Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days: Volume 2, 1932-1936

Notes on three archdeacons - Thomas Hobbes Scott, John Ramsden Wollaston, Matthew Blagden Hale

Rev'd C. A. Burton

[Read before the Society, April 26, 1935.]

[On his return from a trip to England, Canon Burton, a vice-president of the society, was asked to contribute some account of his researches there regarding the early history of the Church of England in Western Australia—a subject on which he has been working for many years. On the subjects of these notes, see also the following contributions to the W.A.H.S. Journal by Canon Burton: "The Diary of Joseph Hardey,” Vol. I., Part VI.; “An Archdeacon on Tour. 1861," Vol. I., Part IX.; and “Beginnings," Vol. II., Part XVI. Other references on particular points will be found in “Bishop Hale and Secondary Education," by Mrs. E. D. Cowan, Vol I., Part VII.; and “The Letters of Georgina Molloy,” by Mr. W. G. Pickering, Vol. I., Part IV. An outline sketch on "The Early Church in Western Australia” was attempted by Mr. T. G. Heydon, Vol. II., Part XL.]

My inquiries in England may be said to have centred on three historical persons, all of them archdeacons, at some time in their lives, and all closely associated with Western Australia, viz., Thomas Hobbes Scott, John Ramsden Wollaston, and Matthew Blagden Hale. We will deal with them in this their historical order.

Concerning Scott I had a theory that on his return to England in 1830, he published an account of his sojourn in New South Wales and Western Australia, but that has not been established. Such a volume, should, of course, be in the British Museum, and a patient search through the long list of scribbling Scotts, in the Museum Catalogue, gave the impression, firstly, that “cacoethes scribendi” is (or was) a complaint of the clan; for page after page they fill; secondly, that many fond mothers, among them were partial to the name of “Tommy” (even Thomas with an “H” after it); and lastly, that a goodly number of the Tommies became parsons. But there was among them all no trace of my particular Tommy. So escaping from the Museum, I gave it ever after a wide berth. What with Codex Sinaiticus and Elgin marbles, etc., etc., it had far too many allurements, and I had my definite work.

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One cannot but marvel that Scott failed to publish anything on Australia. For 12 years he had been immersed in the affairs of this great country; at the very heart of things in Sydney gathering knowledge, wielding influence, bearing responsibility in public matters among the highest in the land, subject to fierce criticism, bitter hostility, and constant vexation, and spending, at the close, a period of many months, here in Western Australia under unique and romantic conditions. Yet he goes home, and says nothing! The clergy are a long-suffering lot. Job has his not unworthy successors.

Not even a line from him could be found at the Public Record Office. Sir Hal Colebatch and a courteous official of the Colonial Office did their best for me; but one felt it was like looking for a needle in a bundle of hay.

Yet some results about Scott were obtained there. It appears that, leaving Mr. Wittenoom to minister here in Perth, he spent a good deal of his time on Garden Island. Mr. J. Morgan (who describes himself as Civil Storekeeper on Garden Island), wrote two letters to R. W. Hay, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. He mentions Archdeacon Scott in a way that clearly indicates that he conducted regular services on Sundays for those on the Island—an office which Morgan had himself undertaken until Scott’s ministrations were available. He speaks of the impending departure for England of Captain Irwin, with whom Scott also was to embark, and he ventures to describe them both as good friends of his. This was in March, 1830, and Scott certainly was in W.A. up to July 8 as recorded in J. Hardey’s diary and held service on the Sulphur earlier in that year (as the Librarian at the Admiralty informed me). . These facts confirm the impression that Garden Island played an important part in the first few months of the Colony’s existence. Some day it is hoped that we may place a memorial there.

As I was able to finalise my work in regard to the Wollaston diaries may I take this opportunity to summarise the result? Wollaston’s labours in Western Australia covered a period of 15 years. That period falls naturally into two nearly equal parts. In the first eight years he wrote three journals: (1) His voyage

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out; (2) the story of his first three years in Western Australia; (3) the account of his first six months at Albany in 1848. We have all these. The next year he entered upon the record stage and began his work as Archdeacon, making five tours during the seven remaining years of his life. It is certain that he wrote official reports of each of these tours, but only two of these official reports have survived. Both of them were unearthed from S.P.G. Archives. Three are missing, and little hope remains of finding them. The one I specially went home for has been burnt. But, in regard to these tours we have something better than his official journals, for he wrote private diaries for his family and intimate friends in England, if not of all his tours at any rate of three of them, for these are in existence. Only one tour is without its record, either official or private. That tour was made in 1854, and in search of that I went to London and found it not. Yet even of that I have secured some record, for in that year Wollaston compiled a document which he calls “A Tabular View,” in which is recorded a wealth of information about every settlement in Western Australia where the Church of England held services, gathered by him in the course of that very journey. This shows the names of the clergy at each place, the population, the church buildings, the attendances, and other statistics; and general remarks. Of one journey—that of 1853—I have both an official account and a private record, and the private one is much longer. To his friends he confides many interesting details, not exactly appropriate for episcopal ears, and, from this one opportunity of comparing, one may judge that all the three private accounts that we have are more valuable than their official counterparts. I hope shortly to present to the society a copy of the only one of the extant journals which is not yet in our archives. It is the account of his initial tour as Archdeacon in 1850.

Material in which this society will be equally interested is that contained in the diaries and papers of Bishop Hale. These begin in the year 1848 when, as Archdeacon Hale, he came as companion to Bishop Short on his visit to Western Australia—it was an eventful year for this Colony—a more eventful one for him who was destined later to be first Bishop of

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Perth, for then he met his fate. Though travelling then was slow the darts of Cupid were as swift and keen as ever. Events moved rapidly and the Archdeacon proved that he was no “laggard in love.”

On October 22 the Bishop and Archdeacon arrived at Albany, and sailed away on October 31 for the Vasse. On November 2 the Vasse was reached. That day he saw for the first time the lady of sweet seventeen who was soon to share his fortunes, for within two months (on December 30) in the little unfinished church at Busselton, he was married by the Bishop, to Sabina Molloy. In the record which Hale has left of this fateful period I have found no reference specially to this young lady, and no account of his marriage is given in the diaries and papers now in my possession; but in each journal, under the date “30th December,” he does not fail to mark it as a “day much to be remembered” as the beginning of an ideal partnership that brought rich blessings not only to himself, but to his two little daughters who had come with him from England about a year before. It was a union that made the Bishop’s home an influence, through all the years of his sojourn here, that leavened every grade of society in Perth, and bestowed abiding benefits upon the civil and religious life of this city.

Although no account is given by the bridegroom, a legend has come down to me, which I give for what it is worth, that the bride was led to the altar, adorned with a pink sun bonnet in addition to sundry other more conventional articles of attire. The occasion demanded haste, akin to that in which she had been wooed and won. No veil, no gay attire could be got from Perth emporiums. The Champion, which was to bring the Bishop from Perth, could not stay for bridal garments to be stitched together, even if material could have been ordered. The legend, of course, faithfully declares that in spite of, or even because of, the absence of accustomed finery, the bride looked perfectly charming. As the happy, but anxious couple, waited by the church, looking eagerly for the appearance of the Champion, now more than a day overdue, they were at last relieved of suspense by seeing the messenger who had been

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posted at the beach galloping through the scrub to announce the vessel in sight.

In view of this happy event, consummated so soon after the coming of Bishop and Archdeacon, I have chosen the account which the latter gives of his entry into the fates and fortunes of the Molloy family, with which to close these random jottings.

But before I read this, I venture to make passing reference to a few of the matters touched upon in the diaries, which cover a period of 20 years with a few gaps. The initial struggles of the school he founded, known as Bishop's College, are recorded. The various masters of its earliest days are named. The emergence of the scholarly John Bussell from his rustic seclusion to carry on as private tutor, in the Bishop’s House, for the handful of boys that remained when times became worse than usual, and settlers wanted their sons to work at home, is recorded. The tragedy of Roebuck Bay when Panter Harding, and Goldwyer were murdered by inland blacks when they ventured out from their base and failed to return: the distress of the Bishop’s household, since Panter was betrothed to one of Mrs. Hale’s sisters, who was with her father at the Vasse: the general desire expressed for Maitland Brown to be sent as leader of a rescue party if perchance a rescue were possible: the hurried return of Maitland from King George’s Sound as soon as the news reached him after his return from a visit to India: the arrival of the sad news that the bodies had been recovered and were being brought to Perth: the undue pomp and parade (in the Bishop’s judgment) that marred for him the solemnity of the public funeral; all these things are told in such a way as to bring before one events of long ago as if they were but of yesterday. Perhaps no figure stands out so boldly and clearly in these pages as that of Maitland Brown. From his schooldays right on to his early manhood he is seen steadily coming to the fore, and one can understand how this noble-hearted fearless leader of men won high regard in the days of his maturity, when the times called forth all that was best in men and women to meet the vicissitudes of a life of adventure. Another, who was a life-long comrade of Maitland Brown, is seen emerging from the obscurity of his early youth in the South-West, and, read in the light of later

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history, after his fame as an explorer, has somewhat paled before that which he won as statesman, such an entry as this stirs one’s memories: “The expedition into the interior is to be led by a young explorer, named Forrest.”

