In the following few paragraphs I am going to attempt to paint a picture of the Melbourne scene facing Shadrach Pearce and family on arrival on the Bombay on the 15th of December 1852.
When they disembarked in Melbourne further difficulties faced the young Pearce family. Such huge numbers of migrants arriving in a town that was barely 15 years old was putting an enormous strain on resources such as accommodation. The following quotations come from the book ‘The Birth of Melbourne’ edited by Tim Flannery. They were written by Antoine Fauchery in October 1852.
“The enormous number of newcomers to this little capital makes it an impossible place to stay in. Neither gold nor silver would get you a room there. A chair, a table, a bench, cost more than they would at the most splendid fireworks display, and barely half of this floating population that the English merchant marine casts on the shore every day succeeds in obtaining any kind of shelter for a few days. Consequently the other half sleeps in the open!”
It must have been extremely difficult for the Pearce family as they had a very young infant, plus Emily would have had almost no time to recover after giving birth. The welcome to Melbourne was pretty dismal for everyone. Antoine goes on to describe the journey up the Yarra and settling his belongings into some form of accommodation as follows.
“Further on the ground becomes hilly without being anymore attractive than that. We veer slightly to the left, and to the left still, the town, built on a hill slope, appears to us in its entirety. We pass close to wooden huts spaced out along the two banks, and said to be boiling down works – a piece of information whose exactness our sense of smell does not allow us to doubt. We creep through about thirty brigs, schooners and three-masters – barks that cannot be more than two hundred and fifty tons register, and we finally tie up at a stone landing stage, behind which are the customs’ warehouses. .... There are numbers of people going and coming with a pen behind their ear and looking very busy, but they take no notice of us and pay only a little attention to our bundles, thrown rather than carried onto the wharf, amid a pile of bales and all sorts of goods. .... the payment of an entrance-tax for the town, levied on the luggage, brought me back to my sense of reality. I pay out eight or ten shillings and am free to go where I please. They even make this easier for me by sending me for the time being to the toll-office door. At this door two rows of carts are drawn up, which the owners put at the disposal of the newcomers for carrying their baggage. The place is bustling; prices are argued about, offers of service assail you; I fall into the arms of some thirty carriers, from whom I try to keep the gear that I am dragging behind me for fear of seeing it bushranged. .... Fortunately, one of the porters who is battling for my custom, calling me captain or governor, speaks French...just about as well as I mutilate English. From a gibberish that I listen to for ten minutes I gather that my man knows an Irish woman who has a room to let in Melbourne. That decides me, and, seeing that it is late I hand over half my baggage and am led away. We go up a very straight and very long street and arrive at the lady’s place. She is drunk, and tells me a fine story in her native patois, crosses herself, and installs me in a loft, along with five people stretched out on the floor on palliasses. All this for three pounds a week. ‘It’s given away,’ says my guide and he takes five shillings for his run.”
In complete contrast to these luxurious single persons accommodations are those for the arriving families. Families for whom the Colony has expressed a crying need and whose migration they sponsored.
"As everyone cannot aspire to a windfall similar to that which as I am enjoying, ... the majority are forced to leave the inhospitable town, some going straight to the mines, others taking shelter in a plain between the river and the bay. With regard to this point, the municipal authorities have allowed migrants without means to form a temporary encampment. Thus any family that has at its disposal a few yards of canvas has the right to install itself as it likes, either in the north or south; providing, none the less, that it pays in advance a fee of five shillings a week levied by the very paternal government of the colony for a tent site in CANVAS TOWN."
We don't know for certain where Shadrach and family went on disembarkation and there is no record in the ship's log of their being "assigned" to anyone. In fact only about 40 or 50 of the 706 migrants managed to find a position, therefore it is likely that it was either "Canvass Town" or the "diggings" for the Pearces until they managed to find work.
The following picture shows what the main streets of the town looked like in 1853.
The above lithograph seems to capture the hustle and bustle of a gold rush town with growing feelings of euphoria and great expectations for the future. Just two weeks before Shadrach's arrival, there was an article in the Melbourne Morning Herald describing a luncheon given to honour Hargraves, the person acknowledged by history as the discoverer of gold in New South Wales. This luncheon was at the Pastoral Hotel in Elizabeth Street on the 3rd of December at 1 PM . The article goes on to describe him as a great man, who has done more to further the development of Australia than any single individual before him, which is glowing praise indeed and provides an insight into the feelings of great expectations even though such phenomena as gold rushes could be short lived.
A good book to read which attempts capture the atmosphere of early Melbourne is called "Bearbrass, Imagining Early Melbourne", written by Robyn Annear. This book does not make claims for historical perfection, however it does nicely flesh out the stories surrounding some of the anecdotes and fables that have come down from the early years of Melbourne. There are tales concerning the huge quantities of dust from the streets in the summer months which turned into bottomless quagmires of mud in the winter months. For example, the corner of Elizabeth Street and Collins Street was known as Lake Cashmore. A writer of the time, who went by the nom de plume of Garryowen, described it as "a formidable looking water-hole...not sufficiently deep to drown a man, but sufficient to half do it." It must have been extremely bad in the middle of winter as there is supposed to be a bullock dray complete with drowned bullocks submerged under Collins Street still there to this day.
When reading these early Newspapers I noted a degree of journalistic freedom far greater than our "wimpy" reporters of today. For example; we see in the same paper as the above paid advertisement for the "Industrial Exhibition", an article that is totally scathing of the need to offer prizes to the "agriculturist who can make two blades of grass grow where previously there was one" or to the person who can "cram the most fat into a pig". If you think that these comments are a bit harsh, they were mild compared to those when he really lets himself go describing how pointless it is to offer prizes for completely "useless" pursuits such as growing the finest Tulips. The reporter graciously acknowledges that there is just a little bit of sense trying to encourage greater agricultural productivity. However he considers people willing to pay big money for tulip bulbs to be "completely bereft of their senses".
As stated previously, Melbourne in the 1850's was a thriving town undergoing rapid developed fuelled by the riches stemming from the gold fields. Since this development was taking place during the reign of Queen Victoria, it was heavily influenced by the Victorian architectural ideals. Many of the best buildings from this era still survive and are classic examples of the style, therefore a walk around Melbourne is quite rewarding for the architecture student. However, it should be noted that, for Shadrach most of this building would be works in progress.