State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 37 Autumn 1986



William Crawford Walker left Philadelphia in April, 1850 and arrived in California the following December. He remained there until September, 1852, when he set sail for Sydney. Sometime after his arrival in December, Walker made his way to the Turon diggings near Bathurst, but in February, 1853 moved down into the Colony of Victoria, where he remained for much of his life.
It seems likely that Walker went to California to seek his fortune on the goldfields, met with little success and decided to follow others like himself out to the Antipodes, where new discoveries were being made.
From his diary we know that Walker arrived on Spring Creek in the Beechworth area in March, 1853 and that he spent the next three years working the diggings in that area and along the tributaries of the Mitta Mitta River. Here, as in California, the diggings were such that almost all the gold was found in the auriferous alluvium on the river flats and in the beds and banks of the creeks. In the early 1850s the pan and the cradle were used to separate the gold from the surrounding sand and gravel, but the arrival of Californian miners on the goldfields brought more efficient methods; first the long torn and then the sluice. Sluice mining, although it required more water, enabled the miners to process greater volumes of alluvium than ever before and those engaged in it were soon in the majority. In places where there was no supply of water it was diverted from springs and creeks by means of races or channels cut through the soil or rock to the claim.1
It is likely that Walker, having spent almost two years on the diggings in California, was familiar with sluice mining when he arrived in the Colony. Between September and December, 1855, he cut a water race from Rocky Creek to the Three Mile Creek Gust below the township of Beechworth), which he worked until August, 1857. Then in January, 1858 he moved to Snowy Creek, a tributary of the Mitta Mitta River and cut another race from the right hand branch to Doctors Point. Walker worked this race until January, 1860.
On the 6th of February, 1860 William Walker went to work managing the “Big Ditch”, a water race owned by William John Thompson, one of the first business and tradespeople on the Mitta Mitta.2 It is possible that originally Thompson came to Snowy Creek as a miner, took up a claim and then cut a race to work it. In his occupation the race was used to work other pieces of land and consequently increased in size. In time William Thompson ceased being a miner but, believing that he had exclusive rights over the water that he had controlled for so long, did not hesitate to sell it. In this way he, like many others, became a water-owner and in this way, also, the “Big Ditch” grew up.3
Walker's daily work on the ditch is described in his diary entries: he regulated the flow of water down the race and the heads to the miners using gauges, which he installed and repaired when necessary; he repaired the race after a storm by banking up the sides with brush and gravel and filling in the holes in the bed; he cut the timber to build the flumes or wooden troughs, which were used as artificial channels and repaired the leaks with bark; he maintained the water in the race by building dams to catch the overflow or by extending the race back into the hills and tapping springs; he kept an eye open for damage being done to the race by disgruntled miners; and he collected payment for the water, which was not always readily handed over.
By reading the diary one can locate the lower part of the “Big Ditch” as being somewhere below Stoney Creek and above the township of Granite Flat. Walker writes of knocking around the lower part of the race and going to the “flat”, of going down the race to the end of the ditch and from there to the “flat”, and of turning the water down the race to soak the flume across Stoney Creek. In his entry for 5 August, 1862 Walker wrote of going up the race in the morning and repairing the bank of the ditch in Markers Creek and raising the sides near the head. It is possible that the head of the race was somewhere along Harkers Creek. Stoney Creek and Harkers Creek are two eastern tributaries of Snowy Creek. Harkers Creek joins Snowy Creek about 9 miles above the present town of Mitta Mitta or the “Junction”, as Walker referred to it and Stoney Creek about 7 miles and 1 mile above Granite Flat or the “flat”.

Granite Flat is located on Snowy Creek 6 miles above the junction of Snowy Creek and the Mitta Mitta River, where the town of Mitta Mitta now stands. Markers Creek and Stoney Creek are two eastern tributaries of Snowy Creek. Markers Creek joins Snowy Creek 9 miles above this junction and Stoney Creek 7 miles and 1 mile above Granite Flat. This map is part of Victoria Mining Districts, Mining Divisions and The Gold Fields, 1863. Map Collection, SLV.

