22 September, 2012

A mill story!

Okay, enough of running for the moment! Time to get back to some local history with "a mill story" which for the record I am informed, is an old phrase referring to a piece of dubious gossip.
A couple of weeks back, I was involved in a very informative and extended exchange concerning flour mills in and around Fyansford and of course, the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers. For anyone interested, read this post and the comments attached thereto.
After quite a bit of scrounging through on-line sources, discussion and a little deduction my co-theorist and I reached some conclusions about flour milling in Fyansford in the mid-19th century.
The first problem we came up against in trying to sort out who owned what, when and where was the following statement which appears repeatedly on many sites, including some which should be relatively authoritative:
"In 1845 the first flour mill was erected by William Henry Collins on the banks of the Barwon."
Now, this statement is not as it turns out in and of itself incorrect. Collins did in fact open a flour mill on the Barwon in that year. The Union Steam Flour Mill. However, rather than being at Fyansford as is implied on various websites, this mill was located in Geelong next to where the Albion Woollen Mill was built, close to what is today, the James Harrison Bridge. This early flour mill eventually became the Union Woollen Mill which I have mentioned in a previous post. For the record, Collins also went on to establish the Collins Bros. Woollen Mill in the same area some years later.
Looking south towards the site of the Fyansford Steam Flour Mill,
September, 2012
All this however, is a separate issue to the Fyansford Steam Flour Mill which was built in the town of Fyansford.
This building was a 3 storey bluestone structure overlooking the banks of the Moorabool River. On 26th July, 1855, The Argus newspaper in describing Fyansford referred to "a very complete flour-mill". Records will show that the land on which the mill was built and the nearby Flour Mill House which still stands, were purchased by GJ Barthold at Fyansford's first land sales in 1854. Barthold and a business associate by the name of T Lowe appear to have run the mill until 1861 at which point they were declared insolvent and the mill sold. Exactly when this mill was built is not clear, but presumably it was not until the much later date of 1854 (not 1845) when Barthold bought the land.
To complicate things somewhat, by 1873 William Henry Collins to whom the building of the mill is wrongly attributed, was indeed the owner. In the Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser of 25th July, 1873 refers to "his [Collins'] mill at Fyansford". Whether he purchased it in 1861 when Barthold and Lowe went bust I cannot determine.
According to the Victorian Heritage Database (which is one of those responsible for perpetuating the myth that Collins built the mill), following on from Collins' tenure, the mill passed through various hands, serving at one point as a dance hall before being demolished in 1930. The associated Mill House (pictured below) has however survived to the present day.
Flour Mill House, Atkins St, Fyansford September, 2012

All this is of course, not to be confused with the 5 storey bluestone Barrabool Flour Mill which was built in about 1851 (perhaps as early as 1849 if some sources are to be believed) by John Highett. This water-powered mill was situated on Mount Brandon Peninsula overlooking the Barwon River about 1.5km upstream of the confluence of the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers. It is about 1km from Fyansford as the crow flies  and on the opposite side of the Barwon.

The Barrabool Flour Mill, held by the State Library of Victoria
And for the sake of completeness, the Barwon Paper Mill and its associated water race both of which still stand today on the Barwon, were built quite some years later in 1875 and are located a few hundred metres downstream from Highett's flour mill and on the opposite bank.


  1. There's quite a bit of milling heritage here. Pity that there is currently no leverage of this flour mill history by any of the current boutique bakeries/artisan breadmakers on Geelong. Would be nice to see them keep it local, and simultaneously differentiate, by paying homage to this milling history - even if just a passing reference in their advertising eg. " as made in 18**", or " baking here since 1912".

  2. Joe,
    I think part of the problem is that these flour mills closed so long ago and there is no visible sign of them today. Everyone knows about the paper mill which is still standing and many of the woollen mills are still there in one form or another too, but not the flour mills. As for the bakeries, I'm struggling to think of any that might have been around for any great length of time to make that kind of claim.

  3. Thanks for all this flour mill history, Jo. It is a pity that the Barrabool Flour mill remains were demolished by a previous farmer owner (Mt Brandon peninsula land) during my lifetime. I remember piles of bluestone near there, from when I was a child 40-45 years ago, but as the land was in private ownership, we rarely walked around the area then. Helen.

  4. If you want an accurate account it is most likely in the family diary which is in my fathers possession, us being direct descendants of William Henry Collins.

    1. Hi Cat - I'm replying here to a 7yo entry so maybe you wont see this.. I am interested in that diary you mention.. We are trying to trace our Collins' family from a Edward(John) Collins whose oldest record we have is a marriage in Geelong in 1856 to a Mary McCallum both age abt 20yo. Church register (still there) records his parents as John and Anne Collins and his place of birth 'Van Diemans Land'. His death certificate at age 28 records him as being in Victoria 18 years.
      I dont know if this matches anything in your diary?

  5. Hi Cat,
    I am fascinated to hear that your father has a diary for the Collins family and would love to learn anything that you are able to contribute to the discussion. Does the family still live locally?


  6. I received the following comment from archaeologist Geoff Hewitt which adds further detail to the above post, so with permission am posting it here also:

    Hi Jo,
    Congratulations on your blogspot. You have certainly covered some ground.
    As I was heavily involved with archaeological excavations around Fyansford,
    I have covered some of the same ground and I am happy to say I agree with
    you on most if not all of your investigations and conclusions.concerning
    the flour mills, ownerships and consequences. As it is some years since
    your blogs on the Fyansford mill, you have probably reached some further
    conclusions so if the following is old news for you, I apologise:
    Andrew Millar was the third partner in the Barthold and Lowe Fyansford
    venture. This, of course, is the same Millar who went on to construct the
    paper mill. There seems to have been a disagreement, possibly over Millar's
    choice of engine, and he left the partnership in 1856. Millar conveyed his
    third share in the mill to Barthold and Lowe for fifteen hundred pounds
    which B & L borrowed on mortgage with power of sale from William Henry
    Collins. The Collins connection to both the Barwon and Fyansford flour
    mills caused the confusion about building dates in the sources that were
    subsequently used by Heritage Victoria.
    I think that you are absolutely correct about Collins removing the
    machinery to his woollen mill in Geelong prior to selling the mill and land
    to Edwin Hopton. At the time Hopton was leasing the old Fyans Ford Inn from
    the Mercer family and ran it as the Swan Hotel until relocation of the
    tollgate to the bridge cut his patronage and he closed it in 1872. Hopton
    continued to live in the old inn renaming it Swanville. Hopton sold the
    mill allotments to John McMaster in 1903. It is not clear whether it was
    Hopton or McMaster who demolished the top floors of the mill and turned the
    building into a house. The mill was certainly intact when the Monier Bridge
    was completed in 1900 (there is a photo that shows both structures). During
    McMaster's ownership, the former mill, rented at four shillings per week,
    was used as the meeting place of the Fyansford Literary and Recreation
    Society. After McMaster's death in 1909, the trustees sold part of the
    allotment closer to the bridge to James Francis Cantwell. This was in 1913.
    It is not clear when the house on Cantwell's land, next to the mill, now
    popularly known as the 'mill house' was built. It was not there as late as
    1870 around the time the mill stopped working, but was present in 1908. As
    an aside, it is worth noting that I believe the "true" mill house from 1854
    was actually on CA4 of Section 3, on Barthold and Lowe's land, later being
    bought by Richard Harvey during 1914 and becoming known since then as
    the "King Harvey House". It was demolished by the cement works around the
    1970s. In 1915, Richard Harvey, George Joseph Wilks (wheelwright), Henry
    Beaumont (Beau) Taylor and John Thomas Sharpe, apparently all active
    members of the Recreation Society, clubbed together to buy the old mill.
    Sharpe sold his share to the others in 1925 and they sold to William McEwen
    in 1926. McEwen demolished what remained of the mill in 1934 and on its
    remains built the bungalow, which was still standing last time I looked.
    The Degoldi family owned the bungalow from 1945 to 1955 when William
    Thompson was the tenant. After that the owner was Charles Gilbert Cowan,
    followed by the Farey family in 1974. They sold out to the cement works in
    I suspect that Godfrey John Barthold, who preferred being called John, was
    a member of the customs boat crew in Geelong during 1851. It appears that
    Barthold and his brother-in-law Thomas Lowe went off to the gold rush and
    did rather well, returning with enough capital to start the mill venture,
    although they did need to mortgage the Fyansford land to John Gordon
    McMillan for six hundred pounds during 1855.
    Kind regards,