This Month in Port Phillip 1842: February 1842

The year is getting away from me and I’m so behind that I’m going to write just the one entry for February.

George Arden gets into trouble again.

George Arden, the young editor of the Port Phillip Gazette had a particularly ‘troubled’ relationship with the resident Judge, John Walpole Willis. You might remember that in September 1841 Arden had been ‘bound over’ against adverse comments about the judge prompted by a letter that he published signed ‘Scrutator’. Arden was required to stump up £400 in recognizances (i.e. a type of good-behaviour bond). Then Governor Gipps arrived in town, and as bonhomie spread throughout the town, Willis released Arden from his recognizances once Arden made a public apology.

But now it all flared up again when Arden published another very critical article, prompted by Willis’ commentary from the bench in a civil case involving the editor of the Port Phillip Herald and his solicitors. I’m finding myself thinking of Trump’s attacks on the press in recent weeks, and although I wouldn’t want to push the analogy too far, there are some parallels. Here we have a powerful judicial and (although he wasn’t supposed to be) political figure, determined to get the press under control.  However, we’re also talking about a colonial town, with an absent governor, no representative political bodies, and without a tradition of satire or a strong philosophical commitment to ‘freedom of the press’.  Nonetheless, following the analogy as far as it can take it, the Port Phillip Gazette and the Port Phillip Herald generally supported each other (and perhaps gave each other more overt support than segments of the U.S. media are giving each other today), while the Port Phillip Patriot generally remained strong in its support for Willis (the FOX news of Port Phillip, so to speak). So when Willis savaged George Cavanagh the editor of the Port Phillip Herald in court, George Arden’s editorial next day described Willis as an ‘infuriate’, suggesting that he was not of ‘blameless life and irreproachable character’ and there was crime past and present:

crime in married life and in single- of crime in office and at home- of prejudice, passion and pride… of violence of language, of bitterness of expression, and of thoughtlessness of carriage (PPG 12/02/41)

Not surprisingly, Arden found himself before Judge Willis again and was sentenced to twelve months gaol, a £300 fine and imprisonment until the fine was paid.  As a 21st century tweet might say: “Bad!”

Arden was well-connected within the networks of Port Phillip public life. Not only did he have his newspaper to report on his progress in jail and agitate for him during his imprisonment, but groups like the Debating Society signed a ‘testimonial of respect’ in Arden’s favour. An announcement was made at the theatre (especially as Arden was supposed to star in an upcoming play!); people talked on the streets.  A judge sentencing an editor for a newspaper column about himself was not a good look. And this time, all three papers were united in their condemnation, and even the Port Phillip Patriot, which usually leaned towards the judge lent its support in a letter signed by ‘Junius’ (a commonly used pen-name when criticizing the judiciary- a long story) even though it took pains to state that it was only printing it “to afford the utmost facility to free discussion”. (PPP 24/2/42)

Botanical Gardens….but not as we know them

. The government authorized Mr Hoddle to mark off as a reserve about 50 acres at Batman’s Hill for botanical gardens. The area was bounded by Little Collins to the north, the Yarra to the south, the east at the fence of the premises currently used as a survey office, and the west by the abrupt declivity into the swamp. It encompassed the whole of the hill and garden recently in possession by Mr Baxter. The land was set aside, but no one appointed to lay out the gardens, and nothing much was done with the site.

Not only was there to be a botanical garden on Batman’s Hill, but there was talk that La Trobe had plans for Batman’s cottage too, which he’d taken over as his own office  shared with the sub-treasurer.  It was rumoured that he wanted to turn it into a Colonial Museum and Library. That didn’t happen either.  It could have been quite a promising spot really. Batman’s Hill was later bulldozed for the Spencer Street (Southern Cross) railyard, but when the gradient was still there, it would have overlooked the water down where Docklands is today.

Dudding the wet-nurse

I’ve been interested in looking for hints about women’s experience of childbirth and motherhood in the Port Phillip newspapers. It is no surprise that these male-dominated papers are largely silent on the matter. But here’s an exception.

