Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne & Victoria
by William Westgarth
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But I have to do also with nearer and dearer connections of Batman than his tobacco pipe. I have to record the marriage, during 1844, of two of his daughters, the elder, already a widow, Mrs. McKinney, to my pleasant friend Fennell, as I have previously mentioned, and, happily, resulting in a family of descendants to the Port Phillip founder, and the younger to one of the two squatter brothers Collyer. The latter event, which came off at the hospitable and comfortable homestead of old John Aitken of that ilk (I mean of Mount Aitken), was a grand gala time to a very wide circle. Guests, by the score together, trooped up from town and country, headed, in the former direction, by Andrew Russell, then second mayor of Melbourne, in succession to my friend Condell, and in the latter by his cheery and ever-smiling uncle, Peter Inglis, of Ingliston, a great station homestead in the comparisons of those early times, and once, as Peter liked to tell, taken for a town, perhaps in the gloaming hours, by a bush traveller when he inquired of one of the domestics, to her great amusement, the name of the street he had confusingly got into. Mrs. Aitken, as literally as by courtesy the good wife of the house, and then in the full charm of her beauty and strong youth (now Mrs. Kaye, and sadly changed in both respects), went busily about, her young family at her skirts, administering plenty and preserving order, while, towards genial eve, her good man occupied a quiet corner, indisputable king for the nonce of the toddy race. The night accommodations were a difficulty, although not a few, like the host himself, were in no great want. I and a score or two of others turned into a wool loft, where a number of little mattresses, mostly of a pro re nata kind, were provided, into one of which I was soon ensconced and fast asleep. But well on, as I guessed, in the small hours we were all awoke by loud and burly noise in the loft, proceeding, as we soon recognized, from two Anakims of the party, Isaac Buchanan and John Porter, who seemed on the eve of a struggle for a Mace or Nolan belt. Porter had retired peacefully with me, but Buchanan had been vieing in the toddy corner with his host, and when inevitably knocked under—for the other had not yet been limited by his doctor to that woman's wash, as he called it, sparkling moselle—he had contrived to find the common loft. It is said, of unpractised topers at any rate, that, after an extra indulgence, they either see nothing or see double. Whichever it was with Buchanan, he insisted on berthing for the night in Porter's occupied nest, while the latter, after standing the all-round chaff for a little, got savage and threatened war. Buchanan's sight getting by-and-by clearer, the remainder of the night was, happily, peace. But it was not for long, as almost with the dawn our host, alive as if nothing out of the usual had happened, woke us up with the invitation to finish the champagne by way of refresher after all the toils and toddy we had gone through.


This earliest amongst the early of Port Phillip, whose active form flitted about its shores ere the memorable year 1835 had expired, might have come in for a full separate sketch had I been thrown more with him, so as to have sufficient personal data. But, although I met him at times, he lived at Geelong, fifty miles away from Melbourne. I have put him under this sub-heading, in the Batman interjecta, because, as his daughter, Mrs. Henry Creswick, told me, it was Batman's representations to him of the land of promise to the north that induced him to follow the early tide with his flocks and his family—the latter consisting of his wife and one only child, the daughter above alluded to. She still survives, in her pleasant residence, situated in the fitly named Creswick-street, Hawthorn.

The doctor was one of the most active of the colonists, both politically and generally. He was chiefly concerned in establishing the Geelong Corporation, of which he was several times Mayor, and he was most actively interested in the early representation of the district in the Sydney Assembly. He sat there as one of the district members prior to the "separation" session of 1851, and it was at his instance that the House made an exhaustive inquiry into the condition of the aboriginal natives. In the separation session elections his party was outvoted by the squatting or anti-democratic element; but none the less the former in Geelong deputed the doctor to accompany the elected members, in order to keep a watch upon their doings. The case had its comic aspect, but as the doctor and I were on the same side of the politics of the day, he was most useful to me in our common effort to secure a due share of representation for the mass of the people, as intended by the Imperial Government. The aim of the reigning regime was to continue their power by means of an electoral distribution which was to secure a majority of Crown nominees and Crown tenants in the two future sections of the old colony.

The doctor, as I said, went over with the earliest from the Hobart side of the island, quitting his land grant, which was the last under that system, and was got for him by his friend Governor Arthur—a privilege for which, as I have said, the Henty family arrived just too late. Amongst the live stock he took over was Miss Thomson's pony, which was the first of the equines landed at Port Phillip. Its owner was then a very young girl. She and her mother landed towards the end of 1835, and were the first ladies of "the settlement." The family pitched a tent almost under a magnificent gum tree, whose stump, covered with ivy, still exists close to the Cathedral at Prince's Bridge. But shortly after several of the young men of the settlement, in order to provide them better accommodation, collected some boards and built them a hut lower down the river bank. With the two places the Thomsons were able to dispense hospitalities, their guests including Messrs. Gellibrand and Hesse, Mr. James Smith, and Mr. Mackillop. It used to be said that "the settlement" was in the habit of going to tea with Mrs. Thomson.

This brings us into 1836. The next year came the officials in charge from Sydney, who included Mr. R.S. Webb, as Collector of Customs, whose daughter, Annie, was the first white child born in the settlement (with, however, some dispute as to a blacksmith's child having been the first), and who was afterwards married to my late friend, Colin Mackinnon, younger brother of the better known Lauchlan. Dr. Thomson used to read prayers to the little settlement in a rude structure upon the ground now occupied by St. James's Church. Afterwards he removed to Kardinia, Geelong, as his live stock had been landed there, and this place he finally made his home.

From these lively and mixed events of our early society, let me now turn to another subject, which is neither less lively nor less mixed than its predecessors—the subject, namely, of:


"The force of his own merit makes his way." —Henry VIII.

"Well, I am, not fair; and therefore I pray the gods to make me honest." —As You Like It.

"He's honest, on mine honour." —Henry VIII.

"He hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper; for what his heart thinks, his tongue speaks." —Much Ado About Nothing.

"For now he lives in fame, though not in life." —Richard III.

If circumstances won't make a poet, as genius contemptuously asserts, nor make up for blood in a horse, as even the stable boy swears to, they are at times marvellously effective in making, and, for the matter of that, also in unmaking men. So might we say with regard to the well-known subject of this sketch, who, arriving amongst us with the earliest, and within the repellent surrounding of an evil repute, yet under different surroundings and favouring circumstances outlived all traducements, whether true or otherwise, and after a long, practical, and singularly useful career, died in the full regard of his adopted country. The unanimity of dislike and moral depreciation with which he was regarded by his Tasmanian fellows was not indeed without a certain share of reason or excuse. That he was the son of a convict ought not, of course, to prejudice him in these Christian days, when the sins of the fathers are not to be visited upon the sons even to the first generation. His father arrived with Collins's prisoner party, and the boy, John Pascoe, then eleven years old, was sent with his parent—for not seldom were wives or children thus sent with the convicts, to ameliorate by such a touch of nature the hard features of a society of adult vice, much as Hogarth, in some of his masterpieces of the human woes or vices of his time, gives, in striking contrast, a foreground of maternal affection, or of children at play in the artless innocence of their looks and ways.

But he was probably neither a pretty nor an interesting boy; for as a man he was of the very plainest, with a short figure, always negligently "put on," a rough, mannerless way, and a voice husky and hoarse, although redeemed at times into an approach to commanding an audience, when he was strongly stirred in some exciting cause. Some people have no patience to subdue natural antipathies in such cases, and these people would, as well-known scripture (with some transposition of the idea) tells us, be apt to be most plentiful "in his own country." But, again, Fawkner was himself a convict. Yes, but for what? Certainly if a man so notorious in after life had committed any very disparaging crime it must have been as notorious as his name. But I never heard anything distinctive beyond that he had, for something or other, passed under the Caudine Forks of the Van Diemen's Land Criminal Courts. Inevitably his early upbringing was in low associations, where, probably, ties of friendly feeling survived, as to which he might have said with the bard of Avon—"I am not of that feather to shake off my friend when he must need me" (Timon of Athens). My impression was that he had been convicted of harbouring, or aiding to escape, some who had broken the law, whatever more that may have meant, for, with his pluck, he was probably little troubled about niceties of fine feeling, and, thus accoutred, Providence dropped the man amongst altogether different circumstances and associations in his new location.

I had much to do with Fawkner, especially after he and I met in our young colony's first Legislature, and after I sufficiently knew him, so as to allow for the rough exterior of his nature, I never had but one opinion of the man. That opinion was, that throughout every condition of the considerable space of his later life, whether in health or sickness, strength or weakness, prosperity or adversity—for, at first at least, he, like many others, was not prosperous in golden-fleeced and golden Victoria—he toiled, late and early, for what, in his honest judgment, was for the good of his colony; and with a singleness of purpose which was not excelled—was not, I think, equalled, to my knowledge at least—by any other in that colony.

