Situated 55km north west of Melbourne CBD, Gisborne is known as gateway to the Macedon Ranges and is popular with people looking for a change in lifestyle in a tranquil and relaxed setting. Gisborne has an interesting history behind it and the focus of this article is to bring out its colourful past for our readers.
The original inhabitants of Gisborne were the Dja Dja Wurrung and Wurundjeri Aboriginal people. Aborigines called this area home for nearly 25,000 years or more. During the Goldrush era, this was a remarkably busy location being on the main road to Forest Creek and Bendigo.
John Aitken is a pioneer settler of Melbourne, who left Launceston just six weeks after John Batman to inspect the possibilities of Port Phillip. John Aitken settled at around 8km south of Gisborne, near an area now known as Mt Aitken, after shipping his 600 Merino sheep in “The Chili’’ from Tasmania. In 1837, NSW Governor Bourke visited the new settlement of Port Phillip and Melbourne was named after the British Prime Minister. Bourke’s entourage reached the mouth of Yarra on 4th March. Then they decided to see surrounding country which took them to Geelong, Queenscliff, and Mount Macedon.
Henry Howie was the first man to squat at Today’s Gisborne. A.F. Mollison, a pioneer squatter was on lookout for suitable land for his stock and passed through Gisborne and the region around at the same time. What makes Alexander Fullerton Mollison special is; he kept a diary of his journey, which became a treasure for historians in later years.
1838, the brigantine Sarah, 46 tons, leaving for Port Phillip, having as passengers Henry Howey and family, the Misses Gibbon and Howard, and four servants, on their way to Melbourne from Sydney, sailed through Sydney Head but never again heard of.
Henry Howey executed a will on April 23, 1835, about a month before John Batman settled at Indented Head in Port Phillip Bay, hence the will makes no reference to the acquired lands at Old Gisborne, and the Melbourne town lots he purchased in the first land sale of Melbourne . Howie’s brother inherited his Melbourne property.
Howey’s stock at Gisborne was sold by auction as per his will but no one had inherited Howey’s squatter rights in Gisborne. Being a squatter Howey didn’t own the land he was grazing in Gisborne.
An advertisement appeared on ”Patriot” published by John Fawner on 8th July 1839, which read,
“Sale of sheep, cattle, stock, stations, agriculture implements etc. near Mount Macedon. To graziers, agriculturalists, capitalists, speculators, and newly arrived emigrant desirous at once of commencing sheep farming without the great expense and labour generally attendant upon a first commencement. The first rate and well-known flocks. etc and right of station of the late Henry Howey, esq. without reserve, which will be sold by Isaac Simmonds of Sydney at the head station, near Mount Macedon on Tuesday, July 16, 1839 and following day at 11 ‘o’ clock precisely each day.”
At the auction, the rights of Howey’s Gisborne station were cut up and sold in three sections.
The most famous establishment in the area in the 1840’s was the ‘Bush Inn’. The Bush Inn was first licensed on 13th April 1840. The name ‘The Bush Inn’ was generally used as a name for Gisborne until 1851, by travellers to the region and the residents of the township. Aitken Street was the main street in Gisborne on those days. Hamilton Street became the main commercial street after the construction of Mt Alexander Road. Before 1851, all these streets and roads were just bush tracks. After the Goldrush by 1853, many hotels and lodging sprang up in Gisborne. To name a few; Mt Macedon, Carriers Arm, Telegraph, Bridge Inn and Gaythorne.
By Mid-1850’s Surveyor General of Port Phillip, Robert Hoddle received a directive from the Offices of NSW Governor Charles Fitzroy to layout a township near Bush Inn. A plan for the new township was sent for approval to the Surveyor General of NSW in March 1851 and land sales began the same year.
The town was named after Henry Fyshe Gisborne, a young man, who was a magistrate in Sydney in 1836 when only 21, and became Commissioner of Crown Lands of Port Phillip in 1839, was also in charge of the Border Police at the age of 26. In June 1840 Henry Gisborne drafted and delivered the first petition for the separation of the Port Phillip District to Governor Gipps. In 1840, Henry Fyshe Gisborne set up an outpost for his Border Police troopers to assist colonialists with the suppression of Aboriginal resistance in today’s Gisborne. This is one reason the new township was named after him. Gisborne resigned due to ill health in March 1840, sailed from Sydney for England. He died between the Cape of Good Hope and Saint Helena on 21 April 1841 at the age of 28.
An article published in ‘’The Age’’ (Melbourne, Vic.: 1854 – 1954) on Thursday 20th January 1938 titled “IN SEARCH OF VICTORIA’’ , probably would be a best a source to shed some light on the early history of Gisborne.
“The Bush Inn was one of the most famous of the roadside inns of the 1840’s and of the later, more exciting, gold-rush days. It stood where now is the Post office at Gisborne, and was opened about 1840, its first landlord being George Jeffries Stokes, Edward M. Curr has left the following description of this old place, which was an inn for 22 years, then for some years a bank, and afterwards a grocer’s shop and a private residence. Falling into decay, it was demolished in 1876.
