William Westgarth

Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria

Published by Good Press, 2019
goodpress@okpublishing.info
EAN 4064066150655

Table of Contents


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Titlepage
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AN INTRODUCTORY MEDLEY.
MR. FROUDE'S "OCEANA".
NEW ZEALAND.
UNITY OF THE EMPIRE.
EARLY PORT PHILLIP.
MY FIRST NIGHT ASHORE.
INDIGENOUS FEATURES AROUND MELBOURNE.
THE ABORIGINAL NATIVES IN AND ABOUT TOWN.
EARLY CIVILIZING DIFFICULTIES.
"THE BEACH" (NOW PORT MELBOURNE).
EARLY MELBOURNE, ITS UPS AND DOWNS—1840–1851.
THE MELBOURNE CORPORATION, 1842.
EARLY SUBURBAN MELBOURNE.
THE EARLY SQUATTING TIMES.
EARLY WESTERN VICTORIA ("AUSTRALIA FELIX").
SOME NAMES OF MARK IN THE EARLY YEARS.
THE HENTY FAMILY, AND THE FOUNDATION OF VICTORIA.
SOME INTERJECTA IN RE BATMAN, PIONEER OF THE PORT PHILLIP SETTLEMENT.
JOHN PASCOE FAWKNER, FATHER OF MELBOURNE.
JAMES SIMPSON, FIRST MAGISTRATE OF "THE SETTLEMENT".

DAVID CHARTERIS McARTHUR, FATHER OF VICTORIAN BANKING.

CHARLES JOSEPH LA TROBE, C.B.
SIR JOHN O'SHANASSY.
WILLIAM KERR, FOUNDER OF "THE ARGUS".
WILLIAM NICHOLSON.
CHARLES HOTSON EBDEN, ESQUIRE.
EDWARD WILSON, CHIEF PROPRIETOR OF "THE ARGUS", "THE TIMES" OF THE SOUTH.
EARLY SOCIETY: WAYS, MEANS, AND MANNERS.
"GOVERNMENT HOUSE".
CHEAP LIVING.
RELIGIOUS INTERESTS.
THE GERMAN IMMIGRATION.
THE GERMAN PRINCE.
BLACK THURSDAY.
EARLY VICTORIA, FROM 1851.
EARLY BALLARAT.
MOUNT ALEXANDER AND BENDIGO.
EARLY VICTORIAN LEGISLATION.
POSTCRIPT.
MELBOURNE IN 1888.
ALBURY.
SYDNEY.
BRISBANE.

PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY MELBOURNE AND VICTORIA.

Table of Contents

AN INTRODUCTORY MEDLEY.

"Pleasure and action make the hours seem short."—Othello.

I had long looked forward to one more visit to Victoria, perhaps the last I should expect to make, and the opportunity of the opening of the great Centenary Exhibition at Melbourne on 1st August of this year was too good to be lost. Accordingly, having been able to arrange business matters for so long a holiday, I took passage, with my wife and daughter, by the good steamship "Coptic" of the "Shaw, Savill New Zealand Line," as it is curtly put. She was to land us at Hobart about 27th July, in good time, we hoped, to get across by the Launceston boat for the Exhibition opening, and she bids fair, at this moment, to keep her engagement. We would have taken the directer route, with its greater number and variety of objects, via Suez and Colombo, but we feared the sun-blaze of the ill-omened Red Sea in summer. We purpose, however, to return that way towards the coming winter.

More than thirty-one years have elapsed since I left Melbourne, after a residence there of seventeen years, broken, however, by two intermediate visits "Home." I think with wondering enjoyment of what I am to see in the colony and its capital after such an interval. Previously, when I returned after only a year or two's absence, I was wont to mark with astonishment all that had been done in that comparatively brief time. I am thankful to Mr. Froude, whose delightful work, "Oceana," I could read to all full enjoyment during the leisure and quiet of the voyage, for somewhat preparing me for what I have to see, for I must infer from his graphic accounts, especially of interior progress—while already three more years have since elapsed—that even my most sanguine anticipations will be exceeded. Our great Scottish poet and novelist has finely said:—

"Lives there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said—
This is my own, my native land?"

