The pioneers of gold discovery on Bendigo [28 October 1893]

[Editor: An article published in the The Bendigo Advertiser, 28 October 1893.]

The pioneers of gold discovery on Bendigo.

The following is the text of the paper read by Mr. A. S. Bailes, M.P., at the meeting of the local branch of the A.N.A., on Thursday:—

Mr. president and gentlemen, — Before attempting to place before you this evening some items of information in connection with the first discovery of gold up in Bendigo, facts that came under my notice while conducting an inquiry by a select committee of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, a committee of which I had the honor of being chairman, into the claims of Mr. H. Frencham, to be considered the first discoverer of gold in Bendigo, perhaps it would not be out of place if I were to briefly sketch out in chronological order the various events that led up to the settlement of the Australasian colonies.

The existence of the Australian continent is first referred to in a map in the possession of the Department of War in Paris, bearing date as far back as 1542, with the name of a Provecal pitor, Guillame le Testu, which indicated a knowledge of land in the Australian seas.

In 1606 De Quiros, the Columbus of Australia, discovered the islands of the New Hebrides, but his captain Tores is probably the first authentic navigator to see Australia. About the same time the Dutch landed on what is now known as the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The Dutch in the person of Dirk Hartog landed on an island in Shark Bay, Western Australia, in 1616; Zeehan in 1618, Jan Van Edel in 1619, the vessel Van de Leuwin in 1622, Nuyts in 1627, General Carpenter, who completely surveyed the large gulf in the North of Australia, which takes its name from the navigator, De Witt in 1628, and Captain Pelesert in 1629 added to the discoveries on the North and West coasts. In 1642, another Dutchman, the Governor of the Indies, at the same time despatched Abel Van Tasman to ascertain more about the New World, and he discovered land, which was christened by him Van Dieman’s Land, afterwards called Tasmania by the British settlers, out of compliment to the discoverer. Tasman then discovered and named New Zealand.

In 1688 a buccaneer named William Dampier, put into an inlet on the coast of Australia, with the ship Cygnet. Dampier returned to England and published an account of his voyages, and King William III., selected Dampier to make researches in Australia. For this purpose he gave Dampier a small vessel called the Roebuck and 50 men. He landed in Shark Bay, and after sailing 1,000 miles along the coast, he was so disappointed at the appearance of the land, that he returned to England in disgust. Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, used the material contained in Dampier’s account of this voyage, for his world renowned book. It was on this voyage that the existence of the kangaroo was first made known to Europeans.

In 1768, Captain Cook was despatched to the southern seas from England, to make observation on the transit of Venus, and after exploring New Zealand, took a westerly course and sighted the Ninety-mile Beach in Gippsland, and sailing north until he came to Botany Bay.

The history of the settlement of the Australian colonies, requires no reference by me as the facts are too well know to need mentioning here, but I will come right down to the first discovery of payable gold in Australia. The precious metal was first found on 12th February, in the year 1851, at the Lewis Ponds creek near Guyong, New South Wales, by Edward Hargreaves.

Prior to this traces of gold had frequently been found in various parts of New South Wales. As early as January, 1849, a shepherd in the employ of Mr. J. Wood Beilby, a squatter on the South Australian border, discovered gold in the Pyrenees. That gold was sold to Mr. Charles Brentani, a jeweller in Melbourne. The locality where the gold was found was kept a secret, but the shepherd before his death informed Mr. Beilby what he had been doing and where he had found the gold. Mr. Beilby communicated the facts to Governor Latrobe, who endeavored to hush the matter up.

