WILLIAM WESTGARTH'S OPINION OF JOHN PASCOE FAWKNER
JOHN PASCOE FAWKNER, FATHER OF MELBOURNE.
"The force of his own merit makes his way."
"Well, I am, not fair; and therefore I pray the gods to make me honest."
--As You Like It.
"He's honest, on mine honour."
"He hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper; for
what his heart thinks, his tongue speaks."
--Much Ado About Nothing.
"For now he lives in fame, though not in life."
If circumstances won't make a poet, as genius contemptuously asserts,
nor make up for blood in a horse, as even the stable boy swears to, they
are at times marvellously effective in making, and, for the matter of
that, also in unmaking men. So might we say with regard to the
well-known subject of this sketch, who, arriving amongst us with the
earliest, and within the repellent surrounding of an evil repute, yet
under different surroundings and favouring circumstances outlived all
traducements, whether true or otherwise, and after a long, practical,
and singularly useful career, died in the full regard of his adopted
country. The unanimity of dislike and moral depreciation with which he
was regarded by his Tasmanian fellows was not indeed without a certain
share of reason or excuse. That he was the son of a convict ought not,
of course, to prejudice him in these Christian days, when the sins of
the fathers are not to be visited upon the sons even to the first
generation. His father arrived with Collins's prisoner party, and the
boy, John Pascoe, then eleven years old, was sent with his parent--for
not seldom were wives or children thus sent with the convicts, to
ameliorate by such a touch of nature the hard features of a society of
adult vice, much as Hogarth, in some of his masterpieces of the human
woes or vices of his time, gives, in striking contrast, a foreground of
maternal affection, or of children at play in the artless innocence of
their looks and ways.
But he was probably neither a pretty nor an interesting boy; for as a
man he was of the very plainest, with a short figure, always negligently
"put on," a rough, mannerless way, and a voice husky and hoarse,
although redeemed at times into an approach to commanding an audience,
when he was strongly stirred in some exciting cause. Some people have no
patience to subdue natural antipathies in such cases, and these people
would, as well-known scripture (with some transposition of the idea)
tells us, be apt to be most plentiful "in his own country." But, again,
Fawkner was himself a convict. Yes, but for what? Certainly if a man so
notorious in after life had committed any very disparaging crime it must
have been as notorious as his name. But I never heard anything
distinctive beyond that he had, for something or other, passed under the
Caudine Forks of the Van Diemen's Land Criminal Courts. Inevitably his
early upbringing was in low associations, where, probably, ties of
friendly feeling survived, as to which he might have said with the bard
of Avon--"I am not of that feather to shake off my friend when he must
need me" (Timon of Athens). My impression was that he had been convicted
of harbouring, or aiding to escape, some who had broken the law,
whatever more that may have meant, for, with his pluck, he was probably
little troubled about niceties of fine feeling, and, thus accoutred,
Providence dropped the man amongst altogether different circumstances
and associations in his new location.
I had much to do with Fawkner, especially after he and I met in our
young colony's first Legislature, and after I sufficiently knew him, so
as to allow for the rough exterior of his nature, I never had but one
opinion of the man. That opinion was, that throughout every condition of
the considerable space of his later life, whether in health or sickness,
strength or weakness, prosperity or adversity--for, at first at least,
he, like many others, was not prosperous in golden-fleeced and golden
Victoria--he toiled, late and early, for what, in his honest judgment,
was for the good of his colony; and with a singleness of purpose which
was not excelled--was not, I think, equalled, to my knowledge at
least--by any other in that colony.
He seemed to make an ascent under the exhilarating circumstances of his
new and increasingly responsible position, and to have the consciousness
of a great mission, which nerved him to surmount all that was dubious in
his earlier career. Nor was he behind in less pretentious ways. I never
once heard of any mean or over-reaching act of his, even in the smallest
matters. He once told me, in his prosperous days, with much becoming
feeling, and as an incident he could never forget, that when quite
broken in fortune, he had received, as unasked as unexpected, a most
timely pecuniary help from Mr. Henry Moor, the well-known solicitor. The
two were, I think, at hearty variance across the political hedge; the
more honour to both.
We have seen that he showed pluck in his earlier life, even in bad
associations; and he displayed the same under better auspices later on.
His action with a certain gravely suspected Commissioner of Crown Lands
was a good illustration. This high functionary, who, in those
pre-constitutional times, was practically an irresponsible Caesar over a
vast estate of dependent Crown tenants, whose interests might in any
case be seriously jeopardized by any unfairness, and who, therefore,
like the wife of his prototype, should be even above suspicion, was
accused by rumours, of no slight noise or breadth, of unfaithfulness to
his charge, and in the grossest and most mercenary of forms. Even with
the clearest case it was anything but assuring to attack such a man in
those days of authority. But Fawkner's bite was too deep for any laissez
faire cure, and so, nolens volens, the Commissioner had to defend or
retrieve his character. The verdict of a farthing damages, at which
amount the jury estimated that character in the case, was complete
justification to Fawkner, and laid the whole Province under lasting
obligation to him for a most important public service.
Another of his more prominent services was upon the first Gold
Commission, 1854-5, summoned hastily together by the Governor, Sir
Charles Hotham, under the surprise, not unmixed with consternation,
caused by the Ballarat riot, an incident which, in some of its aspects,
such as the stockade structure, deserved rather the graver name of
rebellion. Already in his 63rd year, in broken health, and certainly the
weakest physically of the membership, he was the most active of all,
ever running full tilt into every abuse or fault or complaint that might
help to explain this unwonted, and, indeed, utterly purposeless and
stupid incident of a British community. In my capacity as chairman, I
appreciated Fawkner's untiring, or more properly, unyielding spirit, and
under travelling fatigues, too, of no mean trial even to younger men.
For the Colossus of Rhodes, as my energetic friend, Dr. (now Sir
Francis) Murphy, was humorously called, on accepting, recently before,
the charge of the rutty and miry ways of golden Victoria, had as yet
made but feeble progress in his most urgent mission. We learned enough
to explain, at least, if not to excuse the miners; and were thus guided
to a reconstruction of goldfields administration. This was chiefly in
that national element, hitherto utterly absent there, of local
representative institutions; and the change has since assured the future
from even John Bull's proverbial growling. General McArthur, with a few
troops, promptly, but not without considerable bloodshed, ended the sad
farce. In view of the very exceptional features of an incident extremely
unlikely to occur again, Fawkner and most others of the commission were
most decided for a general condonance; and this was agreed to in the
report by all except the Official Commissioner, Mr. Wright, who,
excusably enough, sided with his official superiors for a treason trial.
But the jury, as might have been anticipated, acquitted the prisoners.
One of their leaders, Mr. Peter Lalor, who lost one of his arms in the
cause, has since been for many years Speaker of the Victorian Assembly,
and as loyal to his Queen as he is genial to his many friends.
When we wound up the Commission's inquiry at Castlemaine, and on the
morning of a hot midsummer day embarked upon one of the springless "Cobb
and Co's" of the time, with the prospect of ten or twelve hours of
terrible jolting before us, poor old Fawkner seemed so much enfeebled
that I was in some doubt as to his being landed alive at Melbourne. But,
game to the last, he rode uncomplainingly through all; and he lived even
a goodly number of years after, but only to do more and more work. Old
General Anderson, of early colonial memory, had a habit, quite his own,
of saying to the face of anyone whose conduct gave him satisfaction, and
in his blunt soldierly way, "Sir, I have a great respect for you." Such
an accrediting and not unacceptable declaration he addressed, times
more, I think, than once, to Fawkner. Indeed, all classes of the colony,
from the highest, in which the gallant colonel moved, to the humblest,
now alike recognized the veteran who had so long and so well fought for
them all. When at last the spirit quitted the worn-out frame, and its
well-known form, possibly, even to the last, keeping up still, amongst
some few, the lingering dislike of the long past, was to be no more seen
amongst us, there seemed but one impulse for the occasion, which
fittingly expressed itself in a funeral procession entirely
unprecedented in its every aspect. This was not less to the colony's
honour than to that of Fawkner. He died on 4th September, 1869. Not the
least impressive feature of the funeral, perhaps the most, was the
remarkable prayer offered up at the grave by the Reverend Dr. Cairns.
Victoria's most eloquent preacher, in giving the true setting to the
life and character of the man, thanked God, in the name of the colony,
for such a life, the influence and example of which could not but be for
good to all who were to follow. He has fought bravely for the R.I.P. of
the tomb. He rests from his labours, and his works do follow him.
on 2015-10-02 13:27:41
Itellya is researching local history on the Mornington Peninsula and is willing to help family historians with information about the area between Somerville and Blairgowrie. He has extensive information about Henry Gomm of Somerville, Joseph Porta (Victoria's first bellows manufacturer) and Captain Adams of Rosebud.