The old gold mining town of Bendoc lies in a little valley at the foot of Mt Delegate the only free standing mountain in Victoria’s Great Dividing Range.
Some think the name Benduck is Aboriginal for plain, Wagra means “black-eyed crow” and Wagra Benduck means “noise in the trees”. While others believe that although history reveals little of its beginnings. Cattlemen used the spot as a temporary watering place and Ben Boyd sometimes brought his cattle down from the Monaro High Plains to be docked. “Ben’s Dock” then is a possible derivation to Bendoc.
Golden era for Bendoc
Although no mining of any description is carried out in the Bendoc area now and gold mining as an industry is non-existent, the colourful occupation has a permanent position in the history of this part of East Gippsland Shire.
It all started way back in 1852 when Rev W B Clarke published a report describing the existence of a rich gold field, which intersected the boundary of NSW and Victoria.
A later report states that the rough washings from the reef in the locality on 13th of February 1872, realised 70 oz from 40 tons of quartz
Bendoc township 5 miles from this intersection was proclaimed a township.
The principal mine in the area was the “Come Love” owned by Bendoc Park and Co and consisted of a main shaft 173 feet deep. This yielded 606 oz. of gold between April 1869 and October 1871.
Realising the need for food and shelter for the miners, Hamilton Reed built the first Commercial Hotel on a site opposite where the present hotel now stands. He engaged two pit sawyers who cut the timber in a day, one man cutting until midnight. The building was roofed with shingles. They had up to 60 boarders at one time. In 1867 Jack Nichol was appointed mining registrar and retained the position until early 1900.
In 1855 alluvial gold was first discovered in the Bendoc River near the bridge by Jack Lock and Hamiton Reed. This soon petered out and in 1857 they discovered the “Morning Star” mine. Other prospector soon followed staking their claims – Conical Star, Homeward Bound, United Welcome Stranger, Evening Star, and others.
In the late 1850’s a geologist named Clarke from Melbourne, together with Frank Dowling and other prospectors found the “New Discovery” at the head of the Bendoc River. It yielded 2 oz. to the ton and mined to a depth of 200ft. The Discovery, Sunbeam, Wagra, Snow Storm soon followed. This new field was named Clarkeville after the geologist responsible for its discovery.
For a time the tiny settlement was flourishing.
The Eclipse Mine, in 1869, had a primitive battery consisting of four heads of wooden stamps, shod with iron fittings and worked by a water wheel from a race of 1 1/2 miles long.
In 1870 the population of Bendoc was 150 of which 106 were miners. Their homes were made from roughly hewn slabs or wattle and daub, with bark or shingle roofs. From 1850 to 1870 many men, including a number of Chinese were sluicing for gold in Back Creek, Bendock, Queensbrough and Delegate Rivers with the population reaching as high as 500.
The best alluvial gold came from Chinamen’s Creek five miles from Bendoc, and from the Delegate River where a tunnel was built to divert the course of the river and through which the river still runs today.
George Helmers was a prospector who mined all the gold from the dry gullies that ran into Bendoc. About 1876 gold mining had slumped and miners left, whilst others selected land. In 1911 Victoria Star was discovered which yielded 4 oz to the ton and was mined to a depth of 300ft. After yielding thousands of ounces of gold, water flooded in and stopped operations. In 1935 a Melbourne syndicate took over and pumped out the water. The mine operated for another three years and yielded 3500 oz of gold which was sold at £1-17-6 per oz through a Delegate bank.
Sluicing and dredging plants in the early days were operated by means of water wheels. In 1933 Harry Miller, a mining engineer started hydraulic sluicing in the Little River in close proximity to Bendoc township. In he 1940s he and his family dredged all the dry gullies previously worked b the Chinese at Back Creek, a tributary of the Quinburra River. Thousands of ounces of gold were produced. The Millers left in 1951 because of the inaccessability to school for their children.
In 1907, E J Dunn, Director of the Victorian Geological Society filed this report on the Bendoc goldfields:
- Homeward Bound Reef, half a mile south of Bendoc, shaft sunk to 90 ft and stone was said to have yielded well. Both Chinamen’s Gully and Loch’s Gully, (both auriferos) begin on this reef
- Morning Star Reef half a mile west of Bendoc, shaft sunk to 210ft and reef worked for about 350ft, quartz said to yield about 2 oz per ton.
- Bendoc Union Mine, 1/4 mile north of Bendoc, a tunnel has been driven to follow a narrow but rich reef.
- Corner Stone Reef, 300 yards west of the Morning Star, the reef was worked for 500 to 600ft but yield was patchy.
- Eclipse Mine, 2 miles south of Bendoc said to have yielded richly at surface.
- Clarkeville: The site f the old quartz mining camp, is quite deserted at present.
- New North Discovery Mine (Clarkeville) shaft sunk to 300ft but yielded poorly.
- Welcome Stranger Reef, 4 miles from Bendoc on Clarkeville Road, shaft sunk to 105ft said to have yielded richly, poppet heads are still standing.
Other comments: The difficulties to be faced are the remoteness of the locality, the poor means of transport and therefore heavy charges for carriage of food, machinery, tools, etc and in consequence of high prices of all necessities. Although Dunn considered the area geologically favourable for quartz mining, he said “it is difficult to see how the mines are to be reopened there is better access to the fields and consequently cheaper means of living, and of working the various reefs”.
Source: Pioneering East Gippsland