Daily Archives: September 29, 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 17-25 September 1841

Census tales

The 2106 Australian census is just finishing up here in Australia, and an ill-starred census it has been with website difficulties, inadequate phone assistance and a general loss of goodwill all round. The 1841 census was conducted in March 1841 after quite a bit of judicial bickering over the propriety of asking about convict origins which I wrote about here. The census was compiled in person by an appointed collector. On September 21 the Port Phillip Herald published an article purporting to be from ‘Pencilling in the Bush’ by a Collector of the Census 17 March 1841′.  I can find no record in Trove of this publication, but the Sydney Gazette also published a column on 25 November 1841 in its Port Phillip section, claiming to be from the same publication.

The book, if indeed there ever was one, seems to be a compilation of humorous ‘tales from the trenches’ of a census collector charged with collecting census information in the Port Phillip district.  It’s quite odd reading with our 21st century what passed as humour in 1841.

Here’s the Port Phillip Herald extract. It picks up on the common trope of Irish-bashing that often runs through the Port Phillip Herald columns, reflecting not only the English/Scots prejudice against the Irish generally, but an anxiety about the influx of Irish immigrants into New South Wales in particular.


“Good morning ma’am! who is the proprietor of this establishment?” I said to a fat, fair and jolly-looking woman into whose domicile on the River ___ I was just intruding myself. “Musha the top’of the mornin to ye sir, but ye’re early afut this blessed and holy mornin’,” said she- “Not very early ma’am- It is the fittest time for travelling now the weather is so hot- Pray ma’am, who is the proprietor here?” “Musha sure I wouldn’t be after telling you a lie this blessed day; and the throoth I couldn’t tell you; so I couldn’t, but it’s not me or mine that’s the owner, nor Therry either, so it isn’t- Surra long we’re here, neather of us- only three months or there- we came in the Andrew Mackey (Andromache), so we did.” Here were no less than half-a dozen points of voluntary information for me, yet not one of them even remotely directed to my simple enquiry. “You came from Ireland Ma’am?” “Augh aye- I did, I did, sure enough come from it, and its sorry am I for it, so I am.” “Which are you sorry for ma’am?- being Irish, or leaving Ireland?” “Neither o’them,” she replied “only to be stuck up in a sentry-box like this on the blessed Patrick’s own day when – augh! but there’s no use talking so there isn’t.  May be ye’d like a dhrop o’tay sir- surra better I have to give ye or I’d be shame-faced to offer it this holy mornin, so I would.” “Tea is a very good beverage ma’am, this weather.” “Musha throth an its a poor baveritch for a day like this- It’s not that ye’d be drowing you shamrock in it ye were in sweet Loughrea this mornin.” “Is your husband at home, ma’am?” “Faith he isn’t an he’ll have more luck than his over if ever he see’t again, so he will – at home!– Musha!” “What’s his name, ma’am?” “Therry’s his name sir, – Therry Connor.” “How many children have you?” “Fourteen sir- six at home and eight here- three boys and three girls and two childer,” (Eh? Malthus.)  “Well ma’am, who is the owner of this place?” “Sorry know I know, they say it’s come into other hands now- the master’s not well at all, at all, and more’s the pity. Terry says he’s laid up in the Rules in Melbourne, but myself doesn’t undertand the diases o’ this country much yet. Is the Rules a taking disease sir?” “It is indeed ma’am.” “Is it like a favor sir or the molera corbis? God save us!” “It is not like either ma’am, particularly the first. It’s a contraction of the movements, caused by a vacuum in the chest”- Can I see your husband ma’am?” “Sure enough you can sir- step this way if you please,- look over the ‘tother end o’ the stockyard younder, dye’ see the boy with the white jacket?” “Yes!” “Well that’s not him- now dye’ see the t’other boy with the red waistcoat?” “Yes.” “Well that’s not him neather, so it isn’t.” “Well, but which is he ma’am?” “Augh its yerself that’s in a hurry now- have ye any business with Terry Connor?” There was a look of severe apprehension with this enquiry that showed me the poor woman was afraid of the papers I held in my hand- I replied “yes ma’am but no private or unpleasant business; I am collecting the census- the population of the district- and in the master’s absence I require some person in the place to sign a paper, that’s all.” “Augh, sure an if that be all,” she said, “I’ll bring Therry to you in a wink;” in saying so she disappeared, and Therry soon made his appearance, which was a remarkably fine specimen of the peasantry. Moreover, Therry was a sensible, intelligent man.  He comprehended the matter at once, gave me all the information I desired, and ample directions for the accuracy of my movements, concluding with a hope that the collection of the census would have a tendency to promote the public good. “After all the good that can be said of it,” said Therry, “it is no place for a man of a family– there is no way here of getting the childer educated- for my own part I would rather live on potatoes and buttermilk and have my childer at school than all the tay and mutton we can make use of.” This afforded another proof of one national characteristic of the Irish Peasantry, an indelible anxiety to give their children education.  (PPH 21/9/41)

The extract from the Sydney Gazette of 25 November 1841 purports to come from the same publication. A warning-  its language about a practical joke based on racial views of aborigines does not sit well today.

