29 August, 2011

Bricks and Mortar

Trying to connect the topic of this post to the Barwon River is drawing a rather long bow, however I though it interesting enough to include anyway. So here goes:
A recent geocache hunt took me to Limeburners' Point where the remains of five lime kilns can still be seen so of course I snapped a few photos and did some research.
Remains of lime burning kiln at Limeburners' Point, East
One of the earliest and most important industries to develop in the Geelong region was the production of lime which was in high demand by the building trade where it was used in the production of mortar, cement, plaster and stucco amongst other things. Lime production on the site is believed to date back to 1838 and the earliest days of European settlement in the region when limestone was quarried nearby and burnt in kilns on the western side of the point. Seashells were also collected and used in production. This site was no doubt chosen for the availability of limestone which was found in the cliffs, in the limestone gravel of the beach and in the shells which collected there. 
The limestone in the cliff face which is believed to be between 65 and 3 million years old was covered by a layer of clay, deposited in a later period. Other limestone deposits in the region are believed to have formed around 20 - 35 million years ago during the Oligocene-Miocene periods, when changing sea levels lead deposits of shells to form along shorelines which no longer exist. I wasn't able to discover how the deposit at Limeburners' Point relates geologically to these other deposits at places like Waurn Ponds, Fyansford and Batesford.
During the peak of operations at Limeburners' Point, the kilns operated day and night, burning timber which was hauled in on drays. Alternating layers of timber and limestone were fed into a funnel-like chimney at the top of the kilns which were stone and brick structures built into the cliff face. The contents were burnt, then the lime rendered by this process was collected from the chamber at the bottom of the chimney, bagged and carted away.
Remains of a bluestone quarry on the Barwon River
Initially owned by Messrs Taylor and Bourchier, the kilns were purchased in 1852 by George Cakebread from Caleb Joshua Jenner. Sources appear to differ on when the surviving kilns were built, however it would seem that these kilns date only to the 1860s or 70s. There are also the remains of a powder magazine at the site which dates back to 1854.
So important to the early building industry of the region was Cakebread's lime (the only other source of lime at that time was Point Nepean Peninsula) that it was shipped all over the Western District. I would imagine therefore that many of the significant homesteads of the region were built from rock quarried from basalt deposits along the Barwon and held together with mortar made using lime from the shores of Corio Bay.
One such example is Sladen House, Newtown which was built in 1849 with basalt taken from Melville's Quarry on the river at the bottom end of Noble Street. The first to do so.
Sladen House
Quite a number of quarries operated in this area: on West Fyans Street either side of Shannon Avenue, at Windmill Reserve overlooking Queen's Park and also near the end of Camden Road. All tapped into the deposits of basalt along the Barwon Valley, providing stone for local churches such as the Wesleyan Church in Noble Street, houses and even the Geelong-Queenscliff railway line.
Another example perhaps is the privately owned Barwon Bank in Riversdale Road, Newtown which was constructed between 1853 and 1856 from - I assume local - basalt, trimmed with freestone from the Barrabool Hills. Likewise, Barwon Park Mansion at Winchelsea is also built from basalt.
In addition to these buildings, Barwon Grange, Kardinia House and St. Albans Homestead along the banks of the Barwon are all brick, or stone and brick, structures built between 1850 and 1875 which presumably used Cakebread's lime.
Despite this overwhelming need for lime, pressure from tourist interests at nearby Eastern Beach soon saw the lime burning process forced to move to the eastern side of Limeburners' Point where these remaining kilns are situated. Production was not affected by the move and reached a peak in the 1870s, however nothing lasts forever and by 1875, another lime-burning operation located on the opposite side of Corio Bay at Duckponds (near Lara) was producing a superior quality lime. By the 1880s only one of the kilns at Limeburners' Point remained in operation and profits had dropped ten-fold.
Barwon Bank
The new producers had set up their kilns on the shores of the small lagoon into which Hovell's Creek empties. Somewhat confusingly, this is now known as Limeburners' Bay. At that time however, the entrance to the lagoon was known as  Limeburners' Point, with the site which is known by that name today, instead called Galena Point.
It is also worth mentioning that Duckponds and Limeburner's Point weren't the only source of Limestone in the region. The deposit near Waurn Ponds - an extension of which reaches to the Barwon where it forms the Belmont Escarpment - is still being quarried to make cement by Blue Circle Southern Cement Ltd. The stone is also used for monument-making purposes by various stonemasons in the region.
Historically, it seems that quarrying took place at Waurn Ponds as early as the 1840s, however it was probably only used for building purposes at this time. It was not until the 1880s when production at Limeburner's Point was in decline that kilns were built at Waurn Ponds and lime production began.
A little later, in 1890, the cement works at Fyansford commenced operation. The lime to supply these works was quarried about 5.6km away at Batesford from the Miocene era deposit which was found there in 1888. The rock was crushed on site and then transferred to the works at Fyansford first by a ropeworks and then by rail. With the opening of a new quarry in 1931, stone was loaded straight onto trucks and then taken to the works by rail for crushing. This open cut quarry is still in use today, despite the closure of the cement works.
Further research has just shown me that there was almost a very direct link between lime production in Geelong and the Barwon River. In the early 20th century the Fyansford Cement Works needed to get their product to the rail lines which would take it to Melbourne. Before the route from North Geelong to Herne Hill was eventually chosen, two other options were put forward. One was a railway line running from South Geelong through Newtown and Chilwell and then along what would become Deviation Road, whilst the other involved a siding running from South Geelong Station to the Barwon River and a wharf at Yarra Street. A second wharf upstream at Fyansford would be serviced by an aerial ropeway from the cement works. This plan however was overlooked in favour of the branch line from North Geelong.


  1. The research on bluestone, its relationship to the purpose and value of lime in construction, has helped in my own research on a privately built granite home (known as a Captain's Cottage) and public access stairs into a parkland. Both items have limited (at least to this amateur) information despite much enquiry. It encourages me to think that there just may be more info on my 2 area's of interest. Thanks to Jo Mitchell for this very helpful article.

  2. Thanks again for the comments Nev. Do you use trove.nla.gov.au when doing your research? The old newspapers are often the best source of information

  3. Very interesting to me as The Taylor & Bourchier you mention are my ancestors. They were brothers in law & both came out from Ireland. I have only recently discovered these two, so thank you.