Category Archives: Aborigines in Port Phillip


Rediscovered: the Aboriginal names for ten Melbourne suburbs — Home – The Conversation

Melbourne in 1846: a view from Collingwood. T. E. Prout. State Library of VictoriaTen previously forgotten Aboriginal names for 19th century sites and suburbs of Melbourne have been recently unearthed at the Melbourne Museum. These include the names for Fitzroy (Ngár-go), Richmond (Quo-yung), Collingwood (Yálla-birr-ang) and Brunswick (Bulleke-bek). These names were in a cache of…

via Rediscovered: the Aboriginal names for ten Melbourne suburbs — Home – The Conversation

A fascinating article about Woiwurrung names for some Melbourne suburbs and locations, as recorded by William Howitt, and the difficulties in interpreting the transcriptions of early linguists, surveyors, settlers and anthropologists.

‘The Place for a Village: how nature has shaped the city of Melbourne’ by Gary Presland


2009, 233p plus appendices

“This will be the place for a village!” John Batman wrote in his journal after he sailed up the Yarra River in June 1835 (whenever he wrote it – you never know with John Batman). But what was it that made him decided that THIS would be the place, instead of THAT? Gary Presland argues that it was the geology of Melbourne, and its effect on river courses and soil quality that led him to that decision.  In this book Presland adopts the rather old-fashioned practice of natural history, an omnibus 19th century term that encompassed geology, meteorology, botany and zoology, to recapture the lost landscapes of Melbourne.  Just as the adage goes about everything old becoming new again, natural history closely approximates environmental history, a ‘big’ history,  and one which is prominent at the moment.

By looking for a “lost landscape” Presland goes back even further than the 40,000+ years of indigenous activity in Melbourne.  As books like Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth make clear, indigenous people both responded to but also manipulated the environment so that early settlers did not see a virgin landscape, even though they may have perceived it that way at the time.  Both indigenous people and the white settlers who supplanted them have had to operate within features that were laid down millions of years ago through the geological formations that have shaped Melbourne’s topography.  But, in order to draw in other features like climate, weather, flora and fauna, he has selected 1800 as his nominal Year Zero, as he integrates  written and painted historical information and remnant vegetation data to reconstruct Melbourne’s lost landscape. By choosing a date close to European arrival (1802 for the Port Phillip bay area), he captures the conditions that both indigenous and European people had to contend with.

This book is essentially a reconstruction. The shape and nature of the original landscape of Melbourne, as well as the wide range of natural resources they contained, were a fundamental part of the Aboriginal world. They formed not only the physical context where people lived, but also supplied the very means by which Aboriginal society flourished. The arrival of Europeans placed different demands on those resources but also imposed different influences. The same nature that had sustained a rich Aboriginal society, determined the location of European settlement, even if later it needed to be massively altered to better accommodate the ongoing demands of that settlement. p.14,  15

The book is divided into two parts. Part I, which is by far the longest, reconstructs Melbourne’s natural history in five chapters: Ch 1: The Shape of Melbourne’s Landscapes, Ch,2: The nature of Melbourne’s climate; Ch. 3 Melbourne’s Streams and Wetlands; Ch.4 Pre-European vegetation of Melbourne; Ch. 5 Pre-European Animal Life of Melbourne.

Chapter One contains two geological maps of Melbourne, and I found myself turning to them often throughout the book. Presland gives a thorough, if somewhat technical, account of the geological formation of Melbourne over millions of years. He then moves across Melbourne’s landscape by geological formation, but also roughly from east to west: The Nillumbik terrain, the older volcanics, the Brighton coastal plain, the lava plain and the areas of Quaternary deposit.  You do need to know your Melbourne suburbs for this chapter to make sense.

Chapter Two looks particularly at rainfall patterns across Melbourne and the disparity between the east and west, factors which of course have implications for vegetation and fauna distributions. The chapter also contains historical information about the collection of weather data.

Chapter Three, Melbourne’s Streams and Wetlands was my favourite chapter in the book.  Again, Presland moves from east to west in his analysis, and again assumes a degree of familiarity with Melbourne, but I found it fascinating to read of streams and waterways (some even without names) that have either dried out or been subsumed completely under drains and roadways.  It was this chapter that made me feel closest to a “lost” landscape- as if it was still here, but invisible.

Chapters Four and Five that deal with vegetation and animal life I found less engaging. They tended to read like a long list. Chapter Four follows the geological features of Chapter one, while Chapter Five is divided into categories like mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes etc.

In Part Two of the book, Presland calls “The Influence of Nature on Culture”. For me, this was the hub of the book, and I was a little disappointed that it was only thirty-one pages in length. He starts this section by talking about why and how he came to undertake this book. He then moves on to consider the Aboriginal connection to the Port Phillip area, then returns to the question I asked at the start – Why THIS place for a village? He highlights the significance of the Falls, and European efforts in shaping the Yarra. He then moves to briefly consider future development.  The book closes with a methodology chapter and lists of indicative vegetation in different types of woodland, and fish in the Yarra River.

This book was based on his PhD, which comes as no surprise although he has subverted the usual PhD structure (introduction, methodology, data, analysis). I’m not sure that this reorganization is completely successful. Although it does keep the most technical information at the back of the book, away from a general reader, the narrative itself is fairly technical and abstracting, despite its adoption of “we” language.  Chapters Four and Five are too “list-y”, with little overarching argument.  I wished that Presland had stepped onto the stage himself earlier, instead of waiting until Part II and page 197 to do so.  I found myself wondering what a writer like Tom Griffiths would do with this material.

Having said that, I really enjoyed this book, most particularly Chapters One and Three. The book was published by Museum Victoria and it is replete with beautiful coloured plates right throughout the text. It’s always satisfying to read a book that shifts you in your perception somewhat, and Chapters One and Three did that for me.  The blurb on the back says that “Gary Presland will literally change your view of Melbourne”, and I think that’s true.

Sourced from: my own bookshelves


Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872

The University of Newcastle has a fantastic new site showing colonial massacres on the frontier in Eastern Australia. You can access it at

The map shows the approximate location of massacres of both indigenous people and settlers in the eastern states. As the creators explain in the introduction, their criteria for a massacre is six people.  Why six? To lose six people (or 20%) from a  ‘hearth’ group of twenty people renders that group vulnerable to further attack and diminishes their ability to hunt for food, reproduce and carry out their ceremonial obligations. The data is drawn from a range of sources including newspapers, parliamentary reports, the memoirs and correspondence of settlers, missionaries and Protectors, and oral and visual Aboriginal accounts.  The reliability of the source is rated with a star system.

The site makes quite clear that it is a work in progress, and subject to change through ongoing research.  Fascinating, and sobering.

‘Hunt Them, Hang Them’ by Kate Auty and Lynette Russell


2016, 78 p.

This slim book of  78 pages stands in its own right as the account of a historical incident – that of the execution of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener in Melbourne on 20 January 1842- but it is also (and perhaps more importantly) a contribution to the present-day debate over marking and commemorating the frontier wars in Port Phillip.

First- some background. In 2016 the City of Melbourne launched a public memorial to Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener on the corner of Franklin and Victoria Streets in Melbourne, close to where the two men were executed on 20 January 1842.  This was the culmination of a long campaign by activist Joe Toscano, who had been marking the anniversary of the execution of these two ‘freedom fighters’ over many years.  In laying the ground work for this memorial, the City of Melbourne commissioned a booklet by Claire Land available at  .


[Image attribution: By Canley (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons]

In response to this proposal for a memorial, historian Marie Fels, former Aboriginal Affairs Victoria heritage operations manager David Clark and Mornington Peninsula local historian Rene White published an article in Quadrant magazine titled ‘Mistaken Identity, Not Aboriginal Heroes’ available at   .  In speaking out against the proposal to commemorate Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener, they wrote:

Our problem with it is that it is history-lite, based mainly on secondary sources, with little primary research. It reads as an argument that Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were resistance fighters deserving of memorialisation. Our research, based only on primary sources, demonstrates conclusively that they were not resistance fighters: on their own personal testimony, they shot and killed two whalers by mistake.

I have reviewed Marie Fels’ work previously (here and here) and I have seen her described as one among a number of  ‘benignist’ historians who, while not denying settler violence and injustice towards indigenous people, also point to co-operative strategies between settlers and indigenous people in early frontier history.  The journal in which their article appears, Quadrant,  is a right-wing publication which strongly supported Keith Windschuttle when he accused historians of ‘fabricating’ aboriginal history.  An interview with Fels, Clark and White reported in a Frankston local newspaper notes that when they had difficulty in having their criticisms of the Melbourne City Council memorial publicized (most particularly in the Age)  they turned to Quadrant which, perhaps not surprisingly, took up their article with alacrity.

