31 December, 2016

Baaaaaaaaaa humbug!

In previous years I have occasionally come up with a "Christmas" themed blog post towards the end of the year. This year as I considered my options, an idea came to mind. Sheep!
Sheep are not usually associated with Christmas - except if you live at Meredith - and Meredith is not generally associated with the Barwon River. As I have discussed in previous posts however, Meredith lies on the banks of Coolebarghurk Creek which is a tributary of the Moorabool River and at Christmas sheep are all the rage.
So, with this in mind, we headed off to Meredith to snap some photos, oh, and had a short walk along the creek while we were there. So, here are a few of Meredith's "Christmas sheep" to end the year:

I think perhaps the red sheep has partaken in a little too much Christmas cheer!

These were just some of the sheep  to be found in Meredith this year. There were sheep at the hall, sheep at the shop, sheep at the churches and even sheep at the pub! Not to mention the members of the flock gracing the fences of any number of houses in town.
A very "Merrydith" Christmas everyone!

29 December, 2016


In November, 2016 the Meredith History Group held its monthly meeting at 'Ballark', home of the Molesworth family for more than a century. Today's 'Ballark' is the remnant of one of the original squatting runs established on the east branch of the Moorabool River in the earliest days of European settlement.
The original license for the property was taken up in 1838 by John Wallace. Wallace was born at Nairn in Scotland and as a boy, travelled to van Diemen's Land in the 1820s to live with his uncle. Like many during the late 1830s, he crossed Bass Strait from van Diemen's Land, bringing stock to graze the thousands of acres of grassland they found along the creeks and rivers of the region. Initially he camped near Anakie, but dry weather encouraged him to move north in search of some protection in the form of more heavily timbered country and he eventually settled upon a site on the east bank of the Moorabool East Branch.
Looking north up the Moorabool Valley with 'Ballark' land to the east
According to Victorian Squatters (Spreadborough & Anderson, 1983), the Ballark run was originally gazetted at 17,000 acres, however as was often the case, this was divided into two smaller properties in 1853. Wallace retained the lease for 'Ballark No. 1' whilst that for 'Ballark No. 2' was taken up by squatters by the name of  Cuthbert and Hammond . Their tenure however was short-lived and by 1861 this lease was also in Wallace's name. Both licenses were forfeited in 1872, by which time in addition to the pre-emptive right for the run, he had purchased the freehold to several thousand acres surrounding his homestead.
In 1843 John married Elizabeth Smith. With the exception of a few years during which he resided in Geelong at Rannoch House, the property remained the family home until John's death on 24th October, 1882 at the age of 71 suffering a bout of pneumonia. Accompanied by a substantial cortège, he was buried with Elizabeth (died 1862) in the family's private cemetery on the property, overlooking the Moorabool River.
Wallace is also remembered in his native Nairn where a bandstand was erected overlooking the coastline. A plaque at the site reads: "Erected to the memory of John Wallace a native of Nairn who died at Ballark Australia, 1882. A pioneer who became on of the most successful and respected pastoralists in the Colony of Victoria. Ballan Shire Historical Society 1991."
Memorial to John Wallace at Nairn, Scotland. Image taken by Allan Maciver,
23rd February, 2012
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 6, 1976, upon the death of his father, John's eldest son Donald Smith Wallace (1844-1900) inherited the pre-emptive right to 'Ballark' and later purchased the remainder of the estate. The year following Wallace's death, an auction notice appeared in the Ballarat Star of 13th September, 1883 announcing the sale of 'Ballark', the size of which at that time was estimated at 7743 acres. Presumably Donald was the purchaser.
Like his father, Donald was a grazier. Educated in Melbourne, he gained experience in the industry before taking up significant pastoral holdings in Queensland. In 1878 he returned to Victoria where he made an unsuccessful attempt to enter politics at the 1880 election before returning to Queensland where he held the Seat of Cleremont in the legislative assembly of that state from 1883 until 1888. Despite this, he spent little time in the state, instead returning to Victoria where he held a seat on the legislative council from 1889 to 1894.
Despite his involvement in politics, Donald's real interest was horse racing and during the period from 1881 to 1898 he was involved as a committee member of the Victorian Racing Club. Whilst he owned several thoroughbreds and achieved success in a number of high-profile races, without doubt his most successful horse was Carbine - winner of the 1890 Melbourne Cup. A New Zealand bred stallion, from 43 races run, Carbine won 33, ran second in six races and third in a further three, failing to place only once due to injury. His Melbourne Cup win saw him carry a weight of 66kg - 24kg more than his nearest rival.
Carbine prior to his departure for England, 1895. Image held by the
State Library of Victoria
Injury forced Carbine into retirement in 1891 and he was put out to stud, first at 'Ballark' before being sold in 1895 and taken to England. His success as a sire was as outstanding as his racing career with over half the Melbourne Cup winners between the years of 1914 and 1978 being descendants of Carbine. Amongst the most famous horses to trace their lineage back to Carbine are Phar Lap and Makybe Diva.
Despite his racing success and his vast business interests, falling wool prices and several poor seasons led to mounting debts which forced Wallace to sell off first his Queensland and then most of his Victorian interests. Donald died at 'Ballark' on 27th May, 1900. He was survived by his son John Vivian Wallace, born in 1880 in Victoria to Donald and his wife Ida Australia (nèe Thorn) who had married in Queensland in 1877. Like his parents and wife, he was buried in the little cemetery overlooking the Moorabool River.
The Wallace family cemetery at 'Ballark', November, 2016
Following Donald's death, the property remained in the hands of his trustees before finally in 1915 it was put on the market. The purchaser was a Mr Phil Lock who almost immediately placed the 2,500 acre estate back on the market. This time, the purchaser was Mr John Molesworth of St Kilda, formerly of Mount Napier (Ballarat Star, 28th September, 1915). The Molesworths undertook significant renovations to the original homestead in order to fit the property out as their family home.
The Molesworth family trace their origins to England and count amongst their descendants some members of the British Royal Family. John was the great-grandfather of the current occupant - also John - who continues to work the property, lives at the homestead to the present day and will be followed in due course by his own son - James.
Ballark homestead November, 2016
Like the Wallaces, the Molesworths bred sheep and also found success as horse breeders producing, according to John, 100 winners of their own. The original John was succeeded at 'Ballark' by his son John Robert Nassau 'Bob' Molesworth, born 30th April, 1910. Details of Bob's life including his training as a jackaroo in Outback Western Australia, a distinguished military career as a pilot and a lifelong involvement with the local community, serving on committees and as a member of the Ballan Hospital, Ballan Racing Club, Ballarat Show Society and the CFA at Morrison's, can be found in the obituary written by his son-in-law Barry Lazarus and published in The Age, 27th July, 2006. Bob died on the 1st July, 2006.
 Today as with many of the old properties in the district, the focus has moved to rehabilitating the land which has served the family for so many generations. To this end, over 100,000 trees have been planted at 'Ballark' in the last 13 years. Another initiative is fundraising in the form of shooting parties held on the property, with the money raised going to help local sporting clubs, continuing Ballark's ongoing interest in sport and the local community.

