The Late John Pascoe Fawkner

Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, Melbourne

1 October1869

On Saturday, 4th September, the whole population of Victoria were saddened by the announcement of the death of an old man who had peculiar claims on their regard. The death was not unexpected, for the old man had reached the age of seventy-seven; but it left a gap in the ranks of old colonists which can never be filled.

One or two older colonists than the late Mr Fawkner are yet among the living; but none of them took such a prominent part as he did in the early settlement of the colony, and none has been so closely identified with every phases of its history from the commencement until now.

He claimed indeed to be the founder of the colony, and he carried the claim with him to the grave, for it was inscribed upon his coffin. He was certainly one of the early pioneers; and he had much to do with the foundation of Melbourne; he contributed to its prosperity with the energy, perseverance and public spirit characteristic of his prime, and, as the Father of the city continued until a day or two before his death to watch over its progress.

But though persistently contending for recognition as the founder of the colony, his exclusive claim cannot be admitted without doing injustice to the prior claims of others.

If to be founder of Victoria means that he was the first to discover the most fertile and attractive region hitherto found in Australia, the proud discovery is not his. As far back as 1824 Messrs Hume and Hovell, setting out from the settled districts of New South Wales with the view of exploring the territory west-ward to the sea, were the first to discover the Australian Alps, the upper portion of the Murray, the Ovens and the Goulburn, the dividing ranges, the extensive plain between the Werribee and Geelong, and from the top of the You Yangs looked down upon the waters of Port Phillip -"There they gazed on as fair a scene as ever met the sight of an explorer, but lonely as the grave.

Barely forty years after," says the Rev. J. T. Woods, from whose history we quote, "I have enjoyed the same view; but it was a thing of life. At the opposite extremities of the plain were two large and populous cities, looking in the clear atmosphere of Australia by far too important and extensive to be the work of two hundred years.

Could anyone have told Hume what a future he was preparing for the place, he would indeed have been proud of the position in which his discoveries had that day placed him -" Equal in importance to Hume and Hovell's overland expedition, so far as the value of the country discovered is concerned, was that of Major (afterwards Sir Thomas) Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales.

Towards the close of 1835, he explored the Murray to its junction with the Darling; then turning back and proceeding along the Murray's left bank, he discovered the rivers Loddon, Avoca, and subsequently, as he proceeded westward the Wimmera, the Wannon and the Glenelg, and reached the coast at Portland Bay. As he returned he passed the Grampian ranges, which he had already seen, climbed the lofty Mount William, Mount Arapiles, Mount Abrupt, Mount Sturgeon, and from the summit of Mount Macedon obtained a view of Port Phillip as far as Point Nepean, distant fifty miles off.

As Home and Hovell had done before him, he named all the mountains and streams which he passed in his course. On his return to Sydney he had a stirring story to tell. As he says in his journal:"At length we had discovered a country ready for the immediate reception of civilised man, and destined, perhaps, eventually to become a portion of a great empire. Unencumbered by too much wood, it yet possessed enough for all purposes. Its soil was exuberant, and its climate temperate; it was bounded on three sides by the ocean, and it was traversed by mighty rivers and watered by streams innumerable.

Of this Eden I was the first European to explore its mountains and streams, to behold its scenery, to investigate its geological character, and by my survey to develop those natural advantages certain to become, at no distant date, of vast importance to a new people." In this grand discovery then Fawkner had no share, except to wonder when he heard of it, and prepare to settle in the country when he could find opportunity.

To Hume and Hovell belongs the honor of traversing it from the Snowy Mountains to the waters of Port Phillip; to Sir Thomas Mitchell the equal honor of traversing it in a more northern course, from the Murray to Portland Bay. Passing now from the era of discovery to the era of settlement, we ask, was Mr Fawkner the first settler? and again the answer is "No."

On reaching the end of his journey westward, Major Mitchell found at Portland Bay the Messrs Henty living amid their flocks and herds. They were emigrants from Tasmania, who had crossed to Victoria two years previously for the purpose of whaling and squatting, and were busy importing sheep and cattle in order to occupy the country around them. The next attempt at settlement was made by John Batman, who had long been a Tasmanian resident, like the Brothers Henty, and was probably encouraged by their success, of which he could hear through the communication which was regularly kept up by vessels from Launceston.

For six years before carrying his project into effect, Batman had cast longing eyes on the new land of promise across the straits. He had solicited permission to occupy land there from the Government at Sydney, and when his proposals were declined, on the plea that the district known as Port Phillip lay beyond the limits of the colony of New South Wales, he and his associates in the project concluded to help themselves by purchasing land from the natives.

Mr. Batman sailed from Launceston on the 12th May, 1835, in a small vessel called the Rebecca, accompanied by seven Sydney natives who had worked on his farm in Tasmania, and landed at Indented Heads in Port Phillip on the 20th of the same month. He made a general survey of the land around Port Phillip, from the Indented Heads to the Merri Creek, and found it all that could be wished. In the course of his rambles about the Merri Creek he met with a native camp, where he found eight chiefs, to whom he explained through the Sydney blacks accompanying him that he wanted to buy land and come to live among them.

Here an arrangement was made between Batman and the chiefs, by which two millions of acres were purchased for a trifle in behalf of himself and the parties associated with him in the enterprise. In order to secure the territory thus acquired, Batman formed a settlement at the Indented Head, and leaving there a few of his companions, with instructions to erect a hut and commence a garden, sailed to Launceston, which he reached on the 11th June.

Exception has been taken both to the manner in which the purchase was made and the purpose which the parties had in view in making it. It has been condemned as an infamous bargain with ignorant savages. Infamous it may have been, but are not all the so-called bagains that civilised men make with savage tribes of a similar character?

