State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 18 October 1976


Manuscripts: Extracts from Curtis Candler's Diary

Dr Curtis Candler arrived in Port Phillip in 1850 and from 1857 was Melbourne city coroner for more than forty years. His diary for July 1867 to March 1868 was presented to the Library by his descendants in 1973. It also includes, on the left-hand pages, Candler's copy of the diary of Captain Frederick Charles Standish, Chief Commissioner of Police 1858–80, covering the years 1847–1877.
The Fitzgerald immediately mentioned is J. L. F. V. Foster, Colonial Secretary of Victoria in 1853–54. Most names mentioned are to be found in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
The extracts have been slightly rearranged from their original order and have been lightly edited for punctuation and to fill out abbreviations.
Duelling and attempted duelling
In Lett (28 Aug.) I noted a conversation with Fitzgerald. I made a rough memo. of it at the time. McMahon, then Chief Commissioner of Police, suggested to Fitzgerald, the Colonial Secretary (then Foster), that poor O'Hara Burke (the explorer) was unfitted for the particular position he occupied in the Police Force at that time; and that he was so good a fellow, that he would recommend his promotion to a higher grade, where he would not be called upon to perform the peculiar duties that he was then expected to do. F. coincided with M. and Burke received his promotion. Not long after this Burke called on Fitzgerald and said that he had been informed of the reasons which had led to his being advanced to the position he then held, and that he considered them so insulting to him, he had called to ascertain if they were the actual reasons. Upon F. telling him that there were some grounds for what he had heard, Burke flew into a violent rage, denounced McMahon, said it was a studied insult to him as a gentleman, and ended by informing F. that he should at once demand satisfaction. The idea of calling a man out for promoting him, was so ludicrous that F., at first, was highly amused; but Burke was in earnest and he soon found it was impossible to dissuade him from his purpose. After trying every argument he could think of, in vain, he at last said, “Well Burke, if you are determined to shoot McMahon on the ground you have put, you must first come out with me”. “With you? Why that's absurd”. “I know it's absurd that you should have a shot at me for having promoted you, but if any person is to blame for that, I am”. “No no — McMahon suggested it”. “Yes and I carried it out. Therefore you must first meet me before you can treat with McMahon. You can go out with him afterwards if you like, but you must not forget that I come before him. You have spoken of the feelings of an Irish gentleman, and I appeal to you whether I have not a prior claim to McMahon, as the head of his Department and as the one who actually gave you the promotion for which you intend revenging yourself on him?”. “Oh! this is too ridiculous Mr. Foster”. “I grant it; ridiculous, but I am an Irish gentleman too, remember, and do you suppose I can allow another man to be shot at for what I myself have done — at least before I have been out myself? No Burke — if you have any private cause of quarrel with McMahon, I can have, as a private gentleman, nothing to say to it; but I cannot permit this matter to be made the pretext for a challenge. I am responsible for it in the first instance, and I now tell you that I shall expect you as a gentleman — to take no steps until you have settled with me”. “Well really — this is not at all what I contemplated” pleaded poor Burke who began to see his chance melting away. “Gad! it's too absurd”. “Yes it is — it's very ridiculous for
two men who have no ill will to go out — but you have placed me in a dilemma and I see no honorable way out of it, but for you to meet me before calling out McMahon”.
Fitzgerald told me that Burke was completely sold. He had set his heart upon having McMahon before him for the fancied affront he had passed on him; but the new turn affairs had taken puzzled him mightily. He walked up and down and argued that, inasmuch as the sting of the whole thing lay in the original suggestion of McMahon, that he was not fit for the post he occupied, surely he was the man to be revenged on. Fitzgerald said “oh! Certainly he might be — but as a point of honour, you know, I have the priority. You need'nt do more than wing me, you see, and then you can do as you like with McMahon”. Burke laughed and left and gave it up. But he never forgave McMahon.
F. then told me of another duell that he was successful in preventing — a graver affair than that of Burke'. During the Crimean war it was apprehended in the Colony, that some Russian ships of war might swoop down on Melbourne and lay us under contribution, or shell the City. There was a Royal Commission to consider the best mode of defending ourselves. Col. Valiant of the 48th submitted a plan of defence, one part of which in volved his proceeding to England for the purpose of procuring some munitions of war. There were a good many comments on this proposition of the gallant Colonel, and old Col. Anderson said at a private party, at which Fitzgerald was, that he thought it somewhat extraordinary that the Commander of the Troops should wish to leave the Colony at a time when it was possible we might be attacked. Fitzgerald told this to Valiant privately when he pressed to carry out his scheme, with the view of deterring him from arguing it further. Valiant at once fired up and told Fitzgerald that he must at once demand satisfaction for this imputation on his honour and courage. F. represented to him that he could not make use of this private communication. He would not listen to anything, but got up to set off hot foot. F. saw what an awkward position he would be placed in if the matter proceeded to extremities and saw there was only one way to extricate himself. “Col. Valiant — I cannot permit this duel to take place. I have told you in confidence what passed in a private conversation and I will not allow you to make the use of my communication that you propose. This would be such a breach of confidence that I tell you candidly I will not suffer it. To do you a service and prevent your pursuing a matter which had caused perhaps disparaging remarks, I did what I ought not to have done — I related what was said in my hearing by a gentleman, who uttered it without the slightest idea that it would ever be repeated. Therefore I shall hold you responsible for any advantage that you may take of this conversation. You shall not call out Col. Anderson on account of it — or if you do I shall be compelled to demand satisfaction from you myself.” “Oh! well” said the Colonel “I have no wish for anything of that kind, and I must take some other means to effect my object I suppose”. “Yes, but understand distinctly that you must not, either directly or indirectly, make use of the information gathered from me”. Valiant complied — though with rather a bad grace. Not long after he returned to Fitzgerald (or Foster rather) and told him, that having procured the same intelligence from a different source, he should consider himself at liberty to act as he thought proper. F., however, said “No, Colonel Valiant, whatever information you may have gathered since you saw me, has undoubtedly flowed from the conversation between us, and as such I shall consider it. You may choose any other cause of quarrel you like with Col. Anderson, but you shall never fight him on this subject, without coming out with me afterwards”. Here the matter ended. Valiant was either unable to find any decent pretext for calling out a gallant old soldier, or he thought better of it.
Not long after poor Snodgrass' death Farie, Bell, Zeal and some old Colonists were discussing his fondness for duelling in his youth, and several stories were told of the early days. It appears he called out Sir Redmond, then Mr. Barry. I forget whether they fought. He sent a message to E. Bell, who requested Farie to act for him. Farie mentioned that he would neither allow Bell to go out
nor to apologise. Then Snodgrass wanted to have him out, and wrote a most extraordinary letter that could scarcely be deciphered. Snodgrass was so screwed he could only just manage to hold a pen, and begged to be excused for the writing as he was suffering from ophthalmia! The subject of duels led to mention being made of one that occurred between Dana and Welsh. They were travelling together and came to a place where there was only one bed, about which they quarrelled. They had both been drinking heavily and as neither would give way, they determined to fight at once. It was so dark however they could'nt see beyond a few feet. In this dilemma, Dana suggested they should toss who should hold a lighted candle while the other fired; and, in the event of missing, they should have alternate shots until one or the other fell — the survivor to take the bed! This happy thought was at once acted on and they blazed away at each other without effect. They were so drunk they could hardly stand. It ended by their going in for a further supply of liquor, which they drank amicably during the armistice and by which they were so overcome that they fell asleep and dropped on the floor; where they remained till long after daylight, when they mounted their horses and rode off firmer friends than ever.
This started another duel in the bush by candle-light between two men also very drunk. In this instance the combatants had the advantage of being attended by seconds. Finding that their principals could neither of them stand, they hit upon a very ingenious device. They picked out two gum-trees about the correct distance from each other and tied their friends to them — leaving the arms free. Then they placed a table handy to each gentleman and on it placed a candle, some powder and balls, and an empty pistol. When all these arrangements were completed, the adversaries were informed they could go to work as soon as they liked and fire away as fast as they could load. The seconds then left them to their sport and retired.
Some one called up Fletcher one morning to borrow his duelling-pistols. “Very sorry”, said Jack, “want 'em myself this morning.” “Oh! hang it! What shall I do”? “Well if you can't get anything else you had better take that air-gun of mine — it will kill at forty paces”! What miserable privations they had to undergo and what terrible makeshifts they had to put up with in those days! No comforts! No luxuries! Fancy these wretched duellists having to rough it with an air-gun!
Sir Charles Hotham's Governorship
The Executive Council that Sir C. Hotham found here hated him most cordially, and perhaps there was little wonder that they should. They were all men of mark, high minded honorable men, and had little disposition to accept the position that Sir Charles pretty plainly indicated they must take. As an instance of the nature of the Governor's doings Fitzgerald told me that on one occasion Childers (Hugh Culling Eardley — Member for Pontefract) who was then Collector of Customs, had occasion to go to the Heads on duty. Sir Charles took the opportunity to go to the Custom House, ordered the Clerks to produce papers and books, invited Complaints from the Department to be made him personally, and made some very severe observations as to the manner in which affairs were conducted. Childers came back in a towering rage, wrote out his resignation in most unusual official language (for he left the Governor to entertain no doubt as to his, Childers's opinion of his conduct), placed it in Foster's hands, and insisted on his handing it to the Governor. Foster tried to calm the irascible Collector, but he was implacable.
The Chief Secretary then went to the Governor — who had by the bye, in addition to his other pleasantries, written an offensive memorandum on the Customs Department. Foster told him he must withdraw that minute. Language such as this was so harsh, that he was staggered. Foster, however, as the head of the Executive Council pointed out to His Excellency that the reflection he had made on one of his colleagues was so uncalled for, so unjust, and had been written under such peculiar circumstances that he was bound to withdraw it, and moreover to express his regret that he had written it under a misapprehension. High words passed — the Governor stormed about his being a K.C.B. — but he finally consented to submit; Foster
took back Childers's resignation to him; he continued to hold office until the advent of Responsible Government, and is now enjoying a pension from the Colony.
Fitzgerald told me that the Executive Council were continually urging him on to do battle on their account. Stawell (now our Chief Justice) was very restive. Capt. Clarke and Capt. Pasley were both fine independent manly fellows and were monstrously inclined to kick over the traces. Childers was at a red heat. Fitzgerald himself was a timid vacillating man up to a certain point. He was, I fancy, disposed to make things go as smoothly as he could and tried to prevent an open rupture. He was also, probably, from what I have heard, somewhat in awe of the quarter-deck manner of Sir Charles. He must have led a pretty life between the bullyings of his own colleagues and the things he had to endure from the Governor. He says it was a very difficult position and I can readily believe he found it so. It was only when he was fairly driven into a corner and was forced to fight for bare life, that he ever ventured to tackle the Governor. It is a pity his success on such occasions did not make him bolder at all times.
Fitzgerald told me today that he heard a few years ago the Colonial Office were going to make Dewes (Police Magistrate at Ballarat formerly) Treasurer of Columbia. He went at once to Gordon Gairdner, procured the Blue Book, and pointed out how Dewes had been dismissed for accepting bribes while a magistrate here. Gairdner was much obliged for the information, but to Fitzgerald's surprise it was altogether disregarded; for Dewes was confirmed in the appointment, went out, robbed the Treasury and bolted with the funds. Fitzgerald called on Gordon Gairdner again and expressed his surprise that he should have been appointed, in the face of such clear evidence of former villainy. Gairdner said he was a protege of Sir G. B. Lytton' and had sufficient interest to upset the influences brought against him. “Well”, said Fitzgerald, “you have got rid of him now, for he's committed suicide”. “I'm not so sure of that,” replied Gairdner, “for he has committed suicide twice before.”
Ireland, formerly Attorney General, makes no secret of his having bribed the Members of Assembly of his time. He was in the habit of lending them money, always through a third person, on bills or notes at short dates which were insured. I was amused by the account of his manner of influencing Don — that red-hot patriot. Don asked him to transfer a license for his public-house, but Ireland raised some objection and finally agreed to let the matter stand over for a month. During that month Don voted with the Ministry. At the end of it, he again applied to the Attorney General, who however declined to comply with the request, but gave him another month's probation with the same satisfactory result as regards votes. This difficulty about the license was stretched over three or four months, during all which time Don continued to vote correctly; but he brought some pressure to bear on the government, and the license was at length transferred in one form, and the very night afterwards Don went over and voted against them. “Confound the fellow”, said Ireland, “if they had been guided by me, he would never have got that transfer”!
