Category Archives: 1840s depression Port Phillip

This Month in Port Phillip: July 1841

Oh dear, all my good intentions of writing a weekly report have all turned to dust! I think I’ll just do a quick skate through July 1841 and then take up again in August 1841.

So what did happen in July 1841?


With our own emphasis on roads and across-land transport, we tend to overlook the steamers that plied their way across Port Phillip and Westernport Bays. In July 1841 the coal steamer Aphrasia joined three other regular steamers based in Port Phillip.

There’s a picture of the Aphrasia here.

The Aphrasia plied between Melbourne and Geelong, a 45 mile journey that took about five hours. When the service started in July 1841, it was planned to run twice a week to Geelong on Monday and Thursday mornings and return the following evening.  It was hoped that an extra service could be introduced shortly.  The Aphrasia was captained by Capt. Henry Lawler, and is commemorated in Geelong in Aphrasia Street.

Interestingly, in the last year or so, two new ferry services have commenced in Melbourne. One runs from Werribee South to Docklands, and the other which commenced last week goes from Portarlington to Docklands.


DUEL EXTRAORDINARY.  On Saturday night last, a hostile meeting took place between Mr S___ and Mr D’M_____ near the Flagstaff.  The quarrel originated after dinner, in consequence of a tumbler of whisky toddy having been thrown in the face of the latter gentleman, which not being taken in the Pickwickian scene as intended, a challenge was the immediate consequence.  Mr S. was attended by Mr B., and Mr D’M by Mr R. when by the full ‘light of the moon’ two shots each were exchanged, but happily without effect.  The parties then returned to the house where the quarrel took place, and spent the evening with much conviviality as if nothing had occurred. – It is only necessary to add, that the seconds, unknown to the principals, had adopted the necessary precuation of loading the pistols with powder only! (PPH 6 July 1841)

I assume that Mr S____ was Peter Snodgrass, who was rather fond of the odd duel here and there. Paul de Serville has D’M written as D.Mc____.


Judge Willis had only been in Melbourne since April, but already by July people were starting to grumble about him.  The barrister Edward Brewster and the Police Magistrate James Simpson both fell under his animadversion (what a splendid word!) and public opinion was very much on Simpsons’ side.  When Willis first arrived in Melbourne, there had been gossip about his ‘lack of dignity’ and ‘injudicious temper’ on the bench, but it was largely overlooked in the excitement of opening a Supreme Court in the district. But now, Willis’s “lamentable deficiency of that uniform temperament so desirable in all, but so absolutely important, and in fact indispensable in a Judge upon the Bench” came more clearly into view. (PPH 23/7/41)  The Port Phillip Herald wrote:

A very short period of the continuance of His Honor’s course will be sufficient to render it imperative upon our fellow-colonists, out of justice to themselves, to address His Excellency the Governor upon the subject, and although such petition may not have the direct effect of obtaining the removal of the judge, still the result will be indirectly the same, for it is not probable His Honor could feel comfortable in presiding in the court of a province after the public expression of the colonists’ dissatisfaction with his manner, and under these circumstances we may reasonably infer, that an immediate and voluntary resignation of his seat will be the necessary consequence. ( PPH 27/7/41)

As the good people of Melbourne were to discover, it wasn’t quite that simple….


Land was advertised on the corner of Lonsdale and King Streets. I hadn’t noticed advertisements for this part of town before.

Here’s a Google map street view of it today.

The situation of this valuable property is almost unequalled- being in the most beautiful, healthy and respectable part of the town, and within 150 yards of the telegraph, which is becoming a most FASHIONABLE PROMENADE. This part of Melbourne promises to become in a few years the most eligible part of the town, from the considerable reserves devoted to public buildings, the church, market and others; and this neighborhood has escaped being filled with a dense population, living in skillions, and congregated into rookeries, to the great detriment of public health. Gentlemen desirous of a site for a house in a respectable, quiet, airy and healthy situation are requested to attend this sale.  (PPH 6/7/41)

I don’t think that this was ever the most eligible part of town! However, I noted that ‘Anonymous’ in Graeme Davison’s article thought that the Flagstaff area should become a city square.  I’m interested that so early in Melbourne’s history – after only six years-  there is already being promulgated an almost Dickensian view of Melbourne as a crowded, unhealthy urban space.


It’s just as well that someone was still boosting the economy because prices are falling, land auctions are faltering and wages are being reduced.  And then two more ships arrived…

Medieval Moderns


National Gallery of Victoria (International), Until 12 July 2015

There’s a lovely small, free exhibition of pre-Raphaelite paintings on show at the National Gallery International until  12 July.  The exhibition exemplifies the fallacy in trying to carve off ‘Australian’ from ‘International’ art because it includes artists like Edward La Trobe Bateman (in Australia between 1852-69) and Thomas Woolner who worked in Australia in 1852-4 after arriving for the gold rush.  He, like Bateman, associated with the Howitt family who were the centre of cultural Port Phillip in a reminder to us of the transnational nature of artistic and cultural interests.  Many of these works- particularly those of William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones- were purchased as part of the Felton Bequest.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of artists in the mid -19th century who eschewed the current trends in art and the increasing industrialization of production, and consciously turned to older styles of painting and imagery – hence dubbing themselves ‘pre’ the painter Raphael (1483-1520). Many of their works, created in the last half of the 19th century harked back to a quieter medieval milieu and a mythical forested, European setting. They marked their paintings with a small PRB logo in the corner. They came to the attention of the wider public through their illustrations of Tennyson’s poetry which was itself steeped in the mythological realm. Reproductions of their works were circulated throughout the Empire, with the Maitland Mercury noting on 26 September 1885 that a reproduction of Holman Hunt’s “The Shadow of Death” on show in a shop window had formed the basis of the local vicar’s “very eloquent” sermon.

An unusual window display for Maitland - Holman Hunt's 'The Shadow of Death'. I wonder what they were advertising?

An unusual window display for Maitland – Holman Hunt’s ‘The Shadow of Death’. I wonder what they were advertising?

When we were in Birmingham we heard a lecture about Lizzie Siddal, whose long red hair and pale, thin features adorn many of these paintings, and she (and others visually similar to her) can be found in several of these paintings. As well as paintings and sketches for paintings, there are woodcuts, furniture, photographs, book bindings and wallpaper produced by the PRB, marking the extension from painting into the decorative arts and production methods, especially through William Morris’ influence with his company, Morris & Co.  Men predominate, of course, but there are photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron

We downloaded a PDF of the wall-panel labels used in the display before visiting, which I thought would be a good way of avoiding having to cluster up close to the painting, squinting at writing in the dark before moving back to view the picture. Unfortunately there seems to be no order at all to the PDF- or at least, I couldn’t detect it, and it seemed to be completely unrelated to the layout of the exhibition. A good idea poorly executed.

All-in-all, it’s a lovely little exhibition that reminds us of the riches that the Felton Bequest has brought to Victoria.

‘Replenishing the Earth’ by James Belich

Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World 1783-1939, Oxford University Press.

2009, 579 p.

Melbourne, formerly Port Phillip, is mentioned right from the opening words of this book.

Let us begin with two problems in urban history, exemplified by two pairs of cities:  Chicago and Melbourne and London and New York. (p.1)

Why did Chicago and Melbourne undergo such explosive growth, and why in 1890 were London and New York the only two mega-cities in the world?  And why are these four cities English-speaking? Given that there were other empires and cultures- the Portuguese, French, Dutch, Chinese, Russian- that could have rivalled or even exceeded the British empire, why didn’t they?