Now let me read the entry which describes his first meeting with the Molloy family in 1848—the prelude to many years of happy wedded life:—

“Shortly after getting on shore we were joined by Captain Molloy and Mr. Vernon Bussell, who heard the gun which had been fired from the schooner to give notice, and had ridden from the settlement to greet us. We were, by these gentlemen, conducted through the Townsite of Busselton to the house of Mr. John Bussell, which is higher up the river Vasse than the townsite.

“This townsite, like so many others in this standstill Colony of Western Australia, is a townsite merely in name, being in reality a piece of uncleared scrub in a low wet position, and a great part of it is boggy. The church is built on it, and there are two or three habitations near it, but not more than this number. Mr. J. Bussell in whose house we were kindly entertained is an old settler in this part of the Colony, and has a large and substantial house. There are other brothers living at no great distance. The occupations of the dairy are those in which the settlers of this locality are principally engaged. They make excellent cheese and butter, and have the advantage of frequent communication with Fremantle by means of a little cutter which comes for their dairy produce. Without this communication their position would be indeed isolated, as the land journey to Perth is not only long—130 miles—but very troublesome.

“Near to Mr. Bussell’s house is the dwelling of Captain Molloy, before mentioned. He is an old Peninsular officer having served in the Rifle Brigade. He has from that time, and ever, been a great friend, and is still a correspondent of Sir Harry Smith. Of course he knows everything and everybody connected with the transactions of that eventful campaign.

“There is something peculiarly striking and interesting in the position of this veteran officer. He came out here as a settler, and, as unfortunately the case has been

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with a large majority of the settlers in this Colony, seems to have known very little of the way to go to work in settling, and has probably gone back in his affairs rather than forward. He is quite the old soldier, full of anecdotes and incidents and with a most striking countenance. Indeed, it is said, that amongst his companions in arms in former days he went by the name of 'Handsome Jack.' But, however much one’s interest may be excited with respect to himself, it is called forth a hundred times more with respect to his family. This family consists of five daughters, who, although living in the most complete seclusion, possess a grace and dignity and ease of manner which would do honour to the most refined society, to say nothing of their being, both great and small, strikingly handsome.

"In fact to come to a thorough bush settlement, and then to find one’s self suddenly in the midst of such a family, produces within one no ordinary sensations. One is touched with admiration and delight on the one hand, and at the same time one laments that the circle of their acquaintance should be so limited.

"It pleased God to deprive them of their mother some four or five years ago. Of this lady everyone speaks in terms of the most unbounded praise. The Colonial Chaplain, when he speaks of her, seems scarcely able to find words to describe her excellences. I have heard him more than once declare his belief that she was the best-informed, the most accomplished, the most elegant, the most lady-like woman, that ever came into this Colony.

“When leaving this most interesting house, my companion asked one of the little girls to accompany us over the river (which we had to cross) in order that she might bring back the punt; and the return over the river after we had crossed would form a picture worthy of a painter’s skill. The little river, lovely and romantic in itself, with banks beautifully clothed with low shrubs and flowers to the water’s edge, and the drooping branches of the gum trees dipping their leaves in the stream on either side. . . . Across this stream the old and leaky punt wended its way towards the opposite bank; on one of the thwarts stood the form (of faultless symmetry) of our little boatwoman, eight and a half years

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sold, balancing the rude punt pole and pushing her back across with singular grace and skill. On another part of the boat were her little sister about six or seven, and a little native girl probably between the two in age, and their constant playmate and companion.”

This entry is dated November 2, 1848, and two days later he records the consecration of the yet unfinished church at Busselton and the confirmation service at which no doubt he presented to the Bishop, amongst other candidates, the eldest at least of the five motherless Molloys—Sabina, his future wife.


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