Beechworth is a well-preserved historical town located in the north-east of Victoria, Australia, famous for its major growth during the gold rush days of the mid-1850s. At the 2011 census, Beechworth had a population of 2,789.
Panorama of Beechworth town centre
|Population||2,789 (2011 census)|
|Elevation||560 m (1,837 ft)|
|LGA(s)||Shire of Indigo|
Beechworth's many historical buildings are well preserved and the town has re-invented itself and evolved into a popular tourist destination and growing wine-producing centre.
Originally used for grazing by the settler David Reid, the area was known as Mayday Hills until 1853, when it was renamed Beechworth. The Post Office opened on 1 May 1853 as Spring Creek and was renamed Beechworth on 1 January 1854.
In its golden heyday from 1852–1857, this was a fabulous gold region and centre of government; but its power, wealth and influence were short lived. At its wildest moments of gold discoveries, Woods related how an early party of prospectors retrieved a pan of gold weighing 14 pounds (6.4 kg) 14 lb (about 7 kg).(p. 10.) Another lucky party, said Woods, cleared some 50 pounds (23 kg)50 lb (approx. 25 kg) of gold in a week.(p. 16.) And so began a rush into this remote region. During the first election campaign in 1855, one candidate, Daniel Cameron, rode a horse shod with solid gold horseshoes. The extravagance of this event is still commemorated as the logo for Beechworth is a golden horseshoe.
At the time, Beechworth was far removed from the centre of colonial administration in Melbourne both in distance and time taken to travel. The local debates around the potential railway into Beechworth encompassed a broad gauge (5 ft 3 in / 1,600 mm) option or a narrow gauge (2 ft 6 in / 762 mm) system, between Wangaratta and Beechworth and these debates and options appeared in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser newspaper. Ironically, in the 1890s a narrow gauge system did eventuate nearby, running from Wangaratta to Whitfield. Finally a railway, the broad gauge, arrived at Beechworth in September 1876, but by that stage the town and its gold production was waning. Unfortunately the rail line was closed in 1977 and dismantled, after 101 years of service.
During its boom times, Beechworth town boasted a range of industries including, a tannery, jewellers, boot makers, a brewery, blacksmiths, livestock sale yards. It had schools, a convent, hotels, a prison with imposing stone walls, a hospital, a mental hospital, court house, police barracks, stage coach companies and a powder magazine.
In its golden days, men and women arrived from, the United States, United Kingdom and China. At its peak, Beechworth town had over 3,100 residents. Surrounding areas and mining camps sprang up as thousands of miners rushed into areas such as Spring Creek, Reedy Creek, Silver Creek, the Nine Mile Creek and the Woolshed increasing the population on the Ovens to around 22,000. The Chinese were not allowed to live in Beechworth town and resided on the outskirts. Numerous controls and enforced regulations and licence checks existed against the Chinese miners.(see: Woods; also McWaters; also O'Brien; and Cronin). Beechworth Cemetery has a large preserved section of early Chinese miners/pioneers. The presence of the Chinese goldminers around Beechworth and throughout Victoria's north-eastern region created social unrest and these are recorded in O'Brien's; Woods'; and Cronin's works below.
Like many Australian country towns associated with the early goldfields, Beechworth had its share of colourful characters and villains. Among the infamous during the 1870s was the one-time Livery Stable owner, later the 'Dog Officer', at some other time the 'Pound Officer' and another time shire revenue officer, John Phelan. Phelan was a continual litigant, correspondent to the newspapers and advertiser. His official and officious escapades were mockingly reported in the local paper.
Robert O'Hara Burke
Robert O'Hara Burke, leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition was stationed in Beechworth as Senior Inspector of Police from 1854 to 1857. Policeman John Sadleir, one of the Kelly Gang pursuers, was also stationed in Beechworth during its early days.(Harvey)
The Burke Museum is located in Loch Street and holds a rich source of primary materials on Beechworth and the surrounding districts golden past. Source materials include newspapers, photos, artefacts, clothings, paintings, exhibitions, published local histories and unpublished theses on the district and displays dating back to the gold discoveries, early Chinese miners and workings of the 1850s. For family and academic researchers this museum is a gold mine.
