Henri Rochefort – Noumea to Newcastle

Rochefort escapes Noumea to Newcastle: the story of an escape by Henri Rochefort


Introduction, Translation and Notes © 2002 Kenneth R. Dutton

Online Publication by Gionni di Gravio © 2002 University of Newcastle

Henri Rochefort


Click for PDF version here

Henri RochefortHenri Rochefort – or, to give him his full title, the Marquis Victor-Henry de Rochefort-Luçay – was born in Paris on 31 January 1831 into a family of ancient nobility. His early career, from 1851 onwards, saw him hold a minor clerical post in the Préfecture de la Seine and later the position of Inspecteur des Beaux-Arts at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, a post from which he resigned. He then undertook a variety of roles, from writer of light comedies in 1856 to political journalist, in which he followed in his father’s footsteps (his father, the Marquis Claude-Louis-Marie de Rochefort-Luçay, being a dramatic author and journalist of strong “legitimist”[1] views, who wrote under the name of Armand de Rochefort). As well as writing theatre criticism for Le Charivari and La Presse théâtrale, Henri contributed to the satirical journal Le Nain jaune, founded in 1863 by Aurélien Scholl, and to the widely-read daily Le Figaro. His scathing criticisms of the government of Napoléon III (1852-70) brought about his dismissal from the editorial staff of the latter publication, as a result of government pressure. On 30 May 1868, with the financial support of J. Cartier de Villemessant, he founded a weekly newspaper of his own, known as La Lanterne[2], fiercely hostile to the Empire and marked by the wit and venom of its attacks. The historian Alfred Cobban, who describes the paper as “notorious”, points out that it “reached a sale of half a million by June 1868. After three months of calculated and brilliant, if irresponsible, insults against the whole Bonapartist establishment, it was suppressed by legal action.”[3] Rochefort himself was prosecuted but fled to Belgium, where for a time he continued his paper and had it smuggled into France, its political attacks becoming even more violent.

On his return to France in 1869, he founded another newspaper, La Marseillaise. Elected as a Deputy for Paris that same year, he was implicated in a duel between Prince Pierre Bonaparte and Paschal Grousset (one of Rochefort’s colleagues). For this he was condemned to prison, but was saved by the Revolution of 4 September 1870 in which crowds filled the streets of Paris and demanded the proclamation of a republic.

In 1871, Rochefort was elected to the Government of National Defence which was established in the wake of France’s capitulation at the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the armistice which followed. He was one of a number of Deputies from Paris, including Louis Blanc, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Ledru-Rollin[4]. But the new Assembly, under Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877), was brought back from its initial seat in Bordeaux, not to Paris, but rather to Versailles. Republicans, many of them Parisians, were a decided minority in the Assembly, and in the eyes of the monarchist majority (who reflected the conservative attitude of the provinces) were quite intolerable : on the other hand, the republican Parisians feared that the Versailles-based Assembly would restore the monarchy. Rochefort’s attacks were now directed at both Thiers and the Assembly, and were made both within the Assembly and (after his resignation as a Deputy and member of the government in order to concentrate on journalism) in his newly-founded newspaper Le Mot d’ordre, which first appeared on 3 February 1871.[5]

Thiers’ decision to disarm the Paris National Guard (composed largely of workers who had fought during the siege of Paris) led to resistance. The attempted seizure of the 400 guns in the hands of the National Guard by Thiers’ troops from Versailles was in fact the spark which set off revolution in Paris and led to the formation of the Paris Commune (18 March to 28 May, 1871). Though Rochefort did not participate in the Commune itself, the views he had expressed both in person and through Le Mot d’Ordre ended in his being tarred with the same brush as the Communards.

Often equivocal towards both the Commune and the Versailles Government, Rochefort had in common with the Communards mainly their enmity towards the National Assembly from which he had resigned. With enemies on both sides, he had to flee from Paris during the semaine sanglante in order to avoid reprisals. Leaving Paris on 20 May, he was arrested as soon as his train reached Meaux and was taken, handcuffed and under guard, to the prison at Versailles. Here he found, already incarcerated, his former employee from Le Mot d’Ordre, Paschal Grousset, as well as the painter Gustave Courbet.

The charges against Rochefort related to the attacks on the government made in Le Mot d’Ordre, which (along with the campaigns in his earlier newspapers and articles) led to his being tarred with the same brush as the Communards. He remained in prison until, on 21 September, he was sentenced to be deported for life, his sentence to be served in a fortified place. Victor Hugo pleaded with Thiers on his behalf, the latter agreeing that he should not be sent abroad but could be held in a French fortress where he could see his (illegitimate) children. Accordingly, on 9 November Rochefort was transferred, in leg-irons, to La Rochelle, then to Fort Boyard on the nearby Ile d’Aix where most of the prisoners – including Paschal Grousset, who was to be sent to New Caledonia – were awaiting deportation.

For the best part of two years, Rochefort was confined in various penitentiaries in the vicinity of La Rochelle: from Fort Boyard he was sent in June 1872 to a dungeon in the citadel on the Ile d’Oléron, and in August that year to the more comfortable citadel of Saint-Martin on the Ile de Ré, later to be the place of incarceration of two other famous Frenchmen – Dreyfus and Henri Carrère (known as Papillon).[6] During this period he completed a novel (Les Dépravés, intended for publication in instalments by the Hugo set in Brussels[7] in their journal Le Rappel) and was released for a short period to Versailles in order to marry his ex-mistress Marie Renaud and legitimize his children by her.

After 1871, political opinion within France began to shift in the direction of republicanism, though a monarchist majority still prevailed in the Assembly. Thiers had made up his mind that the republican cause would prevail at the next election, and began to throw his influence on that side. The reaction of the monarchists within the Assembly was to force his resignation in May 1873 and to replace him as head of state by Marshal Patrice Mac-Mahon (1808-1893); at the same time a leading Orleanist, the duc de Broglie (1821-1901), was installed as head of the government. The new government not being bound by Thiers’ commitments, Rochefort’s deportation again became a live issue. Victor Hugo once again pleaded on his behalf – this time, not with the President, but with his fellow-Academician de Broglie – , describing Rochefort as “one of the most celebrated writers of our day” and as a man by now in poor health.[8] De Boglie’s sole concession on the latter point was to agree that Rochefort should be deported only if medically fit. A doctor having pronounced him well enough to travel, his personal possessions were sold and he was allowed to bid farewell to his children before embarking on the Virginie on 10 August 1873, his destination being the penal colony of New Caledonia.

His stay on the island lasted a mere four months, his escape (recounted here) taking place on the night of 19th -20th March 1874 in the company of five others. Of these, three were of sufficient significance to merit an entry in the Larousse du XXe siècle encyclopedia. Two of them in particular had held important positions in the Paris Commune. They were :

– [Jean-François-] Paschal Grousset (1844-1909), born in Corsica, who abandoned his medical studies for a journalistic career. In 1869, he worked on one of Rochefort’s newspapers, La Marseillaise, for which he wrote anti-religious and pro-revolutionary articles. For his campaign against the Empire in Rochefort’s paper, he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in 1870. Elected a member of the Commune for the 18th arrondissement, he became its délégué aux Relations extérieures and a member of its Executive Committee. In 1872 he was sent to New Caledonia on board the Guerrière. After his escape, he lived for various periods in Sydney, San Francisco, New York and London, making a living by teaching French. He returned to France after the 1880 amnesty, for a while abandoning politics for literature and physical culture, but eventually returning to politics and becoming in 1893 a socialist Deputy for the 12th arrondissement of Paris. He published a great deal under various pseudonyms.

– François Jourde (1843-1893). Having been a notary’s clerk and bank employee; in 1868 he opened a business which soon failed, after which he founded a journal (La Pipe en bois) of which only one number ever appeared. During the siege of Paris, he was elected by the 5th arrondissement as a member of the Commune, and in April 1871 was placed in charge of Finances. He was arrested on 30 May and condemned to deportation on 2 September. Arriving on the Isle of Pines in October 1872, he went to live in Noumea in October 1873 and worked as an accountant. Jourde lived abroad after his escape, first in Switzerland, then Brussels and finally London. He was granted amnesty in 1877. With Grousset, he published in 1876 (from Geneva) an account of the escape from New Caledonia (Les Condamnés politiques en Nouvelle-Calédonie : récit de deux évadés). On his return to France, he was editor of the journal La Convention nationale before attempting a career in politics. Unsuccessful in his attempts at gaining election as a municipal councillor in Paris and Deputy in Lyons, he died poor.[9]

– Less is known about Olivier Pain (1845-1885), a journalist who had participated in the Commune. Born in Troyes in 1845, he worked on journals such as L’Affranchi and Rochefort’s Le Mot d’ordre. After his escape from New Caledonia he went to live in Switzerland , then went as a war correspondent for Le Temps and Le Figaro to follow the operations in the war between Turkey and Russia . After gaining amnesty in 1879, he returned to France , and was later to work on another of Rochefort’s newspapers, L’Intransigeant. His next move was to Egypt, then to Sudan where he died in 1885. Two accounts exist of his death : that of Bernard Noël (Dictionnaire de la Commune), which states that he either died of “fever” or was shot by the English who found his presence inconvenient; and that of the Larousse which states that he was a prisoner of the Mahdi (a Muslim messianic figure) “whom he had, to his misfortune, succeeded in approaching.”[10]

Of the other two escapees, Achille Baillière and Charles Bastien Granthille, little is known. Granthille was a deportee and a military man. In accounts given in the Australian newspapers, his name is misquoted as “Charles Bostiere Grandhille, Commandant de Bataillon” (Newcastle Chronicle, 28 March 1874) and “Caven Grant Achille, ex-Commandant of the National Guard” (Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1874). A letter to The Empire, Sydney, dated 3 April 1874, is signed “A. Balliere, Architect-surveyor”. This seems to be the only information available as to Baillière’s profession.

After his stay in Australia , Henri Rochefort was to go to the United States , on which he was later to include a number of chapters in the account, entitled Retourde la Nouvelle-Calédonie de Nouméa en Europe. [11], from which the extracts translated here are taken. As the political situation in France grew more stable under the Third Republic, the Chamber of Deputies returned to Paris from Versailles in 1879, opening the way to amnesty for those who had supported or participated in the Commune. In Cobban’s words, “La Marseillaise became the national song, and the Quatorze Juillet the national holiday. A long campaign which had been waged in favour of an amnesty for the Communards sentenced to exile or deportation had provided one of the chief lines of cleavage in the republican ranks. In 1881 the wound was healed, so far as it could be, by the grant, thanks mainly to an intervention by Gambetta, of a total amnesty.”[12]

Although the total amnesty had to wait till 1881, individuals who had been deported had been the recipients of amnesties granted earlier, Rochefort being included in a group amnestied in 1880.

Back in France, Rochefort soon found himself editing yet another newspaper, this one entitled L’Intransigeant (founded in July 1880)[13]. Having begun his career as a supporter of the extreme left, he had gradually moved closer to supporting the right, and his campaigns in L’Intransigeant were conducted in support of the extreme Radicals. In 1885, he was again elected as a Deputy for Paris, but resigned the following year. By the later 1880s, discontent and disaffection with the republican government was growing, and many on both the left and the right focused their hopes on a popular general, Georges Boulanger (1837-1891), whom Clemenceau had appointed Minister of War in January 1886 but whose retirement from the army was forced in 1888. Rochefort, who as editor of L’Intransigeant had characteristically been conducting a guerrilla war against the Republic, contributed his clientele to a campaign to promote Boulanger’s political career. It was no doubt his dislike of moderate Republicans that led him to support a man like Boulanger, described by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a “reactionary adventurer”[14]. When the latter won overwhelming support in the Paris election of January 1889, a campaign was led by the Ligue des Patriotes for a coup d’état aimed at installing him as President. Momentum was growing and success looked likely, but Boulanger himself appears to have lost his nerve and when the government began proceedings against him he fled to Brussels, fearing arrest. [He later committed suicide there, on the tomb of his mistress.] Rochefort followed him to Belgium, incurring yet another governmental condemnation, this time in absentia (par contumace).

Returning to France in 1895 after a period spent in London, Rochefort continued to exercise a public voice, increasingly in support of the right. From London he had attacked what he called the chéquards (bribed backers) of the Panama Canal scheme. At the time of the Dreyfus affair (1894-99), he sided with the anti-Dreyfus forces – a certain anti-Semitism being already recognisable in the extract reproduced here ( in which members of the Montefiore family are described as “too Israelitish” – trop israélites – not to put their financial interests ahead of Captain Law’s career). During his final years, he wrote for the conservative and nationalistic press.

Henri Rochefort described his varied career, including his various arrests, his deportation, and the founding of his newspapers, in Les Aventures de ma vie (5 volumes, 1896-8)[15]. Other works written by him include Les Français de la décadence (1866), La Grande Bohème (1867), Les Dépravés (1875), Les Naufrageurs (1876), L’Aurore boréale (1878) and L’Evadé (1880).

He died on 30 June 1913 at Aix-les-Bains.

The account of his escape from New Caledonia to Newcastle was reprinted in 1997 by the Paris-based Atelier Littéraire Franco-Australien (ALFA) as part of the publication series known as «La Petite Maison». With Introduction and Notes by Jean-Paul Delamotte, the re-edition consists of the first and last chapters of Rochefort’s De Nouméa en Europe – Chapter 1 (arrival in Newcastle and impressions of the town as it was in 1874) and Chapter 16 (how the escape from Nouméa was planned and effected). Of the intervening chapters, Chapters 2 to 5 relate to Sydney and to Australia generally, Chapters 6 to 8 describe the crossing of the Pacific, and Chapters 9 to 14 deal with Rochefort’s time in the United States. Also included in the ALFA edition were relevant articles from the Newcastle Chronicle of the period.

Jean-Paul Delamotte entitled the edition «Henri Rochefort, De Nouméa à Newcastle (Australie) : récit de son évasion». As a former resident (with his wife Monique) of that city, where their daughter Guibourg was born, he dedicated the work to the City of Newcastle as a mark of his attachment to it on the occasion of the bicentenary of its foundation (1797-1997). The present translation is, in return, dedicated to the work of ALFA and of the Association Culturelle Franco-Australienne, created by Jean-Paul Delamotte and dedicated to the strengthening of cultural links between France and Australia on a basis of reciprocity.

My thanks are due to Jean-Paul Delamotte for bringing the work to my attention and for his permission to translate it into English. I also take this opportunity of thanking Denis Rowe for pointing out to me the need for an English translation of Rochefort’s account, and to Gionni di Gravio for his kind assistance in bringing it to fruition as an on-line document. I hope that it adds in a minor way to our knowledge of 19th-century Newcastle and of the reactions of those who visited it.

I have tried to keep my translation as literal as possible, consistent with naturalness. Not that Rochefort’s style is particularly “natural” : at times there is an annoying pretentiousness about the turns of phrase used, and he has a fondness for a display of erudition based on rare, esoteric or antiquated terms (a translator’s nightmare). I have not attempted to replicate 19th-century modes of expression in English : French having evolved far more slowly than English, the language used by Rochefort, notwithstanding his quirks of style, is closer to contemporary French than (say) the language of the Newcastle Chronicle in 1874 is to contemporary English.
Kenneth R. Dutton

April 2002


[1]I.e. He was a supporter of the Comte de Chambord as against the “Orleanist” Comte de Paris as the rightful heir to the French throne.

[2] La Lanterne had 74 weekly editions, several of them seized by the Government, before it was suppressed in November 1869. It re-appeared, though with Rochefort replaced as editor, as a daily in 1877, becoming a radical-socialist and anti-clerical magazine; it ceased publication in 1928.

[3] Alfred Cobban, A History of Modern France, Vol 2 : 1799-1945, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 189.

[4] On Ledru-Rollin, see text, p.

[5] Le Mot d’ordre ceased to appear as from 20 May 1871. A re-created Mot d’ordre, not under Rochefort’s editorial direction, appeared in 1877. In 1892, it merged with La Bataille under the name La Marseillaise (not to be confused with Rochefort’s earlier journal of the same name).

[6] In Ile of Ré (Nantes, Artaud Frères, undated) Monique Jambut describes Rochefort as the most famous of the 400 insurrectionists of the Commune sent to the Saint-Martin citadel in 1872: he had been found “guilty of provoking by his writing […] with the aim of fomenting civil war”. I am grateful to Professor John Ramsland for this information.

[7] The chief members of the Hugo set in Brussels were Victor Hugo’s sons Charles and François-Victor, together with Paul Meurice and Auguste Vacquerie. These made up the initial editorial team of Le Rappel.

[8] Roger L. Williams, Henri Rochefort: Prince of the Gutter Press, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966) p. 133.

[9] On Pain, Grousset and Jourde, I am indebted to Jean-Paul Delamotte for the use of notes in his edition of Rochefort’s work. I have also used references from the Larousse du XXe siècle.
[10] Information from Larousse du XXe siècle and Jean-Paul Delamotte’s edition.

[11] The work was published in 1877.

[12] Cobban, op. cit., p. 218.

[13] L’Intransigeant continued after Rochefort left its editorship. From 1905 to 1932 it was run by L. Bailby, who made it the most important evening daily in France until the emergence of Paris-Soir. It kept on going until 1940, production being interrupted by the German Occupation. Resuming in May 1947 under the name L’Intransigeant-Journal de Paris, it merged with Paris-Presse in September 1948.

[14] See article “Rochefort, Henri” in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed.

[15] Oxford Companion to French Literature, article “Rochefort [Rochefort-Luçay], Henri de”. The Larousse du XXe siècle gives the dates of this work as 1895-96.

Introduction Translation and Notes © 2002 Kenneth R. Dutton

Online Publication by Gionni di Gravio © 2002 University of Newcastle

Henri Rochefort


Click for PDF version here

My voyage[1] to the Antipodes naturally comprises both the journey out and the journey back. About the outward trip I shall remain silent, the lowest deck[2] of a warship not affording particularly glorious views or leaving the traveller with especially idyllic memories. Nature is an attractive woman who is hardly seen at her best through a ship’s cannon-port or across the top of a hedge of bayonets. As an observatory, the half-open lid of a scuttle-hole is not only uncomfortable but deceptive : the eucalypts lined up along the hills look for all the world like soldiers exercising, and the coconut trees along the shoreline seem to be bearing explosive shells rather than fruit.

I shall simply observe that the New Caledonian guest-house in which the Government had cooped us up was signally at variance with what we Parisians had been used to : the food was insufficient, the service wanting, and comfort absolutely non-existent. In response to the lack of consideration shown us by our landlord and the unsuccessful outcome of our complaints, we developed a firm resolve to abscond from our lodgings and not pay the bill.

Nonetheless I promised myself that I would not allow politics any place in the accounts I would provide of our actions, for fear of letting myself make politics pay dearly for all it has cost us. I also beg any reader anxious to acquire information, cupidus videndi, not to rely too heavily on me to perfect his knowledge of geography[3]. On that subject, I shall remain in that uncertain state of mind which was expressed so well by an old sailor who said to one of us:

“Don’t believe everything you are told about the navy. For instance, people always talk about degrees of longitude. I’ve been at sea for twenty years and never seen a single one.”

After a crossing which can sometimes take twenty-five days but in our case took only seven, urged on as we were by an overwhelming desire to see our families again and probably by a strong easterly wind as well, we found ourselves, on the 27th of March 1874, within sight of a land that had been conquered by man. It was Australia. In the course of the four hundred league journey from Noumea, the only distraction from the monotonous rhythm of that “symphony in blue major” known as the Pacific Ocean had been our passing by Lord Howe Island[4], which is overlooked from a height of five hundred metres by the dark shelf known as Ball’s Pyramid, which seems to threaten nearby ships but in fact warns them, thus combining the useful and the disagreeable.

Ball's Pyramid

Ball’s Pyramid

As we passed by this monument, erected (as a Freemason would say) by the Great Architect of the Universe, and which is reminiscent of an enormous feudal castle once occupied by some sea-monster – perhaps Adamastor whose place of residence Camoëns has not revealed to us[5] – the captain of the P.C.E.[6] told us that in 1853 four men who were shipwrecked when their boat broke up on the coral surrounding Lord Howe Island had lived for two months on this block of granite. Their only food had been the eggs of seagulls, speckled kestrels and mallemucks[7] which they would pluck from the crevices of the pyramid where these hardy birds had nested.

We saw what looked to be not so much a cloud as a winged waterspout whirling around the top of this Tower of Doom. By the look of things, however, the four above-mentioned travellers had not eaten all the eggs in the henhouse.

The town of Newcastle, which we were approaching, is terraced along a cliff whose barrenness we would have found depressing were it not for the profound joy that overtook us. The dangerous belt of coral[8] that defends the entry to this harbour seemed to us to be the girdle of Venus herself. This fortress of ocean-level reefs, to which many of the islands of Oceania have long owed their independence, took on in our eyes, lit up as these were by the open blue sky of freedom, the flattering appearance of a corset whose laces our ship’s bow, as if it were a lover, was about to cut through.

Until this decisive moment, our journey had to some extent seemed like an escape. The good captain who had welcomed us aboard his ship was almost constantly testing the surrounding space, in case there should suddenly appear some government escort-ship with a mission involving us, and we looked with melancholy eyes at the eight old piston-action rifles banging about in their rack, these constituting the entire arsenal of the three-master the P.C.E. and looking as though they had never been loaded with anything except rust.

A final scare[9] was in store for us. As we gazed like conquerors on this promised though unhoped-for land, we suddenly saw coming out of the harbour, which was about two leagues away, a steam-boat headed very obviously in our direction and proceeding full-steam ahead to meet us. This steam-boat was soon joined by a second, then a third, then a fourth. For a moment we entertained the notion, however preposterous, that the entire French fleet had been awaiting us at the harbour entrance and that it was now coming out to sink us or – an even more painful expectation – to snatch us as it came by.

These frenzied steam-boats were in fact ordinary tugs, the fear of competition being the cause of their alarming energy. Any ship about to touch land is soon surrounded by these supplicants, each trying to grab the “client”. They pester him, they flatter him, they make the most unbelievable effort to be the one to tow him in[10]. You would think you were at the railway-station of some spa resort when the hotel bellboys come to harpoon the tourist as he gets off the train. The tugboat operators are not above agreeing to a reduction in price. Nonetheless, they could not possibly, without losing all self-respect, bring safely into harbour a four-hundred-ton ship like ours for less than eighty francs. Offer them seventy-five francs, and they withdraw their labour and leave your sailing ship in distress.

