Friday, March 30, 2012

Pugilistic Encounters

Boxing matches, referred to in Colonial Queensland as pugilistic encounters, were popular events, whether they were prize fights or privately organised grudge matches to settle some score.

Poster for a Colonial Prize Fight

One fight of the latter variety took place in the rough and tumble world of South Brisbane in 1846. Strangely they were mates and remained so after the bout.  The physical contest seemed to be the only honourable way to settle a dispute.

As was the habit of the day, it was an open ended contest with no set number of rounds.  No gloves were worn.

After about forty rounds, the match was stopped by the police, but the two men later completed their trial by combat in the nearby bush.

Pugilist with Trophy
PUGILISM.-At the Police-office, on Tuesday, two sawyers, both rejoicing in the patronymic of William Davies, were summoned before the Magistrates to answer an information which had been filed against them for being the principals in a regular stand-up fight in South Brisbane, on Monday morning last. The defendants it appeared had made arrangements to settle an old grudge existing between them by an appeal to arms, on the morning in question.

Accordingly at the appointed hour a number of their backers as well as a great many other persons assembled to witness the contest. As we were not present on the occasion, it is out of our power, even if we had the inclination, which we have not, to furnish an account of the hits and knocks which were exchanged between the pugilists in about forty rounds of hard fighting; suffice it to say, that as soon as the Chief Constable got information of what was going on, he proceeded to the scene of action; his appearance with the other "traps" was the signal for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the parties retreated to the scrub, where they finished the battle.

The battle-worn chums presented a comical sight in the Court the next day.  Supporting one another they declared that honour had been satisfied on both sides and the dispute was now resolved. They were sent on their way with a fine.

The combatants appeared before the Bench on the following morning, with their frontispieces beautifully decorated with cuts, as the publishers say, and each with one eye in mourning. "Well," says the Police Magistrate to the defendants, "you appear to be two very reputable characters, what have you got to say for yourselves?" 

One of the parties thus questioned replied, "that he and his friend did not fight for money - nothing so low as that besides," says he, "there is no one in court can say that our noddles have not been disfigured by accident" (here the speaker tried to wink with his damaged eye, but failed most lamentably in the attempt).

His friend then put in a word, and said that they were both perfectly satisfied now, and were the best of cronies, having, "buried all unkindness." Whereupon, the Bench ordered them to find bail to keep the peace for three months, themselves in £10, and two sureties in £5 each.[1]

A rather less gentlemanly display occurred north of the river in 1848.

The correspondent was horrified not so much by the fury of the encounter but by the sight of an enthusiastic clutch of women urging them on.

PUGILISTIC DISPLAYS. - A correspondent in calling our attention to a desperate fight which took place in North Brisbane on Tuesday last, between a soldier and a sawyer, says:- "I counted no less than eight women who were present, looking on with great interest; and one disgrace to her sex was actually cheering and goading the men on by applause, oaths, and shouts! The virago was the wife of one of the combatants." 

O tempora, O mores![2]

Classic Pugilistic Stance
In 1848, a prize fight was organised in Ipswich between two pugilists with the colourful sobriquets of "The Native" and "Black Bill."  Ipswich at that time was a nascent township but the event drew a great crowd from the surrounding districts. Because the bouts could go on for hours, the contest was set to commence at seven in the morning.

A pugilistic encounter took place yesterday morning at seven o'clock, about four miles from hence, between James Smith, a Scotchman by birth, but having arrived in the colony as a child, commonly called "the Native" and William Jones, better known as "Black Bill." The match was for £50 side; it caused great excitement among the "Fancy," many of whom came a long distance to witness it; and on Monday evening the time appointed for settling preliminaries, our town was crowded with strange faces - all was bustle and preparation during the whole night, and about daylight in the morning the road leading to the scene of action was for at least a mile dotted with groups of twenty and thirty, equestrians and pedestrians, all flocking to the "mill".

Along with horse races, prize fights were accompanied by heavy wagers.

