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)



4 responses to “This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 9-16 August

  1. From my school days (in the 60s) I thought that up to the Gold Rushes of the 1850s Aust was colonised by convicts and free settlers. It was only on reading a biography of Caroline Chisholm that I was made aware of working class people being brought out as bounty emigrants. Chisholm was in NSW (Windsor) from 1838 and her first concern was that unmarried women unable to find immediate employment were being forced into prostitution. Later, as I’m sure you know, she toured rural areas where labour was needed so as to have positions available for bounty migrants on arrival.

    • I knew about Caroline Chisholm (if from the $5.00 note if nothing else!) but I didn’t make the connection with her being out here so early- thank you. What fascinated me about this advertisement for bounty migrants was that it was published here in Australia, rather than in England. It’s been the first such advertisement I’ve seen like that.

  2. So all are not equal in the eyes of law, now or then. The advertisment would certainly tempt me to leave the cold and wet England. I don’t quite understand what bounty emigrants means. A bounty is paid by who for who?

    • The was a government payment paid to the private agent who brought the settlers out, once they arrived here. It was a tax-payer funded private scheme (like our privatized government functions today). The alternative was the government immigration scheme, where public servants selected the migrants and organized the shipping. Settlers out here accused the government scheme of shipping out all the undesirables, and the private bounty agents said that they were more selective and chose a better type of immigrant who was more likely to be employable..

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