Replenishing the Earth is a big book that asks big questions and gives big answers.  Big ideas demand mental dexterity of readers, and Belich asks us to do some geographical somersaults as well.  He speaks not of  the “British Empire” as such, but of the Anglo-world, composed of two parallel, twinned structures (I wish I could show you the diagram- see Note 1 below)

To visualize this two-pair Anglo-world, imagine a malleable map like those used to illustrate pre-historical continental drift.  Place your thumbs above Florida, and your forefingers firmly in the Great Lakes.  Prise the United States apart along the line of the Appalachians, splitting it into Atlantic East, roughly the original thirteen colonies, and the vast American West.  The East, in our period, was an emigrant society as well as an immigrant society.  It was one of the world’s greatest sources of long-range migration and investment.  It was the American ‘old-land’, a metropolis equivalent to Britain.  Now gather up Australia, New Zealand, and with some hesitation, South Africa and place them in the Central Atlantic.  With Canada, the Dominions make up a water-linked ‘British West’. This West and old Britain combined to comprise ‘Greater Britain’, the white, un-coerced part of the British Empire, the British flank of the Anglo-world.  Here we have two metropolises or ‘oldlands’, the British Isles and the US East, and two Wests or constellations of ‘newlands’, land-joined in the American case and sea-joined in the British. p. 70

These two parallel ‘oldlands’  (i.e. Britain and Eastern America)  spawned what he calls a ‘settler revolution’ as people, technology and communications flooded into the ‘newlands’ (i.e what became the Dominions and Western America).  This might be thought of simply as good old-fashioned colonization but he separates out four phases that have their own rhythm:

  1. incremental colonization- the slow development of small settlements along trade routes and waterways, looking seaward with their interiors viewed as wild back-country
  2. explosive colonization.  This occurred from 1815 onwards with the mass transfer of technology, money, information, skills and people.  The settlers demanded oldland support, often on their own terms, and the whole scenario usually ended with a bang
  3. re-colonization.  Once things went pear-shaped, settlers cast about for an export that fed into oldland demand that would rescue their local economy- sheep, tallow, timber etc.  In this regard, “[t]he Anglo-world was built like a coral reef on layer after layer of fiscal corpses” (p. 206)  But this was not necessarily exploitative, but a matter of mutual dependency. By integrating themselves into the oldland economy, they saw themselves as part of ‘Greater Britain’ or ‘Greater America’, and “virtually metropolitan co-owners rather than subjects…” p. 180
  4. decolonization. This works only for the British scenario, but it marked the emergence of real as distinct from nominal Dominion independence.

His book focusses mainly on explosive colonization and re-colonization and he argues that the boom-bust waves run as an undercurrent through the histories of the newlands and their relationship with the oldlands.   He suggests that being aware of these rhythms is akin to being attuned to the seasons when describing agriculture- something that I had sensed myself in my own work with Judge Willis in Port Phillip during a time of financial bust, reflected in my several postings on this blog on the Twelve Apostles.

This book invites those who study settler pasts to add another colour to their palette. A booming settler society was very different from the same society in busts, or under re-colonization.  The mood was different, the atmosphere was different, the popular culture was different.  Social structure, crime levels, labour relationships, and gender relations in an explosive colonial society all differ significantly from those in a re-colonial one. (p. 548)

This book draws heavily on economic history: you only have to look at the secondary sources he has used to see that.   This is not the type of history with which I am particularly comfortable, but he adds to the ‘rational choice’ explanation of human economic activity another less measurable influence.   Immigrants, or their immediate forebears, had often shifted internally within Europe in preceding decades, and they were not moving as strangers into another people’s society, but were instead part of the cloning process whereby Anglophone language, institutions, credit and finance systems, plays, books, newspapers, fashions were transplanted into newland territories.  There were always the ‘boosters’ in these newland communities who spruiked the climate, the riches for the taking and the opportunities for settlers- and even the terminology that came to be used for the newcomers is important here-  but the mass transfer of people happened because of what happened in people’s heads when they weighed the possibilities of migration.  This, too, is an approach to history that I feel comfortable with.

His book focusses on the Anglo-phone world, but he makes -rather unclearly-  a distinction between Anglo-phone and Anglo-prone.  Quite apart from the linguistic punnery here, he is at pains to point out that many of the features he identifies are not exclusive to English-speaking peoples, but that they were more likely to display them than, say, French or Spanish societies. His book also encompasses Brazil, Argentina, Siberia, Algeria and Manchuria as alternative scenarios.

There are big ideas in this book, and I can’t do justice to them.  In fact, in a blogpost of this length I can’t even give Belich’s answer  to the questions he posed in his opening sentence above.  I am in awe of the breadth of reading that the author has undertaken and the sheer size of the explanation he offers.  I could not write this sort of history- I admire those who can- but I don’t know if I would necessarily want to, even if I could.  I found myself sitting up a little straighter once people and voices were brought into the spotlight, and I think that reflects my own historical leanings.


You can see the map if you go to the Googlebooks page and search for “The Two-Pair ‘Anglo-World'”. This will take you to Page 70, from which you can go back one page to p.69 where the map is shown.

Other reviews of this book:

The Independent 3 July 2009

The Times Higher Education 27 August 2009

Andrew Smith’s blog (which is where I read of the book, then made the connection with the Keynote speaker at the recent AHA conference- that’s Australian Historical Association, by the way)

Port Phillip Newspapers

This morning’s Age newspaper brought with it a supplement sponsored by Melbourne University called “Voice”.  I’m usually rather sniffy about this supplement, which feels like a long advertisement for the Melbourne Model, but I must admit that I do take a peek at it nonetheless. Interestingly enough, pages 3, 5 and 7 identify the supplement as an ‘Advertising Feature’, but this is not apparent on the first page.   This particular edition is all rather reflexive: a supplement of the newspaper devoted in this edition to predictions about the death of the newspaper;  a supplement called “Voice” that is print-based; mirrors upon mirrors upon mirrors.

I was interested by an article ‘NEWspaper Business Model’ by Joshua Gans , Professor of Management (Information Economics) at Melbourne Business School.  In an article reflecting on the business imperatives that militate against the ‘old’ newspaper business model, he notes  the inflexibility of publishing deadlines for the conventional newspaper, and the effect of loss of timeliness in an immediate, socially-connected online environment.  He makes the comment:

The conventional view about the news is that it is ‘information’ or ‘content’.  People value knowing what is going on.  But this fails to recognise that as content, the news is fairly inconsequential…Put simply, for the vast majority of news, the value comes from being able to talk about and share it (“did you hear about?”) rather than add to your pool of knowledge per se.  And this is precisely why the loss of timeliness is so critical.

Thinking about the Port Phillip newspapers, I think that this has always been the case.  Melbourne’s first newspaper, John Fawkner’s  Melbourne Advertiser was hand-written and largely filled with shipping news, cut-and-paste from Sydney papers and advertising for local businesses – especially Fawkner’s own!  (click here for images and transcripts of the first editions).  However, much as Gans suggests here, the importance of the paper lay not in the content, but the fact that people talked about it, and Fawkner initially planned to give the paper away for free. But never one to let a business opportunity pass him by, he began including the paper in the cost of a counter meal at his pub.

By the time that Judge Willis arrived in Port Phillip, there were three regular newspapers, each published twice a week: the Port Phillip Gazette, edited by the very young George Arden (in fact, it never fails to strike me how much Port Phillip was a young-man’s sort of place); the Port Phillip Herald, edited by George Cavenagh; and the later incarnation of the Melbourne Advertiser, John Fawkner’s Port Phillip Patriot.  Newspaper editors were prominent in civic affairs and they had a vested business interest in stimulating passions over local politics and events.   Their newspapers reflected the political stance and interests of their editors, and in Judge Willis’ case, the editors and their relationship with the Judge often was the news.   Each newspaper appeared on a different day, giving six-day-a-week coverage, but without directly competing with each other by appearing simultaneously.  On momentous occasions- for example, Governor Gipps’ visit, the newspapers co-operated to publish a common supplement.  Not that all was sweetness and light by any means: many column inches were devoted to slanging off at each other’s accuracy, print quality and personal qualities of their respective editors.  Underneath all this largely confected piss-and-vinegar was a fundamental political split between Arden and Cavenagh on the one hand, and Fawkner on the other.  The controversy over Judge Willis fed directly into and reflected this political factional split.

The nature of timeliness- as commented on in the Gans article-  is instructive here.  The newspapers themselves seem to have a very limited time-scape at the local level, possibly because there was a three day gap between editions of any one paper.  Events were generally advertised only about a week in advance, and reports of events after the fact tended to only look back a couple of days.   For example, meetings were advertised that would occur that day, or in the next couple of days; and court reports might extend backwards perhaps four or five days but not much further than that.

Juxtaposed against the limited time-frame of local events is the long gaps between intelligence received from other colonies and especially from overseas.  The newspapers often listed the dates of the most recent newspapers received as ships docked, and all three newspapers would comb through for news articles that would then be presented as if they had just occurred, although of course, they were some four or five months outdated.  But for the people of Port Phillip, they were literally ‘news’ as no-one else had any more recent intelligence, and very much the stuff of “Did you hear about?” conversations.

The National Library of Australia has a fantastic site for colonial newspapers, although the early newspapers of Port Phillip do not yet appear (nor do there seem to be any plans for them to do so in the next 3 years) , with only the Argus from 1846 represented- too late for Judge Willis.  However, just as the Port Phillip papers cut and pasted extracts from the newspapers of other colonies,  the action was reciprocated and extracts from the Port Phillip Gazette, Herald and Patriot often appear in other newspapers, albeit some weeks after the original publication.

If you look at other newspapers published at the time (e.g. Hobart’s Courier, Town Gazette; the Maitland Mercury; the Perth Gazette and the Sydney Gazette), you’ll notice a similarity between them in layout and structure.  For the Port Phillip Herald which, until recently was available at Paper of Record but has since been swallowed up without trace by the Google juggernaut,  it might be interesting to do a content analysis on a few 1840s editions.

Tuesday 13 July 1841 (168 years ago today)

Page 1

Page 1 consists entirely of advertisements.  The only illustration is a picture of a ship which occurs against a number of the shipping advertisements- a stock icon that is identical in each case.  There are eight advertisements for ships soon to depart (1 for London; 2 for Hobart, 1 for Port Albert (Gippsland) and Launceston; 1 for Launceston direct; 1 for Adelaide, 1 for Port Nicholson New Zealand, and one to ship goods up from Hobsons Bay).  Six advertisements refer to goods recently landed and 1 refers to a tobacco shipment.   There are 9 real estate advertisements, 1 for a demountable house and 2 for tents.   There are 13 advertisements for stock (cattle, sheep and pigs); 3 for seed crops; and 2 for horse sales.  There is an advertisement for the sale of  a carriage ; a printing press (the Herald’s very own!), surgical instruments, a piano and a billiard table.   There are retail advertisements for 2 butchers, 1 chemist, 3 grocery warehouses, 1 coachbuilder, 1 hairdresser, 2 cloth warehouses, and 1 saddler.  Four hotels advertise their services; there are 2 advertisements for accountant/attorneys and 1 for an agent.  Two banks and one insurance agency advertise; and there are three advertisements for ladies’ seminaries (but not boys’ schools). There is one advertisement for the upcoming races, and one for a subscription concert, complete with a list of the men who have already purchased their tickets.

Page 2

Page 2 and 3 generally constitute the local news- the “Did you hear about?” component of the paper.  The top of the first column is always dedicated to Shipping Intelligence, with a list of the ships due to arrive and depart.  This is followed by Commercial Intelligence, which brings market news from Hobart, the Cape of Good Hope (extracted from the South African Advertiser of May 5), and Melbourne auction sales of merchandise, property sales and sheep prices.  Then appears a Calendar, showing the moon’s age, sunrise and sunset and tide times for high water in Hobson’s Bay- reminding us of the importance of night in a colony with only very rudimentary street lighting outside public house and otherwise reliant on moonlight.  Further on this page there is a call for lamps to be hung near the ditches that run beside the main intersections.

The dates of the most recent newspapers received are then listed, and this emphasizes the variation of currency of overseas intelligence:  England 10 March; China 23 March; America 17 February; Sydney 26 June; Van Diemen’s Land 1st July; South Australia 9 June.

Then follows a bit of inter-newspaper squabbling over circulation figures- a newspaper habit that seems to persist until today with the Age and Herald Sun always BOTH managing to draw comfort from recent circulation figures in 2009.  There is another dig at the Patriot’s inaccuracy further in on this page, in relation to the War with China.

The Editorial for this issue has two topics: first, a call for Gipps to consider the figures in the Abstract of Colonial Revenue which demonstrate the wealth being siphoned off  from Port Phillip, without any reciprocal expenditure; and the need to fix the prices charged by Carters.

The Domestic Intelligence section lists the auctions scheduled for today, tomorrow and Thursday.  There is a long report of the Coal Company meeting with the resolutions listed.  There is a call for more punts,  government-funded hospital conveyance, and a complaint about rubbish and effluvia in the streets, and the failure of the church doors to properly close out the sound of the street outside.  Mr Gautrot’s benefit concert (advertised on p. 1) is publicized, and there is a cautionary tale about the drunkenness of an old army pensioner who ended up falling into the Salt Water Creek.   There is a humourous and  evocative word-picture of a steamer departing from Queen’s Wharf, and a commentary on under-age children giving the oath in the courts.   The Commissioner of Crown Lands now has a drop-box for documents,  and St John is mentioned as a candidate for the Police Magistrate position.  There is also a vacancy for Chief Constable, as well as a criticism of the behaviour of other police constables. A bag of ginger that must have dropped from a dray now rests at the police office.  The pastoral and farming nature of the colony is emphasized by an article encouraging people to feed maize to their horses, the danger of infected scabby sheep, and the habit of hiding stolen cattle in the bush then claiming the reward for their return.  There are street dangers from runaway horses, four cases of burglary, a murder on the Sydney Road, a drowning on the Goulburn River, and the death by burning of a man so intoxicated that he fell into the fire.  The construction of the new jail is progressing well; a Sabbath Observance petition is in circulation; there is talk of the purchase of a second steamer for Hobson’s Bay; there is a creditors meeting for Langhorne Brothers and fall-out from the windup of the Pastoral Society.  The military escort accompanying La Trobe and Lonsdale back from church is berated for smoking cigars in public.

Page 3

The court and police reports are often found on p.2 or 3.  This issue has notice of the upcoming criminal hearings on 15th, two reports of the coroner’s inquests (both deaths caused by excessive drinking), and a daily report of Police Intelligence.  The Police Intelligence column, which often culminates in a hearing before the magistrates or with the perpetrators cooling their heels in the lockup is written in a jovial, Pickwick Papers-esque style.  The Original Correspondence consists of two letters to the editors: one from “A Settler on the Plenty” complaining about the erection of fences across what had until recently been public thoroughfares, and a letter from “Justicia” arguing that there are no avenues for appeal against the findings of the Court of Quarter Sessions.  There is one personal classified, advising of a marriage.  The paid advertisements then continue from Page 1, with 2 shipping advertisements, five positions vacant and six positions wanted advertisement, 10 real estate to let advertisement, 3 lists of stock available in trading houses, 13 auction notices for property, stock and china sales.   The Sabbath Day Observance petition is printed, along with arrangements for signing it, and there are other small notices e.g. tenders to build the Roman Catholic Church, stolen horses; notices from the Navigation Company and the Port Phillip Bank etc.

Page 4

The top left hand column of the Port Phillip Herald is usually reserved for poetry- in this case “Oh! I remember well”- author unknown.  Then follows extracts from other newspapers: in this case, from Van Diemens Land (which includes some news from Madras); Sydney extracts, and about 3 columns of English Extracts.   For the predominantly British settlers in Port Phillip, no doubt the English Extracts held strong “Did you hear that..?” appeal.   So what sort of information was extracted?  There’s a long report of the English and Turks fighting the Bedouins in Gaza; information about settling the Danish claims; fires in Bermondsey, a robbery in Liverpool, a duel in Regents Park, the defalcation of one of the Dublin Board of Aldermen, a horse accident involving the Hon. Mr Dundas the M.P. for York, George Stephenson the engineer’s purchase of coal mines and the presentation of plate to Rev T. Dale, late Professor of English Literature and Modern History at Kings College London.

A half-column of Miscellaneous Extracts includes a piece from the United Service Gazette about Commodore Napier;  and a list of moral virtues drawn up by Dr Franklin for the regulation of his life- temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility and humility.

Then follows more paid advertising- 13 ‘to let’ advertisements, two board and lodging advertisements, a string of lost, found or strayed advertisements for stock (offering up to 20 pounds reward for a bullock) with one advertisement for the return of George Williams who had engaged as a servant but absconded (offering only 2 pounds reward).   Four creditors meetings; one legal notice, two change of trading address, 1 dissolution of partnership.  The final column is always devoted to Wholesale Prices Current for imported and local produce, then subscriber and advertiser information and the name of the editor and printer.

So two years later, did the papers look the same?  By this time, Port Phillip had been gripped by economic crises, and the Legislative Council elections and Town Council elections had been held.  Judge Willis had just returned to England, so that particular controversy should be in abeyance.  I actually started looking at March 1843 to avoid these events, but found myself wondering if seasonal events were influencing the content so have settled for a similar date, two years on.

Friday 14th July 1843

p. 1

Only one ship, bound for Sydney.  A large advertisement for the Australian Colonial and General Life Assurance Company, and small advertisements for a butcher, umbrella seller, wine and spirits.  The silk dyer and scourer has reduced his prices because of the depression; a registry office for servants has opened, and there is one position wanted advertisement.  Two houses to let, one house for sale, one farm.  One ladies seminary.  There’s quite a bit of official Government advertising- a long column authorized by Gipps proclaiming the boundaries of the Port Phillip district, deeds of (land?) grants arranged alphabetically, depasturing licences.  There’s a list of eight men who had absconded from the government stockade, along with descriptions (Thomas Taylor, age 30; native place Liverpool;  trade or calling, sailor;  when tried April 1836; sentence, life; ship, John;  year of arrival 1837;  height 5 feet 6 inches; complexion, ruddy; hair, brown; eyes, grey.  Marks, woman and flag anchor,  F. O. seven stars on right arm, and weeping willow on left arm).  Actually- they’re all quite short- the tallest is five feet 10 inches; the shortest 5 ft 3.  There’s official notification of the opening of the post office at Port Fairy.  There’s a column of stock impounded at the South Yarra Pound.  The Wholesale Price Current list has moved onto the front page in this issue.

p. 2

The shipping news remains at the top left column of Page 2.    There is an advertisement for a special opening of the theatre for a performance of ‘Frederick the Great’ , followed by singing and dancing, and the favourite melodrama ‘The Bandit Merchant or the Dumb Girl of Genoa’.

The editorial greets the arrival of Judge Willis’ replacement Justice Jeffcott.  From Sydney comes the results of the Legislative Council elections.  Four and a half columns follow with details of the Town Council proceedings from Tuesday.

The Domestic Intelligence column includes information about the anti-Willis petition (which the Herald championed); the thwarted escape of two convicts en route to Sydney; notice of scabby sheep; criticism of the Town Clerk for accompanying Judge Willis to the boat for his return home; a sentence of flogging for theft.

p. 3

As with the 1841 paper, the third page maintained its focus on court and police matters.  Of course,  the Supreme Court was in abeyance because of Judge Willis’ amoval, and half of the first column reports on the address to Judge Willis by some of his supporters.   There is then a long report about a summons issued at the Police Office over Capt S. J. Browne (the father of the writer Rolf Boldrewood) and his attempt to take property back to England on the same ship that Judge Willis was to sail on.  There is a short report on the Court of Petty Sessions,  and notice of the next sitting of the Court of Requests.  Police reports include arrests for prostitution, insolence and neglect of duty by the assistant executioner at the jail, and forgery.  A Fred Ebsworth of Pitt Street  writes to the editor in the Original Correspondence column regarding the boiling down of sheep (a process that stopped the free-fall in sheep prices in the province).   A Government proclamation issued under the auspices of Governor Gipps  marks the August meeting of the Legislative Council in Sydney.

Paid advertising follows- 2 ‘to let’ advertisements, one farming allotment sale, an offer of indenture of two respectable young men as druggists.  There are auction sales for building materials, carpet, clothing, tea, ironmongery, coffee and clothes, and four stock sales.  There is a long list of the library books being auctioned by a gentleman about to leave the province- on the Glenbervie with Judge Willis perhaps?  Willis himself- although there’s a large number of theological works in the collection.  Current events include meetings of the Port Phillip Bank and shareholders meeting for the Port Phillip Steam Navigation Company, notification of the cancellation of a lecture at the Mechanics Institute and the second anniversary of the opening of the Wesleyan Chapel.  It is striking and telling that there are four insolvents’ sales- something not seen as prominently in 1841.

p. 4

Two rather paradoxical themes take up the final page of the paper.  One is the aerial ship, and a long extract from the Sydney Morning Herald of June 28th praises the technological change experienced so far- railways, gas lighting- and heralds developments in aerial navigation, with an aerial carriage raised and driven by a 14 horsepower steam engine.  Other extracts from the Sydney Morning Herald include a list of new insolvents, and a report of the 28th Regiment in India.

The aerial ship is taken up in the English Extracts.  The carriage is to be constructed of thin copper sheaths, with a boiler and two high pressure engines, and wings.  A similar report is taken from the Calcutta Englishman.

Rather more prosaically, there is a continuation from Chambers Information for the People No 79 titled ‘Sheep: Choice of Breeds’ that takes up nearly three columns and is to be continued.  The identifying information at the bottom of the paper lists the printer and publisher of the Port Phillip Herald as Charles Fyshe.

So, where am I going with this? I don’t know!  The local papers provide probably a higher proportion of international news than our newspapers today would, and much of this content is conversation-provoking gossip from home, or technology-based ‘next new thing’ ideas.  There’s not a large ‘What’s On’ emphasis, especially in 1843.  By 1843 there is much more emphasis on formal political structures like the Town Council and Legislative Council in Sydney.  The small business ethos of traders and entrepreneurs seems to have dropped away by 1843, and the shadow of insolvency falls over the paper.

But in terms of “Did you hear about…?” the Port Phillip papers operate just as well as papers today do.  A winning formula, you might say.

The boys go to Port Phillip

As part of examining Judge Willis’ interaction with Port Phillip society, I’ve read folder after folder of official correspondence, column after column of newspapers, memoirs  and several diaries.  But one thing that I have barely dipped into is personal correspondence.  So it was armed with a few names that I headed into the State Library yesterday- off to read the correspondence of the Burchett brothers who arrived from 1839 onwards to their family ‘back home’, and a thesis based on the correspondence of  Alexander F. Mollison who visited Melbourne in its earliest days, then settled in the Port Phillip district from about 1837.

The survival of any cache of correspondence is  a mixture of luck, diligence, intent and circumstance.  There are those rare individuals who keep copies of all correspondence both sent and received, but it’s more likely that an archive of correspondence is likely to be largely one-sided, usually consisting of  letters received, with the letters sent reflected only obliquely.  The preservation of letters within a family depends largely on the importance placed on them by the recipient, and the custodians to whom they pass when the recipient dies.  Then there is another  step between private ownership and their availability to a wider public through a museum (where they can linger undiscovered and uncatalogued for years) or publication.

Moreover, the practice of mail correspondence between New South Wales and the metropole,  particularly during the 1840s, reflected the realities of a 4-6 month time lag with a swag of letters arriving in one dispatch, or likewise, no mail appearing at all.  No doubt the receipt of letters would trigger off a frenzy of response, with the minutae of day-to-day life telescoped into a potted narrative that would reassure loved ones who were totally unfamiliar with the sights, smells and local personalities on the other side of the world.  On both sides, the pictured recipients would be kept in a mental time-warp that kept them as they were when last seen, with shared acquaintances and memories given more prominence than perhaps they merited. I tend to think of this correspondence as similar to the word-processed  Christmas updates we all started to include in our Christmas cards a few years ago,  up until they fell out of favour for being homogenized, impersonalized and too cheery and cheesy.  (Mind you, I enjoy receiving them and still do send them- cheesy and impersonalized though they may be).

So, with these constraints in mind, how likely is it that any of this correspondence would mention Judge Willis?  I guess that it depends on how personally involved the writer was with the agitation to either remove or support him, which in turn might reflect the political engagement and interests of the intended recipient of the letter.  How much of any politics would filter through, say, into the Christmas Update we might send today?  I suspect that 2001 Christmas Updates reflected the shock of September 11;  we may have written to overseas correspondents about a change in government.  But, unless personally involved, it’s not likely that day-to-day politics is likely to find its way into correspondence intended for an overseas readership, even in our connected, globalized world, and probably even less so from 1843 New South Wales.

The Burchett Brothers

And so to the Burchett letters.  The copy of the letters I saw had been typewritten and photographed.  Now, there’s nothing quite like the pleasure of the looped, cursive script, the browning ink and the texture of the paper of the original.  But I’ve been there, and done that, and there’s also nothing quite like the regularity and ease of a typewritten transcript!!  They were catalogued under “Burchett family”, and the collection includes letters written by Charles Gowland Burchett (1817-1856), Henry Burchett (1820-1872), Frederick Burchett (1824-1861) and Alfred Burchett (1831-1888).   The boys arrived out here over a period of time, with the 22 year old Charles and 19 year old Henry arriving first in 1839, followed by their younger brother Frederick, aged 16, the following year.   I’m not sure when Alfred arrived.   There were obviously other children still left at home- Henry’s letters in particular are full of high-spirited and affection  in-jokes with his younger siblings.   All the same, it must have been hard to have your three eldest boys heading off across the globe at such young ages.

Charles, in particular, seems to have been of a slightly more political bent than his brothers.  In his letter to his father on 12 June 1841 he writes about a meeting to petition the Home Government for separation from New SouthWales, and mentions the Resident Judge obliquely in reference to Sydney’s neglect of Port Phillip- a comment by then obsolete given that Judge Willis had by that time arrived in Melbourne.

Even in Sydney they know little of us.  Fancy the wilful blindness of a tardy determination to allow us the services of a Supreme Judge three times in two years.

This was to be his only mention of Judge Willis.  He goes on:

The principal evidence of the moral advance of this place may be enumerated as follows- a Society lately formed on the plan of the “Highland Agricultural Society” for the promotion of Agriculture, Horticulture and Breeding, William Mackenzie Esq, the son of a Scottish Baronet is the Chairman.  Two or three hundred chapels; the church, however, on account of its ambitious pretensions, is at a standstill for want of funds, a considerable part of the edifice completed evidently exhibits the intention of the Trustees to make it a handsome structure- it is of stone.  And last, but not least, the Mechanics Institution.  Among the lectures at this last has been one “On the Influence of the Press in disseminating knowledge” by George Arden, the Editor of the Port Phillip Gazette.  This said G. A. (the Boy Editor, as he is called) I have known since my arrival here; he gave a splendid speech at the meeting.

The boys established a run called ‘The Gums’  near Mt Rouse in the Western District.  In a letter dated 1 Oct  1841,  Frederick was not pleased by the news that Charles Sievewright was to establish the Western District  Aboriginal Protectorate nearby:

There is a rumour that a Black protector is coming to take up his station at Mt Rouse, with his tail of 4 or 500 blacks, if he does we shall have to keep a sharp lookout, as the gentleman of his suits have been playing up a hurricane (colonial phrase) down below, and they are not very remarkable for their honesty

Five days later his brother Henry added:

How little do the good people at home, who are instigators of benevolent systems of civilization understand the character of these barbarous cannibals.

The financial depression of the early 1840s hit the Burchett boys badly, and Frederick returned home, followed by Charles who arrived back in England  on the Glenbervie on November 24 1843.  They obviously did not stay: Frederick returned to Van Diemens Land in March 1844 and the others must have returned at some stage too.  Charles died in 1856 at their property St Germain’s (near Echuca); Henry died in 1872 at “Albert Road, Regent Park” (not sure where); Frederick died in 1861 in Melbourne, and Alfred in 1888 at St Kilda.

Alexander Mollison

And so on to the second batch of letters from Alexander Mollison, this time as part of a thesis written by Marie Hyde who transcribed and annotated the letters as part of a Bachelor of Letters degree in 1988.  Alexander Fullerton Mollison (1805-55) has a higher profile that the Burchett brothers with a shared entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography with his brother William Thomas.

Alexander arrived in Sydney in 1834 at the older age of 29, and did not ever marry.  After an exploratory trip to Port Phillip in 1836, he overlanded down from his property at Uriani (near present day Canberra) with his flock of 5000 sheep, 634 cattle, 28 bullocks and 22 horses, to establish Colliban Station, near Malmsbury.  He was joined by his brothers Patrick, who was based in Sydney, another brother Crawford, and William aged 22, who arrived in 1838 who joined Alexander at Colliban.   A fifth brother, James, aspired to be an artist and several of Alexander’s letters warn him specifically not to come to the colonies, as there were few prospects for artists here.   Two sisters were left at home: Jane, to whom many of the letters are addressed and for whom Alexander obviously had a great affection, and Elizabeth.  Again, I find myself thinking about the parents left back in England with their daughters, with the ‘boys’ of the family so far away.

The early letters reflect Alexander’s interest in the  zoological and botanical sciences- and I assume that sister Jane shared this interest too.  Although he didn’t send her actual specimens- as Judge Willis was wont to do with patrons he wanted particularly to impress- he did write long descriptions of rainbows he noticed at sea and his first sighting of a platypus.  Zoe Laidlaw, in her book Colonial Connections 1815-45:  Patronage, the Information Revolution and Colonial Government, highlights the importance of scientific networks, and the overlap between amateur colonial naturalists and visiting scientific professionals.  It also evokes for me the burgeoning interest in science more generally reflected in another book I’m reading at the moment- Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.  It seems that Alexander was very much a man of his times.

As Hyde points out, the shipboard voyage

had positive benefits as an interlude between the old world and the new in helping to establish that network of connections with the well off and influential that would serve him well in years to come.(p. 5)

He travelled with the Rusden family, little realizing that the 12 year old son George would later become Clerk of the Executive Council and a member of the National Board of Education.   He became friends with Charles Nicholson, who was later become Sir Charles Nicholson,  statesman, landowner and businessman.

In an odd conjunction, he wrote to his father that Henry Burchett (of the letters above) had arrived at the station to learn sheep farming before striking out on his own.  The Burchett letters also resonate when the Aboriginal Protector Parker took up land on the Loddon to establish a Protectorate.  Unlike the Burchetts, Mollison willingly gave up land for the Aboriginal station, and assisted Parker in running it.

Alexander obviously spent some time in Melbourne where he mixed with the other ‘respectable’ pastoralists.  On 26 December 1839, he wrote to his sister Jane about the Melbourne Club:

I do not remember having told you about the Club House in Melbourne. The Inns were found to be so dirty and disordered that several respectable settlers and townsmen formed a club about 18 months ago.  William and I are members.  There are now eighty permanent members.  The house affords twelve bedrooms, a dining room, drawing room, library and smoking room or [?].  The bedrooms are rather small but exceedingly comfortable and well-kept.  Each member is allowed to occupy a bedroom one week and then must make way for another if required…The yearly subscription is five pounds and the charges are the same as at the inns.

His respectability gave him access to the political sphere.  Soon after La Trobe’s arrival in Melbourne,  Alexander and his brother Crawford called on him.  To his father, Alexander wrote:

Mr La Trobe arrived at Melbourne some weeks ago.  He told me that he had been introduced to you.  I called once at his offices with Crawford but came away as soon as our business was finished, as Mr La Trobe seemed to be very much occupied.  He is so far in public favor here and seems to be candid, sincere and unostentatious.

He also met with Governor Gipps when he visited Melbourne, and was one of the five men deputized to make a welcoming address to him.  In October 1841 Alexander wrote to his father:

We have had great doings this past week in honour of Governor Sir George Gipps’ first visit to this district, but I have not time to relate them.  I may however say that I was one of a deputation to draw up and present an address and also the president of a public dinner of one hundred and fifty people.  Sir George is frank, clever, and a ready and pleasing speaker.  I was introduced to him during my late short visit to Sydney.

When his friend Charles Nicholson put himself up for election as the Port Phillip member for the first District Council, Mollison seconded his nomination.   Nicholson was elected the representative for Port Phillip on the part-elected Legislative Council in 1843, served as Speaker in 1846 and twice more before the granting of responsible government.  Mollison was one of the inaugural members of the Melbourne branch of the Australian Immigration Society in 1840 (Garryowen p. 492); he addressed a meeting against the resumption of transportation (Garryowen p. 524); he presided over a Squatters Meeting in June 1844 and a committee member of the Separation Association (Garryowen p 907).  He was made a Justice of the Peace.

It’s not surprising, then, that Mollison does mention Judge Willis’ suspension, albeit briefly, with the terse comment that “he certainly deserved it”.  Mollison does not seem to have been particularly heavily involved in the movement against him, however, declining to sign the anti-Willis petitions.  Both Alexander and his brother William did , however, sign a letter in support of Lonsdale who was under attack by Judge Willis, and another letter on 14th June 1843 directly before Judge Willis’ amoval complaining about aspersions raised in the court in relation to the magistracy generally.

The sheer distance between the colonies and the family at home was reinforced for me by the report of Patrick’s illness in Sydney.  Charles Nicholson notified Alexander that Patrick was gravely ill, and within days Alexander was writing a second letter to say that he had died.  In his will, Patrick left his colonial assets to his sister Jane and Alexander, although they did not cover his debts.  Jane had obviously advanced money to Patrick, and Alexander later made an investment of Jane’s money in land on the portion bounded by Highett, Lennox and Erin Streets, Richmond.   Davidoff and Hall’s book Family Fortunes notes that the daughters of a family often made their inheritance available to their brothers for investment, in return for a roof over their head and keep.

Although he suffered financially during the Depression, he did not go under, which is a testimony to his good management and frugality.  By 1845 he was writing “I now begin to feel that my home is here.”  He did return to London in 1850, where he stayed for 8 1/2 years.  A photograph held by the State Library of Victoria taken in London during this time, describes him as

Seated, wearing three-piece suit with fringed black and white paisley patterned tie (probably a scarf). He has a full brown and gingerish beard speckled with grey, and wears a light coloured top hat with a very high crown.

He returned briefly to Victoria, then went again to England where he lived for another 13 years.  After the death of his beloved sister Jane, he and his remaining sister Elizabeth returned to Victoria in 1873.  They settled together, unmarried brother and sister, until he died after years of ill-health in 1885.


Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850

Edmund Finn (Garryowen) The Chronicles of Early Melbourne

Richard Holmes The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Marie Hyde Letters from Port Phillip:  the letters of Alexander Mollison 1833-1859 (thesis)

Zoe Laidlaw Colonial Connections 1815-1845: Patronage, the Information Revolution and Colonial Government

A. G. L. Shaw A History of the Port Phillip District

Port Phillip Apostle No 6 James Purves, landowner

[Check in the comments below for more information about James Purves. As you will see by the end of my entry, I’m quite perplexed about all these Purveses]

James Purves was born at Berwick-on-Tweed on 25 May 1813 and arrived in Van Diemens Land in 1837, moving across to Phillip in 1839.   He commenced practising as an architect and building surveyor that year with an office in Bourke Street opposite Mr Allan’s (whoever he was).  He obtained an auctioneers license in the same year- possibly that’s where he met Welsh?  A different address is given for his office- Little Collins Street, next to McLeans store; then another notice that he moved into McLeans store itself.  Either way, he is located in the commercial centre of town.  He sold the auctioneers business to H. H. Atkinson in 1841, and maintained another architect office in Collins Street from 1840.  His private residence was in Newtown (now Fitzroy) in 1840, then Richmond in 1844 and 1845.  He married Caroline, the daughter of Thomas Guillod of London in October 1842.  His son, James Liddell Purves, who was a barrister, columnist, free trade parliamentarian and member of the Australian Natives Association, was born in Swanston Street in 1843.


There’s his son.  A fine upstanding man he is too.

James Purves Snr. is listed as holding land with Chirnside at the Loddon River and Geelong in 1840, then took a license to run stock in the  Portland Bay district with Chisholm in 1842-3 (but I doubt if it is John Moffat Chisholm, who seems to have always used all three names; there are other Chisholms in Port Phillip) . He also held land in Western Port with Dixon 1842-3; and with E. W. Hobson.  He won a prize for a horse at the first show, held on 3 March 1842 at the cattlemarket on the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria streets- a “failure” of a show, according to Garryowen, where “the exhibits were a vast disappointment”.

There is no evidence of much connection with the other Twelve Apostles.  He seems to be quite active in leasing or purchasing properties in the early 1840s, especially during 1842 when the depression was kicking in, but there does not seem to be any further action after cutting his partnerships in 1843. Unlike the other Twelve Apostles, he had a profession to fall back on- perhaps this saved him from the insolvency that engulfed the others.  He joined with Fawkner and Chisholm in fighting the arrangements made to cover Rucker’s debt once it all went pear-shaped.  In September 1846 he helped fight a fire in a coach factory. By 1850 he was purchasing land again.  He had a licence at Tootgarook- or is it Toolgaroop?-  between 1850-69 where he became an importer and racehorse breeder and also at Traralgon between June 1853 and 1855.

He obviously had the money to send his son ‘home’ to England for his education, his law degree and his Grand Tour.  His son published the diary he wrote on the way home – A Young Australian’s Log. I wonder if that gives any more information?

This is all so disjointed.  There’s a Thomas and Henry Purves in Port Phillip at the time, who DO come out very strongly in Judge Willis’ favour, but I don’t know if they’re connected to James Purves at all.  There’s several mentions of Mr Purves in the newspaper, but I’m not sure which one it is.  And how and why did James Purves get involved in the Rucker scheme?  Search me.


Garryowen (again)

Billis and Kenyon Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip

Kenyon Index.

Port Phillip Apostle No. 5 John Moffat Chisholm


Ah, now THIS Port Phillip Apostle seems well connected with some of the other ones.  As you’ll remember, I’m trying to work out the connections between this group of 12 men who agreed to become liable “jointly and severally” for the debts of one of their number, W. F. A. Rucker.  I’ve been surprised so far by how most  of them had traceable connections with  only one or two of the other men, which seemed strange given that they were throwing their lot altogether.  But, unlike the others, our John Moffat Chisholm seems to have links with several of them.

He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland (no date) and arrived in Melbourne in 1838 and set up business quickly as a merchant.  He married a Miss Osbourne in 1838, and purchased ‘Maryvale’ at Moonee Ponds in 1841.

His business was located in Collins Street, but in 1839 was burnt down. Garryowen hints at ‘mysterious gossip’ over the origin of the fire.   He was well insured, and rebuilt on the same frontage.  He joined with the other drapers in February 1841 to announce their agreement to their shop-assistants’ demands to close by 8.00p.m. except on Saturday nights.  He also made an appearance as employer when he took his servant to the Police Court, presided over by the police magistrate St John, over forfeited wages, and as was common at the time he handed the proceeds over to the hospital building fund.  The Master and Servants legislation of the time, which initially was used mainly against employees when times were good, worked more to the advantage of employees once the depression started to bite.   In April 1841 he sold his business to C. Williamson, then moved his office a month later to Hind and Co.  In January 1842 he bought land at a forced sale in Bourke Street at the very cheap price of 4 guineas per foot.   He fell victim to the “swindler” Barrett   who was execrated by many for skipping off to New Zealand rather than face his creditors.

He also had a property somewhere along the Plenty River where the Plenty Valley bushrangers moved freely, terrorizing the settlers in April 1842, but the exact location has not been determined.

He attended Debating Society meetings, where he signed a letter of support for George Arden when he was facing Judge Willis over libel charges.

He posted bail for H.N. Carrington when he, too,was confined to ‘the rules’ on Willis’ orders but when he found that Carrington was intending to break bail to travel to Sydney, he and his fellow guarantor Peers surrendered their bail, no doubt anxious that they were going to have to pay the penalty.  So here’s a connection with one of the Twelve Apostles- Carrington.

He was on the Committee of Management of the Mechanics Institute, and here we see a further strand of connections with other Twelve Apostles.  William Highett, who was fundamental to Rucker’s arrangement with the bank, was the Treasurer of this organisation, and Alexander McKillop and P.W. Welsh were fellow committee men and, more significantly, fellow Twelve Apostles.

He appeared in court, along with Fawkner and Purves as part of the court cases that fell out of the arrangement with Rucker in February 1843.  The other Apostles seem to have submitted quietly to their fates.

The Kenyon Index has entries showing that there were reports in the Port Phillip Gazette of his insolvency in May 1843, November 1844 and July 1845.  I have another date of 14 March 1843 for his insolvency- so who knows.  He was no stranger to the court- he’d appeared as defendant in six cases between 1841 and 1843 (i.e. in Judge Willis’ time).  He wasn’t alone in that though- when you read through the court lists, nearly every public person appeared in court one way or another.  Quite apart from the financial turmoil of these years, there was also the aspect of the court being the protector of reputation, as Kirsten McKenzie points out:

If personal status was protected and attacked in diverse ways, the law carried the most weight as a weapon against scandal.  For those who could afford it- and were undeterred by the publicity it inevitably involved- it was the final line of defence…  Kirsten McKenzie ‘Scandal in the Colonies’ p. 70

(Actually, I find myself wondering whether EVERYBODY, even today, has a court appearance of one sort of another in their life?  I haven’t yet….  Perhaps the establishment of bureaucracies to do the tasks of fining and penalizing as mere administrative acts have reduced the need to appear in court?)

So what happened to John Moffat Chisholm for the rest of his life, I wonder?  He was obviously in Melbourne in 1872 to have his photograph taken by T. F. Chuck, and he died in Melbourne in 1874.

So, I’m really none the wiser.  He seemed to have social connections with Carrington, McKillop and Welsh.  He resisted the fallout from the Rucker arrangement, but had to declare himself insolvent in any event.  He must have recovered financially enough by 1845 to recommence business, and he breathed his last in Melbourne.


  • Kirsten McKenzie Scandal in the Colonies
  • Edmund Finn The Chronicles of Early Melbourne  1835-52:  historical, anecdotal and personal by ‘Garryowen’

Port Phillip Apostle No 3: John Pascoe Fawkner


Now what on earth is John Pascoe Fawkner doing here?  He was probably Judge Willis’ most vocal supporter and yet here he is embroiled with some of  Judge Willis’ most vocal opponents in the guise of H. N. Carrington and J. B. Were.   The most plausible explanation that I can think of is that, given his propensity to be right in the thick of all things Melbourne, he became involved because other people were.  Perhaps there’s a proprietorial  element of protecting the civic reputation of  “his” Port Phillip?  Who knows??- but then again, there are many things that puzzle me about John Pascoe Fawkner- most of all,  the nature of the connection between Judge Willis and John Pascoe Fawkner,  a man who seemed to exemplify the things that Willis most strenuously derided.

The two Johnnies- John Fawkner and John Batman have contested the title of “Founder of Melbourne” for about the past 100 years, and I notice that this year Capt Lancey nudged his way into contention as well.  Bain Attwood has written a fantastic paper describing the creation of the “founding of Melbourne” narrative that saw Batman championed as the founding father by James Bonwick, only to have this status questioned in recent years and more prominence given to Fawkner instead.  Attwood points particularly to the gradual disappearance of statues and commemorations to Batman and the increased visibility of Fawkner in the narrative, exemplified the recent creation of Enterprize Park (named for Fawkner’s ship The Enterprize)  opposite the Immigration Museum beside the river.


Fawkner fits well into Ville’s “ex-convict and emanicipist” category of entrepreneurs, with their attendant desire for legitimacy, esteem and recognition.  He was the child of a convict and along with his free mother and sister, accompanied his father when he was transported for receiving stolen goods.   They were among the group of convicts and free settlers sent with Lieutenant Collins to establish a settlement at Sorrento until the struggling community was abandoned for Hobart Town instead.   John Pascoe Fawkner had his own brush with the law in 1814 when he was sentenced to 500 lashes and three years government labour for aiding and abetting the escape of seven convicts.  He returned to Hobart in 1816 where he opened a bakery, but shifted to Launceston a few years later after further problems over selling shortweight loaves and using illegal weights.  In Launceston he began anew as a builder and sawyer, then after some problems on character grounds in gaining a licence, opened a hotel and started the Launceston Advertiser newspaper.

Hearing positive reports of the coastal areas of Port Phillip, just across Bass Strait, he engaged a boat and launched an expedition of the area.  Well, that was the intention at least.  When the captain, John Lancey learned that he had violated a restraining order imposed on him because of debt, the ship turned back and deposited John Pascoe Fawkner back onto Van Diemen’s Land territory and sailed off without him.

Fawkner finally set foot on Port Phillip some two months later in October 1835, where he established a hotel, newspaper and bookselling and stationery shop.


Patriot office and Fawkner’s hotel  in Collins Street, later leased to the Melbourne Club

At the first government land auctions he purchased 92 pounds worth of land.  At the 1839 land sale he purchased 780 acres along the Sydney Road for 1950 pounds.  Within a fortnight he advertised that the land was available for tenant farms with seed provided, or a total of 85 acres for sale at 10 pounds an acre.  He confided to the Reverend Waterfield that he had gathered 20,000 pounds in four years.  He became a squatter in 1844, taking up a licence for 12,800 acres near Mt Macedon.

He obviously wasn’t always flush with cash, because in 1841 he approached Montgomery, the Crown Solicitor,  as guarantor for a loan to assist his friends Kerr and Holmes to purchase the newspaper and stationery businesses from him.  The money made available to him came from the funds of Judge Willis himself, who had placed his money in Montgomery’s hands for investment.  While this investment was, indeed, through a third party, and although Fawkner no longer owned (but did continue to contribute to) The Port Phillip Patriot, the paper’s unfailing and strident support for Judge Willis is notable.

His financial success came undone in the financial depression of the 1840s,  largely through acting as guarantor for so many bad loans.  He was particularly damaged by his involvement in Rucker’s scheme as one of the Twelve Apostles.   He fought the action strenuously in the courts, but finally declared insolvency in March 1845 listing liabilities of 8,898 pounds and assets of 3184 pounds and claiming to have been stripped of 12,000 pounds and ten houses. He vented his hostility to Rucker and Highett the bank manager through his letters to the Port Phillip Patriot.  Mr Rucker, he wrote,

although he has placed several gentlemen in most perilous circumstances, can yet ride into town and sport his figure as of the first water…

Mr Highett, the ex-manager of the bank

had helped to melt many a piece of worthless paper under the sunny side of the bank screw, so upon a crusade he goes, and by dint of cajoling he did succeed in effecting an arrangement whereby ten or eleven persons bound themselves to pay Mr F. A. Rucker’s debts.

But John Pascoe Fawkner was not to be kept down for long.  He retained his Pascoe Vale properties through a settlement on his wife, and his interest in the Patriot was signed over to his father.  He discharged his insolvency quickly and used his wife’s property settlement as a qualification to stand for a vacancy on the Town Council in 1845, a position he had had to relinquish when declared bankrupt.  He went on to serve for many years on the Legislative Council and died “the grand old man of contemporary Victoria” in 1869.

There were many reasons why Judge Willis might despise him: the ex-convict origins of his fatherand his wife and his own crime in facilitating the escape of convicts; his “fortuitous” financial arrangements during his insolvency which exemplifed the sort of trickery Judge Willis was determined to strike down; his involvement in the hotel trade,  and the rabid nature of his rhetoric in the Patriot.  He was viewed as a radical for many of his ideas:  his plans for a Tradesman’s bank and  schemes for a co-operative land society.  But yet, even though Judge Willis would protest it vigorously,  the two men have qualities in common.  They were both ambitious men.  Willis might have applauded Fawkner’s aspirations to improve himself:

One comfort I have which the falsely proud can never achieve, viz, I have not sunk below, but on the contrary, have raised myself above the rank in which at finding myself of years of discretion I was placed in, and I glory that I have thus passed them.

Both Willis and Fawkner took pleasure in “hunting high game”.  And both Fawkner and Willis seemed to exhibit a similar hot temper and vindictiveness that, at a stretch, might explain why such an otherwise mis-matched couple of men often acted as each other’s supporter.


Bain Attwood ‘Treating the Past: narratives of possession and dispossession in a settler country’

Hugh Anderson Out of the Shadow: the Career of John Pascoe Fawkner

C.P. Billot  The Life and Times of John Pascoe Fawkner.

Simon Ville ‘Business development in colonial Australia’ Australian Economic History Review, vol 38, no 1 March 1998

Port Phillip Apostle No. 9 Abraham Abrahams

Now, here’s a  name that distinguishes itself from the other Twelve Apostles’ names by virtue of his strong Jewish associations.  Abraham Abrahams was a merchant, along with Rucker, Were and Welsh, so it is perhaps to be expected that he might have been caught up in the financial syndicate that Rucker formed to rescue himself from insolvency and disgrace.  But given that there were several Jewish merchants in Melbourne at the time (Michael Cashmore, and the Hart brothers spring to mind), it is strange that Abrahams is acting alone here.

So what do I know of Abraham Abrahams?  He was born at Sheerness, Kent in 1813. [update: maybe not- see comments below!]  He arrived in Sydney with his wife and seven children in 1839 at the age of 26 (fast work there!) and was in Melbourne by 1841.  He was described as a “merchant” of Lonsdale Street in 1841 when he donated the land for the first Jewish cemetery on what Garryowen described in 1888 as “a stony rise at the Merri Creek between the now Northcote and Merri Creek bridges”.  The land was found to be unsuitable for burial- the poor sexton dispatched to dig the first grave “found himself working on what nature designed for a quarry and made little or no progress downward” (Finn p. 695).   The grave was only half-dug when the burial party arrived to bury 19 year old Miss Davis, the young daughter of a Melbourne innkeeper, and in any event it was not her final resting place, as the body was exhumed and sent to Hobart.   Realizing that all subsequent funerals would face the same problem, the  Jewish community applied for land adjoining the general cemetery, and after a delay, their application was granted.

In September of 1841, Abraham Abrahams was admitted to the Chamber of Commerce.  Paul de Serville mentions that a “Mr Abraham” served as one of the stewards of the alternative public ball set up in opposition to the more exclusive private Turf Day ball in May 1841.  The battle of the balls exemplified the attempt of “good society” to define its boundaries by limiting attendance to the ball to those deemed suitable.   In defiance, a public ball was championed by the Gazette and Patriot newspapers who jeered the pretensions of the Turf Club stewards.  The “public” ball was held at the end of May 1841, but was apparently not a success.  The more “respectable” stewards eschewed any involvement with it, and on the night, rain kept many guests away (including perhaps those who were looking for an excuse to extricate themselves). Mr Abraham, however, remained as a steward but I am not absolutely sure that this is Abraham Abrahams.

On 7 March 1842 he was appointed Trustee to the estate of the Langhorne Bros, even though at the time his debts amounted to 3792 pounds while his assets were 3655 pounds.  By January 1843 he was listed as insolvent and shifted to Sydney.

Abraham Abrahams served on both general and special juries, alongside other Twelve Apostles. He publicly supported Judge Willis in March 1842, but did not sign the petition circulated in November 1842, and was resident in Sydney by the time that Judge Willis was dismissed in 1843.  Generally, Jewish citizens in Port Phillip publicly supported Judge Willis throughout.

So why and how did he get involved in the Twelve Apostles arrangement?  Hard to say.  As a merchant and through his involvement with the Chamber of Commerce, he would have come into contact with several of them socially.   If he was the Mr Abraham who served as a steward at the Public Ball, then this suggests some element of social visibility, and his jury duty and philanthropic gesture with the land donation indicates a level of civic involvement.  Ah, but who can tell.

Update: see the comments below

[This information below is not correct- see comments. It’s a different Abraham Abrahams!]

Anyway, all ended well. At some stage he moved to Adelaide where he founded the Executor, Trustee and Agency Co. of South Australia which he managed until 1891.  He was one of the original members of the Society of Arts in South Australia, a Governor of the Public Library, the Art Gallery and the Museum there.  He was described as “One of the most distinctive figures in Adelaide, a man most courteous in speech and courteous in manner”.


  • Paul de Serville Port Phillip Gentlemen and Good Society
  • Edmund Finn, The Chronicles of Early Melbourne 1835-51: historical, anecdotal and personal by ‘Garryowen”
  • John S. Levi  These are the Names: Jewish Lives in Australia 1788-1850

Port Phillip Apostle No. 4 Alexander McKillop

What’s Blessed Mary MacKillop doing here amongst a consideration of Port Phillip entrepreneurs of the 1840s???  I asked myself the same question when researching Alexander McKillop and finding links to Mary MacKillop.  But the Australian Dictionary of Biography helped  things come clear: she changed the spelling of her name, and ‘my’ Alexander McKillop was, in fact, her father.

All of a sudden one of the two ‘settler’ Apostles is catapaulted very much into the public eye, not in his own right, but as part of the story of his daughter, Mary MacKillop.  I found myself reading two hagiographic- in the true sense of the word- narratives of Mary’s life: In Search of Alexander MacKillop by Victor Feehan and Ann MacDonnell, and The Black Dress , a young adult fictionalized biography by Pamela Freeman.  Of course, narratives devised with a view to her beatification or eventual sainthood have their own logic and agendas.  It is to be expected that her life will be framed in terms of a struggle that she overcame, and  Alexander’s financial incompetence fits in well to that theme.  But at the same time, in terms of her own development of character, her parents’ devout Catholicism needs to seen as a facilitating rather than hindering factor, (especially in books written for Catholic teenagers and children).

Alexander McKillop had arrived alone in Sydney from Scotland as a bounty migrant in 1838 and through family contacts, obtained a position with Campbell and Sons, the Sydney merchants.  After his family joined him, he shifted to Melbourne to work in the Campbell and Sons agency in Little Collins Street.  Presumably this would have given him some experience in commercial transactions (Ville’s third category of colonial entrepreneurs included men with previous commercial experience).  He purchased a house in Brunswick Street Fitzroy for 700 pounds in 1841, and is listed by Billis and Kenyon as the owner of a property on the Merri Creek between 1840-1.  But his daughter Mary’s biographers emphasize his fecklessness.  His involvement with the Twelve Apostles imbroglio contributed directly to his insolvency in 1844, on the same day as fellow Apostle John Maude Woolley.   In May 1843 he admitted to losing more than 7000 pounds over two and a half years.  And there was a sixteen month trip alone back to Scotland in 1851 to accompany an old friend that seems curious, if not self-indulgent, requiring him to mortgage his property in Darebin Creek to his brother to raise the fare, possibly unbeknown to his wife.  When his return was delayed, his own brother foreclosed on the property, evicting his sister-in-law and young family (ah, there’s nothing like family!).  There was a string of unsuccessful jobs, futile relocations to Sydney and New Zealand and back, and a slow slide into dependence on family support from his extended family and his children’s wages.  Eventually the family splintered, with Alexander alone in Hamilton; his wife Flora running a boardinghouse in Portland, one son in New Zealand, other sons at school in South Australia and daughters in Penola (South Australia) and Coburg (Victoria).

However, the tension in creating the Mary McKillop narrative lies in balancing this financial and paternal incompetence with the strong Catholicism that Alexander shared with his family.  I’ve been too much influenced by the Scotch Presbyterian and Orange influence in Melbourne, because I initially assumed- incorrectly- by his name that he would be Presbyterian.  Instead, his family came from Lochaber in the Highlands, a region once known as ‘the cradle of the faith’ through the  ministries of  St Columba in 563AD and Coirell around 600AD, and supportive of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.  At the age of twelve Alexander McKillop left for Rome to study for the Catholic priesthood, but was sent home in 1831at the age of nineteen because of ill-health.  On his return to Scotland he studied theology at Blair’s College in Aberdeen for a year, but left without completing his course.

On his arrival at Port Phillip he became deeply involved with the nascent St Francis’ Church and its priest Fr. Geoghegan.  He was a Trustee and Treasurer of the church; Fr Geoghegan travelled to the Darebin Creek to perform Mass for the family, and all family weddings and christenings took place at St Francis’. He instructed his children and encouraged them in their religious vocations.

His strong allegiance to the Church in some way explains his political involvement in Port Phillip at the time.  When the fiery Protestant preacher and politician John Dunmore Lang came to Melbourne as part of his electoral campaign for a seat on the Legislative Council, Alexander publicly remonstrated in letters to the Press against him and his sectarian and divisive attitudes.  Alexander came out in petitions and meetings in support for Edward Curr, Lang’s Catholic opponent for the Legislative Council.  His clerical training- incomplete though it was- gave him the literary and oratorical skills to engage in defence of his Church in the political realm.

But his political and civic involvement was even wider than this.  He attended the Levee to greet Governor Gipps when he visited in 1841, attended the Melbourne Debating Club, served on the committee of the Mechanics Institute and was a member of the St Andrews Society- a fairly pricey society with a one-guinea subscription fee.  He served on juries and occasionally on Special Juries, which is interesting because to qualify as a special juror a man had to be an Esquire or a person of higher degree, a Justice of the Peace, a Merchant not keeping a general retail shop, a bank director of a member of the Sydney or Melbourne Town Council- although the reference to the Town Council suggests that this legislation must have been promulgated after 1842.   He qualified as an elector in the Legislative Council elections of 1843, and stood very unsuccessfully for election in his own right in later years.  He was involved in the major political debates of the time, signing petitions in favour of Curr, George Arden and- most importantly for me- signed several petitions against Judge Willis.

I think that this public involvement is overlooked in the Mary McKillop biographies, and it could hold the key to Alexander’s otherwise puzzling involvement as one of the Twelve Apostles.  Even if he was not in the league financially, his social interactions on juries and committees enmeshed him into the political and financial milieu of the time.  The November 1841 Port Phillip Herald carries a small paragraph about a horse-riding accident at Heidelberg where Mr Boyd, the head of the Union Bank was injured while out riding with Rev Mr Sproat (of whom I know nothing) and Mr McKillop.  It was the Union Bank that lay at the heart of the whole Rucker scenario- was this one of the connections?  There were many other opportunities for McKillop to socialize with Fellow Twelve Apostles:  Chisholm and Carrington both attended the Debating Club; he sat on juries alongside Abraham Abrahams; Power was a Catholic who must have attended St Francis’; Were, Carrington and Welsh were all involved in the push to remove Judge Willis.  This is not merely a manifestation, as depicted by the Mary McKillop biographies,  of Alexander McKillop’s hotheadedness and querulousness : in a province where political “excitement” was making both Governor Gipps and especially Superintendent La Trobe uneasy, the networking and public visibility of this political and civic interaction was an integral part of masculinity in  Port Phillip public life.

So what’s the Entrepreneurial Lesson for Alexander McKillop?  None really, except perhaps that God works in mysterious ways. The whole Alexander/Mary McKillop scenario is ripe for “What if?” history.  Would Mary have been the woman she was had her family not been plunged into penury? How did her financial history affect the way she perceived her vocation?  What if Mary McKillop had not become involved in grassroots Catholic educational provision- who else might have instead?


  • Victor Feehan and Ann MacDonell In Search of Alexander MacKillop
  • Pamela Freeman The Black Dress
  • Edmund Finn (Garryowen) Chronicles….