In February 1841. Curr left Melbourne to take up a sheep run for his father at Wolfscrag, near Heathcote. The first night he stayed at the Bush Inn, which was “somewhat noisy” as he and his companion approached. The sitting room opened on to a veranda; the whole building was of slabs roofed with shingles, It was about 32 feet by 12 feet, with a skillion in addition at the rear, which ran the whole length of the building. The exterior and division walls were about seven feet tall. The ceiling was whitewashed canvas, and a covering of the same material lined the walls in place of plaster. The sitting room was about 15 feet long. In the centre was a deal table, on which was a large brass bell and a single tallow candle in a disreputable candlestick. Also to the room were four sofas, on two of which beds had been made. From the taproom, which was within a yard, the wrangling, oaths and laughter of half a dozen drunken men came. The songs and shouts of those drinking to the bar continued till nearly daylight. Interestingly, the pillows were stuffed with the feathers of mutton birds—which made them uncomfortable and smelly.
Retrospectively, a historian of Gisborne has said:— “Only that Gisborne pitched on the site for a border police station, thus investing the district with an adventurous importance and a revenue-spending locality, the Bush Inn might never have been opened, and only that the Bush Inn did open and so made the locality famous as a stopping place for shepherds, stockmen and teamsters, a township might never have been laid out there.” These circumstances certainly helped, and the town was laid out in 1851, just to time to take advantage of the rush to the gold fields. And what a rush it was—and what importance it gave to the picturesque town. Old Gisborne was originally further up the hill.
A dominant feature in the early days was the timber and iron Church of England, which had been brought from England to sections. There were three of these churches; the second was in Collingwood, near the town hall, and the third to Port Melbourne. The teamsters, and later the diggers, made their camping ground on the flat near the creek , and the town soon followed the custom that came from the vast moving population. Even the church was taken down and resurrected on its present site to the town.
In its heyday there were twelve hotels and two breweries in Gisborne, which in the sixties (1860’s) had a greater settled population than it has to-day. William Westgarth, who was a member of a royal commission that investigated the state of the gold fields, described it in 1855 as a “promising little town.” One of the most distinguished men ever to pass a night at Gisborne was Lord Robert Cecil, afterwards Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister of England. Lord Robert Cecil kept a diary of his visit to the gold fields to 1852, being then twenty-two. He and a companion made the journey in a horse drawn spring cart. The whole road up to the diggings was “a very bad one.” The cart was stepped several times on the road at “coffee tents”—a euphemism, generally speaking, for sly grog shops. The driver of the cart proved this by getting drunk very rapidly on rum. The first day’s run was to Gisborne, of which the diary says this: —”About 5.30 we arrived at the Bush Inn, where we were to lodge for the night.
The inn was crowded, and all our fellow travellers were refused admittance on that ground. But we, on the strength of our black coats, were admitted at once, and found the inn comfortable enough.
We were shown to a private sitting room to which no one else was admitted, . . From some cause or other I hardly slept an hour during the night.” Some of the causes possibly were those described by Edward Curr; others, possibly, those described to 1855 by Westgarth, who said (of another roadside inn) “the beds . . . are in a condition of vitality that gives to the unaccustomed very little chance of a quiet night’s rest.” Gisborne has long since forgotten the exciting days when it was a busy stopping place for the traffic to the diggings; when the flat near the creek was packed with bullock drays, with teamsters’ wagons, with vehicles of all descriptions; when its twelve hotels were noisy with the songs and shouts of “diggers”; when the gold escort tumbled down the steep hill, to the left, of the present beautifully surfaced and graded road, and when it was at the edge of the terrible Black Forest —terrible more for its lurking thieves than from any other cause. Peaceful Gisborne, prettily situated, attracting visitors and holiday makers; content with a quiet existence, and not regretful of the “roaring” days. The twelve hotels have dwindled to two; the Bush Inn is only a memory, and Gisborne’s border police station has long since disappeared.”
Early newspaper articles states Mr Stokes as the first proprietor of the Bush Inn. But a letter dated 29th November 1912, to the editor of the Gazette, written by W.Robertson, ‘’Pine View’’, Toolernvale, provides a different information. Since due to lack of any records, no clarity exists on who founded Bush Inn, I believe W. Robertson could be taken into confidence in this matter. W.Robertson’s letter goes as follows.
To the Editor Of The Gisborne Gazette
Sir, Re. your article on Gisborne, asking for any information regarding the old Bush Inn, I am informed by one of oldest identities, namely my aunt, Mrs Robert Scott, that the first inn was built by a Mr. Petit and was known as the travellers rest for some years. In 1843, it changed hands, Mr Stokes becoming proprietor and he changed the name to Bush Inn. Sometimes afterwards he built a brick building, retaining the old name. Mr Stokes was succeeded by my uncle James Mc G Robertson. In Mr Petits time, Gisborne was known as The Flat and it was so known for a number of years. It subsequently took the name of the Bush Inn and went by that name until it was named Gisborne after a Captain Gisborne, who brought some soldiers overland from Sydney and were stationed in this little town.
Without Bush Inn, a township would have never come into existence at Gisborne.
Another incident that caught the attention of the locals of Gisborne took place in 1867. In December 1867, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh alighted at the New Gisborne Railway Station to be received by the locals on his way from Melbourne to Castlemaine.
Other Milestones of Gisborne
On 13th December 1852, a public meeting was held with the intention of establishing a national school. Tenders went out in early 1853 and the school was officially opened on 26th December 1853, though the construction was not completed yet.
In 1858 Gisborne Court House was built. The court of Petty Sessions met regularly from 1858 until 1970 and occasionally until 1980, when it was officially closed.
In 1860, Gisborne was declared a district and became a shire on 24th February 1871. On 19th January 1995, shires of Gisborne, Newham, Romsey, Woodend, and part of the Shire of Kyneton were amalgamated to form the Macedon Ranges Shire Council.
Railway reached Gisborne in 1861. When the railway line to Castlemaine was built, it was decided that the line will pass 2.5km east of the Gisborne township. A new township sprang up around the new railway station and the township was called New Gisborne.
Gisborne is the largest township in Macedon Ranges. Though it is still a country town, residential property prices here are higher than most outer suburbs of Melbourne. The township is serviced by V line and is on the Bendigo Line. Gisborne Railway station is located at New Gisborne. The town has its own dedicated bus service called GisBus.
Hamilton Street remains as a reminder to its rich history.
The heritage structures of Gisborne
This is not an all-inclusive list.
Homestead, 2 Cabbage Tree Lane, Gisborne: A bluestone house built about 1860 by a man named Martin, said to be a brewer.
Residence/Eblana, 59 Howey Street, Gisborne: Eblana was built in 1896 for Dr UlickDaly, a Gisborne doctor.
St Brigid’s Catholic Church, 64Aitken Street, Gisborne: The church was dedicated in 1875. The foundation Stone reads, “St Brigid’s Church, Gisborne, Foundation Stone was laid by the Very Reverend Dr John Fitzpatrick, VEG, on the 30thNovember 1873. The church was blessed and opened by the Right Reverend Dr James Halipias Goold, D.D.O.S.A. Archbishop of Melbourne, on 5thFebruary, 1875. Parrish Priest was the Reverend Father Timothy, J O’Callaghan: Parish Chairman; Mr Michael Brady; Parish Secretary, Mr Patrick Barry; Architect, Mr Daniel J Buckley (Gisborne); and the builder, Mr Richard Grant
Residence/St Andrew’s Presbyterian Manse, 42 Fisher Street, Gisborne: The house was built in 1906 to serve as a home, a meeting place, and a doctor’s surgery.
Wyabun Park, 29 Melbourne Road, Gisborne: the main house was built for Dr. Plummer in the 1890’s while the stone house is thought to have been used by a police commissioner (crown lands commissioner in 1865) for a residence.
Mechanics Institute, 18 Hamilton Street, Gisborne: The building came to existence in 1858.
Memorial Precinct/Howey Reserve, Hamilton Street, Gisborne: Memorial Precinct has a war memorial, Howey Memorial and a memorial drinking fountain.
Masonic Hall/Masonic Temple, 6O Aitken Street, Gisborne: Masonic Hall was built in 1921.
Residence/ Lyell House, 35 Aitken Street, Gisborne: The red brick house was built, circa 1891/1893, by Cherry & Sons Pty Ltd, a firm that had been manufacturing butter churns, cheese equipment and dairy appliances since 1858 as a private residence for the Lyell family.
State School No. 262/Primary School, 35 Fisher Street, Gisborne: This new building was formally opened on 17thAugust 1877 for an existing school which was functioning from there since 1852.
Foresters’ Hall, 52 Aitken Street, Gisborne: The present brick Hall portion dates from 1875. There have been several additions to the brick Hall in later years.
St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Hall, 43-49 Fisher Street, Gisborne: The present St Andrew’s Church was opened in August 1871 after thefirst church proved to be too small.
Homestead/Hay Hill, 426 Hamilton Road, New Gisborne: Hay Hill was established in 1853 by John and Janet Dewar; who came from Scotland with two children.
Commercial Bank of Australia, 2O Hamilton Street, Gisborne: Commercial Bank of Australia operated from here since 1868.
Railway Overpass/Mitchell’s Bridge, Pierce Road, New Gisborne
Former Court House & Police Station,2 Hamilton Street, Gisborne: This two-storey structure built in 1858 originally incorporated the police station. A brick stables and blue stone lock-up was built at rear in 1861.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) Thu 20 Jan 1938 Page 17 IN SEARCH OF VICTORIA
The Bacchus Marsh Express (Vic. : 1866 – 1943) Sat 21 Dec 1867 GISBORNE.
Old Gisborne ‘’The Bush Inn’’ Letters to the editor of the Gisborne Gazette 1912 -1913