Monthly Archives: October 2016

The streets are alive…

…with the sound of cheeping, whining magpies. Ye Gods, who’d be a magpie parent? On and on the young ‘uns nag – “feed me, feed me”- constantly hanging round wanting food.


I have so many questions! Are these magpies here the same ones I see in the next street? Are they the same ones who were hanging around last year? Will they dive bomb me? How smart are they anyway?

And here’s a fascinating little podcast to answer all those questions and more. It was on Radio National’s Offtrack program last week;  it’s called The Colourful Life of the Australian Magpie and you can access it here.


This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 23-31 October 1841

Well, virtually only one thing happened during this week in Port Phillip in 1841- the visit of Governor George Gipps.


Governor George Gipps. Source: Wikipedia

George Gipps was the governor of New South Wales between 1838 and 1846.  During the Napoleonic Wars  he served in the Royal Engineers, then in peacetime he was deployed in  civil servant positions (as were many Napoleonic War veterans in the first half of the nineteenth century): first as an administrator in the West Indies and then as a Commissioner into electoral boundaries in England and Ireland. As private secretary to Lord Auckland, first lord of the Admiralty, he served on the Gosford Commission in Canada for two years.  New South Wales was his first appointment as Governor.  Based in Sydney, this was his first (and only) visit to Port Phillip, where he was greeted by Superintendent Charles La Trobe, who had previously stayed with the Gipps in Sydney when he first arrived in Australia.

He came alone, leaving Lady Gipps at home.  As he explained in a letter of 29 September to La Trobe:

Lady Gipps has finally decided to stay at home though she desires me to say that she has done so with much reluctance, and that she is very sorry to forego the pleasure of seeing you and Mrs La Trobe as well as your fine District.  She suffers always so very much at see, that I cannot press her to accompany me. [ Gipps to La Trobe 29 September 1841, Shaw Gipps-La Trobe Correspondence p.105]

Gipps’ predecessor Governor Bourke had visited Port Phillip in 1837 but Melbourne was a very different place now in 1841 in size, economic importance and self-confidence. The first immediate  concern of Melburnians was: given that they didn’t know when the steamer carrying him left Sydney, how would they know when he’d arrived in Melbourne?  The Port Phillip Gazette of 23 October reported the arrangements:

The procrastinated arrival of the steamer leaves no doubt that His Excellency’s visit to the Province will take place by that conveyance, and that she has been detained on that account.  Should Sir George be on board, the instant the Seahorse heaves in sight, with the flag indicative of his presence flying, a salute of nineteen guns will be fired from Fort Drake, late Gellibrand’s Point. Upon dropping anchor, the ships in harbor will likewise fire salutes.  The inhabitants of the town will thus have timely notice of the vice-regal presence. [PPG 23/10/41]

This would be the volley of shots that Georgiana McCrae’s son Willie heard on Saturday 23 October, as she recorded in her diary:

23rd After breakfast, Willie said he heard “guns making a noise!” and I knew at once that the Governor-in-Chief, Sir George Gipps, had arrived from Sydney.  He crossed the river on the punt and, at twelve o’clock, made his public entry into Melbourne.  The sound of cheering became very loud, so that I wished to be there, but the pains in my head made it impossible

The Port Phillip Gazette of 27th October gave a description of the arrival

ARRIVAL OF SIR GEORGE GIPPS. “At 8 o’clock on Saturday morning the Seahorse hove in sight, when the distinguishing flag was hoisted at the mast head, denoting His Excellency’s presence on board, a salute of nineteen guns was fired from Fort Drake.  On the steamer’s anchoring, the Water Police Magistrate Captain Gordon, with the other officials at Williams Town, waited on his Excellency. The Inspector of Water Police, Mr Sullivan went in a splendid six-oared mahogany rig (lent for the occasion by the Captain of the Thomas Arbuthnot) to the beach, and conveyed his Honor the Superintendent on board the steamer. Shortly after his Honor’s arrival, his Excellency, accompanied by His Honor, &c proceeded to Williams Town, where he inspected the Customs, Police Office, sick camp &c. and expressed himself highly satisfied with the place.  After remaining on shore some time, his Excellency and staff, with His Honor and Captain Gordon, went to the beach where he was received by the deputation.  Mr Liardet, the landlord of the Pier Hotel, had erected a four gun battery and did honor to his Excellency’s landing by firing a salute; he also had erected a triumphal arch on the Pier, which was carpeted.  They then proceeded to town, followed by a large concourse of the inhabitants of Melbourne [PPG 27/10/41]

The Geelong Advertiser gave a rare physical description of the Governor. I’ve often regretted that, especially at a time when newspapers did not have pictures, writers rarely said what people looked like:

He [ie. Sir George] has a dignified air, and even a stranger might recognise him by that peculiar care-worn expression of countenance which marks those who zealously devote themselves to the arduous duties of a responsible trust  [Geelong Advertiser, 25 October 1841 p.2]

The Port Phillip Patriot gave more details about his reception once he reached town:

At the punt [across the Yarra, near site of Princes Bridge today], not withstanding the briefness of the notice, an immense number of people had congregated, who received His Excellency, on their landing among them, with deafening shouts of welcome.  The procession, which by this time numbered several thousands of individuals, some on horseback, some in carriages, and some on foot, then proceeded, headed by His Excellency the Governor and His Honor the Superintendent up Collins-street to the summit of Batman’s Hill, the multitude cheering as they went along, thence to the signal station [on Flagstaff Hill] and back to town by way of Queen, Collins and Swanston Streets to His Excellency’s quarters at the Yarra Cottage Hotel. [PPP 25/10/41]

That afternoon, the governor and a number of gentlemen inspected the environs of the town then retired to a select dinner party.  The dinner may have been select but the people still had their own celebrations with fireworks and lights:

In the evening, in honour of His Excellency’s arrival, many of the inhabitants of the town had the fronts of their residences brilliantly illuminated, some with variegated lamps, and others with wax candles; the Royal Exchange Hotel, the William Tell and Messrs. M. Cashmore and Co’s premises were particularly deserving of notice.  A bonfire was also kindled in the street in front of the Commercial Exchange, and sky-rockets, crackers and fire-works of every description were to be heard and seen in every direction. [PPP 25/10/41]

On Sunday 24th Sir George attended church at St James. Although there was no ‘established’ church, the Anglican church seemed to have semi-official status, at least in connection with the courts (e.g. church service to open the legal year; Rev A. C. Thomson’s regular attendance at court each month to lead the prayers at the opening of the Criminal sessions). It’s no surprise then that it was St James and not one of the other churches that hosted the vice-regal party.

On Monday 25th October Sir George was up and about at 5.00 a.m. to ride out to Heidelberg to have breakfast with the Resident Judge, John Walpole Willis.  He was back in town by 1.30 when Gipps, La Trobe, the Aid-de-Camp and the Private Secretary arrived at the New Custom House to  to receive an address  from the residents that was presented by Messrs Cunningham, Barry, Mollison, Kilgour and Manning.

Such deference and unctuousness! Here’s the residents’ address:

We the inhabitants of Port Phillip, beg leave to address you Excellency with the assurance of our unfeigned loyalty towards our Sovereign, and of our sincere respect for your Excellency, her Majesty’s representative in New South Wales.

We hail with the highest satisfaction your Excellency’s visit to this district, and we trust your Excellency’s stay will be sufficiently prolonged to offer an opportunity for that full examination into the resources, improvements and wants alike of the town and province which they would seem to deserve

To this examination we respectfully solicit your Excellency’s earnest attention; and should it result in your Excellency’s conviction that we possess the true elements of prosperity and that we are practically working them out, then we trust that your Excellency will afford us the aid which is essential to their more full and rapid development

We sincerely hope that your Excellency’s visit will have the happy effect of firmly establishing that respect and confidence which it is so desirable should exist in our mutual relations; and it is our ardent desire that your Excellency may bear with you, n your return to the seat of government, no ungrateful recollections of Australia Felix [PPG 20/10/41]

And Governor Gipps gave his prepared response:

GENTLEMEN I am happy at length to find myself in the district of Port Phillip. I feel greatly obliged to you for the very kind and cordial reception which you have given me, and I think you particularly for this address.

My stay, gentlemen, amongst you must necessarily be shorter than I could desire it to be; but it will be, I trust, sufficiently prolonged to enable me to form an opinion of the resources of your province, and of the improvements of which it is susceptible, as also of its immediate wants.

To become better acquainted with these latter is one of the chief objects of my visit; to satisfy them, as far as the means at my disposal will permit, I true I need not say is my very anxious desire

Favoured as you are with a district of exceeding beauty and fertility, I cannot doubt that the onward course of your prosperity will be as steady as the first development of it has been striking; and I shall, indeed, gentlemen, bear away with me a grateful recollection of Australia Felix, if I may permit myself to hope that my visit has in any way tended to advance your interests, or to confirm and strengthen those feelings of unanimity and mutual confidence which are no less necessary for the happiness of individuals, than for the prosperity of states.[PPG 27/10/41]

Then the doors were thrown open and the following men were presented to the Governor:



Is there anyone you should know there? Well, the press is there (Arden, Cavenagh, Fawkner, Kerr); the owner of Banyule Homestead is there;  and George Augustus Robinson the Aboriginal Protector was there along with Le Soeuf.  Reverends Thomson (Anglican), Forbes (Presbyterian), Geoghegan (Roman Catholic), Wilkinson (Wesleyan Methodist), Wilson (Anglican), Waterfield (Congregational)  and Orton (Wesleyan Methodist) were there too.