According to his diary, William Walker went to the “flat” almost daily. His camp and later his house would have been located somewhere on the lower part of the ditch just above the “flat”. Granite Flat was situated on Snowy Creek about 6 miles from its junction with the Mitta Mitta River, where the town of Mitta Mitta now stands. It is possible that the “Junction” referred to by Walker formed the beginnings of present day Mitta Mitta. Granite Flat would have come into existence sometime during the mid-1850s, after gold had been discovered in the tributaries of the Mitta Mitta River at Snowy Creek, Little Snowy Creek and Sandy Creek. The Herald of 22 December, 1856 reported of the diggings on the Mitta Mitta:
“The population is represented as being particularly orderly; there are no police on the spot, and each man takes up a claim of whatever size he pleases. In some instances, parties have hired men to work for them, and the wages paid in these cases are £6 per week. There are a number of Chinese working at Mitta Mitta and several more on the road thither. There are three butchers', bakers' and two blacksmiths' shops on the diggings, besides two stores. Other storekeepers are preparing to open establishments there, and a building is in course of erection which looks as if intended for a public-house.”4
In 1859 the first police station was built at the “Junction”. The “log hut”, as Walker referred to it, was built of logs with stones packed between the ceiling and the roof.5 In 1861 “… Thos Kline commenced keeping public-house…”. This would have been the Race Course Hotel at Granite Flat, where Miss Cabenia made her first appearance before the Snowy Creek public. The first Pastor on the “flat” was the Reverend William Tierney, who made his way from Beechworth along the narrow bridle path. Although the Catholic Church was not built until 1864,6 he would have held services and performed weddings and christenings in a make-shift building or under a canvas. According to the Mining Surveyors and Registrars’ Report for November, 1863, the Snowy Creek Subdivision, which included the Junction to Sandy Creek, Granite Flat, the right hand branch of Snowy Creek and the Mitta Mitta River from Snowy Creek to Wombat Creek, had a total population of 300. This included 230 miners engaged in alluvial mining, of whom half were Chinese.7 The Chinese had their own stores and Joss House at Granite Flat.8
William Walker married Julia Malony on 27 June, 1861. They had seven children. In the back of the diary are listed the names of each with brief details of their births.
The entries in the diary cover the ten year period from January, 1861, when Walker commenced work on the “Big Ditch” to November, 1871, when his daughter, Mary Magdalane, was born. The diary is incomplete.
The extracts presented here were chosen because they best describe life along the “Big Ditch” and on Granite Flat. Ellipses have been used to indicate omissions from the original diary; otherwise, punctuation and spelling are as in the original.
Nicola Foxlee
Left Philadelphia in April 1850 — Arrived in California December 1850 — Left California in September 1852 — arrived in Sydney in December same year — Went to the Turon diggings — Left the Turin in February 1853 for Spring Creek Victoria — arrived on Spring Creek about the 17th March — Worked there untill September and then went to the Nine Mile — Worked there untill the Middle of November and then went to Sydney — arrived in Sydney about a week before Christmas 1853 — left Sydney about the first of March 1854 for the Nine Mile Creek — worked on the Nine Mile untill the first of August 1854 nd then went to Sandy Creek — worked on Sandy Creek untill about the first of October 1854 and then left for Snowy Creek — Sloped on Snowy Creek untill April 1855 and then went back to Sandy Creek again — Sloped on Sandy Creek untill the first of August 1855 and then went to the woolshed — Stayed there about a month or six weeks then went to work to cut a Race from Rocky Creek on the three Mile — got the Race done in December 1855 and worked on the three mile creek untill August 1857. Sold out and went back to Sandy Creek — Sloped on Sandy Creek untill the first of January 1858 and then came to Snowy Creek the second time — went to work to cut a Race from the Right hand branch to the Sideling — got the Race done about the first of November — worked there untill
the Middle of January 1860 — Sold out to Sailor Jack and then went on to the Big Ditch February 7th 1860 — Married June 27th 1861 —
11 January 1861
Reed of Mr Huncker my diary for this year — hope I shall Be able to make better use of it than What I did Last Year — Went to Work this morning to fix up the work Bench in the old cook house — had to Knock off and go up the Race — found the Flume at Humpys Gully Broke — Went to work and Mendid it — Came Back about three and Went to the flat — found out at night that the Flume opposite Forty Miners point had broke away — Kline Went up and turned the Water off —
26 January 1861
Knocking around the flat all day drunk and Kicking up hell — think I must be going out of my mind — god forgive me and hope I will not do it again —
29 January 1861
Got up this morning and went to look after the ditch — found everything upside down — Some partys with two or three heads of water and Some with scarcely any — got them all regulated in the forenoon and went up the the race in the afternoon to the head met Arrna L up at young Neds — a Great girl that and a Great fool — Weather same as Yesterday — Thos. Kline commenced Keeping Public House —
7 February 1861
Knocking around the ditch to day first up and then down doing nothing in particular — went to the flat at Night to hear the candidates for the Mining board give their Views on Mining Matters — Mr H V Smith Like the boy that Shit abed had nothing to say — Larry pitched into him and the Micks Right and Left — Crawford and his Mob of Red Mouths all there for mobbing him but it would not do the police being there —
10 February 1861
… got home about five oclk heard that Old Mick gave Pat Ryley in charge of the Police for assault and they marched Mr Pat of to the Junction to the Log hut — Made and provided for such occasions (Very Good) —
12 February 1861
Knocking around the Ditch and Camp doing nothing in particular first in one place and then in another — Like a man that was wanting something to do and was afraid he would find it No Chinamen at work yet — over at Mr Chows last night to a feed and Brandy drinking — Felt Kind of half Sick all day think I smoked to much opium…
23 February 1861
… Got Drunk and was Loafing about the flat untill eleven oclk at night — almost every Body else off to the Junction to the Election for a Member for the Mining Board — Smith Received 40. Votes and Newman 22. — if I had a Sloped Sober like any body Else I should have went down to and Voted which would have made 23. for Larry — the Longer I live the less Sense I have —
3 March 1861
… Went up the race in the afternoon as far as the head — tried to stop the Leak up there but could not find it — Cut down two trees and put the small Limbs and Leaves into the dam to raise the water — Raised it about two inches in the Race — got Back at sunset — Weather Showery —
9 March 1861
Got up this morning at 7 oclk — Went up the Race to the head found it all right then went to look after some Sluice Boxes I bought from Stubbs and party — found them covered up all right — bought then to make a flood gate at the head of the Race — done very well by going up the Race this morning as I got clear of the Scrape between Graham and McCann about the gully water next to the Camp which was tried to day by the Warden and assessors and was given in favour of Graham — came back from the head of the ditch about two oclk was Knocking around the camp most of the afternoon — turned all the water down the Race at night to Soak the flume across Stony Creek — did not go to the flat to night for a wonder am getting quite a steady man —
22 March 1861
At work in the forenoon digging out a trough to put across the ditch above the tunnells to keep the Chinamens tail water out of the Race — got it done and put it in — Started up the Race in the afternoon went as far as the second gully found plenty of water in the Race so I came back and went to the flat — part of the English Mail arrived to day but nothing for me…
25 March 1861
Went hunting money among the Chinamen in the forenoon but did not Raise any — all promise to
pay some this week and some next — went to the flat in the afternoon to find some tools — came back about four oclk and went to work to make a trough to put in the gully at McCanns to carry the Gully water across the Big Ditch — found the water Low in the Race and found the flume had give way at the first Gully above the Camp turned the water off —
6 April 1861
… Miss Malony arrived on the flat Last Evening and Mrs Altys Sister this morning — Plenty of Women on Snowy Creek — by and by great times amongst the people about the sale of the telegraph — Lewey Hancker Beven and Denny Mc-Grath being the contending parties — hope that Lewey and Beven will get done out of it completely and will serve them right for trying to swindle Thompson out of his Store Bills —