This, then, is the context in which Hunt Them, Hang Them has been published.  The authors, Kate Auty and Lynette Russell, note Fels’ public opposition to the City of Melbourne commemoration, on the basis that Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were convicted on the basis of ‘their own personal testimony‘.  In making their own argument they claim:

The events outlined here are just one part of an unfolding tragedy- race relations and the judicial process in Australia.  The ultimate question is whether these men received a fair trial and whether they should be memorialised.  We answer ‘no’ and ‘yes’. (p.7)

In making this argument, they delve deeply into the details of the arrest and trial of the Tasmanian prisoners. In particular, they raise questions about the manner of the arrest of ‘The Tasmanians’, an event I described in my ‘This Week in Port Phillip’ entry for 25-30 November 1841.  They ask why the Assistant Aboriginal Protector William Thomas, who was present at the arrest, was not called at the trial, and raise questions about the ‘admissions’ of guilt.  They question whether Judge Willis was biassed, most particularly  in his decision to force the trial in the absence of an important witness and against the application of the prosecutor, and they ask whether there was a conflict on interest on behalf of their legal counsel, Redmond Barry.

Their argument is framed very much within a consciousness of the intertwining of Port Phillip and Van Diemen’s Land history, an awareness strongly reinforced by Lynette Russell’s earlier work on sealers and whalers along both sides of the Bass Strait (see my review of Roving Mariners). They note that Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were part of a ‘family’ (loosely defined) of indigenous Tasmanians brought over by Aboriginal Protector George Augustus Robinson, who had made his reputation as a ‘conciliator’ in Tasmania.

The opening chapter begins with a description of the historical actors most pertinent to the trial: George Augustus Robinson, who they (along with many others) portray  as a vain social climber; the vainglorious and unpredictable Judge John Walpole Willis (a view I also share) and mineowner William Watson, the shadowy ‘charlatan and liar , the only witness called during the trial.

Chapter Two ‘Context, conflict, cases, confessions’ describes the frontier resistance with the ‘settlement’ of Port Phillip, fraudulently presented by John Batman (another Tasmanian) as a consensual, treaty-driven process.  In particular, they look to Major Lettsom’s ‘dispersal’ of  ‘Goulburn black’ men, women and children, a little over a mile from Melbourne in late 1840. This action, involving 58 armed troopers, culminated in the death of two indigenous men and the wounding of another, and the detention of 300 people in the Melbourne stockade. A dozen indigenous men were charged and nine were sentenced to ten years transportation. This occurred prior to Judge Willis’ arrival in Melbourne, and he  overturned all the verdicts on a technical miscarriage of justice. However, Willis’ findings in other cases highlight the unpredictability of Willis’ stance in indigenous cases.  The authors correctly identify Willis’ direction that his neighbour Bolden be acquitted as an important factor, occurring almost simultaneously with the Tasmanians’ trial.

Chapter Three ‘Hunting stories’ triangulates the accounts of three of the men involved in the pursuit of the Tasmanians in different capacities: the journals of  William Thomas and George Augustus Robinson as Aboriginal Protectors (albeit with professional differences in approach), and  military ensign Mayor Rawson who wrote an undated account ‘ Journal of an expedition after some Van Diemen’s Land Blacks who were committing depredations at Western Port on the Southern Coast of New Holland October and November 1841.’ As well as highlighting the bumbling farce that the pursuit became,  they remind us  that this occurred during the visit of Governor Gipps- an important event for Port Phillip pride and identity.

Chapter Four  ‘The Dispersal- a thrice-told  tale’ again takes the approach of triangulating three accounts: those of Frederick Powlett, the Commissioner of Lands and J.P. responsible for the Border Police contingent, Ensign Rawson as one of the military troops involved in the pursuit, and the Assistant Protector William Thomas.  The discrepancies between their accounts are most pertinent in the varying accounts they gave of ‘Truganini and the grave’ in Chapter Five where, along with the evidence of Corporal Johnson of the Border Police, there are different opinions over whether or not Truganini took her captors to the grave of the murdered men and ‘admitted’ the murders and the varying involvement of the indigenous men and women who were now being charged.

Chapter Six traces through the committal before a bench of magistrates, which was attended by Judge Willis, a permissable but unconventional practice that he undertook, claiming oversight of all justice in the Port Phillip District as its only resident Supreme Court Judge.  Moving on to the Supreme Court trial in Chapters Six and Seven, Auty and Silver stress the significance of the absence of three important witnesses who were present for the committal but not the Supreme Court trial.  In particular, they ask why and by whom Assistant Protector Thomas was prevented from attending – a point now revealed by the recent and very valuable (but prohibitively expensive)  publication of Thomas’ journals by Marguerite Stephens. They highlight the inappropriate interaction between George Augustus Robinson and Judge Willis, and Willis’ indulgence of sloppy testimony from Commission of Lands Powlett, (especially in the light of the lambasting he had recently given Aboriginal Protector Charles Sievewright in the Bolden case).  The authors suggest that Willis may have been smarting under the criticism of George Arden from the Port Phillip Gazette, but as I have shown through several This Week in Port Phillip postings, Willis well and truly had Arden’s measure.  I don’t dispute that Willis was very aware that this was a ‘hot-button’ case, but he didn’t need Arden to tell him that.  They finish their book with a brief description of the hanging.

Have they convinced me about the shortcomings of the trial?  Yes- most particularly in regard to Assistant Protector Thomas’ absence, who would have provided a completely different angle. In other cases where Willis had an interest in seeing a particular outcome- in the case he heard against Bolden, for example- he would have picked and picked until it all unravelled. But Auty and Russell, along with Claire Land in the Melbourne City Council publication, sidestep the issue that Fels has emphasized: that two whalers were murdered.  The Tasmanians admitted this, and said that it was a case of mistaken identity because they intended retribution against William Watson instead.I think that the jury understood this, whatever the shortcomings of the trial. I have always been struck by Willis’ rejection of the jury’s recommendation to mercy when he called for the death penalty, to which Gipps agreed.

Auty and Russell’s argument for memorialization is based on the insufficiencies and failures of the trial:

This case is tainted.  It unfolded at a time when ‘near enough was good enough’ for Aboriginal people in legal settings.  We no longer should accept that reasoning. If there is a memorial to Redmond Barry, a street and a river named for Powlett, an inlet named for Anderson, a creek named for Watson and a town named for Rawson, then Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener should have their own travails recognized. (p.73)

While they have convinced me about the shortcomings of the trial, I’m not convinced that they should be memorialized for this alone. I should imagine that this justification would rankle with Fels, Clarke and White too, who suggest that Winberri, who was shot in Major Lettsom’s raid is a far more fitting “Melbourne hero” to merit a memorial. For myself, I have never been comfortable with the ‘freedom fighter’ frame that has been placed on this episode- a point well made in the Fels article.


Whatever my reservations about the design of this memorial (and yes, I do have reservations), I absolutely love the image of the Wurundjeri elder, Barak, that has been shaped out of the white building behind.

[Image attribution: By Leighblackall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons]


I am posting this review to the Australian Women Writers Challenge page.  In a way, it’s a 3-for-1 review, because all three texts that I have mentioned in this review are written by women, which is in itself interesting. I strongly suggest that you dip into all three. Hunt Them, Hang Them is available for $28.95 through Justice Press, while Fels’ Quadrant article is available here,  and Claire Land’s City of Melbourne booklet is here.  Auty and Russell’s book and Fels’ article both draw heavily on primary sources, and there is much commonality between them until the political implications are drawn out. Even if you just read the two online sources, you’ll see historians at work, raising good questions about the rationale and impetus for memorializing in the present-day.






This Week in Port Phillip 1842: 16-23 January 1842

This entry contains a lengthy description of the execution of two indigenous prisoners

I’m rather embarrassed that I’ve fallen behind with my weekly summaries of what happened in Port Phillip at this time in 1842.  Largely it was because I’m aware that during the week 16-23 January the first executions in Port Phillip took place after being heard in Justice John Walpole Willis’ courtroom, and I want to write about them in some detail even though I have written about them before here and here. Somehow my desire to do the event justice has meant that I haven’t done it at all.

