Crime in the Port Phillip District 1835-51

Every now and then I like to while away a few minutes just ‘looking’ at a library catalogue, you can have a lot of fun mixing and matching search terms to see what you get and it was during one of these kinds of lucky dip search sessions with the Casey Cardinia Library Catalogue that I found Crime in the Port Phillip District 1835-51 by Paul R Mullaly. The catalogue summary said that it’s: “a study of the administration of the criminal law in the Port Phillip District from the arrival of the white settlers until the onset of the Gold Rush and Separation. This study will help the present community understand many aspects of our present culture and give many citizens an insight into the community in which their ancestors lived. This book will be of interest to the legal profession, students of Victorian/Australian history, and a general readership.” And it is – but it’s also so much more, especially if you’re a family historian with ancestors in that place at that time.

The book won the Judges Special Prize for Excellence in the Victorian Community History Awards 2009, and deservedly so. Paul Mullaly QC BA LLB, is obviously a clever man, the letters after his name tell us so, but don’t let that put you off. Paul Mullaly is clever enough to write about a complex topic in plain everyday English that is a pleasure and delight to read. I can understand his meaning and intent on the first reading of every paragraph and so will you.

If you had ancestors in the Port Phillip area between 1835-1851 then you must take a look at the name and subject indexes for the book, which are not at the back of the book but on the publisher’s website as pdf. files to download. So, you can always have the indexes to refer to without having to get the actual book. A little different I’ll admit but the book is 764 pages without indexes and the name index is another 68 pages, so you can see where they’re going with this, if the indexes were printed in the book you might not be able to carry it home!

Crime in the Port Phillip District 1835-51 contains a glossary, a conversion table for money and weights and a background to the community of the time and the emerging legal system and procedures for crime investigation and arrest, committal for trial, preparation for trial and the trial itself. Following that are sections devoted to the the insane, offences against the person, offences against property, offences against justice and miscellaneous offences – all explained in plain language and illustrated with actual cases and names of the people involved. And if worst comes to worst and your ancestors aren’t mentioned in the book but they did have troubles with the law in some way, the background information alone would warrant getting the book.

Sadly, I could find none of my lot, but that didn’t diminish the pleasure I found in reading about someone else’s ancestors, perhaps they were yours! The book is available from the Casey Cardinia Library Corporation, or it will be as soon as I return it – or you could try Trove to see if you’re near the other 20 libraries that hold the book.



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