PORTLAND - "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Anything but the Truth"


[Anne Grant]

Anne Grant Tells the Truth about the History of Portland Bay

Anne Grant and her colleagues have discovered that research often reveals surprising facts behind stories which have been passed down through time.

Edward Henty is given credit for being the first resident of Portland Bay as he arrived with stock and plants and with the intention to stay, but there are other contenders: the Mills Brothers who were sealers for example and William Dutton. Dutton was definitely there in 1829 and built a hut in 1830. George Jackson, a seaman painted this house on his only documented voyage to Portland Bay in 1833. Dutton went backwards and forwards to Launceston but was in Portland when Edward Henty arrived in 1834.

An elderly William Dutton told how he was born in Sydney to immigrants Henry and Margaret Dutton and that later moved to Tasmania. Anne's research has revealed that William was the son of convicts Henry Dutton and catherine Sullivan who were held on Norfolk Island. The family did later move to Tasmania.

Another contender was James Sinclair, boat builder and cooper for William Dutton's sealing enterprises.

Many people claimed they had arrived with Henty, but Henty's boat was not that big. Perhaps they had arrived in 1851 when 37 ships brought 11,395 immigrants to Portland. Nine people claimed to be Henty's first ploughman, but Henty's diary suggests he did the early ploughing himself.

The first cemetery was in the grounds of the Church of England. Catholic children were buried in its garden until a civil cemetery was opened. There were originally no clergy and no records were kept, but when the North Portland Cemetery was opened the bodies were moved to the new cemetery. Some of the early residents are only known by their headstones and less than 90 markers have survived.

Amongst the early burials was 6 year old Henrietta Earls. Some research has revealed an inquest into her death. William McVae, Edward Henty's transporter, was taking Henrietta to her father at Fitzroy Crossing, north of Portland. He is said to have panicked after he raped her. He said his cart overturned and a bag of flour landed on her face smothering her. McVae was charged with rape not murder but was not convicted. Death was said to have been the result of misadventure.

Another inquest examined the death of Sarah Leahy in 1840 who was murdered by her husband Thomas Leahy. Thomas was found guilty and sentenced to hang but this was commuted to 'transportation'. Later due to a legal technicality he was given a reprieve and was assigned to Police Magistrate James Blair at Portland Gaol where he worked as a flagellator.

James Blair was an Irish Catholic law enforcer working in a predominately English, Church of England settlement of rough whalers, sailors and ex-convicts. When he arrived in Portland with Daniel Primrose, Clerk to the Bench, Customs Officer and post Master, there were no amenities for them. Later when Primrose rode to Melbourne by horse and said he was too sick to work he was replaced.

Blair was regarded as a hard man except by the Irish . Lawlessness and drunkenness was rife. The gaol designed by James Rattenbury lacked security enabling prisoners to escape. Blair was also Commissioner for Affidavits, Clerk of Court of Requests, Commissioner for Crown Lands, Deputy Sherriff, Immigration Agent and agent for the local bank and the Bank of Victoria. He was paid for these separately.

In 1853, when a prisoner named Johnson was uncooperative, Chief Constable Thomas Adamson stabbed him in the leg three times with a bayonet. Johnson later requested pen and paper to write a complaint. According to the Melbourne "Herald" he wrote the letter in his own blood. Following an Inquiry, an order for the 'entire removal' of Thomas Adamson was issued. Adamson became a grocer.

The first Presbyterian minister, Rev. Alexander Laurie arrived in 1842. Laurie said his wife's deafness was caused by a chill but police records show that Mrs. Laurie had charged her husband with assault. After this, Laurie and the church parted company and he started the "Portland Herald" newspaper in 1850. When he got into difficulties his wife took over. Later, after his death, and her remarriage she set up the Mount Gambier "Border Watch" and her descendants have been involved with the paper until the 1980s. The only newspaper surviving from the nineteenth century is "The Observer."

The newspapers of the day, Police Magistrate's records, etc. give answers to a lot of questions. However an event involving whalers and the local aborigines, the Kilcarer Gundidji, prior to white settlement still has ramifications today. In a dispute over a whale carcass which had washed ashore, 60 to 200 aborigines were said to have been massacred on land afterwards called the 'Convincing Ground.' Some people argue that the story is fantasy. None the less, a dispute over this land, which was also the site of the first whaling station, is affecting the present owner some 180 years later.

Portland's history is very rich, with stories involving many people, such as Mary McKillop and the Dacomb sisters who developed a simplified Shorthand system. Portland's stories are not always as straight forward as we might think.

[Anne Grant]

( The above is a report on Anne Grant's address at the General Meeting on 12 May 2011 )

Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )


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