Exodus and Panic

S T Gill, Successful diggers on way from Bendigo, Ballarat Gold Museum Collection

S T Gill, Successful diggers on way from Bendigo, Ballarat Gold Museum Collection

Exodus and Panic: Melbourne’s reaction to the Bathurst gold discoveries of May 1851

Commendation1This article was shortlisted for the “Best Peer Reviewed History Article” in the 2015 Victorian Community History Awards.

Originally published as:

Douglas Wilkie, ‘Exodus and Panic: Melbourne’s reaction to the Bathurst gold discoveries of May 1851’, Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 85, no. 2, December 2014, pp. 189-217.


When news of potentially rich goldfields near Bathurst, west of Sydney, reached Melbourne late in May 1851, there was a ‘migration of the population to New South Wales and … panic [was] created throughout the whole Colony’. At least, that is what a Victorian Legislative Council Select Committee reported in March 1854.[i] By contrast, in October 1851, just four months after the Bathurst news, Victoria’s Lieutenant Governor, Charles La Trobe believed that although the discoveries at Bathurst had ‘unsettled the public mind of the labouring classes … few comparatively of the labouring classes’ actually left Melbourne for Bathurst.[ii] La Trobe’s description of comparatively few leaving Melbourne, does not match the panic and exodus of the Committee’s report; yet historians have repeated the report’s sentiments and ignored La Trobe’s ever since.

This paper investigates the initial response of Melbourne, between late May and mid July 1851, to the news of the Bathurst gold discovery. News between Sydney and Melbourne was usually sent by the overland mail or on the regular steamer Shamrock. The time taken for despatches to arrive varied considerably, depending upon whether the mail was about to leave and unforseen delays along the way. An example of this uncertainty followed the publication of a vague report of gold near Molong in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 March 1851.[iii] Apart from this unconfirmed gold news, the Sydney correspondent for the Argus had several other reports to send back to Melbourne, the most important concerning a debate in the Legislative Council about the imminent creation of the colony of Victoria. The correspondent had the choice of sending the urgent report either by the overland mail, or by the steamer Shamrock, both of which were due to leave Sydney on 1 April. He decided that, ‘The overland mail and the mail by the Shamrock, close about the same hour to-day, and as it is uncertain which will reach Melbourne first, I think it necessary to send you duplicate communications.’ The overland mail reached Melbourne in time for the Legislative Council report to be published on Tuesday 8 April.[iv]  The gold report, which he considered of lesser importance, was sent by the Shamrock which arrived on Wednesday 9 April, and was published on 11 April.[v] The correspondent dismissed the Molong gold as simply as ‘another gold mine’ and wondered why ‘nothing seems to come of these wonderful discoveries’.[vi] The gold report appears to have created no discernible reaction in Melbourne; the report of impending separation from New South Wales was of much greater interest…

This is an extract from the full article which can be downloaded from Unimelb Minerva or  Academia.

[i] ‘Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Claims for the Discovery of Gold in Victoria, together with the Proceeding of Committee, Minutes of Evidence, and Appendix, 10 March 1854’, Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council during the Session 1853–1854, vol. iii, Melbourne, 1854, pp. 4, 10–12; Hereafter ‘1854 Select Committee’.

[ii] La Trobe to Grey, 10 October 1851, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (HCPP), 1852 (1430) (1508).

[iii] Sydney Morning Herald, 29 March 1851, p. 6.

[iv] Argus, 8 April 1851, p. 2.

[v] Argus, 10 April 1851, p. 2.

[vi] Argus, 11 April 1851, p. 2.


Ten Thousand Fathoms Deep

S. T. Gill, Forest Creek (Castlemaine, Victoria) 1852

S. T. Gill, Forest Creek (Castlemaine, Victoria) 1852

Eighteen fifty-one was the year in which Port Phillip was separated from New South Wales and became Victoria. It was also the year in which the great Victorian gold rushes started. Many historians, and even a greater number of non-historians, believe these two events occurred within weeks of each other simply by coincidence. However, the origins of many of the events and decisions of 1851 can be found in events that took place over the preceding two or three years.
In particular, this article discusses the extent to which Charles La Trobe’s response to a largely forgotten 1849 gold discovery in the Pyrenees Ranges of the Port Phillip District may have been influenced by Port Phillip’s anticipated separation from New South Wales, and the inequitable financial arrangements that existed between Sydney and Melbourne.

Originally published as – Douglas Wilkie, ‘Ten Thousand Fathoms Deep: Charles Joseph La Trobe’s decision to postpone gold exploitation in the Port Phillip District until after separation from New South Wales in 1851’, La Trobeana, The Journal of the C. J. La Trobe Society, Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2015, pp. 6-14.