Elsewhere in my blog I wrote about Mrs McDonald, who gave birth to triplets on 30 December at the Crown Hotel, having had twins 18 months earlier.  Five under 18 months!! I wondered in that posting what happened to Mr and Mrs McDonald and the five little McDonalds, and here they are on 2 February back in the news!

A Wet Nurse, — On Wednesday a most respectable female, named Quigly, brought before the Police Bench a Mr. M’Donald, whose wife, it may he remembered, brought forth three children at one birth, at the Crown Inn, Lonsdale-street, on a demand of wages due for her services in attending his lady as a wet nurse. Mrs. Quigly had been engaged, it appears, for the sum of forty guineas. On the expiration of some weeks Mrs. M’Donald thought fit to discharge her; when she applied to Mr. M’Donald for payment of her wages, he told her to ” Be off” she went accordingly and summoned Mr. M’D., whose only defence was, that he did every thing in his power to persuade Mrs. Quigly to return, whose services were still urgently wanted, but that she refused. Mrs. Quigly said that although she had only agreed to nurse one child, yet she suckled two of the little strangers, from a wish to relieve the  mother. The Bench, after expressing their astonishment at the conduct of Mr. M’D., intimated their regret that Mrs. Quigly had not sued in the Supreme Court, when assuredly she would have recovered the forty guineas, which were justly her due. Mr. M’Donald was ordered to pay the sum sued for without delay. (PPG 2/2/42)

Public works

There was a flurry of public works activity during the early months of 1842, largely as a way of mopping-up all the emigrants who continued to flow into Port Phillip.  Although the emigration scheme was supposed to be self-funding, once the tap had been turned on, it was not easy to turn it off and those ships just kept arriving. Despite government squeamishness at public works (even then being strongly into entrepreneurialism and privatization), something had to be done with these displaced, unemployed new arrivals. As a new settlement, there was plenty to be done to ensure that the water supply was protected from sea-water contamination. A decent road was needed to facilitate easy travel from the beach to the town, and they needed a better wharf to unload goods that had been transported up the Yarra.  The gaol mentioned is the first section of what is now Old Melbourne Jail; Queen’s Wharf was at the end of King Street; the breakwater was level with Market Street and separated the salt and fresh water; the road was (I assume) City Rd  crossing the river at what was to become Princes Bridge, heading towards Bay Street Brighton.

Public Works. — The commencement of the year 1842 sees several fine and useful public undertakings progressing with ordinary despatch. The New Gaol built on the hill on the northern boundary of the town, near Latrobe-street, is in the course of erection of the most durable material, and of a size and convenience that will amply meet the wants of the district. The building at present used for the purposes of a gaol will be converted into a watch-house for the Western division. There will then be the central one near the General Market, another on the Eastern-hill, and a third at the opposite extreme. New Town will, we presume, now that the act for the alignment of streets has been extended to that suburb, be provided with a constabulary establishment and lock-up. The Queen’s Wharf enclosing the north bank of the Yarra Yarra, and extending from the head of the basin to the Steam Navigation Company’s Yard, is nearly complete; it is constructed with piles driven a considerable depth under water, and faced towards the river with pine hoarding. A platform of hardwood, placed on blocks level with the heads of the piles, and covered with hard woodplanks, affords, what was long wanted, a convenience for landing and keeping dry the cargoes discharging from the river. If we understand rightly, the space of ground stretching behind the wharf will be levelled up and metalled for the traffic of drays to the foot of the Custom-House door. The pier or breakwater is another most useful work, and is designed to form a barrier between the salt tides and the fresh water in the bed of the river; it is now being carried across the stream at the head of the basin on the north bank to the ferry house on the opposite side or south bank. When finished, the sea tide will be prevented mingling with the river water above, and the element will thus be kept pure for the consumption of the town’s inhabitants. The road to the beach has been lately marked out, and large gangs of immigrant labourers are employed in its construction; it will ultimately, we believe, be made a street, as the land on each side will be sold in building lots ; it will be, when complete, a safe and easy mode of conveyance or passage from the town to the beach, and will form the best mode of communication with the shipping. It will start from the south bank at the point where the government bridge across the Yarra Yarra is to be erected, and following a straight line to the lagoon near the sea, will diverge to avoid the impediment, and come out on the hill to the east of Liardet’s Hotel, where several parties have been accustomed to make their summer residences.

