Daily Archives: September 2, 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 25-31 August 1841


It was not particularly common for the Port Phillip Herald to comment on the parlous circumstances facing impoverished individuals, but during much of June 1841 it conducted an appeal in its columns for donations to the widow of Trooper Rainbow, of the Mounted Police, who drowned when crossing the Goulburn River on 26 April 1841.  As the Sydney Herald reported, Trooper Rainbow had been with the Mounted Police for seven years, and was regarded as an active, steady man.

REAL DISTRESS. We beg to draw the attention of our humane readers to the case of the widow of Trooper Rainbow of the Mounted Police, who was lately unfotunately drowned when crossing the River Goulburn on duty. What makes this case one of peculiar sympathy is that while the bereaved woman has no claim whatever on the service, she has a babe in arms and expects shortly to again become a mother! Need we say more to call upon the liberality of the public to step forward at once to her relief? Subscriptions will be thankfully received at the Herald office.  (PPH 25/5/41 p. 2]

And so they were. For a month an article appeared in the Port Phillip Herald, listing the names of people who had donated to the appeal and the amount that they had donated.  I really can’t emphasize the rarity of a public subscription for a woman being reported like this.   Subscription lists for church buildings,  letters of support for Port Phillip personalities who were being attacked by Judge Willis, or benefits for clapped-out theatre performers- yes; but not a woman.

By 2nd July, the last advertisement appeared. It read



It’s a highly respectable donation list that raised £51. [A (male) overseer at that time might earn £100 per annum; single female servants were having to accept about £25 p.a. with board.]  Lieutenant Russell, was the most generous, with a donation of five pounds. It is likely that this Lieutenant Russell was the Lieutenant Russell who was commander of the Mounted Police, and other donations were given Trooper Rainbow’s fellow soldiers. Superintendent La Trobe was the next most generous with a donation of two guineas  (2 pounds and 2 shillings), and it is surprising to see Judge Willis’ donation of one pound because he rarely made public donations like this to individuals.

His donation is even more incongruous, because on 27th August, the Port Phillip Herald reported that Vezella Rainbow had been arrested for shoplifting.

The trial before Judge Willis was reported in the next edition (31 August). It was a jury trial, conducted on Friday August 26 before twelve good men of the town (women did not serve on juries). Trials moved pretty swiftly back then, and it was common to have three or four hearings within the one day. Juries made up their minds very quickly, often not even leaving the courtroom at all.   The prisoner was not called to the witness box and did not give evidence on their own behalf. Instead, it was up to the crown to prove the case through witnesses, and the question of ‘character’ often entered into consideration. In this case, the prosecution called three witnesses: Mr Codd the shop assistant, Mr Whitehead the shop-owner, and Constable Stapleton, who arrested her.

Vezella Rainbow, widow of the late Corporal Rainbow, was placed at the bar, charged with stealing a shawl, value two pounds, and five yards of Saxony cloth, value 18s.

Clement Codd, being sworn, deposed- I am shopman to Mr Robert Whitehead, Elizabeth-street; I saw the prisoner in his shop on Monday last; she purchased to ribband [sic] waistbands and paid for them four shillings, giving two half-crowns and being returned one shilling; did not ask to see any other goods; I was serving other customers at the time shewing them some shawls and Saxony dresses; the dress and shawl produced I identify to be the property of Mr Whitehead (here the witness received a caution from His Honor as to how he would swear to the identity of articles), I know them by private marks; I took them from the prisoner at the bar; she had them concealed under her shawl; they had been lying on the counter. I do not think Mrs Rainbow could have only taken them up to look at, without intending to take them away; they were concealed in such a way that when I took the dress from prisoner she denied having anything else in her possession; I had given her the change, she was putting it in a handkerchief and was about to leave the shop, when I perceived the articles with her.  After taking the things from her, I left them on the counter and went for a constable; I left Mr Whitehead in the shop; I marked the things and gave them to the constable who took the woman away; there are other Saxony dresses in the shop but none of the same description.

Cross examined by Mr Barry; there was another woman in the shop when the prisoner entered; subsequently a man came in; the woman who came in looked at some saxony dresses and then came out; brought back the man with her to buy her one, which he did.  The prisoner had a bundle under her arm; can’t say what it was; thinks it was a bundle rolled up in a yellow handkerchief: I marked the things after bringing back the constable; the prisoner was in conversation with the other persons in the shop: can’t say what they said: it was about articles of dress.  I particularly observed when the prisoner came into the shop that she had something under her arm; before I took the articles in question from Mrs Rainbow, she had not attempted to leave the shop: the articles she purchased still remained on the counter, when I perceived the dress with her: when I took the things she did not say any thing, but when going to the watchhouse, said the other woman had given them to her.