But is there not a formidable rival to the force of this sentiment in that with which one clings to the land where so many of the most vigorous years of life have been actively spent? And a land, besides, of surpassing sunny beauty and of rare romance. Business calls are usually held to be imperative, even if they send us, willing or unwilling, to "Ultima Thule or the Pole." Accordingly, my later lot has been to return to the older, and not to continue in the newer, part of the common empire. But, at any rate, that rather enhances the enjoyment of this re-visit.

According to the usual custom, I now write my introduction last of all. I have most pleasantly occupied several hours of the complete leisure of each day in writing these "Recollections," and now, as we get within almost hours of our destination, I am putting this last hand to my labours. I cannot hope that their light sketchiness can go for much, save with those who, familiar with the great Melbourne and Victoria of to-day, may enjoy the comparison of the small things of a retrospect extending to almost half a century, and all but to the birth of the colony.

The voyage has been extremely pleasant, with a good and well-found vessel, fairly fast as the briskly competitive speed of these days goes, and above all with a head in Captain Burton who has proved first-class in every requirement. He has just complimented us by saying that we are the best behaved lot of passengers he ever took. That was due very greatly to himself; and I think that all of us are well able to reciprocate his compliment by regarding him as the best of captains. Officers and crew also have been, to our view at least, faultless; but then, again, all that so much depends upon the captain.

Touching the important matter of speed, let me say a little. All important it is, indeed, in this age of fast progress. When I first sailed for Australia, in 1840, we were, I think, 141 days on the way. Nor was that a very inordinate passage then. This time I expect, within that interval, to go and return, besides having nearly two and a half months to spare—a space of time which now, with rails and fast steamers everywhere, will enable me to visit all South-Eastern Australasia, including even New Zealand. Of course, that means hardly more than "to see," but still that is better than not to see at all, those wonderful parts of our empire.

But yet again, on this point of speed, our "Coptic's" daily run averaged rather under 300 nautical miles. In justice to the good ship, we should credit her with rather more, for during the latter half of the voyage she was meeting or anticipating the sun by six or seven degrees of longitude daily, and thus clipping about half an hour off each day. But turn now to the latest like exploit between Liverpool and New York—the case, I think, of the s.s. "Umbria", whose unprecedented record is of 455 to 503 miles daily. Granting this to be subject to abatement for running this time away from the sun, and thus prolonging the day, there is enough of difference to give us, at this speed, the hope of a three weeks' Australian service by the straightest available line. It has already been effected to Adelaide in 29 days. We Australians must hope that ere long Melbourne and Sydney, together with all about them, will weigh, with ourselves at least, as heavily as New York. The coal question is, of course, an awful difficulty for three weeks instead of five to six days, but not, we hope, insuperable. Our "Coptic" burns but fifty tons a day, but the New York liners require three hundred.

When a man has passed seventy-three, as I have done, he may be excused in doubting his chance of yet another Australian visit. But while he has been waiting these many years, he has seen such vast improvement in inter-communication facilities of every kind, as to establish, he might say, a complete counterbalance to the increasing infirmities of years. Imagine, therefore, the Australian liner of the next few years to be a great and comfortable hotel, as though one went for three weeks' fresh sea air to Brighton or Bournemouth, with the additional charm that, on quitting your pleasant marine apartments, you stepped out upon Australia.

This brings up yet another subject. When attending, four years ago, the very successful and most interesting meeting of the British Association at Montreal, I was very curious as to the possible prospect, now that this body had made so good a first outside step, of a like meeting in Australia. But, not very long after, an invitation to the Association was actually sent from Melbourne. The year asked for had been pre-engaged for Home. My distinguished friend, Mr. Service, told me, when on his late Home visit, that no doubt the invitation would go again. I may usefully mention here that the Association is usually engaged, or as good as engaged, two clear years in advance, so that the third year, at least, in advance should be dealt with for Melbourne. This besides would afford sufficient notice for the busy men of all classes and all vocations at Home to arrange conveniently for the necessarily long absence. I do not doubt of complete success. Indeed, it is such a further chance as that which might tempt even the oldest of us into visiting the far-off but bright and sunny South.

MR. FROUDE'S "OCEANA."

