Category Archives: This Week in Port Phillip District 1841

This Month in Port Phillip in 1842: April 1842 (Part III)

What about poor George Arden?

You might remember that since February 1842, the young editor of the Port Phillip Gazette had been languishing in the Eastern Watchhouse, sentenced to a year’s jail and a £300 fine for contempt of court over an article he had written in his newspaper.  During March, his imprisonment had become increasingly controversial, spurred no doubt by articles in his own paper, the Gazette, and through the support of the Port Phillip Herald.  Competing petitions were circulating Melbourne:  a petition to Her Majesty had been put up by Arden’s friends, while a counter-memorial, addressed to Judge Willis, pledged the support of the signers for Willis’ actions and performance as Resident Judge. Another petition to Governor Gipps admitted Arden’s wrongdoing but argued that after two months, Arden’s business and health were suffering badly and called on Gipps to remit the remainder of the twelve month sentence.

On 15th April, Judge Willis announced in court that, owing to Arden’s poor health and having succeeded in stopping the libels appearing in the press, he was willing to remit the rest of the sentence. “Your imprisonment has been as painful to me as it must have been to yourself” he claimed (PPP 18/4/42)- something that I very much doubt! He said that as the £300 fine rested with the Executive, he was not able to remit that part of the sentence, and gave him twelve months to pay it. The editor of the Port Phillip Herald, George Cavenagh, and George Thomas from the firm Thomas, Enscoe and James, stood surety for Arden’s appearance in twelve months time to pay the fine. Willis questioned them severely in court over their ability to cover the £300 should they be required to do so.  As it turned out, the fine was remitted after all. Gipps turned the whole question of what could/couldn’t and should/shouldn’t be remitted over to the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General in Sydney, who said that Willis did not have the authority to remit any part of the sentence because that authority rested completely with the Governor. On 14 May Governor Gipps remitted the whole sentence (jail and fine) and reported on the whole affair to London. The Secretary of State for the Colonies approved of Gipps’ actions and expressed regret that Willis had behaved as he did.

The Port Phillip Herald, which had supported Arden throughout,  applauded Willis’ actions:

we sincerely thank His Honor Judge Willis for the important act of mercy which has been extended to a brother editor.  To say that we do not feel grateful to His Honor for this act of grace would be to belie our conscience; and most sincerely do we trust- in recording our determination to bury the past in oblivion- that our future course as an impartial and fearless chronicler of passing events, may be cheered onwards by bearing testimony to the fact that our Resident Judge has gained the united esteem of a happy people. [PPH 19/4/42]

The Port Phillip Patriot, no friend to Arden and a strong supporter of Judge Willis wrote:

Mr Arden certainly does not deserve, and we should think cannot expect further grace, for he had not even the courtesy to offer his thanks to the Resident Judge when unexpectedly released from a ten month’s confinement, and neither in word nor deed since has he shewn himself in any degree grateful for an act of spontaneous kindness on the part of his Honor, which has excited the admiration of every one in the province but him whom it most concerned.” [PPP 25/4/42]


Even though there were accusations that the British government was ‘shovelling out its paupers’ to Australia, at first the emigration schemes were meeting a real need for labour in Port Phillip.  By early 1842, though, the ships kept arriving into an economically worsening situation.  Although Governor Gipps was no fan of government work schemes, infrastructure was needed and there was now excess labour available, and so a number of projects were commenced including the construction of roads and jetties. The newspapers kept up a steady stream of complaints about the expense of government works and the indolence of the labourers employed on them.

On 19 April 1842 La Trobe announced that the wages for unemployed immigrants would be reduced from twenty shillings a week to eighteen shillings a week.  Martin Sullivan in his Men and Women of Port Phillip (p. 219) suggests that about two hundred men went on strike.

IMMIGRANTS On Tuesday last, a large party of the Irish emigrants, who have hitherto been employed by Government on the new road to the beach, “struck” work, and mounting a loaf on a long pole crossed the breakwater when they were joined by another party of the same class, and then proceeded to the Superintendent’s Office to resist the reduction of their wages as intended on Saturday last.  Failing to see His Honor, they paraded past the new Church in the direction of the Flag Staff evidently in a state of excitement and bent on mischief.

The intelligence was communicated to the Bench, whereupon the Major hastily adjourned the Court, and putting the Riot Act into his pocket, mounted his Bucephalus, and galloping after them, overtook these gentry on the outskirts of the town.  The matter spread like lightning through the town and parties were seen in all directions hasting to “the row”.  The Major rode in amongst them, and enquiring their complaint, was told that the reduction in their wages deprived them of the means of getting bread. By the good humour and coolness of the worthy magistrate, most of the insurgents drew off, but a few of the more refractory spirits breathed “battle, murder, and sudden death.” In fact, we heard one fellow exclaim – “wouldn’t it be better to fight an’ die, than to live and starve,” by which sentence he punctuated by sundry gyrations with a black-thorn shillelagh.

On the Major’s return to the Police Office, the overseer of emigrants was in attendance and a list of their names handed into Court; he said he could not mention any of the ringleaders names, as they appear to rise en masse, the whole affair having the appearance of a previously concerted determination. The first four names on the list were taken and warrants issued for their persons. If prompt measures are not taken in this matter at once, serious consequences may ensure.  The origin of this disturbance arose from wages of the single men and men of small families being reduced from twenty shillings to eighteen shillings per week, and from this reduction of two shillings, they anticipated starvation. [Port Phillip Herald 22 April 1842]

The strikers didn’t get a lot of sympathy from the newspapers.  There was a strong anti-Irish undercurrent running through the commentary. The Port Phillip Herald, which was the most critical of the three newspapers didn’t hold back:

… in speaking of the whole generally, we may safely say that such another specimen of ignorance, and everything that can render human nature degraded, could scarcely be again witnessed in any other part of the globe. They must have come from the inland – almost impervious recesses of the mountainous districts of the south of Ireland, knowing little except what untutored instinct teaches, and directed by no other law than the impulse of a savage passion. We are well aware that many have been seduced from their homes by the misrepresentations of emigration agents and other interested parties, but we also know, and these very men who have been the ringleaders in the late “strike” cannot be ignorant, that scarcely one of them was ever before in a situation where they might be so comfortable. Even the ablest and best labourers of the peasantry of England, Ireland the Scotland, do not receive more than one shilling a day, out of which they have to pay house rent, and provide food and clothing for themselves and families, and, besides, work hard from morning to night; here they have 3s 4d a day, and food as cheap as in almost any part of the world; only a very moderate quantity of work is required in return, and they are at liberty to make their present situation a conveniency until they can enter into a better arrangement. As a proof that they are themselves aware of the present advantages, we may mention what we ourselves know to be a fact, that one of the men, who was the most prominent of the disgraceful characters who figured on Tuesday last, refused, only a few days previously £35, with free house, rations &c for himself and wife, and to shew also that they do not consider themselves hard wrought, we may adduce another example of one- also of the ringleaders, going to a ship-mate and endeavouring to persuade him to get upon the public works, as “he would only have to pass a part of the day with a shovel in his hand and come home with £1 in his pocket on Saturday night. [PPH 26/4/42]

The Port Phillip Patriot, which could perhaps be described as the most ‘radical’ of the three newspapers, didn’t have much time for them, either:

At least three-fourths of these fellows would have considered themselves happy in their native country if in the receipt of six shillings a week, and many of them scarcely ever saw a loaf of bread, or tasted butchers’ meat, before they embarked for Melbourne; it would be serving the ungrateful rascals but right therefore to turn them every one adrift, and let them shift for themselves. There is no fear of their starving, for there is abundance of employment and good wages to be had in the province by every body that is able and willing to work , and it would be wrong to encourage such black ingratitude by inducing the fellows to think they can’t be done without. When the immigration season re-commences we trust care will be taken to send us no more of these fellows. It is a notorious fact, that while these men have hung on, some of them for many months, every English, Scotch, and North of Ireland immigrant has been engaged immediately on arrival, and such, we feel assured, would be the result were half a dozen ships of well selected immigrants to arrive to-morrow. The importers of immigrants, who inundate us with this description of men, have much to answer for. [PPP 21/4/42]

I’m surprised that the Port Phillip Gazette ended up being the most sympathetic

… the event, we presume, is one of little moment, as regards the peace of society; for considering the badness of the times, few will say that the men have not been as well treated as possible; but as there certainly have been grounds for complaint, we ought not to look with indifference upon these evidences of discontent, however untutored. [PPG 20/4/42]

As it turned out, the strike was of little moment.  The men went back to work for eighteen shillings; more unemployed men kept being employed on government projects and the newspapers stopped talking about it.  For now, anyway.

A night at the Assembly Ball

Back in June and October of 1841 Melbourne hosted two assembly balls.  Now in April, there was a third subscription ball, although it was a much less anticipated event than the ball in October had been when Governor Gipps was in attendance.

THE ASSEMBLY BALL. “On Tuesday evening the 5th of April, the third of the annual subscription meetings, under the name of Melbourne Assemblies, was held in the long room of the Exchange Hotel, the decorations and refreshments under the able management of Mr Howe, confectioner, of Queen-street, were as brilliant as on former occasions, the party however was much thinner, not exceeding seventy ladies and gentlemen; but the last, we must recollect, was indebted for its superior attractions to the presence of His Excellency the Governor and suite. Owing to the delicate state of his lady’s healthy, His Honor the Superintendent was not in attendance. Messrs Airey and Cuninghame and Major St John were the stewards for the occasion. [PPG 9/4/41]

A night at the theatre

On 11 April the Port Phillip Patriot reported that the Colonial Secretary had granted an extended licence for three months for the performance of amateur theatricals.  The theatre generally was a source of anxiety about the ‘low types’ amongst ‘professional’ thespians and the boisterous, immoral behaviour of the patrons. To head off these criticisms, the license was granted to relatively ‘respectable’ men to act as stewards: Hon Mr Murray and Messrs Cavenagh (editor of the Port Phillip Herald), Kerr (editor of the Port Phillip Patriot), Stephen, Ebden and Baxter.  The theatre would only operate on Monday evenings, with surplus funds applied at the discretion of the stewards to such bodies as the Benevolent Hospital, the Mechanics Institution etc.

They engaged the Pavilion, (interchangeably called the Theatre Royal) a theatre that I’ve written about previously here and here. An advertisement duly appeared in the newspapers


[PPP 14/4/42]

Well, the evening went off with a ‘bang’. Literally.