He seemed to make an ascent under the exhilarating circumstances of his new and increasingly responsible position, and to have the consciousness of a great mission, which nerved him to surmount all that was dubious in his earlier career. Nor was he behind in less pretentious ways. I never once heard of any mean or over-reaching act of his, even in the smallest matters. He once told me, in his prosperous days, with much becoming feeling, and as an incident he could never forget, that when quite broken in fortune, he had received, as unasked as unexpected, a most timely pecuniary help from Mr. Henry Moor, the well-known solicitor. The two were, I think, at hearty variance across the political hedge; the more honour to both.

We have seen that he showed pluck in his earlier life, even in bad associations; and he displayed the same under better auspices later on. His action with a certain gravely suspected Commissioner of Crown Lands was a good illustration. This high functionary, who, in those pre-constitutional times, was practically an irresponsible Caesar over a vast estate of dependent Crown tenants, whose interests might in any case be seriously jeopardized by any unfairness, and who, therefore, like the wife of his prototype, should be even above suspicion, was accused by rumours, of no slight noise or breadth, of unfaithfulness to his charge, and in the grossest and most mercenary of forms. Even with the clearest case it was anything but assuring to attack such a man in those days of authority. But Fawkner's bite was too deep for any laissez faire cure, and so, nolens volens, the Commissioner had to defend or retrieve his character. The verdict of a farthing damages, at which amount the jury estimated that character in the case, was complete justification to Fawkner, and laid the whole Province under lasting obligation to him for a most important public service.

Another of his more prominent services was upon the first Gold Commission, 1854-5, summoned hastily together by the Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, under the surprise, not unmixed with consternation, caused by the Ballarat riot, an incident which, in some of its aspects, such as the stockade structure, deserved rather the graver name of rebellion. Already in his 63rd year, in broken health, and certainly the weakest physically of the membership, he was the most active of all, ever running full tilt into every abuse or fault or complaint that might help to explain this unwonted, and, indeed, utterly purposeless and stupid incident of a British community. In my capacity as chairman, I appreciated Fawkner's untiring, or more properly, unyielding spirit, and under travelling fatigues, too, of no mean trial even to younger men. For the Colossus of Rhodes, as my energetic friend, Dr. (now Sir Francis) Murphy, was humorously called, on accepting, recently before, the charge of the rutty and miry ways of golden Victoria, had as yet made but feeble progress in his most urgent mission. We learned enough to explain, at least, if not to excuse the miners; and were thus guided to a reconstruction of goldfields administration. This was chiefly in that national element, hitherto utterly absent there, of local representative institutions; and the change has since assured the future from even John Bull's proverbial growling. General McArthur, with a few troops, promptly, but not without considerable bloodshed, ended the sad farce. In view of the very exceptional features of an incident extremely unlikely to occur again, Fawkner and most others of the commission were most decided for a general condonance; and this was agreed to in the report by all except the Official Commissioner, Mr. Wright, who, excusably enough, sided with his official superiors for a treason trial. But the jury, as might have been anticipated, acquitted the prisoners. One of their leaders, Mr. Peter Lalor, who lost one of his arms in the cause, has since been for many years Speaker of the Victorian Assembly, and as loyal to his Queen as he is genial to his many friends.

When we wound up the Commission's inquiry at Castlemaine, and on the morning of a hot midsummer day embarked upon one of the springless "Cobb and Co's" of the time, with the prospect of ten or twelve hours of terrible jolting before us, poor old Fawkner seemed so much enfeebled that I was in some doubt as to his being landed alive at Melbourne. But, game to the last, he rode uncomplainingly through all; and he lived even a goodly number of years after, but only to do more and more work. Old General Anderson, of early colonial memory, had a habit, quite his own, of saying to the face of anyone whose conduct gave him satisfaction, and in his blunt soldierly way, "Sir, I have a great respect for you." Such an accrediting and not unacceptable declaration he addressed, times more, I think, than once, to Fawkner. Indeed, all classes of the colony, from the highest, in which the gallant colonel moved, to the humblest, now alike recognized the veteran who had so long and so well fought for them all. When at last the spirit quitted the worn-out frame, and its well-known form, possibly, even to the last, keeping up still, amongst some few, the lingering dislike of the long past, was to be no more seen amongst us, there seemed but one impulse for the occasion, which fittingly expressed itself in a funeral procession entirely unprecedented in its every aspect. This was not less to the colony's honour than to that of Fawkner. He died on 4th September, 1869. Not the least impressive feature of the funeral, perhaps the most, was the remarkable prayer offered up at the grave by the Reverend Dr. Cairns. Victoria's most eloquent preacher, in giving the true setting to the life and character of the man, thanked God, in the name of the colony, for such a life, the influence and example of which could not but be for good to all who were to follow. He has fought bravely for the R.I.P. of the tomb. He rests from his labours, and his works do follow him.


"He hath an excellent good name." —Much Ado About Nothing.

When "The Settlement" began, and when, like the pre-Judges time in Israel, every man did as he pleased, the inevitable inconvenience of that ultra-radical paradise led the small community to seek out a male Deborah, and, with one accord, they made choice of James Simpson, their early fellow-emigrant in the tide from Launceston. Had there been even a much larger society, the choice would probably have been as surely the same, for it would have been difficult indeed to find anyone, who, in the grace and command of natural presence, exceeded this inaugurator of authority in Victoria. His figure, rather tall, shapely, well-developed, surmounted by a noble head, bald with age, just touching the venerable, and with a genial expression of face, which, however, never descended to levity, although times without number to a smile or slight laugh, he sat erect upon the bench, facile princeps, as though institutions were to bend to him, and not he to them. When we entered the little hut-like structure in the middle of the Western Market area, so long Melbourne's only police-office, James Simpson seemed to us as much a part of its fittings as the rude little bench itself; and it was a disappointment not to find him there, as the indispensable complement to the scene, even although better conduct in the community was to be inferred. How so striking, so influence-wielding a man did not get or take a still more leading position than he had was due, perhaps, to some indolence of nature, to a rare and enviable contentment, or to a mixture of both. He took what fell in his way—magistracies, bank directorships, or what else, and lived unambitiously on his moderate but sufficient means, always in the front social position, and, of course, in universal respect. And how, again, so quiet a spirit adventured across amongst the tag-rags of the earlier Launceston tide, unless indeed under some benevolent inspiration and prescience about the magisterial needs, is a mystery which, although I often conversed with him, I never happened to hear him explain.


"A man of good repute, carriage, bearing, and estimation." —Love's Labour Lost.

Almost as early a colonist as Simpson, his intimate friend, his colleague in the Melbourne branch of the Bank of Australasia, of which he was himself general manager, with Simpson as director, McArthur fitly follows the other in this list of early colonial prominents. To the day of his death he held the first position, active or honorary, in Victorian banking. But he was even better known, or at least better regarded, as, par excellence, "mine host" of the early community. During a long life, of which the later and much the larger half was spent in Victoria, there was none who entered more readily, constantly, or acceptably into the varied life of the community. His leisure, such as he had, his means, his fellowship, were at their command. He was geniality personified. But he was a banker, and a banker has duties, and in the ups and downs of colonial business life, he was but too often reminded to that effect. It was quite a sight if you happened to witness the scene with a bank customer, to whom, as to "the state of his account," it was necessary to administer what Mac's countrymen call a "hearing." Often he had to pity victims of circumstances in the sudden changes of colonial commerce; but "the gods aboon can only ken" to discriminate impartially in such cases, and duty to the bank must be done. First, the humorous twinkle in the eye sensibly abated, but it still lingered there, unless there must be still stronger stages of the ordeal, to bring the business culprit to reason. But when the last gleam went out, a storm was certainly imminent. The storm, however, swept past on the instant with the provocation. When that eye finally closed, a veritable sunbeam of the colony went out with it.

Mrs. McArthur, who still survives, went hand in hand with her husband. That they were an attached couple has the complementary illustration of his making her his full heir. As they had no family to divide cares and means, we must blame the less the surpassing hospitalities that distinguished them. McArthur had really no other fault, unless indeed we must fall back on the general limitation which Adam Smith had to admit even in the excellence of his departed friend Hume; for, after all, a man can be good or perfect only "so far as the nature of human frailty will permit."


"However God or fortune cast my lot, There lives or dies... A loyal, just, and upright gentleman." —Richard II.

