Monday, June 11, 2012

The Errant Cook

In Colonial Queensland, an employee could be prosecuted under the provisions of the Hired Servants Act if they left the service of their employer without an acceptable reason.  Understandably, given the harsh conditions of early settlement, this led to a procession of cases though the courts of unhappy employees and employers.

One such case involved a cook engaged by George Thorne, the first resident of Ipswich and landlord of the Queen’s Arms hotel.  Thorne had originally come to the area as the overseer of a gang of convicts quarrying limestone, and stayed on as a free settler.


- At the Police Office, on Thursday, Mr. George Thorne, of the Queen's Arms, Ipswich, appeared before the Brisbane Bench, to prefer a complaint against John Doyle, for absconding from his hired service on the 23th ultimo.

The defendant, who is one of those bloated pocket editions of human nature, rarely seen in a hot climate, and whose countenance indicated that he has been in the daily habit of sacrificing freely at the shrine of the jolly god[1], had only been in the service of Mr. Thorne three days, when he left the house, taking his traps with him.

Chef Doyle insisted that he could not compromise his professionalism in the service of Mr. Thorne at the Queen’s Arms, by working with inferior ingredients.

The reason he assigned for leaving Mr. Thorne's service was, that he would not cook for anyone who did not provide what he considered proper requisites for the culinary department.

Among the articles enumerated by him were, essence of cinnamon, pickles, mushroom ketchup, and sauces of various kinds; all these, in the opinion of Mr. Doyle, were absolutely necessary to make a feed at all palatable.

Thorne would have nothing to do with this complaint, accusing the reluctant cook of never intending to remain in his employ.

Mr. Thorne informed the Bench that the fellow was an imposter, for he could not cook at all. In fact, he had told him to his face that he had not come from Sydney to work - his only object in hiring was that he might take advantage of "Graham's Act," and poke fun at people in this district.

The chef would not abide this attack on his character and his kitchen skills, declaring that Thorne wanted him to work as a lowly dishwasher.

On hearing this, Mr. Doyle became very indignant, and denied the charge in toto.

"You know," said he, addressing Mr. Thorne, "that you gave me nothing but salt beef and potatoes to cook for you, and what professional man of spirit would submit to such treatment. Besides, you also know very well that you wanted me to wash the dishes. Do you think I would submit to that?"

The court awarded him a return trip to Sydney along with three months accommodation.

His professional appeal, however, had but little weight with the Magistrates, and he was committed to the House of Correction in Sydney for three calendar months.

The newspaper felt obliged to point out that this case highlighted the poor quality of labour available to the good citizens of Ipswich.

We have reported this case more fully than, perhaps, is warranted by the circumstances. Our object, however, is to show what kind of servants the inhabitants of this district have to deal with. If we have not an importation of labour shortly, it will be far better for the masters to dispense with their assistance altogether. This man was hired by Mr. Thorne at £35 per annum! After this, further comment is needless. [2]

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier 2.1.1847

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