Earliest Inland Settled Town

Photo: Kilmore, Victoria, 1859

The First Inland Town in Victoria? Further Reflections on the Kilmore Claim to Primacy

By Geoff Hewitt MA

Published in Kilmore Connections, No. 46, December 2010, pp 4-5

Prompted by the task of reviewing a chapter of a forthcoming history of Wandong which again paraded the notion that Kilmore is the oldest inland town, I returned to my piece on the subject published in the

December 2004 issue of Kilmore Connections. In that work, I essayed the possibility that Mitchellstown, at the old Goulburn River crossing point, might claim the accolade on the basis that it was surveyed during September 1938 and township allotments were sold at auction during May 1839. To put matters into chronological perspective, it is clear that William Rutledgeʼs Willowmavin Special Survey, upon which the privately subdivided (and earliest) part of Kilmore was placed, was not surveyed until June 1841 (Tucker 1988:36). Allotments in the Kilmore township subdivision were not offered for sale until the following September (Knight 2004:7). However, Rutledgeʼs timing was unlucky, as deep economic depression had seized the Colony and, as Tucker points out (1988:37) the effects of the pervasive fiscal gloom “effectively stopped land sales in Kilmore for two years”. Permanent occupation of dwellings on the Sydney Road at Kilmore did not begin until 1843 (Tucker 1988:40).

Heather Knight has augured on the basis of the Oxford Dictionary definition of “town” as being a considerable collection of houses (whatever the thoroughly subjective word “Considerable” means) that Mitchellstown, which never prospered, is disqualified (see her editorial comment in Thom 2004). I tend to agree with Heather, but in doing so, note that the run, clearly not part of any town. According to Heatherʼs argument, the date for commencement of Kilmore as a township must be c1843 when allotments were first sold and occupied.

Mitchellstown was conceived by the Government five years earlier, as one of several townships associated with police stations intended to protect commerce and traffic along the road from Yass to Port Phillip. Settler anxiety prompted this response following the massacre of the Faithfull overlanding party by Aborigines during 1838 (Cannon 1982:312-3). The urgency of the situation caused Surveyor H W H Smythe to be removed from his work at Geelong to survey the Goulburn River crossing point in addition to the Goulburn, other strategically important river and stream crossings were selected by Governor Sir George Gipps as locations for military posts and inns. Included in Gippsʼ list were crossings at the Ovens – the present site of Wangaratta and at the Violet Creek – the present site of Violet Town, together with locations north of the Murray River which we will not consider here. Although near the overland route, the future site of Kilmore was not included in Gippʼs list.

As soon as Smythe had completed his work at Mitchellstown, he was directed by the Deputy Surveyor General of New South wales, S A Perry, to proceed to the Violet Creek where he would mark out allotments of five and ten acres, not within four hundred yards of the stream (Cannon and Macfarlane 1988:423-4). Smytheʼs first effort was in the hands of Perry before the end of October 1838, but was considered unsatisfactory. An amended version, that included a plan for a village containing forty allotments with an additional nine suburban allotments, was not submitted to the Colonial Secretary in Sydney until July 1839.

The NSW Legislative Council approved of the plan for Violet Town, stipulating an upset price of £4 per acre, but objected to the names Smythe had applied to the village streets. The Governor agreed with the Councilʼs opinion and requested revision of the street names. Now, at the Violet Creek, Smythe had encounted a particularly beautiful example of a chain of ponds, a riparian form once common but now extremely rare thanks to stock trampling and erosion (Rutherford 1993:148). The stream had won its name -which also gave the village its name – from the masses of native violets that grew on the banks. Smythe had been inspired to name the village streets with other floral appellations: rose, hyacinth, orchid, lily, crocus, dahlia, tulip and cowslip. The dignity of the NSW Legislative Council was apparently affronted by Smytheʼs studied tweeness, hence the demand for revision. However, when Perry pointed out that this would cause delay in revenue through the need to revise all allotment descriptions, the names stuck (Cannon and Macfarlane 1988:258-61).

A subsequent land sale appears to have been perhaps a tepid affair when a total of seven of the village allotments were sold. Nonetheless, nine suburban plots each with an area from five to slightly more than ten acres all found buyers including speculator J T Hughes and W C Wentworth no less. According to Township Plan V74 (Land Victoria Central Plans Office Record Plans), the date of grant of each of these allotments is given as 30 April 1840, certainly prior to the impending financial debacle. So, we may conclude that village and suburban allotments were sold in Violet Town some two years before land was sold at Kilmore. But does this mean that Violet Town is Victoriaʼs oldest inland town? Certainly, Violet Town, cannot be excluded from consideration through lack of subsequent development and ongoing prosperity, as has been argued for Mitchellstown. We will return to this discussion after a brief consideration of two other possible contenders.