The more I saw of the subject of this sketch, over nearly all the fifteen years of his unusually prolonged and varied officiate, the more I explained his case by the excusing consideration that he was where he was without his own consent. He was naturally a quiet, amiable, unambitious man, full of official activity and ability, in a prescribed line, or under the instructions of superiors. Thus commended at Sydney, he accepted, as matter of course, or of duty, his appointment by the Governor, in 1839, to the Superintendency of the Port Phillip community, a small body as yet, although making an ominously loud noise upon the far southern skirts of the vast colonial expanse of which Sydney was then the official and business centre. The charge did not then seem to threaten to be an anxiously large one, and in any case his inauguratory office might hardly remove him from the accustomed instruction of superiors. What he did not bargain for was that the child he went to nurse was to rush almost from the cradle into manhood; and the little "settlement" he began his reign with to be, ere he had done with it, the most notable, if not indeed actually the most important, colony of the empire.

He was a Moravian Christian, of a well-known name in that excellent body, and possessed of all its virtues; he was, besides, a well-educated gentleman. The pure and happy home which he transferred to the new scene was of priceless value to its society, and all the more so at a time when such virtuous homes, in such high quarters, were by no means over common thereabout. But with a natural shyness, and, in a socio-political sense, timidity of character, which in ordinary circumstances are feelings leaning to the better side, he exemplified how a good man may not always be a good ruler of men. The diffidence is often mistaken by the ruled, and always disappointing; and in public affairs it is apt, as Mr. La Trobe but too well illustrated, to take the inconvenient and injurious form of personal indecision.

He had not a particle of pride or selfishness, hardly even of the commoner infirmity of vanity. He would, whenever possible, take a roundabout to escape observation, but if even the humblest colonist persisted to address him, unrepelled by the evident tendency to "move on," he would be as frank and unceremonious as our Queen in a Highland cottage. We regret that so righteously-stored a man should make a bad Governor; but so it was, none the less.

There was comparatively little damage during the day of smaller things, prior to the gold. Still, even then, the characteristics told, in the reluctance to resolve upon action in any departure from the red tape of the beaten track, in a young settlement of men nearly all in the exuberant prime of life, and almost daily called upon, amongst Australian peculiarities, to confront their novel circumstances. For instance, upon rumours, oft repeated, that there was good workable coal at Western Port, a party is formed, with capital in readiness, to give the case a thorough testing; and they, as of course, apply to the Government to give them all those aids and concessions, or, at least, a sufficiency of them, which could most easily have been given in that quarter, for Mr. La Trobe was practically the Government. He referred the matter to Mr. Crown-Solicitor Croke, to ascertain what might be the legal impediments. Impediments, obstacles, difficulties! But who had asked for them? The application had been for facilities. Of course, Mr. C.S. Croke, as instructed, and with all the facility of any lawyer worth his salt, duly found the required impediments; and so the disturbing enemy was defeated, and the Government left at rest.

But when the goldfields' grand drama of progress opened, when thousands promptly flowed into Victoria from neighbouring colonies, and, a little later on, ten thousands from Home, this chariness of action, this resolute irresolution, or, in Ollivier's description of his master Napoleon, before he, in an unlucky moment, swayed over to his side, this "obstinate indecision," proved sadly damaging to the colony, although indeed, under all the circumstances, it was hardly possible for any obstacle whatever to arrest materially its marvellous growth. Of course, the interest of a colony, thus enviably favoured, was to settle as best it could this throng of enterprising humanity over its vast and all but empty areas, and that could only have been done by prompt and adequate access to the land. But some current differences as to the bearing or rights of squatting leases gave the Governor—the Superintendent being now in that higher position—the too ready excuse for his infirmity of indecision. Even the squatting difficulty, which could have been easily removed by a reserve of compensation for whatever of it might have been real, was only one part, perhaps not even the chief part, of the wretched case. Acres by the million, on either side, along the busy highways, and around the many goldfield outbreaks, small and great, from which the live stock, where there had been any, were now all driven away, might have been brought to market at once without real injury to any interest. The squatters, naturally enough, sided with the Governor, giving him an encouraging semblance of public principle; for did not the one-third of united Crown Officials and Crown Nominateds, plus the Crown Tenants, in our first so-called representative Legislature, show, on this question, a small majority for "the Crown?"

At last, when the public scandal of so grievous a spectacle made longer inaction impossible, when the disappointed and shiftless immigrants began to beat a retreat from the inhospitable colony, the balance streaming by thousands into "Canvastown," or wandering helpless elsewhere, and mostly ruined by the cost of living—for a cabbage had risen to 5 shillings at the goldfields, and to 2 shillings and 6 pence in Melbourne—the Governor, by an adroit move, in the despair of the position, referred the case "Home." There common sense decided it at once, or at least as quickly as might have been expected from the leisurely ways of the Colonial Office of those far-back times. But the decision came, in very great measure, much too late. There had been in the meantime a blazing fire of land speculation, which, unlike other fires, had blazed all the more intensely from the want of fuel. The small supply of land, and the fury of multitudinous demands, had driven up prices to such absurd, and, the utilities considered, such impossible heights, that the inevitable reaction had already begun, involving numbers of families in most sudden and unexpected loss, and not a few in ruin.

But Victoria easily recovered from and forgot this preliminary and bad physicking, and was soon to be seen galloping on its road of progress as if nothing to its damage could ever have happened. Full of work for the day, full of hope for the morrow, the busy colonists saluted cordially the departing Governor. For my part I do not grudge it to him, for his motives and conduct were of the purest, and he was ever withal a right good Christian gentleman.


"Altogether directed by an Irishman; a very valiant gentleman, i' faith." —Henry V.

One of O'Shanassy's oft-repeated jokes, told with the humorous twinkle of his eye, was that "All men are born free and equal, AND MUST REMAIN SO." He was wide as the poles asunder from the radical leveller, as this joke of his might help to show. Indeed, he was decidedly conservative, in a general socio-political sense of the word. While in strong sympathy with the mass of his countrymen, he might have limped at times alongside even of Parnell, to say nothing of Davitt and O'Donovan Rossa. He had more than O'Connell's dread to pass irretrievably outside the law, although he might not have scrupled to drive the proverbial carriage and six through law's usual dubieties of expression, particularly in certain sections of the Victorian Education Acts.

As one of the earliest Irish colonists from the old country, he soon rose to the leading position amongst his fellow-colonist Irishmen. His qualities, alike in physique and mind, easily gave him that position. His tall, massive form, with the imperturbable good-humored smile that, even when annoyed by an opponent, he could hardly dismiss from his face, except, perchance, by a blend of the sarcastic; his deliberate manner in speaking, and his sonorous voice, gave him this surpassing influence. But in colonial public life, where he had to encounter greater competition and sharper criticism than in his own smaller Irish world, he lay under some disadvantages. Like his friend and occasional opponent, Fawkner, he had an ungainly gait and rather mannerless address; he had, too, a rich Clonmel brogue, and certainly he had not enjoyed an education at all commensurate with his great natural endowments. But, all defects notwithstanding, he steadily rose in political estimation, and for the simple reason that his views of public affairs were characteristic of the statesman more perhaps than those of any others associated with him.

He first entered public life in 1851, as one of the three representatives for Melbourne in Victoria's first Parliament. But, doubtful perhaps, with his anti-radical temperament as to the fickleness of large town populations, as well, possibly, as the dread of his liability to get compromised by the over-zeal of supporters, he changed the venue to the small semi-Irish town of Kilmore, where his seat was always secure, until, in his advancing years, he condescended to the less laborious sphere of the Upper House.

I saw much of O'Shanassy at the outset of Victorian legislation, when he and I, in 1851-3, sat together as colleagues for Melbourne in the single chamber of that inaugurative time, and afterwards when we were associated in the Goldfields Commission, 1854-5. Often I noticed the unerring bent of his mind towards the statesman's broad view of subjects of political controversy. As a sincere Catholic he was sometimes trammelled as he ran with liberal Protestant majorities. In the education question, for instance, as already hinted, seeing that Victoria stands amongst the most advanced in the rigid secularity of its teaching, to the extent, at least, of what of instruction is provided—and gratuitously provided—by public money. But in general he was anxious to be reasonably accordant with public opinion—so much so, indeed, in that "profane" direction (as Gibbon might have phrased it) as not to be quite reckonable with the extreme of the Jesuit or Ultramontane section of his church.

I recollect and record with pleasure one of the Goldfields Commission incidents illustrative of O'Shanassy's high public qualities. We had completed at Castlemaine, near the original Mount Alexander, our considerable tour of goldflelds inspection; and as we sat round the table of the only public room of the small hotel or public-house of the place, the evidence completed, and all the proposed changes decided on, there remained yet one question. Our proposed chief pecuniary change abolished the indiscriminate, and, to the many unsuccessful, most oppressive charge of 30 shillings monthly license fee, and substituted a yearly fee or fine of only 20 shillings. And what was this, or the documentary receipt that represented it, to be called? Reduced as the amount was, it was still a tax, and any ingenuity that could dignify or otherwise reconcile a tax, was worthy of the best statecraft. As chairman, and not having at the moment a suggestion of my own, I had to knock at the heads of my co-members. I turned to one, then another, and yet another, but without response. Even the original brain of Fawkner sent forth no sign. At length I came to O'Shanassy, who happened to be at the far end of the table. He had been waiting his turn, and the answer came promptly, "Call it the Miner's Right." It was but one out of many instances of his statesmanlike turn. The Miner's Right, of course, it was called. The name passed on to many other goldflelds. I noticed it in British Columbia shortly after, with its new gold discoveries; for the Commission's report had attracted much attention, owing to the forefront position which golden Victoria had already assumed in the world.


