28 March, 2016

Branching out: 'Lynnburn'

As I explained in my previous post, diggers heading to the goldfields of Ballarat (and later Steiglitz), passed through land first occupied by Europeans in 1836; by John Cowie and David Stead at Bell Post Hill and by the Manifold brothers who arrived at a similar time and took up the land either side of the Moorabool River from its confluence with Sutherland's Creek, down almost to Fyansford. The Manifolds remained in the district only until December 1838. In 1837, they leased some of this land along the Moorabool to brothers John and Henry Bates who ultimately gave their name to the town of Batesford which prior to this had been known as Manifold's Ford and even Hopeton. By 1839 however, the Bates had also moved on, leaving only their name behind.
By the time of the gold rush however, this district was within the boundaries of closer settlement, meaning the squatters had long since moved on and the land was in the process of subdivision and sale.
Amongst those who took advantage of the push to open up new land for settlement, were the Hope brothers George, James and Robert. As described in my last post, by 1856 George Hope was establishing himself on Sutherland's Creek and along the Moorabool River at 'Darriwill', on land originally purchased by his brother Robert. At about the same time however, Robert himself was building a house of his own further downstream on the Moorabool below Batesford on land originally purchased by George. He called the property 'Lynnburn'.
Looking across the Moorabool River towards 'Lynnburn', November, 2015
Gazetted in April, 1846 and purchased by George at land sales in June of that year, the land consisted of 734 acres incorporating lots 9 and 10 of the Parish of Moorpanyal. These blocks, which straddled the Geelong-Buninyong Track, included the present site of Batesford east of the Moorabool River and incorporated river frontage from Batesford downstream to the present Batesford Quarry. It wasn't long however, before the more northerly part of the estate was subdivided and sold off in smaller allotments as part of either the Batesford township or the "Hopeton Estate" as advertised in the Geelong Advertiser of the 21st February, 1851.
The house built for Robert on the remaining land, was constructed from stone quarried on the property and is described on the Victorian Heritage Database as a "single storey squared basalt residence with double bay front, slate roof and two storey rear kitchen wing and encircling verandah, now demolished". It is thought that the architect responsible for the design was Walter Sheridan.
'Lynnburn', image taken from the Victorian Heritage Database
Like his brother George, Robert also planted grapevines and in 1864 in anticipation of substantial harvests, was in the process of building a three-storey building incorporating a cellar, fermenting rooms and a wine house. From the description, the building was set into the slope of the hillside descending to the river, with the 27 acre vineyard located between the house and the Geelong-Ballarat Rd overlooking the river.
In addition to the substantial cellar, Robert, along with his brothers, also had a flour mill erected at the water's edge. The mill was constructed of bluestone and located on the west bank of the river, south of Batesford - presumably on land purchased from the Port Phillip Association who by then owned the land along that part of the west bank. The mill was linked to the rest of the property on the east bank by a small footbridge. Most of the year, it was powered by a large waterwheel, with steam used approximately three months of the year when water levels were too low.
Early image of Hope's Flour Mill showing footbridge and additional outbuildings.
Image from the Wynd Collection, Geelong Historical Society
The mill was destroyed in 1880 when the Moorabool suffered major flooding which was said to have left around 50 people in Batesford homeless. It was mentioned at the time of its destruction, that the mill had stood for 23 years, giving a construction date of around 1857. This concurs with family documentation held by the Hope descendants which show the purchase of the land on which it stood in 1856 (The flour mills of Victoria 1840-1990: an historical record, Lewis and Peggy Jones, 1990).
Hope's flour mill on the bank of the Moorabool River, c1880. Image held by
the State Library of Victoria
Unlike his brother George, Robert Hope used 'Lynnburn' as his country estate and was not in permanent residence. By 1875, Charles Craike was operating the vineyard and was living at 'Lynnburn' with his family. Little did he or any of the Hope brothers realise however, that within a few short years, the Australian vine stock would be blighted by the arrival of Phylloxera - a small, sucking insect related to the aphid which attacks the roots and leaves of grapevines, causing growth deformities, depriving them of nutrients and rendering them susceptible to disease.
