Post Office officially opened 1st April 1856
Closed 21st February 1923
Post Office opened 23th May 1872
Renamed to Buckland Lower sometime in 1893
Reduced to a Receiving Office 22nd May 1923
Raised to a Post Office again 1st July 1927
Closed 9th January 1961
Toward the end of November 1853, word leaked out that at least one party had discovered gold some 60 miles south of Beechworth. One of the party went on a bit of a spree while in town where he was supposed to be doing a bit of shopping, and ended up practically shouting the news from the roof-tops. He returned to his mates rather sheepishly, leading the beginnings of a large rush.
By the middle of December, a Police Camp had been set up at Twelve Mile and a report was sent back to Beechworth stating that there were about 500 men on the ground and more arriving daily. Mr. Furnell recommended an increase in police numbers and stated that foot patrols would be of more use than mounted police because âthe nature of the country made it nearly impossible to travel on horseback.â
What our Mr. Furnell didnât mention in his report was that by the time heâd turned up most of the valley had been set alight (to get rid of the snakes and other nasties) and there was almost no feed for horses, or bullocks, on the ground. In January 1854 when my roving reporter, William Howitt, arrived he noted that the hills were still burning and the banks of the river were black.
Heading south toward the Police camp, Howitt & Co. passed through a scene of desolation. Scarcely a tree was still standing in the valley, the upper reaches (nearly 800 metres above the river and in many places rising almost vertically) were still alight, and the first deaths in the valley had already been interred.
The Buckland valley is a unique place. Situated beneath the brow of Mt. Buffalo, this long, deep, narrow valley winds its way south into the Great Dividing Range. The fires may have rid the valley of snakes, but they provided a wonderful breeding ground for a far deadlier adversary.
The first butchersâ shops had already opened for business by the time Howitt &co turned up; and sanitary conditions in the valley, quite bluntly, didnât exist. Offal from the carcasses, and âparcelsâ from the diggers, were temptations no self-respecting bushfly would ignore. And the Buckland bushflies were âthe worst in the colonyâ
(they still are!).
By April 1854, the diggings were nearly deserted. The death rate in those very few months has never been confirmed; but from the 6000 reported to be there in January 1854, there were tales of up to 17 funerals in one day â 7 and 8 were commonplace â and by October that year, there were probably only about two dozen men left in the valley. The rest had fled, and a sad memorial lay in the Beechworth Post Office, where over 100 letters addressed to diggers in the Buckland Valley reposed in the Dead Letter Office.
Toward the end of the year, some began to return, lured by the âsuperabundanceâ of gold in the valley. It didnât take long for the âcolonial feverâ to return as well. The âValley of the Shadow of Deathâ
is thought to contain 3000 graves from the first 15 months alone of its golden life.
For the next year or so, the valley was home to a small number of hardy individuals who worked the river in peace. Because the Buckland was remote, there were representations for a dedicated mail service between Beechworth and the valley from late in 1855.
The first call for tenders for the twice-weekly service was issued in December 1855, but it took until March 1856 before William Hooper was officially sanctioned as the contractor for the service, worth ÂŁ500 p.a.
James McKay was Bucklandâs postmaster. He was also Bucklandâs Deputy Registrar, and newsagency, and sold clothing and tools to the diggers.
As it was realized that âhealth had returned to the valleyâ, so too did a number of diggers unable to withstand the lure of gold, although nothing like the former crowds â people had developed a fear of the place.
This may be one of the reasons the newly-arrived Chinese found the area so attractive. In the early months of 1857, it was said the Chinese outnumbered the European population 5 to 1. During the preceding months, there were small numbers of Chinese fossicking in the valley, but in January 1857 the tide turned when 300 arrived in one day, and were followed by hundreds more over the next several weeks.
The Europeans began to feel threatened, and when Warden Gaunt visited the valley in March he immediately realized trouble was brewing. He wrote to the Beechworth Warden, Matthew Price, requesting the establishment of a Court to settle mining disputes as a matter of the utmost urgency. This request, like the others that followed, was ignored.
There were several instances of Chinese parties being attacked over the next month, and after a particularly vicious attack in May, Gaunt returned to the Buckland and organized the Chinese into three camps away from the Europeans, in an effort to protect them. It didnât work.
The main Chinese camp, on what was known as âJoss House Hillâ
, was regarded by some Europeans as very rich ground and they deeply resented the Chinese presence. A meeting was called for the first Saturday morning in July, and soon over 80 miners had gathered at a hotel at the Junction. Sensing danger, one of the miners went to the Police Camp to alert the authorities. So little notice had been taken of repeated warnings about the situation on the Buckland, there were only two Constables on duty.
