Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ugly Horsewhipping Episode in East Gippsland

Thanks to Australian Newspapers beta, I have now tracked down the pertinent details of our pioneering great great-grandfather William Pearson’s several brushes with the colonial justice system. The first of these related to an almost certainly duplicitous and illegal “challenge” (i.e. to a duel) by Messrs. McAlister and Pearson against a certain John Michael Loughnan of Hobart Town. It seems the matter first arose when Mr. Loughnan formally complained to the colonial secretary in Sydney that Mr. McAlister was somehow responsible for some interference with his affairs in Gippsland by Mr. Tyers, the Commissioner for Crown Lands. That interference evidently led to the “curtailment” of Mr. Loughnan’s cattle run at Lindenow, of which he was for the time being absentee landlord—the same spot where William Pearson first settled his cattle in 1841 (for a matter of only a few months), and this may account for William’s involvement. Getting wind of the allegation, Mr. McAlister hotly denied being behind Tyers’ infraction, and the matter was settled to the satisfaction of all when McAlister paid a call on Loughnan in Hobart Town. However, McAlister and Pearson raised the same issue with Mr. Loughnan a second time, this time when all three were en poste in East Gippsland, and with some menace. According to the Courier (Hobart) (March 27, 1847, p. 2):

Allusion having been made in a former number of the Courier to a case pending in the Supreme Court, Melbourne, in which J. M. Loughnan, Esq., was the prosecutor, we now lay before our readers the leading features of this singular case:— Mr. Loughnan, who is a merchant of Hobart Town, had been carrying on some correspondence with the Sydney Government on the subject of some proceedings taken by Mr. Commissioner Tyers against Mr. Taylor, and the curtailment of Mr. Loughnan’s run at Lindenow. In the course of that correspondence Mr. Loughnan forwarded a letter to the Colonial Secretary, which contained a charge against the Commissioner for Crown Lands of being influenced by Mr. M’Alister. Some eight months ago Mr. M’Alister called upon Mr. Loughnan in Hobart Town, and complained of the letter, denying that he had influenced the Commissioner, when Mr. Loughnan voluntarily and unreservedly expressed his regret at his having been misinformed, and at once, and with Mr. M’Alister’s consent, proposed to withdraw that portion of the letter referring to Mr. M’Alister; copies of which were forwarded to the Colonial Secretary; to a gentleman in Sydney, to whom had been sent a copy of the correspondence; and a third to Gipps’s Land. By this act on the part of Mr. Loughnan all that part of his communication of 1st February, 1845, referring to Mr. M’Alister, was virtually expunged, and Mr. M’Alister finally closed the matter, thus showing that he considered the injury atoned for. Mr. Loughnan was residing in Gipps’s Land on the 23rd July last, and met Mr. M’Alister, who again introduced the subject, although Mr. Loughnan had considered every atonement tor the supposed injury had been made. Mr. M’Alister terminated the interview abruptly, and on the same evening a note was received by Mr. Loughnan, requesting an explanation. The note was delivered by Mr. Pearson, who, having stated that Mr. M’Alister had not until lately seen the letter containing the observations upon his conduct, a fact which Mr. Loughnan, after his interview with Mr. M’Alister in Hobart Town, thought morally impossible, demanded an explanation, and ample apology. Mr. Loughnan, by note, declined to enter again upon the re-discussion of the affair. His note was answered by Mr. Pearson, who intimated that any communication held with Mr. M’Alister must be through him, repeating his former demands. Other notes of a similar nature passed between them. Subsequently, Mr. M’Alister posted Mr. Loughnan in the usual manner. Mr. Loughnan then published a statement of the facts, which was met by his opponent by a counter-statement, from which we have condensed this account, and ultimately Mr. M’Alister and Mr. Pearson were put upon their trial at the Supreme Court, Melbourne; the former for sending, and the latter for taking a challenge to Mr. Loughnan. When the case came on for hearing before His Honor Mr. Justice A’Beckett, the challenge was regarded as inadmissible, having been written by Mr. Pearson; the statements of facts published by both parties, and a document in which Mr. M’Alister expressed his approval of all Mr. Pearson had done in the matter was also blocked out, and the placard being produced, by which Mr. Loughnan was posted, was refused on the question of identity, and a verdict was consequently returned for the defendant. This abrupt termination of the case prevented its merits being gone into; but the fact of Mr. Loughnan having made all the reparation in his power at the time the matter was first brought under his notice by Mr. M’Alister, completely exonerates him from blame; and there appears to be an unnecessary exacerbation of gentlemanly feeling in calling upon Mr. Loughnan for a second explanation at such a distant period of time.

The placard that was produced in evidence, and rejected, appears to have been some kind of accusation concocted by McAlister and Pearson the purpose of which was to broadcast as publicly and as damagingly as possible their grievances against Loughnan. Signs nailed to trees were the principal method of distributing news and information in Gippsland during the 1840s. 

Unfortunately we do not know why McAlister and Pearson were determined to pursue Loughnan so forcefully, but presumably the friction was at least partly sectarian in nature. It also seems likely that the bad blood originated with some local business arrangement turned sour, because in the shipping news for the port of Hobart Town (Courier, Wednesday, December 31, 1845, p. 2), we find the following note: “Arrived, the schooner Agenoria, 106 tons…from Port Albert 24th instant, with cattle—passengers William Pearson, M. Loughnan.”

Mr. Pearson was not quite as lucky two years later, when—possibly emboldened by his success with McAlister against Loughnan, and the abrupt and helpful findings of Mr. Justice à Beckett—our great great grandfather was convicted of assault in an ugly horsewhipping episode. Although widely reported (in this instance by the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, on Saturday, October 27, 1849, p. 2), the incident was ultimately forgotten, and in no way impeded William Pearson’s subsequent election to represent Gippsland first in the Legislative Assembly and later in the Legislative Council of Victoria:

Colonial News
We have received Port Phillip papers to the 16th October.
In the crown sittings of the Supreme Court Mr. William Pearson had been
convicted of assaulting Mr. Francis Desailly. Both parties resided in Gipps Land, and at some races held in the district Mr. Pearson was riding a horse in a hurdle race when his horse got off the course and came in contact with Mr. Desailly’s horse, Mr. Desailly being at the time riding along near the course, and watching his brother, who was riding a horse in the race; by the collision Mr. Desailly was thrown off, and Mr. Pearson immediately laid into him with his whip, Mr. Desailly striking him in return. Afterwards, at the stand, Mr. Desailly was telling his brother of the affair, when Mr. Pearson came up, and called aloud to the parties present that he had already flogged Mr. Desailly, and was now going to do so again, and he forthwith laid into him once more with the horse whip. Mr. Pearson was fined £50, and ordered to enter into recognisances to keep the peace, which was done, and the fine paid (my italics).

1 comment:

  1. Great piece of writing, I really liked the way you highlighted some really important and significant points. I appreciate your work. Thanks.

    east gippsland weddings