What happened to Pretty Sally?

The following article by Grahame Thom was originally published in the September 2007 edition of our Newsletter, Kilmore Connections

Many people know the name Pretty Sally Hill because the long climb up the hill from Wallan caused many a vehicleʼs radiator to boil. But little is known about Pretty Sally.

The key document linking Pretty Sally Hill and a person named Pretty Sally is the following report in the Argus on Friday 10 September 1847 :-

An accident occurred near Beveridgeʼs Swamp, on Wednesday last, which I am informed is likely to be attended with fatal results. Mrs Smith, better known as pretty Sally, was driving a Spring cart; one of the wheels of the vehicle coming in contact with a stump caused a capsize, when by some unaccountable means Mrs S. fell under the vehicle, which being alone, seriously crushed her before she was released.

The first official name for the hill was Big Hill, but in the early days the hill became known as Pretty Sally Hill. The official name today is Pretty Sally for the Trig Station at the top of the hill. As recorded in J A Maherʼs The Tale of a Century – Kilmore 1837-1937, John Taylor in the Seymour Telegraph of 3 November 1909 recounted what it was like to ride the mail cart from Melbourne in the early days and referred to Pretty Sally Hill. Then on page 105 Maher states :-

Whilst along the stock route, some distance westward from the present Highway, the lady herself, “Pretty Sally,” openly defiant of the law, supplied a “spot” of drink in exchange for coin of the realm.

The following is an extract from J W Payneʼs Pretty Sallyʼs Hill – A history of Wallan, Wandong & Bylands published in 1981 :-

In the Australian tradition of remembering best those who refuse to conform to the strictures of the law, Pretty Sally is remembered for operating an illegal shanty and eating house on the western side of Big Hill. The person in question was not the handsome slender young lady the name evokes, but a formidable woman of 114 kilograms, ʻas ugly as you would meet on a dayʼs marchʼ by one account.

The following is an extract from the Societyʼs 1967 booklet “A Taste of Old Kilmore” :-

A traveller of the early days William Ashton Coomer Robinson who in his book Truth Stranger than Fiction (published in 1861) told many strange tales, tramped over Pretty Sallyʼs Hill on his way to the
diggings. Robinson has left us a fine example of the journalistic style of those early days.

“We soon arrived at a mountain range (over part of which the road winds), called “Pretty Sallyʼs Hill, named after (with Australian transformation), a very stout and ugly old woman who kept an inn at its base.

Pretty Sally being fond of her cups, was brought home one unlucky day on a dray, in a highly spirituous state. Under such agency the mind is apt to travel into the imaginary regions of splendour; and in such a state of keen susceptibility, those mischievous elves flitting through the brain, with their magic wands, suddenly turned the homely conveyance into a carriage. The elegant lady was descending with pointed toe, in true aristocratic style, to place her foot upon the step, to conduct her to terra firma, when lo! she placed it in mid air; the elastic fluid soon yielding to the overwhelming pressure of two -and twenty stone. The heavy dame embracing her mother earth, like the meeting of long absent friends, so closely; her nervous system received such a shock, that in a brief space she was again doomed to measure her length, but this time not on, but below the terrestrial surface – she died.

This account I gathered from an eye-witness, who related the unfortunate circumstances in true colonial language; but as that elegant diction is fast losing popularity, I must only repeat a part of his version of the catastrophe –

“My word, sir, had you seen that overgrown huge mountain of flesh, as I saw it, fall from the dray, and roll over and over, you never would have forgotten it; the earth fairly shook from violent concussion.”

So it would seem that Mrs Smith, known as Pretty Sally, died soon after she was thrown from her dray on Wednesday 8 September 1847. In addition there seems to be a question as to the location of her shanty. Some say it was near the top of Pretty Sally Hill, while the last report above states it was at “its base”.

Assuming death took place, where would Pretty Sally have been buried? It was too early to be buried in the Wallan or Kilmore cemeteries. Was the body taken to Melbourne, or more likely, was she buried beside her shanty? The answer probably will never be known.

Another issue relates to her name. We know she was a Mrs Smith, but was her given name Sally, or was Sally a nickname? This lead me to see if I could find an entry in a church burial register. If she had died in 1847 then her death took place before the start of the civil registration of births, deaths and marriages.

I have checked and even obtained two burial certificates, using the official births, deaths and marriage indexes made available by both the Victorian and New South Wales Registrars, but found nothing I could relate to Pretty Sally. I also searched to the end of both death indexes looking for a Sally Smith, but again nothing relevant.

  • The 1847 burials I found in the Victorian index were:-
    Ann Smith, aged 25 years, Melbourne
  • Ann Smith aged 37, Stone Quarry, Geelong
  • Margaret Smith aged 30 years, Melbourne

I then thought that maybe Pretty Sally had married in the colony and found two entries :-

  • Ann Mills married David Smith, St James, Melbourne, 1841
  • Ann Weaver married William Smith, St James, Melbourne, 1846

The interesting issue here is that David and Ann had children in 1842, 1843, 1845 and 1846, and none recorded after 1846. But was our Pretty Sally of child bearing age? One description says she is old.

But it is likely that Pretty Sally operated the shanty by herself as no mention is made of a Mr Smith or children. Also as the name Pretty Sally Hill was in use at least prior to 1861 it would seem she was well
known and this seems to indicate the shanty had been in operation for some time, probably for a number of years. This could mean Pretty Sally arrived in the colony by herself under the name Mrs Smith.

Such is the interest in Pretty Sally that the great Australian writer and poet C J Dennis had this to say about her as published in the Herald on 2 December 1931 (page 8) :-

The diggers came from Bendigo,
From Albury the drovers,
From where the Goulburn waters flow
Came bearded teamsters travelling slow.
And all the brown bush rovers;
And where the road goes winding still
To drop to Melbourne valley,
They sought the shanty by the hill,
And called for beer and drank their fill,
And sparked with Pretty Sally.

The teamsters halted by the door
To give their horses water
And stood about the bar room floor
To ogle, while they had one more,
The shanty keeper’s daughter.
Diggers with gold from creek to claim
About her used to rally,
Shearers and booted stockmen came
And to the hill they gave her name,
For all loved Pretty Sally.

I see her now; a sparkling lass
Brim-full of fun and laughter.
And where the slow teams used to pass,
And swagmen paused to beg a glass,
Now motor cars speed after.
And when I seek the road anew
That dips down to the valley,
I see again that bearded crew,
And, of the lovers, wonder who
At last wed Pretty Sally.

None of this has solved the issues – who was Mrs “Pretty Sally” Smith and when did she die? If anyone can add to our knowledge of Pretty Sally could you please let us know.

2 thoughts on “What happened to Pretty Sally?”

  1. An article in The Argus of 22 May 1850 (page 2) provides more information about the location of Pretty Sally’s place. The author of the article said that he made “his ascent in the full assurance of finding a house of entertainment about half way over, which existed some fifteen months previously under the auspices of ‘Pretty Sally’ “. The author was disappointed to find that the new owner, Mr Budds, no longer ran the business. The author had to continue his journey — apparently hungry, tired and thirsty — another 13 miles to Kilmore.

    To me, that indicates that Pretty Sally’s place was at the top of (“half way over”) the hill. It seems that, after a tiring climb up the Big Hill, people would stop at Pretty Sally’s for a drink and a rest.

    Here is a link to the article on the National Library’s Trove website:
    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/4767839?searchTerm=%22pretty%20sally%22&searchLimits=l-decade=185

    Perhaps the base of the hill was where the accident that killed Sally happened — “near Beveridge’s Swamp”? According to old newspaper reports, many fatal accidents occurred on the steep hill.

    Another possible line of research would be to check official records of any land held by a Mr Budds. He became owner of Pretty Sally’s place after her death. So, if you can find out where Mr Budd’s land was located, we will know for sure where Pretty Sally’s place was as well.

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    1. Hi Mark – Many thanks for taking the time to look at Pretty Sally etc. Mr Budd would most likely be William Hartley Budd who was a prominent citizen of Wallan and owned many blocks of land. He leased the land in 1847 on which Pretty Sally (Mrs Smith) had her illegal grog shop, but I doubt he actually operated it himself. This very large run called the Big Hill Run and included the summit of Pretty Sally and the Stangeway Hotel (licensee Peter Foreman) at the bottom of the hill. In 1854 Budd purchased the Big Hill Run from the colonial administration. The accident, which it is assumed caused Pretty Sally’s death, happened near Beveridge probably 10 kilometeres south from the likely position of Pretty Sally”s establishment. The KHS researchers consider that the position of her “shop” was at the top of the hill beside what is today called the Old Sydney Road just west (ie “half way over”) of the transmitter station, near Beauview Drive. Not long after there was a legal hotel called the Big Hill Hotel on the eastern side of the top of the Hill. By the way Pretty Sally is a nick name used generally to call a female who ran an illegal grog shop, we dont know Mrs Smith’s given name, and there appears to be no record of her death – thanks again, Grahame KHS

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