Bendigo is figuratively and literally the city built on gold. Beneath the modern city is a maze of tunnels and shafts from one of the world’s richest gold finds. Bendigo meant gold. Thirty seven separate quartz reefs lie beneath the city and gold was found in them all. After the first alluvial gold was found in late 1851 diggers started to flock to the goldfields. The wives of two workers on the 200,000 acre Ravenswood sheep run are credited with finding the first alluvial gold on the sheep station but many others have also claimed this distinction. Within weeks there were signs of this gold rush becoming another California type gold rush with hopeful diggers pouring into the gold region from China, Italy, Germany, other parts of the British Empire and the other Australian colonies. The Victorian gold rushes transformed all of the Australian colonies. By mid 1852 there were 20,000 people on the Bendigo mine fields and this later swelled to 40,000 people in the Bendigo region. This figures included around 5,000 to 8,000 Chinese diggers and gold camp followers and businessmen. The names of some of the mines were taken from the gullies and regions of Bendigo and they are now suburbs of Bendigo – Kangaroo Flat, Eaglehawk, Golden Square, Long Gully, California Gully, Ironbark, etc. Gold mining might have begun on Bendigo Creek where the Gold Commissioners, who checked the miners’ licenses and where the police and courts were set up, but mining soon spread through the Bendigo district. Camp Hill overlooking Bendigo Creek and Rosalind Park became the government centre from where police and control was exercised. The old Bendigo Gaol (1859) is still up on the hill there next to the Camp Hill state school (1877). The old government Survey Office was also built here in 1858 at the top of View Street on Camp Hill and the Police Barracks were constructed at the bottom of the hill in 1859.
Bendigo was the world’s richest and biggest gold field until the discovery of the Kalgoorlie goldfields in Western Australian in the early 1890s. It was the largest and most successful goldfield in eastern Australia. Between 1851 and 1954 when the Central Deborah Gold Mine closed in Bendigo some 700,000 kilograms of gold was extracted from the Bendigo region. The value of its gold in current terms would be about $30 billion. The goldfield covered an area roughly 30 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide. There were thousands of diggers who sought alluvial gold- and found it- in the 1850s before they were replaced by small and large companies who sank deep shafts and dug tunnels to extract the gold from the quartz reefs in the 1860s and later. There were more than 5,000 registered gold mines in Bendigo. This led to Bendigo having its own Stock Exchange so that gold shares could be sold to investors in London and around the world through the marvel of the telegraph. Bendigo had one of the few regional stock exchanges in Australia until it was closed in 2012. At least 140 mine shafts were sunk in Bendigo and some of them reached depths of 1,000 metres or more! Some of the poppet heads for these shafts still remain in Bendigo. One of the last mines to be formed was the Central Deborah Mining Company in 1939 and it was the last to operate. It only closed in 1954. Some of the most famous and successful of the Bendigo mining companies were: Shamrock, New Chum Hill, Lansell’s 222, Victoria Hill, etc. Since the closure of the Central Deborah Mine in 1954 new mining techniques have been used in the 1980s and 1990s to try and extract yet more gold from the old mine shafts and workings. Clearly all the heritage and history of Bendigo is clearly rooted in its gold mining past. Probably no other Town Hall in Australia has 24 carat gold leaf embellishments across the ceiling. The original Town Hall was a simple two storey structure designed by the Town Clerk in 1859. A structure more befitting a wealthy gold mining city was later required and local architect William Vahland was commissioned to transform the Town Hall into a grand structure which he did. His new Town Hall was built between 1878 and 1886 with ornate plaster mouldings on both the interior and exterior and although Vahland’s plan included a clock tower the clock was never installed in the Town Hall tower. It is still one of the grand buildigns of Bendigo.
The town of Bendigo did not exist in formal terms until 1890 when a local committee was given the task of trying to decide who actually found the first gold and to decide upon a name for the city. Although the government town was known as Sandhurst, locally the town was always referred to as Bendigo. The committee asked local ratepayers and decided upon Bendigo for the city name in 1891 but they never decided unequivocally who found the first gold there. But they did acknowledged that the claim of Mrs Margaret Kennedy of the Ravenswood Run was probably the best claim. The origins for Bendigo City go back to 1853 when land was surveyed and the city plan drawn up. Pall Mall near Bendigo Creek became the centre for commercial activity and it remains a main thoroughfare. It became a municipality in 1863 and its prosperity ushered in a period of grand building which continued into the 1870s and 1880s. The arrival for the railway from Melbourne in 1862 aided the town greatly in terms of industry and communications for it could now send it products to the markets in Melbourne. By the early 1860s Bendigo had a flourishing industry base with flour mills, woollen mills, tanneries, quarries, foundries, a eucalyptus oil distillery and food production. The open eucalyptus woodland of this area just north of the Great Dividing Range was also felled and timber-cutting and saw milling was another important industry for the town.
Many of the architectural grand buildings of early Bendigo were created from the architectural studio of William Charles (Carl Wilhelm) Vahland and his associates. Vahland was born in Hanover in Germany in 1828. In 1849 he entered the most prestigious building school in Germany to learn the art of architecture. His theory and practical studies began at 6 am and finished at 9:30 pm except for the earlier finish at 7 pm on Saturdays. He studied architecture there for three years and learnt in great depth about Greek classical styles of architecture. His interests in this area influenced his architecture for the rest of his life. In 1852 after completing his studies he practised architect in Bremen and Hamburg before he sailed for the Victorian goldfields in 1854. He travelled immediately to Bendigo but had little success on the goldfields. By 1855 he was employed as carpenter before he became a naturalised British subject in 1857 which was also the year in which he established his own carpentry workshop making puddling cradles for miners. He ran his workshop and later architectural practice with his business partner Robert Getzschmann, with whom he worked until Getzschmann’s death in 1875. Within a year or so of 1857 they were both working as architects but Vahland also was founding member of the Bendigo Building Society which later became the Bendigo Bank and he was a Justice of the Peace and he was active in local affairs. He married an English woman in 1859 and built his own residence in Barkley Terrace. Vahland went on to become the preeminent architect of Bendigo. He designed around 80 public structures for the city including a number of its best known buildings. He is known to have designed around 200 public and commercial buildings in the goldfields area of Central Victoria. He probably also designed dozens of large and small residences that have not been ascribed to his studio. He worked for over 50 years creating much of the visual landscape and the city. He died in 1915 after World War One broke out when sadly a few members of his beloved Masonic Lodge (he had been a member since 1857 and had been the Grand Master) tried to have him expelled because of his Germanic background!
Some of the notable Bendigo buildings designed by William Vahland are: the Alexandria Fountain in Pall Mall 1881; the City Family Hotel 1872; the Commercial Bank of Australia 1875; the original Post Office 1870; the Bendigo Art Gallery 1873 which was originally the Masonic Hall and Temple; the original Art Gallery 1867; the Temperance Hall 1860; the Sandhurst Club Building 1893; the Colonial Bank 1887; the original Shamrock Hotel 1860; the Town Hall 1878; the School of Mines 1864, 1878, 1887 and 1889; St Kilian’s Catholic Church 1888; St Paul’s Anglican Rectory 1885; All Saints Catholic Cathedral 1869; the Wesleyan Methodist church additions 1877; the Congregational Church 1890; the Lutheran Church 1857; the Convent of Mercy 1865; the Goldfields Hospital 1858, 1864 and 1866; the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum 1862, 1864 and 1872 etc. In addition to these significant structures in central Bendigo he designed churches and other public buildings in the outlying areas of Eaglehawk, Long Gully, Ironbark, California Gully, Kangaroo Flat etc.
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