28 January, 2016

Making tracks: Mother Jamieson's legacy

Of course, nothing lasts forever and people were quick to realise the commercial opportunities of the gold rush. As a result, it was only a matter of months before competition for the Jamieson's arrived in the form of Sellick's Crown Hotel which opened in 1852. Situated almost opposite Jamieson's, on the corner of the newly-surveyed Learmonth and Warrenheip Streets, the Crown was in prime position to catch the passing trade from all directions.
Jamieson's however, which had been situated at the old intersection (see map below), was now stranded around a hundred metres from the corner and still operating from the timber building erected by John Veitch ten years earlier. It was also obstructing the new road and at some point would have to go.
Crown Hotel, Cnr Learmonth and Warrenheip Streets, Buninyong today
A traveller to the region in March, 1853 compared the two premises, deeming the Crown to be the "least worst" of the two. It was noted however, that the landlady at the Buninyong Hotel had a cottage nearby where the “quality [were] allowed to take their meals as in a private house”.
It was perhaps the age and location of the original building along with the seemingly endless flow of gold diggers which encouraged the Jamiesons in 1853 to begin constructing a new, three storey building behind the old. The new hotel was a stone structure comprising two parlours, a dining room and four sitting rooms on the ground floor, ten bedrooms, a dining room and drawing room opening onto a balcony on the first floor, with a further eight bedrooms on the second floor. The building was also surrounded on three sides by a verandah. Several outhouses including stabling for 14 horses were also situated on the property.
Contrary perhaps to what others may think, I am inclined to believe that, the new building was erected on allotment 6 or 7 of section 16 and would have been situated behind the original structure built by Veitch. That the two structures were located close together is suggested by an order of the Central Road Board in 1855 which required Jamieson to  “remove a certain wooden building attached to the premises of the Buninyong Hotel, and which encroaches upon and obstructs the main public road through the township of Buninyong". This may have been the original hotel or perhaps an outbuilding. It is worth noting that the survey map of 1850 indicates three buildings encroaching onto Learmonth St, the most southerly contained almost entirely within Margaret's allotment 6. Any may have been the building referred to.
Section of the 1850 survey map of Buninyong overlaid on Google EArth. Red
areas indicate land purchased by Margaret Jamieson. Yellow areas denote the
blocks purchased by RS Dumsford. Green lines show tracks pre-dating the survey.
Image held by the State Library of Victoria. Click to enlarge
Other details which lead me to believe the second inn was built on allotment 6, include the position of the stone fence said to have belonged to the inn. The fence forms the front of allotments 4 and 5, neither of which was purchased by Margaret at the initial land sale. Instead, allotment 5 was purchased by Robert Stevenson Dunsford, who at the time owned a store in Buninyong. He also purchased allotment 3 whilst allotment 4 was reserved from sale. The 1850 map indicates a store situated on the reserved allotment. It seems reasonable to me that Dunsford would have purchased the two blocks adjoining his business. Why the third block was reserved from sale is unclear, however in 1856 it was purchased by John Adams who I believe to have owned the store from September, 1851 until around April, 1854 when it was purchased by Messrs Bohn and Johnson (possibly without the land).
Sketch of Buninyong, c1853 by Henry Winkles, which I suspect shows the
three-storey Buninyong Hotel built by Neil Jamieson and neighbouring store.
Image held by the National Library of Australia

Confusingly then, it is this block on which the store stood plus the block immediately to its east adjoining Jamieson's original land purchase, which is fronted by the stone wall. So unless the Jamiesons purchased allotment 5 from Dunsford, his creditors or a subsequent purchaser, then the hotel cannot have been built on that block. Nor presumably should the stone fence have been built across land which was owned by the government until 1856 - after the completion of the hotel.
Looking east along part of the stone wall towards Margaret Jamieson's land
Regardless, in September, 1853 with the new hotel building underway, Margaret purchased a further five blocks of land, totalling 1.25 acres behind her original blocks and on the south side of Scott St. The following year however, things took a turn for the worse. With the new hotel still unfinished, Margaret's health began to fail. Knowing presumably that she was unlikely to live much longer, she had her will drawn up. It began:
I Margaret Jamieson of Buninyong in the Colony of Victoria being of sound mind but weak body...
What followed was a conscious attempt by a determined woman to provide for her family. Neil was left the partially-built hotel (which he alone had been financing) along with the half acre of land on which it was built, as well as his mother's cottage and the acre of land on which that stood. The remainder of her estate was to be liquidated and divided between her eldest son James (who had actually pre-deceased his mother on 2nd June, 1854) and her three youngest daughters. The money was to be held in trust until they came of age except for that portion left to her disabled daughter "Annie". Upon Margaret's death, Neil would become Annie's guardian, administering her portion of the will for her continued financial support.
Margaret's affairs were in order and she had made what arrangements she could to support her family. Finally, on 26th August, 1854 Margaret "Mother" Jamieson died at her home in Buninyong. She was 45 years old. Her death was announced via a small notice in The Argus on 31st August. On the same day a second notice invited...
...the friends of the late Mrs. Margaret Jamieson, of Buninyong...to follow her remains from the Parkside Hotel, Flemington-road, to the Old Cemetery, this day, Thursday, at eleven o'clock.
History tells us that the new stone hotel was a white elephant and a local plaque refers to the building as "Mother Jamieson's folly" - a rather harsh assessment of Margaret given that - as her will states - it was Neil who was funding the new building. Margaret would perhaps be better remembered as a strong-willed businesswoman and mother who in a few short years took significant steps to see to the financial well-being of her family and to provide on-going support for her disabled daughter.
If there was any folly involved it was more likely that of her son Neil who, within a year of his mother's death had been declared insolvent. The cost of the new building was estimated at between £8,000 and£9,000, but thanks in part to plummeting land prices in Buninyong, its value by 1855 was deemed to be a mere £2,500. The property by this time was mortgaged to the tune of £4,500. It appears that Neil had seriously overcapitalised.
However, even this may have been to some extent a matter of circumstance. With his mother's death, funds which may otherwise have been directed to the hotel presumably became unavailable to Neil under the terms of her will. To some extent, the strength of his mother's personality and reputation may also have brought in business which now went elsewhere.
Regardless of the extenuating circumstances, the decision to build the new hotel away from the re-aligned intersection is difficult to explain. At the time of construction, the new alignment was known and the competing Crown Hotel had opened for business. Perhaps the Jamiesons anticipated that the flow of diggers to the goldfields would continue unabated or perhaps they thought that the quality of their venue would attract enough custom to pay its way despite its slightly removed position. They probably didn't take into account Margaret's untimely death.
Regardless of the reasons for the hotel's failure and Neil's subsequent insolvency (which he applied to have rescinded later the same year), he took the decision to build a third Buninyong Hotel. This time, he chose a prominent position: the south west corner of Learmonth and Warrenheip Streets, directly opposite the Crown. How he acquired the land and the finances to do so, I cannot so far establish.
This image shows the Buninyong Hotel (left) in 1862 with the
original Crown Hotel on the opposite side of Learmonth St. This building
burnt down in 1884 and was replaced by the current building. Image held
by the Federation University Historical Collection (Cat. No. 18400)
On this occasion, Neil did not go to the same expense in building the hotel as he did with the stone building. The final Buninyong Hotel which stood at the corner of the new intersection until 1933 was a more modest, two-storey, weatherboard structure, surrounded by varandahs. I am unsure when the move to the final location occurred as Jamieson appears to have continued trading throughout however, by April, 1860, the stone building was being advertised to let, described by The Star as "one of the best finished houses in the colony; and which is admirably adapted for a gentleman's residence, a large school, or boarding house". All inquiries were to be directed to Wildey & Co., wine and spirit Merchants of Ballarat.
Jamieson's Hotel (far right), cnr Learmonth and Warrenheip Streets, probably
late 19th century. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
In spite its supposed grandeur, the stone hotel built by the Jamiesons did not stand for long. Local historical sources indicate that it was demolished c1873 by Dr Sparling who built the brick house which now stands on allotment 6.
Brick house built by Dr Sparling
Despite the move to a more convenient location, business may still have been slow for Neil. In 1863, he put the hotel on the market. Finally, in October that year, the property sold for £505, which was said to be many times less than its cost of construction. In a final twist however, by July, 1866 the hotel which Neil built was once more in the hands of the family. In an echo of the past, Neil's younger sister and their mother's namesake Margaret - now married to Thomas Young - was the licensee. "Mother Jamieson's" was now "Mrs Young's" Buninyong Hotel - a business she ran until 1881.
Meanwhile, after selling the hotel, Neil appears to have set up again in the same business, this time at Hardie's Hill, south of Buninyong, however the end result was the same. In 1865 he was once again before the insolvency court.
From this point, the record is relatively silent until 14th May, 1910 when The Star announced that the funeral of one of Buninyong's oldest residents - Mr Neil Jamieson - had occurred the previous day. He was described as one of the town's oldest residents and a long-standing member of the Buninyong Masonic Lodge. Four of his nephews - Margaret's sons - carried his coffin with members of the Lodge acting as pall bearers. Neil was interred at Buninyong Cemetery. He was 86 years of age.
His sister Margaret outlived bother her husband and her brother, dying in 1929 at the age of 92. Finally, in 1933 came the end of an era. The gold had been dug up, the diggers themselves were long gone and finally, the hotel built by her brother to quench the thirst of those thronging to the goldfields and which Margaret herself ran for fifteen years was demolished. Another link with the past may have gone, but over the years, "Mother" Jamieson's celebrity seems to have grown to become one of the enduring legends of those heady first days and weeks of the gold rush.


  1. Thankyou for this info. I read one of your other posts on the Jamiesons which was also informative. This answered some of my questions in depth. Very helpful for the book I'm editing!

    1. Thanks Lauren. I'm glad it was helpful. The posts on the Jamiesons were some of my favourites to write. I'd love to hear about the book you are editing. If it involves the Jamiesons it sounds like something I'd be interested in!

  2. I think this was the same Mother Jamieson who with her husband, ran the Eagle Tavern in Bourke Street in the 1840s and which was the Tavern that spurned the first Theatre in Melbourne. James Jamieson died in 1849 after a long battle with authorities. His death in Buninyong was noted in the Argus with the addition "of Bourke Street" where his Tavern was well known. The Theatre was pulled down in the 1850s withe the Tavern to make way for the Bull and Mouth Hotel.

    1. Yes! I think you may well be correct. It is a while since I researched this post, but I remember that the Jamiesons were definitely running hotels in Melbourne before moving to Buninyong and I think theatre may have been involved too. I did not include it as it was beyond the scope of what I was writing at the time.