A BRIEF HISTORY & EARLY LIFE IN BENDIGO


Around the year 1839 Charles Sherratt saw an immense tract of land lying about Mount Alexander. He wasted no time in squatting on 200,000 acres however he either sold or leased the property during 1841 until it was finally purchased by Messrs Gibson and Fenton in 1847 to be renamed the Ravenswood Run.

I should point out at this early stage that Bendigo was first known as Sandhurst. It was until 1891 that the town of Sandhurst became officially known as Bendigo.

Picture of SandhurstOn the left is a copy of a picture I obtained from an excellent book titled "The Gold Mines of Bendigo - Book Two" by Arthur Victor Palmer. It is an engraving by J. Tingle from a painting by S. T. Gill, published by Sands and Kenny, Melbourne. It shows Sandhurst in 1857.

Although gold had been found at Bathurst in July 1851 and at Clunes and near Melbourne soon after, it was not until October of that year that Henry Frenchman of Richmond claimed he had found gold in the area. Mrs Kennedy and Mrs Farrell however who worked on the Ravenswood Run are recorded as having located gold about 200 yards westward of the junction of Golden Gully and Bendigo Creeks, at what is known as "The Rocks".

It was not long before miner’s claims dotted the area, especially along the Bendigo Creek, as well as north and south of the creek. At first the concentration was on the south side of the creek and running along Golden Gully towards Diamond Hill. Few of these claims ever achieved a depth of more than 100 feet. To highlight the early growth, 300 claims were staked in one week in 1856. From 1857 to 1954 there were 829 mines in Bendigo. The first diggers holes were actually sunk by Messrs P O’Donnell, J. Jones and S. Cohen about 23 December 1851. They claimed that the forest was so thick at Ironbark and White Hills that you could get lost in the darkness.

Photo of early BendigoOn the 28th of July 1855, the miners of Sandhurst met to appoint their first local court, Messrs Emett, Devovan, Cunningham, McKenzie, Benson, Hoskins, Wetherell, O’Connor, Hulkes and J.A. Panton - the chairman. On the 10th of January the following year municipal elections were held with the following Robert Bell, Edward Nucella Emmett, Shadrach Jones, James Forrester Sullivan, John Harney, George Washington Haycock and William Vazie Simmons being elected as councillors. The first mayor of the municipality of Sandhurst was E.N. Emett.

As the area began to grow it demanded many institutions, parklands and a rail line from Melbourne to service the many establishments. During 1857 the council decided to include the suburbs of Back Creek, White Hills and Golden Square. In 1857 there were 12,159 people on the Goldfields, some 17% being Chinese.

The 2nd February 1858 saw the first mining board formed consisting of Messrs McIntyre, Mollison, Grove, Carpenterand and Merrington, with Crawford Mollison as resident warden and Vincent Pyke as the Chinese protector.

The municipality commenced a tree planting exercise in the well formed streets, much of this work under the supervision of the Town Clerk George Avery Fletcher. A land grant of sixty acres was set aside for the formation of Rosalind Park where many English and Australian trees were planted. A Curator was employed to establish the botanical gardens of 35 acres at White Hills - granted 1857.

Photo of Cornish Miners in BendigoIt was around this time that the first of the two largest nuggets ever found in Australia were discovered by Cornish miners. In 1859 The Welcome Nugget approximately 185 lb. in weight was found by a party of 22 Cornishmen in Ballarat. The Welcome Stranger was discovered at Moliagul 50 Kms west of Bendigo in 1869 by Richard Oates and John Deason. Not only was it the largest nugget ever found in Australia, but indeed the world. On the right is a copy of a photograph showing a group of Cornish MIners.

Bendigo, in the Campaspe district covers about 1,776 square miles bounded by an imaginary line from Mount Camal (Corop) to Yarrayne (Serpentine) to Eddington to Harcourt and is mostly grassed flat with undulating plains watered by the Campaspe and Loddon rivers with a number of creeks. The Bendigo Goldfields was around 1100 square miles or 704,000 acres.

Mr R. H. Horne was appointed the first commissioner on the Bendigo diggings. With the imposed diggers licenses and taxes the Red Ribbon Rebellion occurred which succeeded in the lowering of these costs. At this time fruit and potatoes were scarce with eggs selling at one shilling each, beer at half a crown, bread 3/- for a four pound loaf and meat selling by the chunk, whilst clean water was unprocurable. The dust, the stench of rotten carcasses and raw sewerage did little to prevent dysentery and fever which resulted in a high mortality rate. Unfortunately a study carried out in 1906 showed that Bendigo had the highest incidence of lung related disease in the world.

Miners LicenceOn the left is a copy of a Miner's licence a miner would have had to obtain to mine for gold legally. The Bendigo diggings were administered from the Commissioners camp of seventy acres bounded by Camp Street (roughly the location of Pall Mall), Commissioners Gully (now Upper Reserve line of sporting grounds), View Street and Park Road, the whole being enclosed by a two rail fence. There was much unrest between the prospectors and the police who apparently hassled anybody who could not produce a monthly license or even may have been suspected for any offence irrespective of their pleadings of innocence. On the left is a copy of a miners licence. Many a prospector had his belongings confiscated and his tent burnt to the ground for no apparent reason, something that continued for many years.

The road to and from Melbourne held many problems; the journey to the Bendigo diggings was generally rough due to pot holes, boulders and felled trees - a legacy of a wet winter. Life was far from pleasant on the road with many an undesirable who was prepared to rob and sometimes kill just for the precious metal. The return trip might have been easier as most prospectors left all their belongings on the Goldfields, except their horse and cart. It is hard to really imagine what the trip would have been like. I did however come accross another photo from Arthur Victor Palmer’s excellent book "The Gold Mines of Bendigo" which shows one of the many hazards of travelling to the goldfields from Melbourne.

Road to BallaratJohn and his new wife Elizabeth (who was 6 months pregnant) travelled from Melbourne to Ballarat. I am not certain of the year, however it seems most likely they left for the goldfields as soon as they arrived in Melbourne. From the stories I have read the trip would not have been pleasant and would have taken hours if not most of the day. Unlike today where the trip from Melbourne to Ballarat takes only an hour.

Later John, his wife Elizabeth and their 2 young children made the trek to. After they arrived in Bendigo they settled in an area called Long Gully.

It is difficult to imagine how harsh the conditions were living on the Goldfields. I recently came across a story about a Cornish miner Richard Pope. Richard wrote of life in Bendigo, in his journals. There was one particular entry for Monday April 15, 1875, which highlights how trying life was. According to Richard, Sarah Jane (a daughter) was bad with scarlatina, also Richard and Nellie May were still weak from the effects of the disease. Matte (another daughter), was also unwell, whilst his son, Joe had a gathering in his neck.

Apparently when Richard arrived home, his children were that ill, he had to walk to Sandhurst, a distance of 5 miles to fetch medicine. When he reached home with the medicine, he found he had to return to the doctor. The reason?, He had discovered that he too was not well. Eighteen months later another son was born, but only lived eighteen months; he was a victim of a great killer of that period - diarrhoea. In fact one of John Jewell's own children also died of diarrhoea.

SandhurstSandhurst was declared a town in 1863 with John (later Sir John) McIntyre as the first Mayor - a position he held until 1868. On the right is a copy of a photo of an area of Sandhurst showing the many mines that exsisted in just this small area of Sandhurst.

The town grew quickly with many businesses in the central district. It was felt that the town was worthy of city status - gained on July 21, 1871. By then underground mining was the major industry in the city although there were many other prosperous business houses at Eaglehawk and Sandhurst. On the 8th of May 1891 the official name was changed from Sandhurst to Bendigo. To show how big Bendigo (Sandhurst) had grown, the 1906 Directory lists 231 Hotels in the Bendigo - Eaglehawk district. It does not require a great deal of imagination to picture the amount of alcohol which flowed daily in the city to support this many establishments.

The city continued to grow although the population declined around the turn of the century. Since then growth has been continual until we find that today the city has approx. 31,000 residents (1986 census figures).

Photo of home on the GoldfieldsOn the left is a copy of a typical miners home.

Please note that sections of this chapter and some of the pictures were based on "Where Now Cousin Jack?" by Ruth Hopkins, "The Gold Mines of Bendigo" by Arthur Victor Palmer and numerous books on the History of Bendigo.




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© Jewell Family History Centre
Last Updated 25th February 1997