State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 27 April 1981


An Account of a Journey from Melbourne in July 1855 Written to Her Grandmother by Lucy Hannah Birchall (With Accompanying Letter)

Unlike Robert Henry Howitt little is know of Lucy Hannah Birchall beyond that which is revealed in the diary written to her grandmother in England. It seems likely that she was the eldest child of the Birchall family and that in 1855 the whole family travelled to the Bendigo diggings. The lure of gold is the most probable reason for their removal from Melbourne to Bendigo.
Anonymity of the writer aside, the letter and diary which we present here provide a colourful picture of a child's impressions of ajourney to the diggings at Bendigo. The lengthy journey and the obvious uprooting of the family's life, as well as the manifold inconveniences of the journey, are treated with humour and a fine eye for detail. The manuscript is presented in its entirety with no emendations to punctuation or spelling. The only omission is a note written by Lucy's mother, to her mother, which crosses part of the letter.
Frances Thorn
Sailors Gully,

My dear Grandmamma
Since I last wrote we have performed a journey of one hundred miles a full account of which is in the journal that accompany's this. I like the diggings very well I have washed myself about a pennyweight of gold besides a match box full of specimens The other day I went with Mamma and Papa over to the quarry reef. There we saw a gentleman of the name of B Farrell he has one of the richest claims in the reef He has made thousands of pounds While we were talking he said if we would go down to his tent he would give us some specimens little items of what he had He gave Mamma some beauties and me three two of which I send home one to you and the other for dear Aunt Eliza. They are the nicest I have ever had You will laugh when I tell you what I have been doing today, making a kennel for a puppy I have not yet got it is a very nice one made of latice. Mr Sundy is going to give me the puppy this week We began school today. We were delighted to hear that Aunt Mary has a little boy We did not forget little Anna Maria's birthday Haree is delighted with her doll it amuses her for many an hour Good bye with dear love to and from all I remain your very affectionate granddaughter
Lucy Hannah Birchall
July 23rd 1855. Today at three o'clock we left Melbourne for Bendigo. We did not know until three yesterday afternoon that we were to go so soon. Frank Annie ' I spent the night at Mrs Westons as there was such a fuss at home. We went along quickly on the road to town from St Kilda when Daisy got her foot broken she was tied behind the dray and got her foot under the wheel which went over it. When we reached Melbourne Mamma took her and her kid to Mrs Fosters in Little Collins street where she will have more care taken of her than we could. When we were within about a mile of Flemington a gentleman came up to the dray and it appeared that he had taken a place in the dray to go to his uncle's Mr Inglishes in the Black Forest. He got on the dray and was talking when a gust of wind blew off his hat “Oh My Hat!”cried he, and before the driver could stop the horses for they were trotting briskly, Mr McConnell the gentleman; sprang off the dray and catching hold of a rope to swing down by — it gave way and before we knew what was the matter, the wheels passed over him and he lay bleeding in the road behind. The horses were instantly stopped and a crowd of people gathered round him. His collar bone was broken but he wished to be lifted into the dray but as he was not able to take care of himself we left him at the Moonee Ponds Hotel at the Moonee Ponds.
We then went to Keilor where we stopped at Jackson's Hotel Here we are very stiff and tired and quite ready for bed. —
July 24th. We have had a tolerably good night At nine o clock this morning we started from Keilor. I was in a different position from what I was yesterday and I was most dreadfully cramped for I had Harrie on my feet and my knees were jammed by boxes; but Mamma was worse for she had Minnie on her knee, Frank kneeling on one foot while the other was under a large bundle, and she was sitting on the sharp ridge of a box. However we were very merry, we sang all the songs we could recollect and the time passed on quickly till twelve when we stopped at the “Diggers rest”to water the horses While I was standing in the doorway while Papa was taking some porter to Mamma I overheard the following conversation between the waiter and the barmaid. Barmaid “Those are fine children”Waiter. “Yes and ajolly looking mother too.”Barmaid “I do not think they can have been long in the colony they look so fresh and rosy.”There's a compliment! When we started Frank and I would not ride again, so we set off with Papa to walk to the Gap Inn 5 miles off. During our walk across Keilor Plains we picked a kettle full of mushrooms. In due time we arrived at the Gap Inn and while the children were getting out of the dray a conveyance rattled past on which we recognised Dr. Weston. I do not know whether he saw us or not. Every body gave us such dreadful accounts of the state of the roads that we all determined to walk to the Gap Just after we set out it began to rain nasty drizzling stuff that beat in our faces: we went into a store a few minutes to see if it would stop here I got a pennyworth of peppermints about fifty.
Eleanor got some bad lollies so she changed it for an orange. We then walked on through dreadful roads and when we reached the Gap we saw the escort upset but we were not surprised for only a few minutes before they had rattled past us at a fearful rate. At the the other side of the Gap was a dreadful hill going up which the dray got stuck and had to be pulled up by bullocks for it is the custom for men to stand with the bullocks to help drays out of the mud on payment of a small sum We went on (still walking) for about a mile when the dray got stuck again there were no bullocks near to help them, the horses were very tired and was nearly dark so they proposed that we should set off to the National Hotel to sleep and leave the driver to camp out and take care of the horses so we set off. A more miserable walk we never had; it was quite dark the rain was falling fast and we were up to our knees in mud. Mama carried baby and although so wretched wet and miserable felt that if she stopped to give her to Miss McAllister she should faint. Harrie was coming along with Papa behind she was very good talking merrily and laughing every time she was in a deeper puddle than usual. After a walk of at least two miles Eleanor and I (who were a few yards the first) spied a light at the bottom of the hill it was the National Hotel we all hurried on and in a few minutes we arrived there. Two rooms were engaged and we are all getting hurried to bed. —
July 25th (Mama told us this was Aunt Mary's birthday ' we wished her many many happy returns) Last night when we were undressing we found that our clothes were so thick with mud that Miss McAllister and Mama set to and washed. When we were in bed we got some beautiful cold beef bread and tea We are none of us any worse from last night this morning When the dray came one of the bolts was broken and we did not start till twelve o'clock. We went on over tolerable roads till about one when a box on which I had been sitting slipped out on the road When it was put in again I was so frightened that it would slip again that Mama said I might walk. We stopped at the Bridge Hotel to feed the horses There was a man in the bar who had just come down the country and he gave us a most frightful account of the roads. We started again after something to eat. I forgot to say that this was Gisborne or the Bush Inn.
When we had ascended the hill on the other side we had a most beautiful view Two Mile creek below us over which Gisborne and at one side Mount Macedon and on the other a plain with a few trees and a great deal of swamp We then went on and about half past three we entered the far famed Black Forest Such roads! no one that has not seen them can imagine any thing worse. Now we were

