A meeting was held in Melbourne on 3 August 1853 to consider what was believed to be a very general feeling being manifested for a re-union of the Colonists of the "olden time." At this preliminary meeting chaired by the Town Clerk, William Kerr, it was resolved that a public meeting of Colonists of not less than ten years' standing should be immediately convened to considerier the propriety of holding an Old Colonists' Festival in Melbourne. Advertisements were subsequently placed in the newspapers calling for a Public General Meeting of all Colonists of not less than ten years standing to be held at the Shakespeare Hotel, corner Collins Street and Market Square, Melboure on Saturday, 6 August 1853. On that day "The Argus" reported:
GENTLEMEN OF THE OLD SCHOOL - The meeting of ten-year-olds takes place to-day, at three o'clock, at the Shakespeare Hotel. We shall expect much wisdom from these hoary sages. These 'patres conscripti' of the Colonial State, will no doubt act so as to secure the reverence of the new race that now crowd our streets, and almost cause old acquaintance to be forgot. Any 'new chum' of under ten years residence, if found near the place of meeting, is to be captured, and scalped without mercy.
The following Monday it was reported that between fifty and sixty old colonists had been present at this meeting. Mr. Chisholm, having been rather reluctantly induced to take the chair, stated the object of the meeting. There had been a time when fellowship existed amongst them, but now they walked the streets, day after day, and the sight of an old, and once familiar face was like an angel's visit. But they wished to establish something to keep up old and dear recollections, and it would be proposed to have a dinner, in order that at the same board might meet, now and then, those who really looked upon one another as brothers. William Kerr then proposed that a dinner be held and a committee be appointed to make the arrangements. Mr. Hull seconded the proposal and the motion was carried unanimously. The following committee was then appointed:- Aldermen Watson, Hodgson, and Cosgrave, Councillors Clowes, Hatch, and Davis; Messrs. Chisholm, Hull, J.P., Orr, Balbirnie, Niven, Fennell, Sutherland, Passmore, Dunn, Kerr, Bennett, Duncan, Stook, Purves, D. Young, Marsden, and Cadden. On the proposal of Mr. Passmore, it was determined to insert a minute of their proceedings in the newspapers ("The Argus" and "The Melbourne Morning Herald"), and invite the co-operation of all old colonists. A vote of thanks was moved by Mr. D. Young to the chairman, for his conduct in the chair; he was the first person he had met when he came ashore, fourteen years ago. Councillor Davis also moved a vote of thanks to Mr. Kerr, to whom all the credit of the present movement was due. Mr. Hull seconded the motion
The committee eventually decided to hold the function in the ballroom of the Criterion Hotel, 38-40 Collins Street West, Melbourne on Wednesday, 14 September 1853. The price of the tickets was fixed at £3 7s. 6d., and none but Victorians of ten years standing would be admitted. About three hundred gentlemen eventually sat down to the dinner, though the applications for tickets was much more numerous. It was noted that more could have been accomodated had an injunction in Chancery not prevented the proprietor of the Criterion Hotel, Samuel Moss, from carrying out his intention of enlarging the hall.
The Mayor of Melbourne, John Thomas Smith, acted as Chairman, and William Kerr, Town Clerk, filled the Vice-Chair. His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, Charles Joseph La Trobe, honoured the scene by his presence. The Colonial-Secretary, the High Sheriff, Major Arthur Leslie, Captain Morris, Alderman John Hodgson, Dr. Augustus Frederick Adolphus Greeves, John Goodman, Dr. Alexander Thomson, Mr. Myles, Mr. Graham, Mr. Highett, Henry John Miller, Mr. Annand, and other M.L.C.'s were also present.
The appointments were first-rate; and the whole of the arrangements in the best taste. Two magnificently carved chairs were placed for the Chairman and His Excellency. A seventy candle chandelier of most ample illuminating power threw a blaze of light in the centre of the hall; while a fraternity of lesser luminaries fully enlivened every other part and corner of the scene. The ornamental decorations were of flowers, very tastily arranged. There was an ingenious device of the Royal Crown on one side of the room; and this was faced by a representation in flowers and evergreens of the Prince of Wales's crest, the three feathers. It is almost needless to add, that the English and American flags were displayed.
A very superior orchestra under the direction of Herr Fischer, played during the evening the usual appropriate and enlivening strains. The celebrated artist, Mr. S. T. Gill was observed in the orchestra gallery, recording the scene with his industrious pencil. The bill of fare ran thus:
SOUP. - Ox tail, a l'Anglaise; vermicelli, a la Italien. Sherry.