The partisans of each of the belligerents were about equally divided, bets consequently ran high. Shortly after seven the fight commenced but not withstanding the apparently friendly grip given at the commencement of these encounters, there was evidently a latent grudge existing between the parties, they therefore went at it pell mell, science being first kicked out the ring. Thirty-two rounds, which occupied only forty-two minutes, were fought with varied success, until the last round, when an unlucky blow on the jugular from the brawny fist of the "Native" left the hitherto victor of our northern settlement hors de combat[3].

Early View of Ipswich from Limestone Hill

After "Black Bill" is unable to continue, it is agreed to continue the match the following morning.  Accordingly many of the crowd decided to stay over in town and enjoy the hospitality of the local inns. Inevitably, a few over-indulgers found themselves guests in the town lock-up for the night.

On their return to town a large sum was, again, immediately subscribed for Jones to challenge his conqueror, but rounds has not been decided. As fighting was the order of the day during the whole forenoon of Tuesday, the "small fry" or backers of each party, considered that they might as well amuse themselves with a "turn up”, but as all had been sacrificing pretty freely to the Jolly God[4], it invariably ended with a shake hands and "another glass" saving the unfortunate wights[5] who happened to fall aboard of the officials, and were kindly accommodated with a night's lodging, for the trifling gratuity of eleven shilling to the funds of the Benevolent Society.[6]


No further mention of a rematch is mentioned in The Moreton Bay Courier, so it is reasonable to speculate that, for whatever reason, it did not eventuate.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 19 December 1846
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 18 December 1847; 
     O tempora, O mores! - Oh, the times! Oh, the morals! (Latin) Cicero.
[3] Out of fight, disabled from fighting (French) i.e. unable to continue.
[4] Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and merriment.
[5] A living being in general. OED
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 4 March 1848

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Doomed Romance

Colonial newspapers such as The Moreton Bay Courier relied on local correspondents for reports from the various districts. One such correspondent from Ipswich is recognisable for his florid writing style in which he shows off his obvious classical education.  

He peppers his prose with allusions to Greek and Roman mythology, Christian hagiography, as well as history and literature.

Idealised 18th Century View of a Shepherdess
(Shepherd piping to a Shepherdess, Francois, Boucher c.1747-50)

In 1846, the Ipswich correspondent submitted a piece entitled “Love in the Bush” regarding an attempted elopement from a sheep station, transforming a rather mundane story into a bucolic tale of unrequited love.

No names are mentioned.  Even the location is vaguely given.[1]

We have been informed that the blind god[2] has been making great havoc, lately on Darling Downs, and that a sad misadventure has befallen an ancient and respectable shepherd in that district. A knight of St. Crispin[3] has made free with one of the gentle shepherdesses, residing not a hundred miles from Jimba, and succeeded in inducing her to lay aside the crook to assume the zone of Venus[4].

The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 5 September 1846 

Though exceeding by some years the respectable age of forty, love still throbbed in the bosom of our hero, and he wooed and won the fascinating damsel, whose charms penetrated his double-breasted waistcoat, and captured with sweet agony his yielding affections.

The interesting fair one, be it known, possesses artificial, as well as natural attractions, and is a lady not only well-looking, but heiress to a fine flock of ewes, which she has been in the habit of tending for the last two years with assiduous care, which circumstance could not escape the observation of our Lothario, who, it may be accounted, therefore, not only loved well, but, (as the world goes) wisely.

Thrilling with dear anticipation, (having received the consent of the "gentle shepherdess" to the plighting of their troth), the ardent swain, in an importunate moment, induced the yielding fair one to elope from her father's house (hut) in order to enter into the silken loop of matrimony.

Shepherdess with her Flock
(Jean-Francois Millet 19th Century)

Horses having been provided, the happy pair were proceeding to our far-famed township, when their absence became known to the lady's relations; instant pursuit was resolved on, and the following day, the lady and her lover were discovered by the pursuers seated tete-a-tete[5] under a gum-tree, enjoying a comfortable pot of the best bohea[6], and damper.

On the appearance of the enraged parent and his assistants, who, by the bye, were armed to the teeth - consternation seized the amorous swain-love absconded - and he fled ingloriously, leaving the luckless dulcinea[7] in the hands of the captors.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 5 September 1846
[2] Cupid i.e. “love is blind.”
[3] Saint Crispin is the patron saint of shoemakers and leather workers.
[4] Roman goddess of love.
[5] Face to face (French)
[6] Bohea tea. The name  given in the beginning of the 18th c. to the finest kinds of black tea from China.(OED)
[7] The name given by Don Quixote to his mistress in Cervantes' romance; hence, A mistress, sweetheart, lady of one's devotion.(OED)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The First German Immigrant Ships Arrive, 1855

In the 1850s there was a great need for “quality labour” in the Australian Colonies.  Since the time of Rev. Lang in the 30s & 40s, the German States had been identified as a source of sturdy,     hard-working settlers.  Given the poor condition of many Germans due to overpopulation, famines, and civil strife – most notably the revolutions of 1848 - many desperate people were eager to improve their lot.  Over the following decades millions would uproot themselves and their families from their ancestral villages and embark on a one way voyage to the Americas, Australia and elsewhere.

Moreton Bay Courier, August 5,1854
Entrepreneurs set themselves up as Immigration Agents both in Europe and the New World.  Based in Sydney, the most prominent of importers of German labour to the Australian Colonies was Wilhelm Kirchner.  In 1854, he arranged for immigrants ships to sail directly from Hamburg to Moreton Bay.

Mr. H. Buckley, of Brisbane, has received advices of the first German emigrant ship Aurora, having sailed from Hamburg for Moreton Bay, together with the particulars respecting the emigrants, and their employers. The Merbs, the second emigrant ship, was to leave Hamburg, also for this port, on the 11th November.[1]

Temporary Lodgings for Emigrants, Hamburg (1882)
Bildarchiv Preu├čischer Kulturbesitz (

Despite being at sea for over four months, it was the practice not to stop on route for fresh provisions.  This was purely for economic reason – the quicker the voyage the greater the profit. It was also because, from experience, sea-weary passengers were often inclined to leave the boat at the first opportunity, say in Rio or Cape Town.

The first to leave Hamburg was the Aurora, which sailed on November 11, 1854. The Marbs (also given as Merbs or Merbz) departed two weeks later. Both vessels arrived off the Queensland Coast on the same day in March 1855.  The voyages were not without incident.  The Marbs had major health issues ever since leaving Hamburg.

Moreton Bay Courier, March 24, 1855

The Marbz entered the bay on Friday by the northern passage, and reached the anchorage without any mishap. She had, we believe, 250 immigrants on board when she sailed, but 47 in all, children and adults, died during the voyage from fever, measles, and cholera.[2]

The Aurora did not even manage to enter the bay.  With no local charts and not pilot appearing to guide the ship in, the Captain mistook the South Passage between Stradbroke and Moreton Islands for the main entrance.

A report reached Brisbane on Saturday morning, that one of the German immigrant ships which have been for some time expected, had run on shore while attempting to enter the bay by the southern passage, and that the other had safely reached the anchorage. The report turned out to be substantially correct.

The Aurora, from Hamburgh, with 300 immigrants, was off the south passage to the bay on Wednesday. It appears that there was no chart of the coast on board, and that the captain was ignorant that there was any other entrance. Several guns were fired and signals made to attract attention, but as there was no appearance of any assistance, it was determined to attempt the passage into the bay.

In running in it was found that to prevent a total wreck on the shoal on which the steamer Sovereign perished, and to save the lives of those on board, the only course left was to run the ship on shore. All sail was accordingly crowded on her, and she was run high up on the sand, on the seaside end of Moreton Island.

She stands quite upright, and is accessible at half ebb, being dry at her bows. It is not expected that she will be got off. The females and children on board have been removed to Cleveland, and the crew and immigrants are in good health and condition.[3]

The loss of the Aurora reignited debate about the inadequacy of navigation aids in the colony.

