Part two in a five-part series of “Memories” written by G.F.B., originally appearing in the Geelong Advertiser (Victoria) between 6 March 1902 and 28 February 1903.
Swanston Street Melbourne (1863); Francois Cogne 1829-1883, lithographer; Charles Troedel & Co. Melbourne. State Library of Victoria.
“Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me” – Moore.
A thousand pities that this historical landmark had to give way to the march of improvement. When the central railway station at Spencer-street was formed the landmark was levelled to the ground. The hill was a lovely green knoll, close to the River Yarra, on a line running south along Spencer-street. Here it was that John Bateman, who preceded “Johnny Faulkner,” formed his first camp. Here it was Buckley, the wild white man, accompanied by a portion of the tribe to which he was attached, met the party. Buckley had quite forgotten his mother tongue, but when he was offered a piece of “damper” he looked at it a while, and exclaimed “Bread.” On this knoll, an unpretentious building was built for public offices, and the business of the sub-Treasury was carried on; here the first competitive examination (1844) was held, before Captain Lonsdale, R.S. Webb, sub-collector of customs, and another whose name I now forget. There were three competitors for a vacancy in the Treasury – Henry Notley Hall, Charles Vaughan (afterwards of the firm of Vaughan and Wild, brewers), and the writer. Hall took the prize. Another vacancy occurred shortly afterwards, and Vaughan filled it, and in 1846 my turn came. The chief clerk in the sub-Treasury, a young man (whose name need not be disclosed), was well known in Melbourne in its musical circle, a general favourite, but, unfortunately for himself, not a strict teetotaler. It came as a surprise one day when he was charged with embezzlement – a shortage in his daily cash of £25, amount of a publican’s license, which he had issued but did not account for. He stoutly protested his innocence, but the evidence was only too clear. He was committed for trial, found guilty, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Time rolled on, he was discharged and disappeared, no one knew whither. Long afterwards, when removing the books and documents from Bateman’s Hill to new Government Offices in Lonsdale-street – where the Law Courts now stand – a roll of notes, totalling £25, was found on a bookshelf behind the volumes. There was no difficulty in connecting the find with the unfortunate chief clerk. No doubt he took the money and issued the license after hours, to oblige the publican, put the money where found, and forgot all about it afterwards.
John Bateman was an enterprising man and did much to develop the natural resources of the new settlement. He made several trips to and from V.D. Land, bringing with him to Port Phillip farm servants and instruments of agriculture. From the first, he exercised a considerable influence of the aborigines, and although he frequently made excursions with the natives, and camped with them for observation purposes, he never met with accident or mishap. He was a shrewd man withal, as witness his land purchases from the native chiefs Jagga Jagga, Coolooloe, Bungarie, and others, whereby, for the consideration of some blankets, tomahawks, knives, scissors, and looking-glasses, the whole of the country (including the site of Geelong), extending to Queenscliff, and then on to Melbourne, an insignificant area of over six hundred thousand acres, was conveyed to Bateman, his heirs, executors, etc. The conveyance is dated the 6th day of June 1835 and was prepared by J. T. Gellebrand, a Tasmanian solicitor, and one of the witnesses was the late Dr Thomson, of this town. Gellebrand was lost in the bush somewhere in the Western district, and no trace of him ever found. I was lately favoured with the inspection and perusal of the interesting document, by Messrs Harwood and Pincoti, of this town, in whose possession it now remains.
Bateman died in Melbourne on the 6th May 1839, at the early age of 39, and was buried in the old Melbourne cemetery near Flagstaff Gardens, then a good distance outside the township. I attended the funeral, as, indeed, did all the adult population of Melbourne. Our old worthy town clerk (William Weire) was married to one of Bateman’s daughters.
Some years ago I visited the old Melbourne cemetery to search out, if possible, the last resting place of an old friend. I had to obtain the assistance of the lodge porter, an old identity, but without avail. “There,” said my guide, “lie the bones of Bateman.” pointing to a broken sandstone slab, without inscription of any kind. I had food enough for meditation, and as an outcome I wrote to the “Argus” on the disgraceful state of the old burial ground generally, and of Bateman’s grave in particular, suggesting what ought to b done, with the result that a few months afterwards a handsome monument, with suitable inscription, was erected, and now forms a conspicuous object in that desolate enclosure. Old colonists took the matter in hand, worked energetically, and the required funds were forthcoming. Ere I leave this subject I may mention that a portion of the cemetery has already been encroached upon by the Melbourne general market, and unless some prompt action be taken by the surviving descendants of the old prisoners to prevent further inroad, the old spot will be blotted out of existence altogether. Thirty years ago you could only walk down narrow paths, with enclosed graves on each side; now there are large open patches, without vestige of grave or headstone. What has become of the graves: Levelled. How about the dead?
In 1839 the natives were very numerous and had their camps outside the town boundary, chiefly on the south side of the Yarra. During the day they infested Melbourne, and on many occasions manifested thieving propensities. A petition was drawn up, addressed to the Chief Protector (Mr Sievewright), praying he would instruct the assistant protectors to send them into the bush, but to no purpose. The Yarra Yarra tribe were a warlike race, well made, and above the average in height. A vendetta existed between it and the Goulburn tribe, with the result that there were occasional contests for the mastery – always preceded by a grand corroboree or war dance. On one occasion I attended a corroboree at Emerald Hill. It was a weird performance, the men’s chests ribbed out in pipeclay, with bunches of leaves tied round the ankles and hips, and a wreath round the head. They then danced about and around the fires like devils, having two pieces of wood, which they struck together to time, making an unearthly sound. Anon, they would form into a half-circle, in front of the chief, who led off an existing harangue re the powers of the tribe in battle. Meanwhile, the lubras sat cross-legged before a large fire, beating their rolled-up ‘possum skins as drums, as an accompaniment to a crooning dirge-like song. The following night the natives were to try conclusions with their Goulburn antagonists, and I determined to be present – and I was – just near the present site of Government House. An old blackfellow who used to visit me frequently in Melbourne advised me to go home – no use, I wanted to see how the niggers fought, nor had I more than an hour to wait when the fray commenced. Boomerangs and spears were soon flying about, and rather too close for my comfort, and so I moved some distance away and looked on. One old fellow was speared in the ankle, and was carried into camp when the fight was over – no lives were lost. I took my pocket handkerchief and tied it about the spear wound, which was bleeding freely. The native doctor came up and tore the bandage off: then, filling his mouth with water he squirted it upon the wound, so as to cause it to bleed profusely. This treatment, I afterwards ascertained, was to get rid of any poison that might have been upon the spear.
