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.

10 October, 2015

Making tracks - leaving Geelong

OK, so what was the route of the original track from Geelong to Buninyong used by so many during the gold rush and does any of it remain today? Well, yes, some of it does remain and is there to be found if you know where to look.
The route out of Geelong to Batesford took the traveller through Bell Post Hill, the land occupied by the earliest European settlers in the district - John Cowie and David Stead. By the time of the gold rush, they had long moved on from the district, however those coming and going to the goldfields would still have seen the same striking vista which attracted those original squatters. Henry Mundy (Les Hughes, 1988, Henry Mundy: a young Australian pioneer) who made the journey many times described his return to Geelong on one occasion thus:
...that glorious scene which I had, before and since so often admired, the full view of Corio Bay, the ocean beyond, the North Shore, the open plains and the You Yangs. The shipping and boats in the Bay, the little town of Geelong sloping down to a bold shore...
A similar view today, to that so enjoyed by Henry Mundy, taken from near the
top of Bell Post Hill
Once atop the Bell Post Hill, it was a hike of about three miles to the little hamlet of Batesford or Bates' Ford as it was originally spelt (earlier names also included Manifold's Ford and Hopeton for other local settlers). This was one of the earliest bridged crossing points on the Moorabool (or Marrabool River as it was often called) and there are still signs of the original route which deviates slightly to the north of today's Midland Highway in the name of the Old Ballarat Road. Newspapers of the era indicate that by 1854 the road through Batesford was the main thoroughfare to Ballarat. It was also in very poor condition, prompting locals to call - unsuccessfully - upon the government to provide the funds to fix it.
Looking west down the Old Ballarat Road from the top of the Batesford Hill.
The present highway can just be seen at the left
In the 1840s and early 1850s, after crossing the Moorabool, there was very little in the way of settlement along the track. Once again Henry Mundy recounts that the only public house on the track between Batesford and "Mother Jamieson's" establishment in Buninyong was Watson's Hotel at what was to become the township of Meredith.
A substantially similar - if somewhat more detailed - account of the track to that of Mundy was given in the  Geelong Advertiser, of 1st October, 1851:
One of the principal advantages of the Ballarat diggings over those of Bathurst, is their easy accessibility. We have, ourselves, rode(sic) from Geelong to Buninyong in less than six hours, and to the pedestrian it is only a day's smart walk. There are four public-houses for refreshments on the road, and there are no gullies to cross. Seven miles from Geelong the Moorabool River is crossed by a bridge at Bates' ford, where Mr Primrose and Mr Varey keep their respective inns. Six miles further on, where the Leigh road diverges, is the inn kept by Mr O'Meara. The road then approaches the bank of the river, and soon after passes through a beautiful valley, now being surveyed for sale. About ten miles from O'Meara's, is the old camping ground, known in bushmen's legends as the Green tent, and four miles further on is the inn kept by Mr Ritchie, on the Moorabool Creek....the road now enters a forest country, and for about twelve miles passes over wooded rises, which terminate at a flat tract of country, about a mile in width, near Williamson's creek. This is in winter, the most trying part of the road - the softness of the ground rendering it with difficulty passable by wheel carriages...About seven miles from Williamson's creek, the traveller enters the town of Buninyong and seven miles to the westward are THE DIGGINGS.
There is perhaps a little license used in the above description. Fifty miles of walking in a day would require a very "smart" pace indeed and whilst there were four hotels on the road between Geelong and Buninyong, two of them were located only a short distance apart either side of the Moorabool River at Batesford only seven miles from Geelong. These establishments were the Derwent Hotel (today's Batesford Hotel) established in 1844 (possibly as early as 1842) as the Marrabool Inn on the east bank of the Moorabool and on the western side of the river, the Travellers Rest Hotel was opened in 1849 by John Primrose and today is a private home.
The ex-Travellers Rest Inn, Batesford, 1971. This image is part of the
J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
Only a few miles further along the road to Buninyong, the third hotel - O'Meara's Separation Inn which opened in 1850 - was located at the point where the Leigh Road branched off . Today this is the corner of Russell's Road and the Midland Highway, Gheringhap and there is no obvious indication of where the old track to the Leigh passed.
Looking south east from the corner of Russell's Road across the site where the
Separation Inn once stood
For some reason Mundy did not recall the Separation Inn in his account of the route, however an 1848 map of Geelong and surrounding districts marks the inn's location. The map also shows the "road to the Leigh" following a close approximation of the current line of the Midland Highway from Batesford past Gheringhap before branching to the left at Russell's Road. The road which heads to the Leigh (Shelford), is shown crossing both Bruce's Creek and Native Hut Creek at sites which would become Bannockburn (1855) and Teesdale (1852) in due course. The other branch continues on, still following much the same line as today's Midland Highway.
Likewise, the original 1856 survey map for the parish of Wabdallah shows the "main line of road from Geelong to Buninyong" following the same route towards Lethbridge - or the Muddy Water Holes as the area was also known - as today. There is no sign of the older track, suggesting I assume that the new road - surveyed by A.J. Skene - followed the same path as the original.
A sketch by German artist Eugene von Guerard, 13-14th January, 1853 titled
"Mouthy Water Houl", presumably sketched at Muddy Water Holes on his way
to the goldfields. Two days later von Guerard was in Buninyong. Image held
by the State Library of Victoria 
Past Lethbridge however, things appear to vary somewhat from the current line of the highway and will the topic of my next post.

