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4. Why Amherst?

Old Daisy Hill - Before the Gold

When the Cosstick brothers arrived at Amherst it was also known by its earlier name, Daisy Hill. What sort of place was Amherst, or Daisy Hill? What so attracted the Cossticks, the Hamiltons and dozens of other families that they stayed in the district for over forty years?

Daisy Hill had been the name given to a locality near the eastern boundary of the Glenmona pastoral run. Before the gold rushes of the early 1850s it had been an isolated place inhabited only by shepherds employed on Glenmona. About fifteen kilometres south west of Daisy Hill was the small settlement of Burnbank, which had developed in the late 1840s because of its location on the main road to the Wimmera from Melbourne and Geelong.[*]

The majority of regular travellers on that road would have found little reason to detour from their journey to travel the fifteen or twenty kilometres to the north to visit the Glenmona or Dunach Forest stations of Charles Browning Hall or Alexander McCallum. There were some, however, who did deliberately visit such stations seeking work as shepherds, shearers, cooks or any of the other occupations to be found on the larger runs . Moreover there was a regular stream of inter station traffic by the squatters and their employees. The diary of John Hepburn of Smeaton Hill records almost constant visits to and from the surrounding stations .

These inter-station travels were made on tracks explored and marked by the settlers themselves, but they soon became known to other travellers who made use of the short cuts across stations to reach their destinations. Several descriptions of such travelling through runs exist, for example, W.L.Morton mentions a route he took between Burnbank and Mount Alexander early in 1847 travelling between the Glenmona and Rodborough stations and passing through Dunach Forest . Another track existed between the Mount Franklin Aboriginal Protectorate and Buninyong. John Hepburn records that the Reverend Thomas Hastie stopped at Smeaton Hill in March 1847 while travelling between Mount Franklin and Buninyong . There were also the regular visits of Lachlan MacGillivray, a Free Church minister from Burnbank, and Doctor Campbell, who was stationed at Dunach Forest and who regularly travelled directly from one station to another when treating patients .

By 1846 the inter station routes were sufficiently developed to allow regular postal services to operate from Burnbank , notwithstanding George Rusden's getting "hopelessly lost" between Dunach Forest and Glenmona while visiting the stations seeking support for the establishment of National Schools in the district .

Apart from the local traffic there was also an increasingly steady stream of traffic to and from Melbourne and Adelaide. There had been two main overland routes from Adelaide during most of the 1840s, neither of which passed through Glenmona or Dunach Forest. The northern route followed the Murray River as far as Swan Hill then roughly followed the Loddon River south as far as Bendigo . The southern route went from Adelaide to Portland then inland through Buninyong to Melbourne. Both of these routes were chosen because they provided reasonably easy travelling and plentiful water supplies for both man and animal. They were, however, very long and tiring routes and travellers had long wished for a more direct route to Melbourne.

In the spring of 1849 a party of South Australians arrived on the property of McNeill and Hall at Glenmona. The party, consisting of Frederick Browne Salmon and two others, had been following for several weeks "an imperfectly blazed track from Adelaide, working mainly by compass than by sight" . They missed the Glenmona homestead and camped by a creek which, they were informed, possibly by one of the Glenmona shepherds, was the Daisy Hill Creek (the name by which it was later known) . The three men intended to camp only for the night and had no reason to delay their intended journey to Melbourne. They were either unaware of, or had forgotten, or were not interested in, reports earlier in the same year that, almost at the exact spot on which they had camped, one of the Glenmona shepherds, Thomas Chapman, had discovered a quantity of gold.[*]

The First Gold

Chapman sold some of his gold to Melbourne jeweller Charles Brentani who subsequently went to Glenmona with others to search for more . The Argus openly reported their expedition as being one to find a "gold mine". The reports in the press were unclear as to whether any gold was actually found. The Argus however urged the government to take speedy action because of the "armed parties that are crowding from Melbourne to the spot" and because "shepherds and stockmen will flock to the Pyrenees from all quarters and leave their masters flocks and herds to tend themselves" .

[Please note that this enire section is undergoing revision and will be republished.]