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Eugene Rossiet Lennon: Professeur Extraordinaire

Lennon Cover 004 Revised

The Life and Loves of Eugene Rossiet Lennon, Professeur Extraordinaire.

What they said about Eugene Rossiet Lennon:

He displayed “manly and intrepid conduct” in saving children, “at the imminent peril and risk of his own life” – Hobart Town Daily Mercury, 1858.

They wanted to sack me in order to obtain “the more brilliant services of Mr Lennon”- George Hanson, Teacher, Geelong Advertiser, 1862.

Lennon displayed “untiring zeal in the cause of education” – Argus, 1878.

Lennon was “the father of popular education” in Geelong – Geelong Advertiser, 1884.

Eugene Rossiet Lennon, Professor of Languages, educated at the University of Paris, came to Australia in 1843 as a convict. He had been convicted of inciting one young woman, Louisa La Grange, to commit a crime by robbing the jewellers of London’s West End of their diamonds. Louisa was also transported and soon became Madame Callegari – whose story is told in the Journal of Madame Callegari and is also available through Historia Incognita. But Eugene Lennon embarked upon a very different career to that of his former accomplice, Louisa La Grange. He was tutor for the Cotton family at Swansea, on the remote east coast of Van Diemen’s Land. And after father Cotton, a devout Quaker, banished him for taking too much interest in his twenty-year-old daughter, Lennon became tutor to the Pillinger family at Antil Ponds. The Pillingers were much more understanding. Returning to Hobart with a ticket-of-leave, Eugene was almost banished again when he became attached to James Dickinson’s twenty-year-old daughter, Sarah. But Sarah was pregnant and Lennon did the right thing and married her. After several years of self-imposed exile at Southport, a long way south of Hobart, the Lennons and the Dickinsons moved to Victoria where Eugene soon became headmaster of the Flinders National Grammar School in Geelong – today known as the Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College. His career became illustrious with the school gaining a reputation as a model for teaching excellence. After many years, Lennon and the Education Department could no longer see eye-to-eye. So Lennon parted ways with the National School and established the Geelong High School across the street. But all of this, and more, can be read in The Life and Loves of Eugene Rossiet Lennon, Professeur Extraordinaire.

A Review:

“a superb story of one of my Great Grandfathers, as well as an interesting story of the times in which he lived, especially with respect to the education sector.”

A reader who is a descendant of Eugene Rossiet Lennon.

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The first edition of The Life and Loves of Eugene Rossiet Lennon (ISBN: 9781320370783) has been withdrawn. It was originally available through Booktopia (Aus);  Amazon (US); Amazon (UK); BookDepository; Barnes & Noble; Wheelers; and other retailers.

This edition has now been replaced by a Revised Edition (ISBN: 9781364660642) correcting several minor typographical errors. Otherwise the text is identical. The Revised Edition is immediately available here, and is also available through the Global Retail Network (Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, Readings, Wheelers, Booktopia, Angus & Robertson, etc) with ISBN: 9781367601499.

Corrections: If you purchased the unrevised first edition the corrections are listed here.

This book is available through several libraries, including the State Library of Tasmania.

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The Memory of Dreams


The events of history are often masked by the myths, legends, and various revisions that the writers of history want us to read. So, too, are places that we visit. If we are not careful we will see, or be shown, only what the publicists, the marketing people, want us to see. They present us with a mask. Whether looking at the events of history, or visiting historical places, always look behind the mask. You may just be surprised.

 “The approach to Venice is disappointing. Mestre is not a city that inspires wonder. Apart from the wonder of how it came to be like that. The causeway between Mestre and Venice is perhaps more inspiring because it seems to cross a sea that is as smooth and as grey as a sheet of glass. Islands rise out of the lagoon barely enough to support the vegetation that grows upon them. One more tree and the island would sink. And in the distance, at the end of the causeway, rising out of the mist are the familiar domes and spires of Venice. Familiar even to those who have never been there before.

They say that Venice is sinking. But only because of the weight of the tourists. It is in danger of becoming a theme park. A parody of itself. The expectation of the Venetian myth is so great that the city puts on a mask just to satisfy the tourist. To really know Venice one must look behind the mask.

I looked behind the mask…”

from The Memory of Dreams

Douglas Wilkie 2001

The Memory of Dreams (ISBN 9781320639309) can be purchased through Blurb or (ISBN 9781364727574) through outlets such as Amazon, The Book Depository and other online retailers.



