Memories of Old Melbourne

By G. F. B.

Part one in a five-part series of “Memories” written by G.F.B., printed in the Geelong Advertiser (Victoria) between 6 March 1902 and 28 February 1903.

Sixty-three years ago this 20th day of February 1902, since the good ship Louisa Campbell, 320 tons register, Captain John Mark Buckley, cast anchor in Hobson’s Bay, after a twelve days’ passage from Launceston. She reached the latter port direct from London early in January. On board were passengers, Some from London, whose names became intimately associated with the early history of Port Phillip, as Victoria was then called. I will name two or three – John Hodgson, afterwards second Mayor of Melbourne; he selected a piece of land on the Yarra, and called it by the well-known name of “Studley.” E. B. Addis, lieutenant in the R.N., who settled in Geelong, and was appointed police magistrate, and commissioner of Crown lands. H. W. Smythe, who selected as a sheep station land on which afterwards was formed, the township which still bears his name, “Smythesdale.” Then there was P. W. Welsh, a well-known Melbourne merchant, who afterwards transferred his business to Geelong.

H.M.S. survey ship, Rattlesnake, was lying at anchor close to our moorings, and two small schooners waited a fair wind to the Heads.

At Williamstown a few buildings were visible, and across the bay at the spot now known as Sandridge, a barrel was erected on a ti-tree above high water mark, indicating where boats might find a landing place. In the same place a few years afterwards a weatherboard building was erected by a Mr Lingham as an hotel, afterwards carried on by a Mr. or Captain, Evelyn Liardet, who had a contract for carrying the English mails, arriving monthly by sailing vessels, from Sandridge to the G.P.O., Melbourne. Well. I am anticipating a little. To resume. The long-boat of the Louisa Campbell was soon alongside, waiting to take the passengers to their new homes. For myself, when I arrived at Launceston, I for the first time heard that there was such a place as Port Phillip or Melbourne, and other fellow passengers shared my ignorance in this respect.

The row up the Yarra I shall never forget – an ever-changing scene, so unlike anything I had ever before witnessed. Yarra’s waters were clear as crystal, wild fowl rose in numbers from the river’s beads, as the sound of our oars disturbed them.  Here and there the stream was nearly over-arched by the growth on either side. On the trip up the Yarra, one of the lady passengers was taken suddenly unwell. I took off my mackintosh cloak, of which I made a pillow for the invalid, to rest her head. Alas, before we reached our destination, my cloak fell overboard unobserved. In a pocket was all the capital I possessed (not much), and so I commenced my colonial career penniless. Fortunately, however, for me, a relative had preceded me to “Port Phillip, and had rented from John Bateman one of the very few brick buildings of which Melbourne could then boast. It occupied the site, corner of Collins and William streets, where the Australian Mutual Provident Society building now stands. Well, we reached the basin of the Yarra, not far from the Falls, no other boat or craft was near.  Selecting a likely spot for a landing we scrambled up the grassy bank and tied the boat to a gum tree. It was a novel scene. Close by was an encampment of natives, their mia-mias, or huts, ranged in the form of a half-circle; opposite each mia-mia a small fire was burning. The lubras sat cross-legged, with coverings of ‘possum skins; the men stood lazily around, watching our every movement with unmistakable surprise.  I had no difficulty in finding Bateman’s house; it was a conspicuous object. My friend was waiting my arrival. The building was far from being finished: none of the inside walls were plastered, some of the outside doors unhung, and few of the windows glazed. Close by was a small cottage, occupied by Dr Cussen, a character in his way. He filled the position of Government surgeon. No dividing fence separated the properties, which afterwards led to an unpleasantness between the worthy doctor and myself. . Domestic servants there were none.  Every householder had to be his own cook, etc., except those fortunate enough to be blessed with wives to look after the household. I remember very well on Sundays taking the dinner in a tin dish to be baked at Overton’s and calling for it after service. It is not very long since Overton crossed the bar. Water was supplied to the townspeople at 5/- a barrel, and wood, long lengths, at 10/- a load.

Looking east from Elizabeth Street along Lonsdale Street with St. Francis Catholic Church on left, White's Bedding Factory and church spire in distance. Horse-drawn wagons, carriages and mounted trooper on road, pedestrians on path. Open guttering running along Elizabeth Street with guttering and culverts along Lonsdale.

Great Lonsdale Street East (1864) Melbourne

I will never forget my first experience with the axe. I was told that, as a new chum, I would find chopping wood not a very easy job at first, but that I would soon get used to it. Not so, however.  I found the process rather a pastime than otherwise; in fact, I liked it. On the third morning, as I was about to commence operations, out came the irate doctor in a towering rage, and, shaking his fist at me, said, “I’ve caught you at last, and I’ll make you smart for it.”  Explanations followed I had unwittingly split up a large quantity of splendid broad palings, imported from V. D. Land, at considerable cost, and which the doctor intended to use in the construction of a dividing fence between his property and my friend’s. It was long ere we became friends, and the loss had to be made good. Collins-street was just outlined no street metal, no footpaths. A gang of convicts from Sydney were employed grubbing up good-sized gum trees opposite the Lamb Inn, where Scott’s Hotel now stands. Elizabeth-street was Melbourne’s eastern boundary; Flinders Lane, “where the merchants most did congregate,” south: Little Bourke-street, north: and William-street, west. A few straggling houses, if they could be called such, might be found beyond these limits. Our butcher was Mr John M’Nall, a barrister by profession, but glad, like others, to turn his hand to anything for a living. His shop, too, was in Collins-street, and here Mr (afterwards Sir) John Q’Shannasy filled the billet of bookkeeper. M’Nall was generally liked. He was very fond of racehorses, and to him, in a great measure, the credit was due re the first horse races held in Melbourne. William Overton aforesaid was our baker, and our supply of milk and butter came from the diary of Benjamin Baxter, a retired captain in H.M.S. The dairy was situate in the flat near the Yarra, at the rear of the buildings in Collins-street, afterwards erected by the New Zealand Loan Company. Here it was that Johnny Fawkner turned the first sod with the only plough then in the settlement. To Baxter’s I went every morning for my lacteal supply. 

Rough times they were, but pleasant withal, for after the day’s work I had good herring fishing above the falls, plenty of sport with the gun, and frequent nocturnal visits to the native encampment on the rising ground south of the Yarra (now Emerald Hill), where I endeavoured, not unsuccessfully, to obtain a knowledge of the aboriginal habits, customs, and language, which I found useful in after years, when I took up a sheep station in the wilderness of the Wimmera (Lake Hindmarsh).

I purpose in another article to deal, as far as a good memory and valuable data in my possession will enable me, with the particular events of the year in which I arrived (1839), which, I dare say, will prove of interest to the few old identities now left, and, apropos, who can now claim to be the oldest colonist, an interesting inquiry to which can respond.

A curious coincidence, bearing on the question – since I commenced to write this article, on the 26th ult. (Feb.) I received a telegram from Mr E. N. Glass, of Temple Court, informing me that my old friend, Mr James M’Connell, who arrived in Melbourne towards the end of ’39, had died the day previously in his 89th year.  I went to Melbourne, called at my old friend’s residence, and had a last sad look at the dear old face ere the funeral started for the Melbourne Cemetery.

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