18 December, 2016

'Lal Lal'

As outlined in my previous post, Archibald Fisken Jr arrived at the Port Phillip settlement with his family in April, 1840 at the age of eleven. By the time he was 17 his uncle - Peter Inglis - had placed Archibald in charge of running two of his estates; the 27,339 acre Warrenheip Run and the 18,313 acre Lal Lal Run. Between the two runs, they were estimated in 1849 as having the capacity to run 3,000 head of cattle and 2,000 head of sheep.
Archibald was said to be an accomplished horseman and according to his obituary, published in The Argus, 14th June, 1907 he was the first to drive a vehicle - presumably a horse and cart - through the dense forest then surrounding Mt Warrenheip. In the early days, Fisken lived in a slab hut and with the outbreak of the gold rush in 1851 found himself struggling to maintain his enormous estate as many of his employees abandoned their posts to try their luck at Ballarat and beyond.
He soon realised however, that a lucrative market for his stock had opened up in the form of the stream of diggers passing through his property on their way from Melbourne, Geelong and surrounds to the goldfields.
Archibald Fisken, 1892. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
His beef was particularly popular with the diggers. The stream of diggers may also have ensured that the tradition of breeding pigs at 'Warreneep' - probably begun in the 1830s by the Levitt brothers - was continued by Fisken. In 1856 The Star was advertising pigs of all sizes for sale on the property. Despite being short-handed, it was this windfall that came with the gold rush along with his continued hard work at increasing his stock holdings and improving productivity which enabled Fisken in a relatively short space of time to pay back the purchase price of both properties.
On the 4th January, 1859, having secured his position as a squatter, Archibald married Charlotte Emily Macnamara, the second daughter of a Sydney politician, by this time however, the carve up of the big estates had begun and 'Lal Lal' and 'Warreneep' were no exception. In 1859, blocks of 'Warrenheip' land were being offered for sale whilst two years earlier in 1857, 'Lal Lal' land was also thrown open for purchase.
It is also worth noting that when the sale of allotments was announced, there was a concerted public push which resulted in the land which included the spectacular Lal Lal Falls being set aside as a public reserve. In September, 1860 the petitioners were successful with 1,250 acres gazetted for public use, however in December, 1868, this was revoked with the reserved area reduced to only 200 acres. Nonetheless, the area remained popular with the public not only as a picnic spot but also with photographers and artists who continue to record images of the falls to the present day. In 1858 renowned landscape artist Eugene von Guerard sketched the falls  and in 1882 photographer Fred Kruger snapped his version of the scene.
Lal Lal Falls, 1866 by Archibald Vincent Smith. Image held by the
State Library of Victoria
In the mid 1860s a racecourse was established near the falls. So popular were the races that in 1886 a branch line from the Geelong-Ballarat Railway was constructed to convey racegoers to and from the track. The line operated for more than 50 years with the last race meeting held in 1938. Marcus Wong's Rail Geelong website shows a number of images of the Lal Lal branch line.
As closer settlement continued, in 1862, the Lal Lal run was divided in two, with the 'Lal Lal West' portion of the estate - the land to the west of the newly opened Geelong-Ballarat Railway line - passing to George Irwin and then to Mackay and sons the following year. That lease was eventually forfeited in 1872. The lease of the remaining land passed in 1865 to George S Morrow and was forfeited in 1870. This of course, excludes that land which had been purchased by Fisken and which extended to as much as 10,000 acres, a far cry from the 45,652 acres encompassed by both stations in 1849. Fisken's freehold land became known as the Lal Lal Estate. It was here that he built a homestead, one source suggesting that the old slab hut was incorporated within its walls.
Throughout his time in the district, Fisken came to be regarded as an expert in the field of cattle breeding, managing stock for Sir Samuel Wilson of 'Narmbool' and establishing stock and station agencies in both Ballarat and Melbourne. He served in various public offices including as a Justice of the Peace, was an elected councillor and the first president of Buninyong Shire as well as serving as returning officer first for the electoral district of North Grant, then for that of Ballarat East in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.
In 1873 however, he took up residence in East Melbourne, leaving the running of 'Lal Lal' to his son, Archibald James which enabled him to pursue his business interests in other areas.  Archibald Fisken died at East Melbourne in 1907 at the age of 77.
Whilst it is reported that the estate remained in the hands of the Inglis/Fisken family through six generations, it would seem from contemporary newspaper reports that the estate for a time passed out of family ownership. On 14th January, 1888 it was stated in the Bacchus Marsh Express that Mr Thomas Bent, M.L.A. had made arrangements to purchase the estate.
As well as being a politician (and eventually Premier of Victoria) Bent was also a land speculator. He did not take over the running of the estate, instead installing a tenant before placing it back on the market within months. On 29th March, 6,000 acres including the homestead was put up for auction. Whilst around 600 acres sold, about 5,000 acres, including the homestead did not and the following month, the remaining land was advertised for lease (Ballarat Star, 29th May, 1888).
Within a few years however, the property must have passed back to the Fiskens, as from the early 1890s Archibald James Fisken was once again indicated as the property owner in various newspaper reports. Unlike his father however, he remained on the property where continued to run the estate until his death at the age of 56, in 1923 after an extended illness. It was he who in 1911 built the 16-room Edwardian homestead which stands on the property today, overlooking an ornamental lake which was formed by damming the Lal Lal Creek. The extensive garden was established around the same time, however some buildings - such as the stables - date back to 1858.
Lal Lal homestead, built in 1911 by AJ Fisken. Image taken from the
Federation-House site on Wikispace
Like his father, Archibald James was involved in local affairs, serving as councillor and president of Buninyong Shire. He also took a keen interest in cricket, fielding a Lal Lal Estate team which competed against other local sides. At the time of his death, Archibald's estate was valued at £19,000 with personal property valued at £7535. His beneficiaries were his widow Beatrice May (neé Wanliss) and his only son Archibald Clyde Wanliss "Clyde" Fisken.
The stables at 'Lal Lal', 1968. Image from the JT Collins collection, LaTrobe
Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
Schooled at Ballarat and then Geelong Grammar, Clyde served in the British armed forces during the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery before returning to 'Lal Lal' to run the estate. In 1923, upon the death of his father, the property passed to Clyde and the following year he married Elspeth Anne Cameron, the daughter of a prominent wool broker at Ross in Tasmania,.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Clyde was elected to the Buninyong Shire Council and also served as president on a number of occasions. From 1934 - 1937 he served a term as the member for the federal seat of Ballarat before taking up a position as the founding chairman of the Australian Meat Board. Throughout the remainder of his life, Clyde served in a number of prominent public roles, but always maintained his interest in 'Lal Lal'. He died on 20th June, 1970, survived by his wife Elspeth, son Archibald John (known as John) and three daughters.
Archibald Clyde Wanliss Fisken. Image held by the
National Library of Australia
The estate of course, passed to John who by that time was married with a family of his own. His wife was Patricia Irene Falkiner of New South Wales whom he had married at St John's Church, Toorak in Melbourne on 3rd May, 1951. The event was reported in The Argus the following day, accompanied by a photo - to use the stereotype - of the happy couple. Their engagement the previous year was also noted in the society pages of The Argus (1st December, 1950).
Their family grew to include two sons and two daughters and it was their second son Geoff who took over the running of the estate after John's death on 8th August, 1989. Geoff Fisken was the final member of the family to own 'Lal Lal' where he lived with his wife and three children and it was he, who in 2014 sold the property to Tianyu Wool Industries, a Chinese wool company. At that time, the property extended to 2,000 hectares - or just under 5,000 acres. The company - headed by Mr Quingnan Wen - spent $2.54 million renovating the homestead and is developing the property as an example of world's best practise in farming techniques.
Today, the homestead is available for hire as a reception venue.

