Catherine Morton and the scandalous affair at Beechworth

In a previous post, I recounted the story of the attempted rape of Catherine Morton. It’s an interesting story and I felt that I should document my sources

I found the story online at in the Tasmanian Daily News of 24 Feb 1858

A shorter version of the article originally appeared in The Age of 18 Feb 1858. Both articles were based on an article from the Ovens Constitution, a Beechworth newspaper, which was taken over by the Federal Standard in Chiltern in 1859.

Unfortunately the archives of the Ovens Constitution do not appear to be available.

The case went to trial pretty quickly, and both The Age and the Ballarat Star reported the outcome almost identically

mard sentencing The Age 20 Feb 1858

with Mard being sentenced to five years forced labour on the colony’s roads.

One detail that might seem strange to us is that Mard was able to cross examine Catherine Morton. This is because trial for rape and assault were heard as if they were civil cases and the perpetrator was able to cross examine the victim.

Many women found the whole procedure terrifying, and did not want to confront the perpetrator. However Catherine Morton, like Rebecca Dickinson half a world away and twenty years later, seems to have been made of sterner stuff.

As was common in such cases, Mard seems to have tried to blacken Catherine’s name by claiming that he had previously been intimate with her – clearly the jury, who probably had some knowledge of both individuals knew the story to be rubbish and dismissed it.

A note on other sources:

In my original post I mention using the Ovens directory to trace individuals and their businesses.

The Ovens directory for 1857 can be viewed online and downloaded from the State Library of New South Wales via

There is also an html transcription of the directory online at

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Mr Rochlitz continued ….

Back at the end of 2016 I blogged about Mr Rochlitz, who was involved in the laying out of the Botanic gardens in Beechworth in 1861.

At the time I assumed that he had become involved through his scientific background a daguerreotypist, which involved some knowledge of chemistry, and also because he was the first person that we know of to plant vines in the Beechworth area.

However it’s a little more complex than that. I was researching the attempted abduction and rape of Catherine Morton by Michael Meard in February 1858.

Catherine Morton lived with her father and at least one brother in a tent in the gold diggings. One night in February 1858 it was alleged that Michael Meard, who lived in a tent about 200 yards away, cut the wall of the Morton’s tent, attempted to anaethesise Catherine with chloroform and presumably intended to then carry her off and have his way with her.

His plan didn’t work. Catherine woke up and screamed, and her father and brother seized Meard and called for the police – in itself surprising, one tends to assume that the miners would have set about him with spades and picks, but no, the police were called.

The investigation was quite scientific, as well as the usual depositions on oath they took Catherine to Mr JH Mathews, a druggist who had a shop next to the Bank of New South Wales in Ford Street and got her to smell the contents of three bottles, and thence confirm that chloroform was involved. (The Bank of New South Wales building is still there as a Beechworth Honey shop, and it’s within twenty metres of the old courthouse on the police reserve so that makes perfect sense.)

It then emerged that Meard had previously bought some chloroform from Mr Witt, who had a chemist’s shop in Ford Street. Remember that this is 1858 and the sale of chemicals, medicines and poisons is still more or less unregulated in Victoria.

I’ve traced Mr Mathews through the 1857 directory, which incidentally also lists Mr Rochlitz as a Daguerreotype artist in Ford Street, but not Mr Witt, so I started searching advertising material from the local paper, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser on Trove.

Mr Mathews again popped up as a druggist, but no sign of Mr Witt, which is strange. I’m working from a copy of the story in the Tasmanian Daily News of 25 February 1858, so my guess is that Mr Witt’s name has got garbled – my next task is to find a different account of the pre trial hearing.

But, in the course of this I came across an advert for Mr Rochlitz’s daguerrotype business, and next it an advert for a nursery business, run by no other than J A Rochlitz, supplying fruit trees. Further searches showed him also running a wholesale vegetable business – suggesting that as well as the daguerreotype business he also had a thriving market garden and nursery business, and this, rather than his scientific training was what led to his invovement with the laying out of the Botanic Gardens.

Incidentally he wasn’t the only person working two jobs, Mr Ingram, the bookseller in Camp street also had a nursery business on the side.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that Mr Rochlitz ran his daguerreotyp business as a means to generate cash flow while he got his nursery and market gardening business up and running …

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Bottles, pills and potions

Currently on the project I’m documenting a whole pile of medicines form the 1950’s and 60’s – mostly but not exclusively medications in tubes and creams, something that simply doesn’t exist in the pre-war items.

Now it’s all a bit hand wavy, as the old boy seems never to have thrown anything out – we even have empty bottle of Johnnie Walker from the 1950’s – we can date it securely due to the label style and lack of a royal warrant sticker, but obviously he must have thrown out stuff that was useless.

However, on the basis of what I’ve documented so far I think we can make the following generalisations:

Pre world war 1:

  • Medications mostly made up from materia medica and mostly plant based.
  • Some patent medicines such as cough cures

Between the wars:

  • The gradual appearance of packaged medicines, mostly in pill form
  • The appearance of homeopathic medications for retail sale
  • The appearance of early vitamin like supplements such as liver pills and Pink pills for pale people

After world war 2:

  • Vitamins and multivitamins for retail sale
  • Most perscription medicines packaged, if only in big ‘trade’ size bottles
  • Ointments and creams usually in metal tubes
  • Medicines with antibiotic contents

And of course an increasing consolidation of the pharmaceutical industry. Old Mr Dow of course locked the door for the last time in 1968, so later developements, such as medicines in bubble packs, or the disappearance of film in the early part of this century don’t show up.

What is interesting is that our modern fixation with vitamin pills goes back a long way – certainly to the mid 1950’s …

[update 08 August 2018]

Having spent the last two or three days documenting a whole pile of suppository based medications, most of which date from the 1950’s, we perhaps tend to forget that suppositories predated pills and gelatine capsules as a way of ingesting medication ….

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Digitised newspapers and happenstance

A few days ago J showed me a photograph of beechworth from the early 1990’s that one of her Art Society friends had come across.

Nothing unusual, but the photograph was from the New York Times, which did seem a touch exotic –However a quick search of the Times archive revealed it was an article from the NYT travel section, which kind of explained the mystery.

Now I hadn’t expected there two be too much coverage of Beechworth in the NYT, so my search had been pretty simple – type in Beechworth, and there it was. But interestingly there was also an article from December 1853 which turned out to be a precis of an article from the Argus in August, reporting on a major Chartist inspired meeting of gold diggers protesting about conditions and licence charges, just as had happened at Castlemaine, and culminated in the Eurkea stockade in Ballarat.

By all accounts the meeting in Beechworth was peaceful and relatively civilised, drawing miners from the diggings all around, but the message was clear. The miners were unhappy and wanted better conditions and basically something in return for the money they were paying the government.

And the Chartists? – well the British government in the first half of the nineteenth century had a habit of exiling political agitators to Australia, out of harms way, and many once released, found employment in the goldfields.

So inspired by this, I tried a little experiment. Using the NLA’s digitised newspaper collection, I searched for Beechworth but restricted the search to articles between 01 January 1850 – 31 December 1859 – a period that covered the discovery of gold in 1853, but well before Ned Kelly or Harry Power were on the scene.

And it was a little goldmine. Not only the Chartist meeting, and expected incidents such as fights between Anglo and Chinese miners but little things that revealed a lot – such as a case of attempted rape in in 1858 where the perpetrator cut the wall of the woman’s tent and attempted to chloroform her.

Interesting as it shows

  • people were still living in tents as late as 1858, 5 years after the discovery of gold
  • there were women in the goldfields, in this case a miner’s daughter who cooked and cleaned for him
  • there were people who not only had access to chloroform, but also how to use it

and remember 1858 was also a year the congregationalist church was founded, and three years before the Botanic Gardens were laid out.

Another story from the early 1850’s was single column inch reporting that the mail from Sydney (which would have come by stagecoach) was delayed by heavy snow, and how it was expected that the interior was similarily affected – meaning that really no one had any real idea of what was happening out further west.

Often when I talk to visitors at the documentation project I’m working on I make the point that in the 1850’s and 1860’s Beechworth (and Chiltern) really were on the edge of the world with nothing much beyond but a few sheep farmers and the indigenous communities in the Murray Valley – and here was proof that what I was saying was not just a flamboyant turn of phrase.

My little search was really just a taster. What I found was interesting, and perhaps the sort of material that one could use to build a little microhistory of the early days …

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Robert Burns Clow again

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the fun I had unravelling the garbled story I had heard in Kuching about the death of Robin Burns Clow.

Firstly, I’ll own up to making one mistake, the Anti Piracy expedition commanded be Henry Keppel and James Brooke was in 1846, not 1848 – Labuan formally became a free port in 1848, but the Dido expedition took place two years earlier and as can be seen from the annexation stone, Labuan became a British possession in 1846


photo © Davis Hunter

However while I was out by two years, probably due to being unable to read my illegible notes, it doesn’t make a serious difference to the story.

Since writing the post, I’ve also come across a book The Burns Boys by Alistair Renwick, who similarly became intrigued by the story while living in Kuching.

Renwick had the advantage over me of being able to access the archives of the Straits Times newspapers and various other archival sources in both Singapore and Sarawak, and hence research the whole story more deeply.

Broadly, his story is the same as as that which I had been able to piece together by searching nineteenth century newspapers in Trove and Welsh Newspapers Online.

However, the real mystery in the story come when he tried to check out Robert Burns ancestry.

Strangely enough Burns doesn’t appear in any of the census records in Glasgow, where he claimed to be living  before he left for Singapore, suggesting that he was possibly of the wave of migration from the north of Ireland to Scotland in the 1830’s and 40’s.

(Ireland didn’t have a comprehensive Births, Marriages and Deaths registry until 1864, meaning that the only way to research people’s births, marriages, and deaths before then is to plough through the individual parish registers.

As a complicating factor most of the Irish census records before 1926 were either pulped during the first world war or were lost in a fire in the Public Record Office in 1922.

As in all things, gradually more records are coming online, see both Irish Genealogy and the UK National archives advice note on searching Scottish and Irish records for the current state of play.)

Renwick also investigated his brother, who was a dodgy physician with a penchant for amputation in the Oregon territory. Certainly his brother’s qualifications do not appear to check out suggesting that, rather than a qualified physician, he was at best a surgeon’s assistant, with a bit of general medical knowledge.

Importantly a number of the people Burn’s brother dealt with described him as Irish or Scotch-Irish, which is interesting, given that there were many Scots migrants in the area, and they could probably be relied on to know the difference.

So, the Robert Burns who died on the Dolphin was almost certainly not the grandson of Robert Burns.

Newspaper reports of his death describe him as the grandson of the poet, but it’s possible that Robert, like his brother, also reinvented himself and claimed a relationship with the national bard to get on in colonial mercantile society in Singapore, which was dominated at the time by Scots and Scottish owned enterprises…




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Warts and panic …

This is a more personal blog post than usual. Being an introvert by inclination I’m not one for sharing details of my life online.

My interests and enthusiasms? yes! Personal stuff? Definitely not.

However I’ve thought about this, and I thought I would share the story in case it helps someone in the same situation.

I’m 62 years old, pretty healthy and while I probably drink more red wine than I should, I’m in good shape, eat well and enjoy life. Sure, I should walk more, and ride my bike more, but I’m definitely better than average, even if I’m trading a bit on past athleticism.

When I was in Malaysia, I was swimming in the sea, and as I made my way out of the water I noticed that a little brown mole that I’ve had on my chest for years had turned black and was larger and lumpier.

I didn’t think that was particularly good, so when I got back to Australia I arranged to go and see my GP. I was pretty sanguine about the whole thing, as about 25 years ago I’d had a warty mole (the official description) burned off my shoulder with a laser, after they’d taken a bit for biopsy.

I was expecting that my doctor would look at it, say “that’s not good”, and give me a referral to a skin clinic to have it removed.

Well I was right about him saying “that’s not good”. Unfortunately he also said he didn’t like the look of it one bit, especially as it was looking a bit speckly. In fact he was so worried about it I found myself ten minutes later in the little operating theatre they have for day surgery in our local health centre, and my GP preparing to cut out the mole.

The whole episode had a sense of unreality about it, one minute he was talking about the rugby (he comes from the same part of the world as I do and has the delusion that I must still be interested in university rugby, not that I ever was), and the next he was talking about possible melanoma, chemotherapy and skin grafts.

At this point, while you continue to chat away affably under a local anaesthetic as he and the nurse hack a lump out of one of your pectorals, another part of your brain is going S-H-I-T-! and all these scary cancer awareness ads on tv flash before your eyes. Suddenly you realise this is for real and despite never having had any serious illness this could be different.

Fortunately, after an anxious few days, the result of the biopsy came back negative, it was a benign type of mole that can be easily mistaken for a melanoma on visual examination. Under the microscope it looks quite different and is not dangerous.

Still, I was probably better off without it.

So why am I blogging about this? Well, a few days later I was watching a show on tv where they critique advertising, and this time they were discussing cancer awareness ads and how they either pussy foot around the issue, or else go for the full out scare – the “you will inevitably die” scenario.

Well this was scary. I was seriously worried. Fortunately nothing bad came of it and I now have 3cm scar above my right nipple. But if I’d ignored it, and it had been malignant the consequences could have been much worse.

A lot of men go into denial about medical things, and do the “I’m big and strong and look after my family” thing, and ignore things like this wart until it’s too late. I know, I’m as bad as anyone else, and if it hadn’t been for my prior experience of having a mole burned off I’d have probably procrastinated about seeking help.

So my little homily to my fellow men is “Go and bloody see your doctor”. Chances are you’ll be right, and it’s better to go early than wait until it’s too late …

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Princess Alexandra in Alexandra no less

The little town of Alexandra in Victoria was not always called Alexandra. Originally it was called Red Gate, but some time after gold was found in the 1860’s it was renamed after Alexandra of Denmark, the wife of Bertie (later Edward VII), the prince of Wales.

And for a long time that was it, until in the 1960’s the State Library of Victoria was refurbished and they decided to get rid of a statue of Princess Alexandra in a style vaguely reminiscent of a Roman empress.

Where else to give it to but Alexandra?

IMG_0094 IMG_0095 IMG_0092

and there she is, in a park opposite the council offices, in a little shelter like a votive shrine looking suitably imperious …


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