27 January, 2016

Making tracks - to Mother Jamieson's

Over the years, the name of "Mother Jamieson" has become woven into the fabric of the early Victorian goldfields history. In 1851, anyone travelling to the diggings at Ballarat or Buninyong could tell you that the only place to stay in Buninyong was Mother Jamieson's hotel. Her name is mentioned in the newspapers of the day and recalled years later by old timers recounting the glory days of the gold rush. But who was Mother Jamieson and how did she come to be keeping a hotel in one of the most isolated towns in Victoria at that time?
"Mother Jamieson" was actually Margaret Jamieson, born in Rothsay, Scotland in about 1809 to parents John and Margaret Stewart. In 1839 she and her husband James, along with at least four children, migrated to the newly-established Port Phillip District as assisted immigrants aboard the Palmyra.
Within a short time of arriving in Australia her husband James had taken up a publican's license and was running the Eagle Inn in Bourke St, Melbourne, so by the time she reached Buninyong, Margaret was most likely already an experienced publican. In the Vigilante of 1st August, 1918, the Eagle Inn was described as little more than a drinking den, however the article also notes, that James, along with his barman Thomas Hodge contrived in 1841 to build Melbourne's first theatre.
Looking up Bourke St, Melbourne in the 1940s. Image held by the State
Library of Victoria
Known as "The Pavilion", it was a wooden structure which leaked when it rained and threatened to blow down in strong wind. The quality of its entertainment was of a similar standard to the structure itself with the first performance requiring police intervention after a brawl was started by disaffected patrons. An article from 5th June, 1846 indicates that the building was only ever intended to be temporary, built on Jamieson's land with Hodge's money. It operated as a concert venue for a short time before Hodge attempted to introduce theatrical performances only to be shut down for want of a license and with Hodge sent to gaol as a result. It reopened a short time later as the Victoria Theatre, however at this point, things became complicated with the former business partners embroiled in litigation which was still unresolved by the end of 1846. There were allegations of underhand business dealings, reports of "uproar and disorder" amongst the crowd each night and accusations of magisterial partiality with Jamieson described as "old and feeble" and unable or unwilling to keep control.
As with all good stories, this one evolved over the years. A retrospective in the Advocate of 5th March, 1942 (one of several) places the impetus for the establishment of "The Pavilion" upon "one 'Mother Jamieson,' famed far and wide as hostess of the 'Eagle Inn,'" and claims that the theatre became the "Theatre Royal", none of which really tallies with contemporary reports which don't mention Margaret at all.
Meanwhile, in addition to their business ventures, the Jamiesons continued to increase the size of their family. A further two - possibly three - daughters were born to the couple during their time in Melbourne: Margaret Hope (born 1842), Harriet Australia (born 1845) and possibly also Isabella (born 1840).
For reasons which remain unclear to me, by 1848 James and Margaret had given up the license of the "Eagle Inn". In April of that year, their second son Neil, had applied for a publican's license for the Buninyong Hotel. Why Buninyong, I don't know, however there was a strong Scottish element to the settlers in the locality which may have been the attraction.
By 1848 the Buninyong Hotel had been serving the tiny town and surrounding districts for several years. The first to open an "eating and accommodation house for travellers" was George Gabb in 1841. His small hut was located near the intersection of several of the old tracks from across the region, including the Geelong to Buninyong Track (see previous post).
Looking north west towards the old post office, the site at which the pre-survey
tracks leading into Buninyong converged. 
Not long after Mr Gabb set up shop, he was joined by Messrs Campbell and Woolley who relocated their store from out of town to a position next door. It was not long before they took over Gabb's premises for use as a kitchen whilst he re-established himself some distance away. According to "local lore" the following year, in 1842, the town's first licensed premises were built by John Veitch. The Buninyong Inn as he called it (a simple timber structure), was also said to be situated near Campbell and Woolley's store and the intersection. An early survey map shows the inn positioned in the middle of what is now Learmonth St, midway between Warrenheip and Winter Streets (see below), however I suspect this may not quite have been the exact story.
By April, 1843 the company of Campbell and Woolley was insolvent and in June that year, there was an auction of their assets at their Melbourne store. On 27th May, 1844 a notice appeared in the Geelong Advertiser indicating that Mr Peter Kelsh had purchased the Bunninyong Inn from the creditors of Messrs Campbell and Woolley, however less than a month later, having decided he did not like the "public business" Kelsh was selling the property, advertised as the Bunninyong(sic) Inn, with store - lately known as Campbell and Woolley's - was listed for sale by Peter Kelsh. (Note: three articles from Febrary and May, 1843 indicate that the partnership of "Campbell and Woolley and Welsh & Co of Port Phillip" were in financial difficulty. Could "Welsh instead be Mr Kelsh, having bought out the Buninyong store and inn when the company struck financial difficulty?).
Even more confusingly however, advertisements appear from March to May of 1844 indicating John Veitch as, if not the owner then certainly the proprietor, of the Bunninyong(sic) Inn. He indicates further more that the inn had been in operation for a year at that time. My opinion at this stage is that Veitch was probably running the inn for Campbell and Woolley prior to their bankruptcy and later bought Kelsh/Welsh out, continuing to operate until April, 1847 when he also placed the business on the market. By October, he was announcing that he had opened a general store adjacent to the inn. Whether this may have been Campbell and Woolley's old store or a new structure, I cannot tell.
Meanwhile at about this time the inn came into the hands of the Jamieson family.
Now however, instead of James, it was his second son Neil who in Buninyong in April, 1848 applied for a publican's license. Barely four months earlier, his father had finally won the right to a night license for the Eagle Inn, so perhaps the intention was to set Neil up independently at the Buninyong or Jamieson's Hotel as it became known, with his parents remaining in Melbourne.
The plan however may not have developed as expected. During James' legal troubles with the Victoria Theatre, his opposers described him as "old and weak" and by 1848, the Eagle Inn had a new proprietor. Harsh perhaps, but there may have been an element of truth to these words. Whilst in Buninyong on 5th May, 1849, James (whose residence was still stated as Bourke St, Melbourne) died at the age of 54 and was buried in the Old Melbourne Cemetery.
"Mother Jamieson" was now a widow with two adult sons, an adult (but unmarried daughter) and three younger daughters - one of whom had an intellectual disability - all under the age of 12. It would seem, if she hadn't already done so, she now moved her family to Buninyong to be near her son Neil.
Buninyong, 1859. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
The fact that the hotel in Buninyong became known as "Mother Jamieson's" suggests that she was far from happy to take a backseat role in what now became the family business. Whilst Neil did run the hotel, Margaret (presumably with her daughters) lived in a cottage nearby and she would often work in the pub and conduct business on Neil's behalf.
A contemporary description of Margaret, whilst portraying the typically masculine, 19th century view of competent women, does give an indication of her character:
An extraordinary specimen of a Scotch landlady, whose colonial independence of character (except when she took a liking) always verged upon insolence and very often abuse; woe to be the mistaken individual who tried to oppose her when in these moods as he had little chance of either food or lodging at her hands.
The author of this description was was John D'ewes, infamous for his role in the events which led to the the Eureka uprising. Appointed police magistrate at Ballarat in 1854, he was also one of the executors of Margaret's will and was, according to Clare Wright's The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (2014), in her good graces.
Margaret was not just an experienced business woman. She was also an investor. On 9th May, 1851, the first sales of land in the newly-surveyed township of Buninyong were held in Melbourne. On that day, in her own name, Margaret purchased four, half-acre blocks of land. The first ran between Learmonth and what was then a continuation of Forest St. Today, her block forms the part of De Soza Park behind the Crown Hotel which at that time was yet to be built.
Today's view of the block of land originally purchased by Margaret Jamieson
on the north side of Learmonth Street, on 9th May, 1851
The remaining blocks of land were located opposite the first and would have included the land immediately behind her son's hotel which, thanks to the new survey, now found itself in the middle of the roadway. In modern terms, Margaret's land included the three blocks which are now immediately west of the the RSL reserve.
Not only did the events of 1851 change the destiny of the newly-formed state of Victoria, it was also a busy year for the Jamieson's. In June, Margaret's eldest daughter Mary, married Mr John Tuckwell of Buninyong. In the same month Margaret and Neil appeared in court to defend themselves against an action of assumpsit - a claim that they owed money to a local storekeeper. In the end, they were required to pay £40 of the £68 claimed by the plaintiff.
But what of the hotel? Even prior to the gold rush, the Jamiesons appeared to make a success of the business, with regular references appearing in the local papers, however in the weeks after the announcement that gold had been discovered, first at Hiscock's Gully, then at Ballarat, people came flooding to "Mother Jamieson's" on an unprecedented scale. A retrospective in the Laverton Mercury of 12th July, 1907 described the scene:
The road, or rather track, in the forest, which lead to Buninyong was soon invaded by a shovel-shouldering stream. But the weather was very bad -  a soaking rain, and a weak(sic) of cold and leaden skies. After plashing in muddy ruts for three or four days together, with muddy clothes and only the soppy earth to sleep on, they were disinclined for camping out in Hiscock's Gully, and this "rush" took a new form. The diggers invaded the house of "Mother Jamieson's," as they familiarly termed her, and the little inn had to accommodate about 40 diggers, who sallied out in the morning to the gully, a mile away, carrying their spades, and "Mother Jamieson's" pie-dishes and basins; they toiled all day, and returned steaming at night to sleep all over the place on tables, floors, verandahs...
It can only be imagined what Margaret thought of her cooking utensils being commandeered for gold-panning purposes! Looking back, Neil later estimated that with the outbreak of the gold rush, he was taking between £60 and £70 per day. In today's terms this equates to a turnover of between $2.7 and $3.1 million dollars per year.
Business was booming, the beer was flowing and things were looking good for the Jamiesons...

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