Saturday, April 13, 2013

Donnybrooks & Tipperary Boys

North and South Brisbane by Conrad Martens 1852
(National Library of Australia)

From the early days of free settlement, South Brisbane developed a reputation as the tough end of town where the residents kept the constables busy. Often the constables themselves ended up being drawn into the frequent melees.

ASSAULTING THE CONSTABLES. - At the Police-office, on Tuesday, Patrick O'Sullivan and John Penn, holding tickets-of-leave, were brought before the Magistrates charged with having violently assaulted Constable McBride in the execution of his duty, in South Brisbane, on Monday evening last.

One of the defendants, Mr. Sullivan, with the big O', which he insists on being placed before his patronymick, had been breaking windows at the Brisbane Hotel, and had conducted himself in a very disorderly manner when the landlady of that establishment gave him into custody.

Constable McBride, in obedience to his orders, was conveying him to the lock-up, when the other defendant Penn, alias Payne, gave him, in a   half-whisper, a little gratuitous advice, and told him not to go with the "traps[1], or he would be confined to the watch-house."

The advice was too palatable not to be followed, and the word "traps" seemed to have a magical effect on the "Tipperary Boy", who instantly wrested the constable's staff from its legal owner, and began to lay about him in the true Donnybrook[2] style.  

Caricature of a "Donnybrook" 
(A ‘Fair Fight.’ Samuel Lover, from “The Neighbourhood of Dublin,” by John Joyce.
Both friends and foes came in for their share of the blows, which he dealt about to all and sundry who either did or did not interfere with him. Two other constables having come to the assistance of McBride, the defendants were, after considerable difficulty, and some little coaxing, apprehended and taken to the lock-up.[3]

Remarkably, given the harsh sentences usually meted out at the time, the Magistrate chose only to impose a fine on the pair of miscreants. He also declined to cancels their tickets-of-leave which would have been the usual result of a convict falling foul of the law.

Give the severe labour shortage in the colony, this may have been understandable. There was also, as The Moreton Bay Courier observed, the distasteful connection with the Brisbane’s origins as a penal colony.

The Bench considering that this was an aggravated case, fined both defendants the sum of £4.10s each, and the Police Magistrate intimated that their tickets-of-leave would be recommended to be cancelled.

We understand, however, that he has since altered his determination. This is right and proper, for if the Magistrates think proper to punish men then holding tickets-of-leave in the same manner as free persons, we think that is all they should do; for it is high time, now that this is not a convict colony, that many of the odious regulations affecting this class should no longer be put in force.[4]

South Brisbane from North Quay in Brisbane, ca. 1869
(State Library of Queensland)
A second all-in-brawl took place in South Brisbane later that year. This time the constables were not part of the action.

Despite the detailed description of the melee given to the court, no reason for the initial attack was given. It may have been a territorial dispute, given that the victim was working on the construction of a fence at the time.

Perhaps it was considered just part of the rough and tumble lifestyles prevalent at the time, and not worth pursuing motives.

Colonial Police Constable ca. 1868
National Library of Australia
Assault.-William A. Biggs charged Bernard Sloan, Charles Sloan, and William Weston with assaulting him, on Wednesday the 26th ultimo.

The parties all reside in South Brisbane. It appeared from the evidence of Michael Slavin, that, in the morning of the day in question, he went to nail up some palings which separates his ground from that of Thomas Boyland, and while in the act of doing so the defendant, Bernard Sloan, jumped across the fence, knocked him down, and kicked him; the defendant Weston, to whom Slavin appealed for assistance, urging Barnard Sloan to continue kicking him.

Subsequently, the complainant Biggs arrived, and commenced dragging Sloan off Slavin, which induced the active hostility of Weston, who struck Biggs, and a tussle ensued between them in the course of which Weston came to the ground. Shortly after this, when Weston had again got upon his legs, Mrs. Slavin came to the rescue, and assisted Biggs in dragging Bernard Sloan off her husband.

While a boy went after the constable, Barney Sloan struck Biggs two or three times Weston then called Charles Sloan, who caught Biggs by the hair, and knocked him down. Afterwards Weston held Biggs by the hair while the two Sloans kicked him, and a general melee seems to have taken place, until the rumour that the constables were approaching induced the defendants to desist.

 Such is the substance of Slavin's statement. The defendants severally denied its truth, so far as the aggression was said to be on their side, which they attempted to shift to that of the complainant and Slavin. They were sentenced, to pay a fine of twenty shillings each, and to find sureties to keep the peace for six months.[5]

Cottages in South Brisbane ca.1868
(State Library of Queensland)
And so the group of combatants returned to their cottages in South Brisbane, sure to fight another day.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013

[1] One whose business is to ‘trap’ or catch offenders; a thief-taker; a detective or policeman; a sheriff's officer. Now only Australian slang. (OED)
[2] A scene of uproar and disorder; a riotous or uproarious meeting; a heated argument. After Donnybrook, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, once famous for its annual fair. (OED)
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 18 March 1848
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 18 March 1848
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 5 August 1848

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dodgy Dispatches from Kangaroo Point

Six years after free settlement, the town of Brisbane was growing on the North and South banks of the river.

Long before the any bridges were built, ferries and punts were the only way to cross the river. Kangaroo Point was considered a sleepy corner detached from the main clusters of activity.

Kangaroo Point,  Conrad Martens 1853 (National Library of Australia)
To enliven its pages and amuse subscribers, The Moreton Bay Courier invented a young feckless reporter sent on assignment to Kangaroo Point.

His firstly weekly dispatch reflected the dearth of newsworthy material from his assigned patch.

A German optical telegraph tower ca. 1835
The telegraph referred to was an optical rather than the electrical telegraph which was still being developed in the United States and would not be installed in Queensland until 1861. The optical telegraph used a semaphore system to transmit signals.


(From our own Reporter.) 

The telegraph established at Kangaroo Point, under the control of our own reporter, has furnished us with the following intelligence from that distant region. It will be seen that our first despatches are rather meagre; but any information respecting the manners and customs of the inhabitants must be interesting to our readers.

Monday, Sept. 18. - Nothing of importance this day. Two crows are sitting on the wall of Mr. Campbell's unfinished house, and seem to be conversing on the uncertainty of human intentions. Cannot hear their remarks at this distance.

Tuesday. - Boy hailed ferry-boat at daylight. Examined him on his arrival, and saw a slip of paper in his pocket: but had no opportunity of abstracting it. Waylaid him on his return, but he refused to answer my questions. Suppose him to have been sent on a secret mission of importance.

Wednesday. - Saw a strange dog this morning, but lost sight of him soon afterwards. Nothing further today.

Thursday. - Much excitement this morning, in consequence of the arrival of a stranger, on horseback. I find it is the butcher's lad: bearing a leg of mutton-specially ordered by one of the residents.  Ferry-boat departed for North Brisbane at 2 p.m., and returned immediately. Cargo - one old woman, one constable, and a bunch of turnips.

Friday.-Vulgar man passed me to-day, and put his hand to his nose. Nothing more to report.[1] 

Sketch of Kangaroo Point ca. 1860s (State Library of Queensland)

The following week the Kangaroo Point “correspondent” dispatched a report of the reaction of a resident to his previous missive.


(From our own Reporter.)

Our Reporter has sent us the following epistle from his melancholy look-out at Kangaroo Point:

Mr. Editor, Shortly after the publication of my last despatches I was waited upon by a gentleman who informed me that my report had given great offence to the settlers of the settlers at this place; and that he would withdraw his patronage from your paper.

I looked rather blue at this, as I did not know how you might take it: so I replied that I was sorry for offending me: and that I certainly had not said anything prejudicial to him or to any other person.  In fact, that my report amounted to nothing at all. "'Well, sir," said he, "that's the very thing I complain of. Why did you not report something sensible, instead of the balderdash contained in your despatches?"

 I told him that he must be very well aware that there was nothing sensible to report upon the subject. At this he sneered a good deal, and said that I must be a very pretty reporter indeed if I couldn't invent something; "besides," said he, "if there was nothing to say, couldn't you be silent altogether?"

 I saw he was working himself into a rage, so my only object was to inform the public that there was such a place as Kangaroo Point: but this only made him worse; he got as red as a turkey-cock, and swore that I was a fool and the Editor too.

Now, sir, as I have only known you for a short time, I didn't venture to dispute the proposition so far as regarded yourself, but denied my own share in the charge; and told him that it was by my own choice that I was placed on this station, where I was removed from the hurry of business, and the temptations of the town, I added, that this ought to convince him that I was no fool.

However, he wouldn't listen to reason; but went away, saying that "he'd not allow any body to poke Borack[2] at him." What he meant by that I'm sure I don't know.

Now, sir, I want to know what I am to do, and if you wish me to demolish the telegraph, and return to town. - Your obedient servant,

[We cannot abandon the telegraph. Our reporter has been instructed to continue his labours; avoiding as usual, everything of a personal or offensive character.][3]

View from the Windmill of Brisbane with Kangaroo Point in middle distance ca. 1870
(State Library of Brisbane)
In his next despatch the young reporter was inspired to wax lyrical as he gazed across the river from his perch on the heights of Kangaroo Point.


(From our own Reporter.)

FRIDAY, OCT. 27. - For some days past I have been entirely idle. There was a rumour, indeed, that the settlers intended to petition the Queen to erect this place into a separate colony; but no public meeting has been called, up to this time.

I have lately amused myself by sitting on the semaphore, and watching the progress of events in the distant capital. While so engaged this day, I noticed a circumstance so unusual, and of so exciting a character, that I thought it my duty to communicate the same to you immediately, by extraordinary telegraph. A man was at work at the new gaol!

The event had such a powerful effect upon me that I immediately wrote the following lines on the crown of my hat, with a piece of chalk which I had previously abstracted from my landlord's counter for private reasons:- 

Faint and wearily a poor old toddler,
Climbed up a ladder to the goal wall top;
Sighing drearily, for want of a nobbler -
Scratching heavily his ancient crop.  

Copestone bestriding-        
Comfortable riding!- 
Idly abiding, see his shoulders drop! -
'Then how cosily the poor old toddler 
Surveys dozily the gaol wall top.

Slowly hammering a spike, he lingers,
 Slyly gammoning he's working hard;
Faintly stammering "I've hurt my fingers,"
Drowsily he gazes on the dull gaol yard.

Striking, pausing -
Somnolescence, causing -     
Darkness pours in, as he's nigh to drop -
Then how merrily the poor old toddler
Goes down the ladder from the gaol wall top.[4]

Following the lack of despatches from Kangaroo Point, the editor of The Moreton Bay Courier announced that the wayward young reporter had been reassigned to the windmill on Wickham Terrace which had been converted into a telegraph station. 

Engraving of  Windmill Wickham Terrace 1865 (State Library of Queensland)

The great neglect of our reporter for some time past has led us to the conclusion that he has been bribed. It is humiliating to confess such a thing, but it is the only way in which his conduct can be accounted for.

As the young man is really useful to us, and possesses considerable powers of observation, we have not dismissed him, but have transferred his sphere of action to the Windmill at North Brisbane, where he will have an opportunity of overlooking the whole town, and of working his telegraph directly opposite to our office windows.[5]

Dispatches from the fictitious young reporter continued to appear occasionally in the paper when news was slow.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 23 September 1848
[2] Nonsense, humbug; chaff, banter; esp. in to poke (the) borak, to make or poke fun. (Etymology: Aboriginal Australian) OED
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 30 September 1848
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 28 October 1848
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 11 November 1848