Tunnerminnerwait (also called ‘Jack’) and Maulboyheener (called ‘Bob’), whose exploits were being reported in my weekly round-ups in during November  (see here and here)  and December 1841 (see here and here), were hanged on 20 January in front of a crowd estimated to number 5000.  This first execution – significant not only because it was the first, but also because it involved indigenous prisoners- was reported in minute detail in the three Port Phillip newspapers. It was, as the Port Phillip Herald  proclaimed “one of the most important events which has yet taken place in our province”.  And so, this week in Port Phillip concerns only the execution.

It’s important to remember that writing about an execution follows a well-honed path. (In fact, much of the reporting of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s executions in Bali in April 2015 followed much the same structure). There are reports about the days leading up to the execution with particular emphasis on the night before; measurements of prayers offered up and food ingested; a report of the morning of execution day; the journey to the execution place; the execution itself, then the disposal of the bodies.

The days preceding and the  night before

The prisoners throughout the time which elapsed between trial and punishment, were lodged in the gaol at the west end of Melbourne, and from the day that their fate was ratified by the Governor, and made public in the province, were visited by several of the curious, besides most of the protectors, the Wesleyan missionaries, and the ministers of all denominations in Melbourne. (Port Phillip Gazette 22 Jan 1842)

There was particular interest in the prisoners’ appetites. A prisoner who displayed a hearty appetite was seen to be insufficiently penitential:

[Bob] slept soundly each night previously to his execution. On Wednesday evening he silently but impatiently rejected the food placed before him, and neglected to smoke, a practice in which both he and his companion had been allowed to indulge since their incarceration. Jack… sustained the most perfect indifference to the last moment; he has slept soundly and long ever since his imprisonment and been apparently in good spirits. On the night preceding his execution he eat [sic] plentifully, consuming half a loaf and three panikins of tea, repeatedly talking and laughing; he then enjoyed his pipe with the most perfect indifference, which, after having used for some time, he offered to Bob, this the latter rejected by waving his hand impatiently, and turning from his companion who only laughed and coolly replaced his pipe in his own mouth. (Port Phillip Herald 21 Jan 1842)

Because British Law and ‘ Divine Justice’ were intertwined, it was important that execution be seen to have a religious element lest it be merely revenge.  The men were attended by the Anglican minister, Reverend Thomson.

When the Rev. Mr Thomson visited and remained with them the greater art of the night, Jack assumed a more serious demeanour, and both the prisoners listened attentively, particularly Bob, to the prayer of the worth clergyman. Bob appeared much affected by the remarks and admonitions of Mr Thomson, frequently sobbing and moaning loudly, and expressing his conviction that he should suffer Divine Wrath for the murder he had committed.  Jack was apparently attentive, but evinced no signs of agitation. (PPH 21/1/42)

It is important to note that  Maulboyheener (Bob) was perceived to be the more penitent prisoner, while Tunnerminnerwait (Jack) was seen as the ringleader whose insouciance threatened to make a mockery of the whole procedure.

Bob was lively, pliable, and capable of affection, Jack was sullen, but daring, the latter was the leader in all the depredations that closed in their ignominious death; the former revolted at the crimes committed, but was compelled to submit: Bob had imbibed clearer ideas of religion, and was affected at the last by the terrors of his situation. Jack was evidently sceptical of the simplest truths of Christianity, and doggedly retained his firmness to the moment of death. (PPG 22/1/42)


On Wednesday night, that preceding the execution, the prisoners presented the greatest contrast in their demeanour; Bob was dejected; Jack thoroughly indifferent. The former made at this time a most important confession; it was to the effect, that he took no part in the murder, until threatened by Jack who placed & loaded musket to his head when commanding him to fire on one of the whalers-; even then, however, he would have refused had not the women bidden him remember the murder of their relatives at Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land by the white people, and, thus incited him to a revenge which all considered justifiable. (PPG 22/1/42)

The morning of the execution

It’s just as well that they slept soundly in the nights leading up to their execution, because Rev. Thomson surely stayed around for a long time- until 2.00 A.M.!- on the evening before:

After the Reverend Gentleman left them (about 2 o’clock in the morning), the prisoners slept for two hours. At half past 4 or 5 o’clock their breakfast was prepared and handed to them, which was heartily partaken of by Jack, who eat about three pounds of bread, and drunk two panikins of tea; Bob declined eating anything, and when pressed, only drank a little tea.  Jack here, as before mentioned, lighted his pipe and smoked for some time, after which the prisoners were washed, shaved and dressed; their gaol clothes were replaced by clean trowsers, shirts and stockings, during which preparations he seemed perfectly unconcerned and even gay; he laughed heartily when his attendant was assisting him to put on the stockings, and expressed his unconcern at his approaching fate, saying that after his death he would join his father in Van Diemen’s Land and hunt kangaroo; he also said that he had three heads, one for the scaffold, one for the grave and one for V. D. Land; his companion remained totally silent during these arrangements. (PPH 21/1/42)

Then followed another religious ceremony, attended this time by the rest of the prisoners of the gaol.

At seven o’clock the Sheriff, the Rev Mr. Thomson, and several of the Magistrates visited the gaol, when Mr Wintle the gaoler, immediately summoned all there inhabitants thereon to attend divine service in the yard of that building, after which, about 10 minutes to 8 o’clock a covered cart, with two grey horses, was drawn up to the gaol door, and the prisoners having shaken hands with Mr Wintle, walked quietly into the vehicle, which effectually screened them from observation. (PPH 21/1/42)


The prisoners were in a travelling van belonging to Mr. Robinson, and in which, concealed from public gaze, they were drawn from the goal to the place of execution ; the van was a small carriage frame, drawn by two horses and covered in with painted cloth stretched round on poles fastened to the the corners of the frame ; they were preceded and guarded by a body of mounted and border policemen, and were accompanied on the way through Lonsdale-street by several hundreds of people, who joined and merged with the dense mass round the gallows. The Sheriff, the Governor, and other officers of the goal, the chaplain, and chief constable, came up at the same time; and superintended the dreadful preparations. (PPG 22/1/42)

The scene at the gallows

At an early hour on Thursday morning, myriads of men, women and even children were to be seen wending their way in the direction of the new gaol on the eastern hill, in the rear of which a temporary gallows had been erected for the execution of the Van Diemen’s Land aborigines Bob and Jack, convicted of murder at the late criminal session of the Supreme Court, all apparently anxious to gratify that feeling of morbid curiosity which renders an execution a treat to the lower orders of the British. (Port Phillip Patriot 24/1/42)


From the earliest hour of the morning crowds of people began to gather round the gaol and to take up what they considered the most favourable situations for viewing the spectacle. At the commencement, and throughout the scene, the greatest levity was betrayed, and the women, who made by far the greatest proportion, had dressed themselves for the occasion. The side end walls of the gaol which were nearest the gallows were crowded with human beings; the trees in the vicinity had their inmates, and by eight o’clock the assembly numbered upwards of three thousand souls. Between eight and nine accessions to the crowd of spectators were momentarily received, and the most disgusting spirit betrayed in scrambling for places ; several even jumped upon the coffins, which stood at the font of the gibbet, in their eagerness-to watch any movement connected with the event. (PPG 22/1/42)


The concourse of people here assembled amounted to between 4 and 5,000, the greater proportion of whom were women and children, and, from the laughing and merry faces, which were assembled (assisted by the appearance of several horsemen, and some in topboots,) the scene resembled more the appearance of a race-course than a scene of death.  The walls and body of the new gaol were literally packed with spectators, as anxiously awaiting the awful scene about to be enacted, as if it were a bull-bait or prize ring. (PPH 21/1/42)

The crowds were so thick that Captain Beers had to clear the way:

The hour fixed upon for the spectacle was eight o’clock, and a little be-fore that time Captain Beers, with a detachment of the military, made his appearance on the spot and soon succeeded in clearing a passage at the point of the bayonet for the cavalcade which was seen approaching. (PPP 24/1/42)

The execution

On their arrival at the foot of the gallows the prisoners were removed from the van and directed to kneel while the Rev. Mr. Thomson read prayers, which done, their arms were pinioned and they were conducted to the scaffold, to which they were with difficulty got up owing to the steepness of the ladder and their being unable to use their hands. The gallows was formed of two upright posts about twenty feet in height with a cross beam at the top to which the ropes were attached; the scaffold was formed of a plank two feet wide fastened to the gallows at the one end by a hinge, and supported at the other by a prop which being pulled away let fall the drop. (PPP 24/1/42)