"I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth, and therefore the truth I speak, impugn it whoso list." —"The Argus" motto.

Another of O'Shanassy's oft-repeated jokes was a good story about Kerr, and always told with that stereotyped good temper which I fear the latter, with his strong Orange antipathies, would, upon opportunity, have but grudgingly reciprocated. Two "brither Scots," happening to meet one day in Melbourne, one of them, presumably not long arrived, "speered" of the other, "Did ye ken ane Weelum Kerr here aboot?" "Weelum Kerr!" replied the other, in reproachful astonishment; "No ken Weelum Kerr, the greatest man in a' the toon!" That a hard-headed, liberal-minded commonsense Scot, as Kerr was in most things, should have had the Orange infirmity, may be excused, or at least explained, by the fact of his being of Stranraer, a Scotch town almost within hail of Ulster. That small, and not overmuch known place, has not been the least among the cities of Scotia in contributing heads and hands to the colony's progress, including, besides Kerr and others, James Hunter Ross, a leading Melbourne solicitor, and my good old friend Hugh Lewis Taylor, who, ere well out of his teens, was made manager at Geelong, and is now manager in London, of the prosperous Bank of Victoria.

Kerr had a high order of abilities in certain literary directions, which might have given him a much better position than he ever secured but for his indolence and negligent want of method. He had also a bad physical constitution, which had probably much to do with the other defects. Perhaps it was his literary turn that led him first, in his new home, to try a stationery business, which, under the style of Kerr and Holmes, afterwards Kerr and Thompson, in Collins-street west, was, I think, the precursor of that particular trade in little early Melbourne. But that had to be given up, and after some looking about, with not overloaded means, he established the Melbourne "Argus". The preceding press efforts had, at my arrival, established three papers, which, by tolerant mutual arrangement in a bi-weekly issue respectively, gave the small public the almost indispensable food of a daily paper. Almost at the beginning, Fawkner's practical hand supplied "The Patriot," hand-written for the first eight or ten numbers, until type came from Launceston. This was soon followed by "The Gazette" of George Arden, and that again by "The Herald" of George Cavenagh. All three had, I think, the common prefix of "Port Phillip". "The Gazette", after a brief career, under its very able but rather erratic owner, went to the wall. "The Patriot", under Boursiquot, who had succeeded the overworked Fawkner, was, somewhat later, bought up by the "Argus", under Wilson and Johnston, in succession to Kerr. The Herald, when quitted after an excellent and timely sale by its founder early in the gold times, was soon after shipwrecked in the storm of vicissitude that characterized some of the first years of gold-digging.

With the editorial pen Kerr was in his element, and his naturally combative tendencies found their fitting expression in the motto he adopted, and which still heads the paper, "I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth, and therefore the truth I speak, impugn it whoso list." But even the little "Argus" required management, and Kerr was no manager. He was induced to sell it, and for no great sum—pounds going a long way in those times—to Mr. Edward Wilson, who thus laid the foundation of his subsequent great position and fortunes.

Kerr was fortunate after this in securing the town-clerkship of Melbourne, in succession to Mr. John Charles King, the first clerk. The Corporation was still hardly beyond infancy, and Kerr's natural legal acuteness was of great service at his new post, where reigned he practically master, and was an authority far outside his official sphere, and even in legislative difficulties of the young Parliament, for we are now entering into Victorian life, and the importance that was fast being developed with the gold.

But after a time the old besetting infirmity turned up here also, and in a rather serious form, as connected with irregularities in Corporation moneys and accounts, which might have been compromising to any other than Kerr, with his well-known indifference to such vulgar good things.

He had a remarkable resemblance, in more than one point of character and circumstances, to his brother Scotchman, and fast friend till death, the Reverend Dr. Lang, of Sydney; and had he possessed the physical vigour, not to say the stately proportions, of that most combatant of members of the church militant, he might have been his Victorian rival in a far more prosperous and protracted career. In each there was a very combative mind behind the mildest of manner. Besides the pulpit, Lang sought successfully also the Legislature, where, somehow, clergymen are not favourites. He was, in fact, in the first instance, one of our members for Port Phillip, and it was chiefly to his efforts and abilities that separation from New South Wales was eventually conceded from Home. In the elective contests we saw some of the peculiar talent with which Lang fought his many political foes, when, with an inimitable blandness of address, and the softest of mellifluous language, he would build up a many-sided argument, patiently and leisurely, and at last, as with the bitterly biting end of a stockman's long whip, flay the Wentworths of opposition, who, with more noise than effect, were ever snapping at his heels.

But, alas for the cause of human perfection! The Doctor, being on a mission Home, and by no means for the first time, for the promotion of the emigration of Scotch Presbyterians to Australia (his great and not unworthy hobby), and being short of funds after raising in one direction all he could upon his bill of lading, horrible dictu! pledged elsewhere for the balance of his account a spare copy of the set, left with him in trust and confidence. Now was the day of vengeance for his foes, and they duly essayed to take it. But the imperturbable Doctor was not troubled with too thin a skin, especially in a matter which was totally devoid of personal pecuniary advantage. The overdraft was, as he expected, readily made up by the public. Nor did he sustain any great moral damage, even with his foes, as his indifference about money was too well known—first his own money, and after that other people's.

Kerr was in a like plight, but a great deal more helplessly. If he escaped as to character with the many who knew him, yet of necessity he lost his good post. He was succeeded by Mr. Fitzgibbon, who, more fitly, I doubt not, than Kerr, has held this important office ever since, a period of no less than thirty-two years. This serious loss of means and position completed a breakdown that had probably begun before, so that Kerr was no longer able for first-class work. We may envy this opportunity to his old opponent, O'Shanassy, who, in power at the time, generously found him a small appointment—a station upon one of the railways—which gave him, at least, a comfortable, and, in a social way, by no means ungenial home for the short remainder of his life.

It was mainly at my good friend Kerr's urgent instance that I entered public life, which was in 1850, for the representation of Melbourne at Sydney. Doubtless he had his own aims quite as much as my interests in view, as he wanted the supposed good card, a Melbourne merchant, Scotch and Presbyterian like himself into the bargain, to play against the anti-Orange and Irish-cum-O'Shanassy party. I fear that his expected henchman was too cosmopolitan at times. But Kerr rendered me a more direct service at the subsequent election for Melbourne in Victoria's first Parliament, by bringing me in at the head of the poll, which happened in this way:—At the first count the poll stood thus: O'Shanassy, Westgarth, Johnston, Nicholson, the latter being out, much to his own and his friends' astonishment, as there were only three seats. Kerr, who was resolved O'Shanassy should not be declared first if he could help it, called for a scrutiny prior to declaration. He had knowledge of a goodly scale of false voting on the Irish side, where, in fact, there was a legion of busy Kerrs to my one, many of them having voted double, or, as with Sheridan's proposed yearly Parliaments, "oftener if need be." One had voted nine times in succession at different polling places. I fear Kerr was wrong, and that scrutiny should have been applied for after declaration. But Kerr was the most dogged of mortals when he had a mind and an object, was then in the zenith of his influence, and, best of all for his side, he was king of the position as town clerk. So he secured his purpose, and O'Shanassy and I changed positions.

I have a better service than this, and of much more general interest, with which to conclude my present sketch. A year later, the second year of the gold, during which it was estimated that fifteen millions of gold had been washed out of the drifts, chiefly of Ballarat and Bendigo, the colony was already flooded, and no wonder, by the convict element from Tasmania. To intensify this evil beyond all bearing, that colony's Government, in view of relief from accumulating prisoners, had lately enacted a "conditional pardon" system, the condition being that the criminal was at liberty for all the world except to return Home, and forthwith, Her Majesty's pass in hand, he crossed to golden Victoria. A cry of despair arose there, for almost immediately the towns, goldfields, highways, and everywhere else where havoc was to be made, were the almost daily scenes of the most atrocious outrage. One forenoon word reached town that five ruffians, taking position on the St. Kilda-road, had stuck up and robbed some twenty of the merchants and traders on their way to Melbourne, including my friend John G. Foxton. The Anti-Transportation League, then some years in existence, held a great meeting, at which a large committee was appointed, and was enjoined to find an effective mode of dealing with this novel form of evil. I think that it was at my suggestion that each of the committee was to write out his thoughts and bring the paper with him, so as to have a basis for arriving at a prompt conclusion. Kerr was made convener, and he was not long in convening us.

