State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 8 October 1971


Three Westgarth Letters

The following three letters are by William Westgarth (1815–1889) and his wife, Ellison (née Macfie). They are from copies in the La Trobe collection which were presented by William Spowers, Esq. William Westgarth was one of the outstanding citizens of early Port Phillip and Victoria from his arrival in 1840 to his departure in 1857. An import merchant who formed the house of Westgarth & Ross (later Westgarth, Ross & Spowers), he was a leading politician, contemporary historian, and active in almost every good cause. In 1853–4 he made a long visit back to Scotland and England and married Ellison Macfie.
Westgarth's letter was written a fortnight after his arrival in 1840. The “up the country” of his nocturnal adventure was in fact what is now the suburb of Richmond. The two letters by his wife are of special interest because of the rarity of surviving accounts, manuscript or otherwise, by pioneer women. The Westgarths returned to Britain in 1857 for reasons which are not clear. Westgarth formed the financial house in London of Wm. Westgarth & Co. and had a distinguished career as agent for colonial government loans and as adviser to colonial governments. The prefabricated house which Mrs. Westgarth mentions in the third letter still stands in Tintern Avenue, Toorak.
Melbourne, Port Phillip,

My dear Mother,
My last letter was to Anne, dated I think on the 19th which I sent by the overland mail to Sydney, and as there is some chance of a vessel sailing from this soon with wool for home I write this to be ready. The weather has been very variable, as it always is here in spring & the beginning of summer. Today it blows so strong from the North that we cannot get ashore. The wind from the North at this time blows as from a furnace, & the thermometer now stands at 80°, at 2 p.m. 91°, tho’ we are 2 miles from land. I have better prospects for selling my Goods than I had thought. Though the Melbourne people grumble about having too many things on hand, they still give good prices for some. I expect 50 per cent on some very fine Dutch Cheese, and will sell a few casks of Port Wine very well. I will write Uncle George a long business letter soon. Mr & Mrs Jamieson sailed for Sydney a week ago. Glengarry, who was in the Perfect with his family, was taken great notice of here, and it is hoped he will finally settle at Port Phillip. We have a number of highly respectable people here, and the
Melbourne folks are very gay. Ladies come into the city for the shopping, and dandies occasionally glimmer forth, parading in the sunshine; but the grand bent of all is the making of money, and I do think some is to be made here. We will get away in 3 or 4 days, and I am longing to get back from Sydney, and commence operations. I had my first bush ranging expedition the other day & I could not help wishing it would be the last, at least in that style. Richard Alexander has a small brick-work 3 miles up the country, and we agreed to pay it a visit after business hours. At 11 p.m. we accordingly set off. It had been raining a few hours before, & very soon after we set off, it recommenced, and not in a very lax manner. After stumbling against stumps of trees & logs lying in all directions, our first mishap was encountering the ground work operations for several buildings at the outskirts of the town, where we plotted about for several minutes unable to find the way either out or in. At length we emerged, and returned to town to find what R.A. considered a more certain route. This found, we again pursued our journey. It was quite dark, and anything of a road we were constantly losing from its indistinctness. Our eyes were always on the watch for logs & stumps of trees, which had fortunately an extra darkness at a few feet distance. There was a large paddock or fence, which we were first to come upon, & then take bearings for the hut we were bound to; but the paddock had four sides, and the want of light made it difficult to distinguish the right one. In short after reaching the paddock, and groping about in a maze, paddock & all left behind & lost, we lay down about ½ past one under shelter of the slanting stump of an old tree, the rain pouring worse than ever, and the tree making the water meet below & fall upon in an even placid stream. These things are thought little of here; an umbrella covered our heads and R.A. was soon snoring as loud as if in a down bed. A cold wind which began soon after roused us both, and after an hour's refreshment we again started. Just as we had gained our feet we perceived a light, and making for it, heard the welcome sound of dogs. “Who does this place belong to,” cried R.A.? “Why, it belongs to me” retorted an indignant voice within. It turned out however that R. knew him, but he had no accommodation, and recommended us with many kind words to continue our journey, as the hut was not far off. This accordingly we did, and after another hours wandering & losing our way, at length reached the welcome hut about 4 in the morning, and got comfortably to bed. Next morning they shot some parroquets & other birds, which are numerous up there, and some black trout were caught in the Yarra, which tasted very well when fried. The country up there is really beautiful only rather uncouth, and the River both broad & deep — 30 feet deep indeed, except at the sea, where there is a bar.
