: Truman

I’ve been learning Spanish for the last year and that was the main reason that I wanted to see this film. It’s odd- I came out of the cinema smugly happy with my ability to recognize a couple of words in each interaction, but looking at this YouTube trailer- it seems so fast!! I can’t understand a word of it! (I wonder if they slowed it down for the theatre??)

Anyway, Julian is an actor with advanced cancer who is visited by his friend Tomas on a four-day fleeting visit.  It reminded me just a little of Last Cab to Darwin in its combination of gentle humour and poignancy as a man faces the task of death.  Not a lot happens in the four days, but it’s a moving depiction of friendship and priorities.

Three and a half stars leaning towards four stars because I could follow the Spanish!

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 9-16 August

There’s been a little story bubbling along in the papers over the last week or so about a “cowardly assault” on the Rev. A. C. Thomson, the Anglican minister of St James Anglican Church.  St James was the only Anglican church in Melbourne at this stage, and it was located at that time near the corner of Collins and Williams streets. It was then a small weatherboard building, with a school building attached.

St. James Church and School

St James Church and School by William Liardet (painted 1875), State Library of Victoria,

The original weatherboard building was replaced by a brick building which opened in 1842 but was not completed until 1847. This second brick building was relocated to its present site in 1914 where it is now known as St James Old Cathedral.

On 3rd August, the Port Phillip Herald reported that the Rev and his friend Mr Patterson had been the victims on an assault. [Apologies for the queries- it’s difficult to read]

COWARDLY ASSAULT. Yesterday evening as the Rev Mr Thomson and Mr Patterson, son of Dr Patterson, were proceeding along the newly erected fence [?outside?] Rev Thomson’s residence, the crash [of a ?] was heard at some distance, when the gentlemen immediately hastened [?] but the depredators fled hotly pursued.  Mr Patterson first came up with the [?] a struggle ensured which continued as Mr Thomson came to his assistance.  They eventually succeeded in taking whole, three in number, prisoners and [?] them in the watchhouse. [?] Rev Thomson and Mr Patterson were [?] by the ruffians with palings, but although hurt, we are glad to say, not seriously. We shall give the full particulars in our next [PPH 3/8/41]

And so, as promised, the next issue reported that the case was brought up in the Police Court on Tuesday, the lawyer Mr Carrington was acting for the prosecution.

Mr Carrington begged of their worships to postpone a case in which he was engaged for the prosecution. It was a case of assault on the Rev Mr Thompson [sic] committed by John Hunter, Campbell Hunter and Alexander Hunter on the night of Monday last, one of the party being unwell and unable to attend. Mr Meek and Mr Gourley consenting to go security for the appearance of the parties on Friday next (this day). The application was granted. [PPH 6/8/41]

So, who were these Hunter boys?  The Australian Dictionary of Biography lists John and Alexander under the omnibus title of the ‘Hunter Brothers’ (John, Alexander, James, Andrew and William) five of the six sons of Alexander Hunter of Edinburgh.  Paul de Serville in his book Port Phillip Gentlemen has John and Alexander as brothers, with Campbell listed as their cousin, who also rather confusingly had a brother John Hunter as well (this other John Hunter was part of the firm Watson & Hunter). From the shipping lists, Elizabeth Janson has the two brothers John and Alexander arriving in Port Phillip on 13 August 1840 on the Culdee.  They were all young: in 1841 Campbell was the eldest at 22, John was 21 and Alexander was 20. Campbell was to die only five years later, but John and Alexander’s lives demonstrated the mobility of Scots settlers throughout the empire, with John dying in Buenos Aires in 1868 and Alexander settling in South Africa, returning to Port Phillip then dying at sea in 1892 on his way back from Scotland.  In Port Phillip, they were part of the influx of Scots settlers, but there was little love lost between them and the Scots leaders of Melbourne society including Lyon Campbell and Farquahar McCrae.  Paul de Serville describes them as “high-spirited”, adding in parentheses that  “(the unkind might call some of them gentlemen larrikins)” (de Serville, p. 64)

Despite their high spirits (which may or may not have been bolstered by spirits of another kind), the Hunter boys would not particularly have appreciated being hauled before the Police Court along with all the other petty thieves and drunkards.  It’s no surprise, then, that things were smoothed over:

THE ASSAULT CASE. The three Messrs Hunter, who had been summonsed to appear at the Police Office on Friday, charged with an aggravated assault upon the Rev. Mr Thomson, on the night of Monday last, have settled the matter out of Court, by making a written apology to that gentleman, and an acknowledgement of their error through the local press.  We are glad that the matter has been thus settled without being brought before a Court of Justice; for although we are firmly convinced that nothing could have been pleaded as an excuse for so wanton an outrage on public decency, it would not have added much to the respectability of our province to have matters of this kind, where the parties implicated move in the most respectable sphere, brought before the Police Office. Mr Thomson has shown himself to be a Christian in every point of view, in waiving the prosecution, and we do sincerely trust that Tom and Jerry larks, as they are fashionably termed, of this description may never again disgrace the province of Australia Felix.  What fun there can possibly be in breaking into a Clergyman’s premises, and then knocking him down, and shamefully ill-using him, we confess ourselves entirely at a loss to discover; in our humble opinion, it is the ne plus ultra  of genuine blackguardism, and as such should meet with the most severe reprehension of every honest man; for ourselves we most candidly state that a repetition of such disgraceful conduct shall meet with the strongest condemnation and most public exposure, through the columns of this journal, no matter what the rank of the parties implicated may be; we have had by far too much of these pranks already.[PPH 10/8/41]

In his book Port Phillip Gentlemen, Paul de Serville notes that the Melbourne Club, “the most important social institution in Port Phillip” (p. 63) was made up of two groups.  The senior group in age and position were the inner circle of ‘good’ society, while the other group was younger and wilder, “the gentlemen rowdies of the Waterford school” (p. 66), a reference to the Marquess of Waterford, Henry Beresford, who was said to have ‘painted the town red’.

They were mainly squatters with some town allies: Peter Snodgrass, Gilbert Kennedy, Henry Fowler, Alexander Hunter, his brothers and cousins.  After long drinking parties, they fought duels, assaulted the constables, broke windows, removed signs and sawed down verandah posts. (de Serville, p. 66)

Poor old Rev Thomson was one of their victims, but it is interesting to note the ‘tut-tut but boys will be boys’ attitude of the Port Phillip Herald.  It’s a far cry from the moral panic provoked by petty crimes committed by former convicts or recent immigrant labourers. The concern seems to be mainly with the challenge to the respectability of Port Phillip if  “parties who move in the respectable sphere” were forced to face the indignity of the Police Court.  I find myself reminded of similar gentry larrikinism in Upper Canada, where the young scions of MPs and the ‘best’ families rampaged through the offices of William Lyon Mackenzie’s newspaper, throwing his type and printing press into the lake in the Types Riot. In both cases, these young men could avail themselves of means to escape the full wrath of the law that were unavailable to less well-resourced lads.


Even though Melbourne was groaning at the seams with the sudden influx of a number of immigrant ships, I was interested by an advertisement in the Port Phillip Herald on 10 August by an Irish emigration agent, advertising his services in bringing immigrants out to Australia.  The advertisement was clearly aimed at settlers who had already made the trip themselves, and who might be contemplating encouraging other family members to join them here in Port Phillip.


REGULAR PACKETS FOR AUSTRALIA. Under the management of Messrs Carter and Bonds in conjunction with Messrs John Gore and Co, Mr Robert Brooks and other merchants of London, interested in the colony.