I feel that my introductory medley would still be incomplete if I did not allude, somewhat more than I have already done, to Mr. Froude's recently published "Oceana," a work which, in its vigour and high literary style, marks quite an era in its Australian field. I had regretted before embarking that, from the pressure of other things, my acquaintance with it had been limited to the reading of many reviews and the hearing of much criticism. But I have been well compensated by a perusal during the peace and ample leisure of this long voyage. I must confine my remarks to two points only, which, however, are amongst the most prominent in the book. These are—first, the terms in which he has alluded to the present condition of New Zealand; and, second, his ardently loyal remarks, so often repeated, upon that rising question of the day, the political unity of the empire—a subject which had been advanced at the time into a most significant importance to the Australian colonies by the apparent imminence of war with Russia.

NEW ZEALAND.

I am not inclined to repeat the scolding which, it is understood, my zealous friend, Sir Francis Bell, Agent-General for New Zealand, under his high sense of duty, administered to the brilliant author of "Oceana" for this sole dark spot of his book. I see no sufficient cause. On the contrary, he has given us such a charming account of the aspects and prospects of this, the most magnificent of our colonies—for I agree with him in believing that it is to be "the future home of the greatest nation of the Pacific"—that certain loose or inaccurate words addressed to him about the finances, and which he had deemed worth recording, may well be expected to have in comparison the most evanescent effect. "One gentleman," he says, "amused me considerably with his views," the said views being to the effect that New Zealand would be ready, when the final pressure came, to repudiate her heavy public debt. Another equally vivacious informant stated that, besides the 32 million pounds of colonial borrowing, "the municipal debts were at least as much more as the national debt." Now this is six times overstated for municipal and harbour debts together. No doubt the actual case is bad enough, for New Zealand has far over-borrowed. But as to repudiation, there is not a hint or notion of it in any responsible quarter whatever, any more than with regard to our British Consols, although the colony is, for the time, in the extremity of a depression, ever recurrent in such young, fast-going societies, caused by a continuous subsiding of previous too-speculative values. To this I may add, in reference to the smaller issues of colonial municipalities, that of the very great number of these, New Zealand's included, brought for many years past upon the London market, there is not, in my recollection, as a matter of my own business, one single instance of default, as to either principal or interest, if we except the sole and quite special and temporary case, above thirty years ago, of the city of Hamilton, in Upper Canada.

UNITY OF THE EMPIRE.

This question has been in a course of rapid clearing during the last few years, and the successful establishment of the Imperial Federation League has given an orderly procedure in every way promising. The object aimed at is, that the empire shall have that political binding which will give to it the maximum of power and influence possible under all its circumstances. Above fifteen years ago some few of us—very few they then were—first seriously raised this question at Home in the Royal Colonial Institute. We had the smallest of audiences then. It is marvellous to look back now upon that indifference. I recollect that about ten years ago, when the movement was just beginning to look serious to those outside of us, a leading Paris paper devoted an article to the subject, remarking that if Great Britain persevered so as to unite her empire as sought, the balance of the world's power would be so seriously disturbed as to call for an international reconsideration of that subject.

The progress as yet has been chiefly negative, but it has been great. Modes entertained at first have been discarded. This may be said of superseding the present Imperial Parliament by a pro re nata Federal Assembly; and it may be equally said of an influx of proportionate colonial representatives into the Home House. Councils of colonial ambassadors, agents-general, and so on, have, I think, definitely gone the same way. These are chiefly Home views, for Home is at length aroused as well as the colonies to their common question; and the summons by the Secretary for the Colonies of the Colonial Conference which sat in London two years ago marks alike the most prominent and most promising feature in the movement.

Mr. Froude has given, most usefully, the views of the colonists. Let us take Mr. Dalley's, which is also that of most others, namely, that the nascent but increasing colonial navies should be all under one imperial command—that is, be a part of the British navy. There is one more step—namely, to dispose of all colonial military force in the same common-sense way, and then we have a politically united empire. But we are "constitutional" or representative in our polity, so that something else is still wanted. In short, the unity of the empire requires two things. First, that all its force be under one executive, and, next, that the colonies be proportionately represented in that executive. The Cabinet seems to me the adaptable body we can operate upon to this end. That body would then be actually, as well as legally, the empire's executive. Nothing should—nothing need—prevent the attainment of this grand end. The tariff bugbear concerns only commerce, and need not arrest nor even interfere with the empire's political unity. All other matters of the common interest can be leisurely settled by mutual consent, as the empire, in its united state, sails along the great ocean of the future. The mother will then, in emergency, have the sure call of her children; while every colony, even to the very smallest, will know that in case of need the whole empire is at its back. When the rest of the world knows that fact, it will thenceforth probably not trouble our empire either about international rearrangements or anything else.