FISH. - A la maitre de Hotel; a la Brochet; a la Regency; a la Criterion; a la Toulouse. Sherry.
ENTREES. - Saddle of mutton; loins of beef; brain fritters au gratin; boiled fowl, a la Victoria; croquet a la Polonais; calf's ears, turtle style; croquet o'lamb, a la Marechelle; Turban of Conde; veal cotelettef Talliho style. Hock ans Sherry.
VEGETABLES. - Potatoes, fried; ditto, a la maitre d'Hotel; ditto, Lionaise; cauliflower; ditto, au gratin; trifolis, a la Espagnoie.
ROAST. - Lamb, stag fashion; turkey, various styles; goose, a la Richelieu; ditto, a la Robespierre; duck, a la Prince of Wales; fowl, a la Criterion; salad. Champagne.
DESSERT. - Cream de vanille; ditto, almond; calfs-foot jelly; blanc-mange; confectionery. Sparkling hock and Moselle.
FRUITS. - Apples; oranges; almonds; raisins, &c. Claret.
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The dessert having been placed on the table, the Chairman called upon those assembled to charge their glasses and proposed the first toast which was, of course, "Her most gracious Majesty the Queen." This was enthusiastically received and drank upstanding with loud cheers. Air. - "God save the Queen."
The Chairman next gave "His Royal Highness Prince Albert and the rest of the Royal Family." (Loud and long-continued cheering.) Air. - "Soni la tromba."
The Chairman next proposed "His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor." (Prolonged cheering.) The toast was drunk upstanding, with Kentish fire; the band played the air, "He's a jolly good fellow." His Excellency, on rising, was very warmly received. He said that as an old Colonist of fourteen years' standing, they would give him credit for what he said and what he felt on the present occasion. He was grateful for the honor that had been conferred on him, and for the pleasure they had afforded him in inviting him to the present gathering. He felt assured that when he retired from this colony he should carry away with him the good feelings and good wishes of them all; and if at any time his services were looked upon as having been useful, he should feel gratified, and at all times should be proud in being looked upon and remembered as 'an old colonist.' (Cheers)
The Chairman next proposed "The Army and Navy," which was warmly received, and responded to by Captain Morris. Air. - "Rule Britannia."
The Vice-Chairman then proposed "The Members of the Legislative Council." (Cheers) Air. - "The Garland Polka." The toast was acknowledged by John Goodman, M.L.C. who noted that it might be a matter of pride for those present to know, that with three exceptions the members of that body all belonged to their own particular body 'the old colonists.' (Cheers.) The members of the Legislative Council were prepared to meet the present emergency, and felt that the old colonists, by their confidence and ability would be enabled to carry it through, come what might. (Cheers.)
Mr. Purves then proposed "The Bench and the Bar," which was warmly received by the company and responded to by Charles James Griffith, M.L.C. Air. - "Do it again."
Mr. Hull proposed the next toast, which was "The Clergy of the Colony." Owing to the great confusion and want of order prevailing in the room, few were able to catch any of the remarks made by the proposer, and the toast was drunk amidst great disorder.
The Chairman then gave what he described as the toast of the evening, - "The Pioneers of Victoria, the Colonists of ten years' standing." In concluding he said the colonists of Victoria had a most important part to play in future events, and it would rest with them to say whether a great nation under British rule, and British law and government, should exist, or whether in time to come the colony should fall back. (Cries of "Out of order," and "No politics.") The Chairman's remarks were subjected to considerable interruption from sundry of the company, who had by this time become quite excited. Air. - "Auld Acquaintance." Dr. Alexander Thomson rose to acknowledge the toast but the noise was at this time so great, as to put a stop to further proceedings for the present.
It was at this time, about ten o'clock, that His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, and almost all the occupants of the Chairman's table left the hall. But shortly after the Governor had left, there arose a scene that beggars description. The chairman and stewards having vainly endeavored by moral force to preserve order, it was necessary to call in the physical aid of the police, and a scene of riot and disorder ensued which had seldom been equalled in Melbourne. William John Turner Clarke appeared to have somehow or other become obnoxious to his neighbours at the table; and at length cries of 'turn him out' stimulated some of the bolder spirits to attempt his expulsion. "Come one, come all," was Mr. Clarke's fierce defiance, and a desperate struggle commenced, which initiated a general row at his part of the room. A sympathetic feeling moved the majority of the company to mount the tables to have a better view of the convivial affray, and in a few minutes the feet of the company occupied the situation formerly filled by the dishes upon the table. Wine, wine bottles, wine glasses, punchbowls, and their fragrant contents were summarily kicked down and the table cloths soon presented anything but their original snow-white purity.