25th. This is Christmas day, and all the shops shut. I learn that a vessel, the Lord Saumurez, will leave this for London on the 28th, and I will send this by it. I have called several times on Dr Patrick, Mr Coplands friend, who is a very pleasant man. He has come to town for some time at present, but has a station 80 or 100 miles to the North, where Thos Copland also is, at least not far off, & in partnership with another, doing well. I have not yet heard of John Dunsmure. The Hardies of Leith are settled near Geelong about 35 miles S.W. of this. I must carry on [name] letters to Hobar Town or Sydney, as the communications are very rare here with Adelaide. Today the weather is very cool
& pleasant with a strong southerly wind — thermr. about 69° at the highest, which shews how suddenly changeable the climate is at this time of the year. Business is so constantly before your eyes here, that you feel very impatient lingering over mere news; however you must not think I will the less enjoy those from Edinr. When this reaches you, I suppose you will [be] thinking about going to some country quarters. A gentleman here takes his family to the beach about 3 miles off, for the bathing & pitches a tent where ever he likes, there being no lodgings. Every night that there is a strong North wind, we see “the Bush” on fire, and last night there was a burning about ¼ of a mile long a few miles from the town, which illuminated the heavens like a fine darkish sunset. The lightning was also amazingly vivid. Nature is seen here in many respects on a grand scale. Numerous curious shelly insects, fish Birds &c are to be gathered; but I must get somewhat settled before I can reacquire my taste for these things. I have not seen any snakes; but ants are most numerous both in town & country, covering the roads in millions. One kind, the horse ant, is of a tile colour, an inch long, & ferocious & bloodthirsty. I am told also of spiders with bodies like a walnut, & 6 or 8 legs 3 inches long, centipedes larger than mens fingers etc; but nobody fears all these wonders of creation, and “the root of all evil” prevents a due attention being bestowed on them. I intend writing Margt. & Rd., & hope they have written me ere this. Give my best love to my Father & all at home, and to all friends I remain
My dear Mother,
Your affectionate Son

W. Westgarth.
Merri Creek, Victoria, 23rd Oct. 1854
My dear Mama,
I am happy to say that William & I arrived here safely and well on Sunday the 15th and feel very grateful that we have been carried in good health and comfort across the stormy oceans. We have much pleasure in looking back on our voyage and we really enjoyed it exceedingly, all the passengers were so agreeable and seemed like one large family. There was not a single quarrel on board and every one tried to make the others happy. We used to amuse ourselves by playing on the piano, singing, games on deck or saloon & dancing on the poop. The Captain was a very pleasant person, quite a gentleman, (as were the officers, seven in number) and used to join us sometimes in anything that was going on. We had a very long passage, 72 days, and fearful storms after rounding the Cape, which was the cause of our late arrival, for about six days altogether we had to lay to at the mercy of the winds & waves….
After leaving the Cape de Verdes we saw no land until the lighthouse of Cape Otway. Australia was seen from the mast head at 10 o'clock on Saturday night within a quarter of an hour of the time that the Capt said we should see it. So wonderfully correct are the instruments, and the calculations of seamen nowadays. The two last days of our voyage were sort of gala days. On Friday the Capt treated us all to champagne & drunk healths all round. We had singing in the evening & were up till twelve o'clock, lights being permitted by special licence for two hours longer than usual. On Saturday at dinner Mr Donaldson in a speech proposed the Captains health and presented him with a purse containing $40.10/- accompanied with a letter signed by all the passengers. I have sent a paper with the letters and one also from the 2nd Cabin passengers. In drinking the Capt's health Mr Solomons
sang He's a jolly good fellow, & we gave all the honors. The band played Rule Britannia & the Capt replied. Then my husband proposed “the officers” to which Mr Clark, the chief, replied. In the evening we had dancing & singing and when the light was visible from the poop we all went up to see it, and finished off the evening with sandwiches & grog made in silver soup tureens. On Sunday morning we were astir early to see land. The entrance into the heads of Port Phillip is very like that of the Mersey, sandy & covered with trees, which at the distance we saw it from looked like whins. A Pilot met us outside & steered us safely thro’ the narrow opening (about 2 miles across) into this splendid bay. It was at ten o'clock we entered the bay and we cast anchor at a quarter past 2 o'clock. An inspector came on board to see if we were all in good health, and as we passed well thro’ that ordeal we were allowed to land when we chose. The poor passengers of the Great Britain, had to lie in quarantine 28 days outside