This is part of a news story I came across a few years ago in the Illustrated Sydney News (while looking for pictures) and I shared the last sentence on Facebook because, well, it is such a fascinatingly constructed sentence. But I did wonder what it was the stirred the writer so. The answer is below.


The mortality in Melbourne has recently been very great –but on whom has it chiefly fallen ? A casual visitor must be amazed at the number of funerals that throng the streets-but of what size are most of the coffins ? The coffins are not those of full-grown men and women, nor from the adult class has the great majority of victims been selected. It is the children, the little children that are being borne so thickly to the grave, and a strong man might carry under each arm half-a-dozen of the coffins. with their contents. . . . The Argus has thought itself bound, for the sake of appearances, to say something on the matter, and by it certain causes have been assigned for this wholesale destruction, of infancy. . . . With the fact before him that the populous and crowded city of Melbourne–is–not imperfectly, not badly, drained–but altogether destitute. of drainage–with the fact before him that every impurity, and filth, and offal, is flung upon the surface of the ground, there to rot and fester, and thence to rise in reeking poison-clouds to heaven with the palpable fact before him that Melbourne is nothing but one gigantic cesspool, seething and steaming round habitations which deserve not to be called human-with this fact thrusting itself upon his eyes, pulling him by the nose, forcing itself into his lungs, bub-bling in his ears, and clinging to his feet at every step our contemporary, we say, has, nevertheless, solemnly ignored this fact, and, when pretending to account for the great mortality among children, has wilfully omitted all mention of that which would alone account for a much greater mortality among people of every age.
Illustrated Sydney News, Saturday 18 March 1854

Bourke Street, Melbourne (from State Libarary of Victoria)

This would be the Argus article in question. I was going to just quote the relevant bits but I think that would it’s whole obliviousness. So here it in its entirety. (You can skim/skip the second and third paragraphs dismissing climate & water as causes if you’re in a hurry.)


Melbourne is gradually acquiring the reputation of being the most unhealthy city in the Australasian colonies. The rate of mortality, especially among children, is assuming a serious aspect. Dysentery seems now to occupy the position here which the plague does in Constantinople, and the yellow fever in New Orleans. Various impressions are afloat as to the cause of this complaint ; and for the sake of newly-arrived immigrants, who are apt to be unduly alarmed, when a few hints would fortify them against fear as well as danger, it may be as well to subject some of those impressions to a little scrutiny.

It will not do to attribute the prevalence of dysentery or the general unhealthiness of the city to the climate. So soon after a hot and dusty day, we are in no humor for penning a special eulogium upon it ; but we have been long enough in the colony to be capable of forming a pretty correct estimate of its character, and, in spite of all the dust and discomfort that we have to contend with, we have no hesitation in reiterating the many favorable qualities which we and others have hitherto ascribed to it. Time was when doctors could find no employment among us. There was no fault found with the climate then ; and we who feel it to be unchanged, cannot join those who have had less experience of it in finding fault with it now. The variations in the temperature are not of recent date, nor are they of themselves so injurious as people may be apt to suppose. The same variations occur in other countries, and generally under such conditions as to produce that prejudicial effect upon the constitution which they do not possess here. In Canada the thermometer will sometimes fall forty degrees in twenty-four hours. There it will suddenly fall from the temperate to the freezing point, when the system becomes thoroughly chilled ; here, after subjecting us to a smart perspiration, it falls, before we are exhausted to a point which affords positive relief. The sensation is that of comfort, not of chilliness. The usual precaution of wearing flannel next the skin affords sufficient protection against any possible danger that may arise from this source. This applies, however, chiefly to adults. Children require more care; and it is surprising that parents are not more watchful in this respect. Any person in the habit of observing these minor matters will be astonished to see the carelessness with which colonial children are sometimes treated. To-day exposed uncovered to the burning sun, it is only the necessary consequence of such culpable conduct to find that to-morrow they have withered, at if struck by a pestilence. It is one half of the daily care of the people of England to fortify themselves against their climate. If they would, on emigrating, exercise similar vigilance, they would have fewer losses of a domestic nature to mourn over in the land of their adoption.

Yarra River (from State Library of Victoria)

Some, who have nothing to say against the climate, blame the bad water. As a general rule, newly-arrived immigrants are warned that it is unsafe to use the Yarra water, unless mixed with some spirituous liquor, by way of counteracting its deadly qualities ! A more erroneous impression could not be entertained. It would be difficult to find anywhere water of better quality than that of the Yarra. This is the testimony, not only of men of science, but of travellers who have tasted of the waters of the Mississippi, and the Nile, the Jordan and the Ganges. It coincides with our own experience, and with that of many others, who have expressed an opinion upon the subject. We have often had occasion to complain of practices on the banks of the river, which are anything but calculated to improve the character, or raise the reputation, of the water ; but it must be remembered at the same time, that a running stream has the advantage of constantly doing something to restore its own purity. The Liquor Law League should institute an inquiry into this subject, at the impression we have endeavored to remove has been a fruitful source of drunkenness, and will be a standing argument against the legal prohibition of spirit-selling.

It would be more reasonable and more in accordance even with the apparent, as well as real, facts of the case, to attribute the extra disease and extra mortality in the city to bad liquor rather than to bad water. This is a point on which it is superfluous to dilate.

The health of the colonists has also been considerably affected by the large quantities of unwholesome flour that have been imported. A letter on this subject appeared in our column lately, and since its appearance, the question has been taken up in the Tasmanian Athenaeum. In the opinion of an eminent scientific writer quoted by that journal, sour flour it totally unfit to be used as human food. It has, however, as nearly every stomach in Melbourne can testify, been used by the bakers here to a very large extent. Such bread is literally poisonous ; but it is sold by its manufacturers without compunction, and its sale is permitted by Government without the slightest restriction. We have inspectors to test the quantity of a loaf, but they have no authority to look into its quality. Short weight is a greater crime in the eyes of the law than wholesale murder!

Swanston Street, Melbourne (from State Library of Victoria)

Together with bad bread, we have bad mutton. A correspondent wrote us the other day that his fowls had been killed by eating the flies that had been dressed by Dr. Lewis’s fly-mixture. But the squatters would make us believe that we may without injury, eat mutton that it redolent of arsenic, mercury, or corrosive sublimate! On their own showing, much of the mutton sold it either diseased, or dressed with the afore-mentioned ?ea?-mixtures. Has this no effect upon the public health? Here also there is no efficient check. If they can only manage to bring diseased sheep to market, there is nothing to prevent them from being sold there.

Add to all this the great scarcity of vegetables, without a supply of which it is well known that not only is perfect health impossible, but that serious consequences are often the result. At half-a-crown each, cabbages are a luxury beyond the reach of multitudes in this colony. So is milk at a shilling a pint, though without it children cannot thrive, and a large infant mortality must inevitably be consequent upon the deprivation.

With murderous liquor, poisonous bread, diseased mutton, and a famine of vegetables:—not to mention other things which more especially affect Melbourne only, is it wonderful that dysentery and other diseases should be alarmingly prevalent? And with such immediate causes for the evil, is there any necessity for blaming the climate of Victoria, or the naturally good and pure water of the Yarra?

Our rulers are to blame for much of this. It is painful to think of it, and it is with an unwilling pen that we trace the evil to its source. It is partly for want of available land in a country where millions of acres lie waste, that we are obliged to eat unwholesome bread. We have no fields, no gardens, no orchards, no vine yards at all, in the proportion that they have them in the adjoining colonies. We have wealth, but we have neither the homes, the health, nor the happiness that would be enjoyed by the possession of a few acres of land. It seems a small boon; and yet it seems impossible to get it!
Argus, 13 January 1854

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