On Tuesday 26th October Gipps and his retinue travelled down to Geelong on the Aphrasia which was gaily decorated with flags. The inhabitants  assembled on the brow of the hill or hastened to the jetty to greet the Governor:

A flourish of trumpets was found wanting but  Captain Fyans made a good show with his police, and, some how or other, mustered a trumpeter who thrilled out the National Anthem, heard for the first time at Geelong, as Sir George stepped ashore.  The hearty cheers of the population made up for what was wanting in form, and the unostentatious manner in which his Excellency landed from the little Custom House boat, and acknowledged the reception he met with, from the gentlemen assembled, gave pleasure to the spectators, some of whom were absolutely astounded to see a governor shake hands. [PPG 30/10/41]

Gipps, La Trobe, Mr Fenwick, Captain Fyans, Mr Addis, Dr Thompson and others rode to the principal points in the settlement at a good speed, headed by Captain Fyans. They crossed Fyans’ Ford by Mr Seivwright’s huts, went up by the Barabool Hills, round by Dr Thompsons house and garden to the breakwater, then halted at the police officer where a body of men presented another address, numerously signed by the inhabitants. Gipps gave a good off-the-cuff reply, which the waiting press  grumbled was not presented to them in written form. He then went to Captain Fyans for a “sumptuous” lunch, to which the gallant Captain had invited a number of the resident gentry.  The remainder of the visit devoted to the examination of public works (e.g. the watchhouse at North Corio, the lock up at South Geelong) At 3.00 p.m. the people assembled again on the shore to bid him farewell, the same gentlemen attended him to the jetty, the steamer saluted with her engine and steered away .  He arrived back in Melbourne at 8.00 p.m. An illumination held that evening by Mr Robinson of the Commercial Inn, and a display of fireworks held on the hill.  The day was kept as a holiday by all.

On Wednesday 27th October he met with the press in the morning. That night was the ball- the social highlight of the trip:

The subscribers to ‘the private assemblies’ gave their second ball and supper at the Exchange rooms, in honor of the Governor, at which his Excellent appeared and in high spirits. The apartments were tastefully decorated with festoons, and the walls beautifully papered for the occasion. Upwards of one hundred and fifty of the elite of rank and fashion of the town and surrounding districts were present, Mrs La Trobe uniting with the “fair” party in adding additional fascinations to the attractive scene. Dancing was continued to twelve o’clock, when supper was announced. The company then partook of a sumptuous repast prepared in Mr Davis’ best style. The following toasts, among others, were appropriately introduced- The Queen, Sir George Gipps, Lady Gipps, Mr La Trobe, Mrs La Trobe &c. His Excellency was particularly happy in responding to the manner in which his own and her ladyship’s health had been drunk, observing that he was extremely sorry that her ladyship had not accompanied him, as she must have felt extremely gratified by the warm and handsome manner in which he had been received. Dancing was then resumed, and kept up with re-animated spirits until five o’clock, when the whole party separated, highly pleased with the enjoyments of the night. [Extraordinary 1/11/41]

Georgiana McCrae was there but, seven months pregnant, did not frock up as much as she might have otherwise. Instead, she adopted a suitably matriarchal dress:

27th….I gave Lizzie my Chellé dress and my wedding-shoes, to enable her to go to the ball in honour of the Governor, at the Criterion, this evening. Went to the ball, but not to dance. Put on my best black satin dress, and a bit of ivy in my hair, so that I felt myself comme il faut.

On the Thursday 28th October Gipps met with deputations of men, each pushing their favourite project, with first a group from the Commercial Exchange lobbying for a port, and then men from the Bridge Company to ascertain whether there was interest in the construction of a bridge over the Yarra.  That night there was yet another dinner hosted by the colonists of Australia Felix but the reports of the dinner are sketchy, as none of the newspaper editors attended when it became clear that they were not being given free entry. The Geelong Advertiser, however, did give a fuller report more than a week later and included transcripts of the various speeches made in a supplement to the paper (apparently written by Mr Meek PPH 9/11/41).

