State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 3 April 1969


The Fawkner Papers

It is unnecessary to give here an outline of the life and achievements of John Pascoe Fawkner. A summary appears in the first volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (pp. 368–371) by the present writer, who is also the author of a longer, but by no means complete, treatment entitled Out of the Shadow (Cheshire, 1962). The editor of this journal, in The Golden Age (M.U.P., 1963) writes of Fawkner as Victoria's ‘best-known private citizen’, and a ‘self-appointed tribune of the people’, and his father, in the Dictionary of Australian Biography (v.1, pp. 287–290) says ‘Fawkner played many parts in his time,…and if he never quite became a popular leader he earned the gratitude and respect of the community he served.’ The length and priority of Fawkner's life in Victoria, the numerous and striking aspects of his career; have tended to obscure the reference value of the personal papers deposited with the La Trobe Library.
For convenience, the Fawkner Papers can be divided into several separate yet interconnected groups.

1. Reminiscences

Fawkner's reminiscences, including the copies and ‘loose papers’, form an impressive bulk. With the exceptions mentioned later, the inclusive years are 1792 and 1819, and the emphasis is, therefore, on the voyage to Sorrento, the removal of settlement to the Derwent, and the life in Van Diemen's Land up to the time of Fawkner's shift to Launceston. Although Fawkner made several attempts at autobiography in the 1860s, in essence they are similar.
Box 67/1 contains three books with marbled covers. The story is in a clear, easily read handwriting, not Fawkner's own. I would imagine this to be the final version and it falls into three divisions: 1. pp. 1–36, 1792—early 1805; 2. pp. 37–76, 1805–1812; and 3. pp. 77–90, 1813–1819.
Box 67/2 contains two foolscap-sized journals, also in marbled covers, but with pasted labels marked No. 1 and No. 2 books. In the first (72pp), the writer outlines the contents and indicates how he began. The reminiscences grew from an invitation to lecture at St. George's Presbyterian Church, Wellington Street, Collingwood, in June 1862. Fawkner had, he says, visited Tasmania for five or six-week periods during the previous two years when he spoke to older men and women and generally refreshed his memory. Later, he read his lectures at the Presbyterian Church in Kyneton, after which he was approached and told that a publisher would be interested in issuing them in printed form. Nothing came of this suggestion except that Fawkner expanded the lectures.
Fawkner, in Book No. 1, also indicates as his major sources, apart from his own recollections the history of Tasmania by West, Batman's journal as printed in Bonwick, and the almanacs of Howe, Bent, and Ross. Some dates were obtained from the earliest Register of Burials and Marriages for Hobart Town. In Book No.2 only 32pp. have been used, but there are numerous loose insertions. Both items are in the angular handwriting of John Pascoe Fawkner, and should be read in reverse order—Book No.2 to p. 32 and then Book No.1 to the end, omitting the cancelled first part of that volume. This seems to be the earliest version of his story.
The content of Box 67/3 is one green, quarto-sized book marked ‘Lett's Analytical
Index’ (M5251), and two copies of the Reminiscences published above—‘Reminiscences of Settlements at Sorrento and at Port Phillip’, dated 7 June 1862. It is almost certain that the latter is the text of his lectures read in that year. Only 23pp. of the Analytical Index has been used and the rest is blank. Apart from a few notes on the travels of Sturt, tales of bark-gatherers, and of the Henty family at Portland as the stimulus to cross the Strait, the book is devoted mostly to an attack on John Batman.
The remaining ‘loose papers’, considered here as part of the reminiscences of this remarkable man, are chronologies and summaries from West and of issues of the Sydney Gazette with Fawkner colouration, together with fair copies in many instances. Nevertheless, several of these have an interest of their own, such as the treatment of Richard Wallis of the Porpoise and Bent's editor, E.H. Thomas, or carry the reminiscences fitfully forward, as for example in the 14–page piece dealing with the years 1840 to 1846.

2. Correspondence

The letters to John Pascoe Fawkner fill eight boxes and about 24 books of plastic envelopes, and total between 700 and 800 individual items. The earliest date is 1828, and there is nothing later than 1858. Because so much has been systematically preserved, especially for the 1840s and early 1850s, one immediately asks what has happened to the papers, particularly correspondence, for the following ten years. It is unlikely that Fawkner destroyed his papers for that period, or did not receive at least a proportionate quantity until his death in 1869.
As an enterprising businessman, as a newspaper proprietor, and particularly as a Member of the Legislative Council from 1851 he was in contact with men of all classes in the community, and his large volume of inwards correspondence provides essential reference for historians. The names found in a random sample of the collection includes T.T. à Beckett, George Arden, Sir Redmond Barry, James Bonwick, R. Hale Budd, Thomas McCombie, Thomas Embling, Sir John Franklin, Dr. John Dunmore Lang, Sir Charles Nicholson, William Lonsdale, and Sir Charles Sladen. There are letters from teachers, gold-diggers, printers, land and political agents, and employees, as well as the leaders of colonial society.
While the correspondence available covers the whole spectrum of life in Victoria for its period, it is invaluable for such subjects as education in the National Schools and conditions on the goldfields. On the salaries of teachers in 1852 there are two items; Hugh Childers writes (H 1357) in 1851 about the supervision of schools and in 1856 (H 1357) he gives his views on Alfred Arnold. There are applications for teaching positions at the Moonee Ponds and the Pascoe Vale National Schools in 1850, and many papers from Benjamin Kane, Secretary of the National Board of Education. On the goldfields, the material ranges from the claim of F.C. Dutton (H 5833) to be discoverer of the Bendigo field to discussions by John W. Jones of the influx of Chinese in 1855. Daniel O'Connor (MS 8540 and H 5986) sought Fawkner's assistance in the same year in getting recompense for his store near the Eureka Hotel, as did Fr. Meyer a year earlier (H 5866) for the loss of his claim on Ballarat. M.A.H. Welch (H 5743) wrote about the Bentley murder trial, while Warburton Carr (H 5857), George Bean (H 6099), and J.W. Dours (H 5753), informed Fawkner as to conditions on the goldfields—as they saw them.
The numerous invoices and accounts received from Henry Dowling between 1839 and 1840, and from J.C. Underwood for the period 1836–1843, shed light not only on Fawkner's financial and business

The first page of the Reminiscences, the top half in Fawkner's hand.

transactions but on colonial commerce generally. But besides the array of letters, the collection includes contributions to the Port Phillip Patriot, a collection of newspaper cuttings of verse, and leaves from a day-book, 1848/9–1850/2.

3. Miscellaneous

Box 68 contains various printed papers, pamphlets, and petitions, including Fawkner's address to ‘Electors of the Capital of Australia Felix’ on 19 September 1856, his application for the lease of ‘Mooneejettee’ run, and a number of company prospectuses such as those of the Victoria Freehold Loan Society and the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company.
Hugh Anderson