Beechworth: Behind the name

In 1824 explorers Havel Hume and William Howell crossed through the country 8 miles southeast of the present town on their way from Sydney to Corio Bay Geelong. While not placing a name to the area now known as Murmungee, it’s only inhabitances were the Min-jan-buttu aboriginal tribe.

So how did Beechworth get it’s name?

It wasn’t until 15 years later in 1839 that the son of Surgeon-Lieutenant David Reid, a former naval  officer who served with distinctions aboard the H.M.S. Bellerophon in the battle of Trafalgar took up a grazing lease near Tarawingee just south of Beechworth.

Mr Reid needed to extend his pastoral holding so by following Eldorado Creek upstream during the month of May until he found the picturesque hills that envelope the current day town. So taken by the areas natural beauty he immediately named them May Day Hills.

With the exception of grazing, no attempt was made to open up the area for the next 12 years.

That was until James Meldrum an experienced prospector and former shepherd of Mr Reid who left his employment to settle on the Ovens River near Wangaratta and lead prospecting expeditions up to the granite boulders of May Day Hills.

In Spring Creek that runs behind the main street of Beechworth, near the foot of Newtown Hill a pint pot of gold was discovered on one of these expeditions in 1852 by prospectors Baker and Strickland and the gold rush town of Spring Creek was formed.

Soon tents lined either side of the river with over 8000 people making the journey from Melbourne, many by foot taking over three weeks.  It was worth the journey as the rich diggings averaged £30 per week net per claim, with some finding fortunes of up to £800 per week.

Gold was soon discovered at Pennyweight, then at Reid Creek and in the following year 1853, Madman’s Gully and Nine Mile Creek. This was a popular location for the Scottish and later Chinese immigrants.

Gold was next found in Hurdle Flat, Europa Gully, Buckland Gap (reef) and a location near Mr Reid’s woodshed immediately below Reids Creek.

To tame the water at Woodshed, American prospector  John Johnson took the timber off the building it was named after to shore up the creek and then dug deep high yielding leads. This lead him to be one of the wealthiest men on the goldfields.

Still in 1853 the first postal office was established in the present day location and it was known as Spring Creek Post Office, Ovens Goldfields.   At the same time a group of business men including George Briscoe Kerford, Frederick Brown and James Ingram began lobbying the Surveyor General Mr. Smythe the survey the town.

Mr.George Smythe completed the survey on 1st July 1853 and renamed the town Beechworth after his English birthtown.

Beechworth Ford St

Golden Horseshoes

Between the years of 1852 and 1866 over 4.25 million ounces of gold came out of the area, which continued to grow when a group of Canadians discovered gold in Sebastopol in 1857, then Eldorado.

Tensions in the diggings were running height when the minors split into 2 gun wielding rival fractions, the reef-mining Punchers and the alluvial-mining  Monkeys.  They were unsatisfied with the mining licenses system, which was being enforced by the heavy hand of police toppers. Adding to the mix criminals had moved into the diggings and there had been several murders.

In 1855 each warring side sponsors a candidate to go up for election to act as a Parliamentary representative for the Ovens Goldfields.   Woolshed storekeeper Daniel Cameron  was the Monkey candidate and pharmacist John Lyons was Puncher nominee.  This caused bitter clashes up until the September Election day in Beechworth.

On election day the Monkeys marched from Woolshed lead by their candidate on horseback up La Serena Hill.  Helped by their wealthiest sponsor Mr. Johnson, minors in the procession held banners and placards adorned by ornaments made from pure gold and handed out free steins of beer to encourage passes by to join them.

A brass band joined in and upon reaching the old Vine Hotel one mile from Beechworth Cameron’s horse was fitted with shoes made from solid gold before the procession continued.

It’s said that when the shoes were removed from the horse upon arriving in Beechworth, they were an ounce lighter. While free beer continued to flow the two candidates met on the balcony of the Star Hotel election was held with Mr. Cameron winning. The Punchers disputed the election and a further ballot was held the following day with Mr. Cameron again winning and becoming the Ovens Goldfields Victorian Parliament Represented.

By 1870 many significant buildings had been built including the Jail, Methodist Church, School, Congregational Church and a water driven flower mill (at Newtown Falls). The Ovens and District Hospital, current post office, Museum, shire offices, courthouse and telegraph station were also completed.

Beechworth Camp St