Only Kerr and myself responded! We may take a mitigated view of the others, for everyone was busy over something in those days, many embarrassingly so for want of servants, who had "bolted" to the diggings, while most of the committee had had legislation and incessant deputations and public meetings to look after besides. As to myself, I had vainly tried to find fifteen consecutive minutes for the subject. When Mr. Kerr asked me for my paper, I excused myself by pleading that it was so meagre that I would rather first hear his. Thereupon, in his deliberate way, he drew forth a sheet of foolscap, and read to me "The Convicts Prevention Act." Such it was, for, with a few comparatively unimportant mitigations, secured by the ability and influence of Attorney-General Stawell, the impatient Assembly, highly appreciating and determined to have the measure, promptly passed it by a large majority. This was Kerr's culminating public service, and I am the more pleased to have this opportunity to say so, as my name was rather unduly attached to the bill, from its having been committed to my charge. His prompt remedy, I doubt not, saved many a colonist, not only as to life, limb, and property, but from outrage in some cases worse than death. His scathing measure introduced, indeed, a new principle, for we unceremoniously clapped people into prison who held up to our courts the Queen's pardon. Her Majesty's representatives at Home did not at all like it. The Home Government, indeed, refused to confirm the temporarily enacted measure; but by that happy safety-valve understanding, which has perhaps saved some explosions, it was renewed and re-renewed as long as required. The letter of imperial law was doubtless violated; but Her Majesty's Government first violated the spirit, by authorizing men unfit for England to go to Victoria.


"An honest man, sir, is able to speak for himself, when a knave is not." —As You Like It.

In one of our colonial municipalities, which of them I have forgotten, as I heard my story so long ago, a working furniture-maker, who had secured an order from the Mayor for his official chair, was observed to be at particular pains over its construction, and, on being asked the reason, replied that he intended some day to occupy it himself. If the subject of this sketch had been of that particular trade, this would have been a very likely story to fix upon him. Not that he was of inordinate ambition; for, on the contrary, he looked quiet and contented beyond most around him. But he was always ready and willing to respond to the many opportunities of a new colony, and from his great natural gifts usually able to do them justice. Nature had given him all she could to make him a good and useful colonist; but there was one thing he had not had from her, because not within her power, and that was the school. He was probably not altogether uneducated; but he could not have had many chances in that direction, otherwise the facility with which he educated himself in life's practical work after he had reached manhood would have told for him as a schoolboy as well. In business, in public speaking and debating, and in public life in general, he took successfully a first part; but when he had to condescend to such schooling products as writing and spelling, he made confessedly only a bad second. But, again, a defect of this kind is much less of an obstacle in new colonies than in old societies, because for generations in the former the hand is relatively more important to progress than the head, and the man of work than the man of thought. In colonies men of great natural parts, if ambitious, can usually take good positions even if but little educated. At Home this is hardly possible, and the consequent social distemper is there a danger to the State—a danger, however, which our Education Acts since 1870 must be steadily removing.

I happened, on one occasion, to meet Nicholson's home employer in Liverpool. He had been foreman, if indeed so high as that, in a warehouse. When he told his employer that he had made up his mind to go to Port Phillip with his family, there was regret to part with so quiet and trustworthy a servant, but, as he said to me, not the least idea that the unpretending individual before him would, within a few years, take a position considerably in advance of his own.

He set up a grocery shop in Melbourne, and was soon on the road to success. Then he stood for the municipality, which was hardly yet out of infancy, was duly elected councillor, and in a very few years became Mayor of Melbourne. Then, gliding easily onwards and upwards, he entered the young colonial Legislature of 1851, as member for the Metropolitan County, North Bourke. He had previously, as I have told, tried unsuccessfully for the capital itself, getting some compensation, however, in the "next first." But with all this rising importance he was ever the plain, unassuming William Nicholson, and when Mayor or M.L.C. both he and his wife would be found in their shop as usual—so far, at least, as the other crowding duties would permit.

When he formed his first and very brief Ministry, under Constitutional Government, prior to my definitely leaving the colony in 1857, he did me the honour to invite me to a place in his "Cabinet," if our young colonies may use that grand Imperial term, as his Commissioner of Customs. With regret I was compelled to decline; for, from experience a few years before, I had found that if a man has business of his own which he must attend to he cannot possibly at the same time attend to that of everybody else.

Premiers came in thick and fast succession in those days, for there was no small doing and undoing, and no little of general upturning when an exclusively representative Assembly took the place of the "Crown" system, in its preceding complete or subsequently still partial condition. The Land Question was ever the chief difficulty, for, whereas in previous times the people had been directed to conform themselves to land laws, now the new fancy all was that the land laws should conform to the needs of the people. Ministries rose and fell mainly on this question. When the second time Premier, I think in 1860, Nicholson left his name to a Land Act, as did O'Shanassy, Gavan Duffy, and others, and there is a ringing of the changes even yet upon that fertile subject.

William Nicholson has passed to his rest, and Burns might have fitly awarded him his high palm, "An honest man's the noblest work of God."


"But I thought there was more in him than I could think." —Coriolanus.

"Methinks there is much reason in his sayings." —Julius Caesar.

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." The subject of this sketch might put in a claim for at least something towards redeeming Jack's dulness, for he had a few odd ways, and a fertile turn for epigrammatics, some of them not bad. He boasted of having Beau Brummell's antipathy to certain vegetables. During the early but brief allotment mania he said that he feared he was to become "disgustingly rich," one of his epi's which became a by-word, and scored him a decided success. When some colonist, hearing him called by the name of Ebden, asked him if he was related to "the great Mr. Ebden," his humorously-delivered response, to the effect that he was himself that happy individual, scored him another, perhaps smaller, success. I have often seen him score yet another, which, perhaps, in his own view, was not at all the least of that sort of thing, when, after writing in a rather neat and most distinct hand, the pen seemed suddenly under paralysis, and a sadly dilapidated signature was the result. He always signed his name in that fanciful way.

Ebden's name was so well known in the earlier years—indeed his gait and ways, his sayings and doings were so marked throughout—that to omit him from my list would leave a decided blank. But if the man had consisted of these little oddnesses just alluded to, whether first class or second, little would have survived of him, as business-like John Bull fails to appreciate people who have no more solid backing than that. Underneath all this very gauzy surface, Ebden, as all who had his intimacy were aware, was withal a man of ability and good common sense, and, what was practically more, he was reputed to rank high in the role of success in the early allotment rig. Indeed, in the rapid fortune-making of that time, he contemplated a palatial residence for himself upon an ample frontage to Collins-street, next above the Bank of Australasia. Two back offices had been built towards the full idea, but the allotment game had already turned ere he got further, and there the incomplete work stood. The "offices" were readily sold or let, and from intended sculleries or what not, rose to be the places of business of two early firms of solicitors—Meek and Clarke on the one side, and Montgomery and McCrae on the other. The spacious frontage remained long unbuilt upon, but it has since been taken as part of a "Temple"—not, however, of the gods, but of very different people—the lawyers.

He and I were on opposite sides of the political hedge, at least in the times when we were together in public life, both in Sydney and Melbourne, during the pre-constitutional era. He belonged, almost beyond any others—the exceptions being perhaps limited to William Forlong and my friend A.R. Cruikshank—to the anti-popular and pro-squatting party; although, subsequently, when there was the "fact accomplished," and no help for it, he accepted "fully and cheerfully," as his election addresses put it, the reigning democratic platform. But he was not unkindly withal, and he helped my comparative legislative inexperience at Sydney, when we were both there to represent Melbourne and Port Phillip. He had done me a great favour also in making himself most serviceable with the German immigration which I had started from Hamburg in 1849. He was quite a German scholar, having finished his education at Carlsruhe, a name which he transferred to his pastoral station in the Port Phillip District.

Ebden, like most others in it, did not bring much out from the allotment mob. When returned afterwards to represent the district along with me in Sydney, I heard that a draft of cattle from the station was needed for expenses. These were still the reactionary times of such small things for all of us. But in after years he went on and prospered, and he left behind him what might have been called a large fortune in any place where there were not a W.J.T. Clarke and a Henry Miller, and perhaps some few others besides, in the rival category.


"The good I stand on is my truth and honesty; I fear nothing What can be said against me. —Henry VIII.