Children at the goldfields: Eaglehawk, Bendigo, 1852 by S. T. Gill.

in a crabhole (places three or four feet deep filled with soft mud and water) now rattling over logs laid across the road of different breaths and with a space of nine or ten inches between each log we were shaken to bits. Papa had to go before the dray to pick out the best places he had to walk through all the mud to find out how deep it was Every time we were in a crab-hole the driver used to terrify us by calling out to the leading horse “Tom”“Tom”(the leader horse) I cannot write the tone he said it in. In the evening the dray got stuck so we determined to make a fire and camp out. We found a fire half out we made it up put on the kettle and began to lay the things for tea. After half an hour's hand struggles the dray was got out and we got tea. After we had done Papa and I set out to take Mama Eleanor and baby to Inglishes Hotel to sleep as Mamma was afraid of baby talking cold We however went only about three hundred yards when we were obliged to come back. So here we are camping out in the Black Forest. We are all going to sleep on top of the dray eight of us!!
July 26th. Well here we are again. It is not the nicest thing in the world lying on top of a dray all night We slept in our clothes. Whenever we woke in the night it was very pleasant to hear the horses bells now close at hand and now dying away till we could not hear them at all and then hearing them come louder and louder. Papa slept on a mattress rolled up in a blanket by the fire all night. We started to walk this morning for the roads were even worse than before. We went on till we reached Inglish'es and we went in to warm ourselves at the fire. They are a most frightful set of people to look. When Papa had told them about Mr McConnell it was quite amusing to hear the discussion as to whose son he was and I believe they came to the conclusion that he was a cousin. They gave us two fresh eggs for Minnie. We then walked along through what is called a government road where we had to walk about for a long time before we could find a place to walk on and then had to go right back again several yards before we could go any further Harrie walked like a queen she is very good and amuses us greatly by her queer speeches. At length at two we found ourselves at the end of the forest and in a pretty little town called Wood End. We had our dinner about half a mile from Wood End and then we started walking over the last piece of bad ground. We went on waded through two creeks up to our ancles in water and having sometimes to cling to the fence to get over any very bad place. Just at sunset it began to rain and we were obliged to take shelter in a woman's house till it should pass off. Here Dash got under the house and no coaxing could prevail on him to come out. When the rain abated we set off and found that they had made the fire close by an ac-comadation tent Mamma thought we should be more comfortable here than in the dray so she engaged a little tent with four beds in it paying half a crown for each bed. Papa is going to sleep by the fire.
July 27th. A frosty morning. We found the water for drinking covered with ice half an inch thick and the frost in proportion every body say's it is the hardest they have known this winter. We had most delectable beds, boards with sacks stuffed with straw for mat-trasses we were perishing with cold for we had only a sheet and single blanket to cover us. Miss McAllister says that she does not think she had half a dozen feathers in her pillow. We had to leave Dash here for he was so ill. Nothing happened today of any consequence. We are camping close to Sawpit Gully They are all singing round me so I ca'nt get on at all
July 28th Today has passed just as usual. We have been riding through parklike scenery all day. Papa has been calculating how much we have each walked Mamma Miss McAllister and Harrie 21 miles Annie 25, Eleanor 45 Frank 47 Papa 75 and myself 52. How delightful to think that to morrow we shall reach Sailors Gully We are camping in Ravenswood 11 miles from our destination
July 29th Here we are in Sailors Gully! We started this morning about nine and two hours afterwards entered Bendigo. I dont know what to think of the digging's for Bendigo the streets have diggings on one side and shops on the other. We got tea with the gentlemen this evening And now we are here at peace I have on the whole liked our journey very well. Perhaps at some future tim[e] I may write a journal of our life in Sailors Gully
Lucy Hannah Birchall