Thursday, July 30, 2015

Branching out - Dickman's Bridge

There is one other feature of Coolebarghurk Creek as it "flows" through Meredith which interested me - Dickman's Bridge. It is an unassuming little concrete structure on the eastern edge of town which carries the Meredith-Steiglitz Road across the creek. I've crossed it many times and have always wondered....who was Dickman and why did he have a bridge?
Looking south towards Dickman's Bridge
Well, Dickman was actually William Dickman, Meredith's first butcher who lived in the town with his wife and children.
I first found mention of him plying his trade at Meredith in 1866 when he appeared in the Steiglitz Court of Petty Sessions in relation to the theft from his house of a shirt belonging to an employee who was staying there.
The case - against a 12 year old boy - was proven and the boy received a punishment of 20 hours imprisonment, however the magistrate was unimpressed by what he perceived (in today's terms) as entrapment by the Dickmans who, suspecting a thief, locked their doors, pretended not to be home and waited to see what would happen.
The Dickmans themselves however appear to have been upstanding, law-abiding citizens. William's name periodically appeared in the Geelong Advertiser as he applied to have his slaughtering license renewed. On each occasion, his application was successful and a visit by the inspector at the end of 1884 noted that Dickman's slaughterhouse was clean and in good condition but that the piggery and "manure depot" were situated a little too close to it. Whether this situation was rectified is not recorded.
Life was not always rosy for the Dickmans and 1874 seems to have been a particularly bad year. In February, a bushfire swept through the district on Valentine's Day. It started to the north east of the township and traveled back towards the town. It was reported that the only thing which saved the cemetery and possibly the town itself from incineration was the tireless efforts of the townspeople. One of those to suffer significant losses in the fire was William Dickman, although whether the land in question was owned or merely leased I cannot tell.
Following on from this setback, less than a month later, William was unloading his cart, having just returned from Stony Creek (several miles to the north of town), when he was struck by lightning. He later described it as feeling like a blow from a heavy stick on his chest and leg which knocked him unconscious for 15 minutes.
"Dickman's cart"
Despite the bad start to the year, his slaughtering license was renewed and the local lands board recommended his request for 48 acres of land outside of town - a lease I suspect as a lease for the same amount of land was approved some years later in 1880. I am unsure where the family were living at this point, however it would seem that it was not until the early 1880s that he purchased the land on Coolebarghurk Creek next to the Meredith-Steiglitz Road which resulted in his name being give to the bridge.
The view looking across the Dickmans' land towards the bridge (middle left)
In 1882 he called for tenders to build a cottage and the following year, requested a crossing be built over the channel in front of his property. It seems likely that this residence was on the land purchased along the creek as by 1886 when tenders for road repairs were called they were described as being for repair of the road on the east side of the bridge over Coolebarghurk Creek leading to Mr Dickman's.
The current sign
Over the years, William's name continued to pop up here and there in the newspapers. In 1878 he was fined as a result of two of his children failing to attend the required number of school days. His subsequent election to the Meredith West Riding School Board of Advice for the shire the following year may perhaps have been an attempt to redress this problem.
Early in 1880, a complaint was made against Dickman for "continually allowing sheep to trespass on the common" whilst he in turn had a neighbour charged with attempting to steal one of his sheep and a lamb. The charge was dismissed.
William however did not live long to enjoy his new cottage and land as it is recorded that he died at the family residence "Home Villa" on 8th November, 1889. The Geelong Advertiser records that his will was proved a few weeks later, dividing his land equally between his wife Mary and three sons William Henry, Thomas Arthur and Sidney John, with Mary's portion to pass to the sons upon her death. At this time, the real estate was valued at some £2,500 and the remainder of his personal effects at £230.
After her husband's death, Mary also took on his business interests. The slaughtering license continued to be renewed into the early 20th century and she even expanded her property holdings in 1894 when she purchased a few more acres between the Police Paddock and the Ballarat Road.
By 1899 the bridge itself was in need of repair with re-decking required, however it seems that the contract to re-deck "Dickman's Bridge" was not awarded until January, 1902.
Only a few months later, dramatic scenes were enacted at the bridge when a wanted criminal, on the run from the Ballarat Police Court was captured just near the bridge after a fierce struggle by the local constable.
Mary, like William, spent the remainder of her life in Meredith at "Home Villa", outliving at least three of her sons. She died on the 8th February, 1927 and was buried with William and sons Frederick Edward Muir, James John and Thomas Arthur in the Meredith Cemetery. Other children still living at the time of their mother's death included daughters Robina ('Beanie' Schefferle) Evangeline ('Eva' Toomey), Daisy (Musgrove), Mary (Lord) and Martha (Gargan) as well as sons Robert and Arthur.

The Dickman grave at the Meredith Cemetery
As for the bridge itself, I can find no record of its original construction except perhaps an 1863 reference to plans to build two bridges over Coolebarghurk Creek followed by another in 1869 in which a motion was moved by council to build a bridge over the creek near the township. Only a few years later in 1876, however there are references to the bridge surface needing to be re-covered and the timbers requiring replacement.
In 1880, the "little bridge over the Coolebarghurk Creek and the Moorabool-bridge on the Steiglitz Road" survived a substantial flood which saw the partially-completed Sharps Bridge downstream washed away.
The next mention I found of the bridge was a series of articles dating from 1899 to 1902, once again discussing the repair and re-decking of the bridge which by this time was specifically described as Dickman's Bridge.
Plaque on the current bridge
There is little or no mention of the bridge in the historical papers after this date but I do know that today's structure was opened in 1965 by the Country Roads Board.