Another month-long summary, in a vain attempt to catch up. I think I’ve been too ambitious with weekly summaries and unless I find myself with too much spare time, I think my summaries will be monthly from here on.
The mad boy in the watchhouse
You’ll remember that at the end of February we left the young editor of the Port Phillip Gazette, George Arden, cooling his heels in the Eastern Watchhouse, situated on the south-west corner of what is now Exhibition Street and Little Collins Street. He had been sentenced to twelve months jail and a £300 fine for an article he wrote criticizing Judge Willis. Perhaps a comparable analogy might be Julian Assange cooling his heels in the Ecuadorian Embasssy in London. In both cases, the men remained highly visible, despite their incarceration, through their untrammelled access to media outlets (in Arden’s case, his own newspaper the Gazette ) and through the support of other ‘friendly’ media outlets. The Gazette made sure to publish every bit of pro-Arden and anti-Willis commentary that was written in the newspapers of adjoining colonies.
Well, Arden’s still in gaol throughout March too, but the unanimity in criticizing this trampling of the freedom of the press had broken down amongst the three newspapers in town. The Port Phillip Gazette and the Port Phillip Herald continued to publish articles supporting Arden, while the Port Phillip Patriot, owned by John Fawkner and edited by William Kerr broke away from the other two papers and turned on Arden. Now he was “the mad boy in the Eastern Hill Watch House” who “continued to belch from the distance upon all who have opposed his mad career, his semi-weekly collections of watch-house filth…” [PPP 7/3/42]
Reflecting this largely media-driven controversy, two opposing petitions were drawn up. The first, more properly called a ‘memorial’ was a statement of support addressed to Judge Willis, circulated and promoted by John Fawkner and the Port Phillip Patriot. According to them, it was launched on a Thursday night and quickly signed by
magistrates, clergymen, merchants, professional gentlemen and settlers from all parts of the country; the remainder comprises the great majority of the respectable shopkeepers and tradesmen in town (PPP 21/3/42)
It was presented by William Kerr to Judge Willis in his courthouse, and Willis most conveniently had an eloquent speech ready to give off the top of his head. I must admit that I find it hard to imagine a group of people trooping into the Supreme Court today to deliver a signed statement of support from the populace- but who knows?
Meanwhile, on the other side, there was a petition being circulated by Judge Willis’ opponents, spurred by articles in the Port Phillip Gazette and Port Phillip Herald. This petition, addressed to Her Majesty was scorned by the Patriot as being a ‘hole-and-corner’ production, and in fact it was held back for months before it actually saw the light of day.
Add to this a civil case brought by Fawkner against the publisher of the Gazette for posters designating Fawkner as being under pecuniary obligation to Judge Willis [a claim, which we will see, is not as far-fetched as it might seem]. Oh happy days!
18C in 1842?
It was in the context of George Arden’s imprisonment that the Melbourne Debating Society conducted its March debate on the question “Ought there be any restriction on the publication of opinion?”. This nineteenth-century version of our 18C debate [i.e. about ‘freedom of speech’ or, as our Attorney General put it ‘the right to be a bigot’] drew on similar arguments to the ‘debate’ to which we’ve been subjected recently [i.e. the right to free speech- although the Port Phillip arguments pertained to British rights guaranteed through the Magna Carta rather than Human Rights], and both ‘debates’ were equally rarified and self-absorbed.
Mr Smith then opened the question, referring to the benefits accompanying the investigation of public men and measures, by promulgating and analysing their probable tendency and results; he then alluded to Magna Charta [sic] in illustration of his opinions; his address insensibly fell into the unavoidable channel of the press, which he brought forward as the best and ablest corrective of public abuses (hear, hear) and deprecated the suppression of freedom of discussion and public opinion as one of the most serious invasions of constitutional right. The press contained the greatest “expression of public opinion” and to that source, therefore, would the debate insensibly tend…. The strongest argument brought forward by the speaker was that adducable from the precedent afforded by the House of Commons, where not only the public measures and conduct of the highest officers are fearlessly canvassed, but even their private character and domestic relations aspersed. Yet there the public good promoted by the guardianship of the press, which if objectionable on one point, amply compensated by its public benefits of the other. The speaker’s sentiments were well received and drew forth merited applause.