The Aristocracy. — During the performance of the amateur theatricals on Mon day evening, a couple of Melbourne aristocrats, one a member of the Melbourne, and the other of the Port Phillip Club, amused themselves, and annoyed the audience by throwing fireworks among the ladies in the boxes, and otherwise conducting themselves so disgracefully that the Clubs to which they respectively belong, cannot, if they have any regard to their own reputation, allow them to continue members. One lady had her bonnet burnt through, and her face severely scorched by a burning squib thrown into the box by these worthy scions of the aristocracy ; and another was so dreadfully alarmed by one of the burning squibs bursting on her dress that she fainted, and has since had repeated fits of hysterics. Fortunately, enough of evidence has been obtained to bring home guilt to both of the ruffians, who, it turns out, are actually making their way through the Insolvent Court, and were therefore spending in this way the money which belonged to their creditors. Summonses have been issued to compel their attendance at the Police-office, and we trust Major St. John will deal with them in such a manner as will prove a warning to others.  [PPP 21/4/42]

Sure enough, the ‘Melbourne aristocrats’ fronted up to the Police Office to face charges of creating a disturbance by throwing fireworks into the boxes.  It was young Peter Snodgrass- and remember that name because we’re going to meet him again next month. He had written to the stewards and apologized and so none of the stewards wished to proceed against him. Major St John, in quashing the information, remarked “that he was not surprised that young men should misconduct themselves in such a manner when, as he was informed, the boxes which should have been reserved for families were filled with women of improper character” and threatened to write to the Colonial Secretary to withdraw their licence. Mr Kerr (one of the stewards) denied it and “though not himself in front of the house of the occasion referred to, he was aware that there were no females of improper character admitted, but the three who were brought there by the persons concerned in this disturbance, and they were prevented re-entering the Theatre when their characters became known”. In a little aside, the editor of the Port Phillip Patriot added that the Major should be more careful issuing such statements. “There were many highly respectable families in the boxes on Monday evening who of course will not feel greatly flattered by the Major’s complimentary remarks.” [PPP 25/4/42]

The Eagle Tavern and Theatre Royal

‘The Eagle Tavern and Theatre Royal’ by W. F. E. Liardet (1799-1878) Source: State Library of Victoria

And all’s well that ends well, as they say in the theatre, with the second performance the following Monday regarded as a complete, and highly respectable, success:

Amateur Theatricals.-— Monday night, the second occasion on which the theatre has been opened under the present license, was a night of complete success; the house was filled to excess before the expiration of the first piece. During the week which intervened since the previous performance, an alteration had been made in the interior with regard to the arrangement of the pit and boxes, which was obviously superior : the front boxes had been brought to the same level with the pit, and the division taken away so as to form one arena from the entrance to the stage: the side boxes were reserved exclusively for the parties by whom each had been engaged for the night, with the exception of the two nearest the proscenium, which were indiscriminately filled with respectable parties making choice of the situation. The agitation which had been made respecting  the questionable system of admission allowed by the stewards, on the last occasion, has effected, through the instrumentality of the Police Magistrate, a most commendable reformation; and respectable families have to thank Major St. John for the pleasure they enjoy of visiting the theatre, without being mixed up with scenes and persons of an objectionable class. The boxes were patronised by several ladies among whom were Mrs.D. S. Campbell, Mrs. David M’Arthur, Mrs. Hazard, Mr. Erskine, Mrs. Addis, Mrs.Harrison and Mrs St. John, besides Maj of St-John, Capt. Lewis, Mr. Ryrie, J.P., Mr, Commissary Erskine, Mr. Ensign Freeman, of the 80th, Hon. Mr. Murray, and a great number of gentlemen who filled the passages at the back of the seats, until standing room was lost. This, by the way, might be amended for the better: the backs of the boxes should be taken down, and another row of seats carried up, leaving only sufficient width between the wall and the uppermost seat for entrance and exit.  The passages at present are crammed, to the Inconvenience of the gentlemen themselves, who, to judge by their conversation, would prefer sedentary accommodation and in some cases to the serious annoyance of ladies, who have to crush through the ranks of coated and hatted loungers [PPG 27/4/42]

How about the weather?

Melburnians know that April is a changeable month. Our 1842 Melburnians found that out too.

THE WEATHER Since our last notice, has exhibited one of those sudden extreme contrasts for which, in these regions, it is so remarkable. The oppressive heat has been succeeded by squally weather and stiff sea breezes; considerable quantities of rain have fallen during the past week, bringing relief to nature, animate and inanimate. Through the whole of Wednesday and Thursday, it blew a fresh gale from the south-west which is now succeeded by a more genial state of atmosphere. [PPG 9/4/42]

On the 9th of April, it was 79 degrees (26C) but by the 27th of April, it was still only 49 degrees (9C) at lunchtime.   Ah- Melbourne! You wouldn’t be anywhere else for quids!

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 24 -31 December 1841

Of course, Port Phillip celebrated Christmas on 25 December, along with the rest of the British Empire.  In 1841, 25 December was a Saturday, thus providing a two-day holiday. It’s a sobering reminder of the rarity of holidays in the nineteenth century, with no paid leave available until 1935.

Christmas Day falling on a Saturday gave two consecutive holidays to the labouring classes, in whose pleasures, as well as that of the residents at large, the unusual coolness of the weather at this time has greatly contributed (PPG 29/12/41)

[Casualization and barely-restricted retail opening today means that a proportion of workers no longer get paid annual leave, or indeed two consecutive days holiday.  The traditional January-shutdown of industry is becoming a thing of the past, too.]

Christmas celebrations

I’ve written about Christmas in Port Phillip in 1841 here and about Christmas in Port Phillip during the early 1840s here.

However, on 5 January a letter was published in the Port Phillip Herald by a Mr. J.R.M. of Douttagalla, praising the simple joys of a Christmas ‘pic-nic’ on the Salt River. It all sounds rather too wholesome and improving:


“Here, for retreat in sultry hour

Some hand had formed a rustic bower;

It was a lodge of ample size

But strange of structure and device

Of such materials as around

The workman’s hand had readiest found”


I was repeating these lines as I entered “the sylvan shed” where our little party had laid out to pass the afternoon. But my attention was soon arrested by the exceeding beauty of the scenery around us.  There, in the foreground, and only a few yards from our feet, lay a noble sheet of water, calm as “a cradled infant”, and margined with various specimens of the monoperigynae and monopetalae. Up the slanting sides of the ravine grew the tall and stately tea tree and cleagni, interwined with the teazles and woodbines of the corisantherae, here and there pushing out a pretty pale corolla, as if beauty and innocence had been engaged in decorating grace.  Farther off in a deep recess, the gigantic gum-gree stretched forth its bare white branches, like a skeleton in a green house! Or like a dream of paradise after death had entered there! The field of view from the bower was such a picture of nature’s own beautiful embroidery as would have elicited and harmonized with the exquisite imagery of Claude Loraine.

The party consisted of no more than Mr and Mrs H____ with their six fine children and myself. The boys entertained us by reading and reciting in excellent style pieces selected for the occasion; and the little girls, playful and sportive as young fawns, went skipping about in all the happy enjoyment of domestic felicity…

The viands were in admirable keeping with this little family picture:- plain, substantial and elegantly laid on the greensward, canopied by wreaths of flowers and foliage, as if the Naiads and Limnades had consecrated this spot to retirement and primitive innocence…

On leaving this scene of rural and domestic happiness, I could not help reflecting on it with pleasure and admiration. There sat the fond father and mother in the bosom of their young amiable family, enjoying their pleasures, and participating their amusements. How truly rational these enjoyments! And how exalted they stand in contrast with other anniversaries I had previously witnessed of a Chrismas merry-making- where reeling riot and desecration had usurped the throne of intellect, and man- the lord of the creation- seemed to have forgotten dignity, abandoned reason, and trampled on gratitude to HIM whose name was announced at this happy season in “tidings of great joy to all the people,” and should fill the heart with love and joy, and ineffable glorification at a Christmas merry-making.  J.R.M. Douttagalla, 27 December 1841.

Getting rowdy

Perhaps it was too much Christmas cheer, or the warm weather, or the increase in numbers of immigrants, but it seemed that the newspapers- most particularly John Fawkner’s Port Phillip Patriot – were especially conscious of unruly behaviour among the labouring classes.

Rowdy groups appeared to congregate around Little Bourke Street, which by 1855 was a centre of Chinese activity.  Already in 1841 it was known as a slum area.

SABBATH BREAKING. A number of idle vagabonds are in the constant practice of openly profaning the Lord’s Day by congregating in Little Bourke-street and there amusing themselves by gambling with half-pence, playing at ball &c. On Sunday week we observed about thirty persons employed in these practices.  The non-apprehension of the ringleaders in these sports evinces a very unpardonable negligence on the part of the constabulary; we trust, however, that this public notification of the nuisance will have the effect of preventing  its recurrence. (PPP 27/12/41)

Nefarious activities took place off the street as well:

DISORDERLY HOUSE One of the greatest nuisances which has existed in Melbourne for some time past has been a house of ill-fame situated in a lane leading from Bourke-street. On Friday last, at the police office, two notorious characters named Peter and Elizabeth Toote, were fully committed to take their trials for keeping this nest of infamy. From the evidence for the prosecution, it appeared that scenes of the most revolting nature were there nightly carried on, and that it was also a receptacle for the most notorious thieves in Melbourne. (PPP 27/12/41)

On the 27th December there was a ‘riot’ in Brunswick Street Fitzroy (then known as New Town).

DISGRACEFUL RIOT – A most disgraceful scene took place on the night of Monday last, in the neighbourhood of Brunswick Street, New Town. Some vagabonds of both sexes, principally Irish, had congregated together and were engaged in fighting each other with sticks, tomahawks, stones or any other missile which they could conveniently obtain, accompanying their efforts with vollies [sic] of oaths and imprecations; nor was peace and good order restored the whole evening. As the constabulary force is to be increased by twelve men at the end of the present year, we trust that the authorities will see fit to station at least two of that number at New Town where they are much required. (PPP 30/12/41)

It was a shame really, as the Police Magistrate had just that day acquitted all but one of the revellers arrested over the Christmas/Boxing Day holiday:

VOTARIES OF BACCHUS. On Monday last, the Police Magistrate discharged all the parties, with one exception, who had been taken up during the Christmas holidays for drunkenness, the exception was that of an old offender, who has accommodated with a seat in the stocks for four hours. PPP 30/12/41)

Concert and Tradesmen’s Ball

There was more to do than brawl on Monday 28th, because it was the night of the Tradesmen’s Ball. It was held at the Pavilion Theatre, which I have described previously.


“.Past ten o’clock” sang out the watchman, as we were wending our way homewards through Great Bourke-street. “Past ten o’clock,” and the information came to us unexpectedly for we had been engaged in ” counting hours for minutes,” we had, in fact, been Romeo and Julietizing; the scene in Capulet’s garden was fresh in our remembrance, and as we soared along we repeated to ourselves

“The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars

As day light doth a lamp : her eye in heaven

Would through the airy region stream so bright .

That birds would sing, and think it were not night.”

How far we would have gone on in our rhapsody is uncertain, had not the Pavilion presenting the unusual aspect of an illuminated front burst upon our view, and we paused to inquire the meaning of such an appearance. Mr. Hodge informed us that the tradesmen of our infant city were celebrating Christmas by holding a concert and ball, and his kindness politely afforded us admission to the scene of festivity.

We will not say that our eyesight was dazzled by the beauty and splendour of the scene, but we must say that we were charmed by the neat dresses and happy faces every where visible. Many of the ladies were in “full dress” in honour of the occasion ; one in particular, who had arrayed ” the temple of her thoughts” (a very handsome little edifice it was) in artificial roses bound up with pearl white satin ribbon, we admired exceedingly. On the other hand, we will not deny that we experienced sincere emotions of pity for several of the dear creatures, who were compelled to hold their bonnets on their knees to avoid their being crushed, and were thus kept in a fidgety state, the whole evening; others very wisely tied theirs on the pillars, which had the double effect of putting them out of harm’s way and adding to the ornaments of the building.

