ADHS Newsletter No. 185 SEPTEMBER, 2000

Items of interest –

  • Extension of old Avoca Court House. Official opening by Helen Harris, OAM, Sunday 19th November.
  • Early Digging Days – Leaves From A Pioneer’s Diary, by N.R. About the 1850’s. From The Australasian 10 February 1934.

Extension to the Old Avoca Court House – Members who attended the Society’s monthly meeting on Sunday, 17th September, were interested to see the progress on the new extension to the Court House. President Graeme Mills reported that the building is almost completed, with the kitchen and toilet facilities now installed and working. A working bee had been held to paint the outside of the building whilst some of those willing hands had also painted the inside. Another working bee was planned to complete the outside painting. Graeme thanked all those who had so willingly given of their time to assist at these working bees. The purchase of carpet and curtains is in hand and final approval from the building inspector for occupancy is expected shortly.

The official opening of this new extension by Helen Harris, OAM, the founder of our Society, will take place on Sunday, 19th November, 2000, at 11.00 am. The Society extends an invitation to all members to attend the opening which will be followed by a light luncheon. Our normal monthly meeting for November will follow in the afternoon. To assist with catering for the luncheon, please complete the form at the bottom of Page 5 of this newsletter and return it to our Secretary, Wendy Taylor, by Friday, 10th November.

The conditions of the grant to cover the costs of this new extension are that the Pyrenees Shire and this Society will each contribute financially, with Society members giving of their time voluntarily to do those tasks necessary to complete the project, such as the painting. As can be seen by our President’s report on the progress of the building, we have a small, loyal band of local members who are meeting that commitment, and it is their hope that those of our very wide membership who cannot help in a practical way will contribute financially so that, on opening day, the building will be debt-free. The Society expresses sincere thanks to those members who have already responded to this appeal.

Our next meeting will be held on Sunday, 15th October, at the Court House, at 1.30 pm, when final plans for the opening in November will be made.

Web Site – Wendy Taylor reports that there have been more than 10,000 visitors to our excellent web-site, and the Society has gained a number of new memberships as a result.

Research Enquiries – Our Research Officer keeps busy answering members’ queries whilst there has been a steady stream of visitors to the Court House seeking family information.

New Members – The Society extends a warm welcome to the following new members :

Ms Kaye CLOUGH, of Langwarrin, Vic., who is researching HALLS of Dunolly and Goldsborough, and RUBY of Craigie and Maryborough.

Ms Lyn COSHAM, of Tongala, Vic., whose interests are GOLDSMITH and STUDD.

Mr. Peter WARDLEY, of Glen Waverley, Vic., interested in Thomas WARDLEY, who had a cordial factory at Talbot, and William HARDEGAN, who was a photographer and hairdresser at Talbot.

Mrs. Val WATSON, Alberton, Qld., who is researching PATCHING, FRANCIS and HUMPHREYS.

Family History Open Days – The Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies Inc. will hold a Family History Open Day on Saturday, 21st October, 2000, 10 am to 4 pm, at the World Vision Conference Centre, 1 Vision Drive, East Burwood (off Springvale Road). At 12 noon, Patricia Moorhead, the visiting Irish genealogist, will give a talk on Irish Family History, and there will be tours of the National Archives (next door). Go along with your queries and talk to the experts, whether your ancestors be Irish, English, Scottish, German, Scandiavian, etc. Entry is $7 single, or $12 family (2 adults and 2 children). For more information contact the AIGS Library on (03) 9877 3789.

The annual CHHA Family and Local History Expo will be held on the 28th and 29th October, 2000, at the Australian Catholic University (Aquinas), 1200 Mair Street, Ballarat, 10 am to 4 pm., the entry fee being $5. Experts from the Central Highlands Societies and from Melbourne will assist you with your research. There will be Internet facilities, a talk programme, colour photocopying between noon and 3 pm, musical entertainment, refreshments and off-street car-parking. Further information from Gordon Dawe on (03) 5475 2041 or David Evans on(03) 5331 5241.

The Goulburn and Murray Association of Local and Family History Groups are holding a Local and Family History Expo on Sunday, 19th November, 2000, 10 am to 4 pm, at the Mulwala and District Services Club, Melbourne Street, Mulwala, entry $5. Speakers include Greg Kirk (Is there a soldier in your family?); Jenny Harkness (LDS Resources); Joy Roy (Where can I go overseas?); and Ken McInnes (Which Family History Programme do I buy?). Consultants will assist with your queries. For futher information contact Mary Ann Hatters on (03) 5768 2219 or Jan Parker on (03) 5744 1460.

