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36 corrections, most recently by cjbrill - Show corrections

BEFORE MELBOURNE WAS.

By A. W. GREIG.

To come upon fresh documentary evidence connected with the doings of the pioneers who first pitched their camp on the ver- dant banks of the Yarra in the spring- tide of 84 years ago, is to make a discovery of some historical importance, so far as this State is concerned; and we are under an obligation to Colonel T. M. Evans, of Hobart, for making available for examina- tion the contents of three letters bearing on the foundation of Port Phillip settle- ment which he has found among some family papers.

Two of these are written by John Holder  

Wedge, the Tasmanian surveyor who re- signed a Government appointment to fol-

low up John Batman's discoveries at Port Phillip in 1825, to his friend and associate, James Simpson, of Hobart Town. Accom-   panied by Batman s brother Henry, and the wife and children of the latter, Wedge had left George Town on July 25, 1835, a few weeks after John Batman's return to Launceston, and his first letter, written on August 9, from "Geelong or Balarine Point, Port Phillip," reports his arrival   in the new country. With an experience not uncommon in early voyages across from Tasmania, the schooner had been buffeted about the straits for nearly a fortnight, taking refuge first at King Island, and later at one of the islets which surround Wilson's     Promontory, and finally entering Port Phillip to run aground on a shoal about 20 miles from the depot established by John Batman on Indented Head. The vessel's arrival was opportune, for the men left here had been short of provisions for some days, and were eking out an existence upon roots, with an occasional kangaroo; while a mob of 40 or 50 blacks lingered in the vicinity, accompanied by William Buckley, the "wild white man" who had spent over 30 years amongst them. "Dressed in his kangaroo rug, as he was when I first saw him," says Wedge, "with his long,   matted hair, he was a most awfully savage- looking fellow, standing 6ft. 5⅞in. in height     without shoes, erect in person, and well proportioned. . . . . He has acquired great influence over the natives." The   conciliation of the aborigines, and the im- provement of their condition, appealed to Wedge, as it had to Batman, as a matter of prime importance. "Through my recom- mendation," he goes on to say, "a system of regularity of issuing rations to them daily has been established," and he urges that sufficient supplies should be sent to enable the continuance of this system, al-

though he suggests that "damaged oatmeal  

damaged rice, barley-meal, peas, or   anything of the kind that can be got at the cheapest, will answer the purpose," as well as flour. This rationing, he thinks, will attract the wandering groups to one spot, where they can be made to dwell contented, and in time learn to assist in producing their own food. The informa- tion afforded by Buckley went to show that   the native population was very scanty, and was divided up into small family parties, without tribal organisation. "There is no   such thing as chieftainship amongst them," says Wedge, "but this is a secret that must, I suppose, be kept to ourselves, or it may affect the deed of conveyance if there should be any validity in it." Curiously enough, there is preserved in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, a brief note from Batman to Wedge, under date of August 21, 1835, which shows that he resented this expres- sion of opinion, and clung fondly to the fiction that among the handful of blacks with whom he had dealings there were "eight chiefs . . . . who possessed the whole of the country near Port Phillip."     His protest, which is in the form of a hastily written postscript, runs thus: -   "Your letter (a copy, I mean) went to the Governor, with a few alterations. You ought not to have said there were no chiefs.  

This must be a mistake."  

SITE OF MELBOURNE

Wedge was not favourably impressed with Batman's choice of a location on the Geelong peninsula, as he could see no means of obtaining a permanent water supply. It might serve the purposes of an aboriginal reserve and sheep station, but "from its   more central situation I am inclined to think the fresh water river mentioned by Mr. Batman, at the head of Port Phillip, will be the best situation for the town- ship." Towards the end of a rather long     postscript to this letter, written two days later, Wedge touches on a project of divid-   ing the peninsula into 17 lots, which had, apparently, been discussed by the members of the Port Phillip Association. It looks well on paper, he says, but will it not "be   likely to induce the Government to confirm that tract of land in preference to the more extensive tract of Iramoo Plains, or Dutigalla? I think so, and that it would be much better that there should be only one grand division. Turn this over in your

mind."  

Wedge's second letter was written on September 3, 1835, from "about six miles up

the eastern river at the head of Port Phillip"-that is to say, from the site of the unborn city of Melbourne. "On my ar-   rival here this morning," he says, '"I found     the encampment of the persons connected with Mr. Fawkner." These were Lancey, Jackson, Evans, Marr, and their servants, who had arrived in the Enterprise about three days earlier. "They are within the       limits of our domain," continues Wedge, "and a man of the name of Aitking, who has been here and returned, intends coming again immediately, and also to squat upon it." The late Dr. O'Donnell, in a paper     read before the Historical Society, pointed out that the third Port Phillip expedition thus referred to has received scant atten- tion from historians. Simpson, in his reply to Wedge, a portion of which is printed in Bonwick's "Port Phillip Settlement," mentions it in connection with another of its members. Writing under date of Sep- tember 17, he says:-"We have heard of     Thompson's and Fawkner's parties, and       we had a meeting on the subject. . . . We, in the course of the day, saw young Thomp- son, who assured us that there was no truth in the report of Fawkner's people having squatted. We then considered everything   at rest. Just then comes your letter to me confirming the fact of an encroach-

ment."  

