Last year I received a letter from a Mr. Eric Dickson, of Taunton, Somerset, in England, who was seeking information about his ancestor, Captain Peter Hunter, the master of John Pascoe Fawkner's schooner, "Enterprise", at the time of the foundation of Melbourne.
In subsequent correspondence Mr. Dickson stated that he had in his possession Peter Hunter's apprenticeship indentures bearing date 24th November 1796, by which he agreed to be bound for three years to a ship-owner and to be taught to be a mariner. Mr. Dickson also has the plans of a cottage that Captain Hunter caused to be built on land he owned in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, about November 1839.
Peter Hunter was born in early September 1775, the second son of a farmer named George Hunto and his wife Mary (nee Johnston), at Scorn, a croft situated two miles south of Birsay, on Mainland, the largest of the cold windswept Orkney Islands, which are separated by Pentland Firth from the mainland of Scotland.
It is not known from whom Peter received his education, but at the age of 21 years he was apprenticed to a ship-owner named Francis Hurry, of Howdon on the River Tyne, and served his master on board a vessel named the "John and Margaret". By this time, Peter had adandoned the original Norse spelling of his surname Hunto in preference to the more usual form of Hunter.
On 24th February 1802 Peter Hunter, mariner, aged 26 years, married Isabella Robson, spinster, at Howdon Pans near Newcastle upon Tyne. They had a family of seven children, three of whom died in infancy. On the baptismal of his youngest child (1818), the father is described as a "Master Mariner". Isabella died in March 1824, aged 45 years.
Early in the year 1834 Captain Hunter resigned his employment on the River Tyne and came to Australia. His first engagement was probably as mate of the schooner "Elizabeth", which was employed in transporting wattle bark from Western Port to Launceston.
On 21st November of the same year the schooner "Enterprise" arrived at Hobart from Sydney, with Captain Peter Hunter as master, and continued to trade between Hobart, Launceston and Sydney until July of 1835, when John Pascoe Fawkner (who had purchased the vessel in April 1835) provisioned the "Enterprise" for a trip to Port Phillip, with the intention of forming a settlement.
The "Enterprise", 55 tons, Peter Hunter, master, sailed from George Town (V.D.L.) on 27th July, conveying Fawkner's expedition, organised by him for the purpose of occupying land either at Western Port or Port Phillip. The party comprised John Pascoe Fawkner, publican, William Jackson, carpenter, Robert Hay Marr, carpenter, John H. Lancey, master mariner, and George Evans, plasterer. Fawkner took with him as employees, James Gilbert, blacksmith, and his wife, Mary, and Charles Wise, farm hand,and George Evans, a servant, Evan Evans. Samuel Jackson, who paid £7 to Fawkner for his passage, as his brother, Lancey, Marr, and George Evans had done, on the stipulation that a whale-boat should be purchased before the vessel sailed, did not embark. On 30th July, the "Enterprise" returned to George Town, as Fawkner had been prostrated by sea-sickness. Landing a horse on the 3rd August, Fawkner rode to Launceston. The "Enterprise" with Lancey as Fawkner's representative, reached Western Port on 8th August.
The party spent a week examining the country around Western Port. The "Enterprise" then sailed for Port Phillip Bay, and anchored off the encampment of John Batman's party at Indented Head on the 16th day of the same month. The next three days were spent in examining the land on the east coast of Port Phillip Bay. On 20th August the "Enterprise" reached the mouth of the Yarra River. The following eight days saw the party engaged in an examination of the Salt Water (Maribyrnong) and the Yarra Rivers, and in working the ship up the latter stream to the spot they had decided to occupy. On 29th August the "Enterprise was anchored a little to the west of Spencer Street. The following day - "Foundation Day" - the horses were landed. On 31st August a start was made to unload the cargo and to erect a turf store. In addition to two horses, the live-stock included pigs, poultry, dogs, and a cat. The entire cargo having been off-loaded, the "Enterprise" sailed for Launceston on 5th September, with Marr and William Jackson on board.
The "Enterprise" returned to encampment on the Yarra Yarra River in October, and the passengers were J. P. Fawkner and Eliza his wife, William Watkins, a lad they had adopted, John Scott, servant, and Mrs. Lancey and her three children. The cargo included building materials and live-stock.
Captain Hunter and the "Enterprise" made further trips between Launceston and the new settlement at Port Phillip during the next three years. During 1838 he purchased a piece of land in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne (as the settlement had been officially named in March 1837), with a frontage of 78 feet, on which he built a four-roomed brick cottage, according to the ground plan and elevation now in the possession of Mr. Dickson.
Having attended to his business in Melbourne - leasing his property and appointing an agent to collect the rents - Captain Hunter embarked as a passenger on board the "Paul Pry" on 11th January 1840, bound for Launceston, and from thence he returned to England, arriving home at Howdon Pans in the month of June of the same year.
After a stay of little more than a year, Captain Hunter left his home and proceeded to London, from whence he embarked as a passenger on the vessel "Sultan", on 1st September 1841, bound for Melbourne. Unfortunately, when off the Cape of Good Hope on 3rd January 1842, Captain Hunter fell overboard and, although picked up, he shortly after died from the effects of the accident. He was aged 67 years.
On 13th February 1842, the "Sultan" arrived at Port Phillip with the news of Peter Hunter's death, which was relayed to his relatives in England. The "Tyne Mercury" in its issue of 6th September 1842 published the following obituary notice:- "Recently on his passage to Australia, when off the Cape of Good Hope, Captain Peter Hunter, for many years a resident of Howdon Pans. Mr. Hunter had acquired some property in Australia and was proceeding to that country in order to dispose of it, prior to retiring from a long and arduous seafaring life. Mr. Hunter was much respected by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance."
The above paragraphs are a brief outline of one of the men who were instrumental in the founding of Melbourne, and about whom little has been written. I wish to acknowledge Mr. Eric Dickson, for information supplied, also "First Years at Port Phillip 1834-1842" by R. D. Boys, and "The Life and Times of John Pascoe Fawkner" by C. P. Billot (where Peter Hunter is erroneously called "John Hunter").
Contributed by Ken Smith ( PPPG Member No: 895 )
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