Actually, the question was a bit of a fizzer, because everyone agreed with the speaker and those speaking against the question “seemed little smitten with their side of the question”. Unlike the 18C debate, the question kept coming back to freedom of the press in a political sense:
The members, as might have been anticipated, limited themselves to the sole consideration of the freedom of political discussion – one member certainly alluded to the promulgation of religious opinions, commenting on the various dangerous creeds existing in England, but like a bent bow the argument rebounded to its former political tendency.
No surprise, then, that when “at 10.30 the Chairman put the question to the vote, it was unanimously carried in the affirmative” [PPH 15/3/42]
A Day at the Races
The Port Phillip Gazette in particular was a hunting’ and racin’ paper, and so it expended many column inches to describing the March races which extended over several days. The first day seemed to be a rather rambunctious affair, exacerbated by the hot weather which in turn deterred the ‘gentle sex’ who might have been a moderating influence (or maybe not)
The first day was unhappily most ill-suited to the occasion- a hot wind set in at an early hour, and although deprived- owing to the lateness of the season, of much of the usual fierceness of our Australian Simoons [i.e. a dust-driven wind of the deserts of Arabia and North Africa], it could not but have a sensible-effect on the violent exertions of the horses, the excited motions of the men. The heat and dust prevented the appearance of the usual number of carriages and of course of that fashionable attendance of ladies, to which we must admit the attracts of the fete owe half their grace. At the hour for starting we may guess the numbers to have been at least three thousand, the mounted portion of which shewed appointments in horses and person of a decidedly good character.
The mounted portion, yes, but there was obviously a rabble there as well. Some of the earth-tethered individuals were soon the worse for wear and on being arrested, were tethered to a log in the sun. Oliver Gourlay, riding past, expressed sympathy for the men shackled there, and ended up being arrested for his troubles. I’ve written about this in more detail previously. But I am interested in the sympathy that Port Phillip Gazette managed to muster for them, too (especially in the face of rather less sympathy extended to the indigenous prisoner Harlequin who was walked 153 miles while chained around the neck)
In the most public portion of that thronged area, a stake was driven into the ground, from which a bullock chain attached thereto by a ring was passed to a neighbouring tree; to this were dragged, as if with sacrificial terrors, the more unfortunate individuals who, earliest overcome with heat and exercise, were either drunk or noisy; handcuffed by the wrists, they were fastened on to the main chain and left to vent their ravings to the air under the rays of a sun, the heat of which on that that day attained the measure of 135 degrees! Picture to yourself, reader, a dozen human beings bound body and limb to a huge chain, their clothes rent, their faces begrimed with dirt and sweat, and streaked in many cases with the blood received in some previous fray- the beastly hiccoughs of intoxication mingled with the curses of brains maddened with drink and heat. The imagination can scarcely supply a more revolting scene. (PPG 5/3/42)
However, there were limits to the Gazette‘s sympathy and it recommended that the races be abolished completely unless they could be shifted to a location
[at] a distance, where the lower orders cannot so easily mix in their proceedings…. Race meetings should be encouraged, in order to encourage the breeding of horses, but if such scenes and such results destroy their advantages, LET THEM BE ABOLISHED.” [PPG 5/3/42]
People arriving: Sickness on the Beach at Pt Gellibrand
Even though emigrant ships were flooding into Port Phillip, there was no formal quarantine station at this stage, and there would not be until the Point Nepean Quarantine Station opened in 1852. When the Manlius arrived on 16 February, Drs Patterson and Cussen embarked to inspect the ship, as was customary, only to find that 44 passengers had already died with fever. The surviving passengers were landed at Williams Town and taken by cart to Pt Gellibrand where they were accommodated in tents for two months [ a good report, about maritime infrastructure generally can be found here]. At first it was supposed that the disease had lost its virulence, but on 2 March, the Port Phillip Gazette reported that some previously healthy passengers had been taken ill, including the surgeon of the vessel.