On the arrival of the van, two constables stepped up to hand the prisoners out, and the start back which Bob gave showed the terror inflicted by the sight of the unexpected populace; he came out, however immediately, after trembling violently, followed by Jack, calm and imperturbable to the end. It was gratifying to see the universal kindness with which they were treated, soothed by every one round, and tenderly handled even by the executioner. On coming out of the van, their arms were tied behind them slightly, and prayers commenced by the minister in attendance. Bob’s agitation increased with every passing moment, and his moans were terrible to bear. They knelt together with the clergyman, while he prayed joining at intervals in a few words which they understood. On rising again Bob’s feelings broke out in the most heartrending groans ; the terrified and piteous looks he threw around him, pressing against everyone that spoke to him as if to catch at some chance of salvation, was terrible to witness ; he trembled violently, while, the sweat burst from his face in the agony of his sufferings. At length every thing was completed, their arms were securely bandaged, and they were directed to mount the scaffold. (PPG 22/1/42)

I don’t want to go into as much detail as the newspapers did, but Maulboyheener (Bob) was extremely distressed, while Tunnerminnerwait continued to be impassive. However, the Gazette did note:

It was at this time that Jack, who was already standing in his appointed place, and whose eyes had been left uncovered at his own request to the latest moment, might have been seen fixing his eyes on some native blacks, who had taken their stations in the branches of a tree close to the gallows, to witness a sight to them so novel and impressive; it was the only sign of interest or anxiety he had expressed during the occurrences of the morning…(PPG 22/1/42)

I wonder who these ‘native blacks’ were. As Tasmanians, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were outsiders to the Port Phillip indigenous tribes as well. What was their relationship with the other tribal groupings in the district? I don’t know.

When the drop finally fell Jack’s sufferings were almost instantaneously at an end, but Bob struggled convulsively for several moments before death came to his relief, owing to the partial displacement of tho noose, and his fall being broken by the bungling manner in which the scaffold was struck away. (PPP 24/1/41)

The burial

The bodies were allowed to hang the usual time (one hour), and on being cut down were placed in shells provided for that purpose and interred outside the new burial ground. Thus ended the short career of two young and able bodied men, who in the course of six weeks Committed several extensive burglaries, and wantonly fired at and wounded four (two dangerously) white men, who had never given them cause for offence, besides murdering the two sailors at Port Fairy, for which they suffered.  May their fate have a beneficial effect upon the Aborigines of the province. (PPH 21/1/42)

Editorial opinion at the time

The Port Phillip Herald which carried the longest report of the execution also published a lengthy editorial. Although expressing a degree of sympathy for Bob in particular, it declared

Of the justness of the sentence, and of the policy of its enforcement, there cannot rest a doubt on the minds of those who have attended to the whole circumstances of the case.

It warned that

It is possible, but we consider extremely improbable, that the aborigines will attempt to revenge the act, and, goaded on by the dark and untutored passions of their nature, take summary vengeance upon the white population…

But this danger had to be weighed against

…the absolute certainty that had a milder punishment been inflicted, the colonists would have declared – and declared with truth, that there was in this colony one law for the black and another for the white man … the white population would take upon  themselves to obtain, directly and immediately, that justice which they had seen instructed by precedent they could not secure at the hand of the Government; and would not the result be, that instead of two murderers having suffered the extreme penalty of the law which justice awarded to their crimes, hundreds would fall before the incensed settlers, whose sole defence lay in themselves.  Open warfare would result….  [PPH 21/1/42)

Port Phillip prided itself on its ‘civilization’. It’s in reading such editorials that you realize just how fragile that ‘civilization’ was. ‘Retribution’ and ‘dispersal’ were open secrets.

How’s the weather?

The top temperature for the week was 80 (26.7) with light airs and fresh breezes. Fine agreeable weather, but frequently cloudy.  And somehow it seems fitting that on the 20th, the day of the execution, it rained.





This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 15-23 December

The Tasmanians, ‘the Van Diemen’s Land Blacks’, ‘Robinson’s Blacks’

The newspapers during this week were dominated by the trial of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener which was heard before Judge Willis on 15 December 1841.  The women were acquited, leaving just the two men to face punishment. I will soon review Kate Auty and Lynette Russell’s book on the trial, and will no doubt say more about the case there. After my frequent mentions of this case on this blog, I’m sure that the outcome is no surprise. (See  here, here, here and here  )

Suffice to say, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were found guilty by the jury, with a recommendation to mercy on account of the “peculiar circumstances” of the prisoners’ situation. The Port Phillip Gazette thought that the jury’s recommendation would prevail:

…the verdict of condemnation was delivered a recommendation to mercy on account of the good character given of the condemned by the Chief Protector, and of the peculiar circumstances in which they stood. This rider is the most important point for our consideration and whatever may be the amount of dissent, we heartily rejoice that the province has thus been saved the disgraceful exhibition of a legal murder; for there can be little doubt that the recommendation of the jury will be attended to, so far, at least, to gain a respite for the criminals until the pleasure of the Queen in Council shall be known; and should, even then, that last decision be unfavourable to the principle of leniency, the long suspense endured by the prisoners and the [??] taken by lapse of time from the “force of example” will plead in favour of its practice  [PPG 22/12/41]

Then the Port Phillip Gazette reverted to a more familiar trope. Noting that the jury had pointed to “peculiar circumstances in which the prisoners stand”, the editorial went on

Wild and untameable from their nature, silent in their resentment, quick in their [indistinct] and fearful in their revenge, who can presume to say what notions slumbered in their untutored minds, ready to burst forth on the earliest opportunity that presented itself to their desires?  [PPG 22/12/41]

For now, the Port Phillip Gazette, along with the people of Port Phillip had to wait until the case reached its final conclusion in January.

To market, to market

The Melbourne Market opened on 15 December. There were, in effect, three locations of the Market:

  1. The General Market, situated between Williams and Market-streets, adjoining the Custom House and Police office, and facing the river was appropriated for the sale of 1. Fruit and vegetables. 2. Potatoes, 3. Dry goods 4. Poultry, butchers’ meat and fish
  2. The Hay and Corn market, situated in Flinders and Swanston-streets, was established for the disposal of hay, corn, fodder, straw, grass, grain and pulses.
  3. The Cattle Market, intended ultimately to be erected and opened for the sale of horned cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, mules and asses; would for some time be held at the place known as the Auction Company’s yards which were leased for 6 months for the purpose.

Yesterday being the day appointed for the opening of the General Market; at an early hour drays loaded with vegetables &c. began to make their appearance, and shortly after the “gudewives” followed by little “gelpies” carrying the market baskets made their appearance.  The day altogether was an eventful one at the west end of the town, and created almost as much stir as would a coronation, an execution or even a Lord Mayor’s day in London.  [PPP 16/12/41]

The market provided a service, but it also sidelined small-time vendors who sold goods on the street.  In the Port Phillip Gazette of 25 December (yes- on Christmas Day), James Simpson J.P., Chairman of the Market Commissioners warned that

In pursuance of Section No 23 of the 3rd Victoria 1, No 19- Notice is hereby given, that any person or persons selling or exposing to sale any butchers’ meat, poultry, eggs, butter, vegetables, or other provisions usually sold in markets, in any of the street, lanes, entries, or other public passages, other than the market places appropriated for such purposes by the commissioners, shall, on conviction thereof before a justice of the peace, for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of five pounds. [PPG 25/12/41]

Steam away!

The vast majority of communication between the various Australian colonies took place through steamer rather than roads.  The regular schedule of steamer voyages was as follows:

Steamers plying between Melbourne and various parts of the colony: The Seahorse– weekly to Sydney; the Corsair, three times a fortnight to Launceston; the Aphrasia, twice a week to Geelong; the Governor Arthur daily to Williams Town; and the Fairy Queen (which is now laid up undergoing repairs) daily to the shipping at Hobson’s Bay. [PPG 18/12/41]

Actually, the Governor Arthur wasn’t to ply between Melbourne and Williams Town for long, because a fire on the 23 December destroyed the craft at her moorings at Queen’s Wharf at 5.00 am.   Some bark had been placed on board near the boiler the previous evening in order to light the fire in the morning and the vessel burst into flames at 2.00 a.m.  Although the steamer was damaged, all the property on board was saved. The whole of the property on board has been saved. [PPP 23/12/41]

A grisly find

In the first week of December, the Port Phillip Gazette reported:

“MYSTERIOUS- On Thursday last, in consequence of the burial ground being found disturbed in one or two places, it was examined by the sexton who found the bodies of three infants.  They were surgically examined, but nothing found in the appearance of the bodies led to the supposition that anything unfair had caused death. They were again consigned to the earth. There is no doubt that the bodies were those of the children of poor people who could not pay for a more regular interment. This course is however fraught with danger, and might bring parties, although innocent, into serious difficulties.” [PPG 8/12/41]

The Port Phillip Patriot reported the discovery of another infant’s body the next day, making a total of seven children buried clandestinely during the previous two years.

