Maldon: A Notable Town

This is a proud place, preserved by not having become a part of the ‘progress’ which has overtaken most other old Australian towns. Its people realise they occupy a piece of history which no amount of gold now could buy. At Maldon the air is sweet, the wildflowers flamboyant, the lemons and limes fragrant, the roses brilliant, the wattles and almond blossoms wild against the sky, the elms and white gums gentle screens under the afternoon heat, and the people friendly. The pace, if that is what it should be called, is easy. The rush is over but the secret stays.

John Larkin – Australia’s First Notable Town, Maldon, 1966

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DSCN0225 (2).JPGStreet Scenes in Maldon, Victoria

The morning after my fruitful visit to the Castlemaine Historical Society, which I chronicled in last month’s post), I took the local and infrequent bus to the small ex-goldrush  town of Maldon. It was a quiet Wednesday in mid-January with temperatures predicted to rise to almost 40 degrees, and not surprisingly there were only a couple of other people making the twenty-minute journey with me. Unfortunately, the local research centre was only open on a Friday for four hours (unless there was a fire warning). And despite a request from the researchers in Castlemaine, the centre was unable to send out someone to allow me to visit the archives (which can be done for a reasonable price), as the extremely hot and dry weather had led to just such a warning in the area.

Although I was disappointed at this news (to have come this far and been thwarted), part of me felt that after the previous successful research day I’d had in Castlemaine, where I’d discovered so much more about my ancestors than I could ever have imagined, I had probably accessed most of the information available on the Haydons. And so I told myself that anything else the centre might have (books, museum exhibits) would just be a distraction on the only day I had to explore the whole area, which included the out-of-town graveyard where Ann Haydon was buried, and the community of Eaglehawk where the family had lived and worked.

As I woke to another heat-stifling Central Victorian summer day, I had to laugh at my previous idea – to hire a bicycle and cycle the 17 kilometres from Castlemaine out to Maldon (which my new friends talked me out of)! The original idea behind this crazy thought was to allow me more time in the town to explore, freeing me up from having to return on the last bus in the late afternoon. But once on the small local bus, which carried me along long straight roads through typical central Victorian bushland, I realised what a slog the whole journey would have been. And as I looked out from the window at stands of dusty blue-grey gum trees and wattle, I thought about how the Haydons may have made this difficult trip by bullock cart along a dirt track, 160 years earlier.

BUSH NEAR MALDONBushland near Maldon, Victoria

This was a similar sensation to the one I’d had when I first took the local bus from Yeovil through the sunken lanes to East Coker (see In My Beginning is my End), imagining how my immediate family would have felt when they first arrived there from London during the war. What might the Haydons have thought as they approached Maldon in the 1850s? According to a contemporary source: It was recorded that no one could miss their way through the road-less country to the new field at Maldon because the route from Castlemaine was marked with flags or coloured handkerchiefs flown from the beer houses to attract custom. Thousands of adventurers rolled up in bullock wagons and horse-drawn drays, and thousands more walked, carrying on their backs all the paraphernalia required for work at the diggings. Dolly pots, cradles, pans and picks were at a premium at this time.

However, if truth be told, the first journey the family made from Melbourne into the Victorian bush was not to Maldon  itself, but to the nearby goldrush community of Muckleford, about 7 kilometres west of Castlemaine (in the direction of Maldon). Although I had been unable to ascertain what had happened to the Haydons there, I did know that William was recorded as being a glazier/plumber on the birth of the Haydon’s second son, Charles Skelton Haydon, in the summer of 1855, a year after the family arrived at Port Philip. But by the time of the birth of their first daughter, Sarah Ann Haydon, in the spring of 1857, they were living forty kilometres away at Deep Creek in Hepburn, and William was already calling himself a gold miner.

This description from the Emigrants Guide to Australia, published in 1853, gives some idea of what the Haydons’ original journey to Muckleford might have been like: We commence with the digger setting out from Melbourne. Persons going to the Diggings should confine their outfits to a small quantity of clothing and their blankets, as numbers of people are always leaving the Diggings, who sell their stocks at moderate prices. The best mode of travelling is to accompany (on foot) a horse-dray, which will carry the blankets, clothing, and provisions. It will be proper to take provisions for five or six days, as the charges on the road (5 shillings for each meal, 5 shillings for bed, and 30 shillings for a horse) are exorbitant, and besides, the conveyance does not always arrive at night at a house where such accommodation can be procured. A horse-team is preferable to a bullock-team, simply because it performs the journey much sooner; the time taken by the former being five or six days at present, which is the most favourable season, and by a bullock-team ten days. No one should attempt to carry his own goods if he can afford to pay for their conveyance by dray.

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The bus from Castlemaine to Maldon passes through much of what was once the township of Muckleford near to where the road crosses the Muckleford Creek, although nowadays it is made up of scattered farmsteads, the original and short-lived gold rush community having dispersed. As you may recall, in last month’s chapter (see The Lost Boy on the Bendigo Road), I mentioned that while other gold rush towns soon sank into oblivion, Maldon grew and prospered throughout this period and beyond, due to the presence of underground seams of quartz-bound gold which could be worked with new crushing technology. And it is for precisely this reason that there was still an intact and thriving community at Maldon in the centuries to follow.

After all the pictures I’d seen of Maldon (old and new) and the videos I’d watched, the town itself came as something of a surprise. I had not expected it to be so quiet nor the roads to be so wide. As the bus rattled through the High Street, my first thoughts were that the place looked like a Wild West outpost combined with an English village, with some Australiana thrown in for good measure. If that sounds a rather trite description, then I can only apologise. Whenever I visit somewhere new, my brain constantly rakes through all the impressions and memories of other places I’ve visited, trying to make comparisons. And then I recalled that when I first landed in Australia in 1989, all my twenty-five year old (untravelled) self could think about was: Why is the sun so fierce? Why does the grass look so different?

DSCN0219 (2).JPGMain Street, Maldon, Victoria

But this did set me wondering how the Haydons must have felt when they voyaged into the Australian bush. To see a wombat or a kangaroo for the first time must have been quite an experience in the days before mass produced books  and the growth of public museums. In fact, in the section about animals, the 1853 Emigrants Guide to Australia states that: Opossums are of different sizes, from that of the kangaroo as large as a man to the smallness of a rat they leap on their hind legs, outstripping a horse, and have pouches in their bellies to preserve their young from danger or the weather: one species springs from tree to tree. Here is an animal that the learned term Ornithorynchus paradoxus, found in the mud of swamps and rivers, that has the bill and feet of the duck; the body, habits, and fur of the mole; and the internal structure of a reptile. The eagles are white, and the swans black; the owls screech in the day, the cuckoo at night. The birds are beautiful, but songless, and some have brooms in their mouths instead of tongues. The paragraph continues on this note, but this extract does give a flavour of just how exotic the indigenous wildlife was considered to be!

The bus deposited me right in front of the building which housed the Maldon Museum (staffed by volunteers and thus open only for a few hours at the weekend) and the Visitor Information Centre. Although I was tempted to first explore the town, I decided to go directly to the information office, just in case it had to close early because of the fire risk. And there, in inimitable Australian fashion, I was bombarded with enough curious questions and local information to keep me in Maldon for at least a week. After patiently explaining my situation (and  dire lack of time), I grabbed the most promising-looking leaflets I was proffered and rushed out into the streets with horrified cries of You shouldn’t walk all the way out to the cemetery in this heat! ringing in my ears.

A couple of false starts later (less haste, more speed) I finally found the main road out of the other side of the town, and made my way along the grass verge towards the graveyard, situated just over 3 kilometres outside Maldon. I passed all the lovely little rose-covered colonial style cottages, the deserted golf course, and just when I thought I’d never find the turn-off to the wonderfully named Nuggety, I saw the high security fence of the Tarrangower women’s prison (something the tourist brochures fail to mention) and knew I was almost there.

Earlier that morning I’d made the decision that visiting the graveyard should be my priority. Despite the age of the town, I knew that there were only a few buildings that had survived from my ancestors’ time, as most dated from the boom of the 1860s, after the widowed William Haydon had already returned to London. Even the old market hall which housed the tourist office and archives and museum had only just been erected before William left the colony. So while he might have known that it did not become the success the town had envisaged, due to competition with nearby Castlemaine market, he probably never knew that only a few years later it was turned into regional government offices.

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DSCN0174 (2).JPGMaldon Museum, front and side, and as a market hall in 1859

By the time I walked through the main gates of the cemetery, I was cursing the fact that in my rush to save time I’d neglected to stock up on any food or drink. I finished the last of my measly little bottle of water in the covered wooden seating area near the entrance gate, and then began to search around for a tap (as is commonly found in European graveyards). In the end I decided not to waste too much time on this endeavour (figuring I was too near to civilisation for it to become any more than just an annoyance), and concentrated instead on exploring the cemetery.

The first place I headed to was the pioneers’ section, where the earliest graves were to be found. While some dated from the 1860s, disappointingly I could find none from as early as 1860, and after a while I had to concede that any grave of Ann’s that had once been there (if she had indeed ever had one) was certainly no more. But perhaps it had been nothing more than a simple wooden cross which had soon deteriorated in the harsh climate.

Fascinating as the cemetery was, in particular the section for the Chinese community, I had to give up my search after an hour and head back to town, otherwise I’d run the risk of missing out on exploring what was left of Eagle Hawk (now Eaglehawk). For a rural cemetery, the one at Maldon  was a sprawling place (reported to have over 7,500 graves), and I realised from the leaflet the tourist information had given me that much of what I was viewing, including the main gates and caretaker’s cottage (which gave the place so much charm), had been built several years after Ann’s death.

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DSCN0183 (2).JPGThe Cemetery at Maldon

Although the first burials in Maldon were held in 1854, it was not until 1860 that detailed records were kept and some sources even state that previous to 1861 citizens may have been interred in other places, such as The Rock of Ages (the hill above the cemetery). Ann’s burial record (held by the Victorian State Archives) showed that she died at the age of 29, on October 8th 1860, in Eagle Hawk, Maldon, from TB and pericarditis, and that the death had been registered by William James Haydon of Eagle Hawk (a painter) the next day. The document also stated that she was buried on October 10th at Maldon by the Scottish-sounding Presbyterian minister, Alexander Robb. Unfortunately, there was no grave or burial number included in the record, even though there were so many other wonderful genealogical details (including the name and profession of Anne’s parents, where she was born, how long she had been in Victoria, and her husband and children’s details). However, I did see some metal site numbers in the oldest part of the cemetery, protruding from spaces where graves might have once been.

DSCN0186 (2)Was someone once buried here?

My map from the tourist office showed me a route back to Maldon through the bush marked ‘Back Cemetery Road’, which sounded a lot more appealing than the long way round via the prison and main road. So I set off along this track, startling kangaroos as I went, and realised that this was possibly the way that the first burial parties would have originally come from Eaglehawk (or more appropriately, Eagle Hawk). As I walked – or rather trudged – I tried to put myself into the head of William James Haydon when faced with his young wife’s death. With no relatives around and the knowledge that he might not be staying in Maldon or even Australia for more than a few months or years (perhaps he had already been formulating plans to leave the colony), he may not have been interested in creating a permanent resting place for Ann out in this wild and inhospitable bush. And I could imagine that in its early days the graveyard would just have been an area of cleared scrub with a picket fence around it. Certainly nothing which could have compared to the grandeur of Nunhead Cemetery in South London where the rest of the Skeltons were buried (see Present at the Death), and where Ann’s name was eventually added to the family gravestone.

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DSCN0194 (3)On Back Cemetery Road (with the cemetery behind me)

Ignoring my growing thirst, I decided to look round the suburb of Eaglehawk before heading back to the main street. Back Cemetery Road appeared to come out on that side of town via Church Street (confirming my suspicions that it had once been the main route to the cemetery) and from there I was able to take the self-guided Eaglehawk Walk (in reverse), using the leaflet from the tourist office. Unfortunately many of the historic buildings listed on the walk were not historic enough for the Eaglehawk (or Eagle Hawk) of 1858-61, and it was hard to imagine this quiet lazy country suburb as it had once been, when shops, hotels and other commercial enterprises lined the busy Eagle Hawk Road (now Reef Street).

DSCN0198 (2)Simple 19th Century Cottage in Eaglehawk

Over the years I have learned to accept the fact that I will often be disappointed with my genealogical searches ‘in the field’: I know from past experience that it can be hard to find any semblance of the community that my ancestors had experienced, and the further back in time the more likely this situation will be. However, I really did struggle to imagine Eaglehawk in its heyday as Eagle Hawk, when contemporary descriptions of the township described a booming population in the thousands, and with a myriad of prospering businesses operating around the main thoroughfare, alongside public baths, a theatre (with its own company), numerous hotels and bars, as well as churches of all denominations, including a synagogue.

DSCN0265 (2)Welsh Congregational Church, 1863, Eaglehawk/Maldon

I did feel sad, though, to think that I would never be able to pinpoint the whereabouts of the Billiards Rooms that the Haydons ran. That I could not locate the surgery of the wonderfully-named Dr. Kupferberg (the German doctor who had tended Ann in her illness, and who was much involved with the German Club and Gymnasium, as well as being a celebrated local singer). And I was frustrated by the fact that within all the empty spaces I could not conjure up the true spirit of the wild gold rush past in any way.

DSCN0195 (2).JPGSite of public baths (1860) at Eaglehawk today

The Perseverance Mine (of which William Haydon had a share) never lived up to its name, but the remains of the impressive Beehive mine, nearer to the centre of town, can still be visited. Although the tall chimney stack dates from 1863, after William Haydon had returned to London, it gives a flavour of how the landscape around Maldon was changing at that time. Such constructions (along with the ubiquitous wooden poppet heads – overground structures to support the winches) would have begun protruding from the hills and gullies, along with belching steam and thumping engines, lending the place the air of  a small scale, industrialised town in the English Midlands. 

As local historian, Christopher Creek, points out in A Rich Vein, his book about Maldon’s North and Eaglehawk (Eaglehawk Press, 2015): In the mid to late 19th Century Maldon was a noisy, smelly and industrial eye-sore. Work was physically dangerous and, in some places, very toxic. The noise of batteries operating almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, provided a deafening and rhythmic background to daily life for nearby residents. It was a raucous place, with upwards of 20,000 people encamped and more than 60 hotels and grog tents slaking the thitst of the parched. The contrast with today could not be greater. 

Before inspecting the ruins of the Beehive Mine, I sensibly stopped off in the Main Street (which confusingly runs into the High Street!) for some much-needed refreshments. Stumbling into the nearest café and hoarsely crying out for strong tea and a pie, I attracted the curiosity of the woman behind the counter, and in between customers (and gulps of brew) I told her about my walk out to the cemetery and back to the town via Eaglehawk. She was aghast at the fact that I’d allowed myself to become so dehydrated, and as she made me another giant pot of tea (to go with my spinach pie) she sympathised with my fruitless search for Ann’s gravestone.

Would you believe it! she said, shaking her head. Daryl was just in here a moment ago. I looked at her blankly. Daryl Walker – the Superintendent of the graveyard. He knows the name of everyone buried there. You might just catch him if you run out now. I dashed into the street but there was no-one who looked like a Daryl to be seen. (Somehow the name conjured up the image of an Akubra-wearing stockman, climbing into a pick-up and driving away in dust cloud, while chewing down on an Aussie pie). Alas, we would never meet, but when I wrote to him a few weeks later, he very kindly informed me that, just as I’d suspected, there were unfortunately no cemetery records for an Ann Haydon at Maldon.

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DSCN0220 (2)No-one to be seen on Main Street!

Feeling rejuvenated by my break, I took the trail up to the remains of the Beehive Mine (so-called because miners noticed a swarm of bees near the entrance), which once had one of the highest gold yields in Victoria. Although the actual mine was founded in the 1850s, the chimney stack was not added until 1863, when it was needed to take smoke from the boilers that drove the steam engines that were beginning to be used for extracting and crushing the quartz (and pumping out water). Today the chimney is a monument to all the gold found in Maldon – it was bought for this purpose after the First World War, when the mine closed and the remains were sold off at public auction – and is a key location on the town’s heritage trail. 

DSCN0215 (2).JPGChimney of the Beehive Mine, Maldon (constructed 1863)

Quartz fragments lay scattered around on the ground beside the old mine, and I stuffed a handful in my pocket, wondering if Willam James Haydon had also brought a tangible reminder of his time in Maldon back to the Old World with him (earth from Ann’s grave, or perhaps even some gold?) For a few minutes I allowed my mind to drift off in an attempt to pick up any historical vibrations (for want of a better phrase) that could relate to the Haydons. But I soon realised that I had no time for such indulgences: in just over an hour the last bus was due to depart for Castlemaine and I could not leave without seeing every bit of the town. So I quickly made the decision to finish up my day in Maldon by combining the two historical walks described by the leaflets from the tourist office (the Historic Town Walk and the Historic CBD* Walk). This way I reasoned that I could get an overall feel for the place, and note any buildings that still remained from the Haydons’ time.

*CBD is an (Australian) abbreviation for Central Business District, which in this case was a bit of an anomaly.

DSCN0269 (2)Ghost Signs in Maldon

Fittingly, the final place I visited before I boarded the bus back to Castlemaine was the local hospital, which in 1860 had replaced the original small wooden building designed for this purpose (this became the dispensary), and which ironically was in the process of being built at the time of Ann’s death. Would such a place have helped her to die more peacefully (knowing that it could not have saved her from TB), or would the removal from her family home have only led to more stress for Ann in her final months? What certainly would have been hard for her was the knowledge that she would be leaving behind four motherless children in a strange land on the other side of the world. Did she in fact ask William to take the family back to London in the event of her demise (which she surely realised was upon her)? Sadly, these are the things that, in the absence of personal documents, no amount of genealogical research can uncover.

MALDON HOSPITALMaldon Hospital

DSCN0248 (2).JPGAs the Castlemaine bus came into sight, I pondered these questions, then became distracted by the raucous  screeching in the tree canopy overhead. Rainbow lorikeets and rosellas were gathering for the evening, and  announcing their arrival with the same loud squawking as the feral parakeets which flew high above the gravestones in the wild parts of Nunhead cemtery in South London. I suddenly thought about how Ann had travelled so far from her home by the Thames in search of a new life, only for her crumbling bones to end up lying somewhere unmarked in the dust of the Australian bush. And yet someone had arranged for her name to be carved into the granite of the Skelton grave in Nunhead, possibly years later.

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Although it has been over two years since my visit, I have never stopped thinking  about Maldon and the fact that I would like one day to return and spend longer in the area. I imagine how wonderful it would be to rent one of the nineteenth century cottages for a week or more (or even a month!) and busy myself with research, while making an effort to get to know the place and its friendly and welcoming people. This time I would linger in the local cafés, hike through the surrounding bushland, as well as taking the time to talk to the local experts and and consult the Maldon archives. Perhaps I might even try to find some gold of my own!

MALDON COTTAGEI could live here . . . Brick Cottage, Maldon, Victoria

The Incidental Genealogist, July 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Maldon: A Notable Town

  1. Marion

    I too am aghast at your wandering around on your own in the Australian heat – insects, snakes, things that bite – however, the photographs are wonderful and really do give the story atmosphere.

    Like

    Reply

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