Stawell is a former goldmining town of some 6700 people located just off the Western Highway, 32 km north-west of Ararat, 235 km north-west of Melbourne and 231 m above sea-level.
It is a service centre to the surrounding district and supports a number of industries such as brick-production, goldmining, a substantial and very successful fabric upholstery concern and an abattoir, as well as more traditional grazing and farming pursuits. With the Grampians close by Stawell has a growing tourism sector. Just south of town are the wineries of Great Western.
The Mukjarawaint Aborigines occupied the area prior to white settlement. The first European to pass through the town site was explorer Thomas Mitchell in 1836. The first station was ‘Concongella’ in 1841. Gold was discovered on Pleasant Creek by shepherd William McLachlan in May 1853.
The original settlement of Stawell was at Pleasant Creek and consisted of Cooper, Longfield, Leslie, Burgh Streets running east west and Austin, Griffiths, Seaby and Foster Streets running north south, according to a map of the area dated 1858.Ã‚Â
It is interesting to note that Burgh Street has a dog leg in it and this was because the Pleasant Creek Hotel already existed and the road was formed around it
Longfield Street being the main road from Melbourne to Adelaide was the centre of the settlement and housed the Camp and the Constitution Hotel (left of photograph above). On the right of the photograph are the Pleasant Creek Court House and Gaol, Shire Office and the Literary Institute. The Telegraph Office and the Police Superintendent’s Residence were situated in Leslie Street and behind this were the Police Stables in Griffiths Street.
On the corner of Griffiths Street and Leslie Street was the One Tree Hill Cemetery
On the right in Seaby Street is the home of John Yabsley Wakeham, Mr Wakeham was a pioneer of Stawell, Whilst a merchant originally he amassed his fortune as a share holder in a number of mines in Stawell.
Pleasant Creek was part of Concongella Station before the discovery of gold. The only residents around at the time were two shepherds and a hutkeeper who lived on the “Western slopes of One Tree Hill” in a bark hut.
William McLachlan discovered gold at Pleasant Creek in May 1853 while fossicking in Pleasant Creek in his spare time found some gold. It only was a small amount of gold – some pennyweights – and although the find was made known, not many people came here then. This was then a very isolated area, water was scarce and there were no supplies of food while the goldfields of Ballarat, Bendigo, Clunes etc. were operating with stores already established. Some people did come and there were also people passing through here from South Australia to the Victorian goldfields who stopped and washed small quantities of gold.
Apparently some gold diggers came and went during the next four years – finding some small quantities – and in August 1857 – the big rush occurred at what became known as Commercial Street, Pleasant Creek – off the Halls Gap Road.
This rush spread across to Deep Lead and the Warden reported at the height of the rush, said that there were 25,000 to 30,000 people there.
At the same time, shafts were being sunk around Big Hill and gold was found in the quartz there. That Big Hill area was called Quartz Reefs, Pleasant Creek.
The government proclaimed and renamed the settlement ‘Stawell’ in 1858 after Sir William Foster Stawell, an attorney-general in Victoria’s first legislative assembly (1856) who became the chief justice of Victoria in 1857.
Much alluvial gold was found in the Illawarra/Deep Lead area but how much and who found it is not known. The diggers took their gold and left and the field had petered out by 1859 – only lasting less then two years with a very diminishing numbers of diggers.
As the alluvial gold began to diminish in the 1860s, the population and economic activity began to shift north-east to the Big Hill area where a new settlement, known as Quartz Reefs, developed around the quartz gold found at the foot of the hill. Thus the original town site became known as Stawell West. The two areas were amalgamated into the borough of Stawell in 1869.
When mining activity at Ballarat diminished in the late 1860s it freed up a flow of capital and experienced hands to the Stawell fields, initiating a boom period during the 1870s which saw new administration buildings erected close by the Big Hill mines. The railway further boosted local economic and social activity upon its arrival in 1876.
Huge amounts of gold were found and fortunes made. Of the 14 richest mines in Victoria. Number 8 on that list was the Cross Reef at Stawell and number 10 was the Magdala at Stawell. Mining here slowed down in the late 1880’s with many mines closing from then to the 1890’s and the last mine closed in 1920. By which time around 58 tonnes of gold had been extracted. The settlement survived the slow inevitable decline of the goldfields due to (a) its role as a service centre to the farming community and (b) the emergence of local industries such as a flour mill, brickworks, tannery and woollen mills. Gold mining recommenced at Stawell in 1981.
Of some historical interest is the fact that Marcus Clarke worked as a jackeroo to the north-west of town in the 1860s. The settlement of Glenorchy was the ‘Bullocktown’ of his ‘Bullocktown Sketches’ which were published in the Australasian.