THE loss of the German immigrant barque Aurora supplies another painful proof of the wretched inefficiency of our Government at Moreton Bay. Admitting that great blame must be attached to the owners for sending the ship to sea without a proper chart, it is yet plain enough that a lighthouse at Cape Moreton would have prevented the error which has led to this catastrophe. That no lives were lost must be attributed to the mercy of Providence and the presence of mind of the Captain. The moral guilt of the long delay that has occurred in establishing this lighthouse remains as heavily upon the Government as if every soul on board had perished.[4]

Emigrant ship below decks
As for the Marbs, the Government Health Officer, Dr. Hobbs, was scathing of conditions on board that resulted in the loss of almost one in five passengers.

The high mortality rate and complaints of insufficient provisioning led the Health Officer for Brisbane, Dr. William Hobbs, to report the matter to the authorities. His report led to an inquiry into the conditions aboard the ship.

Dr. Hobbs was very critical of the insufficiency of clothing and the absence of fresh provisions and basic comforts. He attributed the high mortality to the lack of these necessities and suggested that unless the system was changed, it could be expected that other ships would suffer similar losses. He pointed out that the character of the vessel had to pay for each adult passenger - alive or dead - but would stand to lose nothing if all the passengers were to die, as he insured each of their lives.

Included in Dr. Hobb's report was the following scale of provisions and food allowance on which the "Marbs" immigrant existed for almost four months. The ship sailed direct - no ports were visited on the voyage from which fresh provision could have been obtained.[5]

The good doctor then listed the weekly bill of fare.

 Sunday - Half a pound of salt beef, and plum pudding.
Monday - Half a pound of salt pork, potatoes and sour cabbage.
Tuesday - Half a pound of salt beef, and peas.
Wednesday - Two salt herrings per adult, potatoes and beans
Thursday - Half a pound of beef, rice and treacle
Friday - Half a pound of pork, potatoes and peas
Saturday - Half a pound barley per adult and plums.

The allowance of bread per adult was five pound per week, of coffee, 31 pounds amongst the whole passengers. The allowance of butter was one half pound per week per adult, and of sugar a quarter of a pound per week per adult.

Medical comforts for the voyage consisted of - wine (claret) - 80 bottles, Arrowroot - six pounds, sago - forty pounds, Oatmeal - sixty pounds, Vinegar - 4 Hogsheads. There were no supplies of milk for the children, no porter (port), no spirits, no lime juice, no clothing, and no soap.[6]

Understandably the immigrants were delighted to be on dry land at last.

A German Immigrants. – On Friday last, the brig Brothers brought up the remainder of the immigrants from the two vessels, Merbz and Aurora. Whatever they may have suffered during the voyage, they appear to have landed in good health and   spirits. On Thursday evening a number of them, who had arrived on that day, paraded the streets of Brisbane in bands, singing their national airs, to the great enlivenment of our usually dull town, and to the manifest delight of its inhabitants. 

Early view of Queen Street, Brisbane 

The immigrants are now in the course of being dispersed over the district, to which we have no doubt they will turn out to be a great acquisition. They are decent orderly looking set of people, able bodied generally, and healthy in appearance and likely to take kindly to colonial life, and to thrive in their new home.  

As it appears there is no difficulty in procuring immigrants in Germany for this colony, we hope advantage will be taken of the inclination of that people to emigrate and that continuous numbers of then will be introduced, into these districts, where their national characteristics of steadiness and habits of economy, cannot fail to advance their interests. With all the sources as we can draw from, we shall find difficulty enough in making the supply of labour keep pace with the constantly increasing demands from the interior.[7]


The Aurora suffered its final indignity by being sold for scrap to local character “Old Tom” Dowse.

The wreck of the German barque Aurora was sold by auction on the 18th instant, for the sum of £310, Mr. Dowse being the purchaser.[8]

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier 3.2.1855
[2] Moreton Bay Free Press 20.3.1855
[3]  Moreton Bay Free Press 20.3.1855
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier 24.3.1855
[7] Moreton Bay Free Press, 27.3.1855
[8] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) 23 April 1855