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)



One response to “This Week in Port Phillip in 1841: 1- 8 August 1841

  1. Really good blog. Thanks for the research and detail. Most helpful

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