Robert Whitehead, being sworn, deposed, I keep a shop in Elizabeth-street; I know the prisoner at the bar; saw her in my shop on Monday evening last; I identify this shawl as being my property by the shop mark on it; I positively swear to the shawl.  I do not know any other shop that makes use of the same marks as I do; I saw Codd take the things from under prisoner’s shawl; just as a came into the shop; there was a man and a woman in the shop at the time the prisoner and another woman was conversing together; there was a man between them: I desired Codd to go for a constable, he brought one back with him. (The Judge here addressed the witness, stating, that although he did not mean or wish to impune his evidence, still there were many things he had stated required explanation.  His Honor compared different portions of the evidence and pointed out various discrepancies) another shopman was present, part of the time.

The witness was here cross examined by Mr Barry, but nothing particular was elicited.

Constable Stapleton, deposed to the facts of having taken the prisoner in charge, she being delivered up to him by Mr Whitehead, he also stated that the prisoner on being conveyed to the watchhouse said, that it was owing to bad company she got into the scrape.

Redmond Barry (yes, that same duelling Redmond Barry) acted as her defence counsel.

For the defence, Mr Barry addressed the jury as follows: I have no doubt Gentlemen, that after the evidence you have heard, you will proceed to discharge the defendant, for in my humble opinion there is no evidence to prove that the prisoner at the bar feloniously took the articles with intent to carry them away, which the law requires to constitute the crime, with which she is charged.  My client stands in a situation of peculiar delicacy; it is most distressing to witness it; and bear in mind gentlemen, the great disgrace she has already undergone by being arraigned at a bar of justice, on a charge of such a description.  Discrepancies of the most serious nature occur in the evidence to which I must request your particular attention, as they occur in the testimony of all the witnesses.  Gentlemen, the prisoner at the bar is the widow of the late corporal Rainbow, who was drowned in the Broken River, in the discharge of his public duty.  I can call innumerable witnesses as to the very good character of the unfortunate defendant, and you may well remember the great commiseration that was exhibited by the public towards Mrs Rainbow, on the death of her husband.  Indeed, gentlemen, I feel deeply affected by being obliged to come before you to plead in such a case as this; for the miserable prisoner at the bar is in such a state that she must soon give birth to an infant, who if you find the prisoner guilty, must first receive the pure air of heaven, the gift of the Almighty, in the murky dungeons of a loathsome prison, redolent of vice, obscenity and filth. I hope therefore you will immediately proceed to acquit my client, as I am sure you are already persuaded of the innocence of the prisoner, and as the entire of the evidence is so contradictory and unsatisfactory.  I shall leave the case in your hands, satisfied that it will meet with that consideration it so imperatively calls for.

It’s interesting to watch Judge Willis in action here.  He was very active during the case itself, pointing out the discrepancies in Mr Whitehead’s testimony and, according to a separate article in the same issue of the  Port Phillip Herald (31 August) Willis called up Codd immediately after the case and “proceeded to reprimand him in the strongest terms for gross prevarication in his testimony”. Willis read Codd’s  testimony at the Police Office and the Court back to him, pointing out the inconsistencies, and warned Codd that “he might be thankful for the clemency shewn him in not being committed to gaol for his gross prevarication”.   Notwithstanding these inconsistencies, and the  pound that Willis himself had donated for the unfortunate Mrs Rainbow a few weeks earlier, he then summed up very strongly against the prisoner:

The Judge summed up the case in an able manner, concluding by desiring the jury to divest their minds of any influence that the affecting address of Mr Barry might have on them, for notwithstanding the distressing circumstances of the case, as good and honest subjects they were bound to give their verdict, and assist as far as it lay in their power to have the law  carried into effect, justly and uprightly.  The jury after a few moments consideration found the prisoner guilty with a strong recommendation to “mercy”.

His Honor, in an affecting manner passed sentence on the prisoner, sentencing her to “six months imprisonment in her Majesty’s gaol of Melbourne”.  [PPH 31/8/41]

In his book Crime in the Port Phillip District (p. 198), Paul Mullaly reports that Vezella Rainbow (the spelling of her first name varies) was Freed by Servitude (i.e. an ex-convict) which may account for his hardline approach.  It was reported that “other Police had to take care of her children”.  On 15 April 1842, the Colonial Secretary wrote to La Trobe approving remission of sentences of 16 listed individuals including Vizle Rainbowe [sic] (VPRS Series 19 Unit29), so it does not appear that her sentence was reduced much, if at all.


Just as we’re experiencing here in 2016, the spring weather wass changeable. The warmest day for the month was 27th (69 degrees or 20.5C), followed by a strong gale the very next day.  The coolest temperature was 37F or 2.7C.