Remembering the Past Australia

Memories of Old Melbourne - Part V

Part five 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 view of the market at the corner of Exhibition and Bourke Streets, with Haymarket Hotel at the right of picture, stall-holders and customers and horse-drawn vehicles

The Eastern Market from top of Whittington Tavern (1864); James Buckingham Philip 1830-?, lithographer; Charles Troedel, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria.

[In article three, I made passing reference to the stocks in use by the police in Captain Fyan’s time; questioned what had become of them, etc.; since then I received a letter from Mr W. H. Anderson, at one time Clerk of Petty Sessions, Geelong, during the time Mr Bonsey was police magistrate. (Mr Anderson is now enjoying his otium cum dig. as a retired P.M., at East Holbrook, County Down, Ireland.) He tells me the old unsightly stocks were burnt by him, with Mr Bonsey’s consent; had he known they would have proved so interesting in later years he would have had them preserved. He adds:—”They had only three holes in them, and on enquiring of one of the prisoners, Jack Smith, a Manchester man, what the third hole was for, said it was intended for a man with a wooden leg.”]



In 1839, the date of my arrival, the building used as a church was of small dimensions, of weatherboard, and capable of holding about sixty or seventy persons. A table for a reading desk and a few forms without backs to the seats. The congregation was but small Mr James Smith, to whom I have already referred, did duty there being no clergyman. Mr Smith was an earnest Christian man and took a greater interest in church work than he did in his own business. He was father-in-law of Robert Russell, not long deceased, who laid out Melbourne, under Robert Hoddle, Surveyor-general, and was afterwards closely identified with the establishment of our first Savings Bank. The building, occupied the present site or St. James, and the cost of erection was raised by subscriptions and other denominations, who had no place where to worship, obtained permission to hold service therein, as, the Wesleyan and Presbyterian. The reserve contained five acres. A ship’s bell, the gift of a trading skipper, called the worshipers to the one service held each Sunday morning. The building was none of the strongest as repairs were necessary in 1839. The hat went round again, with a good result for in addition, a cedar pulpit was erected, and a few small pews enclosed. The Rev. J. C. Grylls was appointed by the Sydney Bishop, as first incumbent. In August 1839, he called a meeting of subscribers to the new church, to be called St. James’, by advertisement in the P.P. “Gazette”, to examine the tenders which had been called for, and take such action as might be considered advisable. The lowest tender was somewhere about £1500, but as the cash in hand was little more than a third of that amount, it was decided to erect the nave of the building only.

The foundation stone of the cathedral (St. James’) was laid by the Superintendent of Port Phillip (C. J. La Trobe), at which ceremony I was a spectator (9th November 1839). Mr La Trobe read the parchment giving full particulars of the proceedings, which with the current coins of the realm, were placed in a bottle, and then in a cavity of the foundation stone. Robert Russell was architect, and funds in hand being limited, only a small portion of the sacred edifice was erected.

Following the Rev. J. C. Grylls, came the Rev. J. Y. Wilson, who subsequently went to Portland, and, I believe, died there years afterwards. After the cathedral was finished the services were conducted in the strictest order – churchwarden, vestrymen, and a verger that might have been envied by Mr Bumble himself gown touching the ground and wand in hand, he would show the pew holders to their seats.

An amusing incident took place one very hot Sunday morning—fresh in my memory as of yesterday. A gentleman squatter from the Westward walked into church just before the commencement of the service, opened a front pew, and occupied a front seat. He was attired in breeks having a leather outside casing as then worn by bushmen, no waistcoat, short light-coloured coat, and a leathern belt around his waist in lieu of suspenders. One of the wardens (a pompous M.D.) took in the position at a glance and seemed greatly disconcerted. He beckoned to the verger, who approached. A whispered conversation ensued, then the official walked over to Mr Dwyer (that was the squatter’s name) opened the pew door, and with uplifted forefinger beckoned him to follow. When they reached the entrance door Dwyer asked “what was up” and was informed that he was not fit to appear in church in such a costume as he was then wearing, and he left. There was quite a commotion amongst the congregation, and, after church little knots gathered to discuss matters. The doctor defended his conduct by frequently repeating “Decency required it.” A few days afterwards I sent the following doggerel to the “Daily News,” something as follows:—

“In moral England men may worship God,
Without, in dress, the least regard to fashion;
But in Port Phillip – and the things seems odd
There is a warder who’ll get in a passion.
If without vests they come, all off to quod
From church he’d send them and have no compassion;
And then, forsooth, having so desired it,
Declared, indeed, that “decency required it.”
“Decency required it” – is’t that I hear?
“What! Judge a man’s sincerity by dress!
May not the beggar’s worship be sincere.
And he professing most may feel far less.
God’s word was meant for no exclusive ear,
It came not, as some people think, “Express”
To him who would a brother’s foibles try,
Unmindful, of the beam in his own eye.”

Bishop Perry arrived per barque Stag in January 1848. He made wonderful changes, and church matters were placed on a sounder footing.

