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.