One of the favorite things my wife and I like to do on the weekends here in Victoria is to drive around and explore the almost endless amounts of interesting small towns that dot the landscape of rural Victoria. One of the most interesting small towns we have come across is the old gold rush city of Beechworth:
Beechworth is an old gold rush town with a colorful history located in northeastern Victoria:
Gold was first discovered in Spring Creek that run through town in 1852. From that date the Gold Rush was on and the city of Beechworth was born. Gold was so abundant in the area that an early prospector actually found 14 pounds of gold in one day. Another early prospector found 50 pounds of gold in one week. There was so much gold that Donald Cameron, a politician from the city that was running for the first ever Victorian Parliamentary elections in 1855, rode through the city to campaign for office with a horse that had golden horseshoes. Cameron’s lavish horseshoes led to him winning the election and he is commemorated to this day with monument just outside of town from where he began his ride:
By the 1880’s the gold in the city had largely run out but the fantastic wealth of the city has been preserved to this day with the entire city being designated as part of the Victorian national trust and thus perfectly restored to the condition the city was in during its gold rush period. The city is small with a population today of only about 2,800 people thus making it very easy to explore by foot.
Any tour to the city should begin at the Beechworth Town Hall:
The original town hall was built in 1859 but as the city grew a new town hall was needed and thus the building pictured above was built in 1888 to meet the demands of the growing town. The town hall today serves as the visitor information city for the town. If you want to get yourself a map, buy museum tickets, or find out about guided tours this is the place to go. The people working there are very helpful and we were able to get all the information we needed to really enhance our visit to the city.
Adjacent to the town hall is the Town Hall Gardens:
The park was built in 1876 with the fountain and rotunda dating from this period. The 19th century botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller was responsible for planting the variety of trees from around the world that can be seen in the park today. The most familiar trees for an American like myself were the California Redwood trees lining an entire side of the park:
The redwoods cannot grow as large as they do California because of the different climatic conditions in Australia but they still do grow to an impressive height in this foreign environment. Across the street from the park is the Beechworth jail which in Australian English is spelled gaol:
The gaol was built in 1864 and had a notorious reputation that include eight hangings. The prison once held 22 members of the infamous Ned Kelly gang. Ned Kelly and his gang were famous outlaws in the late 1800’s.
Famous portrait of Ned Kelly
In Australian English outlaws are known as bushrangers. Ned Kelly and his ganged robbed banks and trains throughout northern Victoria until the gang was finally destroyed during a final shootout with police in the small rural town of Glenrowan. Ned Kelly was captured after the gunfight and hanged in Melbourne.
The Beechworth gaol continued to be used by the Victorian government until 2004 when it was sold to a private investor who has yet to open the gaol to tourism.
Just one block over from the prison and across the street from the town hall is a number of government buildings:
One of the buildings served as the home of the superintendent of police who the first superintendent was the man by the name of Robert O’Hara Burke.
Portrait of Robert O’Hara Burke
Burke is quite famous in Australia for being one of the co-leaders of the ill fated Burke & Willis expedition that left Melbourne to cross continent from south to north in 1860. Due to much bumbling and missteps both Burke and Willis both died during the expedition and only one man, John King completed the entire trip and made it back to Melbourne to talk about it.
The Chinese Protector’s office is also located in the sector of town. In 1855 there was only 400 Chinese residents in Beechworth; by 1857 there was over 4,000 and a government office had to be established to assist the Chinese residents in Beechworth. The office was used to document Chinese mining claims and settle any disputes between Chinese and white miners:
The city courthouse is located here as well where Ned Kelly stood trial here for murdering policemen from Mansfield that I previously posted about. Behind the courthouse is the jail where Ned Kelly and his mom were both imprisoned:
The cell on the left was the male cell where Ned Kelly was housed while the jail on the right is the female jail where his mom was kept. The cells are very small with little ventilation and no latrine. Not a pleasant place to be held.
Adjacent to the courthouse is the city telegraph station. This telegraph station is still operational today and you can still send messages around the world by telegraph, for a fee of course:
A short walk from the telegraph station is the old city post office:
The old post office is still serving as the Beechworth post office to this day. It is quite a beautiful building. The post office was built in 1859 and was rebuilt with the clock tower in 1867 after a fire.
Across the street from the post office is the old Beechworth bank:
The bank was constructed like many of the buildings in Beechworth in the 1850s and much of the gold that was found in the creeks and hills around the city found its way ultimately into this bank. The building no longer operates as a bank and is actually a wine seller now, but it is still a well preserved building that you can still see the original gold vault inside of it.
The downtown area has a number of restaurants and cafes to choose from for lunch. My wife and I decided to try out the local Chinese restaurant:
The restaurant like most buildings in Beechworth is in an old building that has been beautifully restored. The interior of the building was quite nice as well and the Chinese family that ran the place offered great service and a tasty meal. If you are looking for a good lunch and you like Chinese food I recommend this place.
The downtown area is an awesome place to explore on foot with beautifully restored buildings around every corner. I will discuss a few more of these buildings on my follow up postings.
Next Posting: The Historic Hotels of Beechworth