The Costermonger and the Donkey: Stories from Old Hobart

A Letter to The Critic

The Critic was a weekly journal, published in Hobart from 1908 until 1924. The University of Tasmania’s Companion to Tasmanian History describes it as “a general-interest weekly, specialised in historical reminiscence”.

On Friday 9th June, 1922, under the title “Reminiscences of the Past”, The Critic printed a letter from a reader who called himself “Veteran”. Veteran writes about “the long, long ago”, and later quotes an article from The Mercury of 1867. I think these stories bring the past alive, and I’m fascinated and charmed by the way they used language back then, so here’s the letter, verbatim.

Some opening comments: The article was transcribed from a patchy reproduction, kindly digitised by the National Library of Australia. Ellipses (…) indicate that I couldn’t read the word. If anyone else can make them out (link above), please leave a comment.

Also, in case this saves you some time: At first I thought the pronoun “himself” was a mistake. But by the time I got to “he” and “his” I realised Patsy was a man. It takes me a while, but I get there in the end.

Finally, the illustrations are not directly related to the story. They’re included as aids to the imagination. They might help you to picture Hobart around the turn of the century … and  costermongers.

All Nations Hotel corner of Elizabeth St and Collins St Hobart, Tasmania (c1900s)
Corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets early 1900s courtesy of Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office NS392-1-741

Crawfish and saveloys

Veteran writes about: “the hawkers which enlivened proceedings in the streets of Hobart in the long, long ago. Their well-trained calls such as “Fresh Oysters, fine oysters” “Crawfish, fresh crawfish” “Hot pies — all hot,” “Hot saveloys” etc resounded through the streets of the city after nightfall, and the vendors were invariably active, and cleanly attired battlers who had, no doubt, qualified for their respective calling in the Old Country…”

Murray Street looking south from Bathurst Street Hobart, ca. 1910 600
Murray Street looking south from Bathurst Street Hobart, ca. 1910 Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office NS1013-1-818


The Costermonger and the Young Bloods

Veteran writes: “… I have looked in vain for records of Hobart’s champion fruit hawker, viz. Patsy Maher, who was a dapper little costermonger whose quarters were located in Sackville Street, contiguous to the Theatre Royal, in the aristocratic quarter of Wapping.

Costermonger Black Jack Street_Life_in_London',_1877,_by_John_Thomson_and_Adolphe_Smith-)
Costermonger London 1877 via Wikimedia*

* Again, simply an aid to imagination.

“Patsy’s donkey was especially popular with the citizens, and its “hee haw” and is owner’s sonorous “whoa hoss” always provoked an (… ) laughter.

Collins St Hobart c1910 J W Beattie publisher Flickr
Collins St, c1910, via Aussie Mobs on Flickr


The donkey-drawn fruit-laden go-cart was a daily (… ) object outside the Government  offices, banks and other business places with the staffs of which Patsy conducted a roaring trade, thanks to the excellent quality of the fruit which he provided this army of customers with and his preparedness to collect (…) from young bloods in the (…)offices.

“A Ludicrous Illustration”

Veteran continues with an extract from The Mercury dated 23rd April 1867.

“The Donkey What Wouldn’t Go — The obstinacy of that four-footed animal called the donkey received a ludicrous illustration yesterday on board the Kangaroo steamer. Some time since, the renowned chief of Tasmanian costermongers, Patsy, secured to himself the only quadruped donkey in town, a (…)-looking brute, and, to Patsy, useful withal, as he took kindly to harness and became quite accustomed to draw Patsy’s fruit truck. Yesterday, as the donkey’s owner essayed to treat him to a marine excursion, utilising the occasion for administering to the wants of visitors at the Kangaroo Point Regatta, they proceeded to the wharf and after much trouble succeeded in embarking on the steamer.

O'May's Steamers Hobart 1888 by Anson Bros
O’May’s Steamers Hobart 1888 by Anson Bros thanks to TAHO 

“Arrived at the “Point” so much was the donkey in love with the boat that he declined again to tread mother earth and all Patsy’s threatening and persuasive powers failed to get the donkey off the vessel.

“The difficulty was eventually met by that practical man Mr Nash, the wharfinger, who produced a band barrow on which the ‘donkey what wouldn’t go’ was carried bodily from the steamer to the wharf amid general laugher. Probably the animal required the same procedure on its return trip in the evening.”


References and Further Reading

Roe, Michael (2006) “Newspapers”

“The Veteran” (1922), “Reminiscences of the Past”. The Critic, Friday 9th June 1922, p2. Hobart.


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