A Stray Leaf.-From ” Pencillings in the Bush, October, 1 Oil.”-In one of my rambles between Melbourne and Mount Macedon, I called at a settlement on the ___  Creek, to procure a drink. Here I observed a number of persons around a man, poking his naked back and target in what I conceived to be a very unprofessional manner. The person on whom they were operating, or the pokes, appeared to have been wounded behind by small shot, for he was bleeding rather copiously. As I could perceive that the bystanders wore struggling to suppress their laughter. I had the curiosity to make some enquiry as to what had happened, and the thing was so farcical, though nearly spoiled by a dash of the tragic, that I thought it worth taking a note of. after my departure.

It was this, two female servants at the station had got permission to take a walk-it being Sunday-and a resident at the station took it into his head to disguise himself in tin old rug and a piece of crape over his head and face in order to give the girls a fright by personifying a blackfellow. Well, he sallied forth, and about half a mile from tho station he made his appearance with a spear on his shoulder. The girls, who, it appears, began to think of  “Home, sweet home,” fled onwards ; but Blackey, like an able general, intercepted their retreat,jabbering and figuring like an ouraug outang- The fears of the terror-struck damsels were unutterable.’ In this dilemma then Don Quixote made his appearance in the shape of a man servant, at the station, with a dog ; and he,not knowing the prank, ran up to the release of the paralyzed handmaidens whom he found quailing very successfully. The blackfellow flings his spear at the true knight ; and just at this moment the proprietor comes up with a gun, and seeing blackey in attitude, and the girls with their drapery tucked up in front, churning their flight through the long grass, he fires his piece bung at Snow-ball, who had not seen him approaching. Luckily it was but small shot, and a happy distance but it had effected a neat carification in the reverse of the man’s countenance,and then they were poking and jerking at hi.with pins and needles as if they were stitching an oppossum cloak.

I thought of the old song –

At this disaster

Up came the master,

And gave the hero such a cursed crack :

Ob murdher o murdher !-.

It went no further

Like  a flitch of bacon, boy, they left his back.  [Sydney Gazette 25/11/41]

More cricket

The cricketers seem to have got their act together.

CRICKET- The fine weather having now set in, the lovers of cricket may be seen practising nearly every day.  We have been requested to state that the afternoons of Tuesdays and Saturdays have been fixed upon for regular practice.  The club will be regularly organized in the early part of next month, when the principal players are expected in town to attend the first of the Melbourne Assembly Balls. (PPH 21/9/41)


Given that this blog is dedicated, both through its title and its impetus, to John Walpole Willis, the resident judge of Port Phillip it would be remiss of me to let this September date pass without mentioning the Bon Jon case, which could have been the most important case in Judge Willis’ career.  I did write a paper about it in the ANZLHS e-journal (which has since been swallowed by the internet), and I recently gave a similar paper at the conference to accompany the launch of the Judging for the People book, for which I wrote the first chapter.

During this week in 1841 the case of R v Bonjon came before Judge Willis.

Put simply, Judge Willis’ opening speech before the Bonjon case was a foretaste of the Mabo judgement 150 odd years later.  The case involved a young man, Bonjon who was at the time working as the ‘boy’ accompanying Crown Land Commisioner Foster Fyans. He was accused of the inter-tribal murder of another indigenous man in a dispute over a woman, in a manifestation of the long-standing emnity between the Wada.wurr.ang/balug tribe (to which Bonjon belonged) and the Gulidjan tribe of the murdered man. Bonjon moved in that liminal space between his own tribe and attachment to a white official, and the murder took place outside a tent occupied by Bonjon, the victim and two white men.  When the case came before Judge Willis, he started off with a very long address where he raised the question of whether he, as a British judge, had jurisdiction over a murder that had taken place under indigenous law. He pointed out that the Aborigines, as the native sovereigns of the soil  had neither been conquered nor acquiesced; that a treaty should have been made with them, and that they had their own law.

So why don’t we all know about this? Why did it take the law 150 years to come to the same conclusion? Mainly because the case collapsed and so this ‘address’ never got to be an actual ‘decision’. The  Sydney Judges dismissed its significance, even though some ten years earlier the previous Chief Justice had been moving in the same direction. The Sydney newspapers didn’t pick it up, and it didn’t get written up in the early summaries of colonial cases.

And, complex man that he was, it’s not possible to paint Judge Willis as a before-his-time Aboriginal activist either.  There are other times when his court was actively hostile to indigenous interests, most particularly over the right of access for aboriginal people over leased landholdings. Nor is it impossible that this was another maneuver in Willis’ ongoing dispute with the Sydney judges.  Nonetheless, this was an important case both for Willis personally and in the annals of European-Indigenous relations in Port Phillip as well.

And the weather?

There was a heavy gale on the 19th and 20th with rain and hail, and it was cloudy up to the 24th. The highest temperature was a balmy 72 (22C) and the lowest a bracing 37 (2.7C)