I was long and intimately acquainted with Wilson. He was a man of high qualities and noble longings, and scorned meanness of all kinds; and he had, like his predecessor Kerr, some good and pungent literary pretensions, although he could not be placed on a level with Kerr while the latter enjoyed adequate health. But, on the other hand, he greatly marred his influence by what might be called impetuous intemperateness in his early press career. Indeed, "The Argus", in its later stages, must needs emerge, as in fact it did, from its chief owner's editing, if it was to take the position of "The Times" of the South. He had a great antipathy to indecision in public men, and he entered upon a furious crusade against the Superintendent and his surroundings, as the prime causes in the delay in "the unlocking of the lands." Mr. La Trobe was dubbed "the Hat and Feathers," as though these trappings were the most of him; and this vulgarity, excusable only under small "Eatanswill" conditions, passed into the great developments of the golden age. Some of us, who were doing our best in the same general direction, often had to wish, with reference to Wilson, to be saved from our friends, while Mr. La Trobe, if affected at all, was only encouraged or scared into still more decided indecision.

Wilson was not much of a man of practical business. He was not successful in his early life at home, where business is a harder ordeal, and with fewer of the "flukes" that cross the path in young colonies. Arriving in Melbourne shortly after myself, and in company with a friend, one of the brothers Kilburn, he squatted upon a small cattle run to the south-east, towards Dandenong. But as this did little beyond merely keeping soul and body together, as things were all now subsiding from the riot of the earlier years, it was given up. Foregathering next with Mr. J.S. Johnston, they between them bought "The Argus" from Kerr for a very small sum—I think under 300 pounds—and the paper then started upon its successful career under the increased vigour and improved method of its management.

Although, as I have said, not a business man himself, Wilson was fortunate in business partners—first Mr. Johnston, as above said, succeeded by my old friend James Gill, who, retiring, was replaced by Lauchlan Mackinnon whose energy and application piloted the paper financially into its later grand position. He had latterly, besides, a surpassing business agent in my old friend James Rae, whose firm of Jackson, Rae and Co. had retired comparatively early, after attaining the mercantile headship of the colony; thus leaving the colonial field open to other early friends, Fred. G. Dalgety and Fred. A. Du Croz, who have since, as Dalgety, Du Croz and Co., and Dalgety and Co. Limited, taken the first position in Australasian commerce.

For some years Wilson took full charge of the editorial and general literary work, which, after the gold discoveries, was labour second to none. In the sudden expansion of all colonial interests, there was constant fear for years together of falling short of adequate supply. Now it was type, again it would be paper, and, worst of all, it would at times be the inadequacy of staff. The Australian press had at times to be content with such dress of paper as could on emergency be had, and for some time, as I recollect, one of the Sydney issues came out on tea paper from China. Wilson, as I have repeatedly seen him, would occupy his corner in the comparatively large room into which the narrow old premises in Collins-street east had been latterly expanded. There most of the work was done, he receiving, during nearly the whole night, news and messages, correcting proofs, and passing instructions in his quiet off-hand, and, when needful, peremptory or commanding way, and, amidst the ceaseless noise, writing or correcting leaders when possible.

With the gold tide came at first such heavy expenses, much of them quite unforeseen and unprepared for, that the press interest was run, of necessity, into heavy debt, where there was no adequate capital. It was either this or to give up the game in those changing times; and those who had not the money or the credit went to the wall, to make room for others less embarrassed. "The Argus" thus got heavily into debt to its agents and bankers; but after 1854, which had been a most trying year of inevitable reaction, there was gradual recovery, and eventually a due reward in commissions and interest to its supporters.

The prosperity of "The Argus" about this time was unprecedented in the antipodes, and for a considerable interval the paper stood unrivalled, not only in Victoria but in Australasia, having at last surpassed, both in circulation and in the profits of business contents, even the long-established and highly respectable "Sydney Morning Herald", it was allowed, and not unfairly, to be "The Times" of the Southern Hemisphere, for Wilson had retired in favour of more temperate editorship; and in supporting, and being supported by, the mercantile interests, and in the adoption generally of the Freetrade policy of the parent state, the paper followed its northern prototype.

But the clearing of the ground had left room for other and better accoutred rivals, and "The Age" arose to enter the lists with "The Argus". The latter had taken up Freetrade and the "classes;" the former took up Protection and the "masses;" so far, at least as these terms might, as to either application, distinguish democratic Victoria's condition. Protection had been quite in abeyance under the old regime, beyond at least, an occasional sigh from agricultural Geelong for higher prices for the farmer, "the mainstay of every country." Even during the interregnum of semi-constitutionalism, 1851-55, the tendency had been effectually checked, chiefly by the energy of the Collector of Customs, Mr. Cassell, then one of the Official Legislative Members, who, supported by the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, was bent upon a tariff of the Home kind, of half-a-dozen leading articles, with perfect freedom of exchange over the world for all products of the colony's labour. But Mr. Cassell, to universal regret, on general as on commercial grounds, died in November, 1853, leaving the colony a less obstructed road to those restrictions which it has since seen fit to impose upon its own industry. "The Age", with remarkable ability and as remarkable success, has always advocated Protection. But at first, as my recollection goes, it was in that qualified way which is not necessarily against trading freedom, reasonably considered. I perfectly recall the late Mr. Syme's main argument, or excuse, to the effect that the Western United States, for instance, should, on social considerations, restrict universal wheat-growing, even at economic loss. But if one may judge from some recent Freetrade and Protection controversy as between Victoria and New South Wales (see "Age" for April-May, 1887), all qualification seems now dropped, and even direct economic advantage expected from Protection.

None the less "The Age" gained upon "The Argus", and has, I understand, long surpassed it in that most prominent of all tests, the circulation. Perhaps in profits also. When I inquired lately of one of "The Argus" chiefs upon those delicate points, the reply was, that "The Argus" was not up to "The Age's" circulation, "but, further, deponent sayeth not." This does not mean, however, the loss of position as the Southern "Times", for "the leading journal" is by no means at the head of the London press in point of circulation. Where it may be, however, when it comes down from the aristocratic threepence to the common penny of its brethren remains to be seen; and I am told that all has long been in readiness for the change when the fitting times arrives. And so, as "The Argus" is still twopence to "The Age's" penny, inverted relations as to circulation may some day not be impossible there also. The circulation of the daily "Age", by my last account, is close upon 70,000, which is not "a poor show for Kilmarnock," in that sense of the joke.

In 1858, Wilson quitted the colony "for good," as the phrase is, followed by Mackinnon, and later on by their third and only other partner, Mr. Allan Spowers. "The Argus" was now an established principle of Victoria, and prosperity was assured. After a few more years of economizing, until the business debt was finally cleared off, the partners could enjoy to the full their great and well-merited fortunes. Wilson and Mackinnon took up palatial country residences—the one at first at Addington, ten miles from London, and later at the pleasant and classic Hayes Place, the favourite abode of the great Chatham; the other at Elfordleigh, in Devonshire; while Spowers lived chiefly in London, where, as the common favourite of both, he, with his genial temper, kept the peace between his seniors, who, with an infirmity too common to human nature, were prone to disagree, for want, let us suppose, of anything else to think about.

Mackinnon, with his energetic mind, had been the most concerned in building up the later stages of the "Argus" fortunes. Both Wilson and I had a high opinion of his qualities, as the following incident may show. He and I, as I have said in my sketch of the Henty family, were anti-transportation delegates to Tasmania in 1852, and, proceeding by steamer to Launceston, we had for fellow-passengers a considerable body of returned diggers, most of them with their bags of gold, and a good proportion of them with expressions of face one would rather not meet if beyond call of the police. In short, a good sprinkling of returned convicts were of the number, with their "piles," acquired possibly quite as much by robbing as by digging. After a few hours at sea, a rumour reached the cabin that there had been a robbery, one of these ruffians having seized a bag of gold from one of the other digger passengers. The thief had at once disappeared below and secured himself within a surrounding of his own chums, so that it was feared he might escape with his booty, as no one seemed "game" to descend the fore companion ladder and encounter this sinister crowd below. Mackinnon at once took the cause in hand. Telling the robbed man to follow him, so as to help identification, he, without an instant's hesitation, descended the ladder. A few of us followed, to support our gallant leader. "I want the thief," he said; "he must restore the gold. You honest diggers are not to lose your earnings in this way." So saying, he pressed forward into the crowd, followed by his guide; and when at last the latter pointed out the culprit, he seized his arm and dragged him back to the ladder's foot, where he peremptorily ordered him to restore the stolen gold. All this was done in less time than I have taken to tell it. The thief, overwhelmed by the suddenness of the action, and still more, perhaps, by the want of expected support from his "pals," promptly brought out the gold; and thus ended a little drama highly illustrative of those stirring times.