In connection with the name of Mr. Brentani, an old resident of Bendigo, under date26th August, 1890, wrote me to the following effect:— “The true story of the finding of gold in Port Phillip is as follows, and I think I am the only living person that knows, the others being much older than I was. These are the parties:— Brentani, watchmaker, Collins-street, near Elizabeth-street; Duchesne, watchmaker, Elizabeth-street, two doors from Collins-street; a working jeweller in Collins-street; Charles Williams, a stonemason. A mate of Williams lodged with me at the time, and frequently Williams came to see him. For several evenings they went into the bedroom. My wife was suspicious and listened at the key-hole, thinking something was wrong, they both being from Van Dieman’s land, and hearing gold mentioned several times she informed me; I was inclined to tell the police, but Caulson, Williams’ mate, informed me they had something good in hand, as good as California, so I resolved to watch and wait. The jeweller was at Brentani’s, and the so-called shepherd boy came in with a nugget, showed it to the jeweller who showed it to Brentani, who, knowing what it was, made friends with the shepherd. A party was made up to go with the shepherd, who was to show them where it was got. The party consisted of Brentani, Duchesne, Williams and the shepherd. Duchesne and the shepherd went in one trap, while Brentani and Williams went in another. Duchesne made it up with the shepherd to lose the other two, which they quickly did and returned to Melbourne, when Duchesne went at once to Governor Latrobe, thinking to get a reward, but the Governor referred them to the Sydney Government. The nugget was exhibited at the Waterman’s Arms in Little Collins-street, for months afterwards, and it weighed 4 ozs. I saw it myself several times. This occurred in 1849, the year of the heavy snow in Melbourne.”

About this time several diggers returned from California, and one named Esmond discovered gold in quartz at Clunes. Then it was found in the alluvial at Buninyong and Ballarat. Close upon these discoveries came those of Mount Alexander, or Castlemaine, and Bendigo. And now having brought you to home, I feel that I can without any further delay tell you all that I have to tell you about the early discoveries of gold in this our city. It was in September, 1890, that we commenced our inquiries as to whom belonged the honor and distinction of having first discovered gold in Bendigo, and though 39 years had elapsed since that important event had taken place, no less than 12 people, nine men, and three women, claimed the honor and were all ready to participate in any reward that might be granted. Their names were — Mrs. Margaret Kennedy, the widow of Christian Asquith, and Mrs. Burnet, the widow of Christian Asquith’s son, Frederick Fenton, Patrick Peter Farrell, William Henry Johnson, Edward Pepperell, Henry Byass, William Johnson, William Steward, Robert Francis, Walker and David Dunlop.

Mr. William Barker, at one time the owner of Mount Alexander station, says that in September or October one-armed Byass, who was a guest of Messrs. Fenton and Gibson’s at Ravenswood, came to Forest Creek and told the diggers that gold had been found at Bendigo. The place was then known as Bendigo, and was so known for years before the discovery of gold.

The late Mr. James Mouat of Eaglehawk, who was squatting in the Bendigo district in 1837, says that Bendigo was originally named by the owner of Mount Alexander North station, a Mr. Sherit, Bendigo, after one of his bullock-drivers, about the beginning of 1840. Mr. Mouat, who was the owner of Yarraberb station, recollected when the station hut was put on the Bendigo creek, and it was put there by Mr. Myers of Grice and Heap’s station. Mr. Mouat camped at the hut (which I may say was on the site where the Shamrock hotel, Pall Mall, now stands) in October, 1851, with two flocks of sheep, and there was no gold seeking going on on the Bendigo creek then, but on his return on the 1st of January, 1852, there was any amount of digging going on. Captain Harrison, who was an old acquaintance of Mr. Mouat’s, in the course of conversation as to the discovery of the gold, said that it was one of Fenton’s shepherds who had made the discovery.

Mr. Frencham’s narrative is as follows:— “I arrived in Bendigo about the 17th of November, 1851, and immediately set to work searching for gold down near the White Hills, and, having found it, prospected along the bank of the creek and the gullies. I saw two women washing in the creek a few days after I went up and presume they were washing for gold. These two women were Mrs. Margaret Kennedy, wife of the overseer of Fenton and Gibson’s station at Ravenswood, and Mrs. Farrell, the wife of the cooper on the station. They were engaged at a large water hole near Golden Gully. On the 27th of November I found payable gold, and reported it to the Commissioner at Forest Creek, at the same time taking 36lbs. weight of gold with me. On the 9th November Captain Harrison and myself were appointed as delegates from Bendigo by a large meeting of diggers to the monster meeting to be held at Forest Creek to oppose the £3 license. About the middle of November a black mounted trooper showed one of my mates named Ross where he had got gold in the grass at Golden Gully.”

Benjamin Hawkins Dodds, an engineer who was engaged with the late Hugh M’Coll upon the Grand Canal, says that it was towards the end of November, 1851 that he and his mates George Green and Robert Walker were working at Barker’s Creek, and getting information as to gold being discovered at Bendigo started for the new field which they reached either the last Sunday in November or the first in December. They found Morrow and party working what was known as the black boys’ claim, from which they had taken 36lbs. of gold in one dish.

Mrs. Margaret Kennedy, the overseer of Ravenswood station’s wife, informed us that in August or September, 1851, her husband went in search of shearers, and for that purpose went to Buninyong, where he was shown gold got at Hiscock’s Gully. While moving some sheep from Ravenswood to Bendigo in September, he saw gold in the gravel the same as he had seen at Hiscock’s. Mrs. Kennedy went out with her husband in the ration cart on same Thursday in September and found gold, which was shown to the shepherd at the hut, who next day, or soon afterwards also got gold. In answer to a question as to when she first got gold, Mrs. Kennedy said: “Either the latter part of September or the beginning of October. Mrs. Farrell went with me, and we put up a mia-mia in the scrub close to a waterhole; and it was then a gentleman, I believe Mr. Frencham, a reporter of the paper, came. We were rather afraid, being alone, and we were advised to get a license, and either my husband or Mr. Farrrell got a license for Margaret Kennedy. I believe Mr. Thorpe was the Commissioner at Barker’s Creek. I remember the mention of the words, ‘License to be taken from Bendigo.’ Soon after that there were circulars written out by a one-armed gentleman, named Boyce I think. He did not work at the gold; but he said in the circulars that there were two women getting gold in quart-pots full. There was a quart-pot there, and I put the gravel and gold into it. I did not conceal it. I know when Mr. Frencham and someone else came up one of them spoke to me in Gaelic, and I answered him.” Mrs. Kennedy is now in charge of a railway gate at Stawell.

Mr. Peter Patrick Farrell, who was engaged as cooper at Ravenswood station either at the end of August or beginning of September 1851, on piecework, finding no work to keep him going, was rambling about and picked up a piece of gold which he thought was brass, but on showing it to Mr. Kennedy, that gentleman pronounced it to be gold. Mr. Kennedy, his wife and himself were for a fortnight getting gold in the creek near Golden Gully when Mr. Gibson surprised them; and Mr. Farrell goes on to say, that Mr. Gibson remained on his horse about five minutes; he was so surprised he could not speak nor move. He got off his horse at last and said, “Mrs. Kennedy, will you let me have your dish.” “Certainly, you can have it.” He said, “Give me a dishful from the same place, cooper.” I said, “Certainly;” and I gave him a dish that would not go above a pennyweight to the dish. He said, “That is not fair.” I said, “Try yourself;” he got a little bit and he put it in his waistcoat pocket to give to the ladies. And about a week after a one-armed man came out. I was told he was a domestic; and he rode to Forest Creek and told several gentlemen — young McGrath, Dr. Russell, Captain Harrison and sons, and Mr. Frencham. They all left, I believe. They came up with red shirts and knee boots, and we thought they were Commissioners or troopers, and would take the gold from us, having no license.

Mrs. Kennedy’s husband used to be back and fro on horseback, and one day he whispered to me that it was said about that a couple of women had got gold, and, said he, “You will be murdered some fine night.” I said, I had a little pistol and I had some rivets (cooper’s rivets) in my pocket; and I remember there was one night, in particular, I heard a sound of trampling on bushes, like as if men were trampling over dry grass and leaves; and I said to the women, “Listen,” and they said they knew something would happen, and I got my pocket pistol and put a couple of rivets into it, and got an old rusty bayonet and gave it to Mrs. Kennedy. She turned almost faint, and I gave the other lady a tomahawk, and we said, “We will fight for it.” They were paralysed with fright, and I thought if I fired off the pistol it would have the effect of frightening whoever was about, and so I fired it off, and I think that saved our lives. I got Mrs. Kennedy’s husband to stay in the hut while I went to Forest Creek for licenses. The reference to the pistol brought forth an interjection from another witness, “You borrowed my pistol and I never got it back.”

