Hamilton has always grappled with its identity, from “education town” and “cathedral city” to the most enduring (and endearing) tag “Wool Capital of the World”. But Mayor Cr. William Ferrier Hewett’s vision in 1955, published in The Argus of June 10, really takes the cake…
Category Archives: Western District History
Unfortunately for those hoping to read about poor afflicted Nellie Bligh with the eyes of a dog, I’m sorry, this post is not about Nellie, but my cryptic title will become more obvious as you read on. This post is actually about Hamilton and the wonderful Facebook group, “I’ve Lived in Hamilton, Victoria” that has flourished over the past few months.
You may remember my post, A Pleasant Distraction, about the group I had started. At that time there were 1100 members. Today we have 1930 members with 2000 achievable by the end of the year. There are now over 1200 photos and countless posts and comments.
In my earlier post I mentioned we had brought together a post-WW2 social history of Hamilton, but two months later, the time range has gone back, and we now have history from the 19th century also. A favourite series of photos was of the many beautiful homes and homesteads in and around Hamilton today. It was amazing the number of stories that came out about those properties and I intend to write a future post about just that.
At times we have despaired at what has been lost, accepting that in some cases progress marches on but in other cases, questioned the rationale of earlier city leaders.
The group has posts on everything from the Fire Brigade to Brass, Pipe and Rock Bands, businesses and transport, schools and sport from hockey to horse racing. We have ventured out to the towns surrounding Hamilton such as Casterton, Cavendish and Dunkeld. There are members that have lived in these places but attended school in Hamilton, while those that lived in Hamilton are familiar with the towns, because of family, friends or sport.
Photos definitely help get the discussion going. An example is this photo of the Hamilton pool during the height of summer. It evoked many memories because anyone who went to the pool during the 1960s and ’70s, and to a lesser extent the 1980s (the diving boards were removed by then), would remember it exactly as the photo depicts. The stories flowed and there are now 175 comments and 267 “likes” to date. Thank you to Judy Forrest for allowing me to share this classic photo.
But, it’s a humble pie that has been most popular. Actually, it was a photo of a tray of pies from Kings Bakery, Hamilton. Established in 1916. Kings still operate in Hamilton. Many ex-Hamiltonians had mentioned how much they would like a Kings pie again. Those still in Hamilton responded, and have almost daily, posted photos of the said pies. “Pie Wars” is on. From my point of view photos of cream cakes entering the battle was pleasing and a King’s cream bun will be a must next time I’m in Hamilton. (Photos will ensue)
The ongoing pie discussions takes nothing away from the group as it is the mix of history, memories and casual banter between members, that has created a wonderful place for Hamilton people, past and present, to come together and I am proud that the group has evolved in such a way.
On a personal note, the group’s popularity has brought some attention my way, resulting in an appearance in a regular column in the Hamilton Spectator, “Where Are They Now”. Having read many of these columns over the years, I find it hard to place myself among the well-known former Hamiltonians that have graced the column before me. Also, I continue to find people with links to my family which is great and like others I have rekindled old acquaintances and made many new ones.
Early next year a reunion has been arranged in Brisbane and will be a great event as many former Hamilton residents now live in Queensland. The logistics of getting King’s pies to Brisbane is already being considered. We also hope to see a “Back to Hamilton” sometime in the next few years.
Because of the group’s growth, I now have two co-administrators to keep an eye on things when I can’t. Tim and Tony have contributed greatly to the group and I really must thank them for the time they have put in. And a big thank you to all the group members who have embraced it and have made such positive contributions. The many photos that people have so willingly shared has been overwhelming, especially the many treasured family photos. I may have started the group, but Hamiltonians near and far have made it what it is now.
Now, have you worked out the title yet?
It’s time to re-join The Vagabond on his tour of Picturesque Victoria. Last time we caught up with him, he was touring the town of Portland. In this installment, he ventures out to the countryside surrounding the town and he was not disappointed. I would have to agree with him that the landscape around the town “is the most picturesque and varied scenery” seen along the Victorian coastline.
With an old Portland citizen, the Vagabond headed toward Narrawong and Heywood. Looking out to sea he caught a view of Julia Percy Island and Lawrence Rocks.