Sir Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs was Australia's first native-born Governor-General, appointed in 1931. The Isaac family move to Beechworth to help Isaac gain a better quality education, in 1867, first enrolling him in the Common school then in the Beechworth Grammar School. He became dux in his first year. In his second year he was employed part-time as an assistant teacher at the school, and took up after school tutoring of fellow students. In September 1870, when Isaacs was just 15 years old, he passed his examination as a pupil teacher and taught at the school from then until 1873. Isaacs was next employed as an assistant teacher at the Beechworth State School, the successor to the Common school. From 1875 Isaacs moved to Melbourne for work and to undertake Law studies. His connection to Beechworth was re-established when he was elected as the member for Bogong in the Victorian Legislative Assembly from May 1892 until May 1893 and between June 1893 and May 1901. Isaacs further represented Beechworth and surrounding areas when he was elected to the first Federal Parliament in 1901 to the seat of Indi. He served until 1906 when he was appointed to the High Court.
The outlaw Ned Kelly had many links to Beechworth – he spent time in HM Prison Beechworth and fought a famous boxing bout with Isaiah "Wild" Wright in the back of a local hotel. Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne of the Kelly Gang came from the Woolshed goldmining camp, outside of Beechworth town. It was in Beechworth gaol that twenty-one men, suspected Kelly Gang supporters, relatives and other sympathisers were held without trial or evidence for over three months, by the Chief Commissioner of Police Captain Standish, under the Outlawry Act.
George B. Kerferd
John Buckley Castieau
Castieau (1831–1885) was the Prison Governor at Beechworth from 1856 to 1869. The prison, famous for its huge granite walls was known as “Castieau's castle.” As the Governor of the Melbourne gaol in 1880 he was an official witness to the hanging of Ned Kelly. His diaries were later published (2004) as The Difficulties of My Position. In this book a drawing from the Australian Sketcher, 14 August 1880 shows Castieau sitting with Ned Kelly during his remand (p. 278) and also a photo of his signature as one of the witnesses to the Kelly hanging (p. viii).
Sir Albert Edward (Bert) Chadwick
In its golden heyday Beechworth boasted two influential newspapers: The Ovens and Murray Advertiser and The Constitution and Mining Intelligencer. These papers engaged in fierce competition and for a while were daily issues. The papers circulated far and wide throughout the district and the colony of Victoria.(O'Brien) Both papers represented the views of their respective readerships sometimes to the exclusion of all others.(O'Brien) Even today, these old papers are an important historical research tool, as most editions from the early 1850 survive and are micro-filmed and are available at the Burke Museum, and most state and National libraries throughout Australia. These two local papers provide rich primary sources for many historians of Beechworth and its surrounds, plus the Kelly Gang historians.(See: Woods (1985); McMahon (2000); Lane (1978); McQuilton (1979); Jones (1995); McWaters (2002); O'Brien (2005); and Wild & McMahon (2006))
The Ovens and Murray Advertiser still survives as a local paper.
Beechworth is a popular tourist destination. Attractions include Ned Kelly themed displays at the old court house and Ned Kelly Weekend, which is Australia's most significant recreation of the Kelly legend it commemorates the anniversary of the outlaw's committal hearing held in the historic Beechworth Courthouse from 6 to 11 August 1880. Other popular draws to the area are its many annual festivals, including the famous Golden Horseshoes Festival Easter Parade through centre of town, The Burke Museum, waterfalls, Gun Powder Magazine, Newtown Bridge (Stone Bridge), Tail Race (Mining Race), Spring Creek Water Falls, Spring Creek Gorge, Beechworth Lunatic Asylum ghost tours, lakes, historic buildings, goldfields, walks, the Beechworth Bakery, Beechworth Honey, brewery, the lolly shop and night tours, the restaurants and wineries. The town is one end point of the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail.
