The following is part one of two excerpts from ‘Records of the Pioneers‘. Both excerpts have been transcribed precisely as per the original text written by Henry Leversha in 1880.
– PART 1 –
SOME TIME IN THE MONTH OF AUGUST, 1851, NEWS ARRIVED IN Melbourne that gold had been found near Mount Buninyong. Many men had at that time left Port Phillip for California and the Sydney-side goldfields. The country was not in a very flourishing state, trade was very dull, but a brighter era was coming for this newly formed colony.
About the 17th August, 1851, I was one of four who left Melbourne for the new goldfields. I think it appeared the day before in the “Argus” that the gold was the property of the Crown, but the right to dig for it would be given to anyone who would pay £1-10-0 per month for a license. Our outfit cost £32, and £2 per cwt. for carriage to the diggings. Our journey (via Bacchus Marsh) occupied seven days. We camped about two miles from the diggings near the Black Hill (Ballarat). The next morning Mr Royan, our carrier, could not find his bullocks, and, his home being on the Saltwater River, he thought they had made in that direction. He went to look for them and came back on the third day without them. In the meantime my three mates went to the diggings, and we were sorely disappointed, as there were far more people leaving than coming, everyone saying that the diggings were all taken up and that there was no room for more. My mates being all married men, having left comfortable homes, and the weather being very wet, started back the same evening for Melbourne. I could not leave the dray as I was alone. The others, who had not much luggage, carried their belongings the rest of the way back. The bullock-driver having got a chance to get his dray back to town soon left also, but I remained, with my things covered up with a tarpaulin, three days longer. On the fourth day a butcher offered me £5 for the lot, tarpaulin included, which itself cost over £7. As near as I can recollect, our outfit comprised of two sacks of flour, one bag of potatoes, one bag of sugar, one box of tea, one cheese, one case of pickles, a wheelbarrow, a cradle, a cask, ½ cwt. of corned beef (which the butcher would not have at any price), ropes, buckets, tin dish, four picks and shovels, and the tarpaulin (12ft. x 18ft.). Seeing so many leaving the diggings, and most of them telling me they were no good, was disheartening. I selected a large damper, about 4 lbs. of cheese, a little tea and sugar, pick, shovel and tin dish, and decided to sell the rest of my belongings to the butcher for £5, and, glad to be once more free, managed to reach the diggings about noon. It was raining, everything looked very wet and gloomy, and about two acres of ground on a little rise seemed to be the only place disturbed. I met a man coming from a store with a tin dish under his arm; he was looking very wet and dirty, and turned out to be an old friend of mine from Geelong. I turned back with him to his tent, where he threw his tin dish down, saying to his mates:- “A fine country, boys; plenty of gold, but no dinner. There is not a pannikin of flour to be had in the store if you gave an ounce of gold for it, but the storekeeper expects some in the afternoon.” I asked them how flour had been selling, and they told me “one shilling a pannikinful.” I then gave them my damper and cheese and told them what I had just sold. After dinner my friend went with me to try and buy some flour, but the butcher, who was just loading it on to a spring cart, did not care to sell anything. After a while my friend bought the potatoes for £1-10-0, the barrow for £3; bucket, 5/-; tin dish (filled with flour), 15/-; but he would not sell any more flour, although he was offered £5 for one sack. These four men hired me at 10/- per day to cook for them and dry their clothes. They had a good claim which was yielding about 6 ozs. a day.
About the second week in September, 1851, the news spread rapidly through the diggings that another goldfield had been discovered near Mount Alexander, and likely to prove very rich. Accordingly, about thirty of us hired a bullock team to take us to the new diggings, paying the man £2 per cwt. We left Ballarat one Sunday morning, and were eight days on the road, arriving at the end of that time at the junction of Forest and Campbell’s Creeks. The next morning a consultation was held as to which creek we should follow up. The majority were for Forest Creek, but the driver said the left-hand creek took its rise out of the Mount, as he had been that way with wool from Maiden’s Punt to Melbourne. We therefore started for Mount Alexander, and were kept very busy clearing the track for the day to pass. The men would not allow the driver to leave the creek at any of the bends for fear of missing the diggings. On the third morning we arrived at the township of Harcourt, which, it is not generally known, is one of the oldest inland townships in the Colony. We saw a shepherd there, who told us that we had come the wrong way; accordingly, we turned back, and camped on the same spot we had left four days before. The next morning we started to clear a track somewhere near where Aitken’s Mill now stands, and at sunset that evening we camped on the site of Montgomery’s Hill. Having been bogged about Little Bendigo, we had to unload the dray, while one of our men went up the gully to cut a sapling, and he found a dray track which looked fresh. Here two men came to us; they had heard the sound of the whip. The poor fellows had left Melbourne more than a week and could not find the diggings although they had been on the other side of the Mount. The following the bullocks were lost and we thought they had gone back to the creek, as the grass was very long about where the Botanical Gardens are now, but we could not find them, so we returned to the camp. The next morning four of our men went away shooting, and tried to find the diggings, as the shepherd told us that the gold was found about 30 miles from Dr Barker’s station in a southerly direction, but these four men were sure it was at the Mount. The same day some of our party tried the surface near the dray and found gold. Several of us then unloaded the dray to get at our tools, and every one found gold, so we then put up our tents on the spot. The day after, the four men who had been away returned very excited, having found the diggings. It appears they went over the Mount, and when coming back saw, from the top, some smoke in the distance, and, following in the direction, dropped upon Golden Point, but did not know that the creek was the same as the one we were then camped on, as they thought we could not reach the spot in less than 20 miles, and while we were having dinner a bullock team came by from Ballarat, having followed our track. There was a man on horseback with it, who had been to Ballarat from Golden Point, Forest Creek, who assured us that the diggings were only 15 miles instead of 20 miles distant. Mr Barker, our driver, now returned with the bullocks, having found them near the Bush Inn, and half of our people made up their minds to stop where we had unloaded. I might here remark that I was what was known as a “hatter,” or one having no mate. I could get about seven pennyweights a day, and mine was considered the best claim.
The drays then left for the site of the new diggings. Though we had plenty of provisions to last two or three weeks, we were getting short of meat. On the following Sunday some men came to see us, when, for the first time, we found out how near we were to the diggings. I returned with them to the Point, and, near where the Mount Alexander Hotel afterwards stood, saw a shepherd’s hut from which we could get plenty of mutton. I should think there were about 150 diggers there at that time, and the diggings were nearly opposite Dead Man’s Gully. I saw only one store, I think it was Black’s, and there was also a hawker’s cart; the owner of it was christened “Gunner,” from having lost an eye. This man was the first to sell provisions at our camp.
The following week we were visited by two Aboriginal police, looking for licences. Being asked if we had any, some of our men said “Yes,” and showed them a pound note, which seemed to satisfy them. I do not think many diggers had obtained licences, for I got one at that time numbered 15. I believe the Commissioner’s name was either “Dana” or “Panton.” People now began to arrive very fast from Melbourne, and other parts of the Colony. Those from Melbourne came down the creek, while those from Ballarat went up the creek to Golden Point. The authorities built a large place at Post Office Hill; I think it was called the “Port Phillip Gold Office and Stables,” on the very ground that the Mount Alexander Hotel was subsequently built on. The whole of those premises were burned down in December, 1851.
Some in this room may recollect a Johnny-all-Sorts shop next to the Government buildings, kept by a very eccentric character whose name was MacTaggart. From his miscellaneous stock of goods one would imagine that he had been collecting from all parts of the world. He was once asked if he sold pens. He gave his old Scotch bonnet a twirl around, and replied, as he handed the pens to the purchaser:- “There are only two things I have not in stock, and I suppose you do not know what they are. Well, fresh pilchards and snowballs.” The best-paying thing he had was his grindstone, for he charged 6d. for grinding a butcher’s knife or an axe, and, if he turned the stone himself, one shilling extra. There was only one blacksmith on the diggings, and his smithy stood where Messrs Norman and James afterwards kept a store. The first bakery was put up near where Joshua Bros’ store was built, afterwards the Manchester Hotel, on the same ground.
About this time (November) the Government had fixed a camp at Pennyweight Flat. The diggers had commenced sinking for gold, but before this they had been mostly surfacing, and the first hole was sunk on the hill where we first found the gold. The sinking first began in consequence of a Scotchman (I think his name was Turnbull) following the gold in his claim from the surface to the rock, on the edge of the cement, and as the washdirt was very rich he used to carry it to his tent.
One day a runaway sailor came to my tent without boots or money. He put up a mia-mia with bushes on the other side of the creek, and, as he had no tools, the Scotchman before-mentioned hired him to bale water with a long-handled dipper for washing his dirt. This was on a Saturday, and they finished before sunset. The Scotchman, however, having no money, had to pay the sailor with gold, giving him a large iron spoonful, which he carried in his hand to the store and got £9 for it, although gold was only £2-7-6 per ounce. The poor fellow was drinking heavily for two or three days. On the following Wednesday I was passing his mia-mia when a lot of blow-flies attracted my attention. I looked in and then saw the poor sailor lying dead. There was a doctor on the diggings at the time, whose name, as far as I can recollect, was Howlett, and he acted as coroner in that case. The next morning he rode up to our tent, and we were sitting outside under a verandah of bushes. The doctor said—“I say, man, where does that man live who died here yesterday?” My mate, called “Big Mick,” said—“Bedad, that’s a good ’un.” The doctor repeated the question, when we all laughed. Only then did the doctor perceive the “bull” he had made, when he heartily joined in the laughter. We then told him there was a man lying dead in a mia-mia over the creek. At the inquest the verdict was—“Died by the visitation of God, and not otherwise.” Big Mick, who was one of the jurymen, did not agree with the verdict, and said—“Indeed, Sir, that is another good ‘un, I think it would be better to say: ‘Died by visiting the brandy-bottle,’ then might add that rider, Sir, ‘and not otherwise.’ We buried the poor run-away near his mia-mia, and the locality was afterwards known as “Sailor’s Gully.”
A weekly mail now commenced running from Golden Point to Melbourne every Sunday afternoon. The mailman, whose name was Kelly, had two horses and a spring-cart, which would carry three or four passengers at £6 per head. I might here state that all teams going to and from the diggings had to travel by way of Golden Point, as there was no road from Jones’ shanty (afterwards Meredith’s Hotel) through to Sawpit Gully (now Elphinstone).
About the time the Police Camp was removed to Pennyweight Flat the authorities posted notices on the trees that any person who would join the police service would receive 12/- per day, Sundays included. Several men joined and the black troopers were dispensed with. Under the new regulations the police began hunting up those unfortunates who were without licences. The diggings were scoured nearly every day. The only uniform worn by the police was a blue serge jumper faced with white moleskin. Some days as many as fifty diggers would be walked off to the camp, and any who were picked up in the morning would have to go with the police all day. When brought to the camp they would be fined £5 without any trial, and no appeal. If they had no money with which to pay the fine they were fastened to a rude kind of stocks for 48 hours, while some had to cut logs to build a log prison. I saw at one time sixteen of these poor fellows fastened to a log with that notorious robber, Black Douglas. I often wondered how such a fine body of men like the diggers could quietly submit to such tyranny.
– END OF PART 1 –