Category Archives: This Week in Port Phillip District 1841

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.

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

‘Scrutator’ fall-out

One of the problems of writing a libelous letter against the only Judge in town is that, when you’re hauled over the coals for it, it will be before that very same Judge. So 21-year-old George Arden was to learn, after publishing the Scrutator letter in the Port Phillip Gazette. At the next sitting of the court, the Crown Prosecutor made an application grounded on an affidavit made out by the Acting Crown Solicitor against George Arden for “false, scandalous and malicious libel, reflecting on the administration of justice and upon His Honor [Judge Willis] personally”.  Willis made a long speech in his own defence, then, after quite properly declaring his unwillingness to act as a judge on his own case, turned proceedings over to the Police Magistrate Major St John and three other magistrates on the bench: Powlett, Verner and Lyon Campbell.  The personalities of these magistrates is important:  William Verner and James Lyon Campbell were strong supporters of Willis and his neighbours in Heidelberg. They announced that Arden should be bound over with recognizances of 400 pounds and two sureties of 200 pounds each (in effect, a form of good-behaviour bond) and attend the Police Court the next day.

Arden fronted up as required at the Police Court on Saturday morning, where Major St John was joined by a different group of magistrates: McCrae and Were.  Now these magistrates were no friends of Willis’, each coming into conflict with him in their own right.  In Willis’ absence, they decided that it was not necessary to enforce the order (a rather ‘brave’ decision, one would think, given Willis’ combativeness).  On hearing of this decision, Willis immediately launched an appeal which was heard in Quarter Sessions on the following Monday before the same magistrates as on Saturday, but this time they were joined by six other magistrates of the district, including Powlett, Verner, Lyon Campbell.  After much discussion, they re-affirmed the order about recognizances.

The three newspapers devoted columns and columns to these events, framing it as a liberty of the press issue which, indeed it was.  All three were scathing of Willis’ actions, with even the pro-Willis Port Phillip Patriot under the proprietorship of John Fawkner declaring that Willis should “resign the office of Resident Judge into the hands of one or other of his brethren on the bench” (PPP 7/10/41).

As it turned out, Arden was released from his recognizances a month later amongst all the bonhomie surrounding the visit of Governor Gipps- but, oops!- that hasn’t happened yet. But rest assured, this matter isn’t going to go away, and we’ll revisit it in February next year.

St Francis’ Catholic Church

On 4th October 1841 Fr. Geoghegan laid the foundation stone for St Francis’ Church which still stands on the corner of Lonsdale and Elizabeth Street, looking much as it did in the 1840s.



St Francis Church 1845 from stone by Thomas Ham. Source: State Library of Victoria

The major denominations were hard at work in these early years of the 1840s building their first permanent churches to replace the rather makeshift structures had had been quickly erected as the population of Melbourne began to boom.  There was nothing that Melburnians liked so much as a good ceremony (in fact, that’s still true) and the Masons were usually on hand to make an occasion of it.  But not so when it was a Catholic chapel, notwithstanding the general co-operation between the denominations at this stage.

On Monday last the foundation stone of the new Catholic Church was laid by the Rev. Mr Geoghegan on the ground set apart for that purpose in Lonsdale-street, and upon a portion of which the temporary edifice at present stands.  In consequence of the reverend gentleman being a member of the order of St Francis, the church was dedicated to that saint.  It was contemplated that the Masonic body should have proceeded in due form, and assisted in the ceremony; but the opinions of others being at variance with this suggestion, it was dropped to prevent a schism. About £200 was collected on the ground.  The following inscriptions upon parchment were deposited, along with some coins, in the foundation stone:


PPG 6 October 1841

The Port Phillip Herald, which gave more attention to news of the Catholic church than the other two papers, carried a full report of the ceremony and the addresses given in its 12 October issue.  The crowd, it seems, was smaller than might have been hoped:

The day was unfavourable, being tempestuous and showery, besides many of the congregation and persons of other religious persuasion were prevented attending by reason of occupation at either of the two Courts which were then adjudicating [on the Arden case above!] nevertheless a considerable assemblage was present at the sacred ceremony.[ PPH 12/10/41]

Fr. Geoghegan finished his oration praising the ecumenical spirit that generally existed in these early Melbourne years (the absence of the Masons notwithstanding). I’ve often wondered if it was the arrival of the bishops that hardened the sectarian lines in Port Phillip society, or did it just reflect the increasing size and complexity of a town outgrowing its frontier status?