A woman, otherwise in good health, left the tents to get water from the sea and was found, when her absence excited alarm, in a state of convulsion lying among the rocks. (PPG 2/3/42)
A further 17 passengers died, and were buried at Williamstown cemetery.
People leaving: Goodbye Rev Orton
In March 1842 the Wesleyan Methodists of Melbourne bade farewell to the Rev Joseph Orton when he returned to England.
Rev Orton had been in Australia for eleven years, working in both New South Wales and Van Diemens Land. Previous to that, he had served in Jamaica in 1825, where he fell foul of the law “through the arbitrary acts of certain magistrates, who determined to uphold the slave interest, sacrificed every other feeling of duty to that end”. (PPG 9/3/42) Refusing to obey an instruction not to preach the gospel at night to his slave congregation, he was imprisoned. The imprisonment broke his health, necessitating a return to England in 1829. After recovering his strength and “full of zeal for his avocation”, he sailed to New South Wales, where he served for three years before his appointment to Van Diemens Land. Learning of Batman’s excursion to Port Phillip in 1835, he visited Port Phillip the following year where, aware of the numbers of indigenous people there, he applied for and received orders to select a suitable reserve for the formation of a mission station. This was at Buninyong, near Geelong. Although he became increasingly critical of the running of the mission, he was persuaded to stay in the Port Phillip District to take over ministerial duties as first resident pastor until a replacement arrived. But by March 1842, in poor health, he had received permission to return home. The Port Phillip Gazette of 2 March reported that a sit-down dinner was held at the Wesleyan Chapel in Collins Street, attended by 150 people, followed by a religious service. Rev Orton was presented with a gold watch, but because he had lost his voice, he was not able to respond to the speeches given in his honour.(PPG 2/3/42) He didn’t have long to wear it, though, because he died on the journey home. That was not the end of the Orton family connection with Australia, however, because his widow and children returned several years later. Alex Tyrrell, who wrote a biography of Rev Orton, has written an interesting article in the La Trobe Journal (available here)
Speaking of ships…
I’ve long been aware that the ships moored out in the bay, unable to negotiate the shallows of the Yarra. Passengers either travelled out to the ocean-going ships by steamer or else by lighters. I must admit that my imagination quails at the idea of unloading the cargo of ocean-going ships and their passengers onto such small craft. I was interested to see this scale of fees for transport to and from ships in the bay, Williamstown and Melbourne (PPG 9/3/42)
Suburban Melbourne begins
Modern Melbourne is characterized by its ‘urban sprawl’ spanning 9,900 km2 (3,800 sq mi), according to Wikipedia. In 1842, the spread of suburbs was greeted with pride. In March 1842 the area known as ‘New Town’ was announced as Collingwood (although parts of New Town are also in Fitzroy):
COLLINGWOOD. The suburb known as New Town, is to be, as already announced, properly laid out in the divisions of a town and streets aligned in a regular plan; opportunity has been taken of this act to give it a name, which displays on the Superintendents’ choice better taste than is usually adopted in colonial nomenclature. “Collingwood” is not only good, but singular and ejects at once the former commonplace designation. [PPG 9/3/41]
Later that month, the Gazette marvelled at the ‘villages’ surrounding central Melbourne:
VILLAGES AROUND MELBOURNE. In various directions the stranger may visit villages, which like offshoots from the town are springing up the beautiful suburbs of Melbourne. The oldest and largest of these, Collingwood, which from its proximity to Melbourne was long called New Town, will shortly be erected into a township. Continuing the course of the Yarra Yarra, in the direction that Collingwood lies, east of the town, Heidelberg presents, in its romantic name, an attraction which is enhanced by its pretty natural position, its productive qualities of soil, and its unobjectionable society. Pentridge lies to the north, on the line which is marked out for the principal road to Sydney- the small farms in the neighbourhood are numerous, and fill the fertile valley of the Merri Rivulet. To the south, on the seacoast of the harbour, Brighton has been lately founded, having been laid out on a portion of the first special survey taken in the province. For invalids requiring the benefit of sea air and bathing this spot will possess qualities superior to inland localities. [PPG 30/3/41]