From Venus to Venice

Venus Venice Cover 001History is not simply to be read about. It is something to be experienced. Wherever we go, and whatever we see, we can choose to experience the outcomes of history, or we can choose to be blind to the history that surrounds us.

This is the story of a journey – a journey into history. It is also a journey into the present, and the future. For what we understand about the past, influences the way we think about the present, and what we plan to do in the future. Eventually, in a few seconds time, the future becomes the present, and then the past. Present, past and future are constantly in a state of transition from one to the other.

This is the story of a journey. A transit. And a transition. It involved Venus, and Venice. A Transit of Venus, or of Venice; a transition from one to the other. Here is the first chapter…

Some months ago, at the beginning of 1998 I decided to travel half way around the world and back again.
That, in itself, is hardly a startling event. Millions of people have done it. But why me? Why would I decide do such a thing?
Well, all I can say is that in 1768 Captain James Cook was commissioned by the Royal Society to sail a diminutive wooden boat called the Endeavour around the world in order to observe the transit of the planet Venus across sun in the southern sky. It came to me, possibly in a dream, that I should also travel to the other side of the world to observe Venus.
The problem with all of this is that my dream was rather vague, and I have never really been too sure whether it was Venus or Venice that I was to go to observe. In fact, I am not even certain whether it will be a transit or a transition that I will be observing most of.
So, here I am at the airport. I am off to observe the Transit of Venus; or the Transition of Venus; or possibly the Transit of Venice; or maybe even the Transition of Venice. Which it will be I am yet to discover.
It is six-thirty in the evening of Saturday the twenty-sixth of December. I am boarding a KLM Boeing 747-400 at Sydney airport and flying to Milan in Italy. The plane will leave at about seven.
Five hundred years ago, when working for the Duke of Milan, Leonardo da Vinci designed a machine that he hoped would enable a man to fly through the air like a bird. He carefully studied the flight of birds and the mechanics of their wings and applied this knowledge to his designs. Leonardo’s flying machine never actually took off, but that is probably not the point. The wonderful thing is that he bothered to spend the time investigating such a thing; to spend the time working out the reason that things stay up or don’t stay up. The reason that things fall out of the sky. Perhaps that was for Newton to discover.
Is it the ability to reason that man shares with God and makes us different to other creatures? The ability to recognise the laws of nature and to explain the world around us? Leonardo, were you at the forefront of this investigation of the universe? Was it men like you who began the age of reason? The age where everything had to have a reason. The age where anything that could not be explained in rational terms was not worthy of consideration. Perhaps we would be better off sometimes if we didn’t want a reason for why things happen.
Why am I going to Milan? Is there a reason? Perhaps I will know the answer only when I discover the nature of the question.
Leonardo did not plan his flying machine to have on-board films, toilets, lunch, dinner and breakfast, and a multitude of other services. Today my flying machine has all of these.
I have never been in a 747 before. I am impressed by its size, but disappointed by the cramped conditions. I have the impression that there are too many passengers. There are close to four hundred. There are too many seats crammed into the plane. Take out eighty or a hundred seats. Make more space. It would be much more comfortable. But, this is the way it is, and I find my seat. It is about half way along the plane. Row forty-five. Seat ‘B’. That makes it the centre seat of three next to the left-hand windows. It is just in front of the wing.
I am apprehensive as we take off and steadily climb to a height of over 11,000 meters above the ground. Yes, I have flown before. But this is something different. There is always the possibility that the gravity of the earth will do what it is meant to do and pull this relatively inconsequential cylinder of metal towards the ground at a velocity that will inevitably result in a million fragments being spread over a very wide area.
But the engineers, the latter-day Leonardos, have worked it all out, and the jet engines manage to keep the plane flying through the air at a speed of nearly one million meters each hour. It’s not easy to do that, and the sound of the jet engines make it quite clear just how hard they are trying in their battle against the forces of gravity.
There must be a better way. Somebody will invent an anti-gravity machine one day. Perhaps somebody will invent the means of sub-atomic particle transmission and we will simply disappear from one place only to reappear in another place. Perhaps even another time. Today I am travelling in space. Maybe I will also travel in time.
I begin to think about the possibility of the plane crashing. It is not the first time. Several weeks ago I thought about it. If I am going to die what preparations should I make? I thought about that. And I wrote my Last Will and Testament. The emphasis is, of course, upon the word Last. But I want the emphasis to be on the word testament. I wanted it to be a testament to many things. So I wrote it, and rewrote it. It became something of an autobiography. It was long. In the end I sealed two versions of it in an envelope with the hope that, if it was ever read, people could actually work out what I really wanted. … I sealed it up and left it on the shelf at home.
I had been reading Keats before leaving, because he went to Rome and wrote about his experiences. He also once wrote to his friend Fanny Brawne in 1820.

