R. Longstaff

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Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Post 1854 Experiences


Charles A. Doudiet, watercolour on paper, 1854, watercolour, on paper.
Courtesy Art Gallery of Ballarat, purchased by the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery with the assistance of many donors, 1996.
From the Shepparton “Advertiser’' we extract the following interesting informotion concerning early days in Ballarat, furnished by Mr R. Longstaff, J.P., an uncle of Mr T. Longstaff, a well-known and esteemed Sturt street resident:— Amongst the few pioneers of the early digging days now quietly “awaiting the summons' towards the close of an active, useful life is Mr B. Longstaff, J.P., of Shepparton, whose name will be handed down to history as the father of the first Australian portrait painter of note, who has already carved his name high up on the portals leading to fame. Mr Longstaff carries his years well, and though long past the three score years end ten of the Psalmist, his mien still ‘tells of a vigorous manhood. Mr Longstaff delights in recounting his experiences of his early life in the State, which go back as far as 1852. On the 1st of August of that year the good ship Castle Eden, once a collier trading between Newcastle and London, sailed up the strange waters of Port Phillip Bay, and anchored off Melbourne. Its passengers had been mostly attracted to these shores by the accounts which came to hand of the discovery of gold. They landed on the following day, and the list included Mr R. Longstaff and Mr T. D. Wanliss, of Ballarat, at one time a member of the Legislative Council, who looms largely in the social and political history of Victoria. The two ship mates formed a friendship on board which has been maintained unbroken till this day. A week or two was spent in Melbourne, and a party was made up for Bendigo, which included Mr Longstaff. The latter did not remain long on the northern goldfield, but was soon walking in the direction of Ballarat, when he had considerable luck, in the shallow diggings, and at one time held the claim next to one from which was subsequently taken one of the largest nuggets. Mr Longstaff was undaunted by his marrow escape in this direction, and worked with fair success on the Canadian and Jewellers' Shop runs. The party next started to put down a shaft on Red Hill, which was bottomed on gold at 150 feet. This claim they called the Durham, after Mr Long staff's native county in England. The shaft bottomed right in the gutter, and some 5 or 6 ounces was the result off the bottom. This was towards the end of 1854, when there were ominous indictions of the outbreak which culminated in what will always be known as the Eureka riots. Mr Longstaff and his party took no active part in the movement, but steadily worked their claim, and watched the progress of events. There was always the fear that, if the diggers got the upper hand for the time their claim would be taken from them, so it was decided to hold aloof from the rioters as much as possible. Mr Long staff did not take part in the meetings on Bakery Hill and Eureka, but he was present at the burning down of Bentley’s hotel, and was sufficiently close to get his digger's blue shirt on fire. He saw Bentley ride fast and furious from the place, clad only in his shirt and trouser's, and remained till the hotel was reduced to ashes. The Durham party was working a rich claim at the time, and they will scarcely be blamed for giving it more thought than the insurrection, with which they had no sympathy. When volunteers were being “pressed” for service,the members of tho party were not to be found, and therefore, they missed the Stockade with its incidents, some ludicrous, but mostly of a serious kind. However, what did come under notice was impressed on memories. Mr Longstaff went out for his Saturday night’s stroll and wandered into the Stockade, which before the next summer sun had risen much above the horizon was to be the scene of bloodshed. He noted the defences, which wore mostly a few logs piled on top of one another, and a section of sharp pointed pickets. He saw the brawny blacksmith hard at work on the pikes, which were mostly the diggers' weapons. The defender of the Stockade eyed the young man rather suspiciously, and taking the hint, he did not long delay his departure. The tents of his mate and himself were on Penny Weight Flat. and they retired to rest little knowing what the morrow would bring forth. On that memorable Sunday morning, December 3, a passing stranger sang out from a distance that the camp had been taken by the soldiers during the night with loss of life. Mr Longstaff says, “I jumped out of bed. hastened up to the Stockade, and went right in. I saw several of the diggers lying dead on the ground. One I recognised as the stalwart blacksmith I saw the night before making pikes. This was about 8 o’clock on Sunday morning." The Durham party resumed digging operations, and their claim proved to be a very rich one. Some of Mr Longstaff's mates went home with their piles; but he stopped and spent what he had made in penetrating the rock at Sebastopol. Mr Longstaff was one of the first in Ballarat's well-known suburb to get through. He was one of the original shareholders -though not a working out, but finding the capital—an the Round Tower, and broke the first sod there. Of his early digging days Mr Longstaff relates an incident which, but for the fact that it is so well vouched for. might scarcely be credited. He was on the night: shift at the Durham claim, and was on top with Mr James Forrest, brother of Mr C. L. Forrest, M.L.A. for Colac. It was "smoke-oh" time, and the men below were in the tent, whilst the two windlass men were near the shaft. Mr Longstaff was standing by the wind lass, and Forrest was sitting on the inverted bucket, probably nodding, when he suddenly gave a kind of a snort, and fell forward headlong down the shaft. His mates rushed forward to the wind lass. and commenced to prepare to go down, fully anticipating the worst, when suddenly they heard a hoarse voice from below singing out, “What the mischief are you doing; you will break my neck. Forrest was brought to the surface alive, and though the had fallen head foremost p distance of 150 feet, missing the bucket art the bottom, he escaped with to few bruises, and was only laid up for a week or two. Mr Longstaff made the first whim worked on the Ballarat diggings, and whims are still in general use on all goldfields to this date. He was, it may be stated, a millwright and engineer by occupation. It has been said that Mr Langstatff spent his fortune in the development of the deep ground of Sebastopol. He changed his from that of a bachelor to a benedict and went farming at Coghill's Creek, but the fickle goddess had apparently deserted him. He then turned his attention to business, and started as a builder end contractor at Clunes. In the early seventies the tide of settlement had set in towards the Gorlburn Valley, and in 1873 Mr Long staff, accompanied by his son, John, the celebrated painter, selected land at Mundoona with the intention of settling down in life as a farmer. Finding, however, that there was a business opening in the township of Shepparton, then coming into prominence, he started in a small was as builder, undertaker, etc., still keeping the farm going. however. He sent to Clunes for workmen, and commenced to prosper. as business was brisk.[1]

See also

Thomas Wanliss

Further Reading


  1. Ballarat Star, 22 December 1904.

External links

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Caption, Reference.