The first report of the Daisy Hill gold discovery was made in the Argus on 31 January 1849. By 9 February it was reported that Captain H.E.P.Dana and six native troopers had gone to deal with the matter and that Superintendent Charles La Trobe had ordered the District Commissioner of Crown Lands, Frederick Armand Powlett, to take some mounted police to the region . It was reported that by Wednesday 7 February there were at least fifty people, "apparently shepherds and other servants of settlers in the vicinity", who had begun to search for gold before the arrival of others from Geelong and Melbourne .

The arrival of Dana and the native police successfully deterred many of the gold seekers who fled, burning the bush to hide their tracks . By 20 February others, discouraged by the presence of the police, abandoned their search . Some years later the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser reflected with some pleasure upon the time when the district had

got rid of the black police, who drove the first diggers tyrannically off the first rush which occurred, seized and broke their implements and threw the debris into the water holes at Daisy Hill .

Some of the searchers, being inexperienced in identifying gold, had actually found the precious metal but had not reported it to anyone in case they were wrong and were "laughed at" . Others, such as Alfred Elgar, who had gone to Daisy Hill from Burnbank, and had searched the whole area from Daisy Hill to McCallum's station, had gone away believing there was no gold to find anyway .

The Government succeeded in dispersing the rush to the Pyrenees and by early June the excitement had diminished, the matter "being quietly disposed of by superficial observers as a puzzle or mystery, or denounced altogether as a hoax" . Even though life in the Pyrenees might have returned to some degree of normality the Argus insisted that "our firm conviction of the truth of the discovery has never been shaken".

John Cotton, a squatter at the Doogallook station on the Goulburn River, wrote in July 1849 that

If a gold mine were to be found in this country a guard of soldiers would be placed around it, and no individuals but those authorised by the government would be allowed to approach it. Does not this put a stop to discovery? .

On 7 June 1851 J. Wood Beilby informed the government of the existence of gold near Navarre, in the Pyrenees, and "in the ranges of the Amherst district". La Trobe was somewhat skeptical in his response to the report but after Beilby had offered to share the cost of an official expedition to explore the region La Trobe agreed to investigate. The expedition was to include David Armstrong, later a Gold Commissioner, and Captain Dana and his native police. The Crown Lands Commissioner, William Wright, who lived in the Pyrenees, headed the inquiry. For a variety of reasons the departure of the expedition was delayed and on 29 June 1851 the discovery of gold at Clunes by J.W.Esmond took the public's attention away from the unconfirmed discovery in the Pyrenees . Esmond had been for some years a coach driver for David Anderson's postal services from Burnbank. In 1848 he had visited the Californian gold rushes, later returning to work for Pyrenees squatter James Hodgkinson as a timber cutter. In 1851, influenced by the reports of gold in Victoria, he gave up his job to search for the precious metal . Within a short time further gold discoveries were made at Buninyong, Ballarat and Mount Alexander and these were of such a magnitude that the relatively small amounts reported at Daisy Hill were soon forgotten .

The news of the Victorian gold discoveries spread rapidly to the other colonies and to England and America. By early 1852 the influx of people into the colony, and in particular into the little developed goldfields areas, had reached almost uncontrollable dimensions. The resources of those small towns which had existed before the discovery of gold, such as Buninyong and Burnbank, were strained beyond their capacity. It was not long before the churches began to call for more clergymen and missionaries to give moral and intellectual education to the people and their children who they saw as falling into a state of barbarism.

The Victorian gold rushes had a disastrous effect upon the South Australian economy as the people of Adelaide almost completely deserted the city for the diggings of Mount Alexander. In mid January 1852 the Adelaide Register published the suggestion that people could get to the diggings by a much quicker route than the old Murray or Portland roads if they took a central track which would lead them directly to Mount Alexander . Among the thousands of South Australian residents who took up the suggestion were the Hamilton and Cowley families.

The detailed story of the Hamiltons and the South Australian Gold Escort can be read in The Hamiltons.

The South Australian government could not stop the exodus of people but wishing to protect the colony's economy decided to take advantage of the gold discoveries by escorting gold from Mount Alexander back to Adelaide via the newly proposed central route . The Gold Escort was set up under the charge of Alexander Tolmer early in 1852, and Tolmer later recalled that, having arrived at Mount Alexander and loaded a consignment of gold, he began the return journey on 5 March 1852.