If I should die I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory—but I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered.

I wonder about the same unanswerable question. Although, in the end Keats is remembered and his works are read, and loved.
Eventually I put my mind to thinking about other things—like the growing discomfort of sitting in a cramped centre seat for twenty-four hours. I settle down to reading; or watching the progress of the journey on the overhead video screens; or just looking out the window at the passing parade of clouds. The stewards seem to be constantly asking whether I would like another drink or something to eat. I always accept their hospitality and in this way I collect a number of bottles of French or Italian wine for later consumption.
Eventually the machine does allow gravity to take over and it descends rapidly toward the ground. Soon it lands on the tarmac at the Malpensa Airport just outside Milan—the place where Leonardo had designed his original prototype. It is a relief to be out of the confined space. It is a relief to walk on solid ground again.
But Milan is not my final destination, and the four hundred passengers of flight AZ797 are not the only people to arrive at Milan. Another three flights arrive within minutes of each other pouring out a thousand passengers in a mass that overwhelms the Italian customs officials. Accurate checking of baggage is forgotten. Stamping of passports becomes irrelevant. The officials simply wave the new arrivals through their checkpoints as quickly as possible.
I look at my watch. It tells me that the time is six-thirty on Sunday afternoon. The flight has taken nearly twenty-four hours. I look at the clock on the Milan airport wall. It tells me that the time is eight-thirty on Sunday morning.
Somewhere I have saved ten hours. How far would I have to travel to save a whole day? Or a week? Or a year? Can I travel back in time to an era long gone? I think of Umberto Eco’s novel The Island of the Day Before. What has happened to time? I do not have time to consider the answer just now. Time flies and I must catch another plane.

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The book From Venus to Venice (ISBN: 9781320626590) can be purchased from this link: From Venus To Venice

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Posted by on 16/05/2015 in Philosophy, Travel


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The Deconstruction of a Convict Past

Deconstruction Cover 001

Joseph Forrester, a silversmith, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1828 after being caught stealing diamonds from a West End London jeweller.
Charles Brentani was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1834 after being caught stealing silver from a Sheffield clergyman.
Brentani was was assigned to various employers and eventually set up his own business in Launceston before marrying and moving to Melbourne in 1846 where he established a business as a retail jeweller and watchmaker.
Forrester, on a life sentence, worked as a silversmith in Hobart until he was granted a conditional pardon, set up his own business, then moved to Melbourne where his did work for Brentani.
This is the story of how they tried to put their convict past behind them and establish new and respectable lives.

This book is based upon a Master of Arts thesis successfully submitted to Monash University. The examiners of that thesis had this to say:

This study ‘represents an impressive research achievement … [and] … makes an important contribution to a growing body of work that has linked the experience of prisoners under sentence to their post emancipation lives’.
Professor Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, The University of Tasmania

‘The pursuit of these two former convicts has been carried out with determination, insight and persistence. He has uncovered a fascinating sub-culture of metal smiths and artisans and the networks of support that operated in the colonial and post-penal environment … admirable life writing…’
Professor Janet McCalman, The University of Melbourne

A reader of the book subsequently read the article Frankenstein, Convicts and Wide-Awake Geniuses: The Life and Death of Charles Brentani, and commented:

‘My late husband was a great great grandson of Charles Brentani. One of my brothers-in-law bought numerous copies of Douglas Wilkie’s book last year as Christmas gifts for all the cousins. Thank you for researching and publishing the book.’ – Judith Toohey


1. Research Methods 5

Forgotten Gentlemen & Convicts 8

Rediscovered Convicts 10

The Deconstruction of a Convict Past 12

2. Crime, Punishment and Rehabilitation 22

The Crime 22

The Punishment 32

Joseph Forrester 34

Charles Brentani 44

Rehabilitation 48

3. Entrepreneurship 53

Joseph Forrester 54

Charles Brentani 60

4. Exodus to Port Phillip 68

Joseph Forrester 76

Charles Brentani 82

5. Settling Down – Moving On 94

Charles Brentani 100

Joseph Forrester 124

6. Conclusion 142

Select Bibliography 153

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The Historia Incognita version of the story will be longer and more detailed than the original thesis and has an expected publication date of late 2015 or early 2016, however the original thesis (ISBN: 9781320639064) can be purchased from the following link: The Deconstruction of a Convict Past

This book is available in several libraries including the State Library of Tasmania.


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The Sink of Iniquity


IniquityTitle02bEducation in The Sink of Iniquity

A history of education in the Amherst and Talbot districts between 1836 and 1862.

This is an impressive piece of historical research. The author has taken a discrete area of early Victoria very directly affected by the gold rushes and has examined the history of schooling in that area over a period of some twenty six years. The result is a narrative that is at once informative and interesting, and gives a valuable insight into the actual functioning of the schooling ‘system’ at the grass roots level under the two boards prior to the Common Schools Act. It highlights the difficulties in establishing schools—the problems of distance with long delays in communication between Local Boards of Management and the central Boards; the lack of funds; the ongoing lack of support from the working people and the reliance on a few individuals to keep the schools going.

The thesis is an important contribution to the history of early Victoria.

This is an impressive piece of historical research.  The author has taken a discrete area of early Victoria directly affected by the gold rushes and has examined the history of schooling in that area…  The thesis is an important contribution to the history of early Victoria… The scholarship associated with the research is meticulous.  A great amount of work has been done using the extant archives and other sources.  The author has used these judiciously and intelligently throughout the thesis.  Referencing is always adequate, consistent and accurate.”

Dr Bob Bessant, La Trobe University.

Picture this – Back Creek, as Talbot was then known, in April 1859:

“Crime is alarmingly on the increase, and although the police force has been enlarged, it is still far below the requirements of the immense population. Inspector Ryan has joined the force, and his office is no sinecure; garotte robberies, sticking-up, and fights are becoming alarmingly common. Several cases of shoplifting may be added to the category of offences and one or two cases of selling spurious gold.” Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser quoted in Argus, Wednesday 20 April 1859, p. 7.

“Crime is frightfully on the increase in this district, and the hordes of thieves and murderers on the rush are becoming emboldened from the comparative immunity which they enjoy. At present Detective Slattery and a handful of constables are the only men to keep down hundreds of villains of the deepest dye. The report I have forwarded you, of the murderous attack on Mrs Ross, is only one of several crimes … Several cases of sticking-up have come to our knowledge … A butcher named Wills was pounced on by four armed men near Sault’s Hotel … A woman was stabbed in the face on Wednesday night … On Tuesday night a man had his jaw broken … The feeling among the inhabitants is one of great insecurity. A Court of Petty Sessions will he held daily at Wrigley’s Hotel, on and after Monday.” Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser quoted in Argus, Monday 16 May 1859, p. 5.

Back Creek was experiencing a massive gold rush. The population had reached 30,000. Not only were there murders, robberies and all kinds of other lawlessness, but Back Creek was described as the very sink of iniquity.
In the midst of all this were the children and the desire to provide them with some form of education to prevent them falling into heathenism and barbarianism.
But the Denominational Schools argued with each other. The Presbyterians would not allow their children to attend the Anglican schools. The teachers were often untrained and just as susceptible to the lure of gold as the parents. The Boards of Education took months to pay bills and salaries.
This is the story of how education was provided to the children of this district, from a time long before the gold rushes, a time when the only children were those of the squatters and their servants, through to 1862 when the Common Schools system established in an attempt to overcome the inter-Denominational rivalries, and to avoid wasteful duplication in communities that could barely sustain one school, let alone two or three.


Introduction 3

Australia Felix  13

Educating the Squatters’ Children 20

The Buninyong Boarding School 37

Religion and Education at Burnbank  47

The Mystery of Daisy Hill  59

George Rusden’s Rural Ride  65

Gold At Daisy Hill 69

The Tempting of Frederick Pickering 77

The Battle of Burnbank- 85

Dinner at Daisy Hill  99

The Advent of Amherst 106

The Great Rush to Back Creek  115

The Very Sink of Iniquity  127

Tyrannical and Irresponsible Men

The Amherst Church of England School  147

The Amherst Presbyterian School 189

The Back Creek National School  202

The Back Creek Church of England School 225

The Wesleyan Schools at Back Creek  244

The Back Creek Roman Catholic School 251

Benjamin Atkinson’s School  261

Mechanics Institutions & Literary Associations 274

In Conclusion 299

Bibliography  308

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The Sink of Iniquity (ISBN: 9781320658768) is now available for purchase at this link: The Sink of Iniquity

The Sink of Iniquity (ISBN: 9781320618793) is also available for purchase through The Book Depository; AmazonBarnes & Noble; Readings ;  AbeBooks; Booktopia; and other outlets.


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