The Duke of Edinburgh's Visit
We are to have the Duke of Edinburgh here in a month, or thereabouts. The “Age” of yesterday has an article on the subject of his coming, ridiculing the pretensions of all the little out of the way Townships in the Colony that are reckoning on his paying them a flying visit, and seizing the opportunity of having to sleep at the Melbourne Club … If Prince Alfred be a self-willed youngster, and has no turn for addresses and deputations and ceremonials, I expect he will be mighty apt to upset all the ridiculous plans for his entertainment. Fancy his laying the foundation stone of a “Little Bethel” at Mopoke Gully, or going to a Dignity Ball at Sludgeville. The latter might suit him perhaps if he could go incog. but as arranged it would be insufferable. There is a great flutter in the Bosom of Society. South Yarra is tremulous with expectation. Our Duchesses are dying to yield…
According to the “Age” the Prince will stay here about three weeks. How is he to be
amused? it asks. Well if he kicks over the traces that he is to be put into, as I anticipate he will, and smashes the programme of the Governor, he will probably prefer a trip up the country, with a kangaroo hunt and some parrot shooting after the manner of new chums, to the charms of the Corporation of Goldopolis. It would not surprise me much, if he were even to decline accepting the invitation to the Banquet — whatever that may be — that the Melbourne Club proposes to give him, pleasant fellows as we are … If he rides, as I should suppose he does, it would be rare fun for him to ride down an emu, or to have some Wallaby coursing.
The Illumination of Melbourne will be a costly affair by all accounts. The preparations for it are on a gigantic scale. I find the Club has made its arrangements for expending £200 on the gas fittings alone. If every building does the same, proportionally, the entire cost will amount to a very pretty penny. At some private houses, I hear they are going to lay out £50 on this item. If the two Gas Companies can manage to supply the demand Collins Street will be all in a blaze …
28 November. The accounts as to the Governor's Ball last night I find are various. The women folk do not seem to have enjoyed themselves so much as they expected. Farie told me he had to give up his partner, Mrs. Panton, to the Duke, for the Scotch Reel. He says he shouted just like any other wild Scotchman. I fancy however it was rather too near an approach to an Exhibition. As Scott said he came on like a “Bounding Brother” and performed his celebrated comic act to thunders of applause, bringing down the house in fact. Armit told me the Duke tried to waltz with Miss Mabel M. Sutton, but directly he started half a dozen couples followed in full sail and he was cannoned from one to another so that he was compelled to bow to his partner and retire — though whether because of the denseness of the crowd, or that the lady was rather “heavy in hand” does not appear.
There was a dreadful fiasco at the “Free Banquet” this afternoon. I was just about starting for it when Standish came in with his eyes filled with dust and in the most filthy state. He told me that the crowd was something fearful, and that the Police had lost all control over them. By some unfortunate mismanagement the time for the Prince's arrival had been altered and the result was the people had got frantic at waiting in the heat and dust, had rushed the tables, and were in the wildest disorder. He had fortunately met the Prince as he was going on the ground, and had taken on himself to intercept him and prevent his going. He said that had he gone, he is quite sure that great loss of life must have ensued. Women and children must have been crushed by the crowd pressing forward to any point the Prince may have gone. Having represented this to H.R.H. he exercised a wise discretion and turned back — delegating to Standish the rather awkward and not very gracious task of announcing that he would not appear to the unruly multitude. Standish says the scene was something grand in its tumult, uproar and confusion. They made a lane for him to the raised Dais from which he signified H.R.H.'s intention of not appearing. The announcement was the signal for the wildest disorder. The platform was rushed, and he was nearly being thrown down. His faithful “bobbies”, however, sallied round him and he at last got away. He expects to be mauled a good deal in the Press, for having taken on himself the responsibility of advising, or suggesting, the Prince's retiring from the scene; but he says he should certainly take the same course again for life must have been sacrificed, if the Prince had gone.
