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|
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|
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|
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|
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