Thanks to God we live in a country of liberty where it is the recognized right of everyone to worship God according to his conscience: Australia Felix! a country happy and true to its name, where we can appeal even to our Dissenting brethren to defend us from an encroachment on our religious freedom as if it were their own [PPH 12/10/41]

Unfortunately it seems that the coins did not stay for long in the foundation stone. On the 7th October the Port Phillip Patriot carried this report:

SACRILEGE. On Monday night last some paltry ruffians removed the foundation stone of the new Roman Catholic Chapel, which had been laid during the day, and carried away the bottle containing the inscription and the different specimens of the coins of the realm, which were deposited in the stone.  The whole value of the property stolen is not more than thirty shillings and to accomplish this notable feat there must have been at least six thieves employed, the dimensions of the stone being such as to preclude the likelihood of a smaller number being able to accomplish the theft without the aid of machinery.

How’s the weather?

Light winds 1st and 2nd, gale on 3rd, afterwards fresh and strong winds; weather damp and cloudy until 4th, afterwards bright and clear.  Top temperature 74 (23.3C), lowest 41 (5.0C) and the coldest day of the month was on 5th October.


This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 26-30 September

Census results

Given that in September 2016 we’ve had the census uppermost in our thoughts, you might be interested in the results of the 1841 census. Mind you, the Port Phillip Gazette scoffed at the figures recorded for Melbourne, boldly declaring that:

If [the figures] are all as incorrect as Melbourne, this document is sheer humbug [PPG 29/9/41 p.3]

Melbourne 2676 1803  4479 769
Geelong  304  150   454  70
Total Melb & Geelong  4933 839
Rest of NSW 48,584 4052

What would they say on ‘Gruen’?

‘Gruen’ is a weekly ABC program that dissects advertising and marketing, and the angles and techniques used to persuade consumers.  I wonder what they’d think of these advertisements?

The first, for the grocery store Albion House, places itself as on the side of the embattled settler while at the same time trying to entice him into buying:

ALBION HOUSE. AN ESSENTIAL PUBLIC GOOD. The depressed state of the times, the stagnant state of commerce, the scarcity of cash, the great reduction in wages, the number of persons thrown upon our shores sixteen thousand miles from their friends and native homes, having no employment and but little cash in their possession, have long cried aloud for a reduction in the high prices of the necessaries of life; indeed it is whispered in the cottage, it is muttered in the cheerless unfurnished cot, “Give us cheaper food; let us have a reduction in the prices of the measures of life, or we starve!” Their demands are satisfied, their cries are heard, and they have now an opportunity of procuring not only the necessaries of life, but also many little comforts that have existed only in desire without the means of procuring them, because of the highness of prices.  C. S. BARRETT & CO having recently taken those extensive premises lately occupied by Mr Empson, draper, Collins-street, which they have opened with a very large stock of grocery, tea and provisions of every description, direct from England; and, that the public may not be deceived, they have named in The Albion House, where the above named articles may be purchased at prices astonishingly below anything as yet submitted to the inhabitants of Melbourne. [PP Gazette 29/9/16 p.1]

Or how about this advertisement for a laundry service? Mangling…a ‘beautiful science’ no less!

