Monthly Archives: December 2016

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.











‘Only Daughter’ by Anna Snoekstra


2016, 250 p

The hugely successful Gone Girl with its taut and if somewhat implausible double narrative has spawned quite a few imitators, and this is one of them.  In 2003 Rebecca Winter disappeared, prompting a huge but ultimately fruitless police investigation. Eleven years later, a young woman on the verge of being arrested, blurts out that she is the missing Bec. We (and she)  know that she is not.  Her family and friends welcome her back, but she is soon uneasy about them as she pieces together what might have happened to the real Rebecca Winter.

The book is ostensibly set in Canberra, with reference to Canberra landmarks, but is peppered with Americanisms, most particularly ‘Mom’ which jarred every time, and a house that sounds far more like a double-storey American weatherboard house than a Canberra one.   Beyond the double narrative, there’s a back-story to the Bec-imposter as well, which is probably one storyline too many.  The book has a rather adolescent voice, using alternating past and present tense and third and first person in the two time periods, and relies heavily on dialogue. It tended to get rather flabby in the middle, and I was finding the banality of description and dialogue rather wearing.  However, the ending came as a surprise, not only in the ‘whodunnitness’ but also in the rapid change of pace in the last twenty pages or so. It doesn’t surprise me at all that it has been optioned by American producers for a film release.

The book was published by Harlequin, not one of my usual publishers. The book itself finished 3/4 of the way through with the remainder of the pages is made up of teasers from some of their other publications. It felt a bit like commercial television and did a disservice to Only Daughter by firmly reinforcing its place within the romantic/ domestic thriller genre.


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


This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 1-7 December 1841

The Indigenous Question blows up

[Warning:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this posting contains the names of deceased persons.]

I hadn’t realized until looking through the papers for this week that there were two court trials involving indigenous people running concurrently in Port Phillip during these first weeks of December.  They were very different trials.  The first, involved the ‘VDL Blacks’ or ‘The Tasmanians’, the group of Tasmanian aborigines that George Augustus Robinson had brought over with him when he took up the role of Chief Protector of Aborigines for the district of Port Phillip. I’ve written about Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener on several occasions previously (see here, here, here and here ) They were accused of ‘outrages’ and murder, and had finally been captured and brought to Melbourne.  During this first week, initial hearings were held in the Police Court before a bench of magistrates.

The second trial involved a settler, Sanford George Bolden, who was indicted for shooting with intent to murder an aboriginal native called Tatkier on his squatting run near Layton, down near Portland.

So, we have two trials: one of a group of  indigenous people for murdering a settler, and the other of a settler for intending to murder an indigenous man.  Add to this press outrage, an equivocal government response, the fanning of controversy by a missionary- and the authorities had a problem on their hands.

The ‘Tasmanians’

On Wednesday 1 December the Port Phillip Gazette reported that large benches of magistrates had sat in the Police Court since the preceding Friday to hear evidence on the case.  They sat on Friday, continued on Saturday, resumed on Monday and proceeded on Tuesday, before a large audience.  The Port Phillip Gazette had pretty much made up its mind:

The crimes alleged against them have been too clearly made out to leave any chance of acquittal, and their employment under Mr Robinson for such a number of years, precludes any hope of mercy on the plea of ignorance.  The case, therefore, is one of peculiar and distressing interest: and the only door of escape, or alleviation of guilt, rests in the fact of their having been deprived of their liberty, and enslaved under British authority.

Their conclusion was:

First, the prisoners are civil subjects of the Crown, by the most indubitable proofs of international law; they belonged to a people who were conquered by arms, and who subsequently yielded their independent rights by treaty to the Government of the country.  Secondly, they have a knowledge of British jurisprudence, are acquainted with the moral as well as civil law of the country, and can neither plead ignorance nor self-defence; they are, in fact, condemned under that very exposition of the law which the Resident Judge (from humane motives, but on mistaken principles) laid down in the case of Bon Jon.

So what did the Port Phillip Gazette think should be done? Their prescription was that they should

consider…them as they are- the wildest children of nature, without laws, religion, or obligation- and by taking them under our protection, with a view at once to curb their evil propensities, and instill into their minds the rudiments of our social order; in one word, by introducing a separate system of legislation for the Aborigines

The editor’s reasons for this stance, however, were steeped in the language and philosophy of the 1840s (however unacceptable it might be to us today):

We do not wish it to be understood, however, that these prisoners are, in consequence of such an issue, to be discharged; their conduct is far too dangerous to authorize so rash a proceeding; they must be placed under restraint; they must no more be considered free or irresponsible agents; civilization, it is proved, has no effect on their savage spirit of destruction. Like the tameless hyena, they are irreformable; they must be placed beyond the means at once of mischief and of want. A similar course should be pursued with all adults: and it is upon the sucking infant only that any complete system of education should be commenced, and progressively practiced. It is in their case only that success can be looked for; and while the present generation remains, specific treatment, distinct legislation, should be enforced  [PPG 1/12/41]

The evidence given over these days to the Police Court  was reported in full in the newspaper.

At the same time the Gazette ran a two-part series giving the history of aboriginal-settler relations in Van Diemens Land, describing the Black War and Robinson’s ‘friendly mission’. The article criticized Protector Robinson in particular on the grounds that once the Blacks had surrendered themselves to him, they never attempted to leave him and that he left them completely to their own control, seemingly taking little notice of them. [1/12/41; 4/12/41]

The trial was set for the next session of the  Supreme Court.  We’ll read more about this case later.

The Bolden case

At the very same time that the magistrates at the Police Court were committing the Van Diemens Land black to trial, the case of Sanford George Bolden was being heard before Judge Willis in the Supreme Court.  I’ve written about this case in Law & History Vol 3, which has recently been issued.  As Willis said several times during the hearing, the Boldens were neighbours of his in Heidelberg, and he was at pains to say that this had not influenced him in the slightest. (I think the Judge doth protest too much.)

Mr Sanford George Bolden was indicted for shooting at with intent to murder, an aboriginal native named Takier [Tatkier], with a pistol loaded with powder and a bullet at Layton, on 1st November. The second count charged it to have been committed with power and shot.  And the third with powder and slugs. [PPG 4/12/41]

Reading through the trial reports – and there is a very full account of the trial in the Port Phillip Patriot of 6 December (see here) – you’ll see that Judge Willis took a very active part in this case.  He usually did, but it is particularly marked in this case.  Much of the case revolved around the failure of the Assistant Protector Charles Sievwright to follow proper procedures in taking evidence. Willis certainly had cause to criticize. Sievwright indicated to Bolden that the body of Tatkier had been found, when this was not the case. Moreover, Sievwright was the object of rumour about his domestic arrangements and strongly criticized by the settlers.  Willis certainly didn’t hold back, and this criticism at a time when the Chief Protector, George Augustus Robinson, was being held responsible for the Tasmanian added to a generalized attack on the Protection policy as a whole.

La Trobe was blamed by the settlers, too. In an editorial on 11 December, the Port Phillip Gazette complained that Willis said that he can act against natives for depredations on the whites but La Trobe discountenanced the practical amenability of the natives to that law. Willis said that a settler who had the privilege of a run from the Government had a right to exclude the intrusion of the natives but when settler brought complaints before La Trobe, he intimated that they must abide by the consequences of coming to a country infested with savages. [PPG 11/12/41 p.2]

Most importantly in this case, Willis clearly stated that leaseholders had the right to turn aborigines off their land.

“ I wish it to be distinctly understood from this bench, that if a party receives a licence from Government to occupy a run, and any person white or black come onto my run for the purpose of stealing my property, I have a right to drive them off by every lawful means in my power. … The blacks have no right to trespass unless there is a special clause in the licence from the government  [PPG 4/12/41]

This statement was received with alarm by both La Trobe and Gipps, who feared that this would encourage settler violence even more.  The settlers, however, warmly embraced Willis’ opinion. It took the Colonial Office until 1848 to definitively state that pastoral leases were

not intended to deprive the Natives of their former right to hunt over these Districts, or to wander over them in search of subsistence in the manner to which they have been heretofore accustomed… [Earl Grey to Fitzroy 11 February 1848]

By this time, of course, Willis was long gone from the colony and the Port Phillip frontier completely ‘pacified’.  But back in the courtroom in 1841, Willis instructed the jury that

you can find no other verdict than an acquittal of the prisoner… I tell you again and again, the prisoner must be acquitted.”  [PPG 4/12/16]

And Bolden was, too.  Although his acquittal was not without some dissension.  Edmund Finn, writing as ‘Garryowen’ felt that Willis’ charge to the jury was “so favourable to the prisoner as to amount to marked partiality”(p. 350).  One of the jurymen stood up in court to declare that Bolden left the court “without the slightest imputation on his character”, but he was contradicted by the foreman of the jury who said that that was not the unanimous opinion of the jury.

A missionary has his two-pennethworth

Just to add to the controversy, the Wesleyan missionary repeated to a Wesleyan meeting in Melbourne comments that he had previously made in Launceston where he had accused some Portland settlers of parties of going out on the Sabbath with guns, ostensibly to shoot kangaroos, but in reality to hunt and kill blacks. Because the evidence of the native was not admissible in court, he claimed,  the white murderers had escaped with impunity.  [PPP 6/12/41 p.2]  The settlers of the District published a letter in the newspapers denying his claims and stating that

the information by which you seem to have been guided is false and calumnious… we would call upon you to justify yourself for having made such statements by attempting to prove at least some of your many and heavy charges. [PPG 8/12/41]

One of the signers was Sanford George Bolden.

Wreck of the William Salthouse

During the first week in December, the Port Phillip Gazette reported the loss of the William Salthouse, the first vessel to be wrecked within the bay of Port Phillip itself. A 260 ton vessel, bound to Port Phillip from Quebec, it was laden with timber, flour saltfish, beer, cider and vinegar. It was wrecked at the Heads on the reef that runs out from Point Nepean.

This reef we may observe was never properly laid down, it is represented as terminating abruptly at the last rock which shows itself above water, whereas the dangers continue under water at various depths, to the length of a cable or about 110 fathoms. [PPG 4/12/41]

The ship was boarded by one of the pilots from Shortland’s Bluff but she was unmanageable; the pilot gave her a second anchor but it snapped and the barque ran onto the sand known as the Pope’s Eye.  The water was rising.

The captain and the sailors succeeded in saving the ship’s boats and the sails of the ship, together with the ships papers, and some portion of their own clothes, but as the vessel was rapidly settling down in the water, they were speedily compelled to abandon her and take refuge on shore until assistance came to their aid. [PPP 2/12/41]

The owner of the consignment, Mr Ashurst, sailed down to render every assistance in his power.

On reaching the wreck, it was seen that no hope remained of saving the vessel or the cargo- she had fallen off the shoal into deep water…It is expected that she will go to pieces in a short time, especially as the weather has been very rough and the window blowing hard from seaward since the hour she sank.[PPG 4/12/41]

And sure enough, within a week there was an advertisement in the papers advertising that James Cain had purchased the wreck and cargo:

The undersigned having purchased the above wreck with all her cargo, hereby cautions all persons from appropriating any portion of the same.  Any person picking up any part ashore or afloat will be paid a salvage on delivery to JAMES CAIN, Queen’s Wharf. [PPG 11/1241 p 2]

The William Salthouse is now one of Victoria’s most important shipwrecks and is on the Victorian Heritage Database.  But at the time, as the Port Phillip Patriot pointed out:

The William Salthouse was, we believe, the first vessel excepting the prison ship Buffalo with the Canadian rebels, that ever came direct from British North America to any of the Australian Colonies, the catastrophe is therefore doubly to be deplored as likely to case of damp upon an opening trade which might have proved highly advantageous to these Colonies.[PPP 2/12/41]

And how’s the weather?

Obviously it was typical early-December weather, with all the changeability we Melburnians have come to love (?!) The highest temperature for the week was recorded as 88 (31C) and the lowest 45 (7.2).  It was notable enough for the Port Phillip Gazette to devote a long paragraph to Melbourne’s Favourite Topic:

The Weather. – The variations of temperature which have marked the past week are worthy of notice — the extreme of heat during the season has probably taken place, and the most sudden alteration which we may experience has accompanied it. For several days previously, the weather showed all the indications of gloom, storm, and heat. On Saturday,fitful gusts of wind swept over the town,and caught up columns of dust and sand into the air, which were carried away in whirlwinds, that gave a miniature idea of the horrible simooms of the Eastern dessert. One of these, particularly large and well defined, was traced from the river bank across the western end of Flinders and Collins-streets, through the opening in the Church-square ; hence it took the direction of Bourke-street, and enlarging as it proceeded, shot up a column of sand, the ruddy colour of which was strongly contrasted against the blue sky and rarified atmosphere ; the gyrations of the whirlwind, accompanied by a progressive motion carried it diagonally across the Eastern end of the town down to the river bank again, where crossing, it was dispersed on the opposite bank. Sunday was remarkable for its stormy character, the sand flew in broad clouds with a piercing force, that drove the pedestrian from the street, and the squalls raged round the building occupied as the New Church, that the congregation was obliged to disperse without the performance of divine service. One or two heavy thunder showers succeeded, which falling on the shingled roof of St. James’s Church, succeeded in penetrating, those parts where the heat had made the timber covering shrink, and threw down such a shower bath upon the inmates, as compelled many to change their seats. Monday and Tuesday were both sultry and oppressive, and the heat on Wednesday had arisen to a degree that rendered It almost insupportable. Towards the evening, the bush in every direction took fire,and from the signal hill a semicircle of burning forest was visible, through the darkness of the night, for twenty miles in the direction of Geelong. While the sun remained above the horizon the air was perfectly breathless, but at dark a hot northerly wind set in, that drove the fires nearer to the site of Melbourne, and carried with it a smoke that at daylight was descried hanging like a vast pall over the town, and spreading the panic of a conflagration. During this period the thermometer stood at 75 degrees, or nearly the same average temperature as at Calcutta through the year. With the additional stimulus of the sun’s rays the column nearly reached 90, when a sudden shift of wind took place— the sea breeze came up, swept away in the “twinkling of an eye” the superincumbent smoke and brought to the gasping inhabitants the long looked for relief. The mercury shortly fell to nearly 10 degrees below its former mean range, on about 18 degrees in as many minutes. The remain der of the day (Wednesday) was clouded and threatening. On Thursday it rained heavily ; the weather has now resumed its usual tranquility. [PPG 8/12/41]

