Only 11 years later, the tiny town of Clunes was the site of Victoria's first gold find, unexpectedly. Gold traces were first found on this property by a friend, William Campbell, in March 1850. There had already been many rumours of gold being found in the area by young lads, but the squatters suppressed the rumours/true stories in order to maintain the district as a quiet pastoral district.
Then Victoria separated from New South Wales in 1851 and became a colony in its own right. I am sure the good leaders of the new colony wanted to increase the population of Victoria and hoped to establish new rural centres where families would find plenty of work.
1851 was a magic year! In July 1851 James Esmond, who had been to the goldfields of California, arrived in Clunes and mined some samples from the quartz; then he travelled to Geelong to report the discovery. He reached Geelong on 5th July 1851, to great acclaim. Almost immediately the news of his gold find was published in the Geelong Advertiser and soon the Melbourne Daily News carried the story.
Thus the gold rush began in Victoria!
For the first six years, mining was still on a very small scale, and people lived and worked in very difficult conditions. In 1855 Donald Cameron sold his station property and returned to Scotland where he purchased a property near Inverness and named it "Clunes".
Nichol and Wallace warehouse, c1860,
now the Clunes Museum
In 1857, the Port Philip Co. became interested in the Clunes reefs. A lease was drawn up with the owners of the land to give the Company the right to mine on the land for 21 years, with the owners to receive 10% of all gold mined. This proved very profitable, with rich royalties in the early years. Clunes began to prosper from 1857; from a group of flimsy huts, it grew into a decent town. However because the gold occurred mainly in quartz veins in the basement rock, it would have taken a lot of capital and large mining projects to recover the gold. In the end, many miners were attracted to easier and richer alluvial gold discoveries e.g Ballarat.
Still, the mines were paying well and money was flowing. The population reached 1,000 and the post office, arguably the centre of civilisation in rural towns, opened in 1857.
Clunes town hall and court house, 1872
By 1866, Clunes had its own council, 8 small schools, a population of 3,500, 850 dwellings, 5 churches and 7 quartz mines. Plus every religious and fraternal organisation known to the British Empire. There were 15 hotels, many shops, ironmongers, black smiths, wheelwrights, foundries, a gas works and some brick making yards. The former Union Bank, erected in 1865, was a forerunner of many new and rebuilt premises during the late 1860s and early 1870s; by then mining led Clunes to its peak of prosperity.
The Free library was erected in the 1870s during the peak of prosperity at Clunes. The double gable form was unusual although, as I have discussed many times in this blog, a library or mechanics institute was to be found in most Victorian towns during the 19th century.
Mostly importantly for this town, Clunes was connected to the Victorian railway network in 1874 and Clunes station was built the next year, complete with a fine cast iron platform veranda. The Railway Hotel was also built in the 1870s, to profit from its close proximity to the new station.
Citizens wanted a pleasant place to stroll in the heat of summer, so the shady grounds of Queens Park opened in the 1870s and a fountain and pergola were built in 1887. The end of the prosperous era was nigh, but gold mining did not actually close until 1893.
Clunes State School, 1881,
now a museum
Although the population is now tiny (1,050 people), Clunes is one of the most intact 19th-century towns in the Central Goldfields, with lovely bluestone and brick buildings. Fraser St, the main shopping road, still has original 19th-century shop fronts and verandas, including the National Hotel (1862), Club Hotel (1870) and new Union Bank (1865). The c1860 building that had once been the warehouse of mining contractors Nichol and Wallace is now the Clunes Museum, established in 1976 and owned by the local Shire Council.
Today the town’s claim to fame is as the largest collection of books in any regional centre of Australia. I am pleased the old buildings are being reused, but the town still has a somewhat sad sense of loss.
Long after this post was written, the old State Savings Bank in Clunes reappeared in the newspapers. Prominent in the commercial centre of the township, the former bank was built from rendered triple brick and contains a 4 bedroom residence with study, retail space, cellar and steel plated walk in bank vault. It has been used in film and television programmes, notably Ned Kelly starring Heath Ledger. Many of the original grand period features have been lovingly maintained including the pressed metal ceilings, marble fire places, stately living area, maid's room complete with bell and a cloak room. Downstairs includes the kitchen, bank chambers, manager's sitting room and course the vault.
Clunes State Savings Bank, 1871
The closure of the banks was a telling part of Clune's not-so-glory-days. The Old Savings Bank now sells a collection of natural gold nuggets, jewellery, antiques, reproductions and giftware to the public. But inside its financial origins are clear - the interiors are filled with original detailing designed to connote an air of security and prosperity. The Union Bank of Australia was erected in 1865. This building is largely intact and with its modern extension has been converted for use as an art studio facility and accommodation. The Clunes London Chartered Bank was commenced in 1871. In 1921 it became the English, Scottish and Australian Bank and is currently used by the Clunes RSL as club rooms and to house their collection of memorabilia.
CAE students may be interested in the course on Gold Rush Cities in Victoria, starting on 4th May 2016.