TURNER Part 2: Melbourne, Australia, 1858-1863

3rd Draft 15 May 2016

When James, Mary and Mary’s son William left New York for Melbourne in about 1858 there was great uncertainty in America due to the looming Civil War.  Jamaica, Long Island was well connected to New York and the city itself was bustling.  It is easy to assume that there were any number of opportunities locally in New York  and elsewhere in the USA as the west was opening up and the California gold rush had established frontier cities on the West Coast.  That said, the American Civil War over slavery was dividing the country into pro and anti slavery, north and south divisions.  The Abolition movement had been building since 1830 and when the first republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was elected in 1860 on a firm anti-slavery ticket it prompted the seven southern states to cede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America. REF#1

On the other side of the world the 1851 gold rush had struck Victoria, Australia.  As had been the case in California in 1849 and New South Wales in 1851, the Rush was the cause for great expansion within the city of Melbourne.  The City of Melbourne had been established only 15 years earlier, when John Batman signed a treaty with eight Wurundjeri elders.  Five years later in 1837 Robert Hoddle completed his plan of the town (including the famous Hoddle Grid that exists today) under the direction of Governor Richard Bourke.  In 1847 it was declared a City by letters patent from Queen Victoria, and within ten years it was inundated with gold seeking migrants, taking the population of the city from 29,000 in 1851 to 123,000 in 1861.

The boom town of Melbourne in 1860 would have been a perfect match for James A. M. Turner.  It had the combination of sophistication and wild west that shows through in his whole life story.  The city had handsome State Library, University, and Parliament and Treasury buildings.With the influx of gold into the city, and an increasing degree of wealth, there would have been plenty of work for a jeweller and watchmaker.  We don’t have positive proof that James worked as a watchmaker in Melbourne, though the 1859 Port Philip Directory (and the birth certificate of his son) had James Turner living at 23 Collins Street East in Central Melbourne (near the intersection with Elizabeth St, as the street numbering in the 1850-60’s started from Elizabeth St and went East and West). Also in the premises was Brush and MacDonald Goldsmiths – it is possible that James worked for the company.
Flinders St From the Melbourne Railway 1863

Collins Street from Queen Street, 1862

Collins Street from Queen Street, 1862


We do know that James ran hotels however – maybe it was a business he was familiar with from New York.  James held the licence for the Mercantile Hotel in Melbourne from April 1860 to September 1861(4). The Mercantile Hotel, first opened in 1853 near the banks of the Yarra River, was on the corner of Flinders and King Street. Present day, the Mercantile is called the Waterside Hotel, and backs onto Mercantile Place (opposite the Melbourne Aquarium).   James obtained the licence after William McDonough  was found insolvent “from a number of bills being dishonoured…as consideration for the goodwill, stock, etc, of the Mercantile Hotel..[due to] falling-off in trade, pressure of landlord…”  REF#12  It is hard to know whether McDonough was a poor operator or the Mercantile a poor business, though the location on Flinders Street, directly across the road from the wharves should have been useful.  Either way, Turner was given the license from the official assignee.  REF#4 While at the Mercantile James placed two advertisements in The Argus newspaper, one in June 1860 REF#2 for a man-servant, and another in December 1860 for “a good MILCH GOAT”. REF#3

James’ first son was born in Melbourne on October 21, 1859 – John Christopher Henry TURNER at their home in Collins St. Three years later Mary and James had their second child, Anne Catherine TURNER, (also known as Kate Anne) born 4 September, 1862. At the time the family lived at 120 Kerr Street in Fitzroy North, though the child was born at 18 Stanley St in Collingwood, six city blocks away. Mary was attended by Dr. Serrell, the same doctor that attended her when she delivered John Christopher Henry.  Despite holding a publican’s license, James described his occupation a Watchmaker on the birth certificates of both of his children.

Immediately after relinquishing the license to the Mercantile in 1861 James took over the Freemasons Hotel in Sandridge.  “TURNER‘S FREEMASONS’ HOTEL, Sandridge.  Persons about proceeding to New Zealand are invited to BOARD and LODGE at this hotel during their sojourn. Every attention given to transient and permanent boarders. Terms moderate James Turner, proprietor, formerly of the Mercantile Hotel, Flinders street.”  REF#5  The licensing records don’t show Turner as the license holder.  

TURNER_James 1861 The Argus_5 Oct 1861_FreemasonsHotel TURNER_James_IMG_Sandridge_FreemasonsHotelStoneBuildingInForeground

Unfortunately the next we hear of James Turner is in the Insolvency Courts in May 1862.  REF#6 In the ‘first and only meeting’ “The insolvent was examined by Mr. Rippon respecting the accounts he had kept in his busi-ness. It appeared that he bad entrusted his bookkeeping to a person who had committed in-accuracies, or what appeared to be so, as the insolvent was unable to explain them, or to make them agree with his recollection.”  Turner agreed to apply for a certificate (of discharge) as soon as possible, where the opposing creditor would be able to renew his examination of the facts.  The Argus reported that Turner, formerly a publican at Sandridge, applied for his certificate in July 1862 and was granted it. REF#7  

TURNER_JamesAM_NEWS_1862_The Argus_NEWS_3Sep1862_WashingtonHotel

He went on to apply for a license for the Washington Hotel in A’Beckett Street West , near the Flagstaff Gardens.  It was opposed and declined.  The police reported that there were only eight rooms in the premises plus a kitchen.  One of Turner’s supporters, Mr Read, protested that the Bench were making up their minds on the case without hearing all the arguments and that they had a determined the outcome before the hearing, to which the Mayor replied that he would make up with mind without reference to what the legal gentlemen (Mr Read) might say. REF#8

With that refusal, the Turner family’s time in Melbourne was at an end, and as news of the Otago gold rush in the South Island of New Zealand came through the family found themselves immigrating again.




#1 http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery

#2 The Argus 1/6/1860 Pg1

#3 The Argus 1/12/1860 Pg1

#4 The Argus 7/3/1860 Pg1

#5 The Argus 5/10/1861 Pg8

#6 The Argus 15/5/1862 Pg7

#7 The Argus 9/7/1865 Pg5

#8 The Argus 3/9/1862 Pg 7

#9 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/106362 Sandridge

#10 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/266991 Collins Street

#11 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/288617  Flinders Street

#12 The Argus 25 Jan 1860 Pg 5

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