We had scarcely taken a hurried glance at these arrangements when a gentleman in very ” dickey” apparel appeared and sang ” Sich a gettin’ up stairs,” which was received with great applause and encored. Then a little boy with a shrill voice sang “Isle of Beauty,” and after that a gentleman splendidly attired in a blouse, with a red button-up waistcoat, and light trousers announced that “as soon as the feenarly was over the ball would commence.” And accordingly we had the finale ” God’ save the Queen'”- but nobody seemed prepared for the ball.

On the contrary, the company, many of whom, to judge from the incessant popping of corks, were enjoying themselves exceedingly, were by no means satisfied with the banquet of sweet sounds dished up by the careful Hodge. Loud calls were heard for “Jack Rag,” and ” Jack Rag”, became with the rougher sex an almost universal cry, till at last we in our simplicity imagined that Jack Rag was a very boorish sort of person not to come forward and speak to his friends, seeing that they were so clamorous for his appearance.. ” Jack Rag” however, turned out to be an epithet conferred on the gentleman who sang ” Sich a gettin’ up stairs,” but he with a proper spirit disdained to appear when called upon so disrespectfully.

The singing, too, was properly speaking over, and Mr. William Cooper, a son of Vulcan, who officiated as master of the ceremonies, stept forward and with it a few stamps a la Richard the Third succeeded one by one in extinguishing the lamps in front of the proscenium, which, as they were severally operated on, sent upwards a I gracefully picturesque cloud of smoke. Loud cries were ‘ now heard for “Mr Cooper’s song,” but Mr. C. was “no wocalist,” and so he assured the ladies and gentlemen. “Cooper’s song,” reiterated a mischievous wag in one of the boxes to the right. ” Lay down,” responded that worthy gentleman looking daggers at the disturber, but the clamour was not so easily subdued, and the noise and calls for the song continued.

The master of the ceremonies looked excessively angry and excessively puzzled.- “Leave them to me, I’ll manage them,” at last imploringly whispered a hanger-on of the establishment  – ” Leave them to you!” indignantly replied the insulted gentleman; “No, I’m master here,” a demonstration which was received with loud applause. ” Ladies and gentlemen,'” continued Mr. Cooper, “but I won’t say the ladies, for they know how to behave  themselves, but I say, gentlemen, I’ve come here to enjoy myself, and I hope you’ve done the same, so don’t let us have no rows.’

Order was then restored, and Mr. C. intimated, that ” as Mrs. C. didn’t feel inclined, he would feel obliged if any lady would lead him off in a quad-drilll.” No answer was made to this appeal, but a respectable costermonger at length succeeded in giving  an impetus to the affair by promenading with a fair friend up and down the stage which would have been n delightful exhibition only that by keeping his hat on he somewhat, marred the effect. A country dance was soon arranged ; ” haste to the wedding,” was struck up, and “hands across” ” up and down the middle ” &c., &c., were gone through in beautiful style. One remark we feel bound to make— we hate egotism in every shape, and therefore we consider the conduct of the gentleman in top boots (” we mention no names,” but we believe him to be an ostler,) who danced in a corner by himself, highly reprehensible.

To conclude ; at eleven we were compelled reluctantly to leave the gay and be-witching scene of festivity, highly delighted at the exhibition of the happiness which prevailed throughout. We consider much praise is due to the getters-up of the affair, not only for the intention, but the successful mode in which they succeeded in carrying it out, and we therefore beg to wish them “many happy returns of the season.” (PPP 30/12/41)

A Christmas Box

I’m not sure about the receipt of Christmas boxes in general, but the apprentice working for the barrister Horatio Nelson Carrington certainly received a box around the ears two days before Christmas. It demonstrates how much physical punishment was condoned under the Master and Servant legislation then in force.

AN UNTOWARD APPRENTICE. — Mr.Carrington, the solicitor, had occasion on Thursday, to bring before the Police Bench an apprentice, for the most improper conduct. It appeared that the previous evening, upon Mr. C. going home and not finding preparations for dinner at five o’clock, as he had directed, he enquired of the boy the reason, when he coolly replied that he had better do it himself ;  naturally irritated, Mr, C. gave him, both correctly arid legally, a box on the ears, when the young urchin turned round and seized him by the lappelle of  the coat,  some knives were lying on the  table, and the boy made towards them, evidently with the view of stabbing Mr.C., who rushed him out of the room. Just as Mr. C. let go of his hold, the boy struck him a violent blow on the side of the head. A horse-whip being produced, Mr C. gave the boy a most judicious whipping, and then handed him to the care oft the police.

The Bench sentenced the boy to fourteen days in a cell, and Mr. Carrington said that he would give up the boy’s indentures and pay his expenses in the Seahorse to Sydney; he belonged to the Orphan School. Mr. C. said further, that the boy had the most vicious turn of mind when spoken to; he was constantly in the habit of replying,” My father was a lag, my mother was a lag, and I hope to be a lag myself.” No doubt the wish of this young gentleman will be carried out in due time. (PPG 25/12/41)

How’s the weather?

Southerly breezes ensured that the weather remained much cooler for this last week of the year. There was one day of 88 degrees (31 degrees) but the rest of the week was more temperate.

Fresh and strong winds or gales almost constant; weather cool for the season and much clouded but with little rain.

And with that- on to 1842!!!  (and 2017!)

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: 8-14 December

A night at the Debating Society

The December meeting of the Debating Society turned its attention to the rivetting question “Whether the conduct of Elizabeth was justifiable towards Mary Queen of Scots”( which strikes me as a particularly irrelevant question to be asking on a meeting at the Scots Church schoolhouse on a summer’s evening on the other side of the world some 254 years after the event.) Nonetheless, a large audience was in attendance.  I’ve already written about the Debating Society here and here.  According to the long Port Phillip Gazette report of this meeting, the opening speaker read his delivery “in preference to committing so important a task to the support of his unassisted memory and impromptu talent.” His speech was “fairly written” and delivered with considerable spirit but  “the speaker, however, had to struggle with the disadvantage of reading under a bad light and without any convenient rest for his papers.”

Then -shock!- one of the speakers uttered the word “bigamy” in describing the crimes of the Queen of Scots

and although it could only be objected to on account of its want of refinement where a choice of terms existed, yet it appeared to be received by a certain set, who showed even less taste than the speaker, with a titter of mysterious amusement; the interruption occasioned might, however, have shortly subsided, had it not been rendered worse by the request of the chairman that the learned gentleman would be guarded in his language in the presence of females.  The women, poor dear souls, for the first time made aware of any impropriety having been committed, got fidgety and restless, and finally took their flight under the guardianship of a gentleman, who brought matters to a climax by abruptly observing that he was satisfied the attendance of the ladies must be a clog on the proceedings.[PPG 11/12/41 p. 3]

The Port Phillip Patriot in its much briefer report didn’t think much of this appeal to hilarity:

We cannot forebear alluding to the ridiculous personalities resorted by to [sic] sundry of the speakers; we would beg to remind such that, however much satirical allusions, utterly irrelevant to the discussion, may excite the laughter of the inconsiderate, they cannot but be unpalatable to every person anxious to witness so laudable an institute prosper, and that while such conduct may provoke the mirth of the passing hour its permanent effect will be to inflict a vital stab at the well being of the society. [PPP 13/12/41 p.2]

Meanwhile, in criticizing the facilities of the school house for use as a debating chamber, the Port Phillip Gazette gives us a glimpse into the way the meeting was run:

At present a small table is placed at the upper end of the room, where the chairman occupies a seat, flanked by the secretary and a visitor, each in a chair- benches are then placed so as to form an oblong before the table, where the spectators take their seats as they can obtain them, and upon these benches the ladies are allowed to scramble for their positions. [PPG 11/12/41]

The report writer recommended that there should be at least a dozen chairs surrounding the table for the convenience of female visitors, and the benches should be placed to afford a larger space.  He suggested that the table should be big enough for the speaker while he is standing beside the chairman, to face the audience and rest his papers and books.

The Brighton Estate

During December advertisements appeared in the newspapers for suburban property in Henry Dendy’s Brighton Estate.  As I mentioned back in February, Henry Dendy was one of a handful of land speculators who were able to take advantage of the short-lived Special Survey scheme to snaffle land close to Melbourne for suburban subdivision.  These landowners purchased the right to select and subdivide land  for a set price while they were still in England. The land probably wasn’t as close to Melbourne as they would have liked, as the regulations were changed to prevent any Special Surveys within five miles of central Melbourne – hence, the Special Surveys that did proceed were Dendy’s survey at Brighton, Unwin’s survey at Templestowe and Bulleen and Elgar’s at Box Hill and Balwyn. Incidentally, all these suburbs are now leafy and well-to-do, although Box Hill has been blighted with high-rise buildings.

The proprietors of the Brighton Estate having placed that property under the care of the undersigned for sale, parties desirous of enjoying the fine sea breeze and a beautiful summer’s residence, five miles from Melbourne, on the shores of our beautiful bay, have [?can?] know all particulars of sale, and see a plan of this already fashionably-esteemed watering place, by applying to Henry B Foot, Surveyor; Merriang Cottage, Bright or at Mr Ker’s Jun. Collins-Street. [PPG 11/12/41]


George Alexander Gilbert ‘View of Hobson’s Bay looking North from Brighton’ c. 1847. State Library of Victoria

When Henry Dendy was claimed by the 1843 depression (the first clouds of which were by now lowering on the horizon), his business partner J. B. Were took over. But even at this early stage, Were was very much involved in selling the land.

Brighton Estate- The special survey of H. Dendy Esq.  The above property is five miles from Melbourne, in a most healthy situation, being on the margin of Hobson’s Bay, possessing a fine soil, with a great variety of pleasing scenery.  This Estate having been surveyed and Subdivided into Country Sections, Town Allotments, and Suburban Portions for Marine Villa Residences, is now open for Sale by private Contract, at the counting-house of the undersigned, where a plan of the property can be seen. WERE BROTHERS & CO. [PPG 11/12/41]

Squabbling doctors

The first medical board was established in Port Phillip in 1844, but the medical profession had acted as a self-managed supervisory and appeal body before that date.  The doctors had approached Governor Gipps with a petition to form a medical board during his visit in October 1841, and now in December 1841 a professional dispute was played out through the newspaper columns of the Melbourne and Geelong newspapers.

In November, Mr John Highett of Geelong, brother of Mr William Highett the Melbourne banker,injured his back when falling on a stone from his horse. The injury was not serious enough to stop him riding and he treated himself,  using some simple lineaments and ointments. He ran out, and so went to Dr Clarke in Corio who examined his back and found a “flesh tumour with an inflamed base” which led him to believe it was an abscess. Dr Clarke lanced it with two or three incisions and added a blister on the diseased part. Mr Highett rode home but “so violently, however, did the pain increase” that on return to Geelong he called on Dr Shaw who gave his opinion that it was a “bloody tumour, and not an abscess” and so he altered the treatment. The patient learned that some difference existed between the doctors and so he called for a third opinion.  Both Drs Shaw and Clarke agreed that Dr O’Mullane from Melbourne should be sent for. He decided in favour of Dr Shaw.  Mr Highett “continuing a great sufferer…and probably in a moment of irritability” declared that he would bring an action against Dr Clarke. On hearing this, Dr Clarke called a board of professional members residing in Melbourne to investigate the case.  Mr McCrae sat as President, alongside Drs Clutterbuck, Wilmot, Cussen, Thomas, Sanford and Wilkie.  They decided on relieving Dr Clarke from the charge of unprofessional conduct.

