Spotlight: “Mr. Speaker’s” Reminiscences (27/08/1907)

Punch (Melbourne, Vic. : 1900 – 1918; 1925), Tuesday 27 August 1907, page 27


“MR. SPEAKER’S” REMINISCENCES.

GOSSIP ABOUT EARLY DAYS.-JUDGE AND BUSHRANGER.

Arrival In Melbourne.

Gifted with a splendid memory, endowed with a particularly alert and observant mind, and possessing the Irishman’s natural knack for telling a tale well, no one can gossip more interestingly about the early days of Melbourne than Mr. Frank Madden, Speaker of His Majesty’s Legislative Assembly of Victoria, whose activities exactly cover the span of “Punch’s” existence.

“We came to Melbourne in 1857,” he said, when asked to recall some early impressions. “I was then a very dedicate boy. I nearly died on shipboard. I have thrived in Victoria. My first recollection of Melbourne is that we could not land at Sandridge — why, I do not know. We came up the Yarra in a barge towed by a steamer. The wharf accommodation was very meagre, and the south side of the river was covered with a ti-tree swamp, gridironed with little, rivulets. When we got off the barge we went to the Yarra Hotel, which looked on an open space, since filled with the Customs House. We had hard work to find somewhere to stay. Not a single place would take us in — there were ten of us. For the first two nights we slept in Temple Court, where a relative gave up his chambers to us. Finally we had to choose between a little shop in Smith-street and a tiny cottage in Richmond, behind Wren’s Racecourse.

“Of course, we got very familiar with the Survey Paddock, which reminds me that not many of the present generation know how it came by its name. It was due to the fact that the pegs employed in surveying the whole of the colony were cut in this paddock. Near it was Sir James Palmer’s house. It still stands on the top of the hill, midway between the Hawthorn Railway Station and the Richmond Bridge. Meetings of the Legislative Council were held there, and he had specially substantial furniture made for it. The streets of the infant city were terribly low lying. There was no gas — just oil lamps here and there. The paths were only partly made, and it was no unusual thing to sink up to your knees in mud. The centres of the roadways were cut into deep channels, and there was a regular river in Elizabeth-street, after rain, which was spanned by a Bridge in Collins-street. When this hollow was filled in they covered up bridge and all, and years afterwards, when the tramway track was laid, I saw that bridge, which I crossed so many times when a lad, dug up from the excavations.

Iron Houses Imported.

“The Crimean war was just ended, and much of the materials which were made for the Crimea were purchased by long-headed Jews and brought out to Melbourne. The bridge across the Yarra at Church-street, with the high sides, was specially constructed for use in the Crimean War. It was to be thrown across a Russian river, and the high sides were to serve as a screen for troops marching across. Such a bridge could only be put where it was not exposed to the full force of the wind. If it were swept by a gale the sides would offer so much resistance that it would be smashed. Down where it is now it is protected from fierce winds. Officers’ quarters — there were British regiments in the Colony then — were built in Clarendon-street and Albert-street, and they have just recently been removed. They were constructed of iron, all the parts being made in England and then shipped to Melbourne. Several other houses of a similar class were put up. Mr. Francis’ (once Premier) original house in Albert-street was one of them, and that which Mr. James M’Kean lived in for so many years, and which still stands though hidden in modern improvements, was another.

A Practical Joke.

“Most of the buildings in the city were considerably above the level of the paths. The Bank of Australasia, for instance, was high up. M’Cracken’s Brewery stood back also, and in front of it was open land. I remember that about this time some wags in Temple Court collected some gold-bearing quartz and put them conspicuously on Flagstaff Hill, which was then a popular rendezvous because shipping was signalled from it, People found this quartz, and getting the gold fever pegged out the ground one Sunday morning, and promised to dig pits sufficient to give the hill the appearance of a man whose face is pock-marked. But the practical jokers relented in time, and let it be known how they had humbugged the amateur diggers.

Dare-devil Horsemen.

“Bourke-street was a very lively place, because there were four or five horse bazaars in it — Kirk’s Yard, at the corner of William street; Kirk’s Bazaar, where it stands to this day; M’Caw’s yard, where Morris and Meeks’ place is now, and a couple of others which I forget. It was the regular practice for horses to be brought in and sold unbroken, and it was most interesting to see these horses taken away afterwards, with an ordinary halter. John Abbott, a daredevil fellow, bought seven colts one morning — all raw. He ran one of them into the crush, got on him, and rode, him there and then. When it stopped bucking he got the lot together and drove them off to Heidelberg as if it were a most everyday feat.