IMPORTANT TO FAMILIES. W. Herbert begs to acquaint the inhabitants of Melbourne and the surrounding district that he has opened those premises lately occupied by Mr Melbourne, Hairdresser, Little Flinders-street and invites the attention of the public to the circumstance that he, with Mrs H and female servants, intend Washing, Mangling &c for those families who will honour him with their patronage; and having brought a Patent Mangle with him, will be able to accomplish this beautiful science in first-rate style.  W. H. is aware of the scarcity of money, and therefore will work for the lowest figure; but he must have cash, as nothing else will keep the Mangle going: a man has been engaged for the express purpose of keeping it in constant motion; and as steady women are engaged for the washing department, W. H trusts he will have a share of patronage for so novel a business or profession.  The prices will be as follows:

Washing and Ironing per doz….4/6

Mangling per ditto…………….0/6

Mrs Herbert has female servants that may be hired by the hour or day to wash and clean as charwomen.  [PPG 29/9/16 p.2]

A new variation on the ‘dogs-as-nuisance’ theme


Detail from Liardet’s picture of the Lamb Inn, Collin’s street. Note the dogs.  Source: SLV

The Port Phillip newspapers have had plenty to say in their columns about the nuisance posed to the inhabitants of Melbourne by stray dogs. But even the attempts to curb the numbers of dogs by offering a bounty seems to have backfired:

PUBLIC NUISANCE.  We have to call the attention of [Police Magistrate] Major St John to the disgraceful conduct of the constables in leaving the carcasses of the dogs they have killed for the sake of their tails, putrefying on the sides of the street.  We would suggest that in order to abate the evil, the reward given for the tails of unregistered dogs shall not be issued in any case, unless the claimant can show that the carcasses of the animals have been disposed of in such a manner as to prevent the possibility of their becoming a public nuisance. [Port Phillip Patriot 30/9/41 p.2]

Family Jars

The Police Intelligence columns are the gift that keeps on giving. Obviously the whole family, including the women, got into this one:

FAMILY JARS. Peter Connell was charged with cracking the head of Stephen Moore with a ginger beer bottle. From what could be gathered from the statement of Connoll, whose head was bound in a Turkey red handkerchief, it appeared that on Saturday, about half-past one o’clock, he was requested by Moore, who is a neighbour, to remove a water cask then reclining against a fence near his door.This being complied with, Connell’s servant pulled down some of the fencing, and made a thoroughfare through the premises; to this he objected whereupon Mrs C. came out and emphatically laid down the law on the case; this was rebutted by Mrs M., who declared that a free passage and female rights were her motto, and on that she would stand. Connell and Moore then came upon the ground, and issue was quickly joined, and scuffling, thrashing and the cracking with the ginger beer bottle followed.[(PP Gazette 29/9/41 p3]

 The ‘Scrutator’ letter

On 29 September George Arden, the young editor of the Port Phillip Gazette published a letter which criticized Judge Willis , supposedly penned by ‘Scrutator’.  After starting with a complaint about Judge Willis’s ban on raffles, the letter moved onto a wide-ranging attack on Willis’ fitness as a judge. The authorship of the letter was never questioned but Arden’s role as editor in publishing it certainly was, suggesting that Arden himself probably wrote the letter (as did most of the other editors when wanting to stir the pot a bit). In fact, as we’ll see as time goes on, Willis’ heavy-handed response to press criticism was to be one of the loudest complaints against him, both by Melbourne inhabitants and eventually, by the government as well.  So, because this letter was so important for Judge Willis’ career and for the public debate for the next six months or so, I’ll transcribe it in full (but I give you permission to skip reading it and just jump down to my comments below!):

