[Letters from Victorian Pioneers 1983]

A valuable source of information about the early settlement of Victoria is a collection of letters written by the early settlers themselves and published as "Letters from Victorian Pioneers" in 1898. Most of these letters were written in response to a printed circular privately distributed throughout Victoria in late July 1853 by Charles Joseph La Trobe who sought information as to the time and circumstances of the first occupation of their respective areas. He also requested information about the habits and customs of the aborigines. La Trobe was making plans to return to Europe and was collecting material to take with him in order to write a history of the Colony. About sixty replies were received to his circular.

After arriving back in Europe he collected additional information and made some progress in the writing his book. However his eyesight began to fail and by 1866 he was blind. His source material and manuscript stayed with him until 1872 when he decided to send them back to Melbourne. They were addressed to his attorney and business agent, James Graham. The documents arrived on the "Norfolk" in early August, and on 21 August 1872 Graham donated them to the Melbourne Public Library. Sir Redmond Barry wrote a personal letter of thanks to La Trobe for his gift. In the years that followed there were a number of attempts made to publish a copy of this material. The Librarian, Dr. Thomas Francis Bride, prepared the letters for the Government Printer but it was not until 1898 that the book was eventually published. In this first edition each piece of correspondence was given an individual, consecutive number. The names of the authors of the individual letters are:

[Lt.-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe]

AITKEN, John (c1792-1858) (Mount Aitken)
ARMYTAGE, George (1795-1862) ("Hermitage")
BELL, Edward (1814-1871) (Wimmera)
BLAIR, James (c1813-1889) (Portland)
CAMPBELL, Archibald Macarthur (1817-1897) ("Ganawarra")
CAMPBELL, Colin (1817-1903)
CARFRAE, John (1821-1885) ("Ledcourt") (only appears in 1898 edition)
CHIRNSIDE, Thomas (1815-1887) (Point Cook)
CLARKE, William John Turner (1805-1874) (Melbourne)
CLOW, James (Rev.) (1790-1861) (Melbourne)
CLOW, James Maxwell (1820-1894) ("Pine Plains")
DANA, Henry Edward Pulteney (1820-1852) (Written about him by C. J. La Trobe)
DAVENPORT, Frances Anna (Mrs.) (c1823-1897) (only appears in 1898 edition)
DRYDEN, Edward (1808-1886) (Macedon)
DWYER, Henry ("Victoria Valley") (only appears in 1898 edition)
FAITHFULL, George (1814-1855) (Wangaratta)
FISHER, David (1801-1879) ("Roslin," Geelong)
FOSTER, Leslie (Avoca)
FYANS, Foster (Captain) (1790-1870)
GARDINER, John (1798-1878) (Note by C. J. La Trobe about him)
GELLIBRAND, Joseph Tice (1786-1837) (Memorandum of his trip to Port Phillip in 1836)
GRIMES, Edward (c1811-1859) (only appears in 1898 edition)
HALL, Charles Browning (1817?- ) (Amherst, Burnbank)
HART, John (1809-1873) (Melbourne)
HENTY, Stephen George (1811-1872) (Portland)
HEPBURN, John (c1799-1860) ("Smeaton Hill")
HUTTON, Charles (1808-1879) (Melbourne)
JAMIESON, Hugh (Addressed to Bishop Charles Perry)
JAMIESON, Robert (1812-1894) (Melbourne)
LEARMONTH, Thomas (1783-1869) (Buninyong)
MACKAY, George Edward (1811-1888) ("Tarrawingee")
MANIFOLD, Thomas (1807-1875) (Warrnambool)
McLEOD, John Norman (1816-1886) ("Tahara")
McMILLAN, Angus (1810-1865) ("Bushy Park")
MERCER, George Duncan (1814-1884) ("Weatherboard," near Geelong)
MOLLISON, William Thomas (1816-1886) ("Pyalong")
MURRAY, Hugh (1814-1869) (Colac)
PATTERSON, John Hunter (1810-1859) ("Moorabee")
PYKE, Thomas Henry (1808-1861) (Upper Werribee, Ballan)
RAYMOND, William Odell (c1810-1859) ("Stratford")
ROBERTSON, John George (1803-1863) ("Wando Vale")
ROSE, Philip David (Melbourne)
SHERARD, Charles Wale (1820-1889) (Creswick Creek) (only appears in 1898 edition)
SIMSON, Hector Norman (1820-1880) (Charlotte Plains)
SNODGRASS, Peter (1817-1867) (St. Kilda)
SPLATT, William Francis (1810-1893) (Melbourne)
STURT, Evelyn Pitfield (1816-1885) (Lonsdale Street, Melbourne)
TAYLOR, William (1818-1903) ("Longerenong," Wimmera)
TEMPLETON, John (c1817-1870) (Kyneton)
THOMAS, William (1793-1867)
THOMSON, Alexander (Dr.) (1800-1866)
THOMSON, Alfred Taddy (C1818-1895) ("Fiery Creek")
TYERS, Charles James (1806-1870) (Alberton, Gippsland)
WEDGE, Charles (1810-1895)
WINTER, Thomas (Addressed to Mr. Swainson c1837)
YOUNG, Henry Edward Fox (Sir) (1808-1870) (Addressed to Norman Campbell, Esq.)

