Remembering the Past Australia

Memories of Old Melbourne - Part IV

Part four 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.

Shows streetscape of Flinders Street, looking west, with Bridge Hotel (now known as Young and Jackson's Hotel) on the far corner, St. Paul's Cathedral on the opposite corner, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians.

Flinders Street from the Melbourne Railway Station (1864); Edward Gilks 1822-?, lithographer; Charles Troedel & Co. Melbourne. State Library of Victoria.





Not long since, in looking through some musty papers to refresh my memory in the preparation of another article of the “Memories,” I came across a letter, with enclosure, which I had received a few years since from my old friend Mr George Langhorne, then resident in Sydney. The enclosure was an account of the events of a day in Melbourne in March 1837, when the Governor of New South Wales (Sir Richard Bourke), “declared” Melbourne as a town, and I thought the 26th of January,1903, our Foundation Day, would be an appropriate date to give the document to the public, through the columns of the “Advertiser.” In a former article, I mentioned that Mr Langhorne had been appointed by Sir Richard Bourke, Protector of Aborigines at Melbourne, under the Commandant (Captain William Lonsdale). He was supplied with a tent, in which he camped for years, moving about from place to place with the blackfellows, as their instincts led them. He held religious services at the various camps, taught his proteges to understand our language, and became thoroughly acquainted with theirs. Mr Langhorne was beloved by the Yarra Yarra tribe, and through his influence, many a fight with the Goulbourn tribe was averted. Mr Langhorne died a few years ago, at an advanced age. I give his article verbatim.

“Memoranda of the Governor, Sir Richard Bourke, proclaiming ‘Melbourne.’—If I remember aright this memorable day was early in March (but I have no memo, of the exact date), in 1837. Captain Lonsdale and self were engaged, I remember, in framing the address to be presented to His Excellency, and the captain, being a cautious and precise man, objected so frequently to my rough draft that I thought we never should have accomplished the precious document, which at length was completed in due form by 11 p.m. The Governor had been very desirous to have met Mr Gellibrand, to have conferred with him as regarded the welfare of the ‘New Settlement,’ and had written to Van Diemen’s Laud, asking him to come over to an interview, and waited two or three days longer than he intended, in hopes of seeing him. Mr Gellibrand came to the port, and, after inspecting his own station (I think in the Geelong district), set out with his friend Sturt to meet Sir Richard in Melbourne, some days before the arrival of the latter. It appeared (as near as I can recollect) that they—Gellibrand and his friend—took with them a guide, one of the Government men from the station, and proceeded on their way, but, after travelling some miles, Gellibrand wished to go in a direction which the man who acted as guide; told him was wrong. Gellibrand persisted, and the man refused to accompany them further. Taking some damper front his pocket he told them they would need that before they readied the end of their journey, and left the unfortunate travellers to go on alone. When it became known in the Settlement, and at Geelong, parties of horsemen traversed the track in all directions, but without success. They could find no trace of the wanderers. I recollect on the Sunday evening preceding the Governor’s arrival standing with those who had come up to service at the door of little wooden church, watching the last party sent out, consisting of three or four horsemen, as they wended their way across the ‘swamp’ in the direction of the Salt Water River. Some slight traces of the lost ones, I recollect, were found, and information obtained from the aborigines which proved of no account. I do not recollect that ever Buckley’s services were enlisted in the search, probably he went out, but without success.

This sad advent cast a gloom over the proceedings to some extent, and the morning of the ‘Proclamation Day’ was one of those dull gloomy autumn days, for which Victoria is remarkable—at any rate, the Melbourne district, between the mountains and the ocean. The flag-staff was erected on the high ground to the eastward of the little wooden school-house, which even in Bishop Perry’s time still stood under the shadow of St. James’ Church. The standard of Great Britain was hoisted, and Sir Richard Bourke (and attended by his aide-de-camp, Captain Westmacott; his private secretary, Mr G. K, Holden; the captain of the Rattlesnake, H.M.R.N.) stood beneath it. Around them were grouped the Government officers, Captain Lonsdale and his lieutenant, with the military rank and file, Messrs Hoddle, Craig, Commissariat Webb of the Treasury, Surveyors Darke and Smythe, and myself, in charge of the aborigines, with Buckley as interpreter, the doctor of the settlement, several storekeepers, Smith and Thompson (settlers), with others whose names have passed out of mind—say, about 50 in all—and also 40 or 50 Government men, constables, and the ladies, high and low; also, about two hundred aborigines, principally of the Yarra tribe.

The address was duly presented, and after a lapse of more than half a century might probably still be found in the archives of the private secretary’s office in Sydney. The Governor accepted it graciously and then declared the territory and the town of Melbourne. Turning to the aborigines he pointed to me, and informed them, through Buckley (who, of course, spoke their language fluently) that he had sent me down to act under orders of the commandant— to supply them with food and clothing, to teach them the occupations of the white man, to instruct their children, and give small portions of land to each black who would dig it and grow potatoes, etc., for himself, telling them also that they were under the same laws as the whites, and that each party would be punished who robbed or injured the other. Sir Richard now was on his favourite topic. The fair treatment and civilisation of the aboriginal races, and on this subject he had lately won golden opinions at the Cape of Good Hope.

