Sydney Wild Men

Francis Adams (1862-1893)1

“Something of convictism and the convict still shows itself in Sydney”, said Francis Adams after he had first seen the “sprawling seaport” of Sydney in 1884 with its “288,000 people and 3,167 pubs”.2

Adams also said, “the brutality of the old slaving families administering hideous and unrepealed statutes” and the “rule of the squattocracy (sic) as voiced in a hopelessly subservient and corrupt legislature.” 3

The above comes from Wild Men of Sydney, an excellent read, and the book can still be found in secondhand book shops.4

Flogging was abolished in New South Wales (NSW), Australia in 1877 but was reintroduced in 1883. The first priority of the courts was the protection of a man’s property,5 and thus continued the tradition of the law, in favoring the rich, and punishing the poor, which continues today.

Blasphemy a crime

In the 1880s a boy of ten “could be sentenced by two magistrates to 18 lashes for picking a flower or writing a naughty word on a wall, or uttering a blasphemy, or an obscenity in public [ but] if he were over 18 the penalty could be increased to 30 lashes”.6

“Crimes against a person were of lesser importance than property, especially if the person was a working-man, a china-man, a wife or a child”.7

One man was sentenced to 10 years hard labour for stealing a horse whilst “another man who nearly scalped his wife [was only sentenced] to six months”.8

Wild Men of Sydney

Originally costing twenty shillings, the book, Wild Men of Sydney, by Cyril Pearl, first published in London in 1958, by WH Allen, was part of the Queanbeyan Municipal Library collection, until it was canceled and sold for three dollars.9

Because the book lacked an index and references, it sat for many years on a bookshelf gathering dust on its torn and faded red cover, its true value undiscovered until recent rain on the roof was an invitation to relax and read about NSW in the late 1800s.10

John Norton was “the most flamboyant example of the larrikin-demagogue that Australia has known” but this is “not a formal biography” as the Bulletin reported after Norton’s death in 1916, “Nobody could write John Norton’s history–not even John Norton.” 11

Larrikins all 12

Pearl’s description of a larrikin in the 1880s:

“a coward and a brute. He hunted in packs. His weapons were the boot, the broken tumbler, the butt of the bottle, the chunk of blue metal. … a product of the acute social inequality, the class bitterness and the frustration of his times, and it is not surprising that he had his sympathisers and his apologists”.13

The larrikin is the victim of circumstances,” wrote the Australian Workman in 1890, when Sir Henry Parkes proposed a drastic Act to deal with him”. … and a few years later, when more “repressive legislation was framed” another Sydney paper said:

You may imprison the larrikin, flog him or hang him and yet you will neither reform nor abolish him. He will continue to spit at eternal verities and cast his murky quid of tobacco in the face of the noonday sun … society is fully responsible for all the evil in him …”.14

Three 1890 larrikin examples, are depicted in the book Wild Men of Sydney:

The three remarkable rouges  John Norton, William Patrick Crick and William Nicholas Willis, all of whom sat for many years as Honourable members in the NSW Parliament. Their association lasted nearly 20 years. … They were aggressive and accomplished demagogues who made little or no attempt to conceal their complex villainies … but the frequent exposure of these villainies served only to consolidate their position as public heroes.15

Alcohol in the House

John Norton won a NSW by-election that was held a month before the NSW general election in 1898 and during a celebration at supporter Thomas Simcoe tailor shop, an overly intoxicated John Norton, who thought he was in the “outhouse” [toilets were outside the house] but was still in the parlour, embarrassed guests when he urinated  in front of them.16

Norton was sober when he took his seat in the NSW Parliament but was ejected three nights later when “stupidly drunk”. On the last night of the three week 1898 session (before the 1898 General Elections took place) a intoxicated Norton repeated his celebration act at Simcoe’s tailor shop and urinated before the NSW Parliament; Norton resisted arrest and screaming obscenities was dragged out of Parliament by two constables; a glass door was shattered in the struggle.17

John Norton was re-elected at the 1898 General Elections.18

“Fights between members [of NSW Parliament] were not uncommon and the sight of a drunken statesman falling off his bench during a debate excited amusement rather than indignation”, wrote author Cyril Pearl.19