…decency revolted at the bodies of infants being placed only a few inches below the surface, without any coffin, liable to be torn up by dogs and to become offensive and obnoxious in the burial ground. [PPG9/12/41]

Was it infanticide?  Or poverty?

The plea of poverty, if such a plea were offered, is no excuse for conduct so very reprehensible, and so open to suspicion of guilt, for there is no such poverty existing in Melbourne, and even if it did exist, there would be no necessity for resorting to an expedient so revolting. [PPP 9/12/41]

On 23 December the Patriot reported on an inquest held on 21 December at the Crown Hotel in Lonsdale street on the body of yet another baby found that morning (bringing the total to eight, perhaps?) The newly born male child had been deposited in a box and laid in a newly dug grave in the Episcopalean burial ground.  The child was three or four days old and a medical examination found a large quantity of water on the brain.  The verdict was

died by the visitation of God, to wit, of congenital hydrocephalus and not by any violent means whatsoever to the knowledge of the said jurors.

These jurors, too, criticized the way that the baby’s body had been interred. Still, at a time when there was no compulsory registration of births and deaths (which didn’t occur until 1853- there’s a fascinating podcast by Madonna Grehan about the implemention of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1853 here) , and with no lying-in hospitals (or any hospitals for that matter at this stage, except for one for convicts) then it would be very possible for children to be born and die without a documentary trace.

Arrival of immigrant ships

The economy was becoming wobbly and after a much-publicized labour shortage for farm and domestic workers during 1840 and the first part of 1841, now wages were dropping and unemployment was rising.  And still the immigrant ships kept arriving, full of immigrants gathered either through privately-sponsored bounty schemes (which acted as a handy little earner for the immigration agent) or through government schemes.  Arrangements were made and departures had occurred months ago, at a time of economic optimism that was now rapidly fading.  I wouldn’t vouch for the accuracy of my transcription of these figures as the font on the newspaper is very fuzzy, but the almost simultaneous arrival of so many ships with so many immigrants must have been daunting:

Nov 4                    Diamond                             from Cork            336 imms

Nov 27                  Alan Kerr                             Greenoch            250

Nov 27                  Wallace                                Liverpool             320

Nov 29                  Francis                                  Liverpool             194

Nov 30                  Marquis of Bute                  Greenoch            234

Nov 30                  Mary Nixon                          Cork                       134

Dec 4                     Brackenmoor                        Cork                       136

Dec 16                   Ward Chipman                  Bristol                   370

Dec 16                   William Mitchell                Leith                      23

Dec 17                   Agostina                              Cork                       195

[PPG 22/12/41]

The Port Phillip Herald of  17/12/41 noted that the Ward Chipman had recorded 21 deaths, 19 of them children from dysentery brought on by the change of diet and want of nourishment  consequent on the long detention of the immigrants in Bristol.  I can only imagine the recrimination and sorrow among the families on that ship.

Picnic Time

On Tuesday 21st December Captain Cole held a picnic at Brighton. Obviously the ladies and gentlemen of Port Phillip were already in holiday mode on a Tuesday.

A splendid fete champetre was given on Tuesday last by Captain Cole of Melbourne, to nearly one hundred and fifty ladies and gentlemen.  Nothing could exceed the style in which it was got up; it is the first of a series of fetes to be given during the present season the fashionables of Melbourne.

Georgiana McCrae, whose sister-in-law Thomas Anne had become engaged to Capt George Ward Cole on the 11th, wrote about the picnic:

 Dr and Mrs Myer arrived in their carriage to take me to the picnic but on account of the wild-appearing sky, I elected to stay at home, and it was well I did because at three o’clock a southerly gale sprang up, which continued until five, with such a hurricane fore that the gentlemen of the party had to hold on to the tent with all their might to keep the canvas from being blown away.  Returning at dusk, there were upsets and bruises, even broken limbs…yet the Myers and our people escaped unhurt.[ Journal 21 December 1841]

Actually, it was just as well Georgiana didn’t go- a week later she gave birth to a baby girl.

How’s the weather?

The top temperature for the period was 92 degrees (33 C) but as Georgiana McCrae’s journal notes, it was pretty wild and changeable (as December can be, as we know)

Fresh and strong winds daily, variable and squally; very heavy squalls 15th and 21st, the latter accompanied by heavy rain, the weather otherwise fine. [15-21 Dec]

At a time when so many people were arriving – both immigrants and self-funded arrivals- it was no doubt fitting to give advice on how to cope with Melbourne’s weather. It’s rather amusing to see that obviously workingmen coped better with the heat, even though ladies, children and “parties who could escape from business for a couple of hours” benefited from a siesta.

THE WEATHER.  — Summer with all its sultriness is with us. The heat during several different days has been excessive; the drought, however, which usually accompanies its progress his not yet become so great, as to be a matter of Complaint. The supply of water, which for the want of a properly constructed weir  in the river to prevent the ingress of the salt tide from the bay -is commonly inferior, retains its sweetness. The sickness which was prevalent during the last season has been rarely witnessed in this; but the greatest caution should still be entertained in the matters of diet and exercise. The abundance of vegetables and fish will naturally make them common articles of consumption, but no article will be found so injurious as either of them when at all tainted or stale; and under any circumstances if eaten to excess diarrhoea will ensue. Exercise must consist of bathing, and riding or walking in  the cooler hours of morning and night ; exposure to the sun more than is necessary should be avoided, although it is certainly found that workmen may freely pursue their vocations during the greatest heat without apparent injury. Cleanliness and temperance are in such a season the greatest preservatives of health, and a residence, if it can conveniently be managed, by the sea is greatly preferable to the low heated atmosphere of the town. A siesta at midday for females,-children, and parties who can escape from business for a couple of hours, will be conducive to strength and cheerfulness. [PPG 18/12/41]

Mind you, gentlemen needed to be careful when bathing, lest they be fined up to one pound. Swimming was illegal:

within view of any public wharf, quay, bridge, street, road or other place of public resort within the limits of the town between the hours of six in the morning and eight in the evening. [PPP 20/12/41]

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 25-30 November 1841

More on ‘The Tasmanians’ or the ‘Van Diemen’s Land Blacks’

You might remember that a fortnight previously the newspapers were reporting that the Commissioner for Crown Lands, Mr Powlett, had been unsuccessful in apprehending the ‘Van Diemen’s Land Blacks’ who were ‘committing outrages’ in the Western Port district.

On 25 November the Port Phillip Patriot reported that they had been captured.

CAPTURE -At a late hour last evening we  received intelligence of the capture of the black marauders whose numerous depredations had rendered them the terror of the settlers in the neighbourhood of Western Port.  They were apprehended by the party who started from Melbourne about a fortnight since in pursuit of them.  The party with their prisoners encamped on Tuesday night at Dandenong, on their way to Melbourne, and may be expected to arrive today.  These blacks consist of two males, well armed, and three females; they form part of that “family” for whose removal from Flinder’s Island to Port Phillip Mr Robinson, the Chief Protector, obtained, some time since, the permission of the Governor [PPP25/11/41]

The Port Phillip Herald of 26th November carried this lengthy account, supposedly given to them by one of the captors. Whatever its inaccuracies or silences, this was the report read by people at the time:






On 26 November they were  placed at the bar of the Police Office and a preliminary inquiry was undertaken.  The witnesses were unable to identify the prisoners as the assailants.  Protector Robinson testified to the long contact he had had with the group, testifying that Jack had been brought up by him from childhood and had accompanied him in all his journeys and that Bob and the lubras had been in his charge for the past fourteen years.  The next day (Saturday) the prisoners were brought up again. Watson, the miner, identified them as the persons by whom he had been wounded, and his wife and daughter swore than the group had robbed and burned the hunt.  One of the women described the circumstances of the murder of two whalers from Lady Bay and produced the bloody bludgeons.  The group was remanded, to  be brought before the court again.  The Port Phillip Patriot noted that:

The prisoners are obviously a different race of men from the Aborigines of New Holland: their colour is much deeper,and in the general character of their appearance there is much more of the African features. (PPP 29/11/41 p.2)


At the very same time that the Tasmanians were appearing in court, the Port Phillip Herald carried the news that Mr Sandford George Bolden would be tried for the murder of an Aboriginal near Port Fairy.  According to this report, Mr Bolden with one of his stock-keepers came upon a native driving off a number of cattle, he left his stock keeper and rode to a station in the neighbourhood and returned with a loaded gun. His defence was that the black pointed his spear at him and that he fired in self defence. (PPH 30/11/41)

The Boldens were fairly well known in Melbourne. The accused’s brother,  Rev Bolden lived in Heidelberg, nearby to Judge Willis, who would be presiding over the case.  Two high-profile cases involving indigenous people and death were in the public consciousness at the same time: one where aborigines were said to have killed white people; the other where a white settler was said to have killed aborigines.

