DUNN, Edward (Carey?)
[FRONTIER WARS] The Bell Post. A Tale of the early days of Geelong, at Port Phillip in Australia. Dedicated to Miss D…
[Broadway, Worcestershire : Middle Hill Press, 1862]. First edition. Duodecimo (165 x 105 mm), single sheet folded, 4 pp; printed on blue wove paper; a fine copy.
This rare publication by the Middle Hill Press of eccentric bibliophile Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) is an epic ballad relating the story of a conflict which took place in 1837 between Aborigines and the first white settlers in the Corio district of Port Phillip. The story indirectly explains the origins of the name Bell Post Hill – a suburb of present-day Geelong – which was the first area settled by the pioneer colonists who arrived from Van Diemen’s Land in 1836.
Authorship of the poem is attributable to one Edward Dunn, an early Port Phillip settler. The State Library of South Australia holds a collection of his poems in manuscript, Poems by Edward Dunn Esqr of Geelong in Victoria in Australia / given by him to Sir J [sic].P. Bt [i.e. Sir Thomas Phillipps] 1862, which includes The Bell Post. The fact that the poet’s initials ‘E. D.’ are printed at the end of the 1865 edition (also printed at Middle Hill) confirms this attribution. It is likely that the dedicatee, ‘Miss D.’, was one of Edward Dunn’s relatives.
Evidence for the connection between Edward Dunn and Sir Thomas Phillipps has survived in the form of a letter (NLA, MS 6844) written by Dunn from Geelong, 25 August 1860, addressed to ‘My dear Phillips’ and mentioning Sir Thomas Phillipps as the addressee’s patron. In the letter, which gives some information about Dunn’s associations with influential figures in colonial Victoria during the preceeding 17 years, Dunn mentions to his correspondent that he might be able to secure John Batman’s original journal on loan from William Weire, Geelong’s first Town Clerk, who had married Batman’s favourite daughter, Elizabeth Mary. Dunn had possibly intended to make a copy of Batman’s journal for Sir Thomas Phillipps. ‘It seems reasonable to suppose that Dunn, possibly with some help from the more influential Weire, was at least one of the agents who collected Australiana for Sir Thomas’ (Hankel, Valmai. Sir Thomas Phillipps and Australia, Adelaide : Sullivan’s Cove, 1987, pp. 18-19). In his letter Dunn also declared: ‘I believe I could write myself as good an account of [the leading incidents of the formation of the colony] as most, but I have not the time. I have no objection to transmit you what stray poetical legends I have of the early days, for you may remember that whenever I met with anything romantic or original, I was in the habit of embodying it, in a prose or verse story. But I destroyed a great portion of them. Still the few I have left may be interesting’ (ibid, pp. 35-36).
It is almost certain that Edward Dunn, author of The Bell Post and agent for Sir Thomas Phillips, is none other than the amateur artist Edward Carey Dunn, whose entry in the DAAO reads: ‘Sketcher and settler, made a series of early drawings of the Ballarat goldfields which were reproduced in the Illustrated London News in 1852. One showed the first gold escort leaving Ballarat. In the acknowledgments, Dunn was said to be living at Chepstow, Mount Emu, Port Phillip. He settled in Victoria and was one of the “early colonists” photographed in 1872 by Thomas Chuck.’ Newspaper notices from the 1840s to the 1860s support this hypothesis. Edward Carey Dunn was a Clerk of Petty Sessions and Police Registrar in the Pyrenees District from early 1847 until the late 1850s, during which time he resided at Chepstow(e), Mount Emu (northwest of Ballarat). On 31 August 1854 The Argus reported his marriage in Melbourne to Kezia, daughter of John Cooper; on 23 August 1859 it noted his appointment as returning officer for the electoral district of Geelong West; and on 27 December 1860 it announced that Edward Carey Dunn, now of Skene Street, Geelong, was to be added to the list of magistrates for the Colony of Victoria.
Dunn’s poem is set in the year 1837, and describes the following chain of events: 1. Following the constant poaching of cattle and sheep from stations around Corio Bay by Aborigines, the settlers took revenge by shooting the chief of the Barwon tribe. 2. Local Aboriginal clans gathered and plotted to avenge the murder in a co-ordinated attack against the various stations in the district. 3. This plan was potentially thwarted when the ‘King of Wereiby’ (i.e. Werribee) turned informer and warned the whites about the impending danger. 4. The settlers convened in a council of war, and a decision was taken to erect a signal bell on a high vantage point overlooking the Barwon River, which would be rung by a lookout ‘So when our treacherous foes are seen, low-creeping thro’ the forest green; that instant shall its warning sound, Pealing through echoing vallies round …’ 5. On the first occasion that the bell was rung, the settlers were supposed to take up arms and defend themselves and their properties against the ‘cannibal’ marauders; but when the bell rang they were bathing in Corio Bay, and they fled the beach in terror; similarly the Aboriginal attackers, believing that the sound of the bell was the embodiment of the Spirit of Evil, made a hasty retreat to a lake a half-day’s distance away (Lake Connewarre?). 6. The lookout who had rung the warning bell, and risked his life in doing so, was so dismayed by his compatriots’ cowardice that he removed the bell and cast it into Corio Bay in disgust, leaving the post in situ as a reminder of the settlers’ cowardice. 7. A footnote to the poem records that the post was ‘lately taken down, but the Hill retains the name’.
Only three copies of the 1862 printing of The Bell Post are recorded in Australian collections (State Library of South Australia; Deakin University Library; Monash University Library)