When Tony Hargreaves began work at the County Court in 1971 he was requested to clear out the old archives. He came upon four bundles of documents from the time when Melbourne was known as the Port Phillip District and he asked if he could keep them.
Twenty years passed before he looked at them again. One of the bundles involved details of insolvencies at a time in history when people were imprisoned if they could not pay their bills. In reality if a person found several friends or colleagues to vouch for him and act as surety then he would be released from gaol. And so these documents were mostly signed bail notices and some discharge documents. Less than 100 of the 456 signatures on these files belonged to the insolvent person himself (there was only one female signature), but were people otherwise involved.
After much research Tony Hargreaves has a book almost ready for publication. He has included in the book only the names of people whose signatures appear on a document and he provides relative dates and stories about these people.
Many names are well-known such as Judge John Willis, Dr. David Wilkie and George Wintle. But probably 300 names are of people 'unknown.' Thomas Arnold, who was one of the first notable people to become insolvent, brought down with him many other people he traded with and his file provided a dozen names to research.
The research has uncovered some unusual stories.
Skene Craig worked in partnership with Alexander Broadfoot as a shipping and commission agent. In 1841 they had a falling out and Broadfoot challenged Craig to a duel. Neither of them was injured and they continued to work happily together for another 12 years.
Horatio Nelson Carrington, solicitor, had been debarred by Judge Willis. He became insolvent in 1842 and when he was released on bail, he dressed as a woman and escaped to Sydney. Six months later, after Willis was sacked, he returned to Port Phillip and reapplied for a solicitor's licence but was unsuccessful.
After his final bankruptcy, land speculator, Henry Dendy had his household goods sold at auction. A bidding sheet has signatures of the people who made purchases. Henry Bland, squatter, bought a chair and sofa, William Andrew, a shopkeeper from Eltham, bought a sow and pigs whilst solicitor John Matthew Smith bought a bedstead.
Unknown to Hargreaves was William Huon whose signature appeared on an insolvency file for a gentleman named John Hume, but Huon, born 1825, was a co-founder of Wodonga. His father, Paul Huon established in 1834, a small settlement called Belvoir on the Hume River and managed the "Woodonga" Run. The Belvoir township later became known as Wodonga. William Huon's home called "de Kerilleau," was named after his grandfather, Gabriel Louis Marie Huon de Kerilleau who had settled in Sydney after escaping from Paris during the French Revolution.
Another early settler involved with the naming of a town was Sherbourne Sheppard who arrived in Port Phillip in 1851. He married the daughter of Jonathon Binns Were and in 1851 went to Tallygaroopna where he ran a holding he called Sheppardton. Sheppard was fortunately able to pay his way out of his insolvency and his holding developed into a township which in 1860 was named Shepparton.
John Bullivant arrived in Port Phillip in 1839. He established the "Waterloo Inn" and also worked as an auctioneer. His signature appears on a receipt regarding the auction of several bales of wool on 20 February 1844. These were probably the first bales to be sold in the Port Phillip District.
George Scarborough was also involved with auctions. Not a handsome man according to Garryowen, but worthy and energetic. He earned little in his role as pound keeper but if the animals in the pound were not claimed after 28 days he could sell them at auction and keep 50% of the takings. Garryowen in 1843 claimed that Scarborough had trained a magpie named 'professor' to made bids at the auctions. When Scarborough tipped his hat, the bird squawked - another bid - the so called 'bidder in the tree.'
Richard Beels whose signature is attached to a bankruptcy file has an interesting tale to tell. He signed on to "H.M.S. Fly" when it was commissioned to survey Torres Strait. After 4 years surveying the area the ship berthed in Port Phillip on its way back to England. Beels decided to jump ship and was arrested for desertion and remanded in custody. After 6 months in prison he was released by Judge a'Beckett and not charged as he argued that as "H.M.S. Fly" had returned to England there were no witnesses. Beels signed his name with an "X" and there is no record of him from that time on.
Anthony Collins arrived in Port Phillip in 1842. In 1855 a newspaper notice requested news of him as his father had died and he was to inherit some money. Collins seems to have also disappeared without leaving any trace.
There are many more stories and for Tony Hargreaves there are 19 unrecognisable signatures which he hopes one day to identify.
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