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History of Kyneton
Kyenton Museum

Below is an edited version of a feature on Kyneton's early history prepared by the Kyneton Historical Society and Kyneton Connections for the December 2010 issue of Kyneton Connect.
It gives a brief taste of the early years of Kyneton and mentions many of the historic locationss that remain major features of Kyneton's streetscape.

You can further explore Kyneton's history by collecting a walking map from the Kyneton Visitor Information Centre and also by purchasing recently compiled book "Discover Historic Kyneton".

Kyneton - The First Quarter Century: 1837-1862

Major Thomas Mitchell was the first European to travel through the area that would become the township of Kyneton. He crossed the Campaspe a few metres below the Scout Hall in Langley St on 30 September 1836. Soon after came the squatters with their sheep and cattle to the 'lush pastures' so vividly described by the Major.

The first squatter in the district was Charles Hotson Ebden, who sent 9000 sheep from his Goulburn station to arrive in May 1837 at Carlsruhe, to form the first sheep station north of the Dividing Range.

Indigenous Population

The records are unclear regarding the size of the local indigenous population at the time of early European settlement. However, squatter, Edward Dryden wrote some years later "Of the aborigines of my time the was a tribe of about 150...who camped from place to place..." It is believed that corroborees were held where Market St is now located.

In 1838-9 Ebden's Carlsruhe became the base of a section of the 23rd Foot Regiment, sent as a result of incidents between Europeans and aboriginals at Barfold.

Establishing the town

In 1848 Superintendent Latrobe, acting on behalf of the Governor of N.S.W, visited the area, interested in establishing towns to become the centres of law and order. Carlsruhe at this time was a small hamlet with a hotel and detachment of police. Latrobe, however, rode to the hill adjacent to the old Fire Station (corner Ebden & Jennings Streets), and decided that this area was to be the site of one of his strategic towns. The next year, 1849,Latrobe commissioned government surveyor H.B. Foot to survey the new town which was to be the Mt Macedon District's administrative centre.

The town plan was originally for the area west of Mollison Street and the streets were named by Latrobe predominantly after district's squatter pioneers.

In 1850 slab huts and tents were situated close to Piper St and the river and were occupied by workers from nearby runs and their families. This was the genesis of the township.

The decade of the 1850s saw a remarkable growth in Kyneton.
The discovery of gold in Castlemaine and Bendigo in 1851 and the subsequent gold rush to those districts saw Kyneton's population grow rapidly from the 300 of the census of March 1852. It was assessed to be 2000 in October of the same year..
At the gateway to the goldfields, but not a gold town itself, Kyneton became a very important centre with stores and businesses providing food, services, supplies and commerce for those moving to and from the goldfields.

Early road into Kyneton

The Gateway to the Goldfields

The road through Kyneton was along High, Baynton and Wedge Streets to Piper St where the River could be crossed. The road was a quagmire of mud in winter and a dust bowl in summer.

Kyneton became the chief agricultural town of the State and the large stone flour mills still standing in the district bear witness to its importance as a wheat growing centre.

Early buildings and Pubs

Hotels were quick to be established in Kyneton. Some Hotels had concert halls and the capacity to stable horses was an important attractor. Cobb & Co used the bigger ones as depots.

Early Shamrock HotelOf Kyneton's current hotels, the Royal George (then the "Gold Diggers Arms") was built in 1852 (but extended in 1891). The Albion was built in 1861 and during the construction of the railway in that year hundreds of striking workers gathered there prior to marching down Mollison St.
The precursors of the Shamrock and Newmarket Hotels were not built until 1867 and 1868 respectively.

Travel from Melbourne in the mid 1850s was almost monopolised by Cobb and Co. Cobb and Co. used one of their largest coaches on the run from Kyneton to Castlemaine; this 'Leviathan' was pulled by twenty-two horses and carried seventy-five passengers.

Kyneton's first Post Office, a slab hut in Ebden St near the Post Office Creek commenced operating unofficially in 1849. During the 1850s the Post Office moved to Piper Street, then the principal street. The current Post Office was built in 1870-71.

