John COGHLAN, a gold town and Puckapunyal

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.


23 July 1869 Certificate of Marriage of John CO(U)GHLAN, 33 yo, ‘storekeeper’, born Co. Galway, IRELAND and Ellen QUINLAN, 23 yo, ‘domestic servant’, born Co. Tipperary, IRELAND in Spring Creek, Victoria. Vic BDM Reg No. 2883. It’s interesting to note that John’s signature includes a ‘u’ in COUGHLAN. It’s possible, and probable, that the ‘u’ was dropped in Australia.

Here’s a reminder of how the couple (highlighted) fit into my dad’s (John Leo COGHLAN) family tree:

18-9-2016-pedigree-chart-for-john-leo-coghlanThe 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.


‘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.


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.

Graytown Courtesy of SLV

‘Graytown formerly known as Spring Creek’. Courtesy of State Library Vic (SLV)

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.


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:


29 July 1870 Birth of William Luke COUGHLAN, first child of John COUGHLAN, ‘storekeeper’, born Clonfert, Galway, IRELAND and Ellen QUINLAN, born Clugulla (sic), Tipperary, IRELAND in Spring Creek/Graytown. Vic BDM Reg No. 19538.

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).


Summary of children born to John COGHLAN and Ellen QUINLAN. William Luke COGHLAN was the only child born in Graytown, the rest were born in Bullarto (near Daylesford),Victoria.


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:

11 Sep 2016 GRAYTOWN Corbertt Street

11 Sep 2016 GRAYTOWN Corbett Street. Author’s collection.

A bit different to Corbett Street’s heyday:

View of Corbett Street, Graytown' (Spring Creek Diggings). Courtesy SLV.

View of Corbett Street, Graytown’ (Spring Creek Diggings). Courtesy SLV.

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.



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.


1959 Geoff as school cadet

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.

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18 Responses to John COGHLAN, a gold town and Puckapunyal

  1. Bernadette says:

    Loved reading this Marg . I can remember it too….. Geoff heading off for the tram in his uniform with his big, shiny boots on and a rifle slung over his shoulder! x Unbelievable!!

  2. crissouli says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your research and solving of the puzzle of Spring Creek. I, like many others, have spent quite some time looking for names with Spring/Springs in them, they seemed very common, as is Swamp. If only they added numbers to the names, it would have been so much easier. I also loved the comparison of Corbett Street, great to see what was and now is..

  3. geoff says:

    Interesting that Luke Coghlan may have ‘started’ the Bush Inn. I hadn’t thought about it being in Coghlan hands back to its beginnings.
    Imagine letting a couple of hundred 15 year olds loose in East Melbourne with .303’s these days! – yet that’s what happened every Weds afternoon in 1959!

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Geoff. I’ll have to do some more research on Luke to confirm that thought…Amazing that life was so casual in the 50s that youngsters were ‘let loose’ like that!

  4. It’s so unusual to see more nature and less buildings rather then other way around. It’s sad to see it all gone but nice to see it replaced with nature instead of concrete.

  5. Another pearl Marg. Unlocking all sorts of family information for us to mull over. Love the side story about Pucka and the photo of Geoff.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Rosemary. Yes, couldn’t resist the Pucka story. Geoff loved being a cadet. Added another dimension to going to school!
      Marg x

  6. Howard Winter says:

    Hello Margaret
    I hope you are well, and thanks for the continuing blog- it’s very good research and most interesting.
    As for your surname, I suppose the spelling is an example of the flexibility of colloquial language usage (Did you know there is a Coughlan Street in Kerang?) My mother’s surname has been spelled by its bearers as Fallon, O’Fallon or Phelan and some other versions. I suppose the earliest Fallon immigrants were illiterate or at least not interested in spelling!
    Hope to see you soon
    Howard Winter

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Howard.
      Yes, all is well thank you. The blog had a bit of a hiatus as I juggled work and assignments but I think I’m back on track now.
      Variations in spelling can be confounding-often the ‘scribe’ wrote what he heard or thought he heard or made it up. Accents were a problem too and, as you say, illiteracy of the immigrants. It makes it hard to know whether you have the right forebear at times.
      No, I didn’t know about the Coughlan St in Kerang. Another Irish Winter relative has been in touch and suggests Coughlan is the ‘Irish spelling’. I recall Dad telling me that there was an O’ in front of Coghlan. Maybe the new immigrants just went for the easiest spelling although you think they would have got rid of the ‘h’-I’m constantly having to emphasize its inclusion when spelling it out.
      Another issue we have in our line is Sellers, sometimes spelt Sellars. Another challenge for me!
      Love to your mum. Hope she’s well. I’ll try to do another visit before Christmas,

  7. Heather Rose says:

    This is another good read Marg and I love the way it unfolds as a story. How quickly and completely the forest moves in to expunge the presence of humanity! Also,life in those pioneering days seems to have entailed a lot of relocating according to where new gold finds were being made.
    I am also intrigued by the notion of the Leader’s ‘special correspondent’ – do you think this is a freelance writer, or perhaps a local official who preferred to remain anonymous? (but had a lot to say about the state of his world)

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Het. Yes, I wonder who qualified as a ‘special correspondent’? ‘Reporters’ often took on pseudonyms, preferring to remain anonymous then they could write anything they liked! They seemed to like a little intrigue and daring in those days.

  8. brian cockerall says:

    Thank you Marg, for your details on Graytown. Like you, I was confused for some time about the Spring Creek/Graytown connection. Even to the point of downloading a great photo from the SLV of the devastation caused by mining at Spring Creek, only to find that the photo was taken ten years previously near Daylesford. “Such is life!” someone said. Great read, Marg.
    Regards, Brian Cockerall

    • Marg says:

      Sorry Brian. Your comment somehow slipped through my security.
      Yes, I think I downloaded that photo too from SLV. Place names can be very confusing. Those Coghlans seemed to be very adventurous.
      I’ve just celebrated my 60th birthday. I hired the Bullarto Hall. I had the urge to be near the Coghlan ancestry. It was a great day and Bullarto was green and lovely on the one weekend where we had good weather. I’ll tell you more about it in an email…Marg.

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