However, two events that were later to rebound on Charles La Trobe occurred at this dinner. The first was that someone- and Judge Willis was to later suggest that it was La Trobe himself- erased a toast to ‘The Press’ from the list of toasts for the evening. This was an accusation steeped in all the confected outrage of press editors at the time, but obviously had sufficient significance that the Executive Council rapped Willis over the knuckles for circulating this accusation.  The second  (and I admit that I’m not sure whether this occurred at the dinner and ball of the previous night, or this public dinner) was that La Trobe very uwisely declared his willingness to play “second fiddle” to Gipps, a thoroughly accurate statement but not one which endeared him to the increasingly bolshie citizens keen for separation from NSW.

The, finally on the morning of Friday 29th October Gipps boarded the Aphrasia at 11.00 a.m. for the last time.

At eleven o’clock, His Excellency embarked on board the Aphrasia, under a salute from the revenue cutter, and proceeded down the river to join the Sea Horse, which had been specially detained for his accommodation a few days beyond the usual period allotted for her stay in the harbour. Upon the arrival of the Governor and suite alongside the Sea Horse steamer, the Battery at Fort Drake, together with the shipping in the harbour, paid the usual compliment of firing a salute. A luncheon was prepared on board, at which the gentlemen accompanying His Excellency were invited to partake. About two o’clock, Sir George having taken leave of all who attended him to the Bay, the Sea Horse weighed anchor.  PPG Extraordinary 1/11/41]
Georgiana McCrae wrote for 29th that she “Heard the guns, announcing the departure of the Governor per Sea-Horse”. And so we, too,  bid fond farewell to Sir George, who was not to visit Port Phillip again.
How’s the weather?
So how did the weather hold up for the vice-regal visit?  Beautifully, as it happens, with “light and fresh breezes with frequent strong winds. Fine open weather generally”, with only slight rain on 29th, the day of his departure.  The top temperature for the week was 76 (24.4) and the lowest 43 (6.1)
Roy Bridges , One Hundred Years: The Romance of the Victorian People,  1934, Herald and Weekly Times, Melbourne.  [online at SLV site]
Hugh McCrae (ed) Georgiana’s Journal Melbourne 1841-1865, 1966 (2nd edition) Angus and Robertson, Sydney
A.G.L. Shaw Gipps-La Trobe Correspondence 1839-1846 , 1989, Miegunyah Press, Carlton Vic.

Movie: The Arbor

Don’t read this posting. Go straight to iview instead and watch this movie/documentary before 1.58 a.m. on November 3, 2016 while it’s still available. It’s one of the most powerful pieces of cinema that I’ve seen in years.

I hadn’t heard of Andrea Dunbar. She was a young British writer who followed the adage ‘write what you know’. What she knew was the wasteland of a Bradford housing estate in Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s, where the eponymous Brafferton Arbor was a bleak patch of blighted grass, surrounded by terraced public housing with boarded windows.  Her first play was performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London when she was a 20 year old single mother, and her follow-up  Rita Sue and Bob Too was developed as a film in 1987.  She was dead by 1990 at the age of 29, leaving three children by three different fathers.

This film is based on interviews with the family, most particularly her two daughters, conducted by the filmmaker Clio Barnard. The oral interviews have been lip-synced by actors.  I only learned this later, and spent most of the movie, transfixed, wondering whether I was watching a movie or a documentary.  It was only when I recognized the actor who plays Inspector Barnaby in the new Midsomer Murders, and marvelling at his accent, that I realized that it wasn’t a documentary. It is interspersed with documentary footage from the 1980s of Andrea Dunbar, and a performance in 2010 of her play ‘The Arbor’ on the estate itself, watched by the current residents.  I was amused that this extract from the film had subtitles: I found myself craving them on several occasions:

It is a very dark film about intergenerational poverty and harm. Her two daughters have diametrically opposed views of their mother, and it’s so easy to judge.  Absolutely brilliant.

‘Swallowed by the Sea: The story of Australia’s shipwrecks’ by Graeme Henderson


2016, 203 plus notes

Every edition of each of the three newspapers published in Port Phillip during the early years of the 1840s had a prominently displayed ‘Shipping’ feature. It would list the ships that had arrived  and departed from UK and Australian ports  and their important passengers, then there would be a long list of the progress of various ships along the main shipping routes heading to or from Australia.  I’ve only been on a ship on the open seas once, but I can remember thinking as I looked at the empty waves around us, that it was as if we were the only ship on the ocean. Of course we weren’t: there were ships criss-crossing out of our sight and  modern communications ensured that we were easily trackable and findable.  Ship journeys in earlier times were nowhere near as trackable or findable, as Graeme Henderson’s book shows,  with several of the wrecks he describes still undiscovered.  But, as some of his chapters suggest, even in what seemed to be an ’empty’ sea, mariners’ knowledge of the sea lanes and ports meant that they knew where to go for help, even though it may be thousands of kilometres away.

Graeme Henderson is a maritime archaeologist and was director of the West Australian Maritime Museum for 13 years. He discovered his first shipwreck at the age of sixteen, sparking a life-long passion.  In this book he examines shipwrecks spanning 1622 right through to 2010 on both the west and east coasts of the Australian mainland.  Chapters 1-11 deal with shipwrecks during the mid 19th century when, of course, Australia was completely dependent on shipping for communication and travel.  Two of the  final three chapters deal with shipping losses in World War II (loss of the Sydney and the bombing of Darwin in 1942) and the final chapter brings us right up to the loss of the asylum boat, SIEV 221 which brought visible footage of a modern, but yet somehow timeless, shipwreck right  into our lounge rooms. Continue reading

A book launch at Trades Hall

Tonight I went to the Melbourne launch of the The Conscription Conflict and the Great War, edited by Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot and Sean Scalmer.


And who should be there to launch it than Bill Shorten, the ALP Leader of the Opposition, with a very fine speech. He started by drawing some parallels between Billy Hughes in 1916 with the present day…a new Prime Minister, unable to take his party along with him, who changed his mind on a political stance that twelve months ago he had vehemently attacked and who foisted onto the people an expensive opinion poll in the form of a referendum.  Sound familiar?


While not at all disputing or undermining the recognition of the sacrifice at the front, he pointed out the international uniqueness of the referendum as a way of resolving the conscription question. In the setting of the oldest operating Trades Hall in the world, he noted that this was the geographic, political and emotional centre of the ‘no’ vote in  a debate that certainly did not exemplify the much-lauded ‘golden age of civility’. To the contrary, it was bitter, vindictive and spiteful and far worse than what passes for debate today.  It was really an excellent speech, (whether he wrote it himself or not) – I wish I’d taken notes- and it was very well-delivered. Excellent. [Update: here’s the speech]

He was followed by Robin Archer, one of the editors.  He emphasized that WWI was not, as has been promoted, a period of consensus.  Far from being ‘the birth of a nation’, there was already existing in Australia a precocious progressive environment. Nor was ‘mateship’ on the front a uniquely Australian phenomenon, even though the referendum was.

Then a couple of songs from the Trade Union choir, including Eric Bogle’s ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘I Didn’t Raise My Son to Be a Soldier’.

Out into the twilight we went, stopping to admire the replica banners that adorn Trades Hall at the moment.  There’s a picture here of Trades Hall in 1917 festooned with banners.

And here’s the 2017 version:

And you’ll just have to wait for my review of the book!

‘Australia’s Second Chance’ by George Megalogenis


‘Australia’s Second Chance: What our history tells us about our future’

2016, 292

When I did HSC Australian History back in 1973, one of the books we had to purchase was A.G.L. Shaw’s The Economic Development of Australia. With its mud-coloured front cover, it was not an enticing book and it remained resolutely unopened the whole year.  Despite my admiration for A.G.L. Shaw’s work on Port Phillip, I’ve never been tempted to dig it out again.

Generally, economic history does not have a lot of prominence within Australian historiography, especially in recent years.  This struck me particularly when I was looking at Upper Canadian history, where economic explanations of development seem to abound. I wondered if, perhaps the difference lay in the fact that Upper Canada was settled overtly as a capitalist, entrepreneurial venture, compared with Australia’s more ambivalent beginnings as a penal colony in NSW, Tasmania and Moreton Bay, or as a Wakefieldian experiment in South Australia combining economic and social/moral aims.

However, in Australia’s Second Chance George Megalogenis has written a history of Australia  from an economic perspective that starts with the First Fleet and goes right through to 2015. Megalogenis writes more as a journalist more than historian and political commentator and in this survey-history he relies mainly on secondary sources.

The thesis of the book is that with the Gold Rush, Australia had a windfall that opened us up to the  rest of the world and made us, during the 1870s, the most prosperous country in the world. However, by the end of the 1880s we were too rich for our own good, and insecure that we could lose it all and thus grasped at the White Australia policy as a way of keeping people and goods out in order to preserve our standard of living.  This insular, frightened stance locked Australia into low growth and a sluggish economy until post-war migration, in its various guises, reinjected diversity back into Australian society and again stoked the furnaces of economic growth. In the closing chapters of the book, written while Abbott was Prime Minister, he warns that income inequality and fear of competition could lead us to squander our ‘second chance’- the minerals boom and Hawke/Keating open economy- and condemn us again to mediocrity. Continue reading

This Week in Port Phillip in 1841: 15-22 October 1841

Hot air in winter!


Presbyterian School House (Scots School House) by Joseph Burns. It was erected at the north-west corner of Collins and Russell Street by December 1839 and used for services until Scots Church was built. It was for some time the only building available for public meetings, like this first meeting of the Debating Society.  It was demolished in 1870. Source: State Library of Victoria


On 13 October a meeting was held in the Scots School House to discuss the transformation of the Debating Society, which had previously been meeting in private homes, into a larger and  more substantial organization. In Sydney, the Debating Society was a branch of the Mechanics’ Institute, and had use of their lecture room and library.  Although there was a nascent Mechanics’ Institute in Melbourne,”their temporary committee room is too circumscribed to afford accommodation for the debates being held therein; the use of the books in the library is the utmost that could be offered, and this, no doubt, would be cheerfully conceded.” (PPG  13/10/41)  As a result, the Melbourne Debating Society decided to open itself up to the public as an independent organization.

Mr John Stephen was called to the chair, and the rules were discussed. There was some controversy over the rule which prohibited reference to scripture in the elucidation of argument, but Mr Darling, who proposed the original rule was sticking by it.  Then Rev James Forbes, the Presbyterian minister (in whose rooms they were meeting, after all) said that religious controversy should always be avoided in a Debating Society, but that he didn’t disapprove of referring to scripture in support or confirmation of an historical fact. He then proposed an amendment that quotations from scripture should be excluded in the debate (i.e. reference was allowable, but quotation was not). His motion was carried. A great number of people enrolled their names as members.(PPG 16/10/41)

On 20 October the first public debate was held, again at the Scots School House.  There were twenty members present, plus visitors. The question for debate was  “Did the motives which incited Brutus and his associates in the assassination of Julius Caesar originate in patriotic desire or personal feeling”? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t know where to start. Neither, it seems did the good men of Port Phillip, in the opinion of the writer from the Port Phillip Gazette:

One thing was evident; that neither of the parties, pro or con had sufficiently studied the question, as to bring the points which most materially bore upon the subject in aid for its elucidation. This system should not be permitted to obtain, if the society is to prosper. [PPG 23/10/41]

Oh well, better luck next Wednesday, when the topic was: “Whether America or any other nation is likely ultimately to supplant Great Britain”?

I’ve written more about the Debating Society here.

It’s ball time again

You might remember the fuss about the Private Assembly Ball back in June. Well, another Private Subscription Ball was planned for October and, according to the Port Phillip Gazette, it all went very well:

PRIVATE ASSEMBLIES. The first ball of the season took place last night at the Freemasons’ Lodge-Room in the Exchange Hotel.  The attendance was numerous, considering the unsettled state of the weather, and the arrangements made reflected the greatest praise upon the stewards of the evening. The ball room was most tastefully decorated, under the supervision of Mr Buckingham. The refreshments were of the first-rate description. Quadrilles, waltzes and Gallapades divided the entertainments into their due proportions, to which the exertions of the orchestra contributed the full share of mirth and activity.  The supper room was ornamented with flags of various descriptions. Altogether the entertainment appeared to afford ample satisfaction to all parties; and the tout-ensembled afforded a gratifying specimen of colonial gaiety, with cannot be too often [applauded?] [PPG 23/10/41]

The drapers of Melbourne took advantage of ball season and the upcoming visit of Governor Gipps to spruik their wares:

ADVERTISEMENT- THE GOVERNORS VISIT.  The proposed Visit of the Governor, accompanied as he will be by his Lady, will cause a degree of gaity in the Provice which has seldom before occurred.  With the Governor’s visit a series of BALLS, ROUTES AND SOIREES &C will follow in its train, and Melbourne will be for the period of their stay relieved from its usual monotony.  The ladies of Melbourne will of course be prominent in their display of FASHIONALE [sic] TASTE for which they are so much admired, and which upon this occasion they will doubtless show to the best advantage, proving alike to Sir George as to Lady Gipps, that the ladies of Port Phillip can justly appreciate the beauty of British Manufacture.  Cashmore & Co desire to encourage this amiable emulation on the part of the ladies of Port Phillip, have obtained, and they will open this morning A CASE OF FANCY GOODS which are expressly provided for this enlivening occasion.  Early application is necessary, as this is the only case they have of those articles [PPG 20/10/41]


Michael Cashmore, photographed by T. F. Chuck in 1872. Cashmore’s store on the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets was very well known. Source: State Library of Victoria

As it turned out, Lady Gipps didn’t accompany Sir George, so all that competition to impress was rather wasted.


A Coroners Inquest into infanticide held during this week provides an insight into the jobs and living conditions of  the servant class in Melbourne, and most particularly those of recently-arrived immigrant women from Ireland.

A baby was found in a cesspit servicing three separate houses in Little Flinders Street. Joseph Stewart, an” eating house manager” said that he had two female lodgers in his house, but they were married people and their husbands resided with them. Neither had been ill and nor had any alteration taken place in them since residing there. He had had a female servant who left last Sunday, discharged for disobedience of orders in going to chapel without permission:

…she passed as a single woman, and went by the name of Catherine, she was a stout woman and had very good health; she is as stout now as ever was; she lived with witness for about two months and a half; think she took up her residence in the back yard after she left.

The District Constable reported that the woman, Catherine Rigney had left Stewart’s house immediately after she heard of the cesspool being empties and had run away, taking a portion of her clothes and saying that she would be back for the others.  She was called to the stand and said

I am a servant and arrived on the 16th July in the Royal Saxon; I went to live with Stewart the latter end of that month; he discharged me on Sunday because I went to mass without asking his permission.

Her former shipmate Catherine Banquo took the stand; said that they had travelled out from Cork together and that there was no alteration in Catherine Rigney since she first knew her. She was a servant to Mr Robson, of the London Inn and Catherine had called on her and said that her master had discharged her because she went to mass; she slept that night with her, she seemed a little distressed in being out of a situation.

Dr Cussen, who conducted a post-mortem, testified that it was a full-term baby. The jury after a short consultation returned a verdict of ‘Wilful murder of the child, by some party or parties unknown’.

But then, some hours after the inquest, a woman known by the name of Bridget (Biddy) Lapping,who had resided in Stewart’s house for two months before being turned out for drunkenness,  informed that Stewart had, a day or two previously, taken an infant and a bag of wool “removed from a mattress, for reasons which delicacy forbids us to mention” and thrown them into the privy at the rear of his house.  Stewart was arrested and taken to the watchhouse [PPG 20/10/41]

The following morning when he was brought before the police court, she said that she had not the slightest recollection of making any statement, and if she did so it must have been under a state of intoxication.  She said that she knew nothing whatever of a child being put into a bag containing some hair and being thrown into the cesspit. But several witnesses said that she had said so.

There is one circumstance which must strike everyone who has taken the most cursory glance at what transpired relative to the case… it is clear that the woman stated she saw Stewart put the child into a bag containing some hair, and she then enquired of Clifford (who was employed to clean out the place), which he found first, “the hair or the child?” Clifford said “the hair”. It is an extraordinary circumstance that nothing relative to the hair came out in evidence at the inquest; therefore, unless the woman was well acquainted with the facts, she must have arrived at the circumstance of the hair being with the child, by intuition. Not the slightest clue has been obtained of the mother of the child, which is somewhat extraordinary.  The man Stewart, of course, in consequence of the gross prevarication of the woman, has been discharged.  The woman Lapping turns out to be a prisoner of the Crown and according to her own showing, has been living a life of gross infamy.  The Bench have turned her into government and ordered her to jail. [PPG 23/10/41]

The mother of the child was never identified.

And the weather?

Between the 15th and 21 October there were fresh breezes, strong winds and gales- it certainly sounds like our changeable spring weather!  There was fine weather up until 19th; the 20th was the hottest day at 82 degrees (27.7) before rain on 20th and 21st.  Certainly Georgiana McCrae was enjoying the weather, noting the thermometer at 82 on 16th “a delightful day”.  On 20th she noted “Another delicious day. I feel all alive!” and recorded 84 degrees on her thermometer on 21st. The lowest temperature was 41 (5 celsius).

Some good news (for now) about Banyule Homestead


Banyule Homestead (a)_PeterCrone

Those of us who submitted objections to the proposed use of Banyule Homestead as a wedding venue received welcome news from Heritage Victoria recently.  The owners have withdrawn their application, for now at least.


I think that there’s yet another chapter in this story.  You can follow it at my other blog, Banyule Homestead Matters.


Exhibitions: Pholiota and Strutt

Once again I find myself visiting and writing about exhibitions just as they’re metaphorically turning the lights off and getting ready to shut the door. Well, perhaps not quite, because both these exhibitions close on 23 October, but that certainly doesn’t leave long to catch them.

Pholiota Unlocked 7-23 October 2016, 9am-5pm. Dulux Gallery, ground floor, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne. Entry is free.

I knew that there must be something up with Pholiota because I’d noticed so many hits on a posting I wrote back in 2013 about Walter and Marion Griffin which included photographs of the interior of Pholiota, which I was fortunate enough to view on an open day.


Pholiota – you can just see the Knitlock brickwork

Pholiota (meaning ‘mushroom’) was constructed by Walter and Marion Griffin in Eaglemont, beside the Lippincott House which Griffin also designed for his brother-in-law. Knowing that its miniscule size (6.4 metres by 6.4 metres) would preclude it receiving building approval, they claimed that it was only a doll’s house for the Lippincott House next door.  They lived there between 1920 and 1925 very happily: so happily in fact that Marion claimed that they sometimes walked backwards on the way to Eaglemont station so that they could admire it from afar.

The original house is, in effect, a single room with sleeping alcoves, a too-small kitchen and a largish dressing room surrounding the dining room with its open fireplace.


The large table in the centre of the room; very small kitchen in the middle rear

Students from the Melbourne University School of Design have built a life-sized model of Pholiota from  plaster blocks fabricated using modern materials manufactured using the Knitlock system invented by Griffin as an inexpensive, do-it-yourself form of building.


The walls only reach about eight feet high and there is no roof, so you feel as if you are looking down on the model.  Even though it was empty and completely white,  it seemed smaller than I remembered the real Pholiota to be. You can don virtual-reality glasses to look at a student’s design for updating Pholiota to current taste.

In an adjacent gallery students have reimagined the Glenard Estate which was laid out by Griffin in 1916.  Charged with making it a medium-density suburb while maintaining Griffin’s vision of shared green space, the students have designed streetscapes with multiple dwellings, the same size as Pholiota and each with 2 bedroom spaces, more than doubling the density of the suburb.  I’m sure that the good people of Glenard Estate are horrified.

There’s a good article about Pholiota here

Heroes and villains: Strutt’s Australia State Library of Victoria 14 July-23 Oct 2016, entry free.

Despite the rain, we caught a tram down Swanston Street to the State Library of Victoria to catch the last days of ‘Strutt’s Australia’, an exhibition previously on show at the National Library featuring works by the painter William Strutt.

Have a look here and you’ll see that you probably recognize many of his paintings without necessarily realizing that he had painted them.  Burke and Wills; bushrangers; the Black Thursday bushfires: he’s a veritable one-man-band of Australian imagery- or perhaps rather, he helped create it.

Born in England, he began drawing at  the Paris atelier of Michel-Martin Drolling in 1838 (just 13!) where he was trained in figure drawing leading to the painting of large history paintings.  He lived in Australia between 1850 where he painted portraits of John Fawkner (Judge Willis’ most vocal supporter), members of the Native Police Force and Robert O’Hara Burke (of Burke and Wills fame) He travelled to the goldfields where he made sketches of the diggers at work and  made sketches in preparation for making big-history paintings of the opening of the Victorian Legislative Council in 1851 and Parliament House in 1856.  Many of his scrap books furnished small sketches which he later incorporated into his pictures. He returned to England in 1862 where he painted ‘popular’ pictures to keep body and soul together, as well as the big historical paintings of Australian events that we know so well e.g. Black Thursday and the burial of Burke (which of course he never witnessed).

There’s an interesting interactive display where you can click on the figures in his Bushrangers picture and see the original sketches that he had done in preparation for this larger picture. I was surprised by the variation in quality of the works on display: his nude figures as a 13 year old are very good and the details in his big history paintings are vivid and well-realized but to be honest, some of his portraits are pretty ordinary.

Movie: Love & Friendship

Well, this is all a bit confusing! The young Jane Austen did write a novella called Love and Freindship [sic] reviewed here by Whispering Gums (who is an insightful guide to all things Austen) but this film by Whit Stillman is actually a rendering of another Austen novel completely, Lady Susan, also reviewed by Whispering Gums.  I suspect that Stillman was riffing off the other double-barrelled Austen titles (Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility) and perhaps he thought that nobody would notice.

Kate Beckinsale is absolutely luminous in this film as Lady Susan Vernon, the rather merry widow who has been cast onto her own resources to find financial security for her rather wet daughter and herself. She is quick witted, acerbic and ambitious and uses her skills and beauty artfully.  It’s a rather arch and knowing romp and thoroughly good fun, without being in the least ponderous.

Of course, the historian in me never quite goes away, and I found myself drawing links between the film and the financial dilemma of the female without means that I saw lived out through the life of the real-life Judge Willis’ sister Jane (known to the family as Jenny). I strongly suspect that she did not have the beauty, and she showed little evidence of the wiles of Lady Susan. Nonetheless, as with Austen’s other works, it’s an interesting commentary on early 1800s social and gender relations offered up to the historian’s eyes almost unwittingly.

I enjoyed this review of the movie: