Keeping Heathcote’s past under lock and key

February 17, 2024 BY

Safe house: The 1860 police lock up is home to the Heathcote McIvor Historical Society Museum. Photo: BARBARA SUNGAILA:

THE old stone lock-up which stands on Camp Hill at Heathcote was an 1860 addition to the original Government Camp established in 1853.
Today it is home to the Heathcote McIvor Historical Society Museum and it contains a range of artifacts from the district’s past.
The society’s museum curator, Elizabeth Murfitt, said the lock up had been given to them by the City of Greater Bendigo in 2003.
“We did the renovations to it through grants from the council and Heritage Victoria,” she said. “We were lucky that we were able to use it as our very first museum in Heathcote and we have constant local, interstate and overseas visitors throughout the year.
“It’s a repository for all the wonderful historical items we’re now being given by the community.”
One of the most recent donations is the post box from the Wild Duck Post Office.
It dates from 1866 and was originally placed at the front of the Traveller’s Rest Hotel at Wild Duck Creek, a site now submerged under Lake Eppalock.
Ms Murfitt said the society had been told it was an accidental find many years ago.
“Apparently it was found wedged in a gum tree,” she said.

The original Wild Duck post box is just one of the museum’s many treasures. Photo: BARBARA SUNGAILA

With its thick stone walls and tiny windows, the lock up is a secure place to store these local historical treasures.
Ms Murfitt said it was a valuable way to repurpose a building that would otherwise have been threatened with demolition.
“It’s part of the history of our town, coming up to its 175th anniversary,” she said. “The building is still there and people can appreciate that not all old buildings have to be destroyed, they can be re-utilised.”
The lock up is one of three buildings remaining from the 19th century Government Camp.
The others are the red brick police residence, which was constructed in 1888 and is now part of Heathcote Primary School, and the stone hospital building which houses some of Heathcote Health’s administrative functions.
When the district’s population exploded as a result of the rush to the McIvor diggings in the early 1850s, the fledgling Victorian colonial government was quick to establish a conspicuous presence to help maintain law and order.
This was initially a bustling tent city, but a large and impressive stone complex was completed in 1854 by local builders, the Crowle brothers.
There was also an 1853 weatherboard lock up which was certainly an improvement on the previous practice of chaining prisoners to heavy logs under canvas.
But it was of flimsy construction and there were several break outs within months of it opening.
Shortly after Chief Commissioner of Police, Frederick Standish, and Chief Secretary of Victoria, John O’Shanassy visited Heathcote in May 1859, a call for tenders for a new stone lock up was announced.
Branscombe and Yeo’s price of £1600 was accepted and work began in the second half of 1860.
It was finished by the end of the year, although not in use until 1861.
Many of the 1850s camp buildings were demolished in 1892, the wooden lock up in about 1922 and the police stables in 1972.
The Heathcote McIvor Historical Society Museum at 19 Herriot Street, Heathcote, is open each Wednesday from 10am to 1pm. Contact Elizabeth Murfitt on 0438 353 507 for more information.

The old lock up, second right, tucked between the now demolished police stables and the still-standing police residence. Photo: FILE