Not long afterwards several of the settlers’ homesteads on the Plenty River were attacked by the natives, and two shepherds killed. After a conference, it was decided that all who could should turn out to surround and capture the whole lot of them. The party started, two mounted troopers with them, and one fine morning returned driving before them, like a flock of sheep, between 30 and 40 blackfellows into a stockade formed of ti-tree, close together, on end – the site not far from where Goldsborough’s first wool stores were afterwards erected, in Collins-street. The scene inside the stockade was a laughable one. A tall blackfellow, named Gellibrand – after the solicitor I have referred to – pointed out the culprits one by one, when a mounted trooper would ride up to the accused, and taking him by the hair of the head, would lead him across to another portion of the enclosure, where he was put in durance. When about 14 had been thus dealt with the gate was opened for the others to make tracks – they were soon out of sight. The prisoners were placed in an oblong brick-building (opposite where Menzie’s Hotel now stands, in William-street), and improvised sentries placed on guard. During the night the blacks burrowed a hole under the foundations, and a few escaped. Two were shot dead in the attempt. The capture had a good effect, however, as shepherd-spearing and sheep-stealing were not heard of for some time afterwards.
Mr George Langhorne, an uncle of the manager of the Bank of Victoria, Geelong, was sent by the Sydney Government to look after the moral training and religious instruction of the aborigines. He was a man respected by everyone and really loved by his motley charge. His heart was in his work and his desire was to be able to give a good account of it. Mr Langhorne had a moveable tent, and as the natives never liked remaining long in any one place, he humoured them, and accompanied the tribe in all its migrations, learning their language and habits. He afterwards formed classes for they young – taught portions of Scripture, and, after a while, worked a wonderful change for the good, which was manifest to all. Many a visit I paid Mr Langhorne when he was located at Gardiner’s Creek. About four years ago I was staying at Gracedale House, Healesville, for a summer visit. In my wanderings one day I called at a wayside cottage embowered in creepers, to ask for a glass of water. “Wouldn’t I come in and rest a while, and have a cup of tea?” I did so. I noticed on the wall a curious-looking picture, done, apparently, in coloured chalks. I asked my hostess what it represented. “Oh,” she replied, “I prize that picture very much, it is the work of an old blackfellow named ‘Barak,’ and he gave it to me.” On further enquiry, I ascertained that the artist was at the aboriginal station, Corranderk, about three miles from Healesville. Next day I drove to Corranderk, and soon found ‘Barak’s’ quarters. He was at home, with some half dozen blacks sitting around. I told him about his painting, and hence my desire to make his acquaintance. I found that he belonged to the Yarra Yarra tribe, and had good recollection of his boyhood days. Presently I spoke a few sentences in the Yarra dialect. He looked at me wonderingly. “Where you come from?” I told him. He was so pleased, so interested. I casually remarked, “Do you remember Mr Langhorne?” He opened wide his eyes, stretched out both arms. “Mr Langhorne! Mr Langhorne! Oh, my dear old master. Hallelujah,” and then he sang the verse of a hymn he had learned long ago. The old man’s eyes filled with tears, and gazing sadly at me, he said, “Oh, you do make my head to open” (meaning my conversation unlocked his memory), and then he fell into a reverie, which I did not disturb. I left. Poor old Barak!
Buckley, the wild white man, a convict, who escaped from Governor Collins’ party, at Point Nepean, in 1803, and was for 30 years with the native tribes around Melbourne and Geelong, might have done much good during his long sojourn amongst them, especially in creating a better feeling between the blacks and the first settlers, but, no, he was a thoroughly selfish fellow, devoid of any intellectual attainments, in fact, a low type of man. He got on well with the natives, for he never interfered in their domestic arrangements. He had, however, to clear out of Melbourne after he rejoined the Europeans, for he feared the consequences from his erstwhile companions in leaving them. Buckley was sent to Hobart, where he received an appointment as warder in the convict establishment. He was pardoned for the offence for which he was transported, paid one visit to Melbourne in 1859, and eventually died at Hobart. In April 1859, Lady Franklin, wife of the celebrated Arctic explorer, and then Governor of V.D. Land, paid a visit to Melbourne, en route for Sydney, overland. She arrived in the trading schooner Gem. The event was not to be allowed to pass without some demonstration from the Melbourneites, and so it was arranged at a meeting held at the old Lamb Inn (where Scott’s now stands) that there should be an illumination and a corroboree, just two items, extending over two days. The Illuminations (first in Melbourne) were not a success. Blunderbusses and muskets were brought-into-requisition. In discharging one of the latter the mate of the Gem had his arm smashed, through the bursting of his gun. The native corroboree, next, night, was a grand affair. Her Ladyship was present and expressed her thanks for the compliment paid. The site of the native display was on the Eastern Hill, where St. Peter’s Church now stands.