This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 26-30 September

Census results

Given that in September 2016 we’ve had the census uppermost in our thoughts, you might be interested in the results of the 1841 census. Mind you, the Port Phillip Gazette scoffed at the figures recorded for Melbourne, boldly declaring that:

If [the figures] are all as incorrect as Melbourne, this document is sheer humbug [PPG 29/9/41 p.3]

Melbourne 2676 1803  4479 769
Geelong  304  150   454  70
Total Melb & Geelong  4933 839
Rest of NSW 48,584 4052

What would they say on ‘Gruen’?

‘Gruen’ is a weekly ABC program that dissects advertising and marketing, and the angles and techniques used to persuade consumers.  I wonder what they’d think of these advertisements?

The first, for the grocery store Albion House, places itself as on the side of the embattled settler while at the same time trying to entice him into buying:

ALBION HOUSE. AN ESSENTIAL PUBLIC GOOD. The depressed state of the times, the stagnant state of commerce, the scarcity of cash, the great reduction in wages, the number of persons thrown upon our shores sixteen thousand miles from their friends and native homes, having no employment and but little cash in their possession, have long cried aloud for a reduction in the high prices of the necessaries of life; indeed it is whispered in the cottage, it is muttered in the cheerless unfurnished cot, “Give us cheaper food; let us have a reduction in the prices of the measures of life, or we starve!” Their demands are satisfied, their cries are heard, and they have now an opportunity of procuring not only the necessaries of life, but also many little comforts that have existed only in desire without the means of procuring them, because of the highness of prices.  C. S. BARRETT & CO having recently taken those extensive premises lately occupied by Mr Empson, draper, Collins-street, which they have opened with a very large stock of grocery, tea and provisions of every description, direct from England; and, that the public may not be deceived, they have named in The Albion House, where the above named articles may be purchased at prices astonishingly below anything as yet submitted to the inhabitants of Melbourne. [PP Gazette 29/9/16 p.1]

Or how about this advertisement for a laundry service? Mangling…a ‘beautiful science’ no less!

IMPORTANT TO FAMILIES. W. Herbert begs to acquaint the inhabitants of Melbourne and the surrounding district that he has opened those premises lately occupied by Mr Melbourne, Hairdresser, Little Flinders-street and invites the attention of the public to the circumstance that he, with Mrs H and female servants, intend Washing, Mangling &c for those families who will honour him with their patronage; and having brought a Patent Mangle with him, will be able to accomplish this beautiful science in first-rate style.  W. H. is aware of the scarcity of money, and therefore will work for the lowest figure; but he must have cash, as nothing else will keep the Mangle going: a man has been engaged for the express purpose of keeping it in constant motion; and as steady women are engaged for the washing department, W. H trusts he will have a share of patronage for so novel a business or profession.  The prices will be as follows:

Washing and Ironing per doz….4/6

Mangling per ditto…………….0/6

Mrs Herbert has female servants that may be hired by the hour or day to wash and clean as charwomen.  [PPG 29/9/16 p.2]

A new variation on the ‘dogs-as-nuisance’ theme


Detail from Liardet’s picture of the Lamb Inn, Collin’s street. Note the dogs.  Source: SLV

The Port Phillip newspapers have had plenty to say in their columns about the nuisance posed to the inhabitants of Melbourne by stray dogs. But even the attempts to curb the numbers of dogs by offering a bounty seems to have backfired:

PUBLIC NUISANCE.  We have to call the attention of [Police Magistrate] Major St John to the disgraceful conduct of the constables in leaving the carcasses of the dogs they have killed for the sake of their tails, putrefying on the sides of the street.  We would suggest that in order to abate the evil, the reward given for the tails of unregistered dogs shall not be issued in any case, unless the claimant can show that the carcasses of the animals have been disposed of in such a manner as to prevent the possibility of their becoming a public nuisance. [Port Phillip Patriot 30/9/41 p.2]

Family Jars

The Police Intelligence columns are the gift that keeps on giving. Obviously the whole family, including the women, got into this one:

FAMILY JARS. Peter Connell was charged with cracking the head of Stephen Moore with a ginger beer bottle. From what could be gathered from the statement of Connoll, whose head was bound in a Turkey red handkerchief, it appeared that on Saturday, about half-past one o’clock, he was requested by Moore, who is a neighbour, to remove a water cask then reclining against a fence near his door.This being complied with, Connell’s servant pulled down some of the fencing, and made a thoroughfare through the premises; to this he objected whereupon Mrs C. came out and emphatically laid down the law on the case; this was rebutted by Mrs M., who declared that a free passage and female rights were her motto, and on that she would stand. Connell and Moore then came upon the ground, and issue was quickly joined, and scuffling, thrashing and the cracking with the ginger beer bottle followed.[(PP Gazette 29/9/41 p3]

 The ‘Scrutator’ letter

On 29 September George Arden, the young editor of the Port Phillip Gazette published a letter which criticized Judge Willis , supposedly penned by ‘Scrutator’.  After starting with a complaint about Judge Willis’s ban on raffles, the letter moved onto a wide-ranging attack on Willis’ fitness as a judge. The authorship of the letter was never questioned but Arden’s role as editor in publishing it certainly was, suggesting that Arden himself probably wrote the letter (as did most of the other editors when wanting to stir the pot a bit). In fact, as we’ll see as time goes on, Willis’ heavy-handed response to press criticism was to be one of the loudest complaints against him, both by Melbourne inhabitants and eventually, by the government as well.  So, because this letter was so important for Judge Willis’ career and for the public debate for the next six months or so, I’ll transcribe it in full (but I give you permission to skip reading it and just jump down to my comments below!):

TO THE EDITOR OF THE GAZETTE: SIR- In consequence of some sensible remarks which appeared in your last paper, as to the impropriety of Judge Willis directing the Crown Prosecutor to take steps to prevent raffles, I beg to direct your attention to a habit of His Honor’s which is not only unbecoming in a Judge, but which has done much injury, and the baneful consequences of which will extend more widely over the colony, unless at once stopped by the interposition of an independent press: I allude to His Honor’s practice of giving his opinion and directing the proceedings, not only in matters collateral, but even in those totally unconnected, with the question he is called upon to decide.  To one who has attended the English courts of justice, and observed the scrupulous caution with which the judges therein refrain from allusions to all portions of a case except that immediately at issue, and even then declining to make any remarks upon- not to say decide- any point to which their attention has not been directed by full an deliberate discussion, Judge Willis’s conduct is in most startling contrast.  No opportunity escapes him for scattering his dicts, for stating what he conceives to be the law and merits of every subject, no matter how extraneous to that under consideration, if it happens to strike his fertile fancy.  Who has not censured the un-called for stigmas he carelessly heaps on the conduct and character of Magistrates, Barristers, Attorneys, Witnesses, Suitors, or any one whose name may have been unfortunately mentioned in his court? the praise he never awards, except to those who flatter and cringe to him, is nearly as disgusting as the unmeasured censure he so copiously visits on the other wretched individuals who are dragged beneath the outpourings of his bilious temperament; and should he ever find a dearth of legitimate victims, Simpsons, Carringtons, Editors &c with what a master hand, supported by what ancient authorities, will he summon from the peaceful repose of a newspaper advertisement a Cunningham or a McNall, …entire horses, donkeys, raffles, and gambling. But, Sir, what is equally to be lamented, though not so generally known, is his practice of advising upon titles to land, the validity of grants from the crown- stating that deeds are inoperative, conditions not being complied with- that the land fund having been applied to immigration, and not to the consolidated fund, all the Governor’s conveyances are illegal, and even if they were not, lands sold before the Governor has dated his grant can never pass the property to the purchased; in fact, whether in or out of court, the sole result of his unfortunate temper and his distorted judgment is raising disputes and fomenting instead of suppressing litigation. Is this a fit or proper person to fill the highest judicial chair in the province? Judge he is not, nor ever will be, being in every case so much a creature of deluding impulse.  To those who are so connected with him as to be obliged to bear the burthen of his acquaintance, the endless disparaging terms in which he speaks of his late brother Judges, the gentlemen of the bar, and all with whom he came in contact in Sydney; the egotism and vanity which actuate his very look and expression, have demonstrated that the fountain of his acts is drawn not from the pure sources of liberal learning and enlightened knowledge, but the sterile rock of ignorance and self conceit; coupling these with his penurious miserly habits (for never was he, whom from his position and salary should be an example of liberality, known to see a friend within his poverty-stricken doors) is he, I would ask a proper person to have been sent to a young colony as its Judge? Yet, Sir, Some hope remains that this paralyzing member of an otherwise healthy community may ere long be removed, under the [indistinct] fearless catchcry of an independent press. I have the honour to be Sir &c &c &c. SCRUTATOR. [PPG 29/9/41 P.3

In transcribing this letter,I’m struck anew by how barbed it is, even for the time. Even though the three Port Phillip newspapers were published legitimately and regularly, they were a mixture between, using the example of 20th century Melbourne, the Herald Sun and Truth magazine, or to bring us into the 21st century, very similar to the internet’s mixture of hard news and utter scurrility.  Judges were criticized in the press (it seems to me, more than today but I’m not sure) but then, as now, it would have been a dangerous undertaking, particularly in a district that had only one judge.

Looking at the letter, ‘Scrutator’ starts off by criticizing Willis for making extraneous commentary from the bench, asserting that the judges in England did not do so.  That’s not true: the judge’s speech at the opening of term was a time-honoured occasion for moral commentary, usually about the evils of alcohol and godlessness (but gambling could conceivably fit under such a tirade). That said, Willis used the opportunity to make such commentary excessively. ‘Scrutator’ then makes criticisms that were to be echoed two years later when the whole Willis thing blew up. Willis’ attacks on magistrates, barristers and individuals like Simpson and Carrington were all listed as reasons for his dismissal and ended up being aired in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Whitehall.  Even Houndsfoot the stallion and Montezuma the donkey get a look in!

More pointed, though, is ‘Scrutator’s’ report of Willis’ private conversation, and here we get into murky territory.  Arden was most certainly not part of Willis’ social or conversational circle- so who was telling him all this?  And the content of this reported conversation at a time when the property bubble was just about to pop was incendiary, then as a final kick to the shins was a dig about Willis’ dearth of friends and lack of gentlemanly sociability.

How’s the weather?

This week the weather was more settled, with light winds generally and bright and clear after 24th September.  The 28th and 29th were the warmest days of the month, with a top temperature for September of 76F (24.4 C) and a low for the week of 45 (7.2C)






One response to “This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 26-30 September

  1. It continues to astonish me how quickly Melbourne grew.

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