On the first or second day after leaving we encamped in some well timbered, undulating country, with a nice creek of fresh water meandering through it, and with feed in abundance for the horses. Here there were two families from South Australia encamped. I visited their camps, and gave them much valuable information respecting the diggings...They were well provided with picks, shovels, tin dishes and other requisites for gold digging, and I strongly advised them to remain where they were, as I believed the country about was auriferous, and equally as rich as that at Mount Alexander. They followed my advice; and upon passing the same locality with the escort, on my way to Mount Alexander the second time, I was astonished to find every spare foot of ground taken up with hundreds of diggers at work, apparently gathering a rich harvest. The spot was then called Daisy Hill. The news of the wonderful success these two pioneering families met with quickly spread; hence the rush which followed. One of the two was named Cowley, and when on a visit in 1876 to the place, which is now a township named Amherst, I found one of the junior Cowley's keeping a public house there .

The new discovery of gold at Daisy Hill in mid 1852 was announced in the Argus as being thirty miles from Forest Creek, or Castlemaine, on the Adelaide Road. Nobody could remember where Daisy Hill was, but by now everybody had heard of Castlemaine . It was around this time that the Hamilton brothers would have arrived at Daisy Hill on their way from Adelaide .

Charles Browning Hall had for some time taken an interest in the development of the district surrounding his station at Glenmona. For several years he had been the Returning Officer for the Pastoral District of the Loddon , he was one of the colony's Territorial Magistrates , and on 11 August 1852 he was appointed Assistant Gold Commissioner for the Mount Alexander Gold District, taking in Daisy Hill . His duties at Daisy Hill were to sell licenses and supervise the orderly operation of matters to do with the field . For this he received an annual salary of four hundred pounds and was provided with a tent. Hall was to take up his appointment immediately and after selling 110 licenses to diggers and reporting a rapid increase in the population within a few days of his appointment he recommended the establishment of a more permanent Police and Commissioner's Camp at Daisy Hill . By the end of September 1852 there were at least 150 diggers on the site and on 27 September the Argus announced:

A gentleman at the Pyrenees, thirty or forty miles west [of Mount Alexander] says: since my last communication, the Daisy Hill diggings have advanced in public favour, and on good grounds, as with an increased number of diggers, the average finds here have, I believe, been larger than was previously the case. The diggers have almost entirely confined their operations to surface washing, having been prevented from sinking by the wet; the surface soil is universally auriferous, and in spots extremely rich, a party in one afternoon procured 42 ounces of gold; this, of course, is an instance of unusually good fortune, but I believe that I am correct in stating the average return from surface washing at one ounce per day per man. A nugget weighing 13 ounces was picked up on the surface on Saturday last .

Such reports had the effect of bringing diggers from other locations and Hall's advice that a Police Camp should be established was taken seriously. He was placed in control of the camp from 1 October 1852 . Until December no extraordinary success stories came from the area but those miners who decided to stay "worked steady and perseveringly" even though their profits were not as great as they might have been elsewhere . In December the original settlers on the field, Cowley and Potter, found a substantial quantity of gold in Blacksmith's Gully, along the nearby Narrigal Creek, and a rush to the site brought nearly eight hundred diggers . Soon the population was reported to have been between 1500 and 2000 in the area surrounding Daisy Hill . The population fluctuated continuously with each rush. After falling to 500 it grew again to over 1000 with a rush to Kangaroo Gully in March 1853 and remained over a thousand for some time, even though Hall reported an actual decrease in mining activity due to a shortage of water during the summer months . In mid 1853, Hall was approached by a number of residents of the district and asked what could be done about the establishment of a National School at Daisy Hill.

It was clear that at least some of the gold seekers felt that Daisy Hill had some future. Had the Hamiltons still been at Daisy Hill they would undoubtedly have been among those who sought to establish a school, but for the time being they had returned home to Adelaide following the death of their father, Richard. They would return in 1856. The Cossticks had only just arrived in the colony, and towards the end of 1853 were most likely on the Tarrangower field. They, too, would not arrive at Daisy Hill until 1856.

In mid 1854 The National Schools Board dispatched Arthur Bedford Orlebar to the gold fields to report on the establishment of schools where needed. When he returned Orlebar, presumably to the surprise of nobody, concluded that the adult population on the gold fields had one overriding aim in their lives - to discover gold . What concerned Orlebar most however was the fact that the search for gold had caused the diggers to neglect their moral and social responsibilities to their wives and children. He found that people on the gold fields tended towards the extremes of society - with convicts at one end and "men of excellent principle" at the other. Likewise, behaviour ranged from "outrageous drunkenness" to "wonderful order".
Orlebar visited Daisy Hill and found that there was

no place of worship, and is never visited by any minister of religion. There are two inns, several shops, and I am informed a great number of residents in the gullies .

He described a meeting he tried to organise at Daisy Hill

A digger is at dinner with his wife and children; I introduce myself and tell them that I have heard that there are many children and no school in the neighbourhood, and that there will be a meeting at such a place and such an hour, to consider the establishment of a National School. He regrets that neither he nor his wife have had any time to educate their children; "would give his last shilling to educate, and will attend the meeting". He fully intends to do so. His wife rejoices in the prospect, and the children long to learn reading and writing. He goes to his work, his wife to hers, and the children are all as busy as they can be. Within eight and forty hours education has passed out of the mind of the father, mother and children. The Inspector is punctual to his hour; but not a soul is present at the meeting, although he had met with similar encouragement at every hut within sight of the road. The picture is not imaginary. The scene is Daisy Hill .

Despite Orlebar's indictment of the attitude of the diggers at Daisy Hill he did forward to Joseph Cowley at the White Horse Hotel at Amherst on 7 September 1854 the necessary forms for the residents to apply for aid in establishing a school .

According to Cowley, it was poor weather as much as any lack of interest, which prevented people from attending Orlebar's meeting. Unable to remain at Amherst for another meeting, Orlebar had asked Cowley whether he would organise another meeting and act as treasurer. Writing to the National Schools Board in January 1855 Cowley said

I find that the population of Daisy Hill are not as persevering on the matter - in fact I can neither raise a meeting nor money - not having received a single subscription. I therefore think that at present the matter had better be deferred until a better opportunity occurs .

Amherst Town

Map of Amherst 1855Despite the difficulty in establishing a school at Daisy Hill, in 1855 surveys were announced for possible townships at both Daisy Hill and Back Creek and the government announced the sale of Town, Suburban and Country lots of land at Amherst . On Tuesday 29 May 1855 thirty-two town blocks were offered for sale at eight pounds per acre. Suburban blocks of one acre were four pounds per acre and country blocks of fifteen acres each were one pound per acre . Several of the town and suburban blocks were later withdrawn and reserved for public purposes .

The decision of the government to offer land for sale and draw up town surveys gave added encouragement to those who wished to establish homes and businesses in the district. However, a major rush to Fiery Creek (Beaufort) later in 1855 left both Daisy Hill and Back Creek almost deserted of miners and the Back Creek town survey was cancelled. This further encouraged settlement at Amherst as the preferred site . By the end of 1855 most of the miners had returned to Amherst and the population was further increased by a rush to Mia Mia, an area between Amherst and Back Creek. The Mia Mia lead was traced onto land recently purchased by Samuel Dunn and the invasion of miners led to a major confrontation between the miners and police acting on Dunn's behalf . The matter of privately owned auriferous land remained a cause for complaint for many years and did not make the job on the newly appointed Gold Fields Warden at Amherst, Philip Champion de Crespigney, any easier .

Map of Amherst Town - after mid 1870sBy the end of 1855 all the businesses which had gradually been set up at Amherst in a fairly haphazard manner along the main track once taken by the Adelaide Gold Escort had been brought into a more orderly alignment along what became known as High Street. At that time the main businesses included the Bank of Australasia, managed by John Wighton; William Hackett and Company's General Store; Thomas Fisher, a grocer; Lee, Brown and Shaw, Butchers; Mustow, a fruiterer; Johnson's Horse and Jockey Hotel; the Southern Cross Hotel; the Daisy Hill Hotel; the White Horse Hotel, owned by the original settler Joseph Cowley; Thomas Evans, a draper; Patrick Douglas, a General Storekeeper; Frederick Browne Salmon, a tobacconist, and the original South Australian who had passed through the Daisy Hill area late in 1849; Joseph Law, a Shoemaker; and William Wood and William Knight who ran a Library and Bookstore. Wood was also an Engineer .

The number of businesses along the High Street rapidly increased, as did the number of residents who regarded the town as their permanent place of living. It would have been around this time, early 1856, that the Hamiltons and Hendersons arrived back from Adelaide, and perhaps later in the year that the Cossticks came to the town. John Hamilton certainly purchased two blocks of land in the town during 1856 and joined a number of others in signing up his children for a proposed Church of England School.

By 1856 the town depended almost as much upon trade done with travellers passing to and from the Wimmera and Avoca in the west, and Maryborough and Dunolly in the north, as upon local mining and farming. Business activity, increased population and the location of Amherst on major roads between the gold fields led to the appointment of John Patterson Smith as Postmaster at Amherst on 1 January 1856 . When the new owner of the Glenmona Station, Charles Bradshaw decided to close the road to the Wimmera, which ran through his property, the town's residents petitioned the government for its re opening on the grounds that their livelihood was suffering due a decrease in the number of travellers. By July 1857 the government had promised to do something about re opening the road .

Maryborough - Amherst Goldfields Map 1859Although the Daisy Hill diggings were reported to be almost deserted of European miners in mid September 1857 , on Saturday 26 September there were at least two hundred miners who met at Albion Cowley's Amherst Hotel to vote on the competence of the Sub Warden for the district, Philip Champion de Crespigney. According to the speakers at the meeting, Crespigney was "the largest cultivator of land" in the district and as the owner of such a large amount of land, much of which was reported to be auriferous, he had many opponents among the miners. The meeting discussed a situation which had occurred in January 1857 on the Amherst Flat, near Daisy Hill Creek, when some 6,000 miners had gathered on an area designated in the government survey as "The Esplanade", but which had not been developed. The miners had been allowed to carry on their digging for nearly two weeks before Crespigney used his powers as Warden to order them to move on. Speakers at the meeting claimed that Crespigney, by allowing mining to commence at all, had encouraged the population of the town to increase dramatically then had thrown four fifths of the population out of work, most of whom had packed their bags and left the district. The meeting passed a motion of no confidence in Crespigney and sent a petition to the Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, asking for him to be removed from the town .

Despite the petition Crespigney remained and later gave evidence to the 1862 Royal Commission into the Gold Fields in which he expressed the opinion that any gold on private property should be the property of the landowner. David Beckett, later a partner of the Cossticks, spoke up on behalf of the miners and gave an opposing opinion.

The system of Goldfields Wardens eventually proved to be an unsatisfactory way of managing the diggings and the government decided to introduce a system of District Mining Boards which were elected by the miners themselves and which formulated Bye Laws to suit the particular needs of each district. When the Maryborough Mining Board was first introduced in December 1857 local miners greeted it with enthusiasm . Henry Cosstick later served on the Maryborough Board.

Daisy Hill, or Amherst (it was known by both names for several years), fluctuated both in population and prospects, as did most of the gold fields towns in their early years. By the end of 1857 the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser believed that Daisy Hill was beginning to show signs of permanence . Daisy Hill was the commercial centre of these small mining communities and although it had not developed as fast or to the extent of Maryborough, eight miles to the north, or Avoca, twelve miles to the west, it was fairly independent of these larger towns in most of its affairs. The settling nature of its population brought about the need and desire for various institutions such as schools, churches, sporting clubs and similar bodies to serve the non material needs of the residents. During 1857 and 1858 the prospects of the town steadily improved. By September 1858 the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser reported that many at Daisy Hill were doing "remarkably well" and that the "old hands who have been long resident, seem pretty well to do" . The Maryborough paper, which was the closest to Daisy Hill at that time, took the opportunity of the town's prosperous times to publish a history and description of the locality in October 1858.

Amherst Family Grocer
The township of Amherst...is the centre of a thriving mining district. It is prettily situated on a rising slope, in an extensive basin or ampitheatre descending from surrounding ranges of low mountains or hills, the most considerable of which are the Clunes Ranges, and Mounts Greenock and Glasgow...a large number of miners and farmers in the vicinity were formerly residents in the sister colony [South Australia]...There is still a considerable quantity of gold to be obtained...Lately signs have been shown of a desire to form co operative companies by which means we anticipate the country will be worked more efficiently and thoroughly than heretofore. The average yield of gold, as shown by the escorts, is 600 ounces weekly. Daisy Hill boasts of great agricultural capabilities, large tracts of land are under cultivation, extending on the one side to Mount Greenock, and on the other to Burn Bank. In a few days the place will become a municipality, when the usual advantages attending local government may be looked for, and especially a share of public funds, in which respect the district has hitherto been neglected.

The town is handsome and pleasing in appearance, the buildings being mostly of a substantial and expensive description, some of them are ornamented with fine fronts. There are several places of worship, viz. one Wesleyan, one Church of England, and one Primitive Methodist, to which a school is attached...[A list of businessmen similar to that given earlier was included here]...The district is under the supervision of Mr. Warden Crespigney. He lives in the neighbourhood of the town, where he owns an extensive farm...

This is only part of this chapter. The rest is in the book.


Full references and sources are available for this information and are published in the book. Please email me if you would like source references.


Pauleen said...

congratulations on your website and research. I have an indirect interest in Henry Widdop who was a draper in Talbot so I found this history helpful

Douglas W said...

Thank you Pauleen. As mentioned at the foot of each page full referencingis available if you are looking for source information

Anonymous said...

I am a direct decendant of a family of first digger to Back Creek rush in 1853. Have you seen any reference to the names brothers James, Thomas and William Burrows who married the Bossingham sisters Elizabeth and Ann together with John Kitchen married Esther Bossingham and Thomas Walker who married Francis Bossingham. They made up a party with Henry Burchell and probably Henry Moss.

They Burrows party arrived on the "Maitland" 1849 and "Bride" 1852.

The Burrows arrived on 7 Jan 1849 and worked for Capt John Hepburn at the time when Thomas Chapman was murdered and the coverup plot was created to deflect interest away from Donald Camerons station at Clunes due to the 'quartz quarry' at Clunes which was the actural mystery gold mine.

Thomas Chapman (ex Parkhurst arrived on the "Maitland" 1846/7 was murdered by Duchene who fled the colony a few weeks later to California on the "Sabine" with a person under an alias as Chapman (probably a Pentonville youth).

There were a number of shephers using Chapman as an alias, there is now substantial material collated collaborating this, he is probably buried in the lost No 1 Cemetry at Hepburn Estate with some 8 other bodies.

This is the reason why James Esmond never belived the Chapman story and went directly to Clunes in 1851.


Anonymous said...

Hello Douglas,

...more on Chapman, the mystery cemetry lost on Hepburn's Smeaton property is claimed by the current residents to be over the creek on the opposite hill south of Hepburn House.

Hepburn's origional bark/log house was up stream on Captains Creek.

The mystery Cemetry appears to have been dug over on a quartz reef which survey maps show was traced in a north-south direction and 100 foot shaft sunk.

Hepburn had a lot of problem in 1849 with servants and fossickers on his property, due to the association of gold/quartz (ie Clunes Station).

Heburn a stickler for dairy notes and information errased all mention of the lost cemetry with eight bodies in it, probably due to possible avoidance of being implicated in the Chapman incident.

Alfred Betts who died on Cameron's property was buried by Hepburn and is probably the last body in the mystry cemetry, likewise, if Thomas Chapman was buried there also, it would be very prudent for the old cemetry to disappera as a later mine site which Hepburn Estate became active in the local area (the Berry mines etc).

Enjoyed your book and website, Daisy Hill and Back Creek in the 1850s was a very rough place, almost in the grain of film series 'Deadwood'.

Steve Burrows

DGR said...

where can i obtain surveyed maps of daisy hill.. prior to 1900 - I am a local to daisy hill and want to find out if there was any settlement or residence on my land in that time..?


Douglas W said...

PROV in Melbourne. Lands Department Maps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks this was interesting as my Great great grandmother Emily Mary Clay was born at Daisy Hill Diggings in 1858 and this has given me a better understanding of the area and living conditions at the time.

Douglas W said...

Thank you. If you look my up on Academia you will find extra research I am doing in this area.