My word- fancy robbing the Supreme Court itself! It appeared that more than one daring thief forced open the window of the Judge’s chamber that overlooked the court yard of the Clerk of Works’ office. They located the iron box of the Registrar, carried it through the court hose and made their exit by the folding doors in front, the key of which was inadvertently left inside. The safe was taken to Batman’s Hill and the cash taken, but not the documents. Unfortunately for Mr Pinnock the registrar, he had to make good the loss of about sixty pounds by this nefarious transaction (I wonder when it was deemed that employees no longer had to cover the cost of robberies?) It appeared that the robbers had searched the Judge’s desk too, a half burnt tallow candle having been left close to the place where the judge sits. (PPG 30/3/42)
Another robbery was perhaps less carefully thought through:
CURIOUS ROBBERY. On Monday night, between seven and eight o’clock some thieves walked into Mr D’Orme’s yard, the back of which runs upon Little Flinders-street and walked off with a tub full of dirty clothes put out there to soak before undergoing the regular process of manipulation. The fellows in their eagerness to secure the booty neglected even to run off the water, but succeeded in decamping without the smallest suspicion. This is certainly the most curious instance of covetous taste that we have yet had to notice. [PPG 30/3/42]
Bedtime reading for the littlies
The Port Phillip Gazette of 2nd March carried an advertisement for the first children’s book written in the colony.
A MOTHER’S OFFERING. A copy of a little work, the production of a lady resident in Sydney, entitled “A Mother’s Offering” and intended for the use of children, was forwarded to this office by the Seahorse. Its chief merit is that it is the first attempt to write in the colony a work for children similar to those which in England are now looked upon with so much respect, as conducive to the cause of infant education. Its contents are in the shape of dialogues, and are well and easily supported between the mother and her family of boys and girls. Some natural phenomena peculiar to the colony are explained and a lively description of several shipwrecks which have happened on the Australian coast are detailed in an interesting style.[PPG 2/3/42]
It carried an extract from the book on 12 March which you can read here. (The whole text, should you decide to read it, is here). It’s certainly a stilted way of writing for children, and the subject matter of shipwrecks and cannibalism seems a curious choice for children for whom any journey ‘home’ inevitably involved a long sea-journey. For an absolutely fascinating account of the writing and authoress of this book, read Kate Forsyth’s blog post about it (yes, the author Kate Forsyth). A great story on so many levels – probably better than the book itself, I should imagine.
And the weather?
The hottest day of the month was, as you might expect, on 1st March when the thermometer reached 90 (32.2), but it stayed warm right through March with 88 (31.1) being reached in the last week as well.
As the Port Phillip Gazette reported on 30th March:
After a long “spell” of delightful weather the falling season seems to have revived for a few days, and resumed all the heat of summer. On Friday last the atmosphere attained a degree of closeness which gradually increased through Saturday, Sunday and Monday, to a height of sultriness that was hardly exceeded in January; the north wind which blew during a great part of the time was not so intensely heated as in the earlier part of the season, but was equally oppressive. As it is now upon the verge of April, it may reasonably be calculated that we have fairly bid the Summer adieu and that the heat lately suffered is but the expiring gasp of his hot, unwelcome breath.
I for one am glad that you keep going! I followed your link to Tyrell’s paper on Rev Orton – good to be reminded that there have always been good people around. Make’s it less easy for apologists to say ‘oh that’s just the way things were.’
Another interesting month! I enjoyed this glimpse of life in the developing city. So much can be recovered – and yet you must be aware of all the unknowable gaps. Nice analogy to Assange too.