On my return I mentioned this circumstance to Wilson, and we both agreed that Mackinnon was just the man we were all looking for at that critical period for the headship of the colony's police. Wilson was in full power as owner and editor of the rising "Argus", while I was senior member for Melbourne; and between us we reckoned upon influencing the Government to make at once this appointment, and in that view we went straight to Captain Lonsdale, our Chief Secretary. We were just too late, for the appointment, as we learnt, had already been decided in favour of Mr., afterwards Sir William, Mitchell. I do not doubt that this incident had something to do with Wilson's subsequent invitation to Mackinnon to join him in the "Argus" interest. And here he worked so effectively as to make Wilson just a trifle sensitive as to people thinking that the new hand did even more for the common cause than the old one. But, as the saying has it, "Comparisons are odious." They are, besides, quite unnecessary, for both have proved themselves most worthy men, fighting their life's course valiantly and well, and that, too, with a rare success.

There can, I hope, be no betrayal of confidence in repeating what rumour gave as to "Argus" fortunes. The net profits about this time—that is to say, towards 1878, when Wilson died—were put at between 22,000 and 24,000 pounds; but this, I believe, must have since very considerably increased. Wilson had the larger moiety; Spowers, who was the later importation, having a comparatively small interest.

Wilson was now the country gentleman, able to live in almost princely style. With his amiable and highly-cultured sister, who lived latterly with him, he kept a hospitable house, inviting the old colonists of his acquaintance, as they came and went to and from the old country. He was not without faults of temper and impatience, increased probably by a feeling of physical weakness which denied him activities of mind and body to the extent his ambition for life's utility would have preferred. His tall, well-developed form and commanding presence, backed by his ample means, placed him easily in a leading position. Now he would be pacing Hayes Place grounds with the frank and genial Archbishop Tait, who, on a visit to the parish, had dropped in with the Vicar, Mr. Reid. Again he would be a well-known and welcome figure at dinners, "at homes," picnics, and what not, with the Darwins, Lubbocks, Farrs, and the rest of the neighbourhood, scientific and otherwise, but the former by preference. His chief trouble was a weak action of the heart, which for the last year or two kept him constantly in view of death. He calmly regarded the prospect of the great change, put his affairs in order as he wished, and awaited "the call of God." He passed away with but slight suffering in the beginning of 1878, before completing his 64th year. His remains were, by his own request, returned to the colony which, as he always insisted, he had served so long and so faithfully. His large means were left chiefly to various charitable and other useful institutions in the colony. Besides larger legacies to his relations, twenty-six of his oldest colonial friends enjoy for life a bequest of 100 pounds each per annum, and as these were the friends of the early and small times of Port Phillip, few of whom had prospered at all like himself, the help is not unneeded in most cases. That all of these legatees were of the other sex is explained by the fact that, having been always a bachelor, he had an intense, although only a general admiration for the sex. Very many others will, over an indefinite future, have reason to bless the name of Edward Wilson.


"When rather from our acts we them derive Than our fore-goers." —All's Well that Ends Well.

The salient defect, for more or less interval at first, in all commencing colonial societies, is the disproportion of the female element; and thus, in the sparseness of homes and families, we have that hardness of social feature, which illustrates how much better is the one sex with the "helpmeet" provided in the other. Early Port Phillip was no exception to this rule. Ladies and children were comparatively rare objects. From Tasmania and elsewhere there were a good many "choice spirits" in more than one meaning of the words. There was a marvellous consumption of brandy, among such unusual proportions of strong, venturous, rowdy adults; of tea and sugar, and butcher's meat also; giving altogether a statistical category worse than useless for accurate purposes. Manners were rough, to use a mild term. The town was bad, and the bush was worse. When a pious missionary of those early times, prior to adventuring into the interior, inquired of a squatter if the Sabbath were observed in the bush, "Oh, yes," was the prompt reply, "a clean shirt and a shave."

In such times a large family of ladies might have trodden the soil somewhat as goddesses come down to the desolate habitations of men. Four such families of the earliest times, in particular, rise to my recollection. They were those of Mr. Grylls and Mr. Clow, both clergymen, the one of the Anglican, the other of the Presbyterian communion; of Mrs. Williamson, a widow lady from near Edinburgh; and of Mr. James Smith, Magistrate and Savings Bank manager, whose bustling form, ever hurrying through our streets, was perhaps the best known of the place, and who, along with his friend and co-magistrate, Mr. Simpson, was as the coping stone of local respectability. That all of these fair young maidens, most of them remarkably attractive and pleasing, as I have reason to remember, were duly married, need hardly, under all the circumstances, be told, besides being attested to-day by whole generations of consequences.

Another feature of those early times, a lively and bright feature in many respects, was the considerable number of young men, the younger sons of good families—and, for that matter, the elder sometimes along with the younger—who flocked out, in unusual proportion, I might say, and who infused into the somewhat rough social scene the charm of high culture and manners. Wild they doubtless were in instances not a few; but even that may not be without its side of charm, at least amongst the younger votaries. Some few eventually returned "Home," mostly those who had been shipwrecked in the troubled sea of early-time speculation. But most of them have remained to take their various and full part in colonial society, not a few taking the very highest positions. Thus we had the Stawells and Barrys, the Leslie Fosters, Sladens, Rusdens, of town and neighbourhood, and the Campbells, McKnights, Irvines, of surrounding squatterdom. Most of these are long since the fathers of families, native Australians, including sons who not unfrequently finished their education in the mother country—a dutiful deference which Australia may surely not yet quarrel with. This habit is still strong, even to the third generation in Victoria, amongst her well-to-do colonists. The youths may not expect better training than from a Hearn or a McCoy, an Irving or a Pearson, on the colonial floor; but such diversion from rule will, in its occasional way, the better help to keep the great scattering family united to their venerable mother—to keep together the elder and the younger Britain.

Oxford and Cambridge in particular have, indeed, been quite run upon from Victoria, and those two venerable mothers of English university life can already command in and of that colony quite a small legion of their alumni—the Clarkes and "Loddon" Campbells, the Finlays and "Colac" Robertsons, the Websters and Westbys and Wilsons, who are now the young or the still vigorous life of their colony. If some few of these have remained permanently at Home, or if they pleasantly alternate their domicile by such facile means as the marvels of modern inter-communication afford them, yet all of them help, in more or less degree, to strengthen that tie between the mother and her adventurous colonial offspring which we must hope is never to be broken.

I have the less need to expand further this inspiring section of my subject, seeing that I have been anticipated to some extent by a brother author, who, under the pseudonym of "Rolf Boldrewood," has presented to us, in lively and fitting style, a most charming picture of early colonial life, its pleasant hospitalities, plus the Attic salt of no small proportion of the bounteous tables. The disguise of name is not difficult to penetrate. The author's father, residing in his pretty place at Heidelberg, whose genial sun-browned face I pleasantly recall, was well known to me, as well, indeed, as to every other early colonist. His son's book has been my pleasant companion as I write up daily my "Recollections" in the little cabin of the good s.s. "Coptic", more especially as we both traversed much the same ground, and during the same interesting early time, in Western Victoria.


"Old fashions please me best; I am not so nice To change true rules for odd inventions." —Taming of the Shrew.

But perfection is never to be expected in human nature, and accordingly some decided drawbacks were, reasonably I think, chargeable to this "good society" which, as I have just said, had beneficially helped the dawning colony. There was a tendency to separate from, and rather hold in undue depreciation, the trading and toiling masses who mainly made the country. This tendency was fostered in the pre-representative days, when there were no political institutions to bring the mass of plain but prosperous society to the front. Of course, when these times came, the game was soon up. But, while the preceding era lasted, a somewhat invidious "aristocracy" gathered around the authorities, the mutual instincts, born of the situation, inclining them to each other. This united party got the name of "Government House." It included most of the highly educated, to whom it was a tempting status, and most of the squatting Crown tenants, whether highly educated or otherwise; and it was cordially open to "presentable" colonists in general, who, holding its views—of course a sine qua non—were willing to enter it. The views were decidedly "pronounced," and took practically the form of a decided preference for the status quo, or, at least, modified by the slightest possible of political concession to those noisy, restless masses, who, with the local press generally on their side, ceaselessly kicked at all authority. The political timidity and indecision of Mr. La Trobe, worthy man as he otherwise was, gave practically life and soul to this anti-popular party, which laboured, more secretly perhaps than openly, to avert or modify, for the time being at least, the political concession expected from the Imperial Parliament. Mr. La Trobe's view evidently was, that if the colonials kicked so strongly when under bonds, how much more furiously must they kick when the bonds were removed. But, as reasonable persons might have predicted, and as was promptly experienced, the colonists kicked because they were bound, and when unbound they did not kick at all.

The same political feature, and even in more resolute form, had then developed also at Sydney, where Mr. Wentworth led the "upper ten," for the protection of authority against levelling radicalism. He and his party, out-Heroding Herod, and being more governmental than the Government, seriously contemplated a limitation of the franchise to a 50 pounds rental, and the institution of a Colonial Peerage, as a permanent slap in the face to the ugly Democracy. Had he carried his views, or even some considerable approach to them, his influence with the party, and his bull-dog courage, would soon have put his colony into an uproar, and possibly even into civil war. But, thanks for once to his political extremes, the question was happily settled rather by being laughed out of court than by time-wasting argument.