Then followed a succession of letters in the Geelong Advertiser and the Port Phillip papers, with each man huffily defending his professional and gentlemanly reputation.  I’m not really sure how this played out, but I’m sure that the newspaper editors were happy to fan the flames to keep those column inches coming.

A suicide

There was no such thing as ‘trigger warnings’ in the 1840s newspapers and suicide was frequently reported.  [I live in a different time- and so, the article below concerns a suicide] I’ve noticed several suicides mentioned in the press, but haven’t been keeping a tally.  They were often attributed to madness, and alcohol seemed to be involved in many of the suicides involving men. However, in early December one particular suicide attracted attention, probably because of the age and social standing of the young man involved.

On the 13 December the Port Phillip Patriot reported a “Melancholy Suicide” when on Friday morning Mr G. W. A. Gordon, who had  been residing at the Caledonian Hotel, cut his throat from ear to ear. According to the report, he was believed to have been a native of Edinburgh and was at one time in the service of the East India Company.

He had arrived by the Catherine Jamieson on 22nd October and after staying at Seymours Hotel in Lonsdale-street, had shifted three weeks earlier to the Caledonia Hotel. He represented himself as being merely here on his way to India whence he intended to return overland to Britain, but was delayed in Melbourne because of the non-arrival of the William Mitchell by which he expected his servant and his luggage.

Since his arrival he had been drinking excessively and  suffering from pecuniary distress.  He seemed to be in possession of usual health and spirits up to Wednesday, although a few days ago he asked a fellow lodger when preparing to shave whether he ever felt an inclination to cut his throat.  He stayed in his room on Thursday, taking only a slice of toast and a glass of milk in the evening.  Early on Friday morning some of his fellow lodgers knocked on the door and asked if he wanted anything but were answered in the negative. Because he didn’t make his appearance at the breakfast table, the waiter checked his room but found the door locked and no answer.  The landlord burst open the door and found him on the floor.  Found a letter addressed to a fellow passenger from Leith “My Dear Freer- You will be astonished but ‘tis true that I am mad- yes have been mad… I am becoming more mad every moment.” The letter left instructions to Freer to write to Arthur Forbes of Edinburgh.

Inquiry found that he travelled under a false name and had debts in England and Scotland. At Bahia where the vessel put in, he led a rather wild life and must have squandered whatever money he had. Mr Gordon was about twenty five years of age, of pleasing manners and appearance.  The jury (yes, there was a jury) in the coroner’s inquest found that he died through ‘temporary insanity’. (PPH 17/12/41)  His  remains were interred in the Presbyterian burying ground on Saturday, presumably allowable on consecrated ground after the passing of the Burial of Suicide Act of 1823 in Britain.  On 16 December the Port Phillip Patriot reported that

Since the publication of our last number we have ascertained that Mr Gordon, whose melancholy fate was then recorded, was the son of John Gordon, Esq of Cairnbuly, Aberdeenshire, a natural son of the late Earl of Aboyne [PPP 16/12/41]

Georgiana McCrae who also had a Gordon family connection that is too complex for me to untangle (Brenda Niall does it beautifully in Georgiana) obviously knew Mr Gordon and felt regretful that things had turned out as they had:

Heard of the death of a son of Gordon of Cairnbuly. Had I known the poor fellow came from Sydney among utter strangers his father’s son should have had proper attention. [Georgiana McCrae Journal 11 December 1841]

The flagstaff and signal station

The signal station was positioned on top of Flagstaff Hill in what is now the Flagstaff Gardens. I knew that a system of flags indicated when ships moored or departed Hobsons Bay, which is visible from Flagstaff Hill but I must confess that I wasn’t sure how it worked.


Henry Gilbert Jones ‘Signal Station’ c 1841-45. Source: State Library of Victoria

Fortunately, the Port Phillip Patriot of 9 December explained the system of flags and pennants when the new Town Code of Signals was received.

CODE OF SIGNALS.  Mr Harvey, the Government Meteorologist has kindly obliged us with the following descriptive account of the new Town Code of Signals, which, we are happy to learn, will be speedily adopted. The system strikes us as being exceedingly compendious, far more so than anything of the kind which has ever come under our observation  [PPP 9 December 1841]

Red England
Red over white (horizontal) London
White over red (horizontal) Liverpool
Red over blue (horizontal) Scotland, east coast
Blue over read (horizontal) Scotland, west coast
Blue Ireland
White Continent of Europe
White over blue North America
Blue over white South American
Blue and white (vertical) Africa
Red and white (vertical Asia
Red and yellow Sydney
White and yellow Hobart Town
White red and yellow Launceston
Yellow blue and white South Australia
Blue yellow and red New Zealand
Blue, Yellow ball Swan River, King George’s Sound or Port in Australia not named
Blue and yellow Port Phillip District, east of Melbourne
Blue yellow and blue Whaling or South Sea Islands.

Note: Vessels from long voyages are indicated by flags; from short voyages by pendants.

A vessel in sight is indicated by a chequered flag, hoisted at the mast end.  If  there is more than one vessel, a pendant is hoisted below the flag for each additional vessel.

When the class of vessel is ascertained, the flag is hauled down and a ball hoisted on the yard- for a ship or barque, on the eastern extremity; for a brig, in the middle of E yard arm; for a schooner or large sloop, in the middle of W yard arm; for a steamer at its western extremity.

When the place of departure is known, the flag or pendant indicating the same in the list is hoisted beneath the all.

If the vessel should have touched at an intermediate port, the flag or pendant of such port is hoisted below that of the original place.

When the vessel arrives during the night, or too late to be signaled in the evening, the flags are hoisted the ensuing morning as soon as the particulars are ascertained, and remain up two hours.

For a Queen’s ship, the Union Jack, was positioned below the ball over the indicating flag. An emigrant vessel, a chequered flag was displayed below the ball over the indicating flag.

When a vessel put back, a red flag was displayed on the mast till the vessel anchors. If a vessel ran aground within the port,  a red and white flag was posted on the mast.

The weather

It continued warm, with the top temperature for the month of 94 degrees (34.4) recorded on 12 December.











This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 1-7 December 1841

The Indigenous Question blows up

[Warning:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this posting contains the names of deceased persons.]

I hadn’t realized until looking through the papers for this week that there were two court trials involving indigenous people running concurrently in Port Phillip during these first weeks of December.  They were very different trials.  The first, involved the ‘VDL Blacks’ or ‘The Tasmanians’, the group of Tasmanian aborigines that George Augustus Robinson had brought over with him when he took up the role of Chief Protector of Aborigines for the district of Port Phillip. I’ve written about Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener on several occasions previously (see here, here, here and here ) They were accused of ‘outrages’ and murder, and had finally been captured and brought to Melbourne.  During this first week, initial hearings were held in the Police Court before a bench of magistrates.

The second trial involved a settler, Sanford George Bolden, who was indicted for shooting with intent to murder an aboriginal native called Tatkier on his squatting run near Layton, down near Portland.

So, we have two trials: one of a group of  indigenous people for murdering a settler, and the other of a settler for intending to murder an indigenous man.  Add to this press outrage, an equivocal government response, the fanning of controversy by a missionary- and the authorities had a problem on their hands.

The ‘Tasmanians’

On Wednesday 1 December the Port Phillip Gazette reported that large benches of magistrates had sat in the Police Court since the preceding Friday to hear evidence on the case.  They sat on Friday, continued on Saturday, resumed on Monday and proceeded on Tuesday, before a large audience.  The Port Phillip Gazette had pretty much made up its mind:

The crimes alleged against them have been too clearly made out to leave any chance of acquittal, and their employment under Mr Robinson for such a number of years, precludes any hope of mercy on the plea of ignorance.  The case, therefore, is one of peculiar and distressing interest: and the only door of escape, or alleviation of guilt, rests in the fact of their having been deprived of their liberty, and enslaved under British authority.

Their conclusion was:

First, the prisoners are civil subjects of the Crown, by the most indubitable proofs of international law; they belonged to a people who were conquered by arms, and who subsequently yielded their independent rights by treaty to the Government of the country.  Secondly, they have a knowledge of British jurisprudence, are acquainted with the moral as well as civil law of the country, and can neither plead ignorance nor self-defence; they are, in fact, condemned under that very exposition of the law which the Resident Judge (from humane motives, but on mistaken principles) laid down in the case of Bon Jon.

So what did the Port Phillip Gazette think should be done? Their prescription was that they should

consider…them as they are- the wildest children of nature, without laws, religion, or obligation- and by taking them under our protection, with a view at once to curb their evil propensities, and instill into their minds the rudiments of our social order; in one word, by introducing a separate system of legislation for the Aborigines

The editor’s reasons for this stance, however, were steeped in the language and philosophy of the 1840s (however unacceptable it might be to us today):

We do not wish it to be understood, however, that these prisoners are, in consequence of such an issue, to be discharged; their conduct is far too dangerous to authorize so rash a proceeding; they must be placed under restraint; they must no more be considered free or irresponsible agents; civilization, it is proved, has no effect on their savage spirit of destruction. Like the tameless hyena, they are irreformable; they must be placed beyond the means at once of mischief and of want. A similar course should be pursued with all adults: and it is upon the sucking infant only that any complete system of education should be commenced, and progressively practiced. It is in their case only that success can be looked for; and while the present generation remains, specific treatment, distinct legislation, should be enforced  [PPG 1/12/41]

The evidence given over these days to the Police Court  was reported in full in the newspaper.

At the same time the Gazette ran a two-part series giving the history of aboriginal-settler relations in Van Diemens Land, describing the Black War and Robinson’s ‘friendly mission’. The article criticized Protector Robinson in particular on the grounds that once the Blacks had surrendered themselves to him, they never attempted to leave him and that he left them completely to their own control, seemingly taking little notice of them. [1/12/41; 4/12/41]

The trial was set for the next session of the  Supreme Court.  We’ll read more about this case later.

The Bolden case

At the very same time that the magistrates at the Police Court were committing the Van Diemens Land black to trial, the case of Sanford George Bolden was being heard before Judge Willis in the Supreme Court.  I’ve written about this case in Law & History Vol 3, which has recently been issued.  As Willis said several times during the hearing, the Boldens were neighbours of his in Heidelberg, and he was at pains to say that this had not influenced him in the slightest. (I think the Judge doth protest too much.)