Eat your veggies…

As I write this is March 2017, our own garden here in Melbourne in 2017 is yielding cherry tomatoes by the bucketload, and it has bestowed a bounty of cucumbers and peaches upon us. Of course, with cold storage we can have any fruit or vegetable we want at any time of year, depending on how much we want to pay for it.  But in 1842, what was available in the market?


The Debating Society

You’ll remember that on 2o January two indigenous prisoners, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were executed. A fortnight later the Debating Society chose a very topical theme when they debated the amenability of indigeous prisoners to British law.  I’ve copied the whole report of the debate, which was dominated by two Reverends and Mr Smith. This, of course, is a debate performance, where the speakers do not necessarily need to believe what they are arguing. Nonetheless, I think that it’s interesting that, intellectually at least, people could argue that indigenous people had been dispossessed and had justification for resistance.

Debating Society.— According to previous notification the proposition involving the propriety of holding the aboriginal inhabitants of New Holland amenable to the same laws which govern the white population, was opened by Mr. Smith in the affirmative. The British laws had been pronounced by the most able commentator upon the jurisprudence of Great Britain as the “pe fection of reason,” an assertion which their various excellencies strongly merited : applicable to all sorts and conditions of men, justice was denied by them to none ; impartial in their administration, the poor equally with the rich derived a reciprocal benefit, and whilst the innocent were protected the guilty rarely escaped from punishment. Such being the nature and benefits derived by Britons from the exercise of those salutary regulations, it was perfectly consistent with justice and polity, that Europeans should introduce their observance along with their habits and customs, and that they should apply their enforcement towards the aboriginal inhabitants of any portion of the Globe, where the British standard had been planted and possession taken in the name of the Sovereign power. Here the speaker entered into a dissertation respecting the right of nations to found colonies, and seize upon the uninhabited territory of weaker powers, justifying the exercise of such right, by reference to national laws, divine permission, and imperative necessity, and in conclusion adverted to the present condition of the aboriginal population of this Island — their savage state, ignorance and ferocity, showed the absolute necessity of restraining their passions by punishment, and that, consequently, unless the British possessors of this colony, could revert to the state of barbarism in which the natives were now placed and could adopt those laws which were in use amongst them, they must in order to prevent aggressions hold the black offenders amenable to the British laws. In reference to the case of the two blacks who lately suffered the extreme penalty of the law, the speaker maintained that they richly deserved the punishment inflicted, and that, the power of recommending mitigation of punishment being vested in the hands of the presiding Judge, had the least doubt been entertained of the propriety of the sentence, their punishment would have been commuted.

The Rev. Mr. Forbes, in reply, could not refrain from an expression of dissent from the sentiments promulgated by Mr. Smith, he could not understand the propriety or justice of holding a savage amenable to a law which he could not understand ; first make him acquainted with the law before punishing him for breaking it. The natives of this colony, (the Rev. gentleman said,) looked upon the white population as intruders — in former times every aboriginal family possessed a certain portion of land which he considered his own, and which at stated periods he visited for the purpose of hunting — this inheritance descended from father to son, and continued as an heir loom to succeeding generations. The usurpation of the white man had, however, materially affected the happiness of the native, who, driven by force from his domestic enjoyments, brooded over the injuries which be had received and upon every fitting opportunity availed himself to wreak his vengeance upon the aggressors. Thus was the aborigine justified in resorting to means whereby he satisfied his vengeance at the expense of the oppressor, and nurturing within his savage breast, a remembrance of inflicted wrongs, sought to obtain satisfaction by wreaking his passions upon every European who came within his reach.The Rev. gentleman then explained his views regarding the treatment which an enlightened policy dictated, and expressed a confident hope that the time would soon arrive when the moral condition of the black would be greatly benefitted and improved.

