ADHS Newsletter No. 143, NOVEMBER, 1996

  • James Law, discoverer of gold at Barkly

At our monthly meeting held on Sunday, 17th November, members heard the somewhat unusual story of James Law, the discoverer of gold at Barkly, told by Eulalie Driscoll. To add further interest to her talk, Eulalie had prepared two large display maps, old documents and photographs relating to the area.

James Law was born in 1827 at St. Vigeans, near Arbroath, Angus, on the east coast of Scotland. He became a labourer at West Conon Farm, near Arbroath, and married Jean Cochrane, a sister of the farmer who employed him. A son was born to them in August, 1850, and was named James, the birth being registered at the Carmyllie Parish Church. Shortly after, James left his wife Jean and baby James and sailed away, possibly to New Zealand, where he may have been caught up in the Maori troubles, as it is known that he carried a bullet in his leg, an injury which was sustained there. James then came to Australia, to the Wimmera area of Victoria, and applied for a position with the Gold Escort on 26th May, 1855. Police records give his description as height, 5 feet 10 inches, light brown hair and fair complexion and his number was K28. He resigned from this position on 31st December, 1856.

For the next eighteen months, he led a party of men prospecting at Johnson’s Gully, where they sank eleven holes with no result. However, they persisted and in June, 1859, their efforts were rewarded when they discovered a rich lead about two miles to the north and six miles from the township of Navarre, originally known as Navarre Diggings. So began a rush of 500 to 700 people, which increased to a population of 6,000 over an area of five square miles. Four men – James Law, John Fewster, W. R. Marshall and George Mill – each received a reward of £150 for the discovery of gold at Barkly on 13th June, 1859. James Law had originally called the lead Navarre but, on 1st November, 1861, by general consent, the name was changed to Barkly, in honour of the Governor of Victoria at the time, Sir Henry Barkly. In 1864, James Law, Thomas Tyrie and James Brown (teacher at the Barkly Common School), were appointed as managers of the Barkly Goldfields Common. In 1866, James Law was granted a licence for Allotment 45, a paddock of 20 acres on which he depastured three horses. Here James built himself a bark house beside the Frenchman’s Creek and adjoining Mashado’s property. On an old Parish map of Barkly/Frenchman’s is a small square marked ‘M.R.’ (Miner’s Right), which represents one acre, and this is where James lived.

Although James had contact with his son and Jean, who had remarried in 1854, it is certain that he never expected that he would ever see young James in Australia, let alone that he would journey from Barkly to Adelaide to meet him there in 1887. This was the year of the Adelaide Exhibition and the young James, now 37 years old, was a very capable engineer and had been sent out by his employer, Alexander Shanks and Son, General Engineers of Arbroath, to demonstrate, and endeavour to sell at the Exhibition, the various machines they manufactured. The young James kept a diary from 14th April, 1887, to 11th January, 1888, just before sailing for England, thence home to his wife, Isabella, and his five sons in Scotland.

The first entry in the diary relevant to this story was written on 24th June, 1887 – “I had a visitor from my father today. This gentleman is manager of a quarry about six miles from Adelaide at a place called Dry Creek. His father and my father are on the same expedition at present and have been neighbours for a long time now. They are prospecting for gold. I am going out to see this gentleman – Mr. Morrell is his name.” Three months went by before a telegram arrived from his father on 27th September, saying that he had started for Adelaide and would arrive on Thursday, 29th September. Thus father and son were re-united and the events of the intervening 37 years were told in the period of the eight days they were together. They parted at the Adelaide Railway Station, the father returning to his home beside the Frenchman’s Creek, where he turned his attention to caring for his garden. A cutting from “The Weekly Times” of 27th July, reads: “Mr. J. Law of Frenchman’s has had great success with his young trees and the new Japanese fruits, berries and flowers. Mr. Law’s garden is getting famous for its nursery stock of trees, shrubs and plants. Much of this came from Riddell’s Creek and was delivered to Barkly by Cobb and Co’s Coach.” It was said that this garden was the best in the district and, to this day, the jonquils never fail to flower in the spring.

James was held in high esteem by the people of Barkly area and was known as “the village scribe.” He died at Frenchman’s on 3rd September, 1910, aged 84 years, and was buried in the Barkly Cemetery. For many years, the grave remained unmarked until, in 1985, Graham Driscoll and Lindsay Goode, of the Cemetery Trust, cut a grave surround and a headstone from local red gum, and a stone that James Law used for a seat whilst awaiting the local coach was placed at the end of the grave. On 5th May of that year, in conjunction with the launching of the book written by Eulalie Driscoll, “The History of Barkly”, Ben and Graham Driscoll unveiled a plaque on the headstone at a simple ceremony.

But that is not the end of the story. Another James Law comes into the picture – a great-grandson of the original James, a grandson of the young James, and the son of George. We shall call him Jim. Jim first came to Australia in September, 1955. He was an engineer, as was his father, George, and after much travelling, he returned to live in Australia on retirement in 1981. As he knew very little about his great-grandfather, he began his research by obtaining the death certificate which led him, not only to the Barkly Cemetery, but also to meeting local folk like Ted Gaffney and Eulalie Driscoll, who were able to re-assure him that he was on the right track and give him valuable information. Jim also obtained from the Public Record Office at Laverton the Letters of Administration dealing with the property of James Law, of Frenchman’s, and showing the next-of-kin as “his son, James Law, residing at East Grimsby, Arbroath, Forfarshire (later Angus), Scotland.” Jim’s search was complete when he was taken to the Barkly Diggings and shown the shaft where his great-grandfather had won gold.

On Sunday, 15th December, a bronze plaque on a memorial stone will be unveiled to commemorate the discovery of gold by James Law in 1859. The plaque has been donated by great-grandson James (Jim) Law. All those interested in attending should meet at the Barkly Hall at 10 a.m. and then proceed in convoy to the site for the ceremony. It would be appreciated if visitors could bring a plate for the occasion. Our thanks to Eulalie for telling this interesting story and informing us of this coming event.

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Sunday, 8th December, is the date for our Christmas get-together which is to be held at the home of Edna Jarvis at 123 Inkerman Street, Maryborough, from 12 noon. BYO picnic or BBQ lunch (facilities available) and a folding chair. Tea and coffee will be available. We look forward to seeing you there.

A reminder that this is your last opportunity to obtain tickets for our two raffles, to be drawn at our Christmas function. Tickets are 50 cents each for a hamper of groceries and $1 each for our special effort – four hours research by Helen Harris at Melbourne repositories for some lucky person.

Please note, the Court House will not be open on Sunday, 8th December, for research, to enable all members to attend the Christmas get-together.

The Court House will be closed over the holiday period as from 4 p.m. on Sunday, 15th December and will re-open on Sunday, 2nd February, 1997. However, appointments can be made with Jan Burnett during this period. Jan is happy to open the Court House at any time to suit researchers.

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Our Annual Garage Sale will be held at the Court House on Saturday, 15th February, 1997, at 9 a.m. We want this to be a Monster Garage Sale so take advantage of the holiday break to clean out your cupboards and tidy the shed and garage and let us have those unwanted articles. We would also appreciate cakes, jams, etc., for a produce stall on that day. Our first meeting for the year will be held that same afternoon at 2 p.m.

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A warm welcome is extended to the following new members and we trust the association will be mutually beneficial:

Mrs. Peggy CLARKE, of Gosnells, W.A., whose interest is FORTE.

Mr. and Mrs. J. SARGEANT, of East Ringwood, who are seeking descendants of Elizabeth

COCK/COX and George MYLES, who married on 9th April, 1873.

Mr. and Mrs. A. C. SEBIRE, of Croydon, who are researching BRUHN, ROUGET, T. W.


The Sebire family have an interesting background and the historic family home, Mont De Lancey, built in 1882, with its lovely garden, museum, chapel and 1880s kitchen, is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and also on public holidays. Mont De Lancey is situated on Wellington Road, Wandin North.

The Society acknowledges with thanks the generous donations to the Court House Restoration Fund given by A. Hockley, D. McKenzie, L. A. Wilson and Bill Crabtree.

Members who purchased tapes of the talks given by Alleyne Hockley about the history of Amherst and of the Amherst Hospital have found them interesting and valuable. The Society still has two copies of each of these talks and they are available from Jan Burnett for $5 each plus postage.

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The Society extends grateful thanks to Margaret and Harry Oulton for the donation of a power board and smoke detectors; to Jill Sebire for several genealogical magazines and microfiche catalogues; and to Dorothy Robinson who has copied and presented in attractive booklet form the following records:

Mountain Hut State School No. 780 – School roll about 1880

Moyreisk State School No. 1792 – School roll 1899-1933

Amphitheatre State School No. 1637 – School roll 1875-1933

Centenary of the Foundation of Chalmers Presbyterian Church, September 1862-1962

Our Research Officer, Jan Burnett, reports that she has been busy in recent weeks with 15 groups of visitors. Among them were folk from New Zealand, Queensland, Sydney, Warrnambool and Melbourne. She also dealt with 12 phone enquiries and 14 letters.

The Grade 2 children from the Avoca Primary School recently enjoyed a practical history lesson by visiting the old gaol and then the Court House where they were interested in the display of photos which showed the changing scene in High Street over the years. We thank Colleen Allan for arranging the display and giving the children an interesting talk, thus making them aware of the historic background of their town.

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Early this year, thirteen previously unemployed young people, aged between 16 and 20, embarked on the task to research and record the experiences of European migrants who came to the Sunshine area after WWII. After conducting 22 interviews with people who had made such a journey, students prepared a forty-page book featuring nine of these fascinating personal stories. We Came to Sunshine – Personal thoughts and experiences of European migrants to Sunshine, Victoria, is the result of this project which was organised by the Sunshine and District Historical Society and funded by the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Copies of the book are available at $5 each (plus $1.50 postage for one copy sent within Victoria and $1 for each subsequent copy) and can be ordered from the Sunshine and District Historical Society, P.O. Box 720, Sunshine, 3020.

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As this is the last newsletter for 1996, your Editor wishes to thank all those who have assisted her throughout the year with items of interest and reports of events and functions for the newsletter, with special thanks to Helen Harris, Gary Presland and Margaret Oulton. My thanks also to Irene Macwhirter and Kendra Grumont who get the newsletter into the mail so promptly each month. Your next newsletter should be in your letter box in early February, 1997.

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We wish for each of our members all the joys of Christmas.

May you have Peace and Happiness this Christmas Season

and throughout the New Year.

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