Well, that didn’t happen… yet

The Port Phillip Gazette reported that Melbourne was to have a botanical garden:

BOTANICAL GARDEN. “Sir George Gipps, having approved of the establishment of a public domain, for the purposes of rearing and cultivating indigenous and exotic plants having any peculiar or rare properties, it has been determined by the local Government to set apart “Batman’s Hill” and the surrounding land down to the Yarra Yarra for such reserve.  The Survey Department has received instructions forthwith to mark out the boundary lines, with a view to its early enclosure; when the long talked of Botanical Garden will be placed under the direction of an experienced Horticulturalist and Botanist. The present season is too far advanced to allow of any operations beyond the mere “laying out” of the promenades, and subdividing the allotment into its due proportions for the reception of seeds and plants at the fit periods during the ensuing season.  The sooner, however, the work is commenced the better; as delays in such matters are generally productive of evil to the public. [PPG 27/11/41]

I’m not sure what “evil to the public” accrued from the lack of a botanical garden, but Melbourne had to endure it for another five years until a new site was selected in 1846 where the Royal Botanic Gardens are now, rather than on the Batmans Hill site mentioned here. The flat part of the Batman’s Hill site was already used at that time by the public for horse racing and cricket matches and the hill formed a natural amphitheatre.


John Batman’s House by W.F.E. Liardet showing the garden and slope down to the river flats. Source: State Library of Victoria.

Batman’s Hill was excavated for railway lines in the 1850s and further levelled in the 1880s and 1890s for railway works in what became Spencer Street Station (now Southern Cross Station).


Batman’s Hill Past and Present, J. Macfarlane (1892) originally published Illustrated Australian News 1 April 1892. Source: State Library of Victoria

And the weather?

Light winds; a gale and heavy winds from 27th to 29th. Top temperature for the period was 88F (31C) with a low of 47 (8.3)

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 17-25 September 1841

Census tales

The 2106 Australian census is just finishing up here in Australia, and an ill-starred census it has been with website difficulties, inadequate phone assistance and a general loss of goodwill all round. The 1841 census was conducted in March 1841 after quite a bit of judicial bickering over the propriety of asking about convict origins which I wrote about here. The census was compiled in person by an appointed collector. On September 21 the Port Phillip Herald published an article purporting to be from ‘Pencilling in the Bush’ by a Collector of the Census 17 March 1841′.  I can find no record in Trove of this publication, but the Sydney Gazette also published a column on 25 November 1841 in its Port Phillip section, claiming to be from the same publication.

The book, if indeed there ever was one, seems to be a compilation of humorous ‘tales from the trenches’ of a census collector charged with collecting census information in the Port Phillip district.  It’s quite odd reading with our 21st century what passed as humour in 1841.

Here’s the Port Phillip Herald extract. It picks up on the common trope of Irish-bashing that often runs through the Port Phillip Herald columns, reflecting not only the English/Scots prejudice against the Irish generally, but an anxiety about the influx of Irish immigrants into New South Wales in particular.


“Good morning ma’am! who is the proprietor of this establishment?” I said to a fat, fair and jolly-looking woman into whose domicile on the River ___ I was just intruding myself. “Musha the top’of the mornin to ye sir, but ye’re early afut this blessed and holy mornin’,” said she- “Not very early ma’am- It is the fittest time for travelling now the weather is so hot- Pray ma’am, who is the proprietor here?” “Musha sure I wouldn’t be after telling you a lie this blessed day; and the throoth I couldn’t tell you; so I couldn’t, but it’s not me or mine that’s the owner, nor Therry either, so it isn’t- Surra long we’re here, neather of us- only three months or there- we came in the Andrew Mackey (Andromache), so we did.” Here were no less than half-a dozen points of voluntary information for me, yet not one of them even remotely directed to my simple enquiry. “You came from Ireland Ma’am?” “Augh aye- I did, I did, sure enough come from it, and its sorry am I for it, so I am.” “Which are you sorry for ma’am?- being Irish, or leaving Ireland?” “Neither o’them,” she replied “only to be stuck up in a sentry-box like this on the blessed Patrick’s own day when – augh! but there’s no use talking so there isn’t.  May be ye’d like a dhrop o’tay sir- surra better I have to give ye or I’d be shame-faced to offer it this holy mornin, so I would.” “Tea is a very good beverage ma’am, this weather.” “Musha throth an its a poor baveritch for a day like this- It’s not that ye’d be drowing you shamrock in it ye were in sweet Loughrea this mornin.” “Is your husband at home, ma’am?” “Faith he isn’t an he’ll have more luck than his over if ever he see’t again, so he will – at home!– Musha!” “What’s his name, ma’am?” “Therry’s his name sir, – Therry Connor.” “How many children have you?” “Fourteen sir- six at home and eight here- three boys and three girls and two childer,” (Eh? Malthus.)  “Well ma’am, who is the owner of this place?” “Sorry know I know, they say it’s come into other hands now- the master’s not well at all, at all, and more’s the pity. Terry says he’s laid up in the Rules in Melbourne, but myself doesn’t undertand the diases o’ this country much yet. Is the Rules a taking disease sir?” “It is indeed ma’am.” “Is it like a favor sir or the molera corbis? God save us!” “It is not like either ma’am, particularly the first. It’s a contraction of the movements, caused by a vacuum in the chest”- Can I see your husband ma’am?” “Sure enough you can sir- step this way if you please,- look over the ‘tother end o’ the stockyard younder, dye’ see the boy with the white jacket?” “Yes!” “Well that’s not him- now dye’ see the t’other boy with the red waistcoat?” “Yes.” “Well that’s not him neather, so it isn’t.” “Well, but which is he ma’am?” “Augh its yerself that’s in a hurry now- have ye any business with Terry Connor?” There was a look of severe apprehension with this enquiry that showed me the poor woman was afraid of the papers I held in my hand- I replied “yes ma’am but no private or unpleasant business; I am collecting the census- the population of the district- and in the master’s absence I require some person in the place to sign a paper, that’s all.” “Augh, sure an if that be all,” she said, “I’ll bring Therry to you in a wink;” in saying so she disappeared, and Therry soon made his appearance, which was a remarkably fine specimen of the peasantry. Moreover, Therry was a sensible, intelligent man.  He comprehended the matter at once, gave me all the information I desired, and ample directions for the accuracy of my movements, concluding with a hope that the collection of the census would have a tendency to promote the public good. “After all the good that can be said of it,” said Therry, “it is no place for a man of a family– there is no way here of getting the childer educated- for my own part I would rather live on potatoes and buttermilk and have my childer at school than all the tay and mutton we can make use of.” This afforded another proof of one national characteristic of the Irish Peasantry, an indelible anxiety to give their children education.  (PPH 21/9/41)

The extract from the Sydney Gazette of 25 November 1841 purports to come from the same publication. A warning-  its language about a practical joke based on racial views of aborigines does not sit well today.

A Stray Leaf.-From ” Pencillings in the Bush, October, 1 Oil.”-In one of my rambles between Melbourne and Mount Macedon, I called at a settlement on the ___  Creek, to procure a drink. Here I observed a number of persons around a man, poking his naked back and target in what I conceived to be a very unprofessional manner. The person on whom they were operating, or the pokes, appeared to have been wounded behind by small shot, for he was bleeding rather copiously. As I could perceive that the bystanders wore struggling to suppress their laughter. I had the curiosity to make some enquiry as to what had happened, and the thing was so farcical, though nearly spoiled by a dash of the tragic, that I thought it worth taking a note of. after my departure.

