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Area History

Early history:  Jajawurrung aboriginals

Sketch from Major Mitchell's expedition book, 1836 (see below)
Originally the land encompassing Talbot formed part of the native territory of the Jajawurrung tribe (also called Djadja Wurrung).  The aboriginal population before the arrival of the British was estimated to be between 900 and 1800.  By the 1841 census however, the population had dropped to 282, with the drastic decline due to a combination of 'white man's disease' (principally smallpox) and massacres by early white settlers.
Following public outrage in London at reports of the carnage, the Government established a Protectorate scheme.  The Jajawurrung tribe came under the care of Edward Parker.   By 1840 there were 170 men, women and children registered within Parker's protectorate at Mt Franklin.  The protectorate covered 62 sq miles and was meant to be self-sufficient, so the Aborigines were put to work on the station sowing wheat.  

In 1850 the Protectorate system was abolished, but Edward Parker continued to care for them.  Some in the tribe established their own small farms, operating successfully until the gold rush when they were over-run by incomers.  By 1855 the population was down to 100; by the April 1864 Census it was just 23.  Later in 1864 when the remaining Jajawurrung people were transferred to a sanctuary in Coranderrik (near Healesville), the group numbered just 10.  
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1830 - 1840's:  Arrival of the first European settlers

In 1836 Major Thomas Mitchell, the colony’s Surveyor-General, passed through the then-uncharted region in search of new grazing land. He was reported to have been the first white man seen by the Jajawurrung tribe.  Mitchell was so entranced by the lush pastures he found that he christened the area “Australia Felix” (Latin for "fortunate Australia”). 

Picture of Major Mitchell 
thanks to Pictures Collection,
State Library of Victoria
                                                                                   A full account of Major Mitchell's
                                                                                    expedition can be found in his book -
                                                                                    click image to view                                                   

Major Mitchell’s high praise did not go unnoticed. The first grazier settler to move in was 21 year-old Donald Cameron in 1839, who named his property Clunes after his birthplace in Scotland. In June 1841, he was joined by Alexander McCallum, at a nearby 257 sq km pastoral property encompassing the area later to become Talbot. 

Watercolour of Donald Cameron's station
(created between est 1844-1870). 
Thanks to Pictures Collection, State
Library of Victoria

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1849:  The first reported gold find in Victoria comes from near Talbot

March 1849 report from the Melbourne Argus, 
thanks to NZ Public Library "Papers Past"
project. Click image to read entire article.
Throughout the 1840’s there had been rumours of gold found in the area, but the evidence was suppressed. The authorities sought to keep the region as a quiet pastoral district, and feared that a gold rush could spark chaos and lawlessness among the largely convict population.
But in January 1849, an ex-convict called Thomas Chapman found a 38 ounce gold nugget in Daisy Creek (7 km from Talbot) while working as a shepherd. He sold it to a jeweller in Melbourne named Charles Brentani in early 1849. 

This was the first confirmed finding of gold in Victoria and it created quite a stir, kicking off a minor rush to the region. By late February 1849 thirty to forty trespassers were reported to have gathered at Thomas’s former hut seeking gold before being disbanded by a party of police sent from Melbourne. Meanwhile, Thomas fled to Sydney, fearing trouble after his unauthorised sale of the gold that, according to the law of the time, had been the property of the Crown. 
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1850's:  The gold rush begins

By 1851 the California gold rush was in full swing, and the Australian colony found itself struggling to compete for settlers. So, the rules were changed to allow ownership of gold found to pass to the finder, provided they had paid a fee to dig (the infamous “miners licence”) – and the Australian gold rush was on. 

The first major rush in the area around current day Talbot occurred in December 1852 when gold was found in Daisy Hill, near what is now Amherst Cemetery (2km west of Talbot). News quickly spread and within a few weeks hundreds of miners from the nearby Castlemaine goldfields had arrived to try their luck. 

The next major gold find was in 1854 at Kangaroo Flat along Back Creek (1km out of Talbot). By November 1855 it was reported around 6,000 miners had taken up residence in what became known as Back Creek. But, as the gold dwindled, so too did the population and by end-1857 only a few houses remained. 

In 1859, a group of miners from Norway and Sweden led by Carl Hallen decided to look in an area just outside of Back Creek, previously thought barren of gold as it was un-forested. Their gamble was rewarded, and as the news spread miners once again flooded into the area. Within 4 months of the Hallan Party’s first shaft being dug, there were 50,000 people in the Back Creek region. 

To cater for this influx, streets were improvised in the area of the diggings – starting with what became known as “Scandinavian Crescent” along the edge of the actual diggings themselves.  It remains to this day and is now the main street of Talbot.  Today with its wide streets and sweeping curve it looks quaintly graceful.  During the 1860's however, the Crescent was an open cut mine of 15 metres deep, 45 metres wide and 650 metres long!

By late 1859, the Census reported that there were around 15,000 people on the Scandinavian field with 5 banks, up to 49 drinking establishments, a brewery, and numerous stores and businesses scattered along six streets. 
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1861:  The naming of Talbot township

                                                                                                                                              Photo of Talbot outskirts in 1861 from the JB Edwards collection.  
                                                                                                                                              Special thanks to Marie Kau and Talbot Museum for sharing

Until this point, the Back Creek area had been classed as an outgrowth of the nearby Amherst municipality. But in light of its growing size and status, in mid-1861 the Amherst council proposed the Back Creek area be officially denoted a township called “Talbot”.

Although the precise reason for the name choice is unknown, it is thought likely due to its location in the State County of Talbot, which in turn had been named after the well-connected Irish aristocratic family who had owned land in Australia since 1820. 

The name change was announced officially on 17th October 1861 by the Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, on a visit to the town. The newspaper of the time gave a vivid description of the event: 

Photo of Procession in Talbot from the JB Edwards collection.  
Special thanks to Marie Kau and Talbot Museum for sharing

"The preparations were conducted on a magnificent scale... Early in the morning troops of horsemen rode out… Meanwhile the Back Creek Athletic Club, the Fire Brigade, German Association and Odd Fellows had turned out in great force... 

Upon realising that His Excellency would not arrive for two hours, to fill up the space the Athletic Club and Fire Brigade members enjoyed themselves at leaping distances or in the less fatiguing amusement of foot-racing, while the Odd Fellows and Germans adjourned to a neighbouring paddock where to the music of the bands they danced away right merrily… 

Nearly 1000 children were drawn up on either side of the road along which His Excellence would pass. It was intended that the children should sing the National Anthem… but owing to the rapidity with which His Excellency’s horses were driven, the idea was abandoned and a good hearty cheer was substituted for it...

The flanks of the road seemed now like an orchard, so plenteously were the houses decorated with evergreens. A shout from the Crescent ‘He’s coming’ had scarcely subsided before the procession passed beneath a triumphal arch…(and) the cheering from a thousand voices gave His Excellency a hearty welcome.” 
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1860's - 1940's:  Rise and decline of Talbot

Old postcards of Talbot in its heyday.  Special thanks to Anne Schmidt for sharing 

Left:  Looking down Camp Street from Scandinavian Crescent 

Right: Looking along Scandinavian Crescent, with Camp Street intersection on the right

By the mid 1860’s as the rushes moved on, the population of Talbot dropped to around 3,000-4,000. By this time there were 16 hotels, a courthouse, a town hall, soap and candle factories, Cohn Brothers soft drink manufacturers, flour mills, a theatre, and a gas works. 
In line with the town’s growing stature, the canvas tents and simple wattle and daub buildings of the gold rush era were replaced by more substantial brick and bluestone structures, including: 
  • The Post Office, now the oldest functioning post office in Victoria. 
  • Two Courthouses, one built in 1860 and converted in 1888 to a Library; and its replacement built in 1866 and later converted to a Masonic Lodge and then an Astronomical Observatory.                       
  • The two-storey bluestone Bull & Mouth Hotel (1866), now converted to       Above: Phoenix Hotel in Scandinavian Crescent, which still
    Chesterfield House B&B.                                                                            stands, via Wikimedia Commons thanks to Epacdon
  • St Michael’s and All Angels Church (1870), thought to have been
    designed by William Wardell, the architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral
    in Melbourne. 

A first-hand account of life in and around Talbot in 1869 can be seen in Samuel Smiles book "A Boys Voyage Around the World", which vividly describes several celebrations and parades: 

Unfortunately however, Talbot's prosperity did not continue. As the mines closed in the 1880’s the population dwindled, dropping to 1,300 by the end of the century. The downward trend continued during WW1 and the Depression. There was a short-lived revival in 1934 as one of the mines reopened, but when it closed in 1940 the town sank back into decline. 
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1950's - 1990's:  Talbot fades away

Talbot's slow fading continued throughout the rest of the century.  In the June 1954 census, Talbot Shire was reported as having a population of 803.  In 1969 the Knitting Mill, the town’s last big employer was relocated to Maryborough, and by the late-1970’s Talbot had become a shadow of its former self. 

On 14 January 1985 Talbot and surrounding regions were devastatingly hit by bushfire. Over 100 homes and farms were destroyed as the fire burned across 1000 sq km. Fortunately many of Talbot’s historic buildings survived, but the terrible casualties and loss of livelihoods resulted in a further exodus from the town.  

Picture taken of Talbot during the 1970’s by the town's last policeman, Barry Klemm.  It shows his young family standing in front of what is now the cafe at Saddlers cottage. Special thanks to Barry Klemm & family for sharing this.

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2000 - today:  Talbot is reborn

In 2000 Talbot seemed on the verge of becoming a ghost town.  In the 2001 census, it was reported as having a population of just 330.  Things changed however in the early 2000’s when long-time residents were joined by an influx of retirees and ‘tree-changers’, and through the hard work of volunteers the town awoke from its long sleep. 

Many historical buildings have since been restored and new initiatives to attract visitors founded, including the monthly Farmers Market, now regarded as one of the best in the State.  

In 2007 the Weekly Times ran a feature article heralding Talbot's rebirth: "An old mining town stakes its claim to a new golden age": 

article about Talbot PART 1 article about Talbot PART 2

In 2008 the Central Goldfields Council published the “Talbot Urban Planning Framework”, as an aid to preserving the town’s heritage and pave the way for a new wave of growth next chapter in Talbot's growth in Talbot’s history.  
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Key third party sources used to prepare this information are as follows.  If you have any additional information or corrections, please  get in touch via email.  
  • Goldfield Heritage Books published by Marie Kau, including "A Historical Sketch of Back Creek and Talbot - 14 January 1862", "The Governor's Visit to Back Creek/Talbot - 17 October 1861" and "From Back Creek to Talbot - what's in a name" 
  • History of gold discovery in Victoria by Likely Prospects
  • Talbot Urban Planning Framework, published June 2008 by the Central Goldfields Council
  • September 2008 issue of "Fossicking Round" which included a feature on Talbot 
  • History of the Jajawurrung Aboriginals by Norm Darwin 
  • 1963 Victorian Yearbook which includes old census data, thanks to David Phillips, as well as more recent census information from 2001 via the ABS website

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This page was last updated on 8 January 2011

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