08 October, 2015

Making tracks - to the goldfields

So following on from my previous post, what route or routes did those first gold diggers take on their journey from Geelong to Buninyong and Ballarat following the discovery of  gold in early August, 1851 at Hiscock's Gully? Within only a few months of the find being announced, thousands of diggers had flocked to Buninyong and nearby Ballarat. They came from all over the world, by any means available and to get there in those early days, they followed the old bullock tracks, forged by the squatters and the early settlers of the district.
Immigrants arriving by ship had two choices. Those who arrived in Adelaide faced a lengthy overland trek. The alternative was to disembark at the port of Melbourne, but once on land, the prospectors faced another choice. Did they travel straight to the goldfields - a journey of over 75 miles in the old units - or were they better off to travel by boat to Geelong, leaving only about 50 miles to travel?
Both towns were desperate to reap the benefits of the gold rush, so a fierce battle developed over which was the best route to the goldfields. The newspapers from late 1851 are filled with claims and counter claims about the time taken, the distance travelled and the state of the roads, with The Argus and the Geelong Advertiser taking direct aim at each other in the ongoing dispute. Despite the best efforts of the Melbourne propagandists, thousands chose to take the steamer to Geelong and then make their way to the goldfields as best they could.
The rush to the Ballarat goldfields 1854 by Samuel Thomas Gill. Image held
by the National Library of Australia
For many, this meant tramping the miles on foot, carrying their belongings with them on their back or sometimes even in a wheelbarrow and from what I have found in the newspapers of the day, the path they followed was the existing route from Geelong to Buninyong, well-established as early as 1840 and the same path taken by the earliest private mail coach between the two towns in 1846 as mentioned in my previous post.
For those who could afford it, this was also the road taken by coach passengers. With the discovery of gold, the number of coach services running between Geelong and Buninyong soon increased from a two-horse conveyance in 1849 running Mondays and Thursdays, to a number of four-horse carriages operating over a range of days. Often they sported names such as Red Rover or The Digger's Pride.
The Estaffette line of coaches carried mail and passengers between Geelong
and the goldfields of Ballarat. Image held by the Victorian State Library
All this information was of interest, however I had to dig rather deeply to find any real detail about the specifics of the route taken. Whilst various modern sources use phrases such as "the maps show", those maps to which I have access show very little. The map below is a section taken from Alexander John Skene's 1845 map of Victoria. The track to Buninyong is shown, however the scale is such that little detail can be seen and the route in some places does not quite correlate with what others have said.
Section of the 1845 map of Victoria by the influential
surveyor AJ Skene. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
In general terms then, the oft mentioned bullock route was in broadly similar to today's Midland Highway, however the are a number of points of divergence and I suspect some modern misunderstandings too, which will be the topic of the next few posts as I attempt to follow in the diggers' footsteps.

03 October, 2015

Making tracks - the early days

It often seems that every time I talk to a local or read an information sign across the Barwon catchment, I see the phrase "such-and-such a town was on the route (from Geelong) to the goldfields" or "this-or-that road formed part of the old bullock track to the goldfields" or "the old maps show...". The problem as I see it, is that if each of the towns listed were on "the" track from Geelong to the goldfields of Buninyong and Ballarat, it would be a very long and erratic journey indeed!
As a result, I thought I would take a look at some resources from the early days of the gold rush and see what evidence I could find to support any of these claims. What route did they take? How did they travel? Which towns did they pass through? And importantly for this blog, what river crossings did they make?
 On one issue, there was broad agreement. Prior to the work of the government surveyors on mapping out the official roads of the new colony during the 1850s, most traffic used the informal bullock tracks, beaten through the bush by the squatters as they pushed the boundaries of settlement in the Port Phillip District. To a large extent, the geography of the surrounding districts determined the path these tracks would take. Rivers such as the Barwon, Leigh and Moorabool and their many tributaries formed barriers to travel, but at the same time provided much needed water for both stock and travellers. Not only did the early settlers make use of the Wathaurong's fords, but often, the routes they followed were paths which had been used by Aboriginal Australians, who it is also known, used the creeks and rivers of the region as paths and navigational aids.
Where a river or creek crossing was unavoidable, natural fords were used. In many cases, these were crossings which had been used by the Wathaurong people for thousands of years. Both Fyansford and Breakwater and I assume (but can't prove) Batesford are located at crossing points used by the indigenous population before European arrival. As traffic increased, these informal fords were lined with stone and packed earth, providing a more solid passage. The crossing at Fyansford was chosen as the site of a settlement by Captain Foster Fyans in 1837 when he arrived to take up the position of police magistrate for Geelong. He was quick to recognise the importance of the location which provided relatively easy access to the vast plains of the Western District.
An 1846 illustration of the ford at Fyansford, drawn by Charles Norton, image
held by the State Library of Victoria
During the late 1840s and 1850s, bridges were built at some of these key crossing points.
The first timber bridge at Fyansford was built in 1854, providing direct access via the Great Western Road (later known as the Lower Western Road) to the towns of Inverleigh, Cressy and beyond to Portland and the Western District.
Timber bridge at Fyansford, built 1854 (image c1866-1880), image held by the
State Library of Victoria
By contrast, there had been a bridge across the Moorabool River (on the Upper Western Road) at Batesford since at least 1846. As at Fyansford, this original structure was a timber construction which by 1847 was in very bad condition having been repeatedly patched in previous years (sic). After surviving the winter rains, the bridge gave way under the weight of a bullock dray at the end of August (damaging only the bridge itself). It was replaced the following year.
These early fords and bridges and the rough tracks between them, were first used by the squatters to bring their wool to market in Geelong. With their expanding enterprises came the need for better communication, so in 1844 the first mail coach ran from Portland to Melbourne via towns such as Hamilton, Dunkeld and Fiery Creek (the Streatham/Beaufort area) to Buninyong before continuing on to Ballan and Bacchus Marsh en route to Melbourne. It wasn't long however before a second route also became popular and by the end of 1846, a mail coach from Portland to Geelong was heading south from Fiery Creek, passing through Woady Yallock (Cressy) to The Leigh (Shelford) and then via Teesdale, Leigh Road (Bannockburn) and Batesford to Geelong. From here, the mail could also be sent by steamer to Melbourne. (NB: It was this mail coach which was held up at gunpoint by Owen Suffolk and Christie Farrell in May, 1851.)
These mail coaches were run by government contractors. To confuse the issue however, squatters unhappy with the available services on occasion established their own subscription-based services. This was the case when in September, 1846 a private mail route between Geelong and Buninyong was established. The alternative government route was to send the mail via Melbourne on the Portland route and later via The Leigh and presumably through Woady Yallock and Fiery Creek.
Image by S.T. Gill shows the Royal Mail service from Geelong arriving in
Ballarat, 1854. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
The first private coach made the run on 26th September, 1846. It was a weekly service which departed Geelong at around 3 or 4am and running via the Golden Fleece Inn on the Marrabool Creek, arriving in Buninyong before midday in time to connect with the Portland and other mail services. The return run was set to arrive in Geelong by Monday morning. Within a fortnight, government representatives had been sent to assess the route with a view to establishing a public mail service.
These then, were the main routes across the region, established by the squatters as they moved their stock, pushing the boundaries of the settled districts, looking for new pastures and more space. They were not formed roads as we understand them. In wet weather, they often became an impenetrable morass. So deep was the mud in places that carriages would become bogged above their axles whilst only double teams of oxen could drag drays through the mud, with any beast which fell, being dragged in its traces and often trampled or smothered in the process.
Although from the 1870s, this image from the State Library of Victoria shows
a coach ploughing through mud in bad weather 
One such section of the track near today's Scotsburn is described in Henry Mundy's account of his goldfield adventures (Henry Mundy: a young Australian pioneer, 1988 by Les Hughes). In 1847 the Geelong Advertiser and Squatters' Advocate described the road beyond the Batesford bridge "one of the great thoroughfares to the west" as being cut up below the level of the surrounding land with swathes of mud several feet deep in some places.
With an official government survey still some years away it was these rutted tracks - mud pits in winter, dust bowls in summer - which  the first of the gold diggers followed in the hopes of finding their fortune. The details I can find are sketchy and sometimes contradictory but over the next few posts, I will look at some of these routes and perhaps address some of the conflicting claims as to what was the "route to the goldfields".