The Man Who Wrote His Own Death Certificate

How many of us can claim that the information on a death certificate is as accurate as if the deceased gave the information themselves? The subject of the following post is interesting on a whole host of levels, not the least of which is the fact that he filled out his own death certificate. Many readers will now be wishing it was their ancestor (John Thomas Coates I’m thinking of you!) whilst also wondering how such a thing could occur.

William Edward Barnes was the curator of the Free Library in Murphy Street, Wangaratta from 1902 until 1914. His wife Eliza Ruth (nee Floyd) assisted in the book room of the library. Barnes was also from 1908 until 1916 the Registrar of Births and Deaths. This activity was carried out in a room at the rear of the original library building. When your relatives went to the Registrar to register a birth or death, it was in one of the rooms of the old library building. It was Barnes who shared every joy and tragedy of the townsfolk, and of my ancestors. Near the beginning of his incumbency he registered the death in November 1908 of my great great grandfather William Moore, Clerk of the Wangaratta racecourse and horse trainer. Months before his own death in 1916 Barnes registered the birth of my grandmother Alma Caroline Moore, granddaughter of William Moore and daughter of Caroline Ann Moore. Alma’s birth was a joyous occasion but William had been thrown his horse and met a gruesome and untimely death. Barnes was an essential part of the process that all family historians rely on, and it must have been a very difficult job at times. He could not baulk at hearing about a murder or a stillborn child. He had to congratulate a new father on one hand and then shortly after commiserate with a young widow. He had to hear it all and he had to prevent emotion from clouding his actions as he recorded these important documents, and as he guided informants through the legal process.

Wangaratta free libraryBarnes took his role as Registrar very seriously, as he did his work as curator of the library. After his wife Eliza Ruth (nee Floyd) died in May 1911, 70 year old William seems to have gone down hill. He most likely was both the registrar and the informant for his wife’s death certificate, a truly traumatic thing to go through. He had three surviving children out of five. His only surviving daughter lived at Glenrowan and he had fallen out with his youngest son Edward who lived in Melbourne. It is possible he was also estranged from his oldest surviving son Donald as he enlisted in Sydney in August 1914 shortly after the declaration of what became known as World War One. All of this must have weighed heavily on the aging man and in December of 1914 William resigned as curator of the library explaining that “the duties needed too close attention, and this was affecting his health. He intended to devote his time to carrying out his other duties as registrar of births, deaths and marriages. The resignation was accepted with regret and a minute was placed on the books of the committee of the Free Library “expressing appreciation of the services rendered by Mr. Barnes. Committeemen spoke favourably of the courteous, methodical and painstaking manner in which he had discharged his duties.”

So William had been wearing two hats – that of curator of the Free Library and Registrar of Births and Deaths, both of which required attention to detail and were most fitting for a respectable gentleman in his twilight years. But William had also experienced a colourful past and he had taken part in, and had been an observer of  the life of Wangaratta since at least 1875 – as a photographer. Despite being a photographer in the town for 33 years, very little of his work remains in the public domain, and sadly no self portraits or images of his family.

The following photo is attributed to Barnes but all the other details on the Museum Victoria catalogue are incorrect. State School no.1962 was Docker’s Plains, not Wangaratta. Until late 1877 this school was a Catholic school no. 832 so can’t date before that period (the school number is clear in the on-line version). The clothing of the children dates the image to the late 1870s and Barnes didn’t arrive in Victoria until 1870.

Docker's Plains SS late 1870s.This photo of Bontharambo, the Docker family home, held by the State Library of Victoria is attributed to Barnes (1884-1889) but no further information is available about the image. Perhaps a Bontharambo buff could date the photo by aspects of the building?

Bontharambo by Barnes c1884-1889Barnes gained his greatest fame, not from schools, wealthy landowners or ordinary people sitting for their portraits, but from the Kelly gang. Barnes took photographs of the police who played significant roles in the capture of Ned Kelly in 1880. In what have become iconic images, Constable Bracken and Sergeant Steele were portrayed variously as conquering heroes – guns to the fore – and also as gentlemen. Sub-Inspector O’Connor who was in charge of the Queensland trackers chose only to be depicted as a gentleman. The main police in the contingent were posed displaying their weaponry in a manner reminiscent of hunters, but fairly typical for the time.

Wangaratta contingent of police at capture of Kelly Gang, 28 June 1880 by Barnes Constable Bracken from SLV

Steve Hart by W. E. Barnes 1878 One of Barnes’ more interesting portraits is that of a youthful Steve Hart, a member of the Kelly gang. After the police shootings at Stringybark Creek in 1878, Barnes remembered Hart as one of his subjects and was able to forward police an image of him, taken in 1877 or 1878.

Astutely, Barnes registered the Kelly related photographs with the Victorian Patents Office. These important images survive in the collection of the State Library of Victoria because of this action. Although Barnes must have taken a huge number of studio portraits in Wangaratta from around 1875 until he ceased work in 1908, relatively few survive in public collections. These examples are important, not only as relics of the Kelly era, but of Barnes’ professional work.

On the morning of his death on the 15th June 1916 William Edward Barnes made out a will leaving his £28 estate to his estranged son Edward before carefully completing his own death certificate. The only part of the certificate Barnes appeared to leave blank was the date and place of burial and the name of the registrar, although he had recorded his own occupation as “Registrar of births and deaths.” In the column for recording the cause of death he carefully wrote “gun shot wound self inflicted”.

There is so much more to write about the life of William Edward Barnes. He witnessed and recorded some of the most exciting (and undoubtedly frightening) times Wangaratta saw. Sadly his obituary focused on the manner of his death, largely ignoring his contribution to Wangaratta.

If anyone has any images taken by W. E. Barnes, or any other Wangaratta based photographers I would love to hear from you. I am creating a database of early Wangaratta photographers and need information from private collections to fine tune dates.




The Donegal Relief Fund 1858

Research of our Irish forebears is difficult most of the time. Late civil registration in Ireland, an English, Anglican leaning aristocracy in Australia that thought recording someone as being born in “Ireland” was adequate, excruciatingly common surnames and unimaginative christian names makes for some serious brick walls in Irish research.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find this listing of people in Wangaratta who contributed to the Donegal Relief Fund in July 1858.

Donegal Relief Fund 1858 Donegal Relief Fund 1858Did all of these residents have connections with Donegal or were they sympathetic towards their fellow Irishmen? Thomas Cusack, eldest child of Michael Cusack and Mary (nee Hogan) was born in Wangaratta in 1841. Both his parents were born in Tipperary, more than 300 kms south of Donegal. His wife Mary (nee Worcester) was also born in Wangaratta, in 1844, to Buckinghamshire born father Thomas Worcester and Mary (nee Gray) who was born in New South Wales to Irish parents. His contribution must have been sympathetic towards his fellow countrymen. And perhaps, as Thomas was only 17 years old, he was using his father’s money, although Thomas did demonstrate generosity of spirit as he became older and successful in his own right, particularly when he was owner and licensee of the Royal Hotel (now the Pinsent) and then the Council Club Hotel when still in his early twenties.

This listing is also interesting for the evidence of women asserting themselves as having identities separate to those of their husbands, although of course they were known as Mrs [insert husband's name]. Mrs Alexander Tone is one of those women, although she was careful not to donate more than her husband. Mrs Tone was formerly Margaret Canny. If anyone has researched Patrick Canny and can enlighten me on his connection to Margaret Tone and where in Ireland they came from, please use the contact page to get in touch. The case of Miss Margaret Meldrum is a little curious. Probably James Meldrum submitted the donation on behalf of his eight year old daughter.

The presence of other nationalities on the committee also points to a reasonably egalitarian colonial society. Louis Wend and the Reverend F Kums were likely to have been of Prussian or similar descent. In this case shared religion must have been the bond as Reverend Kums was the Roman Catholic parish priest at Wangaratta.

For information on why Donegal needed a relief fund and how many Donegal residents found their way to Australia in the 1850s and 1860s click here for a web page by Lindel Buckley and Bill Spillane.

Trove Tuesday – Wangaratta 1863 – Part 4

Following on from the last Trove Tuesday we continue reading an account of Wangaratta published in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser (O&MA) in January 1863.