These Packet ships are all first class, of large tonnage, have poops and first rate accommodations for Cabin, Intermediate and Steerage Passengers.  The Captains and Officers are carefully selected for character and experience, and a skilful Surgeon is appointed to each ship.  They will sail in the following order, and never deviate (wind and weather permitting) from the fixed day of sailing, viz:


March 1

May 1

July 1

September 1

November 1


March 12

May 12

July 12

September 12

November 12

For SYDNEY April 1

June 1

August 1

October 1

December 1

April 12

June 12

August 12

October 12

December 12

Passengers from the East Coast of England and Scotland, reach London by Steam at a small expense. Cork has been selected as the final place of departure, on account of the superior advantages of its Harbour, and from its offering great convenience to Passengers than any Port in the British Channel; Passengers from the West of England and West Coast of Scotland, can join at Cork by the numerous Steamers which give cheap and rapid conveyance direct to that Port from Plymouth, Edmouth, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow etc.

Free passage, with Victualling and Bedding, will be granted by these Ships to a limited number of Emigrants of the following classes: viz- Agricultural Labourers, Shepherds, Carpenters, Smiths, Wheelwrights, Bricklayers, Masons and Female Domestic and Farm Servants, who are all much wanted in the colony, and will obtain high wages there.

A House has been fitted up for the reception of Bounty Emigrants, where they will be received on their arrival at Cork, and lodged free of cost; and should the Ship be prevented from sailing on the day named, by contrary winds or any other cause, they will be supported, as well as lodged.

A Matron has been appointed to attend to the comfort of the single females. The whole establishment will be under the superintendence of a respectable married couple.

Every person who may go out under the Colonial Government Bounty will be allowed (in case of need) to remain on board the Ship and be victualled for ten days after arrival in the Colony, in order to afford time for his or her engagement in service.  The undersigned has two Brothers residing in New South Wales, with whom he is in constant correspondence; he also receives the Sydney and Port Phillip papers regularly, and has made arrangement with two of the first Mercantile Houses at Sydney and Port Phillip to supply him with every information calculated to be of use to the Emigrant.

As these ships are to be dispatched under the superintendence of Mr Besnard, he pledges himself that nothing shall be left undone to secure the comforts of all parties proceeding by them, whether as Cabin, Intermediate or Steerage Passengers.

A Cow is carried in each Ship, especially for the benefit of Infants and Young Children

All particulars respecting the above ships, and the Australian Colonies, may be known on application to JOHN BESNARD, JUN. Australian Emigration Agent, Cork/.

Quite apart from the momentous nature of leaving to settle on literally the other side of the globe, this advertisement picked up on many of the anxieties attached to the prospect of the journey itself.  The Captain and staff were to be carefully selected, and although the presence of a surgeon was mandatory, their surgeon was to be ‘skillful’. Although the ship departed from Cork, Ireland  it was clearly intended to carry English and Scots, but not Irish passengers.  Bounty emigrants of limited means, selected for skills that had (until recently) been in demand in Port Phillip, did not have to fear being thrown on their own resources should the ship be delayed, and they would receive ten days’ shelter and food on board the ship on arrival after which, I assume, they had to make their own arrangements. Single women would be overseen by both a matron and a married couple, and young children had access to fresh cow’s milk!  Now that the readers of the Port Phillip Herald had arrived safely, surely it would be safe to encourage brothers and sisters, cousins, even elderly parents to come over as well!


The weather for the week was generally fine and clear, with slight rain on 14th August.  The top temperature for the week was 60F (15.5C) and the lowest temperature was 32 (0). The coldest day of the month was on the 9th.

However, the heavy rain of the previous week had led to flooding in many areas.  Even Judge Willis, a real stickler for punctuality, was delayed on his journey from Heidelberg by the impassable roads. And news from out Gisborne way indicated that it was flooded out there too.

 A settler who arrived on Sunday last from the Mount Macedon district, left his station on the Tuesday previous, and from the flooded state of the roads and creeks he had to cross, was detained three days on the journey; and then he had to swim two Creeks (Jackson’s and the Deep Creek) before he could reach Melbourne; our informant states that a considerable quantity of snow had lately fallen in that district (PPH 13/8/41)



‘The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer’ by Kate Summerscale


2016,  307 P & notes

Spoiler alert

When watching yet another episode of the interminable Midsomer Murders, it is our practice to time how long it takes until the murder takes place. (In fact, I was rather disconcerted that in a recent episode there was no murder as such- although there was a surfeit of dead bodies being buried in unusual places.)  The first 43 pages of this book reminded me of our Midsomer Murder countdowns until the body is found.  In this case, you know there’s going to be a murder and you know that one of two boys have done it, because the title of the book tells you so.  Set in summer 1895, thirteen year old Robert Coombes and his younger brother Nattie head off to watch the cricket at Lords,  visit the theatre,  inveigle an older family friend to come and stay with them and tell lies in order to get ready cash. All the while, their mother’s bedroom door remains shut.  You know what’s behind that door.