the Heads, as they had measles on beard; which must have been very annoying after having made a quick voyage of 65 days. We should be very thankful that we were all so well on board, none of the passengers were ill except from sea sickness, & neither William nor I were in bed half a day even. The chief stewardess was very seriously ill for several days with congestion of the lungs and liver complaint and was only able to sit up in her cabin on our arrival. Some gentlemen came on board to see if William had come out and John Thomson told us that both Mr Ross & the Macarthurs were expecting us to stay with them. We left James on board with our luggage and we went on shore, where we met Mr Ross coming out to meet us, so we went home with him in his gig. On the way out to his house (about 4-½ miles from town) we did not pass thro’ Melbourne but the suburbs looked very like a large fair, wooden cottages, a few tents, planted down among trees & grass. There is a beautiful road out the whole way, very broad & well made. Miss Spowers, Mr R's sister in law was waiting to receive us. — did not see Mrs Ross as she had not been downstairs since her last baby was borne a fortnight before. Mr R's house is a very neat cottage with a verandah. It has a beautiful garden at the side & the paddock in front. It is beautifully furnished, with a great many knick knacks laid out, and the bedroom that we occupied was like a little drawingroom, it was set out so tastefully with scent bottles, pictures, books, china ornaments, wax fruit etc. I was quite astonished at dinner to see the display of silver plate etc. that was produced, as I had fancied all these things should be secreted in some quiet corner of the house. Mr Ross is a very pleasant man, & Miss Spowers a nice frank middle aged lady.
Next morning I went into town as we were to go out to Elizabeths. It was a very warm day and the first of the hot winds, which made the dust fly in clouds. The gentlemen were all going about with veils tied round their hats.
After going over Westgarth Ross & Co's new counting houses and stores (which by the way are the handsomest buildings in Melbourne — the front of whin stone, finished at the windows, doors & sides with sand stone) we went back to the Calcutta to bring Jane & the luggage away. I must say I was rather sorry to take leave of our abode for the last two months, and especially to say goodbye to many of the passengers. I liked Miss Paterson extremely, she was such a nice, amiable, warm hearted girl, and was a favourite with every one. There was also a Mrs Macdonald
a cousin of the Weirs in Albany Street, a very nice person going to join her husband in Sydney. She & I found out we had a great many mutual acquaintances, the Spences, Mr Duff, Browns etc. She had been educated in Edinb. and was at the same classes as myself, but I think a year in advance; had been at Ben Rhydding and knew all the worthies of that place. I saw very little of Mrs Donaldson, she suffered a great deal from sickness, & was almost constantly in her own cabin, except for when she came up for a short walk on deck with her husband. She seemed a very sweet person, and in appearance is very like Annie & as Robert would say somewhat about her breadth. We had a great measuring on deck one day among the ladies, and she was the highest being 5 ft 6-¾, myself being the next in height half an inch shorter. On returning from the steamer we drove out with Mr Macarthur to Merri Creek and found Elizabeth waiting for us. She has two very pretty little children, the youngest 9 months old. We have been staying with her ever since. Mr Ross had taken a house for us for 5 months, but as it is unfurnished we are going to give it up & have advertized for furnished lodgings. Jane assists in the house here, and between times washes up our clothes used on the voyage, which is a great thing to get done in the country where we can get plenty of water, in town that indispensible commodity sells for about 9/ a load. It is a curious phenomenon that they cannot sink wells here, as it is only salt water that they can get by that means, & every cottage in the country is provided with a large tank into which the rain runs in the wet season, and remains sweet & good for use all the summer months. It is very dark in the color but very well tasted. This cottage is built of wood, and you enter at once into the drawing room from the verandah. The kitchen is built outside of wood also — Elizabeth is such an excellent housewife, she has always her children so neat & tidy, superintends most of the cooking, as her present servant altho’ giving herself out as a good plain cook understands as much about it as a porridge ladle, she also looks after a great stock of poultry and chickens and is able to go about to receive her visitors as if she had nothing at all to do. We all dined on Thursday at Dr Macarthur's at Arthurton. He is a nice old man, and Mrs McArthur such a ladylooking person. I have had a good many callers, and others have sent their cards to the office as they do not know where to find me. Among these the Colonial Secretary, Mr Leslie Foster & his wife & Mr Palmer the speaker & his wife. On Sunday we went into Mr Hetheringtons church and Elizabeth had such a dressing of me up to make my first appearance. I liked Mr Hetherington very much, after church we went into the manse, where William was received in open arms by all the Mrs Bells’ & Susan Napiers’ of the congregation. Among these I was introduced to Mrs Dr Turnbull, who asked for my sisters. On Monday there was a grand public meeting in the open air about the Convicts Prevention Act, at which the gudeman had to appear, and make the first speech. I have sent a paper about it to Robert. Elizabeth and I went into town one day. Melbourne is a most curious place it is like a city of cottages, very few of the houses being built higher than one storey. The streets are very broad and look very handsome with some very good shops. They remind me of the entrances into London, some low built shops next to high houses — the latter taking the places of the former as they are burnt down — Omnibus driving up & down the streets and a great many
gigs, and gentlemen on horseback. We also saw a great number of ladies out riding, very smartly dressed. The principal streets are now paved. The country around Melbourne is very pretty being richly wooded, and the grass as smooth as a gentlemans park. At present it is looking in its best, as the sun has not burnt up the grass yet. On looking out of the window here you see a beautiful extent of smooth ground studded with trees. We walked over to Maryfield the other day to see Williams old place. All the parcels I brought out have been delivered. Alex Goodlet told Wm that Mr Nish is now preaching at Ballaarat, but I sent his parcel to Broadfoot & [Briars?] Tell Annie that I now wear my hair a la Joan d'Arc. It was one of the amusements on board ship for the ladies to do each others hair and we all at last had come out in the new coiffure. I have finished my chair and have only the [grounding?] to do now. You must excuse this [? ?] letter, as I had so much to say that I did not know where to begin, and have not told you half yet. William & I found the days pass very quickly on board ship. We breakfasted at 9, walked on deck or sat in the cabin till luncheon 12 o'c. Went down to our own cabin & read solid books, & worked until dinner 4 o'c. after that till 6 ½ I read aloud light reading then we had another walk on deck till tea time, when we read, worked or heard the music till 10, when we retired for the night. We both kept a sort of journal which we will send home by some opportunity.
I will be very anxious to receive letters from home to tell me how you all are & where you have been. By the bye Wm. got a letter from George Murray the other day asking for employment and his principal recommendation was that his brother was married to a cousin of his lady's the daughter of Mrs Macfie of Grangefield. Robina Macfarlane will be amused to hear this, as we used to notice him last year leaning over the Greenoch Cemetry wall. This letter is to go by the Great Britain and I hope you will receive it about Christmas. Give our united kind love to all our friends, Robert & Robina & her household, May's[?], Annie, John & William, etc. and Believe me dearest Mama your ever affectionate daughter,
Ellison Macfie.
I am called upon every now & then to tell what are the newest fashions, if stiff petticoats are still worn & if the bonnets are really so small. There was an invitation waiting our arrival, for a party at Mr Wilsons, but we were rather late for it as it came off on the 10th. I believe there were 200 present.
Melbourne, 9th March 1855
My dear Mama,
I expect that by this time you have received letters from me dated October & November. The Mails this month go home by the “James Baines”, which has made the fastest passage to this colony, 64 days and has brought out a mail of about 90 tons weight. Mrs Watsons son came out in her, but as yet has not got any employment, but William is looking about for something suitable, which will no doubt turn up soon, but at present a little patience is necessary. William & I were at a magnificent entertainment on board the “James Baines” yesterday. There were upwards of 150 present, and were conveyed free of charge by the Railway to the beach and from thence by a steamer to the splendid vessel. The band of the 40th Regiment were playing when we arrived, and after walking on deck and examining the accomodation of the vessel we sat down to a splendid luncheon at two o clock
where the tables were weighed down with every delicacy. Then there were speechifying and toasts in abundance — the various consuls returning thanks for their respective countries. The French consul asked leave to reply in his own language which he did. Mr Train who acted as Toastmaster gave us some original poetry, noticing all the fine vessels that have arrived here in it, the Shalimar, Red Jacket, Lightning etc. After the lunch we went on deck and there was dancing until the steamer came to take the visitors home again. The Ladies drawing room and berths are most gorgeously fitted up both satin damask and gilding, with a nice piano & Library. I met on board Mr MacRorie a young man & friend of Tom Eastons, he returns by the James Baines & will likely see Robert on his return.
This week I was at the meeting of the Melbourne Ladies Benevolent Society. It was the first that I had attended so Mrs Dr Turnbull invited me to lunch with her and we could go together. Mrs Turnbull is Secretary, she is a very nice amiable person. There were 15 ladies present. Mrs Hetherington is the President. The meeting was opened with prayer, which Mrs Turn-bull lead, then Mrs Hetherington asked the ladies in rotation if they had any cases of distress to mention to the meeting, or to tell what they had done since they last met. The object of the Society is to relieve poor people either by aiding them to procure employment or in sickness, or in paying their rents or sending their children to school. The town is divided into districts to which two ladies are appointed. These districts are not visited to search out cases of want, but when any lady hears of any distress, she mentions it at the meetings and the ladies in whose district it is visits and inquires into that particular case. Last year upwards of $1000 were spent in relieving the poor. Mrs Cairns is one of the members. Wm. & I were up one evening at Dr Cairns church hearing one of his lectures on the Apocalypse. He has begun a course of lectures once a month on the moonlight nights. There is no Reformed Presbyterian Church here so Jane joined Mr Hetherington's last communion. The Sacrament is administered in our church quarterly and we have sermons on Thursday afternoon & Saturday Evening. I like Mr Hetherington very well, altho’ not nearly such a good preacher as Dr Glover, he seems a very serious good man, and is very much respected. His church is very handsome internally being all fitted up very massily with Colonial cedar a wood like mahogany. Our pew is cushioned at the back as well as on the seat and is as wide again as the Greenside pews. The exterior of the church is not finished yet, it is built of brick, which is to be plastered, and is to have a spire at some future period.
Sixteen sat down to dinner at the Governors that day we dined there, of which five were ladies including the hostess. The Colonial Secretary and his wife, the sub-secretary & his wife, Mr & Mrs Hammill, Lord Alfred Churchill, our nobleman who came out to do a little business in the boot & shoe line, by which he made an enormous loss, which will likely cure him of mercantile pursuits. [? ] Mr Ross sent in his carriage for us so we drove out comfortably and on being announced, the Governor & Lady Hotham came forward and made low bows, & we did the same and took seats. At dinner Sir Charles & Lady Hotham occupied either side of the table, and Capt. Fitzgerald of H.M.S. Caliope sat at the foot & Capt. Hotham, the Aide de Camp took the head of the table. The fruit was placed on the table at the first, and was a great ornament. When we left the diningroom, we had coffee and
afterwards we ladies all sat round a little table & Lady Hotham poured us out a comfortable cup of tea. At ten the carriages were announced and we all made our bows again and left….
I had three gentlemen at luncheon on Wednesday and I expect four today. I enjoy very much when they come up, it makes a little variety and one hears what is going on. Jane makes a capital cook and is anxious to try everything, and now since we have a cooking stove her powers are not so cramped as formerly. The hot weather is very annoying sometimes. One Sunday when we came home from Church & quite appetized for boiled mutton & rice broth we were met by the intelligence that the mutton was quite unfit for use, altho’ only bought the evening before. Fortunately there was a ham in the house, which Jane had boiled and Uncle John Thomson who often comes home with us from Church on Sundays had to dine off it. Sometimes the butchers have to throw out all the meat in their shops that they have killed on the previous day. I find curry an excellent auxiliary in a small family. Like the old lady in Greenock who found a ship a useful thing about a house, I think a warehouse is about as good, as I get chances of boxes of preserves, french plums, ginger wine, raspberry vinegar & a variety of other good things.
Here the early closing system is adopted almost every shop; drapers, grocers, butchers, bakers — is shut at six o'clock every evening. Our house has not arrived yet. Mr Moss wishes us to put it down on a piece of ground belonging to him at Prahran, but Wm. has not fixed yet. In the meantime we are very comfortable here, and for myself I am in no hurry to move, as town is much more cheerful when I know so few friends.
I have a nice little cottage piano in our parlor which I play on every evening.
We have not heard from Mrs Westgarth for a long time, and we do not know their plans. Elizabeth & Anne are very anxious for them to come out, and have written to urge them to do so. If they come, Tom who at present stays with Elizabeth, will take up house with them. William has not written them advising them one way or the other, as he does not know how his Mother would like living out here if she came, but he will be delighted to see them if they fix on coming out….
Poor Jane bought before leaving home a good supply of tea, thinking it would be dear here, when it is almost the only cheap thing to be had, it costs about 2/- to 2/6 per lb. However she gets both tea & sugar from me….
A colonial sculptor made a model of the “Greek Slave” lately and exhibited it at one of the shop windows in town, but it was ordered to be removed by the Mayor as it might corrupt the morals of the people.
William joins with me in kindest love to yourself, Anne, Marion, William Lake and Believe me dear Mama
Your very affectionate daughter
Ellison Westgarth