Mr Sanford George Bolden was indicted for shooting at with intent to murder, an aboriginal native named Takier [Tatkier], with a pistol loaded with powder and a bullet at Layton, on 1st November. The second count charged it to have been committed with power and shot.  And the third with powder and slugs. [PPG 4/12/41]

Reading through the trial reports – and there is a very full account of the trial in the Port Phillip Patriot of 6 December (see here) – you’ll see that Judge Willis took a very active part in this case.  He usually did, but it is particularly marked in this case.  Much of the case revolved around the failure of the Assistant Protector Charles Sievwright to follow proper procedures in taking evidence. Willis certainly had cause to criticize. Sievwright indicated to Bolden that the body of Tatkier had been found, when this was not the case. Moreover, Sievwright was the object of rumour about his domestic arrangements and strongly criticized by the settlers.  Willis certainly didn’t hold back, and this criticism at a time when the Chief Protector, George Augustus Robinson, was being held responsible for the Tasmanian added to a generalized attack on the Protection policy as a whole.

La Trobe was blamed by the settlers, too. In an editorial on 11 December, the Port Phillip Gazette complained that Willis said that he can act against natives for depredations on the whites but La Trobe discountenanced the practical amenability of the natives to that law. Willis said that a settler who had the privilege of a run from the Government had a right to exclude the intrusion of the natives but when settler brought complaints before La Trobe, he intimated that they must abide by the consequences of coming to a country infested with savages. [PPG 11/12/41 p.2]

Most importantly in this case, Willis clearly stated that leaseholders had the right to turn aborigines off their land.

“ I wish it to be distinctly understood from this bench, that if a party receives a licence from Government to occupy a run, and any person white or black come onto my run for the purpose of stealing my property, I have a right to drive them off by every lawful means in my power. … The blacks have no right to trespass unless there is a special clause in the licence from the government  [PPG 4/12/41]

This statement was received with alarm by both La Trobe and Gipps, who feared that this would encourage settler violence even more.  The settlers, however, warmly embraced Willis’ opinion. It took the Colonial Office until 1848 to definitively state that pastoral leases were

not intended to deprive the Natives of their former right to hunt over these Districts, or to wander over them in search of subsistence in the manner to which they have been heretofore accustomed… [Earl Grey to Fitzroy 11 February 1848]

By this time, of course, Willis was long gone from the colony and the Port Phillip frontier completely ‘pacified’.  But back in the courtroom in 1841, Willis instructed the jury that

you can find no other verdict than an acquittal of the prisoner… I tell you again and again, the prisoner must be acquitted.”  [PPG 4/12/16]

And Bolden was, too.  Although his acquittal was not without some dissension.  Edmund Finn, writing as ‘Garryowen’ felt that Willis’ charge to the jury was “so favourable to the prisoner as to amount to marked partiality”(p. 350).  One of the jurymen stood up in court to declare that Bolden left the court “without the slightest imputation on his character”, but he was contradicted by the foreman of the jury who said that that was not the unanimous opinion of the jury.

A missionary has his two-pennethworth

Just to add to the controversy, the Wesleyan missionary repeated to a Wesleyan meeting in Melbourne comments that he had previously made in Launceston where he had accused some Portland settlers of parties of going out on the Sabbath with guns, ostensibly to shoot kangaroos, but in reality to hunt and kill blacks. Because the evidence of the native was not admissible in court, he claimed,  the white murderers had escaped with impunity.  [PPP 6/12/41 p.2]  The settlers of the District published a letter in the newspapers denying his claims and stating that

the information by which you seem to have been guided is false and calumnious… we would call upon you to justify yourself for having made such statements by attempting to prove at least some of your many and heavy charges. [PPG 8/12/41]

One of the signers was Sanford George Bolden.

Wreck of the William Salthouse

During the first week in December, the Port Phillip Gazette reported the loss of the William Salthouse, the first vessel to be wrecked within the bay of Port Phillip itself. A 260 ton vessel, bound to Port Phillip from Quebec, it was laden with timber, flour saltfish, beer, cider and vinegar. It was wrecked at the Heads on the reef that runs out from Point Nepean.

This reef we may observe was never properly laid down, it is represented as terminating abruptly at the last rock which shows itself above water, whereas the dangers continue under water at various depths, to the length of a cable or about 110 fathoms. [PPG 4/12/41]

The ship was boarded by one of the pilots from Shortland’s Bluff but she was unmanageable; the pilot gave her a second anchor but it snapped and the barque ran onto the sand known as the Pope’s Eye.  The water was rising.

The captain and the sailors succeeded in saving the ship’s boats and the sails of the ship, together with the ships papers, and some portion of their own clothes, but as the vessel was rapidly settling down in the water, they were speedily compelled to abandon her and take refuge on shore until assistance came to their aid. [PPP 2/12/41]

The owner of the consignment, Mr Ashurst, sailed down to render every assistance in his power.

On reaching the wreck, it was seen that no hope remained of saving the vessel or the cargo- she had fallen off the shoal into deep water…It is expected that she will go to pieces in a short time, especially as the weather has been very rough and the window blowing hard from seaward since the hour she sank.[PPG 4/12/41]

And sure enough, within a week there was an advertisement in the papers advertising that James Cain had purchased the wreck and cargo:

The undersigned having purchased the above wreck with all her cargo, hereby cautions all persons from appropriating any portion of the same.  Any person picking up any part ashore or afloat will be paid a salvage on delivery to JAMES CAIN, Queen’s Wharf. [PPG 11/1241 p 2]

The William Salthouse is now one of Victoria’s most important shipwrecks and is on the Victorian Heritage Database.  But at the time, as the Port Phillip Patriot pointed out:

The William Salthouse was, we believe, the first vessel excepting the prison ship Buffalo with the Canadian rebels, that ever came direct from British North America to any of the Australian Colonies, the catastrophe is therefore doubly to be deplored as likely to case of damp upon an opening trade which might have proved highly advantageous to these Colonies.[PPP 2/12/41]

And how’s the weather?

Obviously it was typical early-December weather, with all the changeability we Melburnians have come to love (?!) The highest temperature for the week was recorded as 88 (31C) and the lowest 45 (7.2).  It was notable enough for the Port Phillip Gazette to devote a long paragraph to Melbourne’s Favourite Topic:

The Weather. – The variations of temperature which have marked the past week are worthy of notice — the extreme of heat during the season has probably taken place, and the most sudden alteration which we may experience has accompanied it. For several days previously, the weather showed all the indications of gloom, storm, and heat. On Saturday,fitful gusts of wind swept over the town,and caught up columns of dust and sand into the air, which were carried away in whirlwinds, that gave a miniature idea of the horrible simooms of the Eastern dessert. One of these, particularly large and well defined, was traced from the river bank across the western end of Flinders and Collins-streets, through the opening in the Church-square ; hence it took the direction of Bourke-street, and enlarging as it proceeded, shot up a column of sand, the ruddy colour of which was strongly contrasted against the blue sky and rarified atmosphere ; the gyrations of the whirlwind, accompanied by a progressive motion carried it diagonally across the Eastern end of the town down to the river bank again, where crossing, it was dispersed on the opposite bank. Sunday was remarkable for its stormy character, the sand flew in broad clouds with a piercing force, that drove the pedestrian from the street, and the squalls raged round the building occupied as the New Church, that the congregation was obliged to disperse without the performance of divine service. One or two heavy thunder showers succeeded, which falling on the shingled roof of St. James’s Church, succeeded in penetrating, those parts where the heat had made the timber covering shrink, and threw down such a shower bath upon the inmates, as compelled many to change their seats. Monday and Tuesday were both sultry and oppressive, and the heat on Wednesday had arisen to a degree that rendered It almost insupportable. Towards the evening, the bush in every direction took fire,and from the signal hill a semicircle of burning forest was visible, through the darkness of the night, for twenty miles in the direction of Geelong. While the sun remained above the horizon the air was perfectly breathless, but at dark a hot northerly wind set in, that drove the fires nearer to the site of Melbourne, and carried with it a smoke that at daylight was descried hanging like a vast pall over the town, and spreading the panic of a conflagration. During this period the thermometer stood at 75 degrees, or nearly the same average temperature as at Calcutta through the year. With the additional stimulus of the sun’s rays the column nearly reached 90, when a sudden shift of wind took place— the sea breeze came up, swept away in the “twinkling of an eye” the superincumbent smoke and brought to the gasping inhabitants the long looked for relief. The mercury shortly fell to nearly 10 degrees below its former mean range, on about 18 degrees in as many minutes. The remain der of the day (Wednesday) was clouded and threatening. On Thursday it rained heavily ; the weather has now resumed its usual tranquility. [PPG 8/12/41]

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: 17-24 November

Step up! Step up!

At this time, what we now know as the Old Melbourne Gaol was under construction, replacing a succession of smaller, temporary jails. The first gaol  was a converted shepherd’s hut on Batman Hill set off Collins Street between King and Spencer Street. It was burnt down in an escape by two Kulin men being held for trial in April 1838.  The gaol shifted briefly to a brick store on the corner of William and Flinders Streets until another gaol was built adjoining the police office and the stocks on William Street between Collins and Flinders Lane. The fourth and last of the temporary gaols was opened in 1840, located   close to where the the very first gaol had been sited, back near the corner of Collins and Spencer Street.  It would serve until 1844 when the present Old Melbourne Gaol was opened, although the three-storey building still standing in Russell Street today was not opened until  1853.

Prisoners sentenced to hard labour often worked on the roads, where they were often the butt of criticism and derision from passerby who accused them of loafing. During this week news came of plans for a treadmill to be erected outside the ‘new gaol’ as an additional punishment that could be ordered by the court, meaning by ‘new gaol’ the fourth, temporary gaol.  A treadmill was listed as one of the assets in the Port Phillip District as on 12 September 1841 so I’m not sure if there was an earlier one.  Nonetheless, the papers reported in early November that:

Among the various works for the accommodation and improvement of her Majesty’s lieges, now in progress, we ought not to omit to mention the treadmill which is to be erected in a building recently commenced in the rear of the jail. We are delighted with the prospect of the speedy introduction of this agreeable species of moral and corporeal exercise (PPP 15/11/41)

The tender for the treadmill was accepted in early November for a cost of £180.  However, the treadmill was to cause nothing but trouble, often being inoperable. Within a year it was found that the heat caused by friction on the ironwork caused the woodwork to warp and become loose.  There were multiple attempts to repair it, and there were hopes that by attaching it to a maize mill, it would prevent the problem from recurring and be more useful.  In 1844 the treadmill was shifted to the ‘new’ Old Melbourne Gaol where both it, and the supervisors appointed to oversee it continued to cause trouble- in the latter case through drunkenness or failure to stop escape attempts.

There are few mentions of the treadmill in the Criminal Record Books for the Supreme Court, although it may have been used more for internal discipline purposes within the gaol itself.  It was obviously operational by 15 March 1842 when Judge Willis ordered two prisoners to work on it: the first for a rape conviction, where the prisoner was ordered to spend time on the treadmill at fortnightly intervals for three months; the second for turkey stealing where the prisoner was sentenced to three months jail, with alternative weeks on the treadmill in the last two months.  A third sentence on 7 April over theft of alcohol was for one month jail with the second and last week spent on the treadmill. There were no other sentences involving the treadmill recorded- perhaps it had become too problematic!

The Port Phillip Patriot reported on 22 November on the number of prisoners in the gaol

STATE OF HER MAJESTY’S GAOL AT MELBOURNE Saturday Nov 20 1841. “For trial, 22 males and 3 female; for hard labour, 27 males and 1 female; for iron gangs 10 males; for solitary confinement 4 males and 1 female; for debt 2 males.  Total 70. Five persons who have been committed for trial are also out of bail.  PPP 22/11/41

Dr Lang and the Australian College

During this week in 1841, the Presbyterians of Melbourne briefly welcomed Dr John Dunmore Lang from Sydney. What a fascinating man Lang was! and he keeps popping up in different contexts. Born in Scotland, he arrived in  New South Wales in May 1823 where he was the first mainland Presbyterian minister in the colony (there was another in Tasmania). A disputatious, forthright fellow, he brawled with fellow Presbyterians who he felt to have fallen into error, and was publicly critical of the influx of Catholics from Ireland. He was involved in education and politics, he was an immigration organizer, a writer and  newspaper editor. His mobility back and forth between Australia and England is remarkable, making at least eight visits to and from England and two to the United States over his long life.  He arrived in Port Phillip on 15 November for a fleeting visit to solicit financial assistance from Port Phillip for the Australian College, which he had established in Sydney in 1831.  On one of his trips to England he had received a grant of £3500 from the Colonial Office for the establishment of a private college if the same sum could be raised privately (an early private-public partnership!)  He put much of his own money from a bequest from his father into the institution, but it was still struggling financially in 1841: so much so- spoiler alert- that it closed between 1841 and 1846 before opening again to struggle on for another eight years.  He bemoaned the fact that he had not been given an endowment for the college from the local government in Sydney, which  he attributed to narrow minded jealousy, personal hostility to himself and the fact that the majority of members of the Legislative Assembly did not themselves enjoy a college education.

And so here he was in Melbourne, suggesting that the Presbyterian residents of Melbourne form “The Port Phillip Education Society” to contribute £200 annually for four years to endow a professor at the college. What was in it for the Port Phillip Presbyterians, you might wonder?  Well, the Australian College could educate local lads for the ministry, thus providing a home-grown cadre of Presbyterian ministers. He proceeded to Launceston and Hobart to make a similar suggestion to the Van Diemen’s Land Presbyterians. (PPP 15/10)  before returning  to discuss the matter more fully at a meeting called for the 3rd of December for interested participants.

Posthumous portrait of Lang, circa 1888.

Posthumous image J. D. Lang (painted 1888

How’s the weather?

Well, summer had arrived, with a top temperature of 90F (32C) on the 15th and 16th November, followed by a cool change.  There was no rain during the week at all.


This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 23-31 October 1841

Well, virtually only one thing happened during this week in Port Phillip in 1841- the visit of Governor George Gipps.


Governor George Gipps. Source: Wikipedia

George Gipps was the governor of New South Wales between 1838 and 1846.  During the Napoleonic Wars  he served in the Royal Engineers, then in peacetime he was deployed in  civil servant positions (as were many Napoleonic War veterans in the first half of the nineteenth century): first as an administrator in the West Indies and then as a Commissioner into electoral boundaries in England and Ireland. As private secretary to Lord Auckland, first lord of the Admiralty, he served on the Gosford Commission in Canada for two years.  New South Wales was his first appointment as Governor.  Based in Sydney, this was his first (and only) visit to Port Phillip, where he was greeted by Superintendent Charles La Trobe, who had previously stayed with the Gipps in Sydney when he first arrived in Australia.

He came alone, leaving Lady Gipps at home.  As he explained in a letter of 29 September to La Trobe:

Lady Gipps has finally decided to stay at home though she desires me to say that she has done so with much reluctance, and that she is very sorry to forego the pleasure of seeing you and Mrs La Trobe as well as your fine District.  She suffers always so very much at see, that I cannot press her to accompany me. [ Gipps to La Trobe 29 September 1841, Shaw Gipps-La Trobe Correspondence p.105]

Gipps’ predecessor Governor Bourke had visited Port Phillip in 1837 but Melbourne was a very different place now in 1841 in size, economic importance and self-confidence. The first immediate  concern of Melburnians was: given that they didn’t know when the steamer carrying him left Sydney, how would they know when he’d arrived in Melbourne?  The Port Phillip Gazette of 23 October reported the arrangements:

The procrastinated arrival of the steamer leaves no doubt that His Excellency’s visit to the Province will take place by that conveyance, and that she has been detained on that account.  Should Sir George be on board, the instant the Seahorse heaves in sight, with the flag indicative of his presence flying, a salute of nineteen guns will be fired from Fort Drake, late Gellibrand’s Point. Upon dropping anchor, the ships in harbor will likewise fire salutes.  The inhabitants of the town will thus have timely notice of the vice-regal presence. [PPG 23/10/41]

This would be the volley of shots that Georgiana McCrae’s son Willie heard on Saturday 23 October, as she recorded in her diary:

23rd After breakfast, Willie said he heard “guns making a noise!” and I knew at once that the Governor-in-Chief, Sir George Gipps, had arrived from Sydney.  He crossed the river on the punt and, at twelve o’clock, made his public entry into Melbourne.  The sound of cheering became very loud, so that I wished to be there, but the pains in my head made it impossible

The Port Phillip Gazette of 27th October gave a description of the arrival

ARRIVAL OF SIR GEORGE GIPPS. “At 8 o’clock on Saturday morning the Seahorse hove in sight, when the distinguishing flag was hoisted at the mast head, denoting His Excellency’s presence on board, a salute of nineteen guns was fired from Fort Drake.  On the steamer’s anchoring, the Water Police Magistrate Captain Gordon, with the other officials at Williams Town, waited on his Excellency. The Inspector of Water Police, Mr Sullivan went in a splendid six-oared mahogany rig (lent for the occasion by the Captain of the Thomas Arbuthnot) to the beach, and conveyed his Honor the Superintendent on board the steamer. Shortly after his Honor’s arrival, his Excellency, accompanied by His Honor, &c proceeded to Williams Town, where he inspected the Customs, Police Office, sick camp &c. and expressed himself highly satisfied with the place.  After remaining on shore some time, his Excellency and staff, with His Honor and Captain Gordon, went to the beach where he was received by the deputation.  Mr Liardet, the landlord of the Pier Hotel, had erected a four gun battery and did honor to his Excellency’s landing by firing a salute; he also had erected a triumphal arch on the Pier, which was carpeted.  They then proceeded to town, followed by a large concourse of the inhabitants of Melbourne [PPG 27/10/41]

The Geelong Advertiser gave a rare physical description of the Governor. I’ve often regretted that, especially at a time when newspapers did not have pictures, writers rarely said what people looked like:

He [ie. Sir George] has a dignified air, and even a stranger might recognise him by that peculiar care-worn expression of countenance which marks those who zealously devote themselves to the arduous duties of a responsible trust  [Geelong Advertiser, 25 October 1841 p.2]

The Port Phillip Patriot gave more details about his reception once he reached town:

At the punt [across the Yarra, near site of Princes Bridge today], not withstanding the briefness of the notice, an immense number of people had congregated, who received His Excellency, on their landing among them, with deafening shouts of welcome.  The procession, which by this time numbered several thousands of individuals, some on horseback, some in carriages, and some on foot, then proceeded, headed by His Excellency the Governor and His Honor the Superintendent up Collins-street to the summit of Batman’s Hill, the multitude cheering as they went along, thence to the signal station [on Flagstaff Hill] and back to town by way of Queen, Collins and Swanston Streets to His Excellency’s quarters at the Yarra Cottage Hotel. [PPP 25/10/41]

That afternoon, the governor and a number of gentlemen inspected the environs of the town then retired to a select dinner party.  The dinner may have been select but the people still had their own celebrations with fireworks and lights:

In the evening, in honour of His Excellency’s arrival, many of the inhabitants of the town had the fronts of their residences brilliantly illuminated, some with variegated lamps, and others with wax candles; the Royal Exchange Hotel, the William Tell and Messrs. M. Cashmore and Co’s premises were particularly deserving of notice.  A bonfire was also kindled in the street in front of the Commercial Exchange, and sky-rockets, crackers and fire-works of every description were to be heard and seen in every direction. [PPP 25/10/41]

On Sunday 24th Sir George attended church at St James. Although there was no ‘established’ church, the Anglican church seemed to have semi-official status, at least in connection with the courts (e.g. church service to open the legal year; Rev A. C. Thomson’s regular attendance at court each month to lead the prayers at the opening of the Criminal sessions). It’s no surprise then that it was St James and not one of the other churches that hosted the vice-regal party.

On Monday 25th October Sir George was up and about at 5.00 a.m. to ride out to Heidelberg to have breakfast with the Resident Judge, John Walpole Willis.  He was back in town by 1.30 when Gipps, La Trobe, the Aid-de-Camp and the Private Secretary arrived at the New Custom House to  to receive an address  from the residents that was presented by Messrs Cunningham, Barry, Mollison, Kilgour and Manning.

Such deference and unctuousness! Here’s the residents’ address:

We the inhabitants of Port Phillip, beg leave to address you Excellency with the assurance of our unfeigned loyalty towards our Sovereign, and of our sincere respect for your Excellency, her Majesty’s representative in New South Wales.

We hail with the highest satisfaction your Excellency’s visit to this district, and we trust your Excellency’s stay will be sufficiently prolonged to offer an opportunity for that full examination into the resources, improvements and wants alike of the town and province which they would seem to deserve

To this examination we respectfully solicit your Excellency’s earnest attention; and should it result in your Excellency’s conviction that we possess the true elements of prosperity and that we are practically working them out, then we trust that your Excellency will afford us the aid which is essential to their more full and rapid development

We sincerely hope that your Excellency’s visit will have the happy effect of firmly establishing that respect and confidence which it is so desirable should exist in our mutual relations; and it is our ardent desire that your Excellency may bear with you, n your return to the seat of government, no ungrateful recollections of Australia Felix [PPG 20/10/41]

And Governor Gipps gave his prepared response:

GENTLEMEN I am happy at length to find myself in the district of Port Phillip. I feel greatly obliged to you for the very kind and cordial reception which you have given me, and I think you particularly for this address.

My stay, gentlemen, amongst you must necessarily be shorter than I could desire it to be; but it will be, I trust, sufficiently prolonged to enable me to form an opinion of the resources of your province, and of the improvements of which it is susceptible, as also of its immediate wants.

To become better acquainted with these latter is one of the chief objects of my visit; to satisfy them, as far as the means at my disposal will permit, I true I need not say is my very anxious desire

Favoured as you are with a district of exceeding beauty and fertility, I cannot doubt that the onward course of your prosperity will be as steady as the first development of it has been striking; and I shall, indeed, gentlemen, bear away with me a grateful recollection of Australia Felix, if I may permit myself to hope that my visit has in any way tended to advance your interests, or to confirm and strengthen those feelings of unanimity and mutual confidence which are no less necessary for the happiness of individuals, than for the prosperity of states.[PPG 27/10/41]

Then the doors were thrown open and the following men were presented to the Governor:



Is there anyone you should know there? Well, the press is there (Arden, Cavenagh, Fawkner, Kerr); the owner of Banyule Homestead is there;  and George Augustus Robinson the Aboriginal Protector was there along with Le Soeuf.  Reverends Thomson (Anglican), Forbes (Presbyterian), Geoghegan (Roman Catholic), Wilkinson (Wesleyan Methodist), Wilson (Anglican), Waterfield (Congregational)  and Orton (Wesleyan Methodist) were there too.

On Tuesday 26th October Gipps and his retinue travelled down to Geelong on the Aphrasia which was gaily decorated with flags. The inhabitants  assembled on the brow of the hill or hastened to the jetty to greet the Governor:

A flourish of trumpets was found wanting but  Captain Fyans made a good show with his police, and, some how or other, mustered a trumpeter who thrilled out the National Anthem, heard for the first time at Geelong, as Sir George stepped ashore.  The hearty cheers of the population made up for what was wanting in form, and the unostentatious manner in which his Excellency landed from the little Custom House boat, and acknowledged the reception he met with, from the gentlemen assembled, gave pleasure to the spectators, some of whom were absolutely astounded to see a governor shake hands. [PPG 30/10/41]

Gipps, La Trobe, Mr Fenwick, Captain Fyans, Mr Addis, Dr Thompson and others rode to the principal points in the settlement at a good speed, headed by Captain Fyans. They crossed Fyans’ Ford by Mr Seivwright’s huts, went up by the Barabool Hills, round by Dr Thompsons house and garden to the breakwater, then halted at the police officer where a body of men presented another address, numerously signed by the inhabitants. Gipps gave a good off-the-cuff reply, which the waiting press  grumbled was not presented to them in written form. He then went to Captain Fyans for a “sumptuous” lunch, to which the gallant Captain had invited a number of the resident gentry.  The remainder of the visit devoted to the examination of public works (e.g. the watchhouse at North Corio, the lock up at South Geelong) At 3.00 p.m. the people assembled again on the shore to bid him farewell, the same gentlemen attended him to the jetty, the steamer saluted with her engine and steered away .  He arrived back in Melbourne at 8.00 p.m. An illumination held that evening by Mr Robinson of the Commercial Inn, and a display of fireworks held on the hill.  The day was kept as a holiday by all.

On Wednesday 27th October he met with the press in the morning. That night was the ball- the social highlight of the trip:

The subscribers to ‘the private assemblies’ gave their second ball and supper at the Exchange rooms, in honor of the Governor, at which his Excellent appeared and in high spirits. The apartments were tastefully decorated with festoons, and the walls beautifully papered for the occasion. Upwards of one hundred and fifty of the elite of rank and fashion of the town and surrounding districts were present, Mrs La Trobe uniting with the “fair” party in adding additional fascinations to the attractive scene. Dancing was continued to twelve o’clock, when supper was announced. The company then partook of a sumptuous repast prepared in Mr Davis’ best style. The following toasts, among others, were appropriately introduced- The Queen, Sir George Gipps, Lady Gipps, Mr La Trobe, Mrs La Trobe &c. His Excellency was particularly happy in responding to the manner in which his own and her ladyship’s health had been drunk, observing that he was extremely sorry that her ladyship had not accompanied him, as she must have felt extremely gratified by the warm and handsome manner in which he had been received. Dancing was then resumed, and kept up with re-animated spirits until five o’clock, when the whole party separated, highly pleased with the enjoyments of the night. [Extraordinary 1/11/41]

Georgiana McCrae was there but, seven months pregnant, did not frock up as much as she might have otherwise. Instead, she adopted a suitably matriarchal dress:

27th….I gave Lizzie my Chellé dress and my wedding-shoes, to enable her to go to the ball in honour of the Governor, at the Criterion, this evening. Went to the ball, but not to dance. Put on my best black satin dress, and a bit of ivy in my hair, so that I felt myself comme il faut.

On the Thursday 28th October Gipps met with deputations of men, each pushing their favourite project, with first a group from the Commercial Exchange lobbying for a port, and then men from the Bridge Company to ascertain whether there was interest in the construction of a bridge over the Yarra.  That night there was yet another dinner hosted by the colonists of Australia Felix but the reports of the dinner are sketchy, as none of the newspaper editors attended when it became clear that they were not being given free entry. The Geelong Advertiser, however, did give a fuller report more than a week later and included transcripts of the various speeches made in a supplement to the paper (apparently written by Mr Meek PPH 9/11/41).

However, two events that were later to rebound on Charles La Trobe occurred at this dinner. The first was that someone- and Judge Willis was to later suggest that it was La Trobe himself- erased a toast to ‘The Press’ from the list of toasts for the evening. This was an accusation steeped in all the confected outrage of press editors at the time, but obviously had sufficient significance that the Executive Council rapped Willis over the knuckles for circulating this accusation.  The second  (and I admit that I’m not sure whether this occurred at the dinner and ball of the previous night, or this public dinner) was that La Trobe very uwisely declared his willingness to play “second fiddle” to Gipps, a thoroughly accurate statement but not one which endeared him to the increasingly bolshie citizens keen for separation from NSW.

The, finally on the morning of Friday 29th October Gipps boarded the Aphrasia at 11.00 a.m. for the last time.

At eleven o’clock, His Excellency embarked on board the Aphrasia, under a salute from the revenue cutter, and proceeded down the river to join the Sea Horse, which had been specially detained for his accommodation a few days beyond the usual period allotted for her stay in the harbour. Upon the arrival of the Governor and suite alongside the Sea Horse steamer, the Battery at Fort Drake, together with the shipping in the harbour, paid the usual compliment of firing a salute. A luncheon was prepared on board, at which the gentlemen accompanying His Excellency were invited to partake. About two o’clock, Sir George having taken leave of all who attended him to the Bay, the Sea Horse weighed anchor.  PPG Extraordinary 1/11/41]
Georgiana McCrae wrote for 29th that she “Heard the guns, announcing the departure of the Governor per Sea-Horse”. And so we, too,  bid fond farewell to Sir George, who was not to visit Port Phillip again.
How’s the weather?
So how did the weather hold up for the vice-regal visit?  Beautifully, as it happens, with “light and fresh breezes with frequent strong winds. Fine open weather generally”, with only slight rain on 29th, the day of his departure.  The top temperature for the week was 76 (24.4) and the lowest 43 (6.1)
Roy Bridges , One Hundred Years: The Romance of the Victorian People,  1934, Herald and Weekly Times, Melbourne.  [online at SLV site]
Hugh McCrae (ed) Georgiana’s Journal Melbourne 1841-1865, 1966 (2nd edition) Angus and Robertson, Sydney
A.G.L. Shaw Gipps-La Trobe Correspondence 1839-1846 , 1989, Miegunyah Press, Carlton Vic.

This Week in Port Phillip in 1841: 15-22 October 1841

Hot air in winter!


Presbyterian School House (Scots School House) by Joseph Burns. It was erected at the north-west corner of Collins and Russell Street by December 1839 and used for services until Scots Church was built. It was for some time the only building available for public meetings, like this first meeting of the Debating Society.  It was demolished in 1870. Source: State Library of Victoria


On 13 October a meeting was held in the Scots School House to discuss the transformation of the Debating Society, which had previously been meeting in private homes, into a larger and  more substantial organization. In Sydney, the Debating Society was a branch of the Mechanics’ Institute, and had use of their lecture room and library.  Although there was a nascent Mechanics’ Institute in Melbourne,”their temporary committee room is too circumscribed to afford accommodation for the debates being held therein; the use of the books in the library is the utmost that could be offered, and this, no doubt, would be cheerfully conceded.” (PPG  13/10/41)  As a result, the Melbourne Debating Society decided to open itself up to the public as an independent organization.

Mr John Stephen was called to the chair, and the rules were discussed. There was some controversy over the rule which prohibited reference to scripture in the elucidation of argument, but Mr Darling, who proposed the original rule was sticking by it.  Then Rev James Forbes, the Presbyterian minister (in whose rooms they were meeting, after all) said that religious controversy should always be avoided in a Debating Society, but that he didn’t disapprove of referring to scripture in support or confirmation of an historical fact. He then proposed an amendment that quotations from scripture should be excluded in the debate (i.e. reference was allowable, but quotation was not). His motion was carried. A great number of people enrolled their names as members.(PPG 16/10/41)

On 20 October the first public debate was held, again at the Scots School House.  There were twenty members present, plus visitors. The question for debate was  “Did the motives which incited Brutus and his associates in the assassination of Julius Caesar originate in patriotic desire or personal feeling”? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t know where to start. Neither, it seems did the good men of Port Phillip, in the opinion of the writer from the Port Phillip Gazette:

One thing was evident; that neither of the parties, pro or con had sufficiently studied the question, as to bring the points which most materially bore upon the subject in aid for its elucidation. This system should not be permitted to obtain, if the society is to prosper. [PPG 23/10/41]

Oh well, better luck next Wednesday, when the topic was: “Whether America or any other nation is likely ultimately to supplant Great Britain”?

I’ve written more about the Debating Society here.

It’s ball time again

You might remember the fuss about the Private Assembly Ball back in June. Well, another Private Subscription Ball was planned for October and, according to the Port Phillip Gazette, it all went very well:

PRIVATE ASSEMBLIES. The first ball of the season took place last night at the Freemasons’ Lodge-Room in the Exchange Hotel.  The attendance was numerous, considering the unsettled state of the weather, and the arrangements made reflected the greatest praise upon the stewards of the evening. The ball room was most tastefully decorated, under the supervision of Mr Buckingham. The refreshments were of the first-rate description. Quadrilles, waltzes and Gallapades divided the entertainments into their due proportions, to which the exertions of the orchestra contributed the full share of mirth and activity.  The supper room was ornamented with flags of various descriptions. Altogether the entertainment appeared to afford ample satisfaction to all parties; and the tout-ensembled afforded a gratifying specimen of colonial gaiety, with cannot be too often [applauded?] [PPG 23/10/41]

The drapers of Melbourne took advantage of ball season and the upcoming visit of Governor Gipps to spruik their wares:

ADVERTISEMENT- THE GOVERNORS VISIT.  The proposed Visit of the Governor, accompanied as he will be by his Lady, will cause a degree of gaity in the Provice which has seldom before occurred.  With the Governor’s visit a series of BALLS, ROUTES AND SOIREES &C will follow in its train, and Melbourne will be for the period of their stay relieved from its usual monotony.  The ladies of Melbourne will of course be prominent in their display of FASHIONALE [sic] TASTE for which they are so much admired, and which upon this occasion they will doubtless show to the best advantage, proving alike to Sir George as to Lady Gipps, that the ladies of Port Phillip can justly appreciate the beauty of British Manufacture.  Cashmore & Co desire to encourage this amiable emulation on the part of the ladies of Port Phillip, have obtained, and they will open this morning A CASE OF FANCY GOODS which are expressly provided for this enlivening occasion.  Early application is necessary, as this is the only case they have of those articles [PPG 20/10/41]


Michael Cashmore, photographed by T. F. Chuck in 1872. Cashmore’s store on the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets was very well known. Source: State Library of Victoria

As it turned out, Lady Gipps didn’t accompany Sir George, so all that competition to impress was rather wasted.


A Coroners Inquest into infanticide held during this week provides an insight into the jobs and living conditions of  the servant class in Melbourne, and most particularly those of recently-arrived immigrant women from Ireland.

A baby was found in a cesspit servicing three separate houses in Little Flinders Street. Joseph Stewart, an” eating house manager” said that he had two female lodgers in his house, but they were married people and their husbands resided with them. Neither had been ill and nor had any alteration taken place in them since residing there. He had had a female servant who left last Sunday, discharged for disobedience of orders in going to chapel without permission:

…she passed as a single woman, and went by the name of Catherine, she was a stout woman and had very good health; she is as stout now as ever was; she lived with witness for about two months and a half; think she took up her residence in the back yard after she left.

The District Constable reported that the woman, Catherine Rigney had left Stewart’s house immediately after she heard of the cesspool being empties and had run away, taking a portion of her clothes and saying that she would be back for the others.  She was called to the stand and said

I am a servant and arrived on the 16th July in the Royal Saxon; I went to live with Stewart the latter end of that month; he discharged me on Sunday because I went to mass without asking his permission.

Her former shipmate Catherine Banquo took the stand; said that they had travelled out from Cork together and that there was no alteration in Catherine Rigney since she first knew her. She was a servant to Mr Robson, of the London Inn and Catherine had called on her and said that her master had discharged her because she went to mass; she slept that night with her, she seemed a little distressed in being out of a situation.

Dr Cussen, who conducted a post-mortem, testified that it was a full-term baby. The jury after a short consultation returned a verdict of ‘Wilful murder of the child, by some party or parties unknown’.

But then, some hours after the inquest, a woman known by the name of Bridget (Biddy) Lapping,who had resided in Stewart’s house for two months before being turned out for drunkenness,  informed that Stewart had, a day or two previously, taken an infant and a bag of wool “removed from a mattress, for reasons which delicacy forbids us to mention” and thrown them into the privy at the rear of his house.  Stewart was arrested and taken to the watchhouse [PPG 20/10/41]

The following morning when he was brought before the police court, she said that she had not the slightest recollection of making any statement, and if she did so it must have been under a state of intoxication.  She said that she knew nothing whatever of a child being put into a bag containing some hair and being thrown into the cesspit. But several witnesses said that she had said so.

There is one circumstance which must strike everyone who has taken the most cursory glance at what transpired relative to the case… it is clear that the woman stated she saw Stewart put the child into a bag containing some hair, and she then enquired of Clifford (who was employed to clean out the place), which he found first, “the hair or the child?” Clifford said “the hair”. It is an extraordinary circumstance that nothing relative to the hair came out in evidence at the inquest; therefore, unless the woman was well acquainted with the facts, she must have arrived at the circumstance of the hair being with the child, by intuition. Not the slightest clue has been obtained of the mother of the child, which is somewhat extraordinary.  The man Stewart, of course, in consequence of the gross prevarication of the woman, has been discharged.  The woman Lapping turns out to be a prisoner of the Crown and according to her own showing, has been living a life of gross infamy.  The Bench have turned her into government and ordered her to jail. [PPG 23/10/41]

The mother of the child was never identified.

And the weather?

Between the 15th and 21 October there were fresh breezes, strong winds and gales- it certainly sounds like our changeable spring weather!  There was fine weather up until 19th; the 20th was the hottest day at 82 degrees (27.7) before rain on 20th and 21st.  Certainly Georgiana McCrae was enjoying the weather, noting the thermometer at 82 on 16th “a delightful day”.  On 20th she noted “Another delicious day. I feel all alive!” and recorded 84 degrees on her thermometer on 21st. The lowest temperature was 41 (5 celsius).

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 8-14 October 1841

Governor Gipps’ visit

I let slip last week that Governor Gipps was to visit the Port Phillip District in October 1841. There had been hints and rumours but now it had been confirmed: Governor Gipps was to visit for the first time.  He hadn’t been to Port Phillip, but he had already met the superintendent Charles La Trobe, who stayed with him in Sydney before coming down to Port Phillip.  The warmth of their relationship is reflected in the Gipps-La Trobe Correspondence, edited by A.G.L. Shaw.

The newspapers didn’t know whether to gush with excitement or to continue with their ongoing litany of complaint about the Governor and  New South Wales generally.  i.e “we provide all the money through land sales and they give us nothing back”; “why doesn’t Sydney give us more for infrastructure?” etc (not unlike the State Premiers in Australia today, come to think of it).  In the end the glamour of vice-regal ceremony won out and whole columns were devoted to the visit.

We’re not at that stage yet: they were still knee-deep in planning, and a public meeting was held at the Exchange Rooms to plan the visit. First question: how should he arrive? Mr Verner suggested that

the meeting should nominate a deputation to wait upon the Governor on board the steamer on her arrival in the Bay, and to request his Excellency to land publicly at the Beach at such time as might suit his convenience.  Mr Arden was of opinion that the better mode would be for the deputation to proceed in the Aphrasia to meet the Governor, and that His Excellency should be brought in the steamer to the wharf where the colonists could assemble to receive him on his arrival.  A lengthy discussion on this topic ensued, the one party maintaining that it was desirable that His Excellency should land at the Beach, because the approach to the town from that direction was calculated to give him a much more favourable impression of its beauty and extent that the approach by the river, and the other party insisting that if subjected to the necessity of wading through the swamp, His Excellency would scarcely have leisure or inclination to survey the opening beauties of our metropolis. (PPP 11/10/41)

In the end, it was decided to leave it up to the committee.  Next question- the public dinner. Who should be the chairman? It was decided that La Trobe should be asked to do the honours, to which he promptly agreed. And so, soon this advertisement appeared:


The social calibre of the stewards and the two-guinea-a-head ticket price indicated that this would be a thoroughly respectable gathering.  None the less, a correspondent to the Port Phillip Patriot (who, you may remember could well have been one of the authors of the Patriot itself) wrote to ask “is the Dignity Ball farce to be played out over again?” Certainly not, the Editor replied:

Character- not wealth or the fanciful distinctions of birth and station- is to be the test of exclusion from the dinner to the Governor, and that test no reasonable man can object to. [PPP p.2]

A night at the theatre


William Liardet’s depiction of the Theatre Royal (formerly The Pavilion) shown as it stood before its demolition in 1845 and  sketched from memory in about 1875. Source: State Library of Victoria

Not quite so respectable was the prospect of a night at the theatre. It’s easy to lose sight of how closely the theatre was scrutinized in early Melbourne. The Pavilion in Bourke Street, opened in April 1841 went through several name changes.  Edmund Finn, writing as Garryowen gives one of his typically colourful descriptions of the building:

Its dimensions were to be 65 feet by 35 feet, the sum of £11ooo was to be expended on its construction.Its dimensions were to be 65 feet by 35 feet, the sum of £11ooo was to be expended on its construction,…it was one of the queerest fabrics imaginable. Whenever the wind was high it would rock like an old collier at sea, and it was difficult to account for it not heeling over in a gale.The public entrance from Bourke Street was up half-a-dozen creaking steps ; and the further ascent to the ” dress circle,” and a circular row of small pens known as upper boxes or gallery, was by a ladder-like staircase of a very unstable description. Internally it was lighted by tin sconces, nailed at intervals to the boarding, filled with guttering candles, flickering with a dim and sickly glare. A swing lamp and wax tapers were afterwards substituted, and the immunity of the place from fire is a marvel. It was never thoroughly water-proof, and, after it was opened for public purposes, in wet weather the audience would be treated to a shower bath. (p. 451)

Apparently it was licensed to hold concerts and balls, but no ‘theatre’ as such and the violation of its licence conditions led to a rather rambunctious night :

THE PAVILION. There was a tremendous ‘flare up’ in this establishment on Monday night last. Major St John had countermanded the entertainments in consequence of ballet dancing being introduced, that being contrary to the express rules laid down for their guidance. Application was then made to His Honor the Superintendent, but without it being stated to him the decision at which Major St John had arrived. His Honor, in ignorance of this circumstance, said he had no objection to the performance taking place as usual.  The time arrived, the doors opened, and the house filled to the ceiling; the leader of the band flourished his bow, a crash followed and the overture was gone through in good style; the curtain rose, and a song by a lady succeeded. At this critical juncture the chief constable, Mr Falkiner, stepped forward and caused a halt, upon the order given by the Major; an awkward pause followed, which the audience filled up by smoking cigars and sipping from stone bottles; a gentleman in top boots, accompanied by a ruffianly looking groom,  cleared the orchestra at a bound, and commenced a reel; Mr Miller quickly served upon them a writ of ejectment, by propelling them into the pit. Thus passed about an hour, when Mr Miller came forward and announced that His Honor the Superintendent had forbidden the performance- and the curtain dropped again. Then commenced a scene which we never hope to witness again- the hubbub was immense- Waterloo was a fool to it. After the house was cleared, which was with considerable difficulty, in consequence of the demand of the auditory for their money, a servant of His Honor rode up and announced that the concert might proceed; it was however too late, the public had dispersed. The parties interested in the success of the pavilion may thank themselves for this failure, having broken the rules laid down by the police magistrate for their guidance.  Until this place is under the control of respectable parties it never can prosper.[ PPG 13/10/41]

Rude servants

Reading through the Police Court columns, it comes as a jolt to realize just how draconian the N.S.W. “Act for the better regulation of Servants, Labourers, and Workpeople”(1828) legislation was,  even exceeding  the English Masters and Servants legislation on which it was based.Not just content with dismissal, employers could (and did) take their employees to court where they could be imprisoned, sentenced to hard labour or fined.  And so we read in October 1841 of Captain Smyth of Heidelberg taking his servant Ruth Robinson before the court for gross misconduct in what Smyth clearly intended as an exemplary punishment. I haven’t been able to locate any information about the Hired Servants’ Act, but it seems to have restrained Captain Smyth somewhat – although the punishment was still harsh when servants’ wages were about £15 per annum.

HIRED SERVANTS. Ruth Robinson, a hired servant in the employ of Captain Smyth, of Heidelberg, was charged with the following gross misconduct.  The previous day she wished to leave his service, when Captain Smyth said he would go to Town, and when suited with another servant, she was at liberty. During his absence the conduct of the woman Robinson towards Mrs Smyth was most abominable. She gave her mistress to understand that, the master being absent, she should not obey orders.  Upon being requested to bring in the dinner, she said that she would not, until she had dressed herself, then she would bring in the dinner, after which it was her intention to walk into Town; and as she said, so she acted.  The woman also had put herself into so violent a passion that Mrs Smyth had reason to fear personal violence. Captain Smyth said, that he brought the woman before the Bench upon public grounds; here were a number of females coming to the colony, honest and well behaved no doubt, but totally ignorant of their duties as servants; when they had obtained the necessary degree of knowledge, they became insolent, and endeavoured by every means in their power to obtain their discharge.  They were however particularly cautious not to commit themselves before their master, fearing that he might appear against them, but taking advantage of his absence abused their mistress, well knowing the objection of ladies to come into a public Court. He hoped the Bench would make such an example of this woman as to deter others from offending in like manner.

The Bench regretted that under the 10th section of the Hired Servants’ Act, they were forbidden to imprison females for misconduct in their hired services. By the 8th section of the same act they were empowered to inflict a fine, and sentenced her to pay the penalty of £5; if not paid in a fortnight her goods would be levied upon. She was ordered to return to Captain Smyth’s house, and deliver to Mrs Smyth what articles had been placed in her charge.

How’s the weather?

Winds mostly strong; a gale on 12th, weather frequently cloudy, threatening rain at times but none fell. Top temperature for the week was 70; lowest 45.