Back to Tarnagulla - Early History

Early History of Tarnagulla from a 1931 Booklet titled "Back to Tarnagulla"
Compiled and researched by B.P. Patman.

Late in the year 1852, a party of miners bound for the Korong goldfield made camp on the flat opposite the golf course. They sank a hole in the creek and found gold. The gold was of such exceeding richness that in a very short space of time more than 5,000 miners were attracted to the district and the diggings extended for 2 and a half miles along the main lead.

That is the story of the finding of the Sandy Creek diggings, as Tarnagulla was first called. Behind that bald statement there lies a whole realm of romance. Stories of adventure as gallant as any in a medieval tale of chivalry; of heroic women who relinquished home, friends and comfort; of the staunch true men to whom we owe our heritage.

The earliest miners to arrive at Sandy Creek were prospectors from South Australia. These were quickly followed by scores of clerks, station hands, seamen, men of any and every occupation, who were lured from the callings by tales from the gold diggings. Then came that host of adventurers which arrived at Geelong in July, 1952, in the first "great billow of emigration". To these must be added a sprinkling of "forty-niners", who had caught the gold fever in the U.S.A.; miners from the Californian gold fields whose practical knowledge of the winning alluvial gold was eagerly sought by the "new chums". They came in covered drays, on horseback, and on foot. They came as new chums from the Old Country to their first experience of an Australian summer and the rough camp life of the fields. They came, as hardened diggers come from other gold fields to a new rush, with all their possessions, their bedding and tools, some tea, sugar and biscuits heaped upon the ubiquitous wheel barrow, until soon a canvas town was scattered all along both sides of the Sandy Creek. To quote Mrs Cheetham, who remembers the crude furniture of her first home in Tarnagulla, "everything was on forks". Tables, seats, beds and other essential articles were made from packing case boards nailed to saplings and the rude surfaces thus formed were supported on forked saplings driven into bare earth.

Canvas stores were opened to supply the simple needs of the community, and soon canvas hotels, canvas dancing saloons, canvas skittle alleys and canvas shanties appeared to afford entertainment to the weary digger when the day's work was over.

When summer approached water had to carried from the Loddon River. Many families were glad to be able to gather enough food together to undertake the return journey to Melbourne. Records of the gold won by these diggers are not available as they did not readily disclose their gains. There was no security in a canvas tent against the raids of the lawless, and even the claims, if they were known to be rich were not immune from the depredations of thieves.

Nuggety Gully was opened in 1853, and it is in this year that we have the first record of nuggets of gold being found. A negro named Ruby (who was later hanged for murder) and his partner uncovered 86 lbs weight of gold in a fortnight, a nugget of 12 lbs being found in a dray track while marking out the ground. The heaviest nugget found in this gully, which lies about half a mile south of Tarnagulla, weighed 32 lbs. Others weighed 15 lbs, 8 lbs, 7 lbs, besides innumerable smaller ones.

In 1853-54 prospectors began to turn their attention to quartz mining, and it was about this time that Messrs King, D. Hatt, Hawkins and R. W Hammond discovered the Poverty Reef. This splendid reef made Tarnagulla famous when its wealth was made known to the wondering world.

Its astonishing richness was withheld from its discoverers, and it was not until Messrs Beynon, J. Davies, J. W Davies, and Williams brought their practical mining knowledge to bear on its problems that its truly remarkable values were disclosed. The original prospectors spent their time and energy until they were almost in despair. In fact half of the Prince of Wales claim (No. 7) was offered for $40 and there were no buyers. $100,000 was offered for the same interest a few weeks later. The Dunolly and Bet Bet Shire Express, of 8th October, 1866, reported that an area of 300 square feet had then yielded one and a quarter million pounds sterling. In 1859, from a single crushing from the Prince of Wales claim mentioned above, two cakes of gold weighing 1,389 and 1,504 ounces were obtained, some of the stone producing the magnificent yield of 200 ounces to the ton.