Phylloxera first made its appearance in Australia at Geelong in 1877 and according to the newspapers of the day, by 1879 there were signs of Phylloxera in the vineyard at 'Lynnburn'. In a move to control the outbreak of the pest, all vines within a certain distance of infected properties in the region were pulled up and an ongoing process designed to remove any remaining roots was implemented. What had been a thriving industry was brought to a standstill. By 1885 when moves to replant were afoot, remaining root samples from 'Lynnburn' revealed that the insect was still present in significant quantities in the soil.
In 1881, 'Lynnburn' was put on the market, however Craike seems to have remained at the property for several more years before Jacob Deppeler - a Swiss vigneron - took up residence, possibly in 1883. The property remained in the Deppeler family until 1954. Vines were eventually reintroduced and wine was again produced in addition to other pastoral enterprises.
Looking east across the Moorabool Valley to a modern vineyard on what was
'Lynnburn' land
Over the years, the size of the property has reduced and when 'Lynnburn' was sold most recently in April, 2015, the area was advertised as a little over 66.5 hectares (or 164.5 acres), less than a quarter of its original size, but retaining around 1.5 km of river frontage south of Batesford. In the preceding five years, the entire property, homestead included, had been returned to some of  its former glory with a program of weeding, fencing and soil-improvement to restore the land as well as refurbishment and repair of the house itself. Before sale in 2015, it was estimated that the property would sell for between $4.5 and 5.5 million.

24 March, 2016

Branching out: 'Darriwill'

Before I look at the third route from Geelong to the goldfields of Ballarat and beyond, I think it might be helpful to look at a little of the history of some of the properties through which the track passed. This route ran via Steiglitz, but for the first few miles of their journey, those following it would have used the same road up Bell Post Hill, towards Batesford used by those following the Geelong to Buninyong Track.
Before descending into the Moorabool Valley however, they took the turn off for Steiglitz, which led them over Sutherland's Creek and onto the high ground between the creek to their east and the Moorabool Valley further to the west.
In the earliest days of European settlement the land either side of the Moorabool river below Sutherland's Creek down to Fyansford was occupied by the Manifold brothers. Above the confluence of Sutherland's Creek with the Moorabool, the land was occupied by Joseph Sutherland. According to fellow squatter Thomas Manifold, Sutherland took up the land in 1836. Joseph was a Scotsman and amongst the earliest settlers in the Port Phillip District. The only other information I have been able to discover, indicates that he was on his Sutherland's Creek Run at least during 1842-1843, but soon moved on to more distant pastures.
By 1846 three brothers - Robert Culbertson, George and James Hope - who had travelled overland from New South Wales began to lease and purchase large tracts of what had been the Sutherland's Creek Run of Joseph Sutherland and some of the land occupied by the Manifolds. In June, 1846 George purchased 734 acres of land along the Moorabool River at Batesford and according to deeds dated November 1847, Robert purchased almost 2,000 acres of land to the north along either side of Sutherland's Creek. Further, in September, 1848, James and George were granted a licence to depasture stock in the same area on the Moorabool.
The Moorabool River at Baker's Bridge in 2011. The river at this point formed
part of the boundary of 'Darriwill'
In April, 1849 Robert was granted the lease of around 2,000 acres under pre-emptive right in the parishes of Darriwill and Yowang and by 1850 his application to lease land had increased to include 8,720 acres in the parish of Yowang - presumably in addition to his freehold land. As well as his pastoral pursuits, Robert was a practising medical doctor and on 21st January, 1848, he was appointed coroner for the District of Geelong. In November, 1856 he was returned as one of five members representing the South Western Province in the Legislative Council of Victoria, holding office until August, 1864. In April, 1867 he was again elected to the same seat, holding office until 1874. During his time in parliament he was known for his very conservative views. A staunch advocate for the rights of the landed classes, he fought fervently against any move to limit their privileges or to allow selectors the right to choose land already leased from the crown by the squatters.
By contrast, brother George appears to have concentrated more on establishing the family property. Survey maps show that in 1854 he purchased more land adjoining those blocks bought by Robert in 1847, bringing the total freehold owned by the Hopes to over 4,000 acres along the east bank of Sutherland's Creek between today's Robbs Rd to the north and Lovely Banks Rd to the south.
Having purchased substantial acreage, the Hopes no doubt felt secure enough to begin building and making permanent improvements to their property which they called 'Darriwill'. In 1856, they built a single-storey, bluestone house to the design of John Young, with later additions - including a cellar - designed by prominent Geelong architect J.L. Shaw (The Stepping Stone: a History of the Shire of Bannockburn, D Beaurepaire, 1995).
'Darriwill', image taken from the Victorian Heritage Database
According to the Victorian Heritage Database, this was the residence of George who established a substantial vineyard on the property in addition to running sheep. Hope's winery was described in a glowing article written by The Age on 7th March, 1864, which also made the surprising observation that the property, in outline, had the appearance of a bat.
1878 survey map of Yowang and Darriwil Parishes overlaid on Google Earth,
with an outline showing the land purchased by the Hopes
By October, 1878 under George's guidance, 'Darriwill' had grown to 4,768 acres. He lived at the property for the remainder of his life, dying on 25th April, 1884 at the age of 69. The property remained in the family, administered as per the terms of George's will by a trust administered by his wife Marianne and eldest son James. Over subsequent years, the names of his sons George Rowland and William Waugh Hope also appeared in connection with the property.
In 1909 however, the majority of the property (3335 acres) was subdivided into 26 lots of varying sizes which were then auctioned off, leaving only around 700 acres of the original land along with the homestead, in the hands of the family. The remaining land and assets continued to be run by a family trust up to and following the death of James (1903) and Marianne (1911). Isabella, the unmarried daughter of George and Marianne, lived at 'Darriwill' until her death in 1939 after which, the property was distributed according to the terms of her will amongst the family. In 1941 however, the original homestead and 700 acres were bought at auction by her nephews - George Rowland's sons - thus retaining the property in the family.
Photos of Marianne and George Hope along with their daughter Isabella. Image
held by the State Library of Victoria
Also in their hands was the neighbouring property 'Darriwill North'. How or exactly when the family took possession of the property, which formed part of the original land purchased by Dr R.C. Hope in 1847, I have not discovered. It was here however, following the death of her husband George Rowland Hope in 1920, that his widow Agnes was responsible for the construction of a second home in 1925. This house, designed by Geelong architects Laird and Buchan, was a single storey, brick building in the Californian Bungalow style commonly constructed between the two World wars. Further extensions were added two years later in 1927. Agnes, lived at the property until her death in 1955.
Photo of 'Darriwill North' taken in 2008 (Stan Lawrence Real Estate Pty Ltd)
'Darriwill North' remained in the Hope family until 2008 when Alistair Hope (great grandson of the original settler) and his wife Ellen, finally sold the property, thus ending nearly 170 years of occupation and ownership by the Hope family at Darriwill. The house remained on around 268 acres of a total 1650 acres sold and in 2011 Darriwill North Holdings Pty Ltd was listed as a private company. 'Darriwill North' is now a registered stud, breeding both Dorper sheep and Kelpie dogs.
By contrast, 'Darriwill', including the original homestead, was only retained by the family until 1971 when, following the death of Rowland Hope on 9th November the previous year, it was sold to Sanford and Jane Nevile who retained the property until 1994.
Looking north along Sutherland's Creek from Hope's Bridge on the Steiglitz Rd.
The land to the right belongs to 'Darriwill North'
 At this time, the property, including 840 acres, was purchased by Dougal and Nellie Ramsay who extensively replanted the garden surrounding the house. The Ramsays also went on to establish the Darriwill Farm chain of retail stores and cafes throughout Victoria, developing the Darriwill name into a highly sought after brand.
In March, 2012 however, 'Darriwill' was once again on the market, advertised as including both a winery and olive grove, incorporating 966 acres of land. It was hoped that the property would fetch in excess of $10 million, however its eventual sale price fell short of this mark.

18 March, 2016

Branching out: 'Narmbool'

Whilst writing my previous post, I came across quite a bit of information about the Narmbool Run; enough that it required a post of its own, so I am taking a slight detour on the track to the goldfields before heading east to Darriwill, Steiglitz, Darra and beyond.
Today, 'Narmbool' is a 2,000 hectare (4,942 acre) working property capable of running up to 12,000 head of sheep. It has been owned by Sovereign Hill since 2000 and in addition to its grazing interests, provides educational programs aimed at students in the middle years of their schooling as well as a range of facilities suitable for conferences, retreats and weddings. Of course this hasn't always been the case and sheep haven't always been the pastoral focus.
The rolling hills of 'Narmbool' with Mt Buninyong in the distance and
Williamson's Creek running through, October, 2015
For many thousands of years before European settlement, 'Narmbool' formed part of the lands belonging to the Wathaurong people. As I have mentioned in previous posts, many of the roads we drive today in large part follow the bullock tracks established by the European pioneers as they spread out across the countryside in search of grazing land. They in turn however, often followed the tracks of the Wathaurong people and Mary Akers in her book about 'Narmbool' "Hold fast the Heritage (2010), suggests that this may well have been the case for that part of the Geelong to Buninyong Track which passed through what became Narmbool Station.
That there were indigenous people living in the area is well documented and traces of their presence today can still be found by those who know what to look for. The name 'Narmbool' itself is believed to be a derivation of an indigenous word marmbula meaning "kidney fat".  The fat from around the kidney was important to indigenous tribes across the country who used it in their ritual practices. The fat was often taken from an enemy - alive or dead - or from the body of someone who had died an untimely death. It was then daubed on the body of the medicine man to strengthen his powers or placed on objects belonging to someone who was to be cursed.
Shaped edge on a piece of stone, still sharp enough to cut
Groove worn in a rock slab, presumably from repeated use
The cultural practices of the Wathaurong people of the 'Narmbool' region however, were severely disrupted by the arrival of European settlers in the late 1830s. The way the land was used was also changed forever when, in January, 1839 a young Glaswegian called Hugh Niven took up the lease on the 22,842 acres of land lying between Mt Mercer Cattle Station in the west and Borhoneyghurk in the east.
Niven ran both sheep and cattle on his property, but his main focus was the cattle and he was looking to increase both his herd and his land holdings. His plans were cut prematurely short however later that year when during a ride to Geelong on 21st September, he was thrown from his horse and kicked. He died two days later and was buried in Geelong's Eastern Cemetery. He was 34 years old.
Hugh Niven's grave at the Eastern Cemetery, Geelong. Hugh was the first
person to be buried there on 23rd September, 1839
Following Niven's death the lease for the still unnamed Portland Bay number 261 run, was taken up - along with the stock - in December, 1839 by a Melbourne solicitor whose name is still familiar to the area today - Charles Williamson. It was his name which was adopted for the creek which flows through 'Narmbool'. Like Niven, he concentrated on the breeding of cattle, holding the lease for the property until 1845 when it was taken up by brothers Thomas, William and Gideon Lang. It was the Langs it is thought who were responsible for giving the name of 'Narmbool' to the property during their short tenure of less than twelve months.
Over the next several years the licence for 'Narmbool' was held by Hector Simson and John Duerdin. They in turn transferred the lease to Henry Jackson Munday who took up the lease in May, 1849 and two years later in July, 1851 applied to take up 640 acres as his pre-emptive right, including his homestead, outbuildings and a dam. On this land in about 1850 he had constructed a two-roomed bluestone cottage. The Victorian Government Gazette of 25th August, 1854 records that at that time, Henry's Narmbool run was stocked with 20 horses, 150 cattle and 9,570 sheep, however by 16th February, 1855, these numbers had reduced to 10 horses, 100 cattle and 6000 sheep.
Sheep grazing in the distance at 'Narmbool', October, 2015
In September, 1852 he applied to purchase a second block of land within his run including an a washpool which he used for his sheep, however his request was denied, indicating instead that the area should be set aside as the site of a village. By that time, the gold rush was in full swing and there was great demand for accommodation, supplies and later, land and housing for the diggers who flocked to the goldfields.
That village would soon become the little settlement of Burnt Bridge, located near the site of the old log bridge constructed by Henry Anderson and William Cross Yuille as they journeyed to take up their runs on the other side of Mount Buninyong years before. First there was John Morrison's Burnt Bridge Inn, then a coffee tent, more hotels (one of which was a staging post for the Estafette Line of Coaches), a school, houses, and when the new road was surveyed, a toll house was also installed. By 1855 the government was calling for tenders to supply feed for police mounts which were also
stabled at Burnt Bridge.
By 1855 at 'Narmbool' however, Henry (whose brother William had died in January and was buried on the property) gave up the lease, married his brother's widow and moved back to Geelong. At this time the run passed back to a former leaseholder - John Duerdin - who also purchased the pre-emptive right.
Unlike Munday, Duerdin did not live at 'Narmbool', instead leasing it out. In this way, he held the lease until 1860 when it was transferred one last time to Samuel Wilson, younger brother of the Wilsons who had taken up the lease of the Woodbourne No. 2 Run not far away. In addition to his pastoral pursuits Samuel also trained as a lawyer and later, moved into state politics. Over the years he contributed greatly to the community, ultimately receiving a knighthood for his service to the Colony of Victoria.
Samuel Wilson, owner of 'Narmbool'. Photograph of an 1862
 painting. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
Wilson Hall at the University of Melbourne was named after him. The English perpendicular Gothic building was a centrepiece of the university and considered one of Melbourne's grandest buildings. It was built in 1882 at a cost of £40,000, following a £30,000 donation from the benefactor whose name it bore.The original building along with numerous paintings, ornate stained-glass windows and historical artifacts was destroyed by a fire caused by faulty electrical wiring on 25th January, 1952.
By this time, Wilson was long gone from 'Narmbool'. In 1863, He sold his pre-emptive right to David McNaught and John Boyd whilst continuing to maintain the lease on the remaining land. Finally, on 9th February, 1872, the lease was forfeited and the ownership of the property (now a freehold) passed to the partnership of David McNaught and John and Alexander Boyd. Having made their fortune as shopkeepers on the goldfields of Ballarat, McNaught and John Boyd ventured into property. This included 'Narmbool' which they ran successfully for many years, both at various times living on the property - or at neighbouring 'Cargerie'.
Wide open spaces, October, 2015
Over the period of their ownership however, laws enabling selection were passed and on 20th February, 1866 'Narmbool' was gazetted for selection. A number of portions of the original leasehold were taken up by selectors, several of whom worked for either Boyd or McNaught. By the time the property sold to members of the Austin family in 1884, only 18,000 acres of the original land remained. At the time the Austins took over, the homestead was a timber building. In 1889, extensive renovations were undertaken by Herbert Austin, although whether he completely demolished the original timber building  or merely added the large bluestone front an timber billiard room to one side, to the existing structure seems unclear.
A year prior, work on a second grand, brick home on the property had been completed and the land was then divided between the two Austin brothers. The snew house and the 7,500 acres which surrounded it, became 'Larundel', whilst the old homestead retained 10,500 acres of land.
In mid-1923 'Narmbool' passed out of Austin hands, purchased by William Phillips, however, like many of the large properties around the district, within months, about half the remaining land was acquired by the Closer Settlement Commission and divided into smaller lots for settlement by returning servicemen following the First World War. The endeavour was unsuccessful, with extensive land-clearing during the Austin era and over-farming by the settlers ultimately leading to a drop in productivity. By 1930, all of the acquired land had been returned to the Commission.
'Narmbool' 1972, image taken from the John T Collins Collection, State
Library of Victoria
Presumably as a consequence of this compulsory acquisition, by the end of 1923, the remaining 4,000 or so acres of the property had again been sold. This time, the purchaser was Alexander Sutherland, a land valuer with the government who had also advised on the carve up of 'Narmbool' by the Commission. Alec - as he was known - bred sheep and indulged his interest in horses. With difficulty, he nursed the property through the depression years of the 1930s, at one time even going shares in a speculative but ultimately unsuccessful mining venture on the property. During the 1920s, Alec also oversaw the establishment of a private game sanctuary at Narmbool. This government-sanctioned, private wetland retained its status until 1968 when the relevant legislation was changed. By that time, the property was in the hands of Alec's only son Ian who fought - to no avail - to have the sanctuary's status maintained.
Fortunately despite Ian's concerns, the native wildlife at 'Narmbool' was not adversely affected by the loss of sanctuary status. His tenure of the property lasted until 1980 when it was sold one final time to Robin and Andrew Ferry.
Upon their arrival, the Ferrys embarked upon an extensive program of replanting, regeneration and reclamation. Over the ensuing years, they installed a series of dams, fenced off the gullies and performed remedial works to tackle the significant erosion and salinity problems caused by the tree clearing and over farming of previous generations. In addition to this, they have been responsible for the planting of at least 40,000 trees across the property which not only contribute to halting erosion but have also provided habitat which has seen the wildlife at Narmbool flourish.
The next step in the Ferry's plans was a succession strategy. They were determined not only to leave 'Narmbool' in a better state than they acquired it, but also to preserve it for the community with a strong focus on education. To this end, after years of negotiations and planing, the property was was gifted to Sovereign Hill, to be used primarily to provide live-in 'environmental discovery programs' for middle school students whilst continuing the environmental initiatives put in place by the Ferrys.  In addition, changes were also made to provide a restaurant (The Garden Room) and function facilities, providing opportunities for interaction with the wider community.
Recreation settler's hut constructed onsite by Sovereign Hill for the education
program, October, 2015
Most recently, only days before Christmas on 19th December last year (2015) 'Narmbool' was dealt a devastating blow. A bushfire originating near Scotsburn, travelled south towards 'Narmbool', decimating the property and much of the surrounding land. The staff present on the day enacted their fire plan which meant that the  immediate homestead site, the lodge, the learning centre and some parts of the garden survived, however almost all of the pasture and fencing, as well as trees and some of the bush camp facilities used in the education programs were burnt in the fire. In addition, stock losses are believed to have numbered well over 1000, whilst parts of the garden were significantly damaged by the fire.
Burnt Bridge burns again: 29th December, 2015, roadside near the site of
Burnt Bridge following the Scotsburn fire
Roadside on the Midland Highway, looking south east towards Williamson's
Creek at the site of Burnt Bridge, following the Scotsburn fire,
29th December, 2015
In all, almost 4,700 hectares of land were burnt in the fire. The map below shows the extent of the Scotsburn fire as estimated by the "Incidents and Warnings" page of the Vic Emergency website, overlaid on Google Earth. Outlined in green is the current land area of 'Narmbool', with the red line indicating the extent of the original 22,842 acre Narmbool Run (my estimation from the 1848 surveyor's description) taken up by Hugh Niven in 1839.
Google Earth overlaid with the Vic Emergency website estimate of the Scotsburn
fire. The green line indicates the current extent of 'Narmbool'. The red line gives
the approximate boundaries of the original Narmbool Run
Finally, during a recent conversation I was informed that only 250 acres of 'Narmbool' land remained unaffected by the fire. It will be a long road back for this grand old property.

14 March, 2016

Making tracks: via Mt Mercer

I initially began researching the route travelled by the diggers who flocked to the goldfields of Buninyong, Ballarat and beyond after noticing that a number of towns located on the rivers, creeks and gullies of the Barwon catchment claimed to be on the "main gold route" or on the "best line of road" to the goldfields. But how could places as far apart as Teesdale on the Leigh Road and the Eclipse Hotel at Durdidwarrah and Morrisons, along with all the towns which sprang up along the Geelong to Buninyong Track, justify their claims?
It quickly became apparent that there were several different routes which hopeful prospectors could take to the diggings and each had its own claim to being "the main route from Geelong to Ballarat" (or Buninyong for the current purpose as all roads from Geelong passed through or near that town). The shortest route was certainly the bullock track which lead from Geelong to Buninyong. It was well established by the 1840s and had been used by the mail coaches to travel between Geelong and Buninyong since 1846. If volume of newspaper content is anything to go by, this was certainly the busiest route to the goldfields and the topic of my most recent posts.
Teesdale of course, is not on this route. It was however on the road taken by another of the earliest mail coaches in the district - the Portland Bay Mail Coach. The mail from Geelong (and from Melbourne via the steamer) was carried by coach through Leigh Road (Bannockburn), Teesdale, The Leigh (Shelford), Rokewood and onwards to join the Melbourne to Portland Bay mail at Fiery Creek (Streatham/Beaufort). An 1856 survey map of the Teesdale area describes this road as the "main road from Fiery Creek to Geelong via Batesford".
Shelford iron bridge under construction 1873-4. The timber pylons of the original
bridge are visible between those of the new bridge
Like the Geelong to Buninyong Track, the Portland Bay Road required travellers to undertake several river and creek crossings - the Moorabool River at Batesford, Bruce's Creek at Leigh Road and two crossings of the Leigh/Yarrowee River. The first of these was at The Leigh where, prior to 1850, the crossing was made via a ford. After this date, a wooden bridge was installed which served until 1873-4 when a wrought-iron box girder bridge was erected as per the design of Leigh Shire engineer C.A.C. Wilson.
After crossing the Leigh, those travelling to Buninyong needed to branch off the Portland Bay road and head north. First however, they could take a meal or stay overnight at the Settlers' Arms Inn, before following the track which lead to Mt Mercer and on to Buninyong. The inn was built in 1843 by Captain Francis Ormond who leased the surrounding land from George Russell of the Clyde Company, agreeing to improve the area and build the inn which soon prospered as a result of the passing trade.
Settler's Arms Inn built by Captain Francis Ormond in`1843. Situated near
the Shelford bridge across the Leigh River, the inn was a staging post on the
Portland Bay mail route. It was demolished in 1983 to allow construction
of the current road bridge. Image taken in 1975 is from the John T Collins
Collection, State Library of Victoria
Whilst none of the early maps such as those produced by surveyor AJ Skene (1845), Ham's map of the routes to the Mt Alexander & Ballarat diggings (1852) or Sands & Kenny's Map of Victoria (1859) show a road running from Shelford to Buninyong, the track did exist and it was used to access the goldfields. Survey maps as early as 1851, show the beginning of a road leading south from Buninyong "to The Leigh". It was not until 1857 however, that it was officially surveyed - at least in part - by government surveyor Maurice Weston and was indeed titled "part of Geelong and Ballarat Road from Shelford to Mt Mercer".
A dirt track leading into Shelford, taken during the late 19th century. Image held
by the State Library of Victoria
An important point of distinction however, which may also explain Teesdale's claim to be on the "main gold route" from Geelong to Ballarat, is a description which appears in the newspapers from the 1850s onwards, referring to the "main road from Geelong to Ballarat via Mt Mercer". It is probably telling that the description of this road always seemed to come with the qualifier "via Mt Mercer". I suspect this meant not that this was "the" main road, but rather that it was "a" main road and that it ran via Mt Mercer. In this era the phrase "government road" or "main government road" was often also used. It described official roads built and maintained by the government. From the 1860s, local road districts were established to levy rates and to maintain roads across the colony. The colonial government however, still retained responsibility for the most important roads, therefore a "main road" was any road which was paid for and maintained by the government rather than by the local road district or shire council. Having a road declared as a "main road" by the government could remove significant financial strain from a struggling rural shire.
Another consideration is the term "main gold route". Does this mean the route taken by the diggers to get to the goldfields or the route taken by the gold escorts bringing the gold back to Geelong? Newspaper reports show that the the contractors carrying gold to Geelong travelled via the Geelong to Buninyong Road. It was for this reason that a police paddock and associated buildings were established at Meredith in 1853 (and a little later also at Burnt Bridge), to provide a base for the police officers accompanying the gold; a staging post for changing horses.
This early photograph taken c1852-1854 shows the Ballarat gold escort. Image
held by the State Library of Victoria
Whilst it may have been shorter and there may have been more traffic on the Geelong to Buninyong Track, it was not without its problems. When the weather was bad, some sections of the road became a quagmire. Negotiating "Scott's Swamp" could prove an almost impossible prospect. The approach from Melbourne could also be a difficult journey; one traveller reported seeing hundreds of drays stranded in the mud during a single trip to the goldfields of Ballarat. It is probably no surprise then, that whilst researching a previous post, I found mention of the track from Shelford to Buninyong being used by travellers when the Geelong to Buninyong Track was impassable during bad weather.
It may have been longer, however travellers would go a significant distance out of their way to avoid bad roads, even taking to the bush when necessary.
It is also worth noting that the Geelong to Buninyong Road and the road via Mt Mercer did not exist in isolation from one another. They were connected by tracks (and later roads) which ran east-west between them. As I mentioned in an earlier post about the Green Tent, there was a track running from that place back to Shelford which was used by bullockies and those wanting to graze their stock, as well as the track which became the Meredith-Shelford Rd. If conditions were proving too difficult on one road, it was possible to veer off and head for the other.
And it is at this point that another local tale surfaces. Whilst on a visit to 'Narmbool' (the squatting property established in 1839 by Hugh Niven, now owned by Sovereign Hill), I was told that an old track leading down across Williamson's Creek was "used by the diggers during the gold rush". This would seem to be confirmed by a road marked on an 1892 geological survey map, running in a direct line between Horsehill Rd and Williamson's Creek along the fence line we were shown. After crossing the creek, survey maps of Clarendon Parish from 1915 show the road - presumably following the earlier track - continuing on to a fork. One branch ran north, following what today is a vague track which becomes Pryor's Rd, the other travelled only a short distance south west to Sand Rd. Both Sand and Pryor's Roads meet up again to the east of the mining town of Garibaldi before joining the Buninyong-Mt Mercer Rd. Thus the diggers could follow this road north to Buninyong or they could again join the Geelong to Buninyong Rd to the east of Scotsburn, or possibly further west, thus avoiding Scott's Swamp.
Local sources say that, a track used by diggers heading to the goldfields
(presumably from' the Geelong to Buninyong Rd) ran down the hill at the fence
line to cross Williamson's Creek at this point 
It is also worth remembering however that as the gold rush progressed, diggings spread out across the countryside. With the advent of large companies and deep lead mining towards the end of the 1850s, mines were established along the banks of the Yarrowee/Leigh River as far south as the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge and a little beyond. It makes sense therefore that by the time they were surveyed in 1857, that the Shelford-Mt Mercer Road and the subsequent Mt Mercer-Buninyong Rd would be the main access route for those heading from Geelong to the mining settlements along the river such as Garibaldi and Scotchman's Lead.
Looking at the survey maps available from the 1850s for the parish of Enfield, the old track by and large, followed the same course as the modern road, although where the modern road veers to the west to meet the road from Dereel, the old track stayed close to the river past Mt Mercer. Further north near Garibaldi, the track again followed a slightly different course, crossing the Yarrowee River about 700m north west of the present crossing which was not built until 1866. As I described in an earlier post, the river crossing at Garibaldi was dangerous, with three people said to have lost their lives during flooding prior to the erection of the bridge downstream.
Google Earth image showing: modern roads (yellow), Buninyong-Mt Mercer
Track (green), unused road on 'Narmbool' (blue), other pre-survey tracks (red).
Click to enlarge
Unfortunately the only 1850s survey map which I am currently able to access is that for Enfield Parish, so I am uncertain of the exact path of the original track to the north or south of this area. It does appear however, that the entry to Buninyong was intended to be via a more direct line one block to the east of the current alignment, which makes me wonder if perhaps Sandys Hill Rd (which intersects the road to The Leigh as marked on the survey map), may have been part of the original track from Mt Mercer.
It is also worth remembering that there may well have been other informal crossing points along the Leigh/Yarrowee which also gave access for those heading to the goldfields. I know of at least one bridge which no longer exists, but which was used by workers crossing to 'Golfhill'. Located at the end of Henderson's Rd, Bamganie, it was a timber swing bridge which existed into the 20th century, however I am unsure of its age. Similarly, there is a small bridge on Kelly's Rd, Grenville where the Leigh can be crossed, however the road itself does not appear on the earliest survey maps.
No doubt there were other crossing points and tracks along the way, all of which could have been used by those travelling to and from the goldfields to reach the road between Buninyong and Shelford.
If at any point I find more detail I will update this post accordingly.