It was this, two female servants at the station had got permission to take a walk-it being Sunday-and a resident at the station took it into his head to disguise himself in tin old rug and a piece of crape over his head and face in order to give the girls a fright by personifying a blackfellow. Well, he sallied forth, and about half a mile from tho station he made his appearance with a spear on his shoulder. The girls, who, it appears, began to think of  “Home, sweet home,” fled onwards ; but Blackey, like an able general, intercepted their retreat,jabbering and figuring like an ouraug outang- The fears of the terror-struck damsels were unutterable.’ In this dilemma then Don Quixote made his appearance in the shape of a man servant, at the station, with a dog ; and he,not knowing the prank, ran up to the release of the paralyzed handmaidens whom he found quailing very successfully. The blackfellow flings his spear at the true knight ; and just at this moment the proprietor comes up with a gun, and seeing blackey in attitude, and the girls with their drapery tucked up in front, churning their flight through the long grass, he fires his piece bung at Snow-ball, who had not seen him approaching. Luckily it was but small shot, and a happy distance but it had effected a neat carification in the reverse of the man’s countenance,and then they were poking and jerking at hi.with pins and needles as if they were stitching an oppossum cloak.

I thought of the old song –

At this disaster

Up came the master,

And gave the hero such a cursed crack :

Ob murdher o murdher !-.

It went no further

Like  a flitch of bacon, boy, they left his back.  [Sydney Gazette 25/11/41]

More cricket

The cricketers seem to have got their act together.

CRICKET- The fine weather having now set in, the lovers of cricket may be seen practising nearly every day.  We have been requested to state that the afternoons of Tuesdays and Saturdays have been fixed upon for regular practice.  The club will be regularly organized in the early part of next month, when the principal players are expected in town to attend the first of the Melbourne Assembly Balls. (PPH 21/9/41)


Given that this blog is dedicated, both through its title and its impetus, to John Walpole Willis, the resident judge of Port Phillip it would be remiss of me to let this September date pass without mentioning the Bon Jon case, which could have been the most important case in Judge Willis’ career.  I did write a paper about it in the ANZLHS e-journal (which has since been swallowed by the internet), and I recently gave a similar paper at the conference to accompany the launch of the Judging for the People book, for which I wrote the first chapter.

During this week in 1841 the case of R v Bonjon came before Judge Willis.

Put simply, Judge Willis’ opening speech before the Bonjon case was a foretaste of the Mabo judgement 150 odd years later.  The case involved a young man, Bonjon who was at the time working as the ‘boy’ accompanying Crown Land Commisioner Foster Fyans. He was accused of the inter-tribal murder of another indigenous man in a dispute over a woman, in a manifestation of the long-standing emnity between the Wada.wurr.ang/balug tribe (to which Bonjon belonged) and the Gulidjan tribe of the murdered man. Bonjon moved in that liminal space between his own tribe and attachment to a white official, and the murder took place outside a tent occupied by Bonjon, the victim and two white men.  When the case came before Judge Willis, he started off with a very long address where he raised the question of whether he, as a British judge, had jurisdiction over a murder that had taken place under indigenous law. He pointed out that the Aborigines, as the native sovereigns of the soil  had neither been conquered nor acquiesced; that a treaty should have been made with them, and that they had their own law.

So why don’t we all know about this? Why did it take the law 150 years to come to the same conclusion? Mainly because the case collapsed and so this ‘address’ never got to be an actual ‘decision’. The  Sydney Judges dismissed its significance, even though some ten years earlier the previous Chief Justice had been moving in the same direction. The Sydney newspapers didn’t pick it up, and it didn’t get written up in the early summaries of colonial cases.

And, complex man that he was, it’s not possible to paint Judge Willis as a before-his-time Aboriginal activist either.  There are other times when his court was actively hostile to indigenous interests, most particularly over the right of access for aboriginal people over leased landholdings. Nor is it impossible that this was another maneuver in Willis’ ongoing dispute with the Sydney judges.  Nonetheless, this was an important case both for Willis personally and in the annals of European-Indigenous relations in Port Phillip as well.

And the weather?

There was a heavy gale on the 19th and 20th with rain and hail, and it was cloudy up to the 24th. The highest temperature was a balmy 72 (22C) and the lowest a bracing 37 (2.7C)


This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 9-16 September 1841

Once the worst of winter had been left behind, thoughts turned to CRICKET! Of course, there was no VFL footy to fill in September, so let the cricket season begin!

The season has now set in for cricket playing, and we are right glad to see that the Melbournites are bestirring themselves to carry on the game with something like spirit.  The tradesmen, we learn, are about forming a cricket club; and we learn, also, that the members of the Melbourne and Port Phillip Clubs are about establishing another. This is as it should be: the two clubs will, we hope, have several matches during the season and may the best men win, say we.  We would strongly recommend these clubs to the attention of our fellow-colonists, as cricket is not only the very best description of gymnastic exercise, but even in a moral point of view it has its pleasures, by carrying the mind back the “the days of former years” in “merry England” and by “the association of ideas” bringing before us the companions of our youth, in whose society our cares were forgotten and our joys increased.  His Honor Mr La Trobe is known to be passionately fond of cricket, and we feel confident (as ‘a Batsman’ remarks in another column) that he will willingly follow in the footsteps of Sir Richard Bourke, and set apart a portion of land in the immediate vicinity of the town as a cricket-ground. A deputation should wait on him for that purpose immediately.” (PPH 10/9/41 p.2)

The aforementioned ‘a Batsman’ (who may well have been one of the writers of the Port Phillip Herald themselves) wrote in a letter to the Editor:

SIR- As I have with much pleasure observed that you take considerable interest in Cricket, and as the season for its practice is approaching I trust I need make no apology for affording, through the medium of your columns, a few remarks with may prove acceptable to all who feel anxious to see this manly, healthy and truly British game fairly established amongst us.  I would suggest to the gentlemen of the town and district the propriety of forming a Club, who should establish regular days for play, and who should make the laws of the Mary-le-Bone Club their guide, and adhere to them strictly at practice, as well as when playing matches.  The necessity of strict attention to the laws, even at ordinary practice, must be apparent to all who know any thing of the game.

In the event of the establishment of such a Club, I should hope that our much respected Superintendent might be induced to follow the example of Sir Richard Bourke, who appropriated a piece of ground in the town of Sydney for the use of players, and might ultimately patronize an institution formed for the encouragement of this noble game.

The want of public amusements has long been felt and acknowledged, and I feel assured that an attempt by the gentlemen of Melbourne to establish a manly and rational recreation, will be imitated by the humbler classes of the community, and will have the effect of enrolling amongst it supporters many who would otherwise have wasted their health and means in less legitimate sources of enjoyment.  I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant, ‘A Batsman’.  (PPH 10 Sept p.3)

Edmund Finn, writing as ‘Garryowen’ tells us that the first informal cricket match took place on 22 November 1838 on the flat land at the foot of Batman’s Hill (i.e. roughly where Southern Cross Railway Station is now).  Following this match a number of the gentlemen from the Melbourne Club decided to form a club, with a subscription of one guinea which served well to keep the riff-raff out. Familiar names emerge here: A. Powlett, George Brunswick Smyth, William Meek, William Ryrie and William Highett and Peter Snodgrass.  An opposing club, the Melbourne Union Cricket Club was formed from men involved in retail lines of business and tradesmen and on 12 January 1839 the Gentlemen of the District took on the Tradesmen of the Town and were soundly beaten.  A second series in March 1839 pitted the Marrieds against the Bachelors.

These murmurings in September were to bear fruit on 1 November 1841 when the Melbourne Cricket Club was formed at the Exchange Hotel. In case I overlook it in November,  this club had a rather illustrious committee of management, chaired by  F.A Powlett as President,Henry F. Gurner as secretary and George Cavenagh the editor of the Port Phillip Herald (who always gave racing and cricket generous attention in his newspaper columns) as secretary. The committee included, among others, D.S. Campbell and Redmond Barry. They continued to play on the flat below Batman’s Hill until they took over a “more commodious and convenient” spot on the south of the Yarra, between the river and Emerald Hill (i.e. South Melbourne) [Garryowen p. 737-9].

