Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fergus McIvor Hughan

Fergus McIvor Hughan was born on Friday, March 13, 1829, in Colchester, Essex. He was the sixth child and third son born to Robert Alexander Hughan and his wife Hannah Oakley, and his splendid name came from the Sir Walter Scott novel ‘Waverley’ in which the character Fergus McIvor is a hero in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
Fergus spent his early years in Colchester, and was not yet ten years old when his family moved to London for work. His father was a failed tea merchant, and the family had to rely on income provided by sewing and needlework carried out by Hannah Hughan and those daughters old enough to help her.
As a young man, Fergus published a small volume of poetry which is very autobiographical, and in a poem dedicated to his sister Bertha he describes their childhood:
To My Sister Bertha
Do you ever think, dear Bertha,
When the white-lock'd winter came,
How we gazed upon the pictures
He painted on the payne;
Or, how we cluster'd round the hearth
When the breath of eve was cold,
And listen'd to the simple tale,
Our cherished mother told.
Or, how we closed the shutters,
And let the curtains fall,
To watch her snowy fingers sketch
The rabbit on the wall;
Or build frail palaces of cards,
Reared but to tumble down;
So, like the friendship of the world,
First smiles, and then a frown.
And how we often fortune tried,
With key and molten lead;
So happy, that we heeded not,
How swift the evening fled,
Till warned that we must place aside,
Our play things and our cares,
And bow, before our mother's knee,
To offer up our prayers.
And then, the holy kiss she gave,
The soft, fond words "good night',
Filled up the chalice of our hearts
With exquisite delight;
And when in dreamland we had roved,
Like spirits for a while,
The morning would bring back again
Her saint-like happy smile.
Or, does remembrance, Bertha,
Ever waft across thine ear,
The songs the robin sweetly sung,
To glad the dying year?
When Flora ope'd her lattice,
To listen to the sound,
And dropt from out her bosom,
Pure snow-drops on the ground.
Or, how when Spring, with gladden'd step,
Came skipping merrily, Along the dell, the blossoms smiled
Upon the lilac tree;
And when the sky was angry,
And sullenly looked down,
The sunbeams lovingly would come,
To kiss away the frown.
Tis many, many years ago,
And some have pass'd away;
Home's sacred circle broken,
And ringlets dash'd with grey;
But our mother still is with us-
Be this our earnest pride,
To nourish, love and bear her up,
On life's tempestuous tide.
I have wander'd far, dear Bertha,
And many changes seen,
But ne'er forget our childish sports
Upon the village green;
And ever o'er my rambling way,
And ever in my dreams,
The influence of thy loving words
In bright refulgence gleams.
And, oh! I trust that you and I,
May hopefully pursue,
The journey of this life, and glean
Thoughts beautiful and new!
May virtue be your guiding star,
Then angel songs will swell,
And seraphs echo back the theme,
She "doeth all things well".
The entire volume of Fergus Hughan's poetry can be found on googlebooks, and within its pages can be found many references to his family.
In October of 1839, when Fergus was 10 ½ years old, his parents applied for him to be accepted into the Royal Caledonian Asylum School in London. The Highland Society of London had launched an appeal in 1808 to raise money for an Asylum to house and educate the many young Scots who were roaming the streets of London, having been orphaned by the Napoleonic wars. It took seven years to raise sufficient funds and to prepare the necessary Act of Parliament needed to create the Asylum.
The first Asylum was opened in December 1819 in Hatton Garden "for supporting and educating the children of soldiers, sailors, marines, &c. natives of Scotland, or born of indigent Scottish parents resident in London", and was replaced in 1826 by a newly built Asylum in Copenhagen Fields, Islington. It remained there for 77 years and lent its name to the "Caledonian Road". The children were well known in London for their distinctive school uniform, which consisted of Highland dress in the Royal Stewart tartan.
Children were admitted from the ages of seven till ten years, and were maintained as live-in students until they were 14. At this age they were placed into apprenticeships, and exchanged their distinctive Highland dress uniforms for a plain suit of clothes. It was a boys-only school until the mid-1840s, after which time girls were also admitted.
Fergus’s application form gives his birth year as 1830, whereas it is given as 1829 on the form of his brother Allan. It may have been altered to make Fergus younger by a year and thus allow him to scrape in under the ten year age limit.
Fergus appears in the 1841 census as a pupil living at the Royal Caledonian School in Islington, aged 11.
Fergus was fifteen years old when his father died in 1844, and so would have been placed out in his apprenticeship. I have no way of knowing what this was or who he worked for, but it may have been to do with book keeping or similar as he worked as a clerk upon his arrival in Victoria.
The earliest trace I can find of Fergus Hughan in Australia is in the Sydney Morning Herald of October 2, 1850, which states: "Petty Sessions-Port Phillip. His Excellency, the Governor, has appointed Mr. Fergus McIvor Hughan to be Clerk of Petty Sessions at Mount Macedon in the District of Port Phillip." On November 9, 1850, Fergus had published in the Argus newspaper a notice regarding licenses for Hawkers and Pedlers, and signed it "Fergus McIvor Hughan, Clerk of Petty Sessions, Court House."
In May of 1851, Fergus had a poem published in the Argus, titled "To My Native Country ", and his address was still given as 'Mount Macedon.
In 1851 mention is made of him in a Victorian Government Gazette as being the Mount Macedon Post Office Post Master.
He was about 20 or 21 years of age when his mother and sisters immigrated to Victoria in 1850.Fergus and probably his youngest brother, 13 year old Allan, must have arrived in Victoria sometime during 1850.
It seems as though Fergus's appointment in Mount Macedon lasted only until late 1851...on December 23, 1851, a poem by Fergus was published in the Argus, and his address was given as " 'Youngera', Lower Murray." This was the station belonging to his sister, Jessie Hughan McCallum, and her husband Alexander. From here Fergus moved down to Geelong, and became a resident of the town for some years.
In 1853 Fergus was involved with the celebrations for the commencement of Victoria's first provincial railway, from Geelong to Melbourne..."As Governor La Trobe left the Council Chambers he was introduced to F.M Hughan, who read to him and presented his original poetic memento of the occasion. It was printed on satin."

In August of 1854, Fergus was again trotted out as Geelong's resident Bard on the occasion of Sir Charles Hotham's first visit to Geelong. The latter's response to Fergus's lengthy tome, which was read aloud to him by Fergus, was as follows:
" The beautiful poetry with which you have clothed the language of your warm-hearted address demands a reply in language of a kindred nature. To this, unfortunately, I am a stranger. I am a man of arms, not versed in poetic flights of fancy. I can, however, appreciate the beauty of your composition, and am glad to thank you for the kind and warm sentiments contained in the language in which you have clothed your address."
I am not one to judge mid-19th Century poetry, but suffice to say that I am not a huge fan. Fergus Hughan's Ode to Sir Charles Hotham ended thus:

" May Justice ever guide thine arm of power,
To scatter blessings like a summer shower
Alike on all, that all may bloom more fair,
Like Joy upstarting from the grave of Care.
Thus nobly act, that when thy spirit flies,
Blessings may bear it gently thro' the skies.
Children will lisp thy name, men fondly tell
Thine arduous mission was performed well.
The page of history shall embalm thy name,
In blazing letters as the child of fame,
Sorrow will oft her harpstrings mournful sweep,
And memory stand beside thy tomb to weep."

The Port Phillip Herald of November 13, 1854 reported on his lecture on poetry which was delivered to the Geelong Literary and Scientific Society..." A lecture on poetry was delivered on Monday evening to the members of the Geelong Literary & Scientific Society by Mr. F.M Hughan. The attendance was numerous as usual."
Upon arrival in their new country, Hannah Hughan with her daughters Bertha and Laura and Laura’s husband Arthur Paton had settled in Geelong, which is probably the reason why Fergus also took up residence in the district. He may have lived with his sister and mother, and he was certainly fond of his nieces and nephews as testified by the poems dedicated to them in his book.
In 1855 a letter by Fergus Hughan was published in the Geelong Advertiser on November 27, and his address was given as 'Somerville'. On July 30 previous, he had registered the death of Arthur Paton, his brother-in-law, and recorded his own details as "office clerk, New Town". Arthur and his wife Laura Hughan were living at 'Sommerville Cottage, New Town" at the time of his death, so if Fergus wasn't living at 'Sommerville Cottage' with his sister's family at the time of Arthur's death, he certainly was within several months.
In 1856 Fergus published his book of poems entitled "The Emigrant". He was referred to in print several times as "Geelong's own poet laureate". A letter written by Fergus on March 25, 1856, gave his address simply as 'Geelong', and was an application for the post of "Collectorship of the electoral list for the electoral district of Geelong". Accompanying his own letter was a reference letter from A. Thomson, the Mayor of Geelong, supporting the suitability of Fergus for the task.
In the infamous 1862 Joseph Bishop letter ( in which the uncle of Fergus's future brother-in-law, Henry Bishop, was scathing in his comments about the Hughan family), Fergus received the full blast of Joseph's wrath...
" Fergus YOU know, no punishment or privation or pain this fellow may undergo will give him half his desserts, because I look upon him as the cause of all the trouble and misery this family have for years suffered, struggled with. This wretch had an appointment as clerk on the bench at Kyneton which from his degraded drunken, smoking habit he lost- and from that circumstance their troubles commenced. And what has he done or been since? Look at him now and say."
This period at Kyneton may have been anywhere between 1857-1861. In January of 1857 he was still in Geelong, having signed a petition there in an attempt to proclaim a portion of Geelong 'Barwon South Municipality'.
In 1861 F.M Hughan had published in the Melbourne Herald a poem which he penned in memory of Bourke and Wills called 'The Lost Explorers'. This poem was later selected by Wills' father for inclusion in a narrative he published about his son.
Over the next few years Fergus Hughan had many poems published in newspapers, including one which was commissioned for the first edition of the Riverine Herald on July 1, 1863. In 1866, the Geelong Advertiser published 'May and I', and it was signed "F.M Hughan, Inverleigh, January 27, 1866."
On February 22, 1872, Fergus registered the death of his brother-in-law Henry Edmiston, clerk, at Ballarat, and stated on the certificate that he was a journalist from Melbourne. The following year, in November of 1873, Fergus was given an appointment as clerk with the Victorian Public Service.
In between different jobs and postings, Fergus also managed to find the time during the 1850s and the first part of the 1860s to assist his sister Jessie Hughan McCallum on her station, 'Youngera' on the Murray River near Swan Hill. Both he and his younger brother Allan Hughan worked closely with the Aboriginals who lived on 'Youngera', and Fergus was quoted with an 'interesting anecdote" in R. Brough-Smyth's 1878 publication "The Aboriginals of Victoria- Volume 1".
Fergus was definitely at 'Youngera' in 1865, the year of his sister Jessie's death. A notice appeared in the Victorian Police Gazette as follows: " Swan Hill- impounded at Swan Hill Pound, 25 August, 1865, by F.M. Hughan Esq for Alexander McCullum (sic) Esq, Youngera. Trespass, 1s. each. Chestnut filly, bay mare, dark bay colt, dark bay mare. John benbow, Poundkeeper'.

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