It’s testimony to Kate Summerscale’s skill as a writer that she is able to hold you for so long across this extended introduction, and to keep you reading once the murder is actually disclosed.  Like her earlier book, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher which I reviewed here, this is a really accomplished work of non-fiction writing that roams across courtroom reporting, social history, ‘penny dreadful’ juvenile fiction and the history of asylums. Her use of dialogue is drawn from the court transcripts, and if she sometimes follows rabbits down some rather strange and sometimes tangential rabbit holes, it’s because her fidelity to her sources forces her to draw on contextual material to flesh them out and do them justice.  The book does not show footnotes but it is strongly tethered in institutional sources – court documents, asylum records, army documentation- and heavily supported by secondary sources.

The lengthy epilogue marks quite a break as she, as author, comes out on stage.  She has followed the murderer to Australia, documented him at Gallipoli and followed him archivally back to Australia again, then abruptly she breaks into present-day history. All of a sudden she encounters people who knew him and who are deeply troubled by what she has found out. Now she is cognizant of present-day pain that her writing could cause, and the story takes her in a different direction that, as a story-teller, enables her to bring it to a close in a narratively and morally satisfying way.

This is skillful non-fiction writing that has similarities with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher in its choice of subject matter and approach. There is a risk, I suppose, that she’s becoming rather formulaic in her choice of Victorian subjects. But this book, despite its parallels with Whicher, has taken her to Broadmoor Asylum, where she has had to rethink her preconceptions of asylum life, and to the Australian concept of Gallipoli which was largely unknown to her. She has followed the facts and brought her researcher’s eye to material and a country that is new to her. She’s very good.

Movie: Mustang

Set in Turkey, five orphaned adolescent sisters find their freedom increasingly circumscribed when the neighbours complain about the girls’ rambunctious behaviour with boys. Prompted by the girls’ uncle, their grandmother insists on them wearing shapeless, all-covering clothes outside, their schooling is discontinued and the wheels are in motion for the girls to be married off in traditional arranged marriages.

Although viewers are clearly intended to identify with the girls’ resistance to this familial and cultural oppression, I must confess that some  (just some) of my sympathies rested with the grandmother who was bullied by her son into bringing them into line, and who, in the final analysis, had to find some way to get these five (five!) sisters off her hands. They are all very close in age, all rather voyeuristically tactile with each others, and yes- they are out of control.  I found the contrast between their freedom inside the cloistered house incompatible with their restrictions outside it, and the sudden imposition of traditional values within a cosmopolitan city seemed forced and implausible.

So, three-and-a half stars from me.

‘Skin Deep: Settler impressions of Aboriginal women’ by Liz Conor


375 p & notes, 2016

On the first page of the introduction to this book, there is a picture of a young aboriginal woman, staring directly at the camera.  It comes from a book by Alice Duncan-Kemp called Where Strange Paths Go Down, published in 1964 and written in the tradition of Mrs Aeneas Gunn, Daisy Bates or Mary Durack.   Liz Conor, the author of Skin Deep does not know who the young girl is, despite searching for almost a decade for clues to her identity in order to repatriate the woman in the image to her descendants and to seek their permission and cultural clearance.  Conor uses her image nonetheless, and in this- as in much of the material in this book- she is conscious that in historicizing and interrogating the use of settler impressions of aboriginal women, she is also resuscitating tropes and assertions that might best be forgotten. As she says:

Focusing at times on unnamed women, that is, women already subjected to this very appropriation, creates a dilemma: should such images be left outside the historical account, when they have played a significant role in shaping ongoing imaginings of Aboriginal women? (p35)

She decides to proceed, however, after consulting with women in several communities in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. The book does not concentrate on photographs alone: there are lithographs, cartoons and prose descriptions as well, often twisted with racism and misogyny and deeply offensive.  She warns readers that the material will be found repugnant, and it is.