The transparency at Protestant Hall wears a melancholy look today. The canvas all in tatters, the framework shivered and the windows smashed, hardly realise the defiant motto — “This will we maintain” — part of which is still visible. Great has been the outcry in the city at the foul outrage of these bigoted Irishmen. The general feeling is that it is a pity they can't be turned into some safe enclosure, and left to fight it out so as not to endanger the life of rational beings …
Standish told me he had the greatest fun up the country — at Moffat's especially. He found the rich Western squatter, on his arrival, in a state of the most intense and ludicrous funk
as to the manner in which he was to receive the Duke. He was fearfully nervous and begged S. to coach him up as to the ceremonial to be observed. The poor fellow was told he must walk backwards in the manner shown to him. He was also to ask H.R.H.'s permission to say grace before dinner — a long grace which Standish wrote out for him. When dinner arrived and all was ready, poor Moffat tried to say, “May it please your Royal Highness may I be permitted to say grace” — but he bungled it so that the Duke fancied he asked him to say grace and looked quite puzzled — but casting his eye in the direction of Standish and observing him and one or two others who were in the secret, almost bursting with suppressed laughter, he seemed to begin to think something strange was coming and only inclined his head. Moffat taking this for assent tried a grace of his own — not the one that had been taught him. The next morning at breakfast, he went to Standish and asked if he was to say grace again then; but S. gravely told him there was no necessity for doing it at breakfast, but at dinner he must not fail to ask a blessing. Before that meal arrived the Duke and several of the guests were aware of the manner in which Moffat had been taught, and there was a most irreverent disposition to laugh at the table.
Rutledge — “Terrible Billy” — was at Moffat'. The Duke took quite a fancy to him and was delighted when he got him next to McCulloch and they talked politics; for Billy would stigmatise the government, of which McCulloch is the Premier, as the most corrupt, disgraceful, shameful government that ever the Colony was cursed with, &c.
Standish told me the Duke had received an anonymous letter, warning him against himself — stating that he was a notorious gambler and was associated with disreputable characters on the Turf &c — winding up by saying that the writer did not sign his name because if by any accident Capt. S. should learn it, such was his vindictiveness he should not consider his life safe &c. The Duke showed the letter to S. himself.
Advice to Governors (a letter to Lord Newry, transcribed in the Diary)
My experience of Governors and of Vice Regal Courts has been pretty extensive. Although never an Official Swell, I have had ample opportunities of observing what has been going on here and of knowing most of the doings in the neighbouring Colonies. From my little stand-point I have drawn my conclusions as to the grand secret of success, or failure, of a Governor. I believe the greatest difficulty he experiences, when he finds himself only installed in his government is — where to draw the line. (Of course I am speaking now purely of the social, and not the political aspects, of his position — although the one reacts on the other.) He finds himself in a fix as to who is to be invited and who is to be left out. The local jealousies and the antecedents of folks are all unknown to him. Consequently he is plaguy apt to make some infernal, unlucky, mistake, in the way of bringing people together who would like to cut each others throats over the festive board. I have known the most ludicrous instances of this kind occur, but I won't stop now to tell them. I will at once come to my two great rules for the guidance of Governors.
The first is — carefully to distinguish between what may be called “State” or “Officialentertainments and private parties. This requires explanation perhaps to make my meaning very evident. You must know, then, that in these Colonies, as you have probably seen, a very curious lot come to the surface as mayors, ministers and what not. The old residents, of good social position, are fast elbowed out of all public places in a democratic community. The incomers are a sturdy, battling, fighting, set, and their manners don't accord with the tastes and feelings of the former race. The two are as oil and water. In time however they begin to amalgamate; they soften down by degrees and would mix tolerably well — but in steps madam. Now men may overlook the accidents of birth and education in each other — but women never. They have an everlasting recollection of that Mrs. Tomkins when she kept the toy-shop in George St. and don't forget to inform you that that pretty girl with whom you were dancing
has a mother who, for many years, was the best clear-starcher on the North Shore. Lovely woman is hard on her “sect”, and keeps alive the social distinctions no matter to what height the husband may rise. If then, the wife of a Governor makes the fearful mistake of collecting these turbulent elements in one room, she will, sooner or later, have cause to regret it.