The ring-leaders did a fine job of inciting the mob to violence. âFrom the crossing place to the Junction, a distance of about eight miles, bedlam reigned from about 11.00am till 4.00pm. An estimated 2,500 Chinese miners were driven from the Buckland. Their goods and chattels were strewn along the valley and the smoke from the burning frames of their tents filled the air. The only sign of resistance came when three shots were fired by one of the Chinese men as they were herded towards the narrow log bridge at the crossing. Some reports suggest that many of those trying to escape fell from this crossing and drowned.â
(âThe Buckland Valley Goldfieldâ
; Diane Talbot. Page 95)
Once more, the Buckland became a mass burial ground. The first newspaper reports intimated that it was mostly Americans who were involved, but this was due to the fact the riot occurred on 4th July â American Independence Day. Of the dozen men charged in the aftermath, only 2 were American.
For many months, the Chinese were too frightened to return to the valley. The rioters had rid themselves of their perceived menace, and in doing so had robbed the valley of the majority of its population. Business declined for many of the shops and hotels, and some of them went broke.
James McKay managed to hold on until June 1858, when he also was forced to sell up. Although he is named as postmaster until the end of the year, it is most likely that he had already handed the business over to Alan Marshall, the valleyâs Chemist, before moving to Morseâs Creek.
The 1860s saw the Buckland a hive of activity. The Chinese began moving back into the valley and were dominating the alluvial mining; but the Europeans had begun employing a relatively new technique, known as hydraulic sluicing. This involved the building of water-races â and tailing races â and it has been noted that there were over 100 miles of water-races in the valley.
Over the next 30 years, the Chinese came to dominate the main alluvial workings; but as time wore on it was apparent the gold was being worked out. Many of the miners turned to agriculture, but there were always a few not prepared to give up.
During the 1880s, technological advances saw bigger, better, more powerful sluicing as the order of the day. Large companies invested heavily in the latest equipment and proceeded to do their bit to change the landscape of the Buckland during the 1890s; but probably the most dramatic changes were wrought by the bucket dredges during the early part of the 20th Century.
James McKay and his family returned to the Buckland during 1860, and James once again took on the role of Postmaster, a position he held until 1871.
After him, Mary White was postmistress for 16 years, and then Grace Morgan presided over the Buckland Post Office from 1887 until 1894.
Grace had come to the Buckland with her family in 1862 to join her father who had been working the valley for some time. She came to the notice of one of the earliest arrivals on the Buckland, Henry Morgan, and they were married in 1866.
Another postmistress was Mary Weston, whose husband kept the Junction Hotel, and Eliza Drewitt was postmistress at the beginning of the 20th century.
Further down the valley, the Lower Buckland Post Office had opened in the Dunphy Bros. Hotel and General Store in 1872. This, lower, section of the valley was eminently suitable for agricultural pursuits, and the Lower Buckland region sported a thriving township to the south of the Buckland bridge near Goldieâs Spur track.
James Dunphy was Postmaster into the 20th Century. After his death in 1908, the store continued to trade until the end of 1916, when the doors closed on over 60 yearsâ service. It was demolished a few years later, but at least one image remains of the store in the 1890s;
It seems that the Ritchie family took in the Buckland Lower Post Office after the Dunphys, but I have very little information on the later history.
The Buckland Post Office closed, and the Buckland Lower Office was reduced to a minor role in 1923. The entire region appears, from newspaper reports of the time, to have settled into a gentle decay. The upgrade to Post Office again in 1927 may not have been so remarkable â hundreds of offices were reinstated on the same day.
James McKay received BN 104, along with the other post office supplies.
The number would have been allocated at the end of 1855 when it was decided to open an Office at the Buckland. Due to the fluctuating population â for the variety of reasons shown above, there are very few examples of the original BN, and it has a 4R-rating.
The numeral was recut, and the side bars removed most likely during Mary Whiteâs tenure. This handstamp saw usage well into the 20th Century
The Lower Buckland office was allocated BN 779, and it too saw duty into the 20th Century, being recorded on KGV 1d Reds. This barred numeral, unlike its brother up the valley, saw continuous use and the single issue has only an S-rating.
Today; the campers, the deer hunters, the fly-fishers, the day-trippers, they all see the serenity of the Buckland River burbling over its stone bed during the balmy summer and autumn months. Few venture into the valley during winter when the sunâs rays rarely touch the valley floor â particularly on the upper reaches.
They probably wonât stop to marvel at the underside of the Buckland bridge, and I doubt few would think to pull up at the cemetery, to look at some mouldy old headstones. But if they do, at the back of the ground stands a rather remarkable stone which reads (on the English side);âThis memorial was erected on 9th November 2008 by the See Yup Society of Victoria to the memory of our early Chinese settlers who were killed in the unfortunate Buckland Riot of July 4th 1857. It is to commemorate their energy, travails, courage and their sacrifices in paving the way for future generations of Australian Chinese. It is to be hoped that these future generations will remember them fondly with pride and respect.â