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Henry Hadden Joins the Rush to Melbourne

Whatever his mood and motivation, on Monday, January 24th, 1853, William Henry Hadden set sail from Liverpool, bound for Australia on board the "Prince Arthur", a vessel of 1200 tons, under the command of Captain Charles C Sutherland and crew. He was travelling – and not at the pointy end of the craft – in the company of some 540 other passengers, and his travel diary (which bespeaks quite an educated, literate man) records a very basic diet, fuelling long periods of discomfort and boredom, as well as incidents of friction both among passengers, and between passengers and crew, which he characterized when writing home as “103 days of fighting, drunkenness and mismanagement”. 01

The very first day out of port, he began his travel diary as follows:

Jan 25: During the last 24 hours we had no less than three young passengers not bargained for on board the Prince Arthur. I mean three infants born, however only one of them stayed with us the other two died almost at once. They called the survivor Arthur of course in commemoration of the event.

Saturday 29th. Going on very fairly, and myself becoming more accustomed to the sea and getting a famous appetite.

The Captain this evening dismissed our Surgeon who has been continually drunk since we left Liverpool, and of course not at all attending to the passengers. A young gentleman in the Saloon was appointed in his place.

  There are three notable aspects to this event that shouldn't really be ignored. Firstly, sooner or later in the course of this narrative, this is going to have to be said: there's no hiding from the fact that just like the ship's hapless surgeon, Henry Hadden's life and untimely death bear yet further testament to the fact that it's not always possible to escape the consequences of immoderate use of or dependence on alcohol. Today's medical fraternity is fairly unanimous in declaring outright that the abuse of alcohol is the single most far-reaching, common and socially destructive form of drug abuse.

Remember also, though, that we're talking about a period in history where it had been the case for hundreds of years that drinking the water was far more likely to kill you than was the wine, or even a little "medicinal" brandy -- in "Great Expectations" [1861], for example, Dickens has the young Pip refreshed with a "little mug of beer", and as a child, he routinely drinks a mixture of "milk and rum". Throughout Europe, wine was consumed, at all ages to a greater or lesser degree of dilution, virtually every day. In the first half of the nineteenth century, this (until-then) relatively benign and innocuous equilibrium was disturbed by the increasing availability of far stronger distilled alcohol products, chiefly including whiskeys. As a result of public drunkenness of epidemic proportions, alcoholism became recognised for the first time as an addictive illness. In response, temperance movements emerged around the world to try to contain or reverse its damaging social effects.
Secondly, however, is the strange fact that the "frontier" medical fraternity of the nineteenth century seemed to be especially vulnerable to this affliction, and not only on the Australian goldfields. Admittedly, nurses may not always be the most reliable nor necessarily impartial witnesses to the professional performance of doctors, but anecdotal evidence is borne out by comments such as those of Flora Johns, who wrote of the practice of medicine (even) in late nineteenth-century Gippsland as follows: "Alcohol was freely used in medicine. It was considered the usual thing to give all patients suffering from pneumonia or typhoid half a pint of brandy each day. Surgeons used alcohol freely, it was reported. One friend said of his surgeon, 'He is never drunk when he has a dangerously sick patient, though.'"02

The same phenomenon was apparently observable in both New Zealand and the United States, both of which were alternative destinations for people seeking an opportunity for a new start at that time, as so many were. According to an article published in the "New Zealand Doctor", "... the 1850s and 1860s saw the highest incidence of alcohol-related illness and death in the New Zealand medical profession. Many were undoubtedly drawn to the colonies through the 'last chance saloon' mentality associated with the gold rushes. For some, the voyage out may have been a last-ditch attempt to break the shackles of intemperance", though there is less than nothing in either the tone or the content of Henry Hadden's letter home to suggest that he was in any way exiled to the colonies as some kind of black-sheep remittance man, at a time when many were. In many cases, however, they were remittance men not in the usual sense, of a ne'er-do-well, paid to stay away in order not to disgrace the family reputation -- Geoffrey Serle suggests that the flow of money in the opposite direction was just as significant, and no doubt even more welcome: "... in 1853 one Irish newspaper stated that 70 registered money letters of £50 and more had been received in one area."03

In the New Zealand context at least, the same article cited above suggests that the problem may have been compounded in many cases by doctors who "turned to drink because of the expectations placed upon them" by families they left behind, which in many cases included fathers who were doctors: "Peter Hilson died in Christchurch Hospital in 1863 of delirium tremens, aged 29; his father, a respected surgeon in Jedburgh, Scotland, had died when Peter was just 13 years old. Walter Jones was the son of a Welsh hospital surgeon who died 'in the prime of life'. Walter, who was four at the time of his father's death, died in Auckland's Mount Eden Gaol in December 1873 of 'habitual drunkenness'. Charles Galbraith, another scion of a medical father, barely set foot in New Zealand before delirium tremens took a terrible toll. Shortly after arriving in June 1863 as medical officer aboard the Sebastopol, Galbraith 'died from prussic acid, administered by his own hand, but at a time when he was not master of his own actions'." 04


... and thirdly, why does Henry Hadden so coyly hide his light under a bushel? Admittedly, he's only 26 years of age, but modesty need hardly have prevented him from asserting any claim of professional competence whatsoever in assisting Dr Henry Fox, the "young gentleman in the Saloon" newly appointed as the ship's stand-in surgeon.


Death of newborn infants at or soon after their birth was so commonplace, and especially on board ships, that it was routinely differentiated from the deaths of ("real") children. Thus, the young Henry Hadden was not forgetfully overlooking the two who had died on the first day of the voyage, when barely nine days later he went on to write:

Feb. 3. In the course of the day a child of about 2 years old died and in a short time after was committed to the deep. The service for the dead was read by a passenger. Thus death has made its first inroad on our company.

Dr Fox, The Surgeon of the ship, is a very nice fellow indeed and a real Christian. I have become very intimate with him lately and have derived both pleasure and profit from his conversation. He is a Quaker, but in his intercourse with the world has had most of his prejudices either rubbed off or greatly modified. So much so that he is our Parson and reads the church service every Sunday, and who do you think assists him? Why your humble servant! Is it not a fine boast for our ship that none but a Quaker and a Methodist can be found to read the lessons and service of the Church of England?

I generally am pretty well employed during the morning in assisting the Doctor. I go with him to see nearly all his patients and that makes the time pass more pleasantly than if I was entirely idle. And I am sure I cannot complain of not being paid when he is getting nothing but his passage for his services.

The other fellow who was dismissed will have to be paid according to the agreement made in Liverpool. That is a great hardship for Dr Fox, but I believe he will have his passage money returned to him in Melbourne.

His mention of not being paid for his assistance at least implies an assumption that he would otherwise be entitled to charge for his services, and he was undoubtedly effective in the eventual (relative) success of the voyage for that time. Other babies were born en route, and some died within days; passengers (but not very many) and at least one crew member also died on the voyage -- at a time when, by the mid-nineteenth century, you were more likely to survive the voyage if you were being transported as a convict than as a migrant, even if you were paying for your own passage. Conditions for passengers, and their relief on arrival, are only hinted at obliquely by the following extraordinary (although apparently by no means unique) testimonial from the passengers and crew to the ship's substitute medical officer, also leaving the vessel in Melbourne, which appeared in the Melbourne “Argus” shortly after their arrival: 05


At Sea, April 30th, 1853.

To Henry T. Fox, Esq., M.R.C.S.L., L.A.S.
Surgeon to the Prince Arthur.


We, the undersigned, the Captain, the Officers, the Crew, and Passengers, anticipating the close of our long and crowded sojourn together, during fourteen weeks between Liverpool and Australia, cannot separate without expressing to yourself personally our highest admiration of your Christian deportment; and your urbanity and sympathy in the endless round of your onerous and important duties as surgeon to the ship. Whether we consider the crowded state of the ship, bearing 600 souls, whether we look at the astonishingly small mortality amongst us, to this hour numbering only ten, including two babes born on board, or whether we reflect that thus far there has not been one instance of ship fever or any infectious disease among us, we cannot but most gratefully acknowledge, and set forth that, under God, the exercise of your judgment and medical skill, have been eminently successful, and all the more highly appreciated by the numbers under your special charge.

Wishing you all success in your professional avocations, and every happiness in your new home; we beg to remain, dear sir,

yours truly,

(Signed) the Captain, Officers and adult passengers


"Ship fever" subsequently became better known as typhus, and was very common on such lengthy, crowded voyages, even one with such an "astonishingly small mortality" rate as only ten (!) among 600 passengers and crew. A lengthy ocean voyage was clearly a far greater risk to life and limb than today's exciting getaway adventures might make us think.

By January 18th, 1856, Henry T Fox was listed as a legally qualified Medical Practitioner in the Government Gazette of that date, and as Henry Tregellis Fox, he was practising at Beechworth by the time the list for 1868 was published. That Henry Hadden never appeared in such lists lends at least an inferential degree of credence to the suggestion that he was not fully qualified, although it still seems equally plausible that he would have found himself just as busy, whether or not he ever bothered to submit his professional qualifications to regulatory scrutiny in order to be so listed. Moreover, as shown below, he may simply not have bothered, given the -- at least initial -- clearly stated intention, which he shared with so many other new arrivals, to return home just as soon as what he felt was his assured fortune was secured.