The book starts with the earliest descriptions and depictions of Aboriginal women by the first European explorers who, deeply imbued with Enlightenment thinking, categorized Aboriginal people as either ‘noble savages’ or ‘native belles’. Images were engraved, reproduced and co-opted again and again through the new print medium. This chapter lays the basis for the central argument of the book:

…that colonial racism and gender relations hinge in particular ways and depended on the facility of print to reiterate and thereby entrench meaning as truth. (p. 38)

The second chapter reiterates this argument in a different way through the ‘bride capture’ trope, whereby white men could conveniently overlook their own sexual atrocities to deplore what they described as the kidnapping and enslavement of aboriginal women by aboriginal men.  Just as with the lithographs described in Chapter One, these assertions were repeated again and again by explorers, protectors and anthropologists. It took some time for a degree of nuance to emerge, whereby the women could be seen as not just victims but participants in a tightly regulated pre-elopement  marriage ritualized performance. What was left largely unsaid was the perilous position of Aboriginal women on the white/black frontier where white men accused of violence towards Aboriginal women were exonerated, or able to deflect blame onto the native police.

A similar process of repetition attached to the trope of infanticide and infant cannibalism explored in Chapter 3, although this is a more complex area. Unlike the bride capture assertion, which was spelled out in lurid detail, claims of infanticide and infant cannibalism were not actually witnessed by white writers, but drawn from Aboriginal testimony.  Weight does have to be given to some  writers on infanticide and cannibalism who had ongoing and generally trusted contact with their Aboriginal informants. However, it is very possible that in the midst of complex inter-tribal indigenous politics, informants to a trusted white settler or ethnographer were disparaging other tribes by accusing them of cannibalism, to distinguish them from their own tribe (which did not indulge in such practices). At the same time, too, white mothers were sometimes charged with committing infanticide, and it is possible that the  atrocity of cannibalism was  added to differentiate white and aboriginal female criminality.

These initial three chapters reinforce the power of repetition in embedding a particular impression of Aboriginal women into the settler and metropolitan consciousness, even when there was little or conflicting evidence. Print culture in particular facilitated this easy re-use and reproduction.  However, as a reader, while I know that the whole point that she is emphasizing is that repetition was a powerful tool, the chapters felt rather repetitious themselves. There is a chronological progress through the reports and depictions that she describes, but because they themselves were derivative and recursive, it felt as if you were reading the same thing again and again, without little new knowledge or insight being gained.  Her research is exhaustive here (and indeed, at the end of the book she exclaims that there are reams of such material), but it is exhausting reading as well.

So it was with some relief that from Chapter 4 onwards, she takes up a slightly different approach by following through the depictions of Aboriginal womanhood from domestic servant to sexual partner to old woman.  Chapter 4 ‘Footfall over Thresholds’ explores the descriptions of Aboriginal women’s gait, either as a sashaying, silent, dignified ‘native belle’ or as a  ‘felt-footed house lubra’ (p.261).  Certainly, Conor has been able to identify and reproduce many pictures of thresholds, with the white woman on one side of the doorstep, and the disheveled or sneaky  black woman on the other, and her point about the depiction of large flat feet is well-made with several derogatory cartoons found in twentieth-century ‘humorous’ publications like the Bulletin or Aussie.