Not completely the dog’s fault

Richard Broome, in his book Aboriginal Victorians, reminds us that indigenous people were a common sight in Melbourne during these first years of settlement.  The Port Phillip Herald of 10 September carried a report about a bulldog attacking a group of Aboriginal people in Flinder’s Lane- and, while reporting on the injuries sustained by a young indigenous woman, the article reveals quite a bit of sympathy for the dog:

FEROCIOUS BULL DOG: On Monday last a number of the natives, who daily throng the town, were congregated in Flinder’s-lane.  Unfortunately for humanity, a large and ferocious bull dog, excited by their yells, made a rush at them.  One of the Aborigines, a woman of about 20 years of age, was very seriously injured: her face, throat, neck and limbs being dreadfully lacerated: and it is more than likely that she would not have excaped with life had it not been for the timely and energetic assistance rendered by District Constable O’Neil who was passing at the moment.  The unfortunate woman was immediately conveyed to the hospital, where her wounds were dressed, and every assistance afforded her.  The bull dog was a splendid animal of the kind, and very large. (PPH 10/9/41 p. 2)


I’ve been fascinated by an advertisement that appeared in several consecutive editions of the Port Phillip Herald:

WANTED: a Female Kangaroo.  Apply at the Herald office

A pet perhaps? Or did the advertiser have plans to send the kangaroo back ‘home’ as a curiosity – dead or alive?

How’s the weather?

Windy, it seems.  On 14 September the Port Phillip Herald reported that

The equinoctial gales have set in this season much earlier than usual.  On Saturday night, the storm was so severe that several large trees were blown down and the William lying in Hobson’s Bay drifted from her anchorage, but, we are glad to state, suffered no damage.  The gale was only partial not have extended even so far as Heidelberg but was in some places the severest felt for the past two years. (PPH p. 2)

The official weather report for 8th-14 September described it as

Fine, agreeable weather with light winds 8th, 9th, 10th, strong winds and gales with cloudy and rainy weather afterwards.

The top temperature for the period was 64 degrees (17.7), and the lowest 35 degrees (1.6- that’s cold for September), with the coldest day of the month falling on 13 September.

‘Caledonia Australis’ by Don Watson


1984, republished  1997 (this review) and 2009. 255 p. & notes.

Actually, I hadn’t intended reading this Don Watson book at all.  I was reading the first chapter of his more recent, award-winning book The Bush and found myself reminded that before Watson was a Monthly correspondent, a commentator on public discourse or Paul Keating’s speechwriter, he was a historian.  His book Caledonia Australis was already on my bookshelves, and having recently had the experience of reading two books from the edges of a historian’s career as I did with Michael McKernan (see here and here), I decided to put the more recent book aside in order to return to Watson’s earlier book.  After all, I reasoned, it would do a disservice to the earlier book to read it after the larger, more mature work, honed by over thirty years of writing.  My assumptions were unfounded. I haven’t yet returned to The Bush but Watson’s Caledonia Australis,  a more consciously historical work, stands proudly on its own two feet.  Watson was a damned good writer in 1984, just as he’s a damned good writer in 2016.

We see in this 1984 book the subtlety that Watson would later display in his exploration of Paul Keating in his Portrait of a Bleeding Heart.  It does not have the trappings of an academic text: it does not have footnotes or an index and its reference list is only loosely tied to the chapters.  It does, however, make a strong historical argument which has maintained its currency- has indeed become stronger- since its initial publication in 1984 and reissue in both 1997 and again in 2009.

The first part of Watson’s book is not about Australia at all, but instead the Scottish Highlands.  I’d heard of the Highlands clearances, but I’d assumed that people were shifted directly from their Highland ancestral homes onto ships to the New World as part of a global diaspora.  But, as Watson points out, there was an in-between period where Highlanders were forced onto the coastal edges where they were forced to work in kelp-harvesting. Kelp was prized as an industrial additive for the soap, linen and glass industries and had become lucrative when imports of Spanish barilla (a salt-tolerant plant) were heavily taxed during the 1790s.   The shifting of the Highlanders to the coast and the attempted suppression of the language and culture of this ‘backward’ people was seen as an ‘improvement’ measure that, fortuitously for the large lords, freed up the land for the importation of sheep. When the duties on barilla and salt were reduced in the 1820s, the kelp market collapsed, and it was at this juncture that the ‘improvers’, especially on the isles of Skye and Mull,  looked to emigration and particularly the large, clan-based Scottish emigration schemes in Canada and Australia.

And so, by Chapter 4, we have ‘Highlanders at Large- the Kurnai at Home’. Both by an accident of timing and also as a result of clan networks, Scottish settlers explored and appropriated the lands of the Kurnai people of what we now know as Gippsland but which  Scottish explorer Angus McMillan christened ‘Caledonia Australis’.   Across the seas come the Highlanders, a clan-based culture, where the land was the basis of their identity, where history and legend were passed through song and dance, where the supernatural world co-existed with the natural one. And here in Chapter 4 they meet the Kurnai with a parallel culture, with similar qualities to their own:   clan-based, with land as the basis of their identity, history and legend passed through song and dance, with a co-existent supernatural and natural world. There was, however, no recognition of these affinities. Charged with their Calvinistic faith, the former Highlanders dispossessed the Kurnai, turning over their land to sheep just as had happened to them in Scotland.

In the second half of the book Watson hones in on Angus McMillan,  who has been lionized as one of the pioneers of Gippsland in both myth and physical memorials. McMillan is, in effect, the Highlander in Caledonia Australis writ large.


Angus McMillan Wikipedia

Watson traces the rivalry between McMillan and the driven, publicity-conscious professional explorer Strzelecki in their competing claims to have ‘discovered’ Gippsland. The Highland temperament manifested itself in both exploration and frontier settlement behaviour.  Clan connections and a shared sense of righteousness drove the Scots settlers into their dogged but ultimately fruitless search for the White Woman of Gippsland. Their prickliness, pride and sense of mission had a much darker side as well.

Watson writes:

There were three types of squatters on the Australian frontier: those who thought that their right to the land was qualified by an obligation to treat the Aboriginal inhabitants with kindness; those who believed that their right was conditional only on extermination; and those who combined murder with kindness. (p. 223)

The squatters of Gippsland, Watson writes, were fickle and dangerous and McMillan exemplifies this third type of squatter. McMillan

-half steering his way, half being blown-arrived in the new province and from that moment seemed to embody every paradox the frontier could throw up: making its history and being made by it, writing its story and engineering its secrets, living through all manner of triumph and torment and leaving a legend which put his life beyond our reach, ending up a cliche, a block of stone (p. xix)

When the nephew of his patron Captain Macalister was killed by Aborigines, McMillan was most probably responsible for drawing together the ‘Highland Brigade’ of his neighbours and retainers who, bent on revenge, massacred between 60 and 150 Indigenous Australians at the Warrigal Creek massacre, and beyond.  Yet, this same man was also lauded for his “sympathetic interest” in indigenous people and became in the last years of his life the Aborigines’ protector.  Murder and kindness: a chilling combination.

In his introduction to the 1997 edition of this book, Watson writes that his original intent in writing this book was

to give a more sympathetic portrait of the pioneers than any I had ever encountered.  I wanted to give them blood as well as bones; religion, motives, choices, memories, identity, ancestors, an inheritance of their own (p.xxvii)

This doesn’t sound like the aspirations of a historian whose work, through this book,  became associated with those derided by the New Right as promoting ‘black armband history’. We know, from Watson’s later work on the deadening effect of managerial language and ‘Weasel Words’ that he is impatient and dismissive of ‘political correctness’. But, he argues, “It can hardly hurt a mature society to know that its founders were capable of evil as well as good.  An immature society can only benefit”(p. xxvi)

Hence the importance of McMillan:

The harder we look at McMillan the more we see the patterns of our collective experience and the elements of our contemporary dilemma.  The harder we look at him the more signs we see of the kindness and brutality, self interest and charity, memory and amnesia, decency and hypocrisy that has characterised public and private dealings with Aboriginal Australia from the beginning to the present day.  And the harder we look at the society McMillan came from the more we see how the dispossessed everywhere tend to follow the same path to material and spiritual poverty: in the nineteenth century the Australian Aborigines were not the only ones to be first cast as dangerous and unruly savages, and then left stranded between pity and contempt- and then thrown still further adrift from humanity by Social Darwinism. (p. xxviii)

No: this process had engulfed Highlander society, which in turn subjected the Kurnai people to the same fate.  The last words of Caledonia Australis are “..the irony was lost”. Irony, at its most powerful, does not need a spotlight or announcement, but emerges quietly and insistently out of the material itself.  Just as it does in this book.