Thursday, 30 January 2014

Sunday, 30th April, 1837

I had my hopes raised to fever pitch during the week when the Marines came to me and told me that they had finally finished building the Government House on the river bank. Stupid of me to get my hopes up when experience tells me that where the Marines are involved catastrophe must surely follow, but I am ever the optimist and considered it at least possible they might have learned some thing from the experience of building our current bayside accommodation.

Vain hope.

As we headed up from the bay to the township, the Sergeant of Marines extolled the wonders of the new building. The thatching of the roof, he said, was as fine as might be found in any of the home counties whilst the walls were built of the best materials available. The Marines had even managed to procure glass windows for the front of the building.

I did point out that originally a building had been sent out from England in pieces that could be reassembled as a Government House - though it proved a flimsy thing of warped, thin boards. But it did have windows. So there was not need for them to "procure glass windows" as I already had them. At this point the truth came out - my glass windows were at the Port and the trip down there was - as the sergeant put it - "a bit of a fag". So to save themselves the journey they "procured others". What exactly this meant I did not ask, though later events made it clear.

Government House from the river, 1837

When eventually we arrived at the new building I was more than a little surprised. At first sight the building seemed - for its type - a well constructed and neat thatched mud and lath residence. However, as I drew nearer it became evident that the neatness and charm were, at  best, superficial. It is, as I feared, precisely the building one might expect the Marines to build. Within its three rooms a right angle is not to be seen in the place and the number of gaps around doors and windows mean ventilation will be no issue, though privacy will be out of the question.

The much vaunted windows are indeed in place, but a little quizzing proved that by "procured them" the Marines meant "found them lying on the ground and picked them up", as though windows grow like pumpkins here in the colony. I have since learned that in actuality the windows belong to either Morphett or Brown, so I will offer them mine at the Port in a spirit of "fair exchange no robbery". Of course it was robbery, but perhaps we can smooth things over. Thank God they were not Fisher's windows or I would never have heard the end of it.

I also needed to point out a lack of outhouses on the grounds. The Marines scratched their heads and looked befuddled, probably by what I had said about the lack of outhouses, though, in truth, who can tell? This is what happens when you have your house built on land by men used to the sea. There are no outhouses on a ship of the line and so they do not enter the mind of the seafarer. The Marines conferred and agreed that outhouses could be built on the swampy patch of land down by the river. I opine that this was not actually a part of the land set aside for the Government House, but they were undeterred and promised to "square it with those necessary". I dread to think what this means.

But the greatest fault in their work is the complete lack of a fireplace, chimney or hearth. Again, do not allow sailors to build a house on land. There are no chimneys on ships, so why would they need to place one in a house? I pointed this out - forcefully - to the men and they replied gnomically "Knock through... few bricks... make good... job's a goodun" which did little to set my mind at ease, but, it seems, was all I was going to be told.


The next day Mrs Hindmarsh traveled up from the bay to see our new residence. It has never occurred to me before, but it should come as no great surprise, that after a life led around sailors Mrs Hindmarsh's language should have been enriched by a knowledge of the earthier aspects of our Anglo-Saxon vocabular heritage.

What did surprise me was the readiness, fluency and enthusiasm with which Mrs Hindmarsh used this knowledge as she gave the Marines a frank and fulsome assessment of their building, their abilities, their intelligence, sobriety, odour, parentage, and the manner of their procreation.

Even the Marines, salty dogs to a man, most of them hailing from the less salubrious areas of London and all of them no strangers to the richer idioms of our language, quailed before the onslaught of Mrs Hindmarsh's invective.

I felt an especial sympathy for the poor, ill advised devil who tried to pour oil on troubled waters by telling Mrs Hindmarsh: "Now, now, missuss, don't you be worrying your pretty head about all this. Leave it up to us menfolk to deal with these little things."

I found him sitting an hour later, his head in his hands, rocking back and forth and muttering over and over, "She shouldn't ought to be saying such things."

And in truth she shouldn't. But the upshot is that I have never seen the Marines work so hard or so fast. Fear is an astonishing thing.

Very nasty experience last Wednesday.

Light Fingers Howard, the noted Sneak Thief, had arranged a public meeting at the church - or, should I say, the stolen sail - with regard to establishing a Sunday School. I assume to teach the youth of the colony how to lie cheat and steal. Perhaps Hustling Howard is setting up a gang, using street urchins to become a criminal mastermind, like a fat spider in the centre of his web of lie and deceit.

And then, when I got there, I discovered that Bully Boy Fisher, the human rabbit, was to chair the meeting. I may need to work with him in the Council, but damned if I need to put up with the miserable coxcomb at any other time. And so I declined to attend. A friend suggested to me that it would reflect poorly on the Office of Governor if I was not there. And so I declared that "The Governor will attend. But Jack Hindmarsh will be absent."

I sat through their meeting and said not a word. And I hope it was a lesson to them.

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