In Chapter 5 she takes as an illustrative episode the moral panic that was provoked in 1936 over the prostitution of Aboriginal women and girls to Japanese pearlers, with accusations that they were being pimped by Aboriginal men.  This was a double outrage: not only did it reference the ‘bride capture’ trope of Chapter 2 but these were Japanese pearlers (i.e. non-white; increasingly suspect) who were pillaging Australia’s fisheries and natural resources in the leadup to World War II. Again, indigenous women were seen to be passive against the power of their men, without agency. It was only with the contribution of Aboriginal men to the defence of the Australian coastline during the war that they were reinstated as defenders, rather than purveyors, of their women.  Within the deluge of newsprint prompted by the prostitution scandal,the suggestive term ‘black velvet’ (a reference to Aboriginal women’s genitalia) was never used to describe the attraction of Aboriginal women to the Japanese.  Instead it was a coded phrase for white man/aboriginal women sexual relations. I was rather startled to learn that ‘Black Velvet’ was the original name for Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia.

However, there is nothing titillating or alluring about Chapter 6 ”Absolute frights’: appearance and elders.’  It was as if newcomers felt compelled to record and publish their disgust at the appearance of elderly, emaciated Aboriginal women, and they did- with derision and at length. This chapter really is offensive, and is well placed at the end of the book, after the reader has already been exposed to less offensive (but no less corrosive) nineteenth and early twentieth century commentary.

This book has been written for an academic audience and UWA publishing have not stinted on scholarly conventions and tools.  There are lengthy footnotes, a full bibliography and a good index which includes references to historians.  What luxury it is to be able to look up a historian’s name in the bibliography instead of having to track back through footnotes to find the original reference!  The book does draw heavily on theoretical work, and I really appreciated that Conor was not forced (in the cause of ‘attracting a general readership’) to strip out all references to other historians with the vague term “some historians say….” but was able to name the historian, and quote directly from her/him.  It’s a form of academic sociability: because Conor has been able to quote and summarize the key findings of other historians, you know the argument that she is embedding her work within. You’ve read that work too, or if you haven’t then it distills the argument so that you can see how Conor has integrated it into her own work. It’s an academic pleasure that is so often being withheld from us in the cross-over between academic and ‘popular’ history.

It sometimes happens that the argument of a book becomes known by a sort of  short-hand reference.  For example, you only have to say ‘Blainey’ and you think either ‘distance’ or ‘black-arm band’; you say ‘Reynolds’ and you think ‘frontier’. I think that Conor’s work here will spring to mind as a short-hand reference to the abhorrent and self-perpetuating use of imagery, especially in relation to indigenous women.

I finished reading this book in a week when Bill Leak published a cartoon in the Australian not too far removed from the late19th-mid 20th century cartoons reproduced in these books. ( In The Conversation, there’s a good article about the cartoon, which I will not dignify with reproducing or linking in this blog). In the face of Leak’s repetition of past injustices (and not-so past, in view of the Don Dale video) the last paragraph of Conor’s book, which encapsulates her argument, comes to life:

Construing Aboriginal women as infertile, infanticidal, infirm and thereby as embodying their people’s terminus, rather than generation, was an alibi for the violence they endured on the frontier and in its aftermath and through the interventions of state administrations.  The recursion of these effacing yet exposed constructs of Aboriginal women was advanced through print and its syndications on a global scale.  Once aware of how such racial distortions become entrenched, a renewed impetus to resist them at every iteration ought to become part of a nationwide apology and commitment to recognizing the dignity of Aboriginal women.  By extension, whenever and wherever we hear a misrepresentation advanced in public about a people that contrives to mark them off with exaggerated disparity or disregard, we need to call it out then and there. (p. 370)




I have linked this review to the Australian Women Writer’s site.


Further reading: You might be interested in this article that Liz Conor wrote in New Matilda that draws on the book.  The article, as with the book itself, warns of the offensive content.


NSW Premier’s History Awards Shortlist

The shortlists for the NSW Premier’s History Awards have been announced.

Australian History Prize (on Australian history, addressing subjects of national significance)

  • The Eighties: The Decade that Transformed Australia – Frank Bongiorno. (see my review here)
  • Just Relations: The Story of Mary Bennett’s Crusade for Aboriginal Rights – Alison Holland
  • Australia’s Boldest Experiment: War and Reconstruction in the 1940s -Stuart Macintyre

General History Prize (on international history that is of national or international significance)

  • Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist activism in Interwar Romania – Roland Clark
  • Illicit Love: Interracial Sex and Marriage in the United States and Australia – Ann McGrath
  • Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire- Shane White.

