28 December, 2015

Making tracks - through the slough of despond

...and so the journey continued. With the longest part of the trip behind them and keen to reach the fabled gold fields of Ballarat, the aspiring diggers faced what was probably the most difficult part of their journey - Scott's Marsh (or Scott's Swamp as it was also known), a low-lying area at the foot of Mt Buninyong.
At the outbreak of the gold rush this land formed part of the 16,000 acre cattle then sheep run held by the squatter Andrew Scott and his wife Celia along with other Scott family members which became the Mt Boninyong Estate.
An 1862 view of the Mt Boninyong Estate. Image held by the Victorian State Library
Today, over 175 years later, the property is still owned by the Scott family and features one of the district's more stately homes. The elegant structure which stands today however, was not even a consideration as the first of the diggers headed to the Mount in 1851. It was not built until 1884, instead, the original Scotts made do - initially at least - with a bark slab hut.
Mt Boninyong Estate, November, 2014
Whilst the new house was built on the site of the old, the new road from Geelong to Ballarat did not follow the line of the original track, but instead passed almost through the middle of Scott's pre-emptive selection. The new road stayed on the higher ground to the north of the springs which feed Williamson's Creek at the foot of Mt Buninyong. The survey maps from 1855 on the other hand show the old track, continuing along a route to the south of Williamson's Creek as mentioned in my previous post. The image below shows the Midland Highway running through Scott's surveyed land with the old tracks marked in red. The lower track is marked "from Ballaarat".
Section of an 1855 survey map showing part of Buninyong Parish between
Clarendon and Scotsburn overlaid on Google Earth. Red lines indicate old
tracks marked by the surveyor, the Midland Highway is shown in yellow.
Click to enlarge
It is worth noting at this point that surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845 map of Victoria (which I have referred to previously), shows the track following a similar path to that depicted on the 1855 maps but staying south of both Scotsburn and Buninyong as shown below.
Section of Skene's 1845 map showing the track (lower dotted line)
between Clarendon and Buninyong overlaid on Google Earth. Click to enlarge
Of course, in the earliest days of the colony, tracks through the bush developed according to need and the restrictions of the surrounding terrain, consequently the early survey maps show that Buninyong could be approached from several different directions. If a track became impassable, those travelling light would simply go around or head into the bush, looking for a better route, but for the larger vehicles, this was not always possible.
This situation was illustrated in Henry Mundy's biography (Henry Mundy: a young Australian pioneer, Les Hughes, 1988) where he gave the following description of crossing Scott's Swamp:
The roads were anything but good. The men walked over bad places and rode on favourable occasions. Horse drays having light loads could best pick their way by shunning the main bullock track by taking to the bush for it. There was a dreadful slough of despond called 'Scott's Swamp', near the foot of Mount Buninyong about three hundred yards across of black sticky mud. Many a bullock lost the number of his mess there; one team by itself never attempted to cross it. Two teams and sometimes three would yoke together and take over a load at a time. Sometimes a bullock would fall, but no stopping to get him up again. The poor brute was dragged along by the neck to the other side dead or alive, very often choked. Horses could not travel at all through the sticky mud on account of their flat feet, bullocks had the only chance.
Looking south along Platt's Rd today, there is no sign of the quagmire which
confronted the earliest diggers heading to the gold fields
Another journey in 1854 was recounted in the Geelong Advertiser of 27th January, 1904 which painted a similar picture to Mundy's:
 We eventually arrived at Scott's Marsh, where, it being the rainy season, a scene presented itself suggestive of John Bunyan's "Slough of Despond" to my untutored mind and inexperience of travelling. I thought we had come to the "place of despair." Dante could not improve the picture in his "Inferno" for unrestrained profanity heard on every side.
Dozens of vehicles were bogged axle deep. It was no use unloading here. It had to be faced and got through somehow. We were fortunate in being able to induce a bullock-driver to hitch on his team to our spring cart and for this friendly help he let us off on payment of 10s. We were then told that the worst part of the journey was over...
Whilst none of the descriptions I have seen give an exact location for Scott's Swamp, the section of 1855 survey map above shows an area of marshy ground at the south west corner of Scott's pre-emptive selection. The old track is also shown passing through the swamp in the vicinity of today's Platt's Road, joining the current highway just west of the little township of Scotsburn.

22 December, 2015

Making tracks - to Corduroy Bridge

And so the diggers made it to the site of Burnt Bridge. According to Mary Akers' "Hold fast the Heritage" (2010), an account of Narmbool's pastoral heritage, the original "burnt bridge" was a log bridge built by Henry Anderson and William Cross Yuille who travelled to the Buninyong area in 1837 prior to their taking up their squatting runs in the area. According to Akers, the bridge was destroyed when a bushfire took hold in the area some time later and so the name stuck.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Burnt Bridge the settlement, first appeared in the newspapers of the day in 1852 and by 1853 John Morrison was replacing his original inn on the old track from Geelong, with a new, larger building facing the new road alignment.
At around this time, on the 22nd January, 1853 the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer reproduced a description of a journey from Geelong to the Ballarat gold fields, given by a Mr Bonwick. This was that gentleman's description of the land surrounding Burnt Bridge:
No surface rock appeared for miles. The verdure was good. One mile from the blue flag [of a previous coffee tent] rose the Burnt Bridge Coffee Tent. A fine running stream, gentle rises, plenty of grass, and a white-gum forest, give considerable attractions to this quarter.
The stream in question was most likely Williamson's Creek or a branch a little to the south known as Salt Creek. Williamson's Creek is a tributary of the Leigh River. It rises to the south of the present Midland Highway, about 2.5 km south east of the town of Scotsburn and forms part of a network of creeks and gullies draining the rather swampy land which lies beneath Mt Buninyong before emptying into the Yarrowee River around 2 km north of the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge. It is at this point that the name of the river changes to the Leigh River.
Back at Burnt Bridge, an 1855 survey map shows a short section of the old track crossing Salt Creek via a bridge, but does not extend to show the Williamson's Creek crossing which must also have been necessary. It does not show the site of the original "burnt bridge" and from this point, I have a gap in the paper trail until the track reaches the site of today's Clarendon township.
Whilst the survey books for the land including and immediately surrounding the town are available, they are currently beyond my capacity to interpret as surveyor Eugene Bellairs was not as ordered in his note-taking as some other surveyors. More importantly perhaps, his points of reference are not as clear as others, making it hard to follow his lines.
A page from E Bellairs field book, 1854. Books accessible via the Landata website
What is available however is a pair of survey maps from 1858 and 1859 which show the township of Clarendon, including - in one instance - the line taken by the old track to Buninyong/Ballarat. The modern road is shown entering the township via a second crossing on Williamson's Creek travelling in a roughly north westerly direction. This however is not the site of the original bridge nor is Clarendon the original name for the town.
The 1859 map shows a track marked as the "old track from Ballarat" south of the creek and running roughly parallel to its course past the future town site. The 1858 map does not show the track but marks a position on the creek as the site of the "original corduroy bridge" and this is where things get a little interesting.
Firstly, Corduroy Bridge is the earlier, informal name used for the location (if not strictly perhaps the township). Whilst the 1858 map refers to the township of Clarendon, the 1859 map does not give a name but instead refers to "suburban lots near Corduroy Bridge in the parish of Clarendon, County of Grant". The surveyor's field books from 1854 however do refer to the "Township of Corduroy".
Secondly, the "original Corduroy Bridge" does not appear to lie on the path of either the old road or the new, but instead crosses Williamson's Creek about 500 m north west of the current bridge and around 150 m north of the old track (see map below). Looking a little further. afield, an 1855 survey map of the parish of Buninyong shows the old track to Ballarat continuing roughly north westerly before meeting the current highway close to Scotsburn. At no point does the track appear to cross the creek again. In addition however, the map also shows a track which closely follows the path of today's Wiggin's Rd, travelling from the east side of Mt Buninyong to merge with the current route of the highway a little south of the current Wiggin's Rd intersection. The old and new then travel together towards Clarendon township, north of the creek.
The 1858 survey map overlaid on Google Earth. The red line indicates the
"old track from Ballaarat" as plotted on the 1859 map
Could the bridge have been used to connect the tracks either side of the creek or to connect the developing township with the old track to Buninyong? Whilst the surveyor's books are difficult to read, they do clearly show that by 1854, the town boasted two hotels, viz the Carrier's Arms and the Corduroy Hotel, both on the north side of Williamson's Creek along with some paddocks stating the owners names and a builder's shop. Both the hotels and the shop are situated on the new line of road to Ballarat and were present at the time of survey as was a bridge at the site of the current creek crossing. This perhaps suggests that the new road followed an existing track which may have been one of a number in the area - as suggested by the Buninyong Parish map - which converged at Corduroy Bridge.
Which brings us to the next point of interest: the name Corduroy Bridge. Originally this would not have been so much the name of a place as the description of a landmark - a simple rough-made style of bridge which was commonly constructed in rural areas to ford small creeks or cross swampy land. The technique involved strapping together logs placed in a transverse fashion across the creek or swampy ground to be crossed. The transverse logs were supported underneath, often by longer logs cut and placed at right angles to those above. Such bridges were cheap, quick and easy to build and were often used by military forces needing to erect a temporary crossing, even to relatively recent times, however they provided a very rough surface and could be difficult, even dangerous to cross - especially in wet weather.
An example of a corduroy bridge c1886. Image held by the National Library of
Whilst there is no trace of it today, it appears that the original bridge was a simple log construction which crossed Williamson's Creek north west of the current bridge. It was built some time prior to 1852 which is the earliest mention I can find of Corduroy Bridge as a location, but whether it pre-dates the gold rush - perhaps even dating back to the first coaching runs of 1846 or the squatters before that - I could not discover.