TO THE EDITOR OF THE GAZETTE: SIR- In consequence of some sensible remarks which appeared in your last paper, as to the impropriety of Judge Willis directing the Crown Prosecutor to take steps to prevent raffles, I beg to direct your attention to a habit of His Honor’s which is not only unbecoming in a Judge, but which has done much injury, and the baneful consequences of which will extend more widely over the colony, unless at once stopped by the interposition of an independent press: I allude to His Honor’s practice of giving his opinion and directing the proceedings, not only in matters collateral, but even in those totally unconnected, with the question he is called upon to decide.  To one who has attended the English courts of justice, and observed the scrupulous caution with which the judges therein refrain from allusions to all portions of a case except that immediately at issue, and even then declining to make any remarks upon- not to say decide- any point to which their attention has not been directed by full an deliberate discussion, Judge Willis’s conduct is in most startling contrast.  No opportunity escapes him for scattering his dicts, for stating what he conceives to be the law and merits of every subject, no matter how extraneous to that under consideration, if it happens to strike his fertile fancy.  Who has not censured the un-called for stigmas he carelessly heaps on the conduct and character of Magistrates, Barristers, Attorneys, Witnesses, Suitors, or any one whose name may have been unfortunately mentioned in his court? the praise he never awards, except to those who flatter and cringe to him, is nearly as disgusting as the unmeasured censure he so copiously visits on the other wretched individuals who are dragged beneath the outpourings of his bilious temperament; and should he ever find a dearth of legitimate victims, Simpsons, Carringtons, Editors &c with what a master hand, supported by what ancient authorities, will he summon from the peaceful repose of a newspaper advertisement a Cunningham or a McNall, …entire horses, donkeys, raffles, and gambling. But, Sir, what is equally to be lamented, though not so generally known, is his practice of advising upon titles to land, the validity of grants from the crown- stating that deeds are inoperative, conditions not being complied with- that the land fund having been applied to immigration, and not to the consolidated fund, all the Governor’s conveyances are illegal, and even if they were not, lands sold before the Governor has dated his grant can never pass the property to the purchased; in fact, whether in or out of court, the sole result of his unfortunate temper and his distorted judgment is raising disputes and fomenting instead of suppressing litigation. Is this a fit or proper person to fill the highest judicial chair in the province? Judge he is not, nor ever will be, being in every case so much a creature of deluding impulse.  To those who are so connected with him as to be obliged to bear the burthen of his acquaintance, the endless disparaging terms in which he speaks of his late brother Judges, the gentlemen of the bar, and all with whom he came in contact in Sydney; the egotism and vanity which actuate his very look and expression, have demonstrated that the fountain of his acts is drawn not from the pure sources of liberal learning and enlightened knowledge, but the sterile rock of ignorance and self conceit; coupling these with his penurious miserly habits (for never was he, whom from his position and salary should be an example of liberality, known to see a friend within his poverty-stricken doors) is he, I would ask a proper person to have been sent to a young colony as its Judge? Yet, Sir, Some hope remains that this paralyzing member of an otherwise healthy community may ere long be removed, under the [indistinct] fearless catchcry of an independent press. I have the honour to be Sir &c &c &c. SCRUTATOR. [PPG 29/9/41 P.3

In transcribing this letter,I’m struck anew by how barbed it is, even for the time. Even though the three Port Phillip newspapers were published legitimately and regularly, they were a mixture between, using the example of 20th century Melbourne, the Herald Sun and Truth magazine, or to bring us into the 21st century, very similar to the internet’s mixture of hard news and utter scurrility.  Judges were criticized in the press (it seems to me, more than today but I’m not sure) but then, as now, it would have been a dangerous undertaking, particularly in a district that had only one judge.

Looking at the letter, ‘Scrutator’ starts off by criticizing Willis for making extraneous commentary from the bench, asserting that the judges in England did not do so.  That’s not true: the judge’s speech at the opening of term was a time-honoured occasion for moral commentary, usually about the evils of alcohol and godlessness (but gambling could conceivably fit under such a tirade). That said, Willis used the opportunity to make such commentary excessively. ‘Scrutator’ then makes criticisms that were to be echoed two years later when the whole Willis thing blew up. Willis’ attacks on magistrates, barristers and individuals like Simpson and Carrington were all listed as reasons for his dismissal and ended up being aired in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Whitehall.  Even Houndsfoot the stallion and Montezuma the donkey get a look in!

More pointed, though, is ‘Scrutator’s’ report of Willis’ private conversation, and here we get into murky territory.  Arden was most certainly not part of Willis’ social or conversational circle- so who was telling him all this?  And the content of this reported conversation at a time when the property bubble was just about to pop was incendiary, then as a final kick to the shins was a dig about Willis’ dearth of friends and lack of gentlemanly sociability.

How’s the weather?

