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.



3 responses to “This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 17-24 August 1841

  1. There seem to be a lot of gay men about! I assume the water carters were pumping from the Yarra – above Dight’s Falls?

    • There was a small rocky ledge across the Yarra at about Queen Street which separated salt water from fresh water (it has since been removed). These falls were extended upwards at times to stop the salt tide rising too high. A number of pumps were established on the north side of the Yarra River, in the space between Princes Bridge (Swanston St) and Queens Street and in these early years, they provided water for the watercarts.

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