Was the Messrs Henty's previous possession of territory, or Fawkner's subsequent occupation, conducted on a principle more equitable to the aborigines? We need not dwell on the point, as the sales alleged to have been made by the natives were not recognised by the British Government. Then again, Batman's party have been denounced as squatters; but was not Fawkner just as much a squatter as any of them? One question more remains.

Was Fawkner the founder of Melbourne? If the answer to this question is to be given faithfully, it must be said that he was only one of the founders. While Batman was over at Port Phillip, surveying its general capabilities as a grazing and agricultural district, he met, as we have seen, some native chiefs on the banks of the Merri Creek, and it was somewhere about the present site of Northcote, and overlooking Collingwood Flat, that he made his treaty with them for the land, which, be it remembered, included the site of Melbourne.

On leaving them, he passed through a forest, which, from the description, must have been what is now called the Royal Park, contiguous to the University; then, walking over the hills forming the sites of Fitzroy, Carlton, East, West and North Melbourne, and crossing the swamp known by his name, he reached the Saltwater River. He thus traversed a great part of the future city five months before Fawkner had seen the locality at all.

More than that: before reaching his vessel which was lying near the mouth of the Yarra, he got on the point at the junction of the Saltwater River with the Yarra, and as the wind was unfavorable at the moment for the ship leaving her anchorage, he took a row up the Yarra in his boat. Here we must quote his very words:- "The boat went up the large river I have spoken of, which comes from the east, and I am glad to state, about six miles up, found the river all good water and very deep.

This will be a place for a village." The spot Batman thus selected for a village is now the Melbourne Wharf. The particulars of Batman's visit are found in his official correspondence, and confirmed by the testimony both of Robson, the mate of the vessel which brought Batman over, and of George Evans, one of Fawkner's company, and also by the statements which appeared at the time in the Launceston Press.

As Batman was the first to discern the eligibleness of the site on which Melbourne now stands, what, then, was Fawkner's part in the founding of the city? Early in the year 1835 he had arranged in his own mind a plan of colonisation for Port Phillip, and in order to carry out his scheme, took five residents of Launceston into his confidence. They were neither his partners in a co-operative association, nor his servants, but men of means, willing to make a venture in the new country, of which they had heard glowing accounts. He purchased the Enterprise, a schooner of about fifty-five tons burden, and had circumstances favored, he would probably have been in Hob- sop's Bay as soon as Batman, but he was detained by sickness, and the Enterprise sailed without him.

The arrival in the Yarra, and the commencement of a settlement on its banks, was quite undesigned on his part, for at the time the vessel left Launceston he knew nothing of the Yarra whatever; on the contrary, he gave directions to his friends on board to direct their course to Western Port, and in case of failing to find suitable country there, to proceed to Port Philip and search the eastern tide from Point Nepean. "The ultimate choice of the Yarra," says Mr Bonwick, after a full statement of all the particulars based on documental evidence, "was an accident of the party, independent of Mr Fawkner, unknown to him, and in opposition to his repeated instructions. He was not, at any rate, designedly the founder of Melbourne."

Finding nothing suitable either at Western Port or Point Nepean, the pioneers of the Fawkner party crossed the bay, anchored the Enterprise at Williamstown, and rowed up the Yarra till they sighted the undulating hills on the right hand and the left, and getting a draught of fresh water at the now well known spot where a reef of rocks runs across the river, staying the further advance of the salt sea tide, they exclaimed, "Here is the very place, and here we will stay." It was the very spot of which Batman had said, "This will be a place for a village.'

The Enterprise returned to Launceston, leaving one or two in charge, who built a hut and commenced to plough and sow. It has been said that Fawkner built the first house, but that is scarcely correct. In those days a mud hut was called a house, and the first one was built by George Evans.

It has also been said that Fawkner turned the first sod. How could that be, when the fact is that on making his first appearance on the soil with the return voyage of the little schooner, a fine crop greeted his eye? Mr Fawkner's part was to build the first substantial house, to open the first hotel, to establish the first newspaper, and when the Rev. Mr. Waterhouse, the first clergyman, arrived, to place a large room in the hotel at his disposal for divine service until a place of worship could be erected.

The chief romance of Fawkner's career is to have lived to see Melbourne what it is. Seeing Old Johnny, as he was familiarly called, sitting in the Legislative Council, bowed with age, a few straggling white hairs visible below the rim of his picturesque velvet skull cap, we have been reminded of a brilliant passage in the oratory of Burke, illustrative of the growth of national prosperity which may happen within the short period of the life of man.

Burke's speech was delivered in 1775 upon moving his resolutions for conciliation with America; and if we leave out a few words, substitute Australia for America, and Fawkner for Lord Bathurst, referred to by the orator, the passage will run thus:- "Suppose, sir, that the angel of this auspicious youth should have drawn up the curtain, ... and should point out to him a little speck, scarce visible in the mass of national history - a small seminal principle rather than a formed body - and should tell him: Young man, ...

Whatever England has been growing to by a progressive increase of improvement, brought in by varieties of people, by succession of civilising conquests, civilising settlements in a series of seventeen hundred years, you shall see as much added to her by America [Australia] in the course of a single life. If this state of his country had been foretold to him, would it not re- quire all the fervid glow of enthusiasm to make him believe it?

Fortunate man, he has lived to see it." This, then, is Fawkner's glory; he lived to see the realisation of a grander dream than ever entered into the workings of his brain. Ere he died his memory touched two extremities - at the one, a mud hut on the banks of the Yarra, at the other, a mighty city - at the one, a speck, at the other, a nation with wealth, prosperity and empire stamped upon its brow.