Golfers play at the Beechworth Golf Club on Balaclava Road. A dedicated cross-country and downhill mountain biking track, the Beechworth Mountain Bike Park, is maintained by the Beechworth Chain Gang Mountain Bike Club.
Books on Beechworth
Considering the present nature of the town, a surprising range and variety of books exist on Beechworth town, its adjoining goldfield camps, its surrounds and its heady goldfield days. These include numerous histories, a treasure of local histories, theses, material on bushrangers, police, Chinese, riots, the coming and going of the railway and novels set in the district.
- Griffiths, Tom. Beechworth: An Australian Country Town and its Past, Greenhouse, North Melbourne, 1987. (solid research piece on a post-gold boom town and its re-invention)
- McQuilton, John. The Kelly Outbreak 1878-1880, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1979. (wonderful insight into the Kelly Outbreak in NE Victoria and its geographical causes)
- O'Brien, Antony. Shenanigans on the Ovens Goldfields: The 1859 Election, Artillery Publishing, Hartwell, 2005. (a solid, controversial piece with good insights into the social conflicts which emerged on the Ovens goldfield during an election year)
- Shea, Peter, M (2010)Champagne From Six To Six (A short social history of Recreations and Entertainments at the Beechworth and Ovens goldfields 1852-1877) Conn: Eloquent Press Illus,189pp,(Informative first hand accounts of cultural activity on the Beechworth and Ovens Goldfields)
- Woods, Carole. Beechworth: A Titan's Field, Hargreen, North Melbourne, 1985. (a wide-ranging solid research piece on Beechworth from its earliest days 1830s to the late 19th century)
- Williams, Jennifer. Listen to what they say, 2005. (a comprehensive oral history of the town from the early 20th century to the modern era)
- Cronin, Kathryn. Colonial Casualties: Chinese in Early Victoria, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1997, (encompasses the Chinese miners of Northeastern Victoria)
- Clarke, Stan. How Old is Your Grandma, Beechworth, 1987. (on the district's freemasons)
- Hanson, Anne. A White Handkerchief, Beechworth, 2010 (the story of Elizabeth Scott, the first woman hanged in Victoria and tried at the Beechworth Courthouse)
- Harvey, R. C. Background to Beechworth: From 1852, Albury, 1952. (plus subsequent editions)
- Hawley, G. & Davidson, R. Beechworth Sketchbook, Rigby, Adelaide, 1972.
- Hyndman, Ian. Beechworth Cemetery - A stroll through history, Bethel Publications, Beechworth, 1988.
- Hyndman, Ian. History of Beechworth, Bethel Publications, Beechworth.
- Lane, Leo. History of the Parish of Beechworth 1854-1978, Parish of Beechworth, 1978. (on the Catholics of the district)
- McMahon, D. M. The Golden Gum Tree: Hiram Allen Crawford, 1832-1916, Brisbane, 2000. (on an American pioneer in the district, who operated a stage coach company)
- McMahon, H. Denise. & Wild, Christine G., American Fever Australian Gold ( Americans and Canadians involved in Northeast Victoria's Gold Rush), Middle Park, Qld. 2008
- McWaters, Viviene. Beechworth's Little Canton, Albury, 2002 (on the Chinese goldminers at Spring Creek)
- Shennan, M. Rosalyn. The 1855 Ovens Election and the Gold Horseshoes, Noble Park, 1990. (on an election event in 1855)
- Shennan, M. Rosalyn. A Biographical Dictionary of the Pioneers of the Ovens and Townsmen of Beechworth, Noble Park, 1990. (A valuable resource tool for goldfields family researchers)
- Williams, David. Gold and Granite Grandeur: Living History of Beechworth, Stanley and Eldorado, 1994. (fine drawings of the buildings, churches and forest trees of the area)
- Wild, Christine, G. & McMahon, Denise, H. Old News Today: Tales of the Upper Murray: newspaper snippets from 1876-1900, McClure, Wodonga, 2006 (local newspaper cuttings 1876-1900 with hundreds of family names and events)
- O'Brien, Antony. Awaiting Ned Kelly: Rural Malaise in North-eastern Victoria 1872-73, B.A. (Hons), 1999 (sighted in Burke Museum).
- McCullough, J. Beechworth After the Gold Rush: A study of its development to 1956, B.A. (Hons), Dept of Geography, Melbourne University, 1971.
- Shea, Peter, M; (1994) Leisure as a Basis of Culture Selected Social Formations Beechworth 1852-1877) Master of Arts (Hon.), Monash University, Thesis Copy Donated by Author to Burke Museum 1996
- Brown, Max. Australian Son,1948 (plus subsequent editions) (Social insights and contemporary 1940s photos of Beechworth and its immediate surrounds)
- Finnane, Mark. (Ed.), The Difficulties of My Position, The Diaries of Prison Governor John Buckley Castieau 1855-1884, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2004. (insight into Beechworth's colonial society in the 1850s, '60s and '70s) ISBN 0-642-10793-9
- Sadleir, John. Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, 1913. (includes an insight into the land turmoils surrounding the Kelly Gang)
- Gee, Margaret. A Long Way from Silver Creek, 2000. (a moving account of growing up in post-war Beechworth)
- Jones, Ian. Ned Kelly a Short Life, Lothian, Port Melbourne, 1995. (a definitive account of the Kelly story)
- Jones, Ian. The Friendship that destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt, Lothian, Port Melbourne, 1992.
- Kenneally, J.J. The Inner History of the Kelly Gang, 1929 (plus many subsequent editions) (This work gives insights into the Beechworth locale, the Beechworth court sessions and colonial policing)
Novels set in part around Beechworth
- O'Toole, Tom. Secrets of the Beechworth Bakery, Bas, Melbourne, 2001.
- Larsen, Wal. The MayDay Hills Railway, Wal Larsen, Bright, 1976.
Chinese goldminers in the region
- Kaufman, R. J. The Chinese on the Upper Ovens Goldfields: 1855-1920, LRGM, Bright, 1997. ISBN 0-646-34017-4
- Groom, Jocelyn. Chinese Pioneers of the King Valley, Centre for Continuing Education, Wangaratta, 2001. ISBN 0-909760-23-3
- Talbot, Diann. The Buckland Valley Goldfield, Specialty Press, Albury, 2004 ISBN 0-9757170-0-6
- O'Brien, Antony. Shenanigans on the Ovens Goldfields, Artillery Publishing, Hartwell, Vic., 2005 (cited above) Chapter 3.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Beechworth (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- "A DIAMOND WEDDING". Albury Banner and Wodonga Express. 4 March 1904. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
- "Post Office List". Premier Postal History. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
- Cox, Philip & Stacey, (1973), Historic towns of Australia, Melbourne, Lansdowne, p.138. ISBN 0701801840
- The Ovens Valley Goldfields Railways Eardley, Gifford Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin December, 1968 pp281-294; January, 1969 1-18
- O'Brien, Shenanignas, pp. 17 - 18.
- Woods, p. 92
- O'Brien, 'Awaiting Ned Kelly' & Jones, The Friendship, p. 29.
- "Robert O'Hara Burke". www.beechworth.com.au. Archived from the original on 24 August 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
- Gordon, Max (1963). Sir Isaac Isaacs. Adelaide: Heinemann.
- "Ned Kelly - Beechworth". www.beechworth.com.au. Archived from the original on 16 November 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
- Jones, pp. 177–178
- John Buckley Castieau (Mark Finnane, editor), The difficulties of my position; the diaries of prison governor John Buckley Castieau 1855-1884, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2004.
- "Australian Dictionary of Biography".
- "Australian Dictionary of Biography".
- Full Points Footy, Beechworth, archived from the original on 16 May 2008, retrieved 25 July 2008
- "Beechworth Golf Club".
- Golf Select, Beechworth, retrieved 11 May 2009
- "Beechworth Chain Gang - The Beechworth Mountain Bike Club". Archived from the original on 26 June 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
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