This week the weather was more settled, with light winds generally and bright and clear after 24th September.  The 28th and 29th were the warmest days of the month, with a top temperature for September of 76F (24.4 C) and a low for the week of 45 (7.2C)






This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 1-8 September 1841


The newspapers in Port Phillip often reported on Judge Willis’ performance on the Supreme Court bench, largely because there was little other ‘hard’ news to fill the columns with. Nonetheless, he did give them plenty to write about, especially when getting stuck into the barristers and attorneys who appeared before him. He took his responsibility for keeping the bar in line very seriously – and indeed, that was part of his judicial duty- but often made theatrical threats and gestures that make it easy to see him as a figure of fun.  His attacks on the court personnel make good newspaper copy, but it is telling that many of the people who were the recipients of his tongue-lashings signed petitions against him once there were moves to remove him.

One of Willis’ more theatrical outbursts was against Archibald Cuninghame – also spelled Cunninghame and Cunningham.  He had practiced at the Scottish bar for seven years when he emigrated to Sydney with his brother and two sisters in 1839, an example of the sibling migration patterns that I have spoken about earlier. While he did not necessarily see New South Wales as his permanent home, he did see the financial opportunities it offered, writing to his mother “I see a prospect not of making, a rapid fortune, but yet, of very good returns for my Capital”.  After overlanding down from Sydney, he quickly took out a licence to depasture stock and bought up 139 acres around Northcote (in Melbourne) at the 1840 government land auctions.  His two sisters travelled down to Melbourne in the Bright Planet (the ship that Peter Mews used as the springboard for his excellent book of the same name), while his brother took up the management of the station Wanregarwan, up on the Goulburn River. Archibald joined Redmond Barry, Edward Brewster, James Croke and Robert Pohlman as the first barristers admitted to the Port Phillip bar in April 1841.

At the end of August 1841, an advertisement appeared in several editions of the Port Phillip newspapers.


Contact with horses was part of the gentlemanly image – and indeed, Judge Willis himself was an enthusiastic horse-rider while in British Guiana and certainly had his own horses in New South Wales.  However, that was riding them, not hawking them for stud services, and Willis took exception to the difference.

THE LAW AND THE ASS- On Friday last, previous to the commencement of the trials at the Supreme Court, his Honor, Judge Willis, produced a copy of the Herald Newspaper in which appeared an advertisement of an entire house, Hound’s Foot “to stand this season,” signed by Mr Cuninghame. His Honor expressed a hope (to the Crown Prosecutor) that this horse was not the property of Mr Cuninghame, the Barrister, who was an Officer of the Court. Mr Croke being unable to satisfy the interrogatory, his Honor proceeded to say that, if such was the case, it was exceedingly derogatory to the respectability of the bar, that it would look rather curious to see written upon the door of the “Horse and Jockey” “Law business transacted here”, and that he considered one as bad as the other.  Judge Willis proceeded to make some further remarks on the subject, but before concluding, requested to know from the gentlemen of the bar, how it would look to see an advertisement in the public papers headed “Montezuma, this splendid ass, will stand for the season at the stables of His Honor, Judge Willis, Heidelberg” would this add dignity to the bench. (PPH 31 August 1841)

Judge Willis certainly did live at Heidelberg, but I’m not aware whether he had an ass called Montezuma. But nor did Archibald Cuninghame have a stallion called Hounds Foot- it was his brother John up on the Goulburn.

THE JUDGE AND MR CUNINGHAME – As reported in our last number, his Honor Judge Willis remarked to Mr Croke that he hoped the celebrated imported horse “Hounds Foot” had not been advertised “for the season” by Mr Cuninghame the barrister, as such a circumstance would not add respectability to the bar.  The impression produced by His Honor’s remarks was that Mr Cunninghame the barrister had so advertised “Hounds Foot”. To shew that even Judges may err in their opinion of matters of this kind as well as in others, we may state that Mr Cuninghame has a brother residing on the Goulburn river; and as the advertisement, which attracted his Honor’s attention particularly states that the horse “will stand this season at the station of the proprietor, Mr Cuninghame, on the Goulburn river” (where Mr Cuninghame’s brother actually resides), we infer that the barrister of that name, who resides in town and follows his profession, is not the Mr Cuninghame “of the Goulburn river.” But Editors, like Judges, may err- who is wrong? (PPH 3 Sept 1841)

Humour by a powerful person is a dangerous thing.  Sometimes when I look at some of Willis’ more outrageous antics from the bench, I wonder if he was performing for the audience, in the same way that our politicians do before the despatch box.

