This Week in Port Phillip 1842: 24-31 January

Oh dear, I have fallen so behind with my weekly reviews of Melbourne 175 years ago! However, I am comforted by the knowledge that old news is old news, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s 175 years and 5 weeks instead of 175 years exactly.  Nonetheless, I’ll sit down soon and condense the whole of February 1842 into one posting, before March gets away from me.  But first, I’ll finish off January 1842, cobbled together from my incomplete jottings.


After the tumult surrounding the execution of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener during the preceding week, there were a few somewhat positive stories about Aborigines in the newspapers in the week immediately following.  This was unusual. On 25th January the Port Phillip Herald corrected the report from another of the Port Phillip newspapers that natives on Mr Bathe’s run at Westernport had fired four acres of barley.  Instead, the Herald reported, the ‘blacks’ had tried to extinguish the fire, and their ‘chief’, Gellibrand, had conducted himself in “the most praiseworthy manner”. (PPH 25/1/42)

Then, in the following issue was a report of the drowning death of an aboriginal man who, it would seem, was engaged in salvage work near the wreck of the William Salthouse, which had sunk the previous November near Point Nepean.

LOSS OF LIFE. Sunday last. Two aborigines, known as Jem and Pigeon volunteered to dive to recover a barrel of tar which had fallen overboard from the cutter Diana which was lying alongside the wreck of the William Salthouse. Jem dived several times but was unsuccessful; Pigeon followed him example but never rose to the surface. (PPH 28/1/42)

However, these glimpses of Aborigines working within the settler economy are leavened by a report about the Assistant Protector, Charles Sievwright, and his charges.

THE BLACKS AND THEIR PROTECTOR. Mr Seivwright has left the neighbourhood of Lake Killembeet, and pitched his camp on or near a splendid run belonging to Mr Cox, at Mount Rouse. We wish the settlers in that quarter joy of their new neighbour.  Before Mr Seivwright left Killembeet, the blacks under his charge paid a farewell visit to the flocks of Mr Thomson, and drove off one hundred and fifty sheep,the remains of which were found in the direction of Mr Seivwright’s.  A number of cattle, the property of Mr Ewen,in the same neighbourhood, were also speared.  The Corio, Colac and other blacks have had a regular fight with the Westward blacks; one woman got killed, the westward blacks were beaten. (PPP 27/1/42)

Draining the swamp…

The Flinders Street swamp, that is, not Washington. It wasn’t actually a swamp as such, although there were plenty of those in the immediate vicinity of Melbourne.  No, this was instead a boggy patch between the new Queens Wharf roughly at the end of King Street today and the customs house, which was on the allocated customs reserve, the site of the present day Immigration Museum (which is housed in the third Customs House built on the reserve).

 THE QUEEN’S WHARF. The wood work of the Queen’s Wharf is going rapidly forward, and if persevered in with the same spirit that has marked its progress hitherto, will be close upon completion in the course of five or six weeks from this date.  The style of workmanship, as well as the rapidity with which the work has progressed, so different from the dilly-dallying mode in which the public works of the province have heretofore been carried on, is highly creditable to Mr Beaver the contractor,  who certainly has spared no pains to turn his work out in a workman-like manner. There are no symptoms yet, however, of a commencement being made towards draining off and filling up the swamp between the wharf and the custom house, and as that is likely to prove a work of some duration, we are desirous of seeing government embark in it as early as is practicable, that the improvements on the wharf may be made available at once. (PPP 24/1/42)

The same issue of the Patriot reported a bushfire further down along the Yarra (towards the Bay), reminding us that although the grid of Melbourne and the brickfields opposite may have been denuded of trees for fuel and building, the bush wasn’t far away:

 BUSH FIRE. On Thursday last some person or persons not having the fear of Lord John Russell before their eyes, set fire to the bush on the south side of the Yarra Yarra, immediately opposite the long reach. The wind being high the flames raged furiously for some hours and would doubtless have completely extirpated the withered grass to which his lordship has taken such a fancy, together with the scraggy looking tea trees which adorn the riverbank in that particular locality, had not the rain which set in during the night put a stop to its progress. (PPP 24/1/42)

Temperance meeting

The dominance of hotels in Melbourne, the male-dominated immigrant population and the scarcity and insecurity of housing made Port Phillip a fertile field for temperance campaigners.  The Port Phillip Temperance Society, founded by Quakers James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, had been in operation since 1837.  However, the issue of whether ‘temperance’ meant ‘just a little’ or ‘total abstinence’ was a lively one, as seen in a Temperance Society meeting held in late January in the Scots School Hall and chaired by Superintendent La Trobe (thereby ensuring that it was a thoroughly respectable occasion).  The Patriot had a long report on it, no doubt reflecting the enthusiasm of the Patriot’s editor, William Kerr, who was mentioned by name for signing the pledge.  It seems that there were more speakers for temperance than abstinence- or perhaps the reporter just presented it that way:

Temperance Meeting.- A numerous and respectable meeting of the members of the Temperance Society took place in the Scots School on Tuesday evening ; His Honor C. J. La Trobe, Esq., in the chair. The business of the meeting commenced at 8 o’clock, and the Rev. W. P. Crook spoke at great length in favor of Temperance, adducing instances of families being saved by its healing influence from destruction. The Rev. gentleman also spoke of the success which had attended the Sydney Temperance Society, and stated that he was the first person who there signed the pledge, the second being Mr. Kerr of this office. A gentleman present spoke of the advantages of temperance. Mr Wade, whose speeches in behalf of total abstinence at recent temperance meetings have acquired for him the name of the Teetotal Champion, made a lengthy and able speech, in which he endeavoured to prove the superiority of the total abstinence principle to that of moderation, quoting largely from eminent writers on the subject. Mr. J. A. Smith, the next speaker, argued in behalf of temperance and against total abstinence, endeavouring to base his arguments on Holy Writ. Mr. Davies also spoke in behalf of temperance, and against total abstinence, and, to prove that the latter was injurious to the human constitution, quoted a written medical opinion purposely obtained by him from an eminent practitioner resident in Melbourne. The Hon. J. E. Murray then addressed the meeting; he congratulated the Society upon having their chief magistrate as their chairman, and also upon the support afforded by the attendance of the Rev Mr. Crook, who, he was happy to find, had lost none of that energy which distinguished him throughout his career in the South Sea Islands. Mr. Murray related a number of interesting anecdotes respecting the Irish peasantry, illustrative of the great benefit conferred upon them by the exertions of Father Mathew. The meeting was then addressed by Mr. Rogers in behalf of total abstinence. Dr. Wilmot advocated the cause of temperance, but said he was averse to teetotalism ; he also expressed his concurrence with the greater portion of the medical opinion quoted by Mr. Davies. At ten ‘o’clock, after thanks had been voted to His Honor for his presidency on the occasion, and a collection had been made, the meeting broke up, all present being highly pleased at the proceedings of the evening. [A pressure of other and more important matters precludes our giving more than the above synopsis of the proceedings of this meeting.]

How’s the weather?

A fairly typical summer pattern, with a high for the week of 95 degrees (35 C) on 24 January, then cooler. Once again, the nights were cool.  25th Jan: High 74 (23.3) Low 53 (11.7); 26 Jan High 72 (22) Low 49 (9.4C- that’s pretty cold for January); 27 January High 66 (18.9C) Low 53 (11.7); 28 January 65 (18.3C) Low 54 (12.2), 29 January High 65 (18.3C) and Low 51 (10.6).

2 responses to “This Week in Port Phillip 1842: 24-31 January

  1. I did most of my high school at Hawkesdale, south of Mt Rouse, and later at Colac and had no idea there had ever been Aboriginals in the vicinity, let alone existing communities at L Condah and Framlingham

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