These semi-pirates, no longer being able to take ships’ crews captive, make up for this by attempting to fleece them. But as far as the P.C.E. was concerned, they might just as well have spared themselves their seductive coquetries. What, show Captain Law his way, a man brought up amongst reefs and familiar with every channel! A man who, more than two leagues off Ball’s Pyramid, had sniffed the air as if it were a pinch of snuff and told us :

“We’re getting closer, I can smell land.”

The countenance of this old sea-dog has remained vividly present in my mind as a symbol of whatever astounds and upsets human calculations. Short and stocky, with ruddy features, but a keenly sparkling eye and the set lips of a man of responsibility forever on the alert, whenever Captain Law came belting out of his cabin onto the deck at the merest sign of a squall, he seemed to become as one with the atmosphere and to give the word of command to the compass card. He would cast his piercing gaze at the depths of the horizon, take in the clouds with a glance upwards, and announce to us with chronological precision :

“It will last an hour”.

or :

“This one will go on for two hours and a half.”

And, at the minute he had predicted, the wind would drop. Though a great lover of France, in the form of its wines – a fault which is not considered the least bit dishonourable in Australia, where intoxication is as fashionable as heart-shaped waistcoats are among us – he was aware of his weakness and all he took with him to drink on his journeys were barrels of fresh water. He reserved his thirst for his stay on land, and it would become more and more unquenchable as the time to embark grew closer.

Moreover, his easy-going directness and imperturbable nature were the outward accompaniment of a scrupulously generous heart. In payment for the rescue of all six of us, the sum of ten thousand francs had been, not demanded by him, but offered spontaneously by us, and when I thought I should offer him some guarantees as to payment, which might have seemed to him to pose a number of problems, he replied unhesitatingly :

“My best guarantee is your word.”

Now, in this expedition he was risking his job, and in consequence the livelihoods of his six children. The risk was so real that he did in fact lose it at a later date.

Having a special certificate which authorised him to enter any port in Australia without a pilot, he made straight for the entrance to Newcastle, the town of his birth. We sailed up the harbour at about ten in the morning, in magnificent weather and a sparkling sea, passing through a jumble of vessels of all types of sail and all nationalities. Their every mast was decked with flags, and their rigging festooned with pennants. This jubilation delighted us, though it also took us somewhat by surprise. The captain himself sought an explanation, which the “steward”[11] (the ship’s cook) immediately provided. This unfortunate fellow, who had formerly worked as a clown on a fairground stall, found himself one fine day transported on board a ship, in one of those press-gang operations which in England take the place of a vocation to life at sea. In the course of our trip, there was not a single kindness that he did not lavish upon us, doing somersaults in the ship’s shrouds to take our minds off our seasickness, walking on his hands, and cooking for us, with the very same hands he had walked on, large numbers of pastries whose taste and colour, regrettably, consigned them to the category of rock-cakes in every sense of the word.

“You must have been recognised,” he told us with great conviction. “The harbour has been decked out in your honour.”

This base adulation did not even have the excuse of being flattering. If the people on the jetty looking through their spyglasses had thought we looked like deportees, they must have had a very poor idea of the workforce on the Ducos Peninsula. We were clad in outlandish clothes, pale from the churning of our stomachs due to the rolling of the P.C.E.; the latter had come back on ballast but we had rather horribly jettisoned ours; and we were at one and the same time as tattered as a Callot and as bristly as a Herrera the Elder[12]. The only hope my costume afforded me was dependent on a shoulder-strap borrowed from the ship’s first mate : had it broken, it would have demolished the entire structure on which a strictly decent outfit is based. As to Olivier Pain[13], my fellow escapee and also my collaborator, for the role of his memories in this account is at least as great as my own[14], Olivier Pain had for shoes a pair of old army boots saved from a shipwreck, and of such enormous size that he could walk around in them without his feet even touching the sides. While still in New Caledonia, the escapees had seriously contemplated fitting a sail to them and returning to Europe inside them. They gave up this plan once they realised that the boots leaked.

Newcastle Harbour circa 1870 looking down Perkin Street

Newcastle Harbour circa 1870 looking down from Perkin Street

As we were tacking in a veritable forest of clippers, brigs and schooners, we found ourselves for a short time alongside a French three-masted barque, the Saint-Jean. We greeted the commandant in his own language, and he returned our ‘Bonjour’ without any further attempt to discover the identity of these fellow-countrymen of his who were almost as little clad as his own skipper.

Our inflamed and feverish hands were on the brink of touching land, when we had to stop for a visit by Customs. We had one last meal on board the P.C.E. while awaiting the outcome of this formality, which was of some importance to us. The spontaneous generation of six men not listed in the ship’s log on departure might well have given the Australian authorities cause for some recrimination, which would have been awkward, to say the least.

A very young man, most distinguished-looking and dressed as if for a dinner in town, drew up in the Customs Administration’s boat, climbed up the P.C.E.’s ladder, and seated himself in Captain Law’s cabin. The latter brought him his log and engaged with him in a dialogue which was translated for the rest of us by the only one of us who spoke English.

“I had been at sea for about four hours,” the Captain related in a somewhat sardonic tone of voice, “when these six[15] gentlemen emerged from the hold of my ship where, so they told me, they had taken refuge the previous evening. They have paid me their passage, but I have reason to believe that the names they have given me are not their own.”

We were paying anxious attention. Then, without a glance in our direction or the slightest curiosity concerning us, the young official – demonstrating once again that respect for individual liberty which is innate in the Englishman – replied with chilly indifference :

“Since these gentlemen owe you nothing, they are free to adopt whatever names they wish.”

Thereupon, he stood up, good back into his boat and returned to shore, without even mentioning the incident to his oarsman.

We lost no time in following this discreet Customs officer in the P.C.E.’s whale boat. We came ashore at the wharf, greeted by a crowd of beaming citizens obviously dressed in their Sunday best even though it was a Thursday. Each of the escapees, who the previous day had been merely “a nameless cipher in a pallid crowd”, turned back into a man once he reached dry land. We might even have willingly kissed that alma parens, had not our lips first been planted upon the blond head of one of those unbelievably beautiful children of whom we have since seen so many in Australia but whom we could never have imagined in our dreams. That English complexion, its lethargy cancelled out by the tropical sun; those eyes of turquoise blue, in which the shimmering Pacific mother-of-pearl seems to be reflected; that tousled hair framing the rosy cheeks over which it tumbled, called us back to the serenity of life.

Children are precisely what is lacking in prison life. Here and there, through the gaps in a fence, one might perhaps catch a glimpse of a laundress bringing the washing back from the penitentiary; but the “baby” side of things is completely lacking.

The reader can imagine how ardently we cuddled this wondrous little creature. The governess looking after him was young, and we would have thought her pretty were it not for her clothing, which looked as if it had been bought from one of the second-hand clothes dealers in the shabbiest area of Paris[16], and was topped off by a hat that might perhaps have belonged to the Duchess of Angoulême fifty years ago[17]. She laughed at the sight of the infant being passed from one pair of arms to another, no doubt considering us to be in all likelihood either travelling acrobats or itinerant musicians. We were certainly highly itinerant, though hardly musicians.

Captain Law, being anxious to introduce us to his fellow-citizens, enquired as to the reasons for the general rejoicing on the wharves. It was caused, not by our arrival, but by that of Sir Hercules Robinson, the Governor of New South Wales, who was expected from Sydney that very morning. As to the explanation that had been provided by our steward, we decided that he was a born courtier.

The view of Newcastle from the jetty reveals a town built higgledy-piggledy to meet the needs of a population which is daily growing at a rate unknown in Europe. With the exception of two or three hotels of fairly lavish appearance, the houses show every sign of improvised construction. Their owners have perched them, without any concern for order or proper alignment, on hills which could perhaps have quite easily been levelled. Still, this very incoherence has a certain agreeable charm about it.

Having once (“once” means the year 1850) been inhabited by shepherds and bushmen[18], the town of Newcastle, stranded on a steep sandbank between the Hunter River and the sea, would have had nothing to recommend it except the safety of its anchorage and the low cost of land, had not the discovery and extraction of coal made it par excellence Australia’s city of the “black diamond”. From fifteen hundred inhabitants, it quickly rose to twenty thousand.

The lack of drinking water is the main problem in the Hunter River district, of which Maitland and Morpeth form part. Everything that happens does so underground, and visitors are entertained in one’s mine just as elsewhere they are in one’s drawing-room. The only productive crop in this coal-bearing area is sugar-cane[19], which can be grown without watering. But the heat is so intense in the cane fields and the sun’s reflection from the ground so dangerous for European brains, that the cane farmers cannot employ any workers except natives. A Kanak woman sometimes spends eight hours a day in a plantation in fifty-seven degrees centigrade with her child on her back. The very idea fills you with admiration for beetroot.

But before inquiring further as to the fate of these natives of Oceania, we had to concern ourselves with our own. Our combined resources amounted to three hundred francs in colonial bonds drawn on the Bank of Noumea. Even the most trusting of shopkeepers would not have accepted our banknotes as wrapping for her hairpins.

The captain, who had himself now assumed the role of tugboat, towed us to one of those banks which accept paper-money from all over the world. But the world from which we had just come apparently extended beyond the limits of outlandishness, the teller hurling at us from deep behind his window :

“We don’t take that,”

which our strict sense of impartiality obliges us to translate as follows :

“As if I couldn’t guess that you produced these banknotes with your own hands this very morning.”

The bank next door extended to us a very different kind of welcome. This was where our incognito existence came to an end. As soon as we produced our “securities”, the whispering began. Could it be that the P.C.E.’s crew, as it mingled with the townspeople, had given away the story of our escape? Had the Customs officer been more communicative with others than he had with us? The fact is that, at the mere sight of the words “Bank of New Caledonia”, the entire establishment was abuzz.

“Are you the escaped French prisoners? You’ve just come in on the P.C.E. Tell us all about your escape.”[20]

They crowded around us, calling out to one another to come and meet us and insisting we tell them everything. Although, like most financial establishments in such countries, the bank was unfamiliar with the mysteries of backwardation, contangoing and declaration of options[21], it did also operate as a commission agency.

They produced a sample cask of madeira, and proceeded to pour us each a glass, this giving the excellent Captain Law an even more exalted idea of who his passengers were. He related how, having seen my portrait and biography in an illustrated journal, he had recognised me at once. In consideration of our notoriety and our misfortunes, our money-changers discounted our bills by only a little over twenty-two per cent. Never have Bank of Noumea bonds been so dearly traded!

But business is business, and while we were unsuspectingly conversing, the chief associate of the bank was taking notes in the next room and dashing off a wire which reached Paris before we could transmit our own message from the Newcastle Telegraph Office to the Reuters agency. A most regrettable contretemps, since it had the effect of sending to France, along with news of our escape, a list of escapees’ names which was so garbled that their families could not begin to get confirmation of their identity until they had sent off a dozen or so telegrams of enquiry.

Our arrival was soon what is called in English “the day’s lion”[22]. They say about a ship putting in, a roof blown off in a gale, or a locomotive exploding, “it’s today’s lion”. They also speak of “lionising”, meaning capturing public attention. So we eagerly lionised[23], since that is the term for it, our every step from then on being followed by an invitation. As deprived as we were of the barest necessities of life and depleted of pounds sterling, we could do no less than take lodgings in the best hotel in town, which is the Great Northern Hotel.

The commandant of the P.C.E. was the recipient of congratulations all round, which added to the flush of his visage by the minute. He had never imagined, when he undertook our liberation, that its happy success would create such a stir. Full of pride and joy at an act of generosity and courage whose significance he had not at first realised, not only would he not leave our side from now on, but he steadfastly refused to let us leave his. He linked arms with me and dragged me along through the streets, showing me off to all his acquaintances. Now, as the whole population was out-of-doors to welcome the provincial Governor, the aforesaid acquaintances had never been so numerous. Groups of people turned before one’s very eyes into hives of activity. And, each time, our story had to be told over again! After less than two hours ashore, we were already up to our thirty-second report.

However, we could not allow our lack of decent clothing to continue heaping dishonour upon Paris, our native city and the capital of supreme elegance. Although everything is sold at exorbitant prices in these new countries, where there is less merchandise than there is gold to pay for it, and although the unit of currency almost everywhere here is the twenty-five franc pound, we nonetheless felt obliged, even at the risk of bankruptcy, to withdraw sufficient funds from our nest-egg to buy Olivier Pain a proper pair of shoes.

In one of the arcades housing various types of shop selling books or linen or furs, he espied a shoemaker’s establishment which appeared to be well stocked and awaiting customers. He went in : the shop was empty, the counter unattended. He sat down, grew impatient and ended up banging on the floor with his famous army boots, which produced a cavernous noise. After a quarter hour of this castanet-like tapping, the crisp sound of a starched dress could be heard coming from the interior staircase that linked the shop to the living-quarters. A dark-eyed girl, who naturally seemed exquisitely beautiful to men who had spent three years cut off from society in a fortified enclosure, made her appearance on the bottom step.

“Miss,” said Olivier Pain, summoning up all the English he could muster, “I should like to try on a pair of boots.”

“That can be easily arranged, sir, but we shall have to wait until my master returns.”

“Will that take long?”

“I can’t tell you, sir; he left the day before yesterday for the goldfields. But if you are really anxious to speak with him, you can find him in the Blue Mountains district. It seems an excellent seam of gold has just been found there.”

Olivier Pain had no wish to venture into the blue yonder of those mountains, so he left still wearing his army boots. But it sums up the typical Australian : above all else, he is a seeker after gold – has been, is, and always will be. Any other profession he may adopt is temporary and aimed purely at diverting suspicion. What he is seeking in Australia is not social position but a vein of gold.

On leaving this highly peculiar shoemaker’s shop, we met up at the Great Northern Hotel with our companions, who were already deep in conference with the newspaper reporters of the region. We shook hands with Mr Bonnard, the proprietor and editor of the Australian Review, to thank him for having been so kind as to send us a copy of it from time to time (even though he was not acquainted with us) while we were condemned to our rock in New Caledonia – a place as lacking in news as it was in vegetation. Unfortunately, despatches from France were generally so distorted because of the six thousand leagues they had to travel along the wires of the transatlantic cable, that by the time they reached us they were veritable enigmas. Imagine our surprise when one day, sitting in our straw hut, we received the following telegram, couched in terms calculated to throw every deportee into a kind of daydream :

“M. Guizot has just proclaimed an amnesty.”[24]

As Guizot could not possibly have proclaimed an amnesty unless he had been appointed President of the Grand Council of France, it was clear that the Count of Paris must have acceded to the throne. A few days later, we received an explanation of this misguided story : M. Guizot had merely declared, within the Protestant committee over which he presided, that an “armistice” currently existed between orthodox and liberal economists.

Cheering from the street interrupted our toasts. The townspeople, gathered along the shore, were welcoming the Governor of New South Wales as he sailed into the good town of Newcastle. He was travelling on the Kembla, a fifteen-hundred ton steamboat which came into the harbour at top speed. This steamer[25], which was considered the fastest in Australia, had entered into competition with the Coonambara, another steamboat of the same tonnage, and large bets had been placed on this steeplechase, in which the hurdles of Irish racecourses had been replaced by dangerous reefs.

If over-adventurous captains heat the steamers’ engines beyond their capacity, they are at risk of exploding, and this hazard had in fact been discussed, with unshakeable calm, by the punters the previous evening. Supposing the Kembla had blown up, then the Governor on board would have disappeared among the debris, and with that practical bent that never deserts the English, the name of Sir Hercules’ probable successor was already being suggested.

So the arrival of the colony’s leader, who had left Sydney, eighty miles distant, a few hours before, held just as much interest as the Paris Grand Prix. The Coonambara was beaten hollow, being a good hour away from the finishing line when the Kembla crossed the bar, to the frantic applause of ten thousand onlookers – applause which was all the more unanimous as everyone from the Queen’s representative to the ship’s stoker took part in it.

Sir Hercules Robinson, who had boldly punted on the steamer chosen by him for his journey, won a large sum of money and appeared unconscious of the danger to which his recklessness had exposed him.

The French Consular Agent in Newcastle had come to present his heartiest congratulations on our happy deliverance. This worthy chargé d’affaires combined the functions of State official and liquor merchant. Whenever his girded himself with his sash to receive a French national who was taking himself a wife under the protection of French law, once he had presented the couple with the marriage register he would always take the opportunity of recommending to them a “little domestic wine” he was sure they would enjoy. Before offering us a sample of his products, he proposed introducing us to the Governor, but we would have had to repeat the famous story for the thirty-third time. So we pleaded for a postponement, which we had some difficulty in obtaining.

The next morning, all the newspapers were full of stories about us. I have kept an article from The Newcastle Chronicle, from which I translate the following lines :

“Yesterday, the city was thrown into a state of some excitement by the arrival of the P.C.E. from New Caledonia, having on board six of the most prominent French State prisoners recently exiled to that colony.

It was widely noted that at the time of these men’s arrival all the vessels in the harbour were arrayed with a display of flags, as if to celebrate their return to freedom.”[26]

We consumed a copious dinner, quite an ordinary event in these countries where there is an abundance of cattle and a bullock costs scarcely more than a gentleman’s long tie. After this dinner, to which we invited all those who had shaken our hands to mark their tender feelings towards us, we travelled with Captain Law at our head through the entire town, which was lit up by specially-erected lamps, and spent the rest of the evening leading what is called “the bar life”.

Bars are not even taverns, but common counters at which people have a bite to eat, washed down with a glass of whatever they fancy. These stopping-places, which in France would have given us a reputation for being habitués of the bal de la Reine-Blanche[27], neither infringe the proprieties in Australia nor detract from one’s good character. Members of Parliament come into them to chat about the country’s future and the bills being debated, without their prestige being in the least diminished.

Young women, almost invariably charming, serve the customers, whose familiarity always remains within strictly-observed bounds. Despite her continual contact with the public, a barmaid[28] is on the same level of respectability as the most genteel of young ladies. If there were a slight difference to be discerned, it would be to the advantage of the former : being generally more attractive and more seductively displayed than the latter, they more easily end up making a lucrative marriage. Two Ministers in the Australian Parliament[29] had in fact married barmaids from the bars at which they stopped on their way to the House, and this outcome had not elicited any comment. Between the legislators drinking and these pretty young women pouring their drinks, public opinion made no distinction.

In one of the bars[30], we admired a young woman of seventeen, of Swiss origin, whom we had seen riding by on horseback during the afternoon; from her distinguished appearance and elegance, we had assumed her to belong to the highest aristocracy of the region. Imagine our surprise that evening when we saw this princess, as in a scene from the opera Martha[31], drawing pint after pint of beer from a barrel, gracefully serving slices of ham to visitors who called her simply Kitty[32], showing her teeth in all their pearly whiteness whenever she laughed confidently at our jokes, which were perhaps not always in irreproachable taste.

The fact is that equality in that country is not merely something written into the Code by recalcitrant legislators, as it is in Europe. It has to do with the necessities of personal relations and it springs, as it were, from the very soil. Traditions of nobility, class privileges and feudal legends cannot exist on a continent which has been opened up for cultivation for scarcely a hundred years. The memory of the Crusades has left no trace in families where it is more important to take a husband or wife than to take the Cross[33]. The axiom “Happy those peoples who have no history!” cannot be too often repeated. In fact the aristocracy of wealth, the only sort which is known here, can have but a purely material influence amongst people who are disreputable one day and wake up millionaires the next, only to fall back into a state close to destitution a few months later. The veneration that we feel, however reluctantly, for a major capitalist is unknown among the colonial people of Oceania. They admit the efficacy of wealth, but not its superiority. The poor man no more respects the rich man in Australia than the rich man despises the poor man.

Many fatalists are unable to find themselves out of doors wearing a new hat and being caught in a sudden shower, without complaining :

“These sorts of things only happen to me!”

Nonetheless, it was true that the mistake which was to mark our evening could only have happened to us. All the windows in town were open to the sea breeze; the sounds of pianos, their keys tinkling beneath the delicate touch of young “misses”[34], came wafting through the air towards us. (In countries that are still savage, the piano is the first step towards civilisation.) Barrel-organs, having been banished from the mother country, had crossed the seas and now sought noisy hospitality in her fairest colony. But both organs and spinets seemed to have conspired to play the same tunes. As soon as a phrase died away on one instrument, it was taken up by another. The music was cheerful and lively, though without much variety of texture.

“There are some delightful pieces among this suite of English airs,” said one of us. “Just listen to that waltz.”

“What?” replied Mr Bonnard, “You take that for an English tune?”

“What is it, then?”

“You must be joking! It’s the waltz from La Fille de Madame Angot.[35]

Washed up by the storms of life at the farthest end of the earth, we Frenchmen, we Parisians, in the midst of all the foreigners around us, were the only ones who had never before heard this music, the work of a fellow-countryman of ours. Why, the Aborigines themselves knew it by heart.

This episode led us to the observation that no glory is as enviable as that attaching to the musician. The success of the finest book cannot be compared, in terms of universality of distribution throughout the world, with that of an opera or love-song which achieves popularity. The Barber of Seville is sixty years old, and for sixty years not a day has gone by without it being played by thousands of fingers or emerging from a thousand throats. The fact is that music finds a place in every home without the need for examinations or diplomas. It enters every ear without distinction of education. Whoever has once acquired this special glory comes across it everywhere; he meets it at every street-corner, he bumps into it every step he takes; it comes to meet him, accompanies or pursues him. Even to the point at which, in the case of a work like La Fille de Madame Angot, one might add that it obsesses him.

Back in our hotel rooms after this explosion of Angotmania, we examined the state of our finances. It was quite simple : a void. If we paid the hotel bill, we would not be able to go to Sydney, the only town that offered us some hope of escaping from our predicament; but we could not leave for Sydney unless we had paid our account at the hotel.

A number of unscrupulous tourists are in the habit of leaving behind very heavy suitcases by way of payment; after their departure, it is discovered that the cases are full of pebbles gathered at the seashore. But even this dishonourable course of action would have been denied us, in the unthinkable eventuality of our having contemplated it, since we did not even own the indispensable suitcase. Shipwrecked as we were of our own free will, we had plunged into the waters of Noumea in the garb of expert swimmers. It was not so much a case of “poverty clad in genteel dress” as of “poverty clad in bathing suits”.

We decided that three of us escapees would stay in Newcastle as security, whilst the other three would travel to Sydney and send to the Great Northern Hotel the sum required in order to “redeem” their companions. Above all, we were determined to keep the promise we had made to Captain Law and obtain the ten thousand francs we owed him, even though that honest and cordial mariner had completely overlooked this commitment on our part. I knew that, in that respect, I could count on my friends in France; but if a letter takes two months to get there, a telegraph message costs four hundred francs to transmit. And we had at our disposal neither the two months nor the four hundred francs.

I boarded the Kembla, which was returning to Sydney that very night; its victorious propellor was already churning the water in impatience. The captain, first mate and also the steward of the P.C.E. showed the passengers to their cabins. We embraced one another on the steamer’s deck, and promised to send one another photographs, since photography – like music, of which I spoke above, and also like love – can be understood in any language.

Olivier Pain stayed in Newcastle, in charge of our imperceptibly small finances. But although something of a prisoner, he knew that those on their way to Sydney were working to ransom him, and he philosophically allowed himself to accept an invitation to visit a coal-mine the following day.

The train from Newcastle to Maitland picks up and sets down passengers at about fifteen stations, taking an hour and a half for the journey. The only sign that one has reached Maitland is that the train has stopped. The slowness of the railways is so extreme that one might almost think it deliberate.

Coal has such commercial value for the district that people economise on it in their personal use. Just as cobblers are always the worst-shod of people, so the worst heated may well be coal-merchants. After gold, which is mined throughout Australia, in New South Wales coal is the largest export and the most sought-after component of the economy. At the time when we were there, the most recent statistics relating to the wealth of the area quoted the following figures for the previous year :

Gold : 18,075,000 francs.

Coal shipped from Newcastle : 7,900,000 francs.

This huge output is due to the extreme ease of drilling in a soil where coal is almost always close to surface level.

Our friends who had been expecting a dizzying descent down mine-shafts of which Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth can give only a mild idea, were extremely surprised to find themselves walking straight into a ground-level tunnel which went right through the mountain, at the base of which a vein had been discovered reaching from one side right to the other. On leaving this tunnel, whose length increases daily as mining continues, they found themselves back in the open, only to enter another horizontal gallery shortly thereafter. This latter continued as far as the cliff-face overlooking the ocean, such that the mine’s output can be loaded through the hole in the rock directly onto the ships that are waiting to take it on board, without incurring any additional transport costs.

This simplification of operations, moreover, had been plain for us to see. As we approached Newcastle, even when we observed it from the ocean we were struck by the appearance of the coastline, which was marked by large black patches. On the other hand, approaching the coast is generally impossible because of the coral reefs[36] which oblige ships to keep their distance and necessitate the concentration of coal-loading at the least dangerous points of access.

These outcrops are so common at ground level that men ploughing often come across them beneath the ploughshare, scattering them far and wide. We are in Australia and not Greece, where the wielding of a pickaxe is likely to damage the torso of a buried Venus or the shield of some anonymous Epaminondas. Nor are we in France, where the digging of a furrow may uncover old helmets that have lain buried since 1814, or the last cannonballs to have been fired at Montmirail.

Each of us takes his myths where he finds them. These sabre-hilts, parts of swords, Roman camps and other remnants of death, cause the European who comes across them to reflect on those who must have left them there. The colonist in Oceania is both less violent and more practical. Discoveries of a mineral order do not take his mind back to Bouvines, Agincourt or Poitiers : they simply remind him that coal sells for fifty francs a ton.

Let us not forget that we were travelling through a part of the world where a man’s importance is appraised like that of a ship, where each individual merely represents the cargo it has on board, and where every biography is summed up in a dialogue which runs as follows :

“What is he worth?”

“He’s worth ten thousand pounds sterling.”

In the exceptional conditions in which the coal-mines are worked, it is no exaggeration to say that one has only to bend down in order pick it up. One no longer has to deal with underground diggings that stretch into the unknown; with retaining walls, props and constructions of all kinds which are meant to guard against the caving-in of quarries but in fact cause the collapse of fortunes.

As if they were beneath the vaults of the catacombs, our friends suddenly found themselves proceeding along galleries that ran underground like the streets of some city suffering an eternal eclipse of the sun. Railway tracks are generally laid along the main thoroughfares, and the streets themselves are given their own names. One of them displayed on the wall to the left of its entrance a plaque reading Victoria Street[37]. There is constant and frenzied bustle in these channels, which one might imagine to have been dug by prehistoric moles.

Never has Darwin’s theory of environment[38] produced more striking results than the difference in customs, behaviour and even in type which are clearly observable between the coal miner and the gold miner. The former is a worker, the latter merely a gambler. Workers in the coal-mines rely entirely on their strong arms and their energy; the others merely take a punt on chance. Whereas the profession of one group is based on normal and more or less unfailing production, the fate of the other group is determined by the chance outcome of a game of trente et quarante[39].

The coal miners have brought with them from the Mother Country their love of cottages and a passion for comfort. Almost all of them married, they lead the regular life of the family man who comes home at the usual time each evening. They have set up libraries for their own use, established canteens and even founded newspapers to report on matters relating to their industry. The frenetic activity of the gold-digger, on the other hand, is comparable only in the ill-kempt style of his existence. There is no question for him of a household to keep, children to bring up, or a future to be provided for. The female population of a gold-diggings consists almost exclusively of four or five suspicious-looking creatures who – given the often large size of the male population – achieve a predominance in that place whose effect can easily be guessed at. All one hears of are knife-wounds suffered in their honour and migrants killing one another over them. On days when ore has been unearthed, indescribable dramas are played out, being best summed up in the phrase of a character from La Dame aux camélias:

“You speak to me fondly when I win.”[40]

The unattached women of Australia do the “Goldfields season”[41], just as those on the European Continent used once to do the Baden or Homburg season.

It is not exactly on a whim or out of fondness for travel that these women venture into regions that are almost always uncultivated, where the lack of water, the pestilential fumes and the snakes would need a great deal of compensation. When I relate the story of my stay in San Francisco, I shall return to these bizarre scenes, in which a man will sometimes throw away in an orgy of spending lasting a few hours the fruit of three months’ hard labour and heroic privation. The fact is that, not only does gold fever lead to other fevers, but that these special kinds of hunter are more attached to the hunt than they are to the quarry. Finding gold is the main thing; after that, you spend it how you will.

It was in Maitland that we first saw, in all its astounding growth, the great Tasmanian gum-tree, better known by the name of Eucalyptus globulus. Protected by bark which can be peeled off like a bandage, its trunk thrusts itself out of the earth with the vigour and zest of a firework rocket. Only at the summit does the rocket open out into a canopy of dark green leaves, somewhat reminiscent of those of the olive tree. Although its circumference is often huge at the base, its height is normally so phenomenal that it still retains the appearance of an enormous artichoke gone to seed. It easily grows four or even five metres a year in that country, which almost makes one prepared to accept the claim made by the hero of a certain fantastic tale that he could actually see the grass grow.

M. Louis Figuier mentions some eucalypts growing to a hundred and fifty metres in height, in other words eight metres higher than the tallest pyramid, which rises to a hundred and forty-two metres. It is hard to imagine anything surpassing this; yet examples growing up to a hundred and sixty and even a hundred and sixty-five metres are by no means rare, and there is no more gripping spectacle than that of natives climbing, as a man climbs a pole, that is, pressing himself up against it, the length of those smooth trunks that sway in the wind like the masts of some gigantic ship.

Modern science attributes to this remarkable tree anti-febrile properties which I am not competent to dispute. There has been, and still is, in many quarters a proposal to plant eucalypts in the Roman campagna, the alluvial plains of the Sea of Azov[42] and the African marshlands. I do not wish to discourage anyone, but it is impossible not to observe that the Australian inland, the native region of this great plant which one comes across at every step, is the home of a continual marsh-fever[43] which very few travellers have been able to withstand. In 1860, Burke, Wills[44], King and Gray attempted to cross the Continent from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpenteria. Three of the four explorers died as a result of endemic illnesses which they contracted at the edge of swamps, accompanied, it is true, by a frightening dose of hardship and fatigue.

The Aborigines are fond of eucalyptus resin, which feeds them and – where drinking water is not available – also serves to slake their thirst. They dig a deep hole in the tree at the exact spot at which the trunk emerges from the soil, and it is through this artificially-produced ulcer that the sticky sap flows. They lie flat on their stomachs and drink from the tree as if from a stream. But, if the hole is not plugged after a certain time, one can see the life of the condemned plant ebbing away through this deep gash; its branches dry out like the limbs of someone dying of consumption, its variegated colours take on that onion-skin hue which is the mark of decay in plant-life just as white hair is in man. We were shown one of these giants that had been shockingly torn open. It seemed to be growing more and more wrinkled and straggling before our very eyes. At the slightest breeze, it quivered like an old man. And yet it still struggled and held on to life

“Like a wounded soldier determined to die on his feet”,

as Théophile Gautier has put it in a wonderful sonnet entitled The Pine of the Landes.

While we were in New Caledonia, we had attempted to plant a number of eucalypts around our straw hut, which was situated on the eastern slope of the mountain range that cuts the Ducos Peninsula in two. The seeds from which this impressive product grows are scarcely one-eighth the size of a millet seed. Never did anything rise so high from such lowly origins. We would have been keen to inspect for ourselves the rapid growth of our plantation, but we had so many other things to see to that we had no hesitation in abandoning our newly-sprung eucalypts to the care of Providence. Did they adapt to that country better than we ourselves had been able to? We are proud of having planted them, but as the reader can imagine we have no regrets about having seen so little of their development.

On leaving the mine, the escapees went to visit M. Terrier, a Frenchman who had been banished as a result of the Coup d’Etat[45]. Since those happy days he had settled in Lochinvar[46] near Maitland. M. and Mme Terrier received them cordially, the sincerity of their greeting being proved when they showed their guests my portrait displayed in the same frame as those of Gambetta and Ledru-Rollin[47]. They offered their fellow-countrymen an excellent colonial wine made from grapes grown on the property. Although it originated from vine-stock that had been brought from the Bordeaux district, the Australian sun had lent it the warmth and bouquet of the best burgundies. Their host had also experimented with champagne-making, but that drink of heterogeneous ingredients, whose tricks are usually limited to sending the drinker’s cork flying up to the ceiling, loses its verve in the fiery tropics, so that out of ten thousand bottles M. Terrier was able to save only nine hundred at most.

Although the morals of the colonists, who are mainly Protestants[48], are generally refined, English Puritanism had a little surprise in store for us – one which might have provided less discreet men with the elements of a good vaudeville sketch. After visits to churches and the hospital, our friends were presented to the director of a boys’ boarding-school, who insisted on showing them everything down to the last penholder. They were taken to the dormitory, the refectory, the bathroom. Although the school consisted of only about fifteen pupils, it appeared to be thriving. But the headmaster’s tender care was conspicuously lavished on a fair-haired lad whom nothing in particular would have singled out had it not been for these special marks of attention.

“Toby, did you sleep well last night?”

“Toby, did you enjoy the pudding at lunch?”

“Toby, if you’re good, I’ll take you for a walk this evening.”

Then, able to restrain himself no longer, the headmaster drew Olivier Pain aside in a window-recess and confided in him as follows :

“Young Toby is a lad whom we value highly[49]. You would never believe it, but four of the wealthiest property-owners in the town mysteriously come and see him at least once a week, and each of them pays me Toby’s entire boarding fee, requesting me to keep it a secret.”

“What about his mother?”

“She comes less often.”

“She is probably very busy. All the same, having her son’s boarding-school fees paid four times over, by four different friends, is something that couldn’t be bettered even in the heart of Paris.”

The P.C.E., which had taken us on board, belonged to the Montefiores, the biggest merchants in Sydney. Though full of admiration for the courage shown by Captain Law, they were too Israelitish not to work out straight away what its consequence would be in terms of their relations with the government in New Caledonia. So, without hesitation, they distantly imitated Abraham and sacrificed the skipper of their three-master.

Our deliverer received the notice of his dismissal without apparent emotion. Financial catastrophes are too frequent in this reckless society for a falling from favour to be of any more importance than a hand at cards. The director of the Argus, the largest newspaper in Melbourne, one day found himself abandoned by his editors and printing staff, all of them having gone off to the gold-mines. The very natural idea of making an announcement that the Argus would not appear next day did not even enter his head. He went to the printery, sat down in front of a deserted typesetting machine and put together the newspaper himself. In it, improvising with lead type, he related the misadventure which had obliged him to become a typographer on the spot.

The firm of Montefiore, in removing the captain from his command, pleaded the impossibility of his going ashore in a New Caledonian port from now on without running the risk of being arrested as chief perpetrator of an offence which would be all the more severely punished in France because of the annoyance caused to those who had allowed it to be committed.

Our friend fortunately did not have to reflect for long on the situation in which this deprivation of office placed him. He was known as the most skilful “old salt” in the region, and his bold stroke had just given a fresh boost to his popularity. A number of ship-owners came to him that very day to invite him to enter their service.

This commercial death-sentence went directly counter to its aim. The first journey undertaken on the P.C.E. by Captain Law’s replacement was unfortunately the last. Manned by an entirely new crew, since everyone down to the last sailor had been replaced, the ship probably went aground on a reef because of an error in handling. The fact is, as soon became certain, that she was lost with all hands.

If the same event had happened to us, our enemies would have been quick to attribute to Providence the entire honour of our being swallowed up by the sea. I see things, however, with less superstition and more logic. The P.C.E. had kept the sea for as long as she had a capable man in command, and she sank because Captain Law’s successor was an incompetent.


[The abbreviation R refers to Rochefort’s original text.]

[1]. R: “Notre voyage”. Rochefort uses the editorial “we” throughout his account. The translation reads more naturally if “I” is used whenever “nous” in the original is purely editorial, as distinct from cases where it relates to both him and his companions (“we” or “us”).
[2]. The technical translation of the French term faux pont, here used by Rochefort, is “orlop deck”, which the OED defines as “the single floor or deck with which the hold of a ship was covered in, which, by the successive addition of one, two, or three complete decks above, became the lowest deck of a ship of the line; occas. applied to the lowest deck of a steamer, etc.”
[3]. A number of Rochefort’s geographical references are indeed inaccurate, notably his reference to Newcastle and the Hunter Valley as the site of sugar-cane plantations.
[4]. R: L’île Howe.
[5]. Adamastor is the spirit of the Cape of Storms (or Good Hope) described by the Portuguese poet Luis de Camoëns or Camõens (1524-1580) in his Lusiads. Adamastor was said to have appeared to Vasco da Gama and foretold disaster to all attempting the voyage to India.
[6]. The full name of the vessel was the Peace, Comfort and Ease.
[7]. R: “les œufs de goëlands, de damiers et de monomochs”. Whilst goëland is a perfectly normal word meaning “seagull”, damier usually means chequerboard. The sense in which it is used here is noted in only one major dictionary, Le Robert, which states that it may be used in reference to animals and plants with colours that alternate like those on a chequerboard. In this sense, it is used of the pétrel brun (ou «à lunettes»). The word monomoch is found in no French dictionary, and is perhaps a misprint. It seems at least possible that Rochefort, writing some years after the events related, has mis-remembered a term used by the captain of the P.C.E., who is being indirectly quoted here : a mallemuck (or mollymawk) is defined by Macquarie as “any of various oceanic birds, as the fulmar or albatross”; if the 19th-century pronunciation (or that of Captain Law) was closer to the Dutch origin of the word [mallemok], this hypothesis is even more plausible.
[8]. An example of Rochefort’s poor geography, or of a lapse of memory. He presumably has in mind the Continental Shelf.
[9]. R: “Une dernière souleur”. The word souleur (originally a corruption of douleur) is extremely rare, antiquated and not found in most dictionaries. It means a sudden fright.
[10]. Convicts in whaleboats had begun to provide a pilot service as early as 1812, operating from the beach at the foot of what is today Watt Street. In 1870, quarters for harbour pilots were erected on the bank of one of the four boat harbours once provided on the Newcastle waterfront, the dock situated near the present Pilot Station. [Source : Mike Scanlon.] It is clear that, at the time of Rochefort’s visit, competition between pilots was intense.
[11]. R: Le «stewart».
[12]. Jacques Callot (1592-1635) was a painter and engraver whose work includes series such as Les Gueux and Misères de la guerre, which are presumably what Rochefort has in mind here. Herrera the Elder (Francisco de Herrera, 1576-1656) was a Spanish painter whose work is known for its brutal realism.
[13]. On Olivier Pain, see Introduction.
[14]. Pain, for instance, is presumably at the origin of the account of visits to coal mines and a boarding school later in this chapter, since Rochefort had by that time left for Sydney.
[15]. R: “ces sept gentlemen”. Presumably Rochefort means “six” instead of “sept”.
[16]. R: “achetée au «décrochez-moi ça» des piliers du Temple”. The expression “décrochez-moi ça” (literally “take that off the peg for me”) refers to the stalls of the fripiers or second-hand clothes dealers; the area of the Temple (the main Protestant church in Paris) in the third arrondissement was a centre for the second-hand clothing trade.
[17]. The Duchesse d’Angoulême (Marie-Thérèse de Bourbon) (1778-1851) was the daughter of Louis XVI. She married Louis, duc d’Angoulême (1775-1844), the elder son of Charles X. She was an influential figure at the courts of Louis XVIII and her father-in-law. Rochefort seems to have found her taste in hats somewhat extravagant.
[18]. R: “de bergers et de bushmen”.
[19]. Cf. note 2, above. Jean-Paul Delamotte comments : “Rochefort seems to have confused Queensland, where Kanaks were indeed brought unwillingly to grow sugar-cane, with the Newcastle region, where grape-vines were planted in the Hunter Valley in the colonial period.” [French edition]
[20]. R: “Contez-nous votre «escape».”
[21].R: “aux mystères du déport, du report et de la réponse des primes”. These unusual terms were part of the language of the Stock Exchange in Rochefort’s day. “Backwardation” is the percentage paid by a seller of stock for the privilege of postponing delivery till the next account or to any other future day; “cotango” or “cotangoing” is the continuation or carrying over of stock.
[22]. The OED gives as one of the meanings of “lion”: “things of note (in a town, etc.); sights worth seeing; esp. in phr. to see or show the lions. (This use is derived from the practice of taking visitors to see the lions formerly kept in the Tower of London.) 1590. Hence : A person of note who is much sought after 1715.” To “lionise” is defined as : “to treat a person as a ‘lion’; to make a ‘lion’ of 1809.”
[23]. R: “Nous lionisâmes donc à bouche que veux-tu”.
[24]. Rochefort and his companions would have been excited by any news of an amnesty (for Communards and their supporters); they would have to wait several years more before it came through. François Guizot (1787-1874) had been a Minister under Louis-Philippe, and was a defender of conservative ideas. Rochefort is suggesting that, if Guizot was in a position to declare an amnesty, there must have been a revolution in France and the comte de Paris (the duc d’Orléans) must have mounted the throne. [He was one of two claimants to the throne, the other being the comte de Chambord, on whom see Notes to the Newcastle Chronicle article of 2 April 1874.] The reference to a “Protestant committee” probably reflects the fact that, although France was a predominantly Catholic country, financial policy (especially in the world of banking) was disproportionately influenced by Protestants and Jews. One leading bank, the Union Générale, was established under Catholic influence precisely with the aim of challenging this domination.
[25]. R: “steamer”. In the previous sentence, the word “vapeur” is used with the same meaning.
[26]. It is noteworthy that Rochefort has changed the second sentence, which in the Newcastle Chronicle gave the visit of Sir Hercules Robinson as the reason for the flags.
[27]. Bal de la Reine-Blanche. A cabaret?
[28]. R: “une barmesse. Rochefort’s memory of the Australian term has presumably failed him; perhaps he has confused the term “barmaid” with the French word kermesse, meaning a fair or bazaar.
[29]. Presumably Rochefort is referring to the New South Wales Parliament, given that he was referring to a period well before Federation.
[30]. R: “dans un bar ou une bar, car on n’est pas fixé sur le sexe de ce substantif”. It is impossible to render in English Rochefort’s hesitation as to the gender of the word “bar” in French. [In contemporary French it is masculine.]
[31]. In the opera Martha by Friedrich von Flotow (1812-1883), Lady Harriet Durham and her maid Nancy go to Richmond Fair dressed as peasant girls; they eventually find themselves in a farm-house, where they are told to prepare supper.
[32]. R: Ketty. Presumably Kitty is meant.
[33]. It is not possible to reproduce accurately the play on words in Rochefort’s text, which reads : “Le souvenir des croisades n’a laissé aucune trace dans des familles où on se croise de temps en temps pour la reproduction, mais non pour la foi.” The words “croisade” (crusade) and “se croiser” (to meet) are cognate.
[34]. R: “les doigts des jeunes miss”.
[35]. Lecocq’s operetta La Fille de Mme Angot was written in 1872.
[36]. Once again, Rochefort reveals that he is no geographer. On his trip from Nouméa, he may well have heard about the Great Barrier Reef, without realising that it did not stretch as far south as Newcastle.
[37]. Victoria Street is still the name of a railway station on the Newcastle to Maitland line. As Rochefort himself did not travel to Maitland but is relying here on the memories of Olivier Pain, he is perhaps confusing the Victoria Street railway station with one of the railway tracks built inside the mine.
[38]. R: “la théorie «des milieux» inaugurée par Darwin”.
[39]. Trente et quarante is a card game in which thirty and forty are respectively winning and losing numbers.
[40]. R: «Tu me tutoies quand je gagne.» English does not have a distinction equivalent to that between “vous” and “tu” in French.
[41]. R: “vont faire leur «saison de placers»”. “Un placer” in French is a mineral deposit, especially of gold, in a sandbank or alluvial stream. The term “placer” in this sense also exists in English, but is not in common use outside the U.S.A.
[42]. R: “les palus méotides”. A highly esoteric reference to what was known in Latin as palus maeotica (the ancient name of the Sea of Azov, near the Black Sea in Russia), an alluvial area.
[43]. R: “une mal’aria continuelle”. Presumably the broader sense of the word (where it is equivalent to “le paludisme”) is intended here, rather than the more limited sense in which it refers to the mosquito-borne disease.
[44]. R: Wils.
[45]. This is a reference to the Coup d’Etat of 2 December 1851, by which Louis Napoléon, the future Napoléon III, who had been President of the Republic since 10 December 1848, dissolved the Assemblée and set about the process of establishing the Second Empire (1852).
[46]. R: “Looking-War”.
[47]. Léon Gambetta (1838-1882) was a leading Republican figure of the day. Alexandre-Auguste Ledru-Rollin (1807-1874) had been a member of the Provisional Government in 1848.
[48]. R: “luthériens pour la plupart”. Rochefort is clearly using the term “Lutheran” in a very broad (and misleading) sense. The great majority of colonists, to whom he refers, would have been members of the Church of England.
[49]. R: “Ce petit Toby est un précieux enfant.” Presumably there is a play on words here, Toby being “precious” in the sense of being especially dear to the headmaster but also in the sense of being very good for the school’s finances.

Introduction Translation and Notes © 2002 Kenneth R. Dutton

Online Publication by Gionni di Gravio © 2002 University of Newcastle

Henri Rochefort


Click for PDF version here

I dedicate this final chapter to all those who, on my arrival in London, requested details of my escape which I dared not give them for fear of compromising a number of good people whom the slightest suspicion of complicity would have exposed to very serious danger.

Noumea in the 1870s

Noumea in the 1870s

When I landed on New Caledonian soil after a hundred and twenty days at sea, it was already fourteen months since the frigate La Danaé had brought the first convoy of deportees there. Without instruments or tools of any kind, the Parisian workers who had been expelled to this place – a land more featureless, though less green, than the top of a billiard table – had nonetheless managed, using their bare hands, to build a number of dwellings out of tree branches and earth mixed with tufts of grass.

The house in which Olivier Pain and his companion awaited me was built in these inadequate conditions; but, being situated half-way up a hill, at the far end of the Bay of Numbo, it had the great advantage of isolation, thus allowing the three convicts to hatch their plans far from any inquisitive ears, as well as keeping their escape secret for longer after their departure.

The Deportees on Ducos Island

The Deportees on Ducos Island

The three of us were classified as “big guns” among the deportees, as they say in the navy, and as a result were kept under heavy surveillance. The very day when I disembarked, despite the fact that I was exhausted after four never-ending months at sea spent in steerage where I was constantly ill, I was taken hold of by two guards and placed in the prison on the Peninsula, where I spent twenty-four hours lying with no mattress on a wooden plank – of island wood, which made it all the harder.

One of my fellow-deportees, having protested against this system of colonisation, was sent to prison just after me. The administration could not have done us a greater service. It was in our dungeon that the unshakeable resolve to escape at whatever risk first entered our heads, not leaving them until we ourselves had left. We tossed around several escape plans. The boldest was to have weapons sent to us secretly from Nouméa, then to equip ourselves with fishing tackle, nets and ledger lines, and to set off one fine night by way of the mainland, following the coastline of New Caledonia to the northern tip which is only twenty-five leagues from the New Hebrides. We would live on fish all along the way, trusting to our revolvers in the event of an attack by Kanaks and swimming past any gendarme posts that might be placed along the shore-line. Once we had reached the tip of the New Caledonian continent, we would buy a dugout canoe from a native and force him, if necessary, to take us to the New Hebrides – a country which, by the way, is inhabited by cannibals quite beyond redemption.

But this remarkably risky plan was to be adopted only in the event that we found it impossible to discover among the captains plying in and out of the port of Nouméa a man generous enough to take us on board his vessel clandestinely. The problem was how to track down such a rara avis and, secondly, how to make contact with him. We had noticed a certain fellow-feeling shown towards us by a very decent New Caledonian man, a fruiterer with whom we had struck up an acquaintance as a result of our appetite for somewhat more copious and varied victuals than the manna from on high provided by officialdom. I ventured to make overtures to him.

“I am expecting to receive from France,” I said to him one day, “the sum of fifteen thousand francs. But if the administration gets its hands on it, it will make sure that the money is not paid over to me, for fear that I might use it to bribe the prison guards. So I thought I might have it addressed to you. What do you think?”

“Why do you need fifteen thousand francs?” he asked. “You must be intending to escape.”

“I don’t deny it.”

He agreed quite heartily with my views and offered to deduct a commission of fifteen hundred francs from my bank-draft, money being the heart and soul of any escape, and to look for a determined mariner in Nouméa who would take it upon himself to carry out a triple abduction.

He had hardly embarked on his quest when we had a visit from an ordinary (non-political) deportee who had obtained permission to leave the Isle of Pines and come to live in Nouméa itself. We informed him of our scheme, and he promised to make enquiries on his part, while our friend would reconnoitre down at the harbour. It was he[1] who was first to single out Captain Law; but, in order to convince him of the seriousness of our intentions, he obliged that good coast-sailor to accept in advance the money that would come from the discounted bank-draft, in return for guaranteeing the passage of the escapees who were entrusting themselves to his honesty. New Caledonia’s banks, being established, it seems, on very liberal principles, allowed our friend to have my signature honoured, even though being deprived of my civil and political rights stripped my promissory notes of all commercial value.

Captain Law having accepted the ten thousand francs proposed, eight thousand of them on my word of honour, it still remained to determine the means by which we would reach his ship which was stationed in the harbour showing English colours. For the three non-political deportees, the difficulty was not great since they lived in Nouméa; but for the rest of us, who lived three leagues away in a fortified compound, it was almost insurmountable. To travel along the coast would inevitably mean running head first into a guard-post. To take to the sea and risk three or four hours swimming among the coral reefs with which the bays are teeming and among the sharks that explore them, would result in all of us going under.

So it was vitally necessary that those living in Nouméa should stretch their devotion to duty to the point of coming by boat to meet those who were on the Ducos Peninsula[2]. It was equally necessary that the point at which the first group picked up the second should be far enough away for the latter not to be spotted by the guards on their rounds while they awaited the assistance needed for their embarkation.

But what boat-owner would lend himself to such a scheme? Nothing could be more dangerous than to let a new party in on our plans; so we fixed on the idea of going out by night, without forewarning anyone, and untying one of the little boats moored to the harbour piles. One of our fellow-escapees, who was employed by a food-merchant and delivered provisions to the Ducos Peninsula every day, naturally chose the boat belonging to his employer, an excellent man by the name of Dusser, who was subsequently accused of helping to plan our escape. After several weeks in prison, he was violently expelled from the colony, even though he was completely innocent of any part in our actions. The worst thing that can happen to a man when a plot is being hatched around him, is not being in on it. Having taken no special precautions on the day when the can of worms – which he knows nothing about – is discovered, he is sure to be the first one arrested.

The P.C.E., our ship, was to weigh anchor on Friday the 20th of March, at seven in the morning; consequently, we had to go on board on the Thursday evening, with the prospect of spending the night down in the hold in mortal fear – in the literal sense, since it is probable that if they had been discovered there, not one of the six escapees would have got out alive. The three preceding days were spent by us in a state akin to sleepwalking. We might as well have walked round our thatched huts with a candle in our hand. Finally, on the Thursday morning, there arrived a triumphant letter, addressed by one of the Nouméa plotters to one of his accomplices :

“Dear friend,

I shall send you this evening the eight volumes you asked me for last week.”

In Kanak language, the note meant : tonight at eight o’clock is when you are to enter the water and make for the rock from which the boat will pick you up.

We had just finished reading this vitally important message when the food-merchant, of all people, good Dusser himself, as if hoist on his own petard, presented himself in our straw hut accompanied by two natives bent down by the weight of foodstuffs and fine wines. He had come to lunch with us and spend part of the day in our company. The rowing-boat that had brought him was the very one we were to take a few hours later. Once we had left, it would have been hard not to have found him “guilty in fact and law”[3] of having supervised our departure. We were unintentionally to have at his expense, not so much a joke as a trip around the world[4].

In the midst of our meal, which was a very happy one, a dreadful fear came over us. The sky was growing darker and the sea was starting to run high. If M. Dusser decided that, in view of the danger of returning to Nouméa, he would spend the night on the Peninsula, what would become of us? We would not have been able to leave him when the agreed time arrived, and our friends would not have found his boat in the harbour. It was appalling. Fortunately, the weather grew calmer and he was able to get back onto his boat. As the reader can imagine, we were loath to detain him. He bade us farewell, leaving with us a number of still-unopened bottles, and we went with him down to the shore, to be certain that he would get back home.

There was a deportee, more skilful in the culinary art than ourselves, who came every morning to prepare the day’s meals for us. It was essential to keep him away, since we could not let him benefit from our own good fortune. We invented the pretext of being invited to spend the next day in a hut some distance away, so that “his services would not be required”. We even took our Machiavellian ruse so far as to offer him the bottles that had not been broached, in the unpardonable hope that a few libations might prolong the sleep of this poor companion of ours, who for the last two years had had nothing but brackish water to drink. Then, without any particular show of emotion, we took our leave of those of our fellow-prisoners who had taken part in that morning’s banquet; after which, in order to avoid any further visitations, we left our hut and took refuge amongst the tall grass on the mountain.

At half-past seven every evening, a loud cannon-shot announced the closure of the military canteens. This precaution on the colonial government’s part was the exact signal we had agreed upon. Evening was falling as fast as a stage-curtain. The storm, which had held off since that morning, decided to break. A pitch-black night and no indiscreet appearance of the moon to be feared. We went back to our hut for our final preparations and, feeling our way around, since we feared that to light a lamp might attract a visit from one of our neighbours, we took off our clothes and replaced them with bathing costumes. All the possessions we had brought from Europe were left behind for the guards.

The sea, for which we were heading, was about two hundred and fifty metres from where we lived. We entered the water, having no difficulty in getting over the prison wall which reached down to the shore-line. A guard was on sentry duty, but the lapping of the water masked the splashing of our three bodies. A little further along the route of the guards’ rounds, three sentries were walking and chatting. We remained motionless for a moment, not even daring to breathe. We were unable to hear what the men were saying, but in any case our own silence was far more eloquent.

This danger having been overcome, we struck out to sea and, after what seemed like two hours, we reached the rock which was at that time almost completely covered by the high tide. All three of us had gashed ourselves on the sharp edges of rocks. Olivier Pain, in particular, had quite bad cuts to his legs, of which he remained unaware until later. For the moment, we were standing on this volcanic outcrop, peering out into the darkness and evaluating the sound of any wave that might have been the noise of men rowing. After thirty minutes of more and more desperate waiting, one of the lights shining on Nou Island disappeared as if hidden by something opaque, then it re-appeared, and soon afterwards the slap of a pair of oars on water could be heard. “It’s the boat,” I couldn’t help shouting – unwisely, as it might have been one of the prison boats on its rounds.

But it was the rescue boat. Olivier Pain jumped into the water and swam out towards our friends so as to indicate our position to them. We followed, and once hoisted aboard the whaler, we threw away our bathing costumes and put on the clothes that had been brought for us. We thought ourselves safe, or nearly so, but when we entered Nouméa harbour and had started looking for the English three-master, we saw coming towards us a craft manned by a number of individuals who seemed highly intoxicated and were laughing loudly. Instead of attempting to avoid them, we steered a course as though we were aiming directly at them. Perhaps they were guards meant to be on watch and anxious to avoid any encounters, as they turned the rudder so they could not be recognised. They missed a wonderful opportunity for an arrest which would have let them off any punishment their escapade might have brought.

After some time spent looking for the P.C.E. among the ships lying at anchor, we eventually found her. We tied the boat to her, and in a few strides we were all at the top of the ladder. Our arrival took place during a howling storm, in pouring rain, and with our clothes clinging to our bodies. Captain Law, who was fond of staying out late in the cafés of Nouméa, was not on board, even though we could hear midnight striking from the clocks in the town. The only crewman who was not yet asleep was the cook, whom this nocturnal invasion took greatly by surprise.

“What do you want?” he asked in startled English.

“We want to see Captain Law,” answered the only one of the six escapees who had some smattering of that tricky language.

“He’s on land.”

“When will he be back?”

“I don’t know. But at seven tomorrow morning we’re heading for Australia.”

“We’ve known that for the last three days.”

“Then you had better leave the ship if you don’t want to be taken with us.”

“Thank you for your excellent advice, but we won’t be following it.”

Law arrived while this conversation was taking place. He sent the cook off to bed and, once alone with us, shook hands affectionately with us. He had mentioned nothing to his sailors for fear of gossip. The plan was that we would go deep down into the hold and hide as best we could beneath coils of rope. Only when we were on the high seas would we emerge from this secret dungeon. We were standing gesticulating on the deck listening to the captain’s instructions, when he suddenly put a finger to his lips. “Sh!” he said, “don’t let yourselves be heard speaking French here. I’m tied up next to a French man-o’war, la Vire, which is guarding the harbour. If the officer on watch heard you, he might wonder why you are on my ship, and then all would be lost.”

We disappeared into our hiding-place where, despite our anxiety – by now, our escape from the Ducos Peninsula might well have been detected – we managed to sleep thanks to the fatigue brought on by the evening’s exertions. At seven the next morning, we were awakened by the sound of the anchor being raised. But the previous night’s storm had given way to a dead calm. We could hear the pilot who was to guide us as far as the reefs shouting impatiently at the captain, telling him repeatedly that it was impossible to get through the harbour channels, that he should take in the sails and defer his departure to the next day. We were beginning to blanch. To heighten our anxiety even further, every five minutes a little piece of paper would be dropped through the trapdoor leading down to our refuge. These would read as follows :

“Not a breath of air; we have to wait.”

Then :

“I’m insisting on leaving, but the pilot has ordered me to give up any attempt at going out via the normal channel.”

And then :

“Nothing new to report.”

And later :

“We have decided to leave via the Boulari channel. At the moment we are passing the Ducos Peninsula, with the wind behind us. The breeze is picking up.”

These pencilled words threw us into a state of agitation which was at once delightful and cruel. To be sailing a matter of metres from our fortified compound, so close to our former guards who had perhaps just discovered our escape and who could have given the ship, which at that moment was deep inside French waters, orders to stop! But we kept sailing on. After a further hour of increasing hope, we could hear the footsteps of the pilot leaving the ship to get back into his boat. At last, a final note – and we had never received a more delightful one – came fluttering down to land at our feet. It bore these glorious words :

“We have passed the reefs; you can come up on deck.”

Our friend Captain law feigned great astonishment on seeing us emerge from his ship’s hold. The sailors, in turn, pretended to believe in their captain’s astonishment; and from Nouméa to Australia, in a seven-day crossing, all was for the best in the most successful of escapes.


[1]. I.e. the ordinary (non-political) deportee (le déporté simple).
[2]. R “la presqu’île Ducos”. Rochefort constantly refers to it as a peninsula, although it is today referred to as the “île Ducos”, Ducos Island. It is just off the south-west coast of New Caledonia, a short distance north of Noumea.
[3]. R: “Il était difficile qu’on ne le déclarât pas «atteint et convaincu»”. This is a term of the French legal system.
[4]. R: “Nous lui jouions, malgré nous, un tour comme on n’en voit guère, puisque c’était le tour du monde.” It is not possible to reproduce precisely in English the play on words here between “jouer un tour à quelqu’un” (to play a trick on someone) and “le tour du monde” (a trip around the world).

Introduction Translation and Notes © 2002 Kenneth R. Dutton

Online Publication by Gionni di Gravio © 2002 University of Newcastle

Henri Rochefort

The Newcastle Chronicle
Saturday, March 28, 1874


Click for PDF version here

Yesterday, the city was thrown into a state of some excitement by the arrival of the P.C.E. from New Caledonia, having on board six of the most prominent French State prisoners recently exiled to that colony.

The name of Henri Rochefort was in itself enough to cause excitement, on account of the important part he had taken in effecting the overthrow of the French Empire, and the position he occupied in the Government, which existed in Paris during the time it was ruled by the Commune.

How the prisoners escaped and got on board we are not informed; Captain Law does not appear to know how they got on board; but, once there, and he at sea, he had only to pursue his voyage, and an excellent one he had, having made the passage from Noumea in six days. It seemed as if the elements were in sympathy with these men, who, as their offences are only political, are free on British territory; and the people of Newcastle were quite as ready to accord them a hearty welcome, as was England to accord the perpetrator of the 2nd of December massacre a welcome, when driven from his Imperial throne in 1870. England asks no question as to the merits of the political differences that caused men who were in power to seek asylum on her soil. It is enough for her that men struggle for freedom – or what they may regard as their political rights – flee to her for refuge, and the protection of her powerful arm will be at once thrown around them.

The following are the names :

Henri Rochefort, journalist and member of the first Provisional Government.

Pascal[1] Grousset, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Olivier Pain, Secretaire-General.

Francis Jourde, Minister of Finance.

Achille Bailliere, Aide de Camp to General Rossel.

Charles Bostiere Grandhille, Commandant de Bataillon.

It was somewhat singular that these men should arrive while all the vessels in the harbour were arrayed with a display of flags in honour of his Excellency the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, who was expected hourly at the time.

H. Rochefort and two of his compatriots left by the Kembla, last night, for Sydney.


[1]. Sic. His name was actually Jean-François-Paschal Grousset.

Introduction Translation and Notes © 2002 Kenneth R. Dutton

Online Publication by Gionni di Gravio © 2002 University of Newcastle

Henri Rochefort

The Newcastle Chronicle
Tuesday, March 31, 1874


Click for PDF version here

M. Henri Rochefort, M. Pascal Grousset and M. Francis Jourde – three of the six State prisoners that escaped by the P.C.E. which arrived here on Friday from New Caledonia – arrived safely in Sydney, on Saturday morning. They were congratulated during the day by several of their countrymen, who waited upon them at the Hotel de France, corner of King and George streets. The other three, namely M. Olivier Pain, M. Achille Bailliere and M. Cavan Grant Achille [sic] still remain at Newcastle, where they will remain until remittances are received from Paris. They visited Maitland on Saturday and returned yesterday morning. M. Rochefort and his two friends that accompanied him to Sydney, will proceed by the first opportunity to London, where they will take up their quarters, and, assisted by others, will act as counsel of advice to M. Gambetta and the members of that section of French politicians who have not felt it prudent to take any very active part hitherto without such counsel. For this reason, it was not considered prudent that any other than a passive resistance should be offered until these arrangements could be offered [sic]. But on their arrival in London the plan to be adopted will be greatly influenced by the course the existing Government may take.

There are in New Caledonia, at the present time, 3600 Communist prisoners – 2800 are in the island of Ducos, and about 800 at Noumea. Of these, only about ten or twelve held distinguished positions in the Commune, and for whose liberation measures have been taken and funds raised. The expense attending the escape of the six prisoners that reached Newcastle is, we are informed, about £1000. The Government in New Caledonia finds the control and custody of these men a very perplexing business. Held as State Prisoners, they refuse to work, preferring to support themselves from their own private resources. Their custody is more irksome to the French Government than would be their liberation, while it is a source of irritation to the French people to have these men exiled for crimes which are as chargeable on M. Thiers, Marshall Mac Mahon and those who took part in the Government that superseded the Empire, as in these men. The escaped prisoners say that their objects and acts are greatly misrepresented. They assert that when the Republic was proclaimed and MM. Thiers and Mac Mahon accepted the position they took under the revolution, the people of Paris demanded as the compliment of that change, the right of corporate Government for the City of Paris, and the other cities of France, like our own City Councils such as had been enjoyed previous to the setting up of the Empire, and that it was when the provisional Government showed the same disposition as the Empire to act on the principle of centralization that recourse was had to arms and that the hostages were taken only with a view to stop the effusion of blood by Mac Mahon’s soldiery. The murder of the Archbishop of Paris with the others when shot, as well as the acts of vandalism which were committed when the public buildings were destroyed, was the work of an infuriated mob. They have called at our office to repudiate the imputations that Communes entertained the principles and objects imputed to that body. They are all men of property and always entertained a respect for property and the maintenance of society, with all the rights enjoyed by private individuals in civilized society.

Introduction Translation and Notes © 2002 Kenneth R. Dutton

Online Publication by Gionni di Gravio © 2002 University of Newcastle

Henri Rochefort

The Newcastle Chronicle
Thursday, April 2, 1874


Click for PDF version here

The escape of the six most distinguished Communist[1] prisoners from New Caledonia has created a sensation in this colony rarely felt; but it is trifling when compared to what it must be in Paris, and throughout France – if not throughout all Europe. Men often escape in larger numbers from custody, and there is nothing thought about the matter. It is not an uncommon occurrence for prisoners to conceal themselves until the fit moment arrives when they can elude the vigilance of the guards, and get away, and nothing is thought about it afterwards. If the absconders are afterwards arrested, good and well; and if they get clean away, and are heard of no more, nobody cares one straw. It is not so, however, in this case, because the men who are now enjoying the protection of British law represent principles which may be regarded as either suppressed or in the ascendant, just as may be seen in the circumstances of the leaders that uphold them. It is this reflection that gives rise to the excitement which their escape from captivity has produced. It is not so much what these men have done, but what they will yet be able to accomplish in the political struggles that are now taking place in France, that causes the excitement.

The history of the third Revolution is not yet written; there are several events awaiting the pen of the future historian to depict. At least, this is evident from the conduct of these men, on their arrival at this port from New Caledonia. They earnestly desired that the fact of their escape should be communicated, by Reuter’s telegrams, to Europe. They have the fullest confidence that, while a large proportion of the population in Paris, and throughout France, would hail the event with frantic delight, the Government, and those to whom they were formerly political opponents, will be in a state of consternation not easily described, and they feel anxious to learn how the news of their escape will be received – not that they have any doubt as to the effect the intelligence will produce, but that they may have some compensation for their captivity in the alarm which their escape will produce among their enemies. Now, this expectation on their part seems to be justified, from the funds supplied to enable them to escape, and to enable them to travel on such a scale of respectability. To us, it appears as if the Government of France would be more likely to hail with satisfaction the escape of these men, if their designs have a tendency to loosen the bonds of society, and as the well disposed through the French nation would then be disposed to rally round the Government, in support of law and order, and influence those who are anxious to maintain the Republic to forego much of the freedom they are desirous of obtaining, rather than have the industry of the country once more paralysed by internal disorder. It is impossible, at this distance, to say what the state of public feeling is in France. It is a strange country, and the politics of its public men are still stranger. What direction the feelings of the people are taking during the calm that has prevailed during the past year, it is difficult for Englishmen to conjecture. But we rather suspect the sections with whom Rochefort and his companions are in league have been very busy, and their dispersion, on the taking of Paris by the troops sent to overthrow the Commune, has tended to disseminate the views of that party throughout the nation; and such is the fickleness of the people in that country, that the side which appeared to display most intellectual activity is the one the crowd will follow.

We cannot wonder at the present state of things there. From the time of Francis I, the rulers of that country have never scrupled to violate their most solemn engagements, and those who followed the overthrow of the Bourbons were, without exception, as perfidious as any that were before them. It was this distrust, this want of confidence in those that held the reins of Government during the period of the first revolution that led to the terrible acts that characterised that Reign of Terror. Napoleon the 1st violated his oath to the nation and every treaty with the other European Powers that stood in the way of his ambition. Charles X, who made such promises about toleration to the British Government, showed himself as faithless as his ancestors. His successor, Louis Phillippe [sic], after he appeared established on the throne, astonished Europe by his intrigues in reference to the Spanish marriage, by which he sought to disturb the balance of power in Europe, and gratify the ambition of his family. Then we have his successor, Louis Napoleon, who shamefully violated his oath to maintain the Constitution under which he was elected President. On being accused of entertaining a design of acting the same part as his uncle, he said to the assembled deputation, “You, who made the Constitution, can unmake it or amend it; but as for me, the oath I have taken obliges me to support it unimpaired.” The coup d’etat of the 2nd December 1851, showed how the elect of France observed that oath. Again, when his Government was overthrown, in 1873[2], while himself lay a prisoner in the hands of the Prussians, M. Thiers was placed at the head of affairs, and the course he pursued was one well calculated to excite suspicion, not only among the Parisians that placed him at the head of the nation, but even Europe felt some doubt as to the course he was about to take. Hence the setting up of the Commune, which, for ought we know, may or may not be as perfidious a crew as ever existed. There is, however, one man who, whatever his errors may be, will not stoop to dissimulation, in order to gratify his long-cherished desire. We allude to the Comte de Chambord[3]. But his supporters are not so scrupulous. If there be any dissatisfaction with him, it is because he will not dissemble.

The instability of the French people is owing to the absence of high principle that has influenced the people of Great Britain and Germany for the last 300 years. England had its revolutions, but they were entirely owing to the perfidious dispositions of the two monarchs under whom they took place; and these would probably have acted very differently had they not been influenced at the time by the French Court. But the people, being guided by sentiments very different from those that obtained in France, knew how to use their power and secured a settled Constitution, which is the envy of the world, and places her first among the nations. The French are a noble people – chivalrous, intellectual and brave – but we fear there is no repose for the nation until those principles which have ever been cherished by Englishmen and which have made England what it is, be embraced by the French people, as the guide of their social and political conduct.


[1]. The term “Communist” is, of course, to be understood in a different sense from that which it was to take on in the 20th century, i.e. as a reference to persons of Marxist political persuasion. In fact, the Commune’s “government” consisted of a number of different factions, ranging from the so-called Jacobins, who followed in the French Revolutionary tradition of 1793 and wanted the Commune to control the Revolution; to the Proudhonists, socialists who supported a federation of communes throughout the country; and the Blanquistes, socialists who demanded violent action. The program that the Commune adopted, despite its internal divisions, called for measures reminiscent of 1793 (end of support for religion, use of the Revolutionary calendar) and a limited number of social measures (10-hour workday, end of work at night for bakers). [Source, Encyclopaedia Britannica]
[2]. The Government of Napoléon III (i.e. the Second Empire) was in fact overthrown in 1870, as an outcome of the Franco-Prussian War. He himself died in 1873.
[3]. The comte de Chambord (1820-1883), posthumous son of the duc de Berry, was a possible pretender to the throne of France, and had already taken the name Henri V in 1843. He represented the “legitimist” cause, as against the “Orléanist” cause represented by the comte de Paris (1838-1894). Why the Newcastle Chronicle favoured Chambord is not known.

Introduction Translation and Notes © 2002 Kenneth R. Dutton

Online Publication by Gionni di Gravio © 2002 University of Newcastle

Henri Rochefort

James Wallis – Historical Account of New South Wales 1821 online

James Wallis - An historical account (1821)

James Wallis - An historical account of the colony of New South Wales (1821)

Day Shift – 17/11/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses a recent addition to the University’s Flickr site: Captain James Wallis’ (1785?-1858) An historical account of the colony of New South Wales and its dependent settlements : in illustration of twelve views / engraved by W. Preston from drawings taken on the spot by Captain Wallis. To which is subjoined An accurate map of Port Macquarie and the newly discovered River Hastings by J. Oxley. London : Printed for R. Ackermann by J. Moyes, 1821.  The volume fetches upwards of $30,000 AUD and was photographed by Associate Professor Allan Chawner and prepared for the web by Gionni Di Gravio.

Broadcast Notes:

To access the original images click on the Flickr link here:

To access a text searchable pdf version of the whole work click here:
James Wallis – An historical account (1821) (51MB PDF Version)

Newcastle, Hunter's River, New South Wales

Plate No. V.

Is a View of Newcastle; a settlement beatifully situated on the south side of the entrance of Hunter’s River, which is sixty miles north of Sydney. From hence Sydney is supplied with coal, a good quanlity, a shaft having been lately sunk there; and also with lime, burnt from shells, and with timber of every description. About thirty miles from the sea, Hunter’s River is formed by the junction of three rivers of considerable magnitude. These take their rise from the range of mountains which extend all along the coast; the waters on the eastern side of the range running towards the sea, while those on the western side run into the interior, and are supposed to form a vast inland lake. The scenery on the banks of these rivers is very fine; some parts being low and thickly wooded, while other parts present to the view sloping banks, luxuriant herbage, and majestic trees, scattered in beautiful profusion, and assuming the appearance of a gentleman’s park in England. Black swans, pelicans, wild ducks, widgeons, and many other sorts of water fowl, are found in abundance; and the forests are thickly inhabited by kangaroos and emus; and the harbour swarms with fish. When this land is granted, it is likely to become one of the most fertile settlements in the Colony, as the soil is rich and free from floods, and the navigation good for sixty miles. The entrance to the harbour is difficult: Governor Macquarie has, however, commenced a work of magnitude, and is now occupied in erecting a pier, to extend from the main land to the island called Nobby’s, situated in the channel. This work, when completed, will, by confining the waters to one channel, deepen and perfectly secure the principal entrance. This settlement has hitherto been approprated to the reception of all those culprits who are convicted by the Courts or Magistrates of crimes committed in Sydney, or amy other part of the Colony. (pages 39-40)

Corrobboree or dance of the natives of New South Wales

Plate No. VI.

Is a View of a Corrobboree, or dance, of the natives of New South Wales. The representation of this extraordinary assemblage of savage festivity, as well as the scenery, is taken from nature. The preparation for their dance is striking and curious. They assemble in groups, and commence marking their arms, legs, and bodies, in various directions, with pipe-clay and a kind of red ochre; some of them displaying great taste at their toilet, as in the representation. Their musician, who is generally an elderly man, sings, a monotonous tune, in which they all join, skriking in regular time his shield with a club or waddy. Each dancer carries a green bough in his hand. The beauty of the scenery, the pleasing reflection of light from the fire round which they dance, the grotesque and singular appearance of the natives, and their wild notes of festivity, all form a strange and interesting contrast to any thing ever witnessed in civilised society. The women never dance; and where several tribes meet together, each tribe dances separately. All the principal figures in the foreground are from original portraits: the tall figure, laughing, on the left, is the chieftain or king of the Newcastle Tribe, called Buriejou, —a brave, expert fellow, who has lately presented Governor Macquarie with his eldest son, to be placed in the native institution, as a proof of his confidence in British humanity. (page 40)

Two Black Swans (on Reed's Mistake)

Plate No. VII.

Is a representation of two Black Swans. The View is on Reed’s Mistake, a small harbour about eighteen miles south of Newcastle. A bar across prevents vessels of any burden from entering this harbour. The scenery on this river, called by the natives Bunjarees Norah, is rich, luxuriant, and picturesque. Kangaroos are found here in abundance, as well as wild fowl: the natives are a very firnedly tribe, and excellent fishermen. (pp. 40-41)

Two Kangaroos about six miles from Newcastle

Plate No. VIII.

Is a representation of two kangaroos from nature. The scenery is six miles from Newcastle. A large lagoon, or lake, apears in the distance, which affords fish and roots for the subsistence of a very wild and savage tribe of natives. (p. 41)

View from Hunter's River

Plate No. IX.

Is a View from Hunter’s River. In the fore-ground is a group of natives; on the summit of the hill stand the Government stock-yards, and Christ Church; the first church and steeple ever erected in view of the Pacific Ocean. The situation is very commanding and from the sea is distinguishable at a considerable distance. (p. 41)

Brian Tomson 1942 – 1986

Brian Tomson

Brian Tomson

Day Shift – 20/10/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University Newcastle University

With the recent launch of the University’s ‘You Are Here Now’ Exhibition, documenting the lives of past and present GLBTIQ (i.e., gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer) staff and students Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the life and times of one of the scholars featured in the exhibition, the late Brian Tomson, a remarkable medieval scholar and chess master.

Broadcast Notes:

Firstly I would like to sincerely thank Mr Bob Meadley of Narromine for generously allowing us to publish transcriptions of his letters from Brian Tomson and background documents relating to his final days. It is largely due to Bob that we know anything about Brian at all.

My knowledge of Brian Tomson dates back to my first days working at the University. I was one of Rare Book Librarian’s (then) young recruits for seeking out and locating items from the miles and miles of shelving in the Library and reassembling the private libraries of the University’s great scholars and identities.

After a while, I got to recognise Brian Tomson’s books as a standout, he had a exceptional eye for beautiful books, especially those relating to medieval science, magic and chess. His chess books formed the majority of the collection. He was also ‘exceptional’ in that we knew precious little about him personally. I was told that he was the first person in Newcastle to die of AIDS. There were no photographs,  no extant staff file, or any other biographical information, in fact no archives survived at all.

Then in 2001 I met Bob Meadley who came to the University wanting to visit Brian’s chess library. Bob also sent us a photograph that we scanned and used on the website.

I recently contacted Bob during the preparations of the ‘You Are Here Now’ to share my distress at how little archival material (besides his personal library) we had on Brian Tomson.

Bob kindly sent us transcriptions of various letters to and from Brian from his letterbooks, and copies of additional correspondence, newsclippings and obituaries.

During the closing stages of his life Brian had been editing the codex which contained a Trinity College Cambridge manuscript MS 0.5.26 entitled the New Theorik of Planetis by Andalo di Negro. The author of Chaucer’s Universe, J.D. North, believes that Brian was the first to identify the author of this treatise. (North, 1988 p.134)

Barry Baker, along with John Ashton, were Brian’s neighbours who looked after him in the closing stages of his life.

Barry remembers going to the Royal Newcastle Hospital and seeing Brian, alone, in one of the rooms there. There was no family or friends looking after him there, so Barry felt he needed to help him, which he did.

HIV AIDS  in the 1980s, was little understood and much feared.  It is a credit to them that they looked after his needs in hospital and took care of his affairs after he passed away on 20 June 1986.


Please download Bob Meadley’s account of his friendship with Brian Tomson through his letters and related documents:

The Brian Tomson Letters 1975 – 1986 by Bob Meadley (1.5MB)

Chess Title to W.E.A. Player

From WEA News, Vol 2 No.5 Sept. 1971

Brian Tomson

N.S.W. Country Chess Champion, Brian Tomson

The 1971 Country Chess Championship of N.S.W. has been won by a member of the Newcastle Chess Club (a W.E.A. club), Brian Tomson.

A former player for the club and previous winner of the NSW Country title, Ken Hill, shared second place. Hill left Newcastle to move to Wollongong recently.

Brian Tomson is a lecturer in English at the University of Newcastle. Before coming to Australia he had gained fourth place in the Irish National Title, played for Oxford University and represented Eireland in an international universities tournament played in Europe against top class competition including the crack Russian. He modestly stresses the fact that the Irish team finished in last place on this occasion.

The acquisition of a player of Tomson’s calibre should enable the W.E.A. club to overcome the loss of Hill and retain its high standing in NSW country chess.

Obituary for Brian Tomson From University News Volume 12, No.11, July 7-21 1986.

Obituary for Brian Tomson From University News Volume 12, No.11, July 7-21 1986.

Obituary – Brian Tomson

From University News Volume 12, No.11, July 7-21 1986.

Brian Tomson of the English Department died in Royal Newcastle Hospital on June 20 after a long illness. He was 44. He left no relatives in Australia, but the large attendance at his funeral showed how widely he was valued.

After graduating MA in  English and French at Trinity College, Dublin, Brian Tomson took up post-graduate research on Malory at Brasenose College, Oxford and gained his BPhil. He came to the University of Newcastle in March, 1968, as a lecturer in English and continued to work towards an Oxford DPhil in medieval literature.

In his earlier years in Newcastle, he was able to carry out all his teaching in the fields of Old and Middle English. As the heavy staff-losses of recent years reduced the Department’s range of courses, he turned his attention to the teaching of more recent literature. But, the older work remained his real love and students who shared that interest with him saw the best of his high abilities.

He was one of the finest chess players in the Hunter Region, playing with considerable success in the NSW and Australian championship tournaments. He did particularly well in 1984, the last year he was able to compete. He also acted as chess correspondent for the (then) Newcastle Morning Herald and was a regular contributor to chess journals.

Brian was a quiet but strong-minded man who warmed to a  congenial conversation and had a shy but searching wit. His friendship was not lightly granted but his company will be greatly missed in the Department of English and beyond.

D.B.B.  J.F.B.

Obituary for Brian Tomson by Ruik Bergmann 26 June 1986

Obituary for Brian Tomson by Ruik Bergmann 26 June 1986

Brian Tomson 1942-1986 by Bob Meadley Published in 'Chess in Australia' August 1986 p.217

Brian Tomson 1942-1986 by Bob Meadley Published in 'Chess in Australia' August 1986 p.217

Letter from Barry Baker to Bob Meadley 9 August 1986 (With Kind Permission of Barry Baker)

Letter from Barry Baker to Bob Meadley 9 August 1986 (With Kind Permission of Barry Baker)

Chess Championships published in 'Chess in Australia' September/October 1986

Chess Championships published in 'Chess in Australia' September/October 1986

Chess Championships published in 'Chess in Australia' September/October 1986

Witches, Wends and Werplons

The Werplon by Rosaleen Norton

The Werplon by Rosaleen Norton

Day Shift – 22/09/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University Newcastle University

Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses an interesting research enquiry into an artistic trance figure by the late notorious Australian artist Rosaleen Norton, and its interesting connections to the ancient mythology of the Wendic/Sorbian Community of the Hunter Region.

Broadcast Notes:

Back in 2001 I responded to an enquiry by a University scholar to see what I could find out about  a werplon. What is a werplon you may ask? It is a monstrous creature from the trance imagination of Australian artist and famous ‘Witch of King’s Cross’ Rosaleen Norton.  It appears in her controversial book entitled ‘The Art of Rosaleen Norton’ which first appeared in 1952. I have brought in the University’s copy which is the 1982 edition. Much of her trance art relate to mythological figures that are reasonably well known, such as Pan for instance. The Werplon, however proved more elusive.

On the evening of 22 September 2001 I went looking…

Email: 23/09/2001 12:01 AM

I went looking for Werplon tonight. Couldn’t find anything anywhere on it. Then the thought appeared to divide the word into ‘Wer’ and ‘Plon’, and I hit pay dirt.

Apparently a “Plon” is a very obscure Slavic demon of sorts, with the “wer” prefix denoting a male form of this being, much in the same vein as a were-wolf (or man-wolf). So our being is a wer-plon.

Here is the excerpt that comes from article by V.J. Mansikka entitled ‘Demons and Spirits (Slavonic)’ pp.622a – 630b in Volume 4 of James Hastings (Editor) Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1908 – 1926 (on p.628a):

“The Polish skrzatek is a winged creature which supplies corn, and, when flying about in the vicinity of homes, steals children. His Wendic counterpart is the plon, a dragon in the form of a fiery sphere; a common saying about a rich man is: ‘He has a plon‘. The plon may assume various shapes, and the proper place to confer with him is the cross-roads.”

Three days later I came across a number of other references on this goblin from Jan Machal’s Slavic Mythology in The Mythology of All Races (Edited by L. H. Gray) New York: Cooper Square, 1964 Vol 3 pp.244 – 246:

“Another designation of the family genius was Skritek (Hobgoblin) a term which was derived from the German Schrat or Schratt. This goblin who appeared in the shape of a small boy, usually lived behind the oven or in the stable, favouring the household and sharing the joys and sorrows of the family; and he liked to do some work in the house, such as weaving on the loom, sweeping the floor, or tending the flocks. In order to court his favour the household set aside a portion of their meals for his consumption, especially on Thursdays and at Christmas dinner, when three bits from every dish were assigned to him. If they failed to do this, he was angry and stormed about, worrying people, damaging the flocks, and doing all sorts of harm to the master of the house. His memory still lives in popular tradition, and he was represented by a wooden statue, with arms crossed on its breast and wearing a crown upon its head. The image stood, as a rule, on a chiffonier in a corner behind the table; and in any absence of the family the Skritek was placed on a chiffonier or on a table to guard the house. The Slovaks call this spirit Skrata or Skriatek and conceive him as a drenched chicken; while in Poland he is known as Skrzatek, Skrzat, or Skrzot, and is represented as a bird (again most frequently a drenched chicken) dragging its wings and tail behind it. He often transforms himself into a small bird emitting sparks from its body, and he may be bred from an egg of a peculiar shape carried for a certain length of time beneath one’s arm pit. He haunts the corn-loft and steals corn; in bad weather he also visits human dwellings; and those who give him shelter under their roofs will profit by his presence, for he brings the householder grain and will make them rich. The Slovenians in Styria likewise believe that the Skrat (Skratec) brings money and corn. He assumes different shapes, looking now like a young lad, and now like and old man or woman, or he can transform himself into a cat, dog, goose, etc.: but since he is covered in hair, he takes great pains to hide his body. He likes to dwell in mountains and dense forests, and does not allow people to shout there; by day he perches on a beech-tree and takes his rest in dark caves; at night he haunts villages and smithies, where he forges and hammers until the dawn. This goblin may be hired for one’s services or bred from an egg of a black hen; but to gain his assistance it is necessary to promise him one’s own self, as well as one’s wife and children, and such an agreement must be signed in one’s own blood. In return for all this the Skrat will bring whatsoever a may may wish, placing these things on the window-sill, although when he carries money, he comes in the shape of a fiery broom, flying down the chimney. Since millet gruel is his favourite dish, it must be placed on the window-sill whenever he brings anything.”

I was intrigued by the references to this being a Wendic mythological being. So, I did a search on the University’s Library Catalogue, Newcat, and what came up were all these books on the Wendic folk tales and history mostly written/co-authored by a local gentleman Hans Deiter von Senff. A local connection!

From these books I soon learned the first Sorb settlers were originally brought out to the Hunter Region as shepherds by the Australian Agricultural Company in 1826. (We hold some of the early papers of the AACo. in the Region, the majority are at the Noel Butlin Archives in Canberra).

The Wendic settlers to the Hunter Region mostly came from Saxony, along with their herds of Saxon Merinos to settle on the Company’s holdings in the Port Stephens – Stroud district. So I was completely delighted that I had found someone who could probably shed some further light on the Werplon.

So I rang Mr Senff on the 29 September 2001 and spoke to his daughter, who said he would really love to speak to me about Wendic folklore. We eventually spoke and after correcting me on the pronunciation of the word ‘Plon’ as sounding more like ‘Ploone’,  he visited us on the following Monday. Here is my diary/email notes for the day:

2/10/2001 1:45 PM

Today I was visited by Mr Hans-Deiter Von Senff who kindly brought in a number of books for inclusion into the rare books section, as well as his personal copy of Wilibald von Schulenburg’s Wendisches Volkstum in Sage, Brauch und Sitte (Wendic Ethnicity in Legend, Tradition and Custom) . 3rd Edition [Bautzen: Domowina-Verlag Bautzen, 1993]. This book is a modern reprinting of a very rare work on the culture of the Wendic peoples, reproduced from the only surviving copy (1934) to have escaped the Nazi destruction.

He made a running translation for me as we sat here this morning. The section on the shape-shifting Plon is from pages 74 – 78 [Translation by H.D. von Senff]:

The Plon

The Plon has seven heads. When the dragon flies all shall say “Plon, Plon” and throw something at him. [ref. from the town of Schleife/Stepo]

When the dragon has money, he is much brighter. When he has grain he is blue.  He eats thick porridge with syrup and sugar.
He normally sits on the rooves of houses and only picks food from the houses of those who have the dragon, the others he does not. [ref. Grob-Schulzendorf]

In order that the dragon brings money, the woman must give him a black pullet to eat. [ref. Heiligensee.]

The dragon flies at night down the chimney and brings riches. [ref: Pyritz]

The dragon flies [ref: Grunfier bei Fiehne]

They saw the dragon flying, he flew fiery red through the air. [ref: Landsberg a.d.W.]

The Plon as Suckling Pig

Shepherds watched a Plon, with the appearance of a suckling pig fall from the sky and land among the sheep. [ref: Burg bei Burghammer.]

The Pear Tree

A man once saw a light in a pear tree. The light then divided itself into 15 parts and danced amongst the branches of the tree. It fell to the ground where it became one again.

The Plon of Schleife

In the year 1817, in the evening around 11-12 midnight, the old Madra (which means blue) saw a Plon flying over the village of Schleife. The Plon was as  big  as a chook and the whole village was illuminated by the light. Someone shouted Plon! plon! and it then began to shrink and disappeared.

The Plon as a Tree Trunk

A man named Hanko, was on a journey from Halbendorf to Schleife. At midnight, when he was a thousand steps from the village he heard a noise like a rope hitting something, there was  big light and then Hanko said: You condemned (or damned) dragon, what do I owe you? As soon as he said it, there was a glowing tree trunk across the road and he was so frightened that his hair rose like a mountain and it lifted the cap off his head. Then the glowing tree trunk lifted into the air and grew smaller and smaller and became like a little round ball and disappeared as a little dot in the air.

The Plon as Protector

In Grausten there was rich pub owner who had  a Plon. In his garden there was  boy who tended the cows. He wanted to pick some plums and so climbed the tree. Below him he saw a Plon, the appearance of a black lump. The Plon notified the publican and the boy had to run away.

The Hungry Plon

The Plon had given a farmer much money. The farmer now wished to get rid of the Plon. In order to do so, the farmer hung on a beam in his granary a stocking, with the bottom cut off. He told the Plon to fill the stocking or else the Plon would get nothing to eat. The Plon, unable to fill the stocking, starved. All the money in the farmer’s house that had been given to him by the Plon turned to horse dung, except the money which the farmer had lent to other people.

The Dragon

A maid amazed her dinner guests one night when she produced a meal of pears and dumplings very quickly. She had gone to the Plon and asked it to vomit out the meal.

A maid refused to eat what had been vomited out by the colourful calf. Upon two sticks the dragon sat near the chimney and shat upon the head of the maid. She was unable to remove the blue from her skin after the incident. The saying to this day is that if you look black and blue, you have been shat upon by a Plon.

The Evil Dragon

A reluctant maid had to feed a dragon, so she gave him hot food, because she was any that she had to feed the calf, that had to sit in a barrel, wide open and with beady eyes. The thick hot porridge went down the throat of the dragon, and it became very angry and told the owner what the maid had done. So, the woman had to cure the throat of the dragon with sweet milk.


After he provided his information, I filled him in on the background detail to the enquiry, and how we didn’t really know whether the “Werplon” was a figment of Rosaleen Norton’s artistic trance imagination or a ‘real’ mythical creature.

He told me that it was certainly a mythical being, but a very rare one. He told me that when I initially rang and mentioned the Plon, he thought “Oh my God”, because to be able to refer to such a creature means that you have obtained information from very scarce sources. It is not common knowledge.

Whether Rosaleen Norton was versed in such obscure mythology is difficult to know, as a practicing witch, we can probably be safe to assume that through her trance art she tapped into something akin to Jung’s collective subconscious, and out poured this creature.

Artists, as well as  dreamers,  do sometimes tap into archetypes that are not part of their personal experience, that come from strange places in the human mind. This is one of those strange places.

The translations above are probably the first time this material has ever been rendered into the English language. The text he was reading from was mostly in German, however the statements made by the witnesses was recorded in the original Sorbian language (along with German translation), which he was also able to read for me.

Such are the wonderful gifts of knowledge and expertise that are present in our Hunter Region. I wish to sincerely thank Mr Hans-Deiter Von Senff  for his generosity and help in this research. It was a real privilege to learn, through this research, a little more about the interesting cultures that make up the Australian Nation. To hear such an ancient tongue, and to be able to listen to it rendered in English is something I am very honoured to experience. We certainly have to count our blessings for living in such a wonderful place.

Gionni Di Gravio
September 2009

Sesquicentenary of Local Government in Newcastle

The former Newcastle Council Chambers

The former Newcastle Council Chambers (Barney-Snowball Collection)

Day Shift – 18/08/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Jenny Bates
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the history of how local local government came to Newcastle in this sesquicentenary year.

Broadcast Notes:

How did local government come to Town?

How did local government in the form of the Newcastle City Council come to be? The Local Government Area, of which Newcastle city is its centre, has gone through a number of name changes over the years.

Since 1993 it has been known as The Newcastle City Council (1993+).

Former titles have included:

Newcastle District Council (1843-1858);
The Municipality of Newcastle (1859-1867);
The Borough of Newcastle (1867-1938);
The City of Greater Newcastle (1938-1949);
City of Newcastle (1949-1993).

The chief elected officer was once the Warden (1843-1858), then Mayor (1859-1947) and now  The Right Worshipful The Lord Mayor of Newcastle (1948+). The chief executive officer was the Town Clerk (1859-1993) and now is the General Manager (1993+).

Newcastle was founded in 1801, abandoned and re-established in 1804 as a penal settlement and the Nation’s first profitable source of coal and cedar for the emerging Colony. Prior to 1843 The Governor of New South Wales was in charge of all governmental responsibilities. In Newcastle, these orders were carried out by appointed military commanders.

When Newcastle ceased to be a penal settlement and the region became open to free settlers in the 1820s, it soon became apparent that the colonial government could not provide adequate local services, and therefore the opportunity emerged to establish municipal district councils (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2004).

The first local councils in New South Wales were incorporated under the provisions of the Imperial Act of 1842. From 1843 individual councils were established and administered by a government-appointed warden. (State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2008)

No. XVI. An Act to provide for the division of the Colony of New South Wales into Electoral Districts and for the Election of Members to serve in the Legislative Council. [23rd February, 1843.] [4 MB PDF Download]

Published in the NSW Government Gazette of 10 October 1843 was the Charter dated 27 September 1843 with a notification from the Governor of a Letters Patent incorporating the inhabitants of a number of districts including the Newcastle District Council to be administered by a Warden and six Councillors.  The first Warden was Mr Alexander Walter Scott, and the Councillors were William Croasdill, George Brooks, William Brooks, Lancelot Edward Threlkeld, Simon Kemp and Henry Boyce.

Charter 27 September 1843 (District Councils)

Charter 27 September 1843 (District Councils)

The Newcastle District Council’s functions were to distribute the allocation of Government funds for the purposes of road repairs and bridges especially in Newcastle’s case, the Iron Bark Bridge (Goold, n.d, 5).

Ironbark Bridge 9 December 1897

Ironbark Bridge 9 December 1897 (Barney-Snowball Collection)

Due to public disquiet as to the Sydney centric distribution of Government funds, The Municipalities Act of 1858 provided for a system of incorporation that could be granted to townships on the proviso that a petition of at least 50 signed householders was received. The Governor could then proclaim the municipality. (Larcombe, 1973, p.261)

Before we all get confused, (like I am) a ‘municipality’ is a legal instrument defined in 1858 to define an area of land for the purposes of local government no larger than 10 square miles and with a minimum population of 500. A ‘borough’ is the area containing inhabitants that is incorporated under that legal instrument. So a ‘borough’ was originally defined as a place with houses, a step up from a ‘town’, but not as big as a ‘city’.

On the 27 October 1858 the Municipalities Act was passed by the NSW Government. The first meeting of Newcastle’s inhabitants to discuss the provisions of the Act was held on the 8 November 1858. It was a success, with a petition being sent to the Governor of the intention of the district’s 2,400 inhabitants calling for the township to become a municipality. (Goold, n.d, 5)

Municipalities Act 1858 [3.9MB PDF file].  No. XIII An Act for establishing Municipal Institutions. [27th October, 1858]

The Proclamation by His Excellency Sir William Thomas Denison that created The Municipality of Newcastle was officially signed at Government House Sydney on the 7 June 1859, and published the following day in the NSW Government Gazette. (Goold, n.d, 7 and NSW Government Gazette, 1859, 1293-1294)

Download the Proclamation – Proclamation – 7 June 1859 [620KB PDF]

Each municipality was to be governed by an elected Council of 6-9 members. Newcastle was incorporated in 1859 and its first elected Mayor was Mr James Hannell.  Three Wards were proclaimed; The City Ward to be governed by 9 councillors, The Macquarie Ward and the Honeysuckle Ward consisting of 5 councillors each. The Municipality of Newcastle existed under that title from 8 June 1859 – 22 Dec 1867.

The original meetings were held in the old courthouse building that  originally occupied the site on the corner of Hunter and Bolton Streets, it was demolished to build the magnificent Newcastle Post Office.

From 1884 onwards the meetings were held in the Council Chambers in Watt Street (still existing and now occupied by the United Services Club).

As the population grew, residents from surrounding mining townships began petitioning for their own townships to be incorporated under the Municipalities Act of 1858.  These included Wallsend (1874); Plattsburg (1876); Hamilton, Lambton, Wickham and Waratah (1871); Adamstown and Merewether (1885); Carrington (1887); New Lambton and Stockton (1889). (Windross & Ralston, 1897, p.35)

The Municipality of Newcastle became The Borough of Newcastle on the 23 December 1867 after The Municipalities Act of 1867.

Download the 1867 Municipalities Act here – 1867 Municipalities Act [22MB PDF]

The Act came into force in order to avoid legal difficulties that arose between the administration of urban and rural areas. Under the new Act rural and urban areas would be divided into municipal districts which could not be less than 500 people (rural units) and municipal boroughs with a population that could not be less than 1,000 (urban units). (Larcombe, 1976, p.150) The Municipalities Act of 1867 declared that the existing 35 municipalities, of which Newcastle was one, be legally constituted as boroughs. Each would be governed by elective councils of 6-12 aldermen, and if divided into wards were to have three representatives for each. (Larcombe, 1976, p.158)

Huntington in his ‘History of Newcastle and the Northern District’, (which was a history of Newcastle published as a serial in the Newcastle Herald from 1897-1898), said that the boundaries of Newcastle were proclaimed back on the 14 December 1858 under the Towns Police Act, and that the city boundaries proclaimed later on the 20 March 1885 were identical to them. Newcastle was proclaimed a city on the 20 March 1885 (or 22 March 1885 under the Crown Lands Act according to Maiden p.246), and proclaimed a borough on the 14 September 1886. The wards, which were called City, Honeysuckle and Belmore were proclaimed on the 14 September 1886. (Huntington, pp. 209-210)

The boundaries of the Newcastle City Council have been progressively expanding over time. The biggest expansion occurred in 1938 when the City absorbed eleven (11) surrounding suburban municipalities.

On the 1st April 1938 the City of Greater Newcastle came into being after the Greater Newcastle Act 1937.

Download the Greater Newcastle Act 1937 here – 1937 Greater Newcastle Act [5.5 MB PDF]

The idea for a greater Newcastle had originally been proposed in the 1890s and reached wider public discussion in February 1901 when the local State politician Arthur Griffith (1861-1946) suggested that if all the councils of Newcastle were to amalgamate a grant of 30,000 pounds (twice the municipal income of the time) would be provided to assist the process. The idea was furthered over the next thirty years by its champions John D. Fitzgerald (1862-1924), Robert G Kilgour (1867-1938) President of the Greater Newcastle League, William M. Shedden (1862-1933) and finally Eric J. Spooner (1891- 1952) who was instrumental in bringing it to fruition through the Greater Newcastle Act that became law on the 15th December 1937. (Docherty, 1983, pp143-153)

When did the ‘Mayor’ become a ‘Lord Mayor’?

According to Maiden, the title of Lord Mayor’ was only to be bestowed on Mayors of capital cities.  (Local Government Department Report 1947-8). Due to the population growth of the Greater Newcastle area, its outstanding position as coal port and industrial powerhouse, and status as second oldest city  the Newcastle City Council applied to have the title and in October 1947 His Majesty approved the application. The Letters Patent conferring the title of Lord Mayor was sent to Council in October 1948 and from then on the official title was ‘The Right Worshipful The Lord Mayor of Newcastle’. (Maiden, pp.246-247)

On 1 April 1949 the official title became City of Newcastle. (S. Ryan, personal communication, April 4, 2008).

The Local Government Act 1993 superseded the 1919 Act and created formal distinctions between the elected Council and its administration replacing the title of Town Clerk with the General Manager.

The Newcastle City Council has two main divisions consisting firstly of the elected Council made up of the Lord Mayor and twelve (12) councillors, and secondly of the administration run by the General Manger.  The administration (just before its 2009 restructure) consisted of six groups: Executive Management – Governance, Executive Management – Human Resources Management Unit, Corporate Services (CORPS), City Services (CITYS), Strategic Planning and Development (SPD) and Community Development (CD).

The broad policy directions of the public organisation stem from the elected councillors and Lord Mayor. They discuss and decide upon what services are to be provided by the Council. The General Manager is the person then instructed to put into action the outcomes of those decisions. The General Manager deals with the six divisions of the administration delegating the policy and planning decisions to the managers of the various groups.

Preceding agencies or municipal councils:

Adamstown Council – incorporated on 31 December 1885 and proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 8 January 1886.

Carrington Council – incorporated on the 28 March 1887 and proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 30 March 1887.

Hamilton Council – proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 11 December 1871.

Lambton Council – incorporated on 24 June 1871 and proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 26 June 1871.

Merewether Council – proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 20 August 1885.

New Lambton Council – proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 9 January 1889.

Plattsburg Council – proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 27 December 1876. The Municipality ceased to exist in 1915 when it was incorporated in the Municipality of Wallsend.

Stockton Council – proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 14 October 1889.

Wallsend Council –  proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 27 February 1874. In 1915 the Municipality of Plattsburg was incorporated with the Municipality of Wallsend.

Waratah Council – proclaimed as a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 23 February 1871.

Wickham Council – proclaimed a Municipality in the NSW Government Gazette, 27 February 1871.

Record series created by this agency:

Minute books of councils and council committees at Newcastle 1859+, Wickham 1871+, Waratah 1871+, Lambton 1871+, Hamilton 1872+, Wallsend 1874+, Plattsburg 1877+, Merewether 1885+, Adamstown 1886+, Carrington 1887+, Stockton 1889+, and New Lambton 1935+

City of Newcastle Lord Mayor’s newspaper cuttings 1974-1984 : presented by the Council of the City of Newcastle to the Right Worshipful The Lord Mayor Alderman Joy Cummings, A.M. 1974-1984.

Lord Mayor’s newspaper cuttings: presented by the council to the Right Worshipful The Lord Mayor Alderman G.C. Anderson. 1973-1977

Report of the Town Clerk to the Finance Committee on the 30th July, 1963 / Town Clerk Newcastle City Council. 1963.


No full lenght substantial history exists for the city of Newcastle nor of its Council. Therefore this modest administrative history is a preliminary first step towards a more comprehensive history.

The challenges of undersanding the history of local government is coming to terms with the complex nature of the legislative framework and changes that have created local governance since 1843. To this end Larcombe’s work has been essential for providing the historical broad-brush background and context into which to weave the history of the Newcastle City Council.

The works consulted that have been helpful with regard to the local Council are those of Goold and Docherty. Unfortunately Goold confuses the terms ‘municipality’ and ‘borough’ throughout his brief pamphlet, and it is of necessity that one consult Larcombe’s work in order to understand the difficulties in terminology against the various Acts.

In order to improve this history our next step would be to consult  all extant original minute books for Newcastle and its surrounding townships that were all municipalities prior to 1838 in far greater detail. The minute books dating from 1859 are held in the Newcastle Region Library and run to hundreds of volumes. These need to be scrutinised along with the relevant NSW State Government legislation and NSW Government Gazette. There is also certainly much information that has not been recorded, or whose documentary evidence has not survived and/or is still in private hands. It would therefore be opportune to interview as many people connected with the Newcastle Council who are still living that either served as Councillors or administrative staff. In addition it would be helpful to interview key figures in the wider community involved at some time with various environmental and community groups who are very informative concerning the history of the local Government over the years, and essential to use the local archival facilities in charge of the surviving records of the organisation.

Finally, it is important to understand how we have come to be governed in order to understand that it is an on going work in progress. It is important, that in this our sesquicentenary year, we ponder whether our present system is doing the job, or whether should we should rethink the way we are governed. Looking over the period from 1843 to the present, it is clear that this evolution has been haphazard and chaotic. It is little wonder why people have generally become disillusioned with politics and its ability to provide public services and leadership. What we do with the future is up to us now.


Docherty, J.C. (1983). Newcastle: the making of an Australian City. Sydney: Hale & Iremonger.

Goold, W.J. (n.d.). The Borough of Newcastle Incorporated 1859. Newcastle: Newcastle & Hunter District Historical Society.

Larcombe, F.A. (1973). The Origin of Local Government in New South Wales 1831-58. A History of Local Government in New South Wales Volume 1. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Larcombe, F.A. (1976). The Stabilization of Local Government in New South Wales 1858-1906. A History of Local Government in New South Wales Volume 2. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Maiden, H.E. (1966). The History of Local Government in New South Wales. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

NSW Department of Education and Training. (2004) History of the Local Government Act. Retrieved 12 April 2008 from the NSW Department of Education and Training NSW Constitution Website: http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/nswconstitution/html/6th/bgr/invest2.html

New South Wales Government (1832 -1900). The New South Wales Government Gazette. Sydney : Government Printer.

New South Wales Government (1838). The acts and ordinances of the Governor and Council of New South Wales. Sydney : Printed by E. H. Statham.

State Records Authority of New South Wales. (2008) Archives in Brief 106 – Local government records. Retrieved September 12 April 2008 from the State Records Authority of New South Wales Website: http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/archives_in_brief_106_8069.asp

Windross, J., & Ralston, J.P. (1897). The Historical Records of Newcastle 1797-1897. Newcastle: Federal Printing and Bookbinding Works.

The first journey to the Moon

Moon phases from James Ferguson's 'Lectures on Select Subjects' (1793)

Moon phases from James Ferguson's 'Lectures on Select Subjects' (1793)

Day Shift – 21/07/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Producer: Jeannette McMahon
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist University of Newcastle

On the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing University of Newcastle Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses early (fictional) accounts of journeys to the moon dating back to AD 160 and their inspiration towards the quest for lunar exploration that culminated in the Apollo landing on this day in 1969.

Broadcast Notes:

A beautiful and brief introduction to early works dedicated to travels to the Moon can be had in Lester G. Wells ‘Fictional Accounts of Trips to the Moon’ published in 1962. Wells was the rare books librarian of Syracuse University and wrote brief introductions to a number of works that documented imaginary voyages to the Moon.

According to Wells, Lucian of Samosata’s ‘Vera Historia’ (True History) was the first work of science fiction, and written sometime in the 2nd century of our era. It contains the first journey of a man to the Moon. In it Lucian travelled to the ‘great country of the air’ by a whirlwind that propelled his ship to the Moon. On the Moon he found the inhabitants to be quite advanced, they adhorred filth, had no knowledge of sex, and when they died they dissolved in a puff of smoke. The Moon men could observe the goings on the Earth by a glass bottom at the end of a deep well.

Another of Lucian’s works, the ‘Icaromenippus’, contains another journey to the Moon. The traveller, in this case sticks wings  (from a vulture and eagle respectively) to his body. When he arrived at the Moon he didn’t like it there and so proceeded onto Heaven, where the immortals have him packed back to Earth via the swift and secret messenger Hermes.

Title page of Lucian's 'True History'

Title page of Lucian's 'True History'

'The Visit to the Moon'

'The Visit to the Moon'

'Manners and customs in the Moon'

'Manners and customs in the Moon'

Here is a schematic history of imaginary voyages to the Moon:

AD 160
Lucian of Samosata travels to the Moon in his Vera Historia and Icaro-Menippus, using a waterspout/whirlwind to carry him upward and an artificial set of wings of eagle and vulture respectively.

Lodovico Ariosto in the Orlando Furioso makes his journey to the Moon via a chariot pulled through the sky by powerful horses.

Bishop Francis Godwin – The Man in the Moone or, A Discourse of a Voyage Thither by Domingo Gonsales – The Speedy Messenger

Title Page of Godwin's 'The Man in the Moon' (1638)

Title Page of Godwin's 'The Man in the Moon' (1638)

First account in English of a journey to the Moon. Shipwrecked on an Island, the hero, Domingo Gonsales, manages to train birds to lift things into the air. One day while experimenting with a trapeze contraption he is taken by them directly to the Moon which took 11 days. He experienced diminishing gravitational pull (incidently he wrote this half a century before Newton proposed his principle of gravitation). On the Moon he found men twice as big as earth men, no disease, moved by leaping and fanning themselves along. Gonzales speaks with them about a number of subjects including Spanish wine and Antwerp beer. The prince of the Lunarians gives him a jewel which allows him to return to Earth taking only 9 days because of the ‘Earth’s pull’.

Lunarians spoke in a form of music

Lunarians spoke in a form of music

John Wilkins – The Discovery of a World in the Moone or a Discourse tending to prove that ’tis Probable there may be another habitable world in that planet.

This was a scientific/philosophical work where he advanced 13 propositions concerning the nature of the moon and the possibilities of creating craft to get there and establish a colony there. These craft would be propelled by flying wings or ‘a flying chariot’.

Title page of Wilkin's Discovery of a World in the Moon (1638)

Title page of Wilkins' Discovery of a World in the Moon (1638)

Page from Wilkins' Work

Page from Wilkins' Work

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac – Histoire Comique des Estats et Empires de la Lune.

Cyrano proposed a number of methods of getting to the Moon. One method was the use of bottles full of dew which were drawn up by the sun, but unfortunately he fell to earth in Canada. He escaped the Canadian barbarians and created another method which was a iron cube with a loadstone that formed an iron machine that took them to the Moon and another using wings and a spring attached to rockets. Covered his body with beef marrow  and the Moon sucked him up. Therefore he was the first to reach the Moon in a rocket ship.

Description: Moon inhabitants were spirits, conversing while making gestures with the body. Wore no cloths and ate by inhaling fumes from boiling meats. They lived in a sensual world.

David Russen – Iter Lunare: or, a Voyage to the Moon.

Proposes spring mechanism attached to mountain in order to propel voyager to the Moon. Discussion of Cyrano’s description of the Moon, along with conversation with a ‘God Like’ Person he met on the Moon.

Daniel Defoe – The Consolidator: or Memoirs of Sundry Transactions from the World in the Moon Translated from the Lunar Language by the Author of a True-Born English Man.

He reached the Moon with a flying machine propelled by fuel. On route he took a tranquilizer that numbed him. On the Moon he found things much like the Earth, no differences in the living things at least. He satirizes English political life along the way.

Joseph Atterly (Pseudonym of George Tucker) – A Voyage to the Moon with some account of the manners and customs science and philosophy of the people of Morosofia and other Lunarians.

He constructs a space ship of a special metal substance (which a holy Brahmin hermit  taught him about) called a ‘Lunarium’. The ship was made out of copper, and fitted with doors and windows. Quantities of Lunarium was placed outside the ship and controlled from the inside. They discussed a number of topics before landing on the lunar country of Morosofia and proceeded to a town not as large as Albany. Thee Lunarians were tall, thin and of a yellowish complexion. The houses were constructed with half underground to protect from the sun’s rays. The residents were the same as though on earth, born without intellect, they moved as automatons until a ray from the earth illuminated them. They became knowledgable while the earth man lost theirs. They were called Glonglims. They practiced birth control, had no capital punishment, arbitrated all disputes, bred animals to improve strains and had invented steam cookers. They (Atterley and the Brahmin) entered their copper balloons and returned to earth on August 20, 1825.

Edgar Allan Poe – The Unparalleled Adventure of one Hans Pfaal Southern Literary Messenger.

This is an account of a Dutchman’s trip to the Moon in a balloon. He built a cloth balloon, coated with rubber attached to a wicker basket. Filled the bag with a gas manufactured by combining a particular metallic substance with a common acid.

John Russell (attributed) – Adventures in the Moon, and other worlds.

A breezy tale of comfort and ease of space travel, with the Moon being the place where everything that was ever lost from the Earth lies, dreams of youth, words once spoken, various passions and traits.

[Sir John Herschel] Literary hoax perpetrated by Richard Adams Locke reporter and later editor of the Sun.
Discoveries in the Moon lately made at the Cape of Good Hope by Sir John Herschel The New York Sun August -September 1835. Later published as The Moon Hoax, New York, 1858.

First hand observations made in Africa by Sir William Herschel and his son, of the Moon real close up to examine all life there from five miles away caused a sensation not unlike Welles’ War of the Worlds.

Nature had carved columns of green basalt, hills covered in amethysts, mountains in sapphires and rubies. Creatures were simians between man and anumal, like lunar batmen, 4 foot high, short glossy copper coloured hair and wings of a thin membrane.

1865, 1870.
Jules Verne – De La Terre a La Lune (From the Earth to the Moon)

He selected a space gun as the means for propulsion to the Moon via a projectile with a scientist inside like a bullet. The Baltimore Gun Club constructed the cannon called a Columbiad which was propelled on an orbit of the Moon from which they would make close observations before firing rockets to send themselves back to Earth. No life.

H.G. Wells – The First Men in the Moon

Used a ship similar to Atterley’s flying cube with anti gravitational metal substance.

Theatrical and Cinema Archives in the Hunter Region

Poster from the Graceson Theatre Swansea

Poster from the Graceson Theatre Swansea

Day Shift – 16/06/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Producer: Jeannette McMahon
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist University of Newcastle

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the University’s Cultural Collections Archives relating to local theatrical and cinema history.

Broadcast Notes:

Cultural Collections in the University of Newcastle Auchmuty Library holds records relating to the history of theatre and cinema in the Hunter Region. Whilst not a distinct collection as such, but rather a component of many separate collections that have been deposited with us, we hold quite a variety of material ranging from large format plans, photographs, set and stage designs, posters e.g., blueprints for Herbert’s Picture Theatre in Islington (1928-1929), Graceson Theatre, Swansea (c1910), and James Henderson’s designs for a theatre in Union St. (1914). We also  hold theatrical archives including play scripts, minute books, correspondence, hand bills and ephemera. Histories – both written and oral, and news clippings/cuttings books e.g., from the University Drama Department and Newcastle and Hunter valley Theatre (c1970s-1980s).

Highlights include:

HUGO, Ursula., Drama IV thesis, University of Newcastle : Background to Newcastle and its theatrical scene before the opening of the Victoria Theatre. This excellent piece of research (1979) on Newcastle’s early theatres is held in Newcastle University Archives, (A5582).

HEWETT, E.F., Newcastle Engineer-Architect, about 1928 prepared plans for a cinema in Islington, Newcastle for its proprietor W. Herbert. Both the cinema building and its plans still survive, the latter being held in Newcastle University Archives, (M1000 – M1052).

Herbert's Theatre Islington

M1048 Herbert's Theatre Islington

M1049 Herbert's Theatre Islington

M1049 Herbert's Theatre Islington

HENDERSON, James, Newcastle Architect, in 1914 prepared plans for an elaborate theatre in Union Street, Newcastle, for a client named Robert Hollyford. Although the theatre was never built, the plans (6 sheets) have survived and are held in Newcastle University Archives, (M2453 – M2458).

ZOLI, (Charles A.), Enterprises in 1923 set up the ‘Marquee Theatre’ near Newcastle Beach and there staged a humorous review program entitled ‘Splashes of 1923’. A copy of the program, with notes on the performers, is held in Newcastle University Archives.

The GLASS and MORRISON family of Singleton operated an ironmongery store, and adjacent to the store conducted an early cinema, the ‘Lyrique Gardens’. The cinema records (which are incomplete) are held in Newcastle University Archives.

THE GRACESON THEATRE, Swansea, archives begin in the year 1913 and include an interesting accumulation of records from a seaside cinema: equipment catalogues, production manuals, cinema periodicals, advertising slides, admission tickets, phonodisk records, as well as correspondence, wages book, specifications and plan.

HARRY ARMSTRONG managed the Hoyts chain of cinemas in Newcastle in the years long before television and in 1979 produced a most amusing set of reminiscences Not Stranger than Fiction – A sort of Autobiography. Armstrong’s Autobiography describes well the problems that beset a cinema manager – like the rat plague that invaded the old Century Theatre at Broadmeadow.

SUN NEWSPAPERS LTD published an afternoon newspaper in Newcastle for many years, providing leisure-time reading, e.g. fashion, sport, local news. There is a very extensive collection of the paper’s business records in Newcastle University Archives for the years 1916-1935.

A listing of our THEATRICAL AND CINEMA related archival holdings is listed below:

GALBRAITH, LARRY: Arts Undergraduate, University of Newcastle:
Received June, 1975.

A5036 (part) Copies of play scripts including:

Goodwill on earth: peace in all men: a celestial musicalCenturi!; Assembliana: a comic opera; The Shop: a play for television; Draft for episode of Homicide; Alladin: pantomime; The Chase; The Memoirs of George Albert Archbold III.

A5037 Mal; Mistaken Encounter; The Pub; Citizens of Planet 10; The Greeks had a word for itMargo; Private Laughter; Something to dance about.; Vacant; Various stage designs; Accounts of the University of Newcastle student players; Papers relating to Union debates.

THE NEW THEATRE, THE DUNGEON, Newcastle Trades Hall:

A5178 – A5182 Play scripts, c.1950 – c.1970.
A5183  Minute book, 1958 – 1964; set and costume designs; sundry printed material.’

Costume Designs for Reedy River

Costume Designs for Reedy River

Costume Designs

A5183 'The Marriage' Watercolour sketches of costumes for characters Omelet, Sevakin & Anutchkin

Set Design [Act III] Unidentified Production

Set Design, Act III Unidentified Production

Flyer for 'The Crucible'

Flyer for 'The Crucible'

NEWCASTLE DRAMATIC ART CLUB, (“Roxy Theatre”), Hamilton:

A5198 – A5199 Correspondence, 1954 – 1972; Theatre programmes collected by the President, C. Chapman, c.1910 – 1975.


A5397 (xi) Fund appeal pamphlet, [April, 1978]. Cabaret: a musical in two acts, [programme, March 22nd, 1979].


A5423 (i) Minute book, 1973 – 1976.
A5423 (ii) Inward correspondence, 1973 – 1976.
A5423 (iii) Outward correspondence, 1973 – 1976.
A5424 (i) Correspondence and papers, 1973 – 1976 [including a photocopy of a plan of the Arts/Drama Theatre, University of Newcastle].
A5424 (ii) Reports to the Board on Richard II, Murder in the Cathedral, The Way of the Cross, Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf, 1974 – 1975.
A5424 (iii) Aims and objectives [typed] and audition and membership forms.
A5424 (iv) Publicity and press clipping files, 1973 – 1976. [5 bundles].
A5424 (v) Newsletter, 1973 – 1976.
A5424 (vi) Programmes and Newcastle Morning Herald reviews, 1973 – 1976.
A5424 (vii) Lists of schools.
A5424 (viii) Information for cast, 1973 – 1976. [Typed sheets].


Victor Ice Cream Slide

Victor Ice Cream Slide

Mustdie Pest Control Advertisement

Mustdie Pest Control Advertisement

A5425 (i) Letter relating to Astros Theatre, Merriwa from T.J. Dobinson and Sons, April 24th, 1940.
A5425 (ii) Wages book, 1913 – 1914.
A5425 (iii) Specifications, plan and related correspondence of Graceson Theatre, April 1937.
A5425 (iv) Four rolls of admission tickets and one bundle of passes.
A5425 (v) Box of glass slides.
A5425 (vi) Rubber stamp.

Printed material including:

A5426 (i) The Exhibitor and Film Weekly, 1943 – 1951.
A5426 (ii) Cinema equipment catalogues, 1927 – 1939.
A5426 (iii) Publicity pamphlets and posters, c.1944.
A5427 (i) The Bioscope, 1929.
A5427 (ii) Photoplayer, August 19th, 1950.
A5427 (iii) Everyones, May 9th, 1923.
A5427 (iv) Motion picture herald, March 22nd, 1952.
A5427 (v) Cameron, James R. Motion picture projection, by J.R. Cameron, 4th edition, New York, Cameron, 1928. [Book]; Motion picture projection and sound pictures, by J.R. Cameron, Woodmont, Conn., Cameron, 1933. [Book].
A5428 (i) Notice.
A5428 (ii) Lions roar, August, 1945, May, 1946.
A5428 (iii) 16 Phonodisc records.

JAMES FAMILY, Wickham: Printed material including:

A5496 (v) Theatre Magazine, July 1st, 1913, June 19th, 1919, Cinesound News, August 31st, 1929.


A5581 (viii) (part) The play, Three Sisters, November, 1978. Popular Theatre Troupe, 1979.


A5622 (x) (part) University of Newcastle Arts/Drama Theatre. [Architectural details and plans.] [Pamphlet – two copies – n.d.]


A5625 (ii) Xerox copy of programme for Splashes of 1923: a play held in The Marquee Theatre, Telford Street, Newcastle, February 10th, 1923, by Charles A. Zoli Enterprises. (Donated by Mr. Frank Van Straten, Archivist, Museum of Performing Arts, Melbourne.)

DELAMOTTE, JEAN-PAUL [Former staff member, French Department, University of Newcastle]:

A5625 (iv) (part) L’Association Francaise Des Cinemas D’art et D’essai

Semaine du cinema Australien 1979.


Planner’s Division publications:

A5657 a (ix) The University of Newcastle Arts/Drama Theatre. [n.d.]
A5673 (xii) Printed papers relating to the Arts Drama Theatre, Fine Arts and Music, including a list of Australian Academics interested in Fine Arts, 1976 – 1978.


A5704 (ii) Theatre tickets for the performance of Coal River: a choral symphony, November 16, 1979. [Performance commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Civic Theatre].

Coal River Theatre Tickets

Coal River Theatre Tickets


A5885 (iv) A toast to Melba, by Hack Hibberd, theatre ticket, March 19th, 1980.


A5886 (iv) (part) Convocation members night programme for performance of Kodachrome Ketchup and Pantechnicon by the Hunter Valley Theatre Company, June 28th, 1977.


A5930 (i) (part) Playscript: Inquest on an Army Officer.
A5930 (v) Concert programmes, 1927 – 1964. [Victoria Theatre, Newcastle – programme Grand Opera season 1928 – 1929.]


A5958 (iii) – (vii) (part) Hunter Valley Theatre Company, 1976.

SEAWARD FAMILY, Scone: Printed material:

A5970 (ii) Theatre programmes, 1884 – 1888.
A5970 (ii) Programme for moving picture Becky Sharp. [Supposed to be the first full length moving picture in colour.]


A5979 (iii) Fuller news with programme for The Baby Cyclone: a farcial comedy in three acts, April 6th, 1929. (Donated by the Archivist, Victorian Arts Centre Trust, Melbourne.)
Publicity leaflet for Fire Brigade benefit concert, April 5th, 1880s?


A6042 (x) Drama Department and Hunter Valley Theatre Company programme for a one-week non-residential school for young people, January 14 – 18, 1980.
A6042 (xiii) Newcastle Film Society 1980 season programme.


A6196 (iv) (part) Newcastle Dramatic Art Club souvenir brochures to commemorate the opening of the Roxy Theatre, Hamilton, October 14th, 1955.


A6319 (i) Ticket for A toast to Melba by Jack Hibbard, March, 1980.


A6344 Collection of theatre programmes and journals, 1917 – 1957.
A6345 Collection of theatre programmes and journals, 1926 – 1960.


A6378 (lxxi) Theatre programme, 1963.

YOUNG PEOPLE’S THEATRE: (Donated by Dr. Alan Barcan):

A6573 Constitution, correspondence, minutes, grants, photographs and plan, 1964 – 1983.


A6574 (i) (part) Revue programmes and drama programmes: Under Milkwood, by Dylan Thomas, 1954; The third degree, 1959; Faux Pas, 1961; In time out, 1962; 8 + 2, 1962; Blue pencil, [n.d.]; Le Bourgeois Gentil Homme, produced by Professor K.R. Dutton.


A6575 (i) Press clipping book, 1914 – 1915. (Donated by Mary Rabbitt).

A6923 (iv) Kino [journal], containing an article on earthquake damage to Newcastle Theatres in the earthquake, 28th December, 1989, including the RSL Club – former Kings Theatre, The Century at Broadmeadow, Kings Music Hall at Lambton, The Lyrique, Regent at Islington, Hoyts Royal Twin, Everyone’s Theatre at Carrington, Cameo at New Lambton, Savoy at New Lambton [Community Centre], March, 1990. No. 31.

STAR THEATRE, CARDIFF: (Donated by Allan Walla.)

A6923 (v) Photographs [1950s]: The Theatre, Aub Seaward, Ken Walla, Allan Walla.


A6923 (vi) Typescript on The Union Picture Theatre, Union Street, Newcastle, 1910 – 1931 and Pavilion Moving Theatre (live Theatre), 1913 – 1916 – both located on Arnott’s Biscuit Factory paddock.

Castle Theatre, 1920 – 1924 and Crystal Palace Dance Hall, 1927.


A6987 (iv) The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Annual Report 1968.


A7344 (ii) Radio Drama – The NUR Theatre – includes catalogue of some radio programmes broadcast from Sydney University, 1979, 1981, 1979 – 1988.


A7482 (i)-(xvi) Files of newsclippings and correspondence relating to the Australian theatre of the 1970s, 1972 – 1979.
A7482 (xvii) Small collection of photographs of Australian plays of the 1970s, 1971 – 1979.

ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF NEWCASTLE – CANON CARLOS STRETCH [Son of Bishop John Francis Stretch]: (Deposited by Helen Pankhurst.), [Accessioned by Mrs. Josie Stevenson, 1999.]:

A7738 (i) Box “Patent Lock-Clip file” contains clippings & items, inter alia:

Theatre programme for David Copperfield. Made into a play by Louis N. Parker. Christmas production at Her Majesty’s Theatre, 1914. Price 6d. Details of cast, music programme and production shown.

THE SCHOLEY AND UPFOLD FAMILY PAPERS OF MRS MARION FAULKNER: [Received: April, 2001.] [Accessioned 10 – 17 May, 2001 by Gionni di Gravio.]

A7766 (ii) Newsclipping book (given to Marion Scholey Faulkner by Agnes Scholey) including clippings, plans and documents relating to land sales, company balance sheets and reports, Victoria Theatre, Waratah, coal mining interests, Maitland, William Arnott, Cathedral cemetery, Bishops, June, 1898 – March, 1908.

PENDER FAMILY, Maitland – SPECIFICATIONS: (Conduit: Mrs. Winsome Pender) [Received May 2000] [Accessioned May, 2002].

A7781/607 – Picture Theatre East Maitland for L. Prince Esq. 18.11.15 W.H. Pender
A7781/608 – Roofing Exposed Portion Picture Theatre East Maitland for L. Prince Esq. 28.2.16 W.H. Pender
A7784/800 – Re-Conditioning the Strand Picture Theatre at Singleton 7.9.33 (Tenders close 1st Sept) W.H. Pender
A7784/806 – Ladies Retiring Room at Maitland Picture Palace for the Maitland Theatre Co. Ltd. 1.5.34 W.H. Pender

LITTLE, WARDLOW REV. (Conduit): [Received: 2003].

A7791(i) Theatre programs for The Messiah, 1923 ; Program (1 p.) of Funeral Rites for Friedrich III, Deutscher Kaiser, 24 Juni, 1888.

BEQUESTS – BRAWN, LESLIE HAROLD: [Two consignments of personal papers, legal documents, photographs and artefacts received November 1998 and May 2002] [Accessioned November 2005 GDG]

A7805(iv) Photographs: Early theatrical production with Gladys Marguerite Butler, c.1910.

Early Theatrical Production featuring Gladys Marguerite Butler, c.1910

Early Theatrical Production featuring Gladys Marguerite Butler, c.1910

Early Theatrical Production featuring Gladys Marguerite Butler, c.1910

Early Theatrical Production featuring Gladys Marguerite Butler, c.1910

Early Theatrical Production featuring Gladys Marguerite Butler, c.1910

Early Theatrical Production featuring Gladys Marguerite Butler, c.1910


”]Our Town by Thornton Wilder [Signed Booklet] July 1961A7951 (iv) Regulations for Diploma in Dramatic Art, 1957 – 1958.
A7951 (v) Journal of time spent in London, includes theatre programs, invites, letters, newsclippings, 1958 – 1959.
A7951 (vii) Newcastle Teachers College Drama Club programs and reviews, 1961 – 1975.
A7951 (ix) Pamphlets advertising WEA drama courses, 1962 – 1965.
A7952 (ii) Book written by Dyce, Patrick White as Playwright, 1974.
A7952 (iii) Reviews of Patrick White as Playwright, 1974.
A7952 (v) Newspaper articles – play competition, 1974.

Jess Dyce

Jess Dyce


[Date Deposited: 2007. Accessioned by Brenda Sullivan: 6 August 2007]

A8117 (ii)a Elizabethan Drama 1951-1966 – Outline of course; The Drama of Greece and Rome; Morality plays; The establishment of the public and the University wits; Marlowe, Christopher (1564-1593) – Dr. Faustus; Audience and Theatre; Shakespeare – Corioianus; Realistic comedy and satirical plays (2 copies) Tutorial notes

A8117 (iv) Williams, Emlyn – The corn is green (play); Auden, W. H. & Isherwood, Christopher. – The ascent of F6: A Tragedy in two acts (play); Niland, D’Arcy – The Shiralee; Ibsen, Henrik, – The pillars of society (play); Cary, Joyce – A fearful joy; Odets, Clifford – Golden boy (play); Morgan, Charles – The river line; Steinbeck, John – The Grapes of Wrath; Properties, equipment, costumes; Nursery rhymes

A8117 (xi) (part) speech to the Young Peoples Theater on drama [n.d.]

A8117 (xii) Madge Eddy B.A. on Ibsen, Henrik (1828-1906) – “Hedda Gabler” [1952-1966]

M4832 Huldah M. Turner Drama lecture on cardboard. [1951-1956]?’

COMMUNIST PARTY OF AUSTRALIA – BARBARA CURTHOYS COLLECTION [Date: September, 2000.] [Archived by J. Stevenson, 10 January, 2002.]

A8456 (iv) Notes on the history of New Theatre Australia. 28pp, 1959.

NEWCASTLE & HUNTER DISTRICT HISTORICAL SOCIETY: [Received: September, 2000]. [Accessioned: 11 November, 2003].

A8765 (x) Civic; Civic Theatre, Civic Square, Civic Park, NESCA, City Hall; clippings, 1900-1990.
A8792 (i) (part) Testimonials concerning Mr. Colin Christie, musician, from Waratah School of Arts, Victoria Theatre, Newcastle, Great Northern Hotel, Newcastle.
A8798 (xi) Printers block – Victoria Theatre, Newcastle. 7x8cm.


A6303 (x) Hunter Valley Theatre Company, 1977.
A6304 (vii) Practical Drama School, 1976 – 1977 [77/04].
A6309 (i) Theatre direction, 1978 [78/05].
A6309 (ii) To-day’s movie, 1978 [78/08].
A6312 (viii) Youth Theatre Workshop, 1979 [79/08].
A6312 (ix) Theatre direction, 1979 [79/09].
A6312 (x) Super 8 movie making, 1979 [79/10].


A6731 Open Foundation local history research projects, 1987. Audio tapes and lists.
A6732 Documents, transcripts and lists of projects.

Project Person Interviewed Researcher Tape Number Document
Melvic Theatre. Bill Payne, Proprietor Diana Blaxell A6731/4B Tape only
The Newcastle Repertory Theatre 1957-1987. Peter & Shirley Bloomfield, Founders Dorothy White A6731/29 A6732/5


No. Researcher Person interviewed Project Tape
A6967 (viii) Melville, Rosemary Del de Glorion A history of the de Glorion Family and their involvement in live theatre in Newcastle. [The Victoria Theatre] Tape
A6968 (iiib) Nichols, Jenny Peter Whipper The history of Theatres in Newcastle Tape


Trustees of Church Property:

B7359 Adelphia Theatre, Telarah, 1949 – 1960.


B10106 Oxley, Selwyn: The Deaf of Other Days: a pageant … [c.1920]. [Includes script for play Little Nellie’s Christmas.]


B10390 Cutting Books [compiled by Elvira Sproggis], 1975 – 1979.
B10391a Cutting Books [compiled by Elvira Sproggis], 1979 – 1981.
B10391b Newcastle and Hunter Valley Theatre Cutting Book, 1981 – 1982.
B10391c Newcastle and Hunter Valley Theatre Cutting Book, 1980 – 1983.
B10391d Newcastle and Hunter Valley Theatre Cutting Book, 1982 – 1984.


PHOTOGRAPHS: [Accessioned: July, 2004.]

A8803/P00002 [“Nine Ways”], Broadmeadow, Herbert’s De Luxe Theatre building on left. Shows a tram and a motor lorry, with hotel in background. Iona photo. n.d.

A8804/P00210 Newcastle. Shopping Centre. Small postcard showing Civic Theatre. “Make a Wish” was the current programme. [1930’s?]
A8804/P00474 Birmingham Gardens. Moore Street. The Regal Cinema. [Run by Mr. Bruce Avard.] Donated by Stella Jory November 1994.
A8806/P01168 Newcastle. Victoria Theatre. Orchestra. 1876. Colin Christie, Leader, Margaret, piano, Alex, violin, Colin, flute.
A8806/P01170 Portrait of Colin Christie and family – Margaret, violin, Alex and Colin, violin. 10th November 1912.
A8806/P01235 Newcastle. Civic Centre, Hunter Street looking west. M.L.C.building on right, Civic Theatre on left. Vinco series no. 33. [1960?]


B10401/N1266 Old film posters in a shed at the rear of Ian Pender’s (architect) office at Maitland 1974
B10401/N1267-1272 Mr. Colin Hanks (used to be proprietor of the East Maitland picture theatre) and Ian Pender looking at the posters, 1971 (colour slides of all posters at National Library of Australia, Canberra)
B10405/N2419 People dressed up for theatre party. Mary Poppins at the Palace Picture Theatre at Maitland, February, 1966

UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE – NCAE / HIHE / UNIVERSITY PHOTOGRAPHER – JOHN FREUND: (Conduit: Bruce Turnbull.) [Date received: 1 April, 2004.]

B16458 Negatives concerning the Drama Department, including a production of the play ‘King O’Malley ‘, [n.d.].


B10266 The Use of Historical Figures and Folk Heroes by Australian Playwrights, by Tana Barfield [drama IV Honours Thesis, 1979].


A5582 (xiv) Background to Newcastle and its theatrical scene before the opening of the Victoria Theatre. [University of Newcastle Drama IV Thesis, 1979.]

LANGELAAR, SONYA: (former Honours student in Drama and History):

B13773 Revolution Vs Reform: The American Workers’ Theatre and the Communist Part of the USA during the 1930’s – an Honours thesis submitted by Sonya Langelaar to the Departments of Drama and History, October, 1994.

LEAHY, KATH: (former Honours student in Drama):

B13772 The Rites and Rights of Passage: A Study of the Actor-Training Institution Audition- an Honours thesis submitted by Kath Leahy to the Department of Drama, October, 1994.

MCEWEN, BARBARA: (former Honours student in Drama):

B13771  Does This Bus Go to Lambton?: The therapeutic use of Drama with clients with Acquired Brain Injury and the HEADSTART project, Lambton, New South Wales, Australia. – an Honours thesis submitted by Barbara McEwen to the Department of Drama, October, 1994.

SCHOFIELD, FIONA: (former Honours student in the Department of Drama):

B13770 Gender’s a Drag: Gender Confusing Performance – an Honours thesis submitted by Fiona Schofield to the Department of Drama, 1994.

SMITH, KARINA: (former Honours student in Drama):

B13774 Theatrical Self-Construction: Kenneth Branagh’s Beginning an Honours thesis submitted by Karina Smith to the Department of Drama, November, 1994.



MAP Nos: M1000 – M1052
TITLE: Herbert’s Picture Theatre cnr Beaumont Street, and Maitland Road, Islington, owner W. Herbert Esq.
DATE RANGE: 1928 – 1928
FORMAT: Blueprints


MAP #: M1534
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Ardent spirits
DATE: [1981?]
FORMAT: Black and white
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: Presented at Wyndham Estate Winery


MAP #: M1535-M1536
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: The shadow of a gunman by Sean Casey
DATE: June 1981
FORMAT: Black and white
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: University drama theatre


MAP #: M1537-M1538
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Peer gynt: a workshop production directed by Ian Watson
SURVEYOR/CARTOGRAPHER/PUBLISHER: Newcastle Uni drama students. Poster by Bell
DATE: October 1981
FORMAT: Coloured print
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: University drama studio


MAP #: M1539
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Aristophanes Birds
SURVEYOR/CARTOGRAPHER/PUBLISHER: Newcastle Uni drama students. Poster by Bell
DATE: July and August 1981
FORMAT:  Coloured print
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: Presented at Arts Drama Theatre Newcastle


MAP #: M1540-M1541
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Don’s Party
SURVEYOR/CARTOGRAPHER/PUBLISHER: Newcastle Uni drama students. Poster by Bell
DATE: April-May 1982
FORMAT: Coloured print
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: Presented at Arts Drama Theatre Newcastle


MAP #: M1542
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: The lovers of Bologna
SURVEYOR/CARTOGRAPHER/PUBLISHER: Newcastle Uni drama students. Poster by Bell
DATE: June 8-12 1982
FORMAT: Coloured print
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: Presented at Arts Drama Theatre Newcastle


MAP #: M1543
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Esther by T. Racine
SURVEYOR/CARTOGRAPHER/PUBLISHER: Newcastle Uni drama students. Poster by Bell
DATE: May 26-28
FORMAT:  Coloured print
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: Presented by Avondale players and singers at Christ Church Cathedral


MAP #: M1544
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Newcastle Arts Council one-act drama festival
DATE: May 1 1982
FORMAT: Black and white print
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: University drama theatre


MAP #: M1545 (x3)
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Woyzeck
DATE: July 1982?
FORMAT: Colour
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: University drama theatre


MAP #: M1546
SERIES: Publicity posters
TITLE: Salome
DATE: September 1982?
FORMAT: Colour
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: Great hall, University of Newcastle


MAP #:            M1547
SERIES:            Publicity posters
TITLE:            Macbeth
DATE: June 198?
SUBJECT/AREA/FEATURES: Presented at Roxy Theatre



MAP #:            M1589
SERIES:            Plans for picture theatre buildings
TITLE:            Drawing for proposed gallery and shops to Swansea picture building, Swansea
SCALE:            8ft = 1”
FORMAT:            Blueprint


MAP #:            M2019
SERIES:            Theatrical posters

TITLE:            [Billboard poster for Harry Lauder performance]
DATE:            [Ca 1910]
FORMAT:            Poster in four sections


MAP #:            M2023
TITLE:            [Advertising posters for play fatal wedding], 9 copies
CARTOGRAPHER/ SURVEYOR/ PUBLISHER: Under direction of Meynell and Gun
DATE:            [Ca 1910]
FORMAT:            Posters


MAP #:  M2051
SERIES:  Stage plans for Bon Bons and Roses for Dolly
TITLE: Bon Bons and Roses for Dolly
CARTOGRAPHER/ SURVEYOR/ PUBLISHER: David Wood [play by Dorothy Hewett, Directed by Robert Page]
FORMAT:            Pen drawing coloured. Stage setting


MAP #:            M2052
SERIES:            Stage plans for Bon Bons and Roses for Dolly
TITLE:            [University of Newcastle] Drama Theatre plan
CARTOGRAPHER/ SURVEYOR/ PUBLISHER: David Wood [play by Dorothy Hewett. Directed by Robert Page]
FORMAT:            Print



MAP #:            M2453
SERIES:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. Newcastle.
TITLE:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St, for Robert Hollyford. Front elevation and section
DATE:            1914
SCALE:            1/8”= 1 ft
FORMAT:            Pencil drawing
SUBJECT/ AREA/ FEATURES: Plans donated by Miss Henderson of Newcastle, 1977. [This envelope contains typed labels for display of Theatre plans].


MAP #:            M2454
SERIES:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. Newcastle
TITLE:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St, for Robert Hollyford. Ground floor plan
DATE:            1914
SCALE:            1/8”= 1 ft
FORMAT:            Pencil drawing
SUBJECT/ AREA/ FEATURES: Proposed Theatre was not built


MAP #:            M2455
SERIES:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. Newcastle
TITLE:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. for Robert Hollyford.  Section.
DATE:            1914
SCALE:            1/8”= 1 ft
FORMAT:            Pencil drawing


MAP #:            M2456
SERIES:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. Newcastle
TITLE:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. for Robert Hollyford. Floor plan at gallery level.
DATE:            1914
SCALE:            1/8”= 1 ft
FORMAT:            Pencil drawing


MAP #:            M2457
SERIES:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. Newcastle
TITLE:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. for Robert Hollyford.  Floor plan at cloak room level.
DATE:            1914
SCALE:            1/8”= 1 ft
FORMAT:            Pencil drawing


MAP #:            M2458
SERIES:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. Newcastle.
TITLE:            Design plans for a theatre in Union St. for Robert Hollyford. Sections.
DATE:            1914
SCALE:            1/8”= 1 ft
FORMAT:            Pencil drawing



MAP #: M2590
SERIES: Posters
TITLE: “For these dead birds sigh a prayer” by Peter Matheson.
DATE:  n.d.
FORMAT: Poster
SUBJECT/ AREA/ FEATURES: Play advertisement


MAP #: M2591
SERIES:  Poster
TITLE: “For these dead birds sigh a prayer” by Peter Matheson.
DATE:  n.d.
FORMAT: Poster
SUBJECT/ AREA/ FEATURES: Play advertisement



MAP #: M3015
TITLE: Proposed alterations and additions to Young Peoples Theatre and Arts Centre Newcastle Lindsay St Hamilton
DATE:  19 September, 1980
SCALE: Plans 1/50; Elevations 1/100;  Block plan 1/100

Windows to another time – Ralph Snowball’s Glass Negatives

Top men, Raspberry Gully, NSW, 24 June 1898

Day Shift – 19/05/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist University of Newcastle

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the work to date on the Norm Barney Photographic Collection that was donated to the University’s Cultural Collections in June 2008. The Collection consists of around 1065 glass negatives from Newcastle Photographer Ralph Snowball, and thousands more regular negatives from the Collections of Norm Barney and his friend and colleague Bert Lovett.

Broadcast Notes:

There are a number of collections of Ralph Snowball’s images throughout the region in private collections as well as public, most notable is the collection in Local Studies in Newcastle Public Library and available through Hunter Photobank.

This particular Collection of around 1065 extraordinary glass slides forms part of Norm Barney’s Photographic Collection that was donated with the University’s Cultural Collections in June 2008.

To view our progress to date and see the larger images please visit our flickr site (make sure to click the ‘all sizes’ tab:

These are the largest images of this kind available online anywhere, we are proud to present these photographic masterpieces to the wider community. They are so big you can pick the the breadcrumbs out of the beards!

Wallsend Number 1 tunnel, Wallsend, NSW, 11 June 1897

Wallsend Number 1 tunnel, Wallsend, NSW, 11 June 1897

Originally more than 8,000 glass negatives were stored in the cellar of Ralph Snowball’s Clarence Rd house. Most had not seen the light of day since Snowball’s death in 1925 right up until the beginning of 1989 when around the 800 or so boxes were rediscovered by Norm Barney and Bert Lovett.

Most were of two sizes: whole plate, approximately 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in (21.6 x 16.5cm) and half plate, approximately 6 1/2mx 4 1/2 in (16.5 x 12.7 cm).

All were examined and around 2000 were subsequently dumped due to being destroyed by a combination of age and dampness. We estimate that around 4000 were donated to Newcastle City Council’s local history library.

A total of around 1065 glass plates remained with Norm Barney in 44 boxes, the ‘cream of the crop’ that was kept with the family to prepare Norm Barney’s publications. Included are also some archival registers and notebooks belonging to Ralph Snowball.

Following Newcastle Herald journalist’s investigations in 2008, it was uncovered that further 1000 of the original cache were sold to a private collector, Mr Keith Parsons.

Municipal Baths, Newcomen Street, Newcastle, NSW, [n.d.]

Municipal Baths, Newcomen Street, Newcastle, NSW, [n.d.]

Over the years these were cleaned, listed, wrapped in acid-free paper, reboxed and placed in metal cupboards and eventually donated to the University in June 2008 by the widow of the late Norm Barney, Mrs Daphne Barney.

Norm Barney and Bert Lovett were able to identify most of the names, dates and places with the help of the surviving notebooks, details on some of the old boxes, and Ralph Snowball’s habit of writing on some of the negatives.

In addition to the Snowball Glass Negatives (1065 images), inscribed box lids (3 boxes) and notebooks (1 box) the collection also includes negatives from the private collections of Norm Barney and Bert Lovett (approx. 7000 items).

John Scholey's house, Mayfield, NSW, 7 November 1900

John Scholey’s house, Mayfield, NSW, 7 November 1900

We currently have employed a qualified conservator to document the condition of the glass negatives, clean and re-house them. A digitiser to scan the glass negatives at a minimum of 300-600 dpi and import the jpgs (or optimised image files) in to our online Flickr site, and a cataloguer to create library catalogue entries for them in the University Library’s Newcat catalogue. After this process the glass negatives will be retired into the safety and preservation of archive boxes for long term storage.

To view more of these amazing images of Newcastle and the Hunter Region please visit our flickr site (make sure to click the ‘all sizes’ tab:

Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist

Media Stories

‘Glimpse of an era long gone’ Newcastle Herald 11 September 2010 pp 22-23

‘Found: the lost photos’ Herald Feature by Mike Scanlon 18 September 2010 p.10

‘Pictures for posterity’ by Jill Stowell Newcastle Herald 18 September 2010 p.18

An Australian Badge Collection

An Australian Badge Collection

Australia’s 150th Anniversary 1788-1938

Australia’s 150th Anniversary 1788-1938

Day Shift – 21/04/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist

Newcastle University Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the a collection of Australian badges belonging to the late Jim Downie of Mayfield. Jim was a Mayfield Businessman, local historian, Rotarian, Army Veteran, Scholar, and Poet who deposited his personal papers with the University of Newcastle. He passed away in his 95th year on the 12 October 2008. The badge collection records the fundraising and commemorative  initiatives mostly in the Newcastle and Hunter Regions during the period from the 1930s-1950s.

Broadcast Notes:

Mayfield Jubilee Celebrations 1900-1950

Mayfield Jubilee Celebrations 1900-1950

A digitised collection of around 107 of the badges are located on our Flickr site:

The James (Jim) W. Downie Badge Collection

It was such a relief to finally complete the accessioning of the personal papers of the late Jim Downie. It has been and off and on affair over the last two years.

When Jim passed away last year (in 2008) my great regret was that we were no longer able to speak with him about his life and collection, to order to gain further insights or clarify things if we ran into trouble. I will always remember the time I rang him over one of his photographs taken during his years as Captain in the armed forces during World War II. I couldn’t quite make out the writing on the back of the photo. He was able to talk to me for one hour about that single image! I realised then that human life and remembrance is sacred, and impossible to record everything, all we hold in archives are mnemonic aids, nothing can replace a human being. Archives are small signposts to a person’s life experience. So I felt a little better having taken two years to work my way through a 95 year old life’s work. At the end of the collection was a number of cassette tapes of Jim’ s personal memories as well as speaking engagements before a number of organisations. So all was not lost.

The Totally Permanently Disabled=

The Totally Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association

At the end of the collection I also found a small ice-cream container chock full of badges. For some reason, these were a real comfort to look through. I had sorted them into various groups and attached them to cardboard backing to avoid any unsuspecting bayoneting and the need for subsequent tetanus shots. What we had was a record of various fundraising and commemorative initiatives mostly held in the Newcastle and Hunter Regions during the period from the 1930s-1950s. Some of these organisations are still around, but many are not, or have changed their names over the years, to more appropriate titles. It appeared that whenever someone needed to raise funds, a badge was minted for the occasion. Badge making from my perspective appeared to have a revival during the late 1970s with the punk rock movement. It was a fashoon for Punks to wear a variety of badges and pins to adorn their individual ‘looks’. I remember my personal favourites were ‘Monkees’, ‘Ramones Rocket to Russia’ and ‘I’m not paranoid’ badges.

Lord Mayor's Flood Relief Appeal

Lord Mayor's Flood Relief Appeal

The full listing of all badges in the Downie collection are below and can be viewed online here:

A6610 A collection of Australian badges for commemorative and community fund raising initiatives mostly in the Newcastle and Hunter Regions 1930s-1950s, including:

Sheet A6610a
Ebenezer Australia’s Oldest Active Church 1809-1959 150 Years of Presbyterian Worship;
Souvenir of 1954 Royal Visit;
Australia’s 150th Anniversary 1788-1938;
Mayfield Jubilee Celebrations 1900-1950;
Cathedral Restoration Fund;
Mater Hospital Appeal;
Shirley McKinnon Memorial Hostel Appeal Y.M.C.A. Miss Sport;
Newcastle War Memorial;
St Gerard’s Home for Needy Travellers Appeal;
Rose Day (Assorted);
Wattle Day;
M.C.P. & F. Queen Beulah Bendeich;
M.B.T.H. School Popular Boy Rudi Vandenburg;
De Molays’ Mayfield Festival Queen Candidate Yvonne Clarke;
Popular Girl Competition Tighes Hill Pat Withers;
Shortland Parish Queen;
St Joseph’s Home for the Aged Sandgate( Assorted);
The Spastic Centre;
Aid Retarded Persons (ARP) Newcastle;
The United Nations Appeal for Children;
German Shepherd Dog Defence Committee;
Newcastle Sub-Normal Children’s Welfare Association;
Adult Deaf and Dumb;
Blind Centre Appeal;
Highland Gathering Newcastle Scots 1953;

Highland Gathering Newcastle Scots 1953

Highland Gathering Newcastle Scots 1953

Sheet A6610b
Newcastle Sub-Normal School;
Newcastle District Crippled Children;
The Kindergarten Union of N.S.W.;
Newcastle District Physically Handicapped Association Rehabilitation Centre;
APEX Aid for Spastics;
Newcastle Sub-Normal Children’s Welfare Association;
Monte Pio Girl’s Home;
ADDS Newcastle;
Newcastle and Northern District – The Totally Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association Women’s Auxiliary;
Church of England Old Folks’ Home;
Subscriber 4 Liberty Loan;
Newcastle R.S.P.C.A (Assorted Dogs and Cats featured);
Church of England Homes for Children (Assorted featured children);
Murray Dwyer Boys Orphanage (Assorted versions);

Shortland Parish Queen

Shortland Parish Queen

Newcastle Lord Mayors Appeal Overseas Comforts Fund;
Missions to Seaman Wakehurst Institute Jack’s Day;
Methodist Fuzzy Wuzzy Appeal (Various versions 1950-1953);
S.A. Appeal;
Newcastle City Mission Annual Appeal;
Sailors Day;
2NX Help Spread Sunshine (Various versions);
Church of England Diocese of Newcastle ‘For Faith and Freedom’ League of Patriotic Services;
Anti-T.B. Crusade;
Australian Merchant Seamans’ Day;
YMCA Week Newcastle;
Royal Blind Society of New South Wales;
Sydney Rescue Work Society Christmas Appeal;
Lord Mayor’s Flood Relief Appeal;

Cathedral Restoration Fund

Cathedral Restoration Fund

The Man of Tomorrow Boy Scouts (2 versions);
The Newcastle City Mission (2 versions);
V for Victory;
T.P.I. Button Day and Building Appeal (Various)
Newcastle Methodist Home Nursing Services for Sick and Aged;
Avondale Old Peoples Home (3 versions);
Salvation Army (Various designs);
Red Cross Appeal (Various designs);

The Man of Tomorrow Boy Scouts

The Man of Tomorrow Boy Scouts

Red Cross Appeal (Various designs cont.);
Newcastle Lord Mayors Appeal Overseas Comforts Fund;
Protestant Children’s Homes ‘Woodlands’ Newcastle March 1945;
United Protestant Homes (Various Designs);
United Protestant Homes Aged People (Various Designs);
Travellers’Aid  Society of N.S.W.

Newcastle R.S.P.C.A

Newcastle R.S.P.C.A

Red Cross Pins (Various)
Legacy Pins (Various)
Tin Hat Day

German Shepherd Dog Defence Committee

German Shepherd Dog Defence Committee

We would be interested in knowing whether anyone recognises the people who had comemorative badges minted for them, or if they are still around we would love to hear from them.

M.C.P. & F. Queen Beulah Bendeich

M.C.P. & F. Queen Beulah Bendeich

M.B.T.H. School Popular Boy Rudi Vandenburg

M.B.T.H. School Popular Boy Rudi Vandenburg

Popular Girl Competition Tighes Hill Pat Withers

Popular Girl Competition Tighes Hill Pat Withers

De Molays’ Mayfield Festival Queen Candidate Yvonne Clarke

De Molays’ Mayfield Festival Queen Candidate Yvonne Clarke


Gionni Di Gravio
University of Newcastle Australia

Captain Law and the six escapees from New Caledonia

Newcastle (Illustrated Sydney News April 1875)

Newcastle in 1875

Key to the View of Newcastle (Illustrated Sydney News 8 April 1975 p.20)

Day Shift – 17/03/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Producer: Jeanette McMahon
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

University of Newcastle Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the arrival in Newcastle of six escaped political prisoners from New Caledonia back in March 1874 through the eyes of Henri Rochefort. Recounting his observations of the people and places of Newcastle “Happy those peoples who have no history!” Rochefort was also very appreciative of the Newcastle Captain of the P.C. E. (Peace Comfort and Ease) who provided them with safe passage to his home town of Newcastle. We hope to find the relatives of this Captain David Law, who once lived at Pitt Street Newcastle, just behind the Public Library in Laman Street.

Broadcast Notes:

Dubbed the “Prince of the Gutter Press”, Henri Rochefort (along with 5 of his fellow escapees) visited Newcastle in 1874 after he made a daring escape from prison in New Caledonia, where he was serving time for his notorious role in the French Revolution of 1870.

Henri Rochefort

Henri Rochefort

The portion of Henri Rochefort’s full account published in his book De nouméa en Europe : 200 illustrations contenant 700 sujets / Dessins de Denis, Desjours … etc Published Paris : Ancienne Librairie Martinon, [1876?] concerning Newcastle was translated in 2002 under the title ‘Noumea to Newcastle: The Story of an Escape’ by the University of Newcastle’s Professor Ken Dutton.

The complete translation is here:

These escapees arrived in Newcastle Harbour on the 27 March 1874 amid great fanfare. The ships in the Harbour had been all decked out in anticipation for the arrival of the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, who was to arrive that morning. Somehow they got swept up in the fanfare and became the sensation of the day and became the day’s ‘Lion’.

On their arrival they were taken arm in arm to visit the who’s who. Rochefort’s account of Newcastle and the people he encountered is hilarious.

They stayed in the most expensive place in Town, The Great Northern Hotel, and while three of them returned to Sydney to get some money to pay the bill, they left the other three as a ‘deposit’ to ensure that the bill would be eventually paid. While here, the three took a trip to Maitland and onto to the homestead of Philobert Terrier, a fellow countrymen who established St Helena’s at Lochinvar. He was a pioneer of Champagne wines.

A couple of weeks ago we hosted a visiting scholar from Melbourne, Professor Malcolm Macmillan, who is researching the local Australian reception to these escapees. He is especially interested in Newcastle, and is interested in locating additional accounts of their visit here, especially contacting relatives of those who featured in the story.

One person in particular is their rescuer, Captain Law. His full name was Captain David Cochrane Law. Captain of the P.C.E. which stands for Peace, Comfort and Ease. His wife was Harriet (Ruwald), her brothers were also Master Mariners and came out from the United Kingdom with her. They once lived at Pitt Street Newcastle, a long lost road that once ran somewhere along the carpark behind the Newcastle Public Library in Laman Street. They appear in the 1871 Census of St John’s Parish as having 4 children. Together they eventually had 6 children, 3 girls and 3 boys. We would love to get in touch with any of their descendants.

The breakdown of events is as follows:

Friday 27 March 1874

– Arrival of the P.C.E. from New Caledonia, having on board six of the most prominent French State prisoners recently exiled to that colony.

– They were:

Henri Rochefort, journalist and member of the first Provisional Government.
Pascal Grousset, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Olivier Pain, Secretaire-General.
Francis Jourde, Minister of Finance.
Achille Bailliere, Aide de Camp to General Rossel.
Charles Bostiere Grandhille, Commandant de Bataillon.

– It was somewhat singular that these men should arrive while all the vessels in the harbour were arrayed with a display of flags in honour of his Excellency the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, who was expected hourly at the time.

– H. Rochefort and two of his compatriots left by the Kembla, at night, for Sydney.

Saturday 28th March 1874

– M. Henri Rochefort, M. Pascal Grousset and M. Francis Jourde arrived safely in Sydney, on Saturday morning.

– The other three, namely M. Olivier Pain, M. Achille Bailliere and M. Cavan Grant Achille [sic] still remain at Newcastle, where they will remain until remittances are received from Paris.

– M. Olivier Pain, M. Achille Bailliere and M. Cavan Grant Achille [sic] visited Maitland on Saturday.

Sunday 29th March 1874

– M. Olivier Pain, M. Achille Bailliere and M. Cavan Grant Achille [sic] at St Helena (with Mr Terrier).

Monday 30 March 1874

– M. Olivier Pain, M. Achille Bailliere and M. Cavan Grant Achille [sic] returned to Newcastle.

Tuesday 31 March 1874

– possibly returned to Sydney?

Anyone who has any further information relating to this visit, or is a descendant of any of the characters in this story are encouraged to contact us at the University.

Yours sincerely,

Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist