Once again, as in a previous blog post, What’s in a Name?, I was bamboozled by a Victorian place-name containing the word ‘Spring’. This time it was ‘Spring Creek’, the wedding venue of my great grandparents, John COGHLAN (c1836-1904) and Ellen QUINLAN (c1843-1905) who married there in 1869.
Here’s a reminder of how the couple (highlighted) fit into my dad’s (John Leo COGHLAN) family tree:
The details of how the couple met and the lead up to how they came to be residing in Spring Creek are unknown. In fact, as far as the family folklore goes, I don’t know any ‘stories’ about this couple; they’ve been lost in time. Also, they predeceased my dad’s birth (John died in 1904 and Ellen in 1905), so he didn’t ‘know’ these grandparents, and I never heard him mention them.
So, to find out anything about them I turned to resources, such as, the newspapers of the time and the vital records (birth, marriage and death certificates). With findings from these resources and a little supposition, I have determined something of their life in Spring Creek.
THE SEARCH FOR SPRING CREEK
‘Spring’ was a popular inclusion in many Victorian place names, such as, Spring Plains, Springvale, Spring Hill, and so on. It’s not a surprising inclusion as the name acts as a marker of a water source—a necessary commodity for the colonial pioneers in setting up successful agricultural and mining pursuits and for the establishment of lasting communities. Unfortunately though, for the family historian, the preponderance of one name, such as, Spring, makes it difficult to determine a firm location, especially since the names changed over time.
In my early years of family history research, I presumed—wrongly as it turned out—that Spring Creek was in the Daylesford area. It’s not an unreasonable assumption as the COGHLANs settled in Bullarto, a town near Daylesford, which in turn is in the same locale as Hepburn Springs. However, with the gathering of more details of the COGHLAN clan, the definitive location of Spring Creek eventually revealed itself and it wasn’t near Daylesford.
We are very lucky in Victoria as our early registration records are very detailed. A requirement of registration of births was the naming of the marriage place of the parents. In regards to the birth certificates of John and Ellen’s children, the marriage place was documented as Spring Creek, Graytown, or both. A check on Victorian Places confirms that Spring Creek and Graytown are one and the same.
WHERE IS SPRING CREEK/GRAYTOWN?
The exact location of Graytown is described in the book titled, Bridging the Gap: Shire of Goulburn 1871-1971 by Joyce Hammond. The author devotes a chapter to ‘The Graytown Story’:
Formerly known as Spring Creek, Graytown is situated among the hills north of Kilmore and approximately 21 miles from Seymour, between Nagambie and Heathcote. Now part of Goulburn Shire, Graytown was formerly part of McIvor Shire, and once boasted its own governing body. It was proclaimed a borough on 9th August 1869…Nothing is left now of its former glory except Spring Creek…(page 74)
The town was named after Moses William GRAY, a passionate land reformer, ‘who was a Parliamentary member for the nearby Rodney electorate from 1860 to 1864’. (Graytown, Victorian Places)
At the time of John and Ellen’s marriage in 1869, Spring Creek was a thriving gold mining town. Gold was discovered there in October 1868 by Albert Corbett and Co. News of gold always travelled fast and the area was soon swarming with gold fossickers.
And with the influx of miners comes bankers, storekeepers, hoteliers and traders of all descriptions. It’s reported that the population swelled to between 20,000 and 30,000 during the town’s height.
By all accounts, Spring Creek/Graytown was a pretty rough place. An article in the Leader, dated Saturday 17 July 1869, written by ‘a special correspondent’ recounts the short history of the Spring Creek diggings, eight months after the discovery of gold there:
During its short career it has borne a very doubtful character, both morally and commercially: two suicides, one murder, garotte robberies, thefts and burglaries innumerable, and insolvencies by the dozen bear proof that those who looked upon it with grave suspicion were perfectly justified in so doing (page 22)
The ‘special correspondent’ believed the lack of water in the initial stages of the rush— meaning the gold could not be separated from the ‘washdirt’— contributed to the bad character of Spring Creek. Later in the report, the ‘special correspondent’ gives a more positive opinion of the new town:
Amongst the civilising influences at work may be mentioned two newspapers-one weekly, the other bi-weekly. The schools are well attended. The Church of England are about building a substantial church. The Presbyterians have purchased a building, and the services of a resident minister have been secured. The Roman Catholics have erected a substantial and handsome edifice, and the Wesleyans have also provided themselves with a respectable place of worship (page 22).
According to Hammond, ‘day after day endless numbers of drays loaded with household furniture continued to arrive and women and children were making their presence pretty fast’ (page 75).
Obviously, the new town was a good place to set up a store.
A search through Trove turned up a reference to John COGHLAN, a storekeeper, in the McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, dated 15 September 1871. Apparently, one of his customers, a G.P. GREENSHIELDS, had not paid up:
This little dalliance gave me some more info about John COGHLAN: he was a butcher as well as a storekeeper and his store was in MAJORSTOWN. Where was that?
Another search through Trove revealed an article in the same local newspaper as above, the McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, reporting on the naming of MAJORSTOWN:
The Major’s Line Reefs were in the same general area as Graytown. The Major Creek being a tributary of Spring Creek. Victorian Places explains the Major’s Line in the details of the McIvor Shire:
The Major’s Line refers to wheel-tracks left by the exploring party led by the New South Wales Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell, on his return journey from Victoria’s Western District in 1836. He passed through the future shire (McIvor) during 5-7 October, travelling north-east. Overlanders such as Charles Ebden and Alexander Mollison came to the district in 1837, using the ‘line’ as a guide.
THE DEMISE OF SPRING CREEK/GRAYTOWN
As a ‘gold town’, Graytown was short-lived. In 1870, just a couple of years after its birth, a flood devastated the town, water filling the mine shafts. It seems ironic when prior to this, water had been so scarce they were going to haul it in from the Goulburn River. Fortunately, the flood came in the early hours of the morning so there was no loss of life in the mine shafts but the excess of water put a halt to the mining and people gradually moved away from the area.
John and Ellen’s first child, William Luke COGHLAN (1870-1892), was born in Graytown on 29 July 1870. I’m not sure if this was pre or post the flood:
The next child, Ellen, was born in Bullarto (b.1872) as were the rest of their children. I could propose that the flood, the desertion of most of the population and ongoing debts payable to John, ended his business in Graytown, prompting a move by the young family to a more prosperous location.
Despite these issues, another reason the young couple left may have been the death of John’s father, Luke COGHLAN, in Bullarto on 31 July 1871. John and his now growing family may have taken over the running of the Bush Inn (store/hotel/accommodation) previously run by his father (I’ve yet to confirm Luke had set up the Bush Inn at this stage but he was living in Bullarto and he had been a storekeeper in Newbury, not far from Bullarto).
A DRIVE TO GRAYTOWN
As is my wont, I like to walk in my forebears’ foot steps.
I drove to Heathcote. I tried their very nice rolls in the bakery for lunch, walked the main street with its noticeable accent on advertisements for local wines, and visited the information centre. There, I found a small pamphlet on Graytown. It was basically the information I had already read in Joyce Hammond’s book. The helpful informer told me that most people come in there to ask for directions to the wineries not to the old diggings.
I then headed for the Heathcote – Nagambie Road. It was a good road cutting through the tall, grey blue, ironbark forests. There was a sign for Graytown in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. I turned into ‘Corbett Street’, the main street of the old Graytown. A wall of trees confronted me, with a narrow muddy lane wending its way through them:
A bit different to Corbett Street’s heyday:
There was nothing left of the town and without a four-wheel drive there was no way I was going to bush bash my way through the muddy landscape.
Across the other side of the main Heathcote-Nagambie road is the remains of a Prisoner of War camp and 700 metres into the bush is the Graytown cemetery. This also looked like a bush bashing exercise–not an inviting prospect so I skipped it. As far as I know no relatives are buried there.
That was the end of my visit to Graytown. As I suspected, there was basically nothing to see.
A FAMILY TRIP TO PUCKAPUNYAL IN 1959
On locating Graytown on the map, I was curious to know about the large greyed out area to Graytown’s south. On closer inspection, I realized it was Puckapunyal military camp.
Puckapunyal stirred a memory in me of a family trip we did in 1959 when I was about 3 years old. Mum, Dad and four of us five kids bundled into the ‘tank’, the green Vanguard, and drove up the highway to visit my eldest brother, Geoff, who was ‘stationed’ at Puckapunyal on a two-week camp. It was part of his training as a school cadet.
Geoff must have been about 15. I can remember meeting up with him and seeing big tanks but that’s all I remember. At home, I remember him meticulously polishing his big black boots on the back verandah before he headed off, in uniform, to catch the Mont Albert tram to go to school in East Melbourne, his rifle slung over his shoulder. Not something you’d see on the tram these days.
Geoff says he has fond memories of those camps. One of the highlights for him was being able to shoot with ‘live ammo’. A pretty exciting prospect for a 15 year old boy brought up on cowboys and indians!
Reference for Graytown
Joyce Hammond, Bridging the gap, Shire of Goulburn 1871-1971, Shire of Goulburn, 1971.