The Public Record Office of Victoria lists William Henry Hadden as an unassisted migrant arriving in Melbourne when the “Prince Arthur” docked on May 6th, 1853 (although his age then is wrongly recorded as 23).06 Unassisted travel, of course, was at the traveller's own expense, rather than at that of the home or colonial governments, who were more interested in finding and transporting pastoral and agricultural labourers to tend herds and bring in crops, and (especially) builders. It is also worth noting in this context that the fare to Australia at that time was some five times more than the fare for equivalent travel to North America.07

The "Argus" of May 7th notes:


May 6.

-- Prince Arthur, ship, 1200 tons, C. C. Sutherland, from Liverpool January 24th.

Passengers -- cabin: Mr. and Mrs. Greene and child, Mr. and Mrs. Halliday, Messrs. Coates, F. Coates, Thos. C. Coates, W. Atkinson, E. Weldon, Sudlow, Derdin, Fletcher, Bateman, J. Bateman, Watkins, M Gregor, C. Coates, Esq., Surgeon and five hundred and twenty in the intermediate and steerage.

H. A Smith and Co, agents.08


Several weeks after his arrival, Henry Hadden still found himself unemployed, and appalled by the hugely inflated prices with which he was daily confronted in Melbourne's booming markets. In the first and only letter that he wrote home from Melbourne on June 1st, he told his family that “I would not live in this country for any money if I once had the money to go back to Ireland as I have little or no doubt that I will in a few years make as much as will answer my purpose and then those who want to dig for gold may do so and welcome for me”.

The truth was that he hadn't exactly hit the ground running, as he'd hoped -- he wrote that “I was terribly disappointed when I came on shore first. I, (like every other new arrival) expected to have nothing to do but just to dress myself nicely and walk into a comfortable situation without any trouble at all, but alas I was woefully mistaken, every place was full and in my own profession there were far more applicants than could possibly get employment”. His was a common enough misconception among the glut of newly arrived fellow professionals, at a time when Melbourne needed nothing so much as it needed both skilled and unskilled tradesmen and above all, as already noted, builders.

“Now”, he wrote, “for the benefit of my friends at home I will tell my idea of this place, that is that you could know more of the real comforts of life for £100 a year in Ireland than you could for £500 a year here as the following list of prices will tell.

Bread 6d pr lb.
Eggs 8d a piece.
Milk 2/6 a quart.
Apples 1/- lb.
Potatoes 4d lb.
Meat 6d to 8d lb.09

Everything else in proportion, there was a house let in Great Collins St this day for £3,000 a year!!! That will give you some idea of the frightful prices everything brings here ... all these things are expected to become lower in a year or two, but it will take some time before the prices are anything at all like what they ought to be. If either [older brother] George or Mr Shaw have any idea of coming out to this confounded place let them have at least as much money and goods with them as will enable them to get over the first year and I am sure that not less than 700 or 1000 pounds will keep them in business for that time.”

Unable to find a suitable position, he said that he “was nearly in absolute despair thinking I had come to the land of gold to die of starvation”. In a grimly ironic foretaste of what was to come, he tried his hand – for one day – at working on the roads 12 miles north of Melbourne at a rate of 10/- a day, but had more than enough trouble just getting there along what he described as “roads that no person at home would ever think of driving any animal through, for at every step (if you did not look about you), well, you would sink at least up to the knees”. A day of this labour was enough to convince him that “it was too hard for me as I could not use the pick and spade as well as a man who was used to it, and the only place I had to sleep was in a tent with the rain coming through and nothing to cover me but one single roll of canvas. Well, the first day was enough to convince me that I would be driven still lower before I could undergo such toil as that [, and] in fact if I had a bed I would have had to lie in it all the next day, but as I had not, I travelled back to the city as well as I could hoping that perhaps something better would turn up and allow me at least to live in a house”.

Canvas Town, South Melbourne, 1853
Colour lithograph by de Gruchy & Leigh: Canvas Town, South Melbourne in the 1850s
State Library of Victoria
Accession No. H25127, Image No. b28555

Alas! Even a house would have been a very faint hope, given that the crushing influx of gold seekers to (a still largely-residential) Melbourne had driven the Colonial administration to establish the "Canvas Town" tent city in South Melbourne and along St Kilda Road. Reflecting a very common reaction among shocked newcomers, he was astonished at the prices in Melbourne's booming economy, and wrote: “at the very lowest allow four times the price for everything here to one of what it is at home and in many cases much more. ... Sovereigns are as numerous here (comparatively speaking) as shillings are in Ireland10 and nearly as easily earned (but I speak of those used to the Colony, the “new chums” have no chance unless they have friends)”.

He wrote that he was anxious to close his letter in order that it might make the post in time for it to return to Ireland when the amazing vessel that had become the toast of the town, the Marco Polo, left Melbourne on June 5th.


Under the command of Captain James Nicol "Bully" Forbes, the Marco Polo had made a record-breaking run to Melbourne from Liverpool the previous year, departing on July 4th, 1852, and arriving inside Port Phillip Heads by September 16th. The journey was not without incident -- there were no fewer than 52 deaths, "nearly all of children under four"11 (but "only" two adults died, according to The "Argus"12, and somewhat callously, "Forbes himself remarked that births had balanced out the deaths"13). Twenty of the children had died from a shipboard epidemic of measles during the voyage.14 When the elegant vessel departed from Melbourne the previous year, on October 5th, 1852, the trip back to Liverpool took 77 days; when she again returned to Melbourne and caught Henry Hadden's attention, on May 29th, 1853, her voyage out had taken only 75 days, this time without even reporting a single illness on board.

Marco Polo under sail, 1859
Thomas Robertson: "The Marco Polo", 1859
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria


Captain Forbes had adopted the radical new “great circle” method of navigation then being advocated by John Thomas Towson, Liverpool's scientific examiner of masters and mates. "With thousands of would-be gold miners clamouring for quick passages, the shipping world was ripe for change. ... Many ships were still taking as long to get to Australia as Forbes took to make a return journey!"15 By September, 1854, "great circle" navigation had been credited with reducing the average trip time to Australia from 120 days to approximately 75 - 80 days, largely as a result of voyages like that of Forbes.

On board the Prince Arthur, Henry Hadden had written that a first-class passenger was reported to have accepted Captain Sutherland's £50 bet that he could land in Melbourne in 84 days, so the captain had presumably already adopted the same technique -- although, of course, the "103 days" that the Prince Arthur took meant that he would certainly have lost the bet if the story had been true.

Clipper Route between Liverpool and Melbourne
The 19th century Clipper Route between Liverpool and Melbourne
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The most likely reason that would account for such a difference would be how far south the captain's bravado allowed him to venture in a Southern Hemisphere winter, in the interests of picking up the strong westerly winds of the "Roaring Forties" between 40 and 50 degrees of southerly latitude, or the even stronger winds of the "Furious Fifties".  


Having noted that “things are so very dear that I could not live [on] less than £2.10.0 a week”16, Henry Hadden had nevertheless written coyly that “I fortunately got a situation that will pay me right well. I call £2.10.0 saved a very good salary every week and what I am now engaged in I hope to save at least that if not more. I will not tell you what it is, but it is not in my profession, however I am very comfortable thank God”. Elsewhere in his letter, written less than a month after his arrival, he notes that “I am living in The Bush”.

This comment suggests that he had already taken up residence on the North Central Victorian goldfields in the Daisy Hill area at Amherst, west of Castlemaine, where -- like many others -- it is believed that he eventually began practising medicine from a tent.

He nevertheless closed his letter on a buoyantly optimistic note, saying, “Tell [youngest sister] Fanny in my next I will send on the gold to make her wedding ring and she is not to get married until then”. Fortunately, Fanny was sufficiently independent of spirit to eventually go ahead and marry a vicar without waiting, because that letter was apparently the last contact that his family ever had with the wayward son.

But a medical man's life on the goldfields was difficult, and basic in the extreme: "One surgeon, when interviewed, admitted that he had joined in the gold rush for the excitement. He had followed the digging from gully to gully, never without a pistol strapped to his side. He treated gunshot wounds, stabbings, fractures, dysentery, and opthalmia [sic], and he supplemented gold earned from digging with guineas from fees. Quacks abounded."17

Early treatment on the goldfields was very rough and ready. "Doctors – many of whom were untrained – or quack physicians, tended to the medical needs of the community. A tent, with a flag bearing a snake encircling a sword, served as a surgery, with a sign outside advertising ‘Dr ___’. In 1853, some 22 qualified doctors and countless more medical charlatans resided within a population of 15,000 at Mount Alexander"18. Regardless of the authenticity or otherwise of their claimed qualifications, however, they would still not have been the first choice among the ill, any more than they were on the American frontier at the same time: "When illness or mishap struck, most pioneers tried home remedies first, mostly of the granny medicine variety, even when a physician of some sort might be readily available. This happened for two reasons. First, the harsh economic conditions caused any kind of payment to a doctor to be a hardship. Secondly, quite often the patient did himself less harm than did the doctor."19

Bearing in mind the above qualification (ie, regarding the quality of their qualifications), this is not inconsistent with the list in A R McMillan's "Pennyweight Kids" which identifies some 136 people – including Henry Hadden – claiming the title of doctors who were recorded as practising across the entire Castlemaine goldfield at various times throughout the 1850's, although "... with only half of them here at any given year, with a population of say thirty thousand [they] would have had almost one thousand people per Doctor." At least one of these doctors was recorded as having died of delirium tremens, the extreme catastrophic effect of sudden withdrawal from a dependence on alcohol; and no fewer than nine came to the attention of the law for various reasons, mostly non-trivial, and many related to chronic drunkenness20. It is quite likely, however that this was no more than a reflection of the high incidence of chronic alcoholism and related illnesses in the wider community in general.

Decline and Fall

Within such an environment, Henry Hadden must have succumbed to his own demons in the period that followed, and developed (or possibly further refined) what can only be described as a seriously intemperate thirst, and one which led inexorably to the central tragedy of his life, as detailed in the following report from the Melbourne “Argus” of Saturday, 27th October, 1855 (p 6):


19th October, 1855.


A most disgraceful case of neglect on the part of a medical man occurred at Daisy Hill a few days since, which resulted in the death in childbed of a Mrs. Kirkham. The facts of the case are as follows:- Mrs. Kirkham, the young wife of a digger, was about being confined of her fourth child: she employed Dr. Hadon [sic] as her medical attendant. When she was taken ill, and expected hourly to be confined, her husband went several times for the doctor, who, however, refused to come, alleging that "it was all right, and there was no hurry." On one occasion he said to Kirkham, when informed by him that his wife was dying, "she might die, and be d--d."

After considerable delay Dr. Hadon made his appearance at the sick woman's cottage, but instead of giving her any assistance he got drunk, and in that state lay on the bed beside her. While he was there, one of the witnesses deposed, the deceased complained of great pain, and asked Dr. Hadon to help her. He refused, and told her to lie still. Ultimately two other medical men were called in, but they arrived too late to be of any assistance, and the poor woman died immediately on being delivered of a dead child. An inquest was held on the body before J. M. Girdlestone, Esq., coroner, when the following verdict was returned: "That Ellen Kirkham died from exhaustion after child-birth; that death was caused by one Hadon [sic], who was her medical attendant during her labor."

A warrant for the apprehension of Dr. Hadon was issued by the coroner immediately on the verdict being known, but he had absconded prior to the inquest. The police are, however, on his track. We may thank the appointment of a very active and efficient coroner, Dr. Girdlestone, for the publicity which has been given to the above case.


Taken into custody, William Henry Hadden was brought before the Criminal Sessions bench in Castlemaine in late December, as reported in the Mount Alexander Mail of Friday, 14 December, 1855 (p.5)21:



William Henry Hadden, a medical man at Back Creek, Daisy Hill, was indicted for manslaughter. On the 4th of October, he was called to attend a Mrs. Kirham in her accouchement, and remained in attendance upon her until the 6th. During this time he was several times drunk, and one night lay on the bed by Mrs. Kirkham’s side. Ultimately, two other medical men were called in, by whom a dead child was taken from Mrs. K., who died shortly afterwards herself.

It was stated by two medical witnesses, that the child had been lying dead in its mother’s womb from four to six days; that the woman ought to have been delivered, and might have been, if the prisoner had treated her properly; in which case, she would probably have lived. The treatment which the prisoner adopted was detailed in evidence; it was condemned by the two medical witnesses already referred to, but partially approved of by two others.

His Honor, in summing up, said the fact of the prisoner’s drunkenness was beyond doubt, and that, probably, would help the jury to determine the disagreement which existed between the doctors as to the propriety of the treatment which the prisoner practised.

The jury found the prisoner “guilty of neglect” (equivalent, in this instance, to manslaughter); and His Honor sentenced him to three years hard labor on the roads.


The report of the case on page 6 of the Melbourne “Argus” of the same day elaborated on the bench's instructions to the jury as follows: “His Honor summed up, and told the jury they were bound to hold the prisoner responsible for the public safety when a want of care or attention was proved, leaving them to judge on the evidence whether such was so in this case, and to give their verdict accordingly.” The temper of the courtroom can be determined by the article's closing statement that “the jury shortly gave in their verdict”.

When he was sentenced to three years with hard labour on the roads, the “Argus” thundered in an editorial headed “PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY” that the case “disclosed such gross neglect, such ignorance, such total indifference to the welfare or life of the patient, and such brutal coarseness of language on the part of the practitioner, that all who read its details, sickening as some of them are, must acknowledge the justice of the sentence pronounced by the judge” and that indeed, “the misconduct of which he was guilty was such as to warrant perhaps even a more severe sentence”.22

Henry Hadden duly disappeared into the penal system, served his time, and eventually won a ticket of leave at Wangaratta in 1857, despite a hiccup or two along the way. His jail record23 from incarceration to release reads as follows:

  762  No. 2738 Name:     Hadden William Henry  

Age in      1856
Native Place
Read or write

Particular marks

Previous History

Date of Conviction
Where and before whom tried

At what Station
When received

Character while undergoing Sentence

5 feet 7½ inches

30     1827    [cf. “23” on arrival in 1853]

Scar on right cheek. Several scars on neck. Right foot
broken. Forehead indented.

Ship "Prince Arthur" 1853. Free. Single. Has been
practising his profession on the Goldfields proper recently.

Three Years on the Roads
10th December 1855
Castlemaine  Mr Justice Williams

1856  Jan 26

Gaol report Good.

  12.1.57 Authority to issue Ticket of Leave on the
              10th April '57.
  9.3.57 Intoxicated. Admonished.
  Apr 57 Date for issue of Ticket deferred 14 days,
  9.1.58 Authority to issue Free Certificate.

Where and how Discharged
          24 Apr  To Ticket
          12 Jan  Free Certificate24


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Free at last, he again went bush, and was next heard from as a family tutor to the children of grazier Edward Gray on his station at Bundaramungie, near Omeo. He appeared again in court at Sale Criminal Sessions in this capacity in late October, 1862, only this time as a Crown witness in the case of a man named Sweeney who was charged with the theft of six horses. A lengthy report of the trial appeared in the Gippsland Times of Friday October 31st, 1862 (pp 2-3), in which his matter-of-fact evidence was reported as follows:

William Henry Hadden, sworn: Was a tutor. Recollects being in company with [horsebreaker and fellow witness John] Michel on the road from Maneroo [Monaro] to Omeo. Believes that it was on a Sunday that he met the prisoner and other three men at Limestone Hill. Four men were riding and driving two horses. Knows Sweeney, who was one of the party. Does not know which horse he was riding. Took no particular notice of the brands.

The Crown Prosecutor argued “the great necessity which exists for protection against horse and cattle stealers in such a district as Gippsland”, and made his case to such compelling effect that “after an absence of about ten minutes”, the jury returned their verdict of Guilty. It's an interesting comment on the perceived relative values of horseflesh and women at that time, that Mr Sweeney was sentenced to four years on the roads with hard labour.

Very shortly after this trial, in late December of 1862, gold was discovered at Walhalla, and the ensuing rush saw the swift (and unsanitary) development of a tent city of hundreds of diggers along what soon became known as Stringer's Creek, in honour of its discoverer, Ned Stringer. Himself a ticket-of-leave man from Tasmania who had been transported for theft, Stringer – the assumed name of Edward Randel – was one of a party of four prospectors working their way down the Thomson River before finding promising signs up a small valley now known as Stringer's Gorge, which would eventually result in the extraction of more than 70 tonnes of gold from the Walhalla goldfield over the course of the following 50 years.

Ned Stringer himself did not even benefit from the £100 bounty offered by the state government for the discovery of payable deposits of gold in Gippsland, although his heirs did. He died from a pulmonary haemorrhage as a result of a coughing fit that he suffered in Toongabbie less than a year after registering the find, while returning from a trip to Sale in search of what other scant medical help was available in Gippsland at that time, for treatment of what is thought to have been tuberculosis, in late September of 1863.

Like many hundreds of others, Henry Hadden would also have been compellingly attracted by the glowing accounts of the wealth that was by then beginning to be revealed at Stringer's Creek, because “the first reference to the presence of a doctor on the field is found in the Woods Point and Gippsland Directory, 1866, which records that Dr Hadden, M.D., had established a practice in the Main Street, Stringer's Creek.”25

Happy-go-Lucky Survey Plan
Happy-go-Lucky Survey Plan -- Henry Hadden's block outlined in red
Later site of the Union Hotel (below)


Later survey field notes
Later Survey Field Notes
Position of Union Hotel shaded in

Far from fulfilling the apprehensive concerns of the editorial writers of the “Argus” of eleven years earlier that he might “appear on some other gold-field, and renew his brutal and murderous practices”, however, he was soon being reported as assisting with the treatment of occupational and other injuries in the new community, treating (for example) the infant John Brown for the severe burns which eventually took his life aged 21 months in March of 186626. By October of that year, he was listed as having purchased allotment 2 of section 3, a moderately expensive freehold block, at an auction of land at Happy-go-Lucky, high above the south-eastern end of the emerging Walhalla township, where another promising deposit of gold had been discovered by George Graham and William McGregor in October, 1863.

Union Hotel
Union Hotel, Happy-go-Lucky
Walhalla township is down in the valley behind the hill

Above images courtesy Andrew Sestokas

In less than 35 years from the date of Melbourne's settlement, there were already some 475 names of those who were registered as practising medicine in Victoria in the list that was published in the January, 1868 Government Gazette. Most were in the metropolitan area or on the western goldfields; excluding one in Cranbourne and another in Mornington, only 16 were practising in Gippsland, and only three of these were in Walhalla, already one of the largest settlements in the region -- they were James Boone, James Howard Eccles and John O'Connell. Probably because of his American credentials, Boone (M D Philadelphia 1847) was only included among five practitioners named in a supplementary list, "in accordance with the opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown"; Eccles was a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, 1864; and O'Connell, as previously noted, was a Licentiate of the Apothecaries Hall, Dublin, 1852.

For the typical rural medical practitioner in Australia at that time, recall that "every kind of illness came under his care. ... his treatments were extremely rudimentary, and largely directed at the symptoms rather than the causes of diseases (which were mostly unknown). He prescribed diet, exercise, enemas and leeches. Among the few rational medicines he had were quinine for malaria, digitalis for heart failure, colchicine for gout, and opiates for pain. His great enemy was infectious disease ..."27

Writing about the practice of medicine even in late nineteenth-century Gippsland, Flora Johns said: "Victoria at large was still troubled, indeed at times devastated, by the endemic diseases then prevalent: diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus, colonial fever, whooping cough and occasionally smallpox. ... Typhoid ... came in for investigation, but doctors could not agree if the disease was contagious or not. ... Tuberculosis was also very prevalent and was considered to be caused by over-indulgences, too many colds and chills. ... Pyorrhoea [chronic periodontal gum disease] had not been recognised. Appendicitis was called idiopathic peritonitis and the patient died. There were no caesarean births then, nor X-rays nor blood examinations. There was no insulin for diabetics, and then, no women doctors."28

The Walhalla to which Henry Hadden tended from 1866 was already a bustling camp of hundreds of alluvial miners living in mostly ramshackle houses scattered along the floor of the valley and clinging to the sides of the hills. Emerging mining companies were at last beginning to crush copious amounts of quartz, but without a great deal of attention being paid to environmentally sound disposal practices for the noxious by-products of the extraction process. Within a decade of the discovery of gold, the "Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil" of 9th August, 1873, was saying that Walhalla “lies in a little valley through which meanders a brook called Stringer's Creek, once, no doubt, clear as other mountain streams, but now discoloured and befouled by sulphur, and arsenic, and iron, until it resembles Joseph's coat in the multitude of its colours.” It was also, of course, the destination for most domestic waste, and a number of early photos show "long-drop" outhouses poised over the banks of the stream.

In their sketch of the view down the valley shown below, the Shamrock Hotel, at bottom left, is on the site of the Heritage and Development League's present-day Corner Store, at the top of the Main Street hill.

Walhalla in 1873
Beautiful downtown Walhalla in 1873
"Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil", 9th August, 1873 (p 92)
Courtesy Royal Historical Society of Victoria



01 Letter from William Henry Hadden to his Mother Eleanor, June 1st 1853 (family archive).
02 Flora Johns, “The Peck Plaques” (Sale, 1992), pp 39-40.
03 Geoffrey Serle, “The Golden Age” (Melbourne University Press, 1977), p 46.
04 From "The Drunk Docs Who Didn't Dry Out", in "N Z Doctor", November, 2010, retrieved August 26th, 2012.
05 The “Argus”, Wednesday, 11th May, 1853, p 8.
06 May 1853 List in searchable "Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria 1852-1923" at Public Record Office of Victoria, retrieved January 2nd, 2012.
07 Geoffrey Serle, op. cit., p 45.
08 “Shipping Intelligence” column of the Melbourne "Argus", 7th May, 1853, p 4
09 Geoffrey Serle, op. cit., pp 119-20: “In 1852 Melbourne was perhaps the most expensive city in the world in which to live. Rents were multiplied by five and ten; the four-pound loaf of bread rose from 6d. to 1s.4d. for most of 1852, then to over 2s. late in the year ...vegetables and dairy produce more than trebled in price; whereas meat increased in price comparatively slightly. In 1852, while the diggings remained profitable for most, wages offering in Melbourne more than kept pace with price increases; by 1853, however, only the skilled worker retained a position of advantage with wages still five or six times greater than in 1851. Unless he had had more than average luck at the diggings, the unskilled labourer shared little, if at all, in the prosperity of the day, and ... living on small savings, often suffered great hardship.”
10 The (nominal) value of a sovereign was £1 ($2); by 2012, its relative spending power would be more like $93. Correspondingly, a shilling had the value in pre-decimal currency of ten cents.
11 "Colonial Medical Transport" at the Australian Medical Pioneers Index website.
12 The "Argus", Tuesday, 21st September, 1852, p 4
13 Don Charlwood, “The Long Farewell”, publ. Burgewood Books, 1998, p.163
For an unsettling possible explanation of how "Bully" Forbes earned this nickname, refer to a riveting article about "black-sheep" shipping in the late 19th century that was written for Harper's Magazine in 1874 by a German-born American maritime writer named Charles Nordhoff (1830-1901), called “The Rights and Wrongs of Seamen”. You'll never want to yo-ho-ho again ...
14 Australian Medical Pioneers Index website, op. cit.
15 Don Charlwood, op.cit., p.17
16 That amount in 1853 would equate to a little over $233 in 2012 terms, according to CPI series available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics website (where you may be told that your browser needs an Adobe© plug-in). Not too shabby for a new arrival, considering that -- as noted -- he expected to be able to save the same amount every week.
17 From "Australian Surgeons and Society" by Rohan Nicks in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Surgery vol. 50 no. 6, December 1980, p 663, retrieved May 11th, 2012.
18 From "e-Gold: A Nation's Heritage" by Laura Donati
19 From "Early Nebraska Medicine", op.cit., p. 9.
20 A R McMillan, "Pennyweight Kids", publ. Castlemaine, 1988, p 73. This booklet tells the story of the children's cemetery at Pennyweight Flat, east of Castlemaine, where at least 200 goldfield infants and children were buried, mostly undocumented, between 1852 and 1857. Its inclusion here is certainly not meant to imply any supposed culpability of Henry Hadden in the quality of their care (as far as we know, he was no more or less involved in treating these children than was anyone else who was practising as a doctor on the Castlemaine goldfield at that time), but rather, simply to highlight the deplorable condition of public health in such a place at that time, and the risks that this posed to delicate young lives in particular. As a curious aside, it is worth noting that Dr William McRae (L.S.A., M.R.C.S. 1834, M.B. 1851), naval surgeon and medical administrator, later to be appointed the head of the Central Board of Health, and the government's first Chief Medical Officer (in which capacity he will later re-appear on our narrative), was one of the 136 "doctors" -- although he was posted to Forest Creek (Castlemaine) by the colonial administration as a coroner, surgeon and magistrate.
21 With thanks to Alleyne Hockley, Castlemaine Historical Society, November 24th, 2011.
22 The “Argus”, Thursday, 20th December, 1855, p 4.
23 VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners [1850 - 1948] at Public Record Office of Victoria, retrieved August 28th, 2011
24 According to “Emancipation” at the Convicts to Australia website, retrieved October 17th, 2011, “A Ticket of Leave (ToL) was a document given to convicts when granting them freedom to work and live within a given district of the colony before their sentence expired or they were pardoned. ToL convicts could hire themselves out or be self-employed. They could also acquire property. Church attendance was compulsory, as was appearing before a Magistrate when required. Permission was needed before moving to another district and 'passports' were issued to those convicts whose work required regular travel between districts. Convicts applied through their masters to the Bench Magistrates for a ToL and needed to have served a stipulated portion of their sentence. Certificates of Freedom (CF) were introduced in 1810 and issued to convicts at the completion of their sentence.”
25 Raymond Paull, “Old Walhalla”, Melbourne University Press, 1967, p 37.
26 Yolanda Reynolds, “Walhalla Graveyard to Cemetery”, Genepool Publishing, 2007, p 141.
27 From “Colonial Medical Life” at the Australian Medical Pioneers Index website, retrieved 17th December, 2011.
28 Flora Johns, op. cit., p 39.

© 2012 Bernard Bolch for the Walhalla Heritage and Development League.


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