The Coaching Days.

“The Albion Hotel was another fascinating place, for the coaches started from it for Bendigo, Ballarat, Mansfield, and other long journeys. They had grand horses then, the very type which we want to-day and can’t get, arched necked, round-barrelled, splendid shoulders, high-spirited, and with plenty of courage. You know, the roads were very rough and ready, but the teams pulled the heavy coaches over them long distances, and delivered their freight to time. The drivers were wonderful whips — Cabbage Tree Ned, John Peck and Billbow, to mention only three. In Bourke-street, too, were the big shops. Copper coins were unknown in those days. Big firms like Hyde and De Carle, grocers, issued tokens, which were accepted in circulation, and which were taken by the Post Office for stamps. They were a good advertisement for the shops and a considerable convenience to the public. Only when the Government Departments refused to honour them was the present copper coinage introduced.

Processions of Bullock Waggons.

“Of water supply as we know it to-day there was none. Water was drawn from the Yarra, and it cost 2/6 a barrel. Subsequently a pumping station was built at the foot of Spencer-street, and two huge tanks were constructed close to the Eye and Ear Hospital. Well do I recall when the water from the Yan Yean was first started flowing at the corner of Bourke-street and Elizabeth-street. The first results were not altogether pleasing. The reticulation pipes were not properly cleaned. Several people died, and inquiry revealed that they had been killed by lead poisoning. The pipes were then thoroughly overhauled. It was a picturesque period. The great rush of diggers had ceased, but there was still a steady stream of men to the great mining camps, and they mostly travelled in bullock drays, which all passed up Elizabeth-street.

“You would see dozens of these drays crawling and creaking along, carrying men and machinery, with twenty-four bullocks constituting a team. Then there were the coaches running between the distant suburbs and the city. In particular there was the Brighton Coach, which Jack Martin drove. Many people lived in Brighton just because they enjoyed the wit of Jack Martin. He was one of the wittiest Irishmen I ever met, and when he gave up the reins and became a horse clipper at Kirk’s Bazaar, he used to maintain a running fire of raillery and badinage, which hugely entertained a large crowd every day. Peter Hanslow — Collingwood to the city — was another noted driver, and he kept going until the cabs spoilt his business. The cost of living was very high, and prices varied most curiously. A grand big schnapper could be bought for a shilling, whilst eggs were priced sixpence a piece.

Riot Against Parliament.

“I shall never forget my first visit to a court. Convicts tried to murder Col. Price, father of Colonel Tom Price — who had charge of the convict hulks. They killed him with shovels, and the case was tried in the court which is still being used for the City and District Courts. And my first peep of Parliament was also pretty early, when a no-confidcnce motion had been tabled against the O’Shanassy Government. I was greatly impressed with the debate and the proceedings. Some time afterwards there was a great riot in Spring-street, intended as a demonstration against Parliament. Round Parliament House was a low fence, and behind this Captain Dana and about twenty troopers were stationed. Dr. Eades read the Riot Act to the crowd, and as this did not disperse them, the order to charge was given. The troopers smashed down the fence, and were soon amongst the rioters. They were told only to use the flat of their swords, but I saw many people carried out with blood streaming from their wounds.

Flemington Rabbits and Flash Squatters.

“In 1859 I made my first acquaintance with the Flemington course. Flying Buck, a three year-old gelding, ran away with the Champion Stakes. Yeend rode him, and he is still a hale and hearty man. Amongst others who I recollect were there were L. L. Smith, Herbert and Robert Power, Reginald Bright, J. Cleland, J. Carter (who was a jockey then, and is now one of the assistants employed on the course), and Squire Austin, (who died some little time back). Squire Austin used to dress in typical John Bull style, just as you see him in old prints.

