Monthly Archives: December 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 24 -31 December 1841

Of course, Port Phillip celebrated Christmas on 25 December, along with the rest of the British Empire.  In 1841, 25 December was a Saturday, thus providing a two-day holiday. It’s a sobering reminder of the rarity of holidays in the nineteenth century, with no paid leave available until 1935.

Christmas Day falling on a Saturday gave two consecutive holidays to the labouring classes, in whose pleasures, as well as that of the residents at large, the unusual coolness of the weather at this time has greatly contributed (PPG 29/12/41)

[Casualization and barely-restricted retail opening today means that a proportion of workers no longer get paid annual leave, or indeed two consecutive days holiday.  The traditional January-shutdown of industry is becoming a thing of the past, too.]

Christmas celebrations

I’ve written about Christmas in Port Phillip in 1841 here and about Christmas in Port Phillip during the early 1840s here.

However, on 5 January a letter was published in the Port Phillip Herald by a Mr. J.R.M. of Douttagalla, praising the simple joys of a Christmas ‘pic-nic’ on the Salt River. It all sounds rather too wholesome and improving:


“Here, for retreat in sultry hour

Some hand had formed a rustic bower;

It was a lodge of ample size

But strange of structure and device

Of such materials as around

The workman’s hand had readiest found”


I was repeating these lines as I entered “the sylvan shed” where our little party had laid out to pass the afternoon. But my attention was soon arrested by the exceeding beauty of the scenery around us.  There, in the foreground, and only a few yards from our feet, lay a noble sheet of water, calm as “a cradled infant”, and margined with various specimens of the monoperigynae and monopetalae. Up the slanting sides of the ravine grew the tall and stately tea tree and cleagni, interwined with the teazles and woodbines of the corisantherae, here and there pushing out a pretty pale corolla, as if beauty and innocence had been engaged in decorating grace.  Farther off in a deep recess, the gigantic gum-gree stretched forth its bare white branches, like a skeleton in a green house! Or like a dream of paradise after death had entered there! The field of view from the bower was such a picture of nature’s own beautiful embroidery as would have elicited and harmonized with the exquisite imagery of Claude Loraine.

The party consisted of no more than Mr and Mrs H____ with their six fine children and myself. The boys entertained us by reading and reciting in excellent style pieces selected for the occasion; and the little girls, playful and sportive as young fawns, went skipping about in all the happy enjoyment of domestic felicity…

The viands were in admirable keeping with this little family picture:- plain, substantial and elegantly laid on the greensward, canopied by wreaths of flowers and foliage, as if the Naiads and Limnades had consecrated this spot to retirement and primitive innocence…

On leaving this scene of rural and domestic happiness, I could not help reflecting on it with pleasure and admiration. There sat the fond father and mother in the bosom of their young amiable family, enjoying their pleasures, and participating their amusements. How truly rational these enjoyments! And how exalted they stand in contrast with other anniversaries I had previously witnessed of a Chrismas merry-making- where reeling riot and desecration had usurped the throne of intellect, and man- the lord of the creation- seemed to have forgotten dignity, abandoned reason, and trampled on gratitude to HIM whose name was announced at this happy season in “tidings of great joy to all the people,” and should fill the heart with love and joy, and ineffable glorification at a Christmas merry-making.  J.R.M. Douttagalla, 27 December 1841.

Getting rowdy

Perhaps it was too much Christmas cheer, or the warm weather, or the increase in numbers of immigrants, but it seemed that the newspapers- most particularly John Fawkner’s Port Phillip Patriot – were especially conscious of unruly behaviour among the labouring classes.

Rowdy groups appeared to congregate around Little Bourke Street, which by 1855 was a centre of Chinese activity.  Already in 1841 it was known as a slum area.

SABBATH BREAKING. A number of idle vagabonds are in the constant practice of openly profaning the Lord’s Day by congregating in Little Bourke-street and there amusing themselves by gambling with half-pence, playing at ball &c. On Sunday week we observed about thirty persons employed in these practices.  The non-apprehension of the ringleaders in these sports evinces a very unpardonable negligence on the part of the constabulary; we trust, however, that this public notification of the nuisance will have the effect of preventing  its recurrence. (PPP 27/12/41)

Nefarious activities took place off the street as well:

DISORDERLY HOUSE One of the greatest nuisances which has existed in Melbourne for some time past has been a house of ill-fame situated in a lane leading from Bourke-street. On Friday last, at the police office, two notorious characters named Peter and Elizabeth Toote, were fully committed to take their trials for keeping this nest of infamy. From the evidence for the prosecution, it appeared that scenes of the most revolting nature were there nightly carried on, and that it was also a receptacle for the most notorious thieves in Melbourne. (PPP 27/12/41)

On the 27th December there was a ‘riot’ in Brunswick Street Fitzroy (then known as New Town).

DISGRACEFUL RIOT – A most disgraceful scene took place on the night of Monday last, in the neighbourhood of Brunswick Street, New Town. Some vagabonds of both sexes, principally Irish, had congregated together and were engaged in fighting each other with sticks, tomahawks, stones or any other missile which they could conveniently obtain, accompanying their efforts with vollies [sic] of oaths and imprecations; nor was peace and good order restored the whole evening. As the constabulary force is to be increased by twelve men at the end of the present year, we trust that the authorities will see fit to station at least two of that number at New Town where they are much required. (PPP 30/12/41)

It was a shame really, as the Police Magistrate had just that day acquitted all but one of the revellers arrested over the Christmas/Boxing Day holiday:

VOTARIES OF BACCHUS. On Monday last, the Police Magistrate discharged all the parties, with one exception, who had been taken up during the Christmas holidays for drunkenness, the exception was that of an old offender, who has accommodated with a seat in the stocks for four hours. PPP 30/12/41)

Concert and Tradesmen’s Ball

There was more to do than brawl on Monday 28th, because it was the night of the Tradesmen’s Ball. It was held at the Pavilion Theatre, which I have described previously.


“.Past ten o’clock” sang out the watchman, as we were wending our way homewards through Great Bourke-street. “Past ten o’clock,” and the information came to us unexpectedly for we had been engaged in ” counting hours for minutes,” we had, in fact, been Romeo and Julietizing; the scene in Capulet’s garden was fresh in our remembrance, and as we soared along we repeated to ourselves

“The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars

As day light doth a lamp : her eye in heaven

Would through the airy region stream so bright .

That birds would sing, and think it were not night.”

How far we would have gone on in our rhapsody is uncertain, had not the Pavilion presenting the unusual aspect of an illuminated front burst upon our view, and we paused to inquire the meaning of such an appearance. Mr. Hodge informed us that the tradesmen of our infant city were celebrating Christmas by holding a concert and ball, and his kindness politely afforded us admission to the scene of festivity.

We will not say that our eyesight was dazzled by the beauty and splendour of the scene, but we must say that we were charmed by the neat dresses and happy faces every where visible. Many of the ladies were in “full dress” in honour of the occasion ; one in particular, who had arrayed ” the temple of her thoughts” (a very handsome little edifice it was) in artificial roses bound up with pearl white satin ribbon, we admired exceedingly. On the other hand, we will not deny that we experienced sincere emotions of pity for several of the dear creatures, who were compelled to hold their bonnets on their knees to avoid their being crushed, and were thus kept in a fidgety state, the whole evening; others very wisely tied theirs on the pillars, which had the double effect of putting them out of harm’s way and adding to the ornaments of the building.

We had scarcely taken a hurried glance at these arrangements when a gentleman in very ” dickey” apparel appeared and sang ” Sich a gettin’ up stairs,” which was received with great applause and encored. Then a little boy with a shrill voice sang “Isle of Beauty,” and after that a gentleman splendidly attired in a blouse, with a red button-up waistcoat, and light trousers announced that “as soon as the feenarly was over the ball would commence.” And accordingly we had the finale ” God’ save the Queen'”- but nobody seemed prepared for the ball.

On the contrary, the company, many of whom, to judge from the incessant popping of corks, were enjoying themselves exceedingly, were by no means satisfied with the banquet of sweet sounds dished up by the careful Hodge. Loud calls were heard for “Jack Rag,” and ” Jack Rag”, became with the rougher sex an almost universal cry, till at last we in our simplicity imagined that Jack Rag was a very boorish sort of person not to come forward and speak to his friends, seeing that they were so clamorous for his appearance.. ” Jack Rag” however, turned out to be an epithet conferred on the gentleman who sang ” Sich a gettin’ up stairs,” but he with a proper spirit disdained to appear when called upon so disrespectfully.

The singing, too, was properly speaking over, and Mr. William Cooper, a son of Vulcan, who officiated as master of the ceremonies, stept forward and with it a few stamps a la Richard the Third succeeded one by one in extinguishing the lamps in front of the proscenium, which, as they were severally operated on, sent upwards a I gracefully picturesque cloud of smoke. Loud cries were ‘ now heard for “Mr Cooper’s song,” but Mr. C. was “no wocalist,” and so he assured the ladies and gentlemen. “Cooper’s song,” reiterated a mischievous wag in one of the boxes to the right. ” Lay down,” responded that worthy gentleman looking daggers at the disturber, but the clamour was not so easily subdued, and the noise and calls for the song continued.

The master of the ceremonies looked excessively angry and excessively puzzled.- “Leave them to me, I’ll manage them,” at last imploringly whispered a hanger-on of the establishment  – ” Leave them to you!” indignantly replied the insulted gentleman; “No, I’m master here,” a demonstration which was received with loud applause. ” Ladies and gentlemen,'” continued Mr. Cooper, “but I won’t say the ladies, for they know how to behave  themselves, but I say, gentlemen, I’ve come here to enjoy myself, and I hope you’ve done the same, so don’t let us have no rows.’

Order was then restored, and Mr. C. intimated, that ” as Mrs. C. didn’t feel inclined, he would feel obliged if any lady would lead him off in a quad-drilll.” No answer was made to this appeal, but a respectable costermonger at length succeeded in giving  an impetus to the affair by promenading with a fair friend up and down the stage which would have been n delightful exhibition only that by keeping his hat on he somewhat, marred the effect. A country dance was soon arranged ; ” haste to the wedding,” was struck up, and “hands across” ” up and down the middle ” &c., &c., were gone through in beautiful style. One remark we feel bound to make— we hate egotism in every shape, and therefore we consider the conduct of the gentleman in top boots (” we mention no names,” but we believe him to be an ostler,) who danced in a corner by himself, highly reprehensible.

To conclude ; at eleven we were compelled reluctantly to leave the gay and be-witching scene of festivity, highly delighted at the exhibition of the happiness which prevailed throughout. We consider much praise is due to the getters-up of the affair, not only for the intention, but the successful mode in which they succeeded in carrying it out, and we therefore beg to wish them “many happy returns of the season.” (PPP 30/12/41)

A Christmas Box

I’m not sure about the receipt of Christmas boxes in general, but the apprentice working for the barrister Horatio Nelson Carrington certainly received a box around the ears two days before Christmas. It demonstrates how much physical punishment was condoned under the Master and Servant legislation then in force.

AN UNTOWARD APPRENTICE. — Mr.Carrington, the solicitor, had occasion on Thursday, to bring before the Police Bench an apprentice, for the most improper conduct. It appeared that the previous evening, upon Mr. C. going home and not finding preparations for dinner at five o’clock, as he had directed, he enquired of the boy the reason, when he coolly replied that he had better do it himself ;  naturally irritated, Mr, C. gave him, both correctly arid legally, a box on the ears, when the young urchin turned round and seized him by the lappelle of  the coat,  some knives were lying on the  table, and the boy made towards them, evidently with the view of stabbing Mr.C., who rushed him out of the room. Just as Mr. C. let go of his hold, the boy struck him a violent blow on the side of the head. A horse-whip being produced, Mr C. gave the boy a most judicious whipping, and then handed him to the care oft the police.

The Bench sentenced the boy to fourteen days in a cell, and Mr. Carrington said that he would give up the boy’s indentures and pay his expenses in the Seahorse to Sydney; he belonged to the Orphan School. Mr. C. said further, that the boy had the most vicious turn of mind when spoken to; he was constantly in the habit of replying,” My father was a lag, my mother was a lag, and I hope to be a lag myself.” No doubt the wish of this young gentleman will be carried out in due time. (PPG 25/12/41)

How’s the weather?

Southerly breezes ensured that the weather remained much cooler for this last week of the year. There was one day of 88 degrees (31 degrees) but the rest of the week was more temperate.

Fresh and strong winds or gales almost constant; weather cool for the season and much clouded but with little rain.

And with that- on to 1842!!!  (and 2017!)

‘La Mala Hora’ (In Evil Hour) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


(1962, 183 P)

I read this as part of the Coursera course that I’ve been following on Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read the book in English (of course!) but the online course that analyses the books is in Spanish. There’s nothing quite like trying to follow something fairly abstract in a language that you’ve only beginning to learn to slow your progress!

This short story was originally published in 1962 as ‘This Town of Shit’ but Garcia Marquez disavowed the original version and rewrote it.  I read it as part of a collection of short stories, but running at over 150 pages it is more strictly speaking a novella.  It foreshadows many of the themes of One Hundred Years of Solitude and he has used other sections in other stories as well.

It is set in an unnamed town, where someone is posting lampoons (ie.satirical posters) about local personalities and their hypocrisies and secrets.  It’s not made clear who the lampoon-poster is, but after a man is murdered on account of the rumours, eventually the Mayor cracks down. He declares martial law and uses the opportunity to rid the village of his political enemies.  The threat of violence hums throughout the story.   At the same time, the humidity congeals and the rain pours down without stopping. As a result, it’s a rather suffocating short story, where you almost will the violence to come down, to break the anticipation.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Completed

These are the books that I read for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.  I had great intentions of reading more history books written by female historians but I only read five.  I seem to have read more memoirs than I realized.

Oh well. Next year. Roll on 2017

January 4, 2106. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

January 5, 2016 The Convent by Maureen McCarthy

January 7, 2016  In My Mother’s Hands by Biff Ward

January 23, 2016  Hello Beautiful! Scenes from a Life by Hannie Rayson

February 17, 2016  Leap by Myfanwy Jones

March 4, 2016  High Seas and High Teas by Roslyn Russell

April 20, 2016 The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

May 4, 2016  Blockbuster: Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex

June 20, 2016 From Rice to Riches by Jane Hutcheon

July 4, 2016 The High Places by Fiona McFarlane

July 13, 2016 Fractured Families by Tanya Evans

August 3 2016, Reckoning by Magda Subanzski

August 19, 2016  Skin Deep by Liz Conor

September 9, 2016  Tiger’s Eye by Inga Clendinnen

October 3, 2016 Of Ashes and Rivers That Run to the Sea by Marie Munkara

December 5, 2016 Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

December 15, 2016 Living with the Locals by John Maynard and Victoria Haskins

December 19, 2016 Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra

December 22, 2016  The Good People by Hannah Kent

December 26, 2016  Wicked But Virtuous: My Life by Mirka Mora

December 28, 2016  The Light Between Oceans by M.L.Stedman

‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes


2016, 180p.

I must confess that it took me some time to work out that the subject of this small novella is Dimitri Shostavkovich. In the first part of the book, Shostakovich is an unnamed ‘he’, waiting by the lift outside his apartment, a small suitcase at his knee, expecting to be arrested. “All he knew was that this was the worst time.” (p. 7) His composition, Lady Macbth of Mtsensk had been denounced by Pravda, and critics who had previously praised it quickly distanced themselves from it.

They always came for you in the middle of the night. And so, rather than be dragged from the apartment in his pyjamas, or forced to dress in front of some contemptuously impassive NKVD man, he would go to bed fully clothed, lying on top of the blankets, a small case already packed on the floor beside him. He barely slept, and lay there imagining the worst things a man could imagine.  His restlessness in turn prevented Nita from sleeping.  Each would lie there, pretending; also, pretending not to hear and small the other’s terror. (p. 15)

We meet him again on a plane, returning home from a trip from America twelve years later. In front of the world’s media, he has been humiliated as a Soviet stooge. “All he knew was that this was the worst time.  One fear drives out another, as one nail drives out another.” (p. 61).

And then we meet him again, another twelve years on, in 1960, when he is being pressured to join the Communist party,  repeatedly, strongly and with the threat of violence. The violence is always suspended – for now.

All he knew was that this was the worst time of all.  The worst time was not the same as the most dangerous time.  Because the most dangerous time was not the time when you were in most danger.  This was something he hadn’t understood before. (p. 115)

We often read books of courage and resistance, but less often of extorted compliance. As the Shostakovich character reflects, anti-communist sympathizers wanted martyrs, thus themselves becoming like Power (always written with a capital letter and never specified) in that whatever he gave, more was always demanded.

Under the pressure of Power, the self cracks and splits.  The public coward lives with the private hero. Or vice versa. Or, more usually, the public coward lives with the private coward. But that was too simple: the idea of a man split into two by a dividing axe. Better: a man crushed into a hundred pieces of rubble, vainly trying to remember how they- he- had once fitted together. (p. 155)

I often tend to think that cowardice is an easier option than bravery: when I hear of acts of heroism, I often wonder if I would have it in myself to act in the same way. But if this is a book about ‘cowardice’, it’s a cowardice that has no upside. Instead it deadens and leaches the joy from life:

… But it was not easy being a coward.  Being a hero was much easier than being a coward.  To be a hero, you only had to be brave for a moment- when you took out the gun, threw the bomb, pressed the detonator, did away with the tyrant, and with yourself as well. But to be a coward was to embark on a career that lasted a lifetime.  You couldn’t ever relax. You had to anticipate the next occasion when you would have to make excuses for yourself, dither, cringe, reacquaint yourself with the taste of rubber boots and the state of your own fallen, abject character.  Being a coward required pertinacity, persistence, a refusal to change- which made it, in a way, a kind of courage. He smiled to himself and lit another cigarette. The pleasures of irony had not yet deserted him. (p 158)

This book is written in this quiet manner, in the third person, in a somewhat stilted language that only barely masks rage and frustration. The sentences are brief, as are the paragraphs, and the three sections of the book are broken up into asterisked sections.  For a book about a composer, there was little music: instead there were words, muttered and issued through clenched teeth.

After I belatedly realized that “he” was an actual figure, Shostakovich, I wondered if, in this information-rich world I should go off and google him before I proceeded. I didn’t, but I do wonder if I might have got more from the book if I had done so.  Sheila Fitzpatrick, the Australian historian of Russia, wrote an excellent and highly informed review of the book in the LRB where she demonstrates that she, at least, understood the allusions and references to other Russian composers and historical characters that flew right past me.

Instead, because of my ignorance of the real-life historical figure and his biography, I almost had to read the book as an allegory and the use of ‘he’ and capital-P ‘Power’ and the interiority of the narrative lent itself to such a reading.  Its three parts had a strong chronological structure within which flashbacks shuttled back and forth, and the recurrence of a new demand or challenge every twelve years racheted up the tension.  As such, then,  its brevity was a real strength. I don’t really now if I would have wanted it to go on for much longer.

Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 8.5/10




‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M. L. Stedman


2012, 345 p.

As it happened, I read this book with my bookgroup (AKA The Ladies Who Say Oooh) just as the movie was released.  No doubt I’ll see the movie about two minutes before it closes, when it’s down to one session a day at Cinema Nova in a cinema with six seats. I’ll be late to review the film, just as I am late to review the book. By reading it  in November 2016, everything that could be said about this book has already been said before.

And so you probably already know that it’s set in the 1920s on a lighthouse off the Western Australian coast.  The time and setting is important. The 1920s in Australia, so geographically distant from the European battlefields, were hollowed out demographically and emotionally by the loss of men who didn’t come back or returned as wraiths of the men they were.  Tom Sherbourne has returned apparently physically and emotionally intact, but when faced with questions of life, death, parenthood and morality, we realize that he has been moulded by his war experience. He craves the order and solitude of lighthouse life, and feels the moral burden of having survived when others didn’t.   His wife Isabel, like 1920s women throughout Australia, rejoiced in Tom’s physicality and masculinity at a time when men were scarce, but could not grasp the enormity of the war experience and its existential ravages on her husband.

The setting in a lighthouse on an island is important too.  Not only does the mechanics of the plot hang on the logistics of infrequent contact between the lighthouse and the mainland, but the emotional and ethical question at the heart of the book relies on isolation as well.

The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm – the turning of the light. The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints. On the Offshore Lights you can live any story you want to tell yourself, and no one will say you’re wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind.  p. 120

The book is a Jodi-Picoultesque dilemma set in 1920s Australia, but it could in many ways be located in the country of any of the  Commonwealth Allies – Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand. The dialogue, to me, had some infelicities (were the terms ‘kids’ and ‘cubbies’ in use in  1920s Australia?)  but she captured the historical theme of return from the war well  without labouring it, and the descriptions of landscape were carefully crafted.  In the face of such happiness, you know from the start that things are not going to end well. It is this feeling of impending doom that keeps you turning the pages. I felt a little cheated by the ending, not so much in terms of plot, but from a feeling that it was rushed and the nuances unexplored.

Sourced from: C.A.E. library

My rating: 8/10


I’ve read this for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge



‘Wicked but Virtuous: My Life’ by Mirka Mora


302 pages & abundant illustrations and photographs, 2000.

The artist and matriarch of a clutch of artistic Mora sons, Mirka Mora is a Melbourne institution.  Earthy, twinkly and eccentric, she often pops up on documentaries to provide a bit of a shock when such naughtiness and carnality slips from the lips of a woman well into her eighties.  Her autobiography, narrated in the same tangled-syntax and lightly-accented giggle that bubbles out of her interviews, is roughly chronologically ordered under a number of themes: My Paris, My Melbourne, My Restaurants, My Work, My Men, My Children, My Workshops etc. As she tells us at various times in the book, she is not particularly comfortable with the idea of writing an autobiography. Much of it is drawn from the journals that she wrote at the time, most particularly in the catch-all chapters that intersperse the narrative ‘Pele-Mele: a Medley’ and ‘Inselbergs, Motets and Quodlibets’.

Mora’s childhood in Paris during WWII, as the Jewish daughter of a French resistance fighter, was marked by fear. Through her father’s contacts with the resistance, Mirka and her mother were released from a French concentration camp prior to their deportation to Auschwitz. Her parents separated and divorced shortly after the war.  But Mirka’s was already an unconventional upbringing when, even before the war,  she was in effect handed over to a young woman in the same apartment block who took a shine to her, and left her for extended periods of time with her own mother in the countryside. When the 17 year old Mirka  met Georges Mora, another resistance fighter, after the war she married him so that he would make love to her.  After emigrating to Australia, they owned a succession of restaurants and Georges became an art dealer.

While I knew that she was an artist, and an unconventional one at that, I hadn’t realized how deeply embedded she was in the contemporary art scene in Melbourne during the 1950s and 1960s- or at least she was, in her telling.  The book is a succession of ‘names’ and slyly-told anecdotes and I found the constant name-dropping rather tedious.  So too the exhaustive and rather obscure lists of books she had read and which, to be frank, I don’t really see reflected in her work.  There is an ambiguous whimsy/grotesque aspect to her paintings, and flipping through the pictures inserted into the middle of the book, there is a sameness about much of her work (or is it a working out of a strongly defined theme?)  I tend to think of her in the same category as, say, Michael Leunig.  I’m not sure whether I’ve just praised or damned her.

I’m bemused by the way that this book managed to be open – particularly about bodily functions of various kinds- and yet quite opaque as well.  And yes- I know that I’m being hypocritical here because I often bemoan the tell-all memoirs that drag a parent’s secrets into the harsh light of day (e.g. here and here). I don’t know whether it was from a sense of delicacy that she skated over any real discussion of her husband and sons, or whether it was because she wanted the spotlight for herself because, as she would admit herself, she does have a very healthy self-regard.

I think that the part of the book that affected me most was a hand-written letter from Mirka to her womb, which was removed by hysterectomy in 1993. A rather quirky, perhaps macabre undertaking, but one which captured for me a sense of comfort and wistfulness in her own femaleness. The letter just hangs there, in the closing pages of the book, unremarked.

The book is generously illustrated with photographs- ye gods, she was a beautiful young woman!- and reproductions of her paintings.  I was aware of a recent undiscovered mural in the former Cafe Balzac restaurant (owned by the Moras) that was under threat but I couldn’t really think of any others, especially after reading her chapter on public commissions.  She wrote that she had completed a mural at Flinders Street Station – and, after racking my brains over where it could possibly be- here it is!  I must say that it is more striking than I realized, and a real gift to the people of Melbourne.

On finishing the book, while rather fond of this small, puckish character, I felt  underwhelmed and almost cheated by her autobiography.

Other reviews: Lisa from ANZLitlovers reviewed this and seem to like it even less than I did.

My rating: 5/10

Sourced from: CAE bookgroup.


I’ve posted this on the Australian Women Writers Challenge website.

The City That Knows How to Eat

Makes me proud to be a Melburnian.  Although strictly speaking it’s ‘smashed avo’, not avocado toast.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 15-23 December

The Tasmanians, ‘the Van Diemen’s Land Blacks’, ‘Robinson’s Blacks’

The newspapers during this week were dominated by the trial of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener which was heard before Judge Willis on 15 December 1841.  The women were acquited, leaving just the two men to face punishment. I will soon review Kate Auty and Lynette Russell’s book on the trial, and will no doubt say more about the case there. After my frequent mentions of this case on this blog, I’m sure that the outcome is no surprise. (See  here, here, here and here  )

Suffice to say, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were found guilty by the jury, with a recommendation to mercy on account of the “peculiar circumstances” of the prisoners’ situation. The Port Phillip Gazette thought that the jury’s recommendation would prevail:

…the verdict of condemnation was delivered a recommendation to mercy on account of the good character given of the condemned by the Chief Protector, and of the peculiar circumstances in which they stood. This rider is the most important point for our consideration and whatever may be the amount of dissent, we heartily rejoice that the province has thus been saved the disgraceful exhibition of a legal murder; for there can be little doubt that the recommendation of the jury will be attended to, so far, at least, to gain a respite for the criminals until the pleasure of the Queen in Council shall be known; and should, even then, that last decision be unfavourable to the principle of leniency, the long suspense endured by the prisoners and the [??] taken by lapse of time from the “force of example” will plead in favour of its practice  [PPG 22/12/41]

Then the Port Phillip Gazette reverted to a more familiar trope. Noting that the jury had pointed to “peculiar circumstances in which the prisoners stand”, the editorial went on

Wild and untameable from their nature, silent in their resentment, quick in their [indistinct] and fearful in their revenge, who can presume to say what notions slumbered in their untutored minds, ready to burst forth on the earliest opportunity that presented itself to their desires?  [PPG 22/12/41]

For now, the Port Phillip Gazette, along with the people of Port Phillip had to wait until the case reached its final conclusion in January.

To market, to market

The Melbourne Market opened on 15 December. There were, in effect, three locations of the Market:

  1. The General Market, situated between Williams and Market-streets, adjoining the Custom House and Police office, and facing the river was appropriated for the sale of 1. Fruit and vegetables. 2. Potatoes, 3. Dry goods 4. Poultry, butchers’ meat and fish
  2. The Hay and Corn market, situated in Flinders and Swanston-streets, was established for the disposal of hay, corn, fodder, straw, grass, grain and pulses.
  3. The Cattle Market, intended ultimately to be erected and opened for the sale of horned cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, mules and asses; would for some time be held at the place known as the Auction Company’s yards which were leased for 6 months for the purpose.

Yesterday being the day appointed for the opening of the General Market; at an early hour drays loaded with vegetables &c. began to make their appearance, and shortly after the “gudewives” followed by little “gelpies” carrying the market baskets made their appearance.  The day altogether was an eventful one at the west end of the town, and created almost as much stir as would a coronation, an execution or even a Lord Mayor’s day in London.  [PPP 16/12/41]

The market provided a service, but it also sidelined small-time vendors who sold goods on the street.  In the Port Phillip Gazette of 25 December (yes- on Christmas Day), James Simpson J.P., Chairman of the Market Commissioners warned that

In pursuance of Section No 23 of the 3rd Victoria 1, No 19- Notice is hereby given, that any person or persons selling or exposing to sale any butchers’ meat, poultry, eggs, butter, vegetables, or other provisions usually sold in markets, in any of the street, lanes, entries, or other public passages, other than the market places appropriated for such purposes by the commissioners, shall, on conviction thereof before a justice of the peace, for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of five pounds. [PPG 25/12/41]

Steam away!

The vast majority of communication between the various Australian colonies took place through steamer rather than roads.  The regular schedule of steamer voyages was as follows:

Steamers plying between Melbourne and various parts of the colony: The Seahorse– weekly to Sydney; the Corsair, three times a fortnight to Launceston; the Aphrasia, twice a week to Geelong; the Governor Arthur daily to Williams Town; and the Fairy Queen (which is now laid up undergoing repairs) daily to the shipping at Hobson’s Bay. [PPG 18/12/41]

Actually, the Governor Arthur wasn’t to ply between Melbourne and Williams Town for long, because a fire on the 23 December destroyed the craft at her moorings at Queen’s Wharf at 5.00 am.   Some bark had been placed on board near the boiler the previous evening in order to light the fire in the morning and the vessel burst into flames at 2.00 a.m.  Although the steamer was damaged, all the property on board was saved. The whole of the property on board has been saved. [PPP 23/12/41]

A grisly find

In the first week of December, the Port Phillip Gazette reported:

“MYSTERIOUS- On Thursday last, in consequence of the burial ground being found disturbed in one or two places, it was examined by the sexton who found the bodies of three infants.  They were surgically examined, but nothing found in the appearance of the bodies led to the supposition that anything unfair had caused death. They were again consigned to the earth. There is no doubt that the bodies were those of the children of poor people who could not pay for a more regular interment. This course is however fraught with danger, and might bring parties, although innocent, into serious difficulties.” [PPG 8/12/41]

The Port Phillip Patriot reported the discovery of another infant’s body the next day, making a total of seven children buried clandestinely during the previous two years.

…decency revolted at the bodies of infants being placed only a few inches below the surface, without any coffin, liable to be torn up by dogs and to become offensive and obnoxious in the burial ground. [PPG9/12/41]

Was it infanticide?  Or poverty?

The plea of poverty, if such a plea were offered, is no excuse for conduct so very reprehensible, and so open to suspicion of guilt, for there is no such poverty existing in Melbourne, and even if it did exist, there would be no necessity for resorting to an expedient so revolting. [PPP 9/12/41]

On 23 December the Patriot reported on an inquest held on 21 December at the Crown Hotel in Lonsdale street on the body of yet another baby found that morning (bringing the total to eight, perhaps?) The newly born male child had been deposited in a box and laid in a newly dug grave in the Episcopalean burial ground.  The child was three or four days old and a medical examination found a large quantity of water on the brain.  The verdict was

died by the visitation of God, to wit, of congenital hydrocephalus and not by any violent means whatsoever to the knowledge of the said jurors.

These jurors, too, criticized the way that the baby’s body had been interred. Still, at a time when there was no compulsory registration of births and deaths (which didn’t occur until 1853- there’s a fascinating podcast by Madonna Grehan about the implemention of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1853 here) , and with no lying-in hospitals (or any hospitals for that matter at this stage, except for one for convicts) then it would be very possible for children to be born and die without a documentary trace.

Arrival of immigrant ships

The economy was becoming wobbly and after a much-publicized labour shortage for farm and domestic workers during 1840 and the first part of 1841, now wages were dropping and unemployment was rising.  And still the immigrant ships kept arriving, full of immigrants gathered either through privately-sponsored bounty schemes (which acted as a handy little earner for the immigration agent) or through government schemes.  Arrangements were made and departures had occurred months ago, at a time of economic optimism that was now rapidly fading.  I wouldn’t vouch for the accuracy of my transcription of these figures as the font on the newspaper is very fuzzy, but the almost simultaneous arrival of so many ships with so many immigrants must have been daunting:

Nov 4                    Diamond                             from Cork            336 imms

Nov 27                  Alan Kerr                             Greenoch            250

Nov 27                  Wallace                                Liverpool             320

Nov 29                  Francis                                  Liverpool             194

Nov 30                  Marquis of Bute                  Greenoch            234

Nov 30                  Mary Nixon                          Cork                       134

Dec 4                     Brackenmoor                        Cork                       136

Dec 16                   Ward Chipman                  Bristol                   370

Dec 16                   William Mitchell                Leith                      23

Dec 17                   Agostina                              Cork                       195

[PPG 22/12/41]

The Port Phillip Herald of  17/12/41 noted that the Ward Chipman had recorded 21 deaths, 19 of them children from dysentery brought on by the change of diet and want of nourishment  consequent on the long detention of the immigrants in Bristol.  I can only imagine the recrimination and sorrow among the families on that ship.

Picnic Time

On Tuesday 21st December Captain Cole held a picnic at Brighton. Obviously the ladies and gentlemen of Port Phillip were already in holiday mode on a Tuesday.

A splendid fete champetre was given on Tuesday last by Captain Cole of Melbourne, to nearly one hundred and fifty ladies and gentlemen.  Nothing could exceed the style in which it was got up; it is the first of a series of fetes to be given during the present season the fashionables of Melbourne.

Georgiana McCrae, whose sister-in-law Thomas Anne had become engaged to Capt George Ward Cole on the 11th, wrote about the picnic:

 Dr and Mrs Myer arrived in their carriage to take me to the picnic but on account of the wild-appearing sky, I elected to stay at home, and it was well I did because at three o’clock a southerly gale sprang up, which continued until five, with such a hurricane fore that the gentlemen of the party had to hold on to the tent with all their might to keep the canvas from being blown away.  Returning at dusk, there were upsets and bruises, even broken limbs…yet the Myers and our people escaped unhurt.[ Journal 21 December 1841]

Actually, it was just as well Georgiana didn’t go- a week later she gave birth to a baby girl.

How’s the weather?

The top temperature for the period was 92 degrees (33 C) but as Georgiana McCrae’s journal notes, it was pretty wild and changeable (as December can be, as we know)

Fresh and strong winds daily, variable and squally; very heavy squalls 15th and 21st, the latter accompanied by heavy rain, the weather otherwise fine. [15-21 Dec]

At a time when so many people were arriving – both immigrants and self-funded arrivals- it was no doubt fitting to give advice on how to cope with Melbourne’s weather. It’s rather amusing to see that obviously workingmen coped better with the heat, even though ladies, children and “parties who could escape from business for a couple of hours” benefited from a siesta.

THE WEATHER.  — Summer with all its sultriness is with us. The heat during several different days has been excessive; the drought, however, which usually accompanies its progress his not yet become so great, as to be a matter of Complaint. The supply of water, which for the want of a properly constructed weir  in the river to prevent the ingress of the salt tide from the bay -is commonly inferior, retains its sweetness. The sickness which was prevalent during the last season has been rarely witnessed in this; but the greatest caution should still be entertained in the matters of diet and exercise. The abundance of vegetables and fish will naturally make them common articles of consumption, but no article will be found so injurious as either of them when at all tainted or stale; and under any circumstances if eaten to excess diarrhoea will ensue. Exercise must consist of bathing, and riding or walking in  the cooler hours of morning and night ; exposure to the sun more than is necessary should be avoided, although it is certainly found that workmen may freely pursue their vocations during the greatest heat without apparent injury. Cleanliness and temperance are in such a season the greatest preservatives of health, and a residence, if it can conveniently be managed, by the sea is greatly preferable to the low heated atmosphere of the town. A siesta at midday for females,-children, and parties who can escape from business for a couple of hours, will be conducive to strength and cheerfulness. [PPG 18/12/41]

Mind you, gentlemen needed to be careful when bathing, lest they be fined up to one pound. Swimming was illegal:

within view of any public wharf, quay, bridge, street, road or other place of public resort within the limits of the town between the hours of six in the morning and eight in the evening. [PPP 20/12/41]

‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent


2016, 380 p.

Literary debuts don’t come much bigger than Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, the story of the last woman hanged in Iceland in 1829.  An international best-seller, recipient of multiple awards,  the first of a million dollar two-book contract and optioned for filming: hey, no pressure for the second book! But Hannah Kent has well and truly risen to the challenge with The Good People which I think I enjoyed even more than Burial Rites (my review here).

Although completely self-contained, the two books act as companion pieces to each other. The time frame is similar, but this book is set in rural south-west Ireland in 1825.  There might not be the rotting potatoes in the fields of books set in the Irish Famine of 1845, but the sodden, threadbare poverty that underpinned that later catastrophe permeates this book as well.  The stone cottages, smoky and candlelit, cling to the mossy sides of the valley, the families inside sharing their beds with kin and their shelter with their domestic animals. Women gather around the well, muttering.  The cows are not yielding milk and the butter will not churn. It’s been this way since Nóra Leahy took over the care of her four-year-old grandson Micheál after her own daughter died. Micheál, to our 21st century eyes clearly has a developmental delay that is worsening over time, but for these deeply suspicious villagers, he is ‘fairy’.  The real Micheál has been taken, his grandmother believes, with a changeling left in his place.  When Nóra’s husband suddenly dies, the burden of caring for this screaming, drooling, limp child becomes too much and so she engages fourteen-year-old Mary from a neighbouring fair.  Mary, who takes on the burden of the vomit, piss and saliva, comes to love the child as his widowed and grieving grandmother’s heart hardens against him as she becomes increasing convinced that ‘it’ is not her Micheál but instead, a fairy changeling.  Nóra enlists the assistance of Nance, the old, marginalized woman on the edge of the village who, as well as having the knowledge of  herbs, charms and cures, also knows The Good People- a euphemism for the fairies.These fairies are not Disney’s Tinkerbell. They are a continual parallel presence, congregating in secret places, fighting, dancing, with a power of their own.

Within three pages, this book had me hooked.  The tone is formal and slightly archaic, with the dialogue unusual enough to reinforce that we are in a different world, but without lapsing into caricature. It is clearly deeply researched and, as a result, Kent has built up a self-contained folk world, where there is no division between the supernatural and the natural. It rings absolutely true.  As a historian, this is historical fiction at its best: authentic to the mindset of the time, with no 21st century sensibility clumping in with heavy boots to make judgments about right and wrong.  Certainly, like Burial Rites, the book reflects the intersection of gender and class in shaping (and mis-shaping) women’s lives, but this is an analytic frame outside the story.  The history that underpins the book is true to its own internal logic.

I have one quibble only.  In the court scene, one of the accused was cross-examined in the witness box: under British law at the time, the accused could make a statement but generally did not do so. The accused was not expected to condemn him/herself- instead, the court needed to be convinced of ‘character’ rather than a chain of events.  Reading Kent’s own explanation for how she came across the story and her use of the scant primary sources about it, I wonder if perhaps the original newspaper reports were ambiguous.

I very much enjoyed this book, the tension of the scenario and the richness of the folk-world that she establishes so securely.  Excellent.

Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library (and I must take it back right now for the 95 other people who are on the waiting list!)

My rating: A solid 10/10.


I have added this review to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 page.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 8-14 December

A night at the Debating Society

The December meeting of the Debating Society turned its attention to the rivetting question “Whether the conduct of Elizabeth was justifiable towards Mary Queen of Scots”( which strikes me as a particularly irrelevant question to be asking on a meeting at the Scots Church schoolhouse on a summer’s evening on the other side of the world some 254 years after the event.) Nonetheless, a large audience was in attendance.  I’ve already written about the Debating Society here and here.  According to the long Port Phillip Gazette report of this meeting, the opening speaker read his delivery “in preference to committing so important a task to the support of his unassisted memory and impromptu talent.” His speech was “fairly written” and delivered with considerable spirit but  “the speaker, however, had to struggle with the disadvantage of reading under a bad light and without any convenient rest for his papers.”

Then -shock!- one of the speakers uttered the word “bigamy” in describing the crimes of the Queen of Scots

and although it could only be objected to on account of its want of refinement where a choice of terms existed, yet it appeared to be received by a certain set, who showed even less taste than the speaker, with a titter of mysterious amusement; the interruption occasioned might, however, have shortly subsided, had it not been rendered worse by the request of the chairman that the learned gentleman would be guarded in his language in the presence of females.  The women, poor dear souls, for the first time made aware of any impropriety having been committed, got fidgety and restless, and finally took their flight under the guardianship of a gentleman, who brought matters to a climax by abruptly observing that he was satisfied the attendance of the ladies must be a clog on the proceedings.[PPG 11/12/41 p. 3]

The Port Phillip Patriot in its much briefer report didn’t think much of this appeal to hilarity:

We cannot forebear alluding to the ridiculous personalities resorted by to [sic] sundry of the speakers; we would beg to remind such that, however much satirical allusions, utterly irrelevant to the discussion, may excite the laughter of the inconsiderate, they cannot but be unpalatable to every person anxious to witness so laudable an institute prosper, and that while such conduct may provoke the mirth of the passing hour its permanent effect will be to inflict a vital stab at the well being of the society. [PPP 13/12/41 p.2]

Meanwhile, in criticizing the facilities of the school house for use as a debating chamber, the Port Phillip Gazette gives us a glimpse into the way the meeting was run:

At present a small table is placed at the upper end of the room, where the chairman occupies a seat, flanked by the secretary and a visitor, each in a chair- benches are then placed so as to form an oblong before the table, where the spectators take their seats as they can obtain them, and upon these benches the ladies are allowed to scramble for their positions. [PPG 11/12/41]

The report writer recommended that there should be at least a dozen chairs surrounding the table for the convenience of female visitors, and the benches should be placed to afford a larger space.  He suggested that the table should be big enough for the speaker while he is standing beside the chairman, to face the audience and rest his papers and books.

The Brighton Estate

During December advertisements appeared in the newspapers for suburban property in Henry Dendy’s Brighton Estate.  As I mentioned back in February, Henry Dendy was one of a handful of land speculators who were able to take advantage of the short-lived Special Survey scheme to snaffle land close to Melbourne for suburban subdivision.  These landowners purchased the right to select and subdivide land  for a set price while they were still in England. The land probably wasn’t as close to Melbourne as they would have liked, as the regulations were changed to prevent any Special Surveys within five miles of central Melbourne – hence, the Special Surveys that did proceed were Dendy’s survey at Brighton, Unwin’s survey at Templestowe and Bulleen and Elgar’s at Box Hill and Balwyn. Incidentally, all these suburbs are now leafy and well-to-do, although Box Hill has been blighted with high-rise buildings.

The proprietors of the Brighton Estate having placed that property under the care of the undersigned for sale, parties desirous of enjoying the fine sea breeze and a beautiful summer’s residence, five miles from Melbourne, on the shores of our beautiful bay, have [?can?] know all particulars of sale, and see a plan of this already fashionably-esteemed watering place, by applying to Henry B Foot, Surveyor; Merriang Cottage, Bright or at Mr Ker’s Jun. Collins-Street. [PPG 11/12/41]


George Alexander Gilbert ‘View of Hobson’s Bay looking North from Brighton’ c. 1847. State Library of Victoria

When Henry Dendy was claimed by the 1843 depression (the first clouds of which were by now lowering on the horizon), his business partner J. B. Were took over. But even at this early stage, Were was very much involved in selling the land.

Brighton Estate- The special survey of H. Dendy Esq.  The above property is five miles from Melbourne, in a most healthy situation, being on the margin of Hobson’s Bay, possessing a fine soil, with a great variety of pleasing scenery.  This Estate having been surveyed and Subdivided into Country Sections, Town Allotments, and Suburban Portions for Marine Villa Residences, is now open for Sale by private Contract, at the counting-house of the undersigned, where a plan of the property can be seen. WERE BROTHERS & CO. [PPG 11/12/41]

Squabbling doctors

The first medical board was established in Port Phillip in 1844, but the medical profession had acted as a self-managed supervisory and appeal body before that date.  The doctors had approached Governor Gipps with a petition to form a medical board during his visit in October 1841, and now in December 1841 a professional dispute was played out through the newspaper columns of the Melbourne and Geelong newspapers.

In November, Mr John Highett of Geelong, brother of Mr William Highett the Melbourne banker,injured his back when falling on a stone from his horse. The injury was not serious enough to stop him riding and he treated himself,  using some simple lineaments and ointments. He ran out, and so went to Dr Clarke in Corio who examined his back and found a “flesh tumour with an inflamed base” which led him to believe it was an abscess. Dr Clarke lanced it with two or three incisions and added a blister on the diseased part. Mr Highett rode home but “so violently, however, did the pain increase” that on return to Geelong he called on Dr Shaw who gave his opinion that it was a “bloody tumour, and not an abscess” and so he altered the treatment. The patient learned that some difference existed between the doctors and so he called for a third opinion.  Both Drs Shaw and Clarke agreed that Dr O’Mullane from Melbourne should be sent for. He decided in favour of Dr Shaw.  Mr Highett “continuing a great sufferer…and probably in a moment of irritability” declared that he would bring an action against Dr Clarke. On hearing this, Dr Clarke called a board of professional members residing in Melbourne to investigate the case.  Mr McCrae sat as President, alongside Drs Clutterbuck, Wilmot, Cussen, Thomas, Sanford and Wilkie.  They decided on relieving Dr Clarke from the charge of unprofessional conduct.

Then followed a succession of letters in the Geelong Advertiser and the Port Phillip papers, with each man huffily defending his professional and gentlemanly reputation.  I’m not really sure how this played out, but I’m sure that the newspaper editors were happy to fan the flames to keep those column inches coming.

A suicide

There was no such thing as ‘trigger warnings’ in the 1840s newspapers and suicide was frequently reported.  [I live in a different time- and so, the article below concerns a suicide] I’ve noticed several suicides mentioned in the press, but haven’t been keeping a tally.  They were often attributed to madness, and alcohol seemed to be involved in many of the suicides involving men. However, in early December one particular suicide attracted attention, probably because of the age and social standing of the young man involved.

On the 13 December the Port Phillip Patriot reported a “Melancholy Suicide” when on Friday morning Mr G. W. A. Gordon, who had  been residing at the Caledonian Hotel, cut his throat from ear to ear. According to the report, he was believed to have been a native of Edinburgh and was at one time in the service of the East India Company.

He had arrived by the Catherine Jamieson on 22nd October and after staying at Seymours Hotel in Lonsdale-street, had shifted three weeks earlier to the Caledonia Hotel. He represented himself as being merely here on his way to India whence he intended to return overland to Britain, but was delayed in Melbourne because of the non-arrival of the William Mitchell by which he expected his servant and his luggage.

Since his arrival he had been drinking excessively and  suffering from pecuniary distress.  He seemed to be in possession of usual health and spirits up to Wednesday, although a few days ago he asked a fellow lodger when preparing to shave whether he ever felt an inclination to cut his throat.  He stayed in his room on Thursday, taking only a slice of toast and a glass of milk in the evening.  Early on Friday morning some of his fellow lodgers knocked on the door and asked if he wanted anything but were answered in the negative. Because he didn’t make his appearance at the breakfast table, the waiter checked his room but found the door locked and no answer.  The landlord burst open the door and found him on the floor.  Found a letter addressed to a fellow passenger from Leith “My Dear Freer- You will be astonished but ‘tis true that I am mad- yes have been mad… I am becoming more mad every moment.” The letter left instructions to Freer to write to Arthur Forbes of Edinburgh.

Inquiry found that he travelled under a false name and had debts in England and Scotland. At Bahia where the vessel put in, he led a rather wild life and must have squandered whatever money he had. Mr Gordon was about twenty five years of age, of pleasing manners and appearance.  The jury (yes, there was a jury) in the coroner’s inquest found that he died through ‘temporary insanity’. (PPH 17/12/41)  His  remains were interred in the Presbyterian burying ground on Saturday, presumably allowable on consecrated ground after the passing of the Burial of Suicide Act of 1823 in Britain.  On 16 December the Port Phillip Patriot reported that

Since the publication of our last number we have ascertained that Mr Gordon, whose melancholy fate was then recorded, was the son of John Gordon, Esq of Cairnbuly, Aberdeenshire, a natural son of the late Earl of Aboyne [PPP 16/12/41]

Georgiana McCrae who also had a Gordon family connection that is too complex for me to untangle (Brenda Niall does it beautifully in Georgiana) obviously knew Mr Gordon and felt regretful that things had turned out as they had:

Heard of the death of a son of Gordon of Cairnbuly. Had I known the poor fellow came from Sydney among utter strangers his father’s son should have had proper attention. [Georgiana McCrae Journal 11 December 1841]

The flagstaff and signal station

The signal station was positioned on top of Flagstaff Hill in what is now the Flagstaff Gardens. I knew that a system of flags indicated when ships moored or departed Hobsons Bay, which is visible from Flagstaff Hill but I must confess that I wasn’t sure how it worked.


Henry Gilbert Jones ‘Signal Station’ c 1841-45. Source: State Library of Victoria

Fortunately, the Port Phillip Patriot of 9 December explained the system of flags and pennants when the new Town Code of Signals was received.

CODE OF SIGNALS.  Mr Harvey, the Government Meteorologist has kindly obliged us with the following descriptive account of the new Town Code of Signals, which, we are happy to learn, will be speedily adopted. The system strikes us as being exceedingly compendious, far more so than anything of the kind which has ever come under our observation  [PPP 9 December 1841]

Red England
Red over white (horizontal) London
White over red (horizontal) Liverpool
Red over blue (horizontal) Scotland, east coast
Blue over read (horizontal) Scotland, west coast
Blue Ireland
White Continent of Europe
White over blue North America
Blue over white South American
Blue and white (vertical) Africa
Red and white (vertical Asia
Red and yellow Sydney
White and yellow Hobart Town
White red and yellow Launceston
Yellow blue and white South Australia
Blue yellow and red New Zealand
Blue, Yellow ball Swan River, King George’s Sound or Port in Australia not named
Blue and yellow Port Phillip District, east of Melbourne
Blue yellow and blue Whaling or South Sea Islands.

Note: Vessels from long voyages are indicated by flags; from short voyages by pendants.

A vessel in sight is indicated by a chequered flag, hoisted at the mast end.  If  there is more than one vessel, a pendant is hoisted below the flag for each additional vessel.

When the class of vessel is ascertained, the flag is hauled down and a ball hoisted on the yard- for a ship or barque, on the eastern extremity; for a brig, in the middle of E yard arm; for a schooner or large sloop, in the middle of W yard arm; for a steamer at its western extremity.

When the place of departure is known, the flag or pendant indicating the same in the list is hoisted beneath the all.

If the vessel should have touched at an intermediate port, the flag or pendant of such port is hoisted below that of the original place.

When the vessel arrives during the night, or too late to be signaled in the evening, the flags are hoisted the ensuing morning as soon as the particulars are ascertained, and remain up two hours.

For a Queen’s ship, the Union Jack, was positioned below the ball over the indicating flag. An emigrant vessel, a chequered flag was displayed below the ball over the indicating flag.

When a vessel put back, a red flag was displayed on the mast till the vessel anchors. If a vessel ran aground within the port,  a red and white flag was posted on the mast.

The weather

It continued warm, with the top temperature for the month of 94 degrees (34.4) recorded on 12 December.