You are on page 1of 162

Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Alice and the Weather Man:


How the electric telegraph civilized Australia

By John Larkins

Introduction:

THIS book is about our Weather (her name is Alice, we've heard),
and she's controlled everything, laughing wickedly, sometimes
guiltily (but rarely, if ever, we suspect), since white men blundered
ashore in 1788 into a shrieking thunderstorm ... and now it's more
than 220 years later, and no one can tell us what will happen next
week, or even if Alice has decided it's time for us to pack up and
leave.
The first British settlers were often perplexed and awed by
the extremities of the Australian climate; they adapted, more or less:
it could not adapt to them. Eventually, Europeans coped largely
because of haphazard technological and social advances
elsewhere in the world by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, in Britain,
Samuel Morse and the conquest of the American Wild West, and
others, including daring invaders of the stratosphere in 19th century
balloons: they went up, up and away a mile or more to meet the
weather in tweed suits and goggles.
One such man (though he never dared venture into space
in a wicker basket) came to join us and help our forebears
understand the vagaries of our climates. His name was Charles
Todd, an astronomer and meteorologist. As every schoolchild used
to know, he came to Australia in 1855 and built the Overland
Telegraph which linked the island continent to the world. But what
every kid didn't know was that he became Australia's first everyday
Weather Man, using his far-flung network of telegraph stations to
predict rain, hail or shine as the weather moved from west to east.
His forecasts were published daily in the newspapers. Charles Todd
finally made sense of our continental weather ... but we've still got a
lot to learn and it's becoming more urgent by the day as our Planet
Earth confronts climate change.
Charles had a wife, too, much younger, tall and elegant as
he was short and comical ... her name was Alice, same as the
Weather, of course. When she died, he was awfully saddened; but
his work was done. She was a charming companion, but a non-
conformist religious zealot who solved her problems with the dust
storms of 19th century South Australia by not venturing outside the
Adelaide CBD for 40 years, except to go Home to England once.

This book is edited by Patricia Jennings, who is also


associated with our project on the convict woman, Ann Inett.

Page 1 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Alice's temper is uncertain, but suspected to be furious enough to


have the Australian weather, in all its foot-stamping vagaries,
named in her honour.*
She had her fondness for her adopted city, did Alice, and
the very English River Torrens that flowed though it ... and she did
not take kindly to a visiting Melbourne journalist's snide remark ' ...
the river is emptied at stated intervals to allow people to search for
their friends and relatives ...' Equally, she could agree with a fellow
citizen's poetic complaint ...
I puff, I blow, to ease my pain,
But none of this will do,
So long as Fahrenheit remains
All day at ninety-two
Or the 19th century Adelaide schoolboys' parody of Caroline
Carleton's Song of Australia ...
There is a land where summer flies
Come buzzing in your nose and eyes
Blended in witching harmonies
Australia! Australia!
All Charles would mumble was, 'The telegraph to the meteorologist
is what the telescope is to the astronomer,' and wander off upstairs
to the Observatory.
This book begins in 1861, when the citizens of the Colony
of Victoria were marvelling at the construction of a Southern
Hemisphere wonder, the breath-taking, Brunel-inspired Malmsbury
railway viaduct, and yet, just a day's drive away in 21st century
terms, the explorers, Burke and Wills were being poisoned slowly
by kindly aborigines (a curious juxtaposition in view of what
Europeans were doing to the aboriginal diet elsewhere) at Cooper
Creek to the northwest; meanwhile, their celebrity rival, John
McDouall Stuart, the 'Wee Scot' (and there was rarely a thirstier
one) pressed on gamely to the north coast of Australia, prompting
this cry from Melbourne Punch in January, 1860 ...
'A race! A race! So great a one
The world ne'er saw before ...'

Well, the race was won ... they were going out to collect the bodies
of the losers ...

* Alice would have been far too discreet to mention that the first
European officially killed by the Australian weather was a seaman
named John Fisher who died on 25th March, 1788, from exposure
after romancing a convict girl, Ann Morton, all night on the wet grass
at Sydney Cove.

Search the Collections of the State Library of South Australia


(http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au) for photographs and drawings of
the people and places mentioned here.

Page 2 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

1. The world on a summer's day in the winter of 1861

After dawn on Tuesday, 25th June, 1861, in the Australian desert,


the dying explorer William John Wills, aged twenty-seven, wrote in
his journal of the hours just passed: 'Night calm, clear and intensely
cold, especially towards morning. Near daybreak, King reported
seeing a moon in the east, with a haze of light stretching up from it;
he declared it to be quite as large as the moon, and not dim at the
edges. I am so weak that any attempt to get a sight of it was out of
the question; but I think it must have been Venus in the Zodiacal
Light that he saw, with a corona around her.'
At that moment, in the Ottoman Time Zone 13,000km
northwest, the gracious reformist Sultan Abdulmecid, aged thirty-
eight, was breathing his last in his palace overlooking the aromatic
rose gardens of Gulhane Park, Istanbul. He was said to have been
an enthusiastic and generous consumer of alcohol but, alas,
tuberculosis nailed him first. A further 9000km west, in the U.S.
Eastern Time Zone, compositors at the Daily Advocate, in Baton
Rouge, Louisiana, placed this gentle exhortation to Confederate
womanhood:
'The ladies of the vicinity are respectfully notified that
Messrs McHatton, Pike and Co. have deposited at the office of the
Penitentiary a bale of spun yarn for socks; all of those whose sons,
fathers are in the army are entitled to yarns for two pairs of socks
each, for winter use, and are requested to call and get the supply
and prepare it for use. A plan will be devised for transmission to
each company before winter sets in.'
Sadly, we don't know what happened to that devoted
knitting. Union troops seized Baton Rouge on its commanding bluff
overlooking the Mississipi shortly thereafter, quartered men in the
Louisville State Penitentiary, and bloodily repulsed Confederate
attempts to take the city back. News of the last two events would
not reach Australia for three months, a situation that one young
man, Charles Todd, had announced his determination to remedy.
It was a day of grim portent for many young men, that
25th June, 1861, but it was a good day for some with assured
futures. Charles Todd, who was thirty-four, probably climbed the
steps to the stone tower look-out at his new Adelaide Observatory
to glimpse the cold pre-dawn phenomenon of Venus in the Zodiacal
Light. In all likelihood, he was joined in the tower by his well-rugged
wife, Alice, who had been wakened in the residence below by their
restless third child, Hedley Lawrence.
'Dear little Hedley must be excited at the prospect of his
first birthday in two days time,' Alice might have told Charles. She
was only twenty-four, a nonconformist Cambridgeshire flower
whose fragrance, good temper, fertility and virtue provoked both
admiration and envy in Adelaide's overwhelmingly English provincial
society. Charles and Alice weren't aware of the impending fate of
their countryman, William John Wills, on that chilly mid-winter's
morning; but they were only 900km south of his location on
Cooper's Creek in the far northeast corner of the colony of South
Australia, a piddling distance in brave colonial terms.

Page 3 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Everyone of European Australia's 1.2 million people over


the age of six knew about the lost Burke and Wills Expedition. An
indeterminate number of aborigines scattered across the vast island
continent did not know; the aborigines were expected to die out and
were not included in the Colonial Census, but they would have
found the missing explorers with greater ease than most of their
bumbling white betters. The headstrong Robert O'Hara Burke, an
Irish protestant ex-army officer, and his fatally-deferential deputy,
William John Wills, a Devonshire-born surveyor, meteorologist and
astronomer, left Melbourne on 21st August, 1860 at the head of a
lavish expedition which would make the first crossing of Australia
from south to north, a distance of 2600km.
The affair was organised by the Royal Society of Victoria
and had the blessing of the Victorian Government, which saw great
rewards in prestige and the possibility of claiming a great slab of
northern Australia for Victoria. A group of four men achieved the
objective of reaching the north Gulf, but three of the four, including
Burke and Wills, perished on the return journey. The survivor, John
King, was saved by a party led by Alfred Howitt, which buried the
dead men. William Brahe, a member of the rescue party, rode
ahead to the gold city of Bendigo, 160km northwest of Melbourne,
and broke the news by telegraph of the expedition's disastrous
conclusion on 2nd November, 1861.
Charles would have been as shocked as anyone when he
heard of the deaths. But his scientific mind surely asked: Why? He
was planning the greatest ever venture into Australia's unknown
Red Centre and he would have asked: Why did two white men, in
previously rude good health, starve to death in the middle of a
bounteous winter, on the banks of a creek abounding in fish, fed by
people of the Yantruwanta aborigines (who must have been as
puzzled as Charles) waste away and die?
The answer must be: The kindly aborigines unwittingly
poisoned them. The Yantruwanta taught Burke, Wills and King to
make cakes from nardoo (Marsilea drummondi), an aquatic fern
which grows plentifully on the flood plains of Outback Australia; the
Cooper's Creek area is one of these, an overflow from the seasonal
inland rivers of western Queensland, whose turbulence turns the
barren plains into something akin the Deltas of Bangladesh.
According to the Federal Department of Environment and
Heritage, the ferns of the nardoo 'form clumps about 8-10cm high at
the edge of inland lakes, but [is] more usually a submerged plant
with leaves, reminiscent of a four-leafed-clover, floating on the water
surface. Nutritious food can be made from the spores of this plant if
it is prepared correctly. Spores form as the water dries up.
Aboriginal people in arid Australia collected the spore cases,
roasted them, discarded the cases then ground the spores to make
cakes.' Nutritious, yes, but deadly.
Burke, Wills and King first came upon nardoo in
abundance on 17th May, 1861, early in their isolation on Cooper's
Creek. Wills reported ...'On approaching the foot of the first sandhill,
King caught sight in the flat of some nardoo seeds, and we soon
found the flat was covered with them. This discovery caused

Page 4 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

somewhat of a revolution in our feelings, for we considered that with


the knowledge of this plant we were in a position to support
ourselves, even if we were destined to remain on the creek and wait
for assistance from town.' Nardoo contains thiaminase, an enzyme
that destroys thiamine (Vitamin B), which hastens beri-beri. And
'dry' beri-beri, which attacks the heart and nervous system, was a
major killer of Burke and Wills. The aborigines probably ate a
thiamine supplement as part of their normal daily diet.
In his last diary entry, on Thursday, 29th June, 1861, Wills
wrote: 'Clear, cold night, slight breeze from the east, day beautifully
warm and pleasant. Mr Burke suffers greatly from the cold and is
getting extremely weak; he and King start tomorrow up the creek to
look for the blacks; it is the only chance we have of being saved
from starvation. I am weaker than ever, although I have a good
appetite and relish the nardoo much; but it seems to give us no
nutriment, and the birds here are so shy as not to be got at. Even if
we got a good supply of fish, I doubt whether we could do much
work on them and the nardoo alone.
'Nothing now but the greatest good luck can save any of
us; and as for myself I may live four or five days if the weather
continues warm. My pulse is at forty-eight, and very weak, and my
legs and arms are nearly skin and bone. I can only look out, like Mr
Micawber, "for something to turn up"; starvation on nardoo is by no
means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels and the
utter inability to move oneself; for as far as appetite is concerned, it
gives the greatest satisfaction. Certainly fat and sugar would be
more to one's taste; in fact those seem to me to be the great stand-
by for one in this extraordinary continent: not that I mean to
depreciate the farinaceous food; but the want of sugar and fat in all
substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost
valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of something
else.'
So he died, meteorologist and nutritionist to the last. His
journal was brought back to Melbourne and handed to his father, Dr
William Wills, who returned to England and had a book about his
son, the expedition and its aftermath published by Richard Bentley,
of London, in 1863. And Charles Todd was able to absorb William
Wills' intimate experiences - and warnings - in his planning for the
survival of his Overland Telegraph construction parties.
But that was in the 1870s, the 'modern era' of
technology ... let's go back to a simpler age a lifetime earlier when
Europeans were beginning their perplexing conquest of Australia ...

2. Unchained melodies as 'thunder shook the ship'!

The eleven ships of the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson, better
known today as Sydney Harbour, early in the high summer's
afternoon, 26th January, 1788, to begin the first European
settlement in Australia. The male convicts had scarcely begun
unpacking, ready for the embarkation of the ladies, when Mother
Nature gave them a bloody good Aussie climatic lashing.
On 1st February, navy surgeon John White recorded: 'We

Page 5 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

had the most tremendous thunderstorm and lightning, with heavy


rain, I ever remember to have seen' ... 2nd February: 'This morning
five sheep, belonging to the lieutenant-governor and quarter-master
were killed by the lightning under a tree, at the foot of which a shed
had been built for them. The branches of the tree were shivered and
rent in a very extraordinary manner.'
All the men looked anxiously towards the heavens in the
ensuing days. They had planned certain al fresco pleasures, and
the skies, discreetly, remained clear. On 6th February, Arthur Bowes
Smyth, surgeon on the female convict ship, Lady Penrhyn, wrote:
'At five o'clock this morning, all things were got in order for
landing the whole of the women and three of the ship's longboats
came alongside us to receive them: previous to their quitting the
ship, a strict search was made to try to find if any of the many things
they had stolen on board could be found, but their artifice eluded
the most strict search and about six p.m., we had the long wished
for pleasure of seeing the last of them leave the ship. They were
dressed in general very clean and some few amongst them could
be said to be well dressed. The men convicts got to them very soon
after they landed, and it is beyond my abilities to give a just
description of the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during
the night.'
On the now-empty ship, the sailors averted their eyes
from this gross carnal happening and, as Bowes Smyth, said,
'requested some grog to make merry with upon the women quitting
the ship. Indeed, the captain himself had no small reason to rejoice
upon their all being safely landed and given into the care of the
governor, as he was under the penalty of £40 for every one that was
missing, for which reason, he complied with the sailors request, and
about the time they began to be elevated, the tempest came on.
The scene which presented itself at the time and during the greater
part of the night, beggars every description; some swearing, others
quarrelling, others singing, not the least regarding the tempest,
though so violent that the thunder shook the ship exceeded
anything I ever before had a conception of.
'I never before experienced so uncomfortable a night,
expecting every moment the ship would be struck with the lightning.
The sailors almost all drunk and incapable of rendering much
assistance had an accident happened and the heat was almost
suffocating.'
A terrific night was had by all, and everyone finished up
quite moist, but happy, with exception of Arthur Bowes Smyth and
the parson Richard Johnson (and his wife, Mary, who came from
the genteel English town of Lymington and seems to have hidden,
trembling, under a blanket for most of her stay in NSW.)
The charms of the weather extended to the peculiar
qualities of the lightning-struck trees. On 9th March, after a sea
excursion to Broken Bay, 40km north of Sydney, White, the
settlement's chief doctor, observed, quite puzzled: 'Strange as it
may be imagined, no wood in this country, though sawed ever so
thin, and dried ever so well, will float. Repeated trials have only
served to convince me that, immediately on immersion, it sinks to

Page 6 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

the bottom like a stone.'


Watkin Tench, a cultivated lieutenant of Marines, spoke
optimistically: 'The climate is undoubtedly very desirable to live in.
In summer the heats are usually moderated by the sea breeze,
which sets in early; and in winter the degree of cold is so slight as to
occasion no inconvenience; once or twice we have had hoar frosts
and hail, but no appearance of snow. The thermometer has never
risen beyond 84, nor fallen below 35, in general it has stood in the
beginning of February at between 78 and 74 at noon. Nor is the
temperature of the air less healthy than pleasant. Those dreadful
fevers by which new countries are so often ravaged, are unknown
to us; and excepting a slight diarrhoea, which prevailed so after we
landed and was fatal in a very few instances, we are stranger to
epidemic diseases.'
Tench observed the thunderstorm noted by White on
1st-2nd February, but dismissed such phenomena as regular
happenings: 'On the whole (thunderstorms in the hot months
excepted), I know not any climate equal to this I write in. Ere we had
been a fortnight on shore we experienced some storms of thunder
accompanied with rain, than which nothing can be conceived more
violent and tremendous, and by their repetition for several days,
joined to the damage they did, by killing several of our sheep, led us
to draw presages of an unpleasant nature. Happily, however, for
many months we have escaped similar visitations.'
Arthur Bowes Smyth, who had a very negative attitude
towards his lady charges, particularly after a long sea voyage,
reported the colony's first death from exposure to the weather on
25th March: 'This evening, abt. 7 o'clock, died John Fisher, seaman
on board our ship of dysentery - Several of the men on board had
the same disorder and recovered, and I attribute the death of this
young man (abt. 20 years old) to his own imprudence in swimming
on shore naked in the middle of the night to one of the convict
women with whom he had formed a connection and who had a child
by him while on board - he wd. lye about with her in the woods all
night in the dews and return on board again a little before daylight,
whereby he caught a most violent cold and made his disorder
infinitely more putrid than it otherwise have been (if he did not
wholly occasion it by such improper conduct.')
Of course, Bowes' entry about Fisher's tragic romance
with Ann Morton, a 20-year-old servant girl transported for
shoplifting, should be seen in the context of his contempt on 10th
January, when the fleet was running up the Australian east coast in
a tremendous gale: 'During the storm the convict women in our ship
were so terrified that most of them were down on their knees at
prayer, and in less than an hour after it abated, they were uttering
the most horrid oaths and imprecations that could proceed out of
the mouths of such abandoned prostitutes as they are.'

3. Creeping inland ... and a 'tree in flames'!

On 22nd April, 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip took a party in boats

Page 7 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

about twelve kilometres west on the harbour until it appeared to


have narrowed enough for them to conclude that they were at its
head. This may have been between the present suburbs of Ryde
and Auburn. Here, they disembarked and plunged into the bush (or
woods, as they called it). John White was in the party, along with his
good friend, Lieutenant Henry Ball, commander of HMS Supply,
who had recently shipped the first convicts to Norfolk Island, and
was keen to stretch his land-legs in the NSW hinterland.
They thrashed around the forest, feasting at one point on
a stew based on two white cockatoos and two crows until, on 25th
April, White reported ... '... we saw a tree in flames, without the least
appearance of any natives; from which we suspected it had been
set on fire by lightning. This circumstance was first suggested by
Lieutenant Ball; who had remarked, as well as myself, that every
part of the country, though the most inaccessible and rocky,
appeared as if, at certain times of the year, it had been all on fire.
Indeed, in many parts we met with very large trees, the trunks of
which and branches were evidently rent and demolished by
lightning.'
Robert Ross, the lieutenant-governor who'd earlier had
the distinction of having the first sheep in Australia electrocuted by
Mother Nature, wrote: 'The face of the country round us produces
dreadful proofs of the devastation caused by the frequent lightnings,
besides our already having visited by the shock of an earthquake
(see below), which happened on the 22nd of June. The fatal effects
of the first, Captain Campbell and myself have woefully experienced
in having the principal part of our livestock (all our sheep and lambs,
with some hogs which we purchased at the Cape of Good Hope)
destroyed by it soon after our arrival.' Ross' view may have been
coloured by his being the most despised man in Sydney, followed
closely by Campbell, his best friend.
White and Ball, it must be said, showed their faith in the
colony's future climate by fathering two illegitimate children by two
convict women. Ball's daughter, Ann Maria, born to Sarah Partridge
(August, 1789) chose to remain in Sydney and brave the colonial
weather's fickleness (instead, by way of compensation, Ball took the
first live kangaroo back to England with him in 1792); White's son,
Andrew, born to Rachel Hunter (September, 1793) went home with
father to England's miserable winters, served in the army at the
Battle of Waterloo, and eventually rejoined mother by Sydney's
mostly sun-drenched shores.
Meanwhile, White continued his observations, mainly of
an ornithological nature, which would be published in his Journal of
a Voyage to New South Wales (London, 1790). On 26th June, he
wrote: 'About four in the afternoon a slight shock of an earthquake
was felt at Sydney Cove, and its environs. This incident had so
wonderful effect on William Corbett, a convict, who had eloped
about three weeks before, on discovery being made of his having
stolen a frock (a labourer's smock), that he returned and gave
himself up to justice.' Corbett was the recipient of good news and
bad news. The good news was that a decree declaring him an
outlaw was revoked; the bad news was that he was hanged. He

Page 8 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

was, as it were, caught between The Rocks, where the convicts


were confined, and a Harder Place.
In those uncertain months of 1788, Tench had became
fast friends with a brother Marine, Lieutenant William Dawes,
another enlightened late-twenties officer who shared his esoteric
pursuits. Dawes had come out on the warship Sirius for a purpose
totally unconnected with the guarding of convicts. He was to set up
an establishment on the point of land at The Rocks where the
Harbour Bridge now departs for the North Shore. The idea of having
an official weather station was deemed necessary, particularly after
this note from John White on 26th January: 'This day I had the
misfortune to break the only thermometer I had left of six, and my
barometer, on taking them on shore, to determine the difference
between it and the air on board a ship (convict transport Charlotte).'
Watkin Tench explained Dawe's role: 'In enumerating the
public buildings, I find I have been so remiss as to omit an
observatory, which is erected at a small distance from the
encampments. It is nearly completed, and when fitted up with
telescopes, and other astronomical sent out by the Board of
Longitude, will afford a desirable retreat from the listlessness of a
camp evening at Port Jackson.
'One of the principal reasons which induced the Board to
grant this apparatus was, for the purpose of enabling Lieut Dawes,
of the Marines (to whose care it is entrusted) to make observations
on a comet (Halley's) which is shortly expected to appear in the
southern hemisphere. That latitude of the observatory, from the
result of more than three hundred observations, is fixed at
33º52'30S, and the longitude at 15º16'30E of Greenwich. The
latitude of the South Head which forms the entrance to the harbour,
33º51 and that of the North Head opposite to it at 33º49'45S.'
Dawes had been recommended for the task by the
Astronomer Royal, Rev. Dr. Nevil Maskelyne, who wanted him to
watch for Halley's Comet, last sighted in 1682. On arrival in Sydney,
he dutifully named his observatory point Maskelyne Point, but
Dawes' nearest neighbours were ignorant convict oafs who called it
'Dawes' Point'. And that's the name it bears today. To add to the
insult, Maskelyne's comet failed to materialise over Sydney, so
Dawes to turned other activities, including the construction of
defensive batteries at the entrance to Sydney Cove.
In 1792, Dawes returned to England, became a
mathematics teacher and, eventually, a Church of England minister.
He retained his scientific interests, however, and was pleased to
show his son, William Rutter Dawes (b. London, 1799) his prized
copy of the first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed's (1646-1719)
atlas of the stars. William Rutter Dawes, was captivated and, after
a brief foray into medicine, became an astronomer and co-
discoverer of Saturn's crepe ring. In his later years, he retired to
Cambridgeshire and there seems little doubt he would have moved
in the same circles as Charles Todd.
It's a small world, as astronomers might (or might not) say.
But we are still in the convict encampment of Sydney ... as the
summer of 1788-89 approached, the fearful thunder and lightning

Page 9 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

returned. On 31st October, White reported: 'In the evening of this


day, we had very loud thunder, and a shower of hail; many of the
hailstones were measured and found to be five-eights of an inch' ...
2nd November:
'This day more hail; the weather dark and gloomy, with
dreadful lightning. The mercury during the whole of the day stood
between 66 and 68' ... and, as an afterthought related to hot
weather and cleanliness ...'A criminal court sentenced a convict to
five hundred lashes for stealing soap, the property of another
convict, value eightpence.'
As they moved into their second year in the colony, they
still clung to the coast; the settlement's administrators were nautical
men with a hankering for the sea and no wish to flirt with the
sensual folds of misty blue mountains beyond the bounds of their
salty comfort zone. They stared out to the Pacific Ocean for the sail
that never appeared. Surely, they had been forgotten. Hadn't they?
Had something happened in Europe? Well, they weren't to know
that the first stirrings of the French Revolution at the Bastille on 14th
July, 1789 had concentrated the attention of King George III and
other British Higher-Ups, fearful that the disease of peasants'
rebellion might spread across the Channel.

4. Icebergs threaten Sydney!

Early in 1790, Watkin Tench was stationed at South Head, at the


entrance to Sydney Harbour: 'Here, on the summit of the hill, every
morning from daylight until sun sunk, did we sweep the horizon, in
the hope of seeing a sail. At every fleeting speck, which arose from
the bosom of the sea, the heart pounded, and the telescope was
lifted to the eye.
'If a ship appeared here, we know she must be bound for
us; for on the shores of this vast ocean (the largest in the world) we
were the only community which possessed the art of navigation,
and languished for intercourse with civilised society.' They were
hungering for European fare, too; like Burke and Wills seventy
years later, their British-trained bellies were not accustomed to the
local bush tucker, witchetty grubs and the like (and, fortunately,
unlike Burke and Wills, they didn't feast on inland nardoo).
What they did not know was that their lifeline to the world
had become entangled with that most unAustralian and old-
fashioned climatic phenomenon, an iceberg, southwest of Cape
Town on the previous Christmas Eve, 1789. The vessel was HMS
Guardian, a seven-year-old London-built warship, stripped of her
44-cannon, and converted into a large storeship. She was nominally
part of the First Fleet and carried nearly 1000-tonnes of stores for
Sydney Cove. Her commander was the dashing 26-year-old
Lieutenant Edward Riou, who was to die such a gallant death (with
the appropriate famous last words) at the Battle of Copenhagen in
1801.
But on that fateful Christmas Eve, 1789, Edward Riou was
having no such heroic luck. Riou had sailed as a 14-year-old
midshipman on the Resolution, accompanying the great mariner,

Page 10 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

James Cook's Discovery on his third (and fatal) voyage to the


Pacific in 1776-79. They encountered no southern ice on this
voyage, but Riou would have experienced its treacherous
immovability near Alaska. Surely Riou had read Cook's words about
the Antarctic during his earlier, second expedition in 1772-74? On
17th January, 1773, aboard the Resolution, 4000km south of the
Cape of Good Hope, Cook had written ...
'As the wind remained invariably fixed at E. and E by S., I
continued to stand to the south, and on the 17th, between eleven
and twelve o'clock we crossed the Antarctic Circle (the first to do
so), in the longitude of 39º35'E for at noon we were by observation
in the latitude of 66º36"30'S. The weather was now becoming
tolerably clear so that we could see several leagues around us and
yet we had only seen one island of ice since the morning. But about
4pm, as we were steering to the south, we observed the sea in a
manner covered with ice, from the direction of SE, round by the
south to east. In this space, thirty-eight ice islands great and small
were seen, besides loose ice in abundance, so that we were
obliged to luff for one piece and bear up for another and, as we
continued to advance to the south, it increased in such a manner
that at three-quarters past six, being then in a latitude of 67º15'S.
we could proceed no further, the ice being entirely closed in the
south.'
When the Guardian met the iceberg that Christmas Eve,
1789, it was 2000km SE of Cape of Good Hope, and northwest of
Prince Edward Island in the south Indian Ocean. This was 11,000
kilometres southwest of Sydney. Riou had placed his ship in a
straight easterly line to round Tasmania, believed to be 'the
southern cape of Australia' until George Bass and Matthew Flinders
established the existence of the sea route through Bass Strait in
1798.
So Riou had done nothing unseamanlike on that foggy
afternoon when he spotted an iceberg about five kilometres
distance. He had taken on a small herd of cattle at Cape Town, and
saw it as a splendid opportunity for the crew to gather some large
lumps of ice for the animals' drinking water. This task completed, he
was about to take the ship's boats back on board when the
Guardian struck an underwater ice ledge.
She swung round on impact, knocking her rudder off and
allowing icy water to begin an increasing trickle into her hold. A gale
blew up, the sails were shredded, the crew began to throw the
colony's precious foodstuff overboard, some sailors drank
themselves senseless (a wise precaution for those who didn't fancy
their chances of swimming 2000km to safety) and some chose to
take to the ship's boats which they had lately been loading,
cheerfully, with ice blocks. Riou got the Guardian back to Cape
Town on 21st February, with the assistance of towing whale boats
from another British ship. She moored in False Bay, but a gale
drove her on to the beach on 12th April.
Eventually, twenty-one specialist tradesmen convicts who
survived the disaster were pardoned in Sydney for their exemplary
behaviour. Riou returned to England, where he was greeted,

Page 11 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

embarrassingly, as a hero and had his portrait executed by Samuel


Shelley (no relation) who had lately been honoured with
commission to paint the portrait of Princess Sophie Matilda (aged
about six), daughter of the Duke of Gloucester and niece of George
III, patron of the starving, whingeing, lightning-plagued colony of
New South Wales.
And Riou's subsequent career? He became a captain and
commanded a squadron of six frigates in the first Battle of
Copenhagen on 2 April, 1801. When signalled to withdraw by his
elderly Admiral Sir Hyde Parker (not a nom-de-plume), Riou cried
(despite having an artillery splinter in his eye): 'What will Nelson
think of us?' and was promptly bisected by a cannon ball. Nelson,
the disgraced Parker's deputy at the battle, said later: 'In poor Riou,
the country had sustained an irreparable loss.'
But, returning to the high drama at besieged Sydney on
3rd June, 1790 ... Tench was at South Head look out, vainly
awaiting the arrival of the Guardian, when, at last ... 'My next door
neighbour, a brother officer, was with me. But we could not speak;
we wrung each other by the hand, with eyes and hearts
overflowing.'
The Lady Juliana, a giant East Indiaman of 400 tonnes,
normally employed in the tea trade, was ploughing towards the
Heads, stuffed to the gunwales with the colony's real or imagined
needs ... and 221 of the most delectable lady convicts, girls of
'daring habits', one contemporary said, who'd ever set sail, or that's
how they'd look to some conversation-starved males in Sydney.
But they almost struck disaster as they entered the
Heads! A wicked southerly suddenly blew up and threatened to cast
the women to their deaths on the rocks at North Head! The blessed
Sydney weather again! But muscled, sun-bronzed rowers (we
suppose they must have appeared) came to their rescue and towed
the vessel and its precious cargo for three exhausting days the
eight kilometres southwest to Sydney Cove. And everything ended
happily under the Sydney winter sun.
In mid-July, 1791, Watkin Tench, his good friend, William
Dawes and others left Sydney Cove and ventured west from
Sydney to Rose Hill (Parramatta), 30km away, in search of a 'large
river, which was said to exist a few miles southward of Rose Hill.'
Some historians have suggested they found Prospect Creek, near
the present site of Prospect Reservoir, an important part of the
Sydney water supply system. But it was more likely a headwater of
the Georges River, a kilometres or so south.
Whatever, Tench was not impressed: 'We went to the
place described, and found this second Nile, or Ganges, to be
nothing but a salt water creek, communicating with Botany Bay, on
whose banks we passed a miserable night, from want of a drop of
water to quench our thirst; for as we believed we were going to a
river, we thought it needless to march with full canteens.'
But they were about to begin a tradition which is a
common part of Sydney weather reports today: taking the Battling
Western Suburbs temperatures to be compared with those of the
Silvertail city harbourside. Tench reported (A Complete Account of

Page 12 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

the Settlement at Port Jackson, London, 1793): 'On this expedition


we carried with us a thermometer which (in unison with our feelings)
showed so extraordinary degree of cold for the latitude of the place,
that I think myself bound to transcribe it.'
'Monday, July 18th. The sun arose in unclouded
splendour, and presented to our sight a novel and picturesque view;
the contiguous country as white as if covered with snow, contrasted
with the foliage of trees, flourishing in the verdure of tropical
luxuriancy. Even the exhalation which steamed from the lake
beneath, contributed to heighten the beauty of the scene. - Wind
SSW. - Thermometer at sunrise 25ºF. - The following night was still
colder. At sunset the thermometer stood at 45ºF; at quarter before
four in the morning, it was 26F; at quarter before six, at 24ºF; at
quarter before seven, at 23ºF; at seven o'clock, 22ºF, at sunrise,
23ºF; after which it continually to mount, and between one and two
o'clock, stood at 56ºF in the shade. - Wind, SSW. The horizon
perfectly clear all day, not the smallest speck to be seen. - Nothing,
but demonstration could have convinced me that so severe a cold
ever existed in this low latitude. Drops of water on a tin pot, not
altogether out of the influence of the fire, were frozen into solid ice,
in less than twelve minutes. Part of a leg of kangaroo, which we had
roasted for supper, was frozen quite hard, all the juices of it
converted into ice. On those ponds which were near the surface of
the earth, the covering of ice was very thick; but on the surface of
those which were lower down, it was found to be less so, in
proportion to their depression; and wherever the water was twelve
feet below the surface (which happened to be the case close to us)
it was uncongealed. It remains to be observed that the cold of both
these nights, at Rose Hill and Sydney, was judged to be greater
than had ever before been felt.'
It can be seen that the above expedition does not figure
largely on the Richter Scale of icy polar explorations, but the
drought conditions in settled NSW, which barely constituted a
decent suburb in today's terms, were the subject of everyone's
conversation, free, captive and those who hoped to cultivate the
Governor's favour and occupy the uneasy middle ground.
Tench was pleased to mark the drought's end: 'The
extreme dryness of the preceding summer has been noticed. It had
operated so far in the beginning of June, that we dreaded a want of
water for common consumption, most of the little reservoirs in the
neighbourhood of Sydney being dried up. The small stream near to
town (Tank Stream) was so nearly exhausted (being the drain of a
morass) that a ship could not have watered at it, and the Supply
was preparing to sink casks in a swamps, when the rain fell,
banishing our apprehensions.'

5. Merde! Scientific Froggies on the horizon

While Watkin Tench was taking the temperature in Western Sydney,


the French vessels Recherche and Esperance were outfitting in
Brest to begin a grand scientific expedition which would also
attempt to resolve the mystery of the missing French explorer Jean-

Page 13 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse, and his two vessels,


Astrolabe and Boussole.
They were, in fact, last seen when their expedition
coincided with the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788. In
Paris, the National Assembly was unaware of that brief contact and
voted money for the search. Everyone was worried, particularly the
wives and children of the missing sailors. Even Louis XVI, making
his way, graciously, to the guillotine on 21st January, 1793, is said to
have enquired: 'What news of La Perouse?' His interest was
personal; an oil painting by Nicholas Monsiaux held in the Palais de
Versailles depicts him seated, looking intelligent, with a map and a
very attentive La Perouse: 'Louis XVI giving final instructions to the
Comte de La Perouse, 1785', says the caption
This rescue mission was led by the 51-year-old seaman
and hydrographer, Rear-Admiral Joseph-Antonie Raymond Bruny
D'Entrecasteaux. His two ships, La Recherche (Seek) and
L'Esperance (Hope) left Brest on 28 September, 1791. They sailed
to Capetown and then east to Storm Bay, on the southeast coast of
Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), which they reached on 23rd April,
1793.
Bruny D'Entrecasteaux wrote: 'We have found the climate
in this part of New Holland very mild; the reading of the Reaumur
thermometer was constantly between 9º and 14º; many plants still
flower in May, which in relation to the position of the sun
corresponds to November in Europe. The trees in the harbour have
not yet lost their leaves (he had not been told about the seasonal
habits of the Australian eucalypt). It is to be presumed that the
summer temperatures are much higher than its latitude indicates.
During the hot season, the extreme humidity of the soil of this
harbour must produce steamy vapours, the more harmful since the
air is as stagnant as the waters. The port is so enclosed, that it
cannot be refreshed by those sea breezes, which in the good
season, can renew and purify the air on any stretched-out coast.'
The most interesting reference in the above paragraph,
believe it or not, is to Bruny's thermometer and how, unbeknown to
him, it was about to evaporate forever. The Reaumur thermometer
was devised by a French scientist, Rene Antoine Ferchault de
Reaumur, in 1730. He proposed a scale that depended on only one
reference point: the freezing point of water was considered zero.
The thermometer was filled with a controlled mix of alcohol and
water, so that the boiling point was 80 degrees. But the Reaumur
method, in the purest sense, was not decimal, the magic word of
the looming Brave New World of France in the 1790s. It was
ideological impure and would have to be banished, along with, the
fanatics demanded, the 60 second minute, 60 minute hour and
seven day week.
Bruny, simple sailor, was not aware of the gathering
clouds of Revolution when he left Brest with his Reaumur
thermometer on 28th September, 1791. Certainly, the Bastille had
been stormed on 14th July, 1789. But in 1791, the object of the
National Assembly was not to rid itself of the monarchy, but to effect
gradual change from absolute to constitutional. Louis was still king,

Page 14 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

and the monarchy did not collapse until August, 1792. The genially-
despotic Louis was executed the following 21st January, 1793; his
misunderstood Queen Marie Antoinette, who never did say, 'Let
them eat cake', went the same way in October.
Bruny, blessedly, knew none of this. He died of natural
causes on 20th July, 1793, while his ship, La Recherche, was off
the coast of New Guinea, still engaged in his fruitless search for La
Perouse; his deputy, Huon de Kermadec, captain of L'Esperance,
had already died. With the grand expedition in tatters, the third-in-
command, d'Auribeau, a royalist, handed over his ships to the
Dutch at Surabaya when he learned from them of the French
revolution.
It was not only the expedition that was in tatters; the whole
French system of recording the heat of the day was to be discarded.
On Ist April, 1794, the revolutionary government replaced the
Reaumur scale, so beloved by Bruny, with centigrade as part of the
new decimal metric system. It was part of the new official ideology
of 'pure reason', but had, in fact, been discussed by European
scientists for 150 years. The decimal metric system, known now as
the Systeme International, was adopted quickly by the rest of
Europe, leaving isolated Britain and, of course, the brand-new
United States, which remains intransigent in the 21st century, along
with Myanmar (Burma).
The British had sound ideological reasons of their own to
stay with the Fahrenheit scale at a time when Napoleon was pacing
out the yards to Waterloo in metres. The Fahrenheit system was
named for its inventor in 1724, the German physicist Daniel Gabriel
Fahrenheit (1686-1736). Centigrade was pioneered by the Swedish
astronomer, Anders Celsius (1701-1744) in 1742. A third method,
the Kelvin scale, was introduced by the Scottish physicist, Lord
William Kelvin (1824-1907) in 1854.
Kelvin was an almost exact contemporary of Charles Todd
(1826-1910). But Todd, the first 'man of the people' weather man
stuck with Fahrenheit, even though, as a scientist, he would have
seen the value of the Kelvin scale in measuring very low
temperatures for scientific research (Todd probably would have
appreciated the 'Henry Lawson Scale', expressed in a letter from
Lawson from Leeton, NSW, in 1916: 'It's so hot here in February
that you can wash out your, pants, hang them on the line, run
around the house and take them off dry.')
But we are getting ahead of ourselves ... Before he
returned to England with the rest of the Marines on the Gorgon in
December, 1792, Tench recorded his thoughts on the sudden
unpredictability of the weather (with the deftness of a modern
politician) ...'My other remarks on the climate will be short; it is
changeable beyond any other I ever heard of; but no phenomena,
sufficiently accurate to reckon upon, are found to indicate the
approach of alteration. Indeed, for the first eighteen months that we
lived in the country, changes were supposed to take place, more
commonly at the quartering of the moon than at other times. But
lunar empire afterwards lost its credit; for the last two-and-a-half of
our residing at Port Jackson, its influence was unperceived. Three

Page 15 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

days together seldom passed without a necessity occurring for


lighting a fire in an evening. A habit d'ete, or a habit de demi saison,
would be in the highest degree absurd; clouds, storms, and
sunshine pass in rapid succession.
'Of rain, we found in general, not a sufficiency but torrents
of water sometimes fall. Thunder storms, in summer, are common,
and very tremendous, but they have ceased to alarm, from rarely
causing mischief; sometimes they happen in winter. I have often
seen large hailstones fall. Frequent strong breezes from the
westward purge the air; these are almost invariably attended with a
hard clear sky. The easterly winds, by setting in from the sea, bring
thick weather or rain, except in summer when they become regular
sea breezes. The aurora australis is sometimes seen, but is not
distinguished by superior brilliancy.'

6. Tank Stream sees the grotty 'Londoning' of Sydney

The Tank Stream, Watkin Tench's 'drain of a morass', was the very
reason for the existence of Sydney. And its importance increased
when the settlers recognised the unpredictability of the Australian
sub-tropical rainfall in the drought which followed so soon after their
arrival. Marine officer David Collins, the settlement's chief legal
officer, wrote of Governor Arthur Phillip's decision to select Sydney
Cove: 'The site chosen for the settlement was at the head of the
cove, near the run of fresh water which stole silently along through
a very thick wood, the stillness of which had then, for the first time
since the Creation, been interrupted by the rude sound of the
labourer's axe.'
Collins saw the stream in its last moments of bucolic
simplicity. Some of the older London East Enders among the
convicts might have seen nostalgic similarities between it and the
River Fleet, which rose in springs on Hampstead Heath and flowed,
pleasantly enough, until it fell into the Thames near the present site
of Blackfriars Bridge. Arthur Phillip, born in the London parish of All
Hallows in 1738, would almost certainly have seen the River Fleet
when they were building Blackfriars Bridge in the 1760s ... and
covering up the Fleet and the city's shame. It had turned from broad
river, to stream, to creek ... and, finally, to foul drain. The writer
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who wrote Gulliver's Travels, penned
these words about the Fleet after a deluge:
Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts and Blood.
Drown'd puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the
Flood.
And that is what the Tank Stream would become. A
miniature Fleet. It burbled from springs west of (Sydney's) Hyde
Park and flowed north towards the Harbour through water 'tanks'
hewn from the sandstone near the present Hunter Street during the
1790-91 drought. The stream entered the Cove at the westerly end
of Circular Quay ... eventually, to be hidden as a stormwater drain
beneath the modern city. As early as 14th October, 1802, a General
Order, said:

Page 16 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

If any person is detected in throwing any filth into the


stream of fresh water, cleaning fish, washing, erecting pig-sties near
it, or taking water but at the tanks, on conviction before a
magistrate, their houses will be taken down and forfeit £5 for each
to the Orphan Fund.
The Tank Stream continued to be Sydney's main source
until 1826 when it was abandoned in favour of water carted from the
'Lachlan Swamps', now part of Centennial Park, five kilometres in a
direct line southeast of Sydney Cove. In that year, a newly-
immigrated Scottish mining engineer, John Busby, began the
excavation by convicts of a 3.6km tunnel through sandstone to the
Lachlan Swamps, completing the task in 1837. This source of water
was known, romantically, as Busby's Bore, by Sydneysiders with the
same sentimentally they regarded a monumental obelisk erected as
a sewer vent over the dear old Tank Stream in 1857, and modelled,
in a splendid example of Empire cultural cringe, on the fair dinkum
Cleopatra's Needle, which had been pillaged from Egypt and was
about to be erected on the Thames Embankment. It was unveiled
by the one-term Mayor, George Thornton, and became known,
accurately, as Thornton's Scent Bottle.
So the saga of the Tank Stream ended, though it
continued to piddle along for decades in varying squalid stinking
hues through low, rat-infested residential areas whose residents
had glumly accepted their lot from the end of the 18th century. As
far back as 8th April, 1804, the Sydney Gazette reported (rather
pompously, considering the previous criminal affiliations of the
journalistic staff): 'The heavy rains during the week have again
furnished a testimony of the inadequacy of the slight mode of
building adhered to by the lower order of inhabitants (those others,
of course, who may have been convicts), and an incontrovertible
argument against the use of thatch. During the night of Tuesday,
whole sides of houses were washed down, and covering of the
above description could scarcely be denominated a shelter from the
inclemency of the season. On Wednesday morning, the lower part
of a chimney fell inwards upon a family at breakfast near one of the
wharves, but very fortunately and providentially, no personal injury
was sustained, though the tea equipage suffered severely by the
accident.'
Of course, such deluges could also provide providential
opportunities to the lower order of inhabitants, as the Gazette
reported in the same issue: 'On Tuesday night, during the heavy
storm of rain, some person or persons entered the stockyard of
Daniel Macoy, near the Hospital Wharf, and stole therefrom seven
pigs, none of which have yet been heard of.' (Later, there was some
suggestion that the mother pig had, in fact, scoffed her seven
children, but that speculation leads us astray from the serious
subject of this tome).
Sydney's violent weather provided the much-maligned
lower orders at The Rocks with some revenge on their tormentors at
the Gazette. An anonymous newspaperman (probably George
Howe), was forced to report on 7th January, 1810: 'The
thunderstorm that set in between four and five yesterday afternoon

Page 17 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

was accompanied with very vivid lightning, the effects of which were
sensibly felt by many, some of whom have had as sensibly to feel
their obligation to the Divine Providence.
'The Gazette office was struck in several places at
different intervals. Many of the printing materials being formed of
iron, the cause of attraction were no doubt the stronger, and the
effects were truly awful. In the two lower rooms were eleven
persons, six of whom were children, and all were affected in a
greater or less degree, but none seriously injured. By the first
shock, a young man, an assistant, felt a violent concussion on the
head, which bowed him to the ground, but which he at the moment
attributed to the fall of some weighty substance overhead. He
immediately left the place on which he stood, however, and in
retreating into the adjoining room was opposed in his passage by a
crash occasioned by the bursting in of the back door, the whole
wood and brick work connected with which was rent to atoms, some
of the shattered materials being driven inwards, and others
outwards, to the distance of thirty feet from the door.
'The publisher (the same George Howe) happening to be
at the time revising a proof impression of this paper, was thrown
backwards with his seat, unconscious as to what cause to attribute
the disaster, so instantaneously impaired was his recollection. On
rising, he felt himself enveloped in smoke as he then imagined, but
more probably in the dust of lime and mortar scattered from the
brickwork. Those who were less affected than himself declare that
the electric material had the appearance of a ball, which rebounded
to and fro with a velocity peculiar to itself. On subsequent
examination, it appears to have entered the house at different parts,
the inner brick work of the chimneys being in many places fractured,
one of the rafters of the roof and a board in the upper floor
splintered, and the brick work of many parts both within and without
the house visibly impaired by the same awful and terrific cause.'
Many thought this was Divine Retribution aimed directly at
the journalist George Howe because, having arrived in New South
Wales under the embarrassing burden of a sentence for failed
highway robbery, he was now living sinfully with a wealthy widow.

7. Sydney, 2nd June, 1822: NSW enters Space Age!

When the new Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, a devoted Scot,


stepped ashore in Sydney Cove on 7th November, 1821, he was
followed by the most peculiar entourage. It was led by his good
lady, another devoted Scot, Anna Maria, whom he had kindly
plucked off the shelf at the age of thirty-one, only two years before:
the fact that she was the sole heiress to the vast fortune of Sir
Henry Hay Makdougal, laird of Makerstoun, was coincidental.
Next in line was Christian Ruemker, also thirty-three, a
German astronomer whose rudeness became notorious, even by
Sydney standards. Somewhere, hanging back in this throng of
retainers was James Dunlop, in his late-twenties, a Scottish
weaver's son and aspiring astronomer, an all-round congenial
fellow. In the background, smiling slyly, was another Scot,

Page 18 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Alexander Berry, one of the leading money-grubbers of NSW and


the charterer of the Royal George that brought them all; he'd had
the Governor's captive ear for the past five months. And somewhere
in the melee were servants carrying boxes of the most up-to-date
astronomical gear in the Southern Hemisphere. It was the private
property of Sir Thomas Brisbane.
Brisbane, aged fifty-eight, was an astronomy enthusiast
first, an army general second, and a colonial administrator a distant
third when he succeeded another Scottish soldier, Lachlan
Macquarie, as Governor of NSW. Most recently, he had been
commander of the southernmost Munster military district in Ireland
which encompassed Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and
Waterford.
But he would not have been familiar with some ex-
neighbours aboard the convict transport, John Barry, which
anchored in the Cove within days of the Royal George. It carried
180 Irishmen driven to petty crime in a starving landscape where
the population had reached 6.8 million in a world which no longer
sought their pitiful farm produce or cottage textiles. They were men
who'd never go home, leaving grieving women who, in the words of
the ballad ...
Her tears might flow in vain,
For on that day her husband sailed
She ne'er would see again,
She pressed her infant to her breast
And again at her it smiled
'I live for that dear boy,' she cried;
Alas! her convict child.
But, excuse me! None of that nostalgic Celtic nonsense! We're here
to talk about astronomy and meteorology! In NSW that November
day in 1821, Brisbane was confronted by 30,000 white subjects,
nearly half prisoners of the Crown and the rest comprising
'Emancipists' (former convicts), 'Exclusives' (free settlers) and
sundry younger people, known as 'Currency Lads and
Lasses' (convicts' children) or 'Miss This and Master That' , the
offspring of Exclusives and who, if they happened to be the children
of the highest social order, the 'Pure Merinos', were sent 'Home' to
school. The Pure Merino adults aspired to be members of the
'Bunyip Aristocracy', something akin to the Peerage, but not quite
(heavens, no!). All of these people were ruled, in fact, by the
Sydney-based Colonial Secretary, Frederick Goulburn, a chum of
the Exclusives, who couldn't care less what Sir Thomas Brisbane
thought.
Brisbane's (or Goulburn's) fiefdom comprised the eastern
two-thirds of Australia's 7,659, 861 square kilometres; Britain
claimed the remaining third, roughly, the present Western Australia,
on 2nd May, 1829. The European population was spread loosely in
coastal areas north and south of Sydney, with a few hardy souls
across the Great Dividing Range around Bathurst and Goulburn.
The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, had been conquered only in
1812.
In fact, the whole exploration effort had been pathetic: if

Page 19 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

you'd plonked the entire British Isles in the middle of Australia when
the First Fleet arrived in 1788, it would have taken more than 70
years to find them again (and then by a Scot, for goodness sake).
The future city of Brisbane was settled by convicts in 1824, the
same year that Hume and Hovell pioneered (but didn't settle) the
Port Phillip District near Melbourne. The southern island of Van
Diemens Land (later Tasmania) had been settled as a penal colony
in 1803.
Brisbane had the choice of two residences in NSW: the
'metropolitan' Government House in the Domain, begun by
Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788 (and demolished in 1846 to be
replaced by the present Gothic Revival pile) and the 'rural'
Government House, 24km west at Parramatta, begun by Governor
John Hunter in the late-1790s and completed with a splendid
Palladian flourish in 1818 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie's aide,
Lieutenant John Watts under the tasteful guidance of Elizabeth
Macquarie, the Governor's spouse.
The mortar used in the Parramatta extensions was
strengthened with shells from aboriginal middens, the eating places
of the dispossessed Burramatta people who didn't even have words
for 'greed' until the white folks came along and educated them. In
later years, such middens have proved invaluable archeological
sites in the study of aboriginal culture. But, easy come, easy go,
eh? What's yours is mine, so buzz off, Jacky. Brisbane recognised
that Parramatta's rural surrounds provided an ideal spot for an
astronomical observatory during the four years of his governorship.
So it was here that he unpacked his telescopes and ordered his
underlings to find accommodation in the cottages in the
Government House grounds and build an observatory.
In the earliest times, man discovered that observation of
the moon, stars and sun provided the basis for navigation and time-
keeping. It was an easy step to the realisation that these
observations could assist in the surveying of land. This early global
positioning could be very useful, considering the land division
perplexities facing the European invaders.
Assuming that Britain would claim the whole of the
continent, as it did, Brisbane technically had 1900 million acres, or
760 million hectares, to distribute, taking into account the existence
or otherwise, of a fabled inland sea, fringed with palms, white sands
and dusky drinks waitresses. Fortunately, the Imperial Government
in London didn't expect Brisbane to distribute the land immediately;
but he was expected to follow a new scheme of parcelling out
smallish lots of selected land at five shillings an acre, thus freeing
the land from Crown control. The aborigines, from whom the whole
place had been snatched, were not consulted in these matters. The
new land arrangements came into effect in 1824, the year after
Brisbane oversaw the granting of limited self-government through
the creation of an Exclusive-controlled Legislative Council in 1824.
Thomas Brisbane was born at Largs, Ayrshire, in 1773
into a landed family, who bought him a commission in the 38th
Regiment at the age of sixteen. The 38th was sent to Ireland where
he became friends with another junior officer, Arthur Wellesley, who

Page 20 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

would become the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo, but


later a despised arch-conservative politician who served briefly as
Prime Minister. In later years, Brisbane was not too averse to using
his old friend's influence on his behalf. This friendship was
described in splendid terms by Henry Chamberlain Russell
(1836-1907), NSW Government Astronomer, in a book about early
astronomers and meteorologists in NSW:
'We now come to Sir Thomas Brisbane, a man whose
enthusiasm for science, and especially for astronomy, knew no
bounds. In the midst of harassing marches in the great Continental
war, with the enemies bullets always whistling about him, his
sextant was always in his baggage, and came into active service
directly its owner was off duty. His appointment as Governor of
NSW marks an era in the history of Australian science, and his
princely munificence in the erection of the Parramatta Observatory
and cost of maintaining it for four years will never be forgotten.
'Sir Thomas Brisbane entered the army in 1790, fought in
the first battle of the war, and in 1794 (Flanders campaign of the
Napoleonic Wars) had to sleep six nights in the snow with nothing
but his cloak and the canopy of heaven over him. Each morning he
found himself frozen in the ground, and during one of these nights,
900 soldiers were frozen to death around him. He fought in fourteen
general actions, twenty-three great affairs, and assisted at eight
sieges. He crossed the equator eight times, yet throughout this busy
active life he always found time to cultivate his favourite study,
astronomy, and when it was proposed to govern the far off colony of
Australia, Lord Bathurst (Secretary of State for Colonies) informed
the Duke of Wellington that he "wanted a man to govern, not the
heavens, but the earth."
'Sir Thomas appealed to the Duke to say whether science
had ever stood in his way as a soldier. "Certainly not," said the
Duke, "I shall say you were never in one instance absent or late in
the morning, noon, or night, and that in addition, you kept the time
for the army".'
Despite this half-hearted job reference, which seems to
imply that Brisbane's greatest virtue was the ownership of a decent
alarm clock, he got the position and brought with him a magical
collection of astronomical tools. The great free-to-air laboratory that
is the 'canopy of heaven' has two main rooms: one in the Northern
Hemisphere and the other in the Southern Hemisphere.
And Sir Thomas had the key to the second room. His
'princely munificence' included the astronomical equipment he left
behind when he left Australia in 1825. A letter from his successor,
Sir Ralph Darling, dated at Government House on 10th September,
1827, indicates the lengths he had to go to get permission to buy
Brisbane's collection:
'The Right Honorable the Secretary of State for the
Colonies (Henry Bathurst) has communicated in a despatch, No.
96, dated 1st March, 1826, that His Majesty's Government, with the
view of promoting the interests of science in this part of the globe,
has consented to the purchase from Sir T. Brisbane of certain
astronomical instruments, specified in the enclosed list which in

Page 21 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

compliance of the Address in Council has been left by him in the


Colony for the sum valued by him of £1614/13.
'He has directed that the necessary remittance of this
amount should be made to the Colonial Agent (Edward Barnard, in
Sydney) to enable him to reimburse Sir Thomas Brisbane for the
instruments in question. Let the necessary communication be made
to the Auditor and Treasurer as to the remittance of this amount in
order that it may be duly provided for the first opportunity, and let Mr
Ruemker (soon to be Australia's first government astronomer) be
called upon for a list of the articles left by Sir Thomas Brisbane in
the Observatory under his charge, that it may be compared with the
specifications herewith.'
The letter was addressed to the new (but ageing) Colonial
Secretary, Alexander McLeay, who had been induced to put off his
retirement at the age of 58 to go to NSW to clean up the perceived
mess left by Brisbane and Frederick Goulburn; poor Goulburn had
fallen victim to an Exclusives coterie centred on the wealthy
landholder, John Macarthur, a master of manipulation in high places
in London.
Ruemker's letter from Parramatta confirmed Brisbane's
description:
'Four Astronomical Clocks, best description £490
Mural Circle, by Troughton 200
Transit Instrument, 5-and-a-half feet, ditto 105
Repeating Circles, 16-in, Reichenbach 130
Equatorial Telescope, &c (by Banks) 60
French ditto 42
Declination Instruments, by Holland 30
Inclination, ditto, Gambey, Paris 42
Borda's Pendulum, complete,
for determining the figure of the Earth 85
Mountain Barometers, by Troughton 11
Magnet Transit, by Josker, Paris 15
Barometers and four thermometers 10
Kater's Azimuth Compass 10
Pair 18-in globes, London 19
Levelling telescope, complete 12
Astronomical books etc 353
All these totted up to exactly the sum of their worth estimated by Sir
Thomas. Colonial Secretary McLeay passed this information on to
Colonial Agent Barnard who, in turn, wrote to Governor Darling: 'I
have the honour to inform you that I have this day paid to Messrs.
Macdonald and Campbell, agents of Sir Thomas Brisbane, the sum
of £1614/13, for the purchase of certain Astronomical instruments
and books left in the Observatory at Parramatta, and referred in Mr
McLeay's letter to me on 27th September last.' Having received this
letter, Darling sent the following instruction to McLeay on 21st
December:
'Let Mr Ruemker be informed that he will be immediately
notified as Government Astronomer of this Colony, and he will be
allowed a salary of £300 a year from the time of his taking charge of
the Observatory, until His Majesty's Government shall fix the salary

Page 22 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

to which he may be considered entitled.' And that should have been


that. Except that Ruemker's bellicose manner had put him offside
with some influential people ... and that takes us back to the early
Sydney summer of 1821-22 ...
Brisbane was aware that his London-tolerated
astronomical dabblings in Sydney were under sporting competitive
pressure from the powerful British Southern Hemisphere base at
the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa. In August,
1821, a young Cambridge academic and astronomer, the Rev.
Fearon Fallows, arrived in Capetown with his wife, Mary Ann, as its
first Astronomer Royal, with instructions to build an observatory.
He should have had no problems recruiting labour: the
Cape Colony had a stable population of 120,000. Brisbane, on the
other hand, did not have such a great pool of labour, but he did
have the advantage of his labour being free of charge and captive.
Brisbane also had better fixed instruments than Fallows, who had to
use temporary portable equipment in a shed in his garden. In
Sydney, Brisbane was able to appeal to the goodwill of the recently-
formed Philosophical Society of Australasia, whose members often
travelled by boat west along the Parramatta River from Sydney for
their meetings at the rural Government House. Brisbane became a
patron, but the Society folded in the middle of 1822 in an
acrimonious debate about Emancipism v. Exclusionism.
Meanwhile, the Observatory was completed on 2nd May,
1822, and a regular series of observations began which resulted in
A Catalogue of 7385 Stars published in 1835. Then, on 2nd June,
1822, a discovery was made at Parramatta which, when relayed to
Europe, made the Observatory famous in astronomical circles.
James Dunlop, sweeping the sky with the an equatorial telescope
using calculations by Ruemker, spotted Encke's Comet, described
by a more recent astronomer, Joe Rao, as 'the most famous and
richest in history of all those mysterious wanderers that wend their
way among the stars'.
Encke's Comet's own rich history goes back to 17th
January, 1786, when it was first recorded by a Parisian, Pierre
Mechain; about ten years later, Caroline Lucretia Hershel, the
Hanoverian helper to her brother, William, saw it again from Bath,
England, on 7th November, 1795; another ten years passed and it
was seen by two French and one German observers on 20th
October, 1805, the day before the Battle of Trafalgar. What omens!
At this stage, the mysterious object had no name, but all
the qualifications for a comet were emerging ... a frozen blob of gas,
rocks and dust with a regular path through the solar system. But in
the European autumn of 1815, when it was scheduled to appear, it
failed to show up. Or was not sighted. Perhaps it was a hangover
from the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June, involving participants from
those keen astronomical nations, France, England and Prussia.
The Waterloo participants were militarily and intellectually
exhausted (the same thing happened in August, 1944, when
explosive incidents in the European skies made astronomy just too
hard). Then the French astronomer Jean Louis Pons and the
German, Johann Franz Encke, working separately, made the

Page 23 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

sensational discovery that the comet sighted every ten years was
one they saw on 26th November, 1818!
With mathematical aplomb, Encke quickly calculated that
it appeared in three or so year cycles. He also worked out it would
next enter into perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, on 24th May,
1822. And furthermore, he and his clever young friends figured that
if perihelion falls in November, December or January, it is best
viewed in the Northern Hemisphere; but if it occurs in May, June or
July, it can only be seen it in the Southern Hemisphere. So the race
was on between Team Sir Thomas Brisbane, in Sydney, and Team
Fearon Fallows, in Capetown, that southern winter of 1822!
Well, history shows that Brisbane won this riveting contest
easily; poor Fallows was a no-show, but he explained that, despite
clear Admiralty instructions, he failed to see the comet because he
was seriously ill from night-long exposure in his crummy temporary
observatory in his garden in Kloof Street. In fact, as a later apologist
observed: 'Two observers were often necessary to get results with
the instruments of Fallows' day, but he had great difficulty getting
even one reliable assistant. As a result, he often observed with his
wife, Mary Ann. He was relieved from this difficulty by the affection
and intelligence of Mrs Fallows ... the Cape astronomer had, like
Hevelius, the pleasure of finding his best assistant in the partner of
his affections' (the reference is to Johan Hevelius, the wealthy 17th
century Gdansk brewer and astronomer; today, he is remembered
in Gdansk's annual Hevelius Beer Festival but, alas, there is no
memorial to his selfless helpmate and second wife, Elizabeth
Margarethe).
Brisbane would have commiserated with Fallows in
Capetown on his way home in 1825. Nothing had gone to perfection
for Fallows. For a start, he was born in Cockermouth, in the English
Lakes District, in 1789, the same year another local lad, Fletcher
Christian, put the village on the world map forever when he seized
HMS Bounty from William Bligh, a mutiny in the Pacific which
enraged the British Admiralty into a fearsome quest for revenge.
The rage must have even permeated the placid gloom of the
Fallows' weaver's cottage.
Young Fearon escaped from the loom and found himself,
at thirty-one, a Cambridge academic success and, worryingly, a
favoured astronomer to the extravagant George IV. It was the new
king's idea to send him to the Cape Colony. Unfortunately, the
British authorities at the Cape had not been advised of Fallows'
arrival and refused to pay his expenses and store his instruments.
Finally, a sympathetic politician intervened and he was given a new
settlers' prefabricated hut and he was allowed sleeping quarters in
the town's granary.
It would be unkind to compare his miserable situation with
Brisbane's more favoured one. He and Mary Ann laboured until
1829 until they got their observatory into proper working order, after
which he succumbed to overwork and scarlet fever and died on died
on 25th July, 1831. He was buried in front of his observatory, twelve
feet down to deter grave robbers. (Even in Sydney, he would have
been safe six feet under).

Page 24 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

In Seeberg, near Gotha, in north Germany, where he was


director of the observatory, Encke offered to resign when no word
came from Capetown of the appearance of his comet, but he was
overjoyed when a message finally came from Ruemker. His
calculation, and those of Pons were correct. Comet Encke had its
aphelion (furthest point from the Sun) within the orbit of Jupiter,
compared with Comet Halley, the most famous of all, which appears
every seventy-six years and drifts far beyond Uranus.
In England, the Astronomical Society of London awarded
Encke its gold medal in 1824. Ruemker was honoured with the
Society's silver medal and a purse of £100, and he was given the
gold medal of the Institut de France. The humble James Dunlop
said 'it was just by chance that he replaced the Governor or Mr
Ruemker at the telescope when the comet made its appearance.'
Governor Brisbane may not have been so charitable, privately, and
the seeds might have been sown of a serious deterioration in his
relationship with Ruemker.
Nevertheless, all the tub-thumping in Europe finally
reached the furthest corner of the world and the Sydney Gazette of
22nd January, 1824, reported: 'The return of this star is an
astronomical event of the greatest interest. Its faint splendour and
crepuscular light did not allow it to be observed in Europe. Nor were
they more fortunate at the Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope;
but it was described as the region of the earth most remote from
Europe - New Holland. The Astronomer of the Observatory of
Parramatta, the most recent establishment of such a kind, observed
this comet throughout the month of June, 1822, and in positions
very near those which had been anticipated.
'The foundation of this Observatory is due to General
Brisbane, a Correspondent of the Academy of Science, the
Governor of New South Wales, who cultivates astronomy and
natural science, and takes a lively interest in their improvement.' In
the ensuing three years of Brisbane's governorship, five new
comets were identified from Parramatta. A solar eclipse was
observed on 16th August, 1822, and a lunar eclipse the following
16th January, 1823.
In June, the gathering storm in the Parramatta
Observatory between Brisbane and Dunlop, on one hand, and
Ruemker, on the other, became a cyclone and Ruemker found
himself blown out the door, but living in comfort on a 1000-acre
(400ha) land grant Brisbane had given him for doing the sums that
led to the sighting of Comet Encke! Letters sailed lazily across the
sea and a battle of patronage in London began. Brisbane might
have had the great Duke of Wellington in his corner, but Ruemker
could call on the notorious Peter Heywood, who'd enjoyed the
sumptuous Tahitian delights of the Mutiny on the Bounty, where, as
an earlier adventurer, Joseph Banks had written in 1769, 'Love is
the Chief Occupation, nay almost the sole luxury of the inhabitants;
both the bodies and souls of the women are modelled into the
utmost perfection for that soft science, idleness the Father of love
reigns here in unmolested ease'. The youthful Heywood enjoyed all
the preceding and escaped punishment!

Page 25 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

The background was that Ruemker had gone from his


home in Berlin to London at the age of twenty in 1809, joined the
merchant marine, was press-ganged into the Royal Navy where he
eventually found himself an officer on the warship, HMS Montague.
And the captain was no other than the same Peter Heywood, a lusty
junior midshipman on the Bounty twenty-seven years earlier. His
background was that he had joined the Bounty as a midshipman in
1787, sailed to the Pacific with Bligh, took no part in the Mutiny (he
said) was refused a place by Bligh on the cutter when the captain
and his loyalists were set adrift, and was stuck on Tahiti eighteen
months later when the revenge ship HMS Pandora came seeking
the mutineers. He survived the journey back to Britain (the state-of-
art Pandora sank near Torres Strait) and was pardoned after
receiving a death sentence. He resumed his old naval life and, by
1823, had retired and was anxious to assist his old friend, Carl
Ruemker in the matter of the Mutiny at Parramatta.
Meanwhile, Brisbane set about establishing a pattern of
meteorological stations in the civilised parts of his domain. These
were manned by educated convicts, who had far more spare time
than their less-educated free settlers brethren. One of these was
George Edwards Peacock, an English lawyer who had been
sentenced to death for forging the power of attorney on £8000
(millions of dollars in today's money) worth of shares belonging to
his brother. Peacock, who was of a delicate constitution, took the
unsporting option of a life sentence in NSW. He continued his
observations at South Head (Sydney Harbour) meteorological
station for ten years after he was conditionally pardoned in 1845,
even though he lost his allowance of one and sixpence a day.
Peacock became one of the most-admired painters of
warm landscapes in oils of the 19th century Sydney scene. Another
weather post was established at Port Macquarie, on the coast
275km northeast of Sydney, opened as a penal station in 1821 (and
closed in 1830); it was designed as a place of incarceration for
'specials', convicts who could do 'bookwork' and who were
considered 'not always assignable' (i.e. they were too posh for the
usual convict tasks). Posts were established at Newcastle, on the
coast, 125km north, and at Bathurst, 150km inland.
In Van Diemens Land, Brisbane ordered a meteorological
station on Sarah Island, a place of grim repute in Macquarie
Harbour on the west coast, opened in 1822 and whose convict
guests included men who had been clerks, accountants and skilled
draughtsmen in orderly other lives in the British Isles. Hobart had a
rudimentary convict-manned establishment until it was replaced in
1840 by a whizz-bang meteorological station built by 200 convicts
for the grand British expedition to the Antarctic led by James Clark
Ross in the Erebus and Terror.
While Brisbane organised his embryonic weather
network, Captain Peter Heywood, in London, secretly contacted the
soon-to-be Colonial Secretary, Alexander McLeay to plead
Ruemker's case. The outcome was that as soon as soon as
Brisbane left Sydney at the end of 1825, Ruemker was recalled
from his exile at Picton, southwest of Sydney, resumed at the

Page 26 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Observatory in May and promptly discovered a new comet in the


constellation Orion.
James Dunlop stayed awhile, then returned to
Makerstoun, in Roxburghshire, in 1827 to work with Sir Thomas
Brisbane in his new private observatory. The new Governor, Sir
Ralph Darling, appointed Ruemker government astronomer, granted
him a further 1000 acres (400ha) in 1828, and sent him to London
in 1830 ... where Sir Thomas Brisbane and the president of the
Royal Astronomical Society, James South, engineered his dismissal
from British service in the nastiest coup of the London Season!
Quickly, James Dunlop returned to Sydney, accepted Ruemker's job
at the Observatory, and lived happily until his early death from a
urinary disease on his farm by Brisbane Water in 1848.
And how did this soap opera of astronomical proportions
end for Ruemker? He returned to a glittering career in Hamburg,
seduced his voluptuous (one imagines) housekeeper, had an
illegitimate son by her named George (who became a famous
astronomer), married an English spinster named Mary Ann
Crockford in Lisbon at the age of sixty and died there in 1861.
Brisbane, who died the year before, had reconciled with
Ruemker in the years after the affair with James South in 1830.
Brisbane became President of the Royal Society in Edinburgh, but
his and Anna Maria's later years were haunted by the loss of all four
of their children in childhood or early adulthood: two of them had
names which attested to their colonial origins: Thomas Australius
(died,1849), and Eleanor Australia (died 1852). It seems the
unfortunate Ruemker may have encountered South at a bad cycle
in the latter's notorious temper tantrums. Ruemker's visit to London
in 1830 coincided with a famous dispute South was having with
Edward Troughton, England's venerable and most-admired
instrument maker (and creator of some of the instruments Brisbane
brought to NSW in 1821.)
Troughton, a farmer's son born in Cumberland in 1753,
was apprenticed as a mathematical instrument maker to his elder
brother, John, in 1770 at his workshop in Fleet Street, near Dr
Samuel Johnson's coffee house haunt, the Old Cheshire Cheese,
and assumed control when John died in 1788. In 1826, because of
ill-health, he took on a partner, William Simms, and the pair faced
the wrath of James South together.
South, as President of the Royal Astronomical Society,
had purchased the second-largest 'object glass' in the world. This is
the lens of an optical system which receives the light first and
which, when installed in a telescope in the Society's Observatory on
Camden Hill, in Kensington, would become the envy of the
astronomical world. He commissioned Troughton and Simms with
the task of making the sensitive mounting, but after it was delivered,
pronounced it a 'national disgrace' and refused to pay the bill.
Troughton and Simms waited patiently, but took legal action in 1833
to recover the money.
By this time, the enraged South had abandoned the Royal
Astronomical Society and had become sworn enemies with some of
its associates, including the brilliant young Cambridge

Page 27 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

mathematician and astronomer, George Airy, Charles Todd's future


patron, and the Society's Cambridge-based Secretary, the
Reverend Richard Sheepshanks, who was proving to have the loins
of a lion in his leadership of the defence of Troughton and Simm.
The court ruled against the recently-knighted Sir James
South in December, 1834, so he promptly smashed the disputed
instrument to smithereens and advertised the bits for sale in 1836 in
a scurrilous poster in which he roundly condemned Airy and
Sheepshanks, and entertained his neighbours in the evenings by
walking up and down beside his garden wall, ranting and raving
against his foes, real or imaginary.
Edward Troughton couldn't care less; he died of old age in
1835, knowing that South would be up for £8000 as a result of his
folly. Simms, meanwhile, had won the contract from the British
Government to supply a 'new generation' of instruments to carry out
George Everest's survey of India, during which a prominent feature
was named after him.
Sir Thomas Brisbane would have followed this affair,
aghast; Edward Troughton was an old friend, a chum, and fellow
member of the Royal Society in Edinburgh, struck down with
arthritis in his later years, but one who could boast that his
hereditary colour blindness didn't affect his career as an instrument-
maker. Not even when he was making instruments for James
South.
James Dunlop tendered his resignation by letter to the
Board of Visitors of the Parramatta Observatory on 18th August
1847. The letter said, in part: 'The buildings of this Observatory are
in a very sad state of repair. The white ant has been most
destructive, and, as the surrounding ground is full of them, it would
be fruitless to attempt a repair, which could not last above two or
three years at most. The building was originally of a very inferior
description, being only intended as a private establishment and not
calculated to last beyond a few years ... As the building can no
longer protect the instruments in safety, I would recommend their
removal to one of Her Majesty's Stores in the Military Barracks ... I
think a very desirable and convenient site (for a new Observatory)
may be obtained on the high grounds on the North Shore in the
vicinity of Sydney, out of the smoke of the city and in view of the
harbour and shipping, which would give to the masters of vessels
the desirable opportunity of obtaining their time, and ascertaining
the rate of their chronometers by signal or ball as practised at
Greenwich and other places.'
The authorities accepted his recommendation about the
storage of the instruments, whose removal, for the bureaucratically-
minded, they charged to 'the Engineer Estimate for Convict
Services'. Even though Britain had ended convict transportation to
NSW seven years before, it still had a few stray old lags serving
time.
The question of the location of the new Observatory
brought about the forceful intervention of Captain Phillip Parker
King, son of a former Governor of NSW (1800-07) Philip Gidley
King. The elder King had come to NSW with the First Fleet as

Page 28 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

second lieutenant on the warship Sirius and, as was the style in the
jolly old free-for-all in the early colony, sired two fine sons by a
buxom convict wench, Ann Inett, while he was commandant at
Norfolk Island; he called them Norfolk and Sydney and got them
commissions in the navy, while Ann took voluntary redundancy as a
mistress and, by way of compensation, scored a tavern in Sydney
and a cheery husband called Mr Robinson.
King, the elder, returned to England, married an
understanding lass named Anna Josepha Coombe and returned to
Norfolk Island where she gave birth, in 1791, to a son he could
safely name Phillip (after his old colonial mentor) and Parker (the
bungling admiral mentioned in chapter two).
The young Phillip Parker King returned to England with his
parents in 1796 and remained in 1799, when they came to Sydney
to take up the vice-regal role. Like his half-brothers (and childhood
friends), Norfolk and Sydney, he became a navy midshipman. He
sailed to Sydney in 1817 with Admiralty orders to begin a detailed
survey of parts of the northern coast of Australia not covered by
Matthew Flinders in 1801-1803. One specific task was to find the
waterway to the inland sea cherished by mythographers and real
estate agents. Surely, they conjectured, the heart of Australia could
not be as fierce and forbidding as the coast? In 1822, King
completed his survey without finding any proof of such a
waterway ... but the notion of an inland sea persisted. Twenty-five
years later, when James Dunlop handed in his resignation, King
was living in semi-retirement in Sydney, having joined the
Exclusives Set, managed the London-based Australian Agricultural
Company, Australia's first multinational, and seen his widowed
mother, the beloved Anna Josepha, die in comfortable old age on
the family's lands west of Sydney.
King had a reputation as the colony's leading man of
technology and was often pleased to bolster this by publicising
various scientific feats in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Bunyip
Aristocracy's favoured news sheet. On 6th July, 1847, the
newspaper published the following letter, passed to them by King,
telling of Australia's probable first use of ether anaesthetic. It was
written by a Dr C. Buchanan at the Australian Agricultural
Company's hospital at Port Stephens, 180km north of Sydney ... 'I
wrote to you on 21st about a man named Hickey , who was brought
into the Company's hospital with a popliteal aneurysm, and
requesting you to make an inquiry about his being admitted to the
General Hospital in Sydney: or should there be any difficulty about
that, to send me up an aneurysmal needle, etc, and I would operate
here. Finding that the aneurysmal tumour continued to increase
very rapidly, and the man suffering a great deal of pain, I thought it
would be better to operate at all hazards, as the conveying him to
Sydney might be attended with risk. I got Fletcher to make me an
aneurysmal needle and a pair of retractors, which answered the
purpose very well. I performed the operation, and not being aware
of the kinds of apparatus used for the inhalation of ether, I tried the
simple bladder with mouthpiece, similar to what is used in the
inhalation of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, which answered in

Page 29 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

purpose admirably (I must tell you that I tried it on myself, which


convinced me as to its efficacy).'
King rejected Dunlop's suggestion that the new
Observatory should be built on the North Shore, a short voyage
across the water now spanned by the Harbour Bridge; instead, he
plumped for a hill on The Rocks, the city side from which the Bridge
departs. The site was originally named Windmill Hill because it was
there that the convicts first ground their grain. It was taken over by
Phillip Parker King's father, Governor Philip Gidley King, as the site
of a defensive fort in 1804 when a brief, but violent Irish convict
uprising sent tremors through the hearts of the respectable citizens
of Sydney.
The 'Castle Hill Uprising' began on 4th March, William
Johnston and Philip Cunningham, transported Irish rebels, raised a
force of 300 at Castle Hill, in Sydney's west, with the apparent
intention of marching on Sydney and seizing a ship. Troops 'cut
them to pieces', hanged the ring leaders and seven other men,
flogged five and sent thirty-four to the coal mines in Newcastle.
King, bleating about the rebels' forgetfulness of 'the real liberty and
comfort they enjoy', promptly built his little fortress and named it
Fort Phillip. While it was being erected, a procession passed by on
1st June whose members would have had much in common with
the rebels. It was the funeral of Sydney's leading brothel proprietor.
The Sydney Gazette reported: 'On Thursday departed this life at a
very advanced age, Mary Jones, long resident of The Rocks, and
one of the first European inhabitants of this colony. The funeral was
performed the day following with a splendour suited to her
avocation during her latest years. From twelve to fifteen couples of
spotless damsels, robed in white, followed in procession, and after
depositing the venerable remains, returned to her late apartment
where spiritual consolation was duly administered.' It helped to
have a sense of humour in Old Sydney Town.
Ten years after Philllip Parker King's suggestion, in 1858,
the time ball began falling at the new Sydney Observatory and Sir
Thomas Brisbane's instruments were transferred there. But there
were already excellent weather and astronomical observations
being taken in the upstart colonial capitals of Melbourne and
Adelaide. The pioneers had begun the mainland thrust away from
Sydney thirty years before.

8. '... in the wildest and most inhospitable wastes ...'

Charles Howe Fremantle, the sailor who claimed Western Australia


for Britain in 1829, came from a family of old sea dogs: his mother,
Betsey, cradled Nelson after he lost an arm at Tenerife in 1797, and
a Fremantle great-nephew mislaid His Lordship's telescope. Yes,
that telescope. The one Nelson held to his blind eye at the Battle of
Copenhagen in 1801 so he couldn't see Admiral Hyde Parker's
signal to withdraw. The treasured telescope, in the care of the
Fighting Fremantles since Trafalgar in 1805, went to the bottom of
the Mediterranean, off Malta, when Sydney Fremantle's ship, HMS
Russell, sank in 1915 after striking a German mine during the

Page 30 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

retreat from the Dardanelles.


When Charles Fremantle was born in 1800, his parents
gave him the middle name, Howe, after Admiral Lord Howe, victor
over the French in the Glorious First of June Battle in 1794. His dad,
later Admiral Sir Thomas Fremantle, traded sword thrusts alongside
Nelson with the Spaniards at Cadiz; it was only natural that he and
Betsey had been married at the voluptuously wicked Lady Emma
Hamilton's house in Naples, with the world's most famous mistress
and her petit (162cm) admiral as witnesses.
Sir Thomas was in command of HMS Neptune at
Trafalgar in 1805 when the British sliced through the French/
Spanish lines; he waved his sword and forced the surrender of the
Santissima Trinidad, the world's biggest warship. Nelson died that
day, but Betsey wasn't there to care for him (she'd been hitching a
lift back to England in HMS Seahorse when the Santa Cruz incident
happened in 1797). Like all good navy mums, she was at home in
Plymouth, dressing five-year-old Charles in sailor suits, preparing
him for the real thing at the age of twelve, when he sailed off to fight
the Americans in the War of 1812. He probably had a sextant as a
teething ring.
When Charles Fremantle arrived in the southwest corner
of Western Australia on 2nd May, he was aged twenty-nine, a
bachelor, and commander of the 26-gun Challenger, vanguard of a
three-ship flotilla bringing the first settlers to the vast new colony of
free men and women. Fremantle proclaimed ownership in the name
of George IV of 'all that part of New Holland that is not included in
the Territory of New South Wales'. Having hoisted the flag over a
tiny piece of Western Australia's 2.5 million square kilometres, he
and his crew waited for the sails on the western horizon of the
warship, HMS Sulphur and the chartered merchantman, Parmelia,
carrying the English settlers and soldiers to this remotest European
corner of the globe, 3000km west of Sydney and 8500km east of
Capetown. Perth's nearest British neighbour in the northwest was
the naval fortress at Trincomalee, northeast Ceylon (now Sri
Lanka), across 5500km of the Indian Ocean.
More than forty years later, lonely Perth, a most English
town despite its Scots name, still waited to be hooked up to the
worldwide electric telegraph grid ... yet it might have been the place
where the telegraph crawled from the sea on to the continent's
shore as early as 1860. The English submarine cable
entrepreneurs, John and Jacob Brett, who had been frustrated in
their endeavours to cross the English Channel successfully, were
anxious link Australia to the world with an alternative route from that
favoured by Charles Todd and the South Australian Government.
They wanted to run a cable from Ceylon to the Cocos-
Keeling Islands and then to Perth. This would involve a first leg of
2500km and a second leg a little longer. It meant a further
Australian overland stretch of 3000km across the mostly unexplored
Nullarbor Plain and deserted regions to reach the eastern telegraph
market. The cable was in Ceylon by 1857. But despite the
enthusiastic support of the Victorian Superintendent of Telegraphs,
Samuel McGowan, Ceylon is where the line ended. In 1860, Perth

Page 31 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

was still Struggletown, reduced to reintroducing convict


transportation, now an anathema in the east, to complete public
projects.
The colonisation of the West in the 1820s was prompted,
as was Van Diemans Land's settlement more than two decades
earlier, by British paranoia over French intentions. In 1826, Captain
M.J. Dumont D'Urville's scientific research vessel, L'Astrolabe,
spent nearly a month in King George's Sound, at the continent's
southwest tip; in response, Major Edmund Lockyer, from Sydney,
landed at the present site of Albany in the last days of the year,
claimed the district for Britain and established a garrison camp.
Next year, Captain James Stirling came from Sydney and examined
the Swan River thoroughly; later, in Sydney and London, he
pressed the case for a land grab in the West:
'Some foreign power may see the advantage of taking
possession, should His Majesty's Government leave it
unappropriated.' So Charles Fremantle found himself there in the
first week of May, 1829, feeling the afternoon coolness on his
cheeks of the ocean breeze that came to be known as 'the
Fremantle Doctor'.
By 12th August, Sulphur and Parmelia were safely
moored off Garden Island. The Sulphur carried a detachment from
the 63rd Regiment with several wives and children; they were the
colony's garrison. Lieutenant Governor, James Stirling, announced
that the 'first stone will be laid of a new town called Perth' (after the
London-based Secretary for Colonies, Sir George Murray's Scottish
home district).
On that great day, Charles Fremantle observed in his
journal, 'On the 12th, our party increased and there being no stone
contiguous to our purpose, Mrs Dance cut down a tree'. Thus began
the West's part in Australia's tradition of clear-felling of the great
forests; Mrs Dance, the blushing young wife of the captain of the
Sulphur, William Dance, was selected for the role because she was
the only woman in the official party not imminently pregnant.
Nevertheless, a husky young sailor with axe stood by, comfortingly,
in case pretty Mrs Dance had an attack of the vapours; she slew the
tree without help.
Several more shiploads of immigrants were on the way:
the Manchester Guardian reported on the departure of the Gilmore
from Liverpool on 8th August, 1829: 'Horses, cattle, sheep, goats,
geese and ducks, decently paired and comfortably
accommodated ... ' They sailed off to an enterprise which soon had
the disastrous elements of the Scottish Company's fatal Darien
adventure in the Isthmus of Panama in the late-17th century.
Charles Fremantle and HMS Challenger left the new
colony soon after the ceremonial wood-chop and sailed for
Trincomalee where they were based for three years, venturing forth
frequently to examine the neighbourhood, including the waters
around Kowloon; his information was invaluable for the British when
they took advantage of the Opium Wars to colonise Hong Kong in
1841. Fremantle visited Western Australia briefly in September,
1832 on his way back to England, where he courted and won

Page 32 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Isabella Wedderburn, widow of a much older London lawyer, on 8th


October, 1836. Sentimental readers will be pleased to know that
they had three daughters, none of whom was tempted to join the
navy. Two, Emily and Celia, married Anglican clergymen, which was
an approved alternative occupation to the military, and the
youngest, Louisa, chose spinsterhood and a life devoted to the care
of her father, who eventually became an admiral commanding the
steam-powered Channel squadron.
The new colony staggered on under the burden of heat,
flies and the inability of people accustomed to a gentler landscape
and climate to manage their huge land grants. Immigrant ships kept
arriving and soon the population was 2000. Land continued to be
parcelled out freely: a million acres in the first two years. Thomas
Peel, the gentleman London layabout who had conceived of the
grand scheme and promised 10,000 settlers on the Swan River,
proved to be one of the most hopeless settlers of all.
Lieutenant Governor James Stirling wrote to Sir George
Murray, Secretary for Colonies on 20th January, 1830: 'Among so
many settlers, there could not be a great number suited to
encounter the struggle and distress of a new settlement. Many, if
not all, have been more or less disappointed on arrival with the
state of things here or their own want of power to surmount the
difficulties pressing around them ... Among the settlers who arrived,
there were many who had been recommended by their employers
by parish officers, and whose habits were of the loosest
description.'
People left their bush blocks and congregated in Perth,
drifted back to England, or took their chances in the eastern
colonies; these included the wealthy Henty family from Sussex,
farming millionaires in 21st century terms, who had their own grand
barque, the Frances Henty, named for a beloved deceased
daughter. They sailed east to occupy, illegally, the southwest of
Victoria, which was still known as the Port Phillip District of NSW.
But many poorer settlers clung bravely to the drier West and were
rewarded when the Home Government intervened and the private
enterprise colony began to crawl from seemingly terminal recession
in a decade or so. Then, in 1841, a young man named Edward John
Eyre appeared from the east for the second time, having this time
pioneered at great personal suffering, an overland path; it seemed
they had not been forgotten by their fellow Australian colonists.
Eyre was born on 5th August, 1815, in Whipsnade,
Bedfordshire, son of one of those ubiquitous gentleman Anglican
vicars, and resolved, on his father's suggestion, to migrate to NSW
at seventeen to become an early version of a jackeroo (an
apprentice rich squatter on Crown lands which were previously the
hunting grounds of the dispossessed aborigines) in the Hunter
Valley, north of Sydney, already a thriving centre for wealthy,
convict-powered, feudal-style land barons.
In January, 1838, accompanied by his overseer, John
Baxter and several stockmen, he mustered 78 head of cattle and
400 sheep on the Limestone Plains, later the site of Canberra, and
drove them southwest via the unexplored Wimmera plains to the

Page 33 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

markets of Adelaide; later that year, he repeated the feat with 1000
sheep and 600 cattle, after which he built a house in Adelaide with
some of the handsome profits. In 1840, having heard of the
staggering incompetence of the colony in the West, he and two
companions took a shipload of sheep and cattle to the southwest
port at Albany and drove them overland to the bare butchers' shops
of Perth. Thus, the dispirited folk got to know Edward John Eyre for
the first time.
Returning by ship to Adelaide in the autumn of 1840, he
won the support of South Australia's Governor George Gawler to
lead an expedition to penetrate the desert Dead Heart of Australia.
They would not succeed, of course; that would not be accomplished
for another twenty years; but their brave attempt, along with those
of Ludwig Leichhardt and Charles Sturt later, would define the
unforgiving brutality of this parched, flinty landscape of red and
purple hills, dry, stony watercourses, mysterious dark people,
sometimes painted, whose hostility or friendliness they could not
assume. They yearned to know what was concealed behind the
heat haze of those ghostly, blood-red northern ramparts, rising from
shimmering billabong mirages? God willing, it was a deep, cool,
freshwater inland sea!
On 18th June, 1840, the 24-year-old Eyre struck north
from Adelaide at the head of a Government-sponsored party of six
white men, including John Baxter, two aboriginals, thirteen horses
and forty fat sheep to eat on the way. The Government schooner,
Waterwitch, was sent to establish an advanced stores depot at the
head of Spencer Gulf, 300km northwest. Five years after the arrival
of the first settlers, the new South Australians were taking the first
steps on a track that would be followed by John McDouall Stuart
and Charles Todd.
In mid-winter, 8th July, 1840, the party reached Lake
Torrens, fifty kilometres north of the head of Spencer Gulf, having
rounded the seductive pastels of the Flinders Ranges to the east, a
modern water colourist's delight, framed by white-barked gum trees
with pale green leaves. Their hopes of making an early splash in the
fabled inland sea were dashed ... Eyre wrote:
'I found Lake Torrens completely girded by a steep sandy
ridge, exactly like the sandy ridges bounding the sea shore, no
rocks or stones were visible anywhere, but many saline coasts
peeped out in the outer ridge, and upon descending westerly to its
basin, I found the dry bed of the lake coated completely over with a
crust of salt, forming one unbroken sheet of pure white, and
glittering brilliantly in the sun. On stepping upon this, I found it
yielded to the foot, and that below the surface, the bed of the lake
consisted of a soft mud, and the further we advanced to the
westward the more boggy it got, so that at last it became quite
impossible to proceed, and I was obliged to return to the outer
margin of the lake without ascertaining whether there was water on
the surface of its bed further west or not.' Lake Torrens is a banana
shape, running from north to south about 200km and east to west
an average of 50km. Recently, if Eyre had managed to cross the
lake, he would have reached the barbed wire of the Howard Federal

Page 34 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Government's refugee detention centre at Woomera.


Eyre reported that 'with heavy heart' he headed northeast
towards the Flinders Ranges, hoping the hills would come to a more
fertile conclusion, but, by 9th July, 1840, his luck was not improving
... 'One of our horses having got loose last night, pulled the cork out
of the keg in which was our small stock of the dirty brackish water
we had found yesterday, and rolling the keg over, destroyed its
contents; we were thus deprived of our breakfasts, and
consequently, had but little delay in starting. I intended to push on
steadily for the hills, but after travelling six miles, came to a puddle
in the plains, with tolerable grass around, and at this I halted for the
day, to rest the horses. Our latitude was 31º25'S by an altitude of
Arcturus (fourth brightest star in the sky), Mount Eyre then bearing
S7ºE.' This placed them 350km north of Adelaide, and just 1100km
southeast of the Dead Centre of Australia.
After the Outback rebuffed three attempts from Eyre from
the south, he steered west to a new depot at Fowler's Bay, 600km
west-northwest of Adelaide, near the head of the Great Australian
Bight. The place was named after Robert Fowler, First Lieutenant of
the Investigator, when Matthew Flinders landed briefly in 1802
during his circumnavigation of Australia. No white man had ventured
there by land since. Eyre decided to abandon further efforts to the
north (wisely, because he had the Nullarbor Plain to his immediate
north, followed by the Great Victoria Desert) to try to find an
overland route 1400km to King George's Sound.
Eyre sent the rest of the party back to Adelaide and, with
John Baxter and three aborigines, headed west from Fowler's Bay
on 25th February, 1841. The little party, driving their remaining
sheep before them, reached fresh water at Eucla, on the West
Australia border, on 12th March; the little settlement became a vital
link in the telegraph thirty-five years later, famous for its constant
struggle to avoid being swallowed by immense, shifting coastal
sand dunes. The Southern Ocean was at Eyre's left, crashing
against the rocky feet of dizzying cliffs while mobs of Great White
Sharks circled, ceaselessly, beyond the swell. As they do today.
Eyre's growing desperation was reflected in his journal
entry on 26th March, 1841 ... 'Upon moving on this morning, we
passed through the same wretched kind of country for eighteen
miles, to an opening in the scrub where there was a little grass, and
at which we halted to rest. There was so much scrub, and the sandy
ridges were so heavy and harassing to the horses, that I began the
doubt almost if we should get them along at all. We were now
seventy-two miles from the water, and had, in all probability, as
much further to go before we came to any more, and I saw that
unless something was done to lighten the load of the pack animals
(trifling as were the burdens they carried) we could never hope to
get them on.
'Leaving the natives to enjoy a sleep, the overseer
(Baxter) and I opened and re-sorted all our baggage, throwing away
everything we could at all dispense with: our greatcoats, jackets and
other articles of dress were thrown away: a single spare shirt and a
pair of boots and socks being all that we kept for each, besides our

Page 35 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

blankets and the things we stood in, and which consisted only of
trowsers, shirt and shoes. Most of our packsaddles, all our
horseshoes, most of our kegs for holding water, all of our buckets
bar one, our medicines, some of our firearms, a quantity of
ammunition, and a variety of other things, were here abandoned.
Among the many things we were compelled to leave behind there
was none that I regretted parting with more than a copy of Captain
Sturt's Expeditions, which had been sent to me by the author to
Fowler's Bay to amuse and cheer me on the solitary task I had
engaged in; it was the last kind offering of friendship from a highly
esteemed friend, and nothing but necessity would have induced me
to part with it. Could the donor, however, have seen the miserable
plight we were reduced to, he would have pitied and forgiven an act
that circumstances alone compelled me to.'
And so they struggled on through the tearing scrub,
occasionally, when the terrain allowed, clambering down to the
beach to walk for kilometres in the hard sand at the ocean's edge,
then, when the beach disappeared, crashing onwards through the
coastal bush. Then, on 29th April, 1841, occurred an event that has
become part of the European Australian narrative of privation,
loneliness and fellowship.
In his journal, Eyre carefully related the events of that long
night towards the end of his evening watch on the horses ... 'The
night was cold, and the wind blowing hard from the southwest,
whilst scud and nimbus were passing very rapidly by the moon. The
horses fed tolerably well, but rambled a good deal, threading in and
out among the many belts of scrub which intersected the grassy
openings, until at last I hardly knew exactly where our camp was,
the fires having apparently expired some time ago. It was now half
past ten and I headed the horses back, in the direction in which I
thought the camp lay, that I might be ready to call the overseer
(Baxter) to relieve me at eleven.
'Whilst thus engaged, and looking steadfastly among the
scrub, to see if I could anywhere detect the embers of our fires, I
was startled by a sudden flash, followed by the report of a gun, not
a quarter of a mile away from me. Imagining that the overseer had
mistaken the hour of the night, and not being able to find me or the
horses, had taken that method to attract my attention, I immediately
called out, but as no answer was returned, I got alarmed, and
leaving the horses, hurried up towards the camp as rapidly as I
could.
'About a hundred yards from it, I met the King George's
Sound native (Wylie, who Eyre had recruited on his earlier trip to
WA), running towards me, and in great alarm, crying out, "Oh,
Massa, oh, Massa, come here,' - but could gain no information from
him, as to what had occurred. Upon reaching the encampment,
which I did in about five minutes after the shot was fired, I was
horror-struck to find my poor overseer lying on the ground, weltering
in his blood, and in the last agonies of death.'
Eyre saw the camp site was in disarray; their two other
aboriginal companions had plundered their belongings and fled into
the bush. He was left alone with Wylie. He lifted Baxter's body and

Page 36 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

saw he had been shot through the heart with a musket ball. His
journal then contained one of the most evocative passages from
Australian exploration ...
'The frightful, appalling truth now burst upon me that I was
alone in the desert. He who had faithfully served me for many
years, who had followed my fortunes in adversity and in prosperity,
who had accompanied me in all my wanderings, and whose
attachment to me had been his sole inducement to remain with me
in this last, and to him alas, fatal journey was no more. For an
instant, I was almost tempted to wish that it was my own fate
instead of his. The horrors of my own situation glared upon me in
such startling reality, as for an instant almost to paralyse the mind.
At the dead hour of night, in the most inhospitable wastes of
Australia, with the fierce wind raging in unison with the scene of
violence before me, I was left with a single native, whose fidelity I
could not rely upon, and who for aught I knew might be in league
with the other two, who perhaps were even now, lurking with a view
to taking away my life as they had done that of the overseer. Three
days had passed since we left the last drop of water, and it was very
doubtful when we might find more. Six hundred miles of country had
to be traversed before I could hope find the slightest aid or
assistance of any kind.'
Eyre and Wylie pressed on through increasing cold and
heavy rain until, on 2nd June, 1841, they came upon the French
whaler, Mississippi, sheltering in Thistle Cove, near the present
town of Esperance. The name itself spoke of exploring tragedy:
John Thistle was the Master of the Investigator who drowned with
six other seamen on 21st February, 1802 at the mouth of Spencer
Gulf (Catastrophe Bay), after Matthew Flinders' charting of Thistle
Bay. Thistle, like John Baxter, was one of the strong, silent figures
of history: he'd accompanied Flinders and George Bass on their
1798 circumnavigation of Van Diemans Land, but because he
wasn't a 'gentleman', didn't feature strongly in accounts of the
voyage.
The Mississippi had an English captain, Rossiter, who
welcomed them aboard and provided Eyre with a comfortable berth
There is no record of the faithful Wylie's accommodation; Eyre had
taken to calling him 'my attendant' and was pleased that Wylie
entertained the French crew with his capacity for eating biscuits.
The crew were mainly young men: they explained that war was
expected to break out at any time between France and England and
all experienced seaman were ordered to stay at home! Eyre went
ashore with the captain and was shown the vegetable garden the
crew had planted and the odd-looking sheep they had grazing on
the foreshore.
A regular little French colonial outpost, it seemed, though
securely claimed for Britain. He and Wylie reluctantly farewelled the
Mississippi on 15th June; the kindly captain pressed six bottles of
wine and a tin of sardines on him. On 7th July, 1841, he stood on a
hill overlooking the town of Albany ... 'that goal I had so long looked
forward to, had so laboriously toiled to attain, was at last before me.'
Reaching the town, he was greeted joyously by the white residents

Page 37 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

and, on 13th July, boarded the vessel, Truelove, for Adelaide which
he reached on 26th July, an absence of a year and twenty-six days.
One young Englishman and an aboriginal teenager had made the
first east-west crossing of the Australian continent. Goodness, the
first covered wagon hadn't yet reached California (November, 1841)
- and the Americans had nearly 200 years start! Eyre wanted to go
exploring again ... but the South Australians had some urgent work
for him ...

9. Astronomical events portend black massacres

In the West, having been reassured by Edward John Eyre that they
had not been forgotten by the rest of Australia, the settlers had
awesome astronomical moments which indicated they had not been
abandoned altogether by the Almighty.
'One evening in March, 1844,' recounted a pioneer, the
30-year-old Edward Willson Landor, 'whilst standing at my gate (he
was a solicitor in Perth) enjoying the pleasant balmy air and the
conversation of a friend, our attention was attracted to a luminous
appearance in the sky immediately above the horizon. We fancied
that a great ship must be on fire not a great distance from the coast.
The next evening, happening to leave the house at an early hour,
my eye was immediately caught by a great novelty in the heavens.
A magnificent comet extended itself over an entire fifth of the
firmament. Its tail reached to the belt of Orion, whilst its nucleus, a
ball of fire resembling a star of the fourth magnitude, was scarcely a
degree above the horizon. It looked like a fiery messenger rushing
headlong down from the very presence of GOD, bound with dread
tidings for some distant world. Beautiful, though terrible messenger,
it seemed to leave its long, fiery trace behind it in its passage
through the heavens. The soul of the spectator was filled with the
sense of its beauty, whilst admiration was sublimed into awe.
Speaking to us strange and wonderful things of the Holy of Holies
which it seemed to have left, it passed on its journey of billions and
trillions of miles with the glad speed of a love-inspired emanation
from the Most High. It left us to wonder at its transient visit, and to
wish for its return.'
Landor was jolly lucky to see this love-inspired emanation
several times that week: it was probably the Great Comet of 1844
which only turns up every 102,050 years. There was considerable
comet activity in Australia's portion of the heavens in the
early-1840s. The pioneer Melbourne journalist, Edmund Finn
(Garryowen) recalled the period in his Chronicles of Early
Melbourne (1888):
'Comets were but little known of, and whenever one was
seen it was terribly alarming to the sable race. The first recorded
visit of a comet to Melbourne was on the 3rd March, 1843, when
great consternation was caused by the appearance in the heavens
of an object resembling a giant moonbeam. When first observed it
was shaped like a dart; then its extremity curved, and gradually
turned into a sword blade. On the third night, it was ascertained to
be a comet of first-class magnitude, the denser part of the tail being

Page 38 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

thirty degrees in extent. It was travelling eastward, and had


traversed about thirty degrees since its appearance. It remained
until 10.30 and it is declared that "never were the eyes of man in
this hemisphere greeted with a more magnificent appearance in the
heavens".'
Edmund Finn might have been be amused at the fearful
reactions of the 'sable race' to these celestial happenings; but his
sophisticated contemporary in Perth, Edward Willson Landor, could
see the presence of his God in the Great Comet. The aboriginal
people of southeast Australia might have far more reason to see
messages of doom in all these comets ... in 1840-41, overlanders
from NSW, following the pioneering stock route of Joseph Hawdon
and Charles Bonney along the Murray Valley, west to South
Australia in increasing numbers. They drove herds of up to 6000
head; they were accompanied by twenty or thirty armed stockmen,
many of them ticket-of-leave convicts who had scant respect for the
aboriginal women they'd meet on the way.
Early in April, 1841, near the Rufus River-Murray River
junction, a force of aborigines attacked an overland party with
traditional weapons, killing two shepherds and dispersing 5000
sheep. The whites took refuge at two cattle stations. A retaliatory
party of ten men was sent from Adelaide, 240km northeast to the
Rufus where they engaged a force of 200 blacks who, despite
losing at least eight men, drove the whites off again.
The townsfolk of Adelaide were still angered by the
apparent massacre by aborigines of the 23 survivors from the wreck
of the brig Maria in June, 1840: their thirst for revenge may have
suppressed the purest intentions of the colony's founders. The
Maria foundered on rocks near the beach (named the Margaret
Brock Reef after a later shipwreck) while on a voyage from Adelaide
to Hobart.
All on board safely made the beach 250km southeast of
Adelaide, but were massacred in the following days as they walked
back towards Adelaide with an escort of aborigines. News reached
Adelaide on 25th July, 1840, and a punitive expedition under Dr
Matthew Moorhouse, Protector of Aborigines, went out and
summarily hanged three of the supposed ringleaders. There was
talk that some of the aborigine men had coveted the survivors'
clothes, and there was further talk that some of the crew had made
sexual advances to the aboriginal women. Whatever happened, the
dead included five children from one family ... and that wasn't to be
forgotten when another opportunity arose to vent outrage against
the indigenous population.
After the repulse of the punitive expedition in mid-May,
1841, furious settlers demanded that the brand-new Governor,
George Grey, take immediate action to crush the scoundrels; Grey
was awfully keen to please: his previous curriculum vitae included a
ludicrous colonising expedition to northwest Australia in which he
was careless enough to be speared. He ordered thirty-seven police,
twenty-seven volunteers, two black trackers and the hanging
Protector of Aborigines, Dr Matthew Moorhouse, to the sandy
northeast. On 22nd June, 1841, they reached the Rufus River and

Page 39 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

were shocked to learn that another overlanding party had been


waylaid, four men killed and 5000 sheep scattered. Moorhouse's
men searched the sandhills, gibber plains and embankment reeds.
But the aborigines had vanished. Moorhouse took his force back to
Adelaide.
In August, refreshed and re-equipped, Moorhouse took his
troops back to the contested area. On 27th August, they came upon
a party of drovers from Gundagai, in NSW, flushed with the news
that they had killed fifteen aborigines the previous day. Surely, they
would not dare attack now! But attack they did ...
'We now, greatly to our surprise, discovered a large mob of
natives running towards us, each carrying his implements of war.
Our drays were drawn up on the banks of the river, and the men
were formed into a line two deep to protect the drays. In half-an-
hour, the natives were seen in the scrub at about half a mile distant,
evidently prepared to commence an attack,' Moorhouse reported.
'Robinson's men (the overlanders who fought the aborigines the
previous day) on the east side of the Rufus started firing, and
Shaw's (the senior policeman) followed suit. The natives
immediately broke up, the greater part running into the scrub,
surrounded, and a fusillade maintained for a quarter of an hour.'
Robinson claimed thirty blacks died in the massacre in the reeds,
but later 200 skeletons were said to have been discovered on the
sandhills. Many years later in Renmark, an old woman called
McKinley claimed to have been the only woman who survived,
swimming the Rufus with her baby on her back. The aboriginal
resistance was broken.
Governor Grey sought the reputation of a humanitarian
and, a little more than a month after the massacre at Rufus River,
established an aboriginal refuge at Moorundie (now Blanchetown),
135km northeast of Adelaide, downstream on the Murray from the
fateful killing grounds of the Rufus River. And the man he appointed
first Resident Commissioner and Protector of Aborigines was
Edward John Eyre, the celebrated explorer who had returned to
Adelaide on 26th August, the day before the last stand of the tribes
at Rufus River.
Eyre took the £300-a-year position reluctantly (he had
further exploring ambitions), but he had great success there. After
he resigned from his position in 1844, he reported: 'Moorundie was
a district densely populated by natives into which prior to 1841 no
settler had ventured to locate and where frightful scenes of
bloodshed, rapine and hostility between the natives and parties
coming overland with stock had been of very frequent occurrence,
but where, from the time of my arrival and up to the date of my
leaving not a single case of serious injury or aggression ever took
place on the part of the natives against the Europeans, whilst the
district became rapidly and extensively occupied by settlers and by
stock.'
In December, 1844, aged just twenty-nine, he farewelled
Australia for good to begin a career of mixed blessings in colonial
administration elsewhere in Victoria's Empire. But before he left
Moorundie, he had the honour of entertaining the celebrated

Page 40 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

explorer, Charles Sturt, before the older man set forth in the
wilderness on a mission as perilous as his own excursion to
Western Australia. Eyre and Sturt, at forty-nine his mentor and
friend, might have puffed at chill evening cigars with the Murray
rolling south at seven kilometres an hour at their feet (when the
placed was named Blanchetown in 1855, it was relocated to a
clifftop because of constant flooding) and reminisced; Sturt had
passed this very place in a whaleboat when he sailed down the
Murray in 1830 and named its estuary Lake Alexandrina after the
princess who would become Queen Victoria.
Sturt was born in India, son of a judge in Bengal, but he
was an underprivileged child of the Raj; his father missed out on
much of the loot usually available to astute Britons. Wealthier
relatives sent him to Harrow and a kindly aunt, who seemed to have
struck up some form of friendship with the fun-loving Prince Regent
in her salad days, secured him a commission in the 39th Regiment;
he fought against the French on the Peninsula, the Americans in
Canada, did occupation duties in France and Ireland, and, in
December, 1826, sailed with his regiment to NSW where a family
friend, Sir Ralph Darling, had recently replaced the star-gazing Sir
Thomas Brisbane as Governor.
Sturt immediately declared his interest in examining the
interior and thus avoided the squalid political/money-oriented
squabbles of the post-Rum Corps disciples and their Emancipist
adversaries in the convict colony. After several explorations,
including his famous voyage from the Murrumbidgee River to the
Murray's mouth in 1829-30, Sturt became a grazier in NSW but, on
falling deeply into debt, gladly accepted a position with the South
Australian public service. On 15th August, 1844, he left Adelaide
with 15 men, including John McDouall Stuart, six drays, a boat and
a walking larder of 200 sheep. Their objective was to penetrate
1300km to the Centre and bathe joyously in the Legendary Inland
Sea.
Two days earlier, on the evening of 13th August, 1844, the
German naturalist Ludwig Leichhardt left Sydney with five
volunteers on the steamer Sovereign for Brisbane. From there, they
would ride at least 5000km north then northwest overland to Port
Essington, a temporary British military foothold on the Coburg
(named, as Ludwig would have known, in honour of Her Majesty's
German cousins) Peninsula, 300 km northeast of the present
Darwin. Both exploration leaders would survive these terrible
expeditions, but fine young members of their teams would not. John
McDouall Stuart was one of the survivors; he was able pass on
invaluable information to the novice bushman Charles Todd fifteen
years later, particularly about the inadvisability of dragging wheeled
vehicles through the wilderness. Everyone knows (or doesn't know)
what happened to Leichhardt in his later expedition in 1848. The
merciless Outback swallowed him and his men (or, most likely,
carried them away in the sudden-flowing streams of the monsoonal
western Queensland Overflow).
Leichhardt, born on 23rd November, 1813, was the
Anglophile son of a Prussian landowner, who was studying

Page 41 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

philosophy and languages without great enthusiasm at Gottingen


University when he met an English student, John Nicholson, who
turned his interests to natural science. He accompanied Nicholson
to England who introduced him to his brother, William, a general
practitioner in Bristol. The Nicholsons' home town was Clifton, now
a suburb of Bristol, and the three pursued their scientific interests
under the very shadows of the towers of Isambard Kingdom
Brunel's now-famous suspension bridge over the Avon Gorge.
Building had begun in 1836, but financial and political bickering had
delayed progress and, in the late 1830s when Leichhardt was there,
only the towers had been built; the 213-metre (700ft) span would
have to wait until 1864.
It is tempting to speculate that the three friends thought,
'Why should we have to wait, like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, when
one of the world's greatest virgin natural scientific laboratory lies in
the south ... ?' So William found the money and sent Ludwig to
Sydney on the Sir Edward Paget in October, 1841. He was a
personable young chap, full of enthusiasm, and soon raised enough
money for his modest expedition through public subscription. He
didn't mind if the Sydney crowd called him 'Dr' out of deference to
his obviously superior Central European knowledge, even though
he'd never graduated from any university anywhere with anything.
After all, they allowed the delightfully bogus geologist Paul
Strzelecki to use the fraudulent title of 'Count' about the same time,
and then conquer Mount Kosciuszko in 1840, for goodness sake,
even though he was probably a suspected Polish embezzler!
Sydney was that kind of town (some folks say it still is) ... But it was
by pure, honest coincidence that Leichhardt and Charles Sturt set
off on their Outback ordeals about the same time in 1844, but
2500km apart.
Sturt was greeted by Edward Eyre at Moorundie on 18th
August, 1844 and assembled his lavish caravan for the push into
the unknown. Apart from John McDouall Stuart, who was engaged
as draftsman, the expedition's principal members were Dr John
Harris Browne, the medical officer and soon-to-be wool baron, and
James Poole, Sturt's deputy.
The other 'gentlemen' in the party were Louis Piesse, in
charge of stores, who kept exhaustive records but, tragically, as it
transpired, did not pack enough vitamin C supplements, and Daniel
Brock, engaged as 'collector' but, in fact, a printer/journalist on the
Register, the South Australia's sole newspaper. He stood to achieve
great fame if he could break to a breathless world the existence of a
magic Inland Sea: his notoriety would not quite equal that of the
New York Herald's Henry Stanley whose. 'Dr Livingstone, I
presume' reverberated around the world in 1871; but it would be
satisfactory.
Daniel Brock presumably was chosen for the expedition
(there were 300 applicants) on the basis of his work for the
Register's publication, The South Australian Almanac, when he
compiled a 'Domesday Book' of South Australia in 1843 noting, for
example, that at the German Silesian peasant community of
Bethany, in the Barossa Valley, 'I found a great quantity of land

Page 42 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

roughly fenced and the land ploughed and sewed between the
trees. The wheat is very late and the huts over a long continuous
space. The only one I could understand was the schoolmaster who
was surrounded by thirty lads and lasses.'
Accompanied by nine servants, stockmen and bullock
drivers they trundled north upstream along the Murray Bank,
following when it swung eastward towards its junction with the
Darling River. Extreme care had been given to loading a very critical
cargo on to the expedition's spring cart.
Sturt wrote: 'The box of instruments sent from England for
the use of the expedition had been received and opened in
Adelaide. The most important of them were two sextants, three
prismatic compasses, two false horizons, and a barometer. One of
the sextants was a very good instrument, but the glasses of the
other were not clear, and unfortunately the barometer was broken
and useless, since it had the siphon tube, which could not be
replaced in the colony. I exceedingly regretted this accident, for I
had been particularly anxious to carry on a series of observations to
determine the level of the interior. I manufactured a barometer, for
the tube of which I was indebted to Captain (Edward) Frome, the
Surveyor-General, and I took with me an excellent house
barometer, together with two brewer's thermometers for
ascertaining the boiling point of water on Sykes' principle. The first
of the barometers was unfortunately broken on the way up to
Moorundie so I was a second time disappointed.'
Another great disappointment was in the English-
manufactured thermometers: they couldn't take the South
Australian heat without exploding! Sturt wrote, sadly: 'The
thermometers sent from England, graduated to 127 degrees only,
were too low for the temperature into which I went, and
consequently useless at times, when the temperature in the shade
exceeded that number of degrees. One of them was found broken
in its case, the other burst when set to try the temperature, by the
over expansion of mercury in its bulb.'
Of course, the shivering English craftsmen making those
sensitive thermometers might have been excused for
underestimating the potential of colonial heat: Britain and, indeed,
the whole of Europe was just recovering from a mini-Ice Age
(1650-1860) when people skated on the Thames, Piet 'Hell' Breugel
the Younger painted Flemish rural backgrounds as if they were
frozen Siberia, Samuel Pepys reported in his diary of 25th March,
1662, of 1000 oaks blown down in the Forest of Dean; the period is
called the 'Maunder Minimum' when sunspots were hardly ever
seen ... but that was hardly an excuse for Sturt's thermometers
cutting out at 127F (52.7C) when they should have allowed a
generous 150F (65.5C)!
Eyre accompanied Sturt's expedition from Murrundie until
they had safely negotiated the scene of the conflicts with the tribes
at the junction of the Rufus and the Murray (west of the present city
of Mildura). He turned back on 10th September, 1844, after
distributing some blankets among the battered tribespeople. Sturt
wrote that the aborigines did not seem to hanker for revenge; they

Page 43 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

even pointed out a mound in which forty or so of their comrades


were buried. The expedition continued its stately progress
northwards beside the steep banks of the Darling, meeting friendly
blacks, crossing fatally-alluring river flats abundant in feed for their
stock; the sheep became so docile, they ran after them, bleating
plaintively, as if anxious to take their turn at the nice butcher's.
Nearing the end of September, Sturt's party was about fifty
kilometres north of the Darling-Murray junction when he and the
medical officer, Dr John Browne observed an astonishing
phenomenon. Sturt reported: 'Some days prior to the 29th (of
September), Mr Browne and I, on examining the waters of the river,
thought that we observed a more than usual current in it; grass and
bark were floating on its surface, and it appeared as if the water
was pushed forward by some back impulse. On the 28th it was still
as low as ever, but on the morning of the 29th, when we got up, it
was wholly changed. In a few hours, it had been converted into a
noble river, and had risen more than five feet above its normal level.
It was now pouring along its muddy waters with foaming
impetuosity, and carrying away everything before it. Whence, it may
be asked, come these floods?'
Sturt surmised that the river's sudden rising was caused
by rainfall on some unknown hills to the near north. But the river
was most likely fed, suddenly, by its multitude of tributaries in
Outback tropical Queensland whose floodwaters might have taken
weeks to flow from pool to pool until they eventually burst into the
lower Darling. Did this phenomenon catch Ludwig Leichhardt
unawares when he and his men vanished in their attempt to cross
Australia from east to west in 1848? John McKinlay, who led the
South Australian Government's expedition to find Burke and Wills in
1861-62 thought so; in March, 1862, making his way north through
Queensland, McKinlay reported the overnight sensation: 'We are
now in the midst of a vast sea, the shallowest part of which I should
say could not be less than five feet.' A member of McKinlay's party,
John Davis, wrote his journal: 'We had a narrow escape from
following in the footsteps of poor Leichhardt and party, who have
never been heard of to this day, and it is now some sixteen years
since they started. I should not be the least surprised if he and party
were carried away in one of these floods, as not the trace of him
has ever been seen.'
Meanwhile, in those last days of September, 1844,
1200km northeast, the aforementioned Ludwig Leichhardt was at
Jimbour Station, 240km northwest of Brisbane, as far north as
European man had ventured. He was about to make his first foray
into the Outback. His original party from Sydney - James Calvert,
John Roper, John Murphy (a 16-year-old), William Phillips ('a
prisoner of the Crown') and 'Harry Brown', an aborigine from
Newcastle - had increased by three volunteers he chanced to meet
in Queensland. They were Pemberton Hodgson, Caleb ('an
American negro') and John Gilbert, a 'collector' for the wildlife
entrepreneur, John Gould. Gilbert had come to Australia in 1838 in
the employ of Gould, a zoologist, ornithologist and businessman.
He returned to England in 1841 after the main Gould party, but was

Page 44 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

persuaded to return to NSW early in 1844. Leichhardt had never


heard of him until their chance meeting on the Darling Downs, west
of Brisbane,
On 1st October, 1844, as Charles Sturt pottered around
on the lower Darling, the party rode northwest from Jimbour into the
unknown. Leichhardt recorded: 'Many a man's heart would have
thrilled like our own, had he seen us winding our way round the first
rise beyond the station, with a full chorus of "God Save The
Queen”, which has inspired many a British soldier, aye, and many a
Prussian, too.'
They struggled across the Condamine River, through thick
brigalow scrub; the bullocks tore their loads of flour off, so they
called the spot Flourspill Scrub; John Murphy, the boy explorer, and
Caleb, the American, were lost for two days, then found again after
they were tracked for 100 kilometres by Charley, an aborigine
Leichhardt had employed, fortuitously, for they surely would have
perished; in gratitude for Charley's skills, Leichhardt named a lake
where they camped after John Murphy, the white youth! By 25th
October, they had travelled 200km and were somewhere near the
present town of Roma, site today of The Big Rig, 'a museum of oil
and gas exploration'.
In the days around 25th October, Sturt's more lavish
expedition was camped near the present city of Broken Hill, 875km
west of Sydney, having left the Darling near Lake Cawndilla, 110km
southeast. They'd met some armed blacks along the river who'd
stacked their spears under a tree to show their good intentions, but
made clear they had unpleasant memories of another explorer,
Major Thomas Mitchell, who had come this way in July, 1835, and
killed several of the tribesmen in an affray; in fact, the aborigines, by
way of a menacing joke, pretended to mistake the expedition's
deputy leader, James Poole, for the Major; both were short and
stout, although Poole was notably less bloodthirsty and paranoid;
during a scouting trip, they rested in the open on 'the top of a small
eminence' (the Barrier Range, bursting with billions of dollars of
silver ore!) where they learned of the bizarre nature of Outback
weather: 'We were suddenly aroused from our slumbers a little
before daylight by a squall of wind that carried away every light
thing about us, hats, caps etc. all went together, and bushes of
atriplex (saltbush?) also went bounding along like so many
footballs,' Sturt wrote.
'The wind became piercing cold and all comfort was gone.
As morning dawned, the wind increased, and as the sun rose it
settled into a steady gale. We were here about forty miles from
Cawndilla, nor do I remember having suffered so severely from
cold, even in Canada (failed American campaign, War of 1812-14).
The wind fairly blew through and through us, and Topar (an
aboriginal tracker) shivered so under it that Morgan gave him a coat
to put on. As we seldom put our horses out of a walk, we did not
reach the tents until late in the afternoon, but I was never more
rejoiced to creep under shelter than on this occasion.' Next day,
Poole told Sturt the temperature that day had varied between 38F
and 110F. But, heavens, it was the fickle Australian spring, after all!

Page 45 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Some of us have been forewarned about what happened


next in the epic 1844 travels of Sturt and Leichhardt, so we might
interrupt this narrative to consider an extraordinary development in
the United States at the same time. On 24th May, 1844, an
entrepreneurial New York university lecturer in painting and design,
Samuel Morse, officially transmitted the first telegraph message
from the Old Supreme Court chamber in Washington to his partner,
Alfred Vail, in Baltimore. Three days later, the New York Times,
uncharacteristically effusive, said: 'The miracle of the annihilation of
space is at length performed.' Such were the American origins of
the information superhighway, a concept that would be totally alien
to Sturt and Leichhardt as they competed to be two of the loneliest
Europeans on earth. Twenty thousand kilometres away, Morse
asked Annie Ellsworth, eighteen-year-old daughter of an old friend,
Henry Ellsworth to come up with that historic first message. She
chose a Biblical quotation, 'What hath God wrought?' from Numbers
23:23 (see note at end of chapter). This rather suited the guileful
Samuel Morse. Morse liked the idea of giving God the credit. He'd
rather not publicly claim it all for himself alone, having borrowed the
idea from the British. But he did, with help, devise the code of dots
and dashes which became the familiar language of distant
communication. Meanwhile, Sturt and Leichhardt were about to find
themselves in predicaments which might have called for not only
the telegraph, but that other great innovation of the period (1841),
Thomas Cook Travel.
In the lonely private worlds of the Australian inland
explorers, the days became weeks then months. They celebrated
Christmas and toiled onwards. In Leichhardt's party, Pemberton
Hodgson and Caleb, 'the American negro', who had joined on the
Darling Downs, had graciously agreed to withdraw on 3rd
November and return to Brisbane when it became apparent there
weren't sufficient supplies to feed everyone.
They crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and moved north
850km until they were inland from the present Cairns, that 21st
century haunt of foreign backpackers; they turned west and made
towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. On 27th June, near the river that
bears his name today, the hovering black kites were so bold as to
steal a freshly-skinned honey-eater from Gilbert's specimen box.
They were in good health, but Leichhardt was troubled by a strange
mood among the surrounding aborigines. Next evening, the 28th,
they camped closer to the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
'After dinner,' Leichhardt wrote, 'Messrs Roper and Calvert
retired to their tent, and Mr Gilbert, John (Murphy) and Brown (the
Newcastle aborigine) were plaiting palm leaves to make a hat. and I
stood musing near their fireplace, looking at their work and
occasionally joining in their conversation. Mr Gilbert was
congratulating himself in learning to plait; and, when he had nearly
completed a yard, he retired with John to their tent; and I stretched
myself upon the ground as usual, at a little distance from the fire,
and fell into a doze, from which I was suddenly roused by a loud
noise, and a call from Calvert and Roper.
Leichhardt continued: 'Natives had suddenly attacked us.

Page 46 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

They had doubtless watched our movements during the afternoon,


and marked the position of the different tents; and, as soon as it
was dark, sneaked upon us, and threw a shower of spears at the
tents of Calvert, Roper, and Gilbert, a few at that of Phillips (the
Sydney convict), and also one or two towards the fire. Charley and
Brown called for caps (percussion caps containing gunpowder),
which I hastened to find, and, as soon as they were provided, they
discharged their guns into the crowd of the natives, who instantly
fled, leaving Roper and Calvert pierced with several spears, and
severely beaten by their waddies.'
Leichhardt's narrative went on: ' Several of these spears
were barbed,and could not be extracted without difficulty. I had to
force one through the arm of Mr Roper, to break off the barb; and to
cut another out of the groin of Mr Calvert. John Murphy had
succeeded in getting out of the tent and concealing himself behind
a tree, whence he fired at the natives, and severely wounded one of
them, before Brown had discharged his gun. Not seeing Mr Gilbert,
I asked for him, when Charley told me our unfortunate companion
was no more! He had come out of his tent with his gun, shot and
powder, and handed them to him, when he instantly dropped down
dead.
'Upon receiving this afflicting intelligence, I hastened to
the spot, and found Charley's account to be too true. He was lying
on the ground at a little distance from our fire, and, upon examining
him, I soon found, to my sorrow, that every sign of life had
disappeared. The body was, however, still warm, and I opened the
arteries of both arms, as well as the temporal artery, but in vain; the
stream of life was stopped and he was numbered with the dead.'
Several historians have suggested that the attack was
revenge for the expedition's aborigines loitering into the bush with
maidens of the Carpentaria tribes; but the vehemence of the attack
on Roper and Calvert (both of whom had rivers in the Northern
Territory named after them) suggests they might have inadvertently
camped on a sacred site.
John Gilbert was one three Gould collectors to be killed by
Australian aborigines: Johnson Drummond died in Western
Australia, also in 1845, and Frederick Strange was killed on a beach
in Queensland in 1854. Gilbert's last diary entry offers another clue
to the black attack of 28th June: '(the aborigines) appear to have
been engaged in cooking their food and pieces of bark or boughs
showing that it has been a regular camping ground, but what the
ring is for would be very interesting to know, perhaps in some way
connected to their superstitions.'
On 28th June, 1845, as Gilbert died of a spear through his
upper chest, Charles Sturt's party was trapped by the most
desperate drought in the most God-forsaken landscape they had
ever endured. They had been stuck at 'Depot Glen' (near the
present former goldmining settlement of Milparinka), just 200km
north of Broken Hill since 17th January. It was the only permanent
water they could find and they dared not move.
Barring their path to the northwest was a stark moonscape
the size of Wales, all red sand and hoof-splitting stones, not a blade

Page 47 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

of grass or a drop of water; they gave it a suitable name: Sturt's


Stony Desert. They found a crawling flower with flowers like red
blood drops hanging from a congealed black wound: they called it
Sturt's Desert Pea. William Dampier had noted the desperate little
plant on the west coast in 1688 when he said this was the most
miserable continent inhabited by the most miserable people on
earth.
Beyond Sturt's Stony Desert were the endless sandhills of
the Simpson Desert, high as tall buildings, rolling towards him like
the endless, mocking breakers of his mythical inland sea. Sturt
longed for rain so he could make a break for the south and Adelaide
to his wife, Charlotte. He had signs of scurvy; so, too, did Dr
Browne and John McDouall Stuart. His faithful deputy, James
Poole, lay paralysed by the cursed lack of Vitamin C, whose
limejuice antidote was known to the great Captain James Cook
seventy-five years earlier!
On 14th June, the drought broke. Sturt sent a stockman,
Robert Flood, to muster the horses ... Sturt wrote, 'He said, that in
crossing a rocky range he heard a roaring noise, and that on going
to the glen, he saw the waters pouring down, foaming and eddying
among the rocks, adding that he was sure the floods would drown
us ere long' ....
And here was a warning that might have been heeded by
Leichhardt in the future ...'Such, however, is the uncertain nature of
the rivers of those parts of the continent of Australia over which I
have wandered, I would not trust the largest past the range of
vision; they are deceptive all of them, the offsprings of heavy rains,
and dependent entirely on local circumstances for their appearance
and existence.'
At 7pm on the 16th June, Sturt was told that James Poole
had died. In a moment of madness, Sturt talked of making a final
dash for the Red Centre with John McDouall Stuart, but the sensible
Dr John Browne dissuaded him, and they turned their horses south.
It would be left to Stuart in 1861-62 to finally disprove the notion of
an inland sea. Sturt arrived in Adelaide on 19th January, 1846, to
find that George Grey had been replaced as Governor by Frederick
Robe and Sturt himself had been appointed Colonial Treasurer in
his absence.
Ludwig Leichhardt pushed on around the Gulf of
Carpentaria and was finally guided into Port Essington by
concerned aborigines on 17th December, 1845 ... 'I was deeply
affected in finding myself again in civilised society and could
scarcely speak, the words growing big with tears and emotion' he
wrote. The schooner Heroine on its way from Singapore and Bali
with passengers for Sydney via the Great Barrier Reef took the
expedition aboard a month later. Leichhardt and his men were safe
at last ... but not the Heroine.
On her return voyage, she foundered on a hidden reef off
the tip of Cape York Peninsula on 24th April, 1846, with the loss
eight of the twenty-six on board. The dead included two Roman
Catholic priests who intended to start a mission to the aborigines of
Port Essington; the British withdrew from the outpost in 1847, so the

Page 48 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

blacks were spared righteous salvation until the temporary founding


of Darwin in 1864 as an advance station for the Overland
Telegraph.
In Sydney, Leichhardt was hailed 'the Prince of Explorers',
showered with international awards and pardoned by the King of
Prussia for dodging military service. In December, 1846, he set out
with seven companions from the Darling Downs to cross Australia
from east to west, but was repulsed by the Outback before he'd
reached the Queensland border. On 3rd April, 1848 he left the
Darling Downs once more and headed west. 'We shall sail down the
Condamine ... and follow Mitchell's track to the northern bend of the
Victoria; I shall then proceed to the northward until I come upon
decided water of the Gulf, and after that resume my original course
to the westward,' he told the Sydney Morning Herald. He wasn't
seen again. Meanwhile, 20,000 kilometres away, Europe underwent
its Revolutionary Year, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the
Communist Manifesto.
And Alice Bell was about to meet Charles Todd.
* The complete quotation: 'Surely there is no enchantment against
Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel; according to
this time it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, What hath God
wrought?' Only the keenest American Biblical scholar could find any
reference in quotation to the electric telegraph.

10. 'They have made the ocean a highway of thought'

Thomas Crampton was an inventor of the Industrial Age whose


candle flickered modestly beside the blazing furnace of Isambard
Kingdom Brunel. Oh, but Crampton had his grand moments! A
memorable one was when he leapt on the dais at the Great
Exhibition beside the youngish Queen Victoria and made the truly
electrifying announcement, 'Ma'am, I have linked Britain to the world
by an undersea telegraph!'
It was the autumn late afternoon of 25th September, 1851,
at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Nearing dusk, the
Queen on whose Empire the Sun Never Dared Set, announced the
closing of the international Exhibition that had drawn six million of
Our Subjects and sundry foreigners at a shilling a head. Crampton,
aged only thirty-five, upstaged Her Majesty with the public relations
coup of the season. We cannot be certain of his precise words,
drowned as they were, in a delirium of British praise . . . 'Jolly good
show', 'splendid chap' etc.
One of those who might have a joined the applause was
Charles Todd, standing at the back of the audience on tippy-toe (he
was just 5ft 5in in the old Imperial measure, but a giant if he ever
had the breathless experience of standing next to his Queen who
barely made five feet in her flatties).
Charles Dickens, a family friend of the Cramptons, might
have been there; he had his holidays in their home village of
Broadstairs, in Kent, where David Copperfield's kindly aunt, Miss
Betsey Trotwood, lived 'in a cottage in a hamlet on the seacoast' in
the real-life guise of a Miss Mary Pearson Strong, who believed it

Page 49 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

was her right to stop donkeys passing her house. And Broadstairs,
of course, was just up a rutted road from Dover from where
Crampton's submarine copper cable, insulated with the miraculous
natural southeast Asian fibre gutta percha and protected with iron
wire crossed the English Channel to emerge at a beach near Calais
that 25th September, 1851.
We cannot be certain how many times Charles Todd, aged
twenty-five, attended the Great Exhibition, but he would have had
the indulgence and encouragement of an occasionally benevolent
employer, George Airy (1801-92), the Astronomer Royal from 1835
to 1881. Of course, Airy was normally a stickler for keeping time in
the workplace or, indeed, in all Mankind's workplaces. He
introduced the clock-in-clock-out procedure for his staff, a practice
that was becoming commonplace in factories as William Blake's
'dark satanic mills' modernised under the pressure of new
technology.
Airy, after all, was in charge of the Greenwich Time Balls
and, as such, was the Chief Time Keeper for the British Empire,
nay, the whole civilised world, of which that Empire contained a
goodly portion.
Earlier in that glorious year, 1851 (4th January, to be
precise), his sensational Airy Transit Circle' was unveiled at the
Royal Observatory after an annoying delay because the London
early winter fogs made it impossible to view any celestial body more
than fifty metres away. The Airy Transit Circle, a super-telescope,
sits on the north-south line which marks the Longitude 'O'.
In 1884, a conference in Washington DC agreed that this
Prime Meridian would signal the start of the Universal Day for the
entire world. Airy's enthusiasm for the highest order in all things
would have rubbed off on Todd, one of his most enthusiastic
disciples. (Many years later, Todd's keenness for commonsense
was tested keenly in 1877 at the opening of the Eucla telegraph
station, on the shifting sands of the South Australia-Western
Australia border. Starch-collared operators on the Western
Australian side received messages in American Morse code from
their South Australian colleagues which had to be converted to
Universal Morse for the westerly transmission. This was
intercolonial bloody-mindedness, equalled only by the change of rail
gauges in 1883 at the NSW-Victoria colonial border crossing of
Albury.)
Todd, the young meteorologist, might have found
diversion in one of the Great Exhibition's more bizarre displays. This
was Dr George Merryweather's 'Tempest Prognosticator', very
popular among the oohing-aahing hoi polloi, who surged around
this marvel of weather forecasting amid the soaring glass walls of
the Crystal Palace.
Merryweather (again, not a nom de plume) said, modestly,
it was 'one of the grandest ideas that ever emanated from the mind
of man'. It resembled a Victorian folly, a crazed merry-go-round
consisting of twelve bottles of white glass, around the base of a
circular stand, atop which was a tinkling bell surrounded by twelve
hammers. Each bottle was connected to one hammer through a

Page 50 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

metal tube in its neck, containing a piece of whalebone and a wire,


to which was attached a small gilt chain.
Merryweather described how it worked: 'After having
arranged this mouse trap contrivance, into each bottle was poured
rain water, to the height of an inch and a half; and a leech placed in
every bottle, which was to be its future residence; and when
influenced by the electromagnetic state of the atmosphere a
number of leeches ascended into the tubes; in doing which they
dislodged the whalebone and caused the bell to ring.'
He had observed that freshwater leeches became
particularly agitated before a storm. Charles Todd would have
appreciated instantly that if Dr Merryweather's Tempest
Prognosticator were to become a commercial triumph, then the
success of an electric telegraph girdling the globe would be an
absolute doddle.
But in the beginning ... Charles Wheatstone, one of the
inventors of the electric telegraph, was an acoustics whiz kid, who
first gained public notoriety in 1821 when, at the age of nineteen, he
exhibited a musical sleight-of-hand he called the 'Enchanted Lyre'
or 'Aconcryptophone' at his father's music shop in Pall Mall,
London. This tricky little number involved a lyre suspended by thin
wires from the ceiling, surrounded by seated spectators, awe-
struck by the instrument's apparent ability to play itself.
The wires, of course, were attached to the sound boards
of a piano, harp and other instruments in a room above, which,
when played by a crony of Wheatstone's, sent vibrations down the
wires which produced the harp's melodies. Young Wheatstone
appeared occasionally to 'wind' the harp and express the view that,
one day, 'it would be laid on to one's house, like gas.'
Wheatstone inherited the droll humour of many of the
fathers of electrical enterprise. As a young man, he would have
heard of the theatrical feats of Giovanni Aldini, a skilled scientist
whose portraits reveal him to be a slyly-smooth signor. In 1803,
Aldini performed the famous 'London experiment' when the body of
a freshly-hanged murderer, George Forster, was brought from
Newgate gallows to private rooms over a nearby tavern and given
to the care of Aldini, whose lavish bow to his audience of gentlemen
and ladies promised an excess of their gruesome expectations.
A contemporary report said ... 'Galvanism was
communicated by means of three troughs combined together, each
of which contained forty plates of zinc, and as many of copper. On
the first application of the arcs, the jaw began to quiver, the
adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually
opened.' And if that was not enough of a crowd pleaser, the
recently-deceased Forster's legs started to kick, his clenched fist
rose in the air, and his back arched! Many spectators thought he
was actually being restored to life.
Some serious scholars believe the impressionable young
author Mary Shelley (who was not actually present, but read about
this feat) may have been inspired by George Forster when she
created her tortured monster, Frankenstein, in Byron's morbidly-
splendid Villa Diodati by the shore of Lake Geneva in 1816.

Page 51 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Aldini was only creating in a more dramatic form what his


uncle, the Bologna-based father of bio-electricity, Luigi Galvani (yes,
that's the one) achieved by putting the kick back in to the legs of
dead frogs the previous century. Galvani's discovery was quite
accidental. He was dissecting a frog on a bench where he had lately
been conducting experiments in static electricity.
Aldini touched the sciatic nerve of the frog with his metal
scalpel, which had become charged with electricity. His colleague
and friend, Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta
generously suggested that the name 'galvanism' be applied to the
phenomenon of electrical energy being carried on the nerves to the
muscles.
Volta (you guessed it) took his friend's experiments
further: He questioned whether an electric current present when a
muscle was touching two metals came from the tissue or the
metals. His conclusion was that the current had nothing to do with
tissue. When Volta published his findings, Galvani became his bitter
enemy until his death in 1798.
Two years later, Volta unveiled a device that would
produce a large flow of electricity. This was the battery, an invention
which brought him to the forefront of science and a Legion
d'Honneur in 1801 from Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. His fellow
scientists named the unit of electromotive force, the driving force
that moves the electric current, the 'volt'. Volta had the last word:
soaring high voltage cables are rather more romantic than
galvanised iron sheds, si?
Charles Wheatstone was a babe in arms in Barnwood,
near Gloucester, when Signor Aldini performed his ghastly 'London
experiment', but he was a precocious lad and knew all about the
developments in electricity by the time he was aged fourteen and
apprenticed to an uncle, also Charles Wheatstone, at his musical
instruments business at 436 The Strand, London.
By sixteen, according to family anecdote, Wheatstone had
bought a book detailing Volta's discoveries (and a French-English
dictionary to help him read it). He and his younger brother, William,
made a small battery in the scullery of their father's house and
began repeating Volta's experiments. Charles realised that sound
was propagated by waves, or oscillations. Water and other solid
bodies, such as glass, metal or sonorous wood, conveyed the
modulations with high velocity. He had the idea of transmitting
sound-signals, music or speech through long distances.
In 1823, upon the death of their uncle, Charles and
William took over his business and moved to 20 Conduit Street, in
the fashionable Hanover Square district of Westminster. But
Charles was tiring of the shopkeeping world. He dreamed of
sending sound at 300km a second through solid rods. He coined
'telephone' and 'microphone' as part of the instrumentation he
imagined would be required to transmit these sounds.
In 1827, he unveiled his 'kaleidoscope' which apparently
made vibrations visible to the eye; his 'photometer' followed; he
found time to adapt a German wind instrument which evolved in to
the modern concertina. His busy brain was on the verge of

Page 52 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

something ... but he would be advised to take his dreamy eyes off
his work bench because a smooth-talking Yankee artist/
entrepreneur was lurking in the wings.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse, aged thirty-eight, widowed
father of three, sailed from New York to Europe in November, 1829,
leaving his children in the care of relatives. He was a moderately
successful painter, but a brilliant absorber of the inventiveness of
others. Morse was on a belated Grand Tour of Europe, visiting the
Vatican Galleries, studying the Old Masters, meeting an old portrait
subject, the heroic Marquis de Lafayette, who outwitted the British
force at Yorktown in the Revolutionary War and, generally, picking
up good ideas. But it was not until his return voyage from Le Havre
to New York in the 436-tonne packet vessel Sully in the autumn of
1832 that Morse cottoned on to the best idea of all: the electric
telegraph.
Morse was chatting over cigars in the ship's library with
another passenger, Dr Charles T. Jackson, from Boston (not far
from Morse's birthplace, Charlestown, where his father, Jedidiah
and mother, Elizabeth, were buried) when the subject of the latest
European discoveries in the field of electromagnetism came up, as
it does. Morse claimed later he was seized immediately with notions
of an electromagnetic recording telegraph and a dot-dash code
system, not unlike the smoke signals of the Red Indians.
This version of a sudden, inspirational rush of blood to
head was challenged five years later when Dr Charles T. Jackson
claimed in a court of law that he, in fact, was the true American
inventor of the telegraph. Morse won the case, but Dr Jackson soon
became distracted in the 1840s with another claim against Dr
William Morton that he was the true discoverer of the anaesthetic
uses of ether. Perhaps Jackson was the actual intellectual father of
both, but he most certainly didn't have the brains to keep his mouth
shut, particularly in the presence of Morse and Morton.
In 1835, Morse was appointed Professor of Literature, Arts
and Design at the forerunner of New York University and soon
became acquainted with Dr Leonard Gale, a science lecturer with
access to a sophisticated engineering laboratory where they could
develop their telegraph designs. Gale became part-owner of the
future telegraph profits, and was joined by Alfred Vail, whose family
happened to own an ironworks. In September, 1837, Morse
patented the telegraph in the U.S., coincidentally, the same month
that Charles Wheatstone and his partner, William Fothergill Cooke
patented their five-needle system in Britain. The following January,
1838, Morse introduced his 'Morse Code' and the stage was set for
a world revolution in communications. In Britain, the first working
telegraph, from Paddington to Slough, was licensed as a 'marvel of
science' to a businessman, Thomas Horne.

11. South Australia, free citizens (but unwired)

The new colony in the Great Australian Bight was just a beachhead
in the wilderness in the late-1830s when all this razzle-dazzle
technology was being unveiled in Britain and the United States.

Page 53 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

South Australia, seven months or so away from London by three-


masted sailing barque, was opened to free settlers of the South
Australia Company with the blessing of the British Government in
the 1830s; the founding surveyor, William Light, landed near the site
of Adelaide on 3rd October, 1836.
This orderly, government-approved invasion was quite
unlike that of the future colony of Victoria to the east, which was
seized by the land-grabbing buccaneers, Edward Henty at Portland
Bay in November, 1834, and John Batman at Port Phillip Bay in
May, 1835. There was little the colonial administration in Sydney
could do, but sigh, and accept the permanency of these reckless
squatters, Henty and Batman. Ah, such pioneering boldness and
Imperial hypocrisy.
The colonial weather provided one of its malicious little
surprises for Surveyor Light, aboard the barque Rapid, on 12th
October, 1836: 'Light airs from the east and very fine weather ... and
the idea of winter and gales now being over ... At eight, we began
sending things on shore; at ten the wind shifted to the NNW and
WNW, at noon a sudden change of wind to the NNE with sultry and
oppressive air; in a few minutes, thunder cloud appeared very near,
from the westward; without any previous indications a sudden
breeze from the westward sprang up, and a high sea ... at half past
one pm, several severe flashes of lightning with thunder close to us,
and the rain fell heavy; about two, this squall passed over but we
found ourselves in now another gale ... hard rains and high seas
throughout the night' ... and next day ... 'Strong gales and a high
sea. All the forenoon the ship pitched very much, but she held on
well; at one pm it began to moderate, and by four we had fine
weather ... we landed a few more things the same evening.'
Earlier in the month, he scouted the country from the sea
and was delighted. On 3rd October in Holdfast Bay, site of Adelaide,
he wrote: 'Running down the coast, I was enchanted with the extent
of the plain to the northward of the Mount Lofty range; and as had
had very little wind, our progress was slow, and consequently more
time for observation; all the glasses in the ship were in requisition.
At length, seeing something like the mouth of a small river, and a
country with trees so dispersed as to allow the sight of most
luxuriant green underneath, I immediately stood for it, and fifteen
minutes past four pm, came to anchor in three and a half fathoms in
mud and weeds, about one and a half miles from the mouth of the
river.'
They were smack in the middle of the beach suburb of
Glenelg, 15 minutes drive from the Adelaide CBD. Light landed in
the sand dunes ands placed a flagstaff on the highest hill as a
bearing marker to make a chart of Gulf St Vincent. The first
immigrants landed from the Africaine from 10th November, having
been kept on board by fickle weather.
On 19 November, the 49-year-old Mary Thomas, a woman
of the English middle-classes who was not enjoying her very first
summer camping holiday, volunteered to collect letters from the
immigrants so they could be conveyed on the homeward-bound
Africaine. She would rather have sealed herself in a London-bound

Page 54 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

envelope, as her disenchanted early diaries indicate, but she


remained steadfast and, as South Australia's first unofficial 'director
of communications', became the matriarch of a prominent
newspaper family.
In a reference to the contrariness of the climate, she wrote
on 14th November: 'A pewter jug had been accidentally left outside
the tent in a dish containing some water, and on lifting the jug, to my
surprise the dish came up with it, for the water had frozen to an
eighth of an inch in thickness. This astonished me in a country
where I did not expect to see such a thing, and yet the thermometer
rose that day to 110 degrees.'
Colonel Light, on the other hand, found everything
exceeded his expectations. At the end of that first year, he
recorded: 'I cannot express my delight at seeing no bounds to a flat
of fine, rich-looking country with an abundance of freshwater
lagoons, which, if dry in summer, convinced me that need not dig a
deep well to give sufficient supply. The little river, too, was deep; it
struck me that much might hereafter be made of this little stream.'
Within a year or so, some dissatisfied settlers criticised Light's
choice of Adelaide site. He was unrepentant.
In his cottage near Adelaide, dying of tuberculosis, he
wrote on 28th March, 1839: 'Deeply feeling the importance of the
trust imposed upon me by the Commissioners when they confided
solely in me the task of selecting a site for the capital of the
province; and yet feeling more the fact well-being of thousands is
now connected with, and may, in a great measure depend on the
correctness of the decision I then made, I am anxious, if possible, to
convince the Commissioners and the public that I endeavoured
scrupulously to do my duty, and that my exertions have been
conscientiously directed to the good of the colony. The reasons that
led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally
understood or calmly judged at present. My enemies, however, by
disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the good
service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me. I am
perfectly willing to bear it; and I leave it to posterity, and not to them,
to decide whether I am entitled to praise or blame.'
Light died on 6th October, 1839, in the arms of his faithful
mistress Maria Gandy, perfectly content in the fair judgement of
posterity ... and fair judgement it would become in the eyes of
Charles Todd, a schoolboy at faraway Greenwich, on the banks of
the Thames, in England ...
Charles and his two brothers, Griffiths Jr. and Henry
attended the local Roan School, established in 1677 by the family of
John Roan, a wealthy Greenwich merchant, to educate the
deserving sons of the less well-to-do. Their sisters, Elizabeth and
Mary, stayed at home to watch over mother. And it was to the Roan
School that the formidable George Airy came in 1841 to pluck the
15-year-old Charles from his scholar's bench.
Airy had heard about the lad's amazing facility with
numbers; he knew of his exploits at the Trafalgar Tavern where,
unknown to his God-fearing parents, for pocket money, he would
instantly solve the problem of, say, the square root of 3,258,025

Page 55 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

much to the delight of the patriotic pub clients. Charles also had a
reputation for an extraordinary memory, too, something which would
evoke admiration from Airy who had once recited 2394 lines of Latin
verse in an examination at Colchester Grammar School (1814-19)
(such feats were widely publicised in the early part of the 19th
century: on 19 July, 1807, the Sydney Gazette reported the case of
a convict named Henry Abbott who, attempting to shoot a crow, had
his musket backfire into his brain, whereupon, 'He spoke several
times with much precision; then rapidly recited the greater part of
the multiplication table; and at the expiration of four hours expired.')
On 16th December, 1841, Airy offered Charles an
immediate start as an 'astronomical computer' (he was one of six
appointed) at the nearby Royal Observatory where he had been
Astronomer Royal since 1835. Airy was a complex man, at times
mean-spirited and sarcastic towards his staff, trusting none of his
subordinates to carry out their allotted tasks to his satisfaction; at
other times he was generous and loyal to his inferiors, allowing
them to share in his many interests. Charles was invited to join one
these hobbies: The scientific exploration of the precise location of
Julius Caesar's successful landing in Britain in May, 54 BC. It was
generally accepted that Caesar made an unsuccessful attempt to
land two legions on the Kent coast on 26th August, 55 BC, but was
defeated by the weather and hostile natives. Airy (possibly with
Charles' help) calculated that the successful landing was made the
following May on the stony beach at Deal, near the present site of
Walmer Castle. Otherwise, Charles Todd was engaged fifteen hours
a day, six days a week, doing the sums to help astronomers track
the heavenly bodies and thus increase man's knowledge of
navigation and time-keeping.
Then, in 1847, Airy recommended him for the assistant
astronomer's position at his old university, Cambridge. Charles Todd
at last had the opportunity to work with the famous 'Northumberland
telescope' which had been presented by the Duke of
Northumberland to the newly-opened Observatory in 1833. The
Cambridge University Astronomy Society says the telescope, which
has been preserved and is still used by the Society, was one of the
world's largest refracting telescopes 'with an accurate clock-driven
equatorial mounting to follow a star in its diurnal (daily) motion
across the sky.' Airy was still Cambridge Astronomer when the
telescope was presented so he was able to make some 'English'
changes from its French origins. For the technically-savvy, 'the lens
was an achromatic doublet of 11.6in clear aperture and focal length
19ft 6in, made by Cauchoix of Paris'. Sadly, all good things must
end and Charles Todd, then aged twenty-three, was rudely
awakened from his telescopic reverie in the early summer of 1849
by a surprise invitation to afternoon tea from a very distant cousin,
Mrs Charlotte Bell, at her residence at 3 Free School Lane, near the
town centre of Cambridge.
According to family legend, it was Alice who saw him first.
She was peeping from a window in the upstairs schoolroom of the
Bell family's four-storey, late-17th century gabled house. He walked
around a slight bend in the ancient lane, eyes fixed on the

Page 56 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

Yorkstone pavers, hewn from the Pennines of the North (as he


would have known because they paved half the towns of England).
What a terribly ordinary young man, thought Alice, short, straggly
adolescent whiskers, narrow shoulders. Hardly the knight in shining
armour of a twelve-year-old girl's fancy. Nevertheless, she hurried
downstairs and concealed herself behind a chaise longue. Her
mother entertained him with sherry and cake and attempted to
make conversation. He admitted to her that his rooms overlooking
Trinity College a few hundred yards away were very ordinary, but
they were adequate for a bachelor.
'You should get married, Mr Todd,' said Charlotte Bell.
'Ah, madam, I fear no one would want to marry such a
dull fellow as I,' replied Charles.
Alice suddenly appeared from behind the chaise longue.
'I will marry you, Mr Todd, if no one else will,' she
declared.
Charles was lost in his confusion. Decent chaps like him
were not often propositioned by raven-haired twelve-year-old girls in
front of their Free Church mothers.
'You are far too young,' he said.
'I will wait,' said Alice.
The above exchange, related at future Adelaide dinner parties and
kept alive by the Todd daughters, became part of the South
Australian folklore. It was not until the year 2000, when Alice's
great-great granddaughter, the English journalist Alice Thomson,
retold it in her memoir, The Singing Wire, that it was given absolute
credibility! But why shouldn't it be true? Was it a desperate cry from
the grieving heart of a child? By 1849, Alice had lost five of her ten
siblings to disease, probably a form of tuberculosis, the most recent
her beloved little sister, Eliza, who succumbed in 1845 at the age of
five. Alice wanted out. Her girl/woman's instinct drew her to the
unprepossessing Charles Todd, who eventually took her to South
Australia, one of the healthiest climates in the world. Her mother,
Charlotte Bell, may have been her chief conspirator with the
connivance of Charles Todd (after all, his surname does mean 'the
Fox' in its Middle English derivation). But then, that may be romantic
speculation.
Alice's father, Edward Bell, was in trade as a corn
merchant and maltster, as his father had been, and his father before
that, and so on for 150 years, back to the reign of the Good Queen
Anne at the turn of the 18th century. By 1849, he was aged in his
middle fifties and one of Cambridge's most solid citizens, owning a
large retail warehouse on Peas Hill, a few minutes brisk walk from
his house and close by the Corn Exchange. He had servants at his
house and clerks on high stools at his place of work. In 1847, he
had made his eldest son, also Edward, an equal partner in the
family business, having taken him into the firm in 1839 at the age of
twelve. There was something about the age of twelve for the Bell
children ... they went to work, or proposed marriage or wrestled with
Death.
Perhaps, having shared the grief of his wife in the loss of
so many of their youngsters, Edward Bell was also a silent member

Page 57 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

of the conspiracy to save Alice. Did he ever take Alice on his


business travels to get her away from that house of gloom? We
don't know, but might have. Edward didn't travel far: the market at
St Ives, 20km northwest, where, he could have explained to her that
Oliver Cromwell, hero of religious nonconformists, once lived. That
was probably the extent of his Cambridgeshire world. It was said he
met his wife, the former Charlotte Clark, a cheery bonnet maker six
years younger, at a country fair somewhere in the county.
Such was the family that welcomed the twenty-two-year
old Charles Todd to one of the sad, empty places at their table. The
day after their meeting, he sent Alice a copy of John Bunyan's great
religious narrative, The Pilgrim's Progress, which set the agenda
firmly for their relationship during her pubescence: he was the de
facto uncle who would guide her spiritual path; there was nothing in
Bunyan's prose liable to unsettle her romantically ... 'This miry
slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent
whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth
continually run, and therefore is called the Slough of Despond'.
It was as if Charles was anticipating the future woes of a
tortured younger contemporary, Lewis Carroll, who was thought to
have all manner of odd sexual ambitions for his own real-life Alice
Liddell. There would be no ambiguous, photographic Anglican
Wonderland for Charles and Alice! Anyway, as it happened, George
Airy summoned him back to London in May, 1854, when Alice was
seventeen, and made him supervisor of the Greenwich Time Balls,
and a lesser time ball for the city folk on The Strand. This made him
the time-keeper of the universe. Or so he liked to joke with friends
over a cup of Orange Pekoe tea, out of the hearing of George Airy,
of course.
'Why do you insist on Orange Pekoe tea?' Someone
would ask.
'My father was once a grocer and I became addicted as a
child. It is the finest tea from China, picked from the youngest and
smallest leaves, using only the balls of the finger tips, and these dry
to a yellow-orange colour,' he'd reply.
They'd nod and he'd say: 'Anyway, I'd be odd without my
T.' He was always good for a pun, was Charles, even if it was the
same old one.
Charles watched the ships sail by Greenwich, east
towards the Thames estuary and then south through the Channel,
many bound for Australia, their decks crammed with passengers
getting their last glimpses of England ...' in general, marks of
distress were more perceptible among the men than the women; for
I recollect to have seen but one of those affected on the occasion,
"Some natural tears she dropp'd but wiped them soon",' the Marine
officer, Watkin Tench, remarked on the departure of the convict First
Fleet from Portsmouth sixty-five years earlier. Perhaps Charles
noticed the barque Irene among the outward-bound traffic on 24th
September, 1854. The graceful vessel, under the command of
Captain David Bruce, was a regular in the Thames; she had been to
Australia twice before, Sydney in 1852 and Adelaide in 1853. When
Irene returned from her 1854 voyage, she would take aboard the

Page 58 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

newly-wed Mr and Mrs Todd.


As he navigated his three-masted 400-tonne Irene through
the noisy profusion of river traffic, David Bruce would have
appreciated the historical importance of Greenwich to seafarers.
The Royal Observatory was commissioned by Charles II in 1675,
just nine years after he became a folk hero to his doubting subjects
by riding among them, unprotected by guards from those who might
assassinate him, to bring calm during the Great Fire of London.
King Charles ordered his first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed,
to 'apply himself with the most care and diligence to the rectifying of
the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed
stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for
perfecting the art of navigation'. Most of the expense of this
scientific research was carried, quite unwittingly, by Louis XIV of
France who was secretly paying huge bribes to King Charles to (a)
support him against the Dutch, and (b) turn England into a Papal
realm again. Charles didn't pursue either course with much
enthusiasm: the expression 'Merry Olde England' was coined during
his jolly administration with the captivating Nell Gwynn (amongst
others, the rotter).
Eventually, a Yorkshire carpenter-clockmaker John
Harrison solved the problem of longitude a century later and this, to
cut a long story short, was how Captain David Bruce managed to
take the Irene to and from Australia with such unerring accuracy
through the 1850s and 1860s. He might have joked with curious
passengers that he simply followed his own wake, but he easily
beat Charles Todd, who had brought his own sextant aboard, when
they competed to fix the Irene's position daily during the 1855
voyage out.
Charles knew nothing of what was to come as he went
about his time-keeping duties that 24th September, 1854, as the
Irene vanished into the autumn Thames estuary mist. He was
becoming particularly familiar with the operation of the electric
telegraph grid of which Greenwich was an important part. Then, on
10th February, 1855, he was offered the position of Government
Astronomer and Superintendent of Telegraphs in the colony of
South Australia at a salary of £400 a year. Without much ado, he
hurried north to Cambridge.
'So would you be taking anyone with you?' asked Mrs
Charlotte Bell, anxiously, for she had lost another beloved child,
also Charlotte, aged nineteen, to tuberculosis, in 1851.
'I cannot ask anyone to share what might be a rough and
crude life,' said Charles.
'I will go with you, Mr Todd,' said Alice.

12. The man who found the magic tree

The England-Australia telegraph, and all others requiring undersea


travel, was made possible by the alertness in the 1840s of a
Scottish surgeon, William Montgomerie, a colonial old hand in the
service of the East India Company in steamy Singapore. He was
stationed at there for periods from the 1820s-1840s. The island, at

Page 59 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

the eastern tip of Malaya, was a small fishing village when Thomas
Stamford Raffles, an agent for the Company arrived on 29th
January, 1819, and decided it should be developed as the new
trading hub of southeast Asia.
Montgomerie watched the Malays making the handles for
their parangs, or machetes, used for cutting through the woody,
dense jungle. He saw that the gum employed was a kind of latex
which could have applications in the manufacture of surgical
instruments. He sent samples to the Royal Society of Arts ... and
British industry had a new plastic-like material. It was known as
gutta-percha, derived from the evergreen east Asian trees of genus
Palaquium, collected by bleeding and moulded into bricks to be
carried to Europe by ship.
When Montgomerie's gutta-percha arrived in England in
1843, it proved to be the ideal insulator for copper submarine
telegraph cables. It was far superior to india rubber which was used
in earlier trials, because it hardened without becoming brittle. Most
importantly, the cold and pressure of the ocean depths improved its
insulating qualities.
The first trial submarine cable was laid in 1845 using india
rubber insulation between the warships Blake and Pique, a
measured mile apart in Portsmouth Harbour, southern England. In
1850, Charles West, employed by an English firm, S.W. Silver and
Co. laid a cable using gutta-percha, 25 nautical miles between
Dover and Calais. This line was cut, accidentally, by a French
fisherman after three days. Finally, British ships successfully played
out a cable for the Submarine Telegraph Co. between St Margaret's
Bay, Dover (where, much later, Ian Fleming bought Noel Coward's
seaside house), and Sangatte (where the Cross Channel tunnel
now emerges beside a refugee camp of aspirational Britons), south
of Calais, in 1851. Thomas Crampton had begun to wire Britain, the
world's industrial leader, to just about everyone.
In 1852-53, the cable companies, mostly private
entrepreneurs using venture capital, cast their eyes upon the North
Sea and the Irish Sea. Crampton's Submarine Telegraph Co. linked
Dover with the Belgian port of Ostend, 115km northeast, giving
Queen Victoria and her adored consort Prince Albert a direct link,
albeit a coded one, with their beloved mentor and shared uncle,
King Leopold 1 of Belgium. He was a Saxe-Coburg who made
clever marital connections with the royal families of Europe and was
able to guide them in turbulent times, particularly the discomforting
revolutionary year of 1848.
Another nervous north European monarch, Frederick VII,
of Denmark, quickly took advantage of the early warning
advantages of the telegraph. In 1853, the same year that Leopold
went online, he had an undersea cable connect Copenhagen's
island of Zealand (Sjaelland), with island of Fyn (Funen) and the
Danish mainland beyond, using British-supplied gutta-percha.
Frederick VII's problems were with Denmark's bossy ethnic German
minority, but the waving of no end of telegraph wires could help in
1864 when Chancellor Otto Bismarck decided to intervene and
smash the Danish army with Prussian arms. Countless shiny new

Page 60 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

telegraph stations fell into German hands in the occupied territories


of Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenberg.
The early telegraph was not purely an instrument of
international subterfuge, sneaky diplomacy or their low IQ
alternative, warfare. British General Post Office (GPO) consumer
surveys in the 1840s, when the telegraph was still land-locked,
showed that a half of all users were dealing in stocks and shares, a
quarter involved sundry business matters, and another quarter were
personal and family matters. These surveys were deadly accurate:
the polling people simply read everyone's private telegraphs, which
was impossible with everyone's private letters.
The traditional letter had gone through its own high-tech
revolution with the introduction of postage stamps on 1st May, 1840.
There were clever people, too, who saw other commercial
opportunities in Britain's fervent embrace of the new technologies.
In the north of England, someone with a vested interest in
encouraging tourism to the Knaresborough district, probably an
innkeeper or restaurateur, updated the prophesies of Mother Ursula
Shipton, the 'witch of Yorkshire', to incorporate the latest
developments. Mother Shipton was born with 'an unfashionable
face' in a cave in 1488. She had foretold such routine events as the
Spanish Armada and the Great Fire of London, but, suddenly, a new
prophesy was unveiled:
Carriages without horses shall go
And accidents fill the world with woe
Around the world thought shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye
Iron in the water shall float
As easy as a wooden boat
Clever Mother Shipton! Her newly-discovered prophesy covered
such scientific miracles as steam trains, telegraphs and Isambard
Kingdom Brunel's grand iron ships, the Great Western, Great
Britain, and, of course, Great Eastern, which failed financially as a
luxury passenger liner, but was reborn as the majestic layer of the
Trans-Atlantic cable, finally, in 1866.
In the early-1850s, in the farthest-flung outposts of the
English-speaking world, people were anxious to speak to Mother. In
Melbourne, Australia, the people wanted to tell her that they had
found the Golden Mountain (and to find out if their pleas for
separate colonyhood from New South Wales had been granted); in
San Francisco, California, some former wayward children of
Victoria's wanted to complain about the terrorising behaviour of
some of her evil flock from Sydney, Australia. But they had no
telegraph and Mother's eyes were fixed firmly elsewhere. The
Scientific American magazine explained in its 19th May, 1855 issue
in which it referred slyly to the poetic fiasco of the Charge of the
Light Brigade the previous 25th October (which wasn't so bad
considering the Light Brigade only lost 127 men out of 20,000 war
dead).
The Scientific American said: 'If the British have displayed
great inferiority in military management in the present war with
Russia, it cannot be denied but that the national spirit for

Page 61 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

engineering enterprise has not failed to show itself in the most


favourable light. Thus in the Crimea, Uncle John has carried his
railroads with him, and the locomotive is used there to wheel up
shot, shell, and other implements of war. To think of a railroad being
built in a few weeks, by John Bull, in the possessions of the
Emperor of Russia, as an auxiliary of a modern campaign, is
something so strange and different from war, as heretofore
practised, that we cannot but give great credit to the spirit that
planned an executed the work.'
The magazine continued: 'In connection with this, the last
news from Europe brought the intelligence that an electric telegraph
line had been completed from Balaklava to London, and that Lord
Raglan sent to and received messages daily from England. From
the camp in the Crimea, to the War Office in London, the
Commander in Chief now reports directly the state of the siege
every few minutes. Two weeks ago, such information could not be
conveyed in as many days as it now takes seconds; and last year
not in as many weeks. A telegraph submarine cable 301 miles long
is laid on the bed of the Black Sea, stretching from the monastery of
St George, in the Crimea, to Kalerga, on the Bulgarian shore, from
which communication is had by land lines, and other submarine
lines, to England. This is an important triumph of modern
engineering enterprise and skill which deserves our admiration.
English telegraph engineers deserve great credit for the boldness
and enterprise they have exhibited in laying down so many ocean
lines. They have made the ocean a highway of thought; the
government speaks to its soldiers thousands of miles away, through
the waves of St George's Channel, those of the Mediterranean, and
the Black Sea.
'In a few years more, unless our telegraph engineers
move a little faster than they have done, we are afraid that John Bull
will take some of the starch out of their collars by building an ocean
telegraph which will unite our country with Europe. Mr (Taliaferro
Preston) Shaffner, when he was in Europe, it was reported,
obtained grants from the Emperor of Russia and the Kings of
Denmark and Sweden to run telegraphic lines through their
dominions, all of which grants, we apprehend, will be of no use
whatever unless something be done quickly to make use of them;
for assuredly Uncle John has the advantage of route from Ireland to
Newfoundland, and we rather think he will not neglect it. We are a
people famous for acting while others are talking. Look out,
American telegraphic engineers, that John Bull does not steal away
our good name by the construction of the first Atlantic ocean
telegraph line.'
Ah, what prophesy! And what bad luck for Colonel
Taliaferro Preston Shaffner (a colonel of the finger-lickin' Kentucky
variety), a smooth-talking promoter who'd made his pile in '51
running a telegraph line from Kentucky to Missouri, tacking the
wires to trees, thus saving money on poles. The Americans could
jolly well wait for their submarine telegraph connection until Britain
had finished her business in the Crimea, or India, or anywhere else
the natives were revolting.

Page 62 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:50 PM

13. Sydney crooks show Yanks how it's done

In San Francisco, the gun-totin' citizenry had been suffering


severely from a new communal disease called telegraph deprivation
since late-1850: their cause of anxiety was the arrival in the gold
boom town of certain unsavoury citizens from good ol' Sydney town,
their sister metropolis on the other side of the Pacific.
Their woes began when a storekeeper named Sam
Brannan appeared on the streets on 12th May, 1848, waving a
bottle full of yellow stuff and yelling, 'Gold, gold, from the American
River!' He'd received the precious metal in payment for goods from
his store. The rush was on to the foothills of the Sierras.
San Francisco was as far from the civilising influences of
the Old World as it was possible for any European settlement to
be ... apart from the British outposts in Australia and, more recently,
New Zealand. It was 4500 kilometres by land from New York, half of
it across territory dismissed by those who had encountered it,
variously, as the Badlands, or the Wild West. More comfortably, but
rarely, if you were the vomiting kind, it was up to three months from
New York by sea around the boiling waters of Cape Horn.
Significantly, it took the same time to get from Sydney, Australia,
over friendlier seas.
And blow-ins from Sydney were blamed for most of the ills
of San Francisco, a boom town of 100,000 people by 1850. The
San Francisco Herald explained: 'There are certain spots in our city,
infested by the most abandoned men and women, that have
acquired a reputation little better than Five Points of New York or St
Giles of London. The upper part of Pacific Street, after dark, is
crowded by thieves, gamblers, low women, drunken sailors, and
similar characters, who resort to the groggeries that line the street,
and spend the night in the most hideous orgies. Every grog shop is
provided with a fiddle, from which some half-drunken creature
tortures execrable sounds, called by way of compliment, music.
'Shortly after dark, the dancing commences, and is kept up
increasing to the sound of the fiddle, until broken up by a row, or by
the exhaustion of those engaged in it. These ruffian resorts are the
hot bed of drunkenness, and the scenes of unnumbered crimes.
Unsuspecting sailors and miners are entrapped by the dexterous
thieves and swindlers that are always on the lookout, into these
dens, where they are filled with liquor-drugged, if necessary, until
insensibility coming upon them, they fall easy victim to their
tempters. In this way, many robberies are committed, which are not
brought to light through shame on part of the victim. When the
habitues of this quarter have reason to believe a man has money,
they follow him for days, and employ every device to get him into
their clutches ...'
The 'habitues of this quarter' were commonly known as
'Sydney Ducks' or 'Sydney Coves'. Contemporary San Francisco
writers claim that the human scrum and riff-raff from the ports of the
seven seas poured into the settlement when news of the gold rush
was heard throughout the world.

Page 63 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

'There, in particular,' reports the excellent document, San


Francisco Genealogy, 'gathered the ruffianly larrikins from the
frontier towns of Australia, and escaped convicts and ticket-of-leave
men from the British penal settlements at Sydney, in New South
Wales, and on the island of Tasmania, then called Van Diemens
Land. This wave of undesirable immigration, which to all intents and
purposes was 100 per cent criminal, began to wash against the
shores of California about the middle of 1849, in direct and open
violation of an old Mexican statute which forbade entry into the
territory of person who had been convicted of crimes in other
countries.'
According to reports, every time a particularly heinous
crime was reported, the common saying around San Francisco was
that 'the Sydney Ducks are cackling on the pond'. These so-called
'Sydney Ducks' bore names such as Hell Haggerty, a bar owner and
ticket-of-leaver, and Dirty Tom McAlear, who frequented an
establishment called the Goat and Compass and, for a price, would
eat any refuse offered to him. He was arrested finally for making a
beast of himself and confessed that he'd been drunk for seven
years and last had a bath fifteen years ago in England just before
he was transported to Sydney (it can be seen why the well-
scrubbed innocents of the future Colony of Victoria wished to
separate from the Colony of New South Wales, and quickly, if you
don't mind).
The honest citizens of San Francisco were in desperate
need of the new-fangled telegraph to call for help to rid themselves
of this antipodean menace. But the magic wires did not come.
Eventually, the solid folk solved the problem by using a traditional
method as American as Mom's Apple Pie: lynching. Early in August,
1851, two leading Sydney Ducks, Samuel Whittaker and Robert
McKenzie were seized by the local Vigilance Committee and found
guilty of robbery, arson and burglary by a kangaroo court and
sentenced to death.
But on 21st August, Governor John MacDougal sent a
force of legal policeman to grab the two evildoers back and lodge
them in the City Jail. Three days later, the Vigilance Committee
seized them back, spirited them away in a carriage and terminated
them with ropes hanging from redwood beams poking from their
committee headquarters meeting room. Hearing the news, the rest
of the rascally Sydney Coves hastily decamped and San Francisco
lost its Cockney/Australian accent.
Such behaviour, however effective, ill-behoved a civilised
society, and San Francisco's city fathers constantly lobbied their
Eastern cousins for a more effective means of communication. They
eventually were linked by telegraph early in 1862, but not before
they were part of that brief but glorious chapter in American folklore,
the Pony Express. On 3rd April, 1860, the first Pony Express rider
left St Joseph, Missouri, the most westerly outpost of the telegraph,
to begin a series of stages over 2500 winding, mountainous
kilometres to Sacramento, California's capital.
An overnight river steamer took the mailbag to San
Francisco. The journey cut the elapsed time from coast to coast by

Page 64 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

horse and telegraph to ten days. The service lasted less than two
years, the riders covered a million kilometres (only one was killed by
Indians) until they were, in the local lingo, dry gulched by modern
technology. And an Australian came to leave his heart in San
Francisco: the retired NSW bushranger Frank Christie Gardiner
arrived in exile in 1875 to become publican of the Twilight Saloon, a
quiet drinking haunt for old gun-slingers in the even-tide of their
lives. Gollee!

14. 'Miss Florence Nightingale? Telegram!

But, Sydney Ducks notwithstanding, returning to the 1850s, Britain


was still very much ascendant everywhere in the 1850s, albeit the
minor hiccups on the Crimean peninsula and in India. The Crimean
War had proved to be the blood-soaked social event of the decade;
everyone had rushed around to Harrod's, in Brompton Road, to
purchase a globe showing the location of this dashed peninsula,
just a blob sticking awkwardly into the north side of the Black Sea
from the bottom of the Russian state of Ukraine.
The Turks had argued with their Russian neighbours and
gone to war; Britain and France, who were nervous about the
Russian fleet's Mediterranean intentions had decided to interfere on
the Turks' side. The leaders rode hither and thither beyond the rows
of their gaily-adorned troops in their pompous confusion and the
common men turned green and died of cholera and typhus.
Florence Nightingale, a mathematician by training, came to help
them, invented modern nursing practices, and applied statistics to
reckoning the soldiers' plight
Like most wars, it had its advantages in improving
mankind's use of technology, particularly in distant climes. The most
important (apart from nursing) was the telegraph. In 1855, the
Turkish government ran a submarine cable northwest 150 nautical
miles from Constantinople (Istanbul) to the ancient Bulgarian
western Black Sea city of Varna, now a trendy beach resort. Later
that year, Britain installed a cable 310 nautical miles from Varna to
Balaklava. The Ottoman Empire and the Crimean War were now
linked to the European telegraph grid.
The previous year, 1854, Queen Victoria's favourite
seaside residence, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight, came
online through a one nautical mile submarine cable hooking her to
the Empire. It was one of the most significant events on the Isle
since Queen Victoria went sea bathing for the first time in 1847. She
recorded the momentous happening in her diary: 'I thought it
delightful until I put my head under water, when I thought I should
be stifled.' Alas, there would be no such luck for the Empire,
particularly after she got her own private telegraph office.
The Queen's Own telegraph office had very regal
connections, indeed. After leaving Osborne House, the cable
snaked into the waters of the Solent at the northwest tip of the Isle.
It re-emerged on an offshoot of gravelly mainland at Hurst Castle, a
fortress built by Henry VIII in 1544 to guard Southampton and
Portsmouth against invasion by the dreaded Spaniards, who were

Page 65 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

thought to be jolly annoyed after he nationalised the Catholic


Church. From Hurst Castle, it made its way to the town of
Keyhaven, thus joining the British grid.
This regal communications service coincided with two
significant happenings in the British psyche: (a) the Charge of the
Light Brigade on the Crimea on 25th October, 1854, and (b) the
arrival to take up residency on the Isle of Wight of Alfred Tennyson,
Queen Victoria's pet poet and chief spin doctor for the infamous
Charge ...
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward.
All in the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, the Tory opportunist
Benjamin Disraeli, had stood in the House of Commons and
declared the Charge to be: 'A feat of chivalry, fiery with consummate
courage, and bright with flashing courage.' Oh, if only, if only. But
his words cleverly evoked the spirit of Victoria's England. Did the
Queen gaze at her new telegraphic device and speculate privately
on its propaganda possibilities in the new Age of Hidden
Persuasion? She certainly employed it skilfully thirty years later
when she contributed largely to the defeat of the liberal Prime
Minister William Gladstone in the heroic Affair of Gordon of
Khartoum.
The Queen, long-widowed, had been sending telegraph
upon telegraph in the latter part of 1884 to Gladstone imploring him
to send an expedition to save the religious maniac and suspected
child molester, General Charles Gordon, from the simply ghastly
legions of the Mahdi besieging Khartoum (where the heathen
blighters had cut the sole telegraph lines ... heaven knows what
would have been said if the Queen had managed to contact
Gordon, or even the Mahdi, direct). Eventually, Gladstone sent his
soldiers down the Nile. But it was too late. Gordon died a glamorous
colonial death at the hands of the Mahdi's men.
Outraged, the Queen sent the following telegraph to
Gladstone: 'This news from Khartoum is frightful and to think that all
this might have been prevented and many precious lives saved by
earlier action is too frightful.' The message was sent out uncoded,
with deliberation and malice, and was read by a dozen or more
telegraph employees. It found its way into the patriotic drum-
bangers of the Tory-leaning popular press. Gladstone, the reformist
Prime Minister and arch enemy of the Queen, beneath whose
constitutional widow's weeds beat the heart of a Mediaeval
Absolutist, was roundly defeated at the next election. The telegraph
had lost its innocence, raped by 19th century Spin Doctors.
But let's go back to the wharves at the Thames, in
London, on 29th August, 1855, Someone who hadn't lost her
innocence, according to her family's anecdote, was Alice. She was
just nineteen and about to sail any moment for South Australia on
the sturdy barque, Irene, with her new husband, Charles Todd, and
a family maid, Eliza, who had been kindly donated by her mother.
Alice and Charles had married at the Baptist Chapel in St Andrews

Page 66 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Street, Cambridge, the previous 5th April, but Alice still addressed
him as 'Mr Todd'. The more familiar 'Oh, Charlie!' entered her
lexicon, according to the same intimate family anecdote, during a
close encounter in a storm in the Bay of Biscay some days after
they sailed. That's a pleasant tale, of course, but the birth of their
first child, Charlotte Elizabeth in Adelaide on 12th March, 1856,
indicates that they were exchanging more than pleasantries
between their wedding and the Irene's departure from England

15. Alice in a raw and golden southern landscape


The tall, chaste and beautiful Alice very kindly married the short,
awfully plain and older Mr Todd, it is said, so he wouldn't be without
the comfort of a wife in the Great South Land; but when they arrived
in Adelaide, the newlyweds found the dusty raw town awash with
single women.
The immigration administrators of South Australia had
miscalculated their need for female domestics: they imported 4050
lasses in 1855 alone and were at a loss, to put it bluntly, where to
store them. Charles couldn't help; they weren't really his type; he
already had a female helpmate of solid Protestant persuasion.
Although the manifests of the unwanted women said they were
loaded and shipped from Liverpool, most came indirectly from west
across the sea: Ireland, for heaven's sake! Why on earth cart
thousands of destitute Roman Catholic girls and women to a
province meant to be a paradise for the yeoman Protestant, sturdy
English folk or stout German Lutherans? A place where the
oompah, oompah of German bands would mingle meaningfully in
the perfumed eucalyptus glades with the soulful pealing of Anglican
church bells?
The Australia of 1855 which greeted Charles and Alice on
the late spring day, 5th November, was undergoing the most
spectacular changes in its brief 67 years of European occupation;
they were transformations that would not be equalled until the
magic years of immigration post-Second World War a century later.
Alice was bothered by the heat and dust and flies, but captivated by
the South Australian landscape which she likened, flatteringly, to the
Fens of her native Cambridgeshire. She and her suffering maid,
Eliza, were pleased there was no sign of the trembling jungle they
had feared and which they had read about in the early African
accounts of the Scottish missionary doctor, David Livingstone (who
had just discovered Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi, which had far
greater scenic encounters than anything Adelaide had to offer).
Charles would have seen the landscape, benign on the
coast but ever more hostile to the European intruder towards the
interior, as a place worthy of scientific conquest. It was a huge
island continent, nearly eight million square kilometres in area and
occupying almost six per cent of the world's land mass. The
important distances to Charles would have been Adelaide southeast
to Melbourne: 650 kilometres; Adelaide west to Perth: 2800km;
Adelaide east to Sydney, 1200km; and Adelaide to the northernmost
coast (the present site of Darwin): 3000km; the last three were not

Page 67 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

recommended for the casual backpacker in 1855. By the end of the


decade, Australia's white population would be nearly a million
people, most gathered in the southeast corner; the aborigines,
assumed by guesstimate to number some 300,000 at the time of
the arrival of the First Fleet were considered to be a vanishing
species and did not count. Charles soon had himself kitted out (and
photographed) in the full outback bushman's regalia: jaunty broad-
brimmed hat with a fetching veil that could be lowered against dust
storms or plagues of flies or mosquitoes, a jacket with
accompanying dashing cravat and knee-length cavalry boots; Alice,
clever woman, never ventured more than forty kilometres inland in
the next forty years!
In the 1850s, South Australia's eastern neighbour,
Victoria, was the glittering triumph of Britain's Australian colonies.
The colony, smallest on the mainland, had been granted Separation
from New South Wales in 1850, followed by sensational gold
discoveries in 1851. The sleepy Port Phillip District, as it was first
known, home to 97,000 people and six million sheep, found itself
propelled on to the world stage; gold discoveries in New South
Wales were meagre by comparison. In ten years, Victoria's
population climbed to 540,000, or 180,000 more than New South
Wales and 46 per cent of the Australian total; gold production was
25 million ounces, worth £100 million and a third of the world's
output for the decade.
In South Australia, the sudden emergence of Queen
Victoria's latest jewel was viewed with justifiable alarm. More than
6000 young men joined the gold rush in 1851; another 16,000 went
in 1852, almost wiping out the colony's immigration gain of 20,000
from Europe. The Adelaide economy teetered. Then Alexander
Tolmer, the handsome, erratic cavalry officer who had recently been
appointed South Australia's police commissioner, offered an heroic
solution: he would ride across the arid land to the booming new gold
towns of Ballarat and Bendigo and bring the South Australian
miners' gold home to Adelaide!
South Australia's governing citizens were thrilled with the
audacious plan and cheered Tolmer and his men when they rode
out of Adelaide on 10th February, 1852. Tolmer had been thrice
wounded fighting as a mercenary lancer in the cause of Donna
Maria in Portugal in 1826. Surely, the scheme would succeed!
And it did. Tolmer brought home £20,000 worth of gold at
the end of a month and £2 million worth by the time the gold escort
was discontinued in December, 1853. Tolmer's eighteen escorts
were not without their romantic moments. His main concerns were
bushrangers, ex-Vandemonian lags lurking on the scorching plains
of the Wimmera, between the unruly goldfields and law-abiding,
God-fearing South Australia.
These evildoers had made their headquarters at a shanty
called the Four Posts Inn. According to Tolmer's informants, they
'swaggered around, cursing abominably, brandishing their guns,
knives and swords and bragging how they would snatch the next
load of gold from Tolmer and his men'. Tolmer decided to take these
bullies by their horns. One day, the assembled bushrangers were

Page 68 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

astonished to see the gold escort rumble up to the door of the inn.
Tolmer dismounted, marched into the bar and said: 'Well, lads.
When are you going to shoot us?' The bushrangers hurriedly
decamped and peace came to the wide brown land. So the legend
of Alexander Tolmer goes.
But there was a far greater threat from Victoria to South
Australia's interests than a handful of ex-Vandemonian lags (who
might have been startled wheat farmers enjoying a quiet drink). This
was the Victorians' superior grasp of the new technology in
communications. The gold rushes had drawn all manner of
enlightened people, not just gold-seekers, from all corners of the
globe to Victoria and its metropolis. They came from continental
Europe, leftovers from the revolutionary turmoil of 1848, or those
looking for healthier, drier climes, such as the botanist Ferdinand
von Mueller, who established Melbourne's renowned Botanic
Gardens, or Georg Neumayer, who founded an observatory in 1857
and taught the young William John Wills the arts of astronomy;
there were entrepreneurial folk from North America, Freeman Cobb,
with his American-style lightweight stage coaches and Francis
Boardman Clapp, who eventually established the city's famed cable
tram system (and whose son, Harold, unwittingly gave the
expression 'clapped out' to the national lexicon when he supervised
a future generation of worn-out rattlers). And there was Samuel
Walker McGowan, aged just twenty-four when he landed in
Melbourne from the Glance early in 1853.
McGowan was born in Londonderry, Ireland, and migrated
to Kingston, Canada, on the shores of Lake Ontario, with his
parents as a child. He studied law at university in Toronto until his
father's early death in 1847 liberated him from paternal ambition; he
turned to telegraphy, his great love, and escaped to New York City
in his teens to study under that renowned inventor, Professor
Samuel Morse. He met Ezra Cornell, a creator of telegraph
insulators and managed the New York-Buffalo telegraph line ... then
word of the Victorian gold discoveries reached him, those days, of
course, by sea and surface mail. He returned to Canada, bade his
widowed mother, Eliza, and his childhood sweetheart, Annie
Benton, farewell and boarded ship for the New Gold Mountain (to
ease the concerns of the concerned sentimentalist, he did marry
Annie at St James Old Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne, on 30th
June, 1857, they had four children and lived in St Kilda, a genteel
bayside suburb of Melbourne).
The entrepreneurial Mr McGowan landed in Melbourne
with several Morse instruments and accompanied by a 'first rate
electrician'. His intention was to create a free enterprise telegraph
monopoly to link the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide triangle,
much like those favoured in the United States where a bevy of
would-be capitalists touted for shareholders. The telegraph could be
a splendid little earner, too; the briefest desperate message ('Send
money') could cost the equivalent of next week's wages in the early
days of international telegraph. But McGowan hadn't reckoned on
the benevolent socialist attitudes of Australia's British-directed
colonial governments.

Page 69 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

The Victorian Government acted quickly after McGowan


demonstrated his Morse apparatus in June, 1853. The Melbourne
daily, the Argus, had commented ... 'To us, old Colonists who have
left Britain long ago, there is something very delightful in this, the
most perfect invention of modern times ... we really begin to wonder
what will be left for the next generation upon which to expend the
restless enterprise of the human mind ... let us set about the electric
telegraph at once.' Quickly, the government announced an
experimental line twelve kilometres from Melbourne to the port
suburb of Williamstown. As part of a clever deal, McGowan was
awarded the contract. And on 3rd March, 1854, the first telegraph
line in the southern hemisphere was completed. The Argus reported
on 11 March:
'It is a source of great gratification to us and we are sure it
will be to our readers that we are able to announce that this useful
invention will be open for the use of the press and the public on
Monday next. The opening of the line, or construction of new ones
to the Heads, Geelong, Adelaide and Sydney, will be most important
to all persons, but especially those engaged in commerce; and of
the whole of them none will be ordinarily so important to Melbourne
as the continuation of the line to Geelong and the Heads. Whenever
that is done, we shall be able to issue a bulletin every hour in the
day announcing the vessels which are seen coming or going from
the Heads, with any other information that may be important.'
McGowan was the hero of the hour! He was appointed Victoria's
first Inspector of Telegraphs, thus becoming an obedient servant of
the Queen for the rest of his life and well-cleansed of his Yankee
private enterprise urgings.
In Adelaide, on 5th November, 1855, that other dutiful
servant of the Queen, Charles Todd, took Alice from the wharf into
town perched on a bullock wagon laden with their possessions,
including her cottage piano and her complaining maid, known
throughout the colony thereafter as 'Poor Eliza'. His heart might
have swelled with British pride as they lurched down the dock past
large box cases whose markings indicated they had just been
unloaded from a ship from Liverpool.
They contained wheels made in England for the first three
steam locomotives in South Australia. They had been ordered by
the South Australian Railways' absentee consulting engineer, none
other than Kingdom Isambard Brunel and built at the famous
Manchester works of William Fairbairn, the Scottish engineering
genius without whom (dare we say it?) many of Brunel's creations
would still be on the drawing board.
Charles may have felt that he, too, was part of this
astonishing Australian communications revolution. He might have
explained to Alice that some of those wheels would be fitted to the
locomotive, Adelaide, which made the first run on the Adelaide-Port
Adelaide line on 19th April, 1856. Alice might have replied, thank
goodness, a railway will be much smoother than this jolting wagon.
Alice was roundly pregnant. They reached the dusty track beyond
the port and Charles might, maliciously, have pointed out to Poor
Eliza the spot where Martin Burns, skipper of the coastal brig,

Page 70 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Giraffe, walking through the bush to Adelaide in March, 1838, was


speared by blacks. That would have silenced her. Or perhaps not.
There were times when even the kind-hearted Charles must have
thought that his mother-in-law, Charlotte Bell, was down-sizing her
staff when she gifted Poor Eliza among their wedding presents.
But Charles would have been even more annoyed at the
sight of pirate telegraph wire, strung sneakily behind dwellings,
across fowl yards, circumventing pig sties, surreptitiously making its
way from the town of Adelaide to the port. This private telegraph
was the cheeky creation of a young Adelaide architect, James
Macgeorge. The Picturesque Atlas of 1886 recalled the private
telegraph:
' ... Mr Todd arrived with telegraphic appliances, and
began the energetic course he has since followed. The first work he
superintended was from Adelaide to the port, and it recalled, with
some amusement, that the revenue therefrom was for the first day
five shillings; for the second, two shillings and six pence; for the
third, one shilling and nine pence; and for the fourth, one shilling
and three pence. A rival line, erected by Mr James Macgeorge, had
been opened a week before, and took most of the business, but the
government purchased it for £80, and pulled it down.' In fact,
Charles' telegraph carried nearly 15,000 messages in its first year
and earned £366 (which easily would have covered the colony's
patriotic 1856 testimonial gift to Florence Nightingale of £200!)
Charles had the intervention of the new Governor, Sir
Richard MacDonnell, an aristocratic lawyer with a floppy moustache
and splendid side burns, a member of the Irish academic upper
classes, who had arrived in South Australia early in 1855. Sir
Richard was happy to exert his natural authoritarian streak to crush
Macgeorge's entrepreneurial ambitions.
Later, this autocratic manner brought Sir Richard into
conflict with other leading South Australians, who had to remind him
that he had not been appointed the dictator of a convict colony, like
some they could name not too far away. Sir Richard took the hint
and the South Australians responded, asking the explorer John
McDouall Stuart to name a suitable feature after him. Stuart chose
the MacDonnell Ranges, in Central Australia, because no white
man had yet seen Ayers Rock! They called Blanchetown, a much
more hospitable nook on the River Murray, after his wife.
Charles and the fortyish MacDonnell became fast friends,
and the Todds were occasional guests at Government House. The
relationship assisted Charles mightily; MacDonnell had a taste for
exploration and in 1859 led a round trip of 3000km to examine the
clay pans and salt lakes in the colony's north. He was an ebullient,
hospitable man who had an opinion on everything: he publicly
disparaged the exploits of the explorers of the 1840s, Charles Sturt
and Edward John Eyre, but praised Stuart.
Charles and Stuart nodded in apparent agreement, but
kept their own counsel; Stuart was a friend and admirer of Sturt,
and Charles had written to him at home in England before the Irene
sailed. Neither man wished to jeopardise his own project. Stuart
further immortalised the Governor in his journal entry on 24th July,

Page 71 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

1862, when he finally reached the ocean on the continent's northern


coast: 'I dipped my face and washed my hands and feet in the sea,
as I had promised the late (former) Governor, Sir Richard
MacDonnell, I would do if I reached it.'
The Todds (and Poor Eliza) moved into a comfortable two-
storey house in North Adelaide, after several weeks of immigrants'
boarding house accommodation, while they awaited completion of
the stone Observatory/residence in a choice high location in West
Terrace with an unimpeded view of the coast from Glenelg to Port
Adelaide. It was to be Todd's residence, and that of his successors
until it was demolished in the late-1940s and replaced by Adelaide
High School.
Charles had already begun meteorological observations of
Adelaide, Australia's driest capital, at his temporary North Adelaide
residence and sometimes, with the encouragement of his new
friend, Sir Richard MacDonnell, in the grounds of Government
House at the corner of North Terrace and King William Road.
Sometimes, we fancy, Lady Blanche would interrupt his
deliberations to join him for a cup of tea and a bun. He was a tea
connoisseur, was Charles, with a reputation for ghastly puns. His
famous, 'I'd be odd without my T', would have been tested on Lady
MacDonnell; she might have twirled her parasol indulgently and
changed the subject politely with the remark she was glad the
stately Government House had replaced the first one, a timber slab
and wattle and daub hut destroyed, fortuitously, by fire in 1841.
Charles, the future Postmaster General, could have tried her
patience with one of his favourites: 'The settlement of Orroroo
doesn't need a post office because it doesn't have enough letters.'
And so they would while away the afternoon pleasantly enough.
Lady MacDonnell was the daughter of the Reverend Francis
Skurray, of Wiltshire, a leisured minor composer of dreary published
sonnets, so she was a self-trained patient listener.
The lawns of Government House were not at their best in
1855; in 1854, Adelaide and surrounds received the lowest rainfall,
330mm (15 inches), since the arrival of the first settlers in the spring
of 1836 (Adelaide's average over nearly 170 years is 558mm). That
pioneering spring had become a stinking hot summer: at Christmas,
1836, the temperature in the shade for four successive days
exceeded 100F (40C). Only Englishmen (there were, as yet, no
mad dogs) would venture outside on the colony's Proclamation Day,
28th December. In the eighteen years that followed, the pioneer
settlers thought they had become accustomed to the vagaries of the
weather.
Early in the 1840s, the plains beyond Adelaide were
opened to wheat farmers; soon, South Australia had become the
continent's granary and, by the time of the Victorian gold rushes in
1851, Australia had ample wheat to feed the booming population.
Everyone grew plump with optimism; South Australia's wheat
farmers decided the time was ripe to employ domestic help:
maidservants to draw the homestead's water from the wells, scrub
their dusty clothes clean, beat the carpets, milk the house cows and
serve apple pie with cream as the golden orb of the sun settled in

Page 72 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

the west. In Adelaide, civil servants wrote Home ordering female


domestic servants by the gross. And they were sent out by the
shipload. But no one had anticipated the drought of 1854.
Suddenly, the wheat farmers faced ruin; the harvest was
scant; the depression spread to the merchants in town. The last
thing anyone needed was a maidservant. But the spinsters kept
arriving until they finally numbered more than 4000. Under the
terms of their assisted passages, they were allowed to remain on
board ship fourteen days while they waited to be offered their
promised jobs and accommodation. Alas, they waited in vain. The
Government Immigration Agent, Dr Handasyde Duncan witnessed
their despair ... 'the deck of an immigrant ship is a public place
where all persons in search of servants have full liberty of access,
and at this time the supervision of single women is absolutely
impossible,' he reported. Adelaide's whorehouse procurers took the
place of honest employers. Alice, whose future home was to be in
West Terrace, just a stone's throw from the stews, was scandalised.
Adelaide, known as the City of Churches in later years,
was also the Borough of Bordellos just six years after its founding.
In the Register on 15th April, 1843, a resident complained: 'Can you
inform me how long the neighbourhood of Waymouth Street and
Light Square are to be infested with brothels, and when the
inhabitants are to be rid of the music, dancing, revelry and the mob
of drunken blacklegs who idle about there all day and live on
plunder and prostitution at night?' Six years later, the situation was
no better, reported the SA Gazette and Mining Journal on 2nd
August, 1849: 'Thanks to the Emigration Commissioners sending us
the scum of the English and Irish workhouses ... these unfortunate
and degraded beings parade the City in groups by day and night
using the most disgusting language ... If convictions were made
here, the nymphs of the pavement would have a wholesome dread
of 'Ashton's Hotel', and rather than enjoy free quarters at that
gentleman's establishment they would learn to observe a proper
respect towards the public.'
Adelaide Gaol was dubbed 'Ashton's Hotel' after its first
governor, William Ashton, because debtors were housed there with
free board and lodging. In fact, Colonel William Light, Adelaide's
designer, had not even made provision for a gaol in his colony of
sturdy British yeomen: serious offenders were shipped off to Van
Diemens Land for a taste of the lash. But then, Light would not have
anticipated that the Square bearing his name would become centre
of the Red Light District!
All this came as a dreadful surprise to Charles and Alice,
who even had their doubts about the probity of public vertical
dancing. Their situation had been anticipated by a writer in the
Register on 20th July, 1854, more than a year before they arrived:
'The residents of West Terrace and the adjacent parts have long
been compelled to take a circuitous route on their way to and from
various places of public worship in order to avoid the profane
offensive language and conduct of Light Square.' The Todds would
have found themselves among those profanity-dodging
worshippers. Charles and Alice were deeply religious

Page 73 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Congregationalists whose emigrant close co-religionists were the


Pilgrims who sailed from England on the Mayflower in 1620 to found
the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England and who would
brook no evil. In Adelaide, Charles and Alice learned to adopt an
easy Australian-style compromise.
When they landed in South Australia, they were greeted
by the Congregational minister, Thomas Quinton Stow, who had
been sent out by the church's overseas arm, the Colonial
Missionary Society, on the Hartley in October, 1837, with his wife
and four young sons. By November, 1855, the strains of frontier
pioneering life had weakened him. He probably explained to
Charles his physical inability to assist personally in the critical cause
of the Catholic Irish spinsters.
Stow was influential in the colony in maintaining
harmonious relations between the religions, but he was pleased to
meet the energetic and younger man whom he knew would lend
strong lay support. Indeed, as well as all the other things he did,
Charles soon became a founder of the Brougham Place
Congregational Church, in North Adelaide. This meant that Charles,
Alice, little Charlotte Elizabeth (and, of course, Poor Eliza) could
take a stately carriage ride around the mannered inner suburbs of
Adelaide to their new church, and avoid the tasty tarts of Light
Square who flaunted themselves even on the Sabbath between
West Terrace and Stow's own Congregational Church in the town
centre in Freeman Street (now part of Gawler Place). Dashed good
fortune to find a way around the unsavoury quarter and it spared a
young wife's blushes!
The new Governor, Sir Richard MacDonnell, found himself
in the midst of the crisis of the Irish Catholic immigrant spinsters
when his ship sailed into the colony of 100,000 white souls on 8th
June, 1855. He had a Dubliner's patrician concern for the plight of
his countrywomen, despite his lofty views about the role of the
working classes generally. He responded quickly to pleas to
intervene by the local Immigration Agent, Dr Duncan, and the
Colonial Surgeon, Dr William Gosse (the father of Ayers Rock's
European discoverer in 1873, William Christie Gosse).
Adelaide' embarrassing female over-supply included 300
women aboard the immigrant ship, Nashwauk, which ran aground
90 days out of Liverpool and was wrecked off the beach at Moana,
35km south of Adelaide on 13th May, 1855. Some of the
bewildered survivors were still straggling into Adelaide when the
Governor arrived a month later.
The girls had 'behaved in a most discreditable manner'
after their disaster, the upright press reported, and their moral status
was a matter of great concern. They, above all, were most
vulnerable to the lurking agents of the knocking shops of Light
Square. It is not known how many succumbed to the temptations of
the 'pestiferous dens' and 'cess-pools' where 'no merciful master
would kennel his hounds' and where 'these frail sisters of sin and
sorrow' are used by 'emissaries from these hotbeds of vice' as a
means 'to rob the unwary bushmen who are enticed to the dens of
wickedness in the vicinity of Light Square', as the Register

Page 74 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

explained, colourfully.
But many of the ladies of the Nashwauk (no lives were
lost) and other immigrant spinsters found sunnier futures in South
Australia, particularly in the boundless horizons of the Irish Catholic
communities in the wheat and wine-growing district around Clare,
100km north of Adelaide, where Charles Todd would establish one
of his most important telegraph and weather stations. Most of the
female immigrants were taken by bullock dray along the track
leading from the port into town to the Female Immigration Depot in
North Terrace. Katherine Hennessy, aged twenty, was one of these
girls, squeezed on the dray with her mattress, blanket, cup, plate
and cutlery. She might have been crammed into a ward with ninety
others; according to the Adelaide Times 'many was the girl who
burst into a flood of tears' when she saw the quarters; they were
awfully reminiscent of the Female Factories of convict NSW earlier
in the century; men came to the Female Factory to choose fine
specimens to be their assigned servants/slaves (with certain legal
limitations). In Adelaide, the girls were free - but no one came to
choose them as servants in the depressed year of 1855.
The Colonial Surgeon, Dr Gosse, came to the Depot daily,
occasionally accompanied by the Governor. Gosse treated burns
from the sun, lamps or stoves. There were cases of consumption,
diarrhoea. He was on constant watch for typhoid. There was a
'disorder of the nervous system' which he attributed to 'social
disorientation consequent on immigration'.
Governor MacDonnell eventually objected to the expense
of maintaining the women ... so Matron Margaret Keenan decided to
go bush with her charges, reviving a tradition begun by the social
reformer, Caroline Chisholm, in NSW in the early 1840s. Mrs
Chisholm rescued free, single immigrants from the clutches of
Sydney's vice vendors, loaded them on the drays and took them to
the back blocks where she contracted them as servants at £9/16 a
year, plus rations.
Alice and Charles might have watched from an upstairs
window of their temporary residence as Matron Keenan's drays
lurched through North Adelaide to the open spaces beyond. The
Adelaide they were leaving, the future home for Alice and Charles
for the rest of their lives, was not all dens of vice and disease. It had
fine Supreme Court House; a Treasury Building; the Botanic
Gardens on North Terrace whose Versailles-inspired design was
being supervised by the botanist, George Francis, who had
squeezed the first olives in South Australia four years earlier; a
saddlery called J.A. Holden and Company, forerunner of General
Motors Holden; a Post Office which would one day be the fiefdom
of Charles Todd; and the splendid Royal Victoria Theatre, owned by
the Mayor, John Lazar, who was accused by the silvertail wowser
set of putting on 'racy entertainment'. Alice would never go there.
On Hindley and Rundle streets, there were busy shops. A favourite
of Alice and Poor Eliza's was Sparks which had shawls, ribbons and
laces from Home so far away ... so very far away ...
In the spring, Matron Keenan and her girls, including
Katherine Hennessy, made for the northern servants' depot at

Page 75 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Clare, named after his home county in Ireland by the pioneer settler,
Edward Gleeson, in 1840. Governor MacDonnell had ordered the
establishment of these depots at Gawler, Robe, Willunga,
Encounter Bay and Mount Barker as well as Clare, and 450 of the
girls found employment (and husbands) through them. In Clare,
Katherine Hennessy was the quickest bride of them all; in the
nearby hamlet of Sevenhill, named by the pioneering priests after
the Seven Hills in Rome, she married a farmer, Charles Crew, who
had recently returned from the Victorian gold diggings where he'd
made his pile. Young Katherine, like Alice (as it subsequently
proved) made an excellent career move when she left the Old
World in 1855!
Charles Todd was very astute and observed the new
colony's religious diversity and maturity that would inform his
judgement for the rest of his life. There was soon an example of the
damage caused by an autocratic religious bigot. Charles was a
detached observer of the affair. It involved the Governor, Sir Richard
MacDonnell, the Anglican Bishop of Adelaide, Augustus Short, and
the visiting Congregationalist theologian, Rev. Thomas Binney
(known 'the Archbishop of Nonconformity'), who was based in
England. Binney visited the Australian colonies in 1857-59, and
when he arrived in Adelaide, Sir Richard MacDonnell saw the
opportunity to celebrate the colony's religious tolerance. He asked
Short to invite Binney to preach in an Anglican church.
Short refused. He was aged in his early fifties, a privileged
product of minor county aristocracy, raised in a manor house near
Exeter, in Devon, and educated at Westminster School and Christ
Church, Oxford. The Governor was both bewildered and miffed;
Binney maintained friendly relations in Britain with many dignitaries
of the Established Church. MacDonnell had a furious exchange of
letters with Short, but the bishop was unmoved. The liberal-minded
citizens of Adelaide regarded Short's actions, one historian wrote,
'as repugnant to the foundation principles of the colony'. The
community was divided. Charles Todd relied on Alice to keep him
abreast of developments in this unwelcome, weary Old World
intrusion into the eagerness of the New.
He was very busy. So was Alice: their second child,
Charles Edward was born on 7th April, 1858, their third, Hedley
Lawrence on 27th June, 1860. Two years apart each time, as far as
practicable; he was a sticker for punctuality, was Charles, although
Alice must have helped. Meanwhile, soon after arriving, he
established the government telegraph from Adelaide to the port to
accompany the first steam train service; he then set about
supervising a 40km line northwest to Gawler, South Australia's
second town, laid out in 1839 on Colonel William Light's plans.
Charles, a former keeper of the Queen's Time Balls in Greenwich,
would not have been amused when, on a visit in 1866, he saw that
the manufacturer had made an error on the eastern face of the new
post office clock: the letters IV should have read VI. Can no one be
trusted! Fuming, he stormed off, but the local staff just shrugged
their shoulders ... the error is still visible today! The explorer, John
McDouall Stuart, dispatched in December, 1861, by the South

Page 76 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Australian Government to find a path 3000 kilometres north through


the wilderness for the Overland Telegraph, stayed one of his last
nights in civilisation in the town's Bushman's Inn.
Early in 1857, Charles had a meeting with Samuel
McGowan, wunderkind general-superintendent of Victoria's electric
telegraph, who was anxious to link all the Australian colonies,
preferably the day after tomorrow, but certainly before he turned
thirty. He found New South Wales infuriatingly slow, at first, to grasp
the breathtaking implications of the new technology. Then someone
in Sydney had the bright idea of poaching Charles Todd's assistant
in Adelaide, Edward Cracknell; the young Cracknell, who was
McGowan's age, had come from England with Todd on the Irene, so
he was familiar with the latest thinking. In turn, Cracknell recruited
his brother, William, from England to oversee the infant Queensland
telegraph. Charles, who was in his early-thirties, found himself the
Old Man of a dynamic little intercolonial clique. Eventually,
intercolonial jealousies about the route of the Overland Telegraph
line would cause a gentlemanly falling out. And Charles, as history
shows, would be the big winner.
But on that autumn day in 1857, Charles and Samuel
shook hands on an arrangement to link Melbourne and Adelaide by
telegraph; work on the line began in April and it opened in July,
1858. By then, the New South Welshmen understood the
fundamentals of dot-dash and had joined to form a southeastern
Australian triangle. McGowan was feeling exceedingly confident. He
had, after all, linked Ballarat to Melbourne by telegraph in 1856,
cleverly timing the first message to arrive in the goldfields city on
3rd December, the second anniversary of the bloody Eureka
rebellion, costing the lives of 30 miners and five British soldiers. A
passing, sympathetic reference to the rebels in the first message
went some way to assuage the simmering feelings of resentment in
the city. So McGowan took ship to Hobart late in 1858 to discuss
with the government the possibility of joining the island of Tasmania,
recently a penal colony with the grim name of Van Diemens Land,
to the rest of Australia. The Tasmanians were delighted, particularly
since the gold-bloated Victorians were paying.
This time, the cocky McGowan's luck ran out. The cable
was to run from Cape Otway, the Australian mainland's second
most southerly point, to King Island, then to Three Hummock Island,
and finally to Stanley Head, a distance of 140 nautical miles. It
would be only second in length to the Black Sea cable, laid during
the recent Crimean War. But McGowan was not aware that nautical
activities in Bass Strait are often cursed. Mariners called the 130km
of water between Cape Otway and King Island the 'Eye of the
Needle' and they did not always thread it. Before the lighthouse on
Cape Otway was built in 1848, there were two shipwrecks, in
particular, etched into the Victorian-Tasmanian mind. In 1835, the
convict ship, Neva, bound for Sydney with 150 Irish women and
their 55 children, foundered on a reef off the northern tip of King
Island. Twenty survived.
Ten years later, the big sailing vessel, Cataraqui, carrying
362 free immigrants from the English Midlands, two doctors and a

Page 77 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

crew of 46, struck a reef on the west side of King Island. Nine
people survived. People who knew these things said McGowan was
tempting fate by running a cable through this stormy graveyard. And
they were right. The line was properly insulated with gutta-percha
but it worked only intermittently for three years until it was
abandoned. It was not until the 1870s that McGowan tried again.
Charles Todd had another maritime tragedy on his mind in
the winter of 1859. In the early hours of 6th August, the coastal
steamship, Admella, hit rocks off Cape Northumberland near the
Victoria-South Australia border, 60km northwest of the grimly-
named Ship Wreck Coast. She carried 84 passengers, a crew of 27
and a cargo consisting mainly of ninety tonnes of copper and flour
for the swelling population of Melbourne. She was an Adelaide
favourite: her normal run linked Adelaide, Melbourne and the
northern Tasmanian port of Launceston (hence her name: Ad-Mel-
La). In those horrifying pre-dawn minutes, Admella broke in three;
her funnel crashed down on to the deck and her falling rigging
swept passengers and crew into a turbulent sea, never to be seen
again. On board were several prized racehorses being taken to
Melbourne for the spring racing season, and they were carried away
with their handlers. Distress rockets were fired to alert the Cape
Northumberland lighthouse (about 20 kilometres), but these were
wet and failed to ignite.
Dawn revealed a deserted coastline only three kilometres
north! Most passengers and crew had survived the night and clung
to the remains of Admella. Three brave crew members volunteered
to swim for help, but all were lost. The day passed, ships went by in
the distance. Next day, they built a raft and fifteen men made the
beach, but three men and two children (there were fifteen aboard)
were lost; five of the men, valuing their persons rather highly,
offered £100 each for a place on the raft. The remaining three parts
of the Admella began to break up in the relentless pounding of the
surf. They built another raft from bits and pieces. A meat chopper
was their only tool. Several seamen made shore and set off through
the dunes and coastal swamps for the Cape Northumberland
lighthouse.
They reached it thirty hours after the ship foundered. The
shocked head keeper, Captain Ben Germein, set out on horseback
for the nearest telegraph station at Mount Gambier, twenty-five
kilometres north, to raise help from lifeboat crews from as far away
as Portland, in Victoria. But Germein was thrown from his horse and
concussed; a local squatter, Peter Black, completed his desperate
dash. The lifeboats came and struggled heroically in the boiling sea.
The final count was twenty-four survivors; eighty-seven, including
nineteen women and fifteen children, had perished. But how many
might they have saved if summoned earlier?
Charles was called to a meeting with the Governor, Sir
Richard MacDonnell (who had recently bestowed his name on the
port nearest the tragedy) and other colonial bigwigs. They were
taking the loss of the Admella personally, as were most of the
people of the colony and neighbouring Victoria; one of the dead was
George Fisher, son James Hurtle Fisher (soon to be knighted), one

Page 78 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

of the colony's revered founding fathers of '36. George and his


brother, Hurtle, were accompanying three of their racehorses on the
Admella. How long, these men of influence, asked Charles, would it
take to install a telegraph to Cape Northumberland, the colony's
most southerly tip, so such a disaster might be averted in the
future? Not long at all, Charles replied. Cape Northumberland went
online. And that was a jolly good thing, too, because Mount
Gambier telegraph station, the nearest to the Cape, was completely
flattened on 5th October, 1897, by an earthquake which also injured
fifty people.

16. Charles, the expert Weather Man

It was all about the climate and other unstoppable forces of nature,
Charles might have said to himself, as he set out to bring some
order to Australia's weather reporting and forecasting in the second
half on the 1850s. He began publishing his weather reports in the
Advertiser in December, 1858, following the example of the
Melbourne Argus which began publishing barometer and
thermometer readings and reports on wind and rain from the
Victorian Surveyor-General's Department in 1856.
As his network of weather stations/telegraph stations in
South Australia expanded, his reports in the Advertiser became
daily and took on a snappy, futuristic tone, ('Wind NE, weather fine,
hot'). He saw his Adelaide meteorological service as providing
advance warnings to the more easterly colonies: 'If a peculiar state
of the weather revealed itself at Adelaide, notice might be
transmitted at once to Melbourne and thence to Sydney. The
intervening stations might be warned of the change, and thus all
would be prepared to provide against the consequences of a storm'
(much as today's Test cricket enthusiasts in Melbourne get a good
idea of the next day's weather by studying the sky during live
television broadcasts from Adelaide).
When Charles Todd was employed at the Royal
Observatory in the early-1850s, he came under the influence of the
leading meteorologist, James Glaisher. They became keenly
interested in the work of their French contemporaries, Barral and
Bixio, who made their first hydrogen balloon ascent from the garden
of the Paris Observatory on 29th June, 1850. The writer F. Marion
explained their objectives in his book, The Conquest of the Skies
(Paris, 1870):
'These gentlemen had conceived the project of rising by
means of a balloon to a great height, in order to study, with the
assistance of the very best instruments in use in their day, a
multitude of phenomena then imperfectly known, the subject to
which they specially direct their attention were the law on the
decrease of temperature in progress upwards, the discovery of
whether the chemical composition of the atmosphere is the same
throughout all it parts, the comparison of the strength of the solar
rays in the higher regions of the atmosphere and on the surface of
the earth, the ascertaining whether the light reflected and
transmitted by the clouds is or is not polarised etc.'

Page 79 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

The bold project was the first aeronautical expedition by


the pair; it was deemed a failure. The ascent was made in disarray
after torrential rain tore a hole in the balloon and enveloped our
heroes in escaping hydrogen. Somehow, they wobbled to 17,000
feet (1500 feet higher than Mont Blanc(!) they would say) and
descended to earth in four or five minutes, landing in a vineyard
near Lagny, 23km east of Paris, where they were discovered by
startled peasants holding on to a tree by their arms and legs 'thus
attempting to stop the horizontal advance of the car'. On a second
attempt a month later, they achieved 21,000 feet 'from which they
could see the blue of heaven' and record a temperature of minus
39C.
All of this was heady stuff to the forty-year-old Glaisher, a
founder of the British Meteorogical Society. He was one of the
world's pioneers in research into the Dew Point Temperatures
(indicating the amount of moisture in the air; i.e. humid and sticky at
Dew Point 65). Alas, we can only speculate on whether he
discussed the possibility with Charles of emulating the feats of the
intrepid Frenchmen.
Glaisher had to wait impatiently until 1862, when he was
fifty-two (and should have known better). The British Association for
the Advancement of Science resolve to sponsor a series of flights to
study the upper atmosphere. Glaisher made the first on 17th July,
1862, with a veteran balloonist, Henry Coxwell, They achieved
26,177 feet without oxygen and drifted sedately to earth. On 5th
September, at Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands, they
ascended again in their wicker basket, tastefully dressed as if for a
day in the Dickensian woollen mill office: jacket, tie, stiff collar. And
what a Boy's Own drama it turned out to be! Had it not been for
Coxwell's cool bravery, they might be drifting still through endless
space, pieces of heavenly, frozen Victoriana. Accounts of the
highest voyage in the world would certainly have reached Charles
and Alice. He might have cried, 'Oh, what adventure!' and she
would have thought, 'Thank goodness, I saved him from this
madness.'
'Our ascent had been delayed owing the unfavourable
state of the weather,' Glaisher wrote later. 'It commenced at three
minutes past one pm, the temperature of the air being 59ºF, and the
dew point 48º. At the height of one mile, the temperature was 41º
and the dew point 38º. Shortly afterwards, clouds were entered of
about 1100 feet in thickness. I tried to take a view of the surface
with the camera, but the balloon was ascending too rapidly and
spiralling too quickly to allow me to do so. The height of two miles
was reached at twenty-one minutes past one. The temperature of
the air had fallen to 32º and the dew point to 26º. The third mile was
passed at twenty-eight minutes past one, with an air temperature of
18º, and a dew point of 13º. The fourth mile was passed at thirty-
nine minutes past one, with an air temperature of eight degrees and
a dew point of minus six degrees; and the fifth mile about ten
minutes later with an air temperature minus five degrees and a dew
point minus 36º.
'Up to this time, I had experienced no particular

Page 80 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

inconvenience. Then, at the height of 26,000 feet, I could not see


the fine column of the mercury in the tube; then the fine divisions on
the scale of the instrument became invisible. At that time, I asked
Mr Coxwell to help me read the instruments, as I experienced a
difficulty in seeing them. In consequence of the rotary movement of
the balloon, which had continued without ceasing since the earth
was left, the valve line had become twisted, and he had to leave the
car (basket) and to mount into the rig above to adjust it. At that time,
I had no suspicion of other than temporary inconvenience in seeing.
Shortly afterwards, I laid my arm upon the table, possessed of its
full vigour; but directly after, being desirous of using it, I found it
powerless,' Glaisher continued.
'It must have lost its power momentarily. I then tried to
move the other arm, but found it powerless also; I tried to shake
myself, and succeeded in shaking my body. I seemed to have no
legs. I could only shake my body; I then looked at the barometer,
and whilst I was doing so my head fell on my left shoulder. I
struggled and shook my body again, but could not move my arms. I
got my head upright, but for an instant only, when it fell on my right
shoulder; I then fell backwards, my back was resting against the
side of the car, and my head on its edge. in that position, my eyes
were directed to Mr Coxwell in the ring ...'
And do you know what that heroic rotter Coxwell did? He
started to nag the jibbering heap that was James Glaisher about
doing his meteorological observations! While powerless, Glaisher
heard the words, 'temperature' and 'observation'! He heard Coxwell
said, 'Do try, do it now', so he roused himself and said, 'I have been
insensible' and Coxwell replied, 'Yes, and I, too, very nearly'.
Coxwell announced that he had lost the use of his hands; Glaisher
noted they were quite black, so he poured some brandy over them.
Coxwell revealed that he had pulled the cord with his teeth (having
no hands) to release the gas. They were now plunging towards
earth, but eventually came a soft landing near Brown Clee Hill, in
Shropshire, at nearly 2000 feet, the highest point in the county,
about 40km west of their departure point. And then they had to walk
15km to find an inn for the night ... where none of the rural patrons
probably believed their story, anyway. Rubbish, they would have
said, and turned away to play shove ha'penny.
Charles Todd didn't have any inclination for such space
frolics, despite Alice's unspoken misgivings. Oh, he had access to
the latest European balloon technology: Charles Coppin, Australia's
greatest theatrical entrepreneur, had imported several, with
accompanying daring aeronauts, for his Cremorne Gardens
extravaganza on the Yarra River at Richmond, in gold-feverish
Melbourne. It was modelled on the Vauxhall Gardens, in London,
and was the place for successful diggers down from the goldfields,
and their 'diggeresses', willing female friends they had just made, to
go a-dancing the polka and generally throw nuggets around.
Anyway, balloons had a bad press in the Australian
colonies. A balloon ascent in the Sydney Domain ended in tragedy:
an out-of-control balloon commanded by a French showman, Pierre
Maigre, in 1851, careered out of control a metre or so above the

Page 81 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

ground and killed a paying passenger, Thomas Downes. On the


other hand, Maigre only lost his hat. In another flight in 1859, a
balloon ascended from the Sydney GPO at dusk, but landed
messily in a paddock at the Haymarket, a few hundred metres
away, spewing leaking coal gas. Some onlookers suffered minor
injuries, but it was considered a success by NSW standards.
Charles Todd read of these events and decided his future was on
terra firma.

17. ... Terror Australis, that's what Stuart found ...

On that Tuesday morning, 25th June, 1861, Charles Todd's friend


and favourite explorer, John McDouall Stuart, was 2200km north-
northwest of Adelaide, on a spinifex and ironstone plain where
'scarcely a blade of grass to be seen'. He had left his main party
behind at Tomkinson Creek (which crosses the Stuart Highway
35km south of the Renner Springs roadhouse), and was making a
small reconnaissance; he was about to fail in his second attempt to
cross the continent from Adelaide in the south to the empty (of white
men) tropical coast somewhere near the present site of Darwin,
Australia's northern capital.
His immediate prospects were dim, though exceedingly
better than those of William John Wills, lying in his wurley, 1500km
southeast. At the end of the day, he sat beside his campfire while
his three men busied themselves caring for their ten horses. They
were south of Newcastle Waters, on hostile terrain Stuart named
Sturt's Plain, after his exploring mentor, and still 600km south of the
coast.
'The country travelled through today is bad, red sandy
light soil, covered with spinifex, slightly undulating and having iron
gravel on it,' he wrote in his journal of the fifty kilometres they had
just traversed. ' Scarcely a blade of grass to be seen. Some gum
trees, and a low scrub of different sorts. I seem to have got to the
south of a dense forest, but into a poorer country. Not a drop of
water or a watercourse have we seen since we left Tomkinson
Creek.
'We have crossed two or three rises of ironstone gravel.
Not having the dense forest to tear through has induced me to go
on all day in the hope of meeting with a change, but at the end of
the day there seems as little likelihood as when we first came upon
it, and it may continue to the river (Roper, 40km north). I am again
forced to return disappointed. There is no hope of making the river
now, it must be done from Newcastle Waters with wells. I wish that I
had twelve months' provisions and convenience for carrying water. I
should then be enabled to do it.'
John McDouall Stuart was a brave explorer, but not a
reckless one. He returned to Tomkinson Creek, gathered the rest of
his men, and attempted to make it to the Gulf of Carpentaria coast,
more to the northeast, through thick, clothes-ripping, skin-tearing
bush, fatiguing on horse and man. On 10th July, 1861, while
searching for a missing horse, one of his men, Wall, encountered
some aborigines who drove him off with boomerangs. The horse

Page 82 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

was lost. Next day, 11th July, back at Tomkinson Creek, he decided
to surrender, temporarily, in the face of adversity, and return to
Adelaide.
That night, by campfire light, he wrote: 'We are all nearly
naked, the scrub has been so severe on our clothes, one can
scarcely tell the original colour of a single garment they are so
patched. Our boots are also gone ... I have tried to make the Gulf
and river both before rain fell and immediately after it had fallen; but
the results were the same, unsuccessful. Even after the rain. I could
not get a step further than before it. I shall commence my
homeward journey tomorrow morning. Wind S. The horses have
had a severe trial from the long journeys they have made, and the
great hardships and privations they have undergone. On my last
journey, they were 106 hours without water.'
So for the next two months, they walked their horses back
to Port Augusta, at the head of Spencer Gulf; Burke and Wills were
dead; John King took refuge with the Yantruwanta people (and
fathered a daughter with a woman of the clan, so some of the
Yantruwanta descendants say) while he waited for rescue. King's
rescue came from Melbourne in the shape of Alfred Howitt and his
men in September, as Stuart was preparing to board a steamer in
Port Augusta for Adelaide (without his men who continued the
journey overland).
The colonial capital of South Australia welcomed him as a
hero when his ship docked in Adelaide on 22nd September;
Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell presented him with the 1861
medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Stuart proclaimed himself
as fit as a flea: donations poured in and he announced he would
leave on his next assault on the northern desert scrub almost
immediately. In Melbourne, the neighbouring capital, they had
nothing to celebrate; they had to wait a year before the boxes
containing the remains and Burke and Wills came home. And then it
was by ship via Adelaide. The Great Outback was still ahead on
points.
In May, 1861, that year of unhappiness for many and good
fortune for some, another young man, George Woodroffe Goyder,
aged thirty-four, was summoned from survey duties 600km
northwest of Adelaide to be appointed the colony's Surveyor-
General. His appointment confirmed that size didn't matter in the
annals of South Australian conquest of the Red Centre.
Predictability, South Australians had bestowed the name of 'the
Wee Scot' on John McDouall Stuart because he was just 168cm (5ft
6in), tall; George Goyder, who only reached the Wee Scot's chin,
was soon to be known as 'Little Energy', and Charles Todd, who
came between, was known as, well, 'Mr Todd'. Alice, who knew
them all, was much taller and considered them a manageable
package. Of course, Little Energy tested her Victorian sense of
charity on 20th November, 1871, when he married his recently-
deceased wife's sister and lived up to his nickname by fathering
three children by her in addition to the nine he'd sired by his wife.
The circumstances, for the gossip-minded who are looking
for relief from all this stuff about the weather, were that Goyder had

Page 83 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

married Frances Mary Smith at the Anglican Christ Church, North


Adelaide, on 10th December, 1851, a few months after he arrived
from Sydney. They had nine children, but Frances took an overdose
of sleeping pills while on a visit to Bristol, England, on 8th April,
1870. In Adelaide, Goyder married Ellen Priscilla Smith, her sister,
who had cared for the motherless brood. They subsequently had a
son and twin daughters. In England, such a marriage was a
violation of Anglican canon law (it was considered almost
incestuous) and was not made legal under civil law until 1907 under
the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act. The second Goyder
marriage brought inevitable collision with the Anglican Bishop of
Adelaide, August Short, a racist bigot who believed, mistakenly, that
he was the moral arbiter for this free colony in the New World.
But all these dramas were in the future for Goyder when
he met Stuart, Todd and their benevolent patron, Governor Sir
Richard MacDonnell at Government House in the spring of 1861.
The four were all committed to winning the Overland Telegraph line
for South Australia. Adelaide would become the communications
hub of Australia. The plan seemed simple: Stuart would leave
before the end of the year with a powerful expedition and make the
final breakthrough to the north coast at Van Diemens Bay; South
Australia would thus be entitled to annex the unclaimed Northern
Territory; Goyder would follow by sea and survey the future site of
Darwin; Todd would oversee the building of the Telegraph. It would
all depend, MacDonnell might have reminded them, on Britain
bringing the cable to Australia's doorstep.
Sometimes, the three might have met (without the
Governor) at Charles Todd's Observatory on West Terrace. Alice
would invite them to the residence for tea and cakes. George
Goyder could not take up her kind invitation, he apologised, he had
to hasten home to his wife, Frances, and his growing family;
sometimes it all seemed too much for Frances, he murmured. But
Stuart, who was a bachelor in his mid-forties, was never in a hurry
to return to his lodgings. 'Why, thank you, Mrs Todd!' he'd say in his
Lowlands burr. Alice heard he drank whisky. But she could never
smell it. She'd heard a man who'd been on an exploration with him
in 1855 relate the story of Stuart advising, 'Pick some green leaves
and suck them, laddie, and that's as good as a drink.' Perhaps he'd
sucked some gum leaves of the Grey Box species in the park
before coming to the Observatory.
'I hear you came from Dysart, on the Firth of Forth, Mr
Stuart?' Alice enquired in her charming Cambridgeshire lilt.
'Aye, ma'am, right across the water from Edinburgh.'
'And I heard there were such sad reasons for your coming
to South Australia?'
'Aye, ma'am.' He'd repeated this story so many times
since he landed in 1839 he was beginning to believe it. 'Aye, I was
engaged to wed a wee lassie, but when I turned the corner one day,
I found her embracing her cousin, my friend, I thought he was. I was
so heart-broken I booked a passage on the maiden voyage of the
Indus and sailed from Dundee on 13th September, 1838.'
'How tragic!'

Page 84 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

'Not really. It turned out she was only giving a farewell


peck to her cousin who was migrating to South Australia, too.'
That was John McDouall Stuart's story, anyhow. He was
the youngest of nine children (six survived infancy) of Captain
William Stuart, a retired army officer, and his wife, Mary McDouall.
Stuart was born on 7th September, 1815, in Dysart, a village now
absorbed into Kirkcaldy, in a 17th century house in Rectory Lane
which now houses a collection of his Australian memorabilia. The
village can be distinguished today by St Serf's Tower, the remains of
an ancient church named after an Irish priest who converted the
heathen Picts. Stuart played on the nearby cliffs while his father's
men scanned the shore from the tower for smugglers, or listened at
night for muffled oars. Dysart was an important port for the maritime
trade with the Netherlands and his father was in charge of Customs,
but both he and his wife died when he was in his early teens and
Stuart and his siblings were cared for by relatives. They sent John
to the Scottish Naval and Military Academy across the Firth of Forth
in Edinburgh and he graduated as a civil engineer.
After his aforementioned unmentionable affaire de coeur
casse (as Stuart might have confided to Alice, who spoke French,
modestly), the 23-year-old arrived in Adelaide with seventy-two
other hopefuls on 21st January, 1839, when the settlement had
5000 souls living in 620 houses. The Port Phillip Patriot, a
newspaper in the neighbouring buccaneer town of Melbourne,
swindled from the aboriginal inhabitants by the sons of convicts,
sent a reporter around by sea later that year and he wrote (with a
curl of the lip):
'Melbourne is entirely destitute of half-swells, loungers etc.
so prevalent in Adelaide nor is there any nonsensical party spirit
with cavilling for office by a few individuals sent out under the
patronage of titled men, and whose salaries will neither find them in
shoes to tramp their barren wastes, nor turn their pretty bright
button threadbare coats into new ones.' Well, despite insults from
the shanty town across the plains, 600km southeast, Stuart did
have shoes to tramp the barren wastes and would soon do so.
Charles Todd and George Goyder were both aged twelve
and both living in London when John McDouall Stuart set foot in
South Australia on 21st January 1839. Their birth dates were only
thirteen days apart - George on 24th June, 1826 and Charles on 7th
July. Earlier in their childhood, they had lived fairly close, George in
Westminster and Charles in Islington. But by 1830, the toddler
Charles had moved down the Thames to Greenwich with his family
and George was about to shift to Glasgow with his. They weren't to
meet until Adelaide in 1855. Charles had a cheerful, but odd sort of
boyhood; George's was cheerful, too, but much, much odder.
George, was one of eight children of David George
Goyder, a Swedenborgian Church minister and his wife, Sarah. The
Swedenborgian Church has been described as 'a community of
faith based on the Bible as illuminated by the spiritual teaching of
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)': the founder died in Stockholm,
but his message found its way to London fifteen years later. Apart
from his spiritual role, Goyder Senior also billed himself as a

Page 85 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

'physician' by which he meant he was a phrenologist, or a man who


studies the bumps on one's head to determine the character within.
In 1857, he published My Battle for Life: The Autobiography of A
Phrenologist, which has baffled scholars because the original Battle
for Life was the title of an obscure Dickens story published in 1846.
Hurriedly, young George Goyder (the name is a version of
the Welsh Gwydyr, or Gwydir, and has been traced to the Celtic
Coedrwr) studied surveying in Glasgow before rushing to Sydney to
join his sister in 1848. Once there, he would have learned that there
was a river in northern NSW, named the Gwydir by the explorer
Allan Cunningham in 1827 after the Lord High Chamberlain to
George IV, Lord Gwydir; and he might have learned the word
'Gwydir' was also local aboriginal for 'river with red banks'. Spooky,
wasn't it? Hastily, he packed his bags once more sailed another
1500km around the coast to Adelaide in 1851.
At that very time, back in England, Charles Todd was
enjoying the unexpected patronage of the Astronomer Royal,
George Biddell Airy. The circumstances of the Todd family's move
from inner suburban Islington to far outer suburban Greenwich, on
the south bank of the Thames, had been very fortuitous for Charles'
future, indeed. The family escaped from Islington just in time; the
railway brought about the industrialisation of the district from the
1840s, and the gentry (the Todd tea dealer's favourite customers)
moved to healthier climes in London's west.
Fates had, somehow, conspired to bring this odd trio
together.

18. A Wee Scot washes in northern waters!

In the early afternoon of 17th October, 1861, eight days before John
McDouall Stuart's party left Adelaide on its final assault on Central
Australia, a ghastly series of events began 1500km northeast in
Queensland. The squatter Horatio Wills had just settled down for his
post-luncheon siesta at his new land-holding on the Nogoa River
when a woman's anguished cry pierced the inland tropic quiet. It
was the prelude to the worst massacre of Europeans by aborigines
in Australian history. Nineteen whites died, men, women and
children. The Europeans exacted an awful revenge: scores of
blacks were hunted into every rocky crevice and slaughtered.
The liberal Brisbane Courier reported on 23rd November,:
'A great massacre has been made among the blacks of the Nogoa.'
In Adelaide, Stuart's people knew nothing of this: the killing of Wills'
party happened just seventeen days before Queensland came
online on the east coast telegraph network. Whether the gruesome
events would have caused Stuart to pause in his planning is a
matter of conjecture. He was a cautious explorer who never lost a
man, but he had expressed his determination to break through to
the north coast whether it killed him or not. And it came ever so
close to doing just that! But on the 25th October, when his men set
out, they were in blissful ignorance of the happenings in
Queensland.
Some celebrity connections of the late lamented Horatio

Page 86 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Wills featured earlier in this narrative: his stepfather was George


Howe, opportunist intellectual ex-convict editor of the Sydney
Gazette who was floored by that divinely-inspired fireball at the end
of Chapter Two. Horatio's mother, Sarah, desirable widow of the
convict-turned-tycoon Edward Wills, married George Howe on little
Horatio's first birthday on 5th October, 1812. Horatio went on to
become a wealthy pastoralist in Victoria and fathered Thomas
Wentworth Wills, one of the inventors of Australian Rules Football,
no less! Horatio's great land hunger caused him to be in central
Queensland in October, 1861, just as Stuart was about to conquer
the Centre.
Wills leased a sheep station, Cullinlaringo, near the
present town of Emerald and just south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Early in 1861, he, Tom and twenty-five of their stockmen, servants
and their families took ship from Geelong to Sydney, where they set
out overland for Queensland, buying stock on the way. By the time
they reached Rockhampton, their extravagant caravan was
accompanied by 10,000 sheep. Awestruck aborigines followed them
400km west until they reached the new station, where the
Europeans began building stockyards and huts. On that warm
afternoon, as the whole white establishment followed Wills' routine
of taking an afternoon rest, some of the aborigines struck with
tomahawks and nulla nullas.
Only three men, Tom Wills and two stockmen, were
absent from the camp, purchasing supplies several hours ride to the
east. Horatio Wills was one of the first to die; the others followed in
minutes and the aborigines escaped with their plunder. Tom
returned to the scene; it is said he never recovered from the shock
which led to his alcoholism and suicide in Melbourne on 3rd May,
1880 (thankfully, he'd already invented Aussie Rules with his
cousin, Henry Harrison, before the slaughter). The rest of Horatio's
family, including his wife, Elizabeth, were safely in Victoria during
the massacre; his heirs continued to hold Cullinlaringo until most of
the station was submerged under Fairbairn Dam in 1972.
It was not an auspicious time to be traipsing around the
Outback. Burke and Wills had recently died at Cooper's Creek and
people dispatched to find them were having frightful difficulties. The
day after the Cullinlaringo massacre, a search party under John
McKinlay, sent by the South Australian Government, was battling
away (oblivious of the murder and mayhem to the northeast). A
team member, John Davis wrote on 18th October, 1861, at Lake
Buchanan, 700km north-northeast of Adelaide:
'The weather is very sultry and close. Mr McKinlay says
there will be a storm. About 7pm, it was as black as midnight; at
9pm a regular westerly gale. All hands turned out; but our little
canvas camp was soon flying in all directions. The tents we tried to
peg down as fast as a peg drew, but all to no use, they were soon
blown down; then came lightning and thunder, and during the
flashes could be descried hats, trousers, gaiters, shirts, taking their
private airing by themselves, and McKinlay holding on to his tent
pole, "There go my trousers!" "There goes my hat!" sings out
another, and so on. Had I the pencil of 'Crowquill' (contemporary

Page 87 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

English Punch cartoon satirist, 'Alfred Crowquill', real name Alfred


Forrester, 1804-72) or the well-known "George" (not so well-
known?) might scratch that scene; and although shivering with cold
and wet we could not help laughing, and the picture was too
ludicrous. It soon came to an end, then we tried to settle ourselves
somehow or other, but, oh, so wet!'
Notwithstanding all the Unknown Perils of Terror Australia
awaiting, a confident crowd gathered at the North Adelaide
compound of South Australia's pre-eminent pioneer, James
Chambers and his wife, Catherine, in the mid-morning of 25th
October, 1861. They were there to farewell the 'South Australian
Great Northern Expedition', led by the forty-six-year-old John
McDouall Stuart. The benevolent James Chambers, originally a
Surrey farmer, and his partner, another entrepreneurial pastoralist
and copper mine owner, the German immigrant William Finke, were
Stuart's keenest patrons in the colony. Two of Chambers' unmarried
daughters, Catherine and Anna, who'd inherited their mother's
broad, open features and sturdy figures, had embroidered a Union
Jack for Stuart to unfurl when he reached the Top End (one of the
exploring party, William Billiatt, kept a chunk of the makeshift
flagpole until the day he died sixty years later)
The expedition's men were hand-picked by Stuart and
Chambers from scores of aspirants: William Kekwick, aged thirty-
seven, the deputy, and Francis Thring, twenty-four, the number
three, had explored with Stuart before; the rest were aged around
twenty, the sons of pioneers of the late-1830s. There was James
Frew Jr, son of an immigrant Scots landowner; Pat Auld Jr, whose
vintner father was about to open the first South Australian wine
outlet in London; William Billiatt, who became a beloved
headmaster and died in 1919, the last of the explorers. There was
the tall, quiet Stephen King, a stockman whose sister, Annie, caught
the eye of William Billiatt and became his wife of fifty or so years.
John McGorrerey was the shoeing blacksmith and Heath Nash was
another stockman. One man, Jeffries, was dismissed by Stuart
before Christmas for insubordination, and another, Woodforde,
turned back early in February after repeated clashes with the
leader. Sadly, James Chambers died, aged only fifty-one, on 4th
August, 1862. He did not hear news of the expedition's triumph.
William Finke, a quiet, generous man, died in 1864, having lived to
see Northern Australia annexed to South Australia.
The odd man out in the expeditionary party was not
chosen by Stuart: in fact, Stuart objected to his presence on the
team, but was overruled, in good humour, by the Governor, Sir
Richard MacDonnell. He was Frederick Waterhouse, aged forty-six
like Stuart, a naturalist and first curator of the South Australian
Museum. He was presented with the opportunity, as the colony's
first museum curator, to examine first hand the creatures of the
world's oldest continent in an age of insatiable scientific curiosity!
Waterhouse was a pepper-and-salt thickly-bearded, kindly sort of
demurring chap; the Wee Scot, who was all Action Man, would have
seen him, in 21st century terms, as a bit of a nerd.
Waterhouse's chatter irritated Stuart and he collected

Page 88 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

beetles in match boxes, the sort of geeky things only desperately


frustrated mid-19th century spinsters were supposed to do. Bronte
stuff. Stuart gave him menial tasks at first, chasing rabbits down
burrows (except there were only wombat holes). Waterhouse took
all this in good humour: he'd been a leading zoologist at the British
Museum and suspected, accurately, that Stuart didn't want him on
the trip because he might cut into the post-expedition London
publishing possibilities. It was an old Australian tradition: several of
the First Fleet officers landed in 1788 with English publishing
contracts stuffed in their pockets. So Waterhouse kept his sketches
secret and, after a while, Stuart calmed down and the two older
men became good friends. Anyway, as they feast in that great
Valhalla for old explorers, Waterhouse can claim the last laugh: his
great-great grandson turned out to be the Adelaide-born NASA
astronaut, Dr Andy Thomas, who flies across Stuart's desert route.
Whoosh! Just like that!
Charles Todd was at the lunch, but Alice sent her
apologies: she was terribly busy packing for first her trip back Home
to England on the Irene (of course!) with the charming Captain
David Bruce who'd been skipper in 1855 when she and Charles
(and their maid, Poor Eliza) first came to the colony. Alice was
taking their eldest child, Elizabeth, back to Cambridge to see her
family and would return (on the Irene, of course) to South Australia;
it was nearly a year in which she would not get pregnant, a prospect
to be savoured. Oh, how she envied the wives of long-distance
explorers! Alice and Elizabeth were to sail on 19th December.
Sadly, this was where they were so disadvantaged living in a
remote corner of the globe, unaware of latest developments in the
civilised world: Prince Albert, Our Beloved Consort, died of typhoid
at Windsor Castle on 14th December, and when Alice and Elizabeth
arrived in England EVERYONE was wearing black. Except them,
for goodness sake. Oh, for a colonial telegraph link!
Charles Todd might have found himself seated at lunch
next to Pat Auld Snr, tucking into steaming plates of lamb and
vegetables. The elder Auld had brought his family to South Australia
in 1842 from Wigtown, in southwest Scotland and encouraged
young Pat to take up a cadetship in surveying with the South
Australian Government. Charles might have said, politely: 'I see
your son is going with the expedition.' And Auld would have replied:
'Aye, he's to be Mr Stuart's personal assistant.' Auld didn't refer to
Stuart as the 'Wee Scot' because he was an even Wee-er Scot.
Charles could have changed the subject to another matter of vital
concern to South Australians: 'I believe you are making great
progress with your wine exporting plans?' Auld might have tapped
him on the arm and said; 'It's going famously! The British
Government have abolished preferential duties favouring Cape
wines from South Africa, and so my Auldana Vineyard here is
opening the first Australian Wine Company (later the Emu Wine
Company) in London.' Charles, who was well-informed on such
matters, probably said: 'The opportunities for overseas traders
improved steadily since they abolished the Corn Laws way back in
'46.' And Auld may have remarked: 'Well, it'll be easier to trade

Page 89 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

when we have your electric telegraph to England, laddie!'


Hugh Dennison, the jovial, wheeling and dealing politician
and businessman probably dropped in briefly; he bought the
Chambers house after James died in 1862 and eventually built a
grand house, reminiscent of a Rhine castle, with a tower meant to
inspire thoughts of the Queen of the Elves combing her locks, and
other North Adelaide fantasies. Mysteriously, he named it
'Stahlheim'. Someone who desperately wanted to be there was
young John Langdon Bonython, who was aged only thirteen at the
time, around the corner at The Brougham School, who would start
as a boy reporter on the Adelaide Advertiser in 1864, rise to
become its multi-millionaire proprietor ... and buy the Rhine castle
folly from Dennison and make it his family home until his death in
1939! He re-named it 'Carclew', after the family home in Cornwall,
and that's the name it bears today as the headquarters of the South
Australian Youth Arts Centre, and one of the happiest places in the
State.
But going back to 25th October, 1861 ... the members of
the expedition rode out from the Chambers compound through the
northwest gate (still standing) and began the slow trek northwest to
the Flinders Ranges and their marshalling point at Chambers Creek
to the north. Stuart was not with them. He injured a hand in an
accident with a horse and stayed in Adelaide for five weeks of
treatment. One young man who wasn't there to see them go, but
might have considered himself unlucky not to be among them was
William Christie Gosse, a 19-year-old cadet surveyor of gentle
temperament. He was away surveying in the northeast. But his
moment came on 19th July, 1873, when the South Australian
Government sent him to see what lay 300km southwest of Alice
Springs and find a route to Perth ... '... What was my astonishment
to find it was one immense rock rising abruptly from the plain ...' He
was the white discoverer of Ayers Rock.
Stuart caught up with expedition at Moolooloo Station,
west of the Flinders Ranges on Friday, 20th December. Everyone
was worried about horses; they kept straying and there was
concern that some were getting 'knocked up' in the early summer
heat. That evening, around the campfire, he told them of news that
had reached Adelaide the night they left. The first major land battle
of the American Civil War had taken place on 21st June, 1861, at
Bull Run, a buggy ride from the American capital, Washington. No
less than 30,000 Union soldiers faced 32,000 Confederates and
lost!
They called the Union's disorderly retreat 'the Great
Skedaddle' and even the Washington elite, who'd come out to
watch the battle, had to escape in their carriages in great confusion.
'This happened more than four months ago, you say?' someone
might have asked. 'Yes, the news only reached Sydney by ship from
the States and was passed on by electric telegraph,' Stuart could
have replied. 'Ah, if only we had a worldwide telegraph system, sir,'
one of the youngsters might have said. He probably didn't, but he
might have.
On 8th January, 1862, they reached Chambers Creek, a

Page 90 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

pleasant nook in a sheltered desert gorge which Stuart had used


before as an assembly point before venturing into the barely known
country to the north ... 'One of the horses that came with Thring
knocked up on the road. Perfectly useless to me,' he recorded in his
journal. It was breathlessly hot: about 350km east-southeast, John
McKinlay's search party was recording temperatures ranging from
59F to 124F. John Davis wrote on 3rd January: 'I sat in the water
(Lake Strangways) yesterday for a long time with only my shirt on,
and the consequence is my legs, from the intense heat of the sun,
are so burnt I cannot wear any trousers, and feel very unwell.
Applied glycerine and they got better. The lake is literally covered
with wildfowl.' McKinlay had been told Burke and Wills had been
found dead, but was continuing his explorations in the whimsically-
named 'Lakes District', near Sturt's Stony Desert.
By mid-February, the expedition had crossed the 26th
latitude, the present Northern Territory-South Australia border and
was making due north for the Finke River, which Stuart had named
for his friend in 1860. It is, geologically, one of the oldest rivers on
the planet. It runs, occasionally, rarely, southeast from Palm Valley
500km to the Simpson Desert. In fact, the Finke was flooding ten
years later, in 1871, when overlanders were driving the first sheep
to Darwin; it was 400 metres wide, so, hey, those 5000 furry lamb
chops just learned to breaststroke!
Stuart was noticing some disturbing behaviour among the
aboriginal inhabitants. They already knew about white men and
their horses; Stuart had passed this way during his unsuccessful
attempt in 1860-61. So there would be no repeat of the shock near
Lake Torrens on 25th June, 1858, when he became the first
European seen by a black man ... 'What he imagined I was, I do not
know; but when he turned around and saw me I never beheld a
finer picture of astonishment and fear. He was a fine, muscular
fellow, about six feet in height, and stood as if riveted to the spot,
with his mouth wide open and his eyes staring. I sent our black
forward to speak with him, but omitted to tell him to dismount. The
terrified native remained motionless, allowing our black to ride
within a few yards of him, when, in an instant, he threw down his
waddies, and jumped into a mulga bush as high as he could, one
foot being about three feet from the ground and the other about two
feet higher.' Stuart enjoyed describing the native people caught in a
state of confusion, but many aborigines meeting whites for the first
time thought they were the ghosts of the dead.
On Sunday, 11th February, usually a Sabbath day of rest
for men and horses, Stuart wrote: 'Early this morning, the horses
started off at full gallop. During the time that Thring was searching
for them, he came along five natives armed with boomerangs,
concealed behind some bushes, who, on his approaching, ran off at
full speed across the sandhills. They must have been the cause of
the horses going off this morning. About eleven o'clock a.m. all the
horses were mustered and found right.
'Monday, 17th February - Marchant's Springs (near Finke
River). As Auld was approaching the waterhole, a native was there,
who, upon seeing him, called to some others who he saw up some

Page 91 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

trees; shortly afterwards, at a little distance down the creek, several


native smokes were seen, and one very large one to windward,
blowing smoke towards the camp, which made it evident that it was
their intention to attack us under the cover of the smoke, but Thring,
while looking for the horses, came suddenly upon three of them
concealed behind a bush, armed with spears and boomerangs; he
did not perceive them until within twelve yards of them,' the journal
entry said.
'They immediately jumped up, and one of them threw a
boomerang at him, which fortunately missed both him and his
horse. He was obliged to use his revolver in self defence. Saddled
the horses and proceeded to Polly's Springs in the Finke without
any further annoyance from the natives. In the course of the day, we
met with numerous native tracks up and down the bed of the Finke.
Lat. 25º11'44.' They were ninety kilometres inside Northern
Australia, and seventy kilometres west of the Simpson Desert. The
Finke was flowing sand, with the intermittent waterholes, shared
since time immemorial. Jealously guarded waterholes.
On Saturday, 22nd February, they climbed their horses
from the uneasy, sheltered comfort of the Finke River bed and
headed for the Hugh River, 50km north, a similar sandy
watercourse which rises dustily in the red ramparts southeast of
Alice Springs and waits patiently to carry off excessive rainfall from
the MacDonnell Range east towards the Simpson Desert. That
night, having encountered thick mulga scrub and seeing the horses
suffering in extreme heat, they made a stockyard of ropes and took
shelter from the easterly wind.
Next day, Stuart decided not to observe the Sabbath and
marched his weary horses and men north; they disturbed a family of
aborigines in a creek bed preparing a meal by a small waterhole
and, having seen the blacks flee, dug out a decent bloody white
fella's dam and watered their horses in the now muddied, stomped
and manured, yet precious, waterhole not once, but twice. On
Monday, they made the Hugh River. 'All the last purchased horses
are failing,' Stuart recorded, 'Latitude 24º21"41'.' Word was
spreading among the tribespeople, who made an unconscious
practice of living in harmony in this delicate, dry land about the foul-
smelling visitors who were permitting their bizarre beasts to
defecate over the most cherished places.
'Tuesday, 25th February. - The Hugh, south of James's
Range. Proceeded up the creek, and found water at the south
entrance of the gorge of the Hugh, but on arriving at the waterhole
where on our last trip we saw our spitting friend (an angry old
aboriginal spat at them when Stuart used the same waterhole on
6th March, 1861!) to our great disappointment we found no water.
Proceeded on through the gorge; when about halfway, the natives
set fire to the grass and dry wood across the creek, which caused a
dense smoke to blow in our faces,' Stuart recorded.
'I had the party prepared for an attack. After passing
through the smoke and fire, three natives made their appearance
about twenty five yards off on the hillside, armed with spears and
shields, and bidding us defiance by placing the spears in the

Page 92 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

woomeras, and yelling out at the highest pitch of their voices. I


ordered Auld to dismount and fire a shot a little distance on one side
of them, to let them know what distance our weapons carried. The
ball struck the rock pointed out to him to aim at and stopped their
yelling, but seemed to have no other effect. I again ordered him to
fire at the rock on which the middle one of the three was standing;
the shot was a good one, and the ball struck the desired spot, which
immediately had the effect of sending them all off at full speed, his
journal continued,
'I then proceeded to the conglomerate rock, a mile and a
half through the gorge, where we found plenty of water and
camped. The weak horses are very much knocked up. We have
neither seen nor heard any more of our hostile friends. Wind
southeast. Latitude 24º13'41.' Auld developed a negative attitude
towards the blacks. In 1864, while a member of a party led by South
Australia's first Resident of Northern Australia, Boyle Finniss, he
was charged with murdering an aboriginal man: the first white to
face such a charge in the colony. He was acquitted only after a long
trial.
Stuart and his party crossed the MacDonnell Range on
1st March, 1862, at the cliff known as Brinkleys Bluff, 50km west of
the present town of Alice Springs, which was yet to be discovered,
let alone named; the nearest thing to an 'Alice's Springs' was Anna's
Reservoir, named after the buxom Anna Chambers, on Stuart's
previous trip. And that's where Stuart headed next, north through
100 kilometres of hard, whipping scrub. On 5th March, they had
threatening encounter with another tribe ... 'On crossing the plains
under Mount Hay, we came suddenly on three natives armed with
long spears and shields; they did not observe us until we were
within two hundred yards of them, when they ran off to a belt of
scrub near the foot of Mount Hay.
'We proceeded on a short distance and found some
rainwater in a creek; while watering the horses, the three natives
again appeared, accompanied by four others, and made signs of
hostility, by yelling and shaking their spears at us, and performing
other threatening antics while widely separating themselves into a
half-circle. I had the party prepared to receive an attack, but when
they saw us stationary, they approached no nearer. I ordered some
of the party to fire close to them, to show that we could injure them
at a long distance if they continued to annoy us; they did not seem
at all surprised at the report of the rifles, nor the whizzing of the
balls near them, but still remained in a threatening attitude; with the
aid of the telescope, we could perceive a number of others
concealed in the belt of scrub,' Stuart wrote.
'They all seemed fine muscular men - a tall one in
particular with a very long spear (upwards of twelve feet) and a
large shield, which he seemed very anxious to use if he could have
got within distance. We crossed the creek, and had proceeded a
short distance across the plain, when they again came running
towards us, apparently determined to attack; they were received
with a discharge of rifles, which caused them to retire and keep at a
respectful distance. Having already wasted too much time with

Page 93 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

them, I proceeded over the plain, keeping a sharp look out - should
they threaten again, I shall allow them to come close and make an
example of them. Before entering the scrub, we could see no sign
of them following. About sundown arrived at Mount Harris without
further annoyance. No water for the horses - short hobbled and
watched them during the night. Cloudy; wind southeast.' They were
just fifty kilometres north of Brinkley's Bluff, where they had
penetrated the MacDonnell Range.
In mid-March, the expedition passed Central Mount
Stuart, which Stuart had discovered in 1860 and named Sturt (only
to have to it changed with the suspected connivance of Governor
Sir Richard McDonnell, no admirer of Stuart's near-namesake and
exploring mentor). They marched north without fuss, through boney
country, boring to the uncultivated eye, keeping as much as
possible to Stuart's 1860-61 tracks. There was still no rain, but
water became more abundant in pools and creeks as they pushed
well into the tropics. On Saturday, 5th April, 1862, they reached the
outlying pools of Newcastle Waters, Stuart's northernmost point in
1861 (and named after the Secretary for Colonies, the Duke of
Newcastle). Stuart was pleased to discover it had lost nothing of its
oasis ambience. He wrote: 'I found all the ponds full of water, and
running one into another. Wind southeast. Latitude 17º36'29.' They
were nearly 2000km NNW of Adelaide.
Next day was the Sabbath and the party rested, apart
from William Kekwick, the deputy leader, who received his leader's
blessing to take to shotgun and attempt a brace of ducks, which
were plentiful on the treed billabongs of Newcastle Waters.
Kekwick's path took him towards the smoke of two native fires and
he came upon two aborigines, who ran away ...'In an hour
afterwards,' Stuart wrote, 'five natives came within 100 yards of the
camp, and seemed anxious to come up to it, but were not permitted.
Two hours afterwards we were again visited by fifteen more, to
some of whom a present was made of some looking-glasses and
handkerchiefs; at the same time, they were given to understand that
they must not approach nearer the camp, and signs were made for
them to return to their own camp, which they shortly did.
'In the afternoon, we were again visited by nineteen of
them, who approached within a hundred yards of the camp, when
they all sat down and had a good stare at us, remaining a long time
without showing any inclination to go; at length, some of them
startled the horses, which were feeding near the water, which made
them gallop towards the camp, so frightened the natives that they
all ran away, and we were not again troubled with them for the rest
of the evening. A few clouds; wind southwest.'
On Monday, 7th April, 1862, they moved from the east end
of Newcastle Waters to Stuart's old campsite at the northern end,
followed by a crowd of aborigines who gave them a noisy and
heartfelt farewell. At the northern end, they rested and repaired their
equipment. A week later, leaving Kekwick in charge of the camp,
Stuart set out with Thring and Frew to find a way through the
hitherto impassable Sturt's Plain. They were unable to find water on
the planned route and returned to the camp at Newcastle Waters on

Page 94 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

18th April ... 'On my arrival, I found the party all right, but very
anxious about me (us) because I had been absent longer than
expected. No natives had been near them during my absence at
this time; smokes were seen all around. Weather hot during the day,
but cold at night and in the morning. Wind southeast.'
The whole expedition, harassed by mosquitoes and flies,
rode from Newcastle Waters on 21st April through scrub and open
plain and camped at Howell's Ponds, 30km north. They established
a base camp there, and Stuart and Thring scouted the way ahead in
a fruitless search for water. They retreated to Howell's Ponds ...
'Wednesday, 30th April. - Howell's Ponds. I feel so unwell today that
I am unable to go out, besides I shall require my compass case and
other things mended, which got torn to pieces in the last journey by
the forest and the scrub. Yesterday's clouds are all gone, and have
left us no rain; another hot day, wind east.' Stuart was beginning to
suffer from scurvy, which had caused such consternation during his
explorations with Charles Sturt in 1844. They battled on, finding
occasional water ... King's Chain of Ponds, McGorrerey's Ponds,
Auld's Ponds, named for his young team members' loyalty in such
trying times.
Having dodged repeated aboriginal winter growth-
promoting bushfires ('controlled burns', we call them today'), on
Sunday, 31st May, they came to a splendidly grassed plain and
found a beautiful oasis. Stuart named this place Daly Waters, after
the newly-appointed Governor of South Australia, Sir Dominick
Daly. They were 450km in a straight line south of their destination at
Van Diemens Gulf. Their latitude was 16º24'47 and their longitude
133º3'. According to records kept since 1873, when Charles Todd's
first telegraph operators/weather recorders were stationed there,
the May/June average hottest temperatures have been 31.4ºC/
28.8ºC and the minimum 15.9ºC/14.IºC. Stuart doesn't say what the
temperature was that day, other than 'it was hot as if it were the
middle of summer'.
Here, the expedition remained until 10th June while Stuart
and the younger members of the party carried out their surveys of
the way ahead. Late on Sunday evening, 8th June, the middle-aged
naturalist Frederick Waterhouse suddenly suffered a racking
stomach pain followed by a night of illness. Next day, he was a little
better ... Stuart reported: 'I think it was from eating some boiled gum
which had been obtained from the nut tree Mr Kekwick discovered
last year. When boiled, it much resembles tapioca and has much
the same taste; I also ate some of it yesterday, which occasioned a
severe pain in the stomach but soon went off ...' On 10th June, with
Waterhouse much recovered, they moved north once more,
reaching the River Strangways (which Stuart named after Templar
Strangways, the South Australia Commissioner for Lands) on 14th
June. Stuart finally found a crossing point in a gorge about fifty
kilometres southeast of the present Mataranka on 20th June.
That evening, Stuart took time to record his impressions of
the vegetation of the gorge, growing subtly more tropical as they
moved north ... 'We have passed a few stringybark trees; in the bed
of the river there is growing some very large and tall timber, having

Page 95 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

a dark-coloured bark, the leaf jointed the same as the she-oak, but
has not the acid taste; the horses eat it. There are also some very
fine melaleuca trees, which here seem to displace the gums in the
river. We have also passed some trees and shrubs; Frew, in looking
about the banks, found a large creeper with a yellow blossom, and
having a large bean pod growing upon it. I shall endeavour to get
some of the seed as we go on tomorrow.
'I shall now move with the whole party, and trust to find
water in the river as long as I follow it - its banks are getting deeper
and broader and more likely to retain water - for it is dreadfully slow
work to keep going on in search of water. Before this, I could not do
so otherwise, in consequence of the season being so very dry.
Since the commencement of the journey, the only rain we have had
to any effect upon the creeks was Mr Levi's station, Mount
Margaret; (1300km south); since then, we have had only two or
three light showers, which have had no effect on the creeks. Light
winds, southeast. Latitude 15º15'23.'
Stuart was becoming more relaxed, too, in his reactions to
the sighting of aborigines. On 25th June, following running water
channels he came upon a large number of families disporting on a
large sheet of water ... 'they set up a fearful yelling and squalling
and ran off as fast as they could' ... A kilometre or so later, they
observed three aboriginal men following them ... 'Halted the party
and went up to them. One was a very old man, one middle-aged,
the third a young, stout well-made fellow; they seemed to be
friendly. Tried to make them understand by signs that I wished to
get across the river; they made signs, by pointing down the river, by
placing both hands together, having the fingers closed - which led
me to think I could get across further down. They made signs for us
to be off, and that they were going back again. I complied with their
request, and we bade each other a friendly goodbye. We followed
the banks of the river, which I now find is the Roper. At seven miles,
tried to cross it, but found it impossible; it is now divided into a
number of channels, very deep and full of running water ...'
The Roper River was named by Ludwig Leichhardt in
1844 after a member of his party, John Roper, who was recovering
from injuries sustained in the aboriginal attack which killed John
Gilbert. The Roper flows into the Gulf of Carpentaria 250km east of
Stuart's present location and was used by Charles Todd as an
advance supply depot, as far as navigable, for steamers servicing
the Overland Telegraph a decade later.
On 30th June, Stuart, who had just enjoyed the cooked
flesh of a drowned horse, crossed the Roper and came upon a
jovial aboriginal family ... 'There were three men, four lubras and a
number of children. One, an old man presented a very singular
appearance - his legs about four feet long, and his body in all seven
feet high, and so remarkably thin he appeared to be a perfect
shadow. Mr Kekwick having a fish hook stuck in his hat, which
immediately caught the tall old fellow's eye, he made signs of its
use, and that he would like to possess it. I told Mr Kekwick to give it
to him, which seemed to please him very much. After examining it,
he handed it over to a young man, seemingly his son, who was a

Page 96 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

stout, fat fellow, and who was laughing nearly all the time. The other
was a middle-aged man of the ordinary height. The women were
small and very ugly. Wind southeast. Latitude14º47'24.'
(No interpreter was available to convey the women's thoughts about
the Wee Scot).
These folk, the Mangarayi people, would have been the
immediate forebears of the people of the so-called 'Never-Never
Land', an early-20th century creation of Jeannie Gunn, newly-
minted memsahib wife of Aeneas Gunn, manager of Elsey Station,
near Mataranka. The Gunns married in Melbourne on 31st
December, 1901 and came soon afterwards by ship to Darwin, rail
to Pine Creek and horseback to Elsey. They were there a little more
than a year when Aeneas died of Blackwater fever (a form of
malaria) on 16th March, 1903.
Jeannie returned to Melbourne where she wrote two
books based on her brief experiences as a station manager's wife,
The Little Black Princess (1905) and We of the Never Never (1906);
the books sold half a million copies in the English-speaking world;
white Australians in the coastal cities consumed them deliriously;
the books reinforced their beliefs that the childlike station blacks
were being cushioned against their inevitable dying out by the
patronage and indulgence of kind people like Aeneas and Jeannie;
'wild blacks' were another matter, but Mrs Gunn's casual references
to Aeneas' armed 'nigger hunts' were excised for suburban
sensitivities when the books became beloved set texts for
schoolchildren up until the 1950s.
Her tales of the Mangarayi people, combined with Stuart's
journal remarks about the apparent family of aboriginal freaks on
30th June, 1862, portrayed as lunatic itinerant strolling players,
assisted a closed-mindset in urban Australia that seriously hindered
rehabilitation and reconciliation. ('Haven't they all died out yet?')
Today, the 5000 square kilometres of Elsey Station has been
handed back to the descendants of Jeannie Gunn's Never Never
and is undergoing extensive re-vegetation by the Northern Land
Council to become an aboriginal-operated pastoral enterprise ...
But, hey, we're not here to worry about the still desperate
circumstances of many Northern Territory aborigines! We're with
John McDouall Stuart as the expedition heads northwest on
Tuesday, 1st July, 1862, leaving, as Stuart tells us, the simple
savages staring in amazement at the horses eating grass.
A week later, proceeding northwest, crossing some granite
and sandstone rises, with intermittent small creeks, they came upon
a broad, flowing one with a very interesting animal bone nearby ...
'Tuesday, 8th July. - This I have named the Fanny, in honour of
Miss Fanny Chambers, eldest daughter of John Chambers, Esq. In
a small tree on this creek, the skull of a small alligator was found by
Mr Auld ...' (about 30km further northwest) ...' ... came upon another
large creek having a running stream to the south of west, and
coming from north of east. Timber, melaleuca, palm, and gum with
some of other description. This I have named the Katherine, in
honour of the second daughter of James Chambers Esq. The
country gone over today, although there is a mile or two of light

Page 97 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

sandy soil, is good for pasturage purposes, in the valley it is of the


finest description.'
In chivalrously naming the waterways after the Chambers
cousins, Stuart has left us a conundrum or two: Fanny's Creek
seems to have evaporated, goodness knows why, and Katherine's
Creek (which became the river) was named after, well, Catherine ...
but the name has stuck and is now a fine river, a world-famous
gorge and a town of more than 6000 people, the third largest in the
Northern Territory. And that 'skull of a small alligator'? Freshwater
crocodiles are not usually aggressive, but their macho saltwater
comrades have been found 300km inland. Charles Todd would have
to be forewarned before he sent crews in there to erect his whistling
wire.
Stuart's expedition was less than 250km due south of their
objective, Van Diemens Gulf. Northwest was the Beagle Gulf, and
the site of the future city of Darwin, named in 1839 by Beagle's
captain, John Clements Wickham and his second-in-command,
John Lort Stokes, after the evolutionist Charles Darwin, a
passenger on an earlier circumnavigation by the Beagle. West was
Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, discovered in 1803 by the French navigator
Nicholas Baudin, who honoured Napoleon Bonaparte's eldest
brother. East was the Gulf of Carpentaria, named in 1623 by the
Dutchman Jan Carstenszoon after Pieter de Carpentier, Governor
of the Dutch East Indies.
And coming up the middle was the Wee Scot who'd one
day have the highway up the centre bearing his name! Think! He
might become the most applauded Scottish long-range explorer
since Alexander MacKenzie crossed Canada in 1793! Even more
famous than David Livingstone in Darkest Africa! Unless some other
explorer stole his thunder, of course ...
The party crossed the Katherine early on 9th July, but
Stuart suddenly felt unwell, and they camped after just 20km. Next
day, he had recovered and they pressed on ... 'Tuesday, 15th July. -
Billiatt's Springs. I have named these springs in token of my
approbation of his thoughtful, generous and unselfish conduct
throughout the expedition' ... the plethora of landmarks meant
Stuart began to exhaust his supply of names: Priscilla Chambers,
who had a creek in South Australia, got another in the Top End at
Latitude12º56'54 on 18th July; so, too, did Anna Chambers on the
19th! ... the landscape changed and they were passing clumps of
bamboo ...'
Thursday, 24th July - I did not inform any of the party,
except Thring or Auld that I was so near the sea, as I wished to give
them a surprise on reaching it ... '...they struggled on through
twisted scrub ... ' ...'Thring, who rode in advance of me called out,
"The Sea!" which so took them all by surprise, and were so
astonished, that he had to repeat the call before they fully
understood what was meant. Hearing which they gave three long a
hearty cheers. The beach is covered with a soft blue mud; it being
ebb tide. I could see some distance, found it would be impossible
for me to take the horses along it; therefore I kept them where I had
halted them, and allowed half the party to come on to the beach

Page 98 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

and gratify themselves by a sight of the sea, while the other half
remained to watch the horses until their return. I dipped my feet,
and washed my hands and face in the sea, as I promised the late
Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell I would do if I reached it.'
They were on a long (60km) narrow, curving beach in Van
Diemens Gulf, just west of a small knob known today as Stuart's
Point; Stuart named the sweeping inlet Chambers Bay, and the
smaller one beyond Stuart's Point, Finke Bay. To the west,
Chambers Bay was defined by the jutting peninsula of Cape
Hotham; this little cape's name was not up for grabs in 1862: and it
was not named after Sir Charles Hotham, who had presided, at a
distance, over the bloody Eureka Stockade fiasco at Ballarat in
1854, but an older relative, Admiral Sir Henry Hotham, an old
Napoleonic Wars sea dog whose admiring protege, Phillip Parker
King marked it on the charts in 1818. Immediately west of Cape
Hotham was the mouth of the Adelaide River. And 45km southwest
of that was the future city of Darwin.
'Friday, 25th July - Charles Creek. (named after John
Chambers' eldest son) ...had an open place cleared, selected one
of the tallest trees, stripped it of its lower branches, and on its
highest branch fixed my flag, the Union Jack, with my name sewn in
the centre of it; when this was completed, the party gave three
cheers, and Mr Kekwick then addressed me, congratulating me on
having completed this great and important undertaking, to which I
replied. Mr Waterhouse also spoke a few words on the same
subject, and concluded with three cheers for the Queen and three
for the Prince of Wales.
'At one foot south of the foot of the tree is buried, about
eight inches below the ground, an air-tight tin case in which is a
paper with the following notice: South Australia Great Northern
Exploring Expedition. The exploring party, under the command of
John McDouall Stuart, arrived at this spot on the 25th day of July,
1862, having crossed the entire continent of Australia from the
Southern to the Indian Ocean, passing through the centre. They left
the City of Adelaide on the 26th day of October, 1861, and the most
northern station of the colony on the 21st day of January, 1862. To
commemorate this happy event, they have raised this flag bearing
his name. All well! God Save The Queen!' Then they turned their
horses for home. South Australia could now write to the British
Government asking for (and receiving in 1863) a mandate over
Northern Australia. The race to secure the route of the Overland
Telegraph had been won, without any real challenge from the
Queenslanders.
You'd think Stuart and his loyal men would be well-
satisfied, wouldn't you? Three thousand kilometres from home, but
assured of the concentrated adulation of the Empire when they
reached civilisation and could advise a breathless world of their
magnificent feat ... well, at that very moment, a sturdy British chap
named John Speke, a Devon lad from Bideford, across the county
from the sadly-lamented William Wills' hometown of Totnes was
pushing aside the jungle fronds in Darkest Africa, the favoured
destination of England's armchair explorers, safe in their velvet

Page 99 of 162
Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

drawing-rooms.
We can compare their relative impressions of 28th July,
1862. Stuart, south of Van Diemens Gulf: 'We all passed a
miserable night with the mosquitoes - my hands, wrists and neck,
were all blistered over with their bites, and are most painful.' Speke,
10,000km northwest in Uganda: 'Most beautiful was the scene. It
was the very perfection of the kind aimed at in a highly kept park;
with a magnificent stream 600-700 yards wide dotted with islets and
rocks, the former occupied by fishermen's huts, the latter by terns
and crocodiles basking in the sun.' Speke, the rotter, had had just
discovered the source of the White Nile in the Victoria Nyanza at
Jinja, 30km east of Kampala! Stuart had cunningly followed Sturt's
lead of banning members of his party from keeping travel diaries.
But he'd just been scooped by the Source of the Nile!

19. 1860s: Money Men and the first Global Net

John Pender, financier in 1870 of the £666,000 Singapore-Australia


telegraph, was born into modest circumstances at Dumbarton, on
the Clyde, on 10th September, 1816. His birthplace in the west was
across the pinched waist of Scotland from Dysart, on the Firth of
Forth, where John McDouall Stuart was a squalling one-year-old.
Indeed, that year, 1816, was a good one for Australia.
On 30th December, another Scot, Governor Lachlan
Macquarie, in Sydney, sneaked the word 'Australia' into his official
journal ...'I talked to Secretary Campbell this day, for the first time,
on the important subject of his collecting the necessary materials
and information for writing a correct and impartial history of New
South Wales, alias Australia ...' Australia. Matthew Flinders wanted
to use the word, but was stymied by Joseph Banks. But Macquarie
would quietly triumph. Australia. Not New South Wales, or Botany
Bay, or Van Diemans Land. Australia. A name free of the dreaded
convict taint.
In fact, much was made of that taint in the Old Country,
but it was all but forgotten in most colonial society in the winter/
summer of 1862 as John McDouall Stuart made his way, painfully,
home to Adelaide, and John Pender, in his warehouse in
Manchester, plotted a worldwide electric telegraph grid with
Australia as a prized destination. The humble lad Pender had grown
into a multi-millionaire. Leaving Glasgow High School, he went to
work for a local textile factory. By the age of twenty-one, he was
manager, so he married his childhood sweetheart, Marian Cairns,
and she was promptly with child. Sadly, she died in 1841 giving birth
to their son, James.
Heartbroken, John Pender left baby James in the care of
relatives and went to Manchester where he made his pile in the
cotton trade. And it got better ... Indeed, many ambitious small
businessmen have been known to dribble with envy on reading of
the foundations of the Pender family fortune and how it contributed
to the England-Australia telegraph link. The financial complexities
aren't well known, but a brief unravelling proves rewarding. The
story began in the mid-18th century when a nouveau riche money-

Page 100 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

grubber, William Denison, sought a stately house, Ossington, to


match his wealth.
(Our narrator is Cornelius Brown, the amiable late-
Victorian [1852-1907] journalist and historian in a series in the
Nottinghamshire Guardian, 1889): 'The owners (of the manor) in
1753 were four heiresses, and these ladies sold Ossington to Mr
William Denison, an opulent merchant of Leeds, who took up his
abode there, and was High Sheriff of the county in 1779. Mr
Denison, by exercise of great diligence and sagacity, accumulated a
large fortune, amounting, it is said, to three-quarters of a million.
One of the successful enterprises attributed to him in several local
publications may be thus described: When the great earthquake
took place at Lisbon (1755), swallowing up large parts of the city,
many of the inhabitants who escaped with their lives were left
almost destitute of provisions and other necessaries.
'Mr Denison happened to have at that time a ship heavily
laden with such goods as the Lisbon people stood urgently in need
of; and the captain of the vessel, who had heard of the calamity,
sailed at once for the unlucky city, arriving there in advance of any
other ship. The result was a ready sale at high prices, and the
realisation of a profit which has been stated to be the equivalent to
a large fortune. That this is not a mere tradition is assumed from the
fact that when Mr Denison died at Bath, after discharging his public
duties faithfully and well, the monument erected to him in Ossington
Church consisted of a full-length marble figure, standing on a
pedestal, having a scroll in his hands, and underneath him the
representation of a ship unloading in the port of Lisbon.'
There are some concerned people who might consider the
Anglican layman William Denison's monument, while a tribute to the
virtues of dynamic enterprise, isn't in the very best of taste against
the backdrop of 60,000 and 90,000 corpses from the Great
Earthquake and subsequent tsunami on the Catholic All Saints' Day,
1st November, 1755, but, sometimes when opportunity knocks to
make an opportunistic killing, it really bangs loudly. After Denison's
death in 1782, the estate passed through family members until it
reached John Evelyn Denison, who cleverly married Lady Charlotte
Cavendish-Bentinck, daughter of the Duke of Portland, no less, who
arrived at Ossington Hall, bent double under the weight of her
dowry. Lady Charlotte and John Denison, later a respected Speaker
of the Commons, didn't have children, but much of their fortune was
inherited by a relative, Emma Denison. And this was where the
widowed John Pender entered the picture!
In 1851, he wooed and won the welcoming Emma
Denison. She gladly stowed her fortune in his vaults alongside his
and they lived happily ever after. She probably confessed, after they
were married, that she was related to the sour, unamused Tory
Governor of NSW, Sir William Denison, who had the pretty little Fort
Denison built on a rock near today's Sydney Opera House. John
Pender would have noted this fact before taking his carriage to his
vast three-storey warehouse located, by delicious coincidence, in
Portland Street, Manchester.
His workers packed cotton products to be distributed

Page 101 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

through Britain and Europe while Pender planned breathtaking


speculations in his panelled chambers. Speculate to accumulate:
that was the slogan of the Industrial Age. His thoughts often turned
to the advantages that would be offered by the electric telegraph in
the rapidly-changing raw fibres markets, particularly in those dark
times when the cotton produce of the U.S. Southern States was all
but denied to the mills of northwest England by the Civil War.
Pender had speculated millions in 1857 in the formation of
the Atlantic Telegraph Company, which planned a submarine
telegraph cable to the United States via Ireland and Newfoundland.
In the northern summer of 1862, the laying of that cable was
proceeding only intermittently, but John Pender was a man of great
patience. American oceanographers had identified a vast ocean
prairie they named the 'Telegraph Plateau' between the west of
Ireland and the North American land mass; this Nullarbor the of icy
depths would provide a smooth passage for the cable, eventually.
To his east, though his interest was purely curious, John Pender
had been receiving telegraphed reports from the Continent that
summer of the successful laying of a cable 20km across Lake
Constance, Europe's third largest and diplomatically most sensitive:
the lake, fed by the Rhine, was bounded by Austria, Switzerland
and German states, principally Wurttenberg.
The Money Men were gathering and their eyes roamed
the world.

20. Stuart's painful north-south homecoming

Meanwhile, in the southern winter of 1862, John McDouall Stuart,


heading south, had a puzzling encounter with aborigines which
seemed to bode ill for Charles Todd's future telegraph parties...
'Sunday, 3rd August. - Kekwick's Large Springs. Last evening, just
as the sun was dipping, five natives made their appearance, armed
with spears, and came marching up boldly within eighty yards of the
camp, where they were met by Mr Kekwick and others of the party
who had advanced to meet them; they were all young men, small
and very thin.' Stuart wrote.
'Seeing so many approaching them they soon went off.
They were all smeared over with burnt grass, charcoal, or some
other substance of that description. This morning, shortly after
sunrise, the same five again made their appearance. I went up to
see what they wanted; saw that they had painted their bodies with
white stripes ready for war. As it is my intention to pass peaceably
through the different tribes, I endeavoured to make friends with
them by showing them we intended them no harm if they will leave
us alone.
'One of them had a curious fish spear that he seemed
inclined to part with, and I sent Mr Kekwick to get some fish hooks
to exchange with him, which he readily did; we then left them. They
continuing a longer time than I wished, and gradually approaching
nearer to our camp; thinking perhaps they did not really wish to part
with the spear, sent Mr Kekwick back with it to them to see if that
was what they wanted, and to take the fish hooks from them; but

Page 102 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

when they saw what was intended, they gave back the spear and
retained the hooks; they offered another with a stone head upon the
same terms, which was accepted. Mr Kekwick had a deal of trouble
with them before he could get then to move off, when they were
joined by another and then went off in twos. In a short time, they set
fire to the grass all around us to try to burn us out ... ' The
aborigines continued to shadow them for days, but a feared attack
did not come.
By 11th September, having had several mystifying
encounters with curious, painted black men, they had passed
Newcastle Waters but were still 400km north of the present Alice
Springs. Stuart was increasingly ill. He wrote in his journal: 'I am
very doubtful of being able to reach the settled districts. Should
anything happen to me, I keep everything ready for the worst - my
plan is finished and my journal brought up to every night, so no
doubt whatever can be thrown on what I have done. All the difficult
country is now passed and that still to go over is well known to
those who have been out with me before; so there is no danger of
the party not finding its way back should I be taken away. The only
difficulty they will have to encounter is the scarcity of water, caused
by the extreme dryness of the season.'
With great tenderness, the others brought him home
safely, sometimes in a stretcher between two horses; one of the
younger men would take Stuart on ahead of the main party and
hide him under bushes to rest him while the others caught up. For a
few nights, near the MacDonnell Range, he kept Nash and King by
his side in case he died ... 'as it would be lonely for one young man
to be there by himself.' On 3rd November, they passed through
Brinkley's Bluff, in the MacDonnell Range ... and Stuart was feeling
better.
They crossed into South Australia in late-November and
met their first friendly white faces on 4th December at Mount
Margaret Station, one of the furthermost manned outstations.
Boundary riders were sent south to spread the news. John
Chambers, another of his sponsors and brother of the recently-dead
James, happened to be in the area. He recalled the events in an
interview with the Adelaide Observer in January, 1888: 'At Leigh's
Creek, I met him and his party and brought them through to
Adelaide, about the last 400 miles of their journey. They were all
emaciated when I saw them. Stuart would never have got through
but for Auld and others of the party. Coming down, I had the great
pleasure of witnessing the receptions of the party at Burra, Kapunda
and Gawler, and the enthusiastic terminations of the journeyings in
Adelaide.'
When Stuart and his companions reached the copper
town of Burra, 150km north of Adelaide on 16 December, 1862, the
explorer took advantage of the newly-installed telegraph technology
to send an official message ahead to the waiting city. Great was the
jubilation when word spread; Mrs Caroline Carleton, recent widow
of a country doctor, burst into verse which was published widely:
Full many a weary league
Of hunger, thirst and pain

Page 103 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Our brave explorer trod,


And traversed o'er again,
Before he reached the goal,
And cooled his burning brow,
And stayed his halting steps
Where the northern waters flow.

Grim silence reigned supreme,


Save alligator's plash,
Or sea-mews's shrilly scream,
Or ocean's restless dash:
Yet flashed that leader's eye'
And triumph filled his soul
As he heard bird's discordant cry,
And saw the water's roll.
It was enough to make a grown Scotsman reach for the bottle!
Caroline Carleton, South Australia's unofficial Poet Laureate, was
only recently widowed when she wrote those emotional verses. She
had received acclaim in 1859, when she won a competition
sponsored by the Gawler Institute, for Song of Australia ...
There is a land where summer skies
Are gleaming with a thousand dyes
Blending in witching harmonies, in harmonies;
And grassy knoll and forest height,
Are flushing in the rosy light,
And all above in azure bright -
Australia! (Etc)
There is no record of John McDouall Stuart humming the above
lyrics (music by Carl Linger, founder of the Adelaide German
Leidertafel) as he marched through the wilderness, nor that he
knew of her tragic circumstances; both her children died during the
1839 voyage to Australia, her husband breathed his last in 1861,
and her South Australian-born son, Charles, died aged twenty-two
in 1875. Caroline herself had already passed away the year before,
aged fifty-four. She would have sympathised with a fellow
immigrant, Sarah Brunskill, who lost both her children between
Portsmouth and the Canary Islands in 1838 ... 'I never look at the
sea without lamenting our poor, dear children,' she wrote to her
mother from Tenerife ... But, it's December, 1862, and we've
another future tragedy, John McDouall Stuart, making his painful
way slowly to Adelaide.
Stuart and the faithful Auld arrived in the metropolis on
17th December and the rest of their weary party joined them for a
grand parade through the city streets on 21st December, the same
day Melbourne had a public holiday so people could farewell the
remains of Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills. A great
mourning overcame the city of Melbourne, a sense that this marked
the end of the Golden Age, but there was a festival feeling in the
summery streets of Adelaide.
Alice Todd watched the parade with Charles and their
children, Charlotte Elizabeth (Lizzie), Charles and Hedley. And, of
course, the new addition to their family, Charles' niece, Frances Ann

Page 104 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Todd, a teenager but, oh, so polite and helpful! Alice, Elizabeth and
Fanny, as she was fondly known, had arrived back on the Irene
from England in mid-October. It was a splendid voyage under the
command of Captain David Bruce. Alice had taken out a personal
notice in the Advertiser (with the other First Class gentlefolk, do you
mind!) to thank the ubiquitous Captain Bruce for his consideration
and to wish him 'a pleasant and prosperous voyage home, and that
we may meet again in Adelaide in health and happiness ... '
But that day marked the beginning of a slow descent for
Stuart: his greatest sponsor and admirer, James Chambers had
died prematurely in August, 1862, his various ailments made
surveying work impossible, and he lapsed into a pleasurable
alcoholic state. He went to live at the Seaside Family Hotel at the
quaintly-named resort of Brighton (also dubbed the 'Riviera of the
South') on Holdfast Bay. John and Mary Chambers had him stay at
their house in Adelaide, but he felt ill at ease in the new Adelaide
society; the new Governor, Sir Dominick Daly, a Irish Roman
Catholic, no less, had said some kind words on Stuart's arrival; Daly
was reckoned to be a congenial companion, but an old, old gent at
64, just the same (and suffering, obviously but silently, from
debilitating anaemia). Stuart packed his trunk and sailed for London
to his widowed sister on 23rd April, 1864, in an updated version of
the Indus that had brought him from Dundee in 1838, all those dusty
years ago.

21. The 'Great Cable Armada' heads east

Across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the telegraph was
popping up on beaches everywhere, terrifying women hiding in
bathing boxes or risking a dip in the ravishing neck-to-knee
costumes of the era. In 1862, a cable 200km under the North Sea
connected the fishing port of Lowestoft, 170km northeast of London
to Zandvoort, Amsterdam's favoured beach of the middle classes;
at the same time, the cable steamer Berwick was unrolling a line
from the broad shingle beach at Abermawr, Pembrokeshire, Wales,
across 100km of the Irish Sea to Wexford, another move in the
ultimate all-out telegraphic assault on the Atlantic and North
America. In Abermawr, the telegraph operators worked at long
wooden benches retransmitting messages to or from London, while
the relief shift snored in triple bunks at the rear of the corrugated
cable shed. The tiny cable station's status improved during World
War One when it was given soldiers to guard the important link with
America.
In 1863, as John McDouall Stuart prepared to come Home
to London, six British ships were gathering in the Thames at North
Woolwich to become the 'Great Cable Armada': they were to sail on
a technological invasion of the Persian Gulf. The Imperial
Government had become impatient with the frequent failures of a
'free enterprise' cable to India via the Red Sea and had resolved to
install its own through the friendly Ottoman Empire: Turkey, its three
vassal states known collectively as Mesopotamia (Iraq), the Persian
Gulf, then coast-hugging the Arabian Sea to Karachi, the main port

Page 105 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

of present-day Pakistan, and overland to India, the brightest jewel in


Victoria's Crown.
Both the British Government in London and its civil
servants in the 'Raj', the new governing body which had assumed
power from the East India Company after the Mutiny, were tired of
India's telegraphic isolation; a message to England took a month by
sea, and many people were still nervously mindful of the appalling
tragedy, on both sides, of the Indian Mutiny, or Sepoy Rebellion, or
the First War of Independence, depending on your historic
viewpoint, in northern and central India in 1857.
The Red Sea cable had been commissioned in
embarrassed haste by the British Government in 1858, when the
events of the Mutiny were still the shocked topic of conversation of
Britons, lowliest and loftiest; the mutineers had not discriminated on
the basis of class: the British victims had included people of all
ranks, particularly women and children. The entrepreneurs, Lionel
and Francis Gisborne, won a concession from the Egyptian
Government to run an overland cable from Alexandria to Suez and
began to lay the cable in 1859, the same year construction of the
Suez Canal began (open for navigation, 1869).
The Gisborne brothers were Money Men supreme. They
scored a fifty year guaranteed divided from the British Government
of 4.5 per cent on their stockholders capital of £800,000 - without
having to give a guarantee in return that the service would work!
The ships of the British firm Newall and Company won the contract
from the Gisborne brothers to lay the cable from Suez, 2000km
southeast down the Red Sea and east past Aden. Unfortunately, the
cable failed because Newalls did not allow enough slack for the Red
Sea whose floor they did not survey adequately; they were not
prepared for thousands, nay millions, of jagged rocks; it was sadly
un-Biblical and certainly unsuitable for the Pharoah's chariots. The
whole venture was abandoned, but the Treasury kept paying
investors in the Red Sea Telegraph Company £36,000 a year for
the next fifty years! Ten years later, in 1870, the British Government
laid a successful cable through the Red Sea to India and, ultimately,
to Australia.
The Persian Gulf invasion fleet assembled at the Thames
wharves at North Woolwich across the broad river from Charles
Todd's boyhood borough of Greenwich and took aboard nearly
2000km of submarine cable between the five sailing ships, Marian
Moore, Kirkham, Assaye, Tweed and Cospatrick. The only steamer
in the fleet, Amberwitch, carried 40km of armoured shore ends. A
crucial private supplier in this largely government enterprise was the
London-based Gutta Percha Company whose equipment (said,
romantically, to be based on Italian pasta-making machines) made
the cores of copper insulated with gutta percha.
The other principal private company was William Henley's
Telegraph Works, at whose wharves the ships were berthed.
Henleys provided the iron wire armour-plating around the core, and
the cable-laying expertise. William Henley, who was then fifty-eight,
liked to tell his admirers that he made his unique wire-covering
machine from an old lathe he bought with a legacy left to him, in her

Page 106 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

dying breath, by an adoring maiden aunt. Whatever, he eventually


made the shore ends for the Trans-Atlantic cable and became
enormously wealthy.
Of course, the grand Persian Gulf enterprise would not be
complete without Charles Tilston Bright, then aged twenty-nine,
knighted by the Queen at just twenty-six for his services to the
telegraph and, by inference, the advancement of Her Glorious
Empire. Sir Charles was the latest high achiever from an ancient
Yorkshire family. He became a clerk in the Electric Telegraph
Company at age of fifteen and supervising engineer of the Magnetic
Telegraph Company at twenty; his immediate task then was to lay
the cable from Portpatrick, Scotland to Donaghadee, Ireland, the
first across the northern Irish Sea. William Henley welcomed him to
the team in London as Consulting Engineer; he wouldn't have to go
to the Gulf, but his name was important for the image of the project,
just as Isambard Kingdom Brunel's was as non-visiting Consulting
Engineer to the fledgling South Australian Railways in the 1850s.
On 15th August, 1863, the Marian Moore sailed east into
the Thames Estuary, and south for the Cape of Good Hope, with
her cargo of 175 nautical miles of cable. The others began to depart
within a month and assembled in December-January among the
seven islands of the northwest Indian port city of Bombay (Mumbai).
They were greeted by Sir Baartle Frere, the new Governor, and
Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Stewart, the Royal Engineer who had
become Director General of the Indian Telegraph Service.
Early in 1864, two steamers towed the Marian Moore and
Kirkham 1100km northwest across the Arabian Sea to the strategic
port of Gwadar. Kirkham began laying cable westwards towards
Musandam, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, at a hearty speed of
up to six knots. When she had exhausted her supply of 181 nautical
miles of cable, Marian Moore took over and completed the run to
Musandam. Now, it was the turn of the Tweed which was towed up
the Persian Gulf, trailing 347 nautical miles of cable to Bushire, an
East India Company trading post on the eastern coast of the Gulf.
Assaye laid the final 364 nautical miles of deep sea cable
to the port of Fao (Al-Faw), the southernmost port of the Basra
province of Ottoman Mesopotamia. It was here they encountered
their only difficulties: the flat-bottomed 'landing craft' Comet could
not get closer than seven kilometres from shore, so they lashed the
expedition's ten boats together and tried to make the beach. In the
end, seamen and local helpers manhandled the line through the
final two kilometres of low tide mud. Assaye, which still had cable
left, returned to Gwadar and laid the final section to Karachi with
Cospatrick in April-May, 1864.
So that, technically and geographically, was that: a
telegraph line ran nearly all the way from England to Singapore.
The only area of contention was part of Mesopotamia, where raiding
parties of Arab horsemen kept harassing construction gangs.
Someone came up with a clever idea: Why not pay the raiders to be
the construction workers' guards? Various sheiks endorsed the plan
and the line proceeded. In Manchester, John Pender, a quiet
investor in the Far Eastern schemes, turned his attention to the

Page 107 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Trans-Atlantic cable.
The rich spices of the Far East notwithstanding, America
was where the real idle money lay, bloating the Yankee foreign
investment houses, tied up on the blockaded wharves of the
Confederate cotton producers. Pender and his friends in the
Manchester cotton trade invested heavily in Egyptian growers
during the Civil War and abandoned them ruthlessly when the Civil
War ended, causing Egypt to go bankrupt in 1876 and thousands of
people to the edge of starvation. By this time, Manchester was in
daily, if not hourly, telegraphic contact with the good ol' boys at
mighty New Orleans Cotton Exchange, established in 1871. Sorry,
Egyptians, hell, them's the breaks, folks!
In 1864, while waiting for the Civil War to conclude and
the Atlantic telegraph to come online, John Pender had become a
patron of the arts, a suitable charity for a mid-Victorian industrial
baron. His particular interest was in the renowned painter, John
Millais, in his early-thirties, who declared his intention of abandoning
the arty-farty pretensions of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of
which he was a foundation member, and go for the quid. It worked;
he finished up averaging £30,000 a year and living in a mansion at
2 Palace Gate, Kensington.
His sentiments resounded through the cigar-stained
boardrooms of the Money Men; some likened it, favourably, to, say,
an earlier William Wordsworth offering shares in, say, The Lakes
Daffodil Franchise. John Pender approved Millais' decision to sell
out to populism and the 'tastes of the day' and commissioned him,
probably by electric telegraph (the email of the period), to come to
Manchester and render the pre-pubescent daughters of his second
marriage, Anne and Marian (named after his deceased first wife) to
canvas in oils.
The children's mother, the former Emma Denison,
probably chatted to him as he worked; he was much better escapist
value than an Emily Bronte novel: as a youth he had a torrid affair
with Euphemia Ruskin, wife of the critic John Ruskin who, it
emerged in the subsequent divorce trial, had failed, out of
politeness, to consummate the marriage, and she, poor thing, knew
it was lacking something but, as a well-raised Victorian girl, couldn't
quite pinpoint it. Euphemia married Millais and Ruskin, being jolly
sporting, continued to provide critical support for the artist.
'How is your wife's health, Mr Millais?' Mrs Pender might
have asked.
'Pregnant again, ma'am,' he would have replied.
'The eighth child, I believe?'
'Yes, ma'am.'
John Millais' lavish oil of Anne and Marian, Leisure Hours, was
received with much admiration when exhibited at the Manchester
Academy of Arts showing in autumn. It was, the critics noted,
'replete with sumptuous Venetian richness' and would 'steal back
the territory encroached on by the hostile medium of photography'.
Emma Pender found these remarks very satisfying, particularly the
comment about photography: she had heard gossip that a
clergyman named the Rev. Charles Dodson, while work-shopping

Page 108 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

material for a book, had photographed a girl named Alice Liddell,


aged about twelvish (the same as her girls) in an off-the shoulder
vest. She would buy a copy of the book as soon as it was published
in 1865 and assess it for indecencies before handing it to her
daughters. It was to be called Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Goodness gracious, these were difficult modern times to be bringing
up girls, what with all the new technology, and all!
John Pender's attention was not entirely distracted from
business by the family's giddying social and artistic success. By this
time, nearly 20,000km of cables had been laid west from Britain in
attempts to link the Old World with the America; the first cable, in
1857, had been abandoned; the second, a year later, caused
jubilation, particularly in New York, when congratulatory messages
were sent between Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan,
but the line failed after five weeks. It was disclosed later that the
cable had deteriorated, having been exposed to the air too long
before laying; its insulation was uneven and defective and, finally,
an attempt to revive it with a huge charge of electric current killed it
off completely.
The outbreak of the Civil War dulled any immediate
initiatives to resume the project. In the meantime, a British Joint
Parliamentary Committee on Submarine Telegraph Cables, taking
advice from such authorities as the physicist Lord William Kelvin,
recommended innovations in the construction, laying and electric
operations ... then waited for an outcome of the ghastly tragedy
which was the American Civil War.
By mid-1864, it had become clear to keen European
observers of the conflict that the North was ascendant. General
William Sherman had begun his savage scorched-earth 'March to
the Sea' in Georgia on 6th May which would end in Savannah two
days before Christmas; earlier, on 4th May, the Union Commander,
General Ulysses S. Grant, invaded Virginia with 100,000 men and
engaged in four battles over the next month, culminating in the
Battle of Cold Harbour, Virginia, in which 7000 men on both sides
died in twenty minutes.
In September, the Confederates lost control of the
Shenandoah Valley, in Virginia, which made the North impregnable
from attack; unaware of this, across the Atlantic a month later, some
desperate Southerners named their last raiding ship Shenandoah;
and this ship would drag Australia, unwittingly, into the last stages of
the Civil War. On 21st December, Sherman telegraphed President
Abraham Lincoln offering him Savannah as a Christmas present.
And just as it all began to draw to a close, the rampaging vessel
Shenandoah was steaming past South Australia, on its way to
Melbourne. Never was worldwide telegraphic contact with Mother
more urgently required!
The Shenandoah was an auxiliary steamer which had
been bought surreptitiously in England by Confederate agents as
the innocent Sea King. She sailed from Liverpool on 8th October,
1864, and was met off Madeira by a tender which carried the eight
guns needed to convert her to an armed merchantman. As the
Shenandoah, she sailed south, capturing or ransoming Union cargo

Page 109 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

ships, until she made her way east across the Indian Ocean. Her
appearance in Australian waters was first noted on 27th January,
1865, by the lighthouse keepers at Cape Otway, Victoria's second
southernmost point, who telegraphed ahead routinely to Melbourne,
believing she was a friendly immigrant vessel, the Royal Standard,
a regular visitor to Port Phillip.
When her true identity became known, there was great
consternation in the liberal-minded metropolis, where most of the
citizens had an abhorrence of slavery. Her captain, James Waddell,
demanded dry dock facilities, and when these were not forthcoming,
made thinly-veiled threats to turn his powerful guns on the city; the
colony could do nothing: it had loaned its only warship to New
Zealand the fight the Maoris! The Shenandoah was allowed into dry
dock, while Southern sympathisers among the local business
classes feted them shamelessly. A fiercely independent Victorian
goldfields newspaper, the Creswick and Clunes Advertiser reported
on 2nd February:
'The officers are fine, strapping, gentlemanly young
fellows, clothed in a most abominably ugly uniform. They are at
present sincerely to be pitied, for they never have an hour to
themselves. They are besieged day and night on board their vessel,
and are mercilessly lionised ashore. I do not believe if a couple of
tame tigers were to walk up Bourke Street in the middle of the day
that they would be followed by so many ragged youngsters as these
Southerners are by a lot of well-dressed snobs, who seem to have
the worst of all country vices, the vice of flunkeyism.'
Later in February, the Shernandoah set course for the
northern Pacific and the easy pickings of the Northern whaling fleet,
where she brought her tally of victims to thirty-seven. She kept
plundering her Union foes well into June, 1865, even though
Waddell was advised by a passing neutral captain that the Civil War
had ended in April. Finally, he ran up the Atlantic and surrendered
the ship at Liverpool after a quixotic adventure covering 100,000
kilometres.
Apart from all the unfortunate Northern skippers, a big
loser in the affair was the British Government which had to pay the
United States $US15.6 million in reparations for damage caused by
the Shenandoah and other English-based raiders, notably the
Alabama. Another big loser was the hapless Governor of Victoria at
the time of the Shenandoah's uninvited sojourn, Sir Charles Darling,
whose blunders in other colonial affairs, compounded by the
Shenandoah, made him the Imperial Government's prime
scapegoat; he resigned, a failure, and died in England in 1870. But
not even a telegraph line could have saved Charles Darling.
In 1864-65, while the Shenandoah was carrying out her
crazed last activities, John Pender renewed business ties with
Cyrus Field, a never-say-die New York entrepreneur who would be
known, eventually, as the American 'Father of the Atlantic
Telegraph'. Field was a millionaire paper merchant, one of ten
children of a preacher, who rose from shop assistant to owning a
mansion in the hyper-exclusive Manhattan enclave of Gramercy
Park by the age of thirty-five.

Page 110 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Field had met the American telegraph company owner,


Frederic Newton Gisborne, in the early-1850s and joined with him in
running a line from the North American mainland peninsula of Nova
Scotia 110km to the island of Newfoundland in 1855. All that was
needed now was a cable from Ireland 3000km to Newfoundland
and Europe would be linked with America. Just like that! In 1856,
Field sailed to England to raise venture capital and met the British
Foreign Secretary, George Villiers (Lord Clarendon). Their
conversation is said to have gone:
Clarendon: 'Suppose you make the attempt and fail ...
your cable is lost at sea?'
Field: 'Charge it to profit and loss, and go lay another.'
Clarendon had just negotiated a treaty favourable to
Britain at the Congress of Paris to end the Crimean War and was
well-disposed to the American's forthright manner. He
recommended him to John Pender, who had quietly interested
himself in the telegraph industry in 1852 by becoming a
shareholder, and later, director of the English and Irish Magnetic
Telegraph Company. In August, 1856, he was one of 245 people
who bought £1000 shares in Field's newly-floated Atlantic Telegraph
Company; he was elected to the board in December.
His new American partner crossed to Ireland and watched
HMS Agamemnon and USS Niagara leave the southwestern island
of Valentia, with the cable ... 'What God had joined together, let no
man put asunder,' said Field, seeing a mysterious plighting of the
troth between Old Europe and its young American bride. But the
marriage was not blessed. Two more abject failures and the short-
lived success of the 1858 line were followed by the intervention of
the Civil War and further efforts were curtailed until 1864.
That year, John Pender took charge, with the backing of
the railways magnate, Thomas Brassey. Cyrus Field was active in
raising £300,000 for the revived project. Pender suggested the
merger of Gutta Percha and Glass Elliott companies and personally
guaranteed £250,000 for the purchase of Gutta Percha's assets and
patents. The new company, the Telegraph Construction and
Maintenance Company (Telcon) was to make the main cable and,
having guaranteed this, the Atlantic Telegraph Company then
signed an agreement with the Great Eastern Steamship Company
to hire the mighty steam liner Great Eastern to lay the cable.
The Great Eastern, launched in 1858, was the vast,
opulent creation of the engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and the
designer, John Scott Russell. The 19,000-tonne vessel followed the
success of Brunel's pioneering iron steamship, the 3000-tonne
Great Britain (1843), previously the largest ship afloat. The Great
Britain had a shaky start, grounded off Ireland for nearly a year in
1846-47, but became famous on the England-Australia run from
1852-73. She brought 15,000 immigrants on thirty-two storm-
wracked, telegraph-free voyages, principally to Melbourne, the
preferred destination during the mid-Victorian Goldrush and post-
Goldrush era.
(For the demographically-minded, who'd like a change in
discussion from the telegraph and the weather, those 15,000

Page 111 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

immigrants have produced 250,000 descendants, or one person in


80 to be seen at any given time in Australia. To make the statistics
more personal, the Great Britain immigrants to Melbourne alone
consisted of 142 Smiths and 170 Jones, all solid full-fare-paying
immigrants, compared with, say, the 1828 Census of NSW which
showed 462 Smiths living on mainland Australia, of whom, not
counting their 'Currency Lads and Lasses' offspring, 95 percent
were convicts. But that was New South Wales in 1828! And using
the same mathematical formula, 2.67 million of Australia's
population of 20 million people are descended from 160,000
pre-20th century convicts from the British Isles.)
The Great Eastern's beginnings in the Thames were most
inauspicious: because she was the largest ship in the world (211
metres) she had to be launched sideways and refused to slide any
further after a metre. It wasn't until three months later, 30th January,
1858, that she floated on the river. Troubles dogged her fitting and
Brunel died of a second stroke on 15th September, 1859, when he
heard of a fatal explosion on board. Anyhow, after a series of
unhappy Atlantic crossings her owners decided she was too
expensive and laid her up in 1862.
She remained idle until the Atlantic Telegraph Company
chartered her in 1864. Pender and his partners recognised she had
one obvious advantage: she was the only ship in the world big
enough to carry all the telegraph cable for the Atlantic. This meant
ripping out much of her luxurious interior to make space. The Great
Eastern began laying the line on 23rd July, 1865, but the cable
broke 2000kms out from Valentia, Ireland, on 2nd August and was
lost in the murky depths. The great paddlewheeler turned for home.
But all was not lost. A director of Atlantic Telegraph, Daniel Gooch,
who was on board, wrote this letter from 'Lat 51-40-30. Long 14-4'
on 16th August (edited for comprehension) ...
'I daresay you will be glad we are close at hand again. We
hope to send letters ashore at Crookhaven (Cork) and a telegram
for the information of the papers and the public. We laid a little over
1200 miles of the cable when from an accident it broke and the end
went down two-and-a-half miles (four kilometres) into the depths of
the Atlantic. As before starting we believed such an event to be its
death, we did not come with proper tackle to get it again and had to
do the best we could with what we had. By way of practice, three
times we hooked it and after bringing it up about a mile each time,
our tackle broke and let it down again. After spending about ten
days in these operations and losing all the rope we had, it became
necessary to return to England and get what is necessary and go
out again. Whether we do this in October, or defer it to the Spring,
which I think best, there is no doubt the cable will be raised, joined
and completed ... ' On 30th June, 1866, the Great Eastern left the
Thames with new line and, on 13th July, began laying the cable
across the Atlantic from Valentia, joining the main cable with a shore
line laid by the vessel, Caroline, the previous year.
In the flush of excitement in London, hardly anyone
commented on the miserable death of John McDouall Stuart on 5th
June. He returned to London in 1864 to live with his widowed sister,

Page 112 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Mary Turnbull, and visited old friends in Glasgow next year where
'his eyesight and memory were so far gone that he was unable to
compose a speech, or indeed, to recollect many of the incidents
that happened throughout the course of his explorations,' said a
report. He died of a stroke, aged fifty, and Mary paid for him to be
interred among the horse-chestnuts, squirrels and foxes in Britain's
most fashionable cemetery, Kensal Green, in West London.
Only seven people attended the burial, none of them of
great consequence, compared with the 7000 who had turned out
when they buried the popular novelist, William Makepeace
Thackeray, in 1863. In fact, Stuart was trumped again in 1866 when
George Everest, the government colonial surveyor who had named
that mountain died later that year, aged 76, in Greenwich, no less!
The Germans even bombed Stuart's grave during World War Two,
but it was restored and now he lies, a brave Wee Scot, surrounded
by 500 titled Britons ... and Isambard Kingdom, his dad, Sir Marc,
and assorted Charles Dickens in-laws.
But that's enough soppy sentimentality ... it's summer,
1866, and we're paddling through the lurching Atlantic aboard the
Great Eastern, giddy with seasickness, sending plumes of choking
coal fumes towards the heavens, foulness enough to make the dark
satanic mills of the North of England green with envy ... and leaving
behind in its rattling wake the innocent island of Valentia, one of
Kerry's southwestern tips, a place where the mystical monks of the
Skellig Rocks sought refuge from the barbaric Viking raiders, lest
they be starved to death like their Abbot, Eitgal, in 812AD. Eleven
days later, 27th July, the belching sea monster sighted the fishing
village of Heart's Content, Newfoundland, and the two continents
were linked at eight words a minute for $US100 in gold.

22. Charles Todd, bare breasts ... and Eatanswill

In the southeastern Australian winter of 1865, while the mad


warship Shenandoah, was still massacring the Northern U.S.
whaling fleet, the Melbourne Herald made an extraordinary editorial
plea to be rescued from colonial outpost isolation: 'What with ocean
mails that won't arrive until their news is no longer news,' the
newspaper wailed on 20th June, 'and with telegraph lines that will
keep eternally breaking down whenever there is anything of
especial interest or importance to report from the great world
outside the Australian territory, we are undoubtedly a much-
enduring people here in Victoria. We freely disburse thousands of
pounds annually in order that we may get early and correct
intelligence of what is going on in the busy centres of civilisation in
Europe and at the theatre of the great war in America' ...
Just a moment! The American Civil War ended two months
ago and Abraham Lincoln's been assassinated by John Wilkes
Booth while attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford's
Theatre, Washington, and lies a-mouldering in his grave! Haven't
you antipodean colonials been told, anything? Are you
Australasians always the last to know? And those telegraph lines
that kept breaking down must have been Australian internal links,

Page 113 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

because the continent remained telegraphically isolated from the


world.
The newspaper's grievance was with the P. and O. Line,
the arrogant, belching steamship company which had a rich imperial
monopoly on the colony's communication with the faraway world ...
'Month after month comes round, and with it arrives not the punctual
mail steamer, but the annoyance of disappointed expectations, the
disgust created by news, out-of-date -news which is so stale, the
reader is conscious that he is filling his mind with matters that have
been swept both out of existence and memory in the countries in
which they first saw light. And this is all we get for subsidising the
great monopolistic company with a princely fortune annually. The P.
and O. Company treats us, in fact, as if we were very small people,
who must be made to feel it is a very great favour that they
condescend to serve us at all ... they place none but worn-out old
steamers on the Australian line, and leave their early or late arrival
here to all the mischances of wheezing machinery, or a barely sea-
worthy vessel ... '
The Herald wasn't demanding an earlier implementation of
the England-Australia telegraph - it knew that was on the way - but
a revolutionary scheme to break the dastardly P. and O. monopoly:
it suggested that Victoria, NSW, and South Australia should
combine their Immigration Funds to set up an independent shipping
service to provide faster immigrants and mails ... and news from the
Old World! But it all came to nothing. It would be like a Unilateral
Declaration of Independence. Who was more important in the eyes
of the Imperial Government - P. and O. or the Australian colonies?
And on 3rd March, 1875, three years after Melbourne came online
with the international telegraph, the same overbearing monopolist
could still advertise on page one of the Herald: 'Peninsula and
Oriental Steam Navigation Company, The company's steamship,
Ceylon, Captain W.B. Hall, 2111 tons 450 horse power. Under
contract to the Victorian Government for the conveyance of H.M
Mails will be dispatched from the Williamstown Dockyard Pier ... '
Across the dusty Mallee plains or over the foaming
Southern Ocean surf, 800km west in Adelaide, anticipating the
arrival of the electric telegraph on Australia's northern tropic shores,
Charles Todd quietly laid plans in Adelaide for the meteorological
forecasting network that would make him Australia's first People's
Weather Man. He'd already had a plan accepted by the the South
Australian Government based on daily reports from his expanding
network of postal and telegraph stations.
It was much easier for him now that he had been
recognised as Postmaster-General as well as Superintendent of
Telegraphs (and Government Astronomer: the sky's the limit, as he
would say!). He'd organised the exchange of data with the other
colonies, particularly with his new friend, Samuel McGowan, in
Melbourne, and even by sea mail to faraway New Zealand. Charles'
Observatory in West Terrace, from where he could hear the
comforting hum of his family in the attached Residence, became
something of a rendezvous for the scientifically-minded in Adelaide.
He understood why Colonel William Light had chosen the hill, with

Page 114 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

its commanding view of the district, to be his original Surveyor's


Depot in 1836.
But it was not easy to avoid being distracted in those busy
years of the late-1860s. Despite his dogged determination in the
matter of his duties, those weren't the easiest years for Charles,
he'd have to admit. It wasn't Alice's fault, really. Her life seemed to
be a continuing tragedy. It was her family, you know. They kept
dying. Brothers. Sisters. Father. It was the Bell family tradition, see,
Constant Death ... it seemed Alice could hardly open the post some
days when there wasn't another desperately sad epistle with a
Cambridge postmark ... the last was her dearly beloved sister,
Sarah, who died in 1868; and before her, brother Alfred, in 1866,
and before that again her father, the patriarch, Edward Bell, who
passed away in 1865 aged 71, indeed, a remarkable innings in that
poor, poor family.
Now, there was only her brother, John, left in Cambridge
to run the family corn and seed business ... and he'd brought a
manor house at Chesterton, on the Cambridge outskirts to escape
their House of Sibling Death at 3 Free School Lane ... and, of
course (how could he possibly forget!), Alice's mother, dearest
Charlotte, had taken ship to Adelaide kindly to join their happy little
family and give Alice advice on how to raise the children in the
beastly summer climate. And, he's reminded, his little brood had
increased with the addition of a girl in 1865 (what was her name?)
Ah, Alice Maude Mary! Another Alice! (how could he forget?)
If those domestic distractions weren't enough, delightful as
they might be, there was the jolly Royal Tour! Prince Alfred, second
son of Queen Victoria, stepped ashore on 31st October, 1867, from
his very own frigate, HMS Galatea, every British lad's dream,
bristling with the latest high technology: there was even a telegraph
cabin which could be hooked up to the domestic communications
grid so Prince Alfred's equerries could send messages ahead to
Melbourne organising supplies of Bollinger champagne and comely
professional girls of polite and discreet disposition.
There were many such lasses in the Golden City, and
Alfie's (that was the name he was known by his Mummy) equerries
knew just the chap to round them up, as the colonial sheep-herders
might say; his name was Frederick Standish, a chronically-broke,
gambling bachelor chappie who lived at the Melbourne Club and
happened to be the Chief Commissioner of Police. The Prince's
equerries didn't mess around when they arranged His Highness's
Pimps by Appointment!
Anyway, the Prince, who was also Duke of Edinburgh (as
if you'd never guess) was a Post Captain in the Royal Navy at the
age of only twenty-three: his astounding seamanship and personal
qualities must have led to his very rapid promotion. He visited
Charles Todd's Observatory without doing much damage, but he
had a particularly urgent request to make of the dusky maidens of
aboriginal persuasion who lived in the shadows of the whispering
white-barked gums at the edge of the metropolis of Adelaide. Their
spokeswoman's famous response was reported in the South
Australia Register of 4th November, 1867:

Page 115 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

'What for we do it more than white women?'


Alfie's equerries had asked them to dance bare-breasted
for him! They, quite reasonably, thought the opportunity to display
their wares should go to the town's society matrons. This was an
unexpected development and the whole proposal was hastily
abandoned even before the memsahibs had an opportunity to
consider their response. But what fun if they'd said, 'Yes'! In fact, the
magnificent riposte by the aboriginal women of Adelaide in that
spring on 1867 was in stark contrast to the indignities being suffered
by their indigenous kin elsewhere in the world.
In the United States, Colonel George Armstrong Custer, a
detestable media tart, was involved in a series of genocidal moves
against the Plains Indians which would culminate in the triumphant
slaughter of Black Kettle's Cheyenne on the Washita River the
following November, 1868; in Abyssinia (now Eritrea/Ethiopia), the
British were engaged in an exercise in imperialism which was
breathtaking in its cynicism and it has repercussions today in the
return of plundered crowns, manuscripts etc (through an Addis
Ababa-based organisation, AFROMET).
The Abyssinian crisis began early in 1867 when the Coptic
Christian King Theodore II (Tewodros) became impatient at Queen
Victoria's tardiness in replying to his request for guns to rough up
his Muslim neighbours. As a petulant reminder, he took eight British
hostages, including a woman and baby and the British Consul,
Captain Charles Cameron, and ensconced them in comfort in his
palace at Maqdala, in northwest Abyssinia. This came to the
attention of Queen Victoria and her pet imperialist Prime Minister,
Benjamin Disraeli, who was looking for a decent foreign policy issue
to hoodwink the British voter at the coming General Election.
Hapless King Theodore handed it to him.
Britain sent 12,000 soldiers from India, accompanied by
8000 labourers to build railways and so on. The British lost two
dead and 27 wounded in the subsequent campaign; the
Abyssinians suffered 500 killed, countless wounded and King
Theodore shot himself dead with a pistol Queen Victoria had given
him on a happier occasion. The hostages were perfectly well and
the British looted the palace, spectacularly: they used seventy
Indian elephants to haul the treasure away; however, certain guilty
parties are now returning pieces of booty to the Ethiopian people.
And the election?
The great British Public kicked the devious Disraeli out
and installed honest old William Gladstone who had what was
known as an 'ethical foreign policy'. The only positive to come out of
the whole affair was the successful test of a telegraph line from the
Red Sea coast to the hinterland in desert conditions. Charles Todd
was grateful for that but, as a humanitarian, would have preferred
the British had sought a less extravagant method.
At the time John Bull's mighty sledgehammer was about to
crush the piddling Abyssinian conker, Prince Alfie's Galatea was
paddling gaily along the southern Australian coast, having made an
opulent stopover at Rio de Janeiro with Emperor Pedro II, of Brazil,
and another at Capetown, where he met his first African chiefs. In

Page 116 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Adelaide on 31st October, he was welcomed by the congenial Irish


Governor Sir Dominick Daly of whom the Picturesque Atlas of 1886
said: ' ... was the only Roman Catholic governor that the colony has
ever had, and while his co-religionists were gratified by his
appointment, his judiciousness and liberality of sentiment rendered
it impossible for others to object to him on that ground. By his
venerable appearance, urbane manner and strict attention to
constitutional principles, he retained from first to last a high degree
of popularity ...' Unfortunately, the Atlas reported, on 19th February,
1868, his career was 'terminated by his death'. No one foresaw this
impending event during the Royal Visit, of course, and the Prince
laid the foundation for the Wesleyan College, which bears his name
today, and Charles Todd's Adelaide Post Office.
Prince Alfred sailed east to the glittering fleshpots of
Melbourne and Sydney, and the garden parties of Hobart and
Brisbane. In Melbourne, Irish Catholics stormed the Loyal Orange
Lodge on 27th November to mark his visit and one man died; in
Sydney, a tortured Irishman named Henry James O'Farrell shot him
in the back at a picnic at Clontarf on 12th March, 1868. The Prince
survived and O'Farrell was hanged on the 21st April while the
Sydney Morning Herald and other super-patriots screamed 'Fenian
Conspiracy'. The Prince, hearing tales of O'Farrell's muddled mind,
had suggested clemency; but the loyal execution had been carried
out.
Adelaide, having buried its own Irish governor without
conspiratorial talk, drifted back to its English provincial torpor. On
11th June, 1868, the Register's editor commented: 'Adelaide, like all
small and isolated communities, has passed through an Eatanswill
state of development during which it was full of its own importance -
impressed with the dignity of its increasing wealth, on familiar terms
with all leading citizens, and tormented by a passion for local news.'
The good people of Adelaide knew, in their hearts of hearts, what
the editor was talking about because everyone read Mr Dickens.
Eatanswill was the fictitious borough in Charles Dickens'
first novel, the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, or
Pickwick Papers, first published in instalments over 1836-37, at a
shilling a month in association with the Times. It was 'edited by
Boz', Charles Dickens' pen-name and became immensely popular,
even though some literary snobs rubbished it as an upmarket soap
opera. The Papers came out in complete book form on 17th
November, 1837, and in 1840, the celebrated novelist, William
Thackeray, something of a populists hack himself, gave it a
powerful stamp of approval: he said that 'a man who, a hundred
years hence, should sit down and write a history of our time, would
do wrong to put that great contemporary history of Pickwick as a
frivolous work.'
Eatenswill and the Pickwick Papers came into being about
the same time as Adelaide, and the Register suggested that the
pioneers of the far colonial town, having read Dickens' serialisation
before sailing, might have modelled their future home, in their
subconscious minds, on Eatanswill!' Why not? Confess your faults
early! ... 'It appears then,' Dickens wrote, 'that the Eatanswill

Page 117 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

people, like the people of many other small towns, considered


themselves of the utmost and most mighty importance, and that
every man in Eatanswill, conscious of the weight that attached to
his example, felt himself bound to unite, heart and soul, with one of
the two great parties that divided the town - the Blues and the
Buffs.' Was there such a division in Adelaide?
All towns, even Adelaide, have their social mysteries only
understood by those who have resided there for generations. But,
surely, Adelaide did not have a darker side like Eatanswill,
described by the Dickens scholar G.K. Chesterton (1903) as 'alive
with loathsome corruption, hypocritical in all its public utterances,
and venal in all its votes.' Certainly, a visiting Melbourne journalist
wrote of the Torrens River ' ... the river is emptied at stated intervals
to allow people to search for their friends and relatives ...' But that
was just a rude remark. Wasn't it?
Charles Todd went into the Observatory garden on warm
summers mornings to read the gauges on his white-fenced weather
instruments. His nostrils were tickled by the sweet breakfast tang of
fresh, steaming droppings on West Terrace, that busy, horsey
boulevard, and his hand swished the air, lazily but frequently, not
unlike the tail of a grazing steed ...
There is a land where summer flies
Come buzzing in your nose and eyes
Blended in witching harmonies
Australia! Australia!
So went the schoolboy parody of Caroline Carleton's Song of
Australia. But what use complaining about the natural hazards of life
in South Australia? Chin up! What was this defeatist poem in a local
newspaper titled 'Hot Weather'? The author complained ...
I puff, I blow, to ease my pain,
But none of this will do,
So long as Fahrenheit remains
All day at ninety-two.
Alice was uncertain about one occasional visitor to Charles'
Observatory. He was the eminent, rollicking George Strickland
Kingston, a pioneer of '36 and a discoverer of the supposedly
frequently-drained Torrens River. He had named the river after a
London-based Colonisation Commissioner, Robert Torrens, who
happened to be Protestant Irish, like himself, and therefore a man of
uncommon good qualities. Some said Kingston was rude and
overbearing, but Alice, being a young woman who knew about such
things, detected a vein of tragedy behind his bluff facade.
'You are a man who has known unhappiness, I suspect,
Mr Kingston?' she probably whispered.
'My wives keep dying,' he said.
She sighed. 'I have similar misfortune,' she said.
'With your husbands?' Kingston enquired.
'Oh, no! With my brothers and sisters!' she exclaimed,
'With husbands, I have been singularly lucky.'
Charles came to her rescue: 'She means she has had
only one husband.'
George Kingston was born in 1807 in the market town of

Page 118 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Bandon, County Cork, a descendant of extreme Protestant


enthusiasts (zealots, some would say) from England and Scotland
who were 'planted' in the district in the 17th century by the Earl of
Cork, Richard Boyle. Kingston trained as an architect and civil
engineer in Ireland before moving to England and becoming
involved in the planning for South Australian colonisation. He
embarked on the Cygnet in 1836 as deputy surveyor-general to
Colonel William Light, who sailed on the Rapid. Kingston made the
voyage without his first wife, his childhood love, Henrietta, but he
had the acquaintance of several South Australian Company officers
and their wives and children on the Company-chartered 240-tonne
barque under the sober command of Captain John Rolls.
Alice probably walked with George Kingston in the
charming flower garden she had established beneath the parlour
window of the residence. 'An English country garden,' she might
have said, wistfully, 'mind, we didn't have one at our town house in
Cambridge, so it's peculiar that I should start one here. I confess to
feeling a longing for Home at times, though I was ever so glad to
leave its deathly gloom a decade and a half ago.'
George Kingston paused to sniff a rose, as he'd heard a
gentleman does, in a gentlewoman's modest country garden:
'Charming, charming,' he murmured.
'Yes,' she agreed, 'but the credit must go to Mr Charles
Newman's nursery at Highercomb, in the Adelaide Hills. He imports
the roses in the dark holds of sailing ships all the way from the
gardens of Kent ... Mr Newman says roses are ideal for growing in
South Australia on account of their hardiness and drought
resistance.'
George Kingston laughed, indulgently. 'You forget,
madam, that I know more about drought than anyone else in the
colony. I've been keeping the colony's rainfall records since the
unfortunate demise of Colonel William Light in 1839.'
Oops! Charles had told her to be ever so careful in her
conversations with Mr Kingston, especially since he was the
guardian of those precious rainfall records, a member of the
Statistical Society, and extra especially since he was so sensitive
about the subject of Colonel Light. Charles said there was some
jealousy there and you just couldn't be too careful about ruffling
feathers in Adelaide. He mumbled something about Eatanswill.
'Your poor first wife, Henrietta, didn't come with you on the
Cygnet in '36?' Alice said, subtly changing the subject.
'Harriet, I called her, Harriet,' he said, 'no, she was ailing
and died in 1839. I saw her briefly when I returned on Company
survey business in 1837, but she was ailing, poor dear.'
She patted his arm, partly in sympathy for the loss of his
Harriet and partly because it was rumoured Colonel Light had sent
him back to England to get him out of the way because he was
making such a hash of the survey of the new colony.
'Ah, well,' she sighed, 'I suppose that you were fortunate
in 1842 in finding an exotic, seventeen-year-old bride, Luduvina
Cameron, to comfort you in your loss back in Adelaide.'
'She was the granddaughter of a Portuguese nobleman.'

Page 119 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

he muttered, rather too defensively.


'And a fertile one, too!' Alice might not have exclaimed. 'Six
children before she died in 1851.'
George Kingston paused. 'I gather,' he said, rather too
boldly, 'you were a ripe child bride yourself.'
She averted his flirtatious glance. 'But now, Mr Kingston,'
she said, 'I gather you have found renewed happiness since 1858
with your third wife, Emma, the widowed daughter of our late
foundation Harbourmaster, Captain Thomas Lipson?'
'Indeed, Mrs Todd, childless, but happy!'
Alice lowered her eyes. 'In fact, I believe you have may
have first met her during the long days and nights in 1836 when her
family were fellow immigrants aboard the barque Cygnet?'
'Ah, madam, I was twenty-nine years old and she was but
a slip of a girl,' he said.
Whether he blushed or not is beyond the imaginative
powers of this narrator. But it is unlikely: his brashness would have
forbade it. George Kingston was Speaker of the House of Assembly
and about to be knighted (1870) by the Queen. His wife looked
forward to the effect her elevation to the Bunyip Nobility would have
on the other ladies in Adelaide, Lady Emma Kingston! Such a
delirious promotion to the aristocracy was an undreamed fate in the
democratic days of the foundation of the colony in the 1830s.
Kingston was an assiduous self-promoter, but this would not really
bear fruit until the 1980s when some revisionist academics offered
the opinion, outlined in the Adelaide Review, that 'the site of
Adelaide had not been founded by Light. The survey of Adelaide
had only been managed by Light. William Light was officially the
founder because he had the authority to ratify the site. Due process
aside, he had little impact on the establishment of Adelaide at all.
The true founder was George Strickland Kingston, a civil engineer
previously disregarded as a plodding maker of uninspired
buildings ... '
Kingston's companions on the historic voyage of the
Cygnet in 1836 also included another twenty-nine-year-old, Boyle
Travers Finniss and his wife, Anne. Finniss was a pleasant,
bumbling fellow (as later alarming events showed), an Indian Army
brat born in a Raj-bound transport off the Cape of Good Hope in
1807. He attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and was
posted to Mauritius, then Ireland, with the 82nd regiment. In 1835,
he married Anne Rogerson, daughter of a Protestant landowner
near Mullingar, in the haunted beauty of County Westmeath west of
Dublin, and immediately began to plan a new life for them in the
soon-to-be colony of South Australia.
Finniss secured a land grant and sailed as one of the
assistant surveyors. He became a good and loyal friend of Colonel
Light, supported his choice of the site of Adelaide, and resigned
with him in 1837 in protest at annoying new instructions from the
London-based Commissioners brought to Adelaide by George
Kingston. Light was snubbed by Adelaide society as he lay dying of
tuberculosis in 1839, ostensibly because he was being nursed by
his faithful mistress, Maria Gandy, but the loyal Finniss was

Page 120 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

constantly at his side and was rewarded at seeing Adelaide's true


founding surveyor given a lavish funeral after his death on 6th
October.
Finniss and Kingston were present in March, 1851, when
an Old Colonists' Festival was held to celebrate the achievements
of 1836 and the greatness of their Sovereign across the seas. They
joined in a song whose lyric might have made Caroline Carleton,
later author of Song of Australia, tremble in envy:
Let all our cares and griefs be drowned!
With joy let every bosom bound!
Voices and instruments resound
It is our festal day!
A realm embracing every sky
O'er which broad day doth never die
From every shore sends forth the cry,
"Victoria, our Queen!"
God save Victoria! God save the Queen!
Shout 'mid Australia's festive scene,
God save the Queen.'
(Many years later, as the original settlers began dropping dead in
numbers - George Kingston died in 1880 - a letter in March, 1882,
in the Register stirred thought about the urgent need for an Old
Colonists' Association. An association was eventually founded,
accompanied by this poem in December, 1883:
A noble monument they leave behind.
Those brave old men. They meekly pass away.
We miss the gentle hearts, the sturdy mind;
But still their work grows mightier day by day.
Who made the desert bloom, the solitude
Grow tuneful with the voices of men? T'was they
Those brave old hearts - that noble brotherhood
Who one by one now meekly pass away.)
Finniss, who didn't pass away until 1893, had more reason than
most to attend that Old Colonists' Festival with his wife, Anne, and
their daughter, Fanny: she was born on 31st December, 1836, said
to be the first white girl born in the colony (although there have been
some other claimants) ... But, goodness! We are being distracted by
meaningless social chit-chat from the important Men's Business
being discussed by Charles Todd and Boyle Finniss in the
late-1860s.
Finniss, who'd had some business setbacks in the 1840s,
was elected to the first colonial legislature and, briefly, became the
first Premier in 1856-57. On 3rd March, 1864 he was appointed the
first Government Resident in the Northern Territory after its
annexation to South Australia by the Imperial Government the
previous June. Far away in London, important people had decided
that the Colony of South Australia had earned the right to administer
the hitherto unnamed portion of Australia, particularly after the
exploring feats of John McDouall Stuart. A mildly dissenting voice
was Henry Pelham-Clinton, Secretary for Colonies, Fifth Duke of
Newcastle, an Old Etonian friend of William Gladstone and an
informed supporter of colonial reformers in Australia.

Page 121 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Pelham-Clinton voiced doubts that the Colony of South


Australia, with just 140,000 white souls, would be capable of
managing and exploiting the vast fiefdom. But the South Australians
and their friends with contacts in high places in London lobbied
incessantly and conjured a land grab which would have been the
envy of Genghis Khan and his Mongol Hordes. The problem was
that they hadn't even explored the remotest corners of South
Australia properly: some happy tribesfolk lived in blessed ignorance
of the presence of the dreaded white invaders until the 20th century.
The British Government left the South Australians to it; they had
made clear they were not going to finance the venture. But they
also made clear they could take the Northern Territory back any
time they felt like it.
The South Australians took enormous satisfaction from
having put one over on Queensland which had been their chief rival
for stewardship of Northern Australia and the London-Australia
telegraph. Queen Victoria went to Westminster Palace to sign the
takeover, which put uppity Queensland firmly in its place ... 'Victoria
by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Ireland Queen Defender of the Faith to our trusty and well-beloved
Sir Dominick Daly Knight Greeting Whereas by an Act passed in the
session of Parliament holden in the fifth and sixth years Our Reign
entitled 'An Act for the Government of New South Wales and Van
Diemen's Land' it was enacted that it should be lawful for Us by
Letters Patent from time to time issued under the Great Seal of Our
Great Britain and Ireland to define as to us should meet the limits of
the Colony of New South Wales and to erect into a separate Colony
or Colonies any territories which then were or were reputed to be
thereafter might be comprised within the said Colony of New South
Wales And whereas by an Act passed in the session of Parliament
holden in the twenty fourth and twenty fifth years of Our Reign
entitled 'an Act to remove doubt respecting the authority of the
Legislature of Queensland and to annex certain territories to the
Colony of South Australia and for other purposes' ...
So much for Queensland's territorial ambitions. And
certain elements in that colony were about to engage in nefarious
activities which would put them further off-side with the fair-minded
Duke of Newcastle and other liberals in Britain: the nasty industry of
'blackbirding' which meant luring South Sea islanders aboard ships
and carrying them off to the tropical fields of northeast Australia; the
Brisbane Courier denounced it as 'Slave Trade in Queensland'.
The evil trade began, more or less, when the Sydney-
based cotton planter, Robert Towns, anxious to take advantage of
the paucity of cotton in Europe because of the American Civil War,
wrote a cunningly-phrased letter to the piratical skipper, Ross
Lewin, in Brisbane, on 30th May, 1863:
'You will call at such (Melanesian) islands as you are
known to the natives and explain to them what your objective is,
namely to engage for me fifty to 100 natives, all males on the
present voyage until they are better known in the district and colony.
I will prefer young lads from fifteen to eighteen in preference to
older men as the bulk. You must have some older men among the

Page 122 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

lots to induce the younger ones to enlist ... In conclusion, I must


remind you of my earnest desire that the natives are treated with
the greatest kindness, and on no account allow them to be misused
by the crew or any person on board.'
With words greased in hypocrisy, Towns despatched the
notorious Lewin to the New Hebrides and any other islands
convenient for the human harvest of his cotton fields labour. What
really happened was described on 30th January, 1868, by Ishmael
Williamson, a cook on the vessel, Syren: 'Some of them came into
the boats while others came in canoes to see the vessel, numbering
twenty-one, many of them bringing their clubs and instruments of
war with them. They were relieved of these on decks and taken
down to see the mysteries of the hold. When the vessel set sail, the
canoes were cut adrift and we bore away from the island. The wives
of some of these men swam after the ship for more than three
miles, crying loudly for the restoration of their kidnapped husbands.'
By this time, blackbirders had brought 2000 'kanakas' (a
Melanesian dialect for 'men') to labour on the plantations of
Queensland. Legislation outlawing the trade was introduced into the
Queensland Parliament and a number of blackbirders were jailed.
Several Royal Navy ships, notably the Basilisk, under Captain John
Moresby, hunted them down. It was hardly a congenial atmosphere
for the Colony of Queensland to be pressing its claim to be involved
in the very latest in technology, the international electric telegraph.
But we're being diverted by the delightful manners of 19th
century tropical North Queensland from Her Majesty's bossy
document putting the uppity Australian colonies firmly in their places
... 'it was amongst other things provided that it should be lawful for
Us by Letters Patent as aforesaid to annex to any Colony which
was then or might thereafter be established on the Continent of
Australia any Territories which (in the exercise of the powers
thereinbefore mentioned) might have been erected into a separate
Colony. Provided always that it should be lawful for us in such
Letters Patent to reserve such powers of revoking or altering the
same as it us should seem fit or to declare the period during which
such Letters Patent should remain in force and also on the
revocation or other determination of such Letters Patent again to
exercise in the respect of the territories referred to therein or any
part thereof all such powers and authority as might have been
exercised if the said Letters Patent had never been made now know
you that We have thought fit in pursuance of the powers so vested
in Us and of all other powers and authorities to Us in that half
belonging to annex And We do hereby annex to Our said Colony of
South Australia until We think fit to make any other disposition
thereof of any part or parts thereof so much of Our said Colony of
New South Wales as lies to the Northward of the 26th Parallel of
South Latitude and between the One hundred and twenty ninth and
One hundred and thirty eighth degrees of East Longitude together
with the bay and gulfs therein and all and every the Islands adjacent
to any part of the mainland within such limits as aforesaid with their
rights members and appurtenances. And We do hereby reserve to
Us Our heirs and successors full power and authority from time to

Page 123 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

time to revoke alter or amend these Our Letters Patent as to Us or


them shall seem fit In Witness whereof We have caused these Our
Letters to be made Patent. Witness ourself at Westminster the sixth
day of July in the twenty seventh year of Our Reign.'
The agreeable Henry Pelham-Clinton fell ill in April, 1864,
and resigned from all government offices; it is thought that his
sickness was caused by anxiety resulting from him carrying much of
the blame, as War Minister, for the deprived conditions British
soldiers suffered during the Crimean War. He died at his estate,
Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, on 18th October, 1864, at age of
fifty-five.
The historian, Cornelius Brown, reported: 'His Grace died
at Clumber with awful suddenness ... at twenty-five minutes past six
o'clock on that day, he was conversing freely with his solicitor, Mr
Quvry, that gentleman having been to the church festival in
Shireoaks, and the Duke had been expressing his gratification at
the great success of the festival, when he suddenly threw up his
arms, gave a shriek and died in about four minutes.'
Gladstone lamented: 'He was high and strong in
character, very true, very noble, and I think intelligible, which, as
you know, I think is rare in politicians.' Henry Pelham-Clinton was
justifiably estranged from his late father, the fourth Duke, who had
none of the above admirable qualities. Quite the contrary. He was a
member of the 'Ultra Tories' whose anti-Reform stance so enraged
the citizens that they burned the family seat, Nottingham Castle
Mansion, to the ground in 1831. The Fifth Duke, on the other hand,
had all of the qualities some South Australians of the period prized
in themselves. Today's South Australians wishing to give thanks to
this unsung hero can visit Clumber Park where the five-kilometre
entrance driveway of lime trees he created stand as his memorial.
Fortunately, the merciful intervention of death saved the
noble Henry Pelham-Clinton from the awful realisation of his
misgivings: Boyle Travers Finniss, while a man of unimpeachable
character, was a disaster as first Government Resident of the
Northern Territory. He took up his post in March, 1864, a month
before Pelham-Clinton reluctantly resigned as Secretary for the
Colonies, and promptly chose, to the horror of his companions, the
mosquito-infested mud flats at Escape Cliffs, at the mouth of the
Adelaide River, as the site of the future capital.
The area was supposedly dubbed 'Escape Cliffs' in 1839
when a survey party sent ashore from HMS Beagle used a
desperate ploy to escape from a band of threatening aborigines: the
whites began to dance and sing to distract the cliff-top natives, who
found the performance so side-splittingly funny the party was able
to retreat to the Beagle without loss of life.
Finniss named his new 'town' Palmerston, after the British
Prime Minister (known fondly as 'Lord Cupid' to Lady Jersey,
Princess Dorothea de Lieven, Russian Ambassador's wife etc etc)
and ordered his staff to survey town blocks for eager investors in
Adelaide and London. But his assistants and many of the eighty
settlers complained about the hopelessness of the muddy, malaria-
ridden site; Finniss pig-headedly refused to heed the dissent and

Page 124 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

secret letters were sent by coastal steamer to important people in


Adelaide ... and Finniss was recalled to face a Royal Commission
which censured him for wasting £40,000 pounds of public money.
Finniss' commission was withdrawn, but because he was
such a likeable chap, he was permitted to wear the title of
Honourable and was even appointed South Australian Auditor-
General in 1876! Finniss' Palmerston was abandoned in 1865, but
the intrepid visitor today will find remains of the bakehouse oven,
ship's water tanks, survey point, well, clay brick floor of Government
Resident's house, remains of a kiln, footpath and garden.
About the time the first Palmerston was abandoned, Henry
Temple, Lord Palmerston, died on 18th October, 1865, exactly a
year to the day after his loyal Cabinet member, the Duke of
Newcastle shuffled off the mortal coil; Palmerston was sadly
missed: he had presided over a period of Empire consolidation, he
was a fierce Abolitionist and he had succeeded in being named co-
respondent in an adultery divorce involving a Mrs O'Kane in 1863 at
the age of seventy-nine, a feat that was warmly applauded by some
aristocratic old chaps, and increased his popularity among the
common folks, even after it was dismissed. Two years later, when
he died, the population waited in anticipation to learn the cause of
death, and her identity. But it was only a chill, they said. His famous
last words were: 'Die, my dear doctor? That is the last thing shall
do.'
Naturally, he was an imperialist well worth remembering,
so his name was transferred to the new site surveyed by 'Little
Energy', George Goyder in 1869 at Port Darwin and the town kept
the name until March, 1911, when it was changed by proclamation
to Darwin. But that was not the end of the name: on 1st May, 1981,
a satellite town 21km east of the City of Darwin was gazetted 'Town
of Palmerston' and such was its popularity (like his Lordship's) that
it achieved the status of 'City of Palmerston' on 2nd August, 2000.
But we are getting a little in front of ourselves ... on 9th
February, 1869, George Goyder and his 150 survey men and others
arrived from Adelaide in the Moonta to answer the demands of land
buyers who were still awaiting title of properties they had bought
before the ill-fated Finniss foray (the Moonta expedition was
particularly civilised: they had their own ship's newspaper, the
Moonta Herald, published seven times during the long voyage, and
a Greek cook, Mr Kangris, forerunner of Darwin's vibrant non-
indigenous 'ethnic' community in 'Greek Town' and 'Salonika').
Goyder recommended the site of the new Palmerston
(Darwin) for the capital and his men began a survey of the future
city streets and adjoining agricultural lands, totalling 660,000 acres
(267,000ha) by the end of August; Goyder named a suburb after
Bellamack, a member of the local Larakia tribe who befriended the
party on its arrival, perhaps recognising, as Bennelong had done in
Sydney in 1788, the inevitability of the white invasion and who was
sworn in as a court reporter many years later to act as an
intermediary between the gentle Larakia and the new proprietors'
inflexible laws.
Goyder established his Lands Offices in the camp stables

Page 125 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

below Fort Hill and quickly allayed the concerns of the absentee
land selectors in London and Adelaide, who had forked out millions
of pounds as early as 1864 for 250,000 acres (100,000ha). The
proceeds had gone straight into the colony's Treasury, instead of
being spent on immigration, which had been the dream of South
Australia's philosophical founder, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, thirty
years before. But this was the New Age capitalist imperialism! That
Wakefieldian Dreaming was sooo 1830s!
Anyway, while George Goyder was carrying out his tasks
in Port Darwin, a swanky event of far greater immediate significance
for Australian communications was occurring in the sand dunes of
Egypt, 12,000km northwest. On 17th November, 1869, on the Suez
Plains, the French Empress Eugenie (1826-1920), a beautiful and
unrepentant autocrat a la pre-guillotine period of the 18th century,
opened the Suez Canal with her only son, the thirteen-year-old
Prince Eugene, dubbed 'Prince Imperial', at her side. Observing
were the amorous British Prince of Wales; he was far too young and
gauche for the occasionally-swinging Empress, the scheming
Prince of Prussia and the stolidly dyke-minded Prince of the
Netherlands, who was fascinated to note that the waters remained
benignly in place when the final barrage in the Canal was breached.
This solved a question that had occupied scientific minds since
1800, when Empress Eugenie's husband's uncle, Napoleon
Bonaparte, had wished to build a canal. His engineers advised him,
quite erroneously, that locks would be required because the Red
Sea was higher than the Mediterranean.
In Australia, the opening of the 160km canal was long-
anticipated and greeted with great joy, although the principal news
in the southeast was that the Irish bushranger, Harry ('Never
Insulted A Woman') Power, was on the loose again in central
Victoria with a fifteen-year-old apprentice named Edward Kelly, or
Ned to his close mates. That aside, it was announced that the new
canal would cut weeks from the journey Home. Letters and loved
ones would arrive sooner. And, of course, written contact would
become even faster with the opening of the international telegraph
in three years. But first, there was a looming problem which could
affect both European access to the Suez Canal and the route of the
electric telegraph ... and it involved the glamorous Empress
Eugenia, her husband, the Emperor Louis Napoleon, the young
Prince Eugene, the scheming Prince of Prussia ... and the
imperialistic Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
Bismarck was busily bringing the independent States of
south Germany into his unified Greater Germany, and his plans
involved a war with France so he could incorporate Lorraine and
parts of Alsace into his new Reich; he lured the French into a fight
by having them object to a German takeover of the Spanish throne
and, hey, presto, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The
Prussians won, Emperor Louis Napoleon and his family fled to
England, where the Empress was good chums with Queen Victoria,
and had, secretly (goodness, yes!), an old flame-in-exile, Princess
Melanie von Metternich, wife of the Great Manipulator.
The young Prince Eugene, unfortunately, craved a

Page 126 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

commission into the British Army, but his career ended when he
died, heroically, revolver in hand, under a hail of Zulu spears at
Isandhlwana on 22nd January, 1879, the same day as the more
famous Battle of Rorke's Drift (starring Michael Caine and Stanley
Baker). And so ended the Napoleonic Dynasty.
But did it? Even the romantic among us recognise the
following tale might be a fable, but who can be sure ... ? Charles
Todd, the astronomer, wouldn't have told the yarn to his children
because it wasn't known in the 19th century ... the story goes that
the Mother Empress flew off into the heavens when she died in
1920 and became a huge and bossy asteroid and the young Prince,
who had been drifting wanly through space, patiently waiting for her
since 1879, became her faithful moonlet, whizzing around her every
five days.
Emperor Louis Napoleon was nowhere to be seen,
possibly because was known to enjoy the company of other
heavenly bodies, notably the Russian Princess Dorothea de Lieven
(see also Lord Palmerston). Twentieth century astronomers gazing
at the twenty-five major objects in the crowded 'asteroid belt' circling
the sun between Jupiter and Mars noticed Eugenia's attentive moon
in 1998 from an observatory on Hawaii's highest peak, Mauna Kea
volcano.
Serious star-gazers had known about Asteroid Eugenia
(45) for many years. She had a very unladylike diameter of 214km,
and when they found her little satellite, small and thin like the Prince
himself, they didn't quite know what he was; they dubbed him S/
1998/Eugenia (45)1 and tried to establish more facts. He was only
13km across and kept a cautious 1200km from Mother, but he was
very, very special. He was first asteroidal moon to be discovered by
ground-based telescope; the actual first was Asteroid Ida's little
partner, Dactyl, found by spacecraft Galileo in 1993.
In May, 2000, the Eugenia watchers' leader, William
Merline, wrote to the International Astronomical Union in Paris,
founded in 1919 to safeguard interests of things in space, to
suggests a name for the new moon: 'We, the discoverers of S/1998
(45)1 propose the name "Petit Prince" (unhyphenated and
unconcatenated) for approval by the IAU ... in honour of the Prince
Imperial of France, the only child of Eugenia, Empress of France
during the reign of Napoleon 111, and namesake of Asteroid (45)
Eugenia ... The name itself is derived from the book Le Petit Prince
(Little Prince) by Antoine-Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupery, whose
central character was the famous asteroid-dwelling Little Prince.
The book, Le Petit Prince, is arguably one of the most well-loved
children's books in the world (translated into over 70 languages). It
is also the book from which many young people first learn about
asteroids ... ' The International Astronomical Union, of course, said,
'Yes! Oui! Bravo! A triumph for adaptive optics!'
Back in 1869, there was another hush-hush astronomical
matter which Charles Todd didn't know about ... a meteorite had
struck near the projected track of the Overland Telegraph about
900km northwest of Adelaide, leaving an impact area at least 70km
wide. This event happened 590 million years ago, so Charles

Page 127 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

probably wouldn't have been overly concerned, even if he had been


alerted. The odds of it happening again in the near future were fairly
slender, even in someone like Charles' seemingly-endless term of
office in the South Australian Public Service.
This particular meteorite strike, known to scientific insiders
as 'the Acraman Impact Event' (presumably described in non-
alarmist language so the populace wouldn't panic) wasn't detected
until the late 20th century by Australian geophysical/astrobiological
boffins assisted by unmanned American satellites. Their report said,
in part, 'the ejecta horizon is a significant synchronous marker layer
that provided datum for plotting planktonic acritarch species
distributions observed during biostratigraphic studies in the
Australian terminal proterozoic ... ' If that sort of alarmist talk isn't
enough to make you drive your mobile home off the Stuart Highway
and study the heavens very, very nervously ... !
The collision of the Acraman meteorite (or comet?) was in
the Officer Basin, later the peaceful Pitjantjatjara tribal lands, then
the Woomera rocket range, stretching from the Stuart Highway, in
northwest South Australia far into the desert of Western Australia.
More recent research has indicated that the impact may have
caused greater earthly disruption than earlier thought - a global
catastrophe on a scale similar to that which caused the extinction of
the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, leading to the end of the
'Age of Reptiles' and the beginning of the 'Age of Mammals' ...
Goodness gracious! And you said nothing dramatic ever happened
in South Australia! This severe local Neoproterozoic Perturbation,
as the scientists describe it, takes Adelaide right out of the realms of
Dickens' Eatanswill and puts it up there with New York, London and
Paris!
And that's not all ... In 1873, the explorer Ernest Giles
came upon a feature 150km west of Alice Springs he named
Gosse's Range (or Bluff). Much later, astronomers came to the
conclusion that a very large lump of space rock slammed 600
metres into the ground, vaporised and exploded, sending a
mushroom cloud into the sky that was not equalled until the British
nuclear tests at Woomera 130 million years later. Charles, of
course, was not aware of any of these events, but he would have
become suspicious about galactic activity had he seen one of the
planet's most perfect craters at Wolf Creek, south of Hall's Creek,
Western Australia. But, in 1869-70, that was yet to be discovered by
white men.

23. Outback ... and Byron's inspirational girl-child

A government surveyor, William Whitfield Mills, aged twenty-six,


came upon an oasis in this flinty Red Centre landscape; he urged
his mare to a dry river bed of soft, yielding sand, muffling her
hooves now, drifting silently past hastily-abandoned campfires,
aware of the black figures flitting nervously, noiselessly, among the
grey-white eucalpyts. Those people had been custodians for tens of
thousands of years of this delicate, fragile piece of earthly elegance,
lost to them forevermore from this moment. Mills was the first white

Page 128 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

man here; the government issue map had said 'unexplored' this
morning; he would fill in the gaps by the light of his campfire that
night. The date was 11th March, 1871. In his journal, he recorded
'numerous waterholes and springs, the principal of which is the
Alice Spring, which I had the honour of naming after Mrs Todd.'
Alice Springs! There you have it. One day, it would
become, perhaps, the most famous small town in the world. A Town
Like Alice. A hometown to yearn for by folk who'd never been there.
But not yet, alas, because the eyes of the Victorian-era parlour
exploration enthusiasts were fixed firmly on Darkest Africa again!
We had John McDouall Stuart upstaged by the Source of the Nile in
1862, and now the New York Herald's Henry Stanley was about to
make tabloid journalism history, striding towards Lake Tanganyika,
brushing those ubiquitous jungle fronds aside, rehearsing the
famous line he would utter on 10th November ... 'Dr Livingstone, I
presume?' No words that year could match Stanley's, not the cries
from the barricades of the Paris Commune or the shrieks from the
Great Fire of Chicago which began when Mrs O'Leary's cow kicked
over a candle, resulting in 90,000 homeless and $196 million in
damages. William Whitfield Mills' line... 'honour of naming after Mrs
Todd' ... seemed awfully tame by comparison.
Mills had a very busy naming day that 11th March, 1871.
He began with the 'Charles' River which enters the 'Todd' River at
the north end of his line of 'waterholes and springs'. People have
long assumed he was honouring his employer, 'Charles' Todd, but
there are those who suspect he was secretly perpetuating a
favourite village of that name from his boyhood in Devon. He then
bestowed 'Todd' on the broader strip of sand flowing north-south
through the oasis and out through a break in the MacDonnell
Ranges; he called this chasm Heavitree Gap. Once again, a myth
grew that 'Heavitree' was Charles Todd's middle name. In fact, it
was the village near Exeter, also in Devon, where young Mills went
to school; Heavitree was distinguished in 2002 in having a yew tree
in the churchyard named as one of the '50 Great British Trees'. This
tree is unlikely to be associated with its name: the name is thought
to derive from heafod treow, Saxon for 'head tree', where chiefs,
would meet or, alternatively, a handy place for hanging people from
sturdy branches. The new Heavitree Gap became the site of the
first permanent police station in the Territory ... and the place where
the broken tribespeople went to get their government rations.
Mills happened to name 'Alice Spring' that day because
the South Australian Government had signed an agreement with the
newly-formed British Australian Telegraph Company to build a
3200km Overland Telegraph line from Darwin to Port Augusta in
return for a submarine telegraph line from Java. It was all done in
frightful haste considering the slackness shown towards the project
since Stuart's great pioneering expedition eight years earlier. The
South Australians, having been granted virtual sovereignty over the
vast realm of Northern Australia, had done little to explore their
empire. Goodness, they hadn't even found Ayers Rock yet, and that
was a fairly obvious eminence! In the end, four men forced the
pace: John Pender, the industrialist; Sherard Osborn, a gallant,

Page 129 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

cutlass-waving style of British naval officer; George Goyder, 'Little


Energy', the South Australian chief surveyor ... and the quiet,
determined and very clever Charles Todd.
John Pender, who had grown enormously wealthy,
gradually withdrew from day-to-day involvement in his Manchester-
based textile interests in the late-1860s. He was able to express a
longtime interest in progressive and humanitarian British politics
through William Gladstone's socially reforming Liberal Party (no
relation to its later Australian conservative namesake) and became
MP in 1865 for Totnes, in Devon, coincidentally the hometown of the
lately-deceased explorer, William John Wills.
Pender took up stately residence at Footscray Park, in
Kent, to be closer to the action in London, and participated in the
foundation of various temporary telegraph companies as the need
arose ... Anglo-American Telegraph Company to lay the Atlantic
cable, British Indian Submarine Telegraph Company in 1869 to
rationalise communications with Britain's most valuable colony ...
and the British Australian Telegraph Company in 1870 when he took
responsibility for raising £660,000 to complete the task of linking
Australia to the British Empire through Java (which was then Dutch)
and British Singapore.
Sometime in the 1860s, or earlier, John Pender, had
become acquainted in London with Sherard Osborn RN, who was
basking in the glow of publication of his rousing My Journal in
Malayan Waters (1861), a pigtail-pulling account of his adventures
in suppressing pirates, principally Chinese, in the blockade of
Kedah, a sultanate on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula. These
pirates seized local trading ships and stole their cargoes of spices
and other delicacies required in the refined houses of Europe;
therefore, they had to be suppressed by the navies of the faraway
colonial masters.
Sherard Osborn, later to become an admiral, was one of
the most heroic European commanders in these foreigner-bashing
Oriental pursuits. He was one of those commendable Children of
the Empire, born in Madras, India, in 1822, son of an army colonel,
a Navy volunteer at fifteen attached to the India station, commander
at twenty-seven of the Pioneer, sent to the Arctic to search for the
ill-fated Sir John Franklin, missing since 1845 in search of the
Northwest Passage. In 1864, he became managing director of the
Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, founded the
same year by John Pender. It became the umbrella company
covering all Pender's telegraph activities, including Australia.
Osborn was in his late-forties, a celebrated publicist, the sort of
reliable chap you'd see on the cover of a 21st century prospectus
for a retirement village; Pender was in his mid-fifties, the devious
and worldly Scots holder of the strings of a very fat purse.
In London, they'd been fortunate to find a friend of their
ambitions in Francis Dutton, a clever, mid-fifties man who knew
more about South Australia than anyone outside the colony. He was
South Australia's loyal Agent-General in London, the colony's
mercantile and diplomatic 'ambassador'; he'd made his pile in the
discovery in 1842 of the fantastically-rich Kapunda copper mine,

Page 130 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

north of Adelaide whose ore produced 22.5 percent pure copper,


nearly a world record. The discovery, in partnership with Charles
Bagot, helped cushion South Australia against the wool recession of
the early-1840s and the eastern colonies' gold discoveries of the
1850s. As a consequence, everyone in South Australia adored
Francis Dutton.
One day late in 1869, rumour has it, a luncheon meeting
took place in the recently-renovated Parliamentary dining room;
Commons now shared with Lords and, because of the more refined
culinary tastes of the latter, a tank of live turtles was installed in a
corner at the behest of the Joint Houses Kitchen Committee. It was
near this tank that John Pender MP's guests sat down. Present,
apart from the host, were Francis Dutton, Captain Sherard Osborn
and his younger brother, Noel, a navy commander who had taken
leave to perform certain private travelling duties for his elder sibling.
Host Pender might have put his guests at ease with a little-known
tale about the dining customs of British politicians ...
'In the old days, before there was a dining room,' he said,
'Members of Parliament used to take their meals at Bellamy's eating
house. And do you know what the younger William Pitt's last words
were in 1806?'
'Oh, I know that, sir! Every British chap knows that!'
exclaimed Noel Osborn, 'He said, "Oh, my country! How I love my
country!"'
A shake of the head. 'No,' said John Pender,'In fact, he
said, "Oh, for one of Bellamy's veal pies!" The more patriotic lines
were invented by his spin doctors who wanted the House of
Commons to pay his £40,000 debts.'
Francis Dutton leaned forward. 'Why are you telling us this
little parable?' he enquired.
'Because,' said Pender, 'Captain Osborn and I have
resorted to some, er, imaginative tactics to stir activity from the
Australian colonial governments with regard to international
telegraph services.'
Sherard Osborn, on behalf of the Telegraph Maintenance
and Construction Company had written in August, 1869, to all
Australian governments advising them of the company's offer to lay
a cable from Java to Burketown, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, to
connect with the Queensland telegraph system! This was a gigantic
bluff, aimed squarely at the tardy South Australians; Burketown was
considered the most lawless settlement in Australia, plagued with
tropical diseases and frequently isolated by monsoonal floods
covering areas the size of European principalities.
Dutton probably saw the joke and agreed to play the game
in the interests of South Australia's future: as he did in 1842, when
he and Charles Bagot found the Kapunda copper, he was riding to
the colony's rescue! At the request of urgently-concerned Higher
Ups in Adelaide, he 'convinced' Pender and Sherard Osborn to
reconsider, in the light of George Goyder's recent survey.
So Pender and his director cronies formed the British
Australian Telegraph to lay a line from Java to Darwin, raised the
capital quite magically, and had Sherard Osborn write to the latest

Page 131 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Governor of South Australia, Sir James Fergusson (who,


interestingly, died in an earthquake in Jamaica in 1907, the only
Scottish governor to suffer such a fate) on 22nd January, 1870, to
inform him of these developments.
This letter effectively killed the chances of two London-
based rival hopefuls, the Anglo-Australian Telegraph Company and
the Eastern Oceanic Telegraph Company, which were little more
than postal addresses. Sound familiar? Hey, that's international
capitalism at work! You'd have to admire the steel nerves of some of
these investors. Of course, they were attracted by some fancy
names: one of Pender's star director draw-cards was the 4th
Viscount Charles Monck, lately the beloved first Governor-General
of Canada and Lord of the Treasury in the Palmerston Government
from 1855-57. Talk about credentials, even if he was a director-by-
correspondence from his lordly estate in Ballytrammon, County
Wexford.
John Pender and Sherard Osborn couldn't resist a tease
in the January, 1870 letter; they suggested that their company
would be happy to run a branch connection to Burketown from the
main Darwin-Port Augusta line. They added that Commander Noel
Osborn was about to board a ship in London for Adelaide to discuss
these proposals.
On 29th March, the South Australian Government wrote
back suggesting they'd much prefer the line didn't include any
Queensland connection ... and quietly asked Charles Todd to work
out how much it would cost South Australia to build its exclusive line
south. Todd produced a figure of £120,000 and, on 18th June, the
South Australian Parliament hurriedly passed legislation agreeing to
this sum. The deal was done. The British Australian Telegraph
Company would pay to bring the telegraph to Australian shores in
Darwin; South Australia would pay to carry it to Adelaide via Port
Augusta. And Adelaide would become the hub of the Australian
telegraph.
According to Frank Clune in Overland Telegraph (Angus
and Robertson, 1955), Charles Todd described the events of 1870
in a lecture he gave many years later. In this talk, he gave credit to
the lawyer and politician Henry Strangways, who is often ignored in
the narrative of the momentous happenings of the 1860s-70s: 'I
discussed with Commander Noel Osborn (in Adelaide) my old
project of a landline across the continent, and pointed out the
advantages such a line would possess over one which kept for a
great distance in the flooded country around the Gulf of
Carpentaria. Mr Strangways, who was then Attorney-General, and
in whom the Overland Telegraph line had found one of its earliest
promoters in connection with Stuart's explorations, now took up the
matters very warmly.'
Henry Bull Templar Strangways was a lawyer, but an
admirable man all the same, if a little impatient with the intellectual
and administrative shortcomings of many of his fellow South
Australians. Charles Todd was not, of course, among this
unfortunate group. Strangways' great triumph was the Act of
Parliament which still bears his name: the Strangways Act of 1869

Page 132 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

was the new colony's first land reform and allowed families of
limited means to take up sensibly-sized small farms of 640 acres
(320ha) with a deposit of 25 percent and four years to pay. The
farms were to be in designated areas.
He was hailed in enlightened circles as 'the St George of
Land Reform', but this successful legislation was opposed by the
entrenched larger land owners, who took their revenge later by
blocking much of his other legislation, which led to his defeat as
Premier in 1870. Strangways responded by returning to England
(whence he had come in 1857) to resume legal practice in London.
He was then just thirty-nine, but he had the satisfaction of knowing
he was influential in two colonial initiatives: the Overland Telegraph
and an overhaul of property ownership less than thirty-five years
after the land had been grabbed from its traditional owners! But
what they didn't know wouldn't have hurt them, what!
The South Australian Government promised their British
partners that the landline would be finished by 1st January, 1872 ...
and set about to achieve the impossible. First, they made that task
harder by appointing a new Resident Commissioner, Captain
William Bloomfield Douglas, a congenial, red-nosed member of
Adelaide's B-list social set, who had a wife, Ellen, a brood of seven
children and a flustered, anonymous nanny. History shows that poor
Douglas was an even worse appointment to the Darwin post than
the amiable Boyle Finniss in the early 1864. Douglas was born in
Aberystwyth, Wales, on 25th September, 1822, and happened to
have an uncle (another parson!) who was married, fortuitously, to a
sister of the Rajah James Brooke, the benign plunderer in the
1830-40s of the rainforest, spices and indigenous artifacts of the
gentle folk of Sarawak (apart from the ghastly headhunters).
This distant family influenced young William Bloomfield
Douglas' career, although he had none of the swashbuckling
charisma of the mighty Rajah of Sarawak, an Empire-builder (and a
hero of Flashman's Lady) who had the memsahibs at Queen
Victoria's Court all wobbly-kneed when he went back to London to
collect his knighthood in 1847.
Douglas had a brief Royal Navy career as a captain's
servant before joining Brooke to fight pirates in 1843-44, according
to his account. By the next decade, he had become skipper of a
steamship in British waters, then applied successfully for the post of
harbourmaster at Adelaide, a task he performed well. In March,
1870, he was appointed Resident Commissioner at Darwin and left
with his family on the schooner Gulnane next month.
They sailed east around the continent and arrived in
Darwin in June to be welcomed by a crew of surveyors and police
who'd been idling around the place, beachcombing, since George
Goyder sailed south the previous November, having completed his
survey. The men liked Goyder, but it was a relief for some to see
him go: he was in the habit of demoting them temporarily for
swearing. William Whitfield Mills was one of these. And you had to
admit it was bloody hot up there. Oops!
The day Douglas and the Gulnane arrived in Darwin, the
barque Bengal, which had left Adelaide three week later, but sailed

Page 133 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

the other (sensible) way round Australia, appeared in the harbour.


Her passengers included the doughty John McKinlay, a searcher for
the late Burke and Wills, who was empowered to check the survey
on behalf of the impatient absentee land owners, many of them
investors in Britain; McKinlay was aged fifty-one, but he was worn
down by the exertions of his Outback life and died in Adelaide two
years later. On this assignment, one of his last, he had as his
assistant Stephen King, one of the splendid young men who had
accompanied John McDouall Stuart on his heroic journey of
1861-62.
Another Bengal passenger was Daniel Dominick Daly,
nephew of the late Governor, Sir Dominick Daly, a plain sort of
honest toiler, employed as a senior government surveyor and who,
for the sentimentally-inclined, nursed a burning passion for Resident
Commissioner Douglas' eldest daughter, Harriet, a slender, homely,
late-teenage girl, a true pioneering daughter of the Empire with a
tremendous tolerance for heat, monsoons, mosquitoes and the
earth-floored hut which became the first Government House.
On 15th September, 1870, about thirty of the European
residents trooped out to plant the first rough timber pole of the
Overland Telegraph line; the next critical stage would be the arrival
of the undersea cable from Java on 7th November, 1871, followed
by the grand opening of the line in Adelaide on 22nd August, 1872.
The Larakia people, who'd kindly donated the land free of charge,
turned out in numbers to applaud the white folks from the sidelines,
but their presence was not evident in the official photograph.
Resident Commissioner Douglas, the tallest figure in his
topee, is in the left of the picture, Harriet is near the centre, holding
a peg-pounding mallet, and Douglas' suffering wife, Ellen, is to the
right; she was not well, but she soldiered on courageously.
Instructions had already been sent by steamer from Adelaide to the
nearest cable connection in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) urgently requesting
Agent-General Francis Dutton to send supplies of wire, insulators,
batteries, 3000 iron poles six metres long and all the other
paraphernalia of telegraphy.
In Adelaide, Charles Todd assumed the unsung role of
Dictator of the Project; he was taking an awful risk; if it became
unstuck, there wouldn't be a wombat hole on the Nullarbor safe
enough for him to hide. But, confidently, he stood at his work table
and divided the centre of the great island continent into three
sections: Southern, Central and Northern. Let the work begin. Todd
must have felt the same nervous anticipation as William Hudson,
new supremo of the Snowy Mountains Scheme when they fired the
first ceremonial explosive charge of that other great public works
venture at Adaminaby in 1949, eighty years later.
A city reporter asked Hudson: 'You're drilling the tunnels
from opposite ends of the mountains? What if they don't meet?' Bill
Hudson didn't blink: 'Two tunnels,' he said.
Charles Todd ordered the Southern and Northern
Sections, with their easier access to supply from the sea, to be
handled by private contractors; the more difficult and remote Central
Section would be the responsibility of his own Department. John

Page 134 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

McDouall Stuart's maps were the guide, but a new generation of


explorers were authorised to select alternative routes if necessary.
Waterholes were the keys. Alfred Giles, one of the boldest
bushmen, recorded:
'The fact that we were the first white people to pass
through this country added greatly to the pleasure we all
experienced.' Droving bosses with teams of stockman were hired to
push vast mobs of sheep north; the initial order was for 2000 fresh
trotting mutton. Afghan camel drivers were imported to run regular
supply trains. This time, they remembered the lessons of Captain
James Cook in the 1770s and provided lime juice to ward off the
dreaded scurvy that so severely affected the earlier expeditions of
Charles Sturt and John McDouall Stuart.
In the northern South Australian desert of Todd's Central
Section, east of the Acraman Outer Space Object's crash landing
590 million years ago, a team under the government surveyor
Richard Knuckey, horses and men exhausted by the relentless,
breathless summer heat of 10th January, 1871, saw east-bound
bronze-winged pigeons low overhead, flying towards the south
western fringes of the Simpson Desert. The young horsemen were
Australian-born sons of pioneers, most of them, and they knew the
birds were making for water at dusk. They followed the flock across
a glowing orange moonscape and their horses suddenly raised their
weary heads. They smelled water. Soon, the riders came upon
reeds and then they saw, by moonlight, the gleam of a spring. This
was a place Stuart had missed in the northward journey 1861 and
they knew they had found an ideal waterhole for the Overland
Telegraph.
Next day, Knuckey named this oasis 'Charlotte Waters'.
Naturally, everyone assumed he'd was trying improve his position
by sucking up to the boss, the rotten crawler ... you know, naming
the place after Alice Todd's mum, Charlotte Bell. But that wasn't true
(though it could be supposed he was having, in the Australian
vernacular, a bob each-way). For heaven's sake, William Whitfield
Mills had already pulled that stunt in Alice Springs! No, no!
'Charlotte Waters' was a wildly romantic choice of name involving
the depraved Lord Byron and his dazzling heroine Ianthe ... and
here's how it came about in that speck in the Australian Outback ...
In Adelaide, resided the widowed Lady Charlotte Bacon,
ageing gracefully despite a wonderfully extravagant and abandoned
girlhood in the London of the Regency. She was born in 1801 and
learned everything she knew from her mother, Lady Jane Harley,
wife of Edward Harley, the fifth Earl of Oxford; she was said to have
been the brainiest, most beautiful and easily most promiscuous
woman in London; Lady Charlotte's own paternity was a constant
source of intellectual discussion over candle-lit suppers, as was that
of all her siblings (the children were known, jocularly, as the
'Harleian Miscellany', after one of his Lordship's obscure
publications).
Anyway, one day, when Charlotte was aged eleven, Byron
visited her mother and noticed the nubile lass. He dedicated Ianthe
in his book, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage to Charlotte and told his

Page 135 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

lover, Lady Caroline Lamb: 'I could love her forever if she could
always be eleven years old and whom I shall probably marry when
she is old enough and bad enough to be made into a modern wife.'
When Alice Todd heard Lady Charlotte Bacon's story over an
afternoon tea in Adelaide, she probably thought, 'Well, there are
similarities to my first meeting with Charles, but that's as far as it
goes.'
Lady Charlotte Harley grew up far too fast and, at twenty-
two, married an aristocratic bounder named Anthony Bacon, a
rascally cavalry officer with awesome debts, who was once
outwitted, for goodness sake, by the clown who ordered the Charge
of the Light Brigade, went in and out of prison for fraudulent
activities, and tried to swindle the Imperial Government out of
several colonies, notably Western Australia, South Australia and
Van Diemens Land. When all these ventures failed, he fought as a
mercenary in the wars of the Portuguese succession (on different
sides from that famous South Australian, Alexander Tolmer).
Eventually, he died in 1864 and Lady Charlotte Bacon and her two
adult children sought refuge in Adelaide, probably at the invitation of
the Governor, Sir Dominick Daly.
One of these children, Harley Bacon, who was honoured
with his grandfather's name (a lordly forebear of Harley's created a
fashionable sub-division in the London West End wilds of
Marylebone in the early 18th century and named one avenue
'Harley Street'; that's where all the medical doctors hung out their
shingles). Harley had a contract to supply live sheep to the
Overland Telegraph construction parties. (Ernest Giles, an explorer
who'd believe anything, met Harley Bacon at Charlotte Waters in
late-1872, when the telegraph began operating; Giles made
inquiries of the 'Charlotte aborigines', noted humorists, apparently,
who told him the western tribes were called 'Larapinta' and were
big, fat, covered in hair, killed other people, stole their wives and ate
pickaninnies [Giles' spelling]. So Ernest decided it would not be
prudent to visit there).
However, Charlotte Waters had been named by Richard
Knuckey before Harley Bacon's sheep-droving visit. The
circumstance of the naming was that Knuckey's team had been
given some books before their departure from Adelaide by the
beautiful and gentle Lady Edith, wife of the priggish Lowland Scots
Governor James Fergusson; they included good works, such as
The Bible, and also copies of the poets. Some evening, lying under
the world's brightest Milky Way, Knuckey found the reference to
Ianthe in Childe Harold; he made the connection with Lady
Charlotte ... and the name of a telegraph station (alas, a ruin today)
was born.
In gratitude to Lady Edith, surveyors found another spring
near the Simpson Desert and named it Lady Edith Spring, which
she asked them to re-name Dalhousie Spring (after her family seat).
And then, quite suddenly, Lady Edith died on 28th October, 1871, at
the age of just thirty-two. But her spring gushes forth today, fairly
undrinkable but nice to gaze upon in the evening's pastel light, one
of the greatest, gurgling expressions of the South Australian

Page 136 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Artesian Basin. Luckily, for the romantic reader, the divine Lady
Edith died a week after Daniel Dominick Daly married his faithful
Harriet Douglas in Adelaide, so there wasn't any vice-regal
mourning. And everyone lived happily ever after. More or less.
But, hey, enough of that soppy stuff ... we're building the
Overland Telegraph, an Outback epic of real men (and more
realistic women), of sand and stones, of mud and blood, and the
tears of the tribes ... on the Southern Section, which ran from Port
Augusta almost to the Northern Territory border, the privately-
contracted work was carried out by the forceful, lion-headed Edward
Meade 'Ned' Bagot, wealthy, late-40s pastoralist son of Anglican
Irish pioneers and brother of Charles, the Kapunda copper finder.
Once, it seemed, half the 'christianized' aborigines in the
southern deserts seemed to bear the name 'Bagot', but that wasn't
Ned's doing: it just happened to be the first white man's name they
heard when they were 'found' and 'brought in' to their European
salvationists' idea of civilisation, just as many of their later 'found'
brethren of Central Australia innocently called their new-born boys
'Hitler' or 'Mussolini'.
Meanwhile, in the burgeoning cities of the south, great
progress was made being in the field of democracy and her natural
partner, communications ... with the possible exception of the
reception rooms of Government House, Adelaide, where the newly-
widowed Governor, James Fergusson, announced it was his duty to
'guarantee to those who come on my invitation to Government
House that they shall only meet there persons of respectable
character'.
Well, this insufferable announcement put a few brave
pioneering noses out of joint in a town which prided itself on its
gathering egalitarianism; Alice, it was agreed would qualify on the
grounds of respectability, but not for example, Lady Charlotte
Bacon, oh, goodness, no! ... Meanwhile, across the parched plains
in Melbourne, still Queen Victoria's Jewel of the South, the folk were
displaying their usual independent, buccaneering air ...
On Thursday, 13th April, 1871, the Rainbow Livery Stable
in Little Collins Street ('opposite the Police Courts') began to
advertise itself as 'Under the Distinguished Patronage H.R.H. the
Duke of Edinburgh (who'd last visited the Antipodes two years
before), the Aristocracy and Merchant Princes of Melbourne'. They
didn't mind a bit of Yankee-style self-aggrandisement in their
advertising in Melbourne: way back in the colony's infancy in 1840,
a real estate agent flogging blocks of land around Geelong, wrote:
'Underneath lies the of Bay of Corio, in comparison with which the
Bays of Dublin and Naples fall in to insignificance' and of Melbourne
' ... the pure water of the river (Yarra) cannot be equalled anywhere;
and of the salubrity of the air and the beauty of the situation it would
be plagiarism to speak.' They were writing adroitly about
communications and the climate!
In her parlour at 90 Russell Street, a Miss Needham
assisted communications by offering to teach 'ladies and gentlemen'
improved penmanship in eight lessons and claimed to have advised
privately in the homes of 'His Excellency, Viscount Canterbury,

Page 137 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Governor of Victoria, etc, Colonel Ackland Anderson', among many


notables. In other developments in communications Australia in
1871, Tasmania got its first steam railway, between Launceston and
Deloraine, Warwick connected with Toowoomba, in southern
Queensland, and a saw-milling company opened Western
Australia's railway first near the settlement of Busselton. And a fast,
reliable mail steamer service was about to begin between Sydney
and San Francisco.
While these distractions were happening elsewhere on the
continent, Charles Todd's Overland Telegraph was about to
encounter its first serious difficulties in the Northern Section. The
private contractors, William Dalwood and Joseph Darwent had
come from Adelaide on the steamer Omeo with eighty workmen and
began to build the line from Darwin towards Tennant Creek, 1000km
south where the Central Section began. All of the Northern Section,
including Tennant Creek, was north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Good progress was made and they planted 300km of their
poles south; then the summer monsoon arrived in November, 1870.
Rain turned the earth into an endless bog from which a man could
barely extricate a booted foot; mosquitoes brought tropical
diseases; supplies became irregular and the once-hearty meals
became inedible; on 7th March, 1871, the desperate contractors'
men went on strike against the conditions. The South Australian
Government's Northern overseer, the 26-year-old surveyor and
architect, William McMinn, impetuously rescinded Dalwood and
Darwent's contract in May and returned to Adelaide. Subsequently,
he was dismissed for his ill-judged actions and the hapless
contractors awarded £11,000 damages. But the Northern Section
was in a shambles.
This was where Charles Todd showed his leadership
mettle. He and his new Northern Section head, Robert Patterson,
boarded ships in Adelaide with 200 men, 170 horses and 500
bullocks to drag their equipment through the north's sticky morass.
On 24th August, 1871, they arrived in Darwin and, reviewing the
critical situation, Charles decided to move the rescue expedition
east to the Roper River, on the Gulf of Carpentaria. This would give
them closer access from the sea to the bogged 'head of the line'
near Mataranka.
Two tall-masted steamers, Omeo and Bengal, penetrated
the river mouth and found safe anchorage on its deep, broad lower
reaches. A camp town was established on the banks. The wet
season of 1871-72 was almost on them and the undersea cable
was drawing closer to Darwin. Charles knew that the Southern and
Central Sections were nearing completion. He had only to hasten
the completion of the Northern Section with his fresh men.
In the Roper River camp at this time, probably early-1872,
a famous photograph (among Overland Telegraph buffs) was taken
of four of the key men in this daring and risky seaborne rescue
strategy. They were pictured leaning against one of the bullock-
drawn drays that would jolt their supplies westward to Mataranka.
They had a jaunty, not-a-care-in-the-world air about them and were
(left to right): John Little, future head of the Darwin telegraph

Page 138 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

station; Robert Patterson, Todd's second-in-command (with dashing


bandana around his waist); Charles Todd (wearing his glamorous
cavalry riding boots) and a surveyor, A. J. Mitchell. The photograph
was taken by Captain Samuel Sweet, who had just piloted the
Bengal to its safe anchorage in the river. He had taken an equally-
famous photograph of the large group gathered at the site of the
ceremonial planting of the first telegraph pole in Darwin on 15th
September, 1870.
Samuel Sweet, along with the New Yorker Townsend
Duryea, became the most prominent of the people who recorded
the heroic age of South Australian exploration in photographs.
Townsend Duryea was primarily an Adelaide studio photographer,
capturing the pioneers, men and women, and their children in their
Sunday best: Sweet was a ship's skipper and enthusiastic amateur/
professional photographer who, fortuitously, was contracted to the
South Australia Government at the time of these historic events on
the colony's desert or eucalyptus jungle frontline.
Sweet was born in Portsea, Hampshire, in 1825, joined
the Royal Navy as a lad, and rose to various obscure commands
before joining a Liverpool-based shipping company as a master.
Early in the 1860s, he married Elizabeth Tilly in England and the
pair migrated to Australia where he'd vowed to make his fortune as
a cotton-grower in Queensland, assuming that the American Civil
War would last forever and there would be an insatiable demand
from the dark, satanic mills of Manchester.
Well, that didn't happen and the Sweets drifted to Adelaide
where he re-invented himself as a professional photographer and
worked in a studio in Rundle Street. Then the colony's impulse to
settle the north became urgent, the colonial government bought the
comfortable schooner Gulnare and, in 1870, Sweet found himself
captain of the vessel, ferrying Resident Douglas, his family and
associates north to Darwin.
Later, he found himself under Douglas' orders, carrying
out an errand in the Gulnare to the Portuguese-held island of Timor
to the north, Darwin's nearest 'European' neighbour, during which
he collected a cargo of eighteen buffaloes, ponies and,
unbelievably, monkeys which, mysteriously, vanished in the tropic
stillness of the Great Outback. On another mission to the Roper
River, he ran the Gulnare aground on a reef after which he was sent
back to Adelaide and the vessel condemned. Sweet was released
from government service and joined the Adelaide-based Black
Diamond Line, skippering colliers to the coppers smelters of the
Yorke Pensinsula.
However, he lost that job in 1875 when his ship, Wallaroo,
ran aground in a gale near the copper port of the same name; there
was some gossip that he was engaged in a cuddlesome moment in
the cuddy with his desirable wife, Elizabeth, who was on board at
the time, having left their nine children in the care of an
understanding housekeeper.
Anyway, the resourceful Samuel Sweet established a
photographic studio in Adelaide, bought a horse-drawn mobile
darkroom and began photographing the good citizens of Adelaide,

Page 139 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

their solid stone houses, their gardens and places further afield,
such as the bustling town of Port Augusta. The State Library of
South Australia holds nearly 700 of these catalogued images. One
of these shows the excellent organist and music teacher, William
Pybus and his wife soon after their wedding in 1885.
He was a cheery, chubby fellow; she, on the other hand,
was an innocent, oblivious, God-fearing voluptuouso whose figure
and curly locks were coveted by seedy connoisseurs throughout the
colony. That aside, the pleasant Pybus had narrowly avoided
involvement in a small-town religious controversy about 1870, when
Charles Todd and his brave men were battling to save the Overland
Telegraph.
In the early-1870s, the North Adelaide Baptist Church
moved from its chapel on LeFevre Terrace to its church in Tynte
Street. In the pioneer chapel, pious members had been happy with
Mr Furnell's tuning fork accompanying their hymns; in the new
place, they reluctantly accepted the upgrading from tuning fork to a
harmonium, but were aghast at the worldly extravagance of a £350
organ, even if it was locally made.
But Mr Pybus' angelic playing set them at ease and they
felt they had found a Godly musical path. Townsend Duryea
managed to avoid involvement in the Baptist's near-scandal, too.
Duryea came to Melbourne in 1852 from America where he had
trained as a mining engineer and photographer. Instead of taking
his mining expertise to the goldfields, he set up a photographic
studio in Bourke Street, Melbourne, and when the gold hysteria died
down, moved to Adelaide with his brother and partner, Alexander.
The pair became Adelaide's premier society
photographers, invested well in copper mines on the Yorke
Peninsula and built a thirty-foot cutter they used to race for wagers;
in 1863, they ended their partnership and Townsend Duryea
increased his fortune by introducing the personalised photographic
European Cartes de Visite, the very thing to drop in the silver
visiting tray of a society copper matron when you've been out in
your carriage in the heat, and the dust, and the flies, paying your
respects just as you'd do if you were back Home in that Green and
Pleasant Land. Duryea's cartes de visite bore his own coat-of-arms
and, after Prince Alfie visited his studio in 1867, the words, 'By
Appointment to Royalty'.
In 1865, Duryea did a very brave and hairy thing: he
climbed scaffolding around the lofty tower of the Town Hall with his
portable darkroom and photographed a 360deg panorama of the
city (now held by the State Library of South Australia). Everyone
oohed-and-aahed and he became quite famous in international
photographic circles. Panoramic photography had been popular in
the United States since 1851, following the huge success of
panoramic paintings in London since the Napoleonic Wars.
But the 'Duryea Panorama' was considered equal to any in
the world and preceded by years the British photographer
Eadweard Muybridge's panoramas of San Francisco in 1877-78.
But, alas, Duryea's photographic career ended in the early hours of
18th October, 1875, when fire destroyed his Adelaide studio and

Page 140 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

thousands of his negatives. Duryea took up a land selection in the


NSW Riverina, but his sons followed him as Adelaide
photographers.
Meanwhile, way up north, Charles Todd refused to be
distracted by the events back home (particularly the Affair of the
Baptist Organ) and a looming local Darwin scandal and pressed
southwards with his Overland Telegraph. The South Australian
Government was subject to severe penalties if the line to Adelaide
was not completed before the undersea cable came ashore in
Darwin from Java. The irritating Darwin troubles were caused by
Resident Douglas, frustrated in his efforts to be regarded as a Great
White Rajah, allowing his judgement to be swayed by certain
investments he'd made in the new-found Northern Territory gold,
and generally made a nuisance of himself by taking to the bottle,
the White Man's Tropical Curse.
Eventually, he was recalled to Adelaide and sacked with a
generous payment. But instead of retiring Home, as was devoutly
hoped, he followed his daughter, Harriet and her new husband,
Dominick Daniel Daly, to Malaya; they had hoped to make a new life
there in the colonial civil service, away from the old rogue. He
stayed for some years, embarrassing them frightfully, until he went
to Canada, fibbed about his age, and got splendid government jobs.
Daniel Dominick Daly died on 15th July, 1889, at Mempakol, British
North Borneo, and Harriet retired to London to become an
occasional correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald. She had
already written an account of her brief stay in the Territory, Digging,
Squatting and Pioneering Life in Northern Australia (London, 1887)
and a piece on importing British roses to British North Borneo to
compete, no doubt, with the delicate, indigenous begonia ...
But we're being diverted from our purpose once more ...
An assistant of Charles Todd, a vigorous Scotsman in his fifties,
John Ross, found a successful route through the MacDonnell
Ranges after William Whitfield Mills' delightful discovery of Alice
Springs. On 22nd August, 1872, the two ends of the line met at
Frew's Ponds and the Overland Telegraph was complete. Charles
Todd sent the historic message to Adelaide down the wire: 'We
have this day, within two years, completed a line of communication
two thousand miles long through the very centre of Australia, until a
few years ago a terra incognita believed to be a desert.' On 22nd
October, the first telegram arrived in Adelaide from England and the
tyranny of distance was banished.

24. Samuel Pepys and the Weather Man

Samuel Pepys, the London diarist, came home to Seething Lane on


21st January, 1661, and wrote: 'It is strange what weather we have
had all this winter: no cold at all; but the ways are dusty, and the
flyes fly up and down, and the rose bushes are full of leaves, such a
time was never known in this world before here. This day many
more of the Fifth Monarchy men were hanged.' Mid-winter in Ye
Olde England and they were sufferin' a bleedin' drought! Mind you,
the ones bleedin' the most were the ten Fifth Monarchy Men,

Page 141 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

religious loonies who tried to capture the restored King Charles ll's
London in the name of 'King Jesus' who was scheduled to appear in
1666. The nervous new king had them hanged, drawn and
quartered for high treason. Life wasn't all jugs of ale and cuddles
wiv' Nell Gwyn!
Charles Todd should have know all about these matters;
after all, he was a meteorologist, a Londoner from Islington where
the Pepys family had country picnics, and a protestant dissenter,
just like the Fifth Monarchists (though considerably more discreet).
Furthermore, Pepys had left his diary to his (Sam's) old college,
Magdalene, at Cambridge, where its ancient shorthand was
deciphered and the diary published in 1825, the year before
Charles' birth. Whether Charles Todd was as vitally interested in
world weather changes in the 19th century as we should be in the
21st is a matter for conjecture. But he certainly detected the El Nino
relationship between failed Indian monsoons and Australian
droughts during Australia's Centennial Year, 1888.
Let's assume he was curious about the possibility of
change in world climate patterns. Did he ever wonder at the effect
of the factories of the Industrial Age retching gases from the
smokestacks of England's grimy cities? They were approaching
Apocalyptic-awfulness as the graceful three-masted Irene carried
him and Alice away from the Grey and Grotty Land in 1855. Did he
even give a passing thought to the belching locomotives rushing in
later years across the plains of South Australia towards the late-
Victorian industrial cess pit Melbourne had become?
Or the first of the steam-powered superliners, SS Great
Britain gushing her coal-fired foulness into the atmosphere as she
carried her immigrants south to the New World? And wheezing and
farting all the way back Home again? Who knows? But what we do
know is that Charles Todd was now in a position to monitor the
weather hourly over a fair slice of the world's surface. 'The
telegraph to the meteorologist is what the telescope is to the
astronomer,' he observed in 1894. By the time of his death in 1910,
there were 510 rainfall reporting stations in South Australia.
If he'd a copy of Pepys' Diary (and he certainly would
have kept it from Alice's innocent eyes), he might have been curious
about the future of that winter's drought in 1661 ... on 15th January,
1662, Pepys recorded: 'Mr Berkenshaw asked me whether we had
not committed a fault in eating today; telling me that it is a fast day
ordered by the Parliament, to pray for more seasonable weather; it
having hitherto been summer weather, that is, both as to warmth
and every other thing, just as if it were the middle of May or June,
which do threaten a plague (as all men think) to follow, for so it was
almost the last winter; and the whole year after hath been a very
sickly time to this day.' Praying for rain. A solution offered in the
Australian State of Queensland in the winter of 2006.
'Did you know,' Charles might have said to Alice one
evening at the Observatory, 'that in the English winter of 1536-37,
the Thames was so frozen that King Henry VIII and his pregnant
wife, Jane Seymour, were able to ride on the river from London to
Greenwich?'

Page 142 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

'That's probably what killed her after childbirth in 1537,'


said Alice, ever the cheerful one on the subject of death in the
family.
Charles refused to be diverted. 'But only three years later,
a four-year drought began so severe that the Thames began to dry
up and sea water actually extended past London Bridge and they
were picking cherries before the end of May.'
'Ah, to be in England in May!' sighed Alice.
'The history of the weather has nothing to do with the past,
but everything to do with the future,' he said, mysteriously.
The year was 1873 and exciting news had reached
Adelaide. William Gosse, a young government surveyor trying to
find a route to Western Australia, had struck out west from the
telegraph line south of Alice Springs and discovered the most
extraordinary monolith ... on 19 July, 1873, he wrote in his journal:
'The hill, as I approached, presented a most peculiar appearance,
the upper portion being covered with holes or caves. When I got
clear of the sandhills, and was only two miles distant, and the hill,
coming fairly in view, what was my astonishment to find it was one
immense rock rising abruptly from the plain ... I have named this
Ayers Rock, after Sir Henry Ayers (Premier of SA).' The aborigines,
who actually found it first, called the rock Uluru, a name that was
restored more than a century later.
About this time, Charles' friend, George Goyder, having
returned from his successful survey of the Top End, was having
problems with a reckless bureaucracy determined to abandon his
'Line of Rainfall' which he had devised in the 1860s as the
northernmost line people could farm safely. By 1874, immigration
pressures had caused the government to throw open the land
above Goyder's Line. 'Rain follows the plough,' they said, quoting
an old English adage that breaking the soil released moisture into
the atmosphere, encouraging the formation of rain clouds. Not in
South Australia, it didn't.
At first they were lucky, but from 1880 onwards the rains
were intermittent; farmers failed and were relocated south of the
Line, leaving sheep runs denuded of native vegetation and causing
large-scale erosion. Goyder took no satisfaction in his vindication.
But his power increased and he insisted on the retention of stands
of trees when parcels of land were opened up to farmers and
graziers. Ultimately, it was all about adapting to the vagaries of
weather in the driest colony in the driest continent.
Charles Todd, meanwhile, thanked his lucky stars that the
Overland Telegraph was completed before one of the most exciting
events of his astronomical life: the first Transit of Venus since the
1769 event that brought James Cook and Joseph Banks in the
Endeavour to Tahiti and eventually, the discovery and claiming of
eastern Australia for the British Crown. The Transit, in which Venus
comes between Earth and the Sun, happened on 9th December,
1874, and was vividly observed from Australia, the western Pacific,
Japan and Central Asia. The entire Transit across part of the Sun's
blazing orb took four-and-a-half hours. Charles was so taken with
the spectacle that he had a temporary observatory built at

Page 143 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Wentworth, at the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers for the
1882 Transit.
Early in 1874, a tragic series of incidents began at Barrow
Creek Telegraph Station, north of Alice Springs, where a Mounted
Constable First Class, Samuel Gason, had been posted in 1871
after the white Telegraph employees became anxious about the
local Kaytetye aborigines. On 23rd February, 1874, Gason
telegraphed a message to Adelaide: 'This station has been attacked
by natives at 8. Stapleton has been mortally wounded, one of the
men, named John Frank, just died from wounds. Civilised native
boy has had three spear wounds. Mr Flint, assistant operator, one
spear wound in leg, not serious. Full particulars in morning. Second
attack expected.'
No second attack came and it was established later that
the whites had fenced off Barrow Creek's precious spring, the
tribespeople's only source of water for millennia. A year later, Gason
organised a punitive expedition of armed whites who drove all
aborigines before them; it is said they took not a single prisoner and
the place where they finally halted 160kms west of Barrow Creek
bears the name 'Blackfellows Bones', or 'Skull Creek'.
Further south, at Alice Springs, government officials were
beginning to implement the policy of forcibly removing the children
of relationships between full-blood aboriginal women and white men
who were coming to the Northern Territory in increasing numbers
since it was opened up by the Overland Telegraph. The confused,
dispossessed tribespeople were now congregating at the Heavitree
Gap police station where a rations depot was established; it was an
easy matter separating the obviously half-caste youngsters from the
rest.
The Europeans thought they were doing the right thing.
The ancient tribes would die out slowly, but those with European
blood would be taken away to be turned into real white people.
There was no particular malice; it seemed to be a perfect, well,
'Final Solution'. In 1914, a woman schoolteacher, Ida Standley, was
employed at Alice Springs (the famed Standley Chasm was named
after her) to ease the hand-over of the children. She even came to
be known as 'Beloved Lady'. In 1934 (the year after 'Stuart' became
'Alice Springs', when the Federal Government had resumed control
of the Northern Territory), it announced: 'It is the policy to collect all
half-castes from the native camps at an early age and transfer them
to the Government Institutions at Darwin and Alice Springs.' It was a
decision of the bureaucracy and took no consideration of breaking a
mother's loving bonds, or the loss of a child's ancient relationship
with his land.
The relentless, inevitable march of progress, they'd call it,
but you'd also wish the shrill 21st century deniers of Australia's past
would have the heart to recognise historic wrongs ... the misery,
murder and heartache ... You wonder at the muddle-headed agenda
at this new industry of historical revisionism. Who are they trying to
fool, and why? Some have even included denial of gradual climate
change on their peculiar agenda, as if there's some sinister link
between truths of the past and urgent speculation about the

Page 144 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

future ...
But, goodness, the 'Flat Earthers' of Stolen Children and
Global Warming would even have had their suspicions about the
amiable Charles Todd! He encouraged intercolonial and
international sharing of weather and climate information as early as
1870 when all Australian colonies began to co-ordinate their
temperature data collection. Australia's CSIRO Marine and
Atmospheric Research section has collated this data and the graph
shows a slight fall from 1870 to 1900, then a steady rise to 1940, a
levelling out until 1970, and a sharp climb thereafter. In the summer
of 1908, two years before he died, Charles might have retired to his
beachside house in suburban Semaphore to ride out a heat wave
he knew was coming: Adelaide had four days exceeding 40deg, not
exceeded until mid-January, 2006. Such have been the anomalies
of the Australian weather.
But let's not be distracted by the fascinations of our
weather ... the 1870s were extraordinary years in Australia in
telecommunications, not unlike the recent period, 1995-2005, in the
development of the internet, email and mobile phone telephony. The
1870s began with the seaborne approach of the international
telegraph and ended with the opening in Melbourne in 1880 of the
first telephone exchange. And then they tidied up the decade by
hanging the Last Outlaw, Ned Kelly, on 11th November at the Old
Melbourne Gaol ... and it seemed our rip-roaring colonial days were
over (oddly enough, the wildly improbable shooting death of the
Billy the Kid by the sheriff and media flirt, Pat Garrett, in New
Mexico, coincided with the opening of the telephone exchange in
Christchurch, NZ; New Zealand had been linked to Australia by
submarine telegraph cable in 1876). Before you knew it, Charles
Todd was demonstrating electric lights in the streets of Adelaide in
1881! The Age of Modernity had come and this was no society for
swaggering bushrangers; shuffling, woebegone convict iron gangs
of the eastern colonies seemed ghosts of an embarrassing past that
might never have existed, a part of someone else's ancestry.
In 1875, Alexander Graham Bell and his rival, Elisha Gray,
raced to patent the telephone in the U.S. Bell prevailed and the birth
of the telephone was announced on 10th March, 1876. In England,
on hearing the news (by telegraph), Sir William Preece, chief
engineer of the British Post Office, scoffed: 'The Americans have
need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger
boys.' A ship brought Bell's magic to Melbourne and the Weekly
Times of 5th January, 1878, reported: 'One of the most interesting
scientific experiments which have ever been made in the colony
took place at the Melbourne Observatory on Saturday evening. It
consisted of a trial of that remarkable little instrument, the
telephone, and it is satisfactory to be able to record the fact that the
test resulted in a decided success.'
The newspaper continued: 'Although the telephone is not a
very elaborate piece of mechanism, it would perhaps be unwise to
confuse our readers with the intricacies of its construction; we will
confine our description to what is necessary to give a good general
idea of the principles on which it works, Briefly then, it consists of a

Page 145 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

small box, about six inches long by two and a half inches in
diameter, containing several magnets, in front of which is the
diaphragm, a very thin sheet of iron, almost, but not quite, touching
the magnets. The telephone is then connected, with the wires, at
the other end of which a similar instrument is attached. When a
message is to be communicated, the sender puts his mouth to the
instrument and speaks, the diaphragm vibrates in accord with the
sound, and these vibrations are conveyed by electricity to the
diaphragm of the telephone at the other end, where they become
sonorous.'
The Weekly Times added: 'The voice, however, is so
much diminished that the listener, though he hold his ear to the
instrument, occasionally misses words, and sometimes is not sure
of what he does hear, but at other times everything comes out so
distinctly that even the voice may be recognised. On Saturday night,
Mr Ellery, with his staff of assistants and friends, connected the
telephone with about eighty yards of wire, and several messages
were exchanged between the main building and the laboratory. The
time was asked and given, quotations from Shakespeare were
rendered, and songs sung in one place were clearly audible in the
other. Several operatic renditions were next played upon the flute,
and an encore was demanded by the listener at the other end.'
Charles Todd found himself in friendly rivalry with a young
Scots immigrant, Alexander Dobbie, when it came time to introduce
the undoubted wonders of the telephone to Adelaide so soon after
his triumph with the telegraph. Dobbie was one of the most popular
chaps in Adelaide because he had a rare skill: he could hypnotise
people before they went to the dentist so they felt no pain (unless
they were run over by a horse and cart while getting across the road
to the dentist from Dobbie's house in College Park while in a
trance). Dobbie had arrived in Adelaide in 1851, aged eight, with his
parents and brothers, trained as a brass founder and had his own
factory and shops before he was twenty.
After a visit to the International Exhibition in Philadelphia
in 1876, Dobbie returned brimming enthusiasm for the latest in
American know-how: Remington's typewriter, Singer's sewing
machine and Heinz's Tomato Sauce (which he, undoubtedly,
corrected from 'Ketchup', as he would have Hines' Root Beer). He
also took particular notice of Alexander Bell's telephone and brought
home sketches of its innermost workings. He wrote an account of
his world travels that year, Rough Notes of a Traveller (1877) and
established an exhibition of his own at home so the citizens of
Adelaide could share in his discoveries.
An account of his first demonstration of the telephone said
'a conversation took place along a wire about a mile in length'. At
the same time, Charles Todd was making test telephone calls 15km
from his beach house in suburban Semaphore (where he'd installed
the world's most accurate time-ball) to the Adelaide G.P.O. when
'the telephone proved quite as effective in the transmission of vocal
music as in the case of ordinary conversation'. The first telephone
exchange opened in the G.P.O. in a corner of the telegraph room on
14th May, 1883.

Page 146 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

All this telephonic progress was well and good, but we still
depended on ships to transport goods and people to and from our
antipodean isolation. And the oily British shipping barons were still
demonstrating the nautical sleights-of-hand complained about by
the Melbourne Herald editorialist in 1865. They were treating the
colonials with contempt ... this little tale begins on Friday evening,
20th September, 1872, as the Royal Mail steamer, Bangalore,
anchored in Hobson's Bay, at the mouth of the Yarra, in Melbourne,
after a fair run from England. She was one of the last ships to bring
first news from Home before the Overland Telegraph took over ... as
usual, a reporter from The Herald boarded the ship and brought the
dispatches back for a special 'Second Edition' of the newspaper ...
'Fullest Latest English News Collected From The Home Papers.'
The lead item was written by 'Anglo Australian', a London
correspondent who entrusted his copy to the Bangalore ship's
doctor. The item was the greatest load of rubbish and brought
'Anglo Australian's' journalistic relationship with the shipping
company's wily public relations fixers into extreme doubt. He
described the trials in the Thames Estuary of the latest purchase of
the large paddle-wheeler Otranto, 3360 tonnes and bigger than SS
Great Britain for the Australia-New Zealand run. The vessel was
converted to screw propulsion which was so quiet that she 'glided
along like a swan ... Indeed, she seemed to move like a thing of life,
and with no more noise than would be created by the velvet tread of
an aborigine'.
The passenger accommodations were all that could be
desired, the correspondent said, 'and abaft the sleeping berth there
is a ladies' boudoir' ... blah, blah. Anyway, the Otranto was, in fact, a
rebirthed 1853 ship which made her maiden voyage to Australia
later that year, went to New Zealand in 1874 with 762 immigrants, of
whom 280 were children; thirty-two of the children died of various
diseases and the 'latest' glamour liner was scrapped the following
year.
Charles had been made a Companion of the Order of St
Michael and St George (CMG) after he conquered the Great
Outback in 1872 and, while all his admiring chums thought that was
excellent ('Call Me God,' they said), they wondered why he was not
raised to the rank of knight (KCMG) ('Kindly Call Me God') until
1893; but it seems to have been just an oversight by successive
colonial governors. Alice, who did not care to be addressed as 'Lady
Todd', according to her English descendant, Alice Thomson (The
Singing Line), told the children: 'Your father should have got it long
ago.' But many of those Adelaide matrons who might have had to
bare their breasts for Prince Alfie back in '67 were green: a
Ladyship was something to be devoutly sought in Adelaide society
of the period, now that the dust had cleared.
In 1884, accompanied by his daughter, Charlotte
Elizabeth ('Lizzie' as she was known so as not to confuse her with
her late grandmother, Charlotte Bell), Charles Todd represented
South Australia at the International Telegraphic Conference in
Berlin, one of several world summits held in the 1880s to redefine
the rules of Planet Earth in view of the rapid advances in

Page 147 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

technology. The Berlin Conference concentrated particularly on


international obligations protecting the European nations undersea
cables. Most had to be rewritten after World War One. After Berlin,
he and Lizzie went to Cambridge, a quiet triumph for Charles, who
had left the university city with Alice thirty years before in such
nervous anticipation.
In Cambridge, he was made honorary M.A. of the
university. His sponsor was the exalted Professor John Couch
Adams, a Cornishman who had figured by mathematics the
existence of the Planet Neptune in 1845 with the smallest help from
the very insignificant Charles Todd, a junior in the astronomical
department. Adams had become a world authority on gravitational
astronomy and terrestrial magnetism, subjects close to Charles'
heart and which he rarely (perhaps never!) discussed with Alice
back in Adelaide.
In Cambridge, Lizzie stole away during Adams' talks with
Charles and met her future husband, Charles Squires. She was the
first of his children to return Home; another was a younger
daughter, Gwendoline, who married the English-born physicist,
William Bragg, who shared the Nobel Prize for physics for the
application of X-rays to the study of crystals with their Adelaide-born
son, Lawrence, in 1915. The whole family gathered at the
Observatory in 1897, the year before Lady Alice's passing, and
looked positively modest in their group portrait.

25. Life of Alice ...

' ... DEATH OF LADY TODD. - We would not have it expressed in


mere form of words our heartfelt sympathy with the dear old father
of the Service, Sir Charles Todd, in the incomparable calamity that
has befallen him in the loss of his dear wife, the companion of his
best days, and his very best friend. We cannot adequately articulate
the language of the heart towards our brother-in-office on such an
occasion, and we feel that, while it is our function to record, on
behalf of the Service, the natural sympathy of its members, we are
sure Sir Charles will find some consolation in the many individual
tributes of friendship that he has received, and in the knowledge
that the whole Service sincerely mourns with him in his affliction ... '
The Public Service Review, Adelaide, South Australia, August,
1898.

26. Charles ... alone into 20th century

Alice died of a rapidly-weakening heart a few days after she saw


her youngest daughter, Lorna, make her debut, along with other
pretty girls from Adelaide's First Families, in the presence of the
Governor, Sir Thomas Buxton. Charles went to work next day; there
was nothing else he could do. Indeed, he continued working until
1906, his eightieth year; South Australia refused to change its
Constitution when the Australian Colonies federated in 1901 so the
grand old man could continue to report at the office as long as he
liked. His position as Postmaster-General became a

Page 148 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Commonwealth position, so the South Australians merely changed


his title and he continued to live in the Observatory.
Charles Todd continued to make his daily weather
observations, taking into account, particularly, data available from
the other Colonies, then States, so a whole Australian continental
meteorological picture emerged. He began as the 'people's weather
man' in the early-1860s, when, having moved into the Observatory
residence, he began issuing daily forecasts to the Adelaide
Advertiser. In time, with the extension of the telegraph to other
Australian cities, his forecasts could be picked up by their
newspapers. After 1872, absentee pastoral landowners in London
could expect daily updates on the paucity, or otherwise, of rain on
their holdings in, say, western Queensland. Charles said later his
weather forecasts had a human safeguard: he and his assistant
would write out their forecasts separately, have a reasoned
discussion, then publish the results. In 1893, at an Adelaide
meteorological conference, he claimed that his daily forecasts over
the previous four years were accurate 73 per cent of the time, partly
accurate for 20 per cent and completely wrong the remaining seven
per cent.
Charles Todd finally retired in 1906, so frail that he walked
with the aid of two sticks. He spent much of the time at his house in
Semaphore, looking out across Gulf St Vincent and the broad
beach with signs enforcing Edwardian modesty among the sea
bathers: Ladies to the left; Gentlemen to the right. One day,
pottering in his garden, he scratched himself; the wound became
infected and he died of gangrene on 29th January 1910. He was
laid to rest beside Alice at North Road Cemetery

27. The Life of Charles ...

'The demise of Sir Charles Todd has called forth a universal tribute
of respect, not the least hearty from the old officers who
remembered the trying times of 40 years ago, when, shortly after
taking up the heavy duties at the Post Office Department in addition
to his astronomical work and the Superintendence of the Telegraph
Department, he was called away to the Northern Territory, and
carried to a successful issue the overland telegraph, which at that
time was held up by apparently insurmountable difficulties. Sir
Charles was the most distinguished figure among the King's
servants in the State, and his good-humoured, friendly personality is
a loss to very many friends.' - The Public Service Review, Adelaide,
February, 1910.

28. Nearly 100 years later ...

The world went about its business for a century, in peace and war,
feast and famine ... in Australia, hardly anyone noticed the
imperceptible increase in temperatures, hastened by increased
Greenhouse Gases after the 1950s (but they were suspicious about
changing rainfall patterns) ... then, on 16th April, 2008, Peter
Garrett, Minister for Climate, Heritage and the Arts, armed with the

Page 149 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

combined wisdom of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial


Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Bureau of
Meteorology outlined the new Australian Federal Government's
stance in a very political speech in Melbourne ... to the howls of
outrage from the global warming nay-sayers, dreaming of coal-
powered Jumbo Jets in age of never-ending, belching
industrialisation, re-born as Australia's Shout-Ya-Down Climate
Change Sceptics.
Garrett explained Australia's position, mildly ... 'It’s well
accepted now that one reason the Rudd Government was elected
last year,' said the former Midnight Oils rock star, 'was because of
community concern about our future climate. It is the case that the
previous Government had failed to act or recognise the seriousness
of global warming and its potentials.
'That was the community sense, a sense that Australia’s
interests, our environmental health and our economic health, even
our security interests, were jeopardised by the failure to act
resolutely on climate change. I think, as well, we witnessed a rapid
transformation in Australians’ understanding that a stable climate
actually underpins an environment that is healthy, ensuring a
sustainable economy and the lifestyle that we have and want
coming generations to enjoy as well. And, whilst it is the case that
Australians have always been weather aware, I would
argue now that they’re increasingly climate aware too.
'Today, I would like to share with you the Rudd
Government’s plans for protecting Australia’s climate now and into
the future. And also on this occasion pay tribute to
the important role that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has
played, and will continue to play in the future. As you know, 2008 is
the 100-year anniversary of the formation of our national
meteorological organisation.
'Like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Bureau
is one of those national institutions with which all Australians have a
day-to-day relationship. It helps us with simple decisions like:
Should I take an umbrella or wear a coat? And the Bureau’s work
informs business decisions like: Should I harvest today? Should we
start building work today? We check in on what the weather is doing
at any given moment, using the Bureau’s information-rich website,
including its fantastic online radar. It’s one of Australia’s
most popular websites.
'But I also want to point out the other roles of the Bureau
are less well known are equally important, particularly the significant
contribution it makes in monitoring, recording, analysing,
researching and predicting our climate. It is the case that the
Bureau’s work no longer deals only with weather and climate,
but extends to understanding and protecting the oceans, monitoring
the air we breathe, and the assessing the data around the
management of water resources.
'The first step in doing all these things is “observing” what
is actually happening, with the weather, the climate, the oceans, the
air and water. These observations tell us about the past, and from
that enable us to better predict the future. So I guess the first

Page 150 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

question to ask is what we do know about Australia’s climate past?


First of all, we know that the Australian climate changes a lot from
year to year and from decade to decade. Through the research of
the Bureau and its partners, we’re starting to better understand
these changes.
'For example, from 1910 to 2004, the average maximum
temperature rose 0.6 degrees Celsius and the minimum
temperature rose 1.2 degrees. Most of that change, dramatic as it
is, occurred after 1950, in our lifetimes, and it is very likely
that increasing greenhouse gases contributed to that warming
trend. We also know that over the past 50 years, rainfall has
increased in north-western Australia and decreased in southern and
eastern Australia.
'The decrease in the south-west is probably due to a
combination of increased Greenhouse Gas concentrations, natural
climate variability and land-use change. Some of the changes are
already substantial. Stream-flow in the south-western corner of
Western Australia decreased by fifty per cent since the mid-1970s.
That is an extraordinary statistic given the importance of a reliable
water supply to our health, the environment and agriculture.
'The changes in the climate are accompanied by other
signs in the natural world. Rain forest is expanding at the expense
of eucalypt forest and grassland in the Northern Territory,
Queensland and New South Wales, linked to changes in rainfall
and fire regimes. Snow gums are encroaching into sub-alpine
grasslands at higher elevations and more feral mammals are
intruding into alpine areas. And in a region that is one of this
Government’s priorities, the Great Barrier Reef, the
dangers noted are extreme. Before 1979, no serious coral
bleaching events had been observed. Since 1979, there have been
eight mass bleaching events, triggered by unusually high sea
surface temperatures.
'Taken together, the changing climate and along with other
observations informing our understanding, this picture invites us to
look seriously to Australia’s climate future. And for Melburnians it
will be serious. You can expect up to 84 more hot days over 35
degrees by 2050 and up to 32 fewer frost days. So the Bureau will
be delivering the science that informs these startling figures and
then of course will relay the news to the city around the clock, daily,
monthly and yearly.
'It is a dual role that the Bureau now has and one that is
critical. It is also likely that evaporation will increase while soil
moisture and runoff decreases over most of Australia. Now that
may seem like a bland enough statement but when we look more
deeply at it, it means that droughts, already a feature of our climate
pattern, will likely be more frequent and certainly more intense. And
those plant and animal communities and, critically, human
communities living in these areas and thus affected will really be
facing considerable challenge. Fire danger is likely to increase -
more frequent fires, increased fire intensity, a decrease in fire
extinguishments and faster fire spread.
'On the coast, we can expect more inundation and wave

Page 151 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

damage from storm surges, exacerbated by sea level rise.


For Australians, we’ve got a number of 'hotspots' which are
especially vulnerable to climate change and they include:
• Kakadu. One of our most important national parks and world
heritage listed, where rising sea level may push saltwater into
freshwater wetlands;
• South-western Australia, where drying may lead to water
shortages, less cropping land and fragmented natural habitats;
• And of course the Murray-Darling Basin, where reduced water
supply we know is expected to affect irrigation, cities, industries and
environmental flows, so necessary for the health of the river system.
'So I don’t think it is any wonder the Australian people
gave the Rudd Government a mandate to take serious action on
climate change. Frankly, ignoring dangerous climate change was
no longer an option. The Bureau’s role in climate science may not
be as well recognised as its role in forecasting weather, but what we
know about our climate in the past, the present, and the future,
stems directly from the daily actions of its meteorologists,
hydrologists, and oceanographers.
'Australia is fortunate to have the detailed climate record
that it has. There may be some quibbles from those of us in political
life or students of our history about the Constitution, but I think it has
to be said that the framers of the Constitution had the foresight to
lay the basis for Australia’s climate record. They gave Parliament
the power to make laws with respect to meteorological
observations, among many other things. In that nation-building
spirit, meteorology was put on a national footing, with offices
in each State and Territory, and a set of consistent standards by
which to measure and record temperature and rainfall.
Early observations were manual, haphazard and mainly taken near
populated areas.
'A century on, the observing networks and the people who
operate and maintain them span the entire continent and extend to
all our territories, from the Indian Ocean and Coral Sea islands to
Antarctica. They are supported by a vast network of volunteer
observers whose dedicated efforts provide the remarkable delivery
of a community service every day. In the early days, as now, the
Bureau used the data it collected to forecast the day- to-day
weather across Australia. Then, as now, its attempts were often
criticised as highly inaccurate, but I am in no doubt that this was a
more valid concern in those days, than now.
"In those days meteorological science was in its infancy.
Now the Bureau delivers meteorological science of technological
sophistication and correspondingly of fine and more accurate
forecasting. One of the first policy uses of the Bureau’s climate data
was to demonstrate the desirability of Australia as a place to settle,
to attract new migrants. So part of the Bureau’s history is in helping
to shape the culture and the demography of the settler nation,
Australia. These early efforts have produced a great legacy –the
nation’s climate record. Because of this record, we now know that
climate is not static as initially thought but constantly varying on all
time scales like the weather itself. Hence the observing and data

Page 152 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

management systems that provide us with the weather data and the
long-term climate record are a critical part of the nation’s
infrastructure. Without them we would be ill-equipped to cope with
the challenges that nature deals us day after day and also the
dangers of climate change too.
'The Rudd Government’s climate change policy is built on
three pillars: reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions;
adapting to climate change that we can’t avoid; and helping to
shape a global solution. In developing a strategy to achieve deep
reductions in emissions that are needed, the Government will be
mindful of the economic challenges we face. It is critical to settle on
measures which aim to be delivered at least cost, and with
greatest potential to drive new growth, create jobs and develop new
industries. Emissions will be reduced by the development and
implementation of an emissions trading scheme. This will enable a
greater reduction of emissions as a carbon price is established for
carbon in the system.
'There are also many opportunities for us all to reduce our
own climate footprint: driving less, installing energy rated
appliances, and turning them off at the switch. Bearing in mind the
strong desire Australians have shown to take action at home.
When we went to the election in 2007, we promised a number of
measures like providing low interest loans for people to make their
homes more energy and water efficient. Over the coming months, I
want to progress not only that initiative but a number of
others. The provision of energy efficient insulation and rebates to
achieve that, particularly in rental properties. Cost saving new
standards for household appliances. I will broaden and extend the
Solar Cities concept and make every school in Australia a solar
school.
'The success of these measures will inevitably require the
support of the Bureau of Meteorology at many levels and on many
timescales. For example, information from the Bureau will help to
identify where solar panels and solar hot water may be most
successful, or the optimum size of rainwater tanks.
The second pillar of the Government’s approach is adapting to the
climate change that we cannot avoid. We know now that climate
change resulting from human influences is already underway, so we
must prepare ourselves for the inevitable changes already built into
the climate system. The Bureau’s role is critical and it has been
expanded recently to allow it to provide the same information and
support on the water challenge as it has on weather
reporting generally, and it is critical to the climate challenge.
In future decades, as the climate scenarios unfold, we will need to
keep pace with new, more efficient ways of monitoring not only the
climate but consequent environmental impacts such as water
availability. So the linkage from understanding what the weather
will be to understanding where the climate has been and where it is
going, to understand the impacts of changes in the climate on
Australia, its people and its environment, will underscore the work of
the Bureau.
'As those of you who work there would know, new

Page 153 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

technology is already playing an increasing role, with observations


now routinely taken from satellites, radars, instrumented weather
balloons, commercial aircraft, and automatic observing stations.
Like any organisation with a long and distinguished history, the
Bureau will adapt to the times and to the new challenges. And it
must, in a period of intense climate interest with its new
responsibilities for monitoring our water supplies and with the
opportunities presented by new technology, the Bureau is clearly
evolving. But it is also a period of fiscal restraint for governments
and these changes will need to be put in place carefully with a clear
eye on the services the Bureau provides, in the public interest.
I am sure that by continuing to provide a world class weather
forecasting service and acknowledging and understanding the
needs of the community it serves, the Bureau will chart a successful
path into the new century.
'The third pillar of the Government’s approach to climate
change is helping to shape a global solution. That’s why the first act
of the Rudd Government was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Ratifying
Kyoto put Australia back on the map. It meant that for the first time
we were a full negotiating partner in all key international climate
change forums. And because international collaboration is critical in
addressing climate change and has been essential to developing
our understanding of Australia’s weather and climate, the Bureau’s
role in international collaboration remains critical. Understanding
meteorological activities in other parts of the world depends critically
on Australia’s observations here. So to this extent, since the
establishment of the World Meteorological Organisation in 1950,
members have worked tirelessly toward a common goal to produce
comprehensive, integrated global observing, weather, climate, and
research programs. The Bureau has always been a significant
player in this forum. In 1988 the then Director of Meteorology, Dr
John Zillman, became the first Vice-President of the World
Meteorological Organization, becoming President for eight years
from 1996. And I want to acknowledge Dr Zillman who is with us
today. At that time, Australia was closely involved in the
establishment of the most authoritative source of scientific advice
on the state of the global climate, the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change.
'Australia’s role in this extraordinary international effort
has been highly significant. From 2002 to 2003 the current Director
of Meteorology, Dr Geoff Love, was Secretary of the Panel.
Australian scientists, including many from the Bureau, have
contributed to the Panel’s assessments of scientific findings on
climate change for the past twenty years, helping to bridge the gap
between the technological community and the policymakers. The
2007 Nobel Peace Prize acknowledged the significance of their
work.
'The Bureau also represents Australia in the Group on
Earth Observations which is coordinating international efforts to
build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems. This
emerging public infrastructure connects a range of systems for
monitoring and

Page 154 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

forecasting changes in the global environment, to support


policymakers, resource managers, science researchers and many
other experts and many other decision- makers. The observations
collected by the Bureau of Meteorology since its establishment 100
years ago have played a key part in developing our current
knowledge ... Climate change offers new possibilities, new
industries, new development, new ways of thinking. We do have
time to act and this Government is acting. After 100 years, the
Bureau of Meteorology has emerged at the beginning of this
century an accomplished organisation, not only providing
Australian’s with the best, up to the minute weather information they
need to plan and build their lives, but able to respond to the many
environmental challenges facing Australia, especially in a
time of climate change.'
The CSIRO said, simply: 'In 2007 the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their fourth assessment
report, concluding that:
• Warming of the climate system is unequivocal
• Humans are very likely to be causing most of the warming
that has been experienced since 1950
• It is very likely that changes in the global climate system will
continue well into the future, and that they will be larger than those
seen in the recent past.'

Charles Todd would have suspected all the aforementioned, we can


confidently surmise, even though he had died 98 years before! And
did he wonder if William Blake was hinting (1804) at the future perils
of Heavy Carbon Footprints ... ?
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
These 'dark Satanic mills'! There you have the culprit! These were
the origins of too many 'Greenhouse Gases', way back in the
mid-1700s. Charles would have known, perhaps by a different
name, that the natural process of determining the temperature near
the surface of Earth is a balance between energy from the Sun, and
heat reflected from Earth to Outer Space. The Industrial Revolutions
of the 18th and 19th centuries brought about a dramatic increase in
plumes of Greenhouse Gases (principally carbon dioxide), as well
as some new gases such as chlorofluorocarbon and sulphur
hexafluoride. Simply, the balance is becoming upset ... and global
cooperation is required to bring it back to a desirable level.
It all seems so easy, if we can all work together!
Charles Todd had great confidence in our future; in 1893,
he gave a long address, summarising colonial meteorological
achievements on the eve of Federation, to the Australasian
Association for the Advancement of Science. His final words were ...

Page 155 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

'I feel that I have trespassed too long on your time, but I
have had a considerable stretch of ground to cover. The record I
have placed before you—very imperfectly, I fear—is one of which
we have no need to be ashamed. That meteorology should have
been taken up so energetically and been so liberally supported by
the several Colonial Governments, on whose purse, in building up a
new nation, there are so many claims, is not, however, without a
sufficient cause. To successfully occupy and establish industries in
new countries, a knowledge of climate and the meteorological
conditions under which we are to labour is essential to success, as
teaching us what we can best and most profitably produce. Situated
within and without the tropics, with such a range of climate, from the
snows of Kosciusko to the burning plains of the interior and the
humid heat of Port Darwin, we can obtain nearly all that man
requires.
'Our marvellous growth in the past is only a foretaste of
the future, and under such sunny skies we should be, as I trust we
are, in spite of the clouds of depression which occasionally hand
over us—with, however, silver linings not far away—a happy and
contented people. The lines have fallen to us in pleasant places,
and truly we have a goodly heritage.' A splendid Biblical reference
from Psalm 16, verse 6!
Alice would have approved.

END

Our index of names ... (use your 'find' function to locate them
in the book).

Abbott, Henry, Sydney convict (amazing mathematical death)


Abdulmecid, reforming Ottoman Turkish Sultan (1839-61)
Aborigines, (Yantruwanta assist Burke, Wills and King), other references
throughout.
Abyssinian Crisis (1867)
'Acraman Impact Event', (comet strike, SA)
Adams, John Couch, astronomer, (discovers Neptune)
Adelaide, settlement and city references throughout
Admella, wrecked coastal ship
Airy, George, Astronomer Royal
Aldini, Giovanni, scientist ( gruesome 'London Experiment')
Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, (women's 'no' to nudity)
Alice Springs
American (U.S,) Civil War
'Ashton's Hotel' (Adelaide Gaol)
Auld, Pat, Stuart's expedition
Auld, Pat, Snr, SA wine export pioneer
Australian Bureau of Meteorology
Ayers Rock, (named after SA Premier Sir Henry Ayers)
Bacon, Lady Charlotte, entrancing widow, (Byron's Ianthe)
Bacon, Harley, Overland Telegraph meat supplier, (son of above)
Bagot, Charles, SA pioneer
Bagot, Henry, SA pioneer
Ball, Henry, First Fleet lieutenant, (fathers convict's child, but takes
kangaroo Home)
Ballarat, (Eureka Stockade)

Page 156 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Barrow Creek (NT)


Bathurst (location)
Bathurst, Henry, Secretary for Colonies
Batman, John, Victorian pioneer
Barral and Blixio, balloon ascent, Paris, (1850)
Bass, George, naval surgeon/explorer
Bass Strait (Vic/Tas)
Baxter, John, explorer with Eyre
Bell, Alexander Graham, (patents telephone)
Bell, Charlotte (Clark), Alice's mother
Bell, Edward, corn dealer, Alice's father
Bendigo
Bengal, barque
Bentley, Richard, Wills Sr's London publisher
beri-beri (Burke and Wills' killer)
Billiat, William, Stuart's expedition
Binney, Thomas, 'Archbishop of Nonconformity'
Bismarck, Otto, German Chancellor, captures Danish telegraphs
Black Sea, 157 (submarine telegraph)
Blackfellows Bones
Blanchetown (SA)
Bonython, John Langdon, newspaper proprietor
Brinkley's Bluff (NT)
Brahe, William, explorer with Burke and Wills
Brett, John and Jacob, English telegraph entrepreneurs
Brisbane, Thomas, Qld governor and astronomer
British Australian Telegraph Company
Brock, Daniel, explorer with Sturt/journalist
Broken Hill (NSW)
Brooke, James, Rajah of Sarawak
Brown, Cornelius, historian/journalist
Browne, John, medical practitioner/explorer with Sturt
Bruce, David, captain of Irene
Brunel, Isambard Kingdom, visionary British engineer (and contributor to
excess Greenhouse Gases)
Bruny D-Entrecasteaux, Raymond, French admiral
Bunyan, John, author (Pilgrim's Progress)
Bunyip Aristocracy
Burke, Robert O'Hara, explorer
Burketown (Qld)
Burra (SA)
Buxton, Thomas, governor SA
Cape Northumberland (SA)
Cape Otway (Vic)
Carleton, Caroline, SA songwriter
'Carroll, Lewis', author, (comparisms with Alice in Wonderland)
Castle Hill Uprising (Sydney)
Cataraqui, wrecked immigrant ship
Celsius, Anders, Swedish astronomer
Central Mount Stuart
Ceylon-Cocos/Keeling telegraph proposal
Chambers daughters
Chambers, John, SA pioneer
Chambers, James, SA pioneer
Chisholm, Caroline, social worker
Clune, Frank, author
Collins, David, First Fleet's legal authority
Congregationalists
Cook, James, explorer

Page 157 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Cooke, William Fothergill, telegraph pioneer


copper insulation (telegraph cables)
copper mining, (Kapunda)
Coppin, Charles, theatrical entrepreneur
Corbett, William, really unlucky First Fleet convict
CSIRO
Coxwell, Henry, balloonist, (1862 ascent)
Crampton, Thomas, telegraph pioneer
Cracknell, Edward and William, telegraph pioneers
Crimean War, use of telegraph (Scientific American, 1855)
CSIRO. see Global warming
Cullinlaringo sheep station, (massacre)
Custer, George Armstrong, U.S. army general
Cygnet, pioneering ship
Dalwood, William, telegraph contractor
Darwent, Joseph, telegraph contractor
Daly Waters (NT)
Daly, Daniel Dominick, surveyor
Daly, Dominick, governor SA
Darling, Ralph, NSW governor
Darling River (NSW)
Darwin (settlement and city, NT), (references throughout)
Darwin, Charles, evolutionist
Davis, John, explorer with Sturt
Dawes, William, First Fleet Marine and astronomer
Denison, William, UK landowner
Dennison, Hugh, SA entrepreneur
Depot Glen (NSW)
Dew Point Temperature
Dickens, Charles, author (David Copperfield allusions)
Disraeli, Benjamin, British PM
Dobbie, Alexander, SA telephone pioneer
Douglas, Harriet, 337, 354 (wife of Daniel Daly)
Douglas, William Bloomfield, colourful SA public administrator
Drummond, Johnson, Gould collector
Duncan, Handasyde, SA government immigration agent
Dunlop, James, astronomer
Dumont-D'Urville, M.J., French naval explorer
Duryea, Townsend, photographer
Dutton, Francis, SA agent-general/pioneer
Eatanswill (comparism with Adelaide)
El Nino weather pattern (linked to Indian monsoons)
Encke's Comet
Esperance (WA)
Eucla (WA), telegraph station
Eugenie, French Empress, (opens Suez Canal)
Eureka Stockade
Everest, George, colonial surveyor (India)
Eyre, Edward John, explorer
Fahrenheit, Daniel, physicist
Fallows, Fearon, astronomer (UK and Capetown)
Fergusson, Lady Edith, governor's wife
Fergusson, James, governor SA, (killed by earthquake)
Field, Cyrus, American telegraph entrepreneur
Fink, William, SA pioneer
Finn, Edmund (Garryowen), pioneer Melbourne journalist
Finniss, Boyle Travers, administrator
First Fleet, (arrival in Sydney, 1788 and references throughout)
Fisher, James Hurtle, SA founder, (family tragedy)

Page 158 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Fisher, John, First Fleet tragic romance with Ann Morton


Flamsteed, John, 17th century astronomer
Fleet River (UK), (compared with Tank Stream (Sydney)
Flood, Robert, stockman with Sturt
Fowler, Robert (and Fowler's Bay, SA)
Francis, George, SA botanist
Franklin, Sir John, governor/ill-fated Arctic explorer
Frederick VII, Danish king, use of telegraph
Fremantle, Charles, naval officer, (family and friends)
French Revolution and metrification
Frew, James, Stuart's expedition
Frew's Ponds (NT)
Galvani, Luigi, electrical inventor
Garrett, Peter, Australian Climate Minister
Gason, Samuel, SA police trooper, (Barrow Creek)
Gawler, George, SA governor
Gawler (SA)
Gilbert, John, naturalist/collector with Leichhardt
Giles, Alfred, surveyor
Giles, Ernest, explorer
Gisborne, Frederic Newton, American telegraph owner
Gisborne, Lionel and Francis, telegraph entrepreneurs
Glaisher, James, meteorologist, (world's highest balloon ascent, 1862)
Gladstone, William, British PM, (victim of Queen Victoria's telegraph 'leak')
Global warming
Gordon, Charles, British soldier, (telegraph cut by Mahdi)
Gosse, William (Dr)
Gosse, William Christie, 'discoverer' of Ayers Rock, (named after Premier
Sir Henry Ayers)
Goulburn, Frederick, NSW colonial administrator
Goyder, George, SA surveyor-general, ('Line of Rainfall')
Gray, Elisha, telephone pioneer
Great Britain, ship
'Great Cable Armada', 266 (technological invasion of the Persian Gulf)
Great Comet of 1844,
Great Eastern (cable-laying ship)
Greenhouse Gases
Greenwich (UK)
Grey, George, SA governor
Guardian, First Fleet storeship
Gulnane, SA government schooner
Gunn, Aeneas and Jeanne, Little Black Princess controversy
Harrison, John, longitude pioneer
Heavitree Gap, 325 (named after Essex location)
Hennessy, Katherine, Irish immigrant girl
Henty family, Victorian settlers
Heywood, Peter, ship's captain and Bounty survivor
Howe, George, Sydney Gazette convict editor
Howitt, Alfred, naturalist/bushman, 9 (finds Burke and Wills)
Hudson, William, Commissioner, Snowy Mountains Scheme(comparisms
with Overland Telegraph)
Hunter, John, NSW governor
Hunter, Rachel, Lady Juliana convict mother of Australia's only Waterloo
veteran
Ice Age, 1650-1850 (mini)
Iluru, see Ayers Rock
Industrial Revolutions
International Telegraphic Conference, Berlin, 1884
Irene, Todds' favourite ship

Page 159 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Irish immigrant women


Jackson, Charles T., American entrepreneur
Johnson, Richard, First Fleet parson (and wife, Mary)
Jones, Mary, famed Sydney convict brothel-keeper
Kanaka trade (Qld)
Kapunda (SA)
Kekwick, William, Stuart's expedition
Keenan, Matron (rescues poor Irish girls)
Kelly, Edward ('Ned'), bushranger
Kelvin, William, scientist
King Island (Tas)
King, John, explorer with Burke and Wills
King, Philip Gidley, governor
King, Phillip Parker, hydrographer
King, Stephen, Stuart's expedition
Kingston, George, SA politician
Knuckey, Richard, surveyor, (finds Charlotte Waters)
Kyoto Protocol
'Lachlan Swamps' (Centennial Park, Sydney)
Lady Juliana, desperately-desired female convict ship
Lake Alexandrina (SA)
Lake Torrens (SA)
Landor, Edward Willson, WA early settler and solicitor
Lady Penrhyn, First Fleet female transport
La Perouse, Comte de, French explorer
Lawson, Henry, Australian poet
Lazar, John, mayor and scandalous theatre owner
Leichhardt, Ludwig, explorer
Lewin, Ross, Kanaka trader
Light, William, SA founder
Little, John, telegraph supervisor
Livingstone, David, Scottish explorer
Lockyer, Edmund, (British soldier forestalls French, WA)
Louis Napoleon, French Emperor
Love, Dr Geoff
McGowan, Samuel, Victorian Superintendent of Telegraphs
MacDonnell Range (NT)
MacDonnell, Lady Blanche, SA governor's wife
MacDonnell, Richard, SA governor
Macgeorge, James, SA architect and telegraph entrepreneur
McKinlay, John, explorer
McLeay, Alexander, NSW colonial administrator
McMinn, William, surveyor
Margaret Brock Reef (SA)
Maria massacre
Maskelyne, Nevil, astronomer
Mataranka (NT)
Melbourne, illegal settlement and city
Mereweather, George, inventor (at Crystal Palace)
Millais, John, 19th century celebrity painter
Mississippi, French ship (aids Eyre and Wylie)
Mitchell, A.J., telegraph officer
Mitchell, Thomas, NSW surveyor-general
Mills, William, surveyor, (names Alice Springs, 1871)
Monck, Charles, colonial administrator/telegraph investor
Montgomerie, William, discoverer of gutta-percha
Moonta, ship
Moorhouse, Matthew, SA Protector of Aborigines
Moorundie (SA) settlement

Page 160 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Morse, Samuel, U.S. artist and telegraph pioneer


Murphy, John, explorer with Leichhardt
Murray River
Nashwauk, wrecked immigrant ship
Neva, wrecked female convict ship
Newcastle Waters (NT)
nardoo cakes, 6 (accidentally poison Burke and Wills)
Neumayer, Georg, Astronomer
Observatory, Adelaide (Todds' residence)
O'Farrell, Henry James, failed assassin
Omeo, ship
Osborn, Noel, British naval officer, telegraph promoter
Osborn, Sherard, British naval offer/telegraph promoter
Palmerston (see Darwin)
Parker, Hyde, British admiral, (Battle of Copenhagen)
Parmelia (and Sulphur), WA settlement ships
Patterson, Robert, telegraph officer
Peacock, George Edwards, English fraudster, NSW colonial artist and
meteorologist
Peel, Thomas, disastrous WA colonising entrepreneur
Pender, John, British industrial and telegraph financier
Pepys, Samuel, London diarist
'Petit-Prince'. see Eugenie, French Empress
Phillip, Arthur, NSW Governor
Pitt, William (Younger), (anecdote about dying words)
Pony Express (US)
Poole, James, explorer with Sturt
Port Augusta (SA)
Port Essington (NT)
Pybus, William, organist
railways
rainfall
Rapid, barque, SA founding ship
Red Sea Telegraph Caper
Renner Springs (NT)
Riou, Edward, navy captain
Roper River (NT)
Ross, John, bushman
Ross, Robert, lieut. governor, first sheep killed by lightning
Ruemker, Christian, astronomer
Rufus River (trib. of Murray) (NSW)
Russel, Henry Chamberlain, NSW astronomer
San Francisco (US), suffers 'telegraph deprivation'
Semaphore (SA)
Shenandoah Affair
Ship Wreck Coast (Vic)
Shipton, Mother Ursula, Yorkshire witch
Short, Augustus, SA Anglican bishop
Smith, Ellen (Goyder's second wife)
Smith, Frances (Goyder's first wife)
Smyth, Arthur Bowes, ship's surgeon
South, James, astronomer
Speke, John, explorer (Africa)
Standley, Ida, schoolteacher, ('Beloved Lady')
Stanley Head (Tas)
Stanley, Henry, journalist/explorer, (finds David Livingstone)
Stirling, James, WA governor
Stokes, John Lort, ship's captain
Stowe, Thomas Quinton, church minister

Page 161 of 162


Alice and the Weather Man 20/10/09 1:51 PM

Strange, Frederick, Gould collector


Strangways, Henry, SA premier
Stuart Highway (NT)
Stuart, John McDouall, explorer
Sturt, Charles, explorer
Sturt's Plain (NT)
Sturt's Stony Desert (SA/NT)
Suez Canal
'Sydney Ducks' ('Sydney Coves'), ex-convicts terrorise San Francisco,
Sweet, Samuel, ship's captain/photographer
Swift, Jonathan, author, 17-18th century social commentator
Tank Stream (Sydney)
'Telegraph Plateau' (Atlantic Ocean)
telephone,
Temple, Henry (Lord Palmerston), British administrator
Tench Watkin, Marine officer, First Fleet
thermometers
Tennyson, Alfred, English poet and propagandist
Thomas, Andy, astronaut
Thomas, Mary, SA newspaper proprietor
Thring, Francis, Stuart's expedition
time balls
Todd, Alice and children ( throughout)
Todd, Charles, the weather man, (throughout)
Tolmer, Alexander, SA police commissioner
Tomkinson Creek (NT)
Torrens River
Towns, Robert, Queensland planter, (see also Kanaka trade)
Troughton, Edward, English astronomical instrument maker
Vail, Alfred, partner of Samuel Morse
Van Diemens Land (Tasmania)
Volta, Giuseppe, electrical inventor
Venus, Transit
Victoria, British monarch
Waterhouse, Frederick, naturalist, Stuart's expedition
Weather reports, (first 'modern' style)
Wheat farming
West, Charles, layer of first undersea cable
Wheatstone, Charles,
White, John, First Fleet navy surgeon/author
Wills, Horatio, squatter, 218
Wills, Thomas, massacre survivor
Wills, William John, explorer
Wylie , Eyre's teenage aboriginal companion
Yantruwanta, aborigines, Cooper's Creek
Zillman, Dr John

Page 162 of 162

Related Interests