Interesting Irish Web Sites – On-line Irish maps – http://www.mapquest.com

What’s What in Irish Genealogy – http://indigo.ie/~gorry

County Monaghan Resources – http://www.exis.net/ahd/monaghan/

County Louth Interest – homepage.tinet/ie/~dkerr

Scottish Records – The Scottish Record Office has changed its title to the National Archives of Scotland. The address is: National Archives of Scotland, HM General Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YY.

UK Phone Books on the Internet can be accessed at www.phonenet.bt.com

(These last three items are from the journal of the CQFHA, June, 2000)

Early Digging Days – Leaves From A Pioneer’s Diary, by N.R. The following extract is a precis of an article, with the above title, which appeared in The Australasian on 10th February, 1934.

“My brother and I arrived in Melbourne in 1852 in the ship City of Lincoln. We pitched our tent in Canvas Town … We did not stay longer than was needed to make arrangements for conveyance to the goldfields. There were people from all stations in life, with one common desire – to make money in the quickest possible way. Dealers were ready to buy clothes from newcomers, and I sold some of mine to good advantage. We lifted camp as soon as a horse team was available for Campbell’s Flat diggings, beyond Castlemaine. Our first night on the road was of drenching rain. Our party consisted of eight men, the driver and one unmarried woman. I got our tent out, which was a large one, and we soon had it set up. The other men had come without any cover at all, and the poor woman, who was on her way to her future husband, was in a sorry plight. All the men soon rushed into our quarters, and the woman did the same. Everyone stood talking for a long time, and listening to the beating of the rain. We had not the heart to turn anyone out, so I said ‘it is no good standing here all night. I propose that all we chaps lie in a row and leave the head end to the woman. She is unprotected, and we must make room for her.’ We were packed like herrings, and were relieved on the following morning by being met with bright sunshine … Roguery was so frequent on the diggings that it does not seem amiss to relate one instance of straight dealing. On unloading the swags and luggage, our driver found one of our three trunks missing. We had paid for three. ‘Well’ said the driver, ‘the only thing to do is to go back to Melbourne. The box must have been left at the warehouse’. So back he went, and brought another load, and my trunk with it. When I offered to pay him for it, he firmly declined, and said: ‘You paid me once, and I want no more.’ …

Our next camp was on Daisy Hill, now called Amherst. The first claim we worked yielded an ounce and a half to the load. The adjoining claim worked by three cunning sailors yielded one pound weight of gold to the load. The lead took a turn. These sailors persuaded us that it was no good, and filled the drive up with mullock. They persuaded us to abandon our claim by saying that they were going to Avoca. Pulling down their tents, they walked into the town, and we followed them. They no sooner saw us away than they ‘jumped’ our old claim, made £1,000 each, and went to England with the money. I had a rather pleasant break from gold digging at Daisy Hill, by driving the woman who travelled with us from Canvas Town and her lover to Castlemaine, where they were married. The best conveyance I could offer was my newly bought bullock waggon, and glad were they to accept the offer. It was at Daisy Hill I had a more amusing experience. Across the gully from our camp in a blue tent lived a married couple. The husband was a rather convivial soul. One Saturday night, he walked over to the town, and, as was not unusual, had more than he could carry comfortably. He met me in the town, and putting a full purse, heavy with gold in my hand, asked me to mind it for him, as he was afraid he might be robbed. I expected a visit from him the next morning, but as he did not turn up I went to his tent to inquire. His wife said sadly, ‘He is still in bed; he has lost all his money; he would not leave it with me.’ He had the same tale to tell me. ‘Did you leave it in the care of a friend?’ I asked. ‘No, no. I only wish I had’ was his reply. ‘Would you know your purse again if it was found?’ I asked. ‘Oh, wouldn’t I,’ he exclaimed. Drawing the missing purse from my pocket I asked ‘Is it then?’ The two gave a cry of joy …

We spent our first Christmas here, and two diggers who had ‘struck it rich’ and spent their money as fast as they got it, made the town very merry. One was christened ‘Tom the Devil’ and the other ‘Hell-fire Jack’. They were the greatest sports of the district. They paraded the town, mounted on their two horses, which were decorated with yards of beautiful ribbon. We were young then, and enjoyed everything – even our beds, which consisted of a sheet of bark and one blanket – top and bottom. My sheet of bark had a bulge in the middle, and if I happened to sleep on my back, I could hardly sit up next morning. At Avoca we had better luck, and worked three claims consecutively. They each yielded about 18lb weight of gold. There were no banks in Avoca, and as we did not know what to do with our money we decided upon buying gas shares from the Melbourne Gas Company. A rascally broker, whom I shall not name, cheated us of half our second lot of shares. We found him out and went down to Melbourne, where we discovered him in his office. We each carried a pistol, and pressed our claim for redress. The broker snatched up his bell-topper hat and made a bolt. We followed him, firing three shots in the air, but he made good his escape. A few years after I heard that he was settled in the country not far from us, conducting a school. As he had given up his swindling, we let him continue in peace. I did very well out of the gas shares in the end. I sold them for £30 each when I wanted to raise funds to buy a good farm. However, had I sold them a month earlier, they would have realised £60 each.

While we were working our claims in Avoca there was a gang of what were known as ‘night fossickers’. Every night one claim or another was robbed, and our claim did not escape their attention. Profiting by our experience, my partner and I decided as a precautionary measure to watch on alternate nights down the shaft. Armed with two pistols, I was waiting one night for the men. About midnight I heard stealthy footsteps and then a low whistle. I cocked my pistols, but when I was preparing to fire there was another whistle, and the men left as quietly as they had come. Three Americans, smarter than I, went to the grocer and bought some oats, which they mixed with their wash dirt. Having done this, they took a sample into their camp, leaving a good deal of the mixed wash dirt down the shaft. Next morning their wash dirt was missing. All the miners were washing their gold. The Americans went for a quiet walk, and seeing some oats floating down the stream, quickly reported the matter to the police. They showed the sample of oats and wash in their possession, and the night fossickers were arrested. A great deal of gold found in their possession was confiscated. They were eventually sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

… Towards the end of the ‘fifties, I left mining for bullock-driving between Melbourne and Avoca. In those days oats were carted from town to the country, and many were our experiences during the slow journeys, in buying bullocks, losing them, and having them stolen. The work paid us well, although we were not getting £100 a ton as was the case in the early days of Bendigo. Flour in those days cost up to £16 a bag, or £160 a ton. It came from Warrnambool and, according to some of the samples I had, it appeared to be the sweepings from the mills. Salt cost 1/- a pound, luxuries were a thing unknown.

I took up land in the early ‘sixties, and shortly afterwards narrowly escaped imprisonment through the roguery of a man who was working on a neighbour’s farm, where some jewellry had been stolen, and a haystack had been set on fire; hay in those days was of great value. My farm labourer and I were accused by the man of having committed these two offences, and were taken by the police to the lock-up. Being well known among the farmers, I had no difficulty in obtaining bail, but my labourer was not so fortunate. During the proceedings which followed our innocence was established. Our accuser fell under suspicion, his property was searched, and the missing jewellry was found among it. He was convicted of the theft and later also convicted of two other thefts. At the conclusion of the case I was carried by neighbours shoulder-high through the town.

After our experiences my brother and I appreciated settling down to farming, which, as with most new chums, we had to learn through experience. We engaged in sheep farming and dairying. We managed to make very good butter, and gained quite a good custom among neighbours and others. The butter was sold at 3/6 a lb. ‘Batching’ however had not much attraction, and although I was not successful in my first suit, I married and settled on my farm, and some years later the eldest daughter of the woman whom I drove to her wedding on my bullock wagon in the early days, became my sister-in-law, and now is the mother of a goodly family. Although I did not manage to make a fortune, yet I can say migrating from Wales to Australia was worth while.”

Note: Some clues to the identity of the writer are given in the article: he was from Swansea, his brother was with him, and his parents were still alive. He knew someone called Tom W… who was a trooper at Mount Moliagul in the early days of the rush there, and who knew his parents in Wales.

The newspaper extract was found in the Classen papers held by the Society. These papers are miscellaneous records, mainly mining, held by the family of the late Herman Classen.

(My thanks to Helen Harris for this interesting article giving a first-hand glimpse into the experiences of an early migrant to our shores and to the Avoca district. Ed.)

* * * * *


cordially extends an invitation to


to attend the Official Opening of the

New Extension to the Old Avoca Court House

by Helen Harris, OAM,

on Sunday, 19th November, 2000, at 11.00 am

followed by a light luncheon

RSVP by Friday, 10th November, 2000, on the form below.

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ON SUNDAY, 19th NOVEMBER, 2000, at 11 am

Names(s) ____________________________________________________________

will / will not be able to attend the Official Opening.

RSVP: The Secretary, Wendy Taylor,

RMB 267, REDBANK, Vic. 3478