Having reviewed the temples of Bacchus, we naturally turn to the temple of Themis. This is represented by a building of brick, which, if Colonial bricks and mortar, and Colonial contractors, had done their work as well as had been hoped, or intended, would be an ornament to the town, and a convenient and comfortable establishment for its frequenters, whether J.P.s, inebriates, clerks, reporters, or policemen. As it is, the building is tumbling down.

The Temples of Bacchus mentioned in the last Trove Tuesday post referred to the Roman god of wine. Again the writer of this piece shows off his classical education by referring to the temple of Themis. Themis was a Greek Titaness who was “the personification of divine order, law, natural law and custom”. The reference is rather amusing as in 1863 Wangaratta was far from the epitome of law and order. Perhaps fittingly, the building that was supposed to represent, and be the seat of law and order, was derelict.

Unfortunately Whittaker’s book on Wangaratta does not mention the court house at all, nor does Bill O’Callaghan. Graham Jones’ On This Day in the North East has no mention of the court house and his bicentary volume There Was a Time has no index. At around 270 pages I have been daunted by the task of indexing the book. You can see a combined index of other books relating to Wangaratta that I have indexed here. It is not even clear where this first court house stood. It was most likely on the block set aside for police use on the south west corner of Murphy and Faithfull streets but it is not clear if it faced Faithfull Street where the third Court House was eventually located, or Murphy Street. The blocks  number 7, 8, 9, and 10 in section 11 notated “Police” in the map below were shown on an earlier map as being reserved for a church, school and parsonage.

Wangaratta police court location£2,000 was set aside in early 1858 for a substantial court house at Wangaratta. It seems implausible that a building costing so much would be falling apart less than 5 years later. It seems more likely that the money was not used for a new building until after early 1863. A newspaper report in May 1866 supports this hypothesis.

O&MA 29th May 1866

Ovens &Murray Advertiser 29th May 1866

Another report mentions the “old Court House” in August 1864, suggesting that the new building was erected between January 1863 and August 1864, and the old “tumbling down” court house continued to serve as a type of community center for at least a few years. The new Court House looked like this.

Wangaratta Court House (II)Facing Murphy Street on the corner of Faithfull Street, on allotment 9 shown in the map above, it must have been an imposing landmark. The tower is an unusual addition to a Court House. Reminiscent of a lighthouse it is taller than the Court House itself and would have provided unimpeded views of the country side. That the tower was positioned on the Ovens River side of the block is perhaps no accident. This was an era where ideas were at work everywhere. One of the ideas for transportation to close the gap on the “tyranny of distance” was to use paddle steamers on major river systems, an idea that worked well on the Murray River. The story of the navigation of the Ovens River is so interesting, I will not go off on a tangent with that story now, but will keep it for another time.

In September 1872 the Illustrated Australian News featured Wangaratta, stating:

There is, perhaps, no country town in Victoria that shows more signs of immediate progress than Wangaratta. Many new buildings have been recently erected. The old court-house has been renewed and coated with cement, and a new white railing substituted for the old broken fence. 

This does perhaps throw my theory of Court Houses up in the air. Is the Court House in the above image the one that had been renewed and coated with cement? If so, it would actually be the first court house, and the second (new) building was probably in Faithfull Street where the Art Deco building stood for many years. I think this is probably not the correct interpretation of the Court House story as it seems unlikely that a rather cheaply built 1850s brick building could have been turned into something so substantial and attractive as the building with the tower – but I’ll keep an open mind. Unfortunately only images of this towered Court House in Murphy Street and the Art Deco Court House in Faithfull Street are publicly available. A map drawn up in the late 1860s or 1870s may be needed to solve the puzzle. Until something else is brought to my attention I’ll stick with my theory of the towered building being the second Court House.

Whatever the building it was housed in, a Court House was sorely needed in the growing community. Lawlessness wasn’t usual but it wasn’t unheard of either. Wangaratta’s problems were common throughout the colonies and in the late 1850s, so few police represented the district as to make it virtually un-policed.

Ovens & Murray Advertiser, 18th October 1857Some sensational events did occur in the town but by the 1860s these had reduced in number. The Hobart based Colonial Times reported the following incident in 1853.