14 December, 2016


Whilst researching some details for my "Making Tracks" series of blog posts, I gathered quite a bit of information about some of the properties through which the track from Steiglitz to Ballarat passed, however it did not relate directly to what I was writing, so I saved it for later. The properties in question were the 'Ingliston', Warrenheip and Lal Lal Runs of Peter Inglis which are the subject of my next posts.
The squatting run which came to be known as 'Ingliston' was not within the Barwon catchment region, but rather, lay along the upper reaches of the Werribee River, however the squatter who lent his name to the property did have substantial land holdings within the Barwon Catchment, so this post will look at all of those holdings, 'Ingliston' being the first.
The Fisken-Inglis family - including Archibald Fisken Senior, his wife Eliza (née Inglis), their children and Eliza's brother Peter Inglis - arrived in Port Phillip in 1840 aboard the ship Dauntless. Amongst the children was the Fisken's 11 year old son Archibald Jr.
Peter Inglis was a merchant from Glasgow, Scotland, but once in Australia he decided to turn his hand to squatting. On 1st November, 1841 he took over the lease of a run on the upper Werribee River which he named 'Ingliston'. He had purchased the lease for the property from its original holders, Dr David Henry Wilsone (a Melbourne MD) and John Campbell who had taken up the run in 1839. Known simply as Wilsone & Campbell's Run, the pair had established a homestead on the property at Cornong Hill and were running 4,000 sheep on the land. In 1841 however, Wilsone died. Without his business partner, Campbell was forced to give up the lease which was taken up by Peter Inglis who took on not only the property, but the stock and equipment as well. When the run was gazetted in 1849, it consisted of 14,440 acres which extended from the present site of Ballan, south to the Werribee Gorge area, taking in the land along the banks of the Werribee River and stretching past Fiskville to the west.
Peter Inglis, 1872. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
Inglis was unhappy with the original site of the house and as a result, had it removed to Nimbuk, or Inglis Hill as it came to be known. The now heritage-listed homestead still stands today on Ingliston Rd, about 10km south east of the town of Ballan. Living with Peter at 'Ingliston' were his sister, brother-in-law and their children - the Fiskens - who had arrived in Australia with him the previous year. Archibald Fisken Sr's role was to manage a store on the property which supplied the station and those in the vicinity in the days prior to closer settlement.
 His son, the younger Archibald Fisken, was educated both at Scotch College and by private tutors whilst also learning the ropes of running the station from his uncle, becoming an accomplished horseman and stock-handler at an early age. Archibald Sr, died in 1854 and was buried in the private cemetery on the property at 'Ingliston'. His wife Eliza had died in 1845. Archibald Jr - now in his twenties - remained working with his uncle.
During the 1840s, in addition to developing 'Ingliston', Peter further expanded his pastoral holdings, first adding the lease for 'Warrenheip' and then that of Lal Lal Station to his growing empire. Some sources indicate that Peter acquired the 27,339 acre Warreneep lease as early as 1842/3, however the earliest contemporary mention I can find of the run in association with Inglis is 1848. The spelling of name varied over the years with Warraneep, Warrenheep and Warrenheip all being used at various times. The name is believed to be a corruption of the Wathaurong word "Warrengeep" meaning "emu feathers" and described the appearance of foliage on Mt Warrenheip as seen by the indigenous people of the district.
Gazetted in 1849, its grazing capacity at that time was indicated as 2,000 sheep and 1,500 cattle. The property extended from the Leigh River in the west, where it adjoined the Yuilles' Ballarat Run, south past today's Yendon township where it bordered the Mt Boninyong Estate of Robert Scott and 'Lal Lal', the other Inglis/Fisken run. To the east it formed a border with the Peerewerrh Run of William Henry Bacchus and with Wyndham to the north.
Section of map showing the location of the squatting runs of the Inglis and
Fisken families. Image taken from Victorian Squatters, Robert Spreadborough
& Hugh Anderson, 1983
 A retrospective article in The Star 18th January, 1870 stated that the lease for 'Warreneep' was originally held by the Levitt brothers who set up a pig-growing enterprise. Their endeavours however, were unsuccessful, with some of the pigs escaping and running feral in the surrounding bush. According to the same article, following the Levitts' departure, the leasehold for 'Warreneep' was taken up by a group of investors named Welsh, Verner and Holloway who hired a manager by the name of Haverfield. This source also stated that Inglis took up the Warrenheip Run in 1843, however the publication Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip (Billis & Kenyon, 1974) indicates that in 1842 the 'Warreneep' lease was held by partners Cornish and Taylor who were definitely in the district but were not mentioned in the 1870 retrospective. An index of the superintendent's correspondence 1839-1851 confirms that Cornish and Taylor were at 'Warraneed'(sic) in 1841. Billis & Kenyon indicate that 'Warrenheip' was in the hands of Inglis by 1846.
A sketch by Eugene von Guerard, 5th February, 1854 showing a distant view of
Mt Warrenheip, sketched on the banks of the Yarrowee River flowing through
Inglis' Warrenheip Run. Image held by the State Library of Victoria.
*See note below
His acquisition of the Lal Lal Run by contrast would seem more certain. This appears to have occurred during 1846 when it was transferred from John Whitehall Stevens. In October of that year however, Stevens was still stating his address as 'Lal Lal'. The first mention of Inglis as leaseholder, appeared the following month, suggesting the transfer did not occur until late in the year.
Prior to Inglis and Stevens, the first European settlers to occupy 'Lal Lal' were Messrs Blakeney and George S Airey who appear to have been in occupation until about 1843. At 18,313 acres and estimated as capable of running 1,500 cattle, it was not as large as large as 'Warrenheip', however their shared boundary meant that the two properties were run conjointly. This boundary with 'Warreneep' lay to the north west of the run which extended from Williamson's Creek and the Mt Boninyong Run in the west, to Woolen Creek (a tributary of the Moorabool River) to the east. To the south it bordered the Narmbool and Borhoneyghurk Runs whilst the Peerewerrh Run of W.H. Bacchus'and 'Borambeta' held by the Bradshaws lay to the north.
At a mere 17 years of age, the younger Archibald Fisken was put in charge of both 'Warreneep' and 'Lal Lal' where he lived in a slab hut, thus beginning his successful career as a grazier. His uncle must have had confidence in the young man's abilities because on 4th April, 1848, he departed for London on the ship Stag, leaving Archibald in charge. Whilst in England, Inglis married Margaret Ord of Glasgow. In later years, it was claimed that the couple had known each other prior to Inglis' departure to Australia and that she had been unwilling to come with him at that time. Presumably through his endeavours in the colony he had proved himself worthy and she consented to return with him to Victoria where they settled at 'Ingliston'.
A view of the Rowsley Valley looking north towards 'Ingliston' from Glenmore
Rd, March, 2014
Once back in Victoria, Inglis concentrated his efforts on 'Ingliston', leaving the other properties to his nephew Archibald. Upon his turning 21, Warreneep and Lal Lal Runs were formally transferred to Fisken's ownership with the expectation that their purchase price would be paid back to his uncle when he was financially in a position to do so.
Peter Inglis died at 'Ingliston' in July, 1869 and was buried in the family cemetery located on the property. His wife Margaret survived him by many years, living until 1905 when she also was laid to rest with the other members of the family. At the time of their respective deaths, the media of the day were at pains to convey the kindliness of both Peter and Margaret and to express the esteem in which they were held by the community. 'Ingliston' passed to their two sons.

*This sketch most probably formed the basis for the well-known von Guerard painting Warrenheip Hills near Ballarat 1854, held by the National Gallery of Victoria. The location from which von Guerard made the sketch was located in 2015 by George Hook. His discovery is described in the following blog post by Historic Urban Landscape Ballarat

30 November, 2016

Still standing

By the late 1850s, Batesford was a thriving township boasting a blacksmith's forge, bakery, post office, two shoemakers, four hotels, a museum and free library built by Henry Aaron Smith, two schools, three churches and a boarding house. On the outskirts of town was a pound and downstream from the town, the Hope family had erected their flour mill on the west bank of the Moorabool. A police barracks also stood west of the river, north of the road to Ballarat to service the gold escorts, whilst surrounding farmland had become popular with the many vignerons and orchardists - predominantly from Switzerland - who chose the fertile Moorabool Valley to plant their fruit.
By 1861 the population had grown to 254 people (Ian Wynd, So Fine a Country: a history of the Shire of Corio, 1986) and what began as a rough ford was now the main river crossing on the road to the goldfields and the Western District. As late as 1858 however, travellers on this busy road still relied on a timber bridge to cross the river.
An early view of Batesford looking north-west c1866-1880 by John Norton.
Image held by the State Library of Victoria
 Surprisingly perhaps, the decision to construct a more permanent bluestone bridge at the crossing in 1859 occurred with very little fuss at all by comparison with the complaints and criticisms which accompanied the reconstruction of the previous bridge in 1853. Prior to construction, there were no complaints about the condition of the timber in the old bridge, nor were there reports of flood-damage and the rebuilt timber bridge was little more than five years old when in 1858 tenders were called for the construction of a new stone bridge. Whilst I have found no official explanation for the decision to build the bluestone bridge at this time, I suspect that the construction of the Geelong-Ballarat railway line about a mile to the north of Batesford may well have been the deciding factor. According to Bettina M Blackall (On the other Side of the 'Ford: A Heritage Trail, Geelong Historical Records Centre) the bridge was designed by the Victorian Government Board of Land and Works who were also responsible for designing the Moorabool Viaduct which still carries the lien over the Moorabool River today.
A distant view of the Moorabool Viaduct, November, 2015
Commenting on the construction of the railway on 5th January, 1859 the Geelong Advertiser noted that:
...it is a mistake to suppose that railways supersede ordinary roads and bridges ; on the contrary, the more the railways are extended, the more will common roads be required. There will be less continuous traffic on the highways, but their ramifications must be extended and the tracks kept in good order.

It would seem then, that the Government was well aware of the need for additional infrastructure to support its huge investment in the new railway line and Batesford in this instance, was the beneficiary.
Prior to the bridge works getting underway however, £3,200 was also allocated "to complete the construction of the Ballarat road between Geelong and Batesford" (Ballarat Star, 16th December, 1858). Next the Victorian Government Gazette published a notice on 31st December, 1858 declaring that they had accepted a tender "For erecting a bridge over the River Moorabool, at Batesford".
The successful contractor with a tender of £ 3885, 19s, 6d was Mr David Barry who held several other contracts in the district. His bid had been selected ahead of five other tenders and the Government was no doubt pleased with its choice as construction seems to have progressed smoothly and with little disruption.
Building a stone bridge however, took time. Construction got under way in February, 1859 and on 5th April the Geelong Advertiser declared that it would be a further five months before construction was complete and gave the following assessment of the progress thus far:
The bridge will have five arches and here, as at the Viaduct, piles must be driven before the foundation can be laid, as no bottom can be got more solid than mud, without digging to an unreasonable depth. Piles have already been driven for three of the piers and the stonework has been carried above the winter level of the river. The rains, therefore, will not interfere with the further progress of the work. The appearance of the river at present would not justify to the eye of a stranger, the large dimensions and solid make of the bridge in course of construction. The water lies here and there in pools in the bed of the river, and where it crosses the direct line of the road it is dry. The raised approaches to the new bridge on either side of the river are in course of completion. There are said to be forty men employed on the work.
The solid design of the Batesford Bridge was similar to that of the bridge at Richmond, Tasmania in that none of its five arches included a keystone. The basalt used in its construction was quarried locally from the same source used to supply the material for the nearby Moorabool Viaduct.
Once construction was underway, it was elected to use rubble masonry rather than the more expensive ashlar masonry, meaning in the case of the Batesford Bridge, that the bluestone blocks were not cut to a regular width, but instead used whatever lengths were available. This being said, coursed rubble was used, meaning that although the lengths varied, the stones were still laid in regular, horizontal courses of even height.
In mid-June, further details of construction emerged:
The abutment piles had been driven to a depth of 26 feet, whilst those for the central piers were 28 feet deep. With 70 men now on site, the abutment on the western bank was almost complete with that on the east bank requiring a further two week's work. The piers had been built to a height of 10 feet above the summer water level and were 8 feet thick at the base, narrowing to 4 feet 6 inches.
Construction of the arches - each to measure 30 feet across - was just beginning, starting with that closest to the west bank. To assist in this process, a mobile crane erected on a scaffold was used to lift the arch stones into place. The underside of each arch would stand 19 feet above the summer river height and around two feet higher than the flood of 1852 - the largest recorded since European settlement. The width of the bridge was 20 feet with stone parapets rising on either side, thus preventing the kind of accidents which seemed to occur with alarming regularity on the previous timber constructions (The Argus, 14th June, 1859).
By 7th October The Argus further claimed, things were progressing so well, that the stonemasons and a number of the other men employed in the building process voted to hold a public dinner in honour of the contractor Mr Barry.
By this time the bridge must have been all but complete and if not already, then very nearly open to traffic. It was not until 2nd January however, after some small alterations to the original cost estimate, that responsibilty for the bridge passed from the contractor to the Government. Once again The Argus (13th January, 1860) was at pains to point out the good working relationship between Mr Barry, his men and the district engineer.
Batesford Bridge, Moorabool River painted by prominent Australian artist
Walter Herbert Withers, some time after his arrival in Australia on
New Year's Day 1883
One one point however, there was significant discord: the approaches to the bridge were as steep and dangerous as ever. Whilst a significant sum had been voted towards the completion of the road between Geelong and Batesford at the end of 1858, this did not it seems, include safety measures on the riverbanks at each end of the bridge or changes to the alignment of the road descending into the Moorabool Valley.
On 14th June, 1859 whilst the bridge was still under construction, The Argus pointed out that mishaps on the descent to the river had cost four lives and caused the deaths of numerous horses and bullocks and a significant loss of property. The correspondent further claimed that:
Representations have in vain been made to the Government, the Road Board, and the District Engineer. The disgraceful state of the hill remains unaltered, and most likely will do so until a coach-load of passengers, containing some man of importance, shall be precipitated into the chasm that is ever yawning at the bottom of the hill. I had no idea that this portion of the road was so dangerous as it is, and was surprised to find that, although £10,000 [a slight overstatement] is being spent to put an excellent stone bridge over the Moorabool, not a pound is to be spent in making this approach to it safe. This exhibits the most wanton disregard of public safety, and cannot be too severely condemned. There is every facility for improving and altering the road down the hill, by giving it a greater sweep, and the expense would be a mere trifle compared with the advantages to be gained.

By the time the bridge was complete and ready for handover in January, 1860, the issue of the approaches was still outstanding as The Argus (13th January, 1860) was once again keen to point out:
As usual, however ... the approaches to the bridge have not been protected. Although it has been open now for months, there is nether fence nor wall on either side to prevent a vehicle or horse from going over. It is, and always will be, dangerous until this is done. Nothing has been done, either to diminish the danger of that dangerous hill leading to the ford on the Geelong side ; the declivity is still as great, the road still as narrow, the turn at the bottom still as sharp, and the huge drain as deep and hungry-like as ever, still yawning for more human victims. Perhaps some day a great catastrophe may draw attention to this dangerous road, and the district engineer or surveyor may find himself in a very uncomfortable position ; he has had warning enough already, in the number of lives sacrificed. But it is strange that the inhabitants at the ford and persons using the road do nothing to get it improved.

The five-span bluestone bridge at Batesford, November, 2016
And so it continued until April, 1860 when local MP Peter Lalor of Eureka fame, took the community's grievance to the Commissioner of Roads and Bridges, arguing for realignment of the road. Finally, in a letter from the Commissioner dated 12th April, Lalor was assured that the issue would be addressed "as soon as the Road Engineer [could] spare the time to prepare specifications.
Despite this, it was a further eight months before a contract for £791, 12s, 6d was awarded to George Scithers to complete the "alterations at East-hill, Batesford" (The Argus, 15th December, 1860), and not a moment too soon it would seem, as it wsa stated only days later that the road was in a bad state due to recent rains.
Eventually however, Batesford had its new, flood-proof stone bridge (presumably with an improved approach, although I can find no further mention of the realignment), which continued to carry traffic across the Moorabool River for more than a century. It survived its biggest test in 1880 when the largest flood ever recorded hit the Moorabool River, submerging the town of Batesford, leaving only the spire on the Catholic Church above water. Dozens of residents had to be rescued by boat from the rising floodwaters which rendered virtually every home and business in the town uninhabitable. When the water receded however, Barry's bridge was intact.
The modern Batesford Bridge which today carries traffic on the Midland Hwy was constructed in 1971. Unlike other modern bridges in the region, I can find little information either about its construction or its specifications, other than a mention in the country Roads Boards's Fifty Eighth Annual Report for the year ending 30th June, 1971 which noted that the bridge was one of a number which used a new technique of driving steel H piles into the ground to the required depth to provide support for the piers upon which the bridge would sit.
Two pairs of concrete piers support the three spans of the deck - also concrete - with the abutments constructed from concrete and stone.
The 1970s concrete bridge on the Midland Hwy at Batesford, November, 2016
Today, the bluestone bridge built by David Barry still stands next to the Batesford Hotel but is only used as a service road. The majority of the traffic now uses the two-lane concrete bridge built in 1971.

26 November, 2016

Which Bridge?

By the end of 1848, the Moorabool River crossing at Bates' Ford - as the area was by then commonly known - had its new bridge. The wool clip could be conveyed to Geelong, travellers could pass in safety and pedestrians could cross the Moorabool without fear of falling through rotten timbers and pitching into the river below; for a while at least.
According to one local source (History of Batesford: 1842-1941, held by the Geelong Historical Records Centre) the new bridge is said to have stood in the same position as the the historic bluestone bridge stands today. That this is likely to be substantially correct is supported by an 1850 reference to the bridge and the public house being "not more than fifty yards apart" (The Argus, 22nd June, 1850). The premises in question would have been the Marrabool Inn which stood where the Batesford Hotel does today and even now the distance between the hotel and the stone bridge is almost exactly 50 yards. Like its predecessor, the 1848 bridge was a timber structure, but other than this, I have managed to find little extra detail.
Batesford Hotel and the 1859 bluestone bridge, looking west. November, 2016
In addition to the new bridge, there were also roadworks. On 26th December, 1848, the Geelong Advertiser reported that  the government had decided to "open and make certain parish roads...viz:--From North Geelong to the bridge over the Moorabool River at Bates's Ford, being part of the Great Western Road."
Prior to this, in 1840 works had been undertaken to realign the eastern approach to the river. Whether this line of road crossed the river at Manifold's Ford or via the original timber bridge is not clear, but the road followed a similar alignment to the modern Midland Hwy across the river flats at Batesford. The route from Geelong at that time was probably more track than road and followed a path which meandered across Bell Post Hill and down into the valley (see map in previous post). The alignment proposed in 1848 followed the modern line across Bell Post Hill, approaching the river via what is now the Old Ballarat Rd at Batesford which is little different to the 1840 or the modern alignment, further confirming perhaps the location of the 1848 bridge on or very near the bluestone bridge.
So for the time being, Bates' Ford had a reliable bridge. Two years prior to the construction of the bridge, the land to the east of the Moorabool had been auctioned by the government. The purchaser of allotment 10, section A, Parish of Moorpanyal, was George Hope. This 468 acre parcel of land stretched from the banks of the river, eastward to today's Geelong-Ballan Rd and included the sites of both Manifold's and Bates' fords, the Marrabool Inn and - from 1848 - the new bridge.
As a local landholder, Hope was no doubt well aware of the importance of the river crossing and, seeing a business opportunity, in 1850 he arranged for the subdivision of this block into town and small farm allotments. After an extensive advertising campaign the "Village of Batesford and Estate of Hopeton" was offered for public auction by T Horsbrugh at 12pm on the 18th July. The auction was well attended and many blocks were purchased. Any unsold land was advertised over the following months as "for sale by private bargain".
The original subdivision of Batesford Township by George
Hope. Image taken from Batesford and its Early Families,
Bettina Blackall, 1991
The following year, on 21st February, a second auction was held, followed by further subdivision and a third auction on 26th August, 1853. By this time of course, the gold rush was in full swing and business was booming. Batesford however, was once again having trouble with its bridge.
In late May, 1852 floods had yet again hit the Moorabool River. This time, the water reached the highest level seen since European settlement. In the newly-established town of Batesford, houses built in the wake of George Hope's auction, were inundated and people forced to take to their roofs to escape the rising floodwaters (The Argus, 25th May, 1852). After the water receded, the bridge which was less than four years old, was found to be in a very bad state. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer reported on 25th May, that the bridge was "so shattered and ill conditioned by the late inundation, as to be extremely dangerous."
The response from government was typically slow. It was not until January, 1853 that tenders were called for the erection of a new - timber - bridge. According to the local publication Batesford - an historical background (Jennifer Warner, Geelong Historical Records Centre), the new bridge was a composite through truss structure designed by Charles Rowand. For unexplained reasons however, no tender appears to have been accepted. Instead, construction got underway immediately using day labour.
At this point however, things become a little unclear and there is some doubt as to whether the 1848 bridge was replaced completely or instead, was extensively repaired. If the latter was the case - and I tend to think it was - then the "third" Batesford bridge must have been located on the same site as the 1848 bridge. Regardless, it was not until September (Warner claims) that the works were completed and in the meantime, reports began to appear in the newspapers expressing the concerns and frustrations of the community as they waited for completion of the works:

22nd January (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer) "The [Batesford] bridge is very rough, and not too safe; its centre happens to present a cavity, the decent(sic) into, or ascent out of which gives the bullocks and their drays an awkward shaking." 
28th March (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer) "BATES' FORD BRIDGE--This unique specimen of colonial engineering is shaped exactly like a W, or a man drawn up by a cramp in the stomach. At present it is impassable, for months past it has been only dangerous. A small platform is thrown across the river for the benefit of pedestrians, equestrians, and quadrupeds, which platform half a day's rain would wash away. Via Bates' Ford, communication with the Leigh, Buninyong, Ballarat, &c, is carried on by means of a PLANK. Hear that, ye Board of Commissioners of Roads and Bridges." 
9th May (The Tasmanian Colonist) "the Government at last showed a disposition to repair parts of the roads leading to the Western diggings. They have contented themselves with patching up one bridge, that of Bate's Ford, leaving other parts of the route in a most disgraceful condition." 
14th July, 1853 (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer) "the broken-backed [bridge] at Batesford" 
3rd August, 1853 (Geelong Advertiser and Inelligencer) "There is one comfort for Geelong--it can scarcely be worse treated. We get little from the Melbourne Government, and are likely to get little more...
...We could wander on the banks of the Barwon, like an unquiet spirit on the shores of the Styx, and mark the ruin and the desolation there, and, turning towards Melbourne, ask, in the name of the 25,000 people why "the bridge is broke and can't be mended?" Of     course La Trobe laughs at it himself, and enjoys the fun of turning Geelong into a "galanti show" for fifteen months. He makes split-stuff of us for laughter, and carries on a wholesale business in the joke line at our expense....
...Across the Moorabool there is a bridge, evidently intended for a steeple chase, or kept in its present state out of compliment to the chamois hunters of Switzerland, having precipitous peaks, and two gorges represented by the letter W--this form being the best adapted for the transit of horses and bullock drays in the Western District.
The impetus acquired in the first descent carries the object to the next apex, where, if it could be made to turn over, we should have a correct idea of a centrifugal railway. This bridge is intended to prevent people crossing, and answers its purpose admirably. Undoubtedly, during the present winter, his Excellency has saved many valuable lives by preventing people adventuring on the Buninyong road, which probably they would have done but for this "chevaux de frise".
People blame the government, in the case of the Barwon bridge, for not repairing what is undone. In the case of the Bar [Point Henry sandbar], the government is blamed for not doing that which for years they had promised, and still promise to do, without doing. With the Bates Ford bridge, the blame is for doing badly at first, and worse afterwards. Nor is this all. The wallet is not yet emptied. There is another grievance, growing with years, heedlessly passed by, and jeeringly encountered.
The Melbourne Government is aware that there are such places as Buninyong and Ballarat, and that the traffic thither is carried on along a line of road beautifully diversified by bog, swamp, and morass, existing in primitive punity impassable to anything except birds, will-o'-th-wisps and Jack-o'-lanthorns(sic), and which has proved fatal, probably, to one mailman and two horses. This is the trunk line to the Western gold fields, and affords a prime subject, illustrative of centralisation, and the transcendent humbug employed to maintain a specious prosperity in one place. Assuming to be a fact, that which was stated in the Council, promulgated from the from the Bench, echoed by the Melbourne papers, and recently used as an argument against the reduction of the license fees, viz., that the proceeds of the gold fields are expended in police, and on roads to and from the gold fields, we maintain, upon this ground alone, that we have been robbed of a hundred thousand pounds during the last eleven months...
The comments from March and May suggest that the it was eventually decided to repair the old bridge, as perhaps does the use of day labour. Indeed an illustration produced by Engineer Rowand (see below), showing both the new and old structures together, may perhaps indicate a composite structure. Of course, if the bridge was being repaired, a separate means of crossing would be required and this was perhaps the purpose of the "plank" which was in use during March when the bridge was said to be impassable, although how long it was used is uncertain.
An illustration from 1853 taken from Batesford - an historical background
(Jennifer Warner, Geelong Historical Records Centre) which purports to show
both the old and "new" bridges and indicates normal river height and that of
the 1852 flood
Clearly, progress was slow, with the bridge still in a state of disrepair by July and seemingly still retaining its distinctive "W" shape as late as the beginning of August.  However, with the works presumably drawing to a close towards the end of that month, tenders were called to metal the Batesford Rd (The Argus, 22nd August, 1853); a road which by then was carrying thousands to and from the goldfields as the last article was keen to convey. Amongst those travelling across the bridge at Batesford, were two well known artists. One was the famous landscape painter Eugene von Guerard, who crossed the bridge on his way to the goldfields on 11th January, 1853. He described crossing the Moorabool by a very unsound wooden bridge". He did not however, stop to make a sketch - at least not one which has survived. The second artist - Henry Winkles - however did stop to draw what he saw.
His sketch was made "circa 1853" at "Bates' ford near Geelong". Winkles was an English artist, engraver and printer, who trained in both England and Germany as a draughtsman before coming to Australia. Shipping records show that he arrived in Melbourne in October, 1852 on board the Mobile from where he travelled to the goldfields to visit his son. During his time there he drew what he saw around him, making many sketches of the everyday life of the diggers. His stay in the Colony of Victoria was relatively brief, lasting a little over a year and by December, 1853 he was back in Melbourne, ready to depart for England on the appropriately-named Great Britain.
Sketch of the Bates' Ford Bridge c1853 by Henry Winkles
Whilst it is possible that he stopped at Batesford to make his sketch at any point during this time, the bridge shown in his illustration appears to be straight, definitely nothing like the warped and misshapen structure described prior to its being rebuilt. It is also worth noting the pile of timber lying near one end of the bridge, implying either construction or demolition of some sort. For this reason, I am inclined to think that Winkles sketched the new - or newly refurbished - bridge, perhaps on his way back to Melbourne to take ship for England.

