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Saturday 15th of May saw a couple of visitors avail themselves of the chance to visit the courthouse and the display about Cobb & Co. Sunday 16th was a busier time and a steady number of people passed through the doors. The display will be around for a while yet so if you missed it, there will still be a chance to catch it.


What started out as a modest little excursion turned out to be a really interesting exercise. Recent research had turned up information about the biscuit factory, added to which was a sketch of it had been discovered on a chart in the old Telegraph Station in Castlemaine, home to the Pioneers & Old Residents. Brian Dieckmann took a digital photo of it and John Neall had been enhancing the image. In the books of cuttings given to us by Margaret Di Fiore there were several references to it and a couple of interesting articles from newspapers.  All in all, it seemed we were being led to the biscuit factory.

It was decided to include the Byron mine and the house, called ‘Byron’ that George McKay had lived in, as they were all within a convenient distance of each other.

We began at the ‘Byron’ house. The Society has several photos of the McKay family at the house so we looked at those and were lucky enough to be invited in to see the lovely old home with its well-worn back step! Our thanks to Barbara Finlayson, the present owner for allowing us to do so.

From there Jon Butler led us to the site of the Byron mine. We had visited a couple of years ago but in the meantime through Barbara Finlayson’s generosity, we had acquired photos of the mine so this time we were better able to picture how it looked in its hey-day.  Connected with the story of the ‘Byron’ mine was the figure of Con Treacy and also the theft of the gold bearing plates.

Con Treacy was a stockbroker based in Newstead and promoter of the mine in 1900. The outbreak of the Boer War at that time saw Con enlist to serve and newspaper articles reveal how patriotic the people were and how popular a figure Con was. He returned the next year safely although his horse had been killed. However he then returned to South Africa as he had arranged to get a position with the diamond mines in the Kimberley.

The gold plates had been stolen from the ‘Byron’ mine and were discovered in Welshmans Reef where an enterprising person had stripped them of their gold. His identity was never discovered but suspicion rested on a traveller who had lodged at the hotel there, had been very interested in talking about the subject of gold, and who had moved on at about that time.

The next stop was at the small cottage on the right-hand side of the road to Maryborough just over the railway line. It was in this area that Alexander McPhee set up a biscuit factory. It was very advanced for its time using steam to power the machinery that enabled many types of biscuits such as Water Biscuits, Thin Captain, and Ginger nuts etc to be made. It was then sold in 1865 to William Sutherland who continued making biscuits but also went into making confectionary – including acid drops, barley sugar, almond rock, Scotch mixture, conversations, nonpareils, Jenny Lind lozenges, peppermints, sticks, and cocoanut ice. Several articles were written in the papers describing the processes and exhorting the locals to buy Australian and to support local industry. Unfortunately the business became insolvent, and William died in 1878. He is buried in our local Newstead cemetery; there is no headstone so we are researching the exact whereabouts. It was an uncanny coincidence that on the day of our excursion we had a visit to the courthouse of one of our members from Queensland who was researching the McPhee family. She was able to come with us and had additional material to contribute to our knowledge!

So our modest little excursion turned out to be a very interesting occasion.


We have decided to visit the Maldon museum. As the weather in June could be wintry it was decided that an indoor site would be appropriate. Visiting the homes of other historical societies makes us aware how other people conserve and display their history. It has been arranged that we will carpool from the courthouse as usual at 1.30 on Monday June 7th.


Indexing of the Newstead ‘Echo’ and Castlemaine Mail continues and Brian is using our new equipment to scan our collection of photos. At the same time the information and their current whereabouts are being checked. Cherie Lawton is continuing her oral history work, interviewing people and typing up cassettes of recorded talks by previous guest speakers.

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