History

Maldon Town is Born

Maldon is a goldrush town built on the lands of the Liarga Baluk clan of the Dja Dja Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, who had lived here for millennia following traditional law, trading widely and caring for country. The town was born a mere 73 years after the Colony of New South Wales was founded when the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove in 1788.

Tragically, in this short span of years, the Dja Dja Wurrung population, estimated to have been between 3,000 and 4,000, was decimated. Firstly, their population was halved by smallpox brought by the First Fleet. The disease swept along trading and communication routes even before first encounter with Europeans. This was followed by starvation as their access to traditional foods became impossible when pastoralists took over their lands. This desperate situation led to violent encounters and more deaths.

And then came the gold rush. The first discovery was at Clunes, quickly followed by Mount Alexander, then Ballarat, Daylesford and Creswick, Bendigo, Yackandandah, Eaglehawk … the list goes on. It was a time of chaos for the newly formed Colony of Victoria with civil servants and police resigning en masse, sailors jumping ship, workers downing tools and shepherds leaving their flocks. Thousands of hopefuls from all over the world created a huge itinerant population travelling from one new find to the next. People – men, women and children – journeyed on foot, in drays and pushing barrows. Timber was felled with abandon to build shelters, for fuel, to prop up mine shafts and to clear tracks between diggings. Artist and diarist Eugene von Guerard described the changes he had seen at the Ballarat goldfields in the year since he first arrived:

Stretches of fine forest transformed into desolate-looking bare spaces, worked over and abandoned. In many parts, where a year ago all was life and activity, there is now a scene of desolation. At the same time the population has enormously increased, and there is less and less chance of having a lucky find, as at every new place that shows any promise, swarms of diggers settle down like flies.

The fledgling Colony of Victoria was in a state of collapse with a crippling deficit. Disease on the goldfields was rife from unsanitary living conditions. Bushrangers roamed. As for the traditional owners of the land, historian Bain Attwood notes that their mortality rates ‘seem to have drastically worsened during these years’. Attwood reports that by 1852 it is estimated that the Dja Dja Wurrung numbered only 142 people and by 1863 only 38.

Gold was discovered in Long Gully at the base of Mount Tarrangower in December 1853, and another rush was on as thousands of people flocked from older goldfields. So great were the numbers that in February 1854 − two months after gold was discovered here − the sea of tents was gazetted as the site for a new town. Rather than Tarrangower, the Dja Dja Wurrung name by which the diggings were already known, the town was to be called Maldon. ‘The Argus’ newspaper correspondent commented:

The township is to be called Maldon, I understand after some town in England – another specimen of the insipid nomenclature in favour in Victoria – Why not stick to the native names?

He also wrote that traders were already set up in Long Gully:

The narrow road covered with dust literally up to a man’s knees is lined on each side almost continuously with stores of every description, saloons, restaurants, eating houses, lemonade and beer shops, apothecaries’ shops and the tents of doctors, who, I am sorry to say, drive a very lucrative business at Tarrangower.

John Templeton and Thomas Adair were appointed as surveyors and their draft plan sent in May to Melbourne for approval. Crown land sales took place in June. The speed of these developments reflects Governor Joseph La Trobe’s need to regain control by getting people to settle down in one place. Moreover, the sale of crown land to entrepreneurs and others would help to replenish the dwindling government coffers. Here are some of the earliest commercial, educational and spiritual services established:

  • 1853 − The Wesleyan Church was conducting services in a calico tent and by 1855 had begun its permanent building in Fountain St.
  • 1854 −The baker, George McArthur, arrived in town and later built the still-flourishing bakery in Main St.
  • 1854 − The Penny School started in the grounds reserved in the survey for the Anglican Church. A building of brick and stone was begun in 1856 on the site in Church St.
  • 1855 − A Post Office was operating in Long Gully.
  • 1858 – First issue of The Tarrangower Times and Maldon District Advertiser was published.
  • 1859 − The Telegraph Office began operations in a timber building in High St.
  • 1959 − A hospital operated out of a wooden building in High St.
  • 1860 − The Tarrangower Bathing Company opened public baths at the top of Reef St.
  • 1863 − The Maldon Mechanics’ Institute opened its doors in January and soon took the name The Maldon Athenaeum.

It is testimony to the value the community placed on a Mechanics’ Institute that the Athenaeum was established, albeit in temporary accommodation, less than ten years after the town of Maldon was proclaimed. But getting to this point was not a straightforward task with a number of setbacks along the way (see ‘Getting Established: trials and triumphs’ and ‘A Permanent Home’ on this website).

Lynda Achren
on behalf of the Maldon Athenaeum Library,
2024

 

References

(All books are available at the library. Find them in our catalogue).

Attwood, Bain (2023) ‘The good country: the Djadja Wurrung, the settlers and the protectors. Monash University Publishing, Clayton. Pages 6−52 and 156−157.

Flett, James (1970) ‘A history of gold discovery in Victoria’. The Hawthorn Press, Melbourne. Page 7.

Guerard, Eugene von 1811−1901 & Tipping, Marjory (editor) (1992) ‘An artist on the goldfields’. Melbourne University Press, Carlton. Pages 63−64.

Hocking, Geoff (1994) ‘Castlemaine: from camp to city 1835−1900’. Five Mile Press, Knoxfield, Victoria. Pages 37−41.

Kane, Tony (2019) ‘Maldon: our stories – the early years’. Maldon Museum and Archives Association, Maldon.

Lewis, Miles & Morton, G.H. (Mick) (1988) ‘The essential Maldon’. Greenhouse Publications in association with the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), Richmond.

Rhule, Brian (2019) ‘Maldon: a new history 1853−1928’. Exploring History Australia, Bendigo. Page 16.

Newspapers:

‘The Argus’ (Melbourne) February 27, 1854, page 4.

1854 plan of the new township of Maldon drawn up for the Surveyor General’s Office of the colonial Victorian Government. The plan shows Crown Land divided into allotments to be auctioned and areas for churches. Source: State Library Victoria, www.slv.vic.gov.au
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