Wilkie, Douglas: the convict ship Hashemy and historical error

Wilkie, Douglas

The convict ship “Hashemy” at Port Phillip: a case study in historical error‘, Victorian Historical Journal, 85, 1, June 2014, pp. 31-53

Received history is that the convict ship Hashemy was turned away from Melbourne in 1849 and sent on to Sydney where it provoked protests and fuelled Sydney-Melbourne antagonism. The article looks in great detail at secondary and primary sources and concludes the received version is wrong but was encouraged by politicians – and historians.

The secondary sources on the Hashemy incident are often unreliable and contradictory, and many cite other equally unreliable secondary sources as their sole evidence. The primary sources—not only the correspondence between [Port Phillip Superintendent] La Trobe, [Governor] FitzRoy and London, but also the journals left by the master, surgeon and religious instructor on the Hashemy, and contemporary press reports and shipping lists—provide clear and conclusive evidence that the Hashemy did not stop at Port Phillip in May 1849 before arriving at Sydney on 8 June.

Of course, we could ask does it matter whether the Hashemy went to Port Phillip or not? It matters partly because historians should correct mistaken perceptions when new evidence is found; when the old evidence itself is valid but belongs to a different puzzle; or when what was thought to have been valid evidence is found to have been fabricated or imagined. It is also important because many people in Sydney came to believe the arrival of the Hashemy was a direct consequence of FitzRoy’s promise that La Trobe could divert convict ships from Port Phillip. That belief, together with FitzRoy’s failure to fully explain the reasons for his promise, led to a dramatic escalation in the already bitter antagonism towards Port Phillip. In the atmosphere of such hostility, it was easy for politicians, journalists, and ultimately historians, to write about and perpetuate myths that suited their own parochial prejudices.

Beyond its relevance for administrative history the article is about how the perpetuation of myths sometimes supersedes – inadvertently, by design, wishful thinking or sheer laziness – the gathering of evidence. If Wilkie is wrong it is up to others to refute him by referring to the same primary sources as he does.

 

 

 

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