‘Living with the Locals’ by John Maynard and Victoria Haskins


2016, 223 p plus notes

Living with the Locals: Early Europeans’ Experience of Indigenous Life by John Maynard and Victoria Haskins, NLA publishing, Canberra, 2016

One of the few Australian expressions to make it into Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is the saying “You’ve got Buckley’s” -a little Australianism that I myself use quite frequently to mean “you’ve got no chance”.  Although its origin probably lies in a reference to the Buckleys and Nunn department store (“you’ve got Buckley’s chance or Nunn (non)”), for Melburnians it has another layer of meaning . William Buckley was a tall escaped convict who emerged from the bush, startling the early settlers of Melbourne, having lived with the  Wathaurong people for thirty-two years after escaping from the short-lived convict settlement at Sorrento in 1803.  He was not, however, the only white person to be accepted into an indigenous group, as John Maynard and Victoria Haskins show in this book. The information that these Europeans brought back into white society when they were ‘discovered’ or ‘saved’ can, read sensitively, provide a different perspective on pre-invasion or invasion-era indigenous life to counter the settler or missionary narratives which then (and to a large extent, now) largely framed knowledge of indigenous practices.

Our main focus and concern has been on trying to recapture what living with the locals was really like for these European individuals. The fact is that, in the main, they were treated with great kindness, compassion and care by their Indigenous hosts.  And therein lies a great tragedy of the Australian historical experience.  The wild white men and women were witness to the beauty and richness of Indigenous culture in this country that no other outsiders would ever see.  For us, these men and women are our eyes into another world on the cusp on an incredible upheaval. (p. 8)

The fold-out front cover of the book serves both as map and chapter outline as it plots the examples discussed in each chapter against the coastline of eastern Australia.  Early white settlements clung to the edge of the continent, with the sea the main source of communication and commerce.  The chapters of this book proceed chronologically, and the first two examples deal with Sydney and Melbourne.  All the other examples, however, are plotted from Brisbane northwards, where the Great Barrier Reef spelled the end of many ships and where the ‘frontier’ was shifting inexorably up the coast.

Of course, the authors could only deal with those Europeans who actually returned. Maynard and Haskins occasionally mention that the tribes were aware of other Europeans who were among them, or sometimes the escapee/survivors themselves report catching sight of them, but they do not break into the European historiography at all.  Maynard and Haskins only draw on the cases where there is sufficient  written documentation or oral testimony- flawed and incomplete though it may be- but there could be countless other similar scenarios that went unreported or even unknown. Continue reading

Exhibition: The Jesus Trolley

If you nip into Central Melbourne for some Christmas shopping, stop off at the City Gallery that nestles into a corner of the Melbourne Town Hall on Swanston Street.  ‘The Jesus Trolley’ exhibition has been on since 8 September but with my habitual tardiness, I’m only writing about it now- and it closes on 24 December, most appropriately.

I see from today’s paper there have been a number of ‘Jesus bikes’ left around Melbourne with evangelical slogans on them.


I thought instantly of the Jesus Trolley exhibition. The exhibition features Desmond Hynes who, for thirty years since 1983, pushed a decorated shopping trolley around the streets of central Melbourne and stood in his ‘Jesus is Lord’ windcheater, holding aloft a hand-painted sign proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection.  It was a full-time job for this self-appointed street evangelist, who lived with his sister in a rented property in Hotham Street Elsternwick, immediately opposite Ripponlea which, until sold and demolished, was similarly festooned with posters and exhortations (see photo here). All his preaching paraphernalia was headed for  the tip until a neighbour recognized it for the social history it is and salvaged some of it.  And here it is in the exhibition- a little cluster of shopping trolleys- and posters, photos showing the ephemeral nature of his eternity-oriented quest.


There’s also a short 4 minute documentary about Desmond Hynes called ‘Doing’Time with Desmond Hynes’ filled by Russell McGilton in 1997 as part of the Race Around the World series. It’s also available here on YouTube:

But take advantage of seeing the exhibition while it’s still on.  There’s a beaut little book that you can pick up, with an excellent essay by Chris McAuliffe about street preaching more generally in Melbourne and photos of objects from the exhibit.

On until 24 December 2016 City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall.