Chapter 5: On the Up and Up

Melbourne from the Falls 1838, by R.Russell (Courtesy SLV)

Melbourne from the Falls 1838, by R.Russell (Courtesy SLV)

It was probably about this time that Dr Cotter and Inez became engaged. If Inez was working as governess to the Wrighte children, she would have been living in a temporary dwelling which Arundel Wrighte (1804-1882) had constructed on the government paddock, the site of present day Federation Square.

Arundel Wrighte 1866 (Courtesy NLA) Box Hill Historical Society

Arundel Wrighte 1866 (Courtesy NLA) Box Hill Historical Society

Arundel Wrighte was a man of some means and had privately chartered the schooner Lowestoft to bring his wife, Fanny (nee Upton) and three daughters from Launceston to Port Phillip in January 1837.  He was an early colonist of VDL, first Postmaster of Launceston and (later) founder of Box Hill, Victoria and was engaged in various business and pastoral pursuits.  He caused outrage in Launceston when it was revealed in JP Fawkner’s paper, the Cornwall Chronicle, Research 5-1 that the taxpayers of VDL were paying his salary of £200 per year while he was on leave from the Post Office exploring the personal commercial possibilities of Port Phillip.

The Pioneer Memorial at Box Hill.

The Pioneer Memorial at Box Hill.

Wrighte was a doggedly determined man and the structure on the government paddock, a weatherboard cottage, was the source of an ongoing argument between himself and the government.  For nearly three years he waged a successful war of manoeuvre against officialdom, appealing over local authorities to Governor Richard Bourke in Sydney, Wrighte managed to thwart efforts to evict him for much longer than should have been the case.  In 1838, Wrighte finally moved and established his pastoral run, ‘Marionvale’ to the north and in consequence was the founder of the present day suburb of Box Hill. The stones from his original homestead now form the Memorial in Pioneer Park, Box Hill.

Image 5-3 Marriage certificateInez and Barry were married on January 15th, 1838, just six months before the eighteen-year-old Princess Victoria was crowned Queen of England.  Their marriage certificate says that the wedding took place in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland in Melbourne and the service was conducted by Rev James Clow.  There were three witnesses recorded as present.  They are Ann Gresely, married woman, John Cotter, clerk, John J Peers, builder, all of Melbourne.  It seems Inez may have met Ann Gresley in Launceston. The Launceston Advertiser of Thursday 22nd January 1835 announces that William James Gresley married Ann Maria Hill, eldest daughter of Mr James Hill of St Mary’s Isle, Tamar River.  John J Peers was a well-known builder in the settlement, having built several of the early churches. The John Cotter referred to is Barry’s younger brother who lived most of his life in Ballarat. He married Martha Daniels (1817-1868), had six children and remained in that area until his death in 1885.  Another person with the surname Cotter who is often confused with Dr Barry Cotter is Dr Thomas Young Cotter.  He worked in South Australia at the same time and newspaper articles often refer to simply Dr Cotter, hence the confusion.  You can read about Dr TY Cotter here

Melbourne in 1838 from the Yarra Yarra by Clarence Woodhouse Acc No: H 24502 (Courtesy SLV)

Melbourne in 1838 from the Yarra Yarra by Clarence Woodhouse Acc No: H 24502 (Courtesy SLV)

1838 seems to have been a very quiet year for Dr Barry Cotter.  Following his marriage, perhaps he settled into domestic life. By May Inez was pregnant and Dr Cotter was probably employed in a variety of fields both medical and entrepreneurial, as his positions as Colonial Surgeon and Gellibrand’s agent had both finished in the previous October. John Batman’s syphilitic condition continued to rage and he replaced Dr Cotter with Dr Cussen, without paying his bills.  Dr Cotter filed a claim for outstanding medical expenses against Batman on 1st October, 1838.

Garryowen (the penname of Edmund Finn, journalist) published his Chronicles of Early Melbourne in 1888 from notes he had kept of amusing stories and incidents since his arrival in Melbourne from Ireland in 1841.  The one thousand page anecdotal history of Melbourne life has several references to Dr Cotter, including this unfavourable description of the premises which he kept in 1838 and 1839 and which Garryowen never saw because he did not arrive in Melbourne until 1841.  The shop was housed on the Queen’s Street side of the building which was Mrs Umphelby’s hotel.  If you click here and use the magnifying glass you will easily locate it in the diagram.

