Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Dissolute Career of the Cranky Cobbler

One of the many colourful characters in Colonial Queensland was a wayward mender of shoes, named James McAuliffe, popularly known about town as the “Cranky Cobbler”. 

Early view of Queen Street, Brisbane, looking to the south
When he was not at his workbench stitching boots, applying new soles, and tapping in hobnails, he was relaxing with strong drink, of which he consumed copious quantities.

This bibulous routine often brought the cobbler to the attention of the constabulary and the courts. His first reported appearance was in 1846 in Brisbane Town.
AN INCORRIGIBLE -At the Police-office yesterday, a man named James McAuliffe, whose strange vagaries have obtained for him the sobriquet of the Cranky Cobbler, was placed at the bar, charged with drunkenness and disorderly conduct. McAuliffe is well known as the most noisy individual in the district. He was fined twenty shillings and costs, and in default of payment was committed to the cells for forty-eight hours.[1]

The following year the cobbler again stood before the Bench, this time named as Edward McAuliffe but tagged with the same sobriquet. This time he was threatened with a stint in the Sydney Gaol. He made an impassioned if rambling appeal to Captain Wickham who sat on the Bench.

DRUNKARDS. —Tuesday was a busy day at the Police-office, owing to the Bench being engaged in receiving numerous involuntary contributions in aid of the funds of the Benevolent Society. Several of the bacchanalians tipped up handsomely — some to the tune of twenty shillings and costs. 

One individual named Edward McAuliffe, better known by the sobriquet of " cranky cobbler," and whose tippling propensities have made him somewhat notorious, was placed at the bar charged with being drunk and disorderly, and assaulting the constable in South Brisbane on the previous evening.

Drinkers in a colonial tavern
McAuliffe made an earnest appeal to the Magistrates, begging they would not send him to Sydney, as he had property on the way to his intended place of residence in the bush, which he would lose if he were committed to gaol. "You can either do me a good turn or a bad one," said the cobbler, coaxingly, to Capt. Wickham, "but, don't send me to Sydney, there's a good Captain." 

He then made a rambling statement respecting his abilities as a shepherd, and the masters he had served, one of whom he said on account of his good conduct "had given him toleration to draw rations free gratis."

The cobbler ended his harangue by assuring the Magistrates that if they let him off this time he would never trouble them again. The Bench sentenced him to pay a fine of twenty shillings and costs, and told him that if he committed himself in the like manner again, he would most certainly be sent to Sydney Gaol under the Vagrant Act.[2]

Old cobbler in his workshop
Despite his stated intention to leave town to work in the interior, it seems that the cobbler only made it as far as Ipswich when he was contracted to work for George Thorn, an innkeeper and founding father of the nascent township.

It appears that his unsociable behaviour did not abate and he was brought before the Ipswich Court, charged with violating his contract. His employer told the court that he only brought the charge to rid himself of this noisesome and disagreeable pest. To appease the court, the contrite cobbler offered to donate part of any wages due to him to charity. Unfortunately none were forthcoming from his ex-employer.
George Thorn
Beau Brummell
Case the third.-George Thorn v James McAuliffe, better known as the "Cranky Cobbler," for absconding. The plaintiff merely wishing to get rid of such cranky subject requested that the agreement should be cancelled, which was accordingly done.

The prisoner, in the most approved style of the Brummell[3] school, returned his grateful thanks to their Worships for their lenity, and, feeling confident that he had actually transgressed against the Act in this case made and  provided, requested that, out of any wages coming to him, ten shillings should be appropriated for the benefit of the Benevolent Society.

To this seemingly liberal offer; his master demurred, stating that "the boot was on the other leg," which left the Cranky Cobbler's donation a mere thing of imagination.[4] 

The following year the courts finally exhausted their patience with the cobbler and he found himself doing hard labour in prison.

A GOOD RIDDANCE.- A man named William McAuliffe, and who, under the soubriquet of "the Cranky Cobbler," has long been known in this district as an intolerable nuisance, was on Monday last sentenced to three months hard labour in the House of Correction, as an incorrigible drunkard, and an idle and disorderly character.[5]

Brisbane boot maker, George Street, ca.1870
Over the following years, McAuliffe found himself a frequent guest of the House of Correction which had little effect in correcting his bibulous behaviour.

Perhaps his most novel appearance before the Bench was on a charge of milking a neighbour’s cow. Fortunately for the cobbler, the complainant found it impossible to prove the offence had taken place.

James McAuliffe, defended by Mr. Collins, was charged with unlawfully using - that is, with milking a cow, the property of Adolph Nantschen, for whom Mr. Chubb appeared. The plaintiff failed to prove the fact, and the case was dismissed.[6]

The cobbler’s last reported appearance in court was in July 1867, once again for public drunkenness. He pleaded guilty, and was fined 10 shillings. After that he disappears from the public eye.

* Unless otherwise noted, images have been sourced from the digital archives of the State Library of Queensland and have no known copyright restrictions.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 27 June 1846
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 21 August 1847
[3] After Beau Brummell, the mannered style-setter of English high society.
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 9 December 1848
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 10 November 1849
[6] The Courier Tuesday 11 March 1862

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Love Police Prevail

In 1848, three young men appeared in separate cases resulting from their frustrated amatory adventures on both land and sea.

The first two incidents occurred on the immigrant ship Artemisia which dropped anchor in Moreton Bay in December 1848. The arrival was much anticipated as the Artemisia was the first immigrant vessel to sail directly from England to Moreton Bay. The colony had previously obtained immigrants arriving via Sydney.

The Immigrant Ship Artemisia
On board were 240 immigrants of whom there were 47 single males and 19 single women.

Given previous scandals, single women on board immigrant ships were closely supervised and segregated, but despite the best efforts love would occasionally find a way. These young women were recruited for domestic service in the colonies. Many were escaping impoverished lives in England.

The single women were supervised by the ship’s doctor and a matron recruited from the married women on board. One of their duties was to maintain the chastity of the young ladies in their care.
Constables were recruited from among the married men to keep order on the crowded ship.

It appears one of these volunteer constables on board the Artemisia had made himself rather unpopular during the voyage with the single men given his officious and heavy-handed attitude.

There had been altercations on board as a result of thwarted romantic attachments and two young men were brought before the court upon arrival in Brisbane Town. The first to appear was a crew member.

Between Decks on an Immigrant Ship

DECEMBER 20.-James Greenfield, a seaman, belonging to the Artemisia, was charged with having assaulted Robert Scott, an emigrant by that vessel, and who had been appointed to act as constable on board, on the 13th instant, while the ship was lying in Moreton Bay.

It appeared by the evidence of Dr. Barton, Captain Ridley, and one of the immigrants, that Scott had rendered himself obnoxious to the crew by the strict manner in which he performed his duty, in preventing the sailors from obtaining access to that part of the vessel appropriated to the unmarried women; and that upon two previous occasions he had been assaulted in consequence. [1]

Immigrants on deck
Obviously some romantic bond had been established during the voyage. Now that the immigrants were about to disembark, it appears the sailor tried to visit the object of his affections. When his way was blocked by the officious “constable’, the seaman did not react well.

On the day laid in the complaint, he was charged by the prisoner with having reported to the surgeon that he (prisoner) had gained access to a part of the ship where he was not allowed to be; and on complainant denying the imputation, the prisoner struck him a violent blow on the face, and afterwards twice repeated the assault.

The prisoner did not deny the offence but stated that he only struck one blow.  

The Bench having severely animadverted upon the misconduct of the prisoner, sentenced him to pay a fine of £4 7s. 6d., with 12s. 6d. costs, or to be imprisoned in Sydney Gaol for two months.[2]

Deck Scene of Immigrant Ship
(The Graphic  187
The next to appear was a young man caught up in similar circumstances. He had been trying to rescue his inamorata who had been confined for “improper behaviour”.

John Loudon was next charged, by the same complainant, with having committed an assault upon him, by pushing him, on the 27th of August last. It appeared that this offence had arisen out of similar circumstances to the last; and, in addition, it was proved, by the Captain and Dr. Barton, that the prisoner had acted in a very violent and insolent manner, by attempting to rescue one of the emigrants whom the Doctor had ordered to be placed under constraint for improper behaviour; and by telling his Captain, when cautioned as to his conduct; that he "did not mind getting into a scrape."

The threats of the prisoner had been so violent towards complainant that the Chief Officer had recommended Dr. Barton to remove complainant from his office, for fear that they might be carried into execution. This, however, the Doctor refused to do, as he was determined to maintain discipline, by supporting Scott in the discharge of his duty; but, as a matter of prudence, complainant was removed to another part of the vessel.

The Bench considered, the case clearly proved, and sentenced the prisoner to pay a fine of £4 7s. 6d with 8s. 6d. costs, or in default to be committed to Sydney Gaol for two months.[3]   
The third case involved a young bullock-driver, who was nabbed by a passing constable, while wooing the object of his affections beneath her window.

Thomas Graham was next charged with having been on Mr. G.S. Tucker's premises, at South Brisbane, for an unlawful purpose, at between ten and eleven o'clock on the previous evening.

The prisoner, who is a bullock-driver, in the employment of Captain Collins, had apparently been desirous of whispering a few sweet words to Mr. Tucker's servant woman, who did not receive a highly flattering character from her master. 

Constable McGuire saw the prisoner at the chamber window of the fair Scrubalinda; and apprehended him. There are two circumstances worthy of note, as the character of the humblest individual should be sacred until there be proof of guilty.

 It was   sworn that the girl was in the habit of leaving her bed-room window open, and it was also sworn by the constable that he saw the prisoner before he went to the window, and that, even if he entered the room at all, which seemed doubtful, he came out again instantly.

The Bench said that the prisoner had subjected himself, under the Vagrant Act, to six months' imprisonment, but, at the intercession of Mr. Tucker, and considering all the circumstances, the sentence would be seven days' hard labour in Sydney Gaol.[4]

The blindfolded god Eros (Bottecelli)

Thus did the love police prevail to frustrate the best efforts of Cupid and Eros.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 23 December 1848
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 23 December 1848
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 23 December 1848
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 23 December 1848