13 February, 2016

Making tracks: to Golden Point

On about 21st August, 1851 gold diggers John Dunlop and James Regan, unhappy with the meagre finds and large numbers of people flocking to Hiscock's Gully, decided to try their luck further afield. It was about 6 or 7 miles distant, at what is now known as Poverty Point that the pair struck gold. Thanks to Geelong Advertiser reporter Alfred Clarke, news of their find was soon public knowledge.
At the time of the discovery, Clarke was making regular reports from Hiscock's diggings. On 25th August, he stated that parties were out searching and that gold had been found on Yuille's run towards Warrenheip as well as several finds in the gullies nearby Hiscock's.
Monument marking the approximate location of Dunlop and Regan's gold
discovery at Poverty Point, on the bank of Canadian Creek near Clayton St,
Golden Pont
Gold it seemed, was everywhere. Within a day or two of Dunlop and Regan's find, two other groups of prospectors struck gold less than a mile to the north west, on the opposite side of the point to which Dunlop and Regan were working. This site was given the name Golden Point and in those early days of alluvial gold finds, was considered to be the site of the "main diggings".
Naturally, all parties involved were keen to keep their discoveries quiet, making it difficult to determine who was where first and when, as discovered by a commission set up to establish who - if anyone - was entitled to claim the government reward offered for the first to find gold in the region. The credit for the first discovery and the reward went eventually to Thomas Hiscock for his find near Buninyong, which it was claimed, was part of the same goldfield as the later finds at Ballarat.
If the prospective diggers rushed to Hiscock's Gully, they positively stampeded to Golden Point. By early September, the Geelong Advertiser claimed, there were over 100 prospectors at Ballarat. Within a year of the Poverty Point discovery, there were 20,000 diggers on the field.
An engraving of the Golden Point diggings as depicted by D Tulloch in 1851-
1852. Image held by the National Library of Australia
As news spread, diggers came from all over the country. They followed the bullock tracks from Melbourne, from Geelong and from South Australia via Portland Bay, travelling any way they could. Many of these paths which converged on the diggings can still be seen in the irregular lines followed by a number of the roads in East Ballarat and surrounds today.
Roads such as Humffray St, Main Rd and Eureka St were originally bullock tracks. Humffray St was the main track from Melbourne, running along the southern bank of the Yarrowee River, Main Rd (more of which in a future post) brought diggers from Buninyong up the east side of the Buninyong Ranges and of course, the track which crossed Winter's Flat, past the Yuille's homestead and skirted around the edge of Yuille's Swamp.
Interestingly, a map produced in 1852 from a survey conducted by government surveyor William Urquhart shows two tracks along the Yarrowee from Yuille's station; one along the east bank of the river and the other along the high ground to the west, roughly following the alignment of Armstrong St. The tracks converged on the east side of the river at a point near the present intersection of Cameron and Grant Streets before following a curving path to the north of the modern alignment of Grant Street.
A section of Urquhart's 1852 survey map overlaid on Google Earth. Blue lines
show the tracks from Yuille's and Burnbank, red lines show the present course of
Main Rd and Eureka St. Yellow shows the main diggings at Golden Point as
indicated on Urquhart's map. Green includes Poverty Point. Image held
by the State Library of Victoria  
The original line of the bullock track can be seen in the sketch below from 1856, with the steep banks of the Yarrowee also visible at the bottom of the picture. Even with five years of occupation by the diggers, there appears to be little in the way of permanent buildings in the vicinity. Writing in July, 1888 for the Ballarat Star, historian WB Withers noted that the first brick building in Ballarat East was not erected until 1857-8 at the corner of Main Rd and Humffray St. He also described the diggings as enclosed by the green line on the map above.
A depiction of Grant Street, Ballarat in 1856, looking east from Lydiard St.
Image held by the State Library of Victoria (click to enlarge)
Today, Grant Street is unrecognisable as the bullock track it once was. During the 1860s and subsequent decades, the Yarrowee River through Ballarat along with surrounding creeks were progressively formed and lined with bluestone and brick to control flooding and erosion, changing the landscape further. The end result was a series of channels more akin to storm water drains than a recognisable river system.
Looking east along Grant Street July, 2012 at the Yarrowee River bridge
The section of the Yarrowee in the image below forms the western boundary of the diggings as described by Withers and shown in green on the map above. In 1852 when Urquhart conducted his survey, he described the area as a rich, grassy plain.
Yarrowee River looking north east from Grant Street, April 2012. Canadian Creek
can just be seen in the distance entering the channel from the right. Image
courtesy of C Stevenson
 By the time the diggers had effectively torn the area to pieces in their frantic search for gold, the scene looked vastly different. The once grassy flats were dotted with tents and temporary timber buildings, the ground was riddled with shafts dug by the miners and everywhere were pools of sludge, created by the miners as they washed the dirt to extract every last ounce of gold they could find.
Golden Point in 1857-8. Image held by the State Library of Victoria

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