 BARRY COTTER, Melbourne’s first public practitioner, who, like Thomson, passed over Bass’s Straits, quickly dropped into business. He occupied a small cobweb-like, brick-nogged, and wattle-and-daub surgery, at the north-east corner of Queen and Collins Streets, though in reality it was nothing more than a huckster’s stall where pills and lotions, powders and embrocations, were mixed up with a miscellaneous stock of all sorts. In the Port Phillip Gazette of January, 1839, Barry Cotter, Surgeon and Druggist, promulgates an elaborate manifesto, its gist being that he is in active business, and offers for sale a variety of delicacies, from sago to turpentine, from arrowroot to spirits of tar, with candied lemon and bluestone, lemon syrup, corrosive sublimate, and manifold etceteras set forth at much length and minuteness. But though Barry Cotter had the place virtually to himself for a start, he did not do much out of the amalgamated businesses, and after a time, in a manner mixing up cause with effect, he took to tavern-keeping by proxy.

The Census of March 1838 records Mr B Cotter as head of the household in Bourke Street, with three males and two females, presumably Inez and servants. On June 12th the Temperance Society Meeting was held in the Congregational Church “Mr Gardiner in the Chair….. Mr Langhorne, Mr McArthur and Dr Cotter assisted.” Research 5-3.  Did Dr Cotter ‘assist’ in terms of a medical view on the woes of alcohol or was he there for his own benefit? Or perhaps it was a little of both? I am reminded here that the Norval which brought Cotter to Port Phillip just three years before, sailed under a Temperance flag.  The Temperance movement was a rather new phenomenon, coming to Australia from the USA in the mid eighteen thirties and promoting restraint rather than abstinence.  Dr Cotter, as we know from JP Fawkner’s journal, was fond of a glass and sometimes to excess, so his association with the Temperance Society is interesting.

The uniform of the 28th Regiment of Foot in 1835 (from

The uniform of the 28th Regiment of Foot in 1835 (from

A quiet year it may have been, but 1838 was to end with an event which would contribute to the breakdown of the marriage of Barry and Inez over the next few years.  Unknown to them, on October 29 Lieutenant Francis Durell Vignoles of the 28th Regiment arrived in Sydney on the Marion Watson and  proceeded to Port Phillip where he lived nearby in the officers’ quarters in Bourke Street.  Among the duties of the 28th was supervision of the convict gangs, assisting the police in keeping the peace in the town and controlling Aboriginal resistance.  From later descriptions Lieutenant Vignoles was a dashing, young and fit soldier, with a great sense of fun and adventure and ten years younger than Dr Cotter but whether he fell in love with Inez immediately or later is unclear.


1839 – A very public year

Melbourne was growing at a steady rate and Dr Cotter’s Chemist shop at the corner of Queen and Collins Streets was well known, situated next door to Mrs Umphelby’s Hotel and clearly marked on this famous 1839 representation of the town.

Melbourne from the South Side of the Yarra 1839, by J. Adamson, J. Carmichael, engraver (Courtesy SLV)

Melbourne from the South Side of the Yarra 1839, by J. Adamson, J. Carmichael, engraver (Courtesy SLV) Click here to use a magnifying glass to find Dr Cotter’s Chemist shop.

The year 1839 was a very public one for Dr Cotter, with his name appearing often in the press.  The year began with the birth of Frances Laura Snodgrass Cotter on the 16th January, a year and a day after their marriage. As discussed earlier, Peter Snodgrass, son of Lt Colonel Kenneth Snodgrass was in the same social circle in Melbourne, and could well have been godfather to the newborn, or Inez may have included Snodgrass as her own family name, a common practice at the time, as in her own name Inez Seville Fitzgerald.  However, Snodgrass is not the only puzzling part of this baby’s name- all three names seem out of place.  The usual nineteenth century tradition was to name the first daughter for her maternal grandmother (in this case Isabelle) but if Inez did not know her mother, or did not care to be reminded of her illegitimacy, then she could have used Elisabeth (Barry’s mother) or Janet (Mrs Snodgrass).  It seems the only Frances that had been important to Inez so far is Fanny Upton (wife of Arundel Wrighte) and little is known of their relationship. Laura seems to have come from nowhere at all.  However, the

Fanny's Batism record. It is interesting to note that Captain Lonsdale's child is registered immediately above

Fanny’s Batism record. It is interesting to note that Captain Lonsdale’s child is registered immediately above

Baptism record states that little Frances Laura Snodgrass Cotter was baptised in the Parish of St James, Church of England, Melbourne on 11th February 1839 by Rev J.C.Grylls in the presence of both her parents, but the names of godparents were not recorded.

Less than two weeks after Frances was born, Melbourne experienced an extreme storm that must have been very alarming for the new parents.  Rev William Waterfield recorded the event in his diary

            29 January 1839: Immediately after dinner today we were visited by the most terrific hurricane I ever witnessed.  It came on gradually till the whole atmosphere was completely darkened with dense clouds of dust. We could not see each other in the rooms, though but a few yards distant from each other.  In the midst of this a fire took place and a house was burnt down, besides several brick buildings fell.  Some thought an earthquake was to follow, and others that the end of the world was come.  Very many persons were so terrified as to cry out for fear and some left their homes, not daring to keep within.  Many trees were torn up by the roots and branches dashed to the ground.  Altogether it was frightful.

Batman's Statue in Collins Street

Batman’s Statue in Collins Street

In May of 1839 John Batman died after being bedridden for months and with his face completely disfigured from the effects of syphilis. His wife Eliza had left for London in February and his children were being cared for by his employee, Mrs Cooke. Dr Cotter had not treated Batman for over a year, but had bought land from him just six months before Batman’s death, the original indenture of which is held by the State Library of Victoria (MS MC7 DR3 EX BOX 113/3).  Dr Cotter was probably one of the many who attended his funeral.

The funeral took place on the morning of Wednesday, the 8th May.  The day was cold and blustery, yet a crowd of sixty or seventy followed the coffin up Williams Street to the Old Cemetery.  In those days Melbourne could boast no impressive hearse drawn by black horses waving funereal plumes on their heads.  The procession must have been simple and moving, a pioneer farewell to the first pioneer…The ceremony was performed by Rev JC Grylls and attended by Captain Lonsdale, George Robinson, JH Wedge and Henry Batman and his family and many others. (CP Billot p274) Research 5-4


One of the best known institutions of Melbourne, the Melbourne Club, had its beginning in 1839 and Dr Cotter was there, attending the first and hosting the second meeting of the Club. The Sydney Morning Herald on March 20th, 1839, reports that

The Melbourne Club and Patriot Office by W.F.E. Liardet (Courtesy SLV) . This is the original premises. It was replaced by the building at 36 Collins Street in 1858.

The Melbourne Club and Patriot Office by W.F.E. Liardet (Courtesy SLV) . This is the original premises. It was replaced by the building at 36 Collins Street in 1858.

an adjourned monthly meeting of the Melbourne Club was held in the house of Barry Cotter Esq on Wednesday 21st ultimo, for the purpose of putting to the usual form of ballot the names which stood upon the candidates list.”

The Club was formed for the purpose of providing accommodation and hospitality for those members who lived out of town and was to be styled on the gentlemen’s clubs of London.

In those days, however, the reputation of the Melbourne Club was far less auspicious than it is today. Its members were frequently reported in the press (especially by JP Fawkner in his newspaper The Port Phillip Patriot) to be young gentlemen larrikins who drank brandy in preference to rum, fought each other and engaged in practical jokes and rowdy behaviour. Robyn Annear in Bearbrass, Imagining Early Melbourne  Research 5-5 describes some of their antics

They sawed through verandah posts, broke windows, pulled down shop signs, removed door knockers, staged drag races on horseback, and, when things got really dull, they fought duels.  Nor were they above poking firecrackers through keyholes or rolling barrels down Collins Street, just like their working class counterparts.”

For a pistol duel, the parties would be placed back to back with loaded weapons in hand and walk a set number of paces, turn to face the opponent, and shoot. Typically, the graver the insult, the fewer the paces agreed upon.

For a pistol duel, the parties would be placed back to back with loaded weapons in hand and walk a set number of paces, turn to face the opponent, and shoot. Typically, the graver the insult, the fewer the paces agreed upon.

It was at this time and in this context that the first duel was fought in Melbourne and it was between Dr Cotter and George Arden. They were both members of the Melbourne Club and Cotter was the challenger which presumes that Arden gave offence, but unfortunately we have no information on the offence. George Arden was the publisher of the other main newspaper of the time The Port Phillip Gazette, and he seemed to often upset or annoy people.  Paul de Serville in Port Phillip Gentlemen Research 5-6 describes him as “an unstable and quarrelsome man who published attacks on a number of leading colonists, most of them Club members’.  Manning Clarke in his History of Australia Research 5-7 describes him as a young man of eighteen years who was the “very stuff of old England”. George Arden came to a sticky end, dying at just 34 years of age on the Ballarat goldfields.  You can read more about him here. The duel was held on the racecourse at the bottom of Batman’s Hill on May 30th 1839.  William Meek, solicitor and Club secretary was the second to Dr Cotter. There was little damage done, a hole in Meek’s beaver hat, being the worst.  Robyn Annear’s comments (p58) show that it seems no-one took any of it very seriously. Her description of Dr Cotter is not flattering, but is probably true.

Another popular diversion among the ‘higher orders’, which fell somewhere between the categories of sport and theatre, was the staging of a duel – known as ‘the usual alternative’ to an apology in the case of a dispute between ostensible gentlemen.  One of the earliest Bearbrass duellists was Dr Barry Cotter, the settlement’s first medico and a legendary drinker and gamester.

 However, if this incident is viewed in context with other incidents within the same weeks and months, it is clear that there was something going on involving Dr Cotter in a public way with other members of the tight knit community. Garryowen reports that on the 15th May (two weeks before the duel with Arden) Dr Cotter was involved in a court case with John Wood. In reading his account, despite the frustratingly sketchy details, it is clear that trouble was brewing and perhaps there was a love triangle at work (and everyone knew about it).

Nose pulling was an affront to a gentleman's dignity. You can read more about it here

Nose pulling was an affront to a gentleman’s dignity. You can read more about it here

The 15th May, 1839, was a somewhat remarkable day on account of two trials which created quite a storm of sensation in the public mind.  There were two well-known residents, sporting men and favourites of the people, viz., Dr Barry Cotter and Mr John Wood.  There was also (a not unusual occurrence) a lady in the case, from whom the medico considered himself justified in warning all trespasses, which so annoyed Wood, that one day meeting Cotter in the street, he not only gave him a sample of his tongue, but wrung the professional nose, and even resorted to rougher treatment.  Doctors don’t like to be ‘nosed’ in this way though some of them often deserve it, and “Barry” prescribed for his assailant by pulling of another kind, viz., bringing him before the Police Court, where he was sent for trial to the Sessions.  Here he was convicted, fined £100, and imprisoned for a month.  Mr. Wood was also prosecuted the same day for libeling Lieutenant de Vignoles, by writing a defamatory epistle to him.  The proof of the handwriting broke down, so in this case the defendant scored a victory, as a partial set-off to the other.

The Port Phillip Gazette published this piece a month later, on June 12th, 1839, which shows Dr Cotter in a favourable light, being one of those who petitioned that the sentence imposed on his assailant was too harsh.

We have this week to congratulate Mr Wood on his emancipation; we consider and do echo the general opinion, that his imprisonment for the space of one month was unwarrantedly severe.  Mr Wood…committed an assault on Dr Cotter…

We with others, amongst whom, to do him justice, was the complainant himself, sought to have the sentence alleviated by presenting a memorial to the bench: the justice and moderation of its sentiments were approved by each member of the court.

Now therefore that punishment has redeemed the fault we have fair grounds to censure the persons with whom it could originate.

Research has failed to add any more details concerning the court case and the duel, so again we can only join the dots as best we can. One extra sliver of information comes from a well respected resident of Melbourne at the time, Georgiana McCrea, who notes in her journal that Lieutenant Vignoles attended a luncheon party at her home.  Georgiana’s grandson, who edited the journal for publication some years later, footnotes this entry with

This Vignoles was a mischievous scapegrace who lived in officers’ quarters at the west end of Bourke Street.  Just at present he would be feeling disgruntled, on account of having lost a libel action against Johnnie Wood. Research 5-10

Apart from caring for her newborn daughter, Inez was again pregnant for most of 1839, and this snippet from Paul de Serville’s book shows that Dr Cotter was enjoying life in the early settlement.

On August 28th, 1839, the first hunt was held.  Some of the settlers had brought their pink coats with them, and one of them, the duellist, Barry Cotter, was thrown.

Col. Thomton Breaking Cover

Col. Thomton Breaking Cover by R. Reinangle

The distinctive red hunting jacket was often called a ’pink’ not because of the colour but after the  late 18th century London tailor who specialized in sewing the popular field coat. The coats made by Thomas Pink were of rain resistant scarlet cloth, tightly woven and durable enough to be immune to thorns and branches` on the chase. A Pink hunting coat was a mark of distinction in the 19th century, implying the wearer was a person of affluence and taste.

Collins Street 1839, by F.A.Sleat, engraver Acc: IAN25/06/87/SUPP/5 (Courtesy SLV

Collins Street 1839, by F.A.Sleat, engraver Acc: IAN25/06/87/SUPP/5 (Courtesy SLV

Melbourne grew at great pace throughout 1839, with many of the temporary dwellings replaced by timber and brick homes and a program of clearing the tree stumps which littered the neat, albeit boggy grid of the town.  Any history of Melbourne includes references to the deplorable state of the streets in these years.  The newspapers continually reported bullock teams bogged in Collins Street and at the intersection of Collins and Queen Streets was a hole that the Port Phillip Patriot reported “was deep enough to bury the whole town council”. But Elizabeth Street was the worst.  It had a gully running its length down the hill, which in a downpour of rain would turn Elizabeth Street into a raging torrent, often claiming lives and ending in the hole known locally as Lake Cashmore, which was outside the draper’s shop owned by Michael Cashmore on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Street.  Dr Cotter too complained about the streets as we see in this letter of reply on October 21 from the newly appointed Superintendent of Port Phillip, Charles La Trobe

 To Dr Barry Cotter and others

I have the honour to receive your letter urging upon my attention the unfinished state of the drain in Collins Street and the injury which results from the stagnation of water to the adjoining properties. I am fully aware of the existence of the evil, and beg leave to assure you, that as soon as I can command the necessary means to obviate it, I shall esteem it my duty to do so.  (HRV3 p 465)

Charles La Trobe

Charles La Trobe

When Lonsdale’s term had expired Charles La Trobe was appointed from London, with a salary of £800 per year plus expenses and the powers of a Lieutenant Governor – far more power and salary than Lonsdale ever had. The Colonial Office in London was most concerned that La Trobe address the ever present problem of the Aboriginal population, living on the outskirts and roaming aimlessly around the streets of Melbourne.

The Landing Place and Market Square 1839, by W.F.E. Liardet (Courtesy SLV)

The Landing Place and Market Square 1839, by W.F.E. Liardet (Courtesy SLV)

About this time the decision was made to discontinue the assignment of convicts south of the River Murray. This led to a greater reliance on migrants from the United Kingdom who were given free passage in return for working for wages on their arrival.  In 1839 an influx of 1036 labourers arrived from the United Kingdom, 1064 from Van Diemen’s Land, 35 from South Australia and 517 from Sydney and yet demand still exceeded supply. (Clarke Vol 3 p116-118).  Dr Cotter employed three servants who arrived on the William Metcalf on Nov 15th 1839.  They were Patrick Lagrick or Lonergan, aged 24, a house servant, Caroline Kennedy (aged 20) a nursery maid and Mary Atkins (aged 25) a general servant.  He also employed John Armstrong, a farm servant (over 14 years) who arrived on the David Clarke +with eight other Armstrongs.  They appear to be a family, two parents and seven children.

Robyn Annear does not give a date or reference for the following entry and research has failed to add to the details.

In the case of Jane Stanbury, general house servant to Dr Barry Cotter, a back-down circumvented the cruel sequence of imprisonment and recall.  She had absconded from Cotter’s service, taking her possessions from his house ‘in a clandestine manner’ and was sentenced to two weeks in gaol; but upon promising to ‘do her duty’, the sentence was dropped and she returned to the doctor’s house to serve out her term. (Annear p 11)

The eventful year of 1839 literally ended with a bang when the Sporting Emporium blew up on the 17th December.  Garryowen’s account is lively reading and shows  the involvement of both Dr Cotter and Lt Vignoles.

The Sporting Emporium was kept by a Mr John Blanch, the only gun and ammunition dealer in the town. Next door resided John Macecknie, a recently arrived Scotch emigrant, the first regular tobacconist. On the 17th December, 1839, The Sporting Emporium blew up with a terrible loss of life, and though I have searched in every possible way for any printed narrative of the shocking occurrence, I have been unsuccessful. I have conversed, however, with half-a-dozen individuals, some of whom actually witnessed the explosion, and all were on the ground immediately after the occurrence, and from these I have obtained such irreconcilable versions of the calamity as induce me to…..present a substantially correct version of the disaster:

 Two brothers named Griffin arrived as immigrants, per the “Westminster,” from England, and put up at one of the town hotels. It was their intention to start for the bush, but they thought it desirable to supply themselves with firearms and ammunition. The waiter at the hotel accompanied them to Blanch’s. Accordingly, the three started on their mission, two of them little dreaming that it would be their last walk upon earth.

Black powder was the first chemical explosive

Black powder was the first chemical explosive

Blanch was in the shop, whilst his wife was in an adjoining room, and sitting near a cupboard in which was stored a quantity of powder. In one corner of the shop also there was a bag of powder and some open powder on the counter.

 The tobacconist had just stepped in to have a friendly cigar and chat with his neighbour, and during the process of puffing and talking, the Griffins and the waiter, who was simply known as “Charles,” entered.

19th Century arms and ammunition

19th Century arms and ammunition

The intending bushmen were inspecting a particular piece which Blanch was strongly recommending, and one of the Griffin’s placed a cap on the nipple and pulled the trigger, when an explosion followed very different from what was expected, for the whole establishment was sent with a tremendous detonation into the air. The cap in exploding, it was thought, had ignited some of the loose powder on the counter, and it is supposed that in the immediate consequences, the bag of powder in the shop was included, and hence one of the most shocking events that ever happened in Melbourne.

19th Century gunpowder container

19th Century gunpowder container

When the smoke cleared away, Blanch and his wife were found shockingly mutilated amongst the ruins, the two strangers were propelled into the Market Square, and the tobacconist and the waiter lay close by the dismantled house. A crowd quickly gathered, and amongst the first to render assistance were Mr. T. F. Hamilton (now residing in Scotland), Lieutenant D. Vignolles, and Ensign M’Cormick, connected with a military detachment then in Melbourne. Captain Benjamin Baxter (still in the Colony) was riding into town, and on reaching the crown of a not very passable hill, near the late site of the statue of Burke and Wills, in Collins Street, he heard the explosion, and quickening his pace was also in time to lend a helping hand. Dr. Cussen, the Colonial Surgeon, and Mr.D. J. Thomas,a well-known medical practitioner, were promptly in attendance; but very little could be done. Blanch and his wife were shattered and partially dismembered, and were removed by wrapping them in a quantity of wadding and tar. Unfortunately, there was no public Hospital then in town, and all the poor creatures had to be taken to places in the neighbourhood. Blanch was carried to a druggist’s shop kept by Dr Barry Cotter, at the North-east corner.

A fortnight after the explosion there was a petition circulated which urged that a Ticket of Leave be granted to a convict, Henry Robinson who had risked his life to help Mr Blanch and others in the aftermath of the explosion.  Both Dr Cotter and Lt Vignolle signed the petition along with many others and the petition was granted. (PPPG CD, p357, Vol 3 HRV) Research 5-9

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