The Poverty Reef was named by Mr D Hatt in remembrance of Poverty Bay, New Zealand, where his life had been saved by a Maori maid when he was in danger of drowning. The Poverty lode was peculiar in that it occurred in massive blocks of quartz. Each block was thick in the middle and tapered at each end and was generally schistose casing between the points of overlap. When a block was worked out the next block was found by tracing the leaders or small quartz veins that connected them.

Watt's reef was bought by the Yorkshire Co bank and it was re-opened in 1878. This mine was in operation for many years, with few brief periods of inaction, until it finally closed in 1908. The shaft was sunk to 1,150 feet, the deepest Tarnagulla shaft, and at this depth the reef was said to be carrying a good showing of gold. The mine was for some years under the management of Mr. W Laidlaw, with Mr Jas. Patterson as underground manager.

The advent of quartz mining brought more settled methods of living to the growing population; brick and stone houses began to spring up, clustering at the Poverty mine, and moving the heart of the township from its original situation to its present site. Tarnagulla soon began to demand administration from within. It was formed as a Road District in February, 1861, and advanced to the dignity of a Riding in the Bet Bet Shire in 1864, being then represented in the Council Chamber by Mr J. Pierce, J.P., Mr J. Beynon, and Mr G. Thompson, I.P. Mr Pierce was president of the Shire. The Parish of Tarnagulla was divided into 180 allotments comprising 16,301 acres and was first surveyed in 1864. The Borough of Tarnagulla and the village of Newbridge, was formed in 1864, Mr James Ray being the first mayor. The Borough was first surveyed in 1866. The first sale of land occurred in 1861. The Tarnagulla Police Court, County Court, and Court of Mines, held its first sitting on lst September, 1865, when Mr H. Clouston was appointed clerk of the courts. Mr Ed Francis was the first town clerk. Some of the more notable citizens of this day were Messrs W M. Davies, G. G. Davies, J.Williams, T Comrie, M.L.C., J. Brideson, BOOI, C.J. Grant, M.R.C.S., H. Clouston, Dr. J. Hood, P McBride, D. Calder, R. H. Burstall, J. Joseph, J.Ousley, J. Newman, J. Titus, C. Radnell, Geo. Thompson, W Dyer, Eli Summers, Geo. Hancock, Wm. Harwood, Geo Barlow, R. W Hammond, W Herd, H. Silke, H. Ison, W Laidlaw, T. Scorer, J.Pierce, D. Miles, W Alexander, P. Laurie, H. Akers, T. Biggs, J. Cheetham, M.L.A., J. Whimpey, J. Yates, C. Lewis, J. Allen, D. Duggan, M.L.A., T. Page, Rees Williams.

1865 saw Tarnagulla at the zenith of its mining prosperity, and in this year there were two banks, five bakers, two breweries, three butchers, four blacksmiths, two bootmakers, one cornfactory, four crushing machines, two chemists, two drapers, a fruiterer, a gold broker, four hotels, an ironmonger, a Miller, a painter, nine general stores, three surgeons, a share broker, a steam saw miller, a tailor, a tobacconist, two wheelwrights and a watchmaker in business in the town. About 1,000 Chinamen, a colony of Greeks and many Italians were working on the diggings.

The part-singing of the Italians, under the leadership of Baptisti Genetti, in their camp in front of Miss Bristol's house, on a fine summers evening, is one of the exciting memories of those old timers who lived their youth in those days.

Early settlers soon found that wheat growing and sheep raising were more important than gold digging, and that farming satisfied a more natural human hunger. The Murphy's Creek district owes its name to the prospector who discovered gold in the creek, about two miles west of the School. Among the first settlers who took up land under the Land Grants Act of 1865, were Messrs Falder, Silke, Nicholls, Hogan, Kerr, and O'Connor, who were followed by Messrs Rae, Bell, Mitchell, Graham, Clark, Laurie, Evans, Keogh and Hancock.

Messrs Hargreaves Bros started a sawmill on the Bulla-bul Creek in 1863. In the same year Mr Pritchard, the surveyor of the Murphy's Creek district, erected a weatherboard cottage with a detached room in which his daughter opened a private school. Later, in 1870, a school was opened in a building designed for a church, near the sawmill. Here Mr Jonathan Falder taught for one year. He was succeeded by Mr Shaw and Mr J.Wallace. Mr Shaw was the first teacher in the new State School No 143, which later became No. 1311. Although this auriferous district will always lure the prospector in search of another Poverty Lode, and gold will always be the standard medium of exchange and barter, the real and enduring source of the wealth of the nation is in its broad acres. These trim pastures and smiling wheat lands of Murphy's Creek reflect the prosperity of this community.

The railway was opened in 1888 by Sir Thos' Bent, and the occasion was celebrated by an immense banquet. Twenty-three years before a very strong move was afoot to connect Bendigo, Inglewood and Tarnagulla by means of a horse tramway. Many columns of "The Tarnagulla Courier" were devoted to the furtherance of this move; but such a novel means of transportation could not find sufficient supporters and this progressive movement died.

At this period there were many of the Loddon tribe of aboriginals living in the bush near the township. They were friendly to the diggers; their child-like simplicity won admission to many a housewife's kitchen, and incidentally; food, tobacco and money.

Until the opening of the railway, all mails and many travelers were carried by Messrs Cobb & Co's "Telegraph Line of Mail Coaches", which left the Victoria Hotel daily for Melbourne. A fast passage could be made to town in three days. Many stories could be told of the bushrangers who were then beginning to infest the gold fields. One "Black Douglas" and his gang put fear into the heart of many a digger who would not trust his gold to the official escort. It may be mentioned here that the gold escort, which had been established in Tarnagulla in 1861, had conveyed to Melbourne, by October, 1865, 93,930 ounces. All of the gold won was not entrusted to the official escort; half as much again is known to have been carried away from the field by private hands.

Two well remembered days are marked by the celebrations on the occasion of the marriage of H.M. King Edward VII, then H.R.H. Prince of Wales and also the occasion of Queen Victoria's jubilee. On each of these days the ancient custom of roasting a whole bullock was carried out on the Recreation Reserve and the streets of the town were decorated with bunting.

In 1894-95 a syndicate was formed to work the tailings from the Poverty mine by Messrs Duncan, Noyes & Co., by means of the cyanide process. This was the first time that this process was successfully, undertaken on a large scale in Australia. Some hundreds of thousands of tons of sand were treated during the eight years that this company was at work, and the results obtained were remarkable. As much as 28 dwt of gold per ton of sand was recovered. Further improvement in the process of treatment resulted in the re-treatment of these tailings by Messrs Lyndon & Dowsley, between 1902 and 1912. This company also obtained rich returns from the slimes that had been neglected by Messrs Duncan, Noyes & Co.

Alluvial "Rushes" were constantly occurring, and the chance discovery of a nugget attracted hundreds of men to the district in the space of a few hours, as was seen when Mr A. Goltz found an 18 ounce piece on the surface. The Waanyarra rush was started in 1902 by Messrs Lockett Bros. Much gold was found on this field, the largest piece was found by A. Taig.

Going back and forth from the face in his claim, Mr A. Pallet, at Waanyarra, often complained about a sharp stone that projected from the roof of the drive. He at last resolved to pick it down. He was surprised and delighted to find that the projecting piece which tapped him on the shoulder every time he passed was a 51 ounce nugget of pure gold. As the digger says "Where it be, there it be."

Believing that the miners who had worked in the main lead had missed getting all of the gold, Messrs Davies and Kersham, in 1904, brought a dredging plant into operation. Mr J. James and Mr Patterson managed the plant at different periods. During the eight years that it was in operation an average of 200 ounces of gold was recovered from each acre of ground that was treated.

In 1906 interest in alluvial mining was renewed when Mr Jack Porer discovered the Poseidon field. On the 18th December, Messrs Woodall and party uncovered a magnificent 953 oz nugget within a few inches of the surface and named it after the Melbourne Cup winner of that year, Poseidon. A few days later Messrs Smith, Stephenson and Rogers won the Leila, 675 oz and the Hazel, 502 oz.