12 December, 2015

Making tracks - the Mt Doran dilemma

With Watson's Hotel and the fledgling township of Meredith now behind them, the aspiring diggers of the gold rush era continued their journey up the "track". As I discovered whilst researching my previous post, this most likely took them out of town across Coolebarghurk Creek (at that time known as Marrabool Creek) and either towards Lal Lal on the old Lal Lal Road or along a route running roughly parallel to today's Midland Highway, at a distance a few hundred metres to the east.
At this point, things would seem to be a little hazy and in some places, downright contradictory, however as I alluded to previously, I may have found an explanation. In short, it all comes back to post offices and one or two old maps. Looking once again at Skene's 1845 map of Victoria, the track from Geelong to Buninyong appears to lead out of Meredith along the old Lal Lal Road as described by a local resident in 1943. From there, it was claimed, the track lead "through Mt Doran to Buninyong and Ballarat". Skene's map however, shows the road veering slightly away from the Lal Lal Road following a north westerly path instead; a path which passed directly through the site which became the township of Elaine.
From this point, the track continued its parallel path beside the Midland Highway, passing east of a little settlement known as Burnt Bridge. This route leaves the current Mount Doran some 5 or 6 km to the east and is seemingly at odds with the contention that the bullock track passed through Mount Doran - a route which would have added several kilometres to the diggers' journey at a time when there were no established towns between Watson's Hotel and Buninyong. Disappointingly I cannot locate the survey books for the upper part of the parish of Meredith and those of Borhoneyghurk Parish, meaning I cannot clarify the issue by continuing to plot the tracks I described in my last post.
Because there was little, if anything, in the way of settlement between Watson's and Buninyong I cannot locate a detailed description of the area at the time the gold rush broke out, but within a few years, signs of enterprise had begun to arise, perhaps giving some idea of the route followed by the diggers.
Google Earth screen shot overlaid with a section of surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845
map. The dotted line indicates the route as shown by Skene. The Midland Highway
is shown in yellow and the green lines indicate the approximate tracks plotted in 
my previous post. Click to enlarge
Recalling a journey taken in 1854, one correspondent to the Geelong Advertiser recounted some 50 years later, that sly grog-selling was rampant between Geelong and Burnt Bridge, with one of those illegal establishments lying between Meredith and the Stony Rises - the earlier name for Elaine. When surveyor Maurice Weston was taking his measurements for the land north of Meredith in 1857, he noted a "tent" on the east side of the present highway, slightly north of its intersection with Boundary Rd and around 600m west of the approximate line of the "Old Main Road". I don't know if  this tent was the same as that described in 1854, but such establishments came and went regularly and probably changed location equally rapidly. If the establishment at the Green Tent was anything to go by, they could also be located some distance from the road - perhaps due to their less-than-legal status.
Depiction of a coffee tent in 1852, by S.T. Gill, Image held by the
National Gallery of Australia
Regardless, this might suggest that the Stony Rises was a known location even in the early days of the gold rush. The first contemporary use of the name which I could find was an 1854 reference in the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer to the above sly grog tent, followed in 1855 by advertisements in relation to the construction of the new road to Ballarat. In 1857 there is reference in The Ballarat Star, to a murder inquest held at the Stony Rises Hotel. The hotel was also marked on an 1868 survey map which placed it west of the current highway, almost opposite the road to Morrison's. An article from The Ballarat Star of 6th August, 1889 gave the following description of the Stony Rises Inn at the time of its destruction by fire some decades later:
In the destruction of the Stony Rises hotel there has been wiped out of existence one of the land marks of the "fifties." In the golden days it was known as "Yankee Bill's," and the owner of the soubriquet dispensed food to man and beast in a tent. The late building was erected on the site of the canvas hotel, and passed successively into the hands of John Boler, Jarvis, and Grenfell, the last of whom held possession at the time of "holocaust."
Liquor licenses show that John Boler was the publican  by early 1857. With "Yankee Bill" in residence before this, it would seem that the hotel in some form at least was present before 1857. I notice that the 1868 survey map shows the boundary of the new line of road deviating slightly towards the site of the hotel, making me speculate as to whether the building was present before the new road, dating it to at least 1855 and presumably on the line of the old road.
I should also note that another description from January, 1853 does not mention the inn, but does make reference to a second coffee tent located about a mile before the next stopping point for the diggers - and possibly part of the key to the Mt Doran puzzle and the track to Buninyong - the little settlement of Burnt Bridge. The first reference to the settlement appears in several editions of the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer of 1852. An 1855 survey map shows the prospective township situated a few hundred metres south of the first crossing of Williamson's Creek (a tributary of the Leigh River) on the east side of the Midland Highway heading to Ballarat. Not only does it show the current road alignment as a section of plank road (a type of timber roadway generally built to provide a firm surface over swampy, low-lying ground), but it also indicates the line of the "old track of road from Ballarat to Geelong" which ran parallel but to the east of the new road. The construction of the plank road began in 1854 and it was presumably this impending realignment which caused resident John Morrison in 1853 to build a new hotel facing the new road, replacing his original establishment - described by a traveller in January 1853 as a "coffee tent" - which stood some hundred metres away on the old road.
A Google Earth screen shot overlaid with a section of the 1855 survey map of
Burnt Bridge. The current road (roughly aligned with the plank road) is shown
in yellow. The old track is shown in red. Click to expand
So, the above information would seem to confirm that after leaving Meredith the old track to Buninyong followed a course reasonably similar to today's Midland Highway, passing some 6km to the west of Mt Doran. I did however make a discovery which may explain the reference to Mt Doran. In 1859 with the gold rush in full swing, the new road open, the Geelong-Ballarat railway under construction only a few kilometres away and Morrison's "Railway Hotel" doing a solid trade, a post office was opened. It was given the name "Mt Doran".
Tenders for mail contracts at the time described the post office as "Mount Doran (Burnt Bridge)". Initially I suspected the post office may have been located at the Burnt Bridge settlement on the Geelong-Ballarat Road, however, tenders called the following year referred to the transport of mail from "the railway cutting (Mount Doran)".
I gather that this part of the line at the time of construction was known as the Burnt Bridge section and now believe that the post office was probably located in the temporary camp which sprang up to house the railway workers. Descriptions portray a series of timber cottages for management with the labourers housed in canvas tents. It was also remarked that some residents had built themselves little cottages and planted out small gardens in the bush surrounding the line.
The rail bridge on Blue Bridge Rd about 2.5km from Mt Doran and 3.5km from
Burnt Bridge on the Burnt Bridge section of the line

