Steiglitz: echoes of life in a gold rush town

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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“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


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Sandstone gutters and the occasional introduced tree mark the streets and allotments of the town. Residences and businesses stood cheek by jowl.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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“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”.

Ray Sumner, Steiglitz: memories of gold


Sources

1857 ‘STEIGLITZ DIGGINGS.’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14 May, p. 6. , viewed 10 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154821989

1893 ‘No Title’, The Bacchus Marsh Express (Vic. : 1866 – 1918), 19 August, p. 2. , viewed 10 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88194235

1895 ‘EXTENSIVE FIRE AT STEIGLITZ.’, The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 9 September, p. 3. , viewed 10 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203167683 

1896 ‘THE STEIGLITZ COFFEE PALACE FIRE.’, Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 22 February, p. 4. , viewed 31 Oct 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150711723

1917 ‘HOTEL VERDICTS IN A FORTNIGHT’, Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 31 May, p. 4. , viewed 09 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119714876

1917 ‘STEIGLITZ.’, The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 29 August, p. 6. , viewed 31 Oct 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154709640

1918 ‘STEIGLITZ’, Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 7 May, p. 5. , viewed 09 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119695510

1936 ‘Steiglitz.’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 25 April, p. 6. , viewed 09 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205257608

Barwon Blog: Branching out – GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! http://barwonblogger.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/branching-out-gold-gold-gold.html

Gold Discovery: Monument Australia. http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/technology/industry/display/33589-gold-discovery

‘Steiglitz’, https://sites.goldenplains.vic.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/Steiglitz.pdf

Sumner, Ray. & Victoria. National Parks Service.  1982,  Steiglitz : memories of gold  Ray Sumner & National Parks Service, Victoria [Melbourne]

 

 

All images copyright the author, except image 2: Geelong Heritage Centre

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