[Letters from Victorian Pioneers 1898]

Over the years the book became scarce and difficult to access. A new edition was therefore published in 1969 containing biographical details about the authors of each of the letters provided by Charles Edward Sayers. A third edition was published in 1983 which included the notes by C. E. Sayers together with a foreword by Helen Vellacott. These later editions grouped the letters under the subject headings of First Seekers; Portland Bay, Western District; North East and Gippsland; Central Plains, Wimmera; The Mallee and the Murray and Aborigines. The letters of John Carfrae, Charles Wale Sherard, Henry Dwyer and Edward Grimes were omitted as was a list of names and specimens of the language of the Barrabool Aborigines prepared by Mrs. F. A. Davenport, a daughter of Charles Wightman Sievewright.

The letters are now located in the Manuscript Collection of the State Library of Victoria at MS 10749, Box 60/1-13. Each letter is housed in an individual transparent archival quality sleeve with a cardboard backing sheet. The handwriting on the letters is generally good and readable. Several have a small symbol embossed on the top left hand corner of the first page. A number of them were originally folded to form their own envelope. Of these one or two contain holes where the postage stamp was removed, however the post office cancellation stamps remain. One contains the remains of red sealing wax. Some of the letters have been repaired with butterfly tape and some have had tape applied to the left-hand side of the pages to bind the sheets into a small booklet. One or two have a small ribbon inserted in a hole to hold the pages together.

This collection of letters provide an interesting sample as to what types of paper were being privately used in Victoria in 1853. Nearly all of the letters were either cream or light blue in colour. Their size varies from small notepaper to as large as folded double foolscap. However their watermarks, or lack thereof, show them to have been produced from a wide variety of sources. Most of those without watermarks were probably imported from China. Nearly all of those with watermarks were made in the British Islands. At that time most British watermarks included the maker's name, the year of manufacture and a symbol such as a circular picture of Britannia with a crown on top. Most of the watermarked paper in this collection was made in the late 1840s or early 1850s.

The collection holds a number of items in addition to the letters. In La Trobe's own handwriting are listed a number of subject headings with a note of which of the letters contain information relevant to those subjects. There are notes on various localities around Victoria such as Colac; The Wannon; The Coliban; The Murray Plain, etc. He also prepared a list of additional sources which he wished to consult for further information. His rough draft of a chapter for the book covering the Settlement at Sorrento in 1803-1804 is also included. In different handwriting is a brief timeline of events at Port Phillip for 1840 - 1841; notes on the first discovery of gold in Victoria, and the following list of Officers on board "H.M.S. Rattlesnake" at Port Phillip 1836-1837 ( and their location in 1855 ):

HOBSON, William (Captain) - Died as Governor of New Zealand in 184-
RICHARDS, Charles (1st Lieutenant) - Died in 1844 - A Captain and C.B.
HENRY, Hastings R. (2nd Lieutenant) - Now Captain Yelverton in Command of "H.M.S. Arrogant"
SYMONDS, Thomas M. C. (3rd Lieutenant) - Captain, Late in Command of "H.M.S. Arethusa" in Black Sea
POPE, Charles (Master) - Master Attendant Chatham Dockyard
WILLIAMSON, C. C. (1st Lieutenant, Royal Marines) - Retired Major, Royal Marines
KING, Daniel, M.D. (Surgeon) - Died at Halifax in 1847
BROWN, Thomas (Purser) - Died in China in 1843
NORCOCK, John Hen. (Mate) - Died "Commander" in 1854
COOKE, John M. (Mate) - Commander, Half Pay
BENETT, John C. (Mate) - Retired from H.M.S. 1838 - A Missionary in Canada
SHORTLAND, Pet. Frederick (Mate) - "Commander" Employed in Survey at Bay of Fundy
BOWLER, John W. (Assistant Surgeon) - Surgeon
BATEMAN, Samuel H. (Second Master) - Dead
ILSON, John (Midshipman) - Lieutenant, Half Pay
GIRDLESTONE, Thomas B. (Midshipman) - Dead
SURTEES, Frederick A. (Midshipman) - Drowned at Plymouth by Upsetting of Boat in 1838
LODDEN, Charles A. (Midshipman) - Lieutenant, Half Pay
PECHELL, Charles (Midshipman) - Lieutenant, Half Pay
McGRIGOR, Charles G. (Midshipman) - Lieutenant, "H.M.S. James Watt"
SMITH, Edwin A. (Clerk) - Paymaster
BOONE, John (Assistant Clerk) - Dead

( Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes - PPPG Member No. 52 )

( Charles Joseph La Trobe Image Source: State Library of Victoria )

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