The Vagabond reflected on the early settlement of the district and likened the countryside around him to an English country lane.
Out of Portland , the Vagabond and the “Ancient Citizen” met the colony’s first road, built by the Hentys. Although the colony was only within the first 50 years of settlement, change was upon it. The railways had been costly to the hotels along the roadways as noted by The Vagabond as he passed two empty hotels.
After a stop in Portland, The Vagabond set off again for the rugged coastline of Nelson Bay. The secretary of the Portland Jubilee committee accompanied him, one of many gentleman offering endless hospitality to the acclaimed writer, hopeful for a good word about their town.
As they left Portland, heading West, the travelling party passed “Burswood” the former home of Edward Henty and they admired the unique flora along the roadside.
Before long they had reached Nelson Bay and the wrath of the seas below came a little closer than was comfortable. “Below the waves circle one after another – placid and quiet in the outer rings, increasing in speed and fury until they dash in a foaming surf on the rocks and sands at the base of the cliff”
Ahead The Vagabond could see his destination, the Cape Nelson lighthouse.
After climbing the 115 steps to the balcony near the top of the lighthouse, The Vagabond looked out to sea at the passing vessels, while the lighthouse keeper, Mr Fisher,told him lighthouse tales.
From the lighthouse, the horse’s heads turned toward Cape Bridgewater. The Vagabond quipped that the Banks of Portland would not be offering customers overdrafts on that day because all the managers were travelling with him.
The Vagabond stopped to marvel at the Bat’s Ridge cave. He advised visitors to the caves to take their own candles, magnesium wire and string.
A little further on and the group arrived at serene Bridgewater Bay and its small settlement.
Continuing westward they came to Cape Bridgewater and the Blowholes.
Join The Vagabond on his next installment of Picturesque Victoria, continuing along the south-west coastline. What did he see that he described as “fearfully sublime” and “grandly weird”? Find out next time.
In 1941, a horse with links to the Western District won the Victorian Derby/Melbourne Cup double. Named after a small town west of Ballarat and with a female owner from Hamilton, Skipton had the two towns on their feet when he crossed the line to win the 1941 Melbourne Cup.
Mrs Myrtle Kitson purchased the colt, sired by Marabou and out of Cupidity, as a yearling. After some maturing, he was sent to trainer, Jack Fryer. Myrtle had wanted to call her colt “Monaco”, but had some reservations, so she selected “Skipton” the name of the little town on the Glenelg Highway were she enjoyed stopping on travels to and from Hamilton. (Skipton is often used as a pit stop for those travelling the Glenelg Hwy and a place that members of my family would stop for a cup of tea on their drive back to Hamilton)
Myrtle was superstitious, and on the day of the Derby of 1941, she remained back in Hamilton tending the Grand Central Hotel, where her and husband John were licensees. John and daughter Morva represented her at the races and when Skipton crossed the line as winner of the Derby, they accepted the trophy on Myrtle’s behalf.
After the race, reports came through that Skipton had pulled up sore and was an uncertain starter in the Melbourne Cup the following Tuesday. The night before the Cup, Skipton was finally declared a starter with William Cooke (Billy) to take the mount. The late decision, although probably tactics, was the correct one, and Skipton took out the race. Skipton, by winning the 1941 Melbourne Cup, achieved a feat only 12 horses had done before and no horse has done since, winning the Victorian Derby/Melbourne Cup double in the same year.
Like Derby Day, Myrtle not wanting to jinx the horse, remained home at the Grand Central Hotel. Morva and John stopped at Skipton for a cup of tea on the way to Melbourne, just as they did three days before…just in case it was an omen.
The whole of Hamilton must have listened to the race and many crammed into the Grand Central Hotel that day to listen to the Cup on the wireless. Much money was bet on the “local” horse . That and the chance of a beer on the house were reasons enough to take an interest. The call, by Ken Howard is online on the following link – 1941 Melbourne Cup Call
As Skipton crossed the line, Myrtle declared “Turn it on for the customers”.
It was not just the money of Hamiltonians the rode on the back of Skipton that day. The Portland Guardian reported that there were big wins in Portland from bets placed on the “local” horse.
The win gave Billy Cook his first Melbourne Cup, in his eighth attempt, aged 31. He won the Cup again in 1945, on board Rainbird. By the end of his career, Cook had won almost every major race in Australia and had received legend status. He was inducted in to Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
The win was not without controversy. Punters were angry that in the lead up to the Cup, it was suggested that Skipton was unlikely to run. The price went out and rumours that a big bet of £25,000 was placed were spreading. John Kitson denied the rumours insisting he only bet £8000, still a handsome wager in those days, A Sydney owner was quick to criticise the secrecy surrounding champion racehorses.
Back in Hamilton, the town was riding on the back of the Kitson’s success. A “local” horse had won the cup. To congratulate the Kitsons, a dinner was held, at the Kitsons’ own hotel.
The following year Skipton did not start his preparation well, with a disappointing run in the Mentone Cup. He followed up with a win in the Stand Handicap, pushing him into Caulfield Cup favouritism. However, he could only manage fifth in the race, with Tranquil Star narrowly winning from Heart’s Desire. Along with the Caulfield Cup, Tranquil Star won the Caulfield Stakes, WS Cox Plate and the McKinnon Stakes in the same season.
Despite the defeat at Caulfield, come Melbourne Cup time Skipton was pushing for favouritism after John Kitson placed a rather healthy wager on Skipton, thus giving a hint that the horse was on target.
The task was ahead of Skipton. No horse since Archer in 1861/2 had won consecutive cups and the only horse to have won carrying more than nine stone in the 10 years before was the champion Peter Pan. Punters were willing to stick with Skipton especially after his excellent lead-up win in the Hotham Handicap carrying 9st 4lb, and as they say, records are made to be broken.
The records remained intact. In what has become known as the Austerity Melbourne Cup, due to WW2 belt-tightening, a rank outsider, Colonus got up by seven lengths in heavy conditions. Skipton spent the entire race near the tail of the field. He was then sent out for a spell before his next tilt at the Cup in 1943.
Skipton returned in the Spring of 1943 with the Caulfield Cup his first goal. That year, because of an overwhelming number of nominations, there were two divisions of the Caulfield Cup. The first division was won by a roughie Saint Warden and Skipton, showing some of the class of his three old days, won the second division, Naturally Melbourne Cup favouritism ensued.
After the win, Myrtle and a generous Hamilton punter donated money to the War Loan effort.
Once again, Skipton went into a Melbourne Cup with a chance to make history, as the first horse to win two Melbourne Cups and a Caulfield Cup. Also, only three other horses had won the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the same year. Coming around the back of the track before the horse entered the straight for the last time, it did look as though Skipton could win, sweeping around the field from a long way back as he made his run. However, as they entered the straight, he was forced wide and with a large weight, he could only managed a creditable but well beaten fifth, behind another favourite in the race Dark Felt. Skipton then ran in the Williamstown Cup later in November and ran second to Claudette.
That was the last race for Skipton. He was brought into the stable in early 1944 for an Autumn preparation, with the Australian Cup in mind. Unfortunately, in early February, Skipton developed heat in his near side foreleg and trained at the beach for several days to take advantage of the salt water. However it was soon realised that the injury was serious and an announcement was made that he would not run in the Australian Cup and later, that he would be retired.
Just over a month later Myrtle Kitson sold Skipton at the Newmarket Sales. He fetched 1,500 guineas as a stud prospect, the buyer Kooba Stud near Scone, New South Wales.
At some point, around the mid 1940s the Kitsons left Hamilton and moved to Glen Iris, where Myrtle passed away on September 19, 1946. Myrtle left an estate of over £9,000.
Late in December 1948, news came through the Skipton was dead aged 10, the result of a tragic stable accident.
Underrated Skipton was the last horse to win the Melbourne Cup as a three year old and the last horse to win the Derby/Melbourne Cup, a record that is often forgotten.
I’ve been a bit distracted from my usual research/blogging regime of late. Instead, I’ve been indulging in a feast of Hamilton history. But I haven’t been to the usual repositories, looking at physical records and photographs. I’ve been on Facebook.
In 2008, I set up a Facebook group, “I’ve Lived in Hamilton, Victoria”. There were a couple of reasons behind it. I wanted to connect with other Hamilton people and the search features offered by Facebook then didn’t fully satisfy that. What I was looking for was a central hub, where Hamiltonions could go, find old friends and share memories of growing up in the town.
I was also interested in the power of Social Media to network. In those days, Facebook pages didn’t exist, only groups, and if a person joined, that action would show on their timeline, much the same as a page today. My hope was friends would see that post and they too would join the group and so on. Well it worked, and within a few months we had 1600 members. It was pretty amazing really. The unfortunate thing at that time was that it was difficult to get a conversation going among members and then sustain it.
Facebook being Facebook changed at some point, and groups looked like they were on the way out. Those that weren’t active faced the axe and the Hamilton group, despite large numbers, was one of those. Eventually all the members were “delisted” and while the group remained, people had to join again. Problem was, groups became less visible on profiles and most assumed they were still a member or they simply forgot. Also, if someone joined, it was no longer displayed on their timeline, making it hard to get the word out.
Over the past year, Facebook groups have found their place again and are again visible on members’ profiles and there are “group suggestions” beside the timeline. A perfect time to get the group happening again. With just 70 or so stalwart members, I started posting more often. Then I turned to Trove and I added photos of Hamilton in days of old. Well, 70 members soon became 130, then 200 and in a couple of weeks we have reached 1100 members. The photos got the conversation going and the memories flowing. Once again Trove helped save the day!
As I started to read the hundreds of new posts and the many associated comments, I realised that what we were creating was an online social history of post-war WW2 Hamilton. Just about every topic has been covered. Festivals, businesses, milk bars, schools, football and cricket, marching girls and town characters. One post with a surprisingly large number of comments and likes was about the underground toilets that were in Thompson Street. There are photos of buildings, houses, bands, Blue Light Discos and sporting teams. There are newspaper clippings of advertisements and Hamilton events.
All pure gold. To have a response from such a large amount of people across such a cross-section of ages would otherwise be almost impossible. Even if a “Back to Hamilton” was held and each person in attendance recorded two memories, I don’t think you would get such an in-depth view of Hamilton life during the past 60 years. It would probably just end in hundreds of references to the underground toilets. I suppose they were a novelty.
So after getting the ball rolling, the group has taken on a life of its own and I can sit back and read the fabulous memories and share in the reunions. There are people who have not seen each other for 50 years and lost extended family members have also been found. Some members are relaying stories to older relatives not on Facebook, then coming back with questions or comments. It’s been amazing.
Another interesting observation has been how our memory works. It was photos of Hamilton that triggered memories that people thought were long gone and many have commented how they had forgotten so much but it was all flooding back. As one memory is dug up, it almost always seems to trigger another, unlocked from the deep recesses of our minds.
The group has also given me the opportunity to post about the Harman family of Byaduk, the subject of my thesis. I have had a wonderful result, with new found cousins and confirmation that those I had suspected were cousins, (Electoral Rolls are my friend) are really my cousins. Also, I’ve been researching the Hamilton Botanic Gardens for a project that I can never get around to. My focus is on the animals housed in the Garden’s zoo but there is very little information available, but I knew the animals at the gardens held a special place for all that grew up in Hamilton before 1980, especially the Rhesus monkeys. I asked if anyone knew the year the monkeys left the zoo, and while we still haven’t come up with a definitive year I think it will come. I can then hit past editions of the Hamilton Spectator for articles about their removal.
So well done to all Hamiltonions past and present who have, like myself, found a pleasant distraction while collaborating to create a wonderful reminder of our past. I believe people have a genuine interest in local history as seen by the increase in Facebook pages such as “Lost Warrnambool” and “Have You Seen Old Ballaarat Town”. The content, in a user-friendly format, is something people can relate to.
It will be interesting to see how our group will evolve. If I had the time, I would like to organise the stories into categories and topics to bring them together in some sort of order. Also, there are many calls for a “Back to Hamilton” something that hasn’t been held since 1954 when the Queen visited the town. If the past and present residents of Hamilton could embrace the idea of “Back to…” in the wonderful spirit they have shown with the “I’ve Lived in Hamilton” group, I am sure it would be a great occasion in the history of our hometown.
To really get a feel for a time in history, there is nothing better than a diary, letter, memoir or personal account. Some of my favourite Western District history books are those from pioneer times, such as “The Diaries of Sarah Midgley and Richard Skilbeck” and James Bonwick’s educational tour of Western Victoria in 1857. There is another on my list that I haven’t shared with you before, “After Many Day’s: being the reminisces of Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh. Even better, the book is available online. (See link at end of post)
Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh, born in Ireland in 1837, published his memoir in 1918, when he was 81, written, he claims, after much prodding from his wife, Flora and friends particularly a friend from the later part of his life, writer Walter G. Henderson of Albury. Much thanks must go to them, because their persuading resulted in a 414 page rollicking yarn, packed with places, names and stories from the first half of Cuthbert’s life. And there are illustrations.
This is not just a story of the Western District, but of life in Ireland and Germany during Cuthbert’s childhood. There is also a wonderful description of his passage on a second-class ticket to Melbourne aboard the “Sussex” in 1853. Cuthbert spent some time in Melbourne before he went to the Henty’s Muntham Station (p.90) in the Western District, and his account brings 1850s Melbourne to life.
He outlines his friendship with Thomas Browne/Rolf Boldrewood author of “Robbery Under Arms “(p 40). He includes the obituary of his father, Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh, who spent time as a Police Magistrate at Hamilton (p.52). During his time there, Cuthbert senior, resided at Correagh at Strathkeller, just north of Hamilton. (Today, Correagh is in excellent condition and was featured in an issue of Home Life magazine, available online)
There are stories of horse breaking, bushrangers, colonial racing and more.
Some of the Western District identities he met included members of the Henty family, Samuel Pratt Cooke, Acheson Ffrench and the Learmonths. But there were also stockmen, horse breakers and crack riders.
He associated with Adam Lindsay Gordon (p.165), a person he admired for his riding skill and poetry, and there are several extracts of ALG’s verse.
Cuthbert devoted several pages to George Waines (p177) and the trial, that saw Waines convicted and sentenced to hang for the murders of Casterton couple Robert and Mary Hunt.
After Muntham, Cuthbert travelled to Queensland via Sydney. On the way he dropped in at the Chirnside’s Mt William Station at the foot of the Grampians. It is was there he saw the “western mare” Alice Hawthorne, in the days when she was beginning her Cinderella story, transforming from station hack to champion racehorse.
After lengthy reminisces of his time in Queensland, past Rockhampton, Cuthbert then focused on his life in N.S.W where he spent two years as an Anglican minister. He died in Wellington, N.S.W. in 1925, aged 88, remembered as a pastoral leader.
What the critics said:
At the time of the book’s release, the Sydney Stock and Station Journal described the book as “pure Australian”
When Cuthbert died in 1925, Walter Henderson wrote of his friend and the book he persuaded Cuthbert to write.
With the Hamilton Spectator (1914-1918) now online at Trove, I am finding some good articles about my family members. One of those articles included ggg grandfather James Harman and the Byaduk Methodist Church Jubilee in May 1914.
I have outlined the history of the Byaduk Methodist Church and the part James played, in the post M is for….Methodist, and this new find further confirms what I knew. The Byaduk correspondent remarked that James, “who claims and justly so, to be the father of the movement” in the town was present at the celebration dinner. James spoke, reminiscing about the early days and his time as a lay preacher. I wish there had been video cameras in those days. What I would give for that information.
Some of the local pioneers to return for the Jubilee were Thomas Harper, Samuel Clark, John Poynton. Daniel Tyers, then 94, was also in attendance at the dinner, joining 200 others in the Byaduk Mechanics Institute. The evening had a jam-packed program of speeches, recitation and song.
In 1907, some of the early Byaduk pioneers gathered for a photo outside the Byaduk Methodist Church. In the back row, 2nd left was Samuel Tyers, James and Jonathan Harman, 5th and 6th (both were listed as J. Harman, helpful) Thomas Harper, 9th from the left. Daniel Tyers was In the 2nd row, 5th from the left.