"Government House," however, did secure, in both colonies, a certain measure of triumph. Authority in esse having the whip hand of authority in posse, the one-third of nominees as against two-thirds elective were, by a disproportionately large representation purposely given to the squatting districts, converted into a permanent majority of Crown nominees and Crown tenants. This was clearly an evasion of the intention of the Imperial Parliament, which was that, by giving a decided majority to the popular side, the colonies might be graduated into complete constitutionalism.

But, after all, this evasion lasted only for a very few years. These early wranglings are now all but forgotten. But they are so only because the narrow views which gave them birth have been entirely defeated, and are all but exploded. In the progress of the colonies since, "the merits" have occupied the front, and the useful has taken the precedence of the ornamental. The latter is not to be despised when in company with the former; nor has it been, for not a few who were once on the anti-popular side have entered public life, and even secured the highest prizes. This necessitated a descent from cloudland to the solid ground of colonial society. The alternative was extinction, and wisely, in most cases, the latter was not preferred.

Another feature of this Sydney ultra party—a curious feature, indeed, to look back upon to-day—was its undisguised antipathy to the anti-transportation feeling then gathering force throughout South-Eastern Australia, and even in Tasmania. The movement was highly unfashionable, say even deeply vulgar, in the leading circle surrounding Government House. For those who had the infirmity of such puritanical leanings there was an approach to the antipathy, plus contempt, of the southern slaver of the States for his northern abolitionist countryman. When my friend, Mr. (afterwards Sir) S.A. Donaldson introduced me, for my temporary stay, at the Australian Club, then the high quarters of the party, he passed me a friendly hint to steer clear, at least when on the floor of that "house," of that delicate subject.

This feeling was further and rather amusingly illustrated on one occasion during the "Separation Session," at which I was the member for Melbourne, and present at the time. Mr. Henry Moor, the well-known solicitor, and one of the five district members, in replying to the charge urged against us of the unfilial indifference or ingratitude of Port Phillip in thus seeking separation, instanced for the contrary the recent event of the arrival from Melbourne of a deputation from the Anti-Transportation League, in order to help Sydney in promoting its good cause. The instant his drift was detected, the Speaker, Dr. (Sir Charles) Nicholson, apprehensive, doubtless, of some undesirable scene on that too sensational subject, rose to call peremptorily the honourable member to order, and to the non-transgression of his proper subject. But all this injuriously exclusive faction had entirely disappeared from that open and genial society of Sydney which welcomed Mr. Froude three years ago, and which he describes so pleasantly.


"All cheering Plenty, with his flowing horn, Led yellow Autumn, wreathed with nodding corn." —Burns.

After the first few years of disturbing land speculation, and a too general extravagance of living, we settled down into a frugal folk, of moderate but steady prosperity, which lasted up to the general unsettlement of everything by the gold. The general moderation, and the cheap and plenty time that characterized it, culminated in 1844, when bread was 4 pence the 4-pound loaf, rich fresh butter 3 pence a pound, and beef and mutton 1 penny. A good managing lady, with whom I lodged in that year, told me one day at dinner that a savoury dish we were enjoying was a bullock's head, got for nothing from her butcher, and with which she hoped to keep the house for yet two more days. Shortly before this, when my friend Fennell and I housed together at the west end of the town, we sent one day to the neighbouring slaughtering-place, where the custom was to sell by retail to the public the legs of mutton at 5 pence each, as they had comparatively so little of tallow for boiling down. We duly got one, cooked it, and found it very good.

No doubt it was in very great measure because money was scarce and dear that nearly everything was thus cheap. I recollect the sale by auction at that time of a vacant half-acre allotment in central Collins-street, next to that on which Mr. George James, wine merchant, had very early erected his surpassing brick office and dwelling. After some slight competition, the allotment, put up, I think, at the upset price of 300 pounds, was bought by Mr. Edmund Westby for 344 pounds. The amount is impressed upon me, because I wondered at the time that anyone should thus throw away so much good money. But my friend Westby reckoned the future more accurately than I did, for within nine years after, this price was hardly the 500th part of the value. To cap the whole tale, the lot was, I think, in the hands of Government from having been abandoned by the original buyer, who had forfeited his deposit rather than complete his supposed bad bargain.

According to my recollection, the first of our sober community to set up a carriage and pair was Mr. Henry Moor, above alluded to. Even His Honour the Superintendent had no such luxury at that time. I remember looking upon that vehicle with a sense of awe, possibly not without envy at what was to most of us the entirely unattainable. I speak of the real Hyde Park Corner article, and not the old "shandrydan" with which some remote squatter might at times have galloped into town, poising himself with practised and needed adroitness on nature's bush track, behind a pair or more of the hundreds of nags on his run. I must except also those said anomalous early years, for I recollect sallying forth in 1841 from my little lodging in Lonsdale-street, opposite the old gaol, then being erected, to see Mr. John Hunter Patterson, a spirited colonist of the earliest times, drive his splendid four-in-hand through the trackless bush into town from the direction of the Moonee Ponds.


Our small society, in its upward struggle, received a distinctly great impetus for good by the accession in 1848 of the first Lord Bishop of the colony, Dr. Charles Perry. He exhibited a rare energy in the cause of his Divine Master, and he frankly and genially sought and recognized that Master's Church far beyond the pale of the Bishop's own section of it, so far at least as the rules of that section would permit. But the good Bishop, liberal as he was in one direction, yet failed to reach the full width of colonial sentiment in that respect, when he refused to reciprocate the courtesy visit of his Roman Catholic brother. He is credited with having given his reason, namely, that, in his view, the Roman Church belonged to "the synagogue of Satan"—surely a very venturesome assertion of so vast a part of Christianity and of the power and civilization of the world. We might say at times of bishops, as is so often said of judges, that when they have to make any unusual or unexpected decision they had best not give the reasons. I witnessed a very different sense of duty, and one to which I must confess a preference when we were at Lugano, an inland town of Teneriffe, situated a few miles from Santa Cruz, where our good "Coptic" halted for six hours to replenish her coal, thus permitting her passengers a shore excursion. A polite elderly gentleman, apparently the sole occupant of the Lugano hotel, whose decidedly clerical aspect, together with that simple white neckband which Catholics claim as solely their own, made us at once set him down as Roman, invited us to look through the inevitable cathedral, the only sight of the place. But we found our mistake when he took occasion to allude to "our dear Roman Catholic brethren." We then adjudged him to be a broad-minded Anglican, which was correct, for, as he afterwards told us, he was an ex-navy chaplain.


"Go then forth, and fortune play upon Thy prosperous helm." —2nd part Henry IV.

When I made my first Home trip, in 1847, I resolved to open, if I possibly could, German emigration to Port Phillip. Quite a number had already been settled, some from the earliest years, in South Australia, where their industry, frugality, sobriety, and general good conduct had made them excellent colonists. This favourable testimony was confirmed to me by correspondence on the subject with my late much-lamented friend, Alexander L. Elder, one of South Australia's earliest, most esteemed, and most successful colonists. My first step on arrival was to write to the "Commissioners of Emigration," an officiate since dispensed with, pointing out this South Australian success, and suggesting that a certain charge upon the Colonial Land Fund, authorized in special cases of emigrants—an aid of 18 pounds a head, I think—might be made applicable to German vinedressers emigrating to Port Phillip. In due course, I received a most cordial reply from the secretary, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Stephen Walcot, to the effect that Lord Grey, then Colonial Secretary, highly approved of the project, and that the aid asked for would be forthcoming for properly qualified German vinedressers. Armed with this letter, I went to Hamburg with introductions to Messrs. John Caesar Godeffroy and Son, at that time the chief shipowners of the city. They were evidently well disposed, and had been, I think, concerned in the previous out-flow to Adelaide, as they referred me to Mr. Edward Delius, of Bremen, who had been an agent in the work. My visit to Delius resulted in my proceeding at once to Silesia, where I got as far as Liegnitz, whose gilded or tin-covered minarets reminded me that I was approaching the fanciful or gorgeous East. Here I met a number of the peasantry, all eager to hear about Australia, friends of some of them being already there. Hearing that a Moravian headquarters was also there, I introduced myself, stating that I was a subject of, and personally acquainted with, their brother Moravian, Mr. La Trobe, our Superintendent. I found other La Trobes there, his relatives or namesakes. Several of the body spoke good English, and so I got fairly on with the peasantry, explaining as to the class entitled to the assistance in emigrating, and that to vinedressers only would the aid apply, so as to enable the Messrs. Godeffroy to give them a free passage. I left them with the understanding that they would make up a party and communicate with Delius.

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse