|[Brighton Beach] [art original] / Henry Burn, circa 1862. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Collection, H301.|
Dr Alexander Hunter was a fairly complex character whose private life was picked over in the Melbourne newspapers of the day. A Scot, he had studied in Edinburgh and arrived in Port Phillip on 19 July 1849 as a Surgeon Superintendent on the "Victory" from Glasgow. He had left behind a wife and son who claimed he had deserted them. They arrived in Melbourne in 1852 where they found him in practice as a surgeon in Great Collins Street. Two advertisements in The Argus reveal the nature of his practice, and his inclination to help the poor:
A CARDDR HUNTER, Consulting and Operating Surgeon - Begs leave to say, that owing to the misconceptions which have repeatedly come to his ear, in reference to his Professional Fees, he feels it his duty, to take this the only means of correcting the error by stating, that according to the rank or position of the patient, the fee of one guinea, entitles to two, three or four consultations, or visits Melbourne, Great Collins-street, East, 5th October, 1850.Friday 11 October 1850 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4765064
DR HUNTER, Consulting and Operating Surgeon, has made arrangements to devote from 9 to 10 o'clock, every morning, to giving advice free, to all those classes who are anxious to consult him, but who, from circumstances, are unable to pay for it. 62, Great Collins street, Eastern Hill,Wednesday 5 March 1851 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4776536
In a very long self-vindication, Hunter gave an airing of his private family life at a public meeting, published in The Argus in 1859. The main cause of his difficulties, he claimed, stemmed from his wife's mental infirmities. I have noted, however, that after Hunter's death Mrs Hunter remarried, to a reverend gentleman, so she cannot have been too obviously deranged. By 1851 Hunter was an MLA for East Melbourne, serving from 1859 to 1861. Further troubles caused him to leave for New Zealand in 1862, dying in Hokitika in 1867. If Hunter had hoped to escape his notoriety by hiding away in New Zealand, it must be noted that George Griffith from Melbourne was also in Hokitika in 1867. "Why, Dr Hunter! WHAT a coincidence!"
But to return to the period when Mrs Hunter arrived from Scotland, Dr Hunter closed his practice in Melbourne.
He went to live at Brighton until he realised his property, which was then sufficient to keep him in affluence. He was tempted to build some houses at Brighton, which occupied 10 months, and during that time his house was the theatre of scenes such as no tongue could tell. Mrs. Hunter would, in spite of his servants, make her escape from his house, and rush about the country, saying that he wanted to poison her. He was then wealthy, but suddenly the affairs of the colony began to turn, and through the title to his property being questioned, his houses being unlet, and the loss of a law-suit, he found himself a poor man. There were two courses for him to adopt - to lie down and die, go back to his native country a poor man; or, like a brave man, beat back his difficulties. He felt that in a free country nothing could stand before him. He had lived on bread and water previously, and could do so again. The only drawback was Mrs. Hunter. He returned to Melbourne and again succeeded ; but the seeds of trouble were sown so deep that they afterwards sprang up so as to overwhelm almost to strangle-him.
It was into this house of discord and confusion that Susan was brought to be a servant when Dr Hunter of Brighton employed her off the boat.
On 5 April 1854 Dr Hunter announced in the Melbourne papers that he was resuming his practice at his old residence in Great Collins St, East. It is possible that there is some connection, perhaps only an opportunity, between that announcement on 5 April and one which was placed in The Argus on 21 April 1854:
Ship Harpley. If this should meet the eye of Elizabeth Rochester, her sister Susan is very anxious to hear from her. Address Post Office Brighton.
We can deduce from this that Susan did not know that Elizabeth had married in the previous December, and certainly not of her whereabouts. They had presumably not heard from each other since being separated on arrival in July 1853. We don't know how long it was before Elizabeth heard or saw the ad, if she did at all at this time.
Another co-incidence can be noted here - in that Dr Hunter's premises were in the same street as Wilkie's Music Saloon where George Griffith had been, or was, working. It was only one block away. Is this where Susan and George met, somewhere in Collins Street? The Argus premises, by the way, was also in Collins Street at this time, at number 74, a few doors away from Dr Hunter. In her ad Susan used the Post Office at Brighton as her return address, so presumably at this time she was still residing in Brighton. She may have left the employ of the Hunters some time earlier and was working for another family, we cannot be sure.
|Collins Street when George and Susan knew it in 1853. Hand-coloured lithograph by Edmund Thomas, 1853, courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Collection, H15480|
We don't know where Susan met George Griffith, but a few months after the break-up of the Hunter household at Brighton, around early September 1854, Susan became pregnant. Susan may have come in to Melbourne to seek work, or perhaps had transferred from the Brighton household to the house in Great Collins Street. It would have helped enormously if they had married, but it would seem that they did not, and whatever useful information we might have had from such a document, disappointment is our lot. My suspicion is that the older George had been married in England, or someplace else, but that also remains unresolved. George was 30, Susan was 16.
The child was born in Wangaratta on 17 April 1855 - 8 days after the second anniversary of the leaving of Southampton.