The foundation stone of St. Stephen’s Church, Richmond, was laid in the month of January 1850. I was then a resident of the suburb, and I received a list to collect subscriptions for building purposes, some time in 1849. I was in the Sub-Treasury, Melbourne, at the time, affording a good opportunity to obtain donations as I had to pay the public accounts, also the clergy of the various denominations their stipends. Amongst the latter was a burly priest, Father Coffey by name, who could give and take a joke with anybody, and I thought I would have one with him. As I handed him his cheque I placed my list before him. He looked it over, put his hand in his pocket, and drew forth a sovereign, which he handed to me. I saw I had “exceeded the bounds,” and, putting the money back, said, “Oh, Father Coffey, I was only joking; I did not mean that you should take my request in earnest.” “Tell me,” said he “will there be a school in connection with the church?” “Yes,” I replied, “A Sunday school.” “Well,” said his reverence, ‘I give you the pound in the cause of education, but see, don’t put down my name; just say ‘A Friend.’” I took the coin and did as I was told.

The first service of the Church of England, held at Williamstown, was held in a store lent for the occasion in May 1839, conducted by Mr James Smith aforesaid, and at that time the number of Episcopalians in and around Melbourne was something under three hundred.


Not many of this denomination in Melbourne at the time of which I write – no priest, no chapel; the few worshippers used to assemble at the workshop of a carpenter, well known, named Bodecin, who used to read prayers, and at the worthy lay reader’s house the first united action was taken re the erection of a chapel—May. 1839. A petition, drawn up by Bodecin, was signed by all present and forwarded to the R.C. Bishop at Sydney, asking that an ordained priest might be sent to officiate at Melbourne. Then a public appeal was made by the Roman Catholics of Melbourne to their Protestant brethren for monetary assistance to help in building a chapel, and thus enable them to claim the Government grant, payable under schedule C of the Act. The response was prompt, and the sum of £190 or thereabouts was soon raised. Lists were lying on the counters of the Union Bank and Bank of Australasia, while at Geelong the late Hon. J. P. Strachan acted as treasurer pro. tem. to the fund, although an adherent of a Protestant denomination.

The response to the position to the Bishop was the arrival of the Rev. P. B. Geoghegan from Sydney, per Paul Pry, after a passage of fourteen days. First Mass was held in a half-finished store belonging to a firm of merchants named Campbell and Wooley (Episcopalian), corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets. The list of subscribers’ names towards the erection of a chapel received through each week, used to be posted up at the entrance door, thereby obviating an expensive outlay in acknowledgement by advertisement (for there was no “Town Talk” column in those days). Special thanks, however, were tendered for amounts received outside the denomination.

The site fixed for the new chapel (free grant) was at the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale streets, there St. Francis’ Chapel was erected, outside the town, and there it still stands, surrounded by buildings and streets extending miles in every direction. Father Patricius Bonaventure Geoghegan was as worthy a. man as over walked Collins street. Little of stature, but large-hearted, a universal favourite, ready to help, where help was needed, by money as his means admitted, and by advice, which was always sound and good. We were soon friends, for I had let him a small four-roomed cottage in Little Bourke-street, immediately at the rear of the present Post Office, and thither I went regularly every week for the rent and got it. With Father Geoghegan was left the no easy task of raising the balance of funds for the first chapel and he succeeded beyond his own expectations. The foundation stone of St. Francis’ was laid in December 1841. Dr Geoghegan was afterwards Roman Catholic Bishop of Adelaide. In 1852 I had obtained a year’s leave of absence on half pay, and well I earned it, for during the two previous years I had a hard time of it at the Treasury, being left at one time almost without clerical assistance, as Mr La Trobe would not raise official salaries to keep pace with the altered conditions of things owing to the discovery of gold, as, outside the Government, wages, and salaries went up by leaps and bounds. Well, shortly before leaving on a trip home, the Doctor called at my office. “I hear you are going home,” he remarked. “Is there anything I can do for you ?” “No, thank you, Dr Geoghegan, there’s nothing I require.” “Will you,” he asked, “be drawing half-pay at home?” “Yes.” ‘ ‘Well,” he added, “you may have some difficulty in this respect, so I will give you a letter of introduction to a friend of mine in the Colonial Office that may be of service.” I took the letter, which he had written more to oblige the little man than anything else—we shook hands and parted, never to meet again.

In due course I presented my letter of introduction to Mr Gardiner, 5 Downing Street, and it was useful, through it receipt of my half-pay was simplified, and I was enabled to get an extension of my leave by six additional months, and that one seemingly trifling matter altered my movements and influenced the whole current of my after life.

I must relate an incident in connection with the arrival of Bishop Perry which may not be out of place here. The Bishop took up his quarters at the “Southern Cross” Hotel, Bourke-street, then managed by Mr J. S. Johnstone, afterwards one of the proprietors of the “Argus.” The old building is still there. Amongst the many visitors who called upon his lordship was Dr Geoghegan. He sent in his card, the Bishop declined to receive him, upon grounds best known to himself. The Bishop was the last man to give offence and acted, I believe, from conscientious convictions, but Dr Geoghegan felt the rebuff keenly, although he never resented it.

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