So, after more than a year of frustration, delay and criticism, I assume from the crashing silence in the newspapers that Batesford finally had a bridge which was - if not state of the art - at least functional once again.

22 November, 2016

Whose ford?

For some time I have avoided approaching the topic of this blog post, partly because of more pressing subjects, but also because I knew it was going to be a complicated subject. Boy was I right!
From the earliest days of European settlement, the Moorabool River crossing at Batesford was vital to the economy of what would become the Colony of Victoria. As squatters spread out across the plains to the west and pushed north to establish vast sheep and cattle stations, the ford enabled the squatters to move their stock and their wool clips between their stations and the port at Geelong.
With the arrival of the gold rush in August, 1851, the river crossing along with the newly-established town of Batesford witnessed the passage of thousands of diggers making the journey to Ballarat and beyond, hoping to strike it rich on the fabled goldfields of Victoria.
In addition to being an important river crossing, the land around Batesford was also one of the areas first settled when the Port Phillip district was established in 1836. Amongst the earliest settlers to arrive in the district were the Manifold brothers Thomas, John and Peter who - they claimed - were the first to land sheep at Point Henry near Geelong during September and October, 1836. From there, they travelled with their stock to the banks of the Moorabool where they took up land either side of the river from its confluence with Sutherland's Creek to a point below where the township of Batesford now stands. Here they built a slab hut and established a ford. One local source informed me that the Manifold's Ford was situated very near where the two road bridges stand today, giving the settlement its earlier name of Manifold's Ford. A moniker which stuck until about 1845.
By April, 1839 however, the Manifolds had become concerned by the encroachment of other squatters and increasing government regulation and decided to leave the district, moving further inland away from the more closely settled areas. At this time they relocated north west to Lake Purrumbete, leaving the land they had occupied, open for settlement by others.
Underneath the modern road bridge, at or near the site of Manifold's ford,
November, 2016
In the absence of the Manifolds, those eager to establish themselves, moved into the area. One of the earliest was George Russell who, acting on behalf of the Clyde Company, occupied land on the west bank of the Moorabool where he set up a base for his operations. His tenure however was also short-lived as in 1839 when the first land in the Parish of Gherineghap was thrown open for sale, he was outmanoeuvred by the Learmonth brothers. The Learmonths were shareholders in the Port Phillip Association (later the Derwent Company) who were also eager to acquire land for grazing purposes. They purchased much of the land between the Moorabool and the Barwon, including that land on which Russell was squatting. In the following years, Dr John Learmonth, son of Thomas Learmonth Senior built his homestead 'Lawrence Park' on the banks of the Moorabool north of the ford. Russell had no choice but to leave, so he packed his belongings - tents, huts, stockyards and all - and removed himself further to the west where he established a base on the Leigh River.
With the Learmonths occupying the west bank, by 1839 another family - brothers by the name of John and Alfred Bates - moved onto the vacant land left by the departure of the Manifolds on the east bank of the river. According to a section of an 1840 survey map reproduced in Ian Wynd's book So Fine a Country: a history of the Shire of Corio (1981), the Bates brothers established their base just under a kilometre above the current river crossings.
Rather than use the ford favoured by the Manifold's however, the Bates established a second crossing at a point around 200m downstream which they considered easier. It was this second ford which ultimately gave its name to the town of Batesford and which became the road for those passing through the district, however this state of affairs did not last long.
The 1840 survey of the road from Geelong to Buninyong proposed a change in the alignment of the road and the point at which the river was crossed. On the map (see below) a dashed line indicates the proposed road whilst "the road now used" is marked by a heavy solid line. When overlaid on Google Earth, the proposed road follows a path quite similar to that of today's Midland Highway, crossing the river at or near Manifold's Ford whereas the existing road in 1840 veered south west off the present line of road at the bottom of the Batesford Hill. From there, it crossed the river a few hundred metres downstream from the current bridges - probably at Bates' Ford - before turning north west, crossing the Midland Highway in the vicinity of today's Blackall Rd and following a parallel path a short distance north of the highway. (Note: Contrary to the 1840 map, Wynd indicates that the Manifolds' crossing was situated "further downstream than the present bridge" and whilst he doesn't specify how far, I suspect this is a case of confusion with the later Bates' Ford.)
Add caption
Like the Manifolds however, the Bates did not remain long in the district. By 1843 after suffering two years of low rainfall, a rise in labour costs and a reduction in commodity prices, they declared their insolvency and retreated to their father's Station Peak Run at the You Yangs, leaving only their name behind.
At the Moorabool River crossing meanwhile, it seems that the new road laid out in 1840 was soon adopted. This is probably best confirmed by the establishment in 1843 of a public house. It was at this time that Charles Ruffle opened the Marrabool Inn (later known as the Derwent Hotel) on the east bank of the river, on the site which is still occupied by the Batesford Hotel to this day. His inn would have been perfectly situated on the new line of road to make the most of traffic passing across the river.
Whilst crossing the river either at Manifold's or at Bates' ford was relatively easy in good weather, when river levels rose, it could be a different prospect entirely, a fact illustrated on 19th September, 1842 when the Geelong Advertiser reported that four bullocks "were drowned at Manifold's Ford on the Marrible". The article also stated that "the only way in which travellers can take their horses across, is by towing them by ropes passed round trees on the brink of the river."
An illustration by Charles Norton dated 1848 and titled "Batesford in time of
Flood". Image held by the State Library of Victoria
Given the importance to the colonists of the crossing on the Moorabool, it is no surprise that a bridge would quickly become a necessity. The first mention of such a structure in the newspapers was in 1847 when an existing timber bridge was seriously damaged by floods. Various modern sources suggest that this bridge was erected either in or prior to 1846, although no-one is sure. Commenting on the bridge prior to the 1847 floods, the Geelong Advertiser and Squatters' Advocate (28th May, 1847) stated that "this erection has been repeatedly patched in former years, but is now in such a precarious state, that the first flood will probably carry it away altogether" implying that the bridge had been standing for quite some time prior to 1846. This would seem to be a reasonable assumption as timber bridges across the district often lasted around ten years before rot became a problem.
This does of course raise the question of why, if a bridge had existed for several years, there was need for a ford as well. Perhaps the bridge was not suitable for heavy drays and it may well have been easier to move stock via a ford which also provided them with water. Strangely, whilst both fords are mentioned regularly, I can find no description prior to 1847 of exactly how the river was crossed and whether a bridge may have been involved.
So, if an earlier bridge existed, how old was it? I could find no mention of such a structure at either Bates' or Manifold's ford prior to the 1847 floods, however as I trawled through TROVE looking for clues, I came across an intriguing snippet. In 1841, the government established a committee to investigate the possibility of using indigenous workers to fill a labour shortage in the colony and as a result, various squatters across the district were called upon to share their experiences. One who gave evidence was William Roadknight, one of the earliest squatters to arrive in the Geelong region who stated "I have been in the habit of employing the black natives upon my establishment, from June, 1836, up to the present time ; they assisted me in 1836, to build a bridge over the Marraboul River ; this was the first bridge erected at Port Phillip" (Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser, 30th September, 1841).
Although he doesn't specify where on the Moorabool he built his bridge, a little more digging revealed that it could well have been at or near the future site of Batesford. On 14th May, 1836 - some months before the arrival of the Manifolds - Roadknight and his three sons sailed on the Vansittart from Van Diemen's Land to Port Phillip and landed at Point Gellibrand (Williamstown). From there they, along with their shepherds and stock, travelled overland to Bell Post Hill where they camped for some time before taking up land on the Barwon River near Ceres. Could the first timber bridge at Batesford have been built by William Roadknight in 1836? Whilst I can find no other mention of a bridge in the ten years to 1846, this could certainly explain why in 1847 the existing bridge was in need of urgent repair, however any bridge built by Roadknight (perhaps in his capacity as a representative of the Port Phillip Association) would by necessity, have been rudimentary.
Corduroy bridges such as the one built at Clarendon on the Midland Hwy were a common means of crossing rivers in the early days of settlement, but these were generally low-lying structures. From context, the bridge of 1847 may have been as much as 20 feet above the riverbed (see below). Nor can I find any source which indicates exactly where the bridge was situated, other than to say it was close to "the ford" which from context was probably Manifold's Ford (History of Batesford 1842 - 1941, Geelong Historical Records Centre).
Regardless of either the age or location of the first bridge, the warning as to the condition of the bridge proved prophetic. In July, 1847 the river did flood and whilst the bridge remained standing once the floodwaters receded, it did not last long. On 24th August an attempt was made to cross the bridge with a loaded dray, but due to the rotten state of the timber, the structure gave way and sent both dray and bullocks plummeting to the river below. Fortunately the only serious damage was to the bridge which was rendered unusable. The following month on 17th September, it was reported in The Melbourne Argus that the bridge was undergoing repair and would be open again in a few days time.
Despite the repairs, it was clear that a new bridge was necessary and the local community approached the government to plead their case for a replacement. Rather than wait upon the vagaries politics however, local subscriptions to fund the bridge were taken up across the district from those who would benefit most. A new bridge was needed before the beginning of the wool season or the squatters would be unable to get their produce to market.
Image of a dray-load of wool crossing the Campaspe River in 1864. Image held
by the State Library of Victoria
Ultimately, the government did come to the party and by January, 1848 the Office of the Superintendent of Bridges was calling for tenders for the construction of a replacement timber bridge at Batesford. At the end of February the contract to complete the job was awarded to a Mr Wayman of Melbourne (Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd February, 1848) who was also the contractor for the Barwon Bridge which was being built in Geelong. Progress on the bridge at Batesford however was frustratingly slow and in the meantime, travellers were forced to use the old bridge which remained in a precarious state.
On 8th July thGeelong Advertiser reported a narrow escape for a woman and her children whose dray ran off the edge of the old bridge, plunging some 20 feet to a - fortunately - dry riverbed below. On this occasion, the bullock driver, not the bridge was considered to be at fault, but by September, things had gone from bad to worse. Work was not progressing and the contractor Mr Wayman, despite payments of £184, was insolvent. To make matters worse, the Geelong Advertiser (21st September, 1848) claimed that "this most necessary public work is about to be discontinued immediately, and is not to be resumed until after Christmas. This arrangement, or rather disarrangement, takes place in consequence of the working contractors of the Marrabool bridge having orders from Mr Lennox, to proceed instantly to complete another bridge within 40 miles of Melbourne."
Regardless of who was to blame for the lack of action, Bates' Ford was stuck with an incomplete bridge for which "the piles had been driven down, and some of the timber put in position" (Batesford - an historical Background, Jennifer Warner, Geelong Historical Record Centre) but which remained unusable. A solution was finally found when James Girvin was contracted to complete the work for a further £307, bringing the total cost of construction to £491. (Note: for those interested, correspondence regarding Girvin's contract to complete the bridge can be found online at the Public Records Office of Victoria's website in the VPRS 19/P1 series, Inward Correspondence, Superintendent of Port Phillip, 1839-1851.)
And so work once again got underway, but by October, and with the new bridge still unfinished, flooding again hit the Moorabool and the complaints once again began to mount:
 "no later than yesterday, the bridge over Bates' Ford, is said to have had no less than three feet of water on it. To add to the increasing danger of passing it under such circumstances, it is represented to have a hole in the very centre, which if not as Shakspeare says, "quite so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door" is nevertheless sufficient to engulph(sic) any person of ordinary dimensions, or to encircle in its capacious embrace, a very considerable portion of the body of a horse! In the mean time, we may remark that the new bridge progresses so slowly as to render the period of its final completion a matter of much more speculation than certainty" (Geelong Advertiser, 17th October, 1848).

Only the day prior to the above article, perhaps even as the flood waters were receding, things took a fatal turn when a drayman walking across the bridge after leaving the Marrabool Inn, lost his footing in a hole in one of the timbers, fell into the river and drowned. Sadly, the new bridge was within days of being "passable, if not finished...and may God grant that no more lives be lost even in this short space of time. Indeed, between men being tripped into the water, drays upturned, and bullocks almost strangled in their yokes, or suffocated in the (many of which accidents happened in the course of last week) it is matter of much surprise and thanksgiving that more lives have not been lost" (Geelong Advertiser, 19th October, 1848).
Finally, in November, 1848 the long-awaited new bridge was opened to traffic and the following month, Governor La Trobe at whose command the new bridge had been constructed even took time out from a visit to Geelong, to come and see the structure. For the moment at least, Bates' Ford had its bridge.