History of Bendigo

Located approximately 150 km north west of Melbourne, Bendigo has a population of over 100,000, making it the fourth largest inland city in Australia. Previously called Sandhurst, Bendigo has had a colourful history over its 160 years. Part of Australia’s Gold Rush, more gold was found in Bendigo between 1850 and 1900 than anywhere else in the world. Nine billion dollars worth of gold was found in Bendigo, which makes it the second highest producing gold area in Australia and the seventh in the world.

The township was surveyed, and the first land sales occurred in 1854. However, the region was first identified by the explorer, Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836, and squatters arrived in 1837 to run sheep. It wasn’t till 1851 when Mrs Margaret Kennedy and Mrs Julia Farrell found gold at The Rocks that the area started to gain some interest. By 1852, 20,000 people had arrived from all over the world to find their fortune in Bendigo.

The gold rush was a revolutionary event that reshaped Victoria and it’s policies. The presence of the Chinese in Bendigo, Beechworth and Bright caused riots, taxes and killings and became the foundations of the White Australia Policy. It was also the Victorian gold rush that led to the Eureka Stockade, possibly the most famous uprising in Australia’s history. But by 1936 mining at the scene of Bendigo’s first gold rush, Golden Gully had ceased, and in 1954 there was an announcement that ‘not one mine working’. Gold mining was finished in Bendigo.

Fuelled by Gold Rush money, the city grew rapidly. The municipal council was elected in 1856 and the telegraph connection to Melbourne was established in 1857. Eight waterworks reservoirs were designed in 1858, and by 1859 the Town Hall was designed and the Agriculture and Horticulture Society was formed.

After a poll by ratepayers in 1891, the name was changed from Sandhurst to Bendigo. By the early 1920’s Bendigo had churches, an orphanage, an asylum and a teachers college. Bendigo still has much of its stunning architecture of public buildings, churches and hotels, built during the gold rush years, a testament of the wealth of the times. Many of the buildings are Victorian Heritage Listed, and many are listed by the National Trust. In 1977 Sacred Heart Cathedral was completed, 81 years after construction commenced.

Today the Greater Bendigo region is used for timber, beekeeping, livestock, including pig and poultry farming. Along the river there is canola and wheat farming. There is also a growing viticulture industry, for mainly Shiraz wines.

Bendigo is also famous for the worlds oldest working pottery: Bendigo Pottery. Opening in 1858 it has the most significant collection of wood fire kilns in the world, and is a major tourist attraction in Bendigo.

Trams were used for public transport, however, in 1972 this was reduced to a tourist service only. In 2008 and 2009 there was a trial of returning a commuter tram to Bendigo, however, lack of passengers and government funding resulted in the idea being aborted. The Tram museum is a popular tourist destination in Bendigo.

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