Of course it's very difficult for a newly arrived Governor to find out all these things. The safest plan therefore is not to entertain at all for the first few months after his arrival. There will be a few growls about inhospitality and so forth, but they are easily settled as compared with the fatal error of asking the wrong people at the wrong time.
My second apothegm, however, is the most important. I look on it as a Golden Rule. It is to exclude everybody that can possibly be excluded from Govt. House. This may sound strangely, but I maintain that the more carefully a Governor and his wife bear it in mind, the greater will be their chance of achieving social success and the less the likelihood of their making enemies. He should always recollect that the larger the circle of the happy admitted, the greater the number of the discontented secluded. This is easily demonstrated. An illustration is not an argument — but I'll give you one.
So long as all tradesmen here in Victoria were excluded from the Birth-Day Ball, a few only of the richest of those in Collins St. — with their villas on the Gardiner's Creek Road — were dissatisfied with the state of affairs. The others accepted it as the natural one. By dint of perseverance, effrontery, and those arts that are known only to Aides, they managed to carry their point with a weak Governor, who thought to gain popularity by the concession. What was the result? As soon as the upper-crust shop-keepers in Collins St. get tickets, all those who had been invited were ineffably disgusted to begin with. Then every retail dealer in Collins St. thought himself entitled to, and clamoured for, an invite. This was resisted for a time, but the principle having been once laid down the pressure became so great it soon had to be extended in that fashionable street. Then Bourke St. was up in arms. Why should a tailor in one street have the pas of a linen-draper in the other? Why should poor Mrs. Smith of Bourke have all the aggravation of listening to the glories of Toorak from Mrs. Jones of Collins? Why should such gall and wormwood be poured into her as “I says to Lady Hotham, says I, Yes, Madam — I mean Your Ladyship”? Who can wonder that the wretched “one horse” Smith is egged on to assert himself — to demand a ticket for himself his missus and his gals to the Birth Day Ball? Thus the wars spread. The number of the mal contents goes on increasing portentously — getting more exigent the lower the social scale — until there's a howl of execration throughout the land.
It's a fatal mistake, believe me, for a Governor to neglect to “draw his line” very carefully and to forget to stick it religiously. It's a fearful sign of weakness and irresolution ever to yield to the solicitations, entreaties, threats, menaces, promises, and the thousand and one influences brought to bear by the original few who have been left out in the cold. On the advent of every new Governor, of course all those aspirants for social distinction that have been successfully repressed in the former reign, press forward again and urge their claims with more than their old impudence. I fancy I can detect something of this kind going on now in Sydney. I almost fear that Lord Belmore has begun on the wrong principle. One man writes that he (Lord Belmore) “has made up his private parties (coram Duce) not only with ministers but their wives; several of them not in humanised society at all, and others scarcely admitted”! I can laugh at this and rather enjoy the fun of seeing the “Bosom” in hysterics. You see I have no wives or daughters to preserve from contamination and find perhaps a secret, selfish satisfaction in the horror and consternation of the respectable world — but it's dangerous work for a Governor to disregard these things — as one or two have found to their cost. If the game is worth your candle therefore, hint to Lord Belmore the
propriety of knocking off all entertainments after H.R.H. goes until he has had ample time to get the carte du pays. You may tell him he has difficult cards to play, for he comes after one of the most politic and successful Governors ever sent out to Australia; and it behoves him to be wily and cautious. A few false steps now will lead him and Lady Belmore into the snares laid for them. Impress on them this fact — that they can't possibly avoid offending somebody and that it is better to offend the right people than the wrong people: but above all things to remember the Golden Rule — to exclude everybody they can from Govt. House. For every being pleased by an invite, scores are rendered miserable by being omitted. A. B. & C. don't care a pin about it so long as D. is not asked; but let D. get a card and the other letters are frantic. How much better then to offend D. at once than to bring down the whole alphabet thundering at the door!