Surveyor T S Townsend, who like Smythe was engaged on surveying the Port Phillip route, submitted a completed plan of the crossing of the Broken River during September 1839. Townsendʼs map, known as Feature Plan 581 (illustrated in Cannon and Macfarlane 1988:256-7) includes a police paddock and barracks near the ford. Although the Broken River crossing, later the site of Benalla, was clearly an important node on the overland road, it was not included in Gippsʼ original 1838 list of police posts. A glance at the Township Plan of Benalla (B390(3) Land Victoria Central Plans Office Plans), possibly indicates a busy trade in land prior to 1851. Enigmatically, Sections C and D do not have the date of grant included. whereas surrounding sections all show post-1851 alienation dates. The names of Melbourne pioneer J P Fawkner and T B Darling, a chemist in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne during the mid-1840s (Finn 1888:208), are to be found on allotments in Section C. The name E B Green is to be found among the grantees in Section D. Green(e) was a prominent mail contractor and less than successful coaching operator on the Sydney route during the 1840s (Finn 1888:60). Although there is no clear evidence here that Benalla might have been established as early as Kilmore, the absence of grant dates raises an interesting question for further investigation.

Wangaratta, at the Ovens River crossing, also presents an enigma, in that there are no grant dates earlier than 1848 on the relevant Township plan. Why a key location on the Port Phillip road nominated for development by Gipps in 1838 appears to have taken so long to develop to the point of a land sale is a most interesting issue that needs to be addressed, Nevertheless it does appear that Wangaratta may be excluded from the question of primacy.

To return to Violet Town with its quaint street names , a serious possibility that it is the earliest inland town in Victoria must be entertained. However, the question arises as to when the land granted in 1840 was actually occupied by people and the process of development into what heather and the Oxford Dictionary would agree constituted a town commenced. The presence of the names of speculators among the grantees and the financial catastrophe that was about to overtake the Colony suggests that all may not have been plain sailing. If the question related to a later period, then we would be off in search of rate books, but no such records exist for the period 1840 to 1843. It would appear that until the events of that period, as they relate to Violet Town, are clearer, no definite pronouncement should be made. However, in the meantime, it would be perhaps unwise to continue with the claim that Kilmore is Victoriaʼs earliest inland town.

  • Cannon M (ed), 1982, Historical records of Victoria foundation series volume @A the Aborigines of Port Phillip 1835-1839, Victorian Government Printing Office, Melbourne
  • Cannon, M. and I. Macfarlane (eds), 1988, Historical records of Victoria foundation series volume 5 Surveyorsʼ problems and achievements 1836-1839, Victorian Government Printing Office, Melbourne
  • Finn, E. (Garryowen), 1888, The chronicles of early Melbourne 1835 to 1852, historical, anecdotal and personal, Fergusson and Mitchell, Melbourne (Facsimile edition by Heritage Publications, Melbourne, no date)
  • Knight, H, 2004, Kilmore; Victoriaʼs earliest inland town early history 1837-1850, Kilmore Connections March 2004, Kilmore Historical Society
  • Rutherford, I D, 1993, ʻSugarloaf catchment in Drummond I and Associates, 1993, Fluvial geomorphology of the Goulburn River Catchment Co-ordinating Group Inc pp 147-168.
  • Thom G, 2004, Why 1837? Kilmore Connections, March 2004, Kilmore Historical Society


The First Inland Town in Victoria

A response by Grahame Thom

Published in Kilmore Connections, No. 47, March 2011, pp 12-13

With the assistance of past Presidents, Heather Knight and Jim Lowden, I have put together a response to Geoff Hewittʼs very good article in the last issue of Kilmore Connections. I should say first that it is difficult to find absolute proof to the question – which town was the first to be settled in inland Victoria. However the indicators set out in this article tend to give reasonable proof that it is Kilmore.

As Geoff and Heather state it is reasonable to define a town as a group of houses. In addition other indicators could be when official pronouncements were made, such as the granting of licences for inns/ hotels, and the appointment of post offices and various officials.

Turning first to Wangaratta (Ovens Creek) a search of early newspapers on the TROVE web site indicates that the town did not develop there until around 1848 when, as Geoff states, land sales occurred, and a bridge was built over the river in 1849 (Government Gazette).

The survey of a township at Violet Creek in 1839 was announced in the Government Gazette but then I could not find any further references under Violet Creek, Violet Town or Honeysuckle Creek until the 1850s. A search of Sydney and Melbourne early newspapers revealed land sales in 1840 as reported in the Sydney Herald, and then several notices of small lot land sales in 1846/47 in the Argus. However I need to say that the search facility for the old newspapers may not reveal all results due to the poor quality of the original newspapers. But one interesting result was found in a lengthy article in the Sydney Herald of 6 March 1841, page 2.

Overland Route to Port Phillip – Extract from a Bushmanʼs Letter

“but from the time you leave Yass (from Sydney) until you reach Melbourne; a distance of four hundred miles, you are fairly in what is called the bush. …….. On the Port Phillip Road between Yass and Melbourne there are three townships lately laid out by the Government. ……. (Gundagai and Albury) …. The third township is “Violet Town” …….. It is a miserable scrub in the midst of a barren wild, with not a human habitation near it.”

Now turning to Kilmore. As Geoff stated, there is clear evidence that the old town of Kilmore was surveyed in the south east corner of Rutledgeʼs Special Survey in June 1841, with town blocks failing to sell in September 1841. In those days the law did not require the registration or notification to the administration of private land sales. So it is possible that some lots were sold in the period 1841 to 1843 when Rutledge again advertised blocks for sale. Or perhaps, lots were leased by Rutledge pending sale.

The Port Phillip Gazette of 7 September 1841 on page 2 reported that Mr F Anderson had obtained a licence for the Kilmore Inn, subject to the completion of the building. This Inn was on the northwest corner of Sydney Street and the road to Lancefield. The Inn was later advertised for sale in the Sydney Gazette of 24 May 1843. In 1842 an application by John Brown for a licence for the Settlersʼ Home was rejected (Maher p12).

In an article published in the Port Phillip Gazette on 22 September 1841, headed “Kilmore Special Survey” it was reported that “one party to offer large sums for town allotments, some of which have already been sold.”

On 14 June 1842 the Sydney Herald reported that a newly formed organisation, the Port Phillip Volunteers, had divided the district into twelve divisions and Division 4 being described as “From Kilmore to the south bank of the Goulburn ……” All this, to me, is an indication that Kilmore is more than just an inn.

A search for early births, deaths and marriages has revealed that Margaret Kelly, born 31 October 1842 and baptised in Melbourne on 7 November 1842, was the daughter of Lawrence and Mary (nee Carey) Kelly of Kilmore. There were at least three baptisms in 1844 involving parents living in Kilmore. There could be others.

When Rutledge put up his blocks for sale again in May 1843, his brother John was described as living in Kilmore, and this also applied to at least two purchasers; Lawrence Kelly, blacksmith, and James Mitten, innkeeper (Tucker p39).

On 31 May 1843 the Port Phillip Gazette reported that “A night or two ago Mr John Mitton (sic), of Kilmore, was served this trick, his bullocks being let out of the yard adjoining the Commercial Inn.”

Member Vince OʼDonoghue in an unpublished thesis titled “Willowmavin: A study of an agricultural area from 1840 to 1875” stated “an authentic account of a very early settlement is given by J C Hamilton (Pioneering Days in Western Victoria) …… in 1842 or 1843 Hamiltonʼs father was able to secure a township lot in Kilmore .” Vince also stated “Hamilton mentioned that L Kelly, a blacksmith, and J Biddle, a shoemaker, were settled in Kilmore by 1844.”

After finding in the NSW Government Gazette that Kilmore was allocated the third official Post Office in the District of Port Phillip in early 1843, after Melbourne and Portland, I received the following advice from our former President, Jim Lowden.

Dear Editor

I note the comments from our friend about Violet Town and his claim to Violet Town’s pre-eminence in Victoria’s inland ‘town’ stakes. A similar claim was made by a Harrow resident in a letter to Kilmore in the early 1980s. The then Shire of Kilmore suggested that the matter be placed before the then State Historian Dr Bernard Barrett, author of the authoritative text ‘The Civic Frontier: The origin of local communities and local government in Victoria’, for determination. Dr Barrett’s considered reply centred around the definition of ‘town’ which by any definition was an aggregation of dwellings. In his opinion, whilst Harrow and Violet Town may well have been surveyed as ‘town’ sites, they did not meet the universal definition of ‘town’ prior to Kilmore. He rightfully argued that a town was not a town unless it had a number of buildings and residents. He pointed out that the NSW Government recognised Kilmore as a ‘town’ by allocating it the third Post Office in the then Port Phillip District on 1 Feb 1843. (Harrow and Violet Town had to wait some time to be recognised as such.) Dr Barrett’s determination to clarify the situation was that henceforth Kilmore could rightfully claim to be ‘Victoria’s oldest inland SETTLED town’.

I trust this clarifies this matter.

Jim Lowden

2 thoughts on “Earliest Inland Settled Town”

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