On so important an occasion a general holiday, of course, had been proclaimed, and the townspeople of Melbourne dispersed, some for picnics, a few for boating (where boats were procurable), some for shooting, and more taking the large seine (Government net) to overhaul the river for a draught of fishes. For myself I was inclined to be thoughtful and alone, and so, walking down to the whaleboat opposite Batman’s Hill, I sat down in it to pass away a few hours until 5 o’clock, when we were invited—as many as could be accommodated to the large Government tent—to dine with The Governor. I had scarcely had time to enjoy my boat when I was interrupted by about 50 blacks, men and women of the Yarra tribe, and with all gravity, as they drew near, they put the old chief, Yukuhen, in front, whereupon he explained to me that in future he conferred his name on me, taking mine, and ever after, until I parted my connection with them, all the tribes called me ‘Yukuhen’ and the old man ‘George.’

In due time I walked up to Government tent, pitched near the Government huts, and at the door I found Government officers whiling away the time in watching the Governor’s progress as he rode, with his suite. about the proposed township or city in embryo. ‘Look here,’ said they, as I advanced ‘do you see what he is doing at “Webb’s Paddock?”‘ ‘Yes, I do see,’ I said. Holden and Westmacott have dismounted, and are engaged in pulling down Webb’s fence.’ ‘Just so,’ said they, “and they have mounted again and gone across to the opposite side, and mean, of course, to do the same there.’ M friend Webb, in his desire to possess a nice piece of land close to “King’s Wharf,’ had fenced in the same with a sapling fence, with the very natural intention of bidding first at the coming land sale, and with a hope, as he used to say, that if he appealed to the kind, feelings of his fellow townsmen, they would not bid against him. Webb was present and did not appear very comfortable at the intrusion of His Excellency into his paddock.

As we lay down in the pleasant green grass, looking around and prospecting the future of Melbourne, Smythe and Darke (Sydney men) of course considered that was nothing to be compared with that of the environs of Sydney, and then again suggested a name, ‘that humble bay, what commerce could be expected compared with that of Sydney.’ I gave my prognostications directly in favour of Melbourne, and ‘Arabia Felix’ generally. Difficulties would soon be overcome, and Melbourne would be a great city. ‘Well, then,’ said one; ‘as Langhorne admires the country so much we will all go away and leave,’ and he drawled out, ‘the blacks will cut his throat, and then will be an end of him.’ ‘I wish,’ I said, ‘you would all go and leave me alone with them, giving them plenty to eat and drink, blankets, etc. They will not hurt me, as servants and assistants, at which they all laughed heartily. ‘Alas! it is probably the case that, of that little group, there is no survivor but myself to talk about the great capital of the south.

In due time, we were called into dinner. The Governor’s cook had done his best. There was fish in abundance, mutton, and also kangaroo dressed to make an admirable dish or dishes after dinner. There was a grave expression in Sir Richard’s eye and smile, which was always somewhat grim, owing to the sabre cut across his face (he had received it at Waterloo). ‘Mr Webb, I admire your taste for selection.’ Webb looked as though he would have enjoyed absence, rather than his present position. ‘But, Mr Webb, you must pull down the fence you have erected on the banks of the river enclosing that valuable piece of ground’ (this he said sarcastically). I cannot permit any occupation of ground by anyone, unless by permit from the Government, and now,’ said he, looking at me, ‘I certainly admire Mr Langhorne’s selection. It is certainly a very pretty spot; Mr Laughorne admires your taste.’ ‘I cannot claim, sir, any credit for the selections. I had pitched upon a spot nearer the town, but Captain Lonsdale overruled my choice, and proposed the site your Excellency admires so much.’

So closed the Declaration Day. We had no material or appliances for a general illumination, but the aborigines did this by heaping a large quantity of wood on the present site of Swanston-street, and, making a large fire, held a big corroboree, as the Sydney blacks call their national dance.”

Of the persons mentioned in above memoranda, I was acquainted with all but three—Governor Bourke, his aide-de-camp, Captain Westmacott, and Mr Holden (private secretary). All have passed away. Captain Lonsdale was afterwards sub-treasurer of Melbourne and first Colonial Secretary. Gellibrand was from Tasmania, a solicitor, who, as stated, took up country in the Geelong district; he was lost in the bush, and no trace of him ever after discovered. Sturt (Captain Charles), the great explorer, I was all but being of his party on his last fateful expedition, when he discovered the great Austral desert, 1843-41 (sic). Buckley, the wild white man, who was for 30 years with the aborigines, afterwards appointed to a billet in the Convict Department, Van Dieman’s Land (as it was then called). Hoddle, afterwards Surveyor-General and Treasurer. Craig (Skene), referred to in a former article as an early Postmaster (1839). Webb (R.S.), afterwards sub-collector of customs. Darke (W.W.), one of the early surveyors. Smythe, captain in the 40th (I think). Smith (Jas.), a merchant, who first conducted service in the little weatherboard building on the site now occupied by St. James’ pro-cathedral, father-in-law of the late Robert Russell, surveyor, who laid out Melbourne. Thomson (Dr.), well known to all the old identities of Geelong.’ – More anon.

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