The Bank of N.S.W. was the first bank in Kyneton and first opened in 1854 located in a building on the corner of Wedge and Piper Streets named as Hallidays Folly because of the cost of its construction. By 1856 the bank had built and shifted into the stone building at 67 Piper Street, which is now the Kyneton Museum. The Bank relocated to Mollison St in the 1880s although its red brick Branch (now Mollisons) was not built until 1904.

The importance of education

The importance of public education was recognised early in Kyneton's existence. In 1852 a public meeting was called to discuss establishing a National School in Kyneton. After a further three years, the School now known as Kyneton Primary School was erected in Baynton St. On 26 March 1856 the school opened with Mr. Robert Begg as headmaster. There were 30 students on the first day but by the end of the first week there were more than 100 children at the School.

The National School was not the first in Kyneton however. A number of private schools commenced earlier in the 1850s. A Church of England School commenced in July 1852 but closed in 1855. The first Catholic parish school also opened in 1852 and a day and boarding school for girls was opened up in Yaldwyn St in 1854.

The growth of a town

As Kyneton's population grew in the 1850s the essential features of a town soon developed. The Police Station and Court House were slab buildings on Cemetery Road (Ebden Street), but in 1857 the stone courthouse in Hutton St was built. The bluestone lockup near the court which at one time held a young Ned Kelly replaced a wooden building on that site in 1861.

A public meeting to consider construction of a hospital was held in 1853. The foundation stone of the original hospital (cnr Simpson and Wedge Sts) was laid in 1854 but for various reasons building progress was slow, and the opening of the first stage was deferred until 1857 when it could be furnished.

Early Piper Street Parade

Meeting the need for worship

Completed in 1851, the old Church of England Rectory (cnr Piper & Ebden Streets) which was the first bluestone building in Kyneton. It preceded the construction of St Pauls Anglican Church in Yaldwyn St which was completed in 1856.
The building of St. Mary's (now Our Lady of the Rosary) Catholic Church commenced in 1855 and it was blessed and opened in 1861. The first mass however took place in the Gold Diggers Arms Hotel (now the Royal George) in 1852.

The Mechanics Institute

The Kyneton Mechanics Institute had been in existence since December 31st, 1854 and in 1855 a committee was appointed. The foundation stone of the Institute Building was laid on June 22nd, 1858 and by October 19th the main section opened amid great rejoicing. At night they danced to the Kyneton Athenaeum Polka written especially for the occasion. In 1859 the Mechanics was the birthplace of the Kyneton Mounted Rifles which went on to become the Australian Light Horse Brigade. Many of the town's organisations were formed within its walls. The Mechanics with its Library, dances, lectures, stage productions, debates and much more became a centre of enlightenment, decision making and entertainment for generations of Kyneton residents.

The Agricultural Society

In 1856 the Kyneton Agricultural Society was formed reflecting the districts strong agricultural base. The first showgrounds were in Baynton Street opposite the old hospital. It later moved to the race-course. It was not until the 1920s that the Society moved to its current location in Mollison St.

Proclaiming a municipality

In 1857 Kyneton was proclaimed a municipality and on December 11th the first municipal elections were held.

Early utilities - the Gas Works

In 1858 the Kyneton Gas Company built a gas works on the corner of Mitchell and Ebden Streets and produced gas of first- rate quality from gum leaves. The gas works changed to coal to produce its gas by 1878 and in 1960 to tempered liquid petroleum. The gas works serviced Kyneton until 1981 when natural gas was turned on.

Kyneton Railway station

Connecting the railway

The rapid expansion in population and wealth resulting from the gold rush led to Cornish & Bruce being engaged in May 1858 to build a double-track railway from Footscray to Bendigo.
By 1861 the line had reached Kyneton and in April 1862 the line to Kyneton was officially opened amidst great celebrations. At a grand banquet held in the Mechanics Institute John Pascoe Fawkner stated that he had that day passed through the Black Forest in thirteen minutes, a journey that had previously taken a day.

A bridge connecting the town to the railway station was vital and the Mollison Street Bridge across the Campaspe was completed in 1861.
The bluestone Kyneton Railway Station was built in conjunction with the railway line during 1862-63.
The rail connection with Melbourne and Bendigo heralded the start of a new era for Kyneton.