Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Making tracks - Hiscock's Gully at last!

For those very first gold seekers who had arrived wet, tired and hungry at "Mother Jamieson's" Buninyong Hotel in the tiny township of Buninyong, there was only one place they really wanted to be: Hiscock's Gully. It was there in August, 1851 that Buninyong blacksmith Thomas Hiscock first found gold.
Plaque erected by the Buninyong and District Historical Society, marking the
site where Thomas Hiscock first discovered gold
Within days of the news of his find reaching Geelong, a stream of diggers began flowing into Buninyong. Whether they stopped or merely passed through, their course took them past the front door of Mother Jamieson's Buninyong Hotel and onto the bullock track which headed west towards Portland Bay.
As discussed in a previous post, the Portland Bay Road was an important route which was already well-established and regularly travelled by 1851. Originally established by squatters as they moved stock between their runs and the markets in Geelong and Melbourne during the early 1840s, this was also the route which had been used by the mail coach from Portland to Melbourne since 1844. A little later, a route via The Leigh (Shelford) and Linton to Buninyong was established as part of a postal route from Portland to Geelong, followed by a private mail service between Geelong and Buninyong using the Geelong-Buninyong Track in 1846. Both tracks joined the one from Melbourne to Portland Bay at Buninyong, so it was there that traffic from Portland, Melbourne, Geelong and the outlying stations would converge on its way between various parts of the colony.
The view looking east from the western outskirts of Buninyong today. At the
time the first diggers walked the road, it was an irregular dirt track and
Mother Jamieson's Hotel would have obstructed this view, standing in the
middle of what is now Learmonth Street (the Midland Highway)
In August, 1851 however, with the outbreak of the gold rush, Buninyong itself became a destination and the gold diggers of course used any available road to get there.
According to the 1850 survey map, having arrived in Buninyong, they followed the track in a westerly direction. Once out of town however, the track veered south of today's Midland Highway, passing through what is now Buninyong Golf Course. Then, before the diggers reached their objective, after more than 50 exhausting miles from Geelong, they faced one last hurdle - Buninyong Creek, a tributary of the Yarrowee River and like all the other creeks and rivers they had crossed, a part of the wider Barwon catchment.
If the maps are to be believed, this final creek crossing stood a little to the east of Macs Road, being also, a few hundred metres from the current creek crossing on the highway. Once over the creek, the track again followed a similar course to the modern road, a route also confirmed by Skene's 1845 map which also follows much the same path to this point. Then, about a kilometre further along the track, the diggers finally reached their goal. A few hundred metres up what is now Hiscock Gully Road, was the site of the region's first diggings.
Hiscock's Gully today is littered with mullock heaps from later deep lead mining
and non-native plantings of pine trees. Traffic can also be clearly heard from the
nearby highway - a far cry from the stands of stringybark  and sounds of nature
which greeted the first diggers to arrive in 1851
 Now the hard work really began. In those first days after the announcement, Hiscock's Gully was a flurry of activity.   By 15th August, the Geelong Advertiser was reporting that there were between 40 to 50 people - men, women and children - pitching tents at Hiscock's Gully. There were already 8 cradles washing the extracted dirt and the remainder were using pans, pots and whatever else they could find. Not even weather conditions described at the time as "severe" (by 25th August there was flooding reported on the Barwon) could dampen their enthusiasm.
On 26th August however, came an announcement from the government which opponents claimed, would do just that. It was declared that a mining tax of 30 shillings per month (£18 per year) would be introduced from the 1st September for those wishing to dig for gold. The fixed cost of the license would apply regardless of how much - if any - gold was found. This was at a time when even highly sought after shepherds only earned around 70 shillings per month. By comparison, a squatter's license, entitling the holder to thousands of acres of land cost only £10 per annum. Furthermore the miners argued, this was taxation without representation! Not only were they being heavily taxed, but in an era when voting was tied to land ownership, they had no land and no control over the process by which taxes such as the miner's license were set. They wanted land and they wanted the vote!
So, at Hiscock's Gully on the evening of the 26th August, only ten days after the governor's announcement, a protest was held. It was the first act in a growing movement of dissent which culminated on 3rd December, 1854 with the rebellion at Eureka. There were believed to have been about 40 - 50 miners present as well as representatives from the Geelong Advertiser. An unnamed reporter described the scene as men emerged from their tents in darkness lit only by firelight, to express their views and resolve upon a course of action. The quote on the plaque below which was originally penned by a reporter from the Advertiser and published on 29th August more fully reads:
Here, a month ago, was but bush and forest; and tonight, for the first time since Australia rose from the bosom of the ocean, were men strong in their sense of right, lifting up a protest against an impending wrong, and protesting against the government. Human progress in Port Phillip - like her vegetation is rapid - let the government beware, lest like her timber, it prove rotten at the core, whilst it carries a healthy exterior.
Plaque erected by the Ballarat Reform League Inc marking the location of the
first protest against the miner's license imposed by the government
The article immediately following however, indicates that the proclamation, combined with bad weather had the effect of sending some diggers home, whilst others thought to look further afield, in the hope of finding claims which would still turn a profit even after the license fee had been paid, for it quickly became apparent that the alluvial gold finds at Hiscock's Gully were not going to be great.
A monument commemorating Thomas Hiscock's discovery,
placed in 1897, coinciding with Queen Victoria's diamond
jubilee year, located on the corner of Hiscock's Gully Road
and the Midland Highway
With this in mind, some chose to head for the town of Clunes, over 40km further north, where gold had been discovered a few weeks before the find at Hiscock's Gully. Other prospectors however, decided to investigate the creeks and gullies closer to Buninyong. On the 27th August a party set off through the bush for Black Hill on the Ballaarat Station of William Cross Yuille, but even before the protest encouraged diggers to look elsewhere, John Dunlop and James Regan, having found the Hiscock Gully diggings too crowded for their liking and decided to look elsewhere. So it was that on 21st August they discovered one of the richest goldfields ever found at the ironically-named Poverty Point in what is now Ballarat.
This of course resulted in a new rush and even more hopeful diggers arriving on the field. Now however, instead of following the bullock track to Buninyong and Hiscock's Gully, the diggers were passing through in their thousands, as they headed for the new El Dorado - Ballarat.