Mr. John Paton, a retired Post-office official, gave evidence of such an interesting character that it might be better to repeat his own words. “I was one of the earliest gold diggers in the colony. I worked on Anderson’s Creek before the Ballarat diggings, and I was mining to the end of 1858. In October, 1851, I was at work on Forest Creek. I may mention, in 1849 I went up with Mr. Fenton with his first flock of sheep to Bendigo. I can satisfy you about the name of Bendigo; in 1849 I inquired from some of the old inhabitants about it, and they said it was known as Bendigo. In 1849 I travelled over the run, and when they came in October, 1851, I was on Forest Creek. A day or two afterwards I was in conversation with Murphy, and Mr. Byass came over and informed us that they had found gold on the Bendigo Creek. After this lapse of time I cannot be positive as to dates, but I am positive I was working there, Forest Creek, in October, 1S51, and this was either the end of October or the beginning of November. When I got to Bendigo, I think I saw Stewart Gibson there and some of the station hands. I remember seeing Mrs. Kennedy, and I have not seen her since that time till now. I knew the shepherd and hut-keeper; the shepherd’s name was James Graham, and old hand from Tasmania, an old man who took charge of the flock in the winter of 1849. He was in the employment of Mr. Fenton up to the time of finding the gold, and he was a short Scotchman. The hut-keeper was a Chris. Asquith. I knew the children; two of the daughters were married; one of Asquith’s daughters married a man named Slocombe; he was a wheelwright; he married one of the daughters of the hut keeper. I have not seen Slocombe for over 30 years — I have been in the public service over 30 years. I got into conversation, and camped there that night. The spot where they were working was in the bed of the creek. There was a bar running across the creek. The position was the site of the present Golden-square. There was no room for me; there were several working about, and there was no more room to put in a claim. I worked on my claim on the left bank of the creek. I washed a bit of dirt on the opposite side. I borrowed a spade and got gold in the grass, and marked out a claim. I believe it was the first claim marked out — the first payable claim. My mates came over the second day, and after them came a number of other miners who followed them. I believe, in consequence of Byass’ information, that caused the first rush after our bullock dray from Barker’s and Forest Creek. I may mention, to show the payable nature of my claim, that there was a married couple came on the field; they had a horse and dray; they stated they had left the station and were hard up. I felt sorry for the woman, and said to my mates, ‘Suppose we give them something,’ and we gave them a load of earth from the surface, and they washed it, and I know they got out of that 16 oz. of gold, amongst which was a 6 oz. nugget in the shape of a crescent; that was in November. We took out that claim, afterwards, 30 lbs. weight of gold from the reef; we got it from the grass and down to the reef — it was a continuation of the reef, not more than about a foot deep. We took up the first cradle that was worked on Bendigo Creek. I was present at the great meeting — I was there when the Commissioner put up his first camp, and also there when the black trooper found the gold in Golden Gully. I remember distinctly going up in November, and we went down with our bullock dray, and arrived in Melbourne on Thursday, the 18th of December, 1851. We were on the road nearly a week; and we sold the gold to Mr. Benjamin, the father of the present Sir Benjamin Benjamin. We first took it to Heap and Grice, in Flinders-lane; they offered £2 15s. an ounce for it; we declined, and we got £2 16s. an ounce from Mr. Benjamin. Asquith the hut-keeper, and Graham the shepherd, claimed to have found the gold. As to the name, my own impression was that it was a corruption of ‘bandicoot;’ but the old hands said it was called after some old pugilist.”

William Steward, son-in-law of the hut-keeper Asquith, stated — “Early in October I arrived on what is called the Ravenswood station. I had been at Barker’s Creek and Forest Creek for gold and needed tools. I thought I could get tools, knowing that Asquith was living at Fenton’s station — I understood they owned it. I had lived on the station formerly when it was owned by Heep and Grice, in 1847, when Mr. Thomas Myers was superintendent. I arrived at the head station and inquired if such a man as Asquith was there. There was only an old cook in the kitchen, and he said he knew he was there, but the ‘cove’ (that was Fenton) had gone out to remove him. He invited me to stop till they came in the evening — to stop to tea, and I stopped, and in the evening I saw Mr. Fenton, and he did not seem inclined to give me any information about Asquith, where he was. First he asked me had I lived on the station, I said, ‘Yes, when I was with Heep and Grice.’ He said, ‘It is useless you walking ten or twelve miles, I will give him any message in the morning.’ I said, ‘I want to see him — I want to get some gold — as I worked on Barker’s Creek.’ He said, ‘Are you a relation?’ I said, ‘Yes, his son-in-law.’ He said, ‘He is at the hut, and I will be there in the morning before you.’ I camped there the night with a shepherd who had two flocks boxed into one. Fenton would not give me information, because I suppose he thought I might take away a hand. Next day, Jimmy Graham took me to the hut, and he showed me the ration bag, and I had something to eat. He said, ‘The old man would be home directly.’ I wanted to know what the old man was doing. When I saw him he had on a shoemaker’s apron, and he was spattered with mud. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Digging a water-hole.’ I said, ‘A fine water-hole, no doubt. Have you got gold?’ ‘Yes,’ he said.’ ‘How much?’ I said. I knew Asquith and Graham had not been at the diggings before, and I knew that I knew more about it than they did, and when he showed me he pulled on a small match-box full of gold, nice lovely gold. I said, ‘How many of them have you got?’ and I would not be certain whether he said four or six of them full. I said, ‘You are getting grand gold: I am going to be in among it.’ He said, “The ‘cove’ is up there.’ I said, ‘I do not care about the cove.’ He said, ‘He is up there, and old Ben Bannister, and they will come down to dinner.’ They came down and had dinner, and it was arranged satisfactorily that we should get what gold we could, and he would take our gold at £2 10s. an ounce. It was in November, in the shepherd’s hut, we sold Mr. Fenton, I would not say how many pounds weight — I think five or six pounds.”

Mr. Sandback is confident that the place got the name of Bendigo from a man called Sailor Bill, who was nicknamed Bendigo, because he was a fighting man. Mr. Sandback is confident that the honor of discovering the goldfield rested between Johnson, Asquith, and Ben Hall, who was also known as Graham.

It is hardly to be expected that all the witnesses’ memories could be relied on as to dates, but upon the whole, from evidence which, read with the stations books, can be fairly easily pieced together, it would seem that Asquith, Graham, Johnson and Bannister, were the first to discover gold; that the point of discovery was in the Bendigo Creek, nearly opposite Messrs. Weir and Brown store, at Golden-square; and that though different theories are put forth as to how the name of Bendigo was given to this goldfield, such as its being a Spanish word signifying “I bless,” Bend-i-go on account of the winding of the creek, because it was a corruption of “bandicoot,” and that it got the name from some pugilistically inclined individual, nicknamed “Bendigo,” the evidence is all in favor of the latter contention.

The Bendigo Advertiser (Bendigo, Vic.), 28 October 1893, p. 3

Editor’s notes:
Guillaume le Testu = (1509-1573) French explorer, navigator, and prominent map-maker

mia-mia = an Aboriginal temporary hut-like shelter

Pall Mall = the main street of Bendigo

trap = a general term used for any two-wheeled light carriage (or cart) with springing, pulled by a single horse or pony, and designed for two passengers; however, the term is also applied to similarly-built carts which are four-wheeled and designed for four passengers; in the early years of the development of motor vehicles, motorized traps were built
See: 1) “Transport”, The Ocular Helmsman (accessed 17 March 2014)
2) Edith Somerville and Martin Ross, The Real Charlotte, Nashville (Tennessee): J. S. Sanders & Company, 1999
3) “Four Wheeled Vehicles – Multiple Seats”, Carriage Museum of America (accessed 17 March 2014)
4) “Long Island Museum: The Carriage Collection”, Art & Architecture Quarterly / East End (accessed 17 March 2014)
5) “Trap (carriage)”, Wikipedia (accessed 17 March 2014)
6) “Category:Private Passenger Vehicles”, Eurêka (accessed 17 March 2014)
7) Horseless Vehicles, Automobiles, Motor Cycles Operated by Steam, Hydro-Carbon, Electric and Pneumatic Motors, New York: Munn & Company, 1900, pages 236, 241 (accessed 17 March 2014)

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]


  1. Edward Greene says:

    As a descendent of Christian Asquith and his daughter Ann Asquith Steward, it is pleasing to see this article. Many years ago Christian Asquith was hard to find as a Bendigo Gold Finder anywhere on the Internet, but now he has some wide spread publicity which he deserved.
    It is not widely known but he was also a Shoemaker and in his spare time he made and sold shoes and boots. He is believed to be Bendigo’s first tradesman of that type actually turning local leather into usable footwear.

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