NSW Community and Regional History Prize (significant contribution to the understanding of community, institutional, urban or regional history in NSW)

  • Fractured Families – Tanya Evans (see my review here)
  • Lord Wolseley Hotel: A social history of a very small pub – Shirley Fitzgerald
  • Unnamed Desires: A Sydney Lesbian History – Rebecca Jennings.

You can read more about the NSW Premier’s Awards prize, including the shortlist for the Young People’s History Prize and the shortlist for the Multimedia History Prize by going to the NSW Premier’s History Awards website.  You can also see the winners and shortlists back to 2012.

This Week in Port Phillip in 1841: 1- 8 August 1841

Melbourne was bravely proclaiming that perhaps things weren’t too bad economically here (even if Sydney, South Australia and Tasmania were in trouble)… but then the ships came in.  Seven in all – five of them big ships- disgorged 1356 bounty emigrants in July and in this first week of August, the enormity of the influx became apparent.  The Royal Saxon had arrived on July 17 with 246 bounty migrants from Cork, predominantly Roman Catholic, under the aegis of J. B. Were.  The same day the England arrived from Liverpool, straight into quarantine, with 367 bounty emigrants, after losing sixteen children on the voyage through whooping cough. The George Fyfe arrived on the 23 July with 214 bounty migrants from Plymouth, organized through the agent John Marshall, and another of his consignments of 246 British migrants arrived on July 30th on the Westminster.  The William Abrams, which arrived on July 26, had 171 bounty migrants, mainly for pastoralists Watson and Hunter.

Initially, inbound migrants were housed and fed in tents for a two-week period only on the south side of the Yarra, with the intent of moving them quickly into paid employment. This canvas town, which included people no longer eligible for government aid, swelled to two thousand at its peak.  Eventually the assisted immigrant camp was shifted to the Government block bounded by Collins, Market and William Street and hospital facilities were established in what had been John Batman’s house near what is now Southern Cross. At this stage, everything was makeshift, and the Port Phillip Herald began calling for dedicated immigrant barracks and a month’s rations, as provided in Sydney:

A similar place of refuge here, under a similar arrangement, would be found beneficial, the stream of emigration having set in strong towards Australia Felix, of course decreasing the prospect of immediate employment, and thereby rendering it imperative that the same protection should be extended here to the unprovided for (PPH 27/7/41)

The Herald’s wells of sympathy did not run deep, however, with complaints about unrealistic expectations on behalf of the immigrants:

 A day or two since a respectable master builder went on board the emigrant ship England, for the purpose of engaging a few carpenters and joiners.  The fellows refused to take his offer because he would not give more than twelve shillings a day . These worthies deserve to starve, as it is very evident they do not feel disposed to work.  The agent for the ship, it is hoped, ordered them on shore forthwith, instead of allowing them to luxuriate in idleness on board the vessel, making demands exorbitant in their nature in the highest degree, and much more than they will be able to get at present in town.(PPH 30/7/41)

On 3 August, the newspaper reported that the emigrants camped in the tents had received some spiritual sustenance at least:

THE CAMP. On Sunday a Presbyterian Clergyman, went to the place where the emigrants by the Royal Saxon and England are encamped, and delivered a lecture much to the comfort of those present; he was heartily joined in the psalmody by many of the emigrants. He appeared to sympathise with the poor creatures, particularly with those having large families of seven or eight children, of which there are too many. It is hoped a few days more will free them from their sufferings. (PPH 3/8/41)

It reported that there were a number encamped ‘at the Supreme Court’, which I assume refers to the government block. I’m not aware that there were any formal arrangements for them at the court.

THE EMIGRANTS.  There are now only twenty males and nine females disengaged amongst the emigrants encamped at the Supreme Court. This does not include the children of whom unfortunately there are too many. They are hiring with masters for any thing they can get, they are principally country employers who are taking them away.  It is a loss to the people, but an advantage to the settler.

