COMMEMORATING THE PORT PHILLIP PIONEERS -
AN HISTORIAN'S POINT OF VIEW

[Paul de Serville at November 2014 Meeting]

Paul de Serville Gives Some Fair Dinkum Advice About Historians and Our Pioneer Ancestors

In a 'meandering' talk Paul de Serville discussed the attitude of the'immigrants' who arrived in Victoria during the gold rush, towards the Port Phillip Pioneers or 'settlers,' and the treatment of the Pioneers by historians as 'Men of Yesterday,' a phrase used by the author Margaret Kiddle for the title of her book describing the social history of the Western District of Victoria.

Victoria has gone through critical times which have changed its social make up significantly. It has been a history of survival, success and failure. The depression of the early 1840s ruined so many pioneer families. Some returned to their home of origin poorer than when they had left. Others became financially insecure but didn't have the means to pay for the trip home whilst the surviving core of Port Phillip society withdrew into itself or as the author Martin Boyd wrote, they 'drew in their skirts from the vulgar public.' Some stayed in public life however and the Melbourne Club, established in 1838, is the oldest secular institution remaining in Victoria. James Graham, merchant, is the only Port Phillip Pioneer who has a descendant a member of the club today. Graham's letters offer a rich view of Port Phillip as does the 32 volume diary (1834-1865) kept by pioneer Annie Maria Baxter-Dawbin.

The gold rush in Victoria coincided with Separation from New South Wales and with the influx of some 580,000 people in the 1850s, the Pioneers were regarded as ignorant, as old fashioned and rather backward, as indeed they had earlier regarded the Aborigines. Those immigrants of the 1850s had experienced the Chartist Movement and they didn't like the squatters with their control of Crown lands.

The remnants of the Pioneers had thought that with Separation they would be able to run their own affairs but they were displaced by the gold seekers, and the pastoralists from the Western District, who were from humble Scottish origins and lacking in culture according to Martin Boyd. While these pastoral families controlled the Legislative Council and fought against selectors, and politicans, the Port Phillip Pioneers kept their heads down and didn't become involved. The pastoralists were in turn displaced by the 'Toorak Rich' - those who survived the boom and bust of the 1800s and 1890s. Following on were World War I and World War II after which was another huge influx of migrants.

At Melbourne University Paul studied a text book written by Gordon Greenwood. Written after World War II, Paul found it to be patronising to the pre 1850s. He believes the story of Australia should include all strands of its history starting with the conservative tradition from 1788 which included order, property and inheritance. He also believes social history should be included. Although facts about the union movement, the Harvester Judgement, and the arbitration system are necessary, they don't make for interesting reading. Greenwood's text book reflects the times in which it was written. It has almost nothing about aborigines or women and little about social history. Women have tended to be the best writers of social history in Australia, but Martin Boyd's story "The Montfords" is the book which made Paul realise Australian history was interesting. Boyd depicted the upper and middle class, based on his Port Phillip relatives.

Women historians along with Margaret Kiddle were Marnie Bassett who wrote "The Hentys," and Lady Alexandra Hasluck who wrote about the Western Australian amateur botanist Georgiana Molloy.

Well known publications about Victoria include Alexander Sutherland's "Melbourne and Its Metropolis," Billis and Kenyon's "Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip" and the genealogical work of Sir Bernard Burke and sons, "Burke's Colonial Gentry" which Paul describes as shameful. Anthony Trollope told the colonists not to boast but the 1850s men liked biographical compilations which showed how well they had done.

Paul found that what historians ignored, novelists took up. Amongst authors who produced character studies were Henry Kinsley ("The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn"); Elizabeth A. Murray, wife of Virginius Murray, goldfields warden and police magistrate, (the 3 volume novel, "Ella Norman or A Woman's Perils"); Jessie Couvreur, who used the pseudonym 'Tasma' ("Uncle Piper of Piper's Hill"); Ada Cambridge ("Thirty Years in Australia") and Thomas Alexander Browne using the pseudonym Rolf Boldrewood ("Old Melbourne Memories").

Port Phillip Pioneer authors included Henry Field Gurner, Francis de Labilliere, Henry Giles Turner, George Rusden, Thomas McCombie, Edward Curr and William Westgarth. Paul found Labilliere and McCombie boring, Rusden outrageous, and the memoirs of Edward Curr of great value, whilst the most important general works on Port Phillip society were writen by merchant William Westgarth.

After an absence of thirty years Westgarth returned to Melbourne in 1888 for Australia's Centenary celebrations. The contrast of the present with his recollection of the past must have overpowered him. At the end of a long procession of dignitaries, leading to the opening of the 1888 Centenary Exhibition, Westgarth walked with another 'time tossed' figure, Francis Henty, the latter representing his late father Edward Henty, the real founder of Victoria, according to the "South Australian Register."

For Paul, two pioneers stand out amongst the young bachelors in Port Phillip from titled or landed gentry: George Arden who was descended from the oldest Anglo-Saxon family to survive the Norman Conquest and Compton Ferrers whose lineage dated back to King Stephen in 1141. Other genealogically important people came from Celtic backgrounds, like Georgiana McCrae; from Anglo-Irish backgrounds, like Redmond Barry and William Stawell; and from Irish cousinage, like Pomeroy Greene and Mrs. Francis Chomley.

Research efforts for Paul's book "Port Phillip Gentlemen" were described as 'frivolous.' His genealogical work described as 'so very snobbish.' And this by a pearl wearing lady, believed to be a sherry drinker.

Paul considers that because of tedious text books and poor teaching, Victorian students know little about the Port Phillip era. It is a forgotten society. He regards Edmund Finn ('Garryowen') as the pioneer of social history and hopes that we, in our genealogical stories include as much social history as possible and that we read from the above sources.

( The above is a report on Paul de Serville's address at the General Meeting on 8 November 2014 )

( Contributed by Jan Hanslow. PPPG Member No. 1057 )


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