EARLY PORT PHILLIP.

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And the days o' lang syne."
—Burns.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder."
—Haynes Bayly.

Entering Port Phillip on the morning of the 13th December, 1840, we were wafted quickly up to the anchorage of Hobson's Bay on the wings of a strong southerly breeze, whose cool, and even cold, temperature was to most of us an unexpected enjoyment in the middle of an Australian summer. A small boat came to us at the anchorage containing Mr. and Mrs. D.C. McArthur and others who had friends or relations on board, and who told us that for some days there had been excessive heat and a hot wind, which had now reacted in this southerly blast, to go on probably into heavy rain, the country being excessively dry.

MY FIRST NIGHT ASHORE.

"The Hut on the Flat."
—James Henry.

"How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude."
—Cowper.

The rain did follow at night to the full as predicted. I had engaged to accompany a young friend that evening to spend the next day, Sunday, at his "country seat" on Richmond Flat, where he had constructed, mostly with his own hands, a sort of hut or wigwam, under an unchallenged squattage. Being engaged in a store for long hours on Saturday night, it was past eleven ere we started. The rain had begun to pour, and the night was pitch dark. We got into Collins-street, but had much difficulty in keeping its lines where there were not post-and-rail fences round the vacant allotments. Only three years had elapsed since Melbourne had been named and officially laid out, and, excepting the very centre, there were still wide intervals between the houses on either side even of Collins-street. After floundering helplessly about in the foundation-cutting of a new house, which was already full of water, but happily only a few inches deep, we at length emerged upon the open of the present Fitzroy Gardens, where for a little time we could keep to the bush track only by trying the ground with our feet or our fingers. But in spite of all care we soon lost the road, and wandered about in the pouring rain for the rest of the night. We were young and strong, and as the rain did not chill us, we were in but little discomfort. A beauteous sunny morning broke upon us, with a delicious fragrance from the refreshed ground. We found ourselves near the Yarra, between the present busy Hawthorn and Studley Park. Solitude and quiet reigned around us, excepting the enchanting "ting ting" of the bell bird. We stripped ourselves, wrung our drenched clothes, and spread them to dry in the sun, and then plunged into the dark, deep still Yarra for our morning bath, afterwards duly reaching my friend's country seat.

INDIGENOUS FEATURES AROUND MELBOURNE.

"There are more things in heaven and earth
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy."
—Hamlet

These features form an interesting retrospect of early Melbourne. They have nearly all disappeared since with the growth of town and population. Some who preceded me saw the kangaroo sporting over the site of Melbourne—a pleasure I never enjoyed, as the timid creatures fled almost at once with the first colonizing inroad. I have spoken of the little bell bird, which, piping its pretty monotone, flitted in those earlier years amongst the acacias on the banks of the Yarra close to Melbourne, but which has taken its departure to far distances many a year ago. The gorgeous black cockatoo was another of our early company, now also long since departed. For a very few years after my arrival they still hovered about Melbourne, and I recollect gazing in admiration at a cluster of six of them perched upon a large gum-tree near the town, upon the Flemington-road. The platypus, also, was quite plentiful, especially in the Merri Creek. Visiting, about 1843, my friend Dr. Drummond, who had a house and garden at the nearest angle of the creek, about two miles from town, we adjourned to a "waterhole" at the foot of the garden, on the chance of seeing a platypus, and sure enough, after a very few minutes, one rose before us in the middle of the pool.

THE ABORIGINAL NATIVES IN AND ABOUT TOWN.

"Oh I see the monstrousness of man
When he looks out in an ungrateful shape."
—Timon of Athens.

The natives still strolled into Melbourne at the time of my arrival, and for a couple of years or so after; but they were prohibited about the time of the institution of the corporation, as their non-conformity in attire—to speak in a decent way—their temptations from offers of drink by thoughtless colonists, and their inveterate begging, began soon to make them a public nuisance. But aboriginal ways did not die at once. The virtues or integrity of native life, as Strzelecki would phrase it, struggled and survived for some few further years the strong upsetting tide of colonial life.

Returning one night, about 1843, from dining with Mr. William Locke, an old colonial merchant, at his pretty cottage and gardens on the Merri Creek, between four and five miles out by the Sydney-road, I diverged westwards from the purely bush track which as yet constituted that main highway of the future Victoria. My object was to escape the swampy vicinities of Brunswick, a village about three miles out of town, consisting for a number of years of three small brick cottages, adventurously rather than profitably built by an early speculator. With firm footing and under a bright moon, I had a pleasant walk through what is now the beautiful Royal Park, when, judging that I must be nearing Melbourne, I perceived quite a number of lights ahead. There were as yet no public lights to scattered little Melbourne in those early days, although the new corporation, elected the year before, had got to work by this time. So, what could it all be? I was not long in suspense. It could only be a native encampment, and I was soon in its midst. The natives at a distance, especially in the far western direction, were still at times hostile, but all those who lived near town were already quite peaceful, so that I had no hesitation in now entering their encampment. I was most cordially received and shown over the different wigwams, each of which had its fire burning. I was taken specially to one occupied by a poor fellow who, under native war laws, had had his kidney-fat wrenched out and eaten by his foes. He showed me the wound, which, however, had now healed up. But he himself had never recovered, being sadly weak and death-like, as one who had but little more to do with this busy world.

The last great native demonstration near Melbourne, and, indeed, so far as I can recollect, the last of its kind within the colony, took place about a mile north-east of the town, in the middle of 1844. This was a grand corrobboree, arranged for amongst themselves by surrounding tribes, including the still considerable tribe of the River Goulburn. This was, as it were, one last aboriginal defiance, hurled in despair from the expiring native cause against the too-victorious colonial invasion. We of the town had heard of the proposed exhibition, and many, including myself, went out to see it. There were present seven hundred aborigines of all ages and both sexes. The performances were chiefly by the younger men, in bands of fifties, for the respective tribes, while the females, in lines by themselves, beat the time, and gave what they no doubt considered to be music.

EARLY CIVILIZING DIFFICULTIES.

"He loves his own barn better
Than he loves our house."
—First Part Henry IV.

Up to that time, and for some time longer, the religious conversion of these natives was regarded as hopeless, so deeply "bred in blood and bone" was aboriginal character. Consequently all the earlier missions were abandoned in utter despair, with only one exception, that of the Moravians, which, in faith and duty continuing the work, was at length rewarded with success. Naturally some few, especially amongst the young, were less severely "native" than the rest, and these were more or less gained. But the change came with the next generation, "born in the purple" of surrounding colonial life. The blood and bone had been partially neutralized, and this is still more the result of yet another generation that has followed, so that, in spite of the black skin, the missionary now deals with natures much more amenable to his teachings.

A remarkable illustration of aboriginal tenacity, which, however, I am quoting only from memory, occurred in South Australia. Two aboriginal children, separated from babyhood from aboriginal life, were trained and educated like colonists. For the earlier years little difference was noticed, but as they advanced into boyhood some restlessness became evident. When, on one occasion, a native tribe, presumably their own, happened to be near Adelaide, these children, who had either seen them or heard of them, made their escape at the earliest opportunity, and, having reached the native camp, at once threw off the habiliments of civilization, and never after showed any disposition to return to the conditions they had so summarily rejected.

"THE BEACH" (NOW PORT MELBOURNE).

"Thinking of the days that are no more."
—Tennyson.

At the time of my arrival, all Melbourne-bound passengers were put out by their respective ships' boats upon that part of the northern beach of Port Phillip that was nearest to Melbourne, whence, in straggling lines, as they best could in hot winds, they trod a bush track of their own making, which, about a mile and a half long, brought them to a punt or little boat just above "The Falls," where the owner made a good living at 3 pence a head for the half-minute's passage. This debarkation place got to be called, par excellence, "The Beach." It consisted already of two public-houses, kept respectively by Liardet and Lingham. Both were respectable people in their way, but the first was also a character. Of good family connection, he had enjoyed a life of endless adventure, which, however, had never seemed any more to elevate him by fortune than to depress him by its reverse. He was a kind of roving Garibaldi, minus, indeed, the hero's war-paint and the Italian unity, but with all his frankness and indomitable resource. Having a family of active young sons, he secured the boating of "the Beach" as well as the other thing. But his untold riches of experience seemed never to condescend to develop into riches of mere money—and perhaps without one pang of regret to his versatile and resourceful mind.