A few days later, the Herald reported:

THE CAMP There are now only very few left in the camp.  By degrees the settlers up the country are hiring them, but at a very low remuneration.  There is one family at present in a most deplorable state.  The mother and infant have never left their bed since being brought there, and are supported solely by the neighbouring inhabitants.  It is a case well deserving  the attention of the kind hearted.  The heavy rain on Wednesday and today penetrated through the tent, and the poor creature was lying all the time under a wet blanket.  Could not some more suitable habitation be found in Melbourne for such an object of compassion as this?

There were calls for the migrants to be put to work on the roads or set to repairing the wharf, but this would not occur for some time yet.  There was disquiet about the quality of some of the migrants, particularly those from Ireland, and the pro-private-enterprise Port Phillip Herald championed the private bounty agent scheme, such as that conducted by Mr John Marshall who arranged the George Fyfe and Westminster consignments, over that of the government schemes:

There can be no doubt that either system could be made to work if the necessary trouble were taken by the respective agents; and it therefore only remains to determine under which it is probable these agents will be more honest in the discharge of their duties; and on this point we have very little hesitation in according our opinion, that it is more reasonable to infer that those agents will be more attentive whose character and interests are at stake, than those who receive a definite salary, and who have no ulterior advantage resulting from the character or proper treatment of the persons sent out. By the bounty system, the colonists are enabled to write to their agents at home, or to select some gentleman of colonial experience from amongst themselves to procure the most suitable description of emigrants: and these agents being accurately informed of every particular; and, as upon their fidelity will depend their future employment, they, it is only reasonable to infer, will use every effort to comply in every respect with the wishes of their employers.  The government agents may be men of ability and honor, but as they cannot be aware but by general report of the particular description of emigrants most urgently required; and as they may never have been in any of the colonies, they will of course be entirely ignorant of the natural circumstances of the country, and therefore, even if they were as wise as Solon, and their honesty, like Cato’s wife “above suspicion”, it is contrary to every established maxim of doctrine and principle to suppose for an instant that they either could or would be so efficient as the bounty agents…(PPH 6/8/41)

Occasionally you get a glimpse of an individual amongst all these people streaming into Port Phillip, although it’s generally tragedy or notoriety that brings them to our attention. Such is the case of Sarah Russell, who was said to have arrived on the William Abrams:

SUPPOSED SUICIDE. On Sunday morning at an early hour, a female residing in Roach’s Terrace, left her lodging and went in the direction of the Yarra, near to the place where the steamer lies.  The other parties in the house were surprised at her leaving so early, and were of opinion she was not right in her mind. During the morning some of the parties were walking by the river, and saw her sitting under a tree close by the bank.  In the evening a little girl called at the house for her, but she had not returned; search was made, but no trace of her could be obtained; it is supposed she has thrown herself into the Yarra, and the cause is reported to be disappointment in love  (PPH 3/8/41)

A couple of days later, she was found:

ATTEMPT TO COMMIT SUICIDE. The female who it was supposed had thrown herself into the Yarra on Sunday last, was brought before the Magistrate on Tuesday morning.  It appears she did throw herself in , but afterwards by some means or other was relieved from a watery grave.  She came to the house of a man named Lake, in Little Flinders-street (he, who formerly kept the Ship Inn) with her clothes dripping wet, and being provided with dry clothes went out gain in the direction of the river; she was followed, and from her actions when near the water it was plainly seen she intended to throw herself in again; she was, however, secured, and placed in the watchhouse. Her name is Sarah Russell, an immigrant by the William Abrams; the Bench ordered her to be taken to Doctor Cussen’s to get his opinion as to her sanity. She appeared very much excited. (PPH 6/8/41)

I wonder what happened to her?  A study of the arrivals pre-1847 lists two young Sarah Russells arriving in July 1841, both by different ships and neither by the William Abram. I’m going to hope that she’s the Sarah Russell who married James Dobson in 1845.

The weather?

As might be expected in winter, the weather was ‘cloudy and rainy’ with strong winds on the 5th, 6th and 7th August. The highest temperature for the week was 58 (14.4 C) and the lowest 38 (3.3 C)