The Rev. T. H. Osborne followed on the same side, expressing his pleasure at finding the society taking an interest in questions, which in his opinion were of the greatest importance ; he in common with the last speaker could not agree in the inference which Mr. Smith had drawn from his arguments ; no British law had as yet been framed, but, to use a homely simile, a coach and six could be driven through it, education must precede coercion, and until the native became instructed, it must be unjust to punish him with that severity which was used to European offenders ; until, therefore, some scheme was devised in order to ameliorate the condition of the aborigine, or by a wise and prudent application of the land fund, an adequate sum was devoted to their support, he could never be brought to sanction their being held amenable to the British laws. The gentleman concluded his very able address, by declaring that, in his opinion, if laws were necessary, our present system must be greatly modified and improved ere it could be made applicable to the circumstances of the New Hollanders.

It being past ten o’clock, Mr. Smith was called upon by the president to reply. The sentiments (he said ) expressed by Mr Forbes did credit to both his head and his heart ; but unfortunately they were impracticable to carry out, Ignorance was no excuse. Let man be ever so degraded, he must know that when guilty of theft, or murder, he was committing an offence which deserved punishment. It was absurd to suppose that he (Mr. Smith) meant to hold the aborigine amenable to the moral or civil law, it was only in cases of wanton aggression that he advocated punishment; kindness and conciliation had signally failed in inducing the savage to respect the rights of the white man, forcibly illustrated by the two men lately executed, and also by the fact that firmness and severity were more efficient protection than indiscriminate indulgence. Government had done all in their power to ameliorate the condition of the native tribes, reserves had been allotted, missionaries sent amongst them, protectors appointed, food, clothing, &c. supplied; but all had been found useless in inducing them to abandon their erratic mode of living, or to prevent their committing outrages upon the British settler, consequently it was consistent with justice and policy to hold them amenable to the laws. The society then divided, when the question was decided in the negative. The question for next evening’s discussion is — Are literary and scientific pursuits suited to the female character. The honourable Mr. Murray opens and is to be responded to by the Rev T.H. Osborne — the Rev. Mr. Forbes supports the proposer, and will he answered by Mr. Smith. An animated debate is expected. A Stimulant for Eloquence. [PPP 3/2/42]

How’s the weather?

I haven’t been able to find the monthly compilation for February in the Government Gazette, which is where it was normally published some two months or so after the event. I’ve only been able to find a weather report in the Port Phillip Patriot of 21 February which recorded between 13-19 February. It was pretty mild, with a top temperature of 76 (24.4) and a low overnight of 50 (10 C).

The Port Phillip Gazette said of the weather (and this doesn’t seem to tally well with the Patriot’s temperature readings):

The Weather has latterly been subjected to those violent changes of temperature which usually mark the height of the summer. On the whole, the season has been far less oppressive than that of last year, but still sufficiently hot to convince the new comer that he is in a new country, bordering on a tropical climate. The state ‘ of the river, the reservoir, from which the inhabitants of the town are supplied with water for consumption, has, with the exception of a few days, been uninfluenced by the sea water, which usually at this time of the year is forced up the bed of the stream, and imparts an unwholesome brackish taste to the river water. So mild have the few last weeks proved that people began to reckon upon the summer having past, when the wind suddenly re-visited them from the interior, and during three days drove them into the coolest recesses of their houses, there to feed on hope and lemonade. (PPG 19/2/41)




3 responses to “This Month in Port Phillip 1842: February 1842

  1. Potatoes for a penny ha’penny per pound. I remember them at that price at the Caulfield market in the 1950s, albeit for a short time only.
    On a sad note, my great-great-grandmother passed away on 6th Feb 1842, at the age of 30, after only 10 weeks in the new colony. – cause unknown.

    • So young, and after such a long trip. It saddens me to read of people who died soon after arriving. All the plans that that the family would have had would have been thrown into turmoil. So that’s what happened in your family tree during Feb 1842.

  2. That’s it. If they had stayed home in Sheffield they would have been right in the middle of a massive financial recession, high unemployment, and failing crops. The Irish potato famine was about to hit too. Reading some newspapers of the time back in the UK, emigrants such as William and Leah almost certainly were far better off over here. William , a cutler by trade, actually did quite well in land development in the colony, a career he would never have been able to pursue in Sheffield.

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