– Setting the Scene –
Gold was discovered in Victoria as early as 1845, but the first publicised discoveries were made in August 1851 at Clunes, Buninyong, and Ballarat. As more and more people began to arrive in the area to 'try their luck', further news of discoveries at Forest Creek / Mt Alexander (now Castlemaine) in October began to circulate. Reports were soon confirmed by those who were initially successful, and the 'rush' began. In December 1851 news of extensive deposits at Sandhurst (Bendigo) began to circulate in the South Australian press, which had been reporting extensively on the situation developing in Victoria since August.
As the gold rush progressed, and the number of people travelling increased, different routes were used. Perhaps the best known is the 'northern' route between Wellington and Horsham, surveyed in early 1852 for the South Australian Gold Escort.. To support this Escort, established in March 1852, wells were upgraded or dug, and water was therefore available at regular intervals, where it had not been previously. This route took travellers through a great deal of desert and dry country which caused difficulties, especially in the summer period. This route will be described in a later section, as it was used by some travellers to the goldfields, in particular those not encumbered by bullock drays with large loads and who were keen to travel quickly.
Another group of travellers who have been written extensively about are the large groups of Chinese who landed at Robe on the south-east coast of South Australia and made their way to the goldfields. This began in 1855 and while the circumstances have been studied, details have not been included as part of the Overland Gold project.
TRAVEL IN THE EARLY 1850s IN AUSTRALIA:
In South Australia: The growth of mining in South Australia during the 1840s, and the associated decentralisation, resulted in the development of several road networks to transport equipment to the mines, goods to the communities and transport the mined ore to port. Drays carting ore, as much as 2 tons per load, quickly established the most convenient routes which were determined primarily by topography, the availability of water and convenient creek crossings. Inns, stores and hotels quickly sprang up along these routes, at intervals a convenient day's travel apart. The average distance travelled each day by a bullock dray fully loaded with copper was approximately 7-8 miles (11-12 km). As time went on, and with changes in roads and routes, these stopping points developed into settlements or slipped into history.
There were several 'Copper Roads' linking Burra with Port Adelaide and Port Wakefield. By 1853 the road between Gawler and Burra via Saddleworth (Stone Hut) was being referred to as the Great North Road.
Mines had also been established close to Adelaide in Glen Osmond and several places in and around the Adelaide Hills / Mt Lofty Ranges. Tracks between these locations were created in much the same manner. A high proportion of those employed in the mines were Cornish. Family history research indicates that the Cornish in Australia formed close-knit family-centred groups and maintained regular contact, keeping themselves well-informed about the whereabouts and activities of their kin.
While the 'roads' generally comprised tracks created through use, the first 'copper road' from Kapunda to Gawler was created intentionally by an early settler Captain Charles Bagot, using a bullock dray with a plough attached. When the plough broke, it was replaced with a log from a shea oak tree. Drays carting ore followed the plough furrow and the road was quickly established. In some areas, the multitude of wheel and stock tracks remained visible for many years.
Mail services were another impetus for the creation of roads and along these routes, stopping points were required as relay points and to rest or exchange horses. A mail service between Adelaide and Mt Gambier along the Coorong was established in 1846.
In Victoria: By 1852 in Victoria, a high proportion of grazing land in Victoria had been settled and 'squatters' tracks were being created between 'stations' and with market centres. The provision of services for the settlers, for instance a mail service, helped establish tracks. Reference to Ham's Squatting Maps of 1847, 1851 and 1853 show clearly that tracks that had come into common use in this way subsequently became the route of the surveyed roads now comprising many of today's highways and roads.
Major Mitchell's 1836 expedition through the area he called Australia Felix', and the often clearly visible tracks which lead to the name 'Major Mitchell's Line', contributed greatly to the spread of settlement and to the establishment of routes.
From the centres of Melbourne and Geelong (Point Henry) routes to the west were quickly developed. In 1844 an overland mail service was established from Melbourne to Portland, via Buninyong, then the only village in the district. By the late 1840s mail services had been extended to the Wimmera area along an established route via Buninyong through Burnbank (now Lexton), and along the northern side of the Wimmera River to Horsham.
How did they find the way?: Apart from any existing routes that have developed, wheel and stock tracks were often clearly visible and easily followed. In several accounts there are references to signs nailed to trees and other forms of direction posts. Trees were 'blazed' (marked) with an axe. Information was passed freely between travellers and directions were often obtained from settlers and workers in the various areas.
How did they travel?: Horses were the major source of transport for individuals, if they could afford them, and walking long distances was not unheard of. For transporting goods, horses and/or bullocks pulling carts, drays and wagons were common – horses for lighter loads and faster travel, and bullocks for heavier loads and more difficult conditions. A horse required 'good' feed but a bullock could survive on more varied, scrubby grazing. However, both required water.
Distances travelled per day: Distances travelled per day varied according to the method of travel as well as the condition of the country and the weather, for instance:
- for a dray fully laden with copper (up to 2 tons) – approximately 7 miles / 11 km
- Bullocks & dray laden with supplies, eg for the goldfields – approximately 8-10 miles / 13 km
- A horse with a light cart, or a horse with one rider would cover considerably more distance
Accounts of those who travelled to the goldfields from either Adelaide or Burra in 1852 reflect this variation:
- Ragless Group – 3 wks 3 days (23 Jan-16 Feb) – 7 or 8 horses, a dray and a light cart laden
- Snell group – 5 wks (28 Jan to 4 Mar) – horses and (2) drays
- Rule group – 5 wks 1 day – 600 miles (3 Feb - 11 Mar) – horses and (1) dray
- Trevena group – 7 weeks ('early' 1852) – 2 bullock teams and 3 horses
- Peters group – 8 wks (14 Jan - 5 March) via Roses Gap – 1 horse & dray – a horse to sell
- Ninnes group – 10 weeks (3 Feb - 13 April) (stopped for 1 week for birth of child) – 2 horses and dray – Hasset bullock dray – 2nd bullock dray
More research is being undertaken on the different methods of travel and the time they would have taken.
Conditions: The 'roads' were generally in a 'state of nature' and weather and seasons influenced their conditions. In addition, creeks and rivers could become difficult to cross in winter or times of heavy rain.