Certainly Willis was very strict about any involvement in ‘trade’ amongst those solicitors and barristers who came before him seeking admittance to the court.  Probably the major fact that led to Willis’ dismissal was the campaign he waged against public officers and members being involved in land speculation and bill-trading. Neither of these activities were illegal, and in a new frontier colony, most people with capital deployed it in either land or financing in this way. Willis’ criticisms of high-ranking people in Melbourne for their involvement in such activities was, I believe, a direct cause for his dismissal.

But Willis’ riff on the Ass Montezuma suggests that he’s enjoying himself here at Cuninghame’s expense. I think of footage of powerful people making a joke, and the forced laughter of their minions around them. Historian Greg Dening wrote about William Bligh’s “bad language” in that people didn’t know how to take it. I would argue that Willis had “bad language” too, and the Hounds Foot incident, while farcical, highlights the difficulty of humour from the bench.

Certainly, the Port Phillip Gazette in its editorial columns, was becoming increasingly critical of Willis.  Its editor, the young George Arden, was clashing with Willis and within weeks publish a letter signed ‘Scrutator’ which would lead to an open conflict with the Judge.  But here’s the Gazette editorial on 4 September:

Mr Justice Willis has certainly the merit of being singular, if not sensible, in his opinions on matters connected with his own department, and he occasionally expresses his conceits in a manner and language that is equally awful to the officers of the Court and amusing to the public…If, however, it will serve the purpose of Mr Willis equally well, and he will condescend to permit us, with all just and proper humility, to tender our opinion on the subject, we will observe that it would be no matter of surprise to the public to hear that there was an ASS connected with the Bench, or that the amiable quadruped resided at Heidelberg, but the attempt of Mr Willis, trivial and vexatious as it was, considering the scanty foundations he had for his extraordinary comments, is viewed on every side with marked and universal disapprobation. (PPG 4 September 1841)

Mr Cuninghame recovered from his unmerited dressing-down and continued to serve in Willis’ court. As an equity lawyer (like Judge Willis himself), he was involved in discussions about the introduction of usury laws, and he was involved in many of the philanthropic and civic organisations of Melbourne.  He went to London in 1846 to represent the Port Phillip colonists in their campaign for Separation, and died there unmarried in 1856.

In fact, the whole little contretemps probably more harm to Willis’ reputation than it did to Cuninghame.

More information on Archibald Cuninghame: Marion Amies and Martin Sullivan ‘Manuscript: 3 Letters from Christian Cuninghame to Agnes Cochrane-Patrick Describing Life in the Port Phillip District’ LaTrobe Journal No. 30, December 1982


“Strong winds on the 3rd 4th and 5th; weather cloudy and uncertain; rain several days but inconsiderable in quantity.” Highest temperature 66F (18.8); lowest 38 (3.3)


This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 25-31 August 1841


It was not particularly common for the Port Phillip Herald to comment on the parlous circumstances facing impoverished individuals, but during much of June 1841 it conducted an appeal in its columns for donations to the widow of Trooper Rainbow, of the Mounted Police, who drowned when crossing the Goulburn River on 26 April 1841.  As the Sydney Herald reported, Trooper Rainbow had been with the Mounted Police for seven years, and was regarded as an active, steady man.

REAL DISTRESS. We beg to draw the attention of our humane readers to the case of the widow of Trooper Rainbow of the Mounted Police, who was lately unfotunately drowned when crossing the River Goulburn on duty. What makes this case one of peculiar sympathy is that while the bereaved woman has no claim whatever on the service, she has a babe in arms and expects shortly to again become a mother! Need we say more to call upon the liberality of the public to step forward at once to her relief? Subscriptions will be thankfully received at the Herald office.  (PPH 25/5/41 p. 2]

And so they were. For a month an article appeared in the Port Phillip Herald, listing the names of people who had donated to the appeal and the amount that they had donated.  I really can’t emphasize the rarity of a public subscription for a woman being reported like this.   Subscription lists for church buildings,  letters of support for Port Phillip personalities who were being attacked by Judge Willis, or benefits for clapped-out theatre performers- yes; but not a woman.