He was a good patriot, and in his scheme of importing English ways and things to the new country he conceived the idea of bringing out rabbits. He thought they would be kept in check, as in England, and provide both sport and food. Charles Fisher knew them better, and the moment he heard of Austin’s intention he had Corangamite Station fenced with heavy pickets to save the property from the plague which he was certain would follow. Portions of that fence are still in position, and testify to his sound judgment. It was amusing to see some of the men who called themselves ‘squatters’ in those days. They were chiefly cattlemen from the Northern districts. They wore red shirts, riding pants, bushmen’s boots, and had coloured handkerchiefs round their necks, and wore cabbage-tree hats, with the string caught under their noses instead of their chins. We used to call them ‘flash squatters.’ Thinking of Flemington reminded me of them. The stand looked as if it were made of derelict gin-cases. People could go anywhere except on the course proper, and all sorts of amusements were provided, including Aunt Sally and Doodleumbuck. There was a rail round the course, and men with fast horses often followed the races in this smaller circle. The Champion in Flying Buck’s year was rendered notable by the wreck of the Admela. There were interstate entries as far back as 1859. Horses were being brought round from Adelaide for the race, and Hurtle Fisher asked the captain if he could not alter his course a little, to save the horses feeling the full strength of the sea. The captain complied with his request, and had cause to regret it, since the Admela was wrecked. One of the horses, The Barber, managed to swim thirteen miles to land, and actually took part in the race. Mr. Fisher was imprisoned on the wreck for a week, but was ultimately rescued after suffering fearful privations.

Sixpence to Cross Collins Street.

“There were great floods in the Yarra. I was not snagged. I remember a contractor erecting a bridge at the end of Victoria-street across to Studley Park. I asked him if it was high enough. He replied that it was higher than any flood had ever reached. When fishing in the river I had noticed debris caught in a corner just below, and I pointed it out as likely to mean trouble at some time. Within a week of the completion of the bridge there was a big flood; the water got penned up at this very spot, and the bridge was swept away. In the city bridges were just as dangerous. There were little, curved structures over the rivulets in Elizabeth-street. One day a woman fell into one of these streams. A policeman tried to fish her out, and fell in himself. He was swept under one of the bridges, and before he was rescued everything he had on, except the leather collar then worn by members of the force, was torn off. Things were so bad in Collins-street, too, that people wishing to cross from one side to the other paid sixpence to be driven, and thought it cheap at the money. When you walk down the Block to-day, think of that, and you will realise why Melbourne is marvellous.

A Popular Tenor’s Ill-luck.

“The theatres were good. At any rate, the principals were. I can remember Brooke, Jefferson, Squires, Lyster, and many others. And we got in the pit for a shilling, what you can’t get to-day, because neither in drama or opera is the standard as high as it used to be. Well do I recall one day that I was fishing on the Saltwater near the Flemington Racecourse. Some sportsmen were shooting quail on the other side. One of them — Lyster —- accidentally shot Armes Beaumont in the face. I got across as fast as I could when I saw that something was amiss, and found out what happened.

A Notable Surgeon’s First Chance.

“Returning to the city, the Cattle Market was at the top of Elizabeth-street, alongside the old cemetery. There were wild and savage beasts, and dangerous to any people on foot who might be walking along the stock route. This was realised by the powers that be, and retreats were made into which pedestrians could go for shelter. They were V-shaped pens, with the apex of the V outwards. Men could get in, but the cattle could not follow. It was a Cattle Market accident which gave Sir Thomas Fitzgerald his first big lift. A drover was rushed by a bullock at Newmarket, and its horn thrust into his neck severed the jugular vein. The man was taken to the Melbourne Hospital bloodless, and apparently lifeless. The other doctors would not give him a chance of living, but Sir Thomas Fitzgerald took the man in hand, attended him continuously for two days and two nights, and pulled him through. The drover lived for many years afterwards — a fine advertisement for the young surgeon’s resource and skill.

Priceless Wine for a Song.

“Curious things happened in those times. We had been hunting one day near Laverton, and when we got to Williamstown we determined to return by boat, and made ourselves comfortable at an hotel. I did not like the idea of drinking waterside public-house draught stuff, so I asked the landlord if he had any colonial wine. ‘I have some sour stuff in the cellar,’ he replied — ‘claret.’ He brought it up, and the minute the cork came out with a pop I smelt the aroma of a first-class wine. I found that he had ten cases of this claret, told him I was partial to that kind of wine, and offered him 15s a case for the lot delivered on board the steamer. He jumped at my offer, and I got the wine, than which I have never tasted better, though it had no label. Talking about this incident with Mr. Alston, of Alston and Brown, he told me that when things were booming in the early fifties wines and other commodities of great value were shipped to Victoria. When the steamers reached the bay the seamen deserted, and the ships were left without adequate protection. Those left on board, or thieves from the shore, used to get the fine wines, which were not to their taste, and exchange them for raw spirits which they enjoyed. The Williamstown publican did not know where the claret came from, and probably this was the explanation.