The usual accounts of “bailing up” and robberies occupy the papers. A desperate attack was made on Meldrum Hotel, at Wangaratta, by a mob of some twenty men, who attempted, in the middle of the day, to take forcible possession of the house. The inmates, however, with the assistance of some of the residents of Wangaratta, overpowered them, after a sanguinary battle, and gave them so sound a thrashing that they will probably never make a similar attempt again. The police, though their station was near, did not take any part in the matter.

The Wangaratta courthouse was the scene of many important events, perhaps the earliest and most important occurring in July 1863 when votes were counted in the first election for the Wangaratta Municipal Council. An account of the election which gives a nice insight into the personalities and factions of the contenders can be read here.  Michael Cusack, along with his friend and my ancestor William Henry Clark and William Murdoch topped the poll. It is interesting that all three of the top pollers were publicans and all had businesses linked to each other. Announced by police magistrate R. W. Shadforth the results were:

Michael Cusack  89
William Clark  88
Wm. Murdoch  88
James Dixon  78
Edward Lucas  72
John Burrows  66
Alex. Tone  62
William Willis  58
D. H. Evans  47
W. A. Dobbyn  44
Andrew Swan 39
A. C. Bayly  37
Andrew Stark  31
Wm. Thomson  27
Samuel Norton  25
Edward Batchelor 16


Wangaratta Rate Books to be digitised

I’m so excited about the news that the very active and vibrant Wangaratta Family History Society will be digitising and indexing Wangaratta rate books over the next few years. Just can’t wait!

Trove Tuesday – Wangaratta 1863 – Part 3

Following on from the last Trove Tuesday we continue reading an account of Wangaratta published in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser (O&MA) in January 1863.

As in all Australian cities, the public-houses of Wangaratta are a prominent institution, six in number; two of them well merit the title, ‘Hotel,’ arrogated by five—offering good accommodation for man and beast, and equal to any Colonial inns for comfort and respectability. The Horse and Jockey Inn is noted as the favored resort of those sporting men who, wishing to combine ‘ the comforts of a home’ (vide prospectus of Minerva House Academy) with the privacy requisite for training arrangements, look on it as rus in urbe•

It is not clear if the author meant Wangaratta had six hotels or seven in 1863. Nor does he mention the second establishment he considered worthy of the name ‘hotel’ so it is also difficult to know which he considered “arrogated” themselves. The hotels known to be in existence in January 1863 were:

  1. The Horse and Jockey on the corner of Ryley and Warby streets (and still known as the Horse and Jockey corner) was licensed to James Blake in August 1859 when he made headlines by refusing entry to a seriously injured man. DrDobbyn requested that Mr. J. Connelly, whohad been thrown from his horse and suffered a compound fracture of his thigh, be admitted for treatment. Blakewas charged withan infringement of the LicensedVictuallers Act by refusing to admit a traveller. MagistrateShadforth stated that he “should have expected very different conduct from an old publican”, suggesting that Blake had been in the establishment for some years.
    Horse and Jockey Hotel from D. M. Whittaker's book.

    Horse and Jockey Hotel from D. M. Whittaker’s book.

    The Horse and Jockey Hotel first received mention in the press in February 1859 in relation to an annual three day horse racing carnival. The large advertisement mentioned four hotels, each of whom were evidently selected to share equally in the spoils of a large number of people who would retire there after long days of revelry at the horse track. The four hotels mentioned in the advertisement were the Horse and Jockey, the Royal, the Australian and the Commercial.

  2. The Royal Hotel in Reid Street operated from as early as 1852, and most probably before that time. It became the Pinsent Hotel when Annie Edith Pinsent, the licensee since at least 1917, purchased the freehold and changed the name from the 1st January 1923. Later the hotelwas run by Annie’s son Arthur Henry.
    Pinsent Hotel advertising cardPinsent Hotel advertising card

    Licensed to John Crisp in 1852 the Royal Hotel had passed through several hands until 1863 when Thomas Cusack (son of Michael Cusack who was also the secretary of the Annual Race Meeting) owned it, and the next year when Henry Kett was the licensee.

  3. Sale Notice Feb 1866

    The Australian Hotel on Parfitt Road was licensed to Samuel Evans as early as September 1858 when it hit the news as the location of a mass poisoning of dogs. By July 1864 the Australian had been taken over by George Edmonston whom we met in a the previous Trove Tuesday post when he commenced a brewery at the hotel. The brewery having failed, Edmonston put the hotel up for sale in February 1866. The hotel was de-licensed in 1912 when Mrs Isabella Dale was the owner and licensee.

  4. The Commercial Hotel, earlier the Commercial Inn, was owned by William Henry Clark from at least January 1845 until his death in April 1871. Owning dozens of blocks all over the town, Clark was probably hedging his bets by building on Murphy Street a far more impressive hotel than the Hope Inn. By June 1861 Clark had transferred the license to William Murdoch, preferring to retire to his pre-emptive selection on the outskirts of town, but he had resumed the license by 1870.
  5. The Hope Inn, also owned by William Henry Clark was situated in Templeton Street opposite the sale yards (now the King George Gardens) and on the corner of the old stock bridge. This was the location of Rattray’s punt and hotel which had operated since the late 1830s. In the 1860s the Hope Inn was sold to William Painter (sometimes Paynter) and named the Sydney Hotel.
  6. Royal Victoria Hotel from an 1857 sale notice

    Royal Victoria Hotel from an 1857 sale notice.  Courtesy State Library of Victoria

    The Royal Victoria Hotel in Faithfull Street, on the block to the west of the Court House, was described in 1857 as “betwixt the new bridge and the punt”. It was built by Thomas Millard in early 1855 for between £7,000 and £8,000. The bricklayer was my relative Christopher Cook who built the Wangaratta Steam Flour Mill. The Royal Victoria was sold in March 1858 at Millard’s insolvent estate sale to Andrew Stark who still owned it in 1863. The hotel was given an art deco renovation in the 1930s in keeping with the court house style but was demolished recently to make way for a truly ugly and soul-less Centrelink office. It is a shame the Wangaratta Council doesn’t place any priority on preserving streetscapes as this was a rare art deco combination and one of Wangaratta’s oldest extant buildings.

  7. James Meldrum’s Wangaratta Hotel which stood in what is now Clements Street (or possible facing Bickerton Street) was first mentioned in newspapers in April 1852 when locals were attempting to talk up gold prospecting near the town. Thomas Millard assured readers that gold was there for the taking conveniently just behind his Wangaratta Store. James Meldrum was quite happy to let readers know that he was purchasing gold taken from behind his friend Millard’s store and from parties prospecting at Reid’s Creek. Positioned, just like many of the inns, to take advantage of travellers stopping to cross the Ovens River using Clark’s punt, Meldrum’s hotel stood in direct opposition to Clark’s Hope Inn on the north bank of the Ovens. Whittaker noted that the establishment began life as Bond’s store and inn. Whittaker claims this was John Bond but ownership at this time is unclear. The Inn was also the location of the Post Office which was established in 1843 and each subsequent owner became the Postmaster. John Dunmore Lang reported staying at the inn in January 1846. In July 1846 W. C. Bond (probably William Carpenter Bond) transferred the license to John Rogers. James Meldrum took over in 1847 and built the Wangaratta Hotel. For a short time  in 1855 Meldrum transferred the license of the Wangaratta Hotel to a Mr Rogers (possibly the former owner) but retained ownership, probably while he took a trip back home to show off his huge wealth. James Meldrum died on the 15th February 1865 at the young age of 47, followed by his only daughter Margaret in December 1866. Meldrum’s widow Mary (nee Leacy) sold up and returned to Ireland. The lure of the hotel must have been strong as Mary returned to the town and again purchased the Wangaratta Hotel, operating it until around 1888. She died there in 1896.
Wangaratta Hotel locations January 1863

Wangaratta Hotel locations January 1863

Apart from the Horse and Jockey which positioned itself on the outskirts of town, possibly near an early racecourse, most of the early hotels vied for position around the Ovens River. The intention was to catch the passing trade of travellers between Sydney and Melbourne, and diggers heading to the Beechworth goldfields. All had to stop to consider how they would cross the river – by punt or (by the late 1850s) the toll bridge between Murphy Street and what later became Parfitt Road. This positioning was before the mid 1850s a complete gamble as it wasn’t known if Ovens Street or Murphy Street was going to be selected for the location of a bridge. Every publican hoped that the bridge would be built closer to their establishment than a rival’s, and that the street they were located on would become the main thoroughfare. At first everything centred around Clark’s Hope Inn and his punt but when the toll bridge was built along the line of Murphy Street and Parfitt Road, the dynamics of the town center changed with a shift towards Murphy Street as the main thoroughfare.


Trove Tuesday – Wangaratta 1863 – Part 2

Following on from the last Trove Tuesday we continue reading an account of Wangaratta published in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser (O&MA) in January 1863.

A tannery has been lately established in Templeton-street, and but for the doubts entertained by the neighbors, as to its effect upon the already sufficiently dirty waters of the Ovens, would be hailed with satisfaction as an addition to local enterprise, although not a novelty, as a tannery has been in operation in North Wangaratta for some years.

It was a fact of early colonial life that many industries relied on water from rivers. Many used the water in a way that polluted the very water needed for drinking. Slaughterhouses and tanneries were infamous for being one of these big polluters. The Encyclopedia of Melbourne’s entry on noxious trades noted that trades processing the “by-products of livestock slaughtering – the blood, bones, fat, hair, wool, hooves, and the offal – were located near the public and private abattoirs, themselves usually sited along … rivers and creeks”. In Melbourne air and water pollution were apparent “particularly during the upsurge of boiling-down of surplus stock during the 1840s depression, and during the meat-preserving boom of the late 1860s and early 1870s”. Tanners, fellmongers and wool-washers preferred the upper reaches of waterways where fresh water could be obtained. They caused water pollution that flowed straight through the nearest town.

Unknown tannery with pits in foreground.

Unknown tannery with pits in foreground.

The O&MA identified the proprietors of the Wangaratta tannery as Messrs Boyd and Leishman. An editorial in May 1863 claimed “some first rate leather” was being produced. “Their arrangements are not quite completed yet, but I am positive that in a very short space of time the leather produced at this establishment will compete successfully with either the Melbourne or home country productions. I saw a first-rate sample of harness leather at the tannery to-day, and I would request saddlers and harness makers, for their own benefit, to pay a visit to that establishment.”

Mr Boyd was probably William Boyd who removed himself from a partnership with Dennis Hallahan and Matthew Dodd in the Ovens Tannery at Newtown, Beechworth  in August 1862. Thomas Leishman was the other partner. Leishman’s sons carried on the business after the death of their father in 1901, only selling it after the death of Thomas junior in 1917. The tannery barely gets a mention in newspapers, advertisements were rare, and images non-existent. The lack of advertising may have been because, apart from the Ovens Tannery at Beechworth, it was the only such establishment in north-eastern Victoria and the need to differentiate from the competition did not exist. This newspaper article places the tannery right in the middle of a rather unusual town event 50 years after the tannery was established.

On Thursday, while being used to draw tan from Mr. Leishman‘s tannery to the circus tent, the elephant got beyond control of the driver. He broke away, and in the rush along the street caused pedestrians returning from the show to scatter in all directions to places of safety. Horses were startled, but fortunately no accident occurred. The elephant was finally secured by his keeper, and brought under subjection once more.

When Christina, the widow of Thomas Leishman senior died in 1909, her probate noted that she owned part of Lot 2 and Lots 3, 4, and 5 in section 38 of Wangaratta with a frontage to Templeton Street. The property included a brick house of seven rooms with an old tiled roof and iron veranda. The house was on a narrow block of approximately 25 feet of flat land before it sloped sharply northwards down towards the river. Also on the property were two “very old” wooden shingle roofed sheds used for storing bark and “a very old open shed containing 36 pits used as a tannery and drying shed.” Whittaker placed Leishman’s tannery “in Templeton Street near the railways line and on the river bank. It extended over a whole block with it’s soaking pits etc.” The tannery was less than a block from Mackay & Reid’s Wangaratta Steam Flour Mill that we looked at in Part 1 of this series, and marked the eastern end of Templeton Street as an industrial precinct .

Templeton Street showing the allotments that Leishman’s tannery occupied

An interesting thing about this is that the Lots were originally purchased by James Meldrum (Lot 2), Patrick Cusack (Lot 3), and William Thomson (Lots 4 & 5). James Meldrum was the licensee of the Wangaratta Hotel. Patrick Cusack, was a son of inaugural councillor, butcher and auctioneer Michael Cusack. William Thomson was a Scottish bootmaker, who had his main business along the same line of road in Faithfull Street in 1863. It is possible he bought the block in Templeton Street and later moved his business to Faithfull Street closer to the commercial district. Thomson was also one of the men nominated to stand for election at the first council elections. His speech was remarkable for saying only that “he was not much of an orator”. Not surprisingly he polled 14th out of 16 men who stood. The next year Thomson was appointed council assessor (of rates) along with Samuel Norton.

For many years, Wangaratta felt the proud and profitable duty of purveying beer for the thirsty souls and bodies of the Ovens gold-fields, and ‘Meldrum’s ale’ was joyously quaffed through the length and breadth of the Murray Valley, permeating the bush in all directions ; but, alas ! for the mutability of human affairs, not only has Ovens water ceased to irrigate the stomachs of Beechworth and Albury, but Kerferd’s entire has actually flooded the original article out of Wangaratta. It is to be hoped, however, that the brewery now, in new hands, will resume its pristine prosperity.

While many people in the North east obtained their water from rivers and creeks, breweries also tapped into the supply. Ironically, beer and spirits were often used as substitutes when clean water was not available. The entry in the Encyclopedia of Melbourne for colonial breweries notes that brewing was a precarious business in the early days. “The greatest demand was in hot weather when it was virtually impossible to make good beer. Efforts were made to brew in the cooler months, and store it, though there was no adequate refrigeration until the late 1880s.”

Meldrum's Ale advertisement 1855

Meldrum’s Ale advertisement 1855

Meldrum’s Ale was a brew concocted by storekeeper and Wangaratta Hotel owner and licensee James Meldrum, at his unimaginatively named Wangaratta Brewery. An early resident of Wangaratta, in the Victorian Government Gazette of 1855 Meldrum was recorded as being a spirit merchant and brewer residing on the corner of Reid and Murphy Streets.

As evidenced from his obituary Meldrum made a great deal of money from his ale. “A small brick building, originally used as a fellmongering establishment, was converted by him into a brewery, and for several years the profits exceeded £400 per week. In a very short time he accumulated a fortune of £50,000.” However most of this fortune was lost when Meldrum became insolvent.

Meldrum’s store blocks corner Reid and Murphy Streets.

Meldrum’s store and brewery on the corner of Reid and Murphy Streets was in the central business district of Wangaratta. Once known as London House, old Wangarattians will know the corner and building as Osmotherly’s.



Osmotherly's building formerly London House, corner Reid & Murphy Streets.

Osmotherly’s building formerly London House, corner Reid & Murphy Streets.

Kerferd’s Brewery was located in Beechworth so the dominance of an ale from a rival town must have irked the locals, not to mention made obtaining the drink more difficult, hence the hope that the new owners of the Wangaratta Brewery would fix that issue. The Wangaratta Brewing and Malting Company that was formed after the collapse of Meldrum’s brewery had a grand ceremony for the laying of a foundation stone at the new Chisholm Street location in September 1868. Unfortunately for the numerous local subscribers, not to mention the drinkers, the business was a failure.

George Edmonston of the Australian Hotel tried his hand at brewing in early 1865 but doesn’t seem to have made a success of it. Francis Couch Michell, owner of the Royal Victoria Hotel started the Victoria Brewery in Grey Street on the banks of the Ovens River before 1872 when he sold or rented it to John Dodsworth and Michael Moloney. Dodsworth bought out the Wangaratta Brewing and Malting Company in 1877 but failed to make a success of it as the water from the King River was deemed unsuitable for brewing.

The only brewery that seemed to survive in any form, although a much later business, was the Buffalo Brewery in Phillipson Street (then Boundary Road) which was understandably, located outside the borough boundary. This survived until at least the 1970s as the soft drink manufacturers Cohn Brothers.

Sepia Saturday – A quartet of hotels

Sepia Saturday 223 12th April 2014

Choosing images for this week’s Sepia Saturday was quite easy.

The challenge was to show a quartet of photos using the themes of towns, hotels or main streets.



I knew immediately that I wanted to look at four hotels in Wangaratta. At first I wanted to feature four different hotels but all the hotels in Wangaratta are so fascinating I realised I couldn’t do them justice in one post. I decided on four images of William Henry Clark‘s Hope Inn that later became the Sydney Hotel.

Sydney Hotel montageThe first image is reputed to have been taken in the late 1860s. Although most repositories that have this image list it as being the Sydney Hotel, I have seen a similar image on which the sign out the front actually says Hope Inn.

Sydney Hotel courtesy Museum Victoria

William Henry Clark held the license of this hotel until Hope Inn name change to Sydney Hotelsome time after March 1855 when the last newspaper report in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser that placed Clark at the Hope Inn was published. While Clark may have removed himself to the far more salubrious surroundings of his new brick two storey Commercial Hotel around 1855, he remained owner of the Hope Inn for at least another decade.

The man standing in the doorway in the image was probably the owner or licensee. This advertisement from March 1865 suggests that when the image was produced the owner was still William Clark, and the licensee was William Painter. A closer inspection of the image on Museum Victoria’s website indicates the man is almost certainly not William Henry Clark. He was born in 1809 and aged around 60 when the image was taken. A photograph of him in 1863 shows him with a wild and woolly and almost totally grey beard. The man in the image is much younger, having quite a dark beard. William Painter was born in 1829 and would have been almost 40 in 1868 or 1869 so is a good candidate for the man on the veranda.

Cornell Hope Inn photographer advert 17 Feb 1866The image of the hotel has been attributed to F. Cornell. This advertisement for Cornell’s services from the Telegraph, St Kilda, Prahran and South Yarra Guardian on 17th February 1866 is important. He offers photographs of private residences, i.e. outdoor photography, at a time when such a service was quite difficult to perform. The process used  a “wet-plate process” whereby the glass plate had to be dipped in chemicals before the exposure, and then the image had to be processed on the spot. The usual way to achieve this was by having a studio set up in a wagon on site. Cornell may have been a travelling photographer before he set up in his Melbourne studio and his advertisement clearly shows that he had a studio wagon available although he may have gone ‘on the road’ when business was quiet or when given a lucrative commission after his Melbourne studio was opened.

After Clark, the re-named Sydney Hotel went through a series of owners, many of whom placed their own mark on the building. A list of the owners and licensees can be found on the fantastic Sydney Hotel website. It is inspiring to find a current business that appreciates and has taken the trouble to investigate the history of the building of which it is custodian. After Clark’s shingle roofed building the hotel was modernised and expanded before 1903 when Henry Campbell took it over. Whittaker stated that the Sydney Hotel replaced the burnt out Hope Inn but so far I have found no evidence of a fire in news reports. In fact the Sydney Hotel of circa 1895 looks remarkably like it includes the old bones of the Hope Inn.

Campbell's Sydney Hotel c1895. A Zaetta is credited with this image but he operated in Wangaratta in the 1940s. It is most likely that he copied the image by creating a negative of the damaged original.

Campbell’s Sydney Hotel c1895 courtesy Museum Victoria. A Zaetta is credited with this image but he operated in Wangaratta in the 1940s. It is most likely that he copied the image by creating a negative of the damaged original.

The different roof line to the right clearly indicates an addition, and the veranda on the far left has been enclosed and the entire place bricked up. However the five veranda posts across the front and the older style roof line echo the Sydney Hotel of the late 1860s. It would be nice to locate a better version of this image to see if a chimney lines up with that of the earlier hotel.

In 1909 Henry Campbell called for tenders for extensions and a new frontage for the hotel. The delightful art nouveau Sydney Hotel was the result.

Sydney Hotel 1917  by Courtney's Thelma Studios. Courtesy Museum Victoria

Sydney Hotel 1917 by Courtney’s Thelma Studios. Courtesy Museum Victoria

Sydney Hotel by Courtney's Thelma Studios. Courtesy Museum Victoria

Sydney Hotel by Courtney’s Thelma Studios.

In 1941 Christopher William O’Keefe commenced major renovations.

He turned the beautifully styled and tuck-pointed building seen above …

into this …

Sydney Hotel after O'Keefes renovations c1941 cropped B&W

Sydney Hotel circa 1941 after O’Keefe’s renovations