The party which should share with the Batman and Fawkner expeditions the honour of pioneer exploration at Port Phillip left Launceston on July 20, 1835, a day ahead of the Enterprise, in the schooner Endeavour. It consisted of six   persons-Messrs. John Aitken, H. Thomp- son, Morris, J. B. Harwood, James Young, and T. Brawl-one of whom, J. B. Har- wood had been in command of the sloop or schooner Rebecca on the occasion of Batman's first expedition in the previous May. Fawkner says that they had "no navigator," and lay in wait to follow the Enterprise stealithly to the promised land; but, in view of Captain Harwood's pre- sence with the party, this statement seems absurd . They paid but a flying visit to Port Phillip, and were back in Launces- ton before the Fawknerites had fairly es- tablished their camp on the Yarra; which would account for Thompson's misleading assurance to the Port Phillip Association that there had been no encroachment on their domain. Nevertheless, Aitken seems to have seen sufficient of the country for his purposes, and in March, 1836, he re- turned and afterwards claimed to have been the third person to land sheep on the shores of Port Phillip.

Wedge advocated seeking a peaceful solu- tion of the difficulty which had arisen from the intrusion of the "Enterprise"   party on the territory to which the Port

Phillip Association hoped to establish ex- clusive proprietorship and suggested that the newcomers should be aided in negotiat- ing a fresh "treaty" with the blacks for     some other portion of the surrounding country. But he was informed by John Batman's brother that instructions had been left that any intruders should be ex- pelled by force, or by inducing the aborigi- nes to attack them. Against these pro-   positions he protests vigorously. "In the   event of the parties getting to blows," he says, "it would afford the Government a pretext for not complying with our applica- tion; and, if the natives are set on, there is

no knowing the extent of bloodshed that might follow, and the first time they took offence at us, or our servants, they would     probably turn the power they had been   taught to wield against ourselves. Enforce this on the proprietors. Gellibrand can persuade B. to any course." Differences of opinion over this matter nearly caused the withdrawal of Wedge and Simpson from the association a little later, but in the end   wiser counsels prevailed, although relations continued for some time to be strained be- tween the rival factions on the Yarra, as     we shall see further on.

The remainder of Wedge's letter deals     with the astonishing expanse of treeless plains which he had travelled over on his journey up from Corio Bay. "The want of         timber for building and fencing will be severely felt," he says, "and, in some places, even for fuel." Round the Yarra the   prospects were more encouraging. Here about," he says, "the country is more

undulating and more woody, and the soil and grass better. I can scarcely have any hesitation in saying that this is the place for a township. A fine stream of water in the river, and navigable for a vessel of 60 tons." The letter concludes by expressing the writer's intention of returning to Laun-     ceston at an early date, and declaring that "The proprietors ought to be excommuni-

cated if they don't give me second choice,"     this last sentence, of course, referring to the projected division of the 600,000 acres of Batman's "purchase" among the mem-

bers of his association.

LETTER FROM FAWKNER

The remaining letter with which we have to deal bears no date, but appears to have been written about April, 1836. It has the well-known signature of John Pascoe   Fawkner, and is written from "Pascoe Vale, Port Phillip, New South Wales."     Though he is not named, it was probably   addressed, like the two preceding, to James Simpson, whom as a man of standing and influence, both parties to the dispute, with which it is concerned, would regard with respect. It is mainly a complaint against the conduct of Henry Batman, combined with an attempt to sow dissension between the two Batmans and Simpson, and an urgent request that some person or persons should be sent to the settlement to act in a magisterial capacity-a request which was complied with in June, 1836, when Simpson himself was appointed as "arbi- trator" at a meeting of the settlers on the   spot. But, apart from the unpleasant de- tails of the injustices and irregularities im-

puted to Henry Batman, this epistle has one or two points of interest. Fawkner makes here what is, perhaps, his first re- corded claim to have "purchased a large quantity of land of the aborigines on the same terms as the company of whom you are a member." Details of this transition are wanting, and it is probable that the as- sertion really means nothing more than that Fawkner found it expedient to follow the general custom, and distribute some clothing and rations in order to keep on   good terms with the blacks. He then goes     on to describe the composition effected with John Batman, who paid him the value of the crop and labour on land which Fawk-   ner had ploughed and planted, on condition that he removed to the other side of the river, "after beating my price down £5."   Coming to his grievances against Henry Batman, he incidentally makes a reference to the as yet unformed "township," which is worth quoting in full -"He [Henry Batman] claims for Mr. John Batman all the land which borders on the river called by the native name of Nairme-derp, and which land Mr. Gelli-   brand marked out to me, as per chart in his possession, as being left for a town- ship, and after this Mr. Henry Batman read to me a passage from a letter sent to him by his brother, in which Mr. John Bat- man claimed to have the whole township, and Mr. John Batman no longer back than the end of last March told the captain of my vessel that he (Mr. John Batman) had given to Mr. Solomon ten acres of land to build on, which ten acres has been marked off ever since the beginning of January last, and is part of the land laid down on the chart as belonging to the township." The form "Nairme-derp" of the native   name of the Yarra, which has been recorded by Wedge as "Berrern " or "Barrern," will   probably be new to students of aboriginal place names while the references to the chart in Gellibrand's possession, which showed the land reserved for a township, excite an unavailing curiosity as to whether this reserve was identical with that marked on the map which Batman transmitted to   the English Government, and which occu- pies the site of the present South and Port Melbourne, taking in, also as "reserved for a public common" the West Melbourne Swamp, on the opposite bank of the river.

Though abounding in personalities, and coloured by the prejudices of the writer, this letter of Fawkner's is worthy of a place in the archives of the State, as sup- plementing the very scanty records which we possess of the first period of settlement on the banks of the Yarra, before Mel-

bourne was born, but not before the settlers had begun to realise that they were laying the foundations of a city.  

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