Another fight of two followed suit, and it was now quite obvious that all further peaceable enjoyment during that evening was quite out of the question. In vain the powerful band exerted their utmost powers to drown the hubbub; the eager voices of the parties to the scrimmage overpowered even the big drum and cymbals. The polite were at length invoked, and in spite of a most desperate resistance, Mr. Clarke was forcibly removed by these guardians of the peace. The most troublesome customer being removed, several other lesser gents opened fire upon the few remaining hopes of peace and quietness. Several drunker orators wished to be heard all at once. Hopeless of seeing anything like decency rule the behaviour of his customers during that evening, the disgusted proprietor of the Criterion gave orders to 'put the lights out.' Some of the wine-warmed still hesitated to remove themselves, and it was not until the hotel-keeper's invitation to absent themselves was still more strongly urged upon their attention that they finally left the hall.
After a short time, about thirty or forty of the more sober gentlemen, under the presidency of the Mayor, assembled in an upper room in the Criterion, and the following toasts were drunk: "Victoria, the land of our adoption." Proposed by Mr. Sutherland. "The Mayor and Corporation of the City of Melbourne," proposed by Mr. Purves, and responded to by the Mayor. "The Press," proposed by the Chairman. "All deserving old colonists in distress, if any such there be," proposed by Mr. Kerr. "The Town Clerk of Melbourne," proposed by Mr. Budd, and duly responded to by Mr. Kerr. The health of the Chairman was then drunk; to which he briefly replied; and the meeting separated at a little after twelve; the gentlemen present all expressing their deep regret at the untoward events of the early part of the evening.
At the City Police Court the following day, William J. T. Clarke appeared before His Worship, the Mayor, Mr. Sturt, the Police Magistrate, and Captain M'Mahon, to answer to a charge of being drunk and disorderly. Mr. Sturt, the magistrate, stated that he was at the Criterion Hotel last evening, and witnessed the disturbance which took place after dinner and for Mr. Clarke's sake and for the sake of the public peace, gave Clarke into the custody of the police.
Constables Ryan and Pilkington were sworn, and stated that no harshness whatever had been used towards Mr. Clarke, who resisted in the most violent manner. Constable Ryan stated that Mr. Clarke was at the time drunk and Constable Pilkington said that the defendant made great resistance on being taken to the watchhouse though he begged him to go quietly.
Mr. Clarke claimed he had only taken two or three glasses of wine during the day, and never was drunk or in any way refractory. He had attended the Festival at the request of two of the stewards; and when the Mayor proposed the health of "The Pioneers", he (Mr. Clarke) had been requested to reply, and was in the act of doing so, when Mr. Purves (one of the Stewards) pulled him down. Mr. Sturt, he admitted, had done all in his power on the occasion, but as to the charge of drunkeness alleged against him, (Mr. Clarke) he indignantly denied it, as he had never been so in his life. He said he was pushed from one end of the room to the other, and very ill treated, both in and out of the room and had only defended himself. He offered no resistance to the police and had been guilty of no offence. The police had treated him in a most violent manner; though ready to go with them he was not allowed to walk, but was dragged through the streets to the watchhouse. John Orr and a Mr. Gray (who sat next to Mr. Clarke at the dinner) gave evidence in support of Mr. Clarke.
The Mayor said that in his judgement the most charitable construction which could be put on Mr. Clarke's conduct was to say that he was drunk. Then, addressing the defendant, he said - "Your conduct was most shameful, as I myself witnessed it. It was scandalous that you, if you have any pretensions to be a gentleman, cannot act as one, nor permit gentlemen to meet together without your creating a disturbance. You were the originator of the disturbance: and no plausible excuse can be offered for your conduct, except that you were drunk. Dr. Thomson was speaking at the time when you got on a table and interrupted him, and refused to sit down when I begged you to do so, and thereby you occasioned the disturbance which took place subsequently. I took nothing at all to drink myself during the first part of the evening. I was not, therefore, at all excited, but was a cool spectator of what you did. I spoke to you, but you had not the decency or decorum to heed what was said to you, or to respect the presence of those gentlemen who were there. I impose a fine of £10 on you, which is the highest penalty I can inflict. I know that that sum is of no consequence to you, and therefore am in great doubt whether I ought not to punish you in a different way."
Mr. Clarke said he was exceedingly sorry for what had happened, and it was the first time in his life that such a charge had been preferred against him. The fine was paid and the matter dropped.
Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes (PPPG Member No. 52)
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