Legend has it that John Pascoe Fawkner wrote a constitution for his dream colony – behind the bar of a pub in Tasmania sometime in the 1830s. His hope was that this constitution would one day ensure equality for all men, whether convicts or free settlers. Whatever its origins, the constitution is evidence that Fawkner saw a new colony as an opportunity to make a better society:
...Two men were actually put to death by hanging for one Shoulder of Mutton [...] Such Laws we mutually pledge ourself to prevent in this our infant settlement.
– John Pascoe Fawkner
Fawkner, J P 1832–1871, Papers, Manuscripts collection, State Library of Victoria, MS 13273.
Prior to Federation in 1901, up to 80 people were hanged in Australia every year for petty crimes. Convicts were transported to Australia for small crimes like stealing a loaf of bread, and were sentenced to decades of hard labour.
At that time there was no colony on the Yarra, and Melbourne was still to be created by men like Fawkner and John Batman. Fawkner didn't know where the settlement was going to be, but he knew what he wanted it to be like. When he wrote the constitution, he left a blank space for the location of the settlement, and concentrated more on bold statements like, ‘Man naturally is free' and ‘All men have equal and political rights.'
There were some rights that Fawkner wanted to curtail, however, to protect the fledgling colony from social problems. He wrote in his draft constitution:
Each and every person found drunk in the Streets roads or grounds be they ever so private [...] shall be liable to be taken up and confined until Sober and shall be punished by being put to Hard Labour for the Good of the Public...
– John Pascoe Fawkner
Unfortunately, his vision of a community where all men would be socially and politically equal was not shared by most of his contemporaries. Although Fawkner went on to be one of Melbourne's first settlers and a founding member of Victorian parliament, his radical democratic ideas led to him being excluded from the writing of Victoria's first constitution.
Fawkner's constitution is an excellent example of the contradictory nature of the man, and the ambitious vision which drove him to settle in Port Phillip Bay.