What’s On

Click on an event below to find out more about it. Events of the RHSV can also be found in our What’s On bulletin (pdf).

Melbourne Day Lecture – 30 August : Natural History of Early Melbourne
Lecture – 20 September : The Vagabond in Virginia & New Caldonia

The Natural History of Early Melbourne

Gary Presland
an event to celebrate Melbourne Day

Date: Tuesday 30 August 2016
Time: 1pm – 2pm (tea/coffee from 12.30pm)
Address: Royal Historical Society of Victoria,
239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne
Cost: free
Enquiries: (03) 9326 9288 or office@historyvictoria.org.au
Melburnians are invited to celebrate Melbourne Day (30 August) by exploring the role that nature and the environment has played in creating our city’s rich history.

Archaeologist and historian, Gary Presland, will present his fascinating talk, The Natural History of Early Melbourne, at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria on Tuesday 30 August.

“History is undoubtedly about human action but it is often written as though the actions took place in a vacuum,” explained Gary.


“What is not commonly included in the stories told about the European settlers of the Port Phillip region is anything relating to the physical context in which their activities took place.

“Little heed was paid by the settlers at the time – or, indeed, has been by subsequent generations in the 180 plus years since – to the role of the surrounding environments.

“Yet many features of the Port Phillip landscapes can be seen as having exerted an influence, in both the founding of the town and in the subsequent development and spread of the built environment.

“In my lecture I will focus on a variety of aspects of the history of Melbourne and illustrate that nature was always an active agent in these matters.”

Dr Gary Presland is an archaeologist, historian and former Head Curator with Museum Victoria. His research interests have long been in the Indigenous history and natural history of the Melbourne region, in both of which he has been published widely.  His most important works are The place for a village: how nature has shaped the city of Melbourne (Museum Victoria, 2008) and First people: the Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip and central Victoria (Museum Victoria, 2010). Gary is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, and an Honorary Fellow of the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne.


The Vagabond in Virginia and New Caledonia

Robert Flippen, Dr Willa McDonald with Michael Cannon
to celebrate the publication of the updated edition of The Vagabond Papers

Date: Tuesday 20 September 2016
Time: Drinks at 5.15pm, lecture at 6pm
Address: Royal Historical Society of Victoria,
239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne
Cost: $10 non-members; free for members of the RHSV
Enquiries: (03) 9326 9288 or office@historyvictoria.org.au

 The Vagabond in Virginia

John Stanley James arrived in Farmville, Virginia in March 1875. He made Farmville his home, built a grand mansion that still stands, and married a wealthy widow, Caroline Lewis James.

James’ aim was to assist in the revitalisation of the Southern economy; he was appointed to the local Bank Board and elected to the Southside Virginia Immigration Society in an attempt to recruit more Englishmen to the area. Assuming the persona of a man of letters ‘Dr’ J.S. Stanley James also established a private school in his home called Stanley Park Academy.


James exhibited a zeal for American nationalism, but after only six months in Farmville, he left suddenly due to a series of events and a spectacular fall from grace in the community. He left for Australia where he emerged from the ship with a new identity — Julian Thomas soon to become ‘The Vagabond’.

The Vagabond in New Caledonia

In 1878, John Stanley James sailed to New Caledonia to report for the Sydney Morning Herald on the Great Revolt. In one particularly moving report that the French military tried to suppress, John Stanley James described the execution by firing squad of five Canaques, including a thirteen- year-old boy, in retaliation for the killing of a colonists’ pigs.Robert (‘Bob’) E Flippen and Dr Willa McDonald will discuss the results of their new research into the Vagabond’s life before Australia.