Remembering the Past Australia

Memories of Old Melbourne - Part III

Part three 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.

View of Bourke Street, at the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets, Melbourne, including Bignell's New Hotel to left, and horse-drawn vehicles.

Bourke Street East (1863); Francois Cogne 1829-1883, lithographer; Charles Troedel & Co. Melbourne. State Library of Victoria.

Note.—An interval of two or three months between the publication of these memories is, I admit, too long, and lessens any interest they may contain in perusal; but, with me. when I desire to draw upon the hidden store of the past I must be “i’ th’ vein,” and I am not always that. I hope to do better in the future.

* * * *

In the last article I referred to a visit I had paid to Healesville, some four years ago, and how, one day, I called at a wayside cottage “embossed in roses,” and whilst resting in the cosy parlour, noticed a rough picture in chalk hanging against the wall, which attracted my attention. My hostess told me it was the production of an old blackfellow, then at the Aboriginal Station, Coranderrk, named “Barak.” Well, I have lately received a letter from the lady informing me that the “Geelong Advertiser,” with an account of my visit to the old blackfellow had reached her, adding: “I went over the next day to the station to see the old man — recalled your visit to his recollection, and then read the paper. He was delighted and told me how kind Mr Langhorne (the missioner to the aborigines in Melbourne, 1836) had been to him and his tribe and had taken a great interest in their spiritual welfare. He said Mr Langhorne had taught him the Lord’s Prayer, and now he never retired to rest without saying it; and, to show that he did remember it, be repeated it over to me.”


The postmaster in Melbourne in 1839 was Benjamin Baxter, a retired army captain, who lived in a small wooden shanty in the flat fronting the Yarra River, between Batman’s Hill and the boundary, now defined, by William-street, and formed part of the first block of land ever ploughed in Port Phillip, by, or for, John Pascoe Fawkner. The captain carried on a small dairy, which supplied the settlement with milk, and a limited quantity of butter, combined with a vegetable garden. Here (as I have already stated)I had to tramp every morning, wet or dry, jug in hand.

The corner of a small room was apportioned for the receipt and delivery of letters. As population increased, complaints were made, for the “Gentle Public” (as Fawkner termed it) objected to the journey through slush and sludge, for letters – and so, Baxter made way for his successor, Mr Skene Craig – afterwards of the well-known firm of merchants, Craig and Broadfoot – who was induced to take office temporarily, at a nominal remuneration.

Craig’s office was in Collins-street, nearly opposite the Church of England reserve (St. James’): the post office was at the rear. The new postmaster could only devote a portion of his time to his official duties, as was intimated by a notice in the window. “Hours for delivery of letters, from 10 to 11 a.m., and at 2 o’clock p.m.”

Matters went well for a while, but business went on increasing. Craig resigned, and a Mr David Kelsh arrived from Sydney to take charge. He also carried on the public business at his P.R., Little Collins-street, in that portion afterwards, and still, called Chancery-lane. Kelsh had only his public duties to attend to, and ably was he assisted by his good wife.

Newspapers were kept in barrels in a shed at the rear of the premises, and enquirers for same were requested to “go round to the back and look for yourself.” A reason for this, perhaps, was that newspapers in those degenerate days, came free. Many and many a searcher left the premises with English news, not to his own address. I did, for one, as Helsh told me many a time to “help myself.”

In April 1839, the Sydney Government advertised for tenders for an overland mail between Melbourne and Geelong. The lowest was said to be £300 per annum, and was put aside as “ineligible,” and so, the mailbag continued to be forwarded by sea, the mail packet being the little schooner Devonshire, Captain Sutton, 25 tons, advertised to leave Melbourne once a week (Tuesdays) weather permitting,” or, more frequently, “should freight and passengers offer.” Captain Sutton’s son was for many years, and until a recent date, in the employment of the Geelong Corporation as labourer. Was he pensioned off I wonder? After a while, a ‘Doctor” Wentworth tendered unsuccessfully, and eventually, a contract was obtained for a bi-weekly overland mail between Geelong and Melbourne, by William Wright, erstwhile chief constable of the Melbourne police, and familiarly known as the “Tulip.” He was also Mine Host of the Bush Inn, Elizabeth-street, Melbourne, nearly opposite to the present post office. The revelations which might have been made of scenes enacted in that old hostelry would fill a fair sized volume of very interesting reminiscences.

About this juncture the edition of the “Port Phillip Gazette,” Melbourne, advertised for a correspondent as follows:


“As a mail is about to be established between Geelong and Melbourne, ensuring an easy and regular communication, we hasten to announce the pleasure with which we shall avail ourselves of the services of an eligible correspondent, whose duty it shall be to transmit weekly all domestic and district intelligence, as also to suggest any point in which we can exercise these poor talents we have devoted to the public service. We pledge ourselves to set apart a portion of the ‘Gazette’ for the insertion of all such communications.”

A gentleman well-known in Geelong — a merchant — a M.L.C. — long since departed, accepted the appointment, but I don’t think he held it for very long.


The first overland mail to Sydney from Melbourne was run in the month of May 1839. An energetic, plucky fellow named E. Green obtained the contract for a weekly trip; I forget the price. Green, on his return journeys, used to meet a number of townsmen at the old Lamb Inn (present site of Scott’s Hotel, Collins-street), and recount the many hairbreadth escapes he had, “by flood and field,” in crossing swollen rivers; and through encounters with the wild tribes. Green generally carried the bag of letters on the horse he rode, and alone, afterwards using a pack horse, and with a Sydney native as his companion. He discovered some excellent sheep and cattle country, and turned the discovery to good account, by showing the “spots” to would-be squatters for valuable consideration. He himself took up and stocked two or more “runs” on his own account.

The postage on letters to Sydney overland was 1/3 under half an ounce. In this year the first list of unclaimed letters was published at the P.O., and “settlers” reaching Melbourne from the River Murray were requested to send their names to the Melbourne newspaper for publication as “New Arrivals.”


In 1839 three newspapers were published in Melbourne, viz., “The Port Phillip Patriot,” “The Port Phillip Gazette,” and the “Herald.” What became of them is a question of interest, which I think I can solve, but I must go back a little. In 1838 John Pascoe Fawkner edited a paper in M.S. called the “Melbourne Advertiser,” which, appeared once a week for a period of three months, or thereabouts. It had no wider circulation than the public room of Fawkner’s Hotel, where, on the night of publication (Saturday), the editor and host, seated at the head of a long table in the public room of the bar, would read out the contents, advertisements included, to all and sundry of his customers, whilst regaling themselves at their own cost. The news was chiefly “Vandemonium,” obtained from a special correspondent at Launceston, or during the week, from the captains of the small trading vessels ‘twixt Sydney and Melbourne.

The “Melbourne Advertiser” came to a sudden end. Fawkner, under the Libel Act, was bound to enter into a certain bond or give a security for his bona fides. This he was unable to do, and the result, “a collapse.” Then came, not many months afterwards, his printed paper, the “Port Phillip Patriot.” In selecting this title he felt, deeply felt, that he, J.P.F., was the only and true Port Phillip patriot! Yes in those embryo days of Australian journalism, Johnny believed there were great public grievances to be redressed, and he was the “Patriot” for the occasion.

Population increased, business of all kinds greatly improved, the old rickety wooden printing press (now, I believe, in the Melbourne Museum), imported from Launceston, was replaced by the latest press improvements from home, and a clever importation, a rollicking Irishman named George Darley Boursiquot (who had had a little press experience in Dublin) was engaged as sub-editor. He was nearly related to the Boucicaults of histrionic fame, although they spelt their names differently. The new sub-editor soon gained the ascendant in the “Patriot” office, and wanted things all his own way (they generally do!). A disagreement with Fawkner ensued—they parted company, and Boursiquot then (1848) started a new paper on his own account, styled “The Daily News.” Eventually, he bought out the “Patriot,” which became amalgamated with the “News.”

Meanwhile, Wm. Kerr, a well-known public character, afterwards town clerk of Melbourne, issued a small sheet, the present “Argus.” The “News” and “Argus” were always at daggers-drawn, and the personalities in which they indulged were eagerly scanned by their readers, for want of something better. Well, the “Argus,” after a while, became the property of the late Edward Wilson, who was also its editor. Overtures were made by him to Boursiquot for amalgamation. Boursiquot and I were old friends. He consulted me upon the matter, and I advised him to close. At his request, I accompanied him to see Wilson, and the result was an absolute sale, and, if I mistake not, the title was (for a time at least) “The Argus, with which is incorporated the Daily News.”

Next comes the “Port Phillip Gazette,” first published towards the end of 1838, by the proprietors, George Arden (editor), and Thomas Strode (printer). Arden, too, was a clever fellow, but somewhat erratic; always opposed to authority in any shape. Mr Justice Willis (our first Supreme Court Judge) came under the lash of his pen (if I may use the Hibernianism), and many a scathing leader made the “galled jade wince.” On one occasion, Arden declined to put in an appearance as a juryman at the Criminal Sessions. Willis did not allow his opportunity to pass. He fined the editor £100 and costs, which Arden wouldn’t, or couldn’t, pay. Result, he was marched off to gaol there and then. The cuisine at the gaol did not agree with the imprisoned editor, and so, after purging himself of the contempt by making ample apology the fine was reduced; not so the costs, which were heavy—and he was released. Arden was always known as “The Boy Editor,” from his very youthful appearance. Poor fellow. In the early fifties, his dead body was found one morning in “Griffin’s” Paddock, Geelong, now known as Bucklands Paddock.

About twelve years ago I was surprised and pleased at receiving a visit, at my office, from Mr Strode. I thought he had joined the great majority long before. We had a good time recalling and talking over events of long ago.

The first supplement to a newspaper published in Melbourne was in the “Gazette” of September 1839, when a promise was made that one should appear with every Saturday’s issue.

The “Port Phillip Gazette never amalgamated with any other paper, but simply died out. Next, and last, comes the “Herald,” owned, edited, and published by George Cavenagh, a prominent man in those days, and one of the first residents at Richmond. The paper appeared first in January 1840, like the others, weekly at first. It outshone the others in get up, type, etc. The “Herald,” unaltered, even the motto (“Impartial and Neutral”), is still to the fore, a welcome visitor in our homes every evening, with news to date. The price of the Melbourne papers in 1839 was one shilling a copy. Just think of then and now!


When I arrived in Melbourne the Police Court was the only “temple of justice” extant, and was presided over by Captain William Lonsdale, Commandant of the Settlement, who was occasionally assisted by Mr Sievewright, Chief Protector of Aborigines. The site. Market Square, William-street, opposite the Old Lamb Inn (now Scott’s), a small wooden building, occupied the whole of the reserve. Close alongside was the lock-up, and nearby the stocks, capable of accommodating three prisoners at a time, chiefly “drunks,” who took out the twelve hours in the open, if unable to pay the fine imposed. There, many a time, have I beheld men, oft and oft, exposed to the wondering gaze of the natives who frequented Melbourne daily. Old sawn logs answered for foot-rests, and, nonchalantly, many of them did penance, under a blazing sun; some smoking (by permission), others yarning away, unmindful of drenching rain or scorching sunshine. A similar mode of expiation for want of cash to pay the fine was in vogue a few years afterwards in Geelong, at the top of Yarra-street. I believe the “stocks” are still somewhere in the town, and enquiries are even now being made for these relics of the past.

I remember, upon one occasion, being summoned by the chief constable (“Tulip” Wright), of whom I have already made mention, on a charge of “furious riding.” My Bucephalus was a small Timor pony, of which I was very proud: a splendid goer. But Collins-street, the chief said, was not to be made a training ground of. My old friend James Simpson, and Major St. John, were the presiding magistrates, and they evidently wanted to give me a chance to get off easily. Simpson asked me: “Does that pony ever run away with you?” I was indignant at the idea, and replied emphatically, “Never,” but I had scarcely answered the enquiry when I saw the drift, and quickly added: “Oh—ah—yes. Sometimes he goes so fast that I cannot hold him in.” Fined 10/- and the Court was visibly affected! Needless to say, I paid the fine.

Then came the Court of Requests and Sessions, presided over by Commissioner E. J. Brewster, succeeded by the late Sir Redmond Barry. Mr Brewster invested his savings in Melbourne property. He died not long since in England, worth thousands of pounds. After Mr Brewster returned to England he entered the ministry of the Anglican Church. Then followed the Supreme Court, the first Judge being the irascible John Walpole Willis. It would fill a volume to relate all the curious incidents of his reign. The limited gaol accommodation of the time was soon filled with those unfortunates (many of the men who filled good positions) whom he committed on the slightest grounds for contempt. The first Court of General Sessions opened in Melbourne in August 1839, the Sheriff’s Officer succeeding in obtaining a sufficient number of names to form a military jury. Amongst them were Captain Smith; commanding the troops (very few numerically, part of the 40th Regiment); Captain Smythe, of the Mounted Troopers; Captain Scott, half-pay officer of the Royal Marines; Lieutenant Newsome; Lieutenant Addis, R.N. (a fellow passenger with me from England); Lieutenant De Vignolles, Major McCormack, and Com.-General Howard (Mr Howard, of “Melaluka,” Connewarre, an old Civil Servant of the ‘forties, is a son of the latter).

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