By the mid-1860s however, with construction on the line complete and the workmen gone, the tender notices for the mail run began to refer to "Mount Doran (Stony Rises)". My first thought was that perhaps "Mount Doran" may have referred to a much larger district than it does today and this may have been true as I also found an address stated as "Mount Doran, Clarendon", however there is another explanation which may account for the change.
Put simply, the "Mt Doran" post office, changed both names and locations over the years as the population fluctuated throughout the district. In about 1864 the post office was relocated from Mt Doran, to a site around a kilometre to the east of the developing township of Stony Rises. In 1872, reflecting the change in the name of the township, the post office was also renamed as Elaine.
 Just to confuse the issue however, Stony Rises/Elaine had been lobbying hard to have a railway platform erected in the township, near where the new line (which opened in 1862) crossed the surveyed road to Ballarat. It was finally granted in 1871 and then in 1875 after further lobbying by locals, the Post Master General opened a post office at the site. Perhaps somewhat confusingly, it was called the Elaine Railway Station Post Office. Elaine now had two post offices less than a mile apart.
Probably to avoid confusion, in October, 1877 the original Elaine Post Office to the east of town, reverted to its earlier name of Mt Doran. The post office at the railway platform was henceforth to be known as Elaine and was relocated to the primary school at around the same time. One disgruntled Mt Doran correspondent to the Ballarat Courier of 15th November was quick to point out the irony of this situation, stating:
It is passing strange that Mount Doran Post Office should not be at Mount Doran at all, but at Elaine, some four or five miles away. A few years ago that post office was really at the Mount: but the post-master and others, on the occasion of a [gold] rush to Elaine, eloped with our post office.
However, reading between the lines of the local newspapers, it may not have been long before the residents of Mt Doran got their wish as it seems that by the 1880s the post office had moved once again and was operating out of the Mt Doran State School.
Mt Doran State School, students and teachers in 1906.
Image held by Museum Victoria

So, it would seem that the Mt Doran Post Office probably began its life in 1859 at the site of the Burnt Bridge railway cutting at Mt Doran, before moving in about 1864 to a location east of Elaine township (but central to several mines active at that time) before finally coming to rest back in the township of Mt Doran not too long after its final name change in 1877, where it probably operated out of the state school. This much-travelled little post office closed its doors for the final time in 1930.
So finally, from what I have found, I doubt that the crowds heading to the gold fields of Buninyong and Ballarat in those earliest years did actually pass through or near Mt Doran. Instead, they most likely followed the old track via the Stony Rises and Burnt Bridge. I think that over the years the story has become blurred.
Whilst the mount itself no doubt existed well before the gold rush, Mt Doran as a town or locality seems to post-date those earliest years of the gold rush, appearing only in the newspapers from 1858. Quite some years later in 1866 there was a small "rush" to Mt Doran which no doubt resulted in diggers travelling directly to the district, but by then, the modern roads had been surveyed and the original diggers were long gone.
A partially covered mine entrance. Testament to the gold rush at Mt Doran
Then, over the years, as often happens in rural communities Mt Doran was sometimes described alongside other towns such as Clarendon, Burnt Bridge and Stony Rises, all of which lie on what I suspect was the most likely route of the old road from Geelong to Buninyong.  In combination with the re-location of the Mt Doran Post Office to Elaine for about 20 years during the 1860s and 1870s, it probably isn't surprising then, that those living in Meredith and surrounds might come to say that the route to the gold fields of Buninyong, Ballarat and beyond lay up the old Lal Lal Road to Mt Doran.