13 April 1861
… Great gathering at the Race Course Hotel to night — Miss Cabenia to make her first appearance to night before the Snowy Creek Public — I expect there will be more dam fools there to night with Empty Pockets than will be good for the house — Mr Kline doing quit a stroke in the female line as he has four women on hand Steady and two extra for to night Miss Cabenia and Mrs Alty and Mr Alty with the Bellows for music — Go it Tom —
8 February 1862
Went to the flat in the morning as a witness in a case between Kline and Crawford about the ground in front of Klines hut in which Crawford got the worst of the case as the warden gave the ground to Klines — Came home around the ditch from days Gully as Hallett and Co was complaining about having no water — found plenty of water going down the Race…
14 May 1862
Down the Race in the morning to take up Altys gauge — Went to the flat down the Race in the afternoon filling up some gaps — George Bunting and Emily Started this morning to meet the Parson to get married poor fellow — twelve months hence he would not be in Such a hurry for Marring
30 August 1862
… Mrs John Thompson gave birth to a daughter this evening — Married Eight Months and Nine days — pretty sharp work for the time — … My Old nanny goat Kidded this evening at about seven and the two kids one Billy and a Nanny — Mother and Kidds doing well at bed time — Fine weather throughout the Week — Clear and pleasant in the day time but Cool and frosty at Night (God Save the Commonwealth) —
12 September 1862
Went to the flat in the morning hunting men to cut the head of the ditch Back into the hill — got two Strangers just come onto the Creek…
13 September 1862
Went up the Race in the morning to the head with the men and Tight to show them where they would have to work so they could put up a camp somewhere near — from there to the New rush to hunt up some sluice boxes — got stuff enough to make three Boxes, up the ditch nearly all day and not much taken with one of my men — think he is too talkative to be much good for working —
20 September 1862
Knocking around the lower part of the Race in the morning hunting money and repairing the race down at days Gully — went to the flat saw Mr Thompson there. Andrew Trench started this morning from Granite flat in route for New Zealand — poor An-dey after being on Snowy Creek for seven years had to leave it with scarcely money enough to carry him to his journeys end — Such is Life — a man can not have his loaf and eat too — … Saw a letter this morning from Robt Carpenter to Thompson in which he says he is going to plead his being to young to pay his debts — poor fellow he wants about Four years breaking stones for Her Majesty to Learn him Sound Sense and Honesty —
23 September 1862
… Knocking around the house the ballance of the day — Lafabre got back from Beechworth to day — says he brought a summons for me to go to Yackandandah to attend the Court of Mines as a witness in the Canns case against Graham —
15 November 1862
… a Grand Meeting at the Junction to night to take into consideration the propriety of petition the Government to make a dray road from the Junction to Granite flat — about a dozen persons present —
Mr N.P. Newman addressed the Multitude in favour of the road being made — So note it be: but I rather guess they will have to wait a little longer — about a dozen years or perhaps a few more —
23 November 1862
… his Reverend Father Tierney arrived this evening — suppose there will be a large turn out of the Long Faces to morrow at the C.C. —
124 November 1862
… put on my Sunday togery to go to the C.C. — went and I think I saw about as many dam hipocrits as could be well Mustered out of so small a population — Mr Denis McGrath and Miss Kate Bridget got fastened in the Slipery Cords of Matrimony: Good Gracious Me:


Further information on Walker's life can be found in “The Walker family in Australia and before; compiled by W.J. Taylor”, MS 10104. La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria.


Smyth, R.B. The Goldfields and Mineral Districts of Victoria Melbourne: Queensberry Hill, 1979, p.412.


Coloquhoun, S.A. Mitta Mitta from the early pioneer days. (Melbourne, printed by the Argus and Australasian, 1853), p.13.


Smyth, op.cit., p.398.


Herald, 22 December 1856.


Convey, T. The days of gold: mining in the Tallangatta district. Adelaide: Thomson's Printing, 1980, p.9.


Coloquhoun, op.cit., p.67.


Abstract of the Mining Surveyors and Registrars’ Reports for November 1863. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1863.


Convey, op.cit., p.12.