GOVERNOR BOURKE

& the Founding of the Port Phillip District


[Dr. Maxwell Waugh]

Dr. Maxwell Waugh gives Details of Governor Bourke's Life

When Dr. Maxwell Waugh was lecturing at Monash University, he discovered that Richard Bourke, the 8th Governor of New South Wales, was passionate about education and was the catalyst behind the introduction in 1848 of a free, secular and compulsory system of State Education.

Richard Bourke was born in Dublin in 1877 into a family of land owners. He was educated in England where he qualified for the bar. He would have been influenced by his statesman relative, Edmund Bourke.

Bourke obtained a loan in 1799 to buy a commission into the Grenadier Guards. He fought with the British against the French, the South Americans and the Spanish, rising to the rank of Colonel by 1814. He suffered a bullet wound to his jaw whilst fighting.

Following 2 1/2 years as Acting Governor in South Africa, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales and on his arrival in Sydney in 1831 he found a colony deeply divided between the powerful landowners led by John Macarthur and the emancipated convicts and free settlers under William Wentworth.

Bourke was horrified at the treatment of convicts and introduced legislation restricting the powers of magistrates. He allowed for all religions to be treated equally and organised the formation of a Government Savings Bank to prevent the exploitation of poor citizens, especially convicts. He introduced freedom of the press and trial by jury. He instigated the Bounty System of immigration.

The three settlements in Port Phillip were under way before his Squatters Act was drafted. This Act allowed for settlers to lease land beyond the restrictions of the 19 counties.

In 1827 John Batman and solicitor Joseph Gellibrand requested permission from Governor Ralph Darling to run sheep in the Port Phillip District. Frustrated by Darling's refusal, the Port Phillip Association was formed in 1835. John Batman made his treaties with native tribes for the purchase of 600,000 acres extending around Port Phillip Bay following which Gellibrand made a report which was sent to Governor George Arthur in Hobart, Van Diemen's Land. Governor Arthur was sympathetic and forwarded the report to the Home Office along with his recognition of the respectability of the Port Phillip Association. He feigned ignorance over who had jurisdiction in the Port Phillip District and asked for clarification, making it clear he would be interested in governing the new settlement. He then waited a month before informing Governor Bourke of these events.

Governor Bourke was furious, and issued a proclamation declaring, under the doctrine of terra nullius, that the treaty was null and void and that the settlers were trespassers. The proclamation was declared in Sydney, Hobart, Launceston and Perth but not in Melbourne until another 12 months had passed. Bourke deliberately delayed for 6 weeks informing the Colonial Secretary of his proclamation, knowing that a reply would take 12 months. In his dispatch he pleaded for the settlements at Port Phillip and Twofold Bay to be recognised. Mindful of the aborigines in these settlements, Bourke sent magistrate George Stewart, and two policemen to Port Phillip following reports of attacks on aborigines at Western Port Bay. George Langhorne was sent to care for the aborigines and set up a mission and school which were on the site of Melbourne's present-day Royal Botanical Gardens.

Lord Glenelg in London sanctioned the new settlements on 1 September 1836 with Bourke to be in control. Bourke issued proclamations declaring the settlements legal and appointed Captain William Lonsdale as resident police magistrate. Lonsdale arrived on 27 September 1836 on "HMS Rattlesnake". The brig "Stirlingshire" brought 30 soldiers and 33 convicts.

Bourke visited the Port Phillip District in March 1837. He approved the site of the township and requested that Surveyor Robert Hoddle complete the work started by Robert Russell. The first land sales were held at 10 am on 1 June 1837.

Robert Bourke was a popular Governor. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Governor in 1837 and General in 1851. In December 1837 he returned to Ireland and lived the life of a country gentleman. He died suddenly in 1855. His wife Elizabeth Jane had died in Parramatta, New South Wales in 1832. A statue funded by public subscription was later erected outside the Mitchell Library in Sydney, NSW.

(The Above is a Report on the Address by Dr. Maxwell Waugh at the General Meeting on 9 September 2006)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )


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