Power, the Bushranger.

“Bushrangers! Yes, I had to see Power, the notorious bushranger, on one occasion. There was a dispute, as to who captured him, and I represented Mr. Charles Hope Nicholson in the matter. I saw Power at Pentridge. When first he was pointed out to me I thought he was a small man, whereas I always understood he was very big. But when I got close to him I discovered my mistake, for he towered over me. His enormous breadth detracted from his height. He told me that Ned Kelly deserved to be taken, as he ‘peached’ on him, (Power). I said I knew how he (Power) was captured. He had a gunyah on the far side of a clearing, and was surprised when asleep. A man ran across the clearing and grappled with him before he could get his gun, which was slung within reach, and he was brought to justice. I asked, ‘Who was that man?’ and he replied, ‘Nicholson; and it was lucky for him I couldn’t get my gun, as I would have shot him to get away.’

Sir William Stawell’s Courage.

“Talking about his life he said that the bravest, man he ever knew was Sir William Stawell the Chief Justice of the Colony. The Chief Justice gave him a very heavy sentence at one time, and Power nursed a bitter resentment and swore to revenge himself. When Sir William Stawell was on Assizes in the country he had a police escort, but he was a man entirely without fear, and frequently went on ahead of his guard, despite the desperate men abroad. Power said, ‘I reckoned on his carelessness, and plotted to catch him unawares on a bit of the road where he would be at my mercy. On a lovely morning, deep in the heart of the Gippsland bush, I pulled my pistols out of the holsters cocked them, and held them in readiness. By and bye I heard a horse cantering quietly along, and a man singing merrily in the pure morning air. As he came round a bend I knew it was Sir William Stawell, and gripped my pistols tighter. As he neared me Sir William shot a swift glance at me from his eagle eyes, never moved a muscle, although he must have guessed my purpose, said “Good morning, Power,” and cantered on. I could not shoot.’

Ned Kelly’s Mistake.

“Power held that Ned Kelly made a fool of himself at the end. ‘Thank God!’ he exclaimed, as he rapidly sketched his life, ‘I never killed a man. Kelly ought to be hanged. If he had had any sense he would not have shot Sergeant Kennedy, but have bided his time, caught him, tied him up, and put all the troopers in the pub, and have left them until called for. That would have covered the force with ridicule, and have gained him great public sympathy.’

The Brave Man’s Silence.

“A brave, taciturn man was C. H. Nicholson. When he was a cadet he went to the Kilmore district with a warrant to arrest a noted Tasmanian bushranger. He lost one of his men in the first attempt, got assistance from the Kilmore police, picked up the bushranger’s tracks and went after him armed with one of the old pepper-box four-barrelled pistols. When he overtook the desperado, the latter, resting his pistol on the pummel of his saddle, fired at Nicholson. The bullet cut obliquely across his cheek, severing the nerve which connects with what we call the eye tooth. From this wound Nicholson suffered for many a year. But to continue, Nicholson fired and missed. The chase commenced again, and Nicholson fired two more shots without result. The bushranger, finding that he was still followed, lifted his jacket to show that his waist belt was studded with pistols. But Nicholson was not to be frightened away. He determined to get to close quarters before using his last barrel. Getting on the left-hand side of his quarry, so that he could not use his pistol-hand freely, he rode right up to him, pulled the trigger and it missed fire. Letting it drop, he threw his arm round the bushranger’s neck, and both rolled to the ground. After a struggle, Nicholson took him prisoner. Except to his family, who got it out in bits, Nicholson never told how he risked his life in this venture. I looked up the court trial in the papers to learn something about the adventure, and all that I read was — ‘Charles Hope Nicholson, a cadet in the police force, duly sworn, said, “I arrested accused on a warrant near Kilmore.”‘”

Old Government House, 1854

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