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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Henry Dudley Melville (1825–1908)

Not many persons in South Australia have had a more varied life than Mr. Henry Dudley Melville, who died at Malvern on Friday, October 2, at the age of 83. Some time ago he told to a representative of The Register the following story of his career:—

—Droving Days. —

Born in London in 1825, I came to South Australia in the Lalla Rookh, landing in August, 1840. Among my fellow passengers were the late. Capt. O'Halloran, Mr. Bryden (of the firm of Miller & Bryden, now J. Miller Anderson & Co.), and Mr. Curtis (father of Mr. A. B. Curtis, of Wirrabara). I was a member of the first party to cross a mob of cattle from the west of the Murray to occupy the Coorong Peninsula. Our super, fearing that our party was not strong enough to cope with the hostile aborigines, left us on the eastern bank of the Murray for three months. Here I was attacked by two natives, narrowly escaping with my life. We had great difficulty in subduing the blacks, and matters were made worse by the absconding of our hutkeeper and stockman, who became afraid of the natives, and took away with them the boat that the South Australian Company had given us as a means of escape in case of attack. On one occasion, when we arrived at the hut a black was making off with our flour and sugar. As he would not stop when challenged I fired, and he dropped the goods and bolted. Some time afterwards Mr. Newland, sen., who was Protector of Aborigines, asked for a warrant to be issued for the arrest of the stockman and myself. Some of the Coorong natives were in possession of gold coins, which they had obtained from the passengers of the ship Maria (wrecked in the locality in 1840), and who had been murdered by the blacks. I was speared in the leg by aborigines whilst trying to bargain with them for some of this spoil. After the events related I was sent with Mr. Lillecrapp to purchase shorthorn Durhams from Mr. Hawden of Port Fairy, and a number were brought over by Mr. (now Sir Samuel) Davenport, to stock Poltalloch Run. Mr. Duncan Farlane, who occupied a run on the Peninsula, suffered severely at the hands of the natives, who killed and stole his sheep and tied up his shepherds. Inspector Tolmer had parties of police in the district, who drove the blacks to the islands. Here they defied Mr. Tolmer, who, having been told by Governor Grey that he would hold him responsible for any life lost, black or white, and knowing that the blacks would throw spears if the police came near them, and that his men would return the compliment with firearms, was impotent to cross over. Tolmer was for this accused of cowardice, but I knew the man too well to believe that a pluckier officer they never had in the police force.

— In the Police Force.—

I was only 20 years old when I entered the police service as a police trooper, I served six years with Inspectors Tolmer and Gordon in the bush, and my knowledge of the native language aided greatly in the work of protecting overland parties and settlers. In 1846 I was a member of the party who punished the Mount Brown natives for the murder of two of Mr. Tennant's shepherds. We found the skeletons of the murdered men, sent their skulls to the Colonial Surgeon, and Mr. Tennant identified the clothing. I was with Governor Robe when he surveyed the south-east coastline in 1846 and made five overland journeys to Mount Gambier in 1847.

—Victorian Goldfields.—

In 1851 I went to the Victorian diggings. At that time one could not walk the streets of Melbourne without a revolver, and on the goldfields I never slept without one at my head. To hold his own a person had to fight for it, and many dead bodies found in the gold holes told tales of sad tragedy. At Forest Creek there was no officer to appeal to, and when a man attempted to jump our claim we told him that he might have it if he brought four better men than we were. There were some amusing things connected with the gold rush, too. A digger in Melbourne to celebrate his wedding hired every carriage in the city, and when a gentleman coming out of the Union Bank called a cab he said to him— "That's my carriage, sir!" "And who are you?" queried the other. "I'm a member of the new aristocracy, I am," was the reply. The cost of carting from Melbourne to Forest Creek in 1852 was £100 per ton. I paid £16 for a bag of flour, and other things in proportion; so that one needed to get plenty of gold to pay expenses.

— Sub-Collector of Customs—

I was the first Collector of Customs, harbourmaster, and receiver of wrecks at Port Robe, and held this office 14 years. In 1857 20,000 Chinese were landed there in 45 vessels from Hongkong (one ship, the Young America, brought 1,000). They crossed on foot to Victoria, to evade the poll tax of £10 per head, and the Governor of the sister State never forgave South Australia for this loss to them of £200,000. I had great difficulty in securing the opium for duty, and on one occasion Ormerod's store was broken open by the Chinamen to obtain possession of the cases containing it. There were then 3,000 Celestials camping about the township, and Lieut. Saunders and 40 men of the 12th Regiment were sent to keep order. The Chinamen were a great benefit to Robe, for they paid for all they obtained, and must have left thousands of pounds in the district. When the Admella was wrecked on the Carpenter Rocks, near Cape Northumberland, in August, 1859, I was five days and nights without rest, and it was distracting to see that every morning the number of passengers clinging to the rigging grew less, while we were unable to get near the vessel to rescue the drowning people. It was impossible to get through the surf with a boat. Ben Germein and his crew nearly lost their lives in an attempt to reach the vessel, and the Portland lifeboat also failed. Germein, however rescued three survivors when the storm abated, and the lifeboat 19, after they had been on the wreck for eight days. The vessel broke in two on the reef. An attempt made to get the women and children ashore in a 'cradle' failed, through the breaking of a rope, and they were all drowned. At Government House subsequently I gave Governor MacDonnell a sketch plan, showing why we could not reach the vessel. He had the plan lithographed, and gave me 200 copies. The ships Phaeton, Sultana, and King William II., in 1857, the Alma and Livingstone (1861), and Agnes (1865) also came within my scope of action as receiver of wrecks, and many lives were saved from these vessels. In 1869 I was given charge of the Adelaide branch of the Customs Department as receiver and gauger, and held that post till 1871.

— Warden of Goldfields.—

"In 1872 I was appointed Warden of the Northern Territory Goldfields. We were 68 days on the voyage to Southport, and I had a hard life on the fields, and suffered much from exposure and bad food. The controlling Minister visited the field in the following May, and I told him I was living principally on weevily biscuit and flour and tinned fish, and asked to be relieved of the post. He promised me another position, but I told him that it was too late; for I had lost the use of the right eye, and wanted to get to the city to consult a doctor. On his persuasion I consented to remain until my successor arrived in September, and before he left pointed out to him that much useless speculation was going on which would not have been the case if all my reports had been published. As warden of that field the only salary I received was £250 per annum, out of which I had to pay for my own costly outfit and keep a family in Adelaide. I was again sent to the Territory in 1874 as Chief Warden of Goldfields, with a salary equal to £400, but had to leave in December on the advice of Dr. Ellison, who pronounced my complaint to be cataract. I returned home by the Gothenburg, on the voyage prior to the one on which that ill-fated ship went down with nearly all her passengers.

—Other Appointments.

— In 1877 I was appointed secretary to the Forest Board, and performed this duty (with an interval, during which I served as Inspector of Credit Selections) until 1887. In April of the latter year the remaining eye became too weak to continue at clerical work, and I lost my position. I am now unable to read or write, and suffer very much from neuralgic pains in the eye. When the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visited Adelaide I thought I would like to see the grandchildren of Queen Victoria, whom I remembered seeing as Princess Victoria in London in 1836. Accordingly I employed belladonna, as I had been recommended to do when my eyes first became weak. I saw the royal visitors; but the effort induced so much suffering that I have never used the drug since."

Mr. Melville celebrated his golden wedding six years ago.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Melville, Henry Dudley (1825–1908)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

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