Monday, December 10, 2018

Early days in west Australia

The Irishman John Fletcher Moore, a colonial administrator and an early sheep farmer in Western Australia, was born 220 years ago today (the day after, in fact, John Benn Walsh who would become an important landlord in Ireland - see An infinity of petty squabbles below). Moore kept diaries during his first ten years as a colonist with the express purpose of mailing them home to Ireland for friends and family. Some of them were first published, astonishingly, without his knowledge; it wasn’t until 50 years later, at the end of his life, that he himself approved publication of a more extensive set of the diaries. They are now considered an important primary source of information about the early years of colonisation in Western Australia.

Moore was born on 10 December 1798 in Donemana, County Tyrone, Ireland, the second son of Joseph Moore and his wife Anne, née Fletcher. He was educated at Foyle College, Londonderry, and at Trinity College, Dublin. After being called to the Irish Bar he practised for six years; but, seeing little prospect of promotion, he decided to seek a legal post in the colonies. Armed only with a letter of recommendation to the then Governor of Western Australia, he arrived at Fremantle, Australia, in October 1830, to find the governor had been replaced and his letter, therefore, worthless. However, he obtained a land grant, which he called Millendon, on the Upper Swan river, and set about developing it as farm land. In early 1832, he was appointed a Commissioner of the Civil Court. For the next 20 years or so, he combined various administrative duties (including, later, a seat on the colony’s legislative council) with expanding his farm interests, becoming one of the largest sheep farmers in the country.

Moore is particularly remembered for his interest - unusual at the time - in indigenous Australians. He took a scholarly interest in their language and customs, he advocated compensating them for the loss of their land, and he promoted the idea of converting them to Christianity. He also compiled and published a dictionary of their language. In the mid-1830s, he went exploring inland, making various discoveries, and was responsible for confirming that two named rivers - the Swan and Avon - were in fact one and the same. Moore returned to Ireland for two years (1941-1943), and then in 1846 married Fanny, stepdaughter of Governor Andrew Clarke. When, later that year, Clarke fell ill, Moore was appointed acting colonial secretary, and remained in that position until the new colonial secretary arrived in early 1848. But the colony was suffering hard times, and its leaders hitherto, including Moore, were unpopular.

In 1952, Moore again returned to Ireland, ostensibly to visit his father, but, it is also thought, he had serious concerns about the mental health of his wife. She then refused to return to Australia, and Moore, wanting to extend his leave, fell into a conflict with the colonial office, one which ended with his resignation. He never returned to Australia, and subsequent years were blighted by his wife’s illness. After her death, he moved to London. He died in 1886. Further information is available at Wikipedia or the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

From the moment Moore left Ireland for Western Australia he kept a journal with the aim of sending the entries, in batches, back to his friends and colleagues in Ireland. Here is Moore’s own explanation: ‘My friends were doubtful as to the prudence of such a hazardous step [i.e. going to the colonies], but I reconciled them to it by a solemn promise that I would keep them fully informed, by each available opportunity in my power, of every incident and circumstance of my position and life there, whether good or bad, and leave them to judge of my success or failure. This was the cause of the “Diary or Journal” [. . .]. It was written solely for the information and satisfaction of my father, brothers, sisters, and immediate friends in this country. It was commenced soon after my embarcation from Dublin, and was a great source of relief and consolation to myself during the voyage, as well as through all the difficulties, dangers, labours, and eventful incidents.’

Intriguingly, as early as 1834, Moore’s journals, covering the first four years of his colonial adventure, were published in London, but without Moore’s knowledge or approval. This came about because Rev. William Hickey, an Irish writer and philanthropist, met Moore’s brother in Dublin, and was shown the diary extracts. He subsequently edited them for publication (using the pseudonym of Martin Doyle) as Extracts from the letters and journals of George Fletcher Moore, now filling a judicial office at the Swan River Settlement. The work can be read freely online at Internet Archive, Wikisource or Googlebooks. Hickey’s explanation, in the preface, as to how he came to the decision to publish the diary extracts is no less than flabbergasting.

‘In short, I suggested the publication of them, to which my host reluctantly assented, waiving a very serious obstacle, viz. the probable displeasure of the absent brother, at the publication of letters solely intended for his own family-circle. This objection I over-ruled by the assurance that they contained nothing discreditable to the head or the heart of the writer. If, therefore, they prove deficient of interest and neatness of arrangement, the blame consequent on their failure will be solely attributable to my want of judgement, and clumsiness of connexion. Should the emigrant himself be much offended at the unauthorised liberty now taken with his name and papers, I have the comforting consideration that he is too far off to quarrel with me in a very personal way; and that if ever he should return to this country, his resentment will have had sufficient time to evaporate altogether.’

A couple of years before his death, M. Walbrook published Moore’s own version of his Australia diaries as Diary of ten years eventful life of an early settler in Western Australia and also a Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language of the Aborigines. (Moore only wrote his journal for about ten years, until his first trip back to Ireland.) This can be found online at Internet Archive or Wikisource. Moore’s preface explains how he came to publish: ‘The history of the original letters may possess some little interest. They were from the first carefully preserved by those to whom they were sent in this country. But, after the lapse of many years, they were confided to the care of a near relative in the colony, who had expressed a great desire to see them. This lady was well acquainted with Sir Thomas Cockburn Campbell, the able Editor and owner of the paper called “The West Australian.” The letters were shown to him, he begged to be permitted to publish extracts from them seriatim in his paper, according as space would admit of. He sent to me a copy of each paper which contained an extract. I cut out those extracts and gummed them into an album. This has enabled me to publish them all here afresh.’

An annotated new version of the diaries, edited by J. M. R. Cameron, was brought out by the Australian publisher Hesperian Press in 2006 as The Millendon Memoirs. The publisher says: ‘This is probably the most important colonial work to be published in WA. There are no other diary or letter sequences of such content from such a central figure in the early colony. Dr Cameron has assiduously bought together the documents that were omitted from the “Diary of Ten Years”, together with that material, to form an altogether different volume, with three times the content of “Ten Years”. The correct order and full expression of the letters gives quite a different picture to that previously portrayed. This is an absolutely essential volume for anyone interested in, or studying, colonial history,  policy, or the lives of the colonists and the land around them.’

Here are a few extracts from the Diary of Ten Years.

24 February 1835
‘Went to Guildford to examine a bridge, and took the opportunity of visiting my flock, which is now there. Some are affected with a blindness of the eyes. A person called Solomon has a small establishment now near my grant, on the other side of the hills. I think of sending a part of my flock there. He proposes to take them at the rate of £25 per hundred for the year. He has just imported some sheep, and a fine-wooled ram. I have my men busied in planting potatoes. It is an experiment to put them down at this time of the year on dry ground. I have made use of the natives in breaking the hard clods with mauls. Two boys, rejoicing in the euphonious names of Tunagwirt and Manyumerra, have been quartered here by their father, with a sort of hint that his family was large enough without them. I think I shall try to keep the first of them. He tells me that white men call him “Tommy,” which is certainly more familiar and easy than that long native name. Just after I returned from Perth, Letty came with a face of woe to tell me there were but two pieces of beef in the barrel. Awkward announcement!’

31 August 1835
‘We have had much rain during all the last week and strong winds. Two blind sheep have been turned out daily for some time on the plain to graze; one of them was furnished with a bell, by the sound of which the other became accustomed to guide itself. Some days ago, the one with the bell was killed, and the other poor thing wandered about, went astray, and could not be found readily. James armed himself with the bell of the dead one, and went ringing through the bush. The lost one answered the signal immediately, and so we found a new way of catching sheep. Planted yesterday a number of cuttings of vine, peach, and fig trees. It is rather late, but I got them from the Governor’s garden, and will give them a chance. I have heard that the packing in which I was obliged to put my wool last year, went all to pieces at the Isle of France, in transhipping it. There are Indian gunny bags to be got here now at 7s. 6d. I am in doubt about buying, as I make sure of your sending some by the first vessel. When is it to arrive?’

28 January 1839
‘Yesterday one of my boys succeeded in catching a young emu alive. It is a wonderfully tame, even silly thing - like a young turkey; by the way, the same boy also succeeded in shooting a turkey, which I had to-day at dinner. It was delicious. I intended to have devoted this day to writing letters, as the mail is to be closed to-morrow, but here came Mr. Shaw with complaints about natives and other things, and I had to mount my horse, and I have been out all day. Have been making an experiment in wine. Have made five bottles just to try it. I have nearly written my eyes out in answering 33 questions about natives, to which the Governor has required replies. I think I may send them to you at some time. Baptist Noel would be glad to get the sketches I sent, if you do not wish to make any use of them.’

13 July 1839
‘I have fallen out of my habit of regularity, and find it difficult to recover it. We have advanced here to such a pitch of civilization, as to have private theatricals. The play of “Love, á la militaire” was performed on Tuesday night to a fashionable audience, among whom not the least delighted spectators were the young folks of the town and vicinity of Perth. Most of them having never seen a play, were wonderfully amused. On Thursday a rumour arose that fifty sheep or upwards had been driven away from a flock near Guildford by the natives, and there was great excitement in consequence. A party is gone out in pursuit, but what is the result I know not. It is singular that not one of the murderers of the woman and child on my farm has been taken or met with since the occurrence, and yet parties have been out frequently. We are no match for them. They can hide in a manner that baffles all our search. The only way to match them is to make use of them against one another. I did not get home from Perth before Friday night. We are here still busy getting wheat into the ground, and also some potatoes. Only think we have to give £2 a cwt. for potatoes for seed.’

The Diary Junction

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