18 November, 2015

Making tracks - forging ahead

And so the journey continues...
After departing the somewhat dubious delights of the Golden Fleece, local knowledge suggests that those earliest, hopeful diggers made their way back across the Coolebarghurk Creek, following the track along the bank for a short distance before taking a westerly line through the site of today's Meredith Primary School.
Heading north along the track beside Coolebarghurk Creek 
From this point, the exact route of the track becomes a little less certain. After passing through the school, the 1943 description of the track by a local resident indicates that the track "continued up the old Lal Lal road through Mt Doran to Buninyong and Ballarat". But is there any remaining evidence to support this?
As usual I had a bit of a dig around and talked to a few locals with an interest in the history of Meredith and came up with some snippets which may give a few pointers. About the section from the school to Lal Lal Road, I could find nothing. The one available surveyed line running up Wallace St and into the Ballan-Meredith Rd did not show a track crossing it at any point, however this line was taken in July, 1858 by which time the new road had been established for several years. Perhaps the original track had already faded in what was fast becoming quite a populous area.
My next approach was to spend many hours pawing over the surveyors' field books covering the northern portion of the parish of Meredith. Whilst the areas covered seem to be a little hit-and-miss, I was very fortunate that the book for this section was both available and clearly written by surveyor Maurice Weston who criss-crossed the area in 1857.
After finally managing to establish the baseline position he worked from, I was then able to follow the lines he surveyed, marking them - and any notable features - on Google Earth. Fortunately, the surveyors were diligent about marking tracks when they crossed them, occasionally even providing some indication as to where the track lead. The end result was a series of points which when plotted, yielded a number of lines radiating northwards from town.
The above image shows the approximate line of the tracks leaving Meredith
marked on Google Earth. Click to enlarge
The most easterly followed the line of Slate Quarry Road with the already-surveyed Ballan-Meredith Rd also marked. Slightly to the west of the road but heading in much the same direction was an old track - presumably the precursor to the surveyed road just mentioned. Next was a line which for the most part followed the current path of Lal Lal Rd; a possible candidate, if the 1943 source is to be taken at face value, for the continuation of the track to the goldfields.
There was however, one further track which emerged. This was more westerly than all the others and may either have branched off from the track to Lal Lal just north of the town boundary or may even have left town at today's Creamery Rd, near the site of what was the Free Presbyterian Church as a track was also marked at this point. This path to the west looks to have followed a similar line to the Midland Highway but at a distance of a few hundred metres to the east of that road and roughly following the eastern bank of Coolebarghurk Creek. Tantalisingly, one of the points along the track was marked "Old Main Road".
 Before jumping straight to conclusions however, it is perhaps worth noting that the - admittedly vague - map produced by surveyor A.J. Skene in 1845, shows the line of track passing through the future site of Meredith and exiting via a path remarkably similar to the first 2 km of the track following the Lal Lal Rd. On the face of it, this would seem to support the above statement that the track continued up the "old Lal Lal Road to Mt Doran". I always thought however, that this seemed a somewhat odd path to follow for travellers intent on reaching Mt Buninyong as it would extend the journey by several kilometres. I did find a possible explanation for this, but that belongs in a future post.
Finally, there is a locally held belief that there was a blacksmith's shop on the old track out of town. Sources would have it that the smithy was on the south west corner of Gargan's and Griffith's Road. As the map above shows, the track to the west, likely passed right by this corner. But who was this smith and is there any evidence to support the theory?
A search of the newspapers of the day gave surprisingly little information. The earliest reference I could find - by implication - to a blacksmith in Meredith was an 1856 advertisement for a forge at the Victoria Hotel, Lethbridge which claimed to be the only forge between Batesford and Meredith.
The first blacksmith in Meredith it was said by an early resident, was Michael Ward and it wasn't hard to find reference to him. Ward was amongst the first to own land in the district and in 1853 when the earliest land sales occurred in the parish of Meredith, he purchased a half acre block in town which ran between Lawler and Russell Streets. In addition to this and other purchases in town, Michael and his son Joseph, went on to amass a significant estate immediately to the north of Griffith's Rd - directly opposite the purported site of the forge.
Looking east across the banks of Coolebarghurk Creek at "Chestervale" to the
left of Griffith's Rd. The site believed to be the blacksmith's is on the opposite
side of the road, to the right
They most likely purchased the first of this land as early as 1853. The block on the south west corner (allotment 125) on the other hand, was purchased by Mr T. Connor and does not appear to have belonged to the Wards. It is interesting to note however, that a triangular section of about half an acre along the northern boundary of this block, facing Griffith's Road was excluded from Connor's allotment, instead forming part of the road reserve. This is shown on the survey maps and even today, the line of the excluded section is still clearly visible from above via Google Earth. Is it possible therefore that Ward's forge was located on government land adjoining his property?
Maybe. I do know that, by the late 1880s the Wards had purchased about 2,500 acres of land which stretched from the newly made Geelong-Ballarat Rd all the way to the Moorabool River. They named their property "Chestervale".
A Google Earth view overlaid with the 1982 survey map of the Parish of Meredith
showing the tracks (green) marked in the above map in relation to the four blocks
of Chestervale land (red), sold in 1892. Click to enlarge
I can find no direct reference to Michael operating a forge at Chestervale nor to one located nearby, but in 1853 his occupation was stated as blacksmith. By 1879, as the Wards continued to purchase land, Michael was still plying his trade as a blacksmith. When a neighbour applied to have a section of road closed, he was quick to inform the Meredith Shire Council via a petition of several ratepayers and his own statement that any alteration to the road would "ruin him as it would take the traffic away from his shop."
In today's terms, the section of road in question is Griffith's Rd between the Lal Lal and the Ballan-Meredith Roads. Chestervale was of course less than a mile to the west on Griffith's Rd. It is here then one imagines, that Michael Ward operated his blacksmith's shop, although whether on his own purchased land north of the road or perhaps on the triangle of crown land on the south west corner of Griffith's and Gargan's Roads remains a mystery.
In addition to these activities, the Wards also ran various other businesses over the years, including a hotel (known simply as Ward's Hotel) during the 1860s, a store (originally Gosling's Hotel) which burnt down in 1875 and sale yards in the township. In 1890, father and son went into business as stock, station and general commission agents, operating initially they said from their offices in Meredith where they had been since 1853.
The venture was short-lived however, as they were forced into voluntary insolvency only two years later, at which time Chestervale was broken up and auctioned off. Undeterred by this setback, by the mid 1890s Joseph was running a coach service for Cobb & Co. between Meredith and Steiglitz and also dabbled in speculative mining ventures. His father Michael, if indeed he ever ceased, returned to his work as a blacksmith. Upon his sudden death in 1905 at the age of 90, it was reported that he collapsed at his home in Staughton St, where he had just finished shoeing a horse.
Establishment believed to be Ward's. Image courtesy of the Meredith History
Interest Group's collection
So, whilst I cannot at this stage, definitely prove that Michael Ward or anyone else kept a blacksmith's shop at the south west corner of Gargan's and Griffith's Roads, I do know that Michael was a blacksmith as early as 1853 and owned the original three blocks of Chestervale land probably from 1853. Both dates are a little late for the beginning of the gold rush, however the new road was not completed until around 1856, so perhaps Ward did purchase his land for its location on the old track, in order to capture passing trade. The re-routing of the road can not have been too detrimental to business however, as he was still at Chestervale and running his business from or very near his home during the 1870s.
On a final note, by the time of his death in 1905, Michael was operating his shop from Staughton St in town. It would, I think, be safe to assume that whatever blacksmith's shop he did operate from or near Chestervale, was sold in 1892 along with the rest of the estate. By that time, the new road through Meredith had been established for more than 35 years and the land through which the old bullock track passed, had long ago been snapped up by settlers eager to own a piece of what during the 1850s, was shaping up to become one of Victoria's most important towns.

10 November, 2015

Making tracks - Marrabool or Moorabool?

