Today the town of Steiglitz, near Geelong, Australia, is almost deserted. The remaining colonial buildings, stone foundations and scars from large-scale mining bear testimony that there was once a thriving gold rush town here.
Steiglitz was one of the richest quartz goldfields in Australia. Barely a month after the first reef was discovered in late 1855, 200 miners had staked their claims. By 1856 Steiglitz township had a population of around 1000. Soon there were four hotels, four churches, and five schools instructing 200 children.
On the outskirts of town stand St Thomas Catholic Church and the Steiglitz pioneer cemetery. The cemetery closed in 1861 and only one headstone remains.
The headstone reads, “Lost his life by accident on the Steiglitz Goldfields“.
Flush with cash and fresh from a night’s drinking, miner Robert Duncanson fell into an open shaft. His moans attracted the attention of a passerby the next day and he was retrieved from the shaft, but the accident proved fatal.
“I remember when we used to be coming home from the New Chum school. We used to jump over the shafts … one boy, Jesse Steers, did not quite manage it, and fell back into the 80-foot shaft. He got a terrible cut on the head, but he partially recovered and lived a few years”
“A.O.”, The Age, 25 April 1936
Sandstone gutters and the occasional introduced tree mark the streets and allotments of the town. Residences and businesses stood cheek by jowl.
Harry Ellis’ drapery narrowly escaped disaster in 1895, when fire consumed a block of buildings in Regent Street. The Victoria Coffee Palace, McClellan’s grocery store and Doctor Scott’s residence and surgery were completely destroyed.
The fire had been deliberately lit by Joseph Gill, proprietor of the Coffee Palace, who had conspired with his mother-in-law to obtain the insurance.
The Steiglitz Hotel was the last of the town’s ten hotels to close. The final licensee was widow Christina Scott.
“During the many vicissitudes of a mining centre, she successfully carried on the business here until 1917 when, owing to the gradual decay of the township, she surrendered the license with the intent of living privately”.
Geelong Advertiser, 7 May 1918
Christina Scott died five months after she shut the hotel doors.
James Sugg’s wooden blacksmith cottage has been carefully restored, but nothing remains of the other traders in the street. One by one the carpenter, the plumber, the fishmonger and the barber left as the town declined. By the time Mr Sugg closed his blacksmith forge in 1944, he was the town’s last businessman.
“It may well be that the gold underground will enrich the town again. Meantime the gold of the wattle on the hills recalls happy memories to those who roamed among it in other days”.
Jane was at Andy’s bedside, but she felt helpless. She could only watch as the war separated her from Andy again.
Andy’s condition deteriorated and he was transferred to Ballarat. Then, five days before Anzac Day 1960, Andy died.
Anzac Day dawned cold and grey that year.
Featured image: ‘Original Anzac Passes On’, Riponshire Advocate,30 April 1960. State Library of Victoria
Jane Duncan (bottom picture, front row, second from right) continued to be actively involved in the Beaufort community in her sixties. By 1950 Jane was one of the few World War One wives on the Legion of Ex-Servicemen and Women, Ladies’ Auxiliary.
Featured image: 1950 ‘PROMINENT WOMEN OF BEAUFORT’, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 13 December, p. 27. Newspaper article found in Trove and reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103994632 [Accessed 18 Dec 2016].
The Riponshire Advocate declared the Back to Beaufort Centenary weekend a resounding success. All but one page of the 9 January edition of the newspaper reported the homecoming celebrations and sporting events.
Approximately 200 people visited the town. Some Beaufort residents would have noted that the number was well down on the 1,000 visitors who attended the previous ‘back to’ in 1927. But the Riponshire Advocate was certain that it was quality, not quantity, that was the measure of success.
The consensus of opinion among the visitors was that the whole of the celebrations were really delightful and thoroughly enjoyable, and they were loud in their praises of the excellent work done by the organising committee and its secretary and president.
Riponshire Advocate 9 January 1937
As secretary, Andy Duncan must have felt gratified by the response.
Andy set up a display of old photographs of Beaufort, and also a fine collection of walking sticks made from Mt. Cole forest timber, belonging to local forester Mr Thomas Derham Bailes.
Mr Duncan also displayed a fine inlaid wooden box and tray, made by him while a patient at the Caulfield Military Hospital
Riponshire Advocate 9 January 1937
Andy’s work as honorary secretary had proved his bona fides to his new home town. In the next few years he would be nominated for committee positions at the Beaufort Mechanics’ Institute, the Cemetery Trust and the Thistle Club.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 January 1937. State Library of Victoria
My great-great-great grandfather Henry Steward was one of the 37 percent of inked convicts. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land displaying two of the more common tattoos. His convict description notes “Anchor inside rt arm Crucifix inside left arm”.
Henry Steward was sentenced to 14 years transportation for “stealing a velveteen coat and a pair of trousers” in 1834.
Ancestry.com. UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class: HO9; Piece: 9. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ancestry.com.au. [Accessed 23 August 2013].
In 1936 the town of Beaufort prepared for a Back to Beaufort Centenary Homecoming. It was the centenary of explorer Major Thomas Mitchell‘s expedition passing through the district, although the township itself was somewhat younger, built after the discovery of gold at nearby Yam Holes Creek in 1854.
Homecoming events came into fashion in Australia at the end of the First World War. By then many towns were old enough that their residents could look back to pioneer days and celebrate how far they had come, but were still young enough that original settlers or their children could attend the festivities.
Despite their retrospective nature, “back to” gatherings were considered innovative and progressive. They could raise a town’s profile, boost the local economy and draw former residents back “from every state in the Commonwealth”, as the Geelong Advertiser put it. Victorian towns embraced the trend with great enthusiasm.
Andy Duncan was a member of the Back to Beaufort committee, and instrumental in organising the event. As honorary secretary he wrote to former residents, inviting them to return for the Christmas weekend. He was in touch with the Beaufort-in-Melbourne Club about arrangements for their 91 members to join the celebrations.
Andy also managed the homecoming budget, which included seeing what might be donated or discounted. It kept him busy:
liaising with the Railways Department on sharing the costs of promotional posters for display in metropolitan and Beaufort district stations;
developing an advertising plan and keeping tabs on revenue generated from advertising in the souvenir booklet;
negotiating truck rental to transport visitors to the picnic ground at Mount Cole;
borrowing flags and decorations from Melbourne using his Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League connections, then seeking council approval to decorate the town.
A letter was read from the Ripon Shire Council, stating that they had no objection to flags and welcome home signs being hung across the main street, but would not allow any sign to be placed on the band rotunda
Riponshire Advocate 5 December 1936
At the start of December preparations gathered momentum. Andy’s wife Jane joined the committee. She helped arrange a social for Christmas night, and hem the welcome signs Andy had organised for each end of town, the main street and the railway station.
1918 ‘Ararat Home-Coming.’, Ararat Chronicle and Willaura and Lake Bolac Districts Recorder (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 10 September, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154295833 [Accessed 17 July 2016].