By 2nd July, the last advertisement appeared. It read



It’s a highly respectable donation list that raised £51. [A (male) overseer at that time might earn £100 per annum; single female servants were having to accept about £25 p.a. with board.]  Lieutenant Russell, was the most generous, with a donation of five pounds. It is likely that this Lieutenant Russell was the Lieutenant Russell who was commander of the Mounted Police, and other donations were given Trooper Rainbow’s fellow soldiers. Superintendent La Trobe was the next most generous with a donation of two guineas  (2 pounds and 2 shillings), and it is surprising to see Judge Willis’ donation of one pound because he rarely made public donations like this to individuals.

His donation is even more incongruous, because on 27th August, the Port Phillip Herald reported that Vezella Rainbow had been arrested for shoplifting.

The trial before Judge Willis was reported in the next edition (31 August). It was a jury trial, conducted on Friday August 26 before twelve good men of the town (women did not serve on juries). Trials moved pretty swiftly back then, and it was common to have three or four hearings within the one day. Juries made up their minds very quickly, often not even leaving the courtroom at all.   The prisoner was not called to the witness box and did not give evidence on their own behalf. Instead, it was up to the crown to prove the case through witnesses, and the question of ‘character’ often entered into consideration. In this case, the prosecution called three witnesses: Mr Codd the shop assistant, Mr Whitehead the shop-owner, and Constable Stapleton, who arrested her.

Vezella Rainbow, widow of the late Corporal Rainbow, was placed at the bar, charged with stealing a shawl, value two pounds, and five yards of Saxony cloth, value 18s.

Clement Codd, being sworn, deposed- I am shopman to Mr Robert Whitehead, Elizabeth-street; I saw the prisoner in his shop on Monday last; she purchased to ribband [sic] waistbands and paid for them four shillings, giving two half-crowns and being returned one shilling; did not ask to see any other goods; I was serving other customers at the time shewing them some shawls and Saxony dresses; the dress and shawl produced I identify to be the property of Mr Whitehead (here the witness received a caution from His Honor as to how he would swear to the identity of articles), I know them by private marks; I took them from the prisoner at the bar; she had them concealed under her shawl; they had been lying on the counter. I do not think Mrs Rainbow could have only taken them up to look at, without intending to take them away; they were concealed in such a way that when I took the dress from prisoner she denied having anything else in her possession; I had given her the change, she was putting it in a handkerchief and was about to leave the shop, when I perceived the articles with her.  After taking the things from her, I left them on the counter and went for a constable; I left Mr Whitehead in the shop; I marked the things and gave them to the constable who took the woman away; there are other Saxony dresses in the shop but none of the same description.

Cross examined by Mr Barry; there was another woman in the shop when the prisoner entered; subsequently a man came in; the woman who came in looked at some saxony dresses and then came out; brought back the man with her to buy her one, which he did.  The prisoner had a bundle under her arm; can’t say what it was; thinks it was a bundle rolled up in a yellow handkerchief: I marked the things after bringing back the constable; the prisoner was in conversation with the other persons in the shop: can’t say what they said: it was about articles of dress.  I particularly observed when the prisoner came into the shop that she had something under her arm; before I took the articles in question from Mrs Rainbow, she had not attempted to leave the shop: the articles she purchased still remained on the counter, when I perceived the dress with her: when I took the things she did not say any thing, but when going to the watchhouse, said the other woman had given them to her.

Robert Whitehead, being sworn, deposed, I keep a shop in Elizabeth-street; I know the prisoner at the bar; saw her in my shop on Monday evening last; I identify this shawl as being my property by the shop mark on it; I positively swear to the shawl.  I do not know any other shop that makes use of the same marks as I do; I saw Codd take the things from under prisoner’s shawl; just as a came into the shop; there was a man and a woman in the shop at the time the prisoner and another woman was conversing together; there was a man between them: I desired Codd to go for a constable, he brought one back with him. (The Judge here addressed the witness, stating, that although he did not mean or wish to impune his evidence, still there were many things he had stated required explanation.  His Honor compared different portions of the evidence and pointed out various discrepancies) another shopman was present, part of the time.