“The drunkard’s cry from street to street was heard even above the din of the NSW Parliament”. And … a Commission of Enquiry sat in  1887″ found that Sydney is “more statistically ‘drunken’ than most cities in the United Kingdom” but “not quite as drunken as Liverpool” or “nearly as drunken as Limerick”.20

Sir Henry Parkes (Premier of NSW, known as the Father of Federation) and Sir George Dibbs,  both “scattered promissory notes” and “saw nothing improper in a Premier borrowing large sums that he could never repay and rewarding his creditors with a Cabinet appointment, or a comfortable seat in the Upper House”.21

The Queanbeyan Age reported that JJ Wright, Queanbeyan’s first Mayor (1885) and former member of the NSW Parliament, had demanded Sir Henry Parkes repay money he had borrowed from him.22

Closer to home

Trooper Martin Brennan, who was at the gold mining town of Lambing Flat (near Young, NSW) during the Chinese riots of 1861,23 later served in Queanbeyan as “Inspector (later Superintendent) Martin Brennan, who was in charge of the Queanbeyan Police in the late seventies” [1870s] .24

Martin Brennan said that Braidwood in the 1860s, “had a huge and hard-drinking population drawn from all parts of the world … an alluvial gold field … where gold was as easy to get as grog”. A gold-field population of “30,000 people housed in “slab huts, tents and galvanised iron humpies” were entertained in the 110 pubs and the “indescribable Saturnalia of Saturday nights … equaled at least the orgies of the ancient Greeks and Romans” and lasted till 5am.25

In response to a “deputation that protested about immorality in the Sydney Domain” another member of the NSW Parliament, Sir John Robertson pronounced that “clean grass is better than dirty sheets”.26

Author – Cyril Pearl

The three appendix at the back of Wild Men of Sydney, imply the author is trustworthy and the research is valid; they give excellent information, which would not be available through normal research; Appendix I: Family inheritance; Appendix II, Letter to Forde the historian; Appendix III: List’s Norton’s Napoleonic collection at the time of auction (Norton likened himself to Napoleon).28

The year dates and newspaper banners (names) appear liberally throughout the book,  and also imply trustworthiness; and allow research if you want to authenticate what has been written, but it is hard enough researching your own work without researching a researchers work – perhaps Pearl wasn’t aware of footnotes and bibliography documentation or didn’t want others to take advantage of his research?

Although there is evidence which implies the author, Cyril Pearl, is trustworthy and the research is valid; the failure to include an index and reference / bibliography in the book, Wild Men of Sydney, makes the book difficult to validated Pearl’s integrity and the interpretation of his research, in the context of how and why it was written; to check the fairness and interpretation of the written work through looking at complete documentation of parts of the research to check bias.


Footnotes / Resource

Adams, Francis William Lauderdale (1862-1893)
Born in Malta. Father: Andrew Leith Adams, army surgeon; Mother: Bertha Jane Grundy, well known novelist. Francis Adams spent several years in Canada and Ireland before attending English Schools form the age eight; in Paris he studied French with the intention of entering the diplomatic service, but whilst in France he drafted his first novel and determined he would be a writer; he married Helen Elizabeth Uttley, who was six years older than himself; whilst teaching; his health deteriorated his childhood illness became tuberculosis (TB) and he was advised to go to Australia; landing in Melbourne in 1884; from Melbourne he went to Sydney where he had his second haemorrhage soon after his wife, Helen had joined him; they moved to Brisbane in 1886; his son Leith was born in June; his wife Helen died in July; Leith died in November; Francis Adams second marriage was to Australian, Edith Goldstone, a former actress and nurse (who would outlive him). Adams saw “literature as a revolutionary weapon”. On Australia, Adams wrote: “The people in Australia breathes free … This is a true republic, the truest, as I take it, in the world.” He returned to England (with Edith) and there he wrote constantly in the last years of his life, before his health deteriorated with reoccurring haemorrhage’s, and before he committed suicide. Francis Adams published books and poetry and his contribution to Australian literature is considered  important.
2. Pearl. Cyril, Wild Men of Sydney. WH Allen, London, 1958, p. 11.
3. Ibid, p. 11.
4. Seen  at “Canty’s” secondhand bookshop, Fyswick, Canberra, ACT, Australia, on December 22, 2009.
5. Pearl, 1958, p. 11.
6. Ibid, p. 11.
7. Ibid, p. 11-12.
8. Ibid, p. 12.7. Ibid, p. 15.
9. Sheedy (BEM). Bert & Betty Percy, Moneroo to Monaro – History of Monaro Street 1830s-1995. Queanbeyan City Council, 1995, pp. xii-xiii.
(i) Queanbeyan was named and proclaimed a village on “October 3, 1838″; (ii) Queanbeyan became a municipality “under the name of the Borough Council of Queanbeyan” on “February 3, 1885″; (iii) Queanbeyan changed from a municipality to a city when it received “city status on July 5, 1972″. (iv) Queanbeyan City Library often has “clearance sales” to cull the number of books, on its shelves that may be damaged or for other reasons. The book Wild Men of Sydney was purchased for $3 around 2003.
10. Connee-Colleen © “Queanbeyan Outlook (127), Gathering dust”, The Queanbeyan Age, February 15, 2008, p. 22.
11. Pearl, 1958, p. 9.
12. (i) Johansen. Lennie (Midge), The Penguin book of Australian Slang – A Dinkum guide to OZ English, Penguin Books, 1996, 3rd edition, p. 236; 292. (First published as The Dinkum Dictionary in 1988; second edition published in 1991,  The author collected Australian Slang for over 20 years before publishing; the author ‘Lennie’ is a woman and was born in 1950, in Sale, Victoria, Australia; she is a poet, potter and sculptor who now lives on Queensland’s Gold Coast, p. i.).
(ii) A larrikin nowadays is not as wild as in the 1880sand has milder connotations. This is the 1996 version from the above book: “Larrikin: Hooligan; loutish youth; rough, rowdy, boisterous young man, p. 236. ; and (iii) “off like a larrikin’s hat in the breeze”: removed quickly; depart hastily, p. 292.
13. Pearl, 1958, p. 8-9 .
14. Ibid, p. 8-9.
15. Ibid, p. 7.
16. Ibid, p. 129.
17. Ibid, p. 129-30.
18. Ibid, p. 129.
19. Ibid, p. 15.
20. Ibid, p. 12.
21. Ibid, pp. 14-15.
22. The Queanbeyan Age, Queanbeyan, 1860-2010. [date has to be re-researched, sorry].
23. Bayley. William A, Rich Earth – History of Young, New South Wales. Young Municipal Council, 1977, pp, 24-33.
24. Lea-Scarlett, Errol. Queanbeyan District & People. Queanbeyan Municipal Council, 1968, p. 111.
25. Pearl, 1958, p. 53.
26. Ibid, p. 15.
28. Ibid, Appendix I, II, III, [The appendix's are not quoted in full] pp. 246-252:

Appendix I: [This is detailed in the book extensively] “When Norton died in 1916 he disinherited his wife and son and left the entire estate, valued at £100,000 pounds, with an annual net income of £15,000, to his daughter, less an annuity of a few hundred pounds to his “niece”, Eva Pannett”. [Norton’s wife appealed his will and she received a “third share of the nett income for life”. Mrs Norton bought out the “neice’s interest” for £8,000 and succeeded in having the Testator’s Family Maintenance Act back dated to before Norton’s death]; The wife kept her third share of the income and the “rest of the estate was divided between her son and the daughter. The value of the estate at the hearing was “£191,000″; and the income £26,000″ – “The circulation of Norton’s newspaper The Truth had  risen from 145,000 at the time of Norton’s death to 280,00″. p. 245;

Appendix II: “This [letter is quoted in full in the book] is the full text of the letter, from which I have quoted, that Norton  [of 5 Royal Lane, Melbourne] wrote to historian J. M. Forde on Forde’s 74th birthday, May 9, 1914, pp.246-52 ;

Appendix III: “These [A list is quoted in full in the book] are some of the Napoleonic pieces that were sold at the auction of Norton’s furnishings at “St Helena” [Norton's mansion]; the huge Napoleonic library was not included in the sale”, pp. 253-255.

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