The next stop on the bullock track from Geelong to the goldfields of Buninyong and Ballarat was the Golden Fleece Inn which I have mentioned in a number of previous posts. Prior to the gold rush, it was reputed to be the only licensed public house, between the Separation Inn at the Leigh Road turn off from Geelong and Mother Jamieson's Hotel in Buninyong. Positioned at the halfway point between the two towns, it occupied a unique position.
The original inn was located on the bullock track  which ran along the eastern bank of Coolebarghurk Creek, near today's Dickman's Bridge. It first opened I believe, in 1842, when a publican's license was granted to Andrew Stewart for the Golden Fleece Inn on the Marrabool Creek, Buninyong road.
Stewart's earliest customers would have been the the the squatters and the stockmen who worked for them.
The site of the original Golden Fleece Inn
By August, 1844 however, the inn, described as being "on the road from Geelong to Buninyong and Portland Bay" was on the market. The next listed licensee was Robert Steel, followed in April, 1846 by Henry Lawler who until that time had been the captain of the steamer Aphrasia which plied the waters between Geelong and Melbourne. Upon taking up the license, Lawler undertook substantial renovations before once again, putting the property on the market later that year. It was during 1846 that the inn also became the staging post for the first private mail service between Geelong and Buninyong.
Over the following years, licenses for the property were granted to John Haimes (1847), William Ritchie (1848), Joseph Rice (1852) and then finally, from late 1852 to William Watson. On each occasion, the address of the Golden Fleece Inn was given as Buninyong Road and/or Marrabool/Moorabool Creek.
At this point, a little clarification may be warranted. Firstly, prior to about 1852, the name Marrabool seems to have been commonly used instead of Moorabool. This is reflected in various sources including the maps and newspapers of the era. Secondly, whilst Coolebarghurk was in use as a parish name as early as the 1840s, it does not appear as the name of the creek as far as I can see, before 1861. Prior to this, every reference is to either Marrabool or Moorabool Creek. As a result, when I first turned to Google to look for the Golden Fleece Inn, I was initially confused by references to the Golden Fleece Inn on the Marrabool Creek; the Marrabool Inn at Marrabool Creek; the Marrabool Inn, Buninyong Road; the Golden Fleece Inn on the Moorabool Creek; the Moorabool Hotel, at Moorabool Creek (Melbourne-Ballarat Road); the Marrabool (or Moorabool) Inn at Bates Ford and on one occasion even the Golden Fleece Inn on the Moorabool River.
Eventually, after sifting through dozens of newspaper references I had it sorted. The Marrabool or Moorabool Inn, was located on the Moorabool River at Batesford. The earliest date I can find for the Marrabool Inn from contemporary sources is 1844. From 1850 it was known as the Derwent Hotel and today, it is the Batesford Hotel.
The former Marrabool Inn, Batesford
By contrast, the Golden Fleece Inn on the Marrabool or Moorabool Creek (now called Coolebarghurk Creek), was - as stated above - established in 1842 by Andrew Stewart at the future site of the township of Meredith. Occasionally, it seems to have been referred to (erroneously) as the Marrabool Inn. To confuse the issue further however, Stewart put property on the market in August, 1844, then by June, 1845 an A Stewart (possibly the same proprietor) was selling the Marrabool Inn at Batesford (which - to be clear - was never known as the Golden Fleece).
Finally, the occasional mention of a Moorabool Hotel on the Moorabool Creek, is referring to a third hotel, located on the Melbourne-Ballarat Road near the east branch of the Moorabool River which seems also to have been called Moorabool Creek. It is perhaps for this reason that by 1861, the creek at Meredith had become known as the Coolebarghurk Creek.
Now, whilst the Golden Fleece may originally have been a respectable establishment, by the days of the gold rush and William Watson's tenure, it was anything but. Reports abound about its notorious reputation. In the book Life in Victoria (William Kelly, 1859), it is described in 1853 as "excellently situated close by a nice creek, but the house was a most wretched, tumble-down domicile, with a shattered roof, which let the rain down the mouldy walls, and a tottering verandah, tiled with stringy bark."
A section of the bullock track past the Golden Fleece Inn, now part of the
Middleton Walk
This description fits well with that of a correspondent to the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer of 22nd January, 1853 who wrote:
The supper was first rate, and the charge in these days, but moderate. The accommodation, however does not seem to be adequate to a diggers' road. There were but two small bed-rooms. The one we occupied was amply provided with ventilation by means of the cracks in the door and a vacant pane in the window. It was evident that the object for which this house, like most others, was established was simply to sell the greatest possible amount of grog, and not afford accommodation to travellers. We admit the difficulties of the times, and we believe our host does the best for his guests according to the means of the place. Throughout the night, we were kept awake by the ravings of a poor wretch in the drinking room, who was just entering into a fit of delirium tremens, the result of a two days' debauch.
Likewise, in his autobiography Henry Mundy described the scene at the Golden Fleece in 1852:
...supper which was bread, salt-junk and tea in pannikins. This feed was charged 2/6 for. Beds were full many times over, if they had had them. Each traveller had to use his own swag if he had one, and doss on the dining table or under it or on whatever part of the dirt floor he chose to select for his night's rest under the roof; for this sleeping accommodation was charged 2/6.
The next morning, one of Mundy's travelling companions had a "fearful tale to tell" of his night at Watson's hotel:
He sat up till one o'clock, among, as he termed it, the drunk blasphemous crowd. When it appeared to be somewhat quiet, he turned in to try to get a little sleep. Next to him on the table, a man had been sleeping and snoring, like a pig, in his drunken sleep for sometime. "Just as I had dropped into a doze," Burrows said, "the fellow put his harm round me and hugged and pulled me about, called me his dear Jenny and protested how he loved me and tried to kiss me. As soon as I could get free of the brute, disgusted, I sprang off the table..."
Burrows then inquired of Mundy: "They call it the Devil's Hotel don't they?" Mundy could only agree, then went on to observe that the days of this establishment were numbered as the new road from Geelong to Ballarat was in the process of being surveyed, leaving Watson's hotel about half a mile to the east of the new road and on the wrong side of the creek.
No doubt well aware of the commercial opportunities of the continuing gold rush, Watson was amongst the first purchasers of land in Meredith upon which he built much larger, more commodious lodgings for his patrons, conveniently located on the new line of road. His second hotel, built in 1853, was designed by architects Snell and Kawerau and remarkably, was the second largest timber building in the colony at that time. Watson however may have overstretched his capital as by September, 1854 his new hotel was on the market - but not for want of custom.
Watson's Hotel (later the Royal Hotel), Meredith. Image taken from
Indeed, so great was the traffic through Meredith to the goldfields, that by the height of the gold rush, the town was able to support five or six hotels in addition to the inevitable sly-grog shop or two. It is no wonder then that The Age of the 20th November, 1855 describes diggers being "stacked in like shingles at The Golden Fleece on the Buninyong Road".
As well appointed as the new Watson's Hotel may have been, the journey must needs continue and once the aspiring diggers had managed to drag themselves away from the delights of the Golden Fleece, it was back onto the track. With the arrival of the new road, this meant following the current route out of town, but in the early days the route was somewhat different. Whilst none of the maps I have found show the exact routes, one local resident recalled that the bullock track crossed Coolebarghurk Creek about 50m downstream from Dickman's Bridge, following the course of the creek to the site where the Meredith Primary School now stands and turning to the west.
Of course, just when I thought I had things sorted, I was shown an article from the Geelong Advertiser of 1856 which proved that things weren't as simple as I hoped.
The trouble stemmed from an informal agreement between Meredith's fledgling traders and the Central Road Board. At the time of the initial land sales in 1853, there was an understanding that when the new main road was built, it would pass down Wallace Street as it was claimed that "the main tracks to Ballarat, of that day, were shown to be straight through what is now known as Wallace Street". Accordingly, land prices reflected this expectation.
The alternate route was via Read Street to the west where land had been purchased for significantly less than on Wallace Street. I have not yet discovered when a resolution was reached and I am told that the route of the Midland Highway through Meredith remained a point of discussion even until recent decades. Regardless, the Midland Highway to this day, passes along Wallace Street.
Coming and going. An old mile post still marks the distance between Geelong
and Ballarat on the Midland Highway at Meredith
The problem for my research however, is that accepted local lore says that the main track ran past Watson's original hotel on the opposite side of Coolebarghurk Creek. There is no mention of the "main" or indeed any track to Ballarat to the west of the creek. As I mentioned in my previous post however, I was unable to discover exactly when the road to the west of the creek was first surveyed or if a second bullock track followed the high ground between Native Hut and Coolebarghurk Creeks and it may well be that both tracks were in use prior to the outbreak of the gold rush.

01 November, 2015

Making tracks - up the creek

Upon reaching the Green Tent, travellers had a choice; a number of tracks met nearby, leading to different parts of the district - the topic of my previous post. With the discovery of gold however, the traffic was overwhelmingly headed for goldfields of Buninyong and Ballarat.
In the pre-gold rush era when movement around the district was determined by the need to move stock, staying close to water was vital. As a result, the original bullock track departed from the course of the current Midland Highway at the Green Tent, instead, following (as previously mentioned) a similar line to that of today's Taylor's Road (originally known as Pound Road), across Coolebarghurk Creek then taking the higher ground along the course of the creek to the Golden Fleece Inn.
I can see no mention of a bridge at the creek crossing on Taylor's Road prior to the 1870s and I imagine that any crossing prior to this would have been rudimentary at best, meaning that the early settlers, the first coaches and diggers heading to the goldfields may have had to ford the creek at this point.
Coolebarghurk Creek at Ross' Bridge
During a recent visit to the site of this little crossing (known as Ross' Bridge for the selector whose land surrounded it), I did notice what I believe are the remains of an early bridge - perhaps even the one which washed away during the 1880 flood which also took the nearly completed nearby Sharp's Bridge.
The earthen abutment of an earlier version of Ross' Bridge? As well as the
mound, there is scattered bluestone and a few timbers also protrude from the water
Looking at the earthworks from across Coolebarghurk Creek
Nor is this the only indication of an earlier route. Even today, traces of the old bullock track can still be seen in some places. A section of cobblestones, believed to be part of the track, has been found in a field not far from the present road, an can a tree with markings carved into it is believed to be a survey marker and milepost - M56.   A quick check of Google Earth, following the track to Melbourne as indicated on surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845 map suggests that this may well have been 56 miles from Melbourne via the Melbourne-Buninyong Road which I mentioned in my previous post.
The 1857 survey map (held by the State Library of Victoria) overlaid on Google Earth.
The green lines indicate the pre-survey tracks leading to the Golden Fleece.
Click to enlarge
However, whilst the bullock track beside the creek served well enough during the 1840s, the huge influx of foot traffic engendered by the gold rush changed things. Without the need to water stock and with the Green Tent nearby, it was easier perhaps to stay on the high ground between Native Hut and Coolebarghurk Creeks. This certainly seems to have been the view of the early surveyors. Whilst there was extensive surveying work along the Geelong-Ballarat Road between 1854 and 1858, parts were definitely surveyed earlier - in particular, the areas around intended town sites. An early map of "the town and district of Geelong as surveyed in 1848" indicates the extent of surveyed land in the district (see below). Published by Macdonald and Garrard in 1854, it clearly shows the surveyed line of the Midland Highway and blocks around the Meredith township which was one of the earliest towns established along the route to the goldfields. The first land sales took place in 1853 with the land surveyed some time before that, including the present alignment of the Midland Highway through town.
Section of 1854 map (surveyed 1848) showing the route of the road between
Geelong and Meredith and the extent of surveyed lands in the district.
Image held by the State Library of Victoria.
Click to enlarge
Not surprisingly, this huge increase in traffic lead to a rising tide of complaints about the condition of the road to the diggings. Action was finally taken in 1856 when contracts were issued for surfacing the various sections with road metal. This was followed in 1857 by the erection of several toll-gates, including one located just outside of Meredith (marked on the overlaid maps above), presumably in an attempt to defray the cost of road maintenance.
The imposition of tolls may however, have lead to somewhat of a resurgence in traffic via the old stock route over Coolebarghurk Creek. At as late a date as 1869 a shepherd moving sheep along the Geelong-Ballarat Road was accused of having deliberately avoided paying the toll by taking his sheep off the main road about a mile and a half above the toll-gate and returning them about a mile past the gate. A quick look at the parish maps suggests that he and his stock followed the old track out of Meredith before crossing back to the west side of Coolebarghurk Creek along a track which left the old bullock route and lead back to the main road - conveniently enough - below the toll-gate. His case however was dismissed as the need to feed and water stock was seen as a valid reason for the diversion.
For the diggers however, the shortest route no doubt became the most popular and the course of the new road was set. The Golden Fleece - the halfway point on their trek to the goldfields - was now about half a mile closer than it had been.

29 October, 2015

Making tracks - all roads lead to the Green Tent

As I set about trying to determine the exact location of Green Tent for my last post - either the actual tent or the settlement which developed - I began to form an idea as to why it was there at all. In the earliest days of the Port Phillip District, settlement focused on the homesteads of the squatters. Routes of travel developed as stock and supplies were moved between squatting runs and to the ports of Melbourne and Geelong. The need for effective communication soon followed. As coaching routes were established, so were staging points which allowed for a change of horses and a break for weary travellers. A supply of water was also crucial, not only to travellers, but to anyone moving stock.
Prior to the gold rush, there were no villages between Geelong and Buninyong, just the occasional inn which was often built at the intersection of two tracks or near a reliable source of water. The former was the case for the Separation Inn (est 1850), situated where the tracks to Buninyong and the Leigh (Shelford) diverged. The next licensed premises along the route however was the Golden Fleece Inn on the Coolebarghurk Creek (later Meredith), a distance of over 17 miles - a very long, dry stretch indeed.
With the arrival of the gold rush, walking distance became important too.
Batesford - located about 7 miles from Geelong - as well as being a key crossing point of the Moorabool River, was also the site of two of the earliest inns in the region - the Marrabool Inn (est 1842) and the Traveller's Rest (est 1849) and eventually developed into a town. For those not heading to Bannockburn or The Leigh, the Separation Inn was a further 4 miles along the Buninyong road and Lethbridge a further 8 miles beyond that, close to Bruce's Creek. Each was a reasonable walking distance between breaks. The distance to Meredith with its Golden Fleece Inn however was somewhat further, being about 9 miles from Lethbridge, so it is perhaps not surprising that that someone saw an opportunity.
In addition to a sly grog shop (or coffee tent as they were euphemistically known), the Green Tent had a water supply in the form of Green Tent Creek. This was officially recognised in the form of a government reserve, including a (then) permanent water supply from the creek  which was set aside for public use.
I think there was also one other important factor which determined where the Green Tent was situated. It was a point of convergence and not just a local one. Several significant roads from different parts of the colony all met at or near this point, making it an obvious location to water stock and take a break. Today, it is hard to imagine this ordinary stretch of the Midland Highway as a major intersection, however the traces are there to be found for those who look.
Prior to the beginning of the gold rush, roads distant from metropolitan areas were just bush tracks. The track from Geelong came from the south as described above, however at this point, local sources indicate that the track diverged from the current route of the highway, instead roughly following the line of today's Taylor's Road.
Taylor's Road (aka Pound Road), route of the old bullock track to Buninyong
Perhaps the larger Coolebarghurk Creek provided easier access to water for stock than Green Tent Creek, but it would seem that the track turned away from the high ground between Native and Coolebarghurk Creeks, instead running down to cross the latter creek at a small ford which became known as Ross' Bridge, from there following the eastern bank of the creek towards the Golden Fleece Inn - the only other public house on the route to Buninyong during the 1840s.

Ross' Bridge over Coolebarghurk Creek on Taylor's Road (aka Pound Road)
It is for this reason that the the Golden Fleece was situated on the east bank of Coolebarghurk Creek, the opposite side of the creek to where centre of the town of Meredith would eventually develop.
Whilst this may have been the preferred route for those moving stock, those travelling without encumbrance may have chosen a shorter route. The current course of the highway is over half a mile shorter than Taylor's Road. The earliest maps I have found, dating back to the 1840s appear to show a direct route which does not cross Coolebarghurk Creek before reaching the Golden Fleece Inn, however these are not detailed survey maps.
I can find no conclusive evidence which confirms when  exactly the current route into Meredith originally came into use, however I do know that the current alignment of the highway through Meredith was first officially surveyed prior to the initial land sales in 1853.
This event was noted in his autobiography by Henry Mundy when he observed in 1852 that the days of the Golden Fleece (or the Devil's Inn as it was also known) were numbered as the new road from Geelong was being surveyed at that time, leaving the hotel some quarter of a mile away on the opposite side of Coolebarghurk Creek.
Returning to our point of origin at the Green Tent, in addition to the track from Geelong across Coolebarghurk Creek and (from at least 1852), the direct route to Meredith, there was also the road from Steiglitz - today's Sharp's Road. Whilst the gold rush to Steiglitz did not occur until the 1860s, Sharp's Crossing as the then ford was known provided access to the eastern portion of Moranghurk, Durdidwarrah, Darriwill and other stations across the Moorabool River. The alignment of the track to the ford however, was not the same as today's Sharp's Road which was only adopted in 1955. Prior to this there were two approaches, one from the Geelong direction and a second from the Ballarat side.
The intersection of Taylor's Road with the Midland Highway. This short
section originally formed the northern approach to Sharp's Crossing
(Elizabeth Lowe's tent was only a few hundred metres off to the right)
A third important intersection was to the west of the Buninyong Road, where first the Learmonth brothers and then from 1848 Robert Sutherland had held the Native Creek Run. Whilst I have found no mention of where exactly the track to the west diverged from the Geelong-Buninyong track, I did find the following description from 1906 when a correspondent to the Geelong Advertiser described his journey through the district back in 1853:
There were no fences and no roads in these days - nothing but broad bush tracks, winding in all directions, according to the nature of the ground, which was very rotten and soft in places. I thought I would be all right for Buninyong if I kept to the broad, beaten track, being unaware at the time that the bullock teams and sometimes the horse teams went off the track near the "Green Tent," a grog shanty on the Ballarat road, across the Leigh Plains by way of Shelford bridge, in order to feed their horses and bullocks on the rich grass on the plains between there and Buninyong. Hence I got off the main Ballarat road, turning to the left, and found myself at Shelford...
Wherever it was, the track to the Green Tent was clearly a well-used one. The track to Shelford also mentioned above, followed a course to the west of Native Hut Creek, heading south to that town and north to the future site of Meredith however, there was also a track to Teesdale which branched off the Shelford track, crossed Native Hut Creek where Green Tent Road crosses today and then headed away to the south east, following the line of Stony Creek (another small tributary which joins Native Hut Creek above the Hamilton Highway, north east of Inverleigh).
The little ford on Green Tent Road as it crosses Native Hut Creek where
the track from Teesdale also crossed the creek
When the government surveyor Maurice Weston surveyed the area in 1858, he noted these tracks in his field books and laid out a network of roads. As with the eastern side of the Buninyong Road however, the roads to the west are somewhat different now to what was originally envisaged. Today, there are no roads running directly south towards Teesdale as per the survey maps, however the Green Tent Road  remains as surveyed in 1858. In the following decades as the gold rush progressed, this little road would also have provided access to nearby diggings on the creeks to the west and then to the farms of the selectors who followed.
There was one other route which also joined the Geelong-Buninyong track at the Green Tent and it took me a little digging to find it.
Whilst reading the media reports of the murder of Elizabeth Lowe for my previous post, I came across the following statement given in evidence at the trial of her murderer Owen McQueeny:
...I saw the prisoner...coming from the direction of the Green Tent....my house is about five miles from the Green Tent. He was coming along the Melbourne road when I saw him, and asked for the Steiglitz road to Geelong.
The Steiglitz Road to Geelong would of course be Sharp's Road, but where was the Melbourne Road? There is certainly no road of that name in the area today. A little more poking around revealed that in 1841, part of the boundary of the County of Grant was described thus: "...the remainder of the western boundary is formed by tracing up the Native Hut Creek, to the point where it is crossed by the road from Buninyong to Melbourne; then along that road on the northwestern side of Station Peak [the You Yangs] to the crossing place on the Werriby..." So the Melbourne-Buninyong Road travelled east-west between Werribee and Native Hut Creek. A quick glance at some of the early maps revealed that a track did run as described. Skene's 1845 map of Victoria clearly shows the track and although short on detail, it appears to cross the Moorabool River at what surely must be Spiller's Bridge on Perdrisat Road.
Spiller's Bridge today. Some timbers from the old bridge (extant until the 1980s)
are still visible protruding from the riverbed
According to Skene, rather than following the modern line of Perdrisat Road, the track continued in a north westerly direction and appeared to intersect with the Geelong-Buninyong track very close to the Green Tent, possibly near the 30 mile post from Ballarat.

Looking across the Moorabool Valley to the steep curve of Perdrisat Road. The
old track however continued in a north westerly direction away from the current
course of the road
So, even before the gold rush made the Green Tent one of the busiest thoroughfares in the colony, this long-gone settlement was a jumping off point for roads to Geelong, Buninyong, Shelford, Teesdale, Bamganie, Steiglitz and even Melbourne. It is probably unsurprising then, that the Green Tent became such a well-known stopping point on the track to Buninyong.
Below I have included a composite image which gives some idea of where the various tracks intersected each other and the Geelong-Buninyong track in relation to today's roads. To do this, I have overlaid the relevant part of Google Earth with a section of the 1867 geological survey map.
1867 geological survey map overlaying Google Earth, showing the old and the new.
Modern roads on Google Earth are in white and yellow.
I have highlighted part of the Shelford track (green), Teesdale and Lethbridge track (red),
the old Sharp's road exits and  Taylor's/Pound Road (red) and have added a rough estimate of
where the track from Melbourne (blue) may have intersected.
Click to enlarge

23 October, 2015

Making tracks - to the Green Tent

My previous post traced the early stages of the likely route taken by many of the earliest gold diggers as they followed the rush to Buninyong and Ballarat. After leaving Geelong and crossing the Moorabool River at Batesford, they followed the route used first by the bullock drays and then by the mail coaches, branching off the Leigh Road and heading to the Muddy Water Holes as the area around Lethbridge was then called.
This illustration by Charles Lyall, 1854 of a bullock team crossing a river gives
an idea of what the early tracks, such as that from Geelong to Buninyong
were like. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
There was little if anything to be found there at that time, in fact the 1851 description cited in my last post does not mention either Muddy Waterholes or Lethbridge at all, instead, it refers to "the old camping ground known in bushmen's circles as the Green Tent". It is at this point that my research became rather complicated.
The Green Tent is an intriguing but elusive place - notorious even - and is definitely deserving of a post or two of its own.
The exact placement of Green Tent is somewhat unclear and I can find no reference to the original "green tent" which no doubt gave the little settlement and the nearby creek  their name. (Green Tent Creek is a short waterway which flows under the Midland Highway before joining Coolebarghurk Creek just over 2.5 km from where the latter meets the Moorabool River.) The earliest indirect reference I can find is an article from the Geelong Advertiser of 1862 which indicated that there had been ruins at the location for some 18 years, dating the Green Tent back to at least 1844 - a time when the settlement of the Port Phillip District was less than ten years advanced and the floods of gold diggers were still some seven years off.
The earliest contemporary reference I found to the Green Tent was the 1851 description mentioned above, which also claimed it as a well established site even at that date. So, where exactly was the Green Tent, what was it and why was it there?
I am not the first to ask these questions. In 2010 an archaeological dig was conducted which revealed the footings of a substantial building of unknown purpose. A local landowner and historian also has a keen and ongoing interest in the topic. So, what did I find?
Archaeological dig at Green Tent site. Image taken from
 Dr Vincent Clark& Associates website
My approach to the issue (as it usually is) was to head for the electronically available historic records to see what I could locate and to see how this tallied with what others had reported. Initially, I combed the newspapers of the 19th century (accessed via the National Library of Australia's Trove website) for any mentions of the Green Tent - and there were plenty.
Prior to the gold rush, the Green Tent seems to have been little more than a watering hole for passing bullockies, but by 1854 - three years into the gold rush - it was cited as the location of one of a number of unlicensed premises or sly-grog shanties (often euphemistically described as "coffee tents") between Geelong and Ballarat. In 1856 Benjamin Annas was fined £30 for "vending three glasses of brandy" at the Green Tent without a license.
Illustration by S.T. Gill showing a coffee tent and timber huts on Bendigo
Creek 1852, not the Green Tent, but indicative of the era. Image held by the
National Library of Australia
In 1858 however, the name "Green Tent" took on a notorious connotation. On 10th July that year, Elizabeth Lowe was brutally murdered in front of her two infant children. Her attacker - Owen McQueeny - was soon arrested and after a short trial, was hung for his crime. Several interesting pieces of information about the Green Tent arose from the inquest and subsequent trial. The evidence of various witnesses and contemporary newspaper reports, built a picture of a single mother struggling to support an 18 month old toddler and a second baby only a few weeks old. Abandoned by her husband, she had built herself a "tent" constructed partly of weatherboard and with a canvas roof and back section, petitioned to separate off a sleeping area.
Elizabeth kept a few bottles of grog a slab of cheese and bread which she would serve to her customers - said to be men working on the roads nearby. By implication, other "services" were also supplied and it is believed that McQueeny was a customer who had been hanging around her tent. She informed at least one neighbour that he was beginning to frighten her. Not surprisingly, his version of events read somewhat differently as this article from The Age shows.
Whilst they make gruesome reading, the newspaper reports of the events surrounding Elizabeth's death give more detail about the settlement at Green Tent. Firstly, Elizabeth was not living entirely alone. It was noted in evidence that other tents in the area had been robbed by McQueeny not long before Elizabeth's murder and Mary Campion (possibly Mary Sampson) indicated that she had, until shortly before the murder, lived within 100 yards of Elizabeth's tent but now lived a little less than a mile away. On the morning of the murder, she and her husband heard a gunshot in the darkness at around 6 am.
In one of its early reports, the Age insisted that Elizabeth did not live near the Green Tent, but that her dwelling was in fact the Green Tent which had been variously occupied for at least five years, during which time it had developed a bad reputation. It may be worth noting at this point, that she had probably been living there for about four months since her husband had left. I also found reference to a William Dawson, a store keeper of Green Tent who was declared insolvent around the same time in March, 1858. I have no evidence, but suspect she may have moved in and occupied an existing empty building (if it could be called that), making her own additions to keep out the elements.
 Also living in the vicinity was Mr Thomas Champion, the proprietor of an eating house/store. It was to Champion's that Elizabeth's body was taken for the inquest, after which she was buried on the bank of a nearby creek. In another macabre twist, her body was exhumed a fortnight later to provide more evidence for the trial of her murderer. Some sources indicate that Elizabeth's body was reburied at the Old Meredith Cemetery, however an article published in 1922 which describes the return of Elizabeth's son to the scene of his mother's murder, indicates that she remained buried in the original location and that until a short time before his return, the grave had been surrounded by a picket fence.
So, where was Elizabeth's tent and where were the others in the area living? In one of those curious coincidences, government surveyor Maurice Weston was working in the vicinity of Green Tent, and the day prior to the murder, was only about a mile away. By the end of August, he was surveying the land immediately to the east of Elizabeth's tent, the location of which, he marked in his field books (which can be viewed on the Landata website).
Page from the field book of Maurice Weston, 1858
showing the position of Elizabeth Lowe's tent
According to Weston's measurements, in layman's terms, Elizabeth lived 396 yards before the 30 mile post from Ballarat (marked clearly on a later 1867 geological survey map of the region) and 240 yards south west of the main road to Ballarat (see map below). This very exact description is supported by the evidence of a witness at McQueeny's trial - local farmer Thomas Cleary. He described the Green Tent as standing "off the metal road about 200 yards and to the left of the road going to Ballaarat(sic).
Weston indicates at least one section of the main road to Ballarat as being "metal" in his notes, which suggests that it was also informally known as "the metal road".
Some distance away, on the banks of Coolebarghurk Creek, he also noted the presence of a grave.
Page from the field book of Maurice Weston, 1858
showing a grave site. Probably that of Elizabeth Lowe
Unfortunately however, Weston made no note of where others in the area were living. We know from the evidence of the inquest that Elizabeth's tent was some distance away from the other residents - a fact which concerned her. We know Champion's store was in the vicinity and there were others living in tents. By the following year (assuming no move took place) Champion's was referred to as Champion's Hotel.
Looking south east across the site indicated by surveyor Maurice Weston as
the site of Elizabeth Lowe's tent
At this point however, things become a little unclear.
In September, 1859 the Green Tent Hotel was advertised for sale. The description given indicated that the premises were newly-built and extensive but the vendor's name is not mentioned. It could have been Champion's. The following month, Francis M'Kenne, a boardinghouse keeper at the Green Tent was declared insolvent, however there is no mention of the name or location of his business.
By 1860 another player had appeared. William Hooley was running the "Old Green Tent Hotel", a timber structure located not far from the 25 mile post from Geelong. According to the newspapers, Mr Hooley's hotel was situated opposite Champion's. Hooley was not in business for long however as his establishment caught fire and burnt to the ground on 21st March, 1862, leaving only a kitchen and stables which were detached from the main building. His friends and associates rushed to his aid and quickly relocated him to Champion's Hotel "over the road".
Thomas Champion it seems did not remain long either. In April, 1861 he put his hotel - including 10 rooms, a 20-stall stable, stockyards and outbuildings - on the market, then again in May and a third time in August. The property was also described as situated on 2 acres of securely-fenced government land. Interestingly, the early survey maps show a small reserve of about 6 acres, positioned roughly to the south of the Green Tent Creek on the western side of the highway - a likely location for Champion's Hotel.
By October the following year, the hotel was on the market once again. On this occasion however, the proprietor was J.H. Jones and the property was to be auctioned at noon on 29th October, 1862.
The Green Tent is next mentioned in 1866 when John Kneale was described in rate books as keeping a beer house at Green Tent on land owned by Alexander Sutherland. The Sutherland's Native Creek Run was located to the west of the current highway.
Looking north west across Sutherland's pre-emptive right
 Upon the death of his wife Bridget in 1871, Kneale was required to sign probate documents in which he declared that he was "of Green Tent near Meredith in the Colony of Victoria formerly Lodging House Keeper now out of business". By December that same year however, he gave notice of his intention to apply for a publican's license at the Green Tent where he was proprietor of an establishment consisting of ten rooms in addition to those used by the family, a detached kitchen and stabling for 30 horses with a secure supply of water. From the description, this was presumably the one-time Champion's Hotel. Kneale's tenure however was also short-lived and by late 1872 he was looking to sell the property. Still at Green Tent, John died the following year and was buried at Meredith.
The name Green Tent Hotel continues to appear in the newspapers for some years after this time, however, by the 1870s, the huge amount of traffic generated by the gold rush had begun to decline and the Geelong-Ballarat railway which had opened in 1862 bypassed the little settlement of Green Tent, taking potential customers with it.
So, no-one seems to know the exact origin of the original "green tent" but it may have occupied a site in the area as early as 1844, providing a respite for the early settlers as they made their way with their stock to their distant runs. With the arrival of the gold rush, the Green Tent - by then a well-established watering hole - became a stopping point for the diggers as they came and went from the goldfields; a place where they could spend the night or just quench their thirst with a (sometimes not so legal) drink before continuing their long trudge.
The events surrounding the murder of Elizabeth Lowe established the position of at least one Green Tent residence - hers - and it seems that it had been standing for some years and was thought by some to be "the" Green Tent - a sly-grog shop with a bad reputation. At some distance, but still near enough to be considered part of Green Tent, were two public houses, located on opposite sides of the current Midland Highway. Champion's was a substantial building and it may well be the footings of this building which were excavated during the 2010 archaeological dig on the western side of the highway. The other - presumably older - building occupied by William Hooley, was a timber structure which burnt down in March, 1862.
Looking south across the site indicated as "Green Tent" on the 1867
geological survey map and possible site of Hooley's "Old Green Tent Hotel"
At that time, there were also a number of people in the area living in informal tents or huts. Their location is unclear, however the geological survey map of 1867 indicates a small cluster of buildings, labelled as "Green Tent" on the banks of the creek with the same name. The map places the settlement to the east of the Midland Highway, just before a sweeping right hand bend, about 1.3 km past Taylor's Road and only a few hundred metres from the site of the archaeological excavation. On the same map, at a slight distance from the settlement is marked an "inn shed". It occurs to me that by 1867 when the survey for the above map was completed, the outbuildings would be all which remained of Hooley's hotel which had burnt down some four years earlier.
Google Earth image showing my estimations of various locations mentioned above
Whilst more proof is needed, the above map indicates what I think are the likely locations for the events and places described.
Note: a little more research has revealed more circumstantial evidence. An article published in The Argus of  31st August, 1866 indicates that an applicant for some land at Green Tent had 80 acres surveyed which it was said enclosed the only fresh water reservoir for some distance around. The land was indicated as important to the local inhabitants and had previously been a reserve [a government reserve I assume].
Whilst the location of the land is not clear, only a few months later on 27th November, John Matheson of Moranghurk purchased several blocks of land either side of - but excluding - the reserve and a neighbouring block between the railway line and today's Midland Highway.