The witness was here cross examined by Mr Barry, but nothing particular was elicited.

Constable Stapleton, deposed to the facts of having taken the prisoner in charge, she being delivered up to him by Mr Whitehead, he also stated that the prisoner on being conveyed to the watchhouse said, that it was owing to bad company she got into the scrape.

Redmond Barry (yes, that same duelling Redmond Barry) acted as her defence counsel.

For the defence, Mr Barry addressed the jury as follows: I have no doubt Gentlemen, that after the evidence you have heard, you will proceed to discharge the defendant, for in my humble opinion there is no evidence to prove that the prisoner at the bar feloniously took the articles with intent to carry them away, which the law requires to constitute the crime, with which she is charged.  My client stands in a situation of peculiar delicacy; it is most distressing to witness it; and bear in mind gentlemen, the great disgrace she has already undergone by being arraigned at a bar of justice, on a charge of such a description.  Discrepancies of the most serious nature occur in the evidence to which I must request your particular attention, as they occur in the testimony of all the witnesses.  Gentlemen, the prisoner at the bar is the widow of the late corporal Rainbow, who was drowned in the Broken River, in the discharge of his public duty.  I can call innumerable witnesses as to the very good character of the unfortunate defendant, and you may well remember the great commiseration that was exhibited by the public towards Mrs Rainbow, on the death of her husband.  Indeed, gentlemen, I feel deeply affected by being obliged to come before you to plead in such a case as this; for the miserable prisoner at the bar is in such a state that she must soon give birth to an infant, who if you find the prisoner guilty, must first receive the pure air of heaven, the gift of the Almighty, in the murky dungeons of a loathsome prison, redolent of vice, obscenity and filth. I hope therefore you will immediately proceed to acquit my client, as I am sure you are already persuaded of the innocence of the prisoner, and as the entire of the evidence is so contradictory and unsatisfactory.  I shall leave the case in your hands, satisfied that it will meet with that consideration it so imperatively calls for.

It’s interesting to watch Judge Willis in action here.  He was very active during the case itself, pointing out the discrepancies in Mr Whitehead’s testimony and, according to a separate article in the same issue of the  Port Phillip Herald (31 August) Willis called up Codd immediately after the case and “proceeded to reprimand him in the strongest terms for gross prevarication in his testimony”. Willis read Codd’s  testimony at the Police Office and the Court back to him, pointing out the inconsistencies, and warned Codd that “he might be thankful for the clemency shewn him in not being committed to gaol for his gross prevarication”.   Notwithstanding these inconsistencies, and the  pound that Willis himself had donated for the unfortunate Mrs Rainbow a few weeks earlier, he then summed up very strongly against the prisoner:

The Judge summed up the case in an able manner, concluding by desiring the jury to divest their minds of any influence that the affecting address of Mr Barry might have on them, for notwithstanding the distressing circumstances of the case, as good and honest subjects they were bound to give their verdict, and assist as far as it lay in their power to have the law  carried into effect, justly and uprightly.  The jury after a few moments consideration found the prisoner guilty with a strong recommendation to “mercy”.

His Honor, in an affecting manner passed sentence on the prisoner, sentencing her to “six months imprisonment in her Majesty’s gaol of Melbourne”.  [PPH 31/8/41]

In his book Crime in the Port Phillip District (p. 198), Paul Mullaly reports that Vezella Rainbow (the spelling of her first name varies) was Freed by Servitude (i.e. an ex-convict) which may account for his hardline approach.  It was reported that “other Police had to take care of her children”.  On 15 April 1842, the Colonial Secretary wrote to La Trobe approving remission of sentences of 16 listed individuals including Vizle Rainbowe [sic] (VPRS Series 19 Unit29), so it does not appear that her sentence was reduced much, if at all.


Just as we’re experiencing here in 2016, the spring weather wass